Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

The confusion about the Law of Cause and Effect (2)

23 August 2019


Causality – a relation between cause and effect – is an important element in statistics. Probabilities (ie, chances) might be even more important. Both do not always share a similar direction. Causality within a homogenous group is either strong or absent. Finding causality within a heterogenous group can be confusing.

A famous hoax is the misinterpreted 1972 statement by Dr Elliot Philipp “that 30 per cent of the husbands could not have been the fathers of their children…” (eg, my 2015 blog). His testing was based on a homogenous group of men, who were already doubting their fatherhood. Testing within a heterogenous group of fathers gives very different results:

“The best British study, published in 1991, suggests a non-paternity rate of about 1 per cent. A 1992 French study indicates a rate of 2.8 per cent. A 1994 Swiss study has a maximum rate of 0.78 per cent. A 1999 Mexican study comes in at 11.8 per cent. And the best North American study, published in 2009, proposes a rate between 1 and 3 per cent.” Source: The fatherhood myth (2011). 

A similar error may occur in the relation between cause and effect. How many times does an event happen before a cause creates an effect? An example is the expected disastrous earthquake in Southern California (ie, the Big One). In 2019, several “minor” earthquakes were felt, while damages were relatively mild (eg, ABC-2019Fox-2019).

If someone hits me then the general expectation may well be that I will hit back: cause and effect. In my case, that expectation might be wrong. Even when provoked, I’m able to control my emotions. Nevertheless, I have been (very) close to hitting – or worse – some people in my life. Does a cause not exist, in the absence of an effect? Not really. Only the relation is absent.

Cause and effect might be nothing more than a random phenomenon in a life – or Universe – full of Change. Moreover, you need to know the probabilities before you can expect causality. Backtesting an effect towards a cause may give a strong relation but it says little about the chance or probability of that event occurring.

There is another way of looking at this: our life is an analogue stream of events, and part of “the Flow of Life”, while digital (sic!) pictures may show cause and effect at brief intervals.

“A life without a cause is a life without effect.” A quote from the 2011 novel Aleph by Paulo Coelho de Souza (b. 1947), a Brazilian writer.

Probable Cause (2015) by Ekko Park

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Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise


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