Con-science?

I went to my dentist a few days back; the latest episode in the continuing saga that is the attempts to salvage a Ph.D.-induced stress-busted molar. And some asshole damaged my bike!

There are no purpose-supplied cycle-stands there, so I secured it to a drainpipe between the corner of the building and the gate that secures the access along the side to the rear. Over an hour later I came out with a new filling and a temporary crown, to find my bike not in the aspect I’d left it. The chain lock had prevented complete collapse, but it was resting at a gauchely articulated angle, having scraped down the corner of the wall. Wonderful! This kind of thing can create tension, somewhere on a scale between, ‘Ahh well, comme ci, comme ça’, to artery-busting puce-ness. Only a bike, can’t expect it to last forever. Well no, actually: it’s a £300+ near mint condition bike with a now randomly-engraved crossbar!

However, there was a clue: the gate was open. Doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to realise that whoever has opened and gone through the gate is very likely the someone who barged past and knocked down my bike. So after some deliberation, I went back into the surgery reception and politely (the staff there are all very nice) enquired whether anybody had used the side access in the last hour. I was informed that that would be a person who had come to collect whatever, and who had departed via the side passage gate. It turns out also that this particular individual is none too popular with the staff. Discourtesy was also apparent from the gate having been left wedged open.

Is this evidence? Nobody saw this character knock my bike over; all I have is second-hand knowledge placing someone in its close vicinity sometime during my visit, and a brief character reference. Only circumstantial; certainly not scientific. Common sense might just let it go. But common sense is often unscientific also. So, when later provided with the contact details of the company that employs my chief suspect, I telephoned. The person who took my call was a rational type. “Did anyone actually see who knocked over your bike?” Err, no; I was in a chair looking at the ceiling with my mouth open at the time. “So, you don’t actually know who it was? How do you know who it was?” Because no-one else went through the gate, hence by my bike, during the time period in question. So, by deduction…

The fact that this person knew how to play this game is, to me, further ‘evidence’; someone who has seemingly dealt with this kind of thing before, because they apparently work for a company that employs people with disregard for other people’s property. This ‘counsel for the defence’ later telephoned the practice to ask the staff questions. “How do you know someone hadn’t been trying to steal the bike?” This is quite possible, my dentist’s surgery being situated in not the most salubrious of places. It’s not enough, is it? Assumption and speculation… prejudice.

I wonder where Francis Bacon and René Descartes would be on this. Bacon systematically accumulated empirical data for the inductive derivation of hypotheses; Descartes subjectively developed hypotheses through rational deduction. However, both advocated method to test hypotheses to arrive at reliable knowledge, redefining natural philosophy through the foundation of scientific method. However, the 17th century Baconian striving for objectivity purged facts of inference and conjecture, segregating them from interpretation or hypothesis. Cartesian syllogism was opposed to this. Nevertheless, Descartes, wary of the subjectivity of others, would not trust experiments he had not performed or supervised himself. Baconian and Cartesian philosophies were thus aligned in advocating disciplined methodology as necessary to eliminate natural human speculation.

So, I need verifiable observation, or to devise an experiment. But we’re talking human studying human behaviour here. As anthropologists and ethnographers will tell you, once you put yourself in ‘the field’, then, like Heisenberg and the electron, the Uncertainty Principle kicks in, because the presence of the observer alters the behaviour of the observed. Whence then reality? Wouldn’t take long before a discordant observation – Popper would hardly break sweat. Conscience works to regulate one’s conduct when nobody is looking.

Anyway, if, reader, you’ve indulged me this far, thanks for allowing me to vent. I feel better now.

4 responses to “Con-science?

  1. Ah, you should convert to Bayesianism. Weigh up the evidence, and conclude what you knew all along.

  2. Or perhaps, do a CSI type investigation of paint scrapes and tyre tread marks from you bike. Less likely to be construed as speculation in court.

  3. I am impressed by your scientific perseverance and patience. You presented a reasonable hypothesis and tested it to the best of your abilities, in the face of struggle and suffering (your hurting tooth, of course). May you serve as an inspirational example to generations of scientists to come.
    And I hope your bike isn’t in too rough a shape. How irritating!

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