Intelligent Systems And Their Societies Walter Fritz

Correlations, Cause and Effect


Many people say that: "The fact that A precedes B, does not necessarily mean that A is the cause of B". For instance, it is not true that: "A certain star rises above the horizon -- this means that Spring is here. The star caused Spring". To "cause" means something else then just precedence in time.

If we think about the above paragraph, we see that there are really two distinct cases. If A is an intelligent system who has an objective and acts to produce B (a change in the environment), then A truly caused B (this is a case of cause1). For instance, a person is thirsty and drinks a glass of water. Here the person (A) is the cause1 of the glass being empty (B). We use the word "cause1" to differentiate the concept related to the word "cause" from a different one, namely "cause2". Both concepts are "causes"; they are similar but not exactly the same concept. So what is the concept for cause2?

When we consider happenings in nature where no intelligent system intervenes, the case is different. Here we only have a statistical correlation. For instance, in 80% of the cases (or 99.99% of the cases) when A occurs, then B occurs later. Here we can say: A is the cause2 of B. This is even more certain if we have many examples where B occurred and was not preceded by A. In other words, we can talk about cause2 if there is a strong correlation of A with B, and a weak correlation of B with A. Here A and B can both be either structures or transformations; that means, they can be either objects or occurrences. An example of cause2 is: The wind causes2 movement of the leaves of a tree. In 99% or more of the cases whenever a wind rises (A), the leaves of the palm tree move (B). However sometimes the leaves of the palm tree move (if a horse rubs itself against it) and no wind rises. (A weak correlation B -> A.) Therefore the movement of the leaves is not the cause2 of the rising of the wind, but rather the wind is the cause2 of the movement of the leaves. This is quite obvious. Here we talk about cause2 because the wind is not an intelligent system; it has no objective and no selection of actions. The wind really does not "act", it just occurs.

There are also other cases of correlation: There is a strong correlation of A with B and also a strong correlation of B with A: a reciprocal correlation. For instance, a moving electric charge is present when there is a changing magnetic field and a changing magnetic field is present when there is a moving electrical charge. (But it doesn't seem right to say one "causes" the other.) Or: The sun dips below the horizon, night is here. Or: Night is starting and the sun goes below the horizon.

If more factors are involved, say A, B, C and D, we can even have a circular correlation. In all cases, when a correlation nears 100% we call it a scientific law (or law of nature).

It appears to be useful if we divide the abstract concept for "cause" into two concrete concepts: "cause1" if there was an act of volition, and "cause2" if it is just a case of statistical correlation, occurring in nature without the involvement of an intelligent system. Really, in cases of cause2 and to avoid confusion, it would be better to talk only of "occurrence" instead of "cause" and "effect".

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Last Edited 19 July 2013 / Walter Fritz
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