The human factor

When we set out to comprehend Truth, our greatest barrier is the mind we do so with. Like the eyes our mind is bounded by its own limitations, such that whatever we see is shaped by them. So if our brain is something like a cookie cutter for ideas, ultimately it means everything sort of looks like a cookie.

An example of this occurred to me the other day. It’s just a thought experiment, but I think it reveals the nature of the Human Factor very clearly:

Imagine you have ten twenty-sided dice in front of you. (If anyone reading this is (or was) a D&D player, I’m sure you have plenty of twenty-side dice just laying around!) Imagine that you have ten of these dice, and that you gather them up in your hands…

Now throw the dice, watching the random numbers fall. Then throw them again, and again. Each time, it’s a different pattern.

Now, think very carefully, and imagine how you might feel if suddenly, all ten dice came up 20s. Every single one. What would be your reaction? Perhaps you’d think it was a joke; or that the dice were rigged; or maybe something miraculous had happened?

The odds that all the numbers will come up 20 in a such a dice throw is over one in a trillion. Assuming you picked up and threw these dice every minute, without stopping, you’d have to wait (on average) about 325,000 years before you’d ever see all the numbers turn up 20.

Now, our humanity is a bit sneaky, but here’s how the Human Factor has revealed itself: If you try out this experiment, odds are you’ll see a bunch of random numbers from the dice, just as you did at the beginning of the thought experiment. But the mathematical fact is: every pattern you’d see is exactly as rare as throwing all 20s. This means you could throw dice for almost half a million years before you’d ever see the same pattern twice.

The Human Factor is that we presume relevance. For some reason, we’re amazed and shocked when we see all the numbers turn up the same, but we discount as “meaningless” a set of jumbled numbers. Yet in the realm of dice throwing, there is no distinction at all between the two outcomes. Every throw is equally as likely, and therefore equally as rare. It’s we, as humans, we place value on a specific outcome over and above the rest.

Likewise in reality, I believe there are many unique truths, but only a handful that are astonishingly unique. Most appear to us as a random jumble, and so we pass them right by. The question is, how do we stop ourselves from rigging our perception of the outcome’s merit?