Maintaining the Causality Field
I do not have a strong scientific background. I was a biology major for a couple of years and took various science classes. But you know how undergrad at a state college can be where classes are filled with hundreds of people. You take your textbook home, memorize what you can and regurgitate it back on a test with not much instruction given. Going through that process didn’t deepen my critical thinking skills or intellect very much. I found it boring and difficult, and I eventually changed my major to one that was more creative.
Fast forward many years. I started to read Ray Peat’s work toward the end of 2011. The scientific information in his articles intimidated me and practically brought up traumatic memories.
I got to know other people who were studying Dr. Peat’s work firsthand. They modeled for me the possibility of understanding it myself and also provided an outlet for discussion and exchange. Danny Roddy’s work at the time, and his amazing diagrams, were an added aid in this process. For some reason, I will never forget the article titled “Estrogen: The Shit Show Hormone.” Who says science can’t be fun?
Support, and being “in it together” with other people who treat you as an equal, can really advance a skill. What was surprising was that some of the science I was studying was actually sticking with me, and my level of comprehension was increasing.
I noticed that my aversion to looking up studies was significantly being reduced. I could now take a stab at concluding on my own for my own life rather than only having to rely on secondhand information and conclusions from a health professional. This felt empowering, and I never thought myself capable of it before.
Since I have gained some confidence in my research abilities, I have regularly been researching various topics. I want to speak here to one pattern I have noticed. In mainstream publications, specifically news publications around disease, there is a phrase I have encountered over and over again: correlation is not causation. And I noticed that this phrase can create a very specific effect on discussion, awareness, and even learning.
For example, when a connection between an environmental factor and cancer is being linked or associated, at the end of the article, you’ll read a scientist quoted as saying, “Correlation is not causation.” Like, “Oh darn, we were so close to finding a connection but since correlation is not causation, we’ll ignore the application of the scientific method that doesn’t support our mainstream thinking and end the discussion.”
Medicine as practiced in the mainstream seems to focus on a standard of care. As long as they are all making the same mistake, that’s what matters most, that they are all doing it together. No need to get too nuanced or go outside certain paradigms of thinking. The reward is not there, and the price for doing so can be high in our litigious society.
So correlation is not causation seems to effectively shut down any further conversation that could advance an already limited application of science to the health of our bodies and even the health of the planet. Paradoxically when various drugs are being approved, correlation is not causation doesn’t seem to be a factor that gets in the way as long as there is enough money brought to the study.
I started to catch on to the limitations of correlation is not causation and I did some research on it. I came across statistician Edward Tufte: While it is not the case that correlation is causation, simply stating their nonequivalence omits information about their relationship.…”Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint.” Tufte, Edward R. (2006). “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within” (2nd ed.).
One reason I am sensitive to the use of that often used phrase may be because of what I read a while ago about things occurring in groups:
“The classical Chinese texts did not ask what causes what, but rather what “likes” to occur with what.” Marie-Louise von Franz, Swiss scholar and psychologist.
Isn’t that diagnosis at its core? A group of symptoms occurring together. Diagnosis is defined as, “the identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms.”
Classification and labeling are a big part of science, but it can almost start to feel that rather than focusing on the patterns themselves, the names of the patterns are getting over-emphasized. Kierkegaard wrote, “If you name me, you negate me. By giving me a name, a label, you negate all of the other things I could possibly be.” Another reminder of this pitfall is by Jean Paul Sartre, “I confused things with their names: that is belief.”
Too much is literal with doctors and diagnosticians in that a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, for example, isn’t an attempt at naming a group of symptoms but is a real thing as an ultimate truth with a limited number of corresponding drugs offered to treat the label given to that group of symptoms. One person gets a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, another person with a similar set of symptoms gets the diagnosis of hypothyroidism as if the official name matters more than effective treatment. The human body doesn’t reliably respond to a label but a correction of its imbalances.
Obtaining a final answer dressed in rigid labeling that gets in the way of understanding, is not worth very much. The scientific method is an ongoing process. In addition to arriving upon actionable information, scientific methodology should keep inquiry moving forward as a journey. “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” – Decouvertes
The correlation is not causation motto seems to be used by many with the intention of shutting down discussion. Just when you get hopeful that certain links are finally being recognized in terms of what is causing so much disease and so much destruction on the planet, you hear this comment trotted out as if there is no value in correlation, only causation.
Maybe for a corporation trying to get a drug approved, linear causation is the holy grail. However, in terms of navigating our own lives, paying close attention to correlation, groups, and patterns is a crucial step to having a global understanding of something versus a purely linear one.
There are many ways to say the whole is other than the sum of its parts but Mae Wan Ho in Organism and Psyche in a Participatory Universe gives an elegant and fresh way to see it:
“A yet more interesting possibility is that the liquid crystalline continuum may function as a quantum holographic medium, recording the interference patterns arising from interactions between local activities and a globally coherent field. This is exactly analogous to Laszlo’s (1995) suggestion that the “zero-point field” of the universe functions as a universal holographic medium, recording the experiences of all the particles, each of which is subject to influences from the rest of the universe as well as feedback from the particle’s own activities on the universal medium. If the organism is coherent as I have suggested, then the conditions are there for a quantum holographic memory store in the liquid crystalline continuum of the body itself. Holographic memory is unique in that it is distributed globally, and yet, can be accessed and recovered locally. It captures an aspect of the organic whole in developmental biology that has completely eluded mechanistic understanding.”
Acknowledging that things occur in groups, or supporting a multifactorial etiology of various plaguing diseases, better serves our comprehension of life and ourselves. This is a tool we can take back for our own health and understanding. If we ignore associations because an authority punctuates important findings with the disembodied cry of correlation is not causation, we will never plug our observations back into the whole, and we won’t be able to create a future worth fighting for.