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QUIET THOUGHTS

-----Cruising along at 5 knots, anchoring in quiet coves, gentle rocking while sleeping, no schedule (our next 'obligation' is at least four months distant) - this lifestyle is perfect for quiet contemplation. Reading the quiet- time thoughts of others who preceded us, such as Sigurd Olsen while up here in the North Country, sets thoughts meandering through thinking's quiet coves.

AT AND FOR

-- -----iScientists have been trained to view the world as a dichotomous place - either this or that. We have a tendency to naturally divide our observations into at least two groups. Oh, sure, there are often multiple working hypotheses, or multiple piles, or gradations between, but by concentrating our observations on the end members we can often see more clearly the distinctions between the more subtle gradations.


- -----iFor instance, geologists classify rocks in order to discuss their origins. As I examine this black rock in my hand, I have been trained (and it is now second nature), to study it dichotomously: are there any particles composing the rock or none visible? If particles, are they crystals or grains? If crystals, are they multiple faceted? If grains, are they rounded or angular? On and on, the brain classifies the observations through an either/or process. Finally, only one rock name (and perhaps origin) can satisfy all the observations.


- -----iWe see life in this way - a mountain is tall or short (after we have clearly defined the meaning of tall and of short). Perhaps it is on the short side of tall, or the tall side of short but our definitions allow us to clearly describe the gradations.


- -----iIt is critical to have definitions (every rock type has been carefully classified), clear (and replicable) observations, and no bias in judging the classification.



- -----iThis is not too difficult with a relatively static and unchanging object one can hold in your hand, like a hunk of rock. It becomes more challenging when studying a cliff face, or a mountain range. And even more difficult when trying to determine the origin of the geological object. Geologic subjects may span vast periods of time or space. Nobody was there to observe and record the phenomenon so we compare with what we can see around us, and assume a uniformity of process through time. We call this observational technique "uniformitarianism" and it is a fundamental basis of the science of geology - "the present is the key to the past."


- -----iWe carefully observe the process of volcanic eruption - study the resulting ash falls or lava flows. Then, we take that observational skill to a cliff face on a mountain, perhaps on a distant continent. There we look for tell-tale features that can lead us to a conclusion that that face is composed of ancient ash falls, or lava flows, and conclude a period of volcanic eruption perhaps tens of millions of years ago. We are guided by our experience, or the thoughtful experiences of others who have passed on their knowledge to us.


- -----iGeology (and indeed science) is a real-life treasure hunt - a search for clues observed and sorted by a mind trained to make conclusions from those clues - a geologist is a 'time detective.'


- -----iFolks in 'real life' often have difficulty relating to scientists. First of all, we are trained to doubt. We view most statements through a prism of multiple working hypotheses - alternative explanations.


- -----i"Johnny is doing poorly at school - he has a bad teacher."


- -----i"Hmm, perhaps. But maybe he isn't given quiet time at home to study, or maybe his folks don't encourage him to do his homework, or perhaps he lacks background due to past poor teaching, or …" The scientist often is a real pain. They seem to always be challenging or argumentative. But, they are simply doing what they are supposed to do in science - observe carefully all the facts available. Then, test those 'facts' - see if they can be replicated. If, under similar conditions, the results are always the same, we might put away the questions - if not, it isn't a 'fact.'


- -----iAt the grandkid "study table" in our 'home place' we have posted a little notice for the kids to see as they do homework while visiting - "You can have facts without opinions, but you can't have opinions without facts."


- -----iEven in our culture, so dependent and enhanced by science, it is often startling to us that many folks don't understand this basic foundation of how science works. A scientist 'screens' multiple explanations. They must be based on replicable facts to be considered valid enough to ponder. Not many opinions or conclusions in the social world around us are based on 'scientific' thinking. Also, social experiences are often not replicable so cause/effect is difficult to assess and study.


- -----iSo how do we study human society? Such a variable social subject is a challenge to scientific evaluation. Physical processes in the human body (digestion, cell division, etc) can often succumb to scientific scrutiny. But social patterns usually are analyzed by 'science' through the process of lumping large numbers of individuals into the 'subject' studied - there are many individual exceptions but there may be predictable patterns of response for the group. Is this real science? A scientist would probably respond, "No. There are too many variables, and the results are not replicable."


- -----iWhat about the social 'sciences'? Or political 'science'? Many scientists would say it is a misuse of the word, science, resulting from a lack of understanding of what constitutes 'real' science. Many academic studies simply cannot utilize scientific methods due to the variability of the subject - and many of these social sciences do not apply valid science in their studies.


- -----iThus we finally arrive at the thought embodied by the title of this discussion - "At and For." First the disclaimer for the ideas that follow: They are written by a scientist, who is commenting on observations of the social behavior of humans. Thus, this is not scientific in the way I have defined science in the paragraphs above. But it is interesting for a scientist to skeptically observe human behavior - understanding that conclusions may not be scientifically valid.


- -----iTo begin, let's simplistically divide dichotomously all humans into two groups:
- -----i- -----i1. Those who look at.
- -----i- -----i2. Those who look for.


- -----iOf course, there are gradations between these groups, an 'at' individual may, under different circumstances, be a 'for' person and vice versa. However, perhaps by discussing the end members of this dichotomous series, we can understand what we mean.


- -----iThe 'at' folks look at or study that which surrounds them, but the object of interest is usually pointed out to them. An example: they are engrossed in a book, or a computer game while a passenger on a cruise. Suddenly someone sees a bear on the shore. The 'at' folk immediately become engrossed with the bear and its activities. They 'look at' the object of interest.


- -Th-The Object of Interest


- -----iThe 'for' folks are engrossed in studying and observing their surroundings. An example: They search the shoreline with binoculars, observe the sky for birds, and watch the water for 'critters.' They spot the bear by 'looking for' objects of interest. The 'look for' people shout out their discovery and the 'look at' folks put down (perhaps) their book or game-playing gizmo and observe the bear with interest.


- -----iPerhaps the 'at' and 'for' personalities evolve within individual humans during their lifetimes. Babies appear to develop with a clean slate. Oh, certain behaviors are 'built-in' genetically for survival - cry for food or if uncomfortable with wet pants or getting tired. Slowly, observational skills develop - cry and a parent 'fixes' the problem. And the little ones learn to look 'for' certain clues in their environment that make them feel more safe or comfortable. Of course, much must be seen through looking 'at' and these observations are filed under normal, everyday scenes. But, when hungry a baby learns to look 'for' signs that dinner is coming.


- -----iThen, as life progresses, the look 'at' becomes normal. Parents teach their kids observational skills to survive; school teachers inform kids; electronic devices afford teaching, entertainment, and skill development. Every day is exciting for very young kids - so much to look 'at' and learn. And, often hotbeds of curiosity (that can drive parents crazy), kids like to look 'for'. "What happens if …?" "Where do they keep the …?" Always a question mark in their lives.


- -----iThen come the teen years. Now, many seem to know everything. No longer a need to look 'for' - live a virtual life in the games or gizmo at hand. You've already seen it all, and if there's something new to observe, someone will point it out to you.


- -----iLiving on a boat, we enjoy company aboard or cruising in tandem with others on their boats. This (accidentally) affords us an opportunity to observe others in an environment 'isolated' from their usual lives - a perfect setting for a scientist - reduce the variables. In this case, remove many of the influences of day-to-day 'normal' life and personality characteristics are often brought to sharp focus. What have we observed? (understand this is not 'real' science - nor do we travel with others to 'study' them).


- -----iFirst, many folks have a veneer that we have learned to assume to make us 'more sociable' animals. Our folks taught us to change certain behaviors ("or go to your bedroom - NOW") - to 'straighten up' when around others. We learned those adaptation skills at an early age and they have now become second nature for most of us. But, change our environment - put us under different stress (physical and emotional) - and the 'real' us will resurface. Troops in combat see this almost immediately. On a boat, with changing sea or weather conditions, the veneer that remains, soon will be stripped off. Rafting white water rivers, we have observed that three days is about the maximum that most folks can retain their veneer. The 'real' person hidden below is often a treasure - concerned, caring, sharing, spontaneous personalities may emerge. Suddenly, folks blasé about everyday life become a look 'for' personality.


- -----iWe suspect that the most creative people are the look 'for' types. They certainly make good company on a cruise - they spot the floating log dead ahead or the strange critter walking along the shore. They are initiators - more active than passive. In our teaching experience, we found some of the best teachers were the look 'at' - they read widely and were able to teach the knowledge gained by others. They often remembered the details of a book, or a study or a lecture from the past. The look 'for' types were often the research folks. Always curious, always looking for reasons. Now, since this discussion is certainly not scientific, lets simply conclude that if there's any validity to our 'at'/'for' thoughts, perhaps the best teachers (and maybe cruisers, as well) are those who understand the importance of combining the 'at' with the 'for.'

Kate, El, Sarah, and Ami Looking At Leeches

(08/10)

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