Correlation and Causation

I heard about a study on rats that indicates heat in the brain is what causes yawning. The common idea was that there was a lack of oxygen. To think about it in normal terms, being tired makes us yawn. Do we breathe less when we’re tired causing less oxygen in the brain? Probably not. What’s really happening is increased heat caused by the brainwaves emitted when we’re tired. This entry isn’t about yawning though. It’s about behavioral patterns that can be discerned from these finding.


So let’s assume this new finding is the truth; that we yawn when our brains are hot. What this makes me think of is the human mind’s capacity to manifest in the physical body, and to do so when we don’t realize it. Specifically, when we fail to recognize the difference between correlation and causation. I’ve come to correlate yawning with being tired, so much so that when I yawn I subsequently feel tired. Half of these yawns may not be coming from tiredness at all. Sometimes it’s when I’m running outside on a hot day. Sometimes it’s when someone else yawned and my brain became self-conscious of how warm it is inside my skull. Yet, after 20 years of correlation, I’ve accepted it as causation. What that’s left me with is the ability to become sleepy whenever I want by looking at someone yawning.


I though of this while driving home, and the topic that sprang to mind was human interaction and the misunderstandings that come from mixing correlation and causation. (Funny that yawning, something correlated with being bored with someone is what brought me here; or maybe that’s how I got here). No, that’s not how I got here (I’ll tell that story below if you’re interested). SO! What I’m trying to say is, I wonder how important facial expressions, line delivery, body presence, and whatever are in conveying the truest message. It’s common thought that words are only a part of the larger picture of information sharing, at least in-person exchanges. Some people have a keen understanding of body language, some study how it ranges from culture to culture. I love that they do this, because it gives me something to contemplate.

But I don’t think that’s the ultimate truth. I think it’s a global case of mixing up correlation and causation. We see smiles, so we feel they are caused by happiness. But that’s only a correlation. I could give more examples, but you get the point.

I’m not upset with some kind of fake-ness permeating society. No, I was already 15, I don’t need to be that again. What I’m concerned with is how we communicate among others who’s correlations are different than ours (and as a result, their causations are presumed to be different too). From culture to culture yes, but more to those who I feel aren’t defined as part of a communicating culture; people with communication disabilities of sorts. To start with, here are the 2 stories that made me contemplate this.
First was a girl with autism name Carly. She wasn’t able to communicate. She would make sudden, incoherent noises, but nothing near what we would consider language. One day though, she began to type. And when she did, it became known that she was forming perfectly coherent thoughts and was able to structure them according to our language rules. In her time of silence, she learned English. Now, she’s come to write entire books.

Next was a manwith parkinson’s disease who made a video of what would happen if he turned off his neurostimulator. He broke out into violent shakes and found it difficult to speak, as is common with a disease of his caliber.


This shows to me that there is a widespread mistake in communication coming from incorrect correlations. We are unable to communicate with people, and it’s easy to say that these physical limitations are the cause. But at the end of the day that has to be just a correlation. Luckily, we have evidence in our own language and method of understanding telling us that there is more within these people, within all people. Language is only one method. To say we can’t communicate without language is a correlation, not a final cause. We need to find ways of understanding others through different means. Perhaps this is a personal learning, perhaps this is something that can be caught. I’m not sure. I’m not there myself. But I’ve had moments and I know it’s possible.


The study and results of brain temperature and yawning:


Man turns off his neurostimulator:


The story of how this came into my mind: I was making facial expressions and talking with different inflections to myself on my way home from work. I then wondered if I could speak the same truth through different inflections. Then I wondered about correlation and causation (and I still hold intention is the key, but that’s not for this essay). Communication was the thing on my mind, but I remembered the yawning thing as an earlier time of me contemplating this.


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