Gotta be a reason, right?
August 10, 2012 9:47 AM Subscribe
It's easy for people to assume that the usefulness
of something to them is the same as its wider purpose
for existing. What's the quotation, literary situation, fable, or famous saying that sums up this phenomenon in far pithier or funnier terms than the ones I'm using?
posted by Bardolph to writing & language (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The other day I was trying (and failing miserably) to discuss with a friend a particular type of cognitive bias or common mistake in thinking. The closest I could come at the time was "the assumption that convenience implies causality"-- but basically, it's the phenomenon whereby we tend to assume that a present use or function for something must also have been its original purpose.
For instance, it's the kind of thought-pattern that gets used in evolutionary theory when people assume that because wings are now useful for flying, that must be why they evolved. Or when you're almost out of gas, see a station at the last minute, and someone says jokingly, "See, God must have put that there just for you." Or when you scold your child for using your scissors to cut all the flowers off the centrepiece and he says, "Well, why did you put them right by there if you didn't want me to use them?" Or in the line from "Rocky Raccoon":
Rocky Raccoon checked into his room, only to find Gideon's Bible.
The Gideon checked out, and he left it, no doubt, to help with good Rocky's revival.
As you can see, I'm still not doing a great job of describing it; but what's killing me is that I'm 90% sure I've read a very elegant, possibly funny summary of this precise thing, somewhere, at some point in my life. It could have been in a random essay or philosophical piece; but it could also just as easily have been something from the Pickwick Papers or Tom Sawyer or Tom Jones or any of a zillion other fictional works in that same archly sententious line. After days of frustrating brainstorming, I'm not overly invested in finding the exact passage I originally read; but for my own peace of mind I think I need to find some sort of phrase, anecdote or quote to tag this idea with, so I can file it and move on. Any ideas for places you've seen this idea (or something similar) particularly well expressed? Thanks so much!