by Jay Jamison
What is it about Thursdays and snow? That was the question making the rounds among friends at one of Jacksonville’s finest downtown establishments last week.
As I write this (on a Thursday), we are once again under a winter storm warning. The last several serious snowstorms we’ve experienced started on Thursdays and the white stuff continued to pile up, causing all sorts of traffic problems, school closures, and basically a freezing unpleasantness for everyone.
Of course, weather patterns have no more of an idea about Thursday than a rock has about Sunday, simply because weather patterns have no idea about anything. Even calling these events weather patterns is something of a stretch. It is we who theorize the patterns, not the weather. It is we who identify patterns, and their possible causal effects on our lives.
As we experience events, we often notice that one type of event seems to be simultaneous with, or is followed by, another identifiable type of event. This is often referred to as cause and effect. Sometimes the type of event to which we refer as the cause, is close in time to the event that follows, to which we refer as the effect, making it easier to connect the two, as we experience them more and more.
However, sometimes when we claim something to be a cause, it is further removed in time from the outcome, or the effect. Examples of this include: a large positive imbalance in the money supply (relative to goods and services) … and inflation; cigarette smoking … and lung cancer; failing to service your car … and finding oneself stranded on the side of the road; and many more. A problem may arise in making the connection between what we perceive to be the cause, and what we claim is the effect.
Asking, “What is it about Thursdays and snow?” is a case in point. Just because we experience snowstorms on several Thursdays does not establish a causal connection between a particular day of the week and weather events.
One of the informal fallacies of logic is false cause. Postulating a connection between Thursdays and snowstorms is an example of this fallacy. Sometimes this fallacy can be used humorously to make a point.
A possibly apocryphal story recounts that during the Civil War advisors to President Abraham Lincoln commented negatively about Gen. Ulysses Grant’s excessive whiskey drinking. Apparently, they were hoping Lincoln would fire Grant upon hearing this news. Realizing that Grant was his winningest general, Lincoln told his military advisors that if he could find out what brand of whiskey Grant drank, he would send a barrel of it to all the other commanders.
Point made. Even if there is no real causal connection between the brand of whiskey Grant drank and his numerous military successes, Lincoln apparently thought it equally absurd to fire his winningest general, in favor of his sober rivals.
So, what makes for a causal connection between events, instead of something else? In the present case we could consider the number of Thursdays during the winter when it did not snow.
In fact, there happen to be more non-snowy Thursdays than snowy Thursdays, so no causal connection can be made. I wanted to go downtown and inform my friends that their question inspired me to write a column, but I didn’t make it, because of the snow.