Eli5: In science, can you establish causation without knowing the causal mechanism?


Pretty much the title

In: 210

Absolutely, for example you could posit that dropping apples results in apples falling. You may not know WHY dropped apples do that, but you can prove that they do.

Yes. We know gravity is a thing, but we have no idea how it works. People were studying inheritance long before they knew what genes were. They even knew that sex caused babies, without understanding sperm and eggs.


Not really. Not strictly, anyway.

If you don’t know the underlying mechanism, it’s still fully possible that correlated events are caused by some shared, underlying influence. If you can’t eliminate this possibility, you can’t confidently claim causation.

Yes. A number of societies got fairly sophisticated in metallurgy, for instance, even though they had no idea what was happening on the atomic level, or even that atoms existed.