Causation is an area of thought about which there has been much discussion in philosophy. It has been sliced up into different sets of categories for different philosophical approaches. I am interested in causation, because the way we implicitly approach it today determines a lot about the way we view humans and the way we treat them. So, for our purposes, a new set of categories will be presented here hopefully to shed some new light on human interaction in modern technological society.
Something is a defined discrete cause when a causal agent neatly impacts the recipient of the effects. When a bunch of kids are playing baseball in someone’s backyard, and one of the boys accidentally throws a ball through a neighbor’s window, that is an example of defined discrete causation. The kid who threw the ball is the causal agent of the broken window. The neighbor is the recipient of the effect. He is the one who has to deal with the broken glass and with replacing the window. The causal action is one way. That is, there is no reciprocal causal action going from recipient to agent that overlaps with the initial causal action. The neighbor may come outside and scold the kid for being careless, and the neighbor may even try to collect damages from the kid’s father. But these would be two separate processes that occur after the kid threw the ball through the window. We are dealing with distinct processes, each of which leaves its own distinct impact on someone. And within this causal process itself, one person is definitely the agent, and one is definitely the recipient. And, within this causal process, only the agent is a maker of imprints. He makes an imprint on the recipient of the causal action, but he also makes an imprint on himself. Such an imprint, even from an embarrassing action like breaking a neighbor’s window, helps the boy to feel alive. It becomes a part of the narrative of his life.
A defined discrete cause is what is usually thought of when experimental scientists are looking at the human field of experience. The idea that most of what happens in the human field of experience is determined by defined discrete causes is appealing, because it means that human actions can be more easily controlled and manipulated. And by extension, if the human field of experience can be reconfigured such that most of the human actions in society are defined discrete cause actions, then humans themselves become more susceptible to control and manipulation.
A flowing blendable continual cause is much more difficult to control and manipulate. In this causal situation, an agent triggers a response in a recipient or recipients, before he, the agent, is finished completing his causal action. The response of the recipient impinges on the agent in such a way that it shifts the direction or quality of the agent’s action. Which, in turn, can affect the direction and quality of the recipient’s response and so on until both the agent’s action and the recipient’s response are completed. This action and response system accounts for most of the social encounters that people have in everyday life. It also accounts for many automobile accidents, which is why it is often so difficult to ascribe the degree of blame of each of the parties involved. In situations like this, the lawyer of each party will try to make the accident appear to be a defined discrete cause accident caused by the other party.
In flowing blendable continual cause actions, both persons are in truth agents and both are recipients. Each person is making an imprint or imprints and each person is receiving an imprint or imprints. There is a blurriness, an imprecision to a flowing blendable continual cause action system, because both the agent and the recipient are initiating flowing, blendable, continual actions that tend to intermingle with and blur into each other. At the same time, this kind of action is the foundation both of strong bonded relationships between individual humans as well as sustained conflict relationships. Without these flowing blendable continual cause action systems, there would be no friendship, no romance, no family, no community, no society. There would also be no disputes, no feuds, no rivals, no enemies. In short, there would be no meaningful life narratives.
Finally there is an infinite continuous vacuum cause which is when a causal agent ceases to impact in anyway on a recipient with whom he was previously interacting, and this leaves the recipient in a social vacuum with regard to this causal agent. Indirectly, the causal agent does make an imprint on the recipient by not making an imprint. It is a generic imprint of numbness that ultimately affects the agent as well as the recipient. As people increasingly start to unconsciously configure their life activities in terms of defined discrete causal actions, they lose the capacity for the bondedness with others that comes in the interactions stemming from more flowing blendable continual cause action systems. In general, connecting with others for defined discrete purposes like taking a course at college, working at a job or having casual sex is simply not enough to allow a person to sustain bonded relationships with others, and people start to slide away into psychological vacuum states, withdrawing from others into numbness. Defined discrete cause activities create relationships that are contingent and instrumental and these are ultimately very fragile relationships that, when they are a person’s almost exclusive connection to the social world, lead to a feeling of emptiness. And when this is primarily the kind of connection people have to offer one another, people contribute to leaving each other in a psychological vacuum, even when they are not purposely sliding away from and ceasing their connection with each other.
A world of increasing defined discrete cause behavior is certainly one that reinforces the ideas of many social scientists today. But it is not so much that their ideas and beliefs are true for human nature in general. And yet social scientists today frequently assume that the behavior of human beings living in modern technological society is somehow true for all human beings throughout human history and in all human societies including preliterate and more traditional ones. Except for cultural anthropologists, they do frequently seem to operate on the assumption that the results they come up with in their experiments and observations are true for humans regardless of period or place. And if defined discrete cause behavior is assumed to be the universal dominant behavior, then it gives these social scientists the right to break down behavior into its component parts: into the causal behavior of human agents and the distinct response behavior of human recipients. And then, clearly understanding these defined discrete human interactions that they have helped to configure, social scientists can control and manipulate human behavior, in schools, in work and in large social institutions like community groups, clubs and churches. And people in marketing and advertising can control and manipulate people in terms of the purchases they make.
This belief that all human behavior can be found to be fundamentally defined discrete behavior ultimately stems from the mirroring and modeling created by modern complex machines, computers, and, of course, robots. And this is because the behavior of these modern advanced machines is primarily defined discrete cause behavior. Yes, some modern machines are created for complex interactions with people. But however complex the interactive behavior, modern machines still operate on the basis of defined discrete shifts in responding to humans and to external world situations rather than more flowing blendable continual shifts. However small it may be, there is always a period of time separating one shifted piece of behavior from another when dealing with machines.
Seeing human behavior from the perspective of defined discrete cause actions is just one more way to understand how modern humans have been influenced by an increasingly complex and pervasive modern technology. Yes, understanding defined discrete causation has helped us to solve many important problems that have faced humanity in the external world. But not everything operates primarily on the basis of defined discrete causation. Including the human mind and human relationships.
(c) 2016 Laurence Mesirow