08 August 2014

Your Experience Counts For Shot

It's kind of odd. The only tools that God gives us to evaluate reality are our observations and experiences, from which we're presumably supposed to draw conclusions and use to make better decisions in the future. This certainly works well with things like touching a hot stove. 

However, we know from modern science that in order to draw valid conclusions about pretty much anything in the larger world of politics, economics, any of the "ologies," etc., you must have hundreds or thousands of examples and data points, not just a few. So on large scales and big social questions, in other words, your and my experiences are "not statistically meaningful;" there aren't enough of them to tell us anything about whatever it is we're discussing.  

And yet our personal experience is much more real and immediate and meaningful to us than statistics. 

Suppose you live in Plainville, and a survey shows that Plainville is a very safe, largely crime-free town. In LA and New York the crime rate is 20 crimes per thousand people; in Pleasanton and SLO it's five crimes per 1000, and in Plainville it's only one crime per 1000. 

But what if YOU are that one person out of a thousand who got mugged? 

Then you think Plainville is full of criminals and is very unsafe! So from that point on you will lock your doors and have a security system and not go out after dark--even though you're living in the safest town in the country and your neighbors don't lock their doors, have security systems, etc. 

So our personal experience overrides our knowledge, and we therefore make WORSE decisions based on our assessment of the subject. 

Something's wrong with this picture! 


dgf said...

Ah... a tough one to resolve. But, one element of statistic gathering is 'context' and the context of the muggee is remotely different that of everyone else. That does not invalidate the muggee's actions nor the sense of safety of everyone else.
After all, the muggee may be subject to some sort of black hole that simply draws crime. Then, someone has to volunteer to be the criminal to fulfill that role.
Tough job, but, someone is doing it.

Ty Griffin said...

Although your argument may be a little dodgy on the basis of pure logic, it is impeccable and outstanding with regard to the use of language. My efforts to elucidate a thorny problem were more than repaid by your introduction of the magnificent terms "muggee" and "black hole crime magnet."