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Spring 2000


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2. Where There's Smoke, There's Fire.
John throws a burning cigarette into a bush on the side of the road. The bush catches fire and just as the flames are dying down, a violent thunderstorm occurs. A bolt of lightning strikes the smoldering ash, flames leap up, and the forest burns down. Did John cause the forest to burn down?



Commentary. This scenario is similar in structure to the first scenario. John does something, then something else happens. Here, as in the first scenario, something also happens in-between what John does and the final event in the sequence: lightning strikes. In the first puzzler, a nurse with scarlet fever comes in contact with Alice at the hospital. Again, the sine qua non test would seem to point a finger at John. But for what John did, the forest would not have burned down. Had he not tossed his still-burning cigarette out the window, the bush would not have caught on fire, the smoldering ash would not have been present for the lightning to strike and re-ignite, and the forest would not have burned down. He set the whole chain of events in motion.

But what about the lightning? Is the lightning just another cog in the wheel of events or does the lightning break the causal chain? But now consider the next puzzler.

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Page last edited: December 18, 1999