As a long time student of Econometrics, I am very familiar
with the notion that causality is much more elusive than correlation. In fact,
pure theorists say that causality is nearly impossible to prove, which I
generally accept. Exceptions do, however, exist.
A class of problems where one may find causality easier to
“prove” is where interconnected events happen over time. My daughter’s recent
graduation from high school was an example of this class of problems.
Graduation from high school is a big event for children and
for parents. At this time of the year, we may not yet be in the grip of next
year’s ‘graduation fever’. Like cohabiting ducks in a lake, however, we will
become silent, or not so silent, witnesses to the frantic activities on home
computers in basement underworlds where college essays will be crafted and
re-crafted. Graduating seniors will consider this furious undercurrent of
activity to be devoid of antecedents. I, however, postulate that it is only the
latest in a long series of steps that brought them to this point in their lives.
I wonder how many times these seniors and their
families have stopped to ask how they arrived at this juncture. Do they really
know what acts of omission or commission led them to where they are today? Do
they really believe that it is only correlated to what these seniors did in
their young lives, or do they understand the chain of causality that goes back
in time all the way to the BIG BANG?
Let me explain. At my daughter, Isha’s
Classical Dance Arangetram and Graduation Party in Columbia, Maryland during the
late summer of 2005, I was to give a speech after her performance. I noticed how
friends and family heaped praise on her for her accomplishments culminating in
her impending departure for Harvard College.
I was proud of Isha’s three-hour long flawless
Bharatnatyam Dance performance, her academic and social accomplishments, and her
admission to Harvard. Attempting to find conceptual underpinnings, I ran into
causality and correlation. In a dialectical fit of pique, I changed my speech at
the last minute and went into a philosophical discourse on causality. The
essence of my argument: Rome was not built in a day nor do high-school
What comes before that? There are the usual
suspects – the parents, me and my wife – and the births and marriages in the
family signifying direct physical causality. Then there are the “silent”
martyrs – the kinship group that sweats it out to create the support network.
Throw into this mix, the Pan Am flight that my parents took in 1948 from Palam
Airport, Delhi to San Francisco, California.
The story does not end there but meanders
through the travails experienced by lives past. The grandparents, the great
grandparents, and more generally, the founding fathers, the Declaration of
Independence, Gandhi, Christ, Buddha, and … the BIG BANG!
How could the graduation day of my daughter
possibly have arrived without any of these antecedents?
How can we forget the sacrifices of Mangal
Pandey in the War of Independence of 1857? Can we even begin to ignore the great
philosophical works of Shankara, Madhva and Ramanuja? What about the Golden Age
of the Guptas and the Cholas or the suffering of the Buddha or the compilation
of the Rig Veda, the Upanishads or the great civilization at Harappa and Kot
My pithy advice to our future graduating
seniors: There is cause for pride but no cause for hubris. The “butterfly
effect” is alive and well. Always remember this, as we, the parents, begin the
process of sending you off, in the words of Southey:
Go little brooke from this my solitude;
I cast thee on the water, go thy ways;
And if, as I believe, thy tone be good;
The world will find thee after many days.
For, the chain of causality goes on forever…