Naked Science - Intelligence

Copyright Michael Curtis 2020

All rights reserved


Part 4



Fuzzy Meaning of Words

If a person tries to catch a bus then he can be said to be ‘Catching a bus’. If he fails to catch a bus then his earlier actions might still be called ‘catching a bus’. So an attempt to do something is sometimes considered to be ‘doing the action’ - in a fuzzy way.

If a person shouts and surprises someone and that person drops a plate then it can be said that the person who shouted broke the plate - even though it happened indirectly. So indirectness is also fuzzy.

If a person collects anything at all then in a sense he is a stamp collector since stamps fall within the scope of things which the person is willing to collect. Again there is fuzziness of meaning - as a result of the general and specific nature of collecting.


Many Meanings in a Word

A word can have many meanings; so can an image, a sound, a sign, or a symbol. If a person says that a football team had a ‘high score’ then his idea of ‘high score’ might be very different to another person’s idea of a high score. Also, ‘football’ might mean American football or English soccer.

So, we need to have doubt in our minds as to whether our first interpretation of a word is correct. If we have never heard of ‘American football’ then it is hard to imagine how we can take care when talking about football: we are not aware that it has two interpretations; that is a problem.

Another example of many meanings is ‘Eiffel Tower’ where one person means his souvenir miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower and the person he is talking to thinks that he is talking about the actual Eiffel Tower.

A good habit then would be to entertain the idea that any word has a ‘dead zone’: a meaning that you have not heard of yet.


Many Words for One Meaning

A soccer score of two is considered by one person to be a high score but another person thinks two goals is a low score. They both know that a team scored two goals. When the first person says that the score was high, the second person thinks that he is mistaken - because the score was two goals.

So a meaning can be described by different labels and those labels mean different things to different people.

Another example is a game of soccer where one person says, "Those people are playing football", and another person says, "No, that’s not [American] football - that’s soccer."


Why is a Question Being Asked?

"How old are you?" is a question asked by a barman to a customer. It is asked because the barman wants to know if the customer is old enough to be on the premises according to club rules: is he 16 or over? The answer could be:

1). "Old enough to be in your club.";

2). "Over 16."; or

3). "24."

Or something else

Each answer is similar in that it expresses how old the person is. Answer 1). addresses the issue of whether the person is old enough to be there. Answer 2). indirectly addresses the issue of being old enough to be there. Answer 3). is more indirectly addressing the issue: the barman has to think,"Is 24 over or equal to 16? If so then the customer is old enough to be here."

Maybe the person asking the question is seeking one of those answers in particular. The context in which the question occurs can be a clue as to which answer is wanted. To be safe, an answer can use all three pieces of information: "I am 24 which is over 16 and so I am old enough to be in this club."

Very often, one of a possible range of answers will jump into your mind. It is good to pause before giving that answer and to consider how directly the answer is addressing the question.

Another example is, "What was the Queen wearing?". “Clothes” is too general, "A dress" is less general but still vague, and the detail of the answer may be as specific as a fashion designer’s name.

The context directs the answer.


Proof Reading

When writing, it is easy to make mistakes because of the mind focussing so much on what is about to be written next rather than what was recently written. It is a good habit to regularly proof read sentences and layout.


When the Answer is Soon to Come

Sometimes, a passage will be vague and you might spend time guessing what the specific meaning of the passage is. Maybe the passage only makes sense when information in the next passage after it is read.


The Truth of a Statement

Some statements are lies, incorrect, or not meant seriously. This possibility needs to be available to a thinker so that he can progress beyond an untruthful statement and its implications.


Relevant Detail Information

One can give brief information which leaves a lot unsaid. e.g. "To get to Preston Road station, you need to catch a Metropolitan line train". This can be added to: "Get the platform 4 Metropolitan train."; and what is not meant can be indicated: "Don’t get the train that does not stop: the express one which passes through Preston Road without stopping."

The ability to give clear information depends upon you knowing what information a person needs specifically and knowing how that information can be misinterpreted or result in failure without extra guidance - like in the example above.

Knowing to get a train from platform 4 is true but it is not detailed enough to reduce the risk of not actually getting to the destination station.


Avoiding Definite Answers

People are often in two minds over an issue. There are options available to you other than giving one opinion: you can say,"It depends", "I don’t know", or "I have no comment". Just because you are focussed on one point of view, you do not have to give it as your answer.

Of course, politicians with an agenda, purposely make statements in interviews which only present the pros of a debate; or which only present the cons of a debate. What they say is true but it misleads because it is not balanced by presenting the other point of view.

In the ‘clutching at straws’ section, I was presenting the idea that we have a tendency to clutch at the first plausible static idea to enter our heads. It might actually be correct but unbalanced: lacking a list of both pros and cons.


The Halo Effect

The politician on television who talks about the economy might have a posh voice, a great vocabulary and a suit that would look at home in the financial district but.. does he actually have a strong economics background?

There is a psychology term named the ‘halo effect’ where we think, “His clothes look good! His voice sounds authoritative! So I bet his opinions are well considered and balanced!”

In fact, the politician might not himself believe the words he is saying!; but ignoring that possibility, let’s look at us as the audience.

What if the politician is new to economics but he has come into politics from the world of sport where he was a champion. The halo effect would also suggest that we would think, “Well, he is a natural success. So he will be a success in the sphere of economics too!”

There is very little we can do about our subconscious’es seeing the world in the way that they do – leading us into beliefs which do not hold true over time. They say that a lot of stock market movement is based on people’s feelings. Actually, it is harder to claim that nowadays because computer trading algorithms and other factors play their part in the movements of the stock market. But as a generalisation, it is hard to predict and control the macro behaviour of crowds. Despite what some people might say, the average person is a critical thinker. Often, after a regrettable election result, pundits will ‘explain’ why the crowd went one way instead of another – and often allege that they had not thought through the arguments very well; but I am not so sure that people are that fickle. I wouldn’t bet my life savings on that though!!!

And we learn. We learn how social media can plant thoughts and ideas in our minds; and how social media can limit the pool of people who we receive perceived ‘wide public opinion’ from. We adapt.

A good looking presidential candidate of a country starts off with an advantage though, I am sure: the halo effect.


Scientific Belief


Broadly speaking, there are two types of scientist:

If I say that there is a pink elephant in my kitchen, one type of scientist will say that this is ridiculous; whereas another type of scientist will not conclude anything until he sees my kitchen.

If you think about the ‘global warming environmental’ debate, you get these 2 types of people: people who will not say that global warming is happening because the hotter planet might not be caused by the actions of mankind; and exasperated people who say to them “How much evidence do you need?”

If you need to visit a kitchen to decide if there is a pink elephant there then you might be more inclined to be the type of person who denies that it is fact that global warming is based on mankind’s actions.

Excuse the pun, but this can be a heated argument.

Add into the mix that a scientist might be employed to summarise facts in a way that might sway a reader in one direction of belief. Everything he has done is scientific but the way the question he is answering has been phrased will have a slant to it. By saying that global warming is not proven to be caused by mankind, he is not saying that it is out of the question; but that banner statement “Global warming is not proven to be caused by mankind” can have an effect on politicians to have a muted response to investigating ways to reduce pollution.

One point to take away from this is that our own belief system is part of the equation as to what science is ‘telling us’ – in the same way that the pink elephant is believed to be           itchen or believed to be a matter that can not be addressed until my kitchen is visited.

Another point to take away [and this is why I positioned this piece near the Halo Effect piece] is that there can be prejudice or misdirection or tricks played on us by people presenting media news to us.


Single Source of Facts


When a scientist publishes a strange new finding, it is often peer reviewed to see if other scientists can produce the same experimental result. In other words, the scientist might have made an error or might be half right but his unusual environment might play some part in his result – and he has not acknowledged that.

By accepting just one source and believing it to be true, we limit our ability to state what is untrue.


Simple Sells Well


Another aspect of trusting the first source of information that comes along is a belief that a system can be explained in a few statements.

We like explanations to be simple. “If you do X then all will be good; if you do Y then all will be bad” is easy to digest. And when we hear it, we want to stop there with the easy explanation.

It’s like if someone says that a flower is made of petals, a stem and leaves. That is credible for someone who is not very familiar with flowers; and, if you look at a flower, the petals, stem and leaves are easy to see. However, you can dig deeper and discover a root system in the soil beneath the flower.

In a system with voters, we want to feel that we understand a complex system well enough to have made an informed choice; but if an explanation of one’s thinking can be reduced to one or two sentences then you should probably wonder if you have informed yourself much at all.

A very good principle for seeing deeper in a debate is displacement theory. If you build a wall to keep a problem away from you, that seems good; but what happens to the pressures on the other side of that wall? Where do they apply themselves next? Do they end up causing more hassle as a result of your wall solution?


Hindsight Tunnel Vision


The populist politician often presents his view after a big effect has shown itself. He asks, “Why didn’t the opposition party stop this from happening?”; and we are thinking, “Here is something bad that has happened. It is so simple to see that this could have been prevented.”

That is a particular flavour of the “Simple Sells Well” idea. Of all the tens of issues that the opposition party need to think about daily, this one has been singled out and presented as if there existed ample time and resource to tackle it; and if this bad outcome had, say, a 1 in 10 chance of happening, we are looking back at it in the aftermath of that undesirable 1 in 10 event happening; whereas the decision makers were in a situation of it being by no means a certain outcome.


Copying Notes

When copying notes from a teacher, a student might start copying down a diagram but do it so far down a sheet of paper that there is no space on which to copy it when the diagram being copied is extended by the teacher.

Another error occurs when copying lines of writing. You look at half a sentence in the source book, turn to the paper you are writing on, and write the first half of the sentence. You turn back to the original passage and hopefully read the second half of the sentence. Sometimes, the uncritical mind will focus on a line much like the one being copied and continue copying by copying another sentence’s second half.


When to Listen

When something new is taught, it can be hard to focus on. Often you want to spend time looking back at something said earlier but you also want to concentrate on what the teacher is saying now.

There is the problem that you might not understand what is being said now because you have not concentrated on what was said earlier - but if you concentrate on notes of what was said earlier then you might miss out on learning what is being said now.

One point to bear in mind is that the earlier information might not be capable of making sense to you without you getting some help. The teacher’s current words might not make sense but then again maybe they will. This is a reason for putting your attention into what is being said now. There is no right answer, I guess.

Also, many students do not understand new lessons straight away and treat the lesson as an introduction to the course material. It is their working practice to understand the lesson in their own time.

A good strategy is to study the lesson material before it is taught so that there is more chance of you catching on to what the teacher is saying during the first lesson on the subject..

Note: A person who keeps an up-to-date mental store of his understanding of a subject will get confused less often than the person who has not been motivated to keep up his understanding of a subject.


Don’t be a Silo

I once worked somewhere with the maxim “Don’t be a silo.”

All it means is that keeping thoughts to yourself limits the effectiveness of the overall team.

Sometimes, we had team building days where I would get chatting to people in the team who I would not normally have a reason to interact with much; and we could, almost accidentally, give a new perspective to each other on the system around us.

There is also a business principle of having a drinks dispenser not just to refresh staff but to cause them to have interactions with other staff by them standing around the drinks machine.

People can magnify our capabilities. For example, someone might offer to lend a book which they found useful on a subject. So, an introvert behaviour can limit your opportunities.