Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Human understanding part 2.

Introductory philosophy 3) Causation.

There is a lot of confusion about causation and how it works.
The issue isn't under debate. Things cause other things, that's all pretty straightforward. There's a logical flow to it.

The problem comes when you're not analyzing it and how people talk about it.

Problem 1: Correlation.
When things correlate, that doesn't mean one causes the other.
For example (to take an old example) there has been a reduction in the number of pirates over the years that correlates with global warming.

The two are unrelated, but they correlate. It's a coincidence. There is no causation. (FSM followers feel free to disagree, just do it in your heads).

Problem 2: Links, Proof, Evidence.
If there's correlation that is evidence of causation (and incidentally, evidence of a link).
Not proof.
Not a link.

There may also be a link, without evidence and without proof. (I.e. There's a link, but we don't know about it. If we know about the link, there must be evidence).
There cannot be proof, without evidence and a link.

These are 3 separate words that are used interchangeably when there shouldn't be. Proof means it has become fact. Evidence means it is just possible that one causes the other. A link again means a possibility that one causes the other.

Problem 3: Direction.
Even with a complete proof of causation, that does not necessarily mean we know which way the causation is occurring.

For example, lets say there is a proven link between depression and alcohol.
That does not necessarily mean we know if depression causes people to turn to drink, or if drink causes people to be depressed. It could be either, or both.

Problem 4: Deceit.
People, Politicians, Lobby groups all take advantage of these other to try to push agendas and issues that they want to see changed. This might not always be with bad intentions. Someone might philosophically feel the only moral choice is ______ and then go out of their way to find anything at all to support their case.

This could be for religious reasons. (Banning a sensitive movie perhaps).
This could be for political reasons. (Belief in Free Trade, Democracy, Capitalism, a specific constitution).
This could be for monetary reasons. (They get some personal gain).
This could be for family reasons. (Boosting the spending on medical treatment may save a family member of theirs).
This could be for any ideal. (Belief in Freedom of speech, getting rid of the death penalty, etc).

People may feel any of these (or many more) are worth lying for, because the ideal itself is philosophically sound. Someone could (understandably) believe the death penalty to be wrong no matter the crime or effect on society.

Problem 5: Proof of Absence.
Just because there is no proof does not mean it is false. No proof means we don't know.
People sometimes say "There is absolutely no proof whatsoever" to try to say there is no link, or there is no causation. The truth is we have not devised a reliable test for it yet. That's all. In the meantime, there may be evidence and a definitive, demonstrable link.

There even may be proof of causation but they may add in deceit yet again and say "There is no proof that X causes Y" to make it seem like there is no link, when in reality, only the direction is in dispute, and everything else is fully established.

I think that's it...

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