Holistic Detection

Wed Oct 23 2002 00:34AM -0600

It seems like all I can do lately is pull quotes from the random books I've been reading lately. No originality required. As I've said before, Inspiration always leaves me like a lovesick cuckold, waiting for her to come home while she sleeps with everyone else but me. Anyway.

From Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk, regarding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome:

The standard questions paramedics ask include: Who found the child dead? When was the child found? Was the child moved? When was the child last seen alive? Was the child breast- or bottle-fed? The questions seem random, but all doctors can do is gather statistics and hope someday a pattern will emerge.

An emergency medicine attending physician I worked with impugned medical school curricula in the U.S. in a parallel manner: He believes that all they really teach us to do is ask patients a list of apparently random questions and then perform a list of apparently random tests and then magically come up with a diagnosis. Actual thinking is optional. (Hey, I've always said that it doesn't take a genius to become a doctor.) But more on this later. (Or, as is my wont, probably not.)

From Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams:

"I know that astrology isn't a science," said Gail. "Of course it isn't. It's just an arbitrary set of rules like chess or tennis or--what's that strange thing you British play?"

"Er, cricket? Self-loathing?"

"Parliamentary democracy. The rules just kind of got there. They don't make any sense except in terms of themselves. But when you start to exercise those rules, all sorts of processes start to happen and you start to find out all sorts of stuff about people. In astrology the rules happen to be about stars and planets, but they could be about ducks and drakes for all the difference it would make. It's just a way of thinking about a problem which lets the shape of that problem begin to emrge. The more rules, the tinier the rules, the more arbitrary they are, the better. It's like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a piece of paer to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets you see the words that were written on the piece of paper above it that's now been taken away and hidden. The graphite's not important. It's just the means of revealing their indentations. So you see, astrology's nothing to do with astronomy. It's just to do with people thinking about people...."

Which, now that I think of it, resonates quite well with Dirk Gently's whole concept of being a detective. Some methods may seem random and irrational, but that doesn't mean there isn't any insight to be gained. I agree, rote memorization is not all that helpful for figuring things out, but sometimes it pays not to have presuppositions, and simply to let the brain follow its natural tendencies to find patterns.

That is all for now.

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