Possibilians and Logicians: Think Small in 2011

Think small. That’s my New Year’s resolution in 2011.

No, I don’t plan to become narrow-minded, but to think more clearly: to think as a logician. Until just a few years ago I was a big thinker, in fact a Very Big Thinker, also known as a possibilian. The approach worked worked quite well. I became suprisingly good at predicting technology trends and that was a pretty handy skill in my profession.

Before I talk more about thinking small, let me clarify my understanding of what it is to be a possibilian. David Eagleman loosley defines a possibilian as one who holds multiple hypotheses at the same time. In this very entertaining video from Poptech 2010, Eagleman describes the possibilian’s beliefs as knowing too little to commit to atheism while knowing too much to commit to a single religion. It would be an understatement to say that puts the possibilian in difficult position, not because uncertainity is untenable, but because the possibilian is left in a non-deterministic state. Later in the video Eagleman carefully differentiates possibilians from agnostics. Where agnostics are noncommital due to lack of evidence, possibilians experience the world free of dogma and full of awe. A possibilian who holds multiple hypotheses to be true that aren’t or can’t be evaluated and remains in a non-deterministic state, free of dogma and full of awe is the equivalent of a deer in the headlights in a world subject to natural selection.

Possibilians need survival tools and their Swiss Army knife is thinking small. Thinking small means resolving the meaning with the intended receiver of every term we use. Antipatterns to thinking small include compression to morphemes in communication patterns driven by smart phones; pervasive meme replication; and a disturbing pattern of widely used terms that remain undefined. Consider SOA after ten years. Whether we coin a new term or introduce a new term, we’re responsible for its meaning. This branch of logic is called grammar.

Thinking small also means resolving premise to conclusion. Observation, exploration and appreciation are surely part of the joy of life, but whether it’s reason, belief or instinct that allow us to conclude, conclude we must. Thinking small requires us to conclude based on the information available while not only acknowledging the fragile conditions on which we base our system of deduction, induction and abduction, but also accepting that pure chance is at play in our lives. This branch of logic is called critic.

Thinking small also means that we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our approach to conducting an inquiry. We understand the strengths and weaknesses of our conclusions and we attempt to resolve our own inevitable selection bias, self defeating, or contradictory beliefs by looking both inside and outside ourselves. This branch of logic is called methodeutic.

So I resolve here on New Years Day to think small in 2011.