Home > Life, School, science > We Always Like to Find “One” Cause

We Always Like to Find “One” Cause

I’m writing this in the airport while I wait for my flight.

In today’s New York Times, science columnist Olivia Judson writes to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species. In particular, she muses about the limitations of evolution:

In the laboratory, in other words, evolution has huge potential. But if it has that much potential — how come organisms keep going extinct in nature? In other words, why does evolution keep failing?

That got me thinking, which of course is always dangerous. It seems to be human nature (whether evolved or not) to always want one single explanation for things. It makes us very uncomfortable to think that an event can have multiple causes. And it drives us crazy if sometimes our favorite causal explanation doesn’t even work at all.

Oops, time to get on the plane. More later. I already got felt up by the airport security people, so at least I don’t have to go through that again today. I hope they enjoyed it.

Hey, I’ll be home when I finish this blog entry!

Back home again …

Back home now! Things are pretty normal. Dad already told me how proud he is of me. Mom fussed with my hair. Grandmother told me to sit up straight. And Josh is off with his gamer friends, to be back in time for dinner. Life is good. Because none of them reads this blog, none of them will find out that I got a tramp stamp (just a little one) while I was at school. 🙂

Okay, so where was I with the actual blog article? Oh, yes, Olivia Judson seemed a little miffed that evolution doesn’t explain everything about the development of life.

What I was getting at was, we seem to like single-cause explanations of things. Developed life forms (such as us, if we may flatter ourselves) developed through evolution. Psychological problems are caused by brain dysfunction of various kinds, with each problem coming from a particular kind of brain dysfunction. Economic problems are caused by either high taxes and too much regulation or low taxes and not enough regulation, depending on who you believe. My brother Josh is a pain because he’s an 18-year-old male. And so on.

What I’d like to know is why people are so determined to find only one single cause for things. Maybe it’s just how the human mind works. One cause is nice and neat and easy to remember. Multiple causes are troublesome and messy and you can lose track of which is which.

So why can’t the development of advanced life forms depend mostly on evolution and partly on other things? Why can’t psychological problems be caused sometimes by brain dysfunction and sometimes by childhood trauma (I’ve read some Freud, and I think he’s pretty cool). Why can’t tax cuts and deregulation be the solution to some problems, but tax increases and more regulation be the solution to others?

This popular idea that all situations, problems, and people have to fit into the same ready-made slots causes us to misunderstand a lot and sometimes to do the wrong things.

And for me, right now, the thing is to go downstairs and see what smells so good! Our main Thanksgiving dinner isn’t until tomorrow of course, but we always have something special the night before.

Have a happy Thanksgiving. Ttys!


Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.

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  1. November 27, 2009 at 2:13 am

    As a writer, my personal favorite is the Causal Chain. It’s easy to write (one paragraph follows another, just as one cause follows another) and fun to outline, because you get to draw little boxes with lines connecting them!

    Happy T Day!

    • Rinth de Shadley
      November 27, 2009 at 4:48 am

      Hi, Lee Lee 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by! School has been fun and challenging but also a lot of work, so it’s good to get a break for Thanksgiving. I hope that you had a wonderful holiday.

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