I work from coffee shops for more than a decade, and during the last 2-3 years something changed about that. It’s not specifically about coffee shops, as it is more about my way there.
Something new appeared on the sidewalks. It happened very slowly in the beginning, with just one popping out every few weeks, maybe, and then it exploded, with literally dozens of them, appearing at random places, every single day.
I’m talking about electric scooters. The kind that you rent with an app.
The surge in the usage of rented scooters had and interesting side effect: the streets became cluttered with them, because people simply left them on the pavement at the end of their journey, because that’s how they are supposed to work.
Now, suppose you are coming from space to our planet and land in one of our big cities. You see building, roads, cars, and, sprinkled on the sidewalks, electric scooters. It’s only logical to think that there must be some causality linking scooters to the sidewalks. When you wonder where you would find a scooter, the obvious answer would be: “on the streets, of course, that’s where the scooters grow”.
Except they don’t.
The Causality Cycle
It’s very easy for many of us to understand the fallacy of this thinking, because we have a long enough, healthy causality cycle. We are old enough to witness the real causes of scooters, we know from where they come. We’ve also been somehow exposed to the entire process, and we know how it works.
But if our causality cycle is shorter, or faulty, we would infer that scooters really grow on the streets, because we didn’t really see form where they come. And, for our needs, this assumption works relatively well, it is confirmed by reality: scooters do grow on the streets, because that’s where we find one when we need one.
The causality cycle influences our decisions and our representation of reality all the time, incessantly. We may live under the assumption that we have a really good understanding of how the world works, but that’s only because our environments confirm these assumptions. and not necessarily because they are true.
Here are some of the assumptions that are based on a crippled causality cycle:
- avocados grows on the supermarket shelves (because that’s where we find them when we need them)
- gasoline is a gas station product (because that’s pretty much the only place from where you can buy it)
- money comes from the bank (or the ATM, or the government, because that’s the immediate source of it)
- love comes from the other partner (because we feel good when she / he does something that we translate as “love”)
All these assumptions are based on very incomplete causality cycles. Avocados don’t grow on supermarket shelves, gasoline is refined petroleum, which is to be found underground, money comes from trust and love comes from within.
And yet, the number of confirmations we get day in and day out for these assumptions is overwhelming. In time, we tend to shorten the causality cycle and replace it with the one that gives the most confirmations, in the most verifiable way.
A short, or crippled causality cycle deludes us, by giving the impression of knowledge (with these immediate confirmations), and, at the same time, it creates more and more distance from the real causes of things. On one side we get confirmations that our hallucination is real, and on the other side we get less chances to understand that it is nothing more than a hallucination (or, at the very least, a very incomplete way to think about reality).
A long enough, healthy causality cycle helps us navigate the world in safer way, by allowing to plant the real causes for our desired outcomes. Because it’s longer, this causality cycle may not produce results immediately, and that makes many people doubt its effectiveness. But it’s the only one that really works, long term and without side effects.
A short causality cycle is almost like a mental disease, similar to the shortening of our telomeres (that part of our DNA which is related to aging: the shortest our telomeres, the faster we get old). If we keep shrinking our causality cycle, we will get to a point where we cannot function properly. We will believe everything that comes with an immediate confirmation, no matter how that confirmation is generated. If someone knows ourselves well enough (and oh, it gets so easy to be known these days, with the huge footprint we leave on social media), someone may even craft messages that “we know beforehand they are true”, they will feed our biases. The result? We will regress into magical thinking. We will be an easy prey to continuous delusion. And, in the end we will die faster, both metaphorically, and physically.
So, how can we maintain a healthy causality cycle?
There are at least two approaches that, practiced constantly, can help with that.
Practice Critical Thinking
Ask questions. All the time. About everything. Especially about your own conclusions. Am I really right about this? How can I be sure?
Engage in healthy distrust. Don’t trust, verify, always.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Assumptions are the mother of all screw ups. I know you heard this before. I just want you to remember this. Next time when you really feel it in your “gut” that things are the way you are deeply convinced they are, develop the skill to stop for a second, and ask: is this really how it works?
Do electric scooters really grow on the streets?