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Cause and Effect


Zen & Understanding the Middle East

Sellers' Market
Will to Believe
Rules of Thumb

"The truth is out there "
Use & misuse of words
False information signals more false information
Technical whiz-bang
Understand the Context
Lies, More Lies, Damn Lies and Newspapers
Beware of Generalizations
Theology and scripture
Misleading Statistics
Smoke in your eyes
What is Missing?
Myth versus fact versus narrative
The past was not like the present; the future will be different

Fallacy Recognition in the Middle East

Fallacies and Arguments
Cause and Effect
Slippery Slope
Gambler's Fallacy
Ad Hominem
Appeal to Novelty
Appeal to Emotion
Appeal to Tradition
False Dilemma or Black and White Thinking
Special Pleading
The Spotlight Fallacy
Who is to Say?

Fallacy Handbook

Cause and Effect

Reference: Confusing Cause and Effect  Post Hoc  Questionable Cause

Confusing Cause and Effect . Questionable Cause and Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc errors - These are errors in causal inference: wrongly assuming that if A happened before B, or A and B are associated, then A caused B, or that there is any causal relationship between them.

Remember that logically, there is no reason to accept empirical inductive truths in any case. There is no "logical reason" why heavy bodies should fall, and we have had different explanations for this phenomenon in different centuries. In quantum physics and explanations of wave mechanics, the problem of "causality" is even more complex, because according to some explanations there can be "synchronous" causation, in which events in one place somehow influence events in another, without there being a direct "causal" relation in the usual sense. Moreover, in wave mechanics, particles can travel backwards in time, so that the "A" that is the "cause" actually happened after the "B" that is the effect.

However the problem of induction in principle and the problems of quantum mechanics should be separated from errors made in conventional inductive inference itself. If A and B are associated, or A precedes B then:

  1. A could cause B or
  2. A and B could be caused by a third factor or
  3. A and B could have happened by coincidence.

You can only differentiate the cases by repeated observations and by experimentation. Repeated observations allow you to eliminate the possibility of coincidence. If people always get sick after drinking from the river, the cause of the sickness is probably connected with the river. If all the water sources are polluted you may need to experiment. Experimentation may require a theory of how A and B are associated that predicts what will happen if you perform certain manipulations. If there are living things in the water that cause the illness, then boiling the water should prevent illness.

If you mistakenly believe that A causes B when in fact they are both caused by a third factor, the error is called "Confusing Cause and Effect." If you mistakenly believe that A causes B when in fact their occurrence together was a coincidence, the error is called "Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc."

Inference about cause and effect is especially difficult for historical and social phenomena and events. It is difficult to perform experiments in history. Moreover, the events may be unique, or there might be a very tiny sample size. Human written history is only about 5,000 years old, and there have only been a few dozen civilizations. In the nineteenth century, most of the wealth and power in the world were concentrated in a handful of European countries and the United States. Many concluded that this was due to the inherent superiority of the "white race." Apparently, it was due to the accident of the industrial revolution, which occurred first in Europe. An observer today might conclude (and some have) that technological backwardness and lack of democracy in Muslim countries are due to the nature of the Muslim religion. But an observer in the seventh century would have noted that the Arab Muslims had a flourishing and literate civilization, while Europeans were ruled by illiterate kings and had descended to barbarism.


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