“There is a reason for everything that happens, ” my friend said to me. “Nothing is random.” I happen to think a lot is random. I also think that when incidents happen, it is our job to make sense of it. To make meaning. That’s how we learn. But it’s easy to paint ordinary randomness with deep meaning. Here’s an example: The Raptors, a baseball team, has won the last four games played on a Tuesday, but only if it rained. No rain, no win. Rain? They win. Today is Tuesday, and it is raining, and the Raptors are playing. Should you bet on them to win?
Of course not. Winning and the rain are not related. It’s a coincidence. Correlation does not imply causation. Which is a compact way of saying that the rain, Tuesdays, and winning are not related to each other. Even if it happens four times in a row. It’s random. The rain’s purpose may be to wash the streets clean; the game’s purpose may be entertainment, but the relationship is non-existent.
Random is much easier to accept if it’s in your favor. When things go your way for a while, it’s easy to pat yourself on the back, tell yourself how much you deserved it, and how you are smarter than your idiot competitors.
When things go wrong, of course, we look for the idiot who screwed us up. Sometimes we blame ourselves and beat ourselves up.
This is a good time to make sure what went right and what went wrong wasn’t random. If you were involved, good to see how, admit it, fix it, take credit for it, or cheer.
If it was random, and it often is, don’t spend another second looking for secret reasons, lessons from the universe, a ghost in the machine, or divine retribution. Correlation does not imply causation. Instead, plan your next best move? Time to get busy.
—Quinn McDonald believes the Salem witch trials could have been avoided if people didn’t make up connections or accept coincidence as causation.