Place, U. T. (1994c). Contextualism, mechanism and the conceptual analysis of the causal relation [Conference presentation, presented at a symposium on "The Bogy of Mechanism": Alternative Philosophical Perspectives on the Contextualism/Mechanism Debate, conducted at the Twentieth Annual Convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis, Atlanta, GA, May 28th 1994]. Association for Behavior Analysis.
[Abstract]The notion that mechanism and contextualism are two alternative and conflicting ways of conducting the scientific enterprise rests on a misunderstanding of the nature of the causal relation. Every effect is the outcome of many causes. Where the effect is an event, there is always a single triggering event which combines with a set of standing conditions which are already in place to complete the set of causes which are jointly sufficient for the coming about of the effect. In a mechanism, one triggering event leads inevitably to another because any variation in the standing conditions has been eliminated by strict control of the context within which the causal process takes place. Most mechanisms are a product of human artifice. Some, such as the movements involved in animal locomotion, are the product of natural selection. Another example of mechanical causation in biology is the transmission of excitation across the synapse from the pre-synaptic to the post-synaptic neuron. However, research by connectionists on the properties of artificial neural networks shows that mechanical causation at the neuro-synaptic ('molecular') level yields multi-factorial contextual causation at the ('molar') level of the network as a whole.
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