In James March’s book, “The Ambiguities of Experience” he points out that learning from experience is a lot trickier than we may think because we often don’t learn or we think we learned something even though we really didn’t.
For example, I “learned” last night that I should not make fun of Southern California’s weather by pointing out that when it was 68 degrees F in the Los Angeles area it was a wonderful 86 degrees F in Seattle. Seattle is setting new high temperature records while Southern California appears to be trying to set new low temperature records.
So, about 6:30 last night I sent out a tweet in response to a complaint about the weather in LA and 15 minutes later the power went off at my house and stayed off until 1:00 AM.
This was a memorable event closely associated (in time) to a specific action on my part. The more memorable an event the more likely we are to think that there is a causal link between the action and the event and, as a result, I could conclude that I’ve “learned” that there are consequences to criticizing the weather in Southern California.
Or, it could have been that a car hit a power pole. But all I have is someone else’s word for that, while I know that I criticized the SoCal weather.
Makes me wonder just how many times we confuse correlation with causality and come out thinking that we’ve learned something. Hmm, that reminds me, I wasn’t wearing my lucky socks last night and the Seattle Mariners (baseball team) lost. Looks like I learned something else, too. Or not.