What is vertical causation, and does it exist?
Defined negatively, we could say it is any type of causation that isn't horizontal. Unless you wish to pretend that all causation is horizontal. Then again, to the extent that you're actually thinking and not just behaving like a machine -- and we're not ruling this out -- then you are partaking of vertical causation.
What is the cause of a true thought? What is causing your thoughts right now? Your "brain"? What do you mean, "your"?
There can be no greater category error than conflating material and immaterial realities, or subject and object.
Think about thinking in the most abstract way possible, and where does it end? It ends in a mysterious property we call "subjectivity," beyond which we cannot venture. We know there are objects, and we know there are subjects, because the object is the very first property discerned by the subject. Although the subject is and must be ontologically prior, it is epistemologically later.
In other words, the human baby doesn't start with the infamous cogito -- I think, therefore, you know, the thing -- and take it from there. Rather, we start out life by discovering things. Still, the most interesting things are other subjects, especially the one we call m(o)ther. After that it's all downhill.
Now I'm thinking of the Absolute Principle incarnating as an infant, and before that, a fetus, embryo, zygote, and blastocyst. Is the principle of humanness found in that direction -- as if we could keep going until we find the human archetype down there somewhere? Did you look beneath the refrigerator? Under the cushions?
A similar massbackward approach characterizes physics: as if we merely have to keep dividing and subdividing matter until we reach rock bottom. But we can zee no bottom in that direction; rather, the exercise must end in finer and finer iterations of nothingness.
Not to say that these little nothings do not exist. They do exist, just as do photons emanating from the sun. No matter how dim the light, it's still light and not darkness, the latter being a total privation and literal nothing. No amount of shadows adds up to a quanticle of light.
Likewise, no matter how stupid the idea, it's still a thought and not clump of matter.
These preluminary meditations are brought to you by the book Vertical Causation, by Wolfgang Smith. In it he expresses some ideas that are strangely similar to mine, but it's not so strange when you realize that I stole them from him.
Especially the one about physics and the insane spiritual quest to ground everything in nothing:
from the vantage point of the metaphysical traditions, their quest points "downwards" in reference to the scala naturae: from the pole of morphe to that of hyle, namely a descent which cannot but lead eventually to the "nothingness" of prima materia.
I know: why all the pretentious Latinisms when plainspoken Thomism is tricky enough?
Suffice it to say, there is an ascending and descending scale of being in the cosmos, and that one will not discover reality by fleeing down into matter, all the way to its necessary but inconceivable principle, in that formless matter can be posited but not understood. For prime matter is matter without form, which is to say, devoid of the very principle of intelligibility.
In the material world, everything is hylomorphic, meaning matter + form. Again, we can posit formless matter, but that's not how the cosmos rolls, unless maybe we're talking about the Creator, who begins by creating the formless material to which he will give form. Even believing this in a naively literal manner is philosophically superior to the truly childish belief that form somehow could "evolve" from prime matter, which is to say from nothing.
Ontologically speaking, it thus appears that contemporary particle physicists are actually moving in the wrong direction: "away from reality," towards the nether pole of hyle, where nothing at all exists (Smith).
That's not quite true, for physicists are moving in the proper direction for physicists. They're only going the wrong way to the extent that they pretend to be philosophers.
Conversely, the philosopher is always free to descend to the bottom end of the cosmos, and indeed, a complete philosophy must be able to account for it. But the lower is seen as an effect of the higher, not vice versa, for that would constitute a kind of absolute stupidity.