One has to be very careful attributing causes to things, or even attributing causality to things. in complex systems, causality is a trap. We can be, as Dave Snowden says “retrospectively coherent” but you can not know which causes will produce which effects going forward. That is the essence of emergent phenomena in the complex world.
But even in complicated problems, where causality should be straightforward, our thinking and view can confuse the situation. Consider this example.
Imagine someone, a man, who has never seen a cat. I know, highly implausible, but this is a hypothetical from Alan Watts’ book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, which was written in the sixties; pre-YouTube. Watts uses this fictional fella to illustrate the unfelt influence of perspective and the dangers inherent in our strong inclination to seek cause-and-effect relationships.
“He is looking through a narrow slit in a fence, and, on the other side a cat walks by. [The man] sees first the head, then the less distinctly shaped furry trunk, and then the tail. Extraordinary! The cat turns round and walks back, and again he sees the head and a little later the tail. The sequence begins to look like something regular and reliable. Yet again the cat turns round and he witnesses the same regular sequence: first the head and later the tail. Thereupon he reasons that the event head is the invariable and necessary cause of the event tail which is the head’s effect. This absurd and confusing gobbledygook comes from his failure to see the head and tail go together; they are all one cat.”
We often create and embed the wrong patterns because we are looking through a slit. As Watts says, by paying very close attention to something, we are ignoring everything else. We try and infer simple cause-and-effect relationships much, much more often than is likely in a complex world. For example, making everyone in an organisation focus on hitting a few key performance indicators isn’t gong to mean that the organisation is going to get better at anything other than hitting those key performance indicators. All too often this will lead to damaging unintended consequences; absurd and confusing gobbledygook.
via abc ltd.