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Abstract:In causal models, a given mechanism is assumed to be invariant to changes of other mechanisms. While this principle has been utilized for inference in settings where the causal variables are observed, theoretical insights when the variables of interest are latent are largely missing. We assay the connection between invariance and causal representation learning by establishing impossibility results which show that invariance alone is insufficient to identify latent causal variables. Together with practical considerations, we use these theoretical findings to highlight the need for additional constraints in order to identify representations by exploiting invariance.

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Abstract:The task of inferring high-level causal variables from low-level observations, commonly referred to as causal representation learning, is fundamentally underconstrained. As such, recent works to address this problem focus on various assumptions that lead to identifiability of the underlying latent causal variables. A large corpus of these preceding approaches consider multi-environment data collected under different interventions on the causal model. What is common to virtually all of these works is the restrictive assumption that in each environment, only a single variable is intervened on. In this work, we relax this assumption and provide the first identifiability result for causal representation learning that allows for multiple variables to be targeted by an intervention within one environment. Our approach hinges on a general assumption on the coverage and diversity of interventions across environments, which also includes the shared assumption of single-node interventions of previous works. The main idea behind our approach is to exploit the trace that interventions leave on the variance of the ground truth causal variables and regularizing for a specific notion of sparsity with respect to this trace. In addition to and inspired by our theoretical contributions, we present a practical algorithm to learn causal representations from multi-node interventional data and provide empirical evidence that validates our identifiability results.

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Abstract:In recent years, a growing number of method and application works have adapted and applied the causal-graphical-model framework to time series data. Many of these works employ time-resolved causal graphs that extend infinitely into the past and future and whose edges are repetitive in time, thereby reflecting the assumption of stationary causal relationships. However, most results and algorithms from the causal-graphical-model framework are not designed for infinite graphs. In this work, we develop a method for projecting infinite time series graphs with repetitive edges to marginal graphical models on a finite time window. These finite marginal graphs provide the answers to $m$-separation queries with respect to the infinite graph, a task that was previously unresolved. Moreover, we argue that these marginal graphs are useful for causal discovery and causal effect estimation in time series, effectively enabling to apply results developed for finite graphs to the infinite graphs. The projection procedure relies on finding common ancestors in the to-be-projected graph and is, by itself, not new. However, the projection procedure has not yet been algorithmically implemented for time series graphs since in these infinite graphs there can be infinite sets of paths that might give rise to common ancestors. We solve the search over these possibly infinite sets of paths by an intriguing combination of path-finding techniques for finite directed graphs and solution theory for linear Diophantine equations. By providing an algorithm that carries out the projection, our paper makes an important step towards a theoretically-grounded and method-agnostic generalization of a range of causal inference methods and results to time series.

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Abstract:Conditional independence (CI) testing is frequently used in data analysis and machine learning for various scientific fields and it forms the basis of constraint-based causal discovery. Oftentimes, CI testing relies on strong, rather unrealistic assumptions. One of these assumptions is homoskedasticity, in other words, a constant conditional variance is assumed. We frame heteroskedasticity in a structural causal model framework and present an adaptation of the partial correlation CI test that works well in the presence of heteroskedastic noise, given that expert knowledge about the heteroskedastic relationships is available. Further, we provide theoretical consistency results for the proposed CI test which carry over to causal discovery under certain assumptions. Numerical causal discovery experiments demonstrate that the adapted partial correlation CI test outperforms the standard test in the presence of heteroskedasticity and is on par for the homoskedastic case. Finally, we discuss the general challenges and limits as to how expert knowledge about heteroskedasticity can be accounted for in causal discovery.

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Authors:Gustau Camps-Valls, Andreas Gerhardus, Urmi Ninad, Gherardo Varando, Georg Martius, Emili Balaguer-Ballester, Ricardo Vinuesa, Emiliano Diaz, Laure Zanna, Jakob Runge

Abstract:Physics is a field of science that has traditionally used the scientific method to answer questions about why natural phenomena occur and to make testable models that explain the phenomena. Discovering equations, laws and principles that are invariant, robust and causal explanations of the world has been fundamental in physical sciences throughout the centuries. Discoveries emerge from observing the world and, when possible, performing interventional studies in the system under study. With the advent of big data and the use of data-driven methods, causal and equation discovery fields have grown and made progress in computer science, physics, statistics, philosophy, and many applied fields. All these domains are intertwined and can be used to discover causal relations, physical laws, and equations from observational data. This paper reviews the concepts, methods, and relevant works on causal and equation discovery in the broad field of Physics and outlines the most important challenges and promising future lines of research. We also provide a taxonomy for observational causal and equation discovery, point out connections, and showcase a complete set of case studies in Earth and climate sciences, fluid dynamics and mechanics, and the neurosciences. This review demonstrates that discovering fundamental laws and causal relations by observing natural phenomena is being revolutionised with the efficient exploitation of observational data, modern machine learning algorithms and the interaction with domain knowledge. Exciting times are ahead with many challenges and opportunities to improve our understanding of complex systems.

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