Sunday, April 30, 2006

Theory & Practice

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.
• Yogi Berra

In Reality, we all use the scientific principles, whether we know it or not. It is better to know it, and apply them with full knowledge of what they can do for us.

The scientific method is the process by which we, collectively and over time, endeavor to construct an accurate (that is, reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary) representation of the world. Recognizing that personal and cultural beliefs influence both our perceptions and our interpretations of natural phenomena, we aim through the use of standard procedures and criteria to minimize those influences when developing a theory. As a famous scientist once said, "Smart people (like smart lawyers) can come up with very good explanations for mistaken points of view." In summary, the scientific method attempts to minimize the influence of bias or prejudice in the experimenter when testing an hypothesis or a theory.

All righty then. What does this have to do with our daily lives? Everything.

We drive to the store to pick up a loaf of bread. First of all, we drive according to a collectively recognized set of rules that have been proven to get us there without hitting anything. We don't drive on the median, or drive without putting the key in, or any number of other variations which we may prefer, but has shown to be, in actual practice, unworkable. Likewise, upon reaching the store, we look for the bread in the bread aisle, which everyone has agreed where the bread should go, and more importantly, is where the bread actually is.

Upon leaving the store, we may prefer to just walk out with our bread. If we do, we run into a lot of real world complications. Most of us have agreed to a transfer of assets that will let us peacefully leave with what is now recognized as our loaf of bread.

This is an uncomplicated transaction, and yet many episodes of Cops will show that some people have problems with every element of this scenario. We shake our heads at such people, and wonder where their sense of reality is. Yet, writ larger, this problem can affect anyone.

Many of our struggles in life come from a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that we are not operating from an accurate (that is, reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary) representation of the world. Consider the fruitless pursuit of love, which has resulted in actual stalking laws that attempt to explain to the wrongly besotted person that when the object of their desire changes their phone number, moves to a new place, and takes out a restraining order, this means said object does not want to date them.

Most of us are not stalkers. But we do pursue relationships with no realistic expectation of working. We toil in jobs we don't like instead of breaking out into something else. We gnash our teeth over parts of our life we feel we have no control over, and yet most of the time we struggle because we do have control over it, we are just not exercising it in the right way.

We keep expecting things to go the way we want them. That's the theory. But in actual practice, it is not going that way. We have to change our theory and proceed on the new one if we have any hope of getting what we actually want.

But instead, too often, we just cling to our theory. And come up with elaborate explanations about why it's not working.

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