“Path dependence refers to the fact that often, something that seems normal or inevitable today began with a choice that made sense at a particular time in the past, but survived despite the eclipse of the justification for that choice, because once established, external factors discouraged going into reverse to try other alternatives.”- John Mcwhorter. An example of path dependence is the QWERTY keyboard. Have you ever wondered why the keyboard is not arranged in alphabetical order? or why not have the frequently used letters placed on the top row? The reason is because in the early days, typists became very fast at typing causing the typewriter to jam. The QWERTY layout allowed alternative sides of the keyboard to minimize jamming. And because of this, the layout of the keyboard has persisted ever since. No one questions the layout of the keyboard, the QWERTY keyboard is considered normal, and if were to have a keyboard arranged in alphabetical order, it would seem strange to type on. The only reason is it seen as normal today, is because it made sense in the past, and because of this we do not feel the need to try out alternative options. Path dependency can be applied to the human sciences. As seen below, the human sciences include: psychology, geography, economics, anthropology and more. The concept of path dependency allows us to survive in modern society. Many human interactions are determined by what went before. An example being, in economics, path dependency is used to explain technology adoption processes and industry evolution. It is believed that a high rate of unemployment during a recession can lead to a permanently higher unemployment rate because of the loss of skills by the unemployed along with a deterioration of work attitudes. (cyclical unemployment may generate structural unemployment). Being an economics student, we are taught this theory when learning about the effects of unemployment. We are taught that because of a high rate of unemployment during recession, this will lead to a severe misallocation of resources, as the economy is not up to its full labour potential, which can create a decrease in incentives for workers to work. However how do we know that this is really the case? It is because there is evidence to support this theory, in the past this must have occurred many times for the theory to finally be proven. “Monkeys, a Stepladder and Water or …. How Human Behaviour can be Path Dependent”- To summarize, 5 monkeys were locked in a cage with bananas hanging from the ceiling, and a step ladder. Our first instinct would be to climb up the ladder to reach the bananas, however there is a catch. Whenever the monkey climbs up the step ladder it gets sprayed by icy cold water. This is repeated for all the monkeys. This occurred many times. However, when a new monkey was left in the cage and started to climb up the ladder, the old monkeys would scratch him and shout at him warning him to not climb up the ladder. They became the guardians of this rule without knowing its purpose. What is the relevance of this to path dependency? well, it is simple. In an organization, a rule, regulation or a procedure is introduced for a reason. After a while, the reason is forgotten, but the rule stays. Nobody knows why there are following it, but they do.
A causation does not imply a correlation. In biology, we learn about the differences of correlation and causation. We make observations all the time about the living world around us. For example, we might notice that a plant wilts when soil is dry or that you start to become hungry if you have not eaten for a long time. This is a simple observation. Observing that a plant wilts because the soil is dry is a simple correlation, the experiment itself proves this theory. Experiments provide a test which shows a cause. Observations without an experiment can only show a correlation. Another example can be seen when, the sales of ice cream went up during the summer. There is no proof that the sales of ice cream went up because it was hot, we have to consider many other factors that take place. We use logical fallacy to come up with conclusions. For example, A occurs in correlation with B, therefore A causes B. Is this true? can we rely on this theory? What evidence is there to support this? This can relate to the study of human sciences in psychology for example. The purpose of psychology is to explain human behavior. We formulate theories to predict it, and then develop remedies for the problems identified by those predictions. By doing so, psychologists look for causations and correlations, they look at the overall patterns and when someone comes to them for help and they have the same problem, psychologists base their past experiences and observations and apply it to their patients. However there are many limitations, for example, how do we prove that this theory applies to everyone? surely there will be exceptions? There are almost flaws to every theory there is out there. A causation may cause a correlation, but there will be other examples in which the causation does not follow the correlation. Therefore how are the human sciences100% certain of the theory or pattern they are observing?