5

I'm looking for a word or phrase that means that something works or functions, but not for the reason that people think or claim it works.

Examples

  • John went outside in the rain with an opened umbrella above his head, thinking that pointing a stick at the heavens would let the gods know that he respects them and have them protect him from getting wet.
  • Homeopathy: People believe that like cures like - that a dilute version of an irritant could cure the irritation. It works, but not for that reason: it's just a well-administered placebo, and placebos are remarkably effective.

Related concept:

  • Cargo cult: I'm looking for a word / phrase / idiom that could describe what would happen if a cargo cult actually achieved what the participants set out to achieve.

Example sentence:

As requested, this is an example sentence which would show the use of the concept as a single word (please note that I'm also looking for phrases that would be suitable, so this is just per the requirements of the 'single-word-requests' tag.

John went outside in the rain with an opened umbrella above his head, thinking that pointing a stick at the heavens would let the gods know that he respects them and have them protect him from getting wet. However, this was merely a __________, because it was actually the fabric of the umbrella that protected him from the downpour.

  • 1
    It sounds like the fallacy of false cause. But that may not be the kind of answer you're looking for. If not, can you provide a sample sentence with a blank spot into which what you want would fit? – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jul 31 at 20:12
  • Sounds a bit like “dumb luck” – Jim Jul 31 at 20:38
  • @JasonBassford - that's pretty much exactly the concept I'm looking for - and the best answer so far. I wonder if there are any more succinct or idiomatic words or phrases that have the same or similar meaning? If you want to write it as an answer, I will mark it as accepted in the absence of anything better. – Tom Bull Jul 31 at 21:18
  • @Jim - yes, "dumb luck" is close, but covers more than what I'm looking for: it could apply to a situation where someone happened upon a solution without having a reason for thinking it works. What I'm looking for is a description of a situation where someone has a specific explanation for a working solution, but that explanation is wrong. – Tom Bull Jul 31 at 21:22
  • Single word requests require a sample sentence in order to provide the necessary framework for answers regarding part of speech and context of usage. – Nigel J Aug 1 at 11:00
3

As I mentioned in a comment under the question, what's being described is the fallacy of false cause.

From "your logical fallacy is":

You presumed that a real or perceived relationship between things means that one is the cause of the other.

Many people confuse correlation (things happening together or in sequence) for causation (that one thing actually causes the other to happen). Sometimes correlation is coincidental, or it may be attributable to a common cause.

Example: Pointing to a fancy chart, Roger shows how temperatures have been rising over the past few centuries, whilst at the same time the numbers of pirates have been decreasing; thus pirates cool the world and global warming is a hoax.

A common expression that goes along with this is:

Correlation does not mean causation.

3

I hesitate to flat-out answer No, but I don't know of such a word. Maybe this could help - I recall these two phrases that describe or imply someone being right for the wrong reason (actually, being right from random chance, but it would be wrong to attribute the reason to something else): "Even a broken clock is right twice a day." "Even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut."

  • I've heard the clock phrase as 'Even a stopped clock is right twice a day'. – Tom Bull Jul 31 at 21:10
  • These are close, but you're correct in thinking I'm looking for something that covers the case when someone has a specific, but incorrect explanation for a working method, rather than having hit upon a working method through luck. – Tom Bull Jul 31 at 21:26
2

Hmm. Serendipity (serendipitous) is close, but implies accident or coincidence more than false belief.

  • I went through the same chain of thought. I also considered and rejected kludge which is something that works even though it was not designed in the first instance as a solution. – ohwilleke Jul 31 at 20:32
  • These are great - but I'm ideally looking for something that implies an unjustified confidence in the method of why something works, rather than luck or stumbling upon a solution. – Tom Bull Jul 31 at 21:23
  • @TomBull - Ah, it's starting to sound like a superstitious or irrational belief. – aparente001 Aug 1 at 4:46
1

Now that the question has been edited and a sample sentence supplied, I believe that just the word fallacy is required.

However, this was merely a fallacy, because it was actually the fabric of the umbrella that protected him from the downpour.

Fallacy : 2 a. A deceptive or misleading argument, a sophism; an instance of unsound or defective reasoning.

Oxford English Dictionary

Fallacy : 1a : a false or mistaken idea

Merriam Webster

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