Now this English assignment asked us to make use of the words affect and effect in an essay. This may make some English majors in the audience cringe, but I was very deliberate in my usage. Part of the process in this class was to pass the papers around and have your peers review your draft as well, not just the professor at the end. Admittedly, while I did manage to amuse myself, my classmates who read the paper did not quite “get it.” Oddly enough, my professor seemed to be locked into the modern, colloquial convention regarding the words and did not seem to “get it” either. Indeed, her final remark was that the final word of the final sentence should have been the opposite, without recognizing my meaning. Judge for yourself. Did I take a sense of whimsy too far? She still gave me an A, but I think she still thought I was a little confused. I know I probably stretched things a bit but… Well, read it for yourself and see if you laugh more or groan more!
The Causality of Humanity
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Was it a butterfly, a thousand miles away, or was it a witch’s spell next door that caused our crops to fail. What is the source of cause and effect? It would seem to be a fundamental part of human nature to seek causes to explain effects. Indeed, one could philosophically say that humanity is the cause of causality. From the earliest myths to the development of the scientific method, humanity has been obsessed with causality from our earliest cognitions.
One of humanity’s oldest struggles, one that continues today, is the causality of humanity itself. Humanity has a seemingly irrepressible desire to, not only assign causes, but also to assign effects. What is the cause of humanity’s obsession with causality? It would appear that humanity simply cannot stand not knowing things. It seems to be a preoccupation rooted in humanity’s need to exert control over, or change to our benefit, our environment.
In centuries past, humanity was mystified by thunder and lightning. Since a logical and provable cause was not otherwise available, a cause was invented. The cause was often assigned to mythological figures who would create the effect. Often, such assigned causes could be effected by the efforts of humanity. Sacrifices might be made to appease the mythological figure involved, thus providing some sense of control. In effect, effecting the cause to cause a different effect. The Indian concept of karma could be considered an iconic expression of this desire to define cause and effect, at least on a spiritual level.
The modern scientific method is a highly structured way of searching for causes and effects. From ancient philosophers, to modern science, humanity has gradually refined its methods for finding causes for effects and effects for causes. Entire segments of physics are based on causality. Chaos theory attempts to drive cause and effect to, perhaps, an ultimate expression. The basis for the most infamous wager in modern science, the wager between Stephen Hawking, John Preskill, and Kip Thorne, was fundamentally rooted in the idea of cause and effect. Perhaps the most iconic thought experiment in science is Schrodinger’s cat. Is the reality of cause and effect effected sometimes by the mere act of trying to observe it?
Indeed, case and effect is often subject to perspective. That is to say that sometimes causes and effects can be effected by affectations. Earlier, we mentioned witches. To this day, some still attribute negative events to the actions of witches. To blame a witch for sour milk or a still birth, at times results in the alleged witch being murdered. In a desire to assign a cause to the effect, sometimes one creates an effect, the witch being burned, with an affectation. A case where an effect, with an erroneously assumed cause, becomes an affect that causes an effect, the witch being burned. Local emotional needs for an explanation of cause and effect are temporarily satisfied, but the real cause is left unknown and unaddressed.
Death itself is a fascinating combination of this desire to understand cause and effect, and yet still be tied to affect. Modern society has developed a very structured method of assigning a cause of death. If the cause is not apparent, an entire mechanism is set in motion to determine the cause. Now death becomes the cause. Humanity has long reached for an explanation of the effect of death. Without adequate data, or the means to discover that data, humanity has assigned many different possible effects to the cause of death over the millennia. However, without empirical data, the effect of death becomes a mystery. In short, a case of cause and affect.