Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Fascination with Causation

Steven Pinker, in The Stuff of Thought, offers up a very interesting insight on causality.

"The more you scrutinize causality, the less sense it makes, and some philosophers have suggested that science should just kiss it goodbye."

Fascination with cause-and-effect began with David Hume's Treatise on Human Nature and has only increased since the 18th century. In my far-too-close reading of Hayek over the past 24 hours, I've pulled a couple more nuggets on causality:

"It does not matter for him why..." and "causes... are of no interest to him". Both quotes are taken from The Use of Knowledge in Society. "Him" is the agent responding to prices. Basically, according to Hayek, the price system makes causes irrelevant for human beings; it allows us to respond to changing circumstances without ever knowing the root causes of a change in price.

With all of this in mind, why are we so fascinated with causality in our lives? How would science - especially social science - be different without it?

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Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty