Evidence and the value of life
Large scale society and the phenomenon of statistics in terms of evolution of logical
The topic for this particular eddy of spume is that of evidence. It comes of discussing a piece in one of my classes
on the subject of the development of evidence as a concept and certain paradigms which governed its role in determining fact.
The fundamental concepts are relatively simple. First, evidence, as a whole, is the process of finding clues or indirect
traces of some given thing and then using those traces to deduce some fact. So obvious it hurts.
Well, that's the fundamental, the more formalized notion is that of diagnoses based on symptoms--the medical model.
This is a recurring side-effect of the language used to discuss evidence as a concept. On this particular day, we were
discussing the previously mentioned piece which posited a kind of natural evolution to the structure of evidence. In the
beginning, humanity inherited, as a token of its forbears, or perhaps as a unique asset, the ability to believe something
exists even when it is out of sight. This is an incredibly important development, as it allows for the task of hunting remote
or elusive prey, as well as evading predators. The ability is, in fact, so distinct as a feature of human thought, it is
recorded by psychiatrists as a step in childhood development. The nature of this ability creates a preclivity in mankind
both for symbolic representation (something which, to my admittedly limited knowledge, we only share with bees) and certain
kinds of belief structures.
What the author does not note, but immediately occured to me, was the notion that the fundamental understanding of
external reality deals only with individual living things. The employment of this ability would never occur to note
environmental changes or signs as such, not only because signs which signify the onset of impersonal natural phenomena are
usually obscure, intermittent, and relatively infrequent, whereas animal traces are usually far more relevant, readily
available for those who are looking, and verifiable, in as much as you can theoretically find the animal in question at some
point. This sets a precident for believing anything which is inferred from evidence must be alive. Divination and religious
belief, then, become clear--they are product of the original use which our environment demanded of us. If the tracks in the
ground and scratches on a tree are signs of a bear, then the eruption of a volcano or discolorations in the sky which signify
rain are the traces of some spiritual entity. Techniques for divining the future from rolling bones or investigating the way
oil runs down a plate must also relate to a living things beyond our sight.
This observation alone, tells you little that you couldn't find in separate places through human history--people tend
to anthropomorphize, it's not a secret. What is significant is the process by which the author of the discussed piece on
evidence arrives at the current paradigm. He correctly judges the current standard of evidence to be one in which we do not
assume living, privately operating beings, but rather overarching principles (impersonal and inanimate) which apply to either
everything, or at least broad groups. Furthermore, and more importantly, we tend to put something in one of these
preexisting categories more easily than we accept a new case. In short, we have gone from assuming all evidence points to
individual living creatures, to believing only that they are statistics which belong in broad groups. The fundamental change
is that of assuming, in a very basic way, that nothing which is out of sight is alive.
It's a brilliant introduction to a host of realities in modern society. The decrease in interpersonal reliance, and
the emphasis on individuality as a method of social control (mentioned in the above piece). In order to administrate without
emotion, people are treated, functionally, as objects or, if you prefer, statistics so long as they are out of sight. This
aspect of our society is no more apparent than when the evening news puts a human face on a murder victim, and somehow
manages to impress people moreso than the reality that any given murder is only one of many unfortunate deaths that occur in
a given day. Out of sight out of conscience is an almost deliberate alteration of our basic ability to believe that something
is alive when it isn't.
In this sense media treatment of individuals has become inverted with personal relations. The media is now
responsible for affirming and reminding us of our duties to imagination, faith, and superstition (probably counter to what
many peoople believe--nevertheless, if a news show has every gone for longer than an hour without telling me something was
'sad' or mentioning God in some capacity, I can't recall it), personal relationships, on the other hand, become more a matter
of limited contact, calculation, and 'please try to understand, this isn't anyone's fault'. Das Kapital, the famous work of
Marx shows the inherent reality of capitalism, that it creates inequality and unfairness through a series of mutually agreed
'fair exchanges'. It's not a matter of getting rid of capitalism, it's a matter of a training people to avoid taking things
'personally', which, admirably, society seems to do. The human need for something further is supplied in it's most lauded
forms by Art, but far more frequently by the formulaic structure of religion. Religion and Art is Life. Industry and
War is Death. Almost directly inverted to the concepts Nietzsche employed in trying to describe the failure of
But perhaps, this is the concept of perfection. Nietzsche is not to be idly dismissed. He is delimiting the natural
caste system. War and art are structurally superior to industry and religion.
Bah, idle musings.
However, the insight it provides to media, and gaming, particularly, is valuable. For example, the
anthropomorphization of characters is now related to the evidence they leave for the viewer to cogitate over. Simultaneously,
we see that the personal interactions of the character in the game world are not fodder for moral engagement with the story.
It's paradoxical, yet functionally born-out. If the player is given the ability to make moral decisions, he will fail to feel
anything, because he has been conditioned by society to ignore the implications of personal action. Wreaking dreadful havoc
on a city, or murdering a hooker in Grand Theft Auto will not have an impact on psyche of a player, since it an expression,
largely, of themselves. If you wish to wrap the player up in the story, you must allow him to assemble pieces on his own,
rather than engage personally in events. The most successful games in my memory involve external events and the assembly of
minute factoids into a gestalt reality. We can readily classify ourselves and our behavior in the modern way, thus taking
away a personal stake, but given the chance to assemble some notion in our minds, we will subconciously, and automatically
assign the properties of unique and living to the resulting story. Even if the nature of the story is formulaic, our
complicity in determining its shape will provide a higher quality of experience than if the game is merely the reflections of
our personal choices. The power of the book is in the requirement of imagination, the power of a game is in the requirement
This is clearly incomplete, since it only recently came to my attention, however, the undeniable, and incredibly
significant notion that diagnosis creates life in the mind of a human being, and that the notion of false diagnosis
personifies itself in religion, has implications for the structure of controlling and benefiting the human psyche.
Please figure it out, and fix everything by tuesday.
back to the news...