Problems: A Taxonomy of Terms LO20729

John Gunkler (
Tue, 23 Feb 1999 11:31:18 -0600

Replying to LO20700 --

I applaud Bill Braun for starting a taxonomy of terms, and I applaud his
courage in setting himself up for us nitpickers to pick at him.

Here are my nits:

1. Do "problems" necessarily have to be hidden from observation or direct
measurement? Isn't it possible that a directly observable event or action
is, in itself, a "problem" and not just a "problem symptom?" I would be
perfectly happy to modify Bill's definition of problem to allow them to be
hidden, but not require it.

2. I noticed that Bill carefully (?) avoided including "Cause" in his
taxonomy. I know that the concept of "cause" is very tricky, especially
in situations where we have feedback loops involved (which is just about
everywhere!) But I sense that Bill wants to avoid "cause" at the cost of
including much of what we mean by that word in his definition of
"problem." I think we get around some of the difficulties of defining
"cause" not by avoiding the concept entirely but by avoiding the concept
of "the one cause." So, even though there may be mutual causation, it
still makes sense to me (and is very useful in my understanding of
situations) to talk about cause and effect during a period of time -- even
though the "effect" in that time period can become a "cause" in another
time period and even though the "effect" in the chosen time period
actually may be the "cause" of itself in a longer time period. What I do
not allow is for the arrow of time to reverse -- for B to called a "cause"
of A when B occurs after A. Nor do I allow that simply finding a
correlation between A and B establishes (by itself) that there is a causal
relationship there. To show more than correlation you must show me that
if it were possible to induce a change in B at a time I choose (perhaps
randomly), that the proposed causally related change would necessarily
occur in A at a later time -- and that you can rule out other plausible
mechanisms for the change in A.


"John Gunkler" <>

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