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Causality or causation is the quality or agency relating cause and effect. In the CTMU, there are two kinds of causation: mechanical and telic.[1]

Mechanical causation

Mechanical causation, also called temporal or terminal causation, is the conventional notion of causality in which physical states evolve over time according to distributed laws of nature. In this kind of causality, states are governed by laws, while the laws themselves are unchanging. Langan writes:

Of all the preconceived restrictions and unnecessary demands imposed on causality by science, the least questioned is the requirement that the relationship between physical states and laws of nature be one-way, with states depending on laws but not vice versa. Science regards the laws of nature as immutable, states as existing and transforming at their beck and call, and the directional dependency relationship between laws and states as something that has existed for all time.[2]

But if states depend on laws, what do laws depend on? That is, out of all the possible laws there could have been, why are these particular ones in effect? Mechanical causation leaves this question open. But because reality is self-contained by definition, it is causally closed, permitting no causal gaps. So since the laws of nature are real, they must themselves have a cause. This cause cannot be external to reality, again because reality is self-contained and therefore self-deterministic. It follows that reality must somehow have generated its own laws. The power for it to do so is provided by the second kind of causation in the CTMU, telic causation.

Telic causation

Telic causation, also called top-down or formal causation, is a higher form of causation, or metacausation, which generates the laws of nature required by mechanical causation. It does so through a kind of feedback between laws and states. In telic causation, states depend on laws, but laws also depend on states, and the two are generated together in order to optimize their relationship. From a background of unbound potential, laws and states emerge together in mutual dependence.

The feedback between laws and states does not happen in time, but in metatime. That is, mechanical and telic causation can be viewed as operating in distinct temporal dimensions. Mechanical causation occurs in the ordinary linear dimension of time with which we are familiar, where each physical state is transformed into the next in accordance with the laws of nature. Telic causation occurs in metatime, an orthogonal dimension in which laws and states are generated and refined through mutual feedback. Mechanical causation can be viewed as a "playing out" in time of the laws and states generated in metatime by telic causation. Accordingly, the metacausal dependency relationship among events is not necessarily the same as their directional dependency in time. Subsequent events can influence past ones, up to and including the inception of the laws of nature themselves.

For details of the "metaprocess" by which telic causation operates, including the way it generates and refines law and state in a feedback loop of cross-temporal optimization, see telic recursion.


  1. Langan 2017, p. 328.
  2. Langan 2004, p. 256.