Archive for the 'causation' Category

What can look like magical thinking in science

March 8, 2015

I think the material, physical world is a consequence of other aspects of the universe — maybe of other dimensions, of an immaterial realm, of a material but less substantial realm, I’m not sure how I would characterize it but probably as layers which get less dense as one goes up, sort of analogous to layers of the physical atmosphere.  I don’t think the immaterial world is an artifact of our physical selves, of our biology or of our chemical processes or of our thought processes or of our “imaginations.”

So when I read yet another article approaching something like anxiety as having existence because it is reflected in brain chemistry, I think “Here we go again, around and around the same old mulberry bush.”

I think the idea that we can eliminate anxiety by eliminating its scaffolding is unrealistic.  I don’t think the processes are transitive — while I do think we play out in the physical world issues that exist in less tangible realms, I think we are like echos or reverberations.  So I don’t think trying to modify the echo or the reverberation is going to change the original tone.   “On earth as it is in heaven” may be true, but “in heaven as we try to make it on earth” I don’t think flies.  The idea that the process works in both directions — is transitive —  I think has some dynamics in common with superstitious beliefs and practices: that manipulation of one thing will lead to changes in another, and hence we can control the latter through our control of the former.

That’s not my understanding of how things fit together and interrelate, for what it’s worth.

What I think we end up doing by trying to change things like changing the physical scaffolding for anxiety is, instead of eliminating problems, changing how the issue becomes manifested in the physical world.  We may even eliminate a particular disease, a particular manifestation, but a different kind of problem I think is also born when we do so.  Maybe drug-resistant infections are a more obvious example, but I also wonder if autism, and its increased incidence, and dementia, and its increased incidence, can be helpfully thought about that way.



August 11, 2014

I was having this conversation last night with someone, about some arrangements we have for a trip which includes a bunch of business and logistical tasks I will help them with.  They told me that maybe the arrangements would be different from what we had planned together.  Some of the differences arise out of circumstances beyond their control, some not.  In neither case was I asked for my views or response to the impact on me of the changes, and they did not even acknowledge that there would be a negative impact in both cases.

So I took issue with the lack of acknowledgment.  I observed that they did not seem to take into account what it was like to be in my shoes.  They did not deny it at all.  They went on about how they do what they want and just “express [themselves] as the spirit moves them.”  I suggested as politely as possible that adults are expected to edit themselves, and especially their behavior.  And they said that they don’t because their mother made them feel like a puppet.

I knew their mother.  She never made me feel like a puppet, but then again I wasn’t her child.

The detail behind “feeling like a puppet” was something about be expected to feel about a thing the way the mother felt about it.

So I actually got interested in the explanation in a way that distracted me from my irritation with the behavior that had sparked the discussion;  I was fascinated by the explanation that not putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is the response to feeling forced to see things and feel things the way another does.

My interlocutor sees cause and effect, and maybe it’s there, but I can see simple repetition of the same pattern:  the “I” does not take others into account as full-fledged human beings.

In some ways, if there is cause and effect, my interlocutor is claiming, in a sense, that their mother turned them into Pinocchio, a wooden puppet.  I find that fascinating, because I had previously thought of that story as showing the need for passing through developmental stages in a positive direction, starting from a difficult spot.  I had not thought about Pinocchio as representing a phase arrived at through regression, which is what my interlocutor seemed to be claiming:  they could take others into account but they did not, in order to demonstrate (I think to themselves) that they had their own feelings.

This may be common knowledge in psychological circles, but it was an eye-opener to me, experiencing the not taking of others into account as a way of making the self more visible, or as even a protest.

As I said, maybe it’s objectively true, that the person got squelched as a child by their mother.  I experienced this person’s mother as much warmer than this person themselves, but I’m not sure what that means.   I also didn’t know this person when they were a child  —  perhaps they really were different back then, before they began to feel like somebody else’s puppet.  I think I am somewhat suspicious of the narrative this person uses to explain how they got to be the way they are.  But I would very much regret claiming it wasn’t so, since for all I know it could actually be an accurate description of what happened.

When I feel as though my voice is not being heard and I am not being taken into account, I don’t feel the urge to not take others into account and not to listen to them  —  I think, rather, when it comes up, “Let me listen, because I know how it feels not to be heard, let me think about how things are for the other person, it’s so painful to be treated as if one were of no account.”

Why do some people seem to turn to wood and some people seem to have a different reaction?

I think about Apollo and Daphne and I think about people feeling they have lost their voice and become immured, turned to wood.  I have wondered what all that represents.  I have wondered about the different survival mechanisms different people develop when they intuit in situations that trying to insist on being heard is not safe.  I know I have my own.  I guess where I come out on all this is that recognizing a survival skill for what it is may help us move beyond that behavioral response in new situations in which our survival is not at stake.


Stories we tell

December 25, 2013

I was talking to Gita about how sometimes recently I become so aware that something that occurs is just what happens when some energy happens to manifest in a certain way, like what happens when the wind meets a flag or a sail and we see the flag wave or the sail billow.  It’s just stuff that happens, the tail wagging on the dog that we happen to be able to perceive far more easily than we are able to perceive the rest of the dog.

Because so often we instead accord these tail-waggings (greater) significance.  We put them into narratives.  Illness occurred in this person because they ate the wrong foods (did the wrong thing), that person met their soul mate because they networked appropriately (did the right thing), this person found a treasure in their attic because they were industrious (were deserving), that person lost their business because they were not industrious (were not deserving).

This isn’t the “you didn’t build that” issue, it’s the “things happens as the result of long and complicated processes most of which we are not aware of.”

Some of us accord even more significance to things.  We see patterns, we see synchronicity, we see metaphor.  I got clobbered in a class once when I tried, with my best technique I had learned elsewhere, to analyze what the monsters in Cavafy’s poem about Odysseus might represent.  Different styles of literary interpretation or criticism use different techniques or assumptions — I think we accept that.  When we apply different techniques to the interpretation of life events, we sometimes get clobbered, too.  Exhibit A is the  label “conspiracy theorists.”  Some secular rationalists clobber people with religious faith, and vice versa.

But what I’ve observed is this.  Our accepted way of combining events into stories is just that, an accepted way of combining events in stories.  To see this, a person has to view what goes on in this world from “outside” of it.  If people do this in some ways, they fall into distress and dysfunction and we have mental illness.  If people do this in other ways, we have witnessing and detachment — which some people also consider pathological.  But once you go there, you can observe that consensus reality is just a group choice, it isn’t necessary or compelled by anything.  You just have to make sure you can toggle back and forth between consensus reality and witnessing it from without, if you want to be able to continue to navigate in society.

Once a person “bursts the bubble” of consensus reality, then they can see that “stuff happens” not in a fatalistic way, but in an observational way; it is that which happens.  It is that which happens that we are adapted to seeing.  Our attempts to make stories out of what happens that we see is more the aberration, more the foreign intrusion, than the occurrence of something that looks like an outlier, that doesn’t quite fit with our storytelling assumptions.

Maybe a person can get to the point of having a perch from which to perceive the world from the outside without first seeing the world through more intensive patterning.  But it is certainly one way to do it.  And once a person does it, then they can see that not just the intensive patterns are an artifact of perception, but that the more widely accepted patterns of most people are, too.  And then a person can process what happens, as simply what happens.  Gita called that “beginner’s mind.”

I sometimes say that I go to Gita when I need to hear what I don’t want to hear.  This time I could see the category is really “what I need an outsider to observe and relay back to me.”

Sometimes Gita  clarifies for me the name for a concept in a different way.  For example, I was using “unisex” where “androgynous” was the more accurate label for what I was referencing, and she corrected me.  We humans do pick one another’s nits, they just aren’t always material nits.

What I personally got out of what Gita observed back to me is not actually the point of this post, but I will end with it anyway.  For me, what she did was to tell me, in effect, that I had arrived on the outskirts of where I was headed, namely my beginnings but with an “I” aware or conscious in a way that I hadn’t had before.

Righteous indignation and moral superiority

February 11, 2012

I’ve thought about the basis for an urge to feel righteously indignant or morally superior, and my current theory is that they arise out of need to believe that someone in a previous situation could have done better by me, and my desire not to let go of that assessment of the situation.  So, I think, “Well, they could have done better [otherwise it’s my own issue to heal my own damage and not insist the other person help me out], I would have done better — better could have been done and the outcome would have been fairer if it had.  And I somehow should have gotten that outcome.”

If I hold on to my desire to make them responsible and to my belief that they should have done better because I would have, then I can feel indignant and superior.  But if the attribution of responsibility is misplaced (including because my theory of causation in general is inadequate and inaccurate) or I don’t or can’t know how I would have done in their role, then I have to admit they have no demerit and I have no leg up on them.

Eventually if I do that, I end up separating the redressing of damage from judgment on the other person.  I may try to avoid repeating the situation with the person, but I stop expecting them to change or to fix things.

I’m okay at practicing this technique of perspective, especially over time, but I have found I have an Achilles’ heel in my willingness to use it — I have a really hard time when the other person insists on attributing blame themselves to other people, either regarding the situation in which we were involved or regarding some other situation.  If I’m going to see things less judgmentally, something in me wants them not to get unhelpful emotional satisfaction themselves from seeing things judgmentally.  Of course, how they see things is none of my business.  But it bothers me if they judge others in a way they are not being judged, and I think that part of my frustration is my sense that by doing this, they are insulating themselves from learning not to profit personally from others’ kindness.  Eventually I hope to learn to let go of that attachment, too.

Social ills

February 10, 2012

In reading all the attention being paid to income inequality, unemployment, and moral decay, I start to wonder why no one talks about the role of anxiety and depression in the interplay of forces.  However depression and anxiety get started, they exacerbate a downward spiral, whether through self-medication or producing a child in the hopes the child will provide love that is missing in the parent’s life or through other maladaptive coping skills.  I suspect at this point that depression and anxiety are larger factors in struggling populations than we are giving these factors credit for, and while I strongly agree that medication can make a huge difference in some people once depression and anxiety become large and otherwise intractable, I don’t think medication is the solution, I think instead we need to treat why there is a net outflow of “energy” in the social group, because I think it is some seemingly innocuous small imbalance that begins it, that then gets amplified and begins a complicated chain of events or process, and whose symptoms we then observe in increased poverty, crime, and fractured families.  I remember reading a case study, while I was in college, about how rehousing poor people into housing projects in or near London unintentionally shredded family and other social networks,* and that this then had far-reaching negative subsequent consequences — the population did much work after the rehousing, much to the surprise of the people who thought they were just proving improved places to live.  That’s the kind of innocuous event I would look for in trying to redress the economic and social ills in the U.S. discussed in Charles Murray’s recent book and all the reactions to it.

*I thought I should add that, as I recall it, the (new) housing projects were high-rise apartment houses, rather than the lower-slung sorts of housing that the people were currently living in, and that the rehousing broke up the physical distribution of the family members, disrupting arrangements, for example, of having an aunt or grandmother around the corner who could pitch in to help with childcare or cooking or emergency help — the rehousing paid no attention to reassembling the physical proximity of the extended family members that was the scaffolding to the social safety net, it scrambled the population by rehousing them according to other criteria, I think.

And I certainly don’t think that the housing should not have been improved, only that the housing planners clearly, in retrospect, needed to take into account additional factors in order to realize the improvements without imposing new costs, however unintentionally.


February 10, 2012

I know someone, but not very well, who has often mentioned that some family members died in a car accident.  I knew it happened years ago, and for some reason today I asked him how old he was when it happened and what time of year it had been.  And it turned out the anniversary is this Monday.

A few days ago I asked my son about something, kind of a check-in about how something was going, and he assured me all was fine with it.  Only to text me a day or two later that it wasn’t.

I’ve wondered for a long time how we know stuff, what we are sensing, and to what extent our sensing of the stuff actually could affect it.  I know people who think we affect things a lot, that our fears, for example, throw monkeywrenches into what goes on.  I tend to think that the whole notion of causation is probably misleading us, anyway, that things happen for some sort of complex reason that is below the surface of what we perceive and can try to manipulate, and that at a certain level the notion of causation isn’t very meaningful, anyway, since it is predicated on time.


Poets, mothers, and privacy

January 31, 2012

I was reading a piece (it’s called, “The Awful Rowing toward Anne Sexton,” by Lawrence Kessenich, and I read it here) that included the fact that someone writing about Anne Sexton gained access to tapes of her sessions with her therapist.  And, apparently, was planning to listen to them and draw on them in the book she is writing about Sexton.  The piece also mentioned Sexton’s daughter, although I’m not sure about her connection to the tapes.

I don’t know what the law is on this point involving a privileged relationship and the need for consent to put aside that privilege after the person holding the privilege has died.  (I think I once did know something about it.)  But from a non-legal perspective, I don’t see how another person can really give consent on behalf of the dead for disclosing their confidences.  How can they know it is acceptable to the deceased, to disclose something so personal?

My own mother has a very well developed sense of respecting other people’s privacy.  I know how much her own privacy means to her from this.  I suspect I’m willing to be a lot more open about my own life, and I remember thinking at one point in my life that this had something to do with having gone through the process of becoming an adoptive parent — you get somewhat used to your life being an open book.  At this point, I’m inclined to see correlation more than causation — I’m probably a more open person than my mother and hence I probably end up in situations in which more disclosure occurs.  Whatever the explanation, though, I am sure that she and I have different sensitivities about it, just as we, for all our closeness, have differences about other things.  And it’s not a matter of not wanting to shock her, it’s about trust and respect and consideration and maintaining closeness.

So, I know I would need to pay attention to the standard my mother would use about her own information if I were ever faced with a situation about privileged information about her after her death.

I hope that the people involved with Anne Sexton’s information have thought about this, too.  Just as we have memorial services to honor the dead, we can on the other hand dishonor them, I think, by doing something they might regard as betrayal of their confidences.


Full circle

December 13, 2011

When I was at the potluck supper last Friday night (mentioned in this previous post), where I’ve been going to services for the past few weeks, I ran into someone I know from another group.  And it struck me that I had ended up at the services indirectly because of somebody in that other group, somebody who has no connection to the services or to the person I ran into there, so in a way, it felt as if I had come full circle:  from the first group one person had invited me to join a second group, and someone at the second group had suggested these Friday night services, and then at the potluck at the services, somebody from the first group shows up.

So, I started thinking about how to look at that.  None of the groups has an overlapping mission with the others.  And it felt initially like a series of causes-and-effects, like a concatenation of invitations.  But then I thought, no, it’s on account of the fact that we’re all part of a (larger) community, maybe a sort of nebulous one, that shares some common characteristics about conformity (or not) and geography (greater Cambridge, MA).

Which by itself might not be particularly worthy of note, but what I liked about my series of thoughts was that it reminded me of how we sometimes see causation where there really is (only) correlation (including in medical, scientific, and social science research studies).  Each invitation did cause the next link in the chain, but really what seems to be going on is that we are one larger group that subdivides from time to time and coalesces into smaller groups, maybe like the way the pieces regroup inside a kaleidoscope when it’s turned.  From a bird’s eye view, the chain and its links are not primary, although that’s the way it may be experienced on the ground.