Causality. 2001.


The six panel picture 'CAUSALITY' was done as one of a series of "rock cartoons" I did in the '70s and early '80s. So I was really astonished on May 18th, 2000, when I heard Bruce Babbit, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, state the following on National Public Radio: "So that's another rock falling down the hillside of causation."

He was explaining the huge conflagration of fires at Los Alamos that were caused by the U.S. Forest Service creating "backfires" in an effort to control the spreading flames caused by lightning in the tinder dry area.

Now I am not sure if Secretary Babbit heard this aphorism somewhere else or made it up himself. I am now doubtful about whether I originated the idea of a rock rolling down a hill and crashing into another one or, like Babbit, was repeating a notion already in common parlance.

I did my drawing to point out that causality is retroactive; not predictive. (Peirce's "retroduction?") It can retrieve and account for things after they are over, with a high degree of accuracy. Foreseeing events is always chancy. There are other concluding panels which could be drawn - the falling rock missing the other rock; both rocks breaking; the rock "stopping" etc.

Does Babbit's recourse to this figure of speech clarify matters at all? It does seem to give a kind of inevitability to the events and also to move them away from human responsibility. (There were huge wind and temperature factors that seem to have been ignored by the Forest Service; but that is looking at the events in retrospect isn't it?)

Chris Horton, 2001