Friday, December 23, 2011

Jonah Lehrer on the Perils of Causation

Causation: Wow! What a fun & interesting topic--NOT!

Wait a minute! What is or is not "causation" is a profoundly interesting philosophical and practical question. As a lawyer, in most trials, civil and criminal, causation is a crucial issue. And in the world of medicine that I'm involved in both professionally (injuries and their causes constitute major legal issues) and as a layman (what causes this or that pain, which implies a course of treatment), I think an understanding of causation is very important. In addition, causation, as Lehrer argues in this piece, becomes more and more tricky as we seek to refine it. Indeed, one of my major gripes is that we seem to be constantly looking for "the cause" of "cancer" or "war" or you name it. But in fact, there is no "cause", there are many causes of complex phenomena and we have a heck of a time measuring the data. We try to isolate "the cause" and it's very, very difficult, and it's quite often deceiving.

This piece especially caught my eye because I have a wary attitude toward modern medications. Let me quickly say that I take medications and give thanks for the help modern medicines provide millions in alleviating pain and improving health. That said, however, I think that we look for some magic pill to cure all of our ills. For my view, every medicine is a poison in the wrong dose or circumstance, so we have to be very cautious.

I'm also intrigued about back pain, again for both personal and professional reasons. Professionally, persons injures in auto collisions or during work almost always hear the defense, "oh, look, your x-rays show you have degenerated discs, so you had pain anyway", although the client says "no" or "nothing like this". In other words, the views of degenerative or traumatic change don't tell the whole story. I'm also interested because I've suffered back pain (and now nagging pain in my hip). Surgery, drugs? Not for me. I'm trying physical work and some NSAID. I'm now trying somatics (Thomas Hanna, Martha Peterson, etc.) (which seems to be helping), Egoscue, and Yin Yoga, which also help. And what role stress? See John Sarno's work or Tim Parks's book Teach Us to Sit Still. Our body-minds are so complex that we must be cautious, gentle, and conservative from my point of view. Causation is so subtle and complex (see complexity theory) that we are best to use gentle, conservative treatments, I believe.

Anyway, read this article, and give thanks to that other (than Adam Smith) great figure of the British Enlightenment: David Hume.

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