Monday, February 11, 2013

Who's Sane

Over time, unless you have the ability to turn off your memory, it's impossible to avoid deductive reasoning. Most of us learn by being taught rules and then applying them (deductive). Even when we're not given the rules we tend to transform what we've learned into rules (some temporary and some more permanent). As we encounter new learning opportunities, we deduce from the rules we've learned thus far even as we induce from the new phenomena we observe. 

Everyone uses deductive reasoning (applying rules to situations). What varies is the degree to which someone uses inductive reasoning (deriving rules from situations). You can tell how good someone is at induction by how well she learns in situations where nothing she's already learned can be applied. However, the thing that speaks volumes about a person is what she does when the deduced answer is different from the induced one.

It's in these situations that breakthroughs are made or avoided; it's also in these situations that you might simply have forgotten to take your meds. What do you do when all the evidence tells you something different than all you've learned? 

Generally speaking, the evidence loses. The sheer mass of all that has been learned creates a force of gravity so strong that there's little that manages to reach escape velocity. The greater the base of knowledge, the harder it is to escape it. The people who manage to escape fall into one of two categories: crazies or geniuses. Sometimes, they fall into both.

How do you know which?

You see something that doesn't jibe with what you'v learned. At first you think that you've made a mistake, you couldn't have seen what you saw. 

You ignore it. 

Later, you see it again. 

You want to ignore it, but curiosity gets the better of you. So you conduct an experiment and try to recreate the circumstances under which you saw it.

You don't see it.

You try again.

You don't see it.

Just as you're about to give up, out of the corner of your eye, you see it.

You keep experimenting. You don't know exactly what variables lead to seeing it; you can't reproduce it with any consistency; nonetheless, you see something happening that shouldn't happen given all you know.

Are you crazy? Are you a genius? Are you both?

You ask people about what you've seen, taking an informal poll.  Of course, it's unlikely that popular opinion's going be on your side, even if you explain everything really well. The looks you get from some make you think that it might be better not to talk about it.

You keep experimenting. Some days you think, "OK, that was just some kind of anomaly. There's nothing here."

Some days you hit on something that results in seeing over and over what should not be occurring.

You become more deliberate in your experimenting, more structured. You isolate variables. You document what you've tried and what the results were.

If someone were to read your notes, would they see random scribblings and ravings, or would they see deep insights and learnings?  Perhaps they'd see both; perhaps one would see ravings and another learnings.

You carry on.

Fortunately the inertia of all you've learned thus far is likely to keep your feet firmly planted on your planet of accumulated knowledge. You might bounce into an experiment or two. However, it's unlikely that you'll ever find yourself floating off into the uncharted space of deep experimentation.

Or maybe you already have? 

In the end, the small incremental ideas are easy to calibrate. It's the big, completely different ideas that are challenging. How do you tell if an idea is crazy or genius?

Happy Monday,

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