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Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

David Cowles

Jul 20, 2023

“Thank God we don’t really live in a world like that! Fortunately, it’s all just a bad dream, a media special effect, a trick of language. Now…if only I could just wake up!”

We are mesmerized by the concept of causality. I cry - and someone feeds me, or changes me, or hugs me. Cool beans! Later, I learn that causality has a downside as well. “If you touch the stove, you get burned.” Not so cool after all.

It seems as though everything has a cause and everything in turn causes something else, so perhaps we can be forgiven for concluding that there must be a causal link between what has been, what is now, and what will come to be. If B comes after A, then surely we’re entitled to infer that A causes B. We are content; the world makes sense.

Then, sometime during high school, middle school if you’re ‘posh’, we are introduced to a memorable Latin phrase:  Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Translation: After that - therefore because of that. (Everything sounds better in Latin, doesn’t it?) Perfect. Our intuition is validated!

Except it’s not! ‘Post hoc ergo propter hoc’ is introduced to us, not as a logical premise but as a logical fallacy: just because something comes after something else doesn’t mean that it was caused by that ‘something else’…or so we’re told. 

I shot Cock Robin, but I didn’t cause his death. He died months later from smoke inhalation as he tried to warn the family about a kitchen fire. I am not responsible!

So, if we’re planning to continue our love affair with causality, we’ll need to find a more specific link between events than mere sequence, but that turns out to be more difficult than it seems…so difficult in fact that eminent Scottish philosopher, David Hume, threw up his hands in frustration. He denied the doctrine of causality per se, at least as it is conventionally presented.

Instead, Hume developed an account of ‘perceived regularities’ that relies on concepts like repetition, memory, habit, consistency, coincidence, conjunction, and correlation. 

Unfortunately, Hume was ‘slightly ahead of his time’. He needed Chaos Theory to complete his model, but he died 100 years before Henri Poincare formulated the earliest version, 150 years before Alfred North Whitehead systematized it, 200 years before Benoit Mandelbrot elaborated it, and 250 years before ‘New Agers’ popularized it. 

Were Hume alive today, he would be in his glory. In 1964, John Bell proved that events with no possible causal connection could nonetheless be correlated. Today, we believe that correlation is a more general feature of nature than causality, the latter being at most a special case of the former. Of course, that leaves open the question of whether it is useful or meaningful to retain causality even as a concept. Today, we are all either full-Hume or ¾-Hume.

Per Whitehead (above), when any event occurs, it occurs in the context of a World (W) that it inherits. That World begins as mere Multiplicity (M), a ‘jumble’ (that’s a technical term in physics) of all prior events in Universe, unordered.

The upsurge of an event can only take place in the context of an ordered inherited World (W); but since M is, by definition, entirely disordered, it is the emerging event itself that must inject that order. 

Of course, this is a reversal of how we conventionally understand ‘process’; but as we’ll see below, the conventional understanding of process is actually a misunderstanding based on bias embedded in our language. For now, it is sufficient just to note that a revised notion of process is a necessary consequence of our contention that all events are sui generis

That said, every event incorporates influences from every event in the Multiplicity (M). In M, events relate to one another chaotically. There are no gradations of relevance. An entity’s transformation of Multiplicity into World injects a logos of graded relevance into M: every W forms a crystalline endoskeleton, which enables novelty and order to co-exist.   

The cause of any B (to the extent that we even wish to retain the concept of ‘causality’) is never any one ‘thing’ (A) or any selective group of things; it is always the entirety of things in M as those things are ordered in W. Every W is a unique expression of M and every event is a unique expression of W. In the end it’s ‘one world, one event; one event, one world’!

So determinism? No, anti-determinism! Remember, it is the emerging event that confers order (W) onto chaos (M), not the other way around as Laplace would have had it. The process by which an event forms and uploads its World is organic, never mechanical (determined). 

It’s hard to talk about, isn’t it? That’s because of that darned Tower of Babel (a Biblical metaphor for linguistic dysfunction)! It is only possible to model ‘the process of becoming’ using verbs in the Middle Voice, but that voice that is no longer functional in most modern Indo-European languages. 

Middle Voice is the voice of reciprocity, of co-evolution, of granting others ‘reck’, of respecting lebensraum, of wishing ‘Shalom’, but we are forced to work just with verbs in the Active or Passive Voice – these are the voices of traditional causality…and of war, imperialism, tyranny, persecution, you name it…

Thank God we don’t really live in a world like that! Fortunately, it’s all just a bad dream, a media special effect, a trick of language. Now…if only I could just wake up!


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