On the Incompatibility of Dynamical Biological Mechanisms and Causal Graph Theory

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Weber, Marcel
conference paper description
I examine the adequacy of the causal graph-structural equations approach to causation for modeling biological mechanisms. I focus in particular on mechanisms with complex dynamics such as the PER biological clock mechanism in Drosophila. I show that a quantitative model of this mechanism that uses coupled differential equations – the well-known Goldbeter model – cannot be adequately represented in the standard (interventionist) causal graph framework, even though this framework does permit causal cycles. The reason is that the model contains dynamical information about the mechanism that concerns causal properties but that does not correspond to variables that could be subject to independent interventions. Thus, a representation of the mechanisms as a causal structural model necessarily suppresses causally relevant information.