February 18, 2010

Causality (or, why ask why?)

In my last post I began discussing existence by defining the two cardinal rules that govern it – causality and non-contradiction.  The rule of non-contradiction simply states that contradictions cannot exist; something cannot be AND not be at the same time.  Existence can’t exist and not exist.  So since we know existence exists, we can go on from there.

The second rule is Causality or “cause and effect”.  This rule states that for every effect, there is a preceding cause, and that cause is independent of, and greater than the effect (“greater than” means that at the very least, the effect could not exist without the cause).

We all intrinsically believe in cause and effect and rely on it to make sense of our world.  Whenever you ask the question beginning with “why?” you are essentially asking for a cause.  For example, whenever I throw my head back and yell “Why are people so stupid?!” (which I inevitably do anytime I call customer service, read the comments section on a political website, or drive in Los Angeles), I am observing an effect (abject human stupidity) and looking for the cause (my current theory is that stupidity is exacerbated by  a combination excess fast food, and subliminal messages played during the broadcasts of manufactured “Reality TV”.  Research is ongoing).

Everything we see is an effect of a cause, and that effect may be the cause of a subsequent effect.  For example, my birth is an effect of my parent’s relationship (from what I’ve been told, this “effect” was greatly aided by half a bottle of cognac and an improperly inserted IUD…but I digress), and their relationship is an effect of their births, which were an effect of their parents’ relationships, and so on, each relationship and birth going further up the “ladder of causality”.

We can also see from a cosmological standpoint that our lives are an effect of the anthropic (human life optimal) nature of Earth’s environment (distance from the Sun, composition of the air, the water cycle, et al.) which is an effect of the Earth’s formation, which is an effect of our solar system, which is an effect of the Milky Way galaxy, etc.

However the cosmic ladder of causality does not have an infinite regression. We know from science that our physical universe is finite; it had a definitive beginning (I’ll get into that in detail in the next post).  So at some point, the elements (effects) that make up our universe (time, space, matter, and energy) did not exist… and then they did.  This initial effect had to be due to a First Cause, or “causeless cause” – a cause with no preceding event.  A cause, which by definition is independent of and greater than the effect (the universe).

It is vitally important that we identify, define, and do our best to understand this First Cause, because whatever it is, it is the source of everything we see, know, and experience.  The answer to “What’s the point?” is intimately tied to the First Cause

Based on what we know from science and human understanding, what can we definitively say about this First Cause?  I’ll begin to discuss that in the next post.

Related podcasts – What’s the point of existence and the meaning of life? (and causality)

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