Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why Consider Causality?

After several decades of consideration, I have come to the realization that most causality (or causation) links have more to do with ease than with reality.

Speaking with a friend today, we illustrated the point this way:  I asked:  What started the war in Iraq?  His considered reply was "When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait".

I asked him:  "What caused Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait?"  It doesn't matter what the answer is, the fact is, that there IS an answer.  And, you can probably keep going.  "What was the cause of whatever it was that caused Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait?"

Causality is only easy to link if you carefully control the variables.  That's one of the mantras of science, command and control.  But life is messy and people are messy.  Causation, therefore is only a guess a need to stick a fork in the ground and say "This is the beginning of this causality chain!" when in reality, it's really just the easiest place to put it to make the causation chain work.

I would love to be able to vow never again to ask the question "Why?".


Lyn Betz said...

Wouldn't eliminating "why" be kind of tough on science? I'd keep it if I were you, and be glad for it. Not that I don't see your point about causality - the more I think about the interdependent web, the more I feel like everything is like a piece of fabric, and when you pick up one point in it, a whole lot of other stuff comes up along with it. Makes it hard sometimes when I'm writing sermons, because it's ALL CONNECTED! And yet, people want lunch. I've been reading a lot lately about choosing where we put our focus, and you could say that's putting a fork in the ground in an arbitrary way too. But it sure does make a difference.

Eddie Proulx said...


Innovation begins with a question. But so does blame, shame, fear. I suppose I wish I could say "only ask 'why' if the answer will make things better", but then you get into defining "better".

The question "Why did you do that?" is unanswerable - so what's the point in asking it. Like eggs. Are they good for you, or are they bad for you? Milk, antibiotics - same thing. Depends where you pick as beginning and ending measurement points.

Would science not run smoothly by substituting the question "How" for "Why"? Is that just semantics?

A sermon/talk is like throwing a stone into pond. There is a splash, then a ripple, then - nothing - but the stone is still in there.

I have a lot of trouble with intention. Good intentions are necessary, but are they enough? Maybe you should write about that so I can know for sure!