Uncertainty and Cause & Effect

There’s something tickling out there at the confluence of our refusal to accept uncertainty and our belief in cause & effect.

Even here, as I ponder these two concepts, I’m falling into the expectation that relation equals cause. I was about to say that we refuse uncertainty – vehemently, violently, with suicidal insistence – because we believe in cause & effect.

How else can we talk about relation? This happens, that happens, there is some relation. After all, everything-is-in-everything.

But we jump away from the kind of openness to the question, away from an inquiry, and rush to find a cause. A cause. One reason for whatever it is that leads us to question. To question.

To inquire.

It’s a sure-fire methodology, or more of a rapid tick, a pseudo-reflex that takes us from the fertile point of approaching inquiry completely out of it and back into a celebration of false-certainty. We bounce off the heretical back into orthodoxy.

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with any sort of belief unless it masks contact with what-is. Heretical or orthodox beliefs can fall to either side of this distinction. What happens in times of cultural bankruptcy is that all the prevalent forms of either fail this test. In other times, other contexts, these same beliefs have been/might be vital. Just not now.

Byzantian has come to mean a labyrinthine construction of Catch 22s. Named after the empire built on the ruins of Rome in the East it captures the particular quality of our situation; so long as we adjust for costumes and transpose the registers into today’s vernacular. Certainly we have court intrigue and behind-the-scenes power grabs, and plenty of conspiracies; but what identifies this as a Byzantian period most is the way we have accepted the folding-in of heresy, potentially disruptive, even possibly creative change, into an Über-Orthodoxy. Noise is made against flavors and opinions that vary even only slightly from our own, but there is a deep well of gullibility that gives a pass to the most idiotic assumptions if they are presented as a way to further belief in our crumbling Juggernaut.

This hole in our perception crosses all party-lines and tribal affiliations. It is a conspiracy of complicity. Even as the most militant among us are ready to kill for their particular certainties, we all pause and hesitate before discounting outright the most ridiculous clap-trap if it is couched as an aspect of the underlying belief in Progress.

Wait, how do the know-nothing troglodytes of East and West all fit into this same conspiracy? They each seem quite ready to condemn each other and everyone else for the slightest breach.

Here we are. Is this an inquiry? Or am I falling into the title’s trap?

There’s some connection between this question and the difference between description and explanation.

A description is an honest attempt to gather our perceptions and attend to them. An explanation is the result of a desire to impress. Explanation assumes that the explainer knows and his – quite often a he, they don’t call it mansplaining for nothing! – target is there to accept the superiority of the explainer. (I highly recommend Rancière’s Ignorant Schoolmaster for light on this fruitful topic of inquiry.)

Is our belief in cause & effect – not our practical use of a heuristic, a pragmatic indicator: if we trip we must fall – but our belief in cause & effect as a talisman; the way this belief stops inquiry with a pseudo-satisfying pablum that we have arrived at a significant answer when we have just jumped at the first conclusion that springs to mind; is this belief connected to our resorting to explanation?


How do the fundamentalists all conspire to maintain a greater orthodoxy, one that holds all of their seemingly contradictory views?

Part of it is their shared belief in nihilism. There is a brotherhood – again, so often a male club – of death-worship. A rejection of life that spins-off their most-often resorted to shadow-projections of a Satanism onto their enemies as they themselves fulfill any working definition of such a cult.

How do they, in their nihilism form part of the same clade as the sainted Progressives?

Whether seeking salvation in a gated-community-heaven or in The Future!™, they all share in this refusal to participate in what-is.

The best heuristic I’ve found to distinguish members of this clade of clans is the breathlessness and far-away look they fall into whenever their orthodoxy is challenged. Some form of privilege and entitlement – especially when accusing others less powerful of having an unfair advantage over them – falls as a cloak over their vision protecting them – to the point of death – from any unpleasant fact.

This is so common that it is almost invisible, unless we make the effort to attend carefully. So often the knife-edge of judgment decides that some opinion – is there anything else? – is either an example of optimism or pessimism. Any threat to certainty is deflected. A position is taken. An extreme emotional reaction shuts everything down. Thinking stops. We return to the intoxication of willful belief.

Willful belief. Is there any other kind?

Maybe. It seems there’s a realm of belief under us no matter what our approach to living. Perhaps, even the most radical attention-to-everything-with-our-full-being does take place on a bed of belief. Or maybe the lack of what comes to be in this dynamic, resulting from such a practice, is what our common expectation of the use of belief has been trying to compensate for all this time? Whatever that might be called, a distinction is made between it and what we know of as belief. This distinction having something to do with integration.

Integration is another entry into these questions. The result of incoherent belief is disintegration. Integrated organisms – integrated within their skins, with the communities within, and also integrated in wider ecologies – are more apt to be coherent. There is a relation here. Let’s leave it at that….

Willful belief holds the necessity that some belief, any belief – taken on to shield us from our fears – our belief must be held onto at any cost. This is as true for militant atheists as for any other religionists. The abyss opens for those who fail to follow this Law.

Law. What is a law? Sheldrake talks about the “Habits of Nature” to distinguish from the common assumption that our hierarchical expectation that existence must follow the patterns of our culture’s belief in deriving action from predigested certainties that we call “Laws of Nature.” As the old cosmologist’s joke goes, “It’s Turtles, all the way down.” We want whatever keeps our Egocentric view intact to hold true as far as we can see. Interesting how Hubble, that superseded spy satellite now turned the other way, its myopia corrected into far-sightedness, catalogs the universe to make certain it conforms to the same concept of Law that drove its original mission as an Eye of Sauron turned upon us.

The dynamic presenting itself through the hygiene of attention points to a different kind of foundational belief. Discounting the rock of certainty outright as incoherent, we find a basis, not a resting place or end, in neither optimism nor pessimism. Our attention maintains an open relation with inquiry.

I keep returning to the distinction between floating and drowning. That trusting our natural buoyancy we are able to float without the illusions of solid supports while, if we insist in our rejection of this lack, we sink. It is by rejecting our buoyancy that we drown, expecting that our will can forcefully remove us from our situation simply because we want the world to be something other than what it is.

Floating, swimming, we glance off various, transient saliences adopting various cause & effect heuristics. We never stick to any of them long. We have no need. Our belief is in buoyancy not in an illusion of solidity.



7 thoughts on “Uncertainty and Cause & Effect

  1. There seems to be a situation where certainty and uncertainty merge, and that’s at the moment when we discover the incoherence or limitations of any of our tightly held beliefs. There is a kind of certainty in this contact with limits, but it’s not a conclusive certainty, it’s not the kind that would posit “The Truth”. It’s the certainty of rejecting that absolutism. It’s a certainty that does not exist outside of proprioceptive directness, which is not reducible to conclusion, because it occurs in transition, as a change of mind. And this transient certainty simultaneously expresses uncertainty, the opening of new vistas, new possibilities, the cracking open of that hitherto ingrown mind. It’s the direct and certain encounter with a limit, like a chick smacking its beak into a shell. And it’s the simultaneous discovery (no cause and effect there) of a wider, limitless, uncertain horizon. Thanks for dissolving many of the obstacles to a clearer vision of that limitless horizon.
    To the chick
    The awakening impulse
    is a Big Bang

    The shell is shattered
    The chicken coop expands

  2. […] Cause & effect is an obvious heuristic that can lead us to quickly adjust our actions in moments of danger. But as with any behavior that fossilizes into a certainty, this passage is a sign that we’ve left coherence behind. Where does cause & effect lead us wrong in the common progression? […]

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