Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Vaguely Quantitative Psychology

Originally posted on December 14, 2010

Sometimes I use percentages with decimal points when I write or talk, as if I knew with some precision what I was talking about. I don’t. These numerical affectations suggest two things: First, on one level, most of the time, I am serious about the general proportion involved, though the actual number really may be plus or minus perhaps a third of its value; but second, the decimal point is a satirical poke at the pretentiousness of anything in the realm of mind being able to be meaningfully measured—collective (sociological, anthropological, philosophical).

By using decimal points I’m being silly, but seriously, there are continuous fluctuations of time and place, mood and presence of distractions or other lures, and scores of other variables that make all psychological or socio-cultural descriptions or assertions at best vague. Still, there’s value in estimating proportions and mixtures to communicate estimates of what’s going on.

We were taught subjects that presented fairly simplistic right or wrong answers, and relatively specific solutions to problems. There are many of these kinds of things in the world, but my experience leads me to estimate that they comprise only 9.4% of overall life and reality. In the vast majority of cases phenomena or solutions are provisional, affected by consensus, often requires some feedback and modification, compromise and clarification within other or wider contexts, and so forth. This leads into the problem of epistemology, which fails to differentiate between simple, slightly complex, and highly complex events.

Regarding the latter—which comprise the great majority of our lives—there are so many variables in play that “right” answers, clear reality, any meaningful statement, cannot by definition be fully true. If nothing else, parts of the complex system either might interpret or be interpreted in several different ways, and often these multiple interpretations may overlap. Thus, “truth” as an ideal dissolves as we become aware of the nature of higher levels of complexity.

It might be tempting to withdraw from the problem, take a “whatever” attitude and refuse even to estimate. But that’s a “cop-out,” I think, and offering an estimate, a proportion, a spectrum and a place along that spectrum, all may make the process if not clearer, then at least offers a stimulant to others stating their viewpoint more specifically.

So please take my numbers with a grain of amused salt.


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