On Vessels and Causation

What is a ’cause’? According to the OED, this term refers to “a person or thing that gives rise to an action, phenomenon, or condition”. It must be noted that something [thing A] preceding something else [thing B] does not render A the (ultimate, first) cause of B. For example, at train stations in London, the tannoys blare out the words, “Mind the gap” before swathes of passengers exit the carriages. Does this mean that the tannoy’s repetitive words have caused the passengers to depart the train? No. These are just different components of a certain chain of causation: the respective thoughts in the passengers’ heads (e.g. “This is my stop”, “If I don’t get off here, I won’t get to work on time”, etc) give rise to certain actions – like preparatorily getting up from their seats, and gathering near the doors. The ultimate cause of the passengers’ collective departure is intentionality. But what is the cause of this ability to funnel thoughts into intentions, and later into actions?

Well, one could argue that the physiology of the human brain gives way to the functionings of the human mind – rather like technological hardware being a point of projection for technological software – like, say, apps on iPhones. What can we narrow such functionings down to? Decision-making arguably takes place in the human frontal lobe. So can we point to this segment of the brain and say that it is the cause of certain actions? But we can delve deeper: what is the cause of our decision-making capacities arguably dwelling in this part of our brains? The interactions between certain cells? The brain’s inner electrical happenings? Can we magnify this all and state that the atoms that form certain cells, which consequently form this part of our brains, is the cause of intention-fuelled human actions? What about considerations of the sub-atomic level? What about the level on which everything can arguably just be reduced to energy? Can we look at any individual human being’s intentional actions, and say, “energy, man. Energy was the cause“. 

And what was the cause of this energy? The process of creation requires a sense of will – whether this is a direct and calculated will or not. Something needs some sort of motivation in order to do something else. Should we go on to say that base-level energy is the ultimate creative force; the Cause; the Cause with a Will, which translated into the materialisation and fruition of everything? 

The universe – and all the caused processes it accommodates (from the gestation of mammals in wombs, to the controlling of the tide by the moon, to gravity, to… [and so on]) had a beginning. This is undeniable. Things do not give birth to themselves: this is a logical fallacy. The Big Bang [Sheldon says “Bazinga!” here] had a cause; otherwise, it would not have occurred. But was energy the cause, or was God the cause? But energy does not do anything unless it is made to do something – by some external force. It is not conscious; it does not have a will.

Surely, then, God is the most logical explanation – the Islamic, Qur’anic conceptualisation of Him? A Rabb [a complex and multifaceted Arabic term that describes the Creator]? Self-sufficient; He does not require a cause. In fact, He is not in need of anything [and this is truly difficult for we extremely needy beings to ever comprehend]. Eternal. The Cause. The Unmoved Mover. The One who is totally unlike His creation.

Does energy have a brain, in order to make these decisions in the first place? But then again, we must bring the following into question: is the brain the cause of human thought and intentionality, or is it merely a vessel? Uniquely human traits – like the ability to make art; the ability to love so deeply; the ability to write; the ability to create; to think – can we not see all our abilities (so boundless and yet so limited) as diluted subsets of Divine qualities? What is the cause of love? Mere neuro-chemical cocktails? But what if these, too, are just vessels – the ways, vehicles, through which Divine qualities pass through, and into the material realm? And eyesight? At which level can we look at our eyes beneath microscopes, and say, “Aha! The ultimate cause of eyesight!”

We find letters in letterboxes. This does not render the letterbox the cause of the letter. Likewise, we find the ostensible ‘origins’ of certain functions within certain bodily organs (etc). Are these organs the (unguidedcauses of said functions? This is all just something to think about; something through which one may cause oneself to have an existential crisis, on the spot…


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