Agency accounts of causation are often criticised as being unacceptably subjective: if there were no human agents there would be no causal relations, or, at the very least, if humans had been different then so too would causal relations. Here we describe a model of a causal agent that is not human, allowing us to explore the latter claim.   

Our causal agent is special kind of open, dissipative physical system, maintained far from equilibrium by a low entropy source of energy, with accurate sensors and actuators. It has a memory to record sensor measurements and actuator operations, and a learning system that can access the sensor and actuator records to learn and represent the causal relations. We claim that causal relations are relations between the internal sensor and actuator records and the causal concept inherent in these correlations is then inscribed in the physical dynamics of the internal learning machine. We use this model to examine the relationships between three familiar asymmetries aligned with causal asymmetry: time's arrow, the thermodynamic arrow and the arrow of deliberation and action. We consider both classical and quantum agent models and illustrate some differences between the two. 


Talk Number PIRSA:21030024
Speaker Profile Sally Shrapnel
Collection Quantum Foundations