It goes all the way back to Aristotle: nothing may cause itself. Cause must happen before effect. Since 300 BC our brains have trained on linear causality.

And Newton: an object will stay at rest unless acted on by an external force. We think this is what causality is: a force leading to a change.

Yet we are surrounded by causality that goes in circles.

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Chickens lead to eggs, eggs lead to chickens, there is no paradox in the circle.

Our minds are so attached to linear causality that we unroll the sequence of events back in time. This leads to paradox, this absurdity makes the question funny.

egg from chicken rom chicken from egg...

The concept of “first” doesn’t matter in circular causality. All “first” reasons are historical reasons: “things are the way they are because they got that way” — and because they stay that way.

Circular causality in our households: relationships stay healthy or grow nastier.

positive interactions lead to positive feelings, which lead to positive interactions
negative feelings lead to negative interactions, which lead to negative feelings

Circular causality in our culture: tradition. Why do we do it this way? Because we always have.

We may enjoy seeking a historical origin for a tradition or etymology of a word. But the meaning of the ritual, of the word, comes not from origin but from use: it means this because we use it that way. And we use it because it has this meaning.

use leads to meaning, meaning leads to use

Circular causality in business: marketing. These days, online reviews are everything for ongoing business acquisition. Organic growth has circular cause.

purchases lead to reviews, reviews lead to customer interest lead to purchases

Contrast this with linear cause:

marketing campaign leads to interest leads to purchases.

One-time activity might get you one-time business. It won’t keep you in business. At best, a campaign offers entry into the word-of-mouth loop above. If you ask for reviews and monitor social media, then growth may continue.

Actions have effects. It is tempting to stop there. Linear causality is easier to study; we can measure and predict and test it.

Actions have meaning when they are arcs in a larger circle, sustaining some relationship or capability or living entity.

Linear causality is real, at least in inanimate material. Circular is the causality of systems: sustains our businesses, our cultures, our households, and all life.

Posted by:jessitron

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