How to Discover Composition with the PC Algorithm


Some recent exchanges (Gebharter 2017a,2017b; Baumgartner and Cassini, 2023) concern whether composition can have conditional independence properties analogous to causal relations. If so, composition might sometimes be detectable by the application of causal search algorithms. The discussion has focused on a particular algorithm, PC (Spirtes and Glymour, 1991). PC is but one, and in many circumstances not the best, of a host of causal search algorithms that are candidates for methods of discovering composition provided appropriate statistical relations obtain. The discussion raises two issues: 1. Does the structure of the composition relation entail probability relations such that PC and like algorithms cannot discover composition from frequency data about kinds; and 2. what can be discovered—and how—about the composition of systems by PC or related causal search algorithms that exploit conditional independence relations. Baumgartner and Cassini answer the first question positively: constitution entails probability relations incompatible with discovery by PC. They do not engage the second question, but we will.

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Clark Glymour
Carnegie Mellon University


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