The path of the quickest inference

15th June, 2008

I’ve been doing some work in a small room with a sliding glass door that opens to the rear of my father’s house. I’ve been leaving this door unlocked, and a moment ago I tried to slide it open and found that the movement of the door was impeded by a small piece of stone that had found its way into the track on the floor. As soon as I tried to open the door it stopped at that lower corner, and I immediately knew that something was blocking its’ way, and where the blockage was, I could feel it. A matter of seconds later the track was clear and here I am.

My instincts – based on observable natural law, and observing the behaviors of others, permit me to make relatively quick inferences in a variety of situations.

Our intellectual constructions (yeah, I’m still chewing on that…) do not, in my experience, and in general, respond successfully to quick inferences. They are more complex and require knowledge that is often not immediately available. Often the required knowledge under the surface isn’t itself stable.

When I was trying to open the door I could feel and observe where the obstruction was, and I could infer how to remove it, quickly.

When my friend tells me my blog suddenly doesn’t appear when he points his browser to it, and when I take an look and have the same experience, and that experience doesn’t provide enough information for me to even guess what’s wrong, I consult my host’s tech support, then read a few documents, then look at a few message boards, then try, then fail, then try again, etc.

What I observe in both cases (door/blog) is that I have an impulse to make a quick inference based on the available information, to act on that information, to observe the result, refine my actions, minimize error, achieve the result, etc. I have an impulse to engage in classic negative feedback.

With the blog (an intellectual construction within a network of intellectual constructions) the necessary information is far from anything resembling a surface.

With the door, all of the necessary information was right in front of me, literally, the entire time, and my instincts lead me to the right conclusion right away.

I think that a major challenge we face is how to function within an environment for which we have increasingly insufficient, and often difficult to locate information within a psychological domain in which our instincts are prompting us to use what is immediately available to make quick inferences to solve the problem.

To me, this shows the newness of our intellectually constructed elements within our environment, and highlights how important it is that we explore the relationships between, and the natures of the intellectually constructed and the instinctual. We seem to have formed a braid out of these things through which we currently understand our experience.

As an instructor, I am aware of the high value institutions place on success, and the way they, and, in turn, we, stigmatize failure.

Given our situation, as I see it, in regard to our complicated, chaotic world of increasingly insufficient, and difficult to locate, yet essential information, and the related increase in the experience of failure when engaging with this aspect of our lives, I don’t see how our current system will lead to an increase in knowledge.

To me, both success and failure, in particular regard to interactions with the intellectually constructed, have such a highly random aspect that ascribing significant praise or blame to one’s self for either result seems counter-productive as it places value on the tiny fluctuation and makes the larger structure harder to comprehend – just like playing the lottery or any sort of game based on statistically random numbers where luck is misunderstood and fictionalized as skill, or pretending that you really chose to design websites for a living.

Your facility, though real, is probably random and is neither the goal nor truly under your control, and that’s ok.

Work to see and be able to express what you understand to be the bigger picture from your current position.

Think broadly about what it is you are doing so that we may begin to have a better understanding of how and where our instincts and our intellectual developments are intermingling, what forms those relationships take, and what those relationships mean.

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