Each year my adopted city puts on Springtime Tallahassee which includes a 10K race (and now a 1 mile and 5K). I ran the race for the first time in 1994 and it was a disaster for me. Each year since then has also proven to be a disaster, with the worst being the year that I fell off my roof and tore my quadriceps tendon the Thursday before the race. Other years included such incidents as a pulled muscle in the race, a major sinus infection, what was probably pneumonia, a Yamaha related back injury and so on for each year. This year I was exhausted, sick, and had a bad knee, back issues and hip problems.
Since I teach critical thinking for a living, I am aware of causal reasoning and the associated fallacies. I am also not inclined to believe in such things as curses. Except in the case of me and Springtime. Since this provides an exercise in causal reasoning, it seems worth running through the matter. Again.
One way to dismiss the idea of the Curse of Springtime is to point out that it could be a case of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. This fallacy occurs when a person infers that A causes B because B follows A, and they do so without proper justification. In order to avoid the fallacy, one must consider that the connection is merely a coincidence.
Thanks to the problem of induction, it is impossible to show that anything is certainly not coincidence. However, the usual remedy is to apply the method of difference. This method involves considering cases in which an effect occurs and which it does not and finding the difference. A key part of this is that the suspected cause can be tested. In cases in which such tests cannot be literally run as tests, one looks for repetition and difference—the idea being that if B happens regularly and consistently with A and not so without A, then a causal connection would be suspected and subject to additional consideration.
In the case of the alleged Curse, the correlation of Springtime to unfortunate events impacting my running is 100%: it has happened every year since 1994. While I do, obviously, have other unfortunate events in the course of the year, they do not line up consistently with other races. As such, there seems to be more at play than coincidence.
But, of course, to leap to accepting the Curse hypothesis would be too quick. Perhaps there is a factor that occurs this time of year that causes me to have unfortunate events that has nothing to do with Springtime. That is, I must search for alternative explanations. For example, people seem to often have sinus infections or illnesses at the same time of the year regularly. As another example, perhaps this time of the semester always finds me exhausted and thus more prone to illness or injury. There are, however, a few problems with these alternative explanations.
One is that the date of the race and its location in the semester has changed (this year, FAMU changed its calendar so it is a week behind last year) over the years, yet the unfortunate events always line up with the race. Second, there is considerable variety to the unfortunate events: sometimes it is an illness without injury, sometimes it is injury without illness, sometimes I am fine until I have some sort of serious accident that is not caused by being tired, and so on. That is, there seems to be no constant factor other than the Springtime 10K.
The obvious problem is, of course, that it makes no sense that a future event (the race) could cause such effects. As such, the only rational explanation is that it is just coincidence—year after year after year. This is, of course, not impossible. However, with each passing year the idea of the Curse of Springtime seems ever more plausible.
Phil Tanny says
Well, as a professional philosopher you seem to have made an intelligent logical analysis. It is however at least possible that the answer lies not in the realm of reason but emotion, an arena we nerd men tend not to be too expert at.
Last night I dreamed that deer were chasing me around my front yard trying to kick me. Who knows why?? I love deer! Deer love me! We have them in our yard regularly and we all get along, never had any kind of problem. So why the dream? I haven’t the slightest idea other than that there’s a lot of hidden random illogical stuff bubbling around in our subconscious, just out of view.
Does our analytical mind create a reasonably accurate representation of reality, or does it serve more as a filter limiting our vision to a slice of reality? If the later, whatever is going on here may be occurring outside of what we can perceive with our conscious logical minds.
My wife is an avid wildlife rehabber and often has a squirrel sitting on her shoulder while she surfs the Net. The squirrel can see the monitor and the flashing lights on the screen. But the smartest squirrel who ever lived simply doesn’t have the equipment needed to grasp the level of abstraction involved with the Net. They are utterly blind to that realm of existence, and have not the slightest idea that this is so.
Every species on Earth is in this same position, brilliant within it’s niche, and largely blind beyond it. The same is probably true for us. Why wouldn’t it be?
So, forget about philosophy for this one, and go find yourself a gypsy fortune teller, that’s my suggestion. 🙂
Here are a couple of thoughts.
When I read your post (I have read the earlier ones also), I couldn’t help but think about the ongoing debate about gun violence in this country. As you know, my opinion is that it is not “gun violence” at all – the weapons are merely a common denominator among violent crimes of different causes.
And so it is in your case with the Springtime Tallahassee event. It is a common denominator to all of your springtime illnesses and injuries, but the causes of your ailments are diverse and completely unrelated.
Poverty, racism, mental illness, domestic disputes, depression, alienation, uncontrolled anger, drug dealing – these are the causes of violence. Clumsiness, exposure to virus, pushing too hard in early training, distractions, changes in weather – these are all the causes of your injury. Our minds look for a common denominator to attribute to a cause – and whether it is “guns” or a “curse”, we seek order where there is none. And sometimes, as in both cases, it is easy, but incorrect, to find it.
Another possibility, which is still a psychological cause and effect but maybe a little more into the “pop-psych” area, is that if you believe the curse, you can make it real. It’s the underlying reason that things like voodoo work. If you believe that there is a spring curse, your subconscious, for some inexplicable reason, actually causes your injuries.
In my discipline and at my university, computers crash and people lose data. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. But why does this happen with more frequency as final critiques and exams approach? The same is true in studios facing production deadlines, by the way. Ask anyone and they will tell you that this is true. Is it a curse? Many believe so. While I might privately allow for the existence of curses (anything can happen, right?) I believe that these crashes are caused by anxious and frustrated users. Mistakes are made, shortcuts are taken, anxiety levels lead to usage that is just slightly different from the norm – and as this usage increases in frequency, it leads to crashes.
I have a friend – a longtime and well-known production artist – who is convinced that computers crash more frequently and more consistently with the advent of the full moon. We, his friends, think it’s interesting, but eccentric. How does he deal with this “full moon curse?” He has a backup schedule based on a lunar calendar. It works for him.
Anyway, in your case, psychologists and sales trainers agree that our brains – including our subconscious minds – create our reality. If you believe you will be successful, you will be. If you believe you will not, you will not. This has been discussed in terms of persistent poverty as well – if a person believes that the world is against him and that he has no chance to rise above his circumstances, he won’t – but if he believes otherwise, he will. The subconscious mind forms patterns and follows them, creating a comfort zone. For you, the pattern is that you get sick or injured before this race, so your subconscious mind does what it can to stick to the pattern.
A third possibility is that there really is some sinister force acting against you.
Not too interested in this specific quagmire, however your first sentence raises one of my pet peeves…
Poverty, racism, mental illness, domestic disputes, depression, alienation, uncontrolled anger, drug dealing – these are the causes of violence.
Intended to only address poverty, but applies to depression and alienation as well…Poverty does not cause violence. My parents were poor. My aunts and uncles grew up poor. My mother significantly so. None of them resorted to violence. The people they grew up with did not resort to violence. Where poverty and violence are somewhat tied together is that violent people prey upon the weak. The poor are quite often weak. Being poor and being preyed upon by the violent is a much bigger contribution to the cycle of poverty than pretty much any other factor. But being poor does not cause violence. If one truly cares about helping the poor, strongly policing the violent people in their neighborhoods would go a long way. Using poverty as an excuse for the violent behavior of those who prey upon the poor and thus allowing those violent ones back out into poor communities to prey some more may make certain people feel good about themselves but is itself tremendously immoral.
Point taken. It wasn’t my intent to say that “all poverty causes violence”, any more than I would say that “depression always leads to suicide”. Perhaps it would be better to say that the frustration of poverty leads some to resort to violence – but the point was mostly to illustrate that there are dozens of reasons for violence, and to lump them all into one category because a gun is used is incorrect.
Where poverty and violence are somewhat tied together is that violent people prey upon the weak. The poor are quite often weak. Being poor and being preyed upon by the violent is a much bigger contribution to the cycle of poverty than pretty much any other factor. But being poor does not cause violence.
Well stated. Not so much a cause ->effect, but rather a correlation that requires further investigation and insight, which is prevented by just talking about guns.
My main point was that just as there are many, many causes for violence, there are also many, many causes for accidents – and in an effort to order the universe, our brains like to find commonality. Guns are a convenient common denominator as the cause of violence, as is the “Spring Tallahassee” as a common denominator for accidents and illness.
Michael LaBossiere says
True, there certainly can be self-fulfilling prophecies of curses. I did wonder if I was inflicting the curse on myself, but there seems to be no sign of that-usually it is some random accident, injury or illness. But, who knows for sure what dark secrets lurk in the mind?
Mike, when baseball players want to prolong a hitting streak they do things like wear the same socks without washing them.
In your case, you may want to stop washing your running clothes around February, and see how long you can go before anybody complains…
No guarantees, but worth a try.
In the 2004 ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and the NY Yankees, the Sox were down three games to none. Before the start of Game 4, with nothing to lose, the Sox all did shots of Jack Daniels – then went out to play the game. They won – so they did shots before the next game, and the next – and ended up winning the series 4-3. (Pedro Martinez, one of the Boston pitchers at that time, says that the drink of choice was Mama Juana, not Jack Daniels, but that’s beside the point).
There is also the concept of a “Playoff Beard”, where players don’t shave during the playoffs.
Of course, if you try to cover too many of these, you will end up unwashed, bearded, and drunk – and will probably miss the race on that account anyway. Sort of like Twilight Zone.
It worked for the Red Sox!
The Curse of the Bambino was a superstition evolving from the failure of the Boston Red Sox baseball team to win the World Series in the 86-year period from 1918 to 2004. While some fans took the curse seriously, most used the expression in a tongue-in-cheek manner. This misfortune began after the Red Sox sold star player Babe Ruth, sometimes nicknamed as “The Bambino”, to the New York Yankees in the off-season of 1919–1920. Before that point, the Red Sox had been one of the most successful professional baseball franchises, winning the first World Series and amassing five World Series titles. After the sale, they went without a title for nearly a century as the previously lackluster Yankees became one of the most successful franchises in North American professional sports. The curse became a focal point of the Yankees–Red Sox rivalry over the years.
Talk of the curse as an ongoing phenomenon ended in 2004, when the Red Sox came back from a 0–3 best-of-seven deficit to beat the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series (ALCS) and then went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to win the 2004 World Series. The curse had been such a part of Boston culture that when a “reverse curve” road sign on Longfellow Bridge over the city’s busy Storrow Drive was graffitied to read “Reverse The Curse”, officials left it in place until after the Red Sox won the 2004 Series. After the Red Sox won the last game of the World Series that year, the road sign was edited to read “Curse Reversed” in celebration.
Michael LaBossiere says
I usually just wear them until they disintegrate. That way no luck is ever wasted.