"if this exists, that exists" etc


Correlation is about two variables existing contiguously in time. One may give rise to another.

Causation is about one variable giving rise to another. Causation is not assumed without further endorsement:

In law:

The but for test inquires ‘But for the defendant’s act, would the harm have occurred?’ A shoots and wounds B. We ask ‘But for A’s act, would B have been wounded?’ The answer is ‘No.’ So we conclude that A caused the harm to B. The but for test is a test of necessity. It asks was it ‘necessary’ for the defendant’s act to have occurred for the harm to have occurred. Causation (law) - Wikipedia

In Epidemiology:

A principal aim of epidemiology is to assess the cause of disease. However, since most epidemiological studies are by nature observational rather than experimental, a number of possible explanations for an observed association need to be considered before we can infer a cause-effect relationship exists. That is, the observed association may in fact be due to the effects of one or more of the following:

  • Chance (random error)
  • Bias (systematic error)
  • Confounding

Therefore, an observed statistical association between a risk factor and a disease does not necessarily lead us to infer a causal relationship. Conversely, the absence of an association does not necessarily imply the absence of a causal relationship.

The judgement as to whether an observed statistical association represents a cause-effect relationship between exposure and disease requires inferences far beyond the data from a single study and involves consideration of criteria that include the magnitude of the association, the consistency of findings from other studies and biologic credibility [1].

The Bradford-Hill criteria are widely used in epidemiology as providing a framework against which to assess whether an observed association is likely to be causal.

The Bradford-Hill criteria (J Roy Soc Med 1965:58:295-300)

  1. Strength of the association.
    According to Hill, the stronger the association between a risk factor and outcome, the more likely the relationship is to be causal.

  2. Consistency of findings.
    Have the same findings must be observed among different populations, in different study designs and different times?

  3. Specificity of the association.
    There must be a one to one relationship between cause and outcome.

  4. Temporal sequence of association.
    Exposure must precede outcome.

  5. Biological gradient.
    Change in disease rates should follow from corresponding changes in exposure (dose-response).

  6. Biological plausibility.
    Presence of a potential biological mechanism. [current scientific framework]

  7. Coherence.
    Does the relationship agree with the current knowledge of the natural history/biology of the disease? [within current scientific framework]

  8. Experiment.
    Does the removal of the exposure alter the frequency of the outcome?
    Causation in epidemiology: association and causation | Health Knowledge


From this basis Hume develops his doctrine about causality. The idea of causality is alleged to assert a “necessary connexion” among matters of fact. From what impression, then, is it derived? Hume states that no causal relation among the data of the senses can be observed, for, when people regard any events as causally connected, all that they do and can observe is that they frequently and uniformly go together. In this sort of togetherness it is a fact that the impression or idea of the one event brings with it the idea of the other. A habitual association is set up in the mind; and, as in other forms of habit, so in this one, the working of the association is felt as compulsion. This feeling, Hume concludes, is the only discoverable impressional source of the idea of causality. David Hume | Biography, Philosophy, Works, & Facts |

Causality is on a firmer footing than it was with Hume, and he seems to represent an early voice in its’ progression.


Bhavanto, and I would like to address here both Venerables @sujato and @brahmali in this post, how do you interpret the dialogue of the particular Brahmin with the Buddha when he suggested to the Victor “natthi attakāro, natthi parakāro,” aṅguttaranikāye 6.38 in light of your mutual exchange above?

I will further add that I, in my Dunner Kruger way, see this sutta as a presentation of two extremes, namely freewill (being the attakāro) and hard determinism (being the parakāro). If both or either of you disagree with me here, I would be interested either here or in another thread to here of how you would correct my interpretation presented above.


On free will, many years ago when I had just a broad but sketchy familiarity with Buddhism, my thought was that while it all seemed well and good, the issue of free will seemed to be its Achilles’ Heel. Wouldn’t all of us, Buddhas included, still be just marionettes in such a universe, merely dancing and jumping to the strings of fate (whether those strings be deterministic or random or even all routes taken in a many worlds quantum interpretation scenario)? One random turn might lead to enlightenment; another random twist might lead away from it (it all seemed quite fickle).

Free will, like eternal life, is firmly situated on the atman/eternalist/God side of the viewpoint spectrum. In the opposite materialistic/annihalationist side, it can make no sense and must a fiction. However, whereas eternal life can’t exist in Buddhism, we still do have something of an analogue in the concept of the deathless. Likewise, I suspect there is a middle way on this question (not a hard yes or no) and there be an analogue of free will that fits into the four-fold negation catuṣkoṭi basket of categories. I’d tend to classify moral agency into that general category (something for which there probably is a more subtle middle way).


How on earth can someone who comes and goes on his own say that
one does not act of one’s own volition, nor does one act of another’s volition?”‘
Kathañhi nāma sayaṃ abhikkamanto sayaṃ paṭikkamanto evaṃ vakkhati:
natthi attakāro natthi parakāro’”ti.

And then from DN33 we have a related but somewhat different saying which should probably considered as well:

There is a reincarnation where neither one’s own nor others’ intentions are effective.
Atthāvuso, attabhāvapaṭilābho, yasmiṃ attabhāvapaṭilābhe neva attasañcetanā kamati, no parasañcetanā.

Our only real choice may be to freely choose ethics. Perhaps Identity is nothing other than the craving for the “freedom” of continued existence, that self-evident truth of…Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Wait. What?


And I would reinterpret your interpretation thusly:

this sutta as a presentation of two extremes, namely yjokknosggrisl (being the attakāro) and allzosbef (being the parakāro).


To start with natthi attakāro, natthi parakāro might be translated rather literally as “There is no self-doing; there is no other-doing”, or more idiomatically as “There are no actions by oneself, and there are no actions by others.” On the surface of it, this is a rather strange view to hold. We act all the time.

The same expression is found only once elsewhere in the four Nikāyas, namely in the Sāmaññaphala Sutta, DN 2, where it is attributed to the spiritual teacher Makkhali Gosāla. The context makes it clear that it means we cannot affect our experience of pleasure and pain, including our saṃsāric course, by our actions. Natthi attakāro, natthi parakāro would then seem to mean that neither our own actions nor those of others can affect our fate. It’s a kind of determinism. Here is the full context:

[Makkhli Gosāla] said: ‘Great king, there is no cause or condition for the corruption of sentient beings. Sentient beings are corrupted without cause or condition. There’s no cause or condition for the purification of sentient beings. Sentient beings are purified without cause or condition. One does not act of one’s own volition (natthi attakāre), one does not act of another’s volition (natthi parakāre), one does not act from a person’s volition. There is no power, no energy, no manly strength or vigor. All sentient beings, all living creatures, all beings, all souls lack control, power, and energy. Molded by destiny, circumstance, and nature, they experience pleasure and pain in the six classes of rebirth. There are 1.4 million main wombs, and 6,000, and 600. There are 500 deeds, and five, and three. There are deeds and half-deeds. There are 62 paths, 62 sub-eons, six classes of rebirth, and eight stages in a person’s life. There are 4,900 Ājīvaka ascetics, 4,900 wanderers, and 4,900 naked ascetics. There are 2,000 faculties, 3,000 hells, and 36 realms of dust. There are seven percipient embryos, seven non-percipient embryos, and seven embryos without attachments. There are seven gods, seven humans, and seven goblins. There are seven lakes, seven winds, 700 winds, seven cliffs, and 700 cliffs. There are seven dreams and 700 dreams. There are 8.4 million great eons through which the foolish and the astute transmigrate before making an end of suffering. And here there is no such thing as this: “By this precept or observance or mortification or spiritual life I shall force unripened deeds to bear their fruit, or eliminate old deeds by experiencing their results little by little,” for that cannot be. Pleasure and pain are allotted. Transmigration lasts only for a limited period, so there’s no increase or decrease, no getting better or worse. It’s like how, when you toss a ball of string, it rolls away unraveling. In the same way, after transmigrating the foolish and the astute will make an end of suffering.’

The context at AN 6.38 is similar. Here, judging from the Buddha’s reply, the point of natthi attakāro, natthi parakāro is that action happens without volition, or at least this is how the Buddha reinterprets the phrase. He then makes the point that since we initiate our own actions, there are actions by oneself and also actions by others. In other words, we have the will to act and the consequent actions are called our actions. Here is a brief extract from the sutta that gives the gist of the meaning:

Since there is an element of initiative, and sentient beings who initiate activity are found, sentient beings act of their own volition or that of another.

To me, both of these contexts point to the expression being a kind of deterministic doctrine. It looks to me as if attakāra and parakāra are part of the same unified expression. They do not seem to refer to different metaphysical positions. The world evolves, or our experience evolves, and no-one has any input in the process.


Ajahn @brahmali, if this is the case, then would it follow that whatever kamma is made, is predetermined?

It appears to me that this does not support the aim of the 8-fold path… ie that we can actively make wise choices etc, and thereby influence what kamma is made in the present moment…

How do we reconcile this in practice :anjal:


A very long time ago, I had a belief in the multiple, simmultaneous, universes theory. This would seem to fit with

Where, depending on which, of a number of choices one made, would determine, which of the pre-determined ‘evolution streams’ one would inhabit…

I suppose, that as far as practice goes, none of this is really important. What is important is maintaining a state of samadhi and awareness of things as they unfold in the present moment? Just watching from awareness and to be finished with doing, owning and controlling :smiley: ??



Well, this is the doctrine of Makkhali Gosāla, which is wrong view according to the Buddha. The Buddhist point of view is that we definitely have input in the process, otherwise there would be no escape from saṃsāra.

And, yes, whatever the ultimate nature of our choices, what matters is that it feels as if we have free will. We act on that sense of freedom to make the best possible choices. Lest we get sidetracked, it’s usually best to put all this philosophising to one side. Forget this, and you end up creating the Abhidhamma … :scream:


:rofl: a simple heart could not do this justice. :rofl:

I’ve gone on a journey. But while walking my body got tired. I’d better have a lie down.

:japanese_ogre: :wink:


In science there is a similar problem dubbed the ‘fundamental problem of causal inference’ (Holland, 1986).

Here’s an example of the problem: let’s say I take a pill for a headache, and the headache goes away after an hour. The fundamental problem of causal inference is that I can never compare this to the scenario where I didn’t take the pill (for this particular headache).

Consider an alternate reality where I did not take the pill. If, in this reality, my headache went away after an hour, the pill was ineffective. Whatever the pill is a cause of, the effects of these causes on my headache aren’t noticeable enough for me to care (or to purchase the pill).

Or what if the headache went away after 30 minutes in this reality? Then the pill actually doubled the duration of my headache. I will certainly never take this pill for a headache again.

The fact that we cannot directly observe cause and effect (as you rightly point out) is basically why science has to trouble itself with doing experiments, e.g. double-blind, placebo-controlled trials for medicine, instead of just ‘observing the effect of the medicine’ directly.

Given the observation that B follows A, I think when we say “A causes B” we are saying that we can reasonably imagine an alternative reality where everything is the same expect A didn’t happen and then B didn’t happen.

Scientists don’t try to discover high frequency statistical correlations; the “gold standard” is to first derive hypothesis from theory about what the patterns should (not) look like, then gather data, and then check if the patterns conform to what the theory predicted.

And I don’t think most scientists assume causality in the prescriptive way of a law; IMO that something is a law just means that a piece of knowledge is thoroughly accepted within the present scientific paradigm.


Thank you! :relieved:
Granted, I’m not very knowledgeable about the deeper philosophical aspects of the dhamma, but as I was trying to follow the thread I kept wondering about how I was supposed to actually use some of what was discussed.



One would therefore conclude that AI is nothing but a gamblers cheat sheet to the dice game rolled by God (with apologies to Einstein for the misquote). Science is clearly above all that. Um. is it? Whence came all the theories? When big data exists, correlations exist. :thinking:


Which gets me back to Judea Pearl’s book “The Book of Why”. There’s no point me rehashing the content of that book here. However, I will say that it covers what he calls “The Causality Revolution” in science and statistics (including AI which is just a fancy name of non-linear statistical models). It really is a very interesting read and I would encourage you to read it because it does resolve many, if not all, of the science-related raised in this discussion. It includes an account of the origins of the “correlation does not imply causation” dogma, the problems that it has caused, and why the new thinking on (scientific) causality renders it obsolete. Of relevance to the discussion here, he uses the new framework to explain, among other things, why it is in fact possible to have correlation without causation in some special circumstances, the importance of counterfactual reasoning (if X were not to happen, then Y would also not occur), and how to make sound inferences when randomised trials are not possible.


For those of us who cannot read printed material, a short summary will always be gratefully received. :pray:


Pardon my ignorance, but who cannot read printed material?


There are some members who are visually impaired, and use various technologies as an interface for text. If no text is available, the technologies cannot work :slight_smile:


Okay. Understood. However, I’m reluctant to attempt to summarise Dr Pearl’s book here. First, because it is not directly relevant to Buddhism. Second, because I think it would be very difficult to make a short summary and do it justice.

I read it on Kindle. Would it be possible for those who are interested and also visually impaired to use Kindle to access it?

Those reservations notwithstanding, if you would still like a summary, I am happy to attempt it but I really think that the book does a much better job than I ever could. It is not particularly long. It is aimed at the layperson, which is why I was able to understand it.


I thought I might read The Island on Kindle, but I stopped reading that because it gave me a headache. I now read using large font on a large screen or listen to SCV. I suffer from AMD and gave up driving years ago simply because I saw twice as much traffic as everybody else. :sunglasses: