Troubleshooting techniques: Affirming the consequent
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On today’s Tech, No Babel: Troubleshooting techniques: Affirming the consequent
“Affirming the consequent” is a term in the study of logic. It means, basically, inferring one of many possible causes from the effect.
The problem with doing this in troubleshooting is that you immediately eliminate possible causes, concentrating, instead on one, which may or may not be the cause.
Here’s an example from my own life. My microphone needs a battery to work. It also needs a working XLR cable. When I recently had trouble with the microphone not working, I thought to myself, “If the battery is dying, the microphone won’t work. The microphone doesn’t work. I’ll change out the battery.” That didn’t fix it. Why? It was a possible cause, but it wasn’t the cause. The actual cause was a short in the XLR cable that connected the microphone to the sound board.
Affirming the consequent is like that. You think of a cause and get convinced that it’s the cause. It’s much better to do it the other way around. What are all the possible causes? Can you eliminate any of them based on other evidence. Then, and only then, do you try testing to see which is the cause.
Keep in mind, though, that sometimes testing will fix a problem when you didn’t purposely address the cause. Moving a cable with a short while changing a battery may make it seem like the battery was the cause, when it was the cable.
So, just because one thing seems to fix the problem, that doesn’t mean it did. You have to be vigilant and keep your eyes open for things that don’t fit.
For more tips on avoiding this mistake, watch the video.
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