Inseparability of Cause and Effect
'What is the cause of event (A) ?”'– is the basic question of inquiry in all disciplines of science. Investigation into 'Causation' dominated the whole history of philosophy:
“Causation is the most fundamental connection in the universe. Without it, there would be no
science or technology. There would be no moral responsibility either, as none of our thoughts
would be connected with our actions and none of our actions with any consequences.
Nor would we have a system of law because blame resides only in someone having caused injury
or damage”. (*)
A detailed study into causation branches into many aspects ranging from investigation about whether regularity of occurrences leads to consider it as a cause. Or : is there a deterministic necessity of cause and effect, and if so, what about the problem of free will, etc.
Other areas of inquiry about causation relate to the “transitivity thread” of causes, and goes further to ask the question of “What if” : What if a certain particular cause did not take place, how this would have affected the history of events, etc. In addition to the mentioned inquiries, a very important question is raised about the time-sequence of events, and whether causes are simultaneous with their effect.
The contribution of 18th century philosopher David Hume to the study of causation offered a rich ground of perspectives, some of which were questioned or developed further by various sources in philosophical literature.
Causes and Conditions
Even in relatively simple events, finding the 'true cause' of an event becomes difficult. Confusion may occur between the real cause of the event on one hand - and conditions (necessary but not sufficient) for the effect to take place. For example: a seed of plant necessarily requires moist soil to sprout from, but in many cases, even with proper soil conditions, sprouting out of the plant does not take place.
The following example offers a simple explanation of what can be called a cause, and what can be referred to as condition:
“A problem, no matter what kind, is an effect produced by
a combination of inherent causes and external [conditions].
Here is a glass of water. Let's suppose that there is some
sediment at the bottom of the glass. If you stir the contents,
the water will become dirty.
In this case, the sediments is the inherent cause,
and the act of stirring is the external [condition]”.
Source: The Buddha in Daily Life, p. 170, Richard Causton, SGI-UK, ISBN9780712674500
The mentioned example explains further the benefit of correctly attributing the cause to the side responsible for the effect. in the field of solving disputes among people, one side in a dispute may blame the other side of being the cause of a problem. For example, one accuses another that the act of "stirring the situation" was the cause of developing a tense state (similar to creating the state of murky water stirred by an external spoon).
Nonetheless, the other side insists that in this example, the external spoon is not the cause, because no matter how hard you stir, if there was no sediment within the glass in the first place, then contained water will remain clear. This is a metaphor for individuals not realizing that the true cause of one's unhappiness is within themselves, and that they are merely experiencing the effect of that cause, after it has been activated by someone else.
Taking the example of the spoon in the glass of water further, we find an interesting observation: we observe that the cause, the condition and the effect - are all present at the same time. At the same moment of observation of the glass with murky water in it, the cause of this event is the sediment, while the trigger is the action of stirring, and the effect is the murky water – all present in one single moment of observation. This leads us to the question of simultaneity of cause and effect.
Cause & Effect as an indivisible process
When we look at the process linking cause and effect as one complete process, it is then possible to see them both as an uninterrupted oneness.
The following example explains this togetherness of cause and effect: suppose that we have just one piece of domino standing straight. A force applied to it (cause) will topple it over (effect). There is nothing to separate the applied impact on the first domino from its falling over, as both cause and effect are carried out by the same item of one domino.
Instead of a single domino, suppose now that we have a chain
of several dominos.
Let's apply the same impact on the first domino - as described
The process of dominos falling over in cascade will take place
until it reaches the final domino.
The observed process can be regarded as a
chain of causes and effects.
If the dominos (falling in cascade), were somehow made 'unseen' to the observer's eye (for example hidden from viewing by a screen) then the time interval between the fall of the first domino (cause) and the last one (the event which we call the final "effect") would appear as if cause and effect are not simultaneous.
In reality, however, what happens to the first domino when impacted by a force - is repeated all over in cascade. The link between the cause (being the impacting force) and the fall of any domino is inevitably one indivisible occurrence, defined by the reaction of mass to applied force on it - according to Newtonian mechanics. The whole progressive chain of causes and effects expresses one process of uninterrupted transfer of kinetic energy along the cascade. It is one indivisible process.
This domino example shows a process of continuous togetherness of causes and effects. The time delay (or the interval of propagation of energy) in this experiment depends on how many dominos we have put in between the first and the last, but the principle of the togetherness of causes and their individual effects - holds, as being indivisible in nature.
The togetherness of Cause and Effect is easy to observe in this simple experiment, but in more complicated phenomena the direct observation of this togetherness is not easy nor even possible to observe. In sophisticated processes of interactions, an initial cause may follow a nonlinear relationship with effects of different nature such as in chemical reactions, or changes made in physiological or biological phenomena - too sophisticated to simplify.
The togetherness of cause & effect (in a certain process) - although
being deterministic - however can be manipulated at any moment
during the flow of events - taking place.
With an appropriate speed of action, removing one of the still-standing
dominos will prevent the cascaded ones after it from falling over.
If the final fall of the dominos was considered a 'destiny' -
(in its deterministic link of cause & effect) then this destiny can be
The change in conditions (by removing a domino out of the cascade) becomes a cause in itself. Introducing another cause during the flow of a process , has its own associated effect (of interrupting the process). In this situation, a certain flow of actions has been prevented or interrupted by another flow of action (also a cause indivisible from its effect). What is at work then is a consistent Law of Indivisibility (or oneness) of the process of Cause and Effect: it creates destiny – but it can also alter destiny.
The action aiming at a deliberate change in the flow of deterministic events in the life of an individual is called “taking responsibility” - being able to alter a “tendency of habits” (or past actions leading to a certain effect). When there is a potential to act (aimed at changing the flow of occurring events) -a previously determined situation can be altered. Destiny is not fixed.