Monday, November 10, 2008

Counterfactual thinking

In writing my entrepreneurship blog, I posted an entry on black swans. One of the links was to counterfactual thinking, something as a washed-up old historian has interested me in some time. What if the founding fathers had been able to text, email, work on the web? Silly stuff, but it gets us writing fiction.

Here's what Wikipedia says about counterfactual thinking:

It seeks to explore history and historical incidents by means of extrapolating a timeline in which certain key historical events did not happen or had an outcome which was different from that which did in fact occur.

The purpose of this exercise is to ascertain the relative importance of the event, incident or person the counterfactual hypothesis is negating. For instance, to the counterfactual claim "What would have happened had Hitler drunk coffee instead of tea on the afternoon he committed suicide?", the timeline would have remained unchanged — Hitler in all likelihood still would have committed suicide on April 30, 1945, regardless of what he had to drink that afternoon. However, to the counterfactual "What would have happened had Hitler died in the July, 1944, assassination attempt?", all sorts of possibilities become readily apparent, starting with the reasonable assumption that the Nazi generals would have in all likelihood sued for peace, bringing an early end to World War II. Thus, the counterfactual brings into sharp relief the importance of Hitler as an individual and how his personal fate shaped the course of the War and, ultimately, of world history
The article was actually about counterfactual history, but counterfactual history is produced by counterfactual thinking. For example, what would have have Ian done if he hadn't connected up with Richard the night Ian died? Read the whole Wikipedia article. It's interesting.

What do you think about this? Post a comment.

Writing for me is an entrepreneurial activity. For my entrepreneurship blog, go to and for entrepreneurial real estate go to


Ian Kearney, the director of the Kearney Music School, an elite musical training school in Philadelphia, dies after a fall from a balcony during a recital. World-famous cellist, Henry Harrier, recently forced from the faculty, returns to investigate Ian's death when his prized former student is arrested. Henry shows through his brilliant and single-minded pursuit of the truth that, as usual, they have it all wrong. This Sherlock Holmes-type mystery leads the reader through the world of classical music and lays bare the conflicts which dominate the lives of talented adolescents when placed under the pressure of studying for a demanding, stressful, and often elusive career as a classical music performer. Henry Harrier is part John Le Carre's George Smiley, part Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes, and part Orlando Cole the beloved teacher, renowned chamber musician, and until his own retirement, the premier cellist of the Curtis Institute.

Author Profile:

Tim was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on January 30, 1946. In 1951 he moved with his family to Schenectady, New York, where he lived through high school. He attended Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, Ohio, from 1964 to 1968. He graduated in 1968 with a B.A. in history and philosophy. He received his Ph. D. in history in U.S. history in 1980 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison after spending 2.5 years in the U. S. Army. Most of his army service was completed in Wuerzburg, Germany, from 1969-1971. In 1972 he returned to Madison to complete his doctoral study. His dissertation, Those Who Moved; Internal Migrants in American 1607-1840, combined the statistical analysis of genealogical and biographical data with the study of traditional literary diaries, letters, and journals.

Tim was a market and survey research consultant from 1983 to 2000 and a smoking cessation researcher from 2000 to 2003. His consulting practice focused primarily on conducting community health needs assessment. He authored hundreds of market research reports and published a number of his assessments in Community Health Needs Assessment published by McGraw Hill in 1996 and in a revised volume published in 1999. In 2000 he joined the staff of the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention of the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he conducted smoking cessation research. He published several articles in peer-reviewed journals and spoke at national smoking cessation conferences.

In 2003 he moved to Philadelphia and earned his real estate license. He now practices real estate, works on publishing his novels, and studies and teaches entrepreneurship.Tim has written a dozen novel-length stories, a volume of short stories, and about a 3-foot stack of pages poetry. He is currently working on earning his 4th million in real estate sales, publishing his novels, and working on an entrepreneurish handbook as a support for his students.

Tim is a trained violist and an experienced string quartet player. He is an avid listener to classical music and regularly attends classical music concerts. He has two grown children by his first wife and a stepdaughter with his second wife. He likes to cook, read, write, entertain, develop relationships, and help other people. Formerly Tim used to travel frequently. He doesn't so much anymore. Now he regards the combination of real estate practice, writing and publishing, and the teaching and studying of entrepreneurship as enough of a trip.