Re: [xmca] Kevin's paper for discussion: causality

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Mon Jul 03 2006 - 15:36:14 PDT

Ana, these are really great points. Something to ask is just what is
a cause, what is an effect, and how are they similar and
different? Perhaps all events are both effects and causes, belonging
to an "infinite causal continuum" (some ideas from Dean Gano, I'll
speak of his ideas a little in subsequent posts - he has developed a
provocative "root cause analysis" method with an interesting
philosophy about causality that I learned about last week). You make
this point, speaking of mazes and networks of events. I ran across a
quote in a Wikipedia article on causality from ancient Indian
philosophy that captures Gano's idea about the unity of cause and
effect - "Cause is the effect concealed, effect is the cause
revealed." I find that evocative. Another observation: your points
seem to suggest two very different time lines - one from the present
to the past - history - and the other, from the present to the future
- possibility. Once something has happened, its causes are/were
real, yes? But for things that have not yet happened, causes are
only possible but never fully determined. Two very different kinds
of problems, yet we must use one to solve the other. I also really
like your point about mediation, which certainly does seem to be
essential for any theory of causation, especially in human
affairs. And your point about models seems especially
important. For a given series of occurred events, what methods
should one use to choose an appropriate "model" of it? What more
thoughts do you have, Ana, on how causality can be modeled? When is
a mechanical model useful/inadequate, when is a dynamic systems
theory model useful/inadequate, what other models do we have available, etc.?
- Steve

At 05:28 PM 7/3/2006 -0400, Ana wrote:
>I see this issue in a different light. Instead of cause and effect
>-- which are directly connected to each other, I see a series of
>events which may "prepare" the ground for the next one to happen or
>not. More like opening possibilities, than a direct cause-effect
>kind of process. Because human development is a mediated process,
>and not a direct causal loop, I see development more like a maze or
>a network of events in which you have many switches (nods) which
>could open or close the next step in the development.Each switch
>(node) enables/or disables) more than one possibility leaving a
>person open to more than one way to go forward. Therefore when I
>talk about something "caused" something else, I might really mean
>"enabled": in a sense it is a type of causation, but not a uni-directional one.
>I think that the concept of mediation by cultural artifacts,
>interpersonal relationships and particular social and historical
>events at the time, opens new ways to look at causation. From the
>point of view of mediation, and what happens there, we should look
>into different physical models more akin to the dynamic systems
>theory, than into the physical models which are more mechanical.
>What do you think? (question asked in the spirit of my good friend
>and neighbor - E. Matusov)
>Steve Gabosch wrote:
>>A recent series of classes in "root cause analysis" at my aerospace
>>company has gotten me thinking about how CHAT views causality, and
>>what tools it uses to analyze it. It is possible that CHAT could
>>use a leap forward in this area. Does it have a conscious
>>methodology regarding causality? The complex questions Mike raises
>>about the sociocultural, the phylogenetic and the ontogenetic is a
>>very good example. How does one understand how they interact and
>>transform one another? How does CHAT understand these processes in
>>a broader picture of causes and effects? In the case Mike
>>describes, what "caused" or what were the "causes" for a bright and
>>willing graduate student in mathematical psychology in the late
>>1950's to have "trouble" with the deep math? His community of
>>practice? His prior training? His neurology? His inner romantic
>>scientist? :-)) We ask these kinds of questions again and again of
>>every human every day.
>>CHAT, following Vygotsky, Luria, Leontiev et al has made strides
>>explaining essential elements and relationships in
>>*development*. But what has it discovered about *causality*?
>>- Steve
>>At 08:32 PM 7/1/2006 -0700, you wrote:
>>>How about both-and? If a kid has downs syndrome or spina bifida or a
>>>perinatal stroke it is a difference that is very difficult to avoid having
>>>be a difference
>>>that makes a difference. Not impossible to incorporate into human society in
>>>a human
>>>way, but not easy either.
>>>Being short at the wrong age?
>>>"Too thin" for sociocultural norms?
>>>"Wrong" color hair?
>>>All differences that can be turned into serious deficits and often are, with
>>>long term
>>>negative consequences for those so interpreted.
>>>None of this negates the fact (if I may be allowed to use that word) that
>>>failure has been constituitive
>>>of formal schooling since at least 4000BC, on the record. But it does
>>>complicate theories that assume
>>>that humans have "broken free" from phylogenetic constraints. That was wrong
>>>in 1920 and it is wrong
>>>today. Humans are evolving. Evolving in a cultural medium, to be sure, but
>>>I do not think this was Kevin's main target of inquiry and do not want to
>>>derail the conversation. I was
>>>marking time and voicing a long time concern, not direcrected specifically
>>>to his article but to some
>>>too-frequent implications derivable/derived from theoretical ideas that were
>>>imbricated in his article.
>>>On 7/1/06, Andy Blunden <> wrote:
>>>>At 10:43 AM 1/07/2006 -0400, you wrote:
>>>> >.... What I was trying to foreground is this: Failure, incompetence,
>>>> >inability, etc., happen all the time. There are differences, though, in
>>>> >how consequences of these get organized in different systems of social
>>>> >relations. Some systems are benign, and even if certain displayed
>>>> >inabilities might preclude particular life courses, they don't get used
>>>> >close off the possibility or likelihood of a desirable and valued future
>>>> >in general. Other systems are not benign, and displayed incompetence,
>>>> >inability, or failure do get used to greatly reduce the likelihood of a
>>>> >valued future. I think it's very important to pay attention to how
>>>> >systems of social relations organize these consequences - ...
>>>>So it's not so much the source or cause of difference, but how difference
>>>>is "interpreted"?
>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>xmca mailing list
>>xmca mailing list
>Ana Marjanovic'-Shane,Ph.D.
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