Thursday, March 28, 2013

A ghost

My wife does voluntary work at the city hospital on a Wednesday, in the Bereavement Office. One of the employees there told her yesterday about a conversation she'd had with a doctor on site, a couple of weeks ago.

The new hospital - which looks like three packets of those mints with a hole, side by side, and is the type to win a design award while being less fit for purpose than what it replaced - is connected to the old one by an aerial corridor. The doctor received a crash call - a drop-everything-and-run emergency - and as he was running through this bridge he met a woman coming the other way who asked him directions to the mortuary. He said he couldn't stop but when he got to the ward the patient, the woman he'd spoken to, had died.

The most interesting thing about this story is how you and I react to it. It's certainly true that my wife told it to me this morning, and that she knows the woman who told it to her; and I have no reason to doubt that the woman did speak to a doctor who related his experience to her.

But we fit new experiences into the framework of our old ones, so some will say urban myth, others that it was a lie or a delusion, others will say of course there are ghosts. We think we're being rational when we're merely explaining things by reference to our world view.

Thomas Kuhn said that major changes in science are not brought about by falsification, even though the received wisdom may be fundamentally wrong. If we say there no black swans and are then shown one, we can answer that it's not really a swan. What causes the revolution in thinking is a phenomenon that cannot be explained using the existing theoretical structure.

Perhaps there are also personal revolutions that we resist as long as possible.

Are we explaining, or trying to explain away?

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.


A K Haart said...

Explanations are odd things. Often they seem designed to terminate an issue rather than take it forward.

Very much like a Do Not Disturb notice on the hotel room door.

Paddington said...

The Black Swan example is easier for us mathematicians. We just define swans as white.