One cause, different effects

ImageOften we behave as if we think that a cause can only have one effect, while in fact it can have many. The type of effect depends on what else there is, besides the cause. In other words, it’s a matter of context.

Take a causal factor such as heating. If combined with water, it could produce the effect of boiling or steaming. But in other contexts it could produce a range of effects: melting, burning, fever, cake, growth, drought, ripening, explosion, pleasure, pain, life, death, and the list goes on.

In a previous post I wrote about mutual manifestation partners: in order for a cause to produce any effect, it needs to interact with other causal factors. And different partners means different effects.

In contrast, our typical scientific approach to causation is the search for same cause, same effect. One drug or medical treatment should ideally have the same effect on us all, even though none of us are the same. It’s regarded as a sign of weak science if the same cause turns out to produce different effects.

Our scientific methods are designed to find robust correlations rather than context-sensitivity, and to disregard noise in the search for law-like regularities. But if causation is essentially context-dependent, we ought to focus a bit more on the varieties, the noise and the context.

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