There is probably consensus that

Examples of causal fallacies

We can be wrong in our stories about what leads to what. Just because we have a convincing sounding LineOfThinking, it doesn’t make it true.

Like Wiki:LogicalFallacy, these examples do not mean that think in terms of cause-and-effect is bad, only that it can go astray.

Great causal achievements

To somewhat counter the “negativity” of this page.

Typical forms of fallacies


The assumption of causality, especially of a complete determinism, is not necessarily a step forward to understand the world.

Nice going, Helmut. If you think the world is determinism, you’re superstitious, like a witch hunter, a murderer, and a racial supremacist, and unable to deal with complexities. Niiice.

First entry:

Behind the powerful phenomenon of thunder there must be a cause, probably a “god of thunder”. Rituals and sacrifices probably have made plausible that one can get along with gods if one gets them right. This causal assumption has probably hindered the development of natural sciences.

What’s the causal assumption? Is it: (A) the idea that behind thunder, there must be a cause?, or (B) the idea that the cause is probably a god of thunder?

The idea that behind thunder, there must be a cause, has undoubtedly aided the development of natural sciences.

First guesses “god of thunder” (B) are forgivable, because people had not come across any idea yet that would make more sense. It takes time for societies to figure out what things are like. Nobody blames people for making wrong guesses (like phlogestine.) It’s just the process of science.

I’m not sure where this is going, but I know an article that is at least vaguely related: Silicon Superstitions by JefRaskin.

Here is where HelmutLeitner and I agree:

  • Very complex systems are unpredictable.
  • There are different methods for working with unpredictable systems, than with predictable systems.

Where do HelmutLeitner and I disagree? I am hard pressed to find the single point, but it seems to me that HelmutLeitner believes that determinism is a plague to society, and I believe that determinism is key to science.

As an example, look no further than the thunder-has-a-cause assumption. Helmut sees belief in Gods, I see greeks trying to come to some answers, and then a few centuries later, people discovering the science that explains thunder.

Somehow, HelmutLeitner feels threatened, by the idea that determinism is true. When he says things like “Belief in determinism leads to the Iraq war,” I get furious. I intensely value careful thought in these questions. Helmut, won’t you be more careful about what you’re saying?

I mean, somehow, Helmut, you seem to have it in your head that determinism leads to racism. What?!

I know the trend in thinking that you’re talking about: There is a body of scientists who are trying to construct a scientific body of data to confirm their racist assumptions. It’s horrible, it’s ugly, it defies the discoveries of so many other scientists, which contradict the case they’re trying to construct. They are convinced that they’re merely good dedicated pariahs, only quiet seekers of the truth, and take anger & criticism from society as evidence that they’re right. I know the body that I think you’re talking about.

And then you blame determinism? Whaaat? “Does not follow.” Blame cold-heartedness. Blame racism. Blame the intelligence process. Blame a number of things.

But blaming a philosophical position on the nature of physical reality? The concept that “beneath it all, there are causes that determine effects?” Doesn’t that seem a bit overkill to you?

Isn’t it sufficient and proper, in the case of the racists, to say, “Look, you’re ignoring facts X, Y, and Z, and if you took that into account in your studies, you’d see that this whole line of inquiry is just totally bogus?” …

I agree that there are systemic problems in the nature of our present scientific inquiries. I do agree that it has to do with complexity and unpredictability. But the question of determinism is irrelevant to those systemic problems, and no statements about it are required or helpful.

Lion, I think we have often a situation of a productive misunderstanding. I do not say, that the search for causality is something bad, quite to the contrary. But, with respect to the “-ism” part of determinism, I want to state, that causal thinking may also create problems. The idea of causality does not guarantee innocence, and it doesn’t guarantee completeness (LimitsOfScience).

My position is that of a scientist. At 13 I had the typical electrical and physical experimentation behind me, I watched the sky with my own telescope. Starting with 14 I built up a chemical laboratory in the cellar of my parents house. Four years of experimentation and studying. When I started my studies as the Technical University of Graz I already was a natural scientist. I feel entitled to criticise science and the concept of causality from the inside. It is not pointing the finger onto someone else.

When you speak of “causal fallacies,” are you speaking of times where someone has a line of thinking “A → B”, where the A → B is faulty?

I mean– Are you talking about how a LineOfThinking can feature GapsInLogic?

What are you critiquing here?

I don’t know exactly what Hemlut is critiquing, but my vague understanding of what Helmut is talking about and what Lion is talking about was actually clarified a little by the article that TheSheep linked to up above.

The article above says that this is like Wiki:LogicalFallacy. If that is the case then I understand.

Logical fallacies are assumptions, like “because Bob believes in the Loch Ness monster, his theory about quantum physics must be wrong, because Bob is a loon for believing on the Loch Ness monster, so anything he has to say about anything of import must be wrong”.

Logically, this assumption by itself is not automatically right. Bob’s theory about quantum physics could be right, whether or not he also believes in the Loch ness monster.

Causal fallacies seem to me to be the same, basically. Because we collectively accept the cause of one thing, does not mean that we can automatically connect the same cause to other things, because they share properties, for instance.

Lion’s assertion, that there is an underlying cause for everything that is observable, is not negated by this.

So, there really isn’t an argument here against what Helmut is saying, from what I can see, nor does what Helmut is saying here necassarily negate Lion’s key point, from what I can tell.

Lion, if “A → B” means a causal relationship, then yes, this page is about such faulty assumptions, especially when there is no “->” between A or B or the assumed A doesn’t exist. GapsInLogic is and ThinkingGoo are probably about “faulty thinking” which may contain all kinds of faults or gaps, not only logical faults or gaps.

Sam, I think it that logic and causality have little to do with each other. Logic is about handling symbols coming from abstract thinking. Causality comes from finding patterns in our perception of the world, comes from experience.

Man, … It is clear to me that we are using very different language for these things.

Helmut, if you don’t mind, I believe we’re going to need to pick apart / segregate words for a moment.

When I’ve been saying “causality,” I’ve been talking whereabouts: “What, in reality, actually caused the other thing.”

When you’ve been saying “causality,” I believe you’re talking whereabouts: “The subjective ideas people form about what causes what.”

So I would say, “A LineOfThinking about how causality works can be questioned.”

I still do not understand HelmutLeitner’s “The assumption of causality, especially of a complete determinism, is not necessarily a step forward to understand the world.”

I agree that it’s not necessarily a step forward to understand the world: If the pattern really is purely random, then assuming determinism is going to lead to nothing. If the pattern really is determined, then assuming that the world is deterministic is, provided you can make tools (theoretical and mechanical) that allow you to work with component parts.

Our current theoretical model says there is no way to get to the component parts. To dig smaller, we’d need a different theoretical model and some experiments showing, “This may work.”

If you think it’s a fuzz, then you would think, “This is just a waste of time.” I can understand that.

Lion, you seem to say that it makes no sense to talk about fallacies in the application of the idea of casuality, because if there is a fallacies then it is not “true causality”. But the same would be true talking for logical fallacies: the moment there is a fallacy, it is not valid logic. Still it makes sense to look at the pitfalls. This holds for logic and imho also for causality.

All we have is our subjective view of the world, although we may work towards true, shareable models of the world, which may always be hypothetical.

Helmut, yes, but the nature of (Causal or Logical) “fallacies” are similar, which is what I was referring to (and what you referred to above in this page).

Sam, we agree that logical and causal fallacies are similar. Do we also agree that they are mutually exclusive?

We sure do. I agree with what you said in your comment above about Logic and Causality, and how they are different. And I agree with you that the respective “fallacies” for each are mutually exclusive.

When you wrote:

Behind the powerful phenomenon of thunder there must be a cause, probably a “god of thunder”. Rituals and sacrifices probably have made plausible that one can get along with gods if one gets them right. This causal assumption has probably hindered the development of natural sciences.

…did you mean: “The assumption that there were gods of thunder that must be the cause” – that that idea was holding up the development of natural sciences, …

This is imho true in any way.

…or did you mean: “That people assumed there was a cause for thunder” – that that was holding up the development of natural sciences?

No. But there is something deeper than “a god is not a good cause”, perhaps a “the cause must be a simple cause, among the known or accepted causes, a cause that we can influence and amke to an instrumet”.

Helmut, if you’re just saying: “There is such thing as a causal fallacy,” – that “People can be mistaken about what causes what,” then I agree with you.

I’d like to change the page in some slight ways, but I agree with the basic idea.

Some changes:

Like Wiki:LogicalFallacy these examples do not mean that causality is typically bad or faulty, but that it can go astray. It is not innocent or objective in itself.

When I read this, I thought that you meant, “Believing that events come from causes, known or unknown, can lead you astray, to the types of things that follow… (superstition, racism, etc., …)”

Because I believe that events come from causes, known or unknown, I have some difficulty with the text.

I would change the text to:

We can be wrong in our stories about what leads to what. Just because we have a convincing sounding LineOfThinking, it doesn’t make it true.”

LineOfThinking isn’t (supposed to be) about logic specifically; CausalFallacies are part of it as well. I’d rather change the page ThinkingGoo, then disconnect these pages.

Lion, I accept the proposals. I think we have full agreement now:

  • The search for causal relationships is positive
  • Working causal relationsships are beneficial, one of the main products of science.
  • Causal thinking has pitfalls like logical thinking (both are sometimes exploited)

I’d like to add or rephrase:

  • premature and therefore incorrect assignments of causal relationsships may be worse than having no causal knowledge.
  • There may be phenomena where the causality is for ever unaccessable (it’s probably not that important for practical life whether we attribute this to e. g. that an initial state can’t be measured or e. g. to a principal random noise in the universe that)

Helmut, I changed the text to include my addition, and I slightly changed your initial statement about the examples.

As for: “Sigmund Freuds basic causal hypothesis: it states that psychical problems are caused by traumatic events typically during childhood.”

Yikes! To my mind, this is an example of failure, rather than a success. Traumatology, trauma theory, – … That whole world – I think it’s done an enormous amount of harm.

To give some explanation:

I met an ex-Vietnam soldier once. He told me how he recovered from the trauma of Vietnam, when I asked. He did it on his own, and with his dad, with nary a psychologist in sight. It was hard, but it was all way in the distant past. It was over in like, 3 years. In the end, all he really needed was some time by himself, and with someone to talk with. He was friendly, happy, enthusiastic, and living a life; I gathered that this had been the case for at least 2 decades. (How did the conversation come up then? I had started a conversation about the Iraq war, noting he was against the war, by his pin.)

I met a friend I’ve known since Jr. High, study psychology, and obsessed with the study of trauma. I came away, thinking, “Oh my God, my friend is going to harm tons of people with these trauma theories, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

To my mind, it’s a black hole of psychic energy.

The causal link from “some bad event in the past,” to “this is why your life sucks,” is, I think, horrifying. I would think that dissipating the causal links, (a la UnjustifyPessimism,) rather than strengthening them, would be appropriate therapy.

Lion you jump from the word “trauma” to a completely separate topic whether some kind of therapy works or not. While this is an interesting discussion, it is orthogonal to my point.

My point is that Sigmund Freud (and his followers) is know for mounds of theory. But the real achievement, that is lasting, is that he introduced the idea of causality in relationship to the human mind (self, soul, spirit, whatever you want to call it). Part of it is the recognition of the subconscious, this means that there are causes that we are not aware of, although they affect us. (one could see them as strong neuronal patterns that hinder the human to live a normal life). This is especially a problem with events in early childhood that we can’t remember, or can’t remember very well. (btw the most important thing in any therapy is to bring the problem from the subconscious into the conscious and make mental refactoring/reprocessing possible, which is already given in the Vietnam example)

This causal achievement is completely independent of whether the theories or therapies that were built on that are correct and work or not.

I hold the causal achievement in doubt, but okay.

Huuh, even his discovery of the “subconscious” as a cause for human behaviour, as a detail of this causal achievement?

The idea that there are processes at work in our minds that we are unconscious of that influence our behavior – “clear.” It gets my approval. :)

People, people. The only reason why science can’t understand things deterministically is because we haven’t yet been able to determine the scientific solutions. If you believe that we are being kept from these understandings by God, or believe that capitalism is somehow keeping us from understanding things, that is more like it, but a tad superstitious in and of itself. Fractal theory understands chaos relatively well. We are still trying to adapt it properly. But since our school systems are bent against releasing mathematicians unto the world, you’re right, we will be forever stuck in a fucking stupid fairy tale.

Your nickname is so bad I reverted your edits before checking what you wrote. I have undone it after reading your words.

A fucking stupid fairy tale. That’s it. A jam session …

Lemme add a welcome to cw: Welcome.

I’ll check what casual fallacies means now. I’m German.

Gelegentliche Täuschungen, wtf. I mean “fallacy” sounds really dirty if you don’t know what it means, doesn’t it?

No, UseRealNames maybe should be UseRealNamesInTime?. We just like them. :)

Interesting page btw, reading …


Define external redirect: UseRealNamesInTime

EditNearLinks: JefRaskin