Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Just now I received an email from a nice man who pointed to something called "the fundamental attribution error," a phrase, he wrote, that I might Google, and thus, I guess, become informed. And perhaps I will.

But I got stuck on the word "attribution." An internet dictionary says of this word:

▸ noun: assigning to a cause or source
▸ noun: assigning some quality or character to a person or thing

I assign characteristics to you. You assign characteristics to me. Philosophers and intellectuals assign characteristics to their interests and then assign more characteristics to their deductions. Social intercourse would fall silent without attributions of one kind or another. Cause and effect rely on attributions. It seems that, as a social species, we would be bereft and wan without our attributions.

I see nothing bad in it.

But I do wonder if it is not incumbent upon us all to ask: "Is attribution compulsory or merely possible? Is it true?" I say "incumbent" because I think that, without answering the question, we are left at a loss -- never knowing anything for what it is or was and basing our lives and happiness on what things seem to be and never what they are.

Given the over-arching habit of attribution, I concede that the questions may seem terrifying or too confounding to warrant further energy. But I would argue that there is no escape: What are things like when we stop dressing them up in our convictions or preferences or sincerities or hopes or beliefs? Just all by themselves ... what are things like? Are they really 'like' anything at all?

The immensity of the question, assuming anyone were willing to ask it in their own lives, can be daunting. But I don't think we need to scurry or fret and try to seek out an answer that would only lead to more attributions. I think that to ask it once is enough -- ask and be patient, caringly patient. Let it be like a seed of corn planted in the spring -- placed in its small hole, covered with nourishing earth, watered from time to time ... and then see the results when fall arrives.

To taste the corn is, after all, like nothing in the whole universe.

And the universe is no different.

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