Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Just Be Claws

I caused my coffee to brew.
I got the beans out, ground them, put filter in pot.
I filled up the water, poured just the right amount.
I plugged machine into wall, turning it on.
I watched clear become my desire of dark, rich brown.
I caused the coffee to brew.

I did not grow the coffee.
I did not make the grinder, filter, or pot.
I did not make or lay pipes allowing water to flow.
I neither designed nor built the machine.
I was only a link in a long set of chains.
I did not cause the coffee to brew.

Normally we think of cause and effect as simple. Something is done that makes something else happen. A useful way to live in the day-by-day. Cause and effects usefulness betrays the more complex, the more subtle, the more beautiful of what the reality is.

Kitty Lust
Causes require connections. I open the tuna can, the cats come. The can and cats must be setup a special way in order for cause and effect to work. Each cat must be within ear shot of the opener or they do not know of the potential tuna. If the basement door is closed the feline returning from the litter box may be unable to reach the can in the kitchen. Most of the time, we do not think about the special setup that allows causes and effects.

Causes do not always have the same effects. My cats Pan and Dora run to the kitchen when I open a can. Do I cause Pan-Dora to run? The creatures smell food and follow their desire for tuna. The fact that I'm the one opening the can means nothing to Dora or Pan. If I allow them to gorge themselves on the tuna and wait a few minutes to open another can, they do not often come running again, rather lick their paws and ignore can, tuna, and me.

Dreams of my cats
Different things can cause the same effect. Sometimes, when I'm cooking dinner, I'll open a can of peas or carrots or maybe tomatoes. You can hear the cats come bounding from where ever they lay, claws on wooden stairs launching themselves with abandon to their hoped for treat. Most of the time the can opener is not opening something they want. But just on the off chance it might be, they come anyway.

Effects follow causes. I have never once seen the Pan/Dora run to the kitchen expecting tuna while I am in another room. Maybe, when away from home, if I left a web-cam in the kitchen, I could detect such behavior; but I'm pretty sure it would be a waste of time. It seems safe to say that without the cause of the can opening, the kitchen running does not occur.

Cats think they are in charge
Some effects have many causes. We have a little plastic mouse with a red beaming laser light for a nose. If I push the button between the mouses ears the laser light lands on wall and floor much to amusements of my pets. Pan especially likes it when the light leads her from room to room.  She runs with all her might chasing the red darting prey. Getting Dora to run to the kitchen where the cans are opened is no mean feat. I can get Pan to do it a half dozen times before she tires and just watches the light move about. The opening of cans are not required for the cat to run to the kitchen with desire.

Correlation is not causation. Sometimes I make tuna fish sandwiches and put them in plastic bags. When I take these bags out of the fridge and open them to eat, a cat in range will come to investigate the smell. This led me to understand that it was not really the can that drove the cat, it was the tuna. The can is merely a correlation. The furry creatures had connected the sound of the can opening with the oily satisfaction of eating fish. The idea that because you relate one thing to another does not mean that one thing is the cause of another.

This seemingly little distinction, that correlation is not causation, leads us to a totally different sense of justice when cause and effect are applied to the law. Our sense of justice is closely tied to our innate ideas of cause. If you break the law you will be punished. The words 'you break' point to the cause and 'punishment' is the effect.

We have law for reasons of causation
Consider the heroin addict who craves his drug like my cat craves tuna. His body drives him to acquire the drug. His desire overpowers his morality and he becomes able to make the mental leap that theft is a viable way to obtain the chemicals his body screams for. In this sense the addict has been driven to change his morality, his sense of justice by chemical demand.

We make assumptions about cause and correlations always with insufficient information. Can we say the addict is responsible, that he is the cause of the theft? Do we say the drug is the cause of the theft? Perhaps it was his mother who took drugs while he was in her womb that setup this chain of events? Or maybe the pusher who convinced him as a young boy that heroin was fun? Perhaps all are culpable, perhaps none.

Dora will often jump on the counter to look for tuna after I leave the kitchen. She knows that tuna was there and if I don't see or hear her jump onto the counter, there may be an unexpected treat. Dora also knows that if I find her there, or become aware, I will chase her down with a squirt bottle until fur is wet. Dora does not like wet fur. Not at all. When Dora wants the tuna, her desire often overpowers her sense of consequences. Sometimes I'm not around and she gets what she wants. Dora knows that the effect does not always follow the cause.

Human nature looks for the simple cause and the simple effect. Its useful, but not often accurate to assume the easy and direct relationship of cause and effect. So next time you judge remember to be 'just', 'be claws' it is the right thing to do.

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