Thursday, August 1, 2013

Watch out for turkeys

Once upon a time there was a little turkey.  The turkey lived on a farm.  Everyday the farmer would come and fill the feed trough, replace the water in the bowl, and this little turkey and all his friends would eat, drink and be happy.  

Every day, the same routine.  
Every day, the same outcome.

When the turkey got a bit older, he began to ponder the meaning of life and the patterns that are occurring around him.  He noticed that every day, the sun came up.  He noticed every day the farmer would put out new food and water.  He began to realise that he could predict the next day, and tested his hypothesis, day after day.  One day, he shared his thoughts and learnings with the other turkeys.  

They were all very impressed.  They too, tested the hypothesis of what would happen the next day.  Again, they saw the sun come up, and the farmer come with food and water.  They concluded that this is an observable truth and a fundamental law of their universe.  

One day, a slaughterer turned up instead of the farmer, and killed every last one of them.  

The turkey story is roughly the basis for Humes Paradox.  Hume declared that it is not possible to connect an effect to a specific cause with any degree of certainty, because no matter how many observations we have made that do connect the effect to the cause without fail, it still does not follow that any or all future effects will, with certainty, be connected to that specific cause.  The skepticism of the knowledge gained through observation is directly in conflict with the empirical data that can be assumed from it.

In other words, whilst the turkey's had measurable data to say that the routine was a certainty, when you look at the same situation from a different angle (the farmer's viewpoint, for instance), this "axiom" was wholly wrong. 

When I question someone about something that is happening and they harp on about their measurable data and the way things have always been done and how it always will be in the future, all I can see is a big turkey in front of me.