Thursday, March 13, 2014

Musings of Strange: I hate the word "Obvious"

Originally I had planned to release a video along with my next article. It would have been a departure from everything that I had made so far, and I had hoped it would bring some excitement. Unfortunately, the data was lost, and now i'm forced to hold it back for a while (I may still release the article though).

In the meantime, I've decided to create an "informal" section of my blog dedicated to general thoughts and musings. This would involve less "how to" and provide more lively commentary. This section is known as "Musings of Strange". 

Today's musing is about the word "obvious" and how I hate it.
Look at that smug face....

The word "obvious" is a trap.

One of the things I hate most, is when someone comes to me after I explain something, and they say "Well that's just obvious!". I have to quickly compose myself and explain that it really isn't, and that its only through set up and clarity that the idea seems to be "obvious." By declaring something as "obvious" we end up discounting several other possibilities, and stick to one way to view the world.

At first glance, "obvious" seems to be a simple descriptive word that we use to say that something is "apparent to everyone" or "can't be missed". However, it is a trap for a few reasons.

The first reason is because the idea of "obvious" is a lie. There is really no such thing as something that is apparent to everyone. The only reason two people can agree that something is "obvious", is because they have the same thoughts and background knowledge in common. So when you say "that's obvious", all you are really saying is "If you think the way I do, have the same knowledge as I do, and view the world in the same way I do, then it's clear and apparent". 

That hardly seems to be counting "everyone".

I should make it clear. I'm not necessarily talking about "obvious" in terms of the senses like sight and hearing. If you and a friend both experience seeing a Tyrannosaurus Rex walking through downtown, then it would be "obvious" to both of you, because you both shared the same sensation and experience to say "there was a T-Rex downtown." Anyone who saw it, would have the ability to say that.

But when we talk about things like "It's obvious, he was the murderer", what are we basing that off of? Why are we discounting the possibility of other people being murderers? It's one thing to declare someone as the most likely culprit, it's another to say that he's the "obvious" choice.

The second reason the word "obvious" is a trap, is because we will stop thinking once we have declared something to be "obvious". If we consider something to be the "most apparent", we will also believe that it is most likely to be true. What happens then is that we inflict ourselves with confirmation bias, and will choose the evidence that best illustrates the point we believe to be true. We fail to see how other possibilities are viable, all because the thing is "obvious".

The common method in which we do this is by responding to alternate possibilities like so: "I can see that as possible, but this one is the case, it's just obvious". Which is really just a polite way of blowing someone off.

Anyways, that's enough of a rant for now.

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