Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
Personal superstitions often arise from people committing the post hoc fallacy. Consider, for example, a sportsman who adopts a pre-match ritual because one time he did something before a game he got a good result. The reasoning here is presumably that on the first occasion the activity preceded the success, so the activity must have contributed to the success, so repeating the activity is likely to lead to a recurrence of the success. This is a classic example of the post hoc fallacy in action. We all know of the people who only wear purple socks on Thursday, because they wore purple socks on Thursday 25 years ago, they won $250 in the lottery. The fact that they may not have won a thing since is beyond the point. In their mind, the act of putting on that pair of purple socks was the precedent cause of their windfall.
Now a lot of this is simply naivety, and looking for causal aspects of what could be strictly acausal in nature. But the thing is, you can find causality a hell of a lot easier than it is to accept that there could be no cause… just dumb luck… a freak accident… nothing anyone did to cause an avalanche, but the simple act of gravity acting upon a weighted, wet mass on a downward plane. The people killed below never saw it coming, but doesn’t someone have to be to blame? Under the concept of post hoc ergo propter hoc, the die was cast in “something’s path,” and the ripples in the fabric of time and space now spread and widen, like the ripples in a lake when you toss in a pebble. One single action that can change EVERYTHING? That’s a hell of a lot of credit to give to a lowly pebble.
But they say one bullet fired by Gavrilo Percep set the wheels of war in motion when one of the bullets he fired toward Archduke Ferdinand, being chauffered in an open car through the streets of Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. A fatal bullet struck and killed the Archduke, presumptive heir to the throne of Austro-Hungaria. One bullet killed the Archduke, and that one bullet’s impact began a rippling effect that would reach out to the world, resulting eventually in the deaths of 37 million people, both military and civilian, on all sides of the conflict. It apparently negated… or trumped the power of the ripples from the other bullet that killed his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenburg. It also, apparentl nullified the bullets of the other would be assassins that had been dispatched with guns and bombs to accomplish the same feat as Precip. whose fateful bullet swept them all up in the resultant dragnet. The conspirators wasted away in prison.
“Post hoc ergo propter hoc.” From that one bullet, war began. Millions killed. The world in chaos. The loss of the war to the amassed forces of the world. One bullet, forged amongst millions, somehow swept the world into devastation and, one could argue, set the world solidly on a collision course with Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich and even greater devastation in World War II. Truth be known, it was on that path before the Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrivic ordered his teams of assassins into the field. What ripple precipitated what? It would depend upon one’s point of view.
If one searched hard enough, one can find causality in any event. Take, for example, the deadly songs such as Gloomy Sunday, written by Reso Seress in 1932, popularized by the American Blues legend, Billie Holiday. Its lyrics, haunting and indeed “gloomy,” were thought to be the catalyst for a rash of cluster suicides in the 30s, leading to its blacklisting on many radio stations. Listen to it. Holliday’s voice, the music and the lyrics are compelling and profoundly sad. But are they sad enough to cause people to commit suicide? It is estimated that 200 people world-wide ended their lives because of it, and it’s writer Reso Seress did indeed commit suicide by jumping off of a building in Budapest, Hungary in 1968. His girlfriend, who inspired the song committed suicide shortly after the song’s release. She left a suicide note with only two words, “Gloomy Sunday.”
My hours are slumberless
Dearest the shadows
I live with are numberless
Will never awaken you
Not where the black coach
Of sorrow has taken you
Of ever returning you
Would they be angry
If I thought of joining you
With shadows I spend it all
My heart and I
Have decided to end it all
And prayers that are said I know
Let them not weep
Let them know that I’m glad to go
For in death I’m caressin’ you
With the last breath of my soul
I’ll be blessin’ you
I wake and I find you asleep
In the deep of my heart here
That my dream never haunted you
My heart is tellin’ you
How much I wanted you
If Saress had never penned the lyrics, had never scored the first note… would hundreds of lives have been spared by the rippling effect of the song’s blighted existence? Would Saress and his star-crossed love have lived in happiness, were it not for the sadness of this song. Were the sad lyrics the catalyst, or was it the depressing musical score… or was it simply coincidence upon coincidence upon coincidence?
What about a song that is loved by many? In 1961, Japanese artist Kyu Sakamoto released his biggest hit, “Ue o Muite Aruko (I Look Up as I Walk).” It was released later in 1963 in America as “Sukiyaki.” The song was wildly popular and reached #1 on the Billboard top 100 in 1963. It is considered to be one of the best selling singles in history, and spent 8 solid weeks at the top of the charts.
Kyu Sakamoto enjoyed much success, wealth and fame as a singer, based primarily on the strength of that one, popular song. He lived in Japan and traveled the world singing his song and enjoying the fame and notoriety. The song speaks of a man who lost his love and is remembering times long past. Life goes on, even through lonely times.
“I look up when I walk