How the mind works in a world of infinite possible causes | Cultural Trendz |
"Assuming causes...lets us make sense of the world. Not only is it easier to describe, the descriptions tell you how to make things happen (or avoid them – for instance, if you want the man to stay asleep next time, catch the leaf). In this way, attributions are psychological magic that help us control the future."

"The fundamental attribution error is just a continuation of a wider pattern: we blame individuals for what happens to them because of the general psychological drive to find causes for things. We have an inherent tendency to pick out each other as causes; even from infancy, we pay more attention to things that move under their own steam, that act as if they have a purpose. The mystery is not that people become the focus of our reasoning about causes, but how we manage to identify any single cause in a world of infinite possible causes."

"...we are forced to rely on assumptions to make sense of the world, and these assumptions create a reality of causes and essences that seems solid, despite its uncertain foundation.

This all might sound overly philosophical, but once you are switched on to this tendency to invent essences you'll hear them everywhere. Generalisations or stereotypes such as "women can't do maths" or "Americans don't have a sense of humour" also rely on an invented essence of a sex, or of a nationality, a term that some psychologists have called ultimate attribution error. These views don't have a concrete existence. They are based in imagination, and are subject to all the psychological forces that are at play there.

In more prosaic domestic moments, when it feels like such bad luck that I can't find my keys, yet my wife seems so careless when she can't find hers, I know I’m performing psychological magic. I’m observing the myriad events in the world and imagining things – my bad luck, her carelessness – which I use to explain the world with.

With the knowledge that these explanations can only ever be built on sand, I know to be a bit more careful about how I use them."