Apologies for being a little quiet for the last few days. Contrary to some rumours I’ve not been assassinated by Op Greenlight, I’ve been unwell, and that is not because I’ve been poisoned with radioactive polonium by the Mossad, I’ve had a cold, probably caused by the change in weather and my own stubborn refusal to dress appropriately for October.
It’s astonishing that simply by not being as active as normal due to man flu and not addressing some issues that some people have raised, some are able to construct extremely implausable scenarios to explain it. I guess it says something about human nature that given a couple of dots we can’t help but try to join them, often when there simply isn’t enough information to create an accurate picture.
Of course joining the dots is nothing new. People have been looking up at the night sky and doing it for millennia. Below is a picture of the constellation of Taurus.
Now, someone has very helpfully superimposed the image of a bull on the constellation but you can still see the individual stars that make it up and you can also see that these dots in the sky have been joined up. If you didn’t already know that it was the constellation of Taurus would you think it looked like a bull? The cultural impact of this particular dot joining shouldn’t be underestimated. One in twelve of the population when asked what their star sign is will answer Taurus and many each day will check their horoscope to discover if they should talk to their boss about the pay rise they want or whether to kiss the girl they like but I can’t help but feel that some time a few thousand years ago there was someone with a very vivid imagination and too much time on their hands. What is remarkable is that this person was able to persuade other people that the image of a bull could be perceived by joining these dots.
I think something similar happens when people see faces in everyday things.
It seems that our brains are hardwired to recognise faces. This would seem to be an extremely beneficial survival instinct. It’s very important to be able to differentiate between friends who’ll help you and foes that will harm you but it seem that this instinct is so ingrained that even given a tiny piece of visual data, we are capable of constructing in our minds an apparently more detailed image.
“Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable must be the truth”
How many times have I seen this famous aphorism that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put into the mouth of Sherlock Holmes used to justify the most outlandish conspiracy theory ? Almost without exception the person who is using it has not only eliminated the “impossible” but also the most plausible explanations before arriving at their own “improbable” (sometimes extremely improbable) theory. The aphorism is a good one, it’s simply misused.
William of Ockham , a Medieval English Franciscan monk, developed a principle which is today known as Occam’s Razor. It states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. In other words the simplest explanation is the most plausible. It does not mean that just because an explanation is more plausible that it is true but it does suggest that the simplest and therefore most plausible explanations, given all available evidence is more likely to be true and that the more complex an explanation is the less plausible it is.
Isaac Newton, over 100 years after William of Ockham came up with a similar principle which guided his scientific method he wrote “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Therefore, to the same natural effects we must, so far as possible, assign the same causes.”
The first sentence is the important one here, “admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” In other words Newton is suggesting that if there are simple explanations they should not be ignored in favour of more complex explanations.
Now, I can well understand why some people enjoy constructing elaborate theories to explain some things. Some people enjoy the intellectual challenge of thinking outside of the box, others might see it as a form of fiction writing and 99 times out of 100 it really has no impact. Lizard people, aliens, Loch Ness monster, JFK, moon landing, as far as I’m concerned you can all let your imaginations run free, it’s of little consequence. However, the issue of child abuse is a different matter altogether.
It’s well to remember that even if you consider your own elaborate theory to be purely speculative, it may be that some directly affected by child abuse might read what you write and not perceive it in the same way.
W.B Yeats once wrote “But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
To paraphrase, I’d suggest that all should be careful to tread softy when commenting on other people’s nightmares.
I’d just like to take this opportunity of thanking Lemsip for all their help and support over the last few days!