In the bath just now, I was thinking. I often consider writing some of the things I think about during the day; I think they're quite interesting, but they're too small to make an entry on. This however, just about qualifies. I should pre-emptively clarify that 'you' in this entry is an abstract you, and not any particular person or set of people. If you get the idea that this is somehow about you
, you're too vain, and thanks for reminding me of that awful song.
I've been called many negative things in my life, some of which I accept and agree with, and some I don't, but they all tend to be opinions
, and therefore subjective. There is one thing though, that I can't accept in this way, because I believe it is a matter of fact, and not opinion; objectively I either meet the definition of this property or I do not.
Being called inconsistent offends me, because I am not. Asserting that I have acted inconsistently when I can explain the path that led to my action, and there is no other situation in which identical circumstances led to a different result, is insulting because it requires you to dismiss selective differences in these situations as 'insignificant'. In doing so you imply that the process by which you decide on a course of action is superior to mine. The fact that you think the differences between two given scenarios are 'small' enough to be inconsequential, does not make me inconsistent. I am consistent because at the most basic level, given the same inputs I will produce the same output, every time
Of course, this is difficult to test; there is one major factor which makes it almost impossible to recreate a past situation, and that is experience. Every time an event occurs, I have the experience (or not, in the first-time case) of previous similar events to draw upon in reaching a decision. In some cases, its influence will be small, but in others (especially
anything that involves interaction with another person) it is almost the entirety of the considered evidence. We all accept (I hope) that learning from past experience is a good thing. If we are presented with a choice, make our decision, and are then subjected to good or bad consequences of our decision, I think we would all agree that given the identical choice again, what happened to us last time will be a big factor in making that second decision. Would anybody call this inconsistent behaviour?
Perhaps what you are trying to say is that you find my reasoning frustrating, and that I might well agree with. However, your ignorance of or disagreement with my methods does not make me inconsistent. I may sometimes appear to be acting like a cryptographic hash function
, with very small differences in input causing large changes in output, and you might find that very annoying, but like a hash function, my process is deterministic.
All of this led to the 'thoughtful' part, and wanting to share something about myself, explain something to you: why I hate answering your questions.
I am terrible at explaining my thoughts and feelings to people, but I realised some time ago that it's not entirely my fault; you are terrible at asking questions. My inability to answer your queries is in no small part due to your inability to phrase your query in sufficient detail. The most abstract cases are perhaps questions like "How do you feel about... ?". What does that mean?
. Probably the ones I detest the most though, take the form "What would you do if... ?", and that is where my thoughts on consistency come in. Maybe it's a fault of mine, but I apparently have a completely inability to generalise questions like this. To do so simply makes no sense to me; I know that one seemingly small variable can have a large impact on the outcome of the situation, so it's not safe to assume that the result of one given scenario will the same as that of another, even if the circumstances appear very similar. I realise that generalisations can be useful, but only when you take them for what they are, and don't treat them as fact. When the input information falls below a certain detail threshold, the output rapidly starts to become useless.
I was thinking in particular of the classic 'Would you give your life to save a million lives?'. I cannot answer this question, because it is so vague that the answer is completely useless. Whether I answer yes or no will tell you absolutely nothing
about me, or how I would approach such an issue. Worse, it leaves you free to think
that you learned something about me and how I would approach such an issue, when in fact you did not.
I need to understand this situation. The first thing that comes to mind is that a person offering me such a choice is perhaps not trustworthy
. Is it guaranteed that my death will save the million people? If not, I need to make a judgement on how much the risk is worth taking. If for example, there was an estimated 10% probability that the condition was true, the question effectively becomes 'would you give your life for 100,000 lives?'. At 1%, 10,000 lives, and so on. These numbers are still significant numbers of course, but I'm just making a point. Starting with say, a hypothetical hostage situation with five hostages including yourself, and the offer that your death would save the other four, judging that the criminal is probably
a liar (or perhaps, has been known to lie in previous similar situations), assigning a 10% change that he is telling the truth makes it logically equivalent to exchanging your life for the certainty
of saving 0.4 of a person. How that happens I'm not quite sure, perhaps they just get injured or something (in which case, is that worth dying for?).
Then of course, there's the matter of 'who are these people?'. Now, presuming that I have the right to decide who 'deserves' to live or die is not a pretty subject; it's entirely subjective and not at all fair. There is no definitive right or wrong. However, assuming for a moment everybody is perfectly classifiable into 'good' or 'bad' without having to state any criteria, are these people that I will save good or bad people? For that matter, which am I?
The point is, unless you can describe the situation in sufficient detail, I cannot give you an accurate answer, and very likely, you cannot describe the situation in sufficient detail. This is simply because we're human, and we'll forget things or not think of them entirely. There will be variables we couldn't even begin to predict, and that one tiny thing could have completely changed my answer. The only way you're going to get a meaningful answer from me is to role-play the whole scene, and honestly, most of the time I'm just not interested in making the effort to do that. Even then, what you'll get is my answer for that case, and that specific case only
. There may be (and probably are) similarities between that and other similar circumstances, but you cannot assume that as fact
. That, finally, is the reason I hate answering your questions: because you often do
take it as fact, and then blame me for that. I cannot trust you not to extrapolate my answer to one specific question to predict my answer to another specific question, and then assume that prediction is accurate.
When you find out that it wasn't, you'll call me inconsistent.