Why Ask "Why??"

Barry Kort


This paper suggests the notion that awareness of the concept of causality is a prerequisite for the ability to reason by inductive logic, deductive logic, or by analogy. I suggest that prior to the time someone becomes aware of the notion of causality, one is unable even to pose the following question:

I become aware that every time I see event A, I also see event B. They form a pattern, they go together, it happens every time. In my memory, I associate A with B thus: A -- B. Does it ever occur to me to ask the question, "Does one come first and cause the other?"

I submit that if I am unaware (do not know about) the notion (or idea), I cannot ask the question of causality, because I do not know enough to ask the question. I must be taught (by someone who already knows) that it is very important to ask the question.

What Happens If I Ask The Question

If it occurs to me to ask the question, I would have to admit, I do not know. If I would like to know (emphasis on the feeling that something exists which I want) I then must go to the outside world to find the answer. I must ask someone who might know or I must do an experiment to seek new knowledge. I submit, that there are exactly four possible answers to the question. If I am to know the answer, I must determine which of the four possibilities is true

When I have answered both questions, I will have acquired two bits of information. I will know which of four possibilities is true about the real world where the events occurred. I will know which of the four pictures to store in my memory:

I submit, that until one's memory includes the arrows of causality, there is no such thing as reasoning from premise to conclusion. Until one is aware of the direction of time between two closely related events, one cannot think about the consequences of a possible course of action. At best, one can only follow a set of preprogrammed (or accidentally discovered) instructions that tells one what to do. If one does not know what to do, one can choose at random some untried method to react to the observation of A and B seen together. If it works, keep it until it becomes unworkable. Then search for a better way.


When one does not know which way to put the arrows of causality, could it be that one guesses which way to put them, and the direction and strength of a feeling is just the direction and strength of belief that one has put an arrow in correctly. That is, one feels one's way toward knowledge (certainty) that one knows one's world. It is when we guess wrong on the direction the arrow between cause and effect that we make errors. Could it be that lack of awareness of the Scientific Method of Discovery is responsible for the apparent frequency with which people arrive at puzzling beliefs? Could such common fallacies as post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after the fact, therefore because of the fact) be so pervasive in everyday thinking that people routinely trap themselves with false beliefs? (In Skinnerian conditioning, this type of adaptive learning is well known. It is easy to spot instances of it by merely asking the question, "How do you know that?" If the question is taken rhetorically rather than reflectively, one may legitimately wonder if the item of "knowledge" was acquired adaptively rather than cognitively.)

The Process of Coming to a Perfect Accommodation

It now appears that it may be possible for two warring parties to think and feel their way toward harmony, provided one of them (or a mediator) is able to follow a certain protocol. When two people, or two organizations, or two countries become adversaries, could it be that each of them have failed to discover the existence of an arrow of causality (denoted "-->"), which, if they knew about it, could enable them to break the deadlock? Consider, if you will, two acts of aggression, one party against another. When event A occurs, the first party defends himself by causing event B (which is intended to be an act of defense). Event B is indeed taken as an act of aggression by the second party, who takes the blow but does not retaliate. Later, the second party may offer a token of appeasement, and things return to "normal." After a while the second party starts giving a lot of little presents of things he has an abundance of, which the first party does not have at all. Then the second party makes a mistake and offends the first party. The mistake is another occurrence of event A. What went wrong? Both parties know that A causes B (A --> B), because the first party is deliberately causing B in response to A. The second party is aware of A, but doesn't see how it could be such a big thing. Unbeknownst to the second party, the string of little presents are unwanted and/or unneeded by the first party. So why does it continue? The first party does not want to offend the second party by telling them their presents are unwanted. Finally, when a real mistake occurs (event A), the first party lets loose with a bomb (event B), that is all out of proportion to the offense. It should be clear that the first party is holding back information about the undesirability of the string of presents. But why? The answer is that the presents are too advanced. Examples: Giving an FM Stereo Receiver to someone who lives in a backward place where they only have AM broadcasting. Giving a book on philosophy to a young man who is interested in becoming a star halfback. If the giver is unaware of the circumstances, the gift becomes demeaning. By asking the person whether they would be interested, they reveal their feelings which tells you where they are in their growth.