7 May, 2021

Blog

The Rule Of Cause & Effect In Daily Life

By Rajindra Clement Ratnapuli

Rajindra Clement Ratnapuli

The notion of cause and effect or causation is not new, the concept has been debated for centuries by philosophers, scientists, and scholars of numerous disciplines. Not everyone is on board with the idea though. Bertrand Russell the renowned philosopher and mathematician argued that the idea of cause and effect is archaic and serves no useful purpose in science. Nevertheless, most of us have taken for granted the concept probably because in reality, it works. There are two approaches to deal with cause and effect. One is deterministic; If A causes B, then A must be followed by B – when A occurs B occurs. The second view is probabilistic causation. A can probabilistically cause B if A’s occurrence “raises” the probability of B. In everyday life, causation seems to be a deterministic concept very similar to the action-reaction rule in physics. Our life experiences and physical phenomena around us appear to be related to cause and effect. Even cosmological phenomena seem to bear a cause-and-effect relation suggesting that causation is perhaps universal. Causation is a deeply rooted concept of science and everyday life

The awareness to cause and effect in humans begins in the early stages of brain development. Even a year-old child would know how to press a button on his toy to listen to music. A grown-up kid need not be told to put on the wall switch to light up the room. Although cause comes first, it is the effect that we first notice. However, an exception seems to occur in the quantum world where the consequence may precede the cause (backward causality), or cause and effect may even occur simultaneously. But the understanding of this is still being developed and these weird quantum effects do diminish and rapidly converge to what we expect when dealing with real-world events. Clearly, a future cause or an arrival of an event cannot yield consequences in the present. For example, a future collision between an asteroid and the earth cannot bring disaster today. Also, not all causation is positive. In life, we have frequent encounters with negative causation (nonevents). If a houseplant is not regularly watered it will eventually wither away.

In practice, the difficult job is to find out the cause of an event. Once the cause is identified it becomes easier to understand and treat the consequences; a problem well stated (identified) is half solved. However, when the problem involves multiple causes and multiple effects, as it happens frequently in practice, the solution is likely to get more complicated. But there are analytical and empirical tools available to treat these situations. To give an example the Fishbone Diagram (Ishikawa Model) is quite popular in the industry (quality control, noncompliance, defect analysis, accident probes, product and process development). In the social sciences, causation is extensively used to study the gender pay gap, religious and ethnic conflicts, and marginalization, sexual discrimination, and poverty. A critical analysis of such problems will require the precise identification and full details of the cause and effect backed by reliable evidence. In medicine, symptoms and signs matter. But a symptom may not necessarily represent a real effect of a disease whereas a sign could be a good indicator. Another general feature of causation is that cause and effect may go sequentially in a chain. As an example, a family’s demise can lead to grieve, which can cause depression, and depression can lead to suicide and, so on.

In causation, there is also a statistical correlation between the cause (independent variable) and the effect (dependent variable). It implies that a change in the cause will bring a change to the effect. But the existence of a correlation does not necessarily mean there is causation or causal relationship between the two. For example, during warm weather, a beachside vendor finds that ice cream sales and the number of sunglasses sold show a positive correlation. However, the vendor cannot expect to increase the sunglass sales by asking people to eat more ice cream. This is a spurious relation and has no causality suggesting that there could be another variable affecting the correlation, which in this case is the outside temperature. Again, smoking leads to cancer, but cancer will not increase smoking. In everyday events, the appearance of a statistical correlation between cause and effect should be considered as a first step in the potential causation.

In statistical analysis of causation, it is essential to work out the statistical significance of the relationship. The scientific community will not accept causation unless the results have at least a 95% confidence level (giving a 5% or 1 in 20 chance of failure), which implies very high reliability. On the other hand, civil law requires only 51% proof of causation, giving a 49% chance of deviation from the results. When drafting policy, it is good practice always to rely on science-based evidence.

The ongoing dialogue among environment-conscious countries about global warming offers an example of causation. Global warming is real because the consequences are undeniable (freak weather patterns, melting arctic ice and ice caps, and rising sea levels). Climate experts have pinpointed the cause of global warming to the buildup of greenhouse gases like water vapor, methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide in the upper atmosphere. The gases create the greenhouse effect by blocking the passage of heat from the earth’s surface to the outside.

A familiar term used in oriental wisdom is karma (or action). It is a core tenet in the Buddhist doctrine. Simply put, karma states that our present actions can always lead to future consequences. Unlike physical causation, in karma, the intent of your action is relevant. In this sense, karma can be considered ethical causation. It is very much like in law.

There are no rewards (merits) and punishments for actions, only consequences. The way the consequences act and the timeline for the manifestations are unknown. One thing is for sure. Since life on earth is the only life, we will experience, logically, the rule of cause and effect must act on this earth and has nothing to do with a past life or an afterlife. This argument eliminates the need for a supreme entity to sit in judgment for actions. Karma also makes sure that you own your actions and consequences.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    Well articulated; well argued. But, I have a problem with final para.
    .
    Cause / Effect is applicable to physical relationships. Is it also relevant to mental, moral, psychological co-relations?

    • 1
      1

      Nathan
      I too have a problem with the final para.
      .
      “One thing is for sure. Since life on earth is the only life, we will experience, logically, the rule of cause and effect must act on this earth and has nothing to do with a past life or an afterlife. This argument eliminates the need for a supreme entity to sit in judgment for actions.”
      .
      This logic is beyond me.

      Soma

      • 3
        1

        Soma
        The last paragraph is beautiful.
        It actually is a scientific understanding of Karma as proposed by the Buddha,

        Buddha rejected soul (and dismissed god as irrelevant) .
        So there is nothing that claims ownership to ones deeds (karma). Thus there is no one to be rewarded or be punished in ‘afterbirth’.
        By smuggling in the Hindu idea of rebirth, Buddhists have been persuaded to believe in rebirth and ‘one’s karma’ following one into the next birth.
        *
        Karma is eternal purely to the extent each action has consequences that go on as a chain reaction.
        *
        Our difficulty is that we find it hard to accept that there is nothing after this short stay on earth. If we have rebirth, even a bacteria should have one. (I am not sure of viruses, perhaps they do.)

        • 1
          1

          SJ
          My knowledge is limited to what I learned in the Physics book and how physical observations are interrelated according rules in the Mathematics book.
          I avoid getting into arguments with people who claim to know more.
          When I say that I don’t see a ship in the horizon what I am saying is I am a short man. Being tall you may see a ship – I don’t challenge that. But the bad experience in life is many who claim that they see a ship in the horizon have been caught lying.

          Soma

  • 3
    1

    What “caused” the writer to publish this article in Colombo Telegraph?
    His Karma or our Karma?

    Soma

    • 1
      0

      A good question, soma.
      .
      We’re so used to arguing politics, that this has been a pleasant surprise. You know what? Irrational as it may seem, I think that you’ve had a previous life in which you stored up much merit. That has “caused” (getting poetic, we may say “inspired”) Mr Ratnapuli to write this article.
      .
      See the effect! We used to hate you so much, although I used to say that despite your racism, I was confident that there was some good even in a rascal like you who used to work for Avant-Garde.
      .
      Now, so many like you. Is that not sufficient for us to suspect that there is some truth in this re-birth theory?
      .
      Counter that if you can, using Aristotelian, Boolean, or symbolic logic.

  • 0
    1

    Dear Rajindra Clement Ratnapuli
    .
    I read the article intently and patiently and was able to follow your line of thought until I came to your last para.

    Will you be kind enough to help us understand the following:
    .
    “One thing is for sure. Since life on earth is the only life, we will experience, logically, the rule of cause and effect must act on this earth and has nothing to do with a past life or an afterlife. This argument eliminates the need for a supreme entity to sit in judgment for actions.”

    Thanking you in advance,
    Soma

    • 3
      0

      Dear Soma. I am glad you took the trouble to read the article. I will be a liar if I claim to know afterlife, previous life, heaven, hell, God, Satan, demons and angels, sin and saints, and all that linguistic jargon when there is not an iota of evidence. Rajindra.

      • 0
        2

        Rajindra
        You have to pretend that you know some of that (afterlife, previous life, heaven, hell, God, Satan, demons and angels, sin and saints, ) in order to retain your membership card in society.
        Otherwise police will not protect you and hospitals will not treat you.

        Soma

        • 0
          2

          Soma
          How do the orientals (Chinese, Mongolians, Japanese and Koreans) retain membership in their respective communities?
          Several have a gallery of deities whom they bribe (like us) and ancestors who keep an eye on then from afar whom they feed on special occasions. But there is no god creator, rebirth etc. and only right and wrong (no sin).
          I doubt if such concepts bothered indigenous Africans, Americans and Australians (until the Arab and the European took god to them).

          • 0
            2

            SJ
            You have presented an interesting aspect in relation to my presumption that ‘morality’ cannot be substantiated without accompanying concepts of God or Karma which are mechanisms of reward and punishment. The societies you have mentioned do exhibit stronger social cohesion sans ‘sin’ I have to admit.
            Am I philosophising without sufficient IQ?

            Soma

        • 1
          0

          What, soma?
          .
          You need protection from the Police? It is the likes of me that need it!
          .
          You see, Rajindra, soma used to be a Captain in the Navy. As for me, I’m a relatively poor villager who was a village English teacher. Fate, I guess!
          .
          My father died when I was only fourteen. That upset me. So, by age 21, I was an English Trained Teacher – dime a dozen such guys are. Having done an External GAQ, I read for an English Special at Peradeniya, and won the Leigh Smith Prize. But that early stultification meant I didn’t go far.
          .
          Well, soma is right. The offer of a big break came in 1990, when I was 41 years old. They wanted me to head S. Thomas’, Mt Lavinia – as the Warden (i.e. the Principal). I said that I’d been born an Anglican; baptised, confirmed, but I was by then agnostic about God.
          .
          I was blackballed consistently from then on!
          .
          No, I still don’t believe in Fate; Chance, yes. I don’t know much of Quantum Physics, but they go to town on randomness, don’t they?

      • 4
        0

        Dear rajindra clement.
        Never do I see eye to eye with Soma. But you have done the miracle. Soma concurred with me!
        .
        Let us look at, ‘Since life on earth is the only life, we will experience, logically, the rule of cause and effect must act on this earth and has nothing to do with a past life or an afterlife’.
        Which argument of yours lead to, ‘life on earth is the only life, we will experience’?
        Do you have any evidence to support your supposition. Why ask for evidence to justify the opposite.
        .
        There is more to life than a human mind could fathom.
        .
        Our beliefs are based on our experiences in life.
        .
        I have experiences that do not conform to the laws of physics. I will not attempt to convince you. That would be futile.
        .
        We are two different individuals. You have a belief. I have a different belief. Yet, we can co-exist without hurting each other.

        • 0
          2

          Nathan
          “I have experiences that do not conform to the laws of physics.”
          They are coincidences, optical illusions and mental hallucinations.
          All the so called miracles reported in history are
          5% coincidences, 10% optical illusions, 25% mental hallucinations. Other 50% are all concocted lies.

          Soma

          • 0
            2

            Correction: 15% mental hallucinations.

            Soma

            • 2
              0

              Dear soma,
              .
              You had accounted for only 90% of miracles.
              .
              Your “Correction” has brought that down to 80%.
              .
              May I suggest that the balance 20% of all miracles have been the result of the advice and criticisms of your comments made by Nathan, chiv and Panini Edirisinhe.
              .
              We have only the statistics here. Not instances of actual miracles. Successful predictions of future miracles will make Rajindra Clement Ratnapuli’s observations even more valid. The next miracle will occur within the next 24 hours when “soma” will unequivocally reveal his true identity. Yet another will manifest itself after the Poya Day when “soma”, photo displayed and all that, will write his article entitled, “What I believe”.
              .
              “chiv” have I not told you that there is some good in “soma”? Or am I now hallucinating myself into believing that I told you so?

              • 1
                0

                I’m in good enough cheer. Never mind our not having read an article by soma.
                .
                I shall continue to hope that it comes along. When it does, I’m sure that it’ll be fascinating.

        • 1
          0

          Nathan,
          .
          I agree that we owe great thanks to Rajindra for enabling us to see different, more attractive facets of soma. We thought we had the measure of him.
          .
          I must call my friend who told me about “soma” and discuss with him these sides of soma which we never suspected existed.

  • 3
    0

    Nathan, I agree with you. Though I disagree mostly with Soma , I never underestimated him (for that matter no one except people like Evil and N. Perera who seems to be living in their own la-la land). Soma what caused the writer to publish seems obvious, it’s our karma. I readily admit , though as physician we learn statistics pertaining to research(sensitivity, specificity, reliability ,quantitative, qualitative, P-Value) but never my cup of tea. What I found interesting is author says ” in statistical analysis of causation it is essential to work out statistical significance of the relationship. The scientific community will not accept causation unless the results have at least 95% confidence which in turn implies very high reliability. On the other hand civil law needs only requires 51%. giving 49% deviation. Now apply this to those comments given here by some authors and commentators regarding Covid, mortality/morbidity, vaccination and related issues. They seems to need less than 5% to call the 95% a hoax.

    • 1
      2

      Chiv
      The ‘risk’ is not merely the statistical sigficance but it is statistical significance multiplied by the weight ( seriousness) of the possible outcome, the latter being difficult to quantify.
      In a life and death scenario being better than 95% is not sufficient to reassure ordinary mortals. Even 0.1% is sufficient to scare them and hence fear surrounding Covid transmission/ vaccination can be forgiven.

      Soma

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.