Cause/Effect & #4

fourIn Japan and China, hotel and hospital rooms are not assigned the number 4 due to the similarity of the pronunciation of “4” to the word “death”. This fear is so pervasive in Japan that, in this culture of gift-giving, any gift conaining a package of 4 is a faux pas.

In a study conducted by David P Phillips of UC San Diego it was determined that Japanese and Chinese cardiac mortality on the 4th of each month was much higher than on any other day of the month, and was significantly higher than the number of Caucasian American deaths on the same day.

Having established this correlation between 4 and death in China and Japan, there remains the question of causation. There are 2 primary possibilities.

  1. The number 4 caused the deaths.
  2. Belief in the negative effects of the number 4 caused the deaths.


Many of you might offer some of the following arguments against possible cause #1.

  • There is no known mechanism by which an immaterial number can interact with the physical world to produce physical death.
  • There is no demonstrable precedent of numerical causation.
  • There is no known reason why “4” would target only believers in its distributing of negative effects.

Does this make #1 a logical impossibility? No. Our arguments against #1, at best, relegate the option to an improbability. There may remain some unknown aspect of the essence of 4 that causes cardiac mortality among Chinese and Japanese.

So what is it that makes #2 intuitively the best first choice for further research into causation for this phenomenon? Let’s extrapolate general rules from the the reasons we listed above that perhaps unconsciously drove our choice of #2.

  • The cause of a physical effect must utilize a physical mechanism, and must then itself be presumably physical.
  • There has never been a substantiated case of immaterial causation for a physical effect, and much less has a precedent of immaterial causation been established.
  • Explanations for the variances in the distribution of an effect must correspond to some feature in the tractable mechanism of the cause. If the cause is not material, it is likely intractable, and therefore lacks explanatory power.

These general rules guide us in efficient selection of the most probable causes. We assume that there is a material cause, that it has a material mechanism, and that variances in the effects are also dependent on the material cause being offered.

These rules aggregate into what scientists call methodological naturalism. This is the fundamental assumption that the cause is material, and is the basis of the exponential success of science over the past few decades. It frees scientists from having to consider the innumerable possible immaterial causes for any effect, and allows them to focus on the limited set of material causes and mechanisms.

However, Westerners who quickly dismiss the notion that “4” carries the power of death will often at the same time hold the belief that it was some supernatural being that help them find their keys under the couch cushion last Thursday. Being the sole survivor of an airline accident would have them believing that there was some kind of divine intervention, rather than making them contemplating the lack of divine intervention for the dead around them.

It seems that the natural egocosmic (new coinage) perspective of humans compels them to place themselves at the center of cosmic purpose, and ascribe the causation of events to things transcendent to the material world. When believers of this sort are successful, they praise god rather than accepting the mundane possibility that, just as the belief in the negative effects of “4” lead to death, it is merely their belief in the positive effects of a personal god that has produced success. The self-fulfilling prophecies, in turn, strengthen the notion that there is immaterial causation at work in their lives, and this cycle continues throughout their lives.

Were it not for the beauty of scientifically derived truth, I might regard lives of this sort to be admirable after a fashion, as one might regard a childish belief in Santa. However, now that I have experienced the beauty of a coherent and comprehensive material explanation for the world, and realize that this is accessible to nearly every mind, I find myself discouraged that so many marginalize their lives by subscribing to a world view of fanciful notions of immaterial causation.

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