Post Hoc


I had blog posts floating around in my mind last week but I had an insane schedule that had me working at four stores in five days. Then it snowed and most of my writing was preempted by my son using the computer. He was supposedly doing homework. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. It is a new term, after all.

When I wasn’t at work, I’ve been crocheting. I finished up another hat (pretty sure I mentioned this) and made a few lace butterflies. Yesterday evening I started a new project. We’ll see how that one goes. I’m not thrilled by it yet.

While I was being all crotchety, I would casually glance at the comedy series My Name Is Earl. The show’s premise has a petty criminal called Earl decide to turn his life around, after he embraces the concept of karma. The show is funny; maybe not funny enough to watch all 94 episodes, but it cause me to think. And we all know that’s a dangerous thing.

Wilson’s bird of paradise. Yes, Wilson has his own bird. His bird may (or may not) crap on your head, depending on how you believe.

We humans are so obsessed with cause-and-effect. I believe it’s part of our all-too-human goal of making sense of the universe, and of ascribing meaning to everyday events.

Do you get hung up on the word Karma? Don’t worry Christians believe in a variant of it too. You do bad, bad things happen. You do good, and good things return to you. The old reap/sow concept is as old as the hills. More than being a moral code, it makes sense to a chaotic universe.

Why are fire engines red?  Because there are eight wheels and four people on them, and four plus eight is twelve, and twelve is one foot, and a foot is a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth was a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth was also a ship, and the ship sails the sea and in the sea is fish and fish have fins, and the Finns fought the Russians and the Russians were red and firetrucks are always Russian around.

In Earl, Karma is sometimes personified as an unseen deity. Maybe you’ve heard the the quote “Karma is a bitch”? In a couple episodes Earl wants Karma to give jerks their comeuppance.  We say that what comes around goes around–we add sense to arbitrary actions, to acts of good and evil–and it’s a short step to giving a name to that celestial scorekeeper.

I’m not saying that shit doesn’t happen for a reason–I’m sure it does, and all the time. I’m equally sure that sometimes, for better or worse, shit just happens. No why or wherefore.

Is there an invisible master planner pulling all our strings? If we do good deeds will he give us a cookie? If we steal a bag of Fritos from the vending machine, will we get hit with anvils?

Part of the reason the whole question interests me is the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc.  This is fancy Latin phrase that means literally “After the fact, therefore because of the fact.” We’ve all heard this fallacy before.  “I take 2,500 milligrams of vitamin C every day and I got a cold, so vitamin C doesn’t work.” “We never had any problem with the furnace until you moved in. You must be the problem.” Superstitions are often an example of carrying the post hoc fallacy to its logical extreme: Don’t walk under a ladder. A black cat crosses in front of you. Seven years of bad luck if you break a mirror. Pee on the doorposts of your house to keep the ghosts out.

Silly children’s show? or did Warner Brothers cartoonists capture a picture of God?

Sometimes we just can’t predict events. Sometimes a cigar is only a cigar. Here’s a fact though: Sigmund Freud often smoked 20 cigars a day, and had more than 30 surgeries for mouth cancer. What meaning can we ascribe to this? You got it: Psychoanalysts always get mouth cancer. The logical conclusion? Don’t become a psychoanalyst if you want to beat the big C!

What do you think? Is there something to Karma? Is she a beeyotch? Does shit happen? When do we go from being reasonable, to religious, to deranged in our beliefs of cause-and-effect?

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