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The Power of Cause and Effect Thinking

December 3, 2021

Cause and effect thinking is an excellent way to understand the nature of argument. Tracing a series of causes is about the same as creating an argument.

Cause and effect statements often sound as if there’s only one step. “When the rat ate the poison, it died.” “Tom died in a tragic drowning accident.”

However, to fully understand a phenomena, we have to be sure to distinguish between an immediate cause and a distant cause, and between an immediate effect and an ultimate effect.

The process of drowning is an example. Drowning is a complex process, a series of causes and effects until the ultimate effect—death. Here’s how drowning works. Water over the mouth cuts off the air supply. The victim loses consciousness. The remaining air is lost. The heart beats for a while, then stops. If water is aspirated, it is usually no more than a glass full. 15 percent of all drownings are “dry.”

The lungs fill with water because of pulmonary edema, which occurs as a result of a loss of air. The circulatory system arrests in the process. Warm water makes oxygen more necessary for the body. Cold water decreases the need of oxygen. Cold water produces all kinds of life-saving responses in the body. Hypothermia coma is fatal in only 25 percent of drownings.

In 2000, a young woman from Norway skied over ice and then fell under the ice. She was “dead” for three hours. Her body temperature fell to 58 degrees F. To understand how to save her, physicians had understand the steps in drowning and then reverse those steps. She survived with complete mental function, although she was paralyzed.

Many situations in our world demand this sort of analysis. You may remember the crash of an Airbus airliner in 2002 in the New York City area. The tail fell off because the pedals were pushed too far right and left. In the investigation of the crash, all the steps up to the crash had to be carefully identified.

It was discovered that the manufacturer was at fault because Airbus failed to tell airlines that the pedals should not be pushed too far left or right in certain conditions. The pilots were not at fault and neither was American Airlines. There’s a long series of causes and effects that led to the crash.