The following may seem obvious to you, my esteemed reader, but for myself I’ve enjoyed having these concepts laid out – articulated. For this reason I highly recommend The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative by H. Porter Abbott, which I’m paraphrasing:

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

A happens, then B happens. So A must cause B, right?

No, not if you’re a scientist (unless you’ve eliminated all the other variables). But Barthes calls this fallacy “the mainspring of narrative… the confusion of consecution and consequence, what comes after being read in narrative as what is caused by“. Ordering events in a sequence gives the impression of cause and effect.

Sometimes this sleight-of-hand isn’t the malicious sort often practised by advertisers, lawyers and politicians. Our mind seeks order. We tend to assume a causal link unless we’re told not to. Take the sentence;

“The King died and then the Queen died.”

Do you think it was it grief that killed her? The plague? An assassination? Just a co-incidence? Maybe we’ll never know…

(Image from Tarkovsky’s magnificent film ‘The Mirror’)

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