The reality we manage to get into our heads is largely that reality which is abstracted through our symbol systems.


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Sunday 25 July 2010

Cause and Effect Formulations

Ways we look at cause and effect and how GS formulations apply.

Led by David


1. Catching Up & Introductions
2. GS Diary Reports - "Our GS Experiences"
3. Cause and effect Formulations – Presentation and discussion
4. AGS Business
5. Close.

1. Catching-up

We “always” allow a little time for review of our lives and activities.

2. GS Diary Reports - "Our GS Experiences" Some of us experienced events in the month past, which demonstrated the value, and perhaps some limitations, in the applications of GS principles. Sharing of these is a valuable part of our time together.

3. "Cause and Effect Formulations"

Ways we look at cause and effect and how GS formulations apply.

Review and Introduction

First we reviewed some previous sessions:

Brain Plasticity

Improved with challenging cognitive load. Taking it easy and going slow is not good!

Non-Violent Communication (NVC):

The four steps:

1) Define the problem. Tell what you observed,
..........with no inferences (=> no fact/inference confusion, no judgement (=> no projection).

2) Tell the consequences of what was observed, eg "How I feel".

3) Tell the goal/need you are trying to meet, but was not met,
..........and hence the consequences in Step 2.

4) Suggest a solution, ie the concrete actions required. Do not overgeneralise, eg
......... instead of "Don't act like a fool!", you could say
......... "Please don't talk about man not landing on the moon, in front of my friends."

GS Formulations need for this discussion

Two people’s meanings for a word are different, which leads to an argument as the meanings pass by each other. e.g. “correct symbolism to fact” bypass where the term “fact” was seen at various levels on the structural differential levels. To help solve this we looked at Korzybski’s viewpoint:

"Science and Sanity" (S&S) P11 "Any map or language, to be of maximum usefulness, ‘should’, in structure, be similar to the structure of the empirical world."

P 58 “The only usefulness of a map or a language depends on the similarity of structure between the empirical world and the map-languages.” Empirical: experiential, experimental or observed. I.e. the object level. If someone says “I have a theory that absolutely shows that planes cannot fly.” How do you disprove it? Answer: Direct observation.

As well as bypassing, research has shown that two people use the same term to describe an object or a concept less than 20 percent of the time, a problem known as "term mismatch." Hence expect to misunderstand and to be misunderstood.

Map is not the territory
Apply this to causal formulations.
Remember the “The map is NOT the territory.” and
“The map is NOT all the territory” and
“The word is not the thing.” I.e. Causal maps are not the territory they represent.

“What is man?”.
One answer: “All men are animals.” What was Korzybski’s evaluation of this statement? What was his solution? S&S p 408 “For thousands of years, millions upon millions of humans have used a great deal of their nervous energy in worrying upon delusional questions, forced upon them by the pernicious 'is' of identity, such as: 'What is an object?', 'What is life?', 'What is hell?', 'What is heaven?', 'What is space? 'What is time?', and an endless array of such irritants.” [We sometimes add to this list by asking: “What is GS?”]

P1=>T1 –logical fate
The aim of today’s discussion is to move some of our P1s to P2s about causal theories.

Definitions of causality
Here’s a variety of definitions: Causality talks about the relationship between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), where the second event is a consequence of the first. (Or more precisely between a set of events/actions/conditions and some effect. E.g. applying enough heat (e.g. a red hot wire) to a fuel (e.g. dry paper) in the presents of oxygen (e.g. air) will lead to fire (the event). Of course we need “etc” here, as this formulation does not always work. E.g. when we have enough Halon 1301 in the air also. (Halon 1310 is a gaseous agent that inhibits the chemical reaction of the fire. )

We like the idea of causality because when we want something to happen, we then think or ask “What can I do to make X happen?” I.e. we effectively ask “What will cause X?” And we ask about an object or process, “What’s it good for?” I.e. using it will produce what effects, that we want!

From physics: “There is said to be causality in a relationship between two variables when a change in one variable causes the change in the other variable.” E.g. the ideal gas law PV= n R T so for a fixed volume (the inside of a pressure cooker) if you raise the temperature (by putting it on a hot element on the stove) the pressure inside the cooker will go up.

Causality by Max Born:
1. Causality postulates that the occurrence of a class of events B depends on the occurrence of a class of events A. I.e. A is called the cause, B the effect.

2. Event A must be prior to the effect B.

3. Event A (the cause) and event B (the effect) must be in spatial contact or connected by a chain of intermediate things in contact. In physics, relativity and quantum mechanics have forced physicists to abandon these assumptions as exact statements of what happens at the most fundamental levels, but they remain useful at the level of human experience. I.e. Approximate maps of reality like Newtons theories are an approximation of Einstein’s theories. From logic: A cause is termed "necessary" when it must always precede an effect.

This effect need not be the sole result of the one cause. A cause is termed "sufficient" when it inevitably initiates or produces an effect. I.e. If cause then effect.

Types of model

1. Single cause model.
“A causes B”. E.g. “He caused me to be upset.” Single cause leads to a single effect. Korzybski says that this “ two-valued 'cause' and 'effect' leads structurally to a great deal of absolutism, dogmatism, and other harmful semantic disturbances, which I call confusion of orders of abstraction”.

2. Category model, like the fish tree i.e. Ishikawa fishbone diagram.

3. Linear e.g. I fall on the floor breaking my hip <= slippery floor <= mopped clean and left wet <= dirty floor <= no mat at door <= shoes dirty in mud <= no footpath, etc. Root cause is the last one in this chain.

4. Tree model of many causes to get one effect. E.g. I fall on the floor breaking my hip caused by: slippery floor & not looking where I am going & not eating enough calcium & not exercising enough to get strong bones & not learning how to do a good Judo break fall, etc. E.g. “Aristotelian causal model” of heat & fuel & air => fire. But reality is more complex.

5. Network model – even more complex model of many causes leading to an effect and many effects coming from a cause as well as interaction between causes, etc.

6. Bayesian model – more precise. Bayesian formulation: probability of effect E is increased after a cause C has happened. I.e. p(E|C) > p(E) e.g. the probability of fire is greater after you apply heat to a fuel in air than if you didn’t. E.g. adding a lit match to a bale of straw sitting outside will increase the chance it catches on fire compared to spontaneous combustion.

7. Maths formulations or models. More precise and more complex. E.g. Ideal gas law example: PV = nRT. E.g. mathematical model of global warming.

8. Physics has ideas like “The net force accelerates a mass.” I.e. a set of competing causes.

9. Non linear causality - Cybernetics ideas of positive and negative feedback loops. Positive feedback has to do with “more of the same” and negative feedback “more of the opposite”. The positive and negative have nothing to do with how much you like it. Positive feedback can lead to circular causality of virtuous loops and vicious loops. E.g. A virtuous loop with positive feedback, can have self-esteem leading to satisfying employment which leads to even greater self-esteem. A vicious loop with positive feedback can be feeling upset with being overweight and so you eat comfort food to feel better. But the comfort food makes you gain weight so you feel worse, so you eat more, etc. Positive feedback can also escalate arguments where emotion begets even more emotion.

Exercise. E.g. of linear model. Consider the reasonableness of the last statement here:

“For the lack of a nail the shoe was lost,
for the lack of a shoe the horse was lost,
for the lack of the horse the messenger was lost,
for the lack of the messenger the message was lost,
for the lack of the message the strategy was lost,
for the lack of the strategy the battle was lost,
for lack of the battle, the kingdom was lost,
and all for the lack of a horseshoe nail!"

Myths about causality

Korzybski’s issues in S&S

P5 “The fallacy of attributing to one cause what is due to many causes”

P p 216 “we must differentiate between the terms 'cause' and 'effect', which, linked together, imply a two-term relation nowhere to be found in this world,”

P 126 E.g. In the disease rickets, “Cod liver oil or sunshine usually effects a cure. We should notice the little word 'or', for quite different 'causes' produce similar 'effects'—an example illustrating that in life 'cause' and 'effect' do not correspond in a one-to-one relation, but in a many-to-one relation.”

P 94 “I expand the two-term 'cause-effect' relation into an 8-valued causality.”

P 216 “The reader should not take what is said here as a denial that in this external world some regularities of sequence occur; but … the verbal principle of 'same cause, same effect' is structurally untenable”

We 'feel', and try to 'think', about 'cause and effect' as contiguous in 'time'. But 'contiguous in time' involves the impossible 'infinitesimal' of some unit of 'time'. But, since we have seen that there is no such thing, we must accept that the interval between 'cause' and 'effect' is finite. This structural fact changes the whole situation. If the interval between 'cause' end 'effect' is finite, then always something might happen between, no matter how small the interval may be. The 'same cause' would not produce the 'same effect'.”

As an example I dropped a pen several times. Then one time I catch it, to show that something new can sometimes happen in the gap between cause and effect.

Alternative hypothesis

Alternative hypothesis as a solution to the “one cause to just one effect” problem. I.e. there are many potential causes for one effect.

Alternative hypothesis exercise
There was a creativity test that went like this. You are given a peg board with some metal posts, a battery, some wires, a small light bulb in a socket, a screw driver and a pair of pliers. The task is to make the necessary connections to form a circuit that gets the light bulb to glow. The problem was, there just wasn't enough wiring to complete the circuit. How to solve this problem?

By recognising that an electrical circuit can be completed by any "metal", not just by metal "wiring". So some used the pliers and spread them open so that the bottom tips of the handles were able to reach across the gap, completing the circuit.

In other words, there may be options available to us in life that we just have to be open minded enough to recognize. I.e. Try to appreciate more possibilities around us, not just typical ones. Similarly for causes. Look not only at the obvious ones but at other possibilities.

Alternative hypothesis for the World Cup Soccer’s “psychic octopus”. Mine: I saw them lower the two boxes with flags on boxes into the tank with an oyster inside each. The octopus chose the closer one. So my alternative hypothesis is that someone works out the most likely winner and puts that closest to the octopus. The group came up with other hypotheses.

We also came up with alternative causal theories for:
a. A magic word trick with balancing shoe box well over the edge.
b. Ouija boards - Is the glass really guided by spirits?

Correlation is not causation

Alternative hypotheses were made for these correlations:

a. “US Presbyterian ministers' salaries and the price of rum in Cuba are highly correlated.

b. ”And the “number of Catholic priests in Ireland and the number of murders in Ireland is highly correlated”.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc
(“Following after, therefore caused by”) fallacy.


To know some causal generalisation as completely true one would have to know everything about it. But M<>all T. So no matter how sure we are that we have found THE cause of something, we need to stay on the lookout for new facts. I.e. use “So far as I know”.

Either /Or

Instead of “Either this is a cause Or that is not” ask “up to what point” does the evidence support our verbal maps.

Use multiple causation and where applicable replace “either/or” with “both/and”. Also use the idea of a degree of causation.


Lack of consciousness of abstracting.

1) Our viewpoint determines to a large extent what causal factors we consider important.

2) Indexing remind us about the differences in the similarities. E.g. A “Maginot line mentality” can lead to problems.

We can usefully remember that “Past experience carries with its advantages the disadvantage that things never happen exactly the same way again.” So look for the differences in the similarities.

Does a doctor cure you? For example if you have a broken arm and the bone is sticking out through the skin? Or does the body heal itself and the doctor only helps set up better conditions for this.

Root cause

The root cause myth or the one cause myth: the false belief in a single “reality”.

Example: “He caused me to be upset”. Model implied is a linear model. Why we should not seek a root cause or magic bullet?

Answer: Reality is not a linear set of causes leading to a single taproot. Root cause myth that there is ONE first cause that if it is removed, changed, or modified by a solution, this will stop the problem from recurring. But the goal of problem solving is to find effective solutions, not the root causes. So by going for just the root cause solution means you may miss out on all the other possible solutions. A lot of which may be significantly better.

The example of a fire illustrates the fallacy of this thinking, as a fire must have three items present - heat, fuel, and oxygen. Removing any one of these elements prevents the possibility of fire. So there is more than just one “root cause” of the fire. We could also eliminate any one directly or indirectly.

One way causality of language

The English language emphasises one way (linear) causality rather than two way causality or interaction. It also emphasises simple one cause (rather than multiple partial causes) for an event or effect. And it talks about cause in terms of just energy and leaves out the conditions needed for the effect. E.g. It tends to ignore the petrol spilt and empathises a carelessly thrown lit cigarette that ignites it.

Bi-directional causation and loops were discussed when we talked about types of model. Then we ran out of time, for discussing a lot of other language related problems with causality and applications of these ideas in our life.

Next time, maybe…

~ 0 ~

4. ~ AGS Business ~

Annual General Meeting:

AGS National Conference, Melbourne 27-29 August 2010.

5. ~ Close ~

Next Meeting: 15 August 2010 at the AGS Sydney Headquarters, Bonnet Bay

(Updated 30 July 2010)