Ian Hacking, Causality & the Telling of History


For summer fun, I sat back down with Ian Hacking’s classic The Taming of Chance. I don’t know why I missed it before, but the opening line seems in need of a close reading: “The most decisive conceptual event of twentieth century physics has been the discovery that the world is not deterministic.”

Now, on the one hand, I think I know what he means here–that the development of quantum theory through a monkey wrench into the broader metaphysics of a deterministicly ordered universe. On the other hand, isn’t that claim, well, deterministic?

I can think of three possible answers to that question:
1) Yes, and Hacking doesn’t recognize the irony.

2) Yes, but history doesn’t work like physics, so there’s no contradiction

3) No. (In which case, I’m obviously not getting some nuance about the nature of causality)

In the off chance that somebody might be able to help me here, here’s the full opening paragraph:

The most decisive conceptual event of twentieth century physics has been the discovery that the world is not deterministic. Causality, long the bastion of metaphysics, was toppled, or at least tilted: the past does not determine exactly what happens next. This event was preceded by a more gradual transformation. During the nineteenth century it became possible to see that the world might be regular and yet not subject to universal laws of nature. A space was cleared for chance.

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