Saturday, April 29, 2006

Assumptions

It has always troubled me that we live in a world that values assumptions so highly. I explore this with AoaN, particularly with how it can gradually shape identity, but I merely scratch at the surface. I’ve seen it all my life in everyone from family to strangers, children to the aged. I see the behavior in myself, and cringe, particularly when these assumptions take on the air of convictions. I especially hate it when someone holds me to them. And I fear the possibility that my identity is being shaped by their influence.

There are indisputable facts fundamental to the experience of living life. Yet, in the scope of what we think about and then discuss at the water cooler, we rarely engage with those facts directly. The majority of what we think about and discuss are extrapolations - "if A, then B, and of course if B, then C" - until we're way down the road discussing M's and N's and believing every word of it. And sometimes even the A's aren't completely true. Take math, for example. I had assumed mathematics to be of rock solid foundation throughout my life, until I was introduced the work of Kurt Godel, whose First Incompleteness Theorem, stating that any adequate axiomatizable theory is incomplete, and exemplified by the sentence "This sentence is not provable" because it is not provable in the theory, pretty much undermines math as I’d known it. In a similar vein, I was recently assured that I could go on believing in the Easter Bunny because it cannot be substantiated that he does not exist. So it is that I have lived my life, from math to an egg-hiding hare, on the foundation of shaky assumptions.

Create Believable Facts

But is that inescapable? Much of the time, I arrive at my assumptions because I don’t have all the information. And so rather than suffer the stress of the unknown, I create believable facts based upon what little I have to work with.

I’ll give you an example.

This week, Keith Richards fell out of a palm tree. All that anyone seems to know is that he was in Figi on holiday during the Rolling Stones Bigger Bang world tour and that he is unharmed. No one knows what really happened. Even resort employees wouldn’t comment. So, alas, we are once again left to the devices of our imaginations.

To properly consider this event, one might typically begin with “What the hell was he doing up in a palm tree?” though given that it was Keith Richards, the question might be better poised with less perplexity: “Huh. I wonder if he was carrying a bottle of Bacardi?” The picture that came to my mind was Mr. Richards shimmying up to the tree’s heights in the vain of a Gilligan, his quest less likely spurred by the mysterious impulse of an artist, and more likely by a desire to make a fresh piña colada. I’m imagining he was almost to the top, just out of reach of a coconut, when he slipped and fell to the sand below, between the deck chairs and discarded Bud bottles (Anheuser-Busch is proud sponsor of the Bigger Bang). I’m picturing people rushing towards him, not knowing what to do. I’m seeing a paunchy, grey-haired (pony-tailed) man, an agent or the type veiling his impulse to cry out “the tour is over” with “Call a doctor!” I see a bunch of people circling around him, and under the pressure of the stress of the unknown, starting to assume.

As Supporting Evidence

I have to say that if I were in Fiji gathered in that circle, and someone were to ask me, I’m certain I would offer up that, in my opinion, Mr. Richards was drunk. I might candy-coat it with the modifier “likely,” but that would only show an unwillingness to take responsibility for my opinion. A sixty-two year old man climbing a palm tree? And, he’s a rock star, I’d submit as supporting evidence. And Tom Waits said, "Well, the first rule is not to try to drink with him." Now I'm imagining nods of agreement making their way around the circle like the wave. Too much of ole John Barleycorn. No question about it. Keith Richards had been drinking. And that is the fact that we would all talk about at the water cooler on Monday.

I think that most of us who read of Mr. Richards' fall from grace would assume that alcohol was involved, and the stories created will be accepted as well-founded. And then it will become a kind of truth in our minds. Naturally, there's no truth to any of it until its substantiated, but we don't need proof. That's what troubles me. We have the ability to believe it, and then base more assumptions upon those assumptions until all of it begins to affect the kind of people we are.

Is it that we are wired in this way to process the slew of information we must face? Or are we aspiring to laziness, not willing to do the work necessary to finding the truth? Worse, is everything that I've written here based upon assumptions that I can't see? Toss me a bone.

6 Comments:

Blogger Gerric Duncan said...

Assumptions are ugly buggers, aren’t they? Like farts. We’d all like to pretend we don’t have them or that if we did, that they don’t smell. Guess what.

A babysitter takes care of these two boys and puts them to bed early. Later, the parents call.
“How’s everything going?” the dad asks.
“Great, the boys were great,” the babysitter says. “But sitting alone in the living room with your clown statue is freaking me out.”
“We don’t have a clown statue.”

Kelly Link told that one.

I think Gödel’s Theorem, Jon, technically serves as proof of the Easter Bunny. Not because his existence cannot be disproven, but because any set inclusive of a reality where the Easter Bunny exists is incomplete. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll get a big basket of candy corn (yum) on Easter Sunday.

I don’t like assumptions; they’re kind of neural-reflexive. I don’t think of assumptions as involving thought-work but as thought-reaction, like when the doctor hits you on the knee with one of those little rubber hammers.

I do like hunches like Gödel’s Theorem. I think Gödel would agree that Keith Richards was drunk, if it were important establish a theory on it. But who knows? Maybe Keith fell when he saw a clown standing under the palm.

April 30, 2006 2:08 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Foster said...

And here we've all fallen victim to the assumption that the palm tree had any height at all. I'm now struck by the even more absurd picture of a 62-year-old rock star falling from a 5-foot tall palm tree.

May 01, 2006 9:53 AM  
Blogger Tyler LePerdu said...

Gerric - Did you even read my memoirs?? Your commentary on farts is either evidence of a pathetically closed mind or paltry reading retention.

And I think that in this whole discussion of assumptions, you all have missed the ace in my hole: that one can make their own reality, whether based upon what you call "assumptions" or upon universal truths. There is plenty of reading available on the subject of self-made realities, most of which I haven't had to do because of the power of "assumptions." I recommend a trip to the book store.

May 01, 2006 10:09 AM  
Blogger Gerric Duncan said...

Good point, Tyler. That sometimes people like the smell of their own farts is an underlying theme in your memoirs that I failed to failed to get a whiff of. Other people obviously like your farts, too, but not all farts have that Orville Redenbacher quality.

Regarding the ace in your hole: I guess I do make my own reality, as everyone else does. Occassionally, I call my wife over to see the reality I've created, the air thick with the power of my assumptions.

I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though.

May 01, 2006 2:48 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I highly recommend reading Robert Anton Wilson's Prometheus Rising, available from New Falcon Publications. That explains, using a really great model, how your nervous system creates its reality. And also has exercises for taking control of the process (as much as possible).

May 04, 2006 6:07 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan Foster said...

Thanks for the recommendation Chris. I'll put it on my list.

And Also, thanks for the posting. It's great to hear from an artist on the East Coast. Busy at work I see (from your image).

May 08, 2006 10:13 AM  

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