In her book The Watchman’s Rattle*, Rebecca Costa writes about what she calls “supermemes” that drive our culture. She identifies the third of these supermemes as “counterfeit correlation,” explaining that we have begun to substitute correlation for causation. We have started leaping to conclusions in the sea of complexity of our daily lives and giving false cause to matters we are unable to explain rationally. In addressing correlation she gives the following example:
The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The French eat a lot of fat and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
Conclusion: Eat and drink what you like. It is obvious that speaking English is what kills you!
Costa uses this ridiculous example to masterfully demonstrate how complexity has caused us to lower our standards for proof. She writes, “Casually observing a relationship – any relationship - between two events is magnitudes easier than the grueling effort required to prove one thing actually causes another to occur.” She goes on to say that as the world grows more complex and it becomes more difficult to resolve the true causes of our problems, lowering our standards is a “natural response.”
I’m reminded of Einstein’s warning from a half century ago - that we cannot solve our problems with the same consciousness with which we created them. We need to be more aware that we can shift our consciousness, become more aware, and look at things from a different frame of reference. Our simplistic thinking will continue to yield the kinds of adaptive behaviors we are seeing - tragic attempts to explain what we don’t know, to substitute beliefs for facts.
When you consider that the two telltale signs of a pending civilization collapse are gridlock and substituting beliefs for facts – Costa’s major point in the book – it appears we are well on our way toward that predictable end. What will change things? Heeding Einstein’s warning and shifting our consciousness will enable us to transcend the puzzling complexities that currently confound us. Not only will this avoid collapse but it could give birth to a world that works for everyone.
*The Watchman’s Rattle, Rebecca D. Costa, Vanguard Press, 2010