Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

May 26, 2007

Cause and Effect

Filed under: culture — codesmithy @ 8:04 am

Cause and effect is a useful rubric for understanding many phenomenon. Because it is so useful, and can be applied to many situations, people can fall into the trap of trying to classify everything as a cause or an effect of something. In many ways, it is clear that this is patently false, with the famous quip: “What came first? The chicken or the egg?” In actuality, the answer is neither. Current scientific understanding states that the chicken evolved from simpler organisms through the path of survival of the fittest based on history of ancestors, competitors and chance.

Clearly there is a another problem with “first cause.” Since, we can always regress a cause one step further (every effect has a cause, every cause is an effect of another cause). Some people insert the base condition of “God,” as the answer of a cause that needs no other causes. This is underhanded and disingenuous. Not that they want to call the base condition “God,” per-se but because of all the other laughable traits that they want to ascribe to it. It would be like me trying to say that I wanted to call the base case a “quezantarticle.” And by the way “quezantarticle” is blue, tastes like a donut, and has magical properties.  It sidetracks the debate and attempts to add legitimacy to a deeply held cultural fairy tale, which has no place in rational discussion.

It could be that there was ample evidence in the universe to explain exactly how the “Big Bang” (the first cause of the universe) came about, so it wouldn’t seem so mysterious to us now, but much of the obvious evidence has vanished just like determining cosmological constants will be harder in millions or billions of years from now.  That isn’t to say that we won’t learn the nature of the beginning of the universe, but gaps in our current understanding shouldn’t be used as a buttresses of irrationality, since it might be genuinely hard and take some ingenious reasoning to get to the truth of the matter.

That said, “every effect has a cause” is a logical contradiction.  It is a flaw in our thinking, not with nature.  We have to accept the fact that there are effects without causes.  In many cases, the causes are so diffuse that to even say that they contributed is to come to a completely absurd conclusion.  A butterfly flapping its wings did not “cause” a hurricane off the coast of Florida.  Such a view of the world constantly pushing up vast and intricate sequences of dominoes to be pushed over at the slightest disturbance is nothing more than hubris, conspiracy, and delusion (what caused the butterfly to flap its wings?).

The world is the way it is.  Cause and effect is a system that we try to impose to understand it better.  But, in the end, symbiosis, positive feedback and co-evolution truly blur the line between what is a cause and what is an effect.  Social systems and nature abound with such networks and ecosystems.  We should apply cause and effect when we can, but we also need to be aware of its limitation or else we will fall victim of missing all the small little things that make any system actually work, and too arrogant in our understanding of complex systems.


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