Friday, October 28, 2011

Correlation is Not Causation

New post over at Science In My Fiction, on a subject I try to hammer into the heads of my 1203-1213 students every year -- the problem of untangling cause and effect.

It's a tricky one, even for those of us who think we're clever educated critical thinkers. Dr. Skull and I, for instance, duking it out with the kid recently. She doesn't want to learn to play a musical instrument; Dr. Skull wants her to learn one. He argues that learning to play an instrument well makes you smarter. She argues (we've made her a little lawyer, this kid) that correlation is not causation -- that maybe it's just that smart people tend to make good musicians. I have to agree with her that this makes sense.

It's something we want, though -- to believe that if we do this, that will follow. If I get my PhD, I'll have a job & finacial security & a happy life. If I wear my seatbelt, I won't die in a crash. If I wish upon a star. If, if, if. We're looking for a way to control what is, essentially, not within our control.

On the other hand, who can blame us? The anxiety that comes when we admit that our fates are outside of our control can be, in fact, a bit unnerving.


Anonymous said...

Learning to play an instrument makes you smarter. It builds brain synapses you won't get any other way. It requires you to put together what you see (music, a conductor, etc.), what you hear, and an instrument you play with your hands to create music that has speed, rhythm, texture, loudness/softness, harmony, pitch, melody, and form in a skilled, coordinated manner. With all that going at once, you can't help but get smarter doing it. Music is math and physics. It's both an art and a science. The younger you begin, the better. You benefit the rest of your life even if you never make it to a concert stage. Promise. - L

Unknown said...

I keep deceiving myself with that PhD = financial security one because it's easier to keep pushing through grad school than it is to round file my BA and beg for a burger-flipping job (yes, beg, because there's always a crowd of others competing for the same positions in any field at this point).

Anonymous said...

I have a JD, and it is no more a guarantee of financial security than owning a shiny nickel.

delagar said...

I'm better off with my PhD than I would have been without it, I think. But financial security? No. I haven't had enough money to buy new shoes in two years now. I can't afford to buy my kid a coat this winter, and she desperately needs one. (I plan to ask my mother to get her one for Christmas.) On the other hand, the richest 1% has enough money to buy themselves dozens of houses and jet planes, so that's what really matters, I guess.