Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Correlation ≠ Causation

One of the first things students learn in statistics classes is that correlation does not imply causation. In other words, just because two things are related, it does not mean that one caused the other.

Our little Benjamin has been reminding me of this lately. His loving older siblings love to help him be happy—especially David. David is a boy of many silly faces, and he has the knack at getting Benjamin to laugh.


However, after playing their silly face --> laughter --> silly face --> laughter… game for only a short time, Benjamin apparently concludes that his explosions of laughter cause the silly faces, and not vice versa.

As this process progresses, however, the cause (silly faces) becomes, too, a reaction; likewise, the reaction (exploding laughter) becomes a cause. We, as happy spectators, witness a fantastic positive feedback loop where our two boys go back and forth with laughter and silly faces, with each progressive round being more joyful and happy than the last: a sort of perpetual motion machine (we’ve nearly got it!).

Their fun game continues for some time until both collapse in a heap of wiggling giggles.

It really is fun to watch.

On a not-as-funny note, I’ve been suffering from terrible allergies. This season, I’m hearing many proclaim the virtues of local honey on allergy relief. I’m presently struggling with understanding exactly how the whole process is supposed to help, but I bought some local honey anyway (mostly for my poor wife who can’t take antihistamines).

Because my allergy symptoms vary in intensity (pain) considerably from day to day, it’s difficult for me to ascribe causation to any particular treatment—let alone correlation.

Well, even if the local honey doesn’t “cure” allergies, at least it tastes good.

My thoughts on correlation and causation pop up in other areas of life, too. I’ve noticed that when I’m having a hard time with something, I blame myself. On the other hand, when things are going really well, I express thanks to God. When I do this, I place implied causation for bad things on myself, and implied causation for successes on God. (I guess it’s not nearly as bad as the opposite!)

What I hope to take away from this observation is that I need to trust in the Lord more (see Prov. 3:5-6)—to turn to him in good times and bad, and not simply to recognize His hand in my life in good times; I want to notice His love when times are hard, too.

President Eyring shared his thoughts on this process in his talk, “O Remember, Remember” (link to article), and parts are shown in this short video clip:


2 thoughts

Maryann said...

Thank you for that wonderful thought and reminder. I love that message.

Rockin Rowe's said...

It is interesting to think about that correlation or lack of. I also enjoy watching the kids and seeing their thought processes and decisions.