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Thinking: The importance of staying flexible.

January 8, 2017

I saw this today and it made me think.


Have we become so delicate and embattled that we can no longer see that we are sometimes wrong?

Let’s have a think focusing only on the image and not the writing in black or red.

This shape happens to be on the floor and we can’t tell everything about it from just looking at the picture – is it drawn on or is it placed there?  What is it made from/ created with?  Is it one or multi-dimensional in real life?

There is a tendency to assume that the symbolic people, the characters in this narrative feel they have sufficient evidence, from their point of view, to loudly declare it a 6 or a 9.   There is also a tendency to assume the pair are arguing or at least holding their opinions loudly and somewhat unwaveringly due to the body language (stiff bodies, pointing, apparent shouting, distance) that’s described in the drawing.   But these are mere assumptions.

We might also assume more context to this narrative, that neither one of these people is responsible for creating this situation and that they are both just faced with dealing with it as they found it.

I don’t know about you but I tend to reach that conclusion because if one of them had created it then surely the caption would be ‘no, I put that there and it is a ….’.

But again we are making assumptions.

Whomever created this situation, be it one of these or a third party (and it could still be one of these people who just happens, for the moment to be playing a shouting game) could have intended a number of things including but not limited to:

  • The intention is that it the number 6 and that the viewers will interpret it as such and understand its meaning because they understand western numerals
  • The intention is that it is the number 9 with the same context as above.
  • The intention is that it is purposely ambiguous so as to leave the interpretation up to the viewer and that it can therefore be either a 6 or a 9 or whatever the viewer wants it to be.
  • It is neither 6 o 9 it is just a curly shape that happens to remind people of a number.
  • It is a kids train track.
  • It is a road map.
  • It is a failed attempt at drawing a @ sign.
  • A trace of the journey that a snail made when plucked from the garden and left on the ground while being observed.
  • It is the letter g.

Throughout my career as a cosmetic chemist I’ve been challenged both by people who do have more knowledge and insight into what I’m currently working on and those that don’t.  Both groups can have a tendency to come at you with equal ferocity and confidence in the ‘fact’ that they are correct and have something to teach you.  Rather than shout and become defensive first up I’ve tried to remain open minded and to seek further information on the other persons perspective:

“What is it that they can see that I can’t”  is a favourite question of mine.

So we look for more information, do our research and in this case it involves reading the small print….

So let’s look at the rest of the information we have to hand. 

If the small print under the Meme above is correct the drawing on the floor is a 6 or a 9 (we should assume the author of the piece does have sufficient information to draw that conclusion but as a scientist it is always OK to note that assumption in your summary) we can conclude that one of the people is wrong and we can also conclude that the advice given to look for other clues as to the orientation of the number is sound.  Further, the caution at the end of the piece also rings true, that an uninformed opinion is dangerous although I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say it is ruining the world and that nobody wants to do any research.  I’d be more inclined to say that people simply don’t appreciate the position that they are in.

After all, how many other people would have looked at that shape and thought it could be a snail trail?

Maybe it’s just imagination we lack.

Amanda x

PS:  Scientists call our own in-built desire to interpret something in a particular way as BIAS and as a science professional we have to be aware of the bias trap at all times.  How can we find out anything new if we only look for confirmation that we are right all the time?


One Comment leave one →
  1. January 9, 2017 5:01 am

    I’m so happy you posted this. One of the pro-science pages I follow posted this and I knew there was something I didn’t like about the red markings on it but couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

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