Source: Spurious Correlations
Thank you Ang. Sabbamitta!
When I read SN12.23, I was amazed. Now I listen to it over and over again when cooking dinner. I can almost recite it! I am looking forward to memorizing in Pali/English.
And thank you for the links. I had not realized just how critical DO/DL are to the teachings.
There are many such causal sequences for the path to liberation in the suttas. Another of my favourite ones is AN 10.61.
Wow! That one came from a totally different direction.
Added “fuel for ignorance” to the sutta search examples. Thank you!
SN 22.59 section 2 segment 33 ‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’”ti?: The l│
etter “e” occurs in etaṃ, and twice in eso, and to my understanding it should b│
e pronounced in the same way in both cases—but it isn’t. etaṃ sounds just as ex│
pected, but in eso the “e” sounds rather dull (I don’t know the right words to │
describe these things).
Above are three words: etam, eso#1, eso#2, eso#3
Which eso sounds better?
Clearly the third one, 100 %—but did you get the threads wrong, Karl?
That link doesn’t seem to do anything here (iMac 10.8.5 Firefox 48.0.2)?
Well, how about starting with a good faith assumption that I understand the common-or-garden variety High School explanation of the difference between causation and correlation?
I defined causality as “correlation for which no exception has yet been found”. In the cases you give, the correlation is merely statistical, which means that there are, indeed, many exceptions.
Perhaps, then, I am suggesting something a little more subtle. I believe that the Buddhist notion of causality is, in relevant ways, compatible with the arguments of David Hume; and furthermore, that this is what Nagarjuna was pointing to in his critique of causality.
Some good introductions to Hume:
The outcome of this approach to causality is that science, like Buddhism, does not point to necessary or absolute truths, but to pragmatic ones. For practical purposes, we can assume that if we act in a certain way, certain results will follow.
However there is no “thing”, no underlying metaphysical reality that corresponds with what we call a “cause”. We can never observe “cause” or “effect”; we can only observe phenomena happening, and then other phenomena happening, we cannot observe phenomena causing other phenomena. “Cause” therefore is a derived concept (upādāya paññatti) rather than an observed reality.
So when we say that “A causes B” we are saying that “we have observed many cases where B follows A, and no exceptions to this, so it is reasonable to infer that if we do A, B will follow”. This is good enough. “Cause” is just shorthand, in the same way we use “self” in Buddhism.
The real reason, I believe, scientists insist on causality/correlation is not because it serves any philosophical or practical purpose, but because it allows them to claim metaphysical authority from religion.
This understanding of cause has important philosophical benefits; for example it solves the free will/determinism problem.
The following article discusses this in great detail.
I have never found enough detail in the EBTs to determine whether the Buddha held a “Humean” regularity theory of causation and causal laws, or if he has in mind a more metaphysically freighted view. The statements he makes on the matter seem consistent with a variety of outlooks.
I think the emphasis was on developing insight into what causes what, so that we can work on bringing our dukkha to an end, not on developing a deeper metaphysical understanding of what exactly causation consists in.
I think it would be very hard to find any of the usual kinds of causal claims advanced by scientists that make “events of type A cause events of type B” claims that report regularities that are absolutely without exception. They discover statistical correlations with a high degree of frequency, and then test to distinguish superficial statistical accidents from deeper patterns.
I’m such a tease, right?
Well, again, very briefly, the free will/determinism problem rests, I believe on the conflation of two distinct kinds of natural “laws”. Some laws are prescriptive, like a cop who tells you to slow down. Other laws are descriptive; they merely describe what happens, like the laws of probability. In Buddhism these are called upādāya paññatti.
I think physical and natural laws, including the “laws” of Buddhism such as the four noble truths or dependent origination, are all descriptive laws.
When we formulate the “problem” of free will, we give voice to the “paradox” that we seem to be free and act of our own volition, yet at the same time everything is determined by causal relations. So we are like a driver who wants to go faster, but cannot because the “law” is stopping them. But I am proposing that causal relations do not determine anything. They merely describe. There’s no cop, no speed limit that’s telling you you have to make this choice or that. The “laws of causality” that determine what choices you make are mere statistics.
In this way, the whole dilemma is wrongly conceived. There’s no such thing as “free” or “determined”, there’s only patterns that can be observed. We can make inferences about those patterns, and use them to make wiser choices: if I do this, suffering results; if do that, happiness results.
You’re probably right, although I think the view I’m proposing is the “right” interpretation, in the sense that it makes the most sense of the Buddha’s statements on causality. To be honest, I have never had the time to deeply research this, so it is more like a working hypothesis.
I agree, and I think philosophically a sophisticated scientist would work this way; but I also think they casually assume causality in a more metaphysical sense. But again, there’s no real problem from a practical point of view.
Indeed. Although i feel wisdom(panna) is a conditiond phenemona. And it does seem to increase more i practice the buddhist path. But still some choices are still not apparent to me. For given a free choice i would like to be without craving but i still dont have access to that choice.
I don’t think most working scientists have such grandiose personal aims, although certainly, for some, ideological or moral zeal about the benefits of science serves as an extra motive for their practice of science. People viewing the world from the standpoint of traditional religious doctrine, or from the standpoint of the keepers and purveyors of folk medical traditions, might react to their their felt loss of authority by attributing to scientists a conspiracy to persecute them. Maybe sometimes they are right. And maybe in some instances the scientists are right in applying zeal to the eradication of pernicious ignorance. But it is not easy to deal emotionally with the blow to one’s pride when views to which one is strongly attached are discredited by well-conducted empirical inquiry.
A deep metaphysical analysis of the nature of causation is not necessary for the everyday conduct of science. For most practical investigative purposes, it doesn’t matter whether accurate causal generalizations are grounded only in deep, underlying natural patterns or regularities that happen not to have exceptions, or if there is some extra metaphysical “oomph”, some something-we-know-not-what, connecting the states and events that are part of the regularity. If, for example, some religious cult teaches that by getting 100 people to pray in the right way one can cause the global mean surface temperature to decrease, then that is a claim that can be tested, even while philosophers wrangle about what precisely “cause” means in that statement.
I wouldn’t dare to assume otherwise. I have had trouble reading White Bones Red Rot Black Snakes, which is a long way off from the intellectual feat of writing it!
The philosophy of causation features two prominent families of views on causal connection, that is, on the difference between causally related and causally unrelated sequences.
The probabilistic family holds that causality comes down to probability. The process family views causality as a physical process. Prominent families incline to intermarriage; the two philosophical families have produced hybrid views that combine probability and process. Needless to say, the different approaches have their strengths and weaknesses.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides an introduction to the metaphysics of causation.
Bhante, I deeply appreciate your translation of Vital Conditions. Your precise usage of vital condition in the scientific sense elicits a deeper inquiry. In that deeper inquiry, one must understand that vital condition implies two things. On the one hand a vital condition removed clearly results in cessation. Simultaneously, the use of the word condition also indicates that the presence of a vital condition (e.g., ignorance) does not imply immediate arise of the vitally conditioned (e.g., choices). In this exact way, “flammable” is a vital condition for “fire”. But “flammable” does not cause “fire”.
'Other laws are descriptive; they merely describe what happens, like the laws of probability. In Buddhism these are called upādāya paññatti .
I think physical and natural laws, including the “laws” of Buddhism such as the four noble truths or dependent origination, are all descriptive laws.’
Laws of probability (statistical multivariate models) are predictive. A simple cause effect relationship is problematic. For example more men than women ordain so therefore are men more spiritually inclined? Is this a simple case of cause and effect? Many factors enable an individual to develop spiritually in this tradition and historically being male probably explains a large amount of the variance. However, things are changing.
I’ve heard you make this argument before, bhante, and I have long wished to bring it up with you, because I have to admit it doesn’t make sense to me. Whether the laws are descriptive or prescriptive seems to me to be beside the point. The point, I believe, is that there is no independent agent, and so choice is always determined by factors apart from the actual choosing. Free choice, even if only marginally free, requires an agent to stand apart from conditioned phenomena and that is exactly what Buddhism denies.
If I usually have toast for breakfast, but one day decide to have cornflakes instead, then there must be a condition for that change. The change cannot merely be the outcome of not being bound by descriptive laws; there must a be a reason why you make the new choice, such as a sudden positive memory connected with cornflakes. No change in choice can come about without such conditions.
So it seems to me that any choice is fully explainable in terms of the sum total of the conditioning that is working on it at the particular moment of choosing. There is nothing apart from those conditions. Because there is nothing apart from them, you cannot remove yourself and make an independent choice. This is so whether the laws of conditioning are descriptive or prescriptive. Even if the laws are merely prescriptive, you need something apart from the prescriptive conditions to take advantage of the fact that your choice is not predetermined. To me, freedom of choice is not compatible with Buddhism.
If you feel so inclined, I would be interested to hear your rebuttal of the above.