Somewhere along the way, I came to believe that the word causal came from the word because. Because there’s a cause contained in the word because. The word is almost like a commandment. Be the cause. I don’t think that’s really true. It’s just a silly association. The word because seems to be an element of a persuasive argument.
How about a little thought experiment?
Consider the assessment:
“Peaches are gross.”
Okay, you may have one or many positions on this controversial subject: You agree because your experience matches that statement, you disagree because your experience does not match that statement, you may not agree nor disagree because it’s possible that some peaches are gross and some other peaches are not gross. And, you may have no opinion because you have no experience with peaches.
How persuasive the assessment is depends on a few things: your personal experience with peaches, what your friends have said about peaches in the past, and your assessment of the source of information. After all, what is knowledge and what is not?
Consider the statement:
“As a doctor, peaches are gross because they have tiny fibres on their skin that absorb pesticides, pollutants, and excrement that can’t be washed off no matter how hard you try – so the next time you think about eating a peach, remember: eat shit and die.”
A few features of that statement are worth noting. There’s an appeal to authority with the source of the information. The linchpin is the word because. That word may signal that rational list of reasons to justify the position are about to follow. And, it ends with a memorable heuristic summarizing the causal link: because peaches absorb things that can kill you, and are covered in the waste of birds, insects, and who the hell knows what else, they are gross. And that is just one perspective.
The word because signals that reasons are coming. To the extent that people make the connection between the reasons and the statement is another matter. Sometimes it takes a lot of thought to connect dots. And thought costs calories. We’re designed to conserve calories. Maybe the mere existence of the word because is enough to be persuasive during periods of…caloric conservation? Yet our great gift is that we can suspend our bodies desire to conserve energy and engage in reason from time to time and assess the goodness of fit between the statement and the reasons.
Sometimes the word because doesn’t render arguments into a truth that you accept as a truth. It isn’t easy.
I often find it difficult to assess if a claim is an open form of because or an exclusive form of because. This is tricky to describe so let’s resort to an example.
Consider the statements:
“It was a good pie because the peaches were fresh.”
“It was a good pie only because the peaches were fresh.”
Note the difference between the first statement, an open form of because, and the second statement, an exclusive form of because. The first statement leaves the door open to other reasons why the pie was good. The second closes the door to all other reason. I’m very suspicious of statements in the form of only because.
And now consider the statements from the perspective of different sources with their different reasons:
“As a farmer, the pie was good only because the peaches were fresh, immaculate, and they really popped all because I use the best well water and I kept the insects off them using a pesticide that kills anything larger than a breadbox.”
“As a chef, the pie was good only because dough was encrusted with large sugar crystals and the peaches were skinned, then caramelized with cinnamon and liqueur. Those peaches could have been canned and nobody would have been able to tell the difference.”
“As a person eating the pie right now, it is good because I have become addicted to sugar, and I’m eating fruit which is alleviating whatever guilt I may have felt for consuming so much butter, sugar and alcohol. After all, if I’m eating fruit, it must be healthy.”
The farmer argues that the pie was good only because of their contribution. The chef also argues that the pie was good only because of their contribution. The eater it believes the pie was good for the reasons that come to mind, but not exclusive of only those reasons.
Isn’t it fun to evaluate the situation as a neutral observer?
The eater believes that the pie is good for reasons that are related to the farmer and the chef, but not exactly for the reasons as they believe them to be. To the farmer, the peach is the whole point. To the chef, the peach is a medium to deliver sugar, fat and alcohol. To the eater, the peach is both a sugar delivery vector and a justification vector. Eating can be every bit emotional as it is functional.
It’s fun to take a moment and think about what passes as true for you.
If you take on a radical user centric design perspective on all this, the only truth that really matters is what the eater believes. The eater believes that the sugar and the peaches accomplish the job they’re hiring them to do. Then that is what the truth is. The statements by the farmer and the chef are rendered false because it is not only because. If the statements had been written as an open because, then the statements become true. It is true that the farmer made a peach that could be perceived as healthy, and the chef understood the role of the ingredient of delivering what the customer wanted. They each added value.
If you look at it from a dieticians perspective, the eater’s statement is false. Regardless of the normative assessment of the pie by the eater, the pie is not healthy. The dietician can cite a large body of literature about the connection between diets high in sugar and fat and health. Facts over feels.
It’s all because because.
It’s a signal of reason. Its meaning may be ambiguous. Sometimes, its mere presence may be sufficient to be persuasive, but it often isn’t. There is a lot on either side of the word.