View Full Version : Causality

September 26th, 2015, 10:11 PM



causality (kô- ZAL- eh - tee)

1 the relationship between cause and effect.
2 the principle that everything has a cause.

At the far end of a pool table a collection of brightly colored balls are set in a precise, triangular arrangement. A gentleman stands at the opposite end of the table and before him on the dark green felt with which the table is covered rests a single white ball. In his hand he holds a long stick with a small pad affixed to its tip.

In a factory in Seoul, Korea, Kim Tong-heyon was at work assembling alarm clocks. Kim had assembled many different devices in his long career with his employer. He especially enjoyed the six months he had spent assembling bread toasters. The toasters were easy to assemble and he could quickly fill his daily quota, but he was smart enough to take his time. He learned long ago that filling one’s quota too soon only resulted in getting the quota raised. Alarm clocks, he determined, were far harder to assemble. There were many small components which had to be painstakingly put in place and secured with tiny screws. He had always been curious to know where all the devices he had assembled during his long career had eventually gone, for they were shipped for sale to all points of the globe.

Today Kim was distracted for he had argued with his wife the night before. Kim’s wife had been informed by her sister, who worked for a department store, that very expensive window curtains of impeccable quality would be going on sale where she worked, the very next morning, at a fifty percent reduction to the regular price. It was certain that the best patterns would be snatched up immediately as soon as the sale was announced over the store’s loudspeakers. By knowing of the sale in advance she had hoped to give her sister an edge which would place her sister in the housewares department when the sale was announced. When Kim’s wife had declared her intention of buying the curtains to her husband as they were seated at the dinner table he became very angry. Did his wife not know that there were far more important expenditures which required attention than her sudden, frivolous penchant for curtains? KIm was holding a partially assembled alarm clock in his hand. He had inserted the screw which held the alarm activation lever and had only partially tightened the screw - one turn - when it occurred to him that he should have reminded his wife of the new coat and shoes she had purchased only the week before. Why had he not thought of that during their argument? He placed the alarm clock back on the table in frustration - he had not completed the tightening of the screw.

If the gentleman were to strike the white ball with the tip of the stick in a specific manner, and with great force, in the direction of the mass of balls at the other end of the table, the white ball could be made to roll with great speed and energy, to strike the other balls at the far end of the table.

In Indianapolis, Indiana, a year and seven months later, twenty-two year old Terry Halper dreamed that he was painting the front porch of his newly acquired, fix-er-up home. His pretty, young wife of fifteen months was bringing him lemonade in a large pitcher. In his dream Terry dutifully filled the paint bucket with lemonade and began to paint where he had left off. "Wait," he thought, "this cannot be. I shouldn’t be painting the porch with lemonade." This shocking manifestation of logic caused Terry to become somewhat alert. He was aware that it was night, that he was in bed, and that there was great likelihood that he could be dripping paint on the sheets and blankets of the bed. He felt for the paintbrush but it was gone. As he became more alert he realized that he had been dreaming and wondered what time it was. Would he be able to get more sleep or was the alarm about to go off, as it often did, just after he woke up? Terry turned his head to the night stand next to the bed to check the time which was illuminated by a small light bulb located within the clock. "Holy Jesus!" Terry thought, "It should have gone off a half-hour ago!" Terry was now immediately awake.

There would be no coffee, no shower, no toasted bagel. Terry would have to move smartly if he were to be able to clock in at work on time. The entire crew would be straggling in right about now and he had still to drive the twenty minutes to the machine shed. His crew was about to begin the digging of a new storm sewer for a subdivision being constructed on West Ralson Road. They weren’t going to get far without him because his job was to transport and operate the enormous backhoe necessary for the excavation. Terry hurriedly kissed his wife’s forehead, careful not to wake her and fairly ran out the back door. As he approached his pickup truck he noticed that the front tire was flat. He had known that the air pressure was low for a couple of days. Why hadn’t he topped it off? He repressed an urgent impulse to yell out loud. There wasn’t time for that. He ran back inside and took the keys to his wife’s Chevy Cobalt. He didn’t have time to write a note. She would see the truck in the driveway when she woke up as well as the flat tire and know what had happened.

The energy of the white ball will be absorbed by the first ball which it encounters in its flight across the table and then the energy would be translated to the other balls in the grouping. This would send the collection of colored balls flying, much like a chain reaction, in many different directions. Some balls will strike other balls as well as the edges of the table and bounce in new directions. Some will fall into the holes arranged along the periphery of the table.

Kim Tong-heyon’s sister-in-law heard shouting as she approached Aisle 9 of the department store. A mother was scolding her six year old child for opening and spilling the contents of a bottle of bubble-blowing liquid in the toy section. Kim’s sister-in-law approached, smiled, and told the mother not to worry about it. Things like this often happened in the toy section. Children are always overly active when around so many toys. She then walked to the back of the store to get a mop intending to clean up the mess. As she passed the manager’s office she heard him say on the telephone, "The new curtains from India will be arriving today and I need to move our present stock to make room for them. I am going to discount the current display by fifty percent tomorrow morning. That should empty the shelves quickly."

If one knew in advance every variable at work in this event - the force with which the white ball was struck by the stick; the friction imposed by the felt the white ball was rolling on; the point on the surface of the white ball which was struck .... but no, we must probe further, we must include every possible variable ... the barometric pressure of the atmosphere in the room; the speed of rotation as well as the magnetic pull of the earth at the specific point in space at which the pool table rests; the temperature and humidity in the room when the white ball was struck; and virtually everything which could possibly affect the result - one would be able to predict in advance, and with categorical certainty, the exact position at which every ball would come to rest.

Terry Halper was making good time. He knew he would arrive at work later than normal but with enough time to clock in and even with perhaps a few minutes to spare. He hated the confined atmosphere of his wife’s car for he was used to driving his own spacious and stalwart Ford F-250 pickup truck. He smiled and tried to invent rebuttals in advance for the ribbing he was surely going to receive from his coworkers when he arrived in the sissy, girlie-car. On any other day he would have entered the intersection at about 5:40 AM but today he was entering it at 6:15 AM. Terry laughed aloud as the final thought of his life was born, "With your beer guts you wouldn’t be able to even fit behind the wheel of this car." Terry Halper entered an intersection a half hour late, long enough for the machinations of fate to decree that the driver of a speeding car approaching from his left would make the erroneous calculation that he could survive running a red light. The small car crumpled under the enormous impact like cardboard.

"Your home is so beautifully decorated. The curtains are simply perfect for this room."

"You cannot believe the fight I had to endure with my husband last year when I bought these curtains."

"Well, for once I can understand why a man would be so upset. They must have cost your husband a small fortune."

Kim’s wife leaned closer to her guest as she poured the tea and comically whispered, as if anyone could overhear, "You wouldn’t believe how little was the cost."

A child spilled a bottle of bubble blowing liquid.
The white ball, having completed its task, slowly comes to rest.


September 27th, 2015, 10:29 PM
Sounds like a really great idea for a short film.

September 28th, 2015, 08:51 AM
Thanks for your reply. I had never thought of it as a short film before but now that you mention it it might have made a good theme for one of those old Twilight Zone episodes.

September 28th, 2015, 05:19 PM
Really enjoyed this piece.
The descriptions of the pool table felt (no pun intended) comically forced at the beginning. But, in later passages you really tied it up nicely, made it all cone together. Good work.

October 17th, 2015, 12:23 AM
Really enjoyed this piece.
The descriptions of the pool table felt (no pun intended) comically forced at the beginning. But, in later passages you really tied it up nicely, made it all cone together. Good work.

WOW! Sorry it has taken me so long to respond.

Many thanks kbsmith. It dawned on me once that some of the bad things which I have experienced in life have led so some of the best things. Sometimes there was a long train of events which culminated in that good thing but the good thing would never have occurred had not the bad thing occurred first in that chain of events. I wanted to try to capture that in a story and I thought the pool ball example illustrated the idea. If one could know all the conditions one could predict the result. But the pool example wouldn't work as a stand alone story so I wove the alarm clock story into it. The point was to try to show by the pool table example that the events of the alarm clock story were playing out much like the "break" in a pool game. I bracketed the end of the story with the event that began the alarm clock story with the final movement of the pool ball to sort of bring attention to the the relationship between the two stories.

Determinism, or causality, is like both sides of the religious issue: it is hard to believe and yet impossible to disprove.

October 18th, 2015, 01:33 AM
I really like this piece. It makes me think about chaos theory and how our actions are part of a huge intertwined chain of events and the smallest thing can have huge consequences. Good work using the pool table example for your message.

October 18th, 2015, 01:53 AM

October 18th, 2015, 03:11 AM
I really like this piece. It makes me think about chaos theory and how our actions are part of a huge intertwined chain of events and the smallest thing can have huge consequences. Good work using the pool table example for your message.

Thank you Rabber. I enjoyed writing it but I didn't know if anyone would actually appreciate it. Nice to know that you and a few others did.

October 18th, 2015, 06:55 PM
The thing that disappoints me with this story is the lack of dominoes. There are only three: Kim Tong-heyon, his wife, and Terry. To dazzle us with how X can lead to Y, you need more! Imagine a kid building a chain of dominoes only three long. His friends would be like, "You kidding me, where's the rest?" :)

October 18th, 2015, 10:11 PM
The thing that disappoints me with this story is the lack of dominoes. There are only three: Kim Tong-heyon, his wife, and Terry. To dazzle us with how X can lead to Y, you need more! Imagine a kid building a chain of dominoes only three long. His friends would be like, "You kidding me, where's the rest?" :)

Greetings Gasher, and thank you for your response. Your views are taken seriously and much appreciated. Actually, my first draft of this short story did have more "dominoes", but it began to stretch to limits that I thought would tax the patience of the average reader. The thrust of this story is the comparison between the pool table break and the events in Korea and Indiana, and that having been said I think there were sufficient dominoes to get the point across. The dominoes are not the characters but rather the events deterministically leading to what is suggested to be the one and only possible ending.

1) Child spills bubble blowing liquid
2) The child's mother happens to scold the child loudly enough for Kim's sister in law to overhear
3) Sister in law conscientiously decides to clean the spilled liquid
4) Sister in law overhears phone conversation
5) Sister in law relates news to Kim's wife
6) News results in argument between wife and Kim
7) Kim, recalls argument one week before about purchase of coat and shoes
8 ) Kim's frustration at not remembering #7 distracts him and causes him not to tighten the screw
9) The screw, in time, vibrates out of position within the clock causing it to malfunction
10) Terry Halper leaves work a half hour later than usual for work as a result of malfunction which further results in him being at precisely the place that the speeding car would cause his death.

Thus, as you can see, there were ten dominoes leading to the conclusion which I felt adequately addressed the idea I was attempting to put across.

Renaissance Man
October 22nd, 2015, 12:35 PM
I agree that the piece has potential. Every action causes a chain reaction. I wrote a sci-fi story myself to that affect portrayed very differently but proving the same point.

July 21st, 2019, 08:48 AM
Having been invited to read this piece I ought to comment. The actual writing is fine although it is really a story told than a story shown to be read and explored by the reader. Nevertheless I was able to explore it a little.

What really was the primary cause of the accident? Does the simile of the pool table actually hold good? What would have happened if the man hadn't struck the ball with the tip of the stick? Absolutely nothing. In contrast events would still have happened had the child not spilled the bottle. In fact the accident could still have happened if other factors had been different. Causes can often be classified as being either necessary or sufficient. If a sufficient cause occurs then the consequent effect will happen, but if a necessary cause occurs it still may not because another necessary cause doesn't.

One of the tyres on my angel's car has had an erratic very slow puncture. We've had it examined and there is no obvious puncture, so it may just be the result of a bad seal with the wheel rim somewhere. Whether there is enough pressure for the car to be driven on any occasion is unpredictable. I suspect that it may depend on which part of the tyre is touching the ground when the car is parked. Applying the same logic to your story, another contributing factor could have been the exact place where the truck was parked and hence which part of the tyre was touching the ground. Yes, had the alarm gone off then Terry could have had enough time to inflate the tyre and be better protected from an accident during his journey, but the change in the timing could have resulted in his truck being hit by an even larger vehicle that still flattened it. In fact this might have made for a more subtle story that reflected the complexity of causality even more accurately. Having set out the potential chain of events you could have ended the existing part of the story with the child not spilling the bottle so that the potential history gets rewritten. Nevertheless Terry still meets his fate as a result of another series of events.

You stated that the "balls are set in a precise, triangular arrangement" but this isn't quite true. The way that the pack will break depends on which balls are initially touching and this can be different each time. There may only be microscopic gaps between some of the balls but this can be enough to change the distribution of energy and inertia between them and hence the way that they break.

I regard causality and indeed time as being symmetrical in that any event may potentially contribute to many others but equally it may be the result of many other possible events. In other words, in your story the probability of the child having spilled the bottle is increased by the subsequent accident between the vehicles. Effects demand causes just as causes demand effects. It's how crimes are solved and scientific discoveries are made, by following the effects back in time to their causes. Think of it this way, that the existence of the universe is the sole cause of the Big Bang.

So yes, there is scope for the reader to explore the story despite the telling style. It was not such a serious criticism then.

July 22nd, 2019, 05:20 PM
Many thanks JustRob! The pool table story and the alarm clock story are not directly connected but rather run parallel, each describing the same phenomena of 'determinism' as it applies to cause and effect. The pool table story was intended to serve only as a descriptive tutorial to the effect of causality which is taking place in the main story.

Thanks for your reply. You raise many interesting points for me to ponder at further length.