Sunday, June 6, 2010

Some Problems with Cause and Effects


         A highly reliant concept in todays society is cause and effect.  We use this but is this really reliable?  Can we receive proof from these test? Some thing so, but some do not.

         David Hume was a philosopher who lived 1711 to 1776 in Scotland.  In juxtaposition with the commonly accepted philosophies of the day, and even of those today, he asserts disbelief in common doctrine of causation.  Causation is the sociological and philosophical idea that everything reacts to events in a uniformly predictable way.  Causality is the relationship between causes and effects where the second is a consequence dependant on the first.  Hume says that when we observe or say we observe an effect as a product of a cause it is not reason that links the cause and effect together but rather past experience.  The cause and effect are independent distinct events and are not linked together except by our mind from past experience.  The question arises “how can we justify applying conclusions based on past experience to modern experience when there is no known uniformity?”  To be able to establish cause and effect we must be able to authoritatively prove the reason why the effect took place in relation to the cause. Because the theory of cause and effect hinges on experience and not matters of fact it is impossible to demonstrate a unquestionable cause and effect.  There can always be alternate theories that could have been the cause of the effect, no matter how bizarre or unlikely it may seem.  Any appeal to probability or past experience can be dismissed as it assumes uniformity, which cannot be proven without an appeal to past experience, making it circular. 

           To illustrate this reasoning I will use a modern example of cause and effect.  There is a debate going on today about cause and effect; a small movement in the United States of America asserts that there the current vaccines and their administration causes and promotes the effect of Autism.  They cite evidence that shows the number of vaccines that a child receives has risen in the past twenty years, they then look at the number of people diagnosed with autism, and see that it has risen over the past twenty years as by over 1000%.   They thus assert that because we have increased the number or vaccines a child receives and also the number of people diagnosed with autism has increased that the increase of vaccines causes an increase of autism. Thus:

         Cause = Increase of children’s’ vaccines
         Effect = Increase of Autim

The problem with this theory is that although their statistics are accurate, there could be an infinite number of other reasons that number of diagnoses of autism has risen.  I will give 3 examples:
  1. The reason for the rise of diagnosed autism may be that the medical practices have increased in their ability to accurately identify and diagnose autism, particularly in less severe cases, which previously would not have been diagnosed as autism.  This would mean that autism hasn’t necessarily risen, but just the recognition and diagnoses of such has. 
  2. Another reason that autism could have risen so drastically in the last twenty years is the use of electronics.  The use of electronics has risen exponentially in the past twenty years. If we look at the correlation between the use of electronics and diagnosed autism we can use their logic to ‘prove’ that the increase of electronics has caused a rise of diagnosed autism.
  3. A third possible reason for the rise of diagnosed autism could be that the people are much more dependent on the health care and health professional then they were twenty years ago.  Thus more children are diagnosed with autism because more are submitted to be tested for autism.

      These are a just a few possible examples of alternate possibilities of this theory, but they help illustrate that there is not one undeniable reason that something happens; there can always be alternate possibilities for a theory regardless of how improbably or unlikely they may seem.  Improbably and unlikely things happen every day, the only way that you could prove that something caused something else is to identify all possible causes and disprove every single one except for the excepted cause.  Even if you were to somehow do this, how would you know that there are no other possible explanations? You can’t, thus it has to be open for possible future findings or explanations and can never be a proven cause.   



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