Friday, November 5, 2010

Not All Experiences Are Created Equal

In class Dr. Ogden put forward the notion that there are ideas (theory) and experience (fact), as his concluding remarks on the theory/fact distinction. While I agree that the distinction is a fair generalization, it seems to me that not all experiences are equal. Our senses our deeply flawed, anyone who has ever encountered an optical illusion can attest to this, for even when you know the mechanism for how the illusion works, you still can't even force your senses not to be deceived by it. I have a personal anecdote to offer which can shed light on the inequality of experience. I have personally witnessed, with my own eyes and in person up very close, Lance Burton levitate three stories into the air. I did not take from that experience that it is a fact that humans have the ability to levitate. I was not able to experience this in a controlled setting. There could have been many possible explanations for this experience, besides Lance Burton can fly in the air. I think that in order for me to derive FACT from such an experience, one would need to remove any other possible explanations for the experienced phenomenon. For instance one would need to control for the possibilities of cables from the ceilings (an explanation I find far more probable, than everything we know about human biology and physics is wrong, and people can will being lighter than air). I've also seen Penn & Teller shoot each other in the face with .357 magnums. Penn & Teller have never shot each other in the face with .357 magnum revolvers, I am convinced of this. I talked to Penn after the show, and he didn't appear to have a fatal gunshot wound to the face.

What i hope my example illustrates is that not all experiences are equal in their ability to derive facts. To do so one must control for other possible explanations or biases. This is why medical trials are ideally done in a double blinded and controlled fashion, as it allows for the testing of the single variable. The demand for control and replication makes "scientific" experience a fact generating mechanism. Conversely normal every day experience is not at all controlled, we have all had our senses deceive us at times, we all have biases, and by not controlling for these, normal experience does not generate facts, only anecdote.

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