Chapter 3

Effects and what is affected

But this fact of an effect's being an incomplete way of knowing or considering the actual, concrete reality leads me me now to make a distinction which will turn out to be helpful in a careful investigation:

An effect (as I said above) is the set of all information--and only that information--directly relevant to an apparently contradictory situation.

What is affected is the concrete object or set of objects that contain the effect, but which have additional properties not relevant to the effect as such.

This distinction will serve to point up the abstract nature of the effect, and also show one of the first things you have to do in noticing a peculiar situation you want to find the cause of: separate out (at least mentally) the effect from what is affected. Failure to do this can result in all kinds of confusion.

Let me first try to be clear about what the distinction is: What is affected is not the cause of the effect; it is just the way the effect concretely appears, in all of the irrelevant trappings. It's what has the problem, in other words, not precisely what the problem is.

In the case of the keys, the person who finds the keys missing, when he made this discovery, the look on his face, how many keys there were, what they looked like, even the fact that they are keys, etc., etc., are part of what is affected, but they have nothing to do with the effect, which is that something was known to be somewhere, didn't leave by itself, and is known afterwards not to be there. That is, the problem is how an object can remove itself without being noticed. The point is that all of the properties of what is affected listed above could be different and the effect would be the same; for example, if the keys had been a wallet, the problem of its getting away without being noticed would not be any different.

That's one way to formulate the effect. Notice, however, that you could formulate it in such a way that what is (under the previous formulation) part of what is affected comes into the effect itself. For instance, the problem is slightly different if one asks how something in a person's hand can apparently vanish without being noticed, then obviously the fact that the keys are in the person's hand is relevant to the effect as such. You might also be curious as to how John could have missed the keys, in which case the characteristic of John as being particularly careful about things like keys in his hand would be relevant to the effect now, and not simply part of what is affected.

But how is it the effect can be "formulated" in all these different ways? Simply because you are not really looking at the same effect. We will see the implications of this shortly, but what I want to point up here is that the effect is abstract and is created as such by noticing certain facts, which are in conflict. Any given concrete situation can generate a great number of conflicting facts, simply by picking them out.

Yes, but what is the real effect in the case of the missing keys? There is no answer to this question, because the effect is an abstraction from the concrete situation, and of course an abstraction (which means noticing this and not paying attention to that) depends on who is doing the abstracting, not on the concrete reality. One person might not even see an effect, because he knows the keys were there and that they are not there, and he is not interested in the fact that John didn't realize how they got away from him. "So the keys are somewhere else. So what?" he says. Another is interested in the problem in physics of how keys, which are not alive, can move from one place to another. Someone else finds it interesting to consider how something can get out of a hand that had hold of it; while John, doubtless, wonders how, with all his care, he could have let the keys get away from him.

All of these are real effects, because none of them depend on misreading the evidence; but they are all different effects, because the conflicts in question are between different aspects of what is affected. They are not different formulations of "the same effect"; they are precisely different problems, and hence different effects. The effect is just exactly the problem you find in the existing situation (what is affected).

And notice that these different problems have different solutions. I am going to show this now in the examples, and then prove below that it must necessarily be the case. In the case of the effect of a non-living being's moving from one place to another, the effect is that non-living beings can't initiate their own movement, and this non-living being moved. Hence, the solution (the missing fact) is that something moved it. In the case of the fact that the keys were in the hand, the effect is that a hand grasping something keeps that something and the keys got out; and here the solution is that something released the grasp. Note that this solution is compatible with John's letting go or with someone or something's prying apart his fingers. Either of these would fit within the general solution. In the case of John's not noticing even though he is careful of such things, the solution is that something distracted his attention.

Before we move on, let us note that it is sometimes helpful to redefine the effect into a different (and more refined) one so that the solution can be more refined. For example in the case of the keys getting out of the grasping hand, it may be that one would reexamine the situation to find out if there was a time when John himself opened his hand; and if it can be established that he didn't, then something or somebody must have pulled the keys out from his still grasping fingers. Or you could combine this with the effect of John's being careful and reexamine all the times when he was explicitly noticing his keys and when something else important was happening to find when the removal could have taken place--and so on.

Actually, what I have been describing is the first step in scientific method: observation. What "observation" in this scientific sense means is noticing all the aspects of what is affected that are relevant to the effect in question, and removing from consideration all aspects that are not part of the effect. It is being precise about just exactly what the effect is, and separating it out from what is affected.

This is by no means easy to do; and in fact there are almost bound to be aspects of the effect that elude one's notice. In fact, scientific "prediction" is based precisely on this. When a scientist formulates a theory that solves a given problem, he then "predicts" from his solution what other hitherto unnoticed aspects of the situation have to be really there, because they logically follow from his solution.

For instance, when Einstein solved the problem of the non-variation of the speed of light, he did so by means of a "warping" of the space (the path of motion) around massive objects. But if the path of motion (i.e. motion as such) around a massive object is really warped, then light (which travels in straight lines) would travel in a curved path when it passed near a massive object, even though it has no "mass" in the ordinary sense of physics--simply because it is the path itself (the "straight line") which is curved. So his theory predicted this as a fact, and it was later observed to be a fact.

All this really meant was that there was part of the effect (which was how things moved in relation to each other) which nobody had noticed, and of which the warping of space-time by massive objects was the solution.

The point here is that it does not follow that you will notice all the relevant aspects of the effect you are concentrating on at the time you notice the effect; but it is obviously to your advantage to find out as many as you can, because slight differences in formulating "the effect" turn out to be formulations of different effects, and the different problems can lead to different (even if interrelated) solutions.

For instance, if you notice that bodies fall down and not sideways, you would be inclined to think (with Aristotle) that it is because they are heavy, and this attracts them to the earth. This is true, by the way. If you notice (with Galileo) that bodies of very different weights fall equally quickly, you might conclude (falsely) that their weight has nothing to do with it(1)

. If you combine Aristotle and Galileo (with Newton), you find that in fact falling bodies do fall at different speeds if the bodies they are falling to are different in weight (i.e. mass, so that the product of the two masses differs) or the distances away from these objects are different. And so on.

Note that Galileo's effect is solved by Newton in that the bodies of different masses were all dropped or rolled from (practically) the same height toward the same object (the earth). The three effects are interrelated, or nested inside each other, so to speak; and so the solutions to the problems are also interrelated. I am not going to bring Einstein into this, because what Newton failed to notice is complicated enough so that the technicalities of describing it would mask what I am trying to say.

Science can advance and not simply repudiate what went before because more refined formulations of the effects lead to different solutions (theories of what the cause actually is), in which one can see the solution to the previous effect embedded as a kind of special case which occurs when certain aspects of the more refined effect are ignored.

It's not as simple as all this, of course; but the general lines of scientific advance do come from noticing different aspects relevant to what is affected and bringing them in to the formulation of a new (and generally more complex) effect; and this new formulation demands a new solution.

I stress here, however, that even though these different formulations are different effects, they are real effects and really different. Their abstractness and the arbitrariness of which one you pick out does not mean that they are false. What is incomplete is only false if you take it as complete. As long as there are facts in conflict, there really is an effect, irrespective of the fact that which facts you pick out of what is affected will determine which effect you are talking about.

The first step in our method of metaphysics, then, will be this: Give an exact formulation of the effect to be investigated.

In one sense, this will be no different from the first step in scientific method; but in another sense, it is the polar opposite. What is meant by "exact" in science is "detailed," and the more specifically the effect is formulated, the better. But since we will be dealing with reality as such (even whether there is a "reality as such"), then the effects we formulate will be in the most general terms.

For instance, if you take the falling body example above, the physicist would be interested in the fall with its direction and speed, and so on; and so his effect would be, "How is it that a non-living body begins to move toward the center of the earth and changes its rate of motion at the rate of 32 feet per second every second?"

The metaphysician would be interested in the question, "How is it that the same thing can be still the same thing and yet different in some respect?" (How can a given thing change in any way if it is this thing which changes?)

Obviously, the falling of the body (if it is a real change and not simply an apparent one) would be a special case of the metaphysical question; and so the solution would be a special case of the solution of the metaphysical question.

To the scientist who says, "But your question is completely silly and uninteresting; everybody knows that things change," I answer, "And your question to a non-physicist is also completely uninteresting; everybody knows that things fall down(2)."

It is not whether a person is interested in a given effect that determines whether it is a "real" effect or not; it is whether there are facts really in conflict. What defines the various sciences, in fact, is which set of effects interests people enough so that they are motivated to find the solutions.

The person who finds a given effect "uninteresting" because "everybody knows that..." is simply considering the effect as a fact, not a set of facts in conflict. That is, it is a fact that things change; but this fact contains the unintelligibility that (a) the thing which changes is in some sense the same thing (or it was replaced by something else and did not change) and it is in some sense not the same thing (or it stayed the same). Or it is a fact that things fall down, and at the speed the physicists so carefully measure. But this fact contains the unintelligibility that (a) their mass makes them fall, and (b) their mass makes no difference to how fast they fall.

If you notice the fact, then as a fact it makes sense somehow, and you don't have to bother with how it makes sense; it is only if you notice it as an effect that it bothers you and you want an explanation of it.

Thus, scientists can never hope to motivate people to become scientists unless they can disturb their complacency by making the world appear not just as a set of facts, but as a set of conundrums, and disturbing them and bothering them to try to make sense out of what does not appear to make sense.

And scientists are doing themselves a disservice when they pooh-pooh the effects noticed by others, saying that they are "uninteresting, because everybody knows that..." They are undermining their own discipline by sharing the obscurantist attitude of stifling curiosity by simply noticing the fact and ignoring the peculiar nature hiding within the fact noticed.

The point of effects is that if we can find one--any one--then we know that our knowledge is incomplete; there is some fact we do not (at the moment) know which will solve the problem; and so our knowledge can advance.



1. Actually, according to Newton, their weight (mass) does have something to do with it. But by his equation, the acceleration depends on the force (of gravity), and that depends directly on the masses of both the object and the earth. But the equation works out in such a way that the acceleration remains constant no matter what the mass of the falling body. But, as we now know (from relativity theory), Newton's solution to the problem was in fact wrong.

2. In this connection, I remember something that happened to me when I was an editorial assistant on Sky and Telescope, and had received a fellowship to continue studying for my doctorate in philosophy. One of the other editors asked me, "What will you be studying?" and I answered "Being as such." "What use is that?" they said, looking at me as if I had two heads. Shortly afterward, an amateur astronomer wrote in to the magazine (while everybody but I was off in California at a convention) saying that he thought he had detected a supernova on some distant galaxy. I reported it to the editor-in-chief, who became all excited and had the Lick observatory turn its 100-inch telescope on the galaxy immediately, because it was possible that several hundred million years ago, a star in that bunch had blown up (it turned out that it was a false alarm). The whole astronomical world was turned inside out for some hours on this possibility of an event that was all over millions of years before anyone on earth was born--and they were asking me what use my subject was!