Yoda: Dynamic Causation vs. Systemic Causation

Earth Intelligence
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STARTING POINT:  Tom Atlee: Systemic Causation & Sandy

IDEN A:  I like the distinction between direct causation and systemic causation.  However, I would prefer a general conception of causation.  I would say that ideas about causes assume a stable world.  We assume that what happened in the past will happen in the future.  But if the world is changing (i.e., global warming, sea level rise), causation changes (i.e., frequency or severity of storms).  To plan for the future requires knowing how the world is changing, which is difficult when our actions are changing the world.  We will live in a world we have not experienced previously.  We can imagine how change will proceed, but we can be certain that we will not be 100% correct.  I very much agree with Tom’s emphasis on the importance of language and, in this case, systems thinking.

IDEN B:  It sounds like we must be master mariners in a great sea, understanding the theory of change, knowing that it can change at difference paces across different functions, and always being sensitive to the implications of weather patterns, recognizing there is only so much we can do BUT also recognizing that the more prepared we are the easier our path…..building smaller homes that are hurricane proof, having self-contained water and energy systems, etcetera.

IDEN C:  “Cause” has baggage.  I didn’t immediately think  of what Stuart said, that it carries with it the assumption of stasis.  That’s true, but the assumption that I’m always sensitive to when I heard the word “cause” is sufficiency.  We are always looking for something that is sufficient to create the effect.  Yet something always has to be said about conditions or context, and it is not said.  Our English language bypasses that.  We are always trying to make sentences in the ‘active’ voice that attributes causation.  So we might dispense with the word altogether and say this: Any event in the social matrix is accounted for by a combination of influences and conditions that make the event more or less plausible. (I choose the word “plausible”, following Shackle, who argued that subjective probability is all wrong.  He lost the argument but there are several followers who never gave up and have an alternate story of how decision theory was derailed at the beginning. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._L._S._Shackle)  There is an underlying fetish to “nail” what cannot be known. I found this little bit, which I think says it nicely.  Causation, at least in a social environment, is a formalism that is out of place.   I always liked Artistotle’s point and hadn’t noticed the connection to Shackle. The earlier Coddington (1975 review) had an answer to this: abandon formalization as an ideal. Here is Mr. Coddington in his earlier review article:

“carefully imprecise concepts [radical uncertainty] can give a more accurateexpression of the economic world than precise ones. On these grounds, the kind of precision aimed at by the axiomatisers can be seen to be quite artificial in that to increase the precision of formalisms in no way contributes to a clarification of the mode of correspondence between the formalism adn the economic world it is supposed to represent.”

This is an excellent defense of Shackle’s economics. In fact, it is consistent with Aristotle’s warning that “it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits.” The existence of uncertainty does not permit the precise formalization of economic concepts, precisely because human conduct involves creativity and daring, not probable estimates of likely consequences.