Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Learn about Context and the Deductive Process


Imagine this:

You are waiting in a hospital waiting room, just looking through the magazines and observing the other patients as they wait to be seen by the doctor. When a man who had just entered tripped and fell over the leg of one of the chairs. He stands up and begins to gesture and yell loudly at the receptionist.

Assume this is all you know. What can you tell about the man? Well, your first inclination might be to try and look at the thing that makes him stand out: his gestures and yelling. Perhaps we assume that his actions are a result of anger, and that he has a nasty temper and is one who tries to blame others for his pain and suffering. In short:
He has an Outburst -> He has a nasty temper
But can we really?
It's a principle mistake to simply isolate a particular instance or action and assume that its indicative of all actions and inclinations that the person has. To deduce a person's thoughts and actions, one must be willing to be flexible and mold their deductions around all of a person's actions rather than just boxing them in with general frames.

The goal is to be as accurate with your deductions as possible,
 not to just to put people into a general category.
So what can we do? How can we make our deductions more accurate and more flexible? The answer lies in creating another layer or filter. You can't just think outburst -> temper. You have to consider Context.
Still not fully following? Let's use the same story we had earlier, but change the context.

New Context:On the alternate universe Htrae, the standard method of conversation is through wild gesturing and yelling. Any other method is considered rude. Whispering is used in angry fits.
 As you can see, if our original story had taken place on alternate universe Htrae, rather than Earth, our deduction of Outburst-> Nasty Temper would hold no weight at all.
From this, we see that context matters greatly in determining what actions have meaning, and which do not. Additionally we see that our deductions have to be keen to the context of the scenarios.
But lets return to Earth and see what the context might be able to tell us about the man.
Granted, the outburst may be telling of a nasty temper, but that is only one interpretation. The context may tell us more: The man is in a hospital, he is entering the waiting room of a hospital, he trips over the leg of a chair, he yells at the receptionist and only at the receptionist. He is also there at that time, as well as date.
What does this tell us? To understand it, we must break it down into parts:

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  1. He is in a hospital. Who goes to a hospital? Everyone? Well, WHEN do people go to hospitals? Well, either they work there, are visiting, or are sick. The vast majority of the people who visit, are sick. And given the whole of his actions, it seems plausible that the man could be sick.
  2. He is entering the waiting room. Not only that, but he is headed to the receptionist and not straight into the entrance of the door. So he is probably likely to be going to talk to the receptionist.
  3. He trips over the leg of a chair. Is he clumsy? Is there something wrong with his leg? Was he distracted by something? And if so, by what?
  4. Why does he yell at the receptionist? Is it because of his inclination to blame his pain on others? Why just the receptionist and not the other people there?
As you can see, the actual process of deduction using context is not as simple as the fixed deduction that we are inclined to use. However, we can learn a great deal more by formulating these questions, and then answering them by observing his actions.
The process of deduction requires a great deal of preparation, observation, and flexibility. Luckily it is also something we get better at through practice and time. As far as contexts go, it also can work well with many people within the same contexts- e.g. The hospital set applies to everyone in the waiting room, including you.
With a bit of practice and a little bit of work, understanding the context can go a long way.

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