Wednesday, August 21, 2013

When there is too much meaning and significance

When science books recap the basic principles of science, I usually skip over those pages.  One day, I didn't and just looked at what was written.  One of the principles or assumptions science relies on was listed as "independence."  That sounded good and American (yay!) but what did it mean?  The explanation was something like 'if everything is related to everything else, nothing can be studied in and of itself.'

Well, the truth is that everything does seem to be related to everything else.  You know, a butterfly in the Amazon jungle flapping its wings can set up an air current that ultimately affects the weather in Seoul, Korea.  However, given the right time scale, we can often ignore some tiny effects or relations between things, processes, variables and get a general idea of the main influences on Korean weather or anything else.  In statistics and other investigative procedures, the idea of independence is an important one.  Students usually feel comfortable with positive relations (the more of A, the more of B) and the negative relations (the more of A, the less of C) before they grasp the comfort and importance of independence (the more of A, the less of A - who cares?  No effect at all on D).

But for some people and some societies, just about everything has import, meaning, significance. This morning, there were five grackles in my backyard.  What does that portend?  Does it mean something about the cranberry crop?  To paraphrase Professor Harold Hill of "The Music Man", 'grackle' begins with 'g' and that rhymes with 'c' so maybe there is some message the universe is trying to send me about the cranberry crop.  Of course, it might be less romantic but more intellectually brave to just halt the search for meaning in the number of this morning's grackles.  

A fundamental property of many human brains is their ability to search for patterns and connections in any story, material, event or message.  There is plenty of room for human mischief if you leave the interpretations to me or some other official judge, priestess, oracle officer as I may have a tendency to promote the sale of space in my warehouse or my tea leaves with the right messages and warnings.  Of course, in the current time of endless chatter, comment and pronouncement, it is possible to find somebody somewhere "seeing", "feeling", "sensing" just about any message on any topic including quite a few that you wouldn't have thought of by yourself.

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