About Reason, Correlation, Causation and Smart Fools


We always want to be right and we love the feeling when we finally get the confirmation we were right all along. Whether you find proof of your claim in books or nowadays on the internet, or if someone finally agrees to what you are saying is right.

As long as we are right, we are happy. We seek for correlation and try to mount our argument on top of it. But does correlation even justify anything? Does a correlation equal the truth just because it is data? Not all data and information get you to proof your point. Correlation is often not relative to the actual causation.

We are all smart fools. We think we are rational and reasonable folks. But is there still deep in us? What primal instincts have an impact on what we think and how we decide? This goes beyond data science, modern sociology and communication theory.

How correlation could mean anything and nothing

Not long ago Diana Adams wrote an article on TechAcute, including an interest part on curious correlations. Just like she explained correctly, a correlation can be anything and nothing. Therefore we can safely assume, that correlation does not equal causation.

It can certainly be the case, that a correlation points towards a causation, but that is neither law nor rule. Making the mistake to use a correlation and leverage it as cause can lead to major errors. I even dare to think that correlation is more often coincidence than causation.

Two Men Talking Arguing Gesture Outside City Yelling Hand Conversation Gossip

We love it when we’re right

Most of us consider ourselves to be rational, objective and reasonable. But are we really? I don’t think we are, even though we might try to be. That is not how our brain is wired. You can’t shake all the time that went into the evolution of mankind just with “let’s try to be objective here.”

Fire is good. We like fire. It keeps us warm, it transforms ingredients to a warm meal, and it gives us the light to see ahead in the night. Nowadays we still have a good feeling about fire, even though it could be a danger, mostly people have a positive feeling about it. This can be traced back to representativeness heuristic theories as well.

The fear of loss beats the pursuit of gain any day

Similar to the distortion of reason in fight against primal instincts above, we primarily strive for survival first, protecting beloved ones second, and ensuring we keep what we gathered as third priority. Yes, humans also have the intend to gain more in order to survive in a socially differentiated hierarchy, but the urge to protect what we have is a lot stronger than the gamble for gaining more.

Couple Pair People Argument Arguing Talking Sad Angry Irritated Man Woman Looking Conversation Outside

The endowment effect (Thaler 1980), or divestiture aversion, describes that the value of something is relative to the willingness to pay of a potential buyer. There has been a great experiment around this too. If that interests you, check out the “Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem“. Owning an object makes it seem more valuable to the owner.

How to crack-down the diffusion of reason?

You need to stop adapting the opinion of others. You should always do your own research and establish an own opinion, based on information in correlation what matters to yourself. You could break this down to a simple “don’t believe everything others say”.

Making Mistakes Workshop Man Standing Color Distortion

Silvia Spiva says, “Data doesn’t lie; people do.” And she is right about that. However often people are the input channel for data to be entered in databases or other spaces. You need to find a source of data, that you can truly rely on. In best cases such sources are not biased, have no commercial interests and act independently from companies and political parties.

Before jumping into assumptions, you should make sure that you understood the difference between a correlation and a causation. The reason behind many assumptions should be the actual cause rather than a guess, without information, which would back that guess.

Read more about this subject

Drunk Tank Pink by Adam AlterMindware Tools for Smart Thinking Paperback Richard E NisbettHow We Know What Isnt So Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life Thomas Gilovich


Everybody wants to be rational, but few really are. Before making statements, decisions and starting arguments, you should be mindful and first check the facts for yourself. Not every source is credible and not all are trying to support your reason with their message and underlying communication strategy.

Be wary of the traps of our own psychology and prepare to act against your instincts sometimes. Noticing your bias is already half the effort of fighting irrationality and puts you on the path to make logical choices. If nothing else, try to leverage the method of Occam’s Razor.

YouTube: Culture and Intelligence (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Photo credit: William MurphyAntonio RobertsGuian BolisayKurt Bauschardt

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Christopher Isak
Christopher Isakhttps://techacute.com
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)
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