Necessary, sufficient, causal


It’s easy these days to get bogged down with stuff on the internet. A lot of people are reading, thinking and writing about whatever interests you, like fat science. I recently got bogged down with 2 podcasts (1,2) about the ketogenic diet and the effect of metformin on your mitochondria. The common thread of these 2 subjects that I gleaned was: stress is good, a little bit of poison can be good and maybe losing weight like you do under heavy stress (getting old, mental deterioration, cancer, AIDS…) is God’s way of fighting back.

But I especially appreciated a little interlude that was related by Peter Attia MD, a science of living longer maven, about the metaphysical principles of necessary, sufficient and causality. These are the ideas that try to answer the question “why?” This question, which is often asked by small children, is impossible to answer by humans. Only God knows why.

“Causality is metaphysically prior to notions of time and space.” (Wikipedia) The cause is the past and the effect is the future….

An example mentioned by Dr Attia was smoking and cancer. Smoking causes lung cancer (and lots of other bad things) but it is neither necessary, you can get lung cancer if you never smoked, nor sufficient, some people who smoke never get lung cancer. This is the kind conundrum that befuddles many scientists.

Don’t let this bog you down. Don’t waste as much of your life on this as I did but:

Causation, which requires neither necessity nor sufficiency in and of itself, but which contributes to the effect, is called a “contributory cause.”

Necessary causes

If x is a necessary cause of y, then the presence of y necessarily implies the prior occurrence of x. The presence of x, however, does not imply that y will occur.

Sufficient causes

If x is a sufficient cause of y, then the presence of x necessarily implies the subsequent occurrence of y. However, another cause z may alternatively cause y. Thus the presence of y does not imply the prior occurrence of x.

Contributory causes

For some specific effect, in a singular case, a factor that is a contributory cause is one among several co-occurrent causes. It is implicit that all of them are contributory. For the specific effect, in general, there is no implication that a contributory cause is necessary, though it may be so. In general, a factor that is a contributory cause is not sufficient, because it is by definition accompanied by other causes, which would not count as causes if it were sufficient. For the specific effect, a factor that is on some occasions a contributory cause might on some other occasions be sufficient, but on those other occasions it would not be merely contributory.

By the way, the ketogenic diet that in some ways mimics fasting and mitochondria the energy centers, the batteries if you will, of the cell, and metformin a poison to the mitochondria that has lots of good effects, are each also interesting enough to bog you down for too many hours.

1. https://www.thenutritionwonk.com/single-post/2018/11/05/n-1-Episode-1-Science-of-Keto

2. https://peterattiamd.com/navchandel/

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