Monday, April 24, 2017

Post Hoc

These Latin tags are addictive, you know. Or, maybe, it is that 'Look how learned he is' looks that I got the last time. Ah! There were sizable component of 'Is it really this moron talking?' mixed in but still...

So, here I come with what is referred to as the 'post hoc' fallacy. 'Post hoc ergo propter hoc', I say knowledgeably, and you all nod in appreciation. Ah! Not appreciation but incomprehension, was it? Well, the phrase says, "Afterwards, therefore because of", that's all. In other words, if you think that just because one incident happened before another incident the second incident was caused by the first incident, you are falling into this fallacy. Unless, of course, it is true.

Well, like you switch on the fan and the fan starts rotating, you are right in assuming 'post hoc ergo propter hoc' - it IS your putting the switch on that caused the fan to rotate. But if you switch off the fan, and the entire area blacks out, can you assume that your putting the switch off CAUSED the black-out? IF you do, THEN you are committing the post hoc fallacy in logical thinking.

Almost all superstition rests on this fallacy. It is Friday the 13th and I stubbed my toe, so it is BECAUSE it is Friday the 13th that I stubbed my toe. Like Friday the 13th has been declared the "Stub my toe' day. He sneezed in the morning when I left for office, and my manager rejected my leave application. So, it is his sneezing in the morning that sent some vibrations over to my manager and disturbed his mind. Chaos theory never works as nimbly as when it comes to personal life and its superstitions.

Add to the mix that thing I discussed earlier in this blog - Confirmation bias (I really must find a Latin tag for this) - and these things get cemented in place. Any day something good happens when the other chap sneezes is forgotten - you do not even bother to think back if he sneezed if something good happens - and every day when something bad happens gets added to the evidence and written in stone. And, of course, when something bad happens and he had not sneezed in the morning, it must only be because he sneakily sneezed silently! So, post hoc IS ergo propter hoc, even if the entire world opposes your conclusion.

Well, sometimes post hoc IS ergo propter hoc, but not as clear to all as the switch-fan combo. AND if you want to tell others that it is so, you should not overstate your case. Like saying, when your favorite party is in government, that everything from the monsoons to the success of Rajnikant's movie is because of that. AND when the party that has earned your antipathy rules, anything from the Indian cricket team's losses to your pet dog's illness is because of that. In all that wide list, SOME things would well be 'post hoc ONLY ergo propter hoc' but a lot of it is likely to be fallacy. If you attribute everything then you become like that chap who cried 'Wolf'. No-one believes you about the wolf, even when you can show the place where a chunk of flesh was bitten off your bottom.

But that has never stopped anyone, has it? People still do it even if it is like saying that the chap standing behind me in a queue is my son (After me, therefore because of me?) AND get furious when they are not believed.

If someone changes after reading this, miracle though it may be, would it still be a fallacy to say 'post hoc ergo propter hoc'?

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