Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Rifle Shot that Blew my Mind

Having just seen the Oscar winning movie Babel, a few realizations of human nature, and our consequences on the fabric of the world come to mind. Without spoiling too much of the movie, the whole movie can be summarized as consequences from actions that seem trivial and insignificant at first which can subsequently snowball into complex and intertwined larger problems. A "causality cascade" as I will call these types of events can occur without anyone's knowledge, and with no determined directionality. In the movie, an avid hunter from Japan leaves behind a rifle in gratification for the good job his Moroccan guide did providing him with optimal hunting locations. This rifle, eventually getting in the hands of mischievous children, leads to a shot on a tour bus, that snowballs into a causality cascade, eventually resulting in a complex interwoven story of how separate lives can combine through a rather insignificant event. Had the hunter never made it to Morocco, or had the rifle never exchanged hands, or any number of other scenarios, the actions that resulted in tragedy and loss would never have occurred. All of these events, therefore, transpired without any predetermination in the part of the people involved at the fate of their lives. Events such as these are nothing new to philosophers and even scientists have mathematical equations describing these cascade events known as Chaos Theory.

A causality cascade could be anything that snowballs into something larger. In effect, it's like an uncontrolled chain reaction with no predetermined intention. When an atomic bomb undergoes fission, the neutrons in the atoms start a cascade chain reaction effecting others exponentially until the immense powers of those nuclear reactions are released. In this instance, there is a clear predetermination as to what the subsequent result will be. The neutrons do not undergo uncontrolled chain reactions like the causality cascades, because the end result is a mushroom cloud, and everything must result in precise timing. Causality cascades on the other hand, as already mentioned are not predetermined, and are extremely uncontrollable. Events can effect other events in such ways that could never be imagined, because there are an infinite amount of possible outcomes from each event. Chaos theory attempts to describe these events, whether they involve atoms, computer generated fractals, or even human actions, into a mathematical model that attempts to predict various probabilities on possible outcomes. At the point of infinite variation, it's impossible to predict exactly how an event that is so complex will turn out, yet there are events that can be more likely to occur then others. It's similar to quantum effects* on atoms. It's impossible to predict the exact location of an electron orbiting an atom because measuring and observing the location of the electron forces it to change, and alter its initial state. Therefore, the best one can hope for is to determine a probability of where the electron may be. There is a chance that the electron itself can be found at the other end of the universe, and with trillions of electrons, it's very likely that one may end up there through some complex quantum effects. Yet, through probabilities, the electrons are more likely to be found in certain regional distributions, and the greatest amount will be found in certain areas orbiting atoms. Taking this in mind, it's possible through causality cascades to have a butterfly flapping its wing in Mexico, effecting the weather to the point of a hurricane developing in the Indian Ocean. The displaced air molecules from the butterflies wings can convert into a type of chain reaction and eventually lead to enough "momentum" building in the changes of air flow to feed a system over the Indian Ocean, resulting in a Hurricane. The probability of this specific event may be extremely low, but with all the air molecules, and all the small effects of butterflies, birds, dragonflies, and other such causational events, the probability that these can cascade into a large scale atmospheric event is almost certain. There is no way to predict which specific butterfly can cause it, but it's possible to predict the probability that these small scale events have in effecting larger ones (100% since all larger events start with smaller ones that cascade).

Our actions on a daily basis will therefore, inevitably lead to an infinite number of causality cascades, some which we consider good, and others which we consider bad. For example, perhaps giving the right of way to a driver waiting on a busy free-way onramp, will result in that driver's awareness of others, and through due course and time, this will cascade into good will spread upon numerous individuals, perhaps cascading into someone's life being saved. In the same token, it's also possible that cutting somebody off, will result in the driver's behavior to become erratic, and through numerous other chain reactions, one of the angry drivers along the way will do something rash enough to cause an accident and involuntarily take a life. Finally, a third possibility is that what one perceives as a positive event can become negative to others. For example, taking the same driving scenario mentioned, perhaps suddenly breaking to avoid large debris on the freeway may be beneficial to the individual driver, and the avoidance a positive event, yet, the reaction may cause more disastrous results to drivers following behind. It may be a positive event to one life, but its negative impact may be felt by dozens of others following behind. In another example, if a small child was choking on food particles, and one were to assist in saving the child's life, it would definitely seem like a positive event. However, what if this child in turn became a Tyrannical leader who's path of destruction lead to the death of millions, wars of aggression and perpetual hostility? Then what seemed like a good deed, could in fact have been a great disservice. If one knew ahead to time, that said child would turn out to be Hitler, the morality of the situation would definitely be difficult to assess. These scenarios show the complexity of causality cascades, and how their effects cannot be trivialized or minimized. There is no way to avoid effecting events along the chain when one has no predetermined notion as to what will follow. Yet, there are scenarios high in probability that are more likely to occur when one analyzes the events thoroughly and attempts to discern some form of causality.

Having defined and explained causality cascades, one need look no further then those individuals in prominent positions of government to realize just how much power they have over events that effect every individual's life. The causality cascades that you or I are able to initiate in our lives are infinitesimally small, compared to those that Bush, as well as other "leaders" are capable of. Bush's decision to launch an aggressive war on Iraq leads to the destruction of an infinite amount of lives, over such flimsy reasons as weapons of mass destructions. When the excuse for invasion failed to materialize, other excuses such as freeing the Iraqi people, or spreading democracy in the region were provided. Ultimately however, countless lives have been directly changed on account of specific actions taken without much consideration to possible outcomes of events. The civilian lives that have been taken in Iraq as a direct result of these actions, along with the billions of lives in the world that have changed, are the result of one man's determined and faulty mind. When we elect those who are supposed to represent the people, we rarely consider just how much power we are providing them. These people shape the future of the world. Going back to Bush's example, not only did his invasion cost over 3200 American soldier's lives, it also cost over 100,000 Iraqi civilian lives, and indirectly, the infinite lives of those who would have been born had their predecessors not have been killed. Perhaps one of those soldiers would have fathered (or mothered) a child who would have discovered the cure for AIDS. All of these potential human beings will never exist because their parents were killed as a result of a few poor decisions. What would the world have been like if Gandhi's father was killed by the British? Or how different would civil rights in the United States have been had Martin Luther King's mother been lynched? What if Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great's Father, been killed in an intradynastic feud? All of these questions become obvious when we realize that each person has the potential to influence countless other lives, either positively or negatively. Most of us influence lives completely oblivious to the chain of events that unfold, but other's have so much power, that their decisions determine the course of human history a thousand fold as compared to ours. Although we are all able to determine the course of history because just being alive and interacting with the world changes the causality of the situation, the scale at which we do it can differ. Those who hold the reigns of authority have the power at larger scales then others. We are enabling them to determine the fate of the world, and are oblivious to the nature of their capabilities.

Ultimately, causality cascades can be found in the same uncertain philosophical grounds as notions of morality such as good and bad. Attempting to define causality cascades as good, and other's as bad can seem like a moot point, considering our ignorance at the ultimate effects our actions may take. However, just being aware of the profound multilayered interactions of our lives can be illuminating in itself. Knowing that defining such events as good and bad can become a lesson in futility, the act of defining cannot be completely dismissed when taken in an attempt at furthering our thinking. The traits that have allowed human beings to transcend simple instinctual urges, and have allowed us to pause and reflect, are thus furthered with the knowledge and questions that we ask about our nature. Causality cascades are an important aspect of self definition and growth because we have the heightened senses to be capable of the awareness of our actions and the possible consequences they may entail. Yet, just because the potential exists for such deep introspection, the application of it is based on an individual basis. Most of us have the tools to further our understanding of the universe and ourselves, but because of various barriers and filters (Such as certain religious beliefs, cultural nuances, social standing, and serendipity of living comfortable enough lives to be so introspective), many are not able to exercise such potential. The most unfortunate side effect of this wealth of potential, is that those who should be required to tap these tools within us live their lives thirsting for material gains, power control and petty squabbles that don't matter much to the greater world. By this, I mean the elected "representatives" of the world. How long will we allow these bickering, selfish, self absorbed, narcisstic, and ineffective individuals ruin our futures before we stand up and fight? We are lead to believe that the most important things in life are acquisition of wealth, and superficial trappings of civilization, when in fact, we're ignorant of the greater good that society can offer. We are so entrenched in our immediate lives, that we're ignorant of the greater potential for humanity. We watch news to uncover updates on Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton, when in fact, we should be concerned about the advancement of our species and the survival of our planet. In the end, the future of the world will rest with how we define ourselves, and come to understand the consequences of our actions upon the planet. Just like a butterflies wings, small effects can have enormous unintended consequences. We are all small effects, but we're not inconsequential. After all, causality cascades cannot rule out the potential for even one human being (further reducing that idea, such cascades cannot even rule out the behavior of an atom, but with human beings, our actions can be consciously analyzed, and reflected upon).

*Quantum Theory in Physics describes the interaction and effects among subatomic particles.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

put down the bong, master of the obvious. Causality cascade? its just the cosmic crap shoot buddy. Less musing, more living.