Correlation does not equal Causation – or how the Oarfish predicted an Earthquake

Correlation not equal to CausationI was reading a rather silly article today when I stumbled across a great comment about that story and the immediate and negative response that comment received.

The article cited an instance where a pair of rarely seen oarfish washed up along shore in southern California and how people took this to be a sign of impending disaster. The article cited a number of instances where animals exhibited unusual behavior immediately before some sort of natural disaster.

The comments on the article immediately began. Most of these were anecdotal stories about how pets have behaved strangely immediately before a disaster and how this had saved someone’s life. Among all these comments was a missive that was a fine example of laconic wit and which made me very, very happy.

Correlation does not imply causation.

The point of this phrase is that we as humans often see events that happen sequentially as being related to each other in a cause and effect manner. The reason we see this relationship is because there is often, in fact, such a relationship. When my finger pushes down the letter “p” on the keypad, said letter appears on the screen. This is an example of Cause and Effect.

It is vitally important to understand that Event A which occurs immediately before Event B is not necessarily the cause for Event B. Often the two events are completely unrelated.

The reason this is so important to understand is that if you mistake correlation with causation you are going to spend a great deal of time and effort futilely trying to make your life better. If you do not fully understand what it is that caused the thing you are trying to fix, your ability to resolve the problem is deeply inhibited.

This is one of the main ideas of Critical Thinking. The lack of critical thinking is what drives bad decisions in life. Bad decisions in life lead to less happiness for you and those around you.

We have all been victim of the idea that correlation equates to causation and we’ve all wasted time trying to fix a problem in completely the wrong way. What’s important is trying to assign accurate causation to the events of our lives.

The next time you encounter correlated events take a moment to examine them for causation. Get in the habit. It will make a difference in your life.

Each time you practice your Critical Thinking skills you will get better at doing it. Now, repeat after me: Correlation does not equal Causation.

Now, off you go.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

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