John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Causation vs. Correlation

Causation vs correlation.

Scientists and statisticians use this formulation to determine when the proximity between two events is sufficiently close to establish a causal relationship.

It’s an important concept.

Just because two events occur close to one another doesn’t necessarily mean they are related–i.e., the former “causing” the latter (“the cock crows and the sun rises”).

On the other hand, often they are linked and we need to make this important distinction (e.g., smoking leads to heart disease)–and adjust behavior accordingly.

Monday I was scanning my iPhone apps and noticed “Find my iPhone.”

I hadn’t thought about this app in nearly 3 months when I lost my iPhone and searched unsuccessfully for an hour before this app led me to my right pocket, where the iPhone was safely hidden.

Well, lo and behold, on Tuesday I lose my iPhone and have to use this app again to find it again. This time it only took about 8 minutes and it was located in my jacket pocket.

Which made me wonder, Did seeing the iPhone app the day before “cause” me to lose my phone the next day?

The human mind is a complicated mechanism. I think there was “causation.” And if some scientist tries to claim my analogy is more like the “cock crowing causing the sun to rise,” I’ll be the first to point out to the know-it-all that the sun rising is just an optical illusion.

I really did lose my iPhone.


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