Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

I was watching an episode of the West Wing the other day and was reminded of the saying “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.” The saying essentially means this:

Post hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for “after this, therefore because of this,” is a logical fallacy (of the questionable cause variety) that states, “Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one.” It is often shortened to simply post hoc and is also sometimes referred to as false cause, coincidental correlation, or correlation not causation. Wikipedia

Since catching that episode a few nights ago, I’ve been reminded that this is actually a core understanding when it comes to complexity and chaos theory. In chaotic situations, Snowden tells us that the only way to manage yourself is to react against the situation and see what changes. It is _not_ to assess the situation and then to make a change based on that. Act. Sense. Act Again.

We might see this in places where we assume that something is happening for one reason. Logically, we think, the sun is rising today because it did yesterday and so too the day before that. But perhaps that is not always the case. Perhaps we’re just seeing an order of events that makes us assume that. Bill Gurley wrote a great post about it recently, with regards to diets, where he explains this really well.

It’s reminded me to stay aware of what I assume is happening, and to be conscious that I may be inferring something incorrectly. It’s also reminded me why I love the West Wing so much! Happy Wednesday 🙂

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