Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Treadmill Trap of the Scientist

                                                           2. Making Ends Meet

The approach to size up occurrence significantly explains its dynamism, no doubt. It can also lead to a compulsion to find reasons when there may be no reasons at all. It is quite possible that the occurrence has randomness as its basis. When it comes to sizing up an occurrence there is measurement at play (as discussed in the essay, The Scientific Outlook or the Well Defined). Let us suppose that you are given a scale to measure the length of a line. How do you know the end points of a line? Is it merely through observation? You do not know the length accurately without a scale. How do you know that the scale is accurate? Where did the scale come from? Who made the scale? The line if it has to do any better remains as it is and the need to measure it brings a scale to the purview. If the scale is correct your measurement will be correct. You may try to find out as to how a scale is made. You would invariably realize that in the ultimatum it is devised out of a consensus or an accepted standard.

You then have what is called 'standard' which is also a feature of the scientific outlook. Standards fail you only when there are no limits. A standard is devised to reduce the enormity of a problem without which definitions and descriptions would be impossible. Then you find that definition has become a consequence of description. A description gives more space to view an object of observation than definition. It is not quite as precise and lacks the standards of accuracy that definition demands. You may describe an event more accurately than you would by narrating it. When you narrate, you employ free-wheeling sentences drawn out of free-format constructions to particularize your observation or experience of an event. Description has focus point at its disposal. Narration gives you the liberty to not only particularize an event but also personalize it in broad terms.

The ontology of narration is subject to instability but this is known a priori. You may narrate your experiences off the semantic record by exaggerating your style a bit now and then. The listener expects that you would do so not at the expense of the victim who is the listener. Do not be concerned because the insistence on accuracy is not exacting in terms of precision. In simple words, the listener may like to be amused or stretched. Accurate descriptions of objects that you observed in your experience are not sought after. What is lost in patience is more than recovered from amusement. Of course this low tolerance towards ambiguity is not only prevalent in measurements but also in critical situations where the subject can only afford to be 'as it is' and nothing more. For obvious reasons when you describe an object or narrate an event differently from or more than it actually is, you are 'stretching' the subject of description or narration. 'Stretching' we must remember implies exaggeration and not lying at least in the blatant sense. It has validity in Science when you zoom in on the object.

Dale's 'cone of experience' illustrates this aspect vividly in the form of a pyramid. But how does stretching happen here and if at all it happens how is it relevant? It happens when the frame on which an object is captured itself gets enlarged. When that happens automatically the object that was embedded on it in the first place also gets enlarged. This is what I meant by the relevance and place of 'stretching' in the scientific parlance. In graphics, this can be observed as a simulation and in perception it may have sense and meaning depending on the observer. The observer is the one who holds the frame and depending on the nature of the frame, the object 'automatically adapts' in proportion to it. In detail, it is the same number of elements that constitute it but in perception the frame changes along with it. This in theory holds true for a painting or a portrait as well. In practice it is impossible. This explains why there can exist a seemingly illusory disparity between theory and practice even in Science. One of the approaches in the outlook is to take into account the difference so that science as a whole is not limited by pragmatic approaches.

Discussing the difference between description and definition is not verbal jousting but rather an active microscopic observation. There is more to description than it seems at the outset. Definitions are fixed and suffer from the possibility of extinction depending on the thoroughness that went behind its formulation. Coming back to the pen and paper, definition of a pen is not restricted to one object. It naturally invokes other objects that it needs for it to present its functional value. Its description can do without other objects. Here, counter intuitively description is restrictive because nothing else is needed to be invoked and therefore it is self-sufficient.

From the above we can say the following:

1. Definition is fixed but it may not be restricted to the object. It can and tends to cover function. Description can be restricted to the object. It tends to be more spatial and may not cover function at all for it may simply be visual.
2. Description is greater in volume than definition in terms of words. It covers more ground than definition but it can be ironically more self-sufficient. It may cover less ground in terms of words. A definition does not succumb to stretching while description can. Therefore it cannot fail to be the case that a description is more transcendental.

1. Narration is neither fixed nor focused. It describes the narrator along with the narrated.
2. It covers more dimensions than description and definition. Narration can succumb to stretching.

To get out of the treadmill trap the scientist would do well to employ the technique of narrating a principle or law. In so doing, larger grounds would be covered and a clearer picture would be outlined about the otherwise misconstrued universe.

The next essay would discuss 'the nature of claims that cannot be verified'.

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