April 26, 2007


Caption: That's Venus' answer to everything.

This week El Cabrero is musing over how people explain the world (and other stuff too). If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier entries.

It's really easy to say x causes y. We do it all the time, even when it's a bit of a stretch.

Philosophers have racked their brains over this topic from the beginning. Aristotle thought everything had four causes: material (what it's made from), formal (the shape it takes or what something essentially is, sort of), efficient (what made it happen) and final (the purpose of it all, assuming there is one, which he did). Unless you are a hardcore Thomist, that's kind of out of style these days.

The 18th century Scottish philospher David Hume thought that we just attribute causality to things because of habit. As in, we see one thing happening after another and assume the first caused the latter.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant didn't like that much. He argued that our minds are hardwired to see things in terms of causality. The downside was that we can only know the world of appearances, not the things in themselves. I think I'm with him.

Here's the Goat Rope version: before we can say with a high degree of confidence that one thing causes another, we need three things:

*First, the cause and effect have to be associated with each other (otherwise, we wouldn't think about it).

*Second, Aristotle aside, the cause has to happen before the effect.

Pretty easy so far. Here's the kicker:

*Third, we have to rule out everything else. And that's easier said than done.

Suppose I attribute bad driving in a neighboring state (let's call it Ohio) to the eating of French (or Freedom) fries. I'll bet most people there have not only eaten French fries, but they ate them at some point before they drove. So far so good.

(Dear Ohio cousins, I'm just using this as an example, I swear! I know you guys have a similar theory about drivers in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.)

Hold the Nobel Prize...I'm stuck at number 3. There might be something else going on besides Freedom fries (like the negative effects of flat land) causing the problem. Back to the drawing board...

Finally, even if you think you have all three, there's always the possibility you missed something and may have to revise your conclusions later.

REDUCING POVERTY BY HALF. The Center for American Progress has released a new report called "From Poverty to Prosperity," which suggest a number of concrete steps aimed at slashing poverty, which has increased each year since 2000.

Many of the recommendations have solid evidence to support them. Steps include raising the minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and early childhood education, passing the Employee Free Choice Act, child care assistance for low income families, making higher education more affordable, and more.

A BELATED THANK YOU TO WV IRAQ VETERAN JESSICA LYNCH for speaking truth about power at congressional hearings earlier this week!

BONUS FEATURE ON REPTILIAN SEX CHANGES. In case you run out of things to talk about today, here's a conversation starter. Did you know that female bearded dragon lizards turn into males when exposed to extreme temperatures while still in their eggs? Me neither.


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