Let’s say I was accused by a straw man of making an unsound decision based on information he has.
I am then labelled an idiot, or a stupid, in his mind. I have not taken all of the facts into account when making my choices. Therefore my entire life’s-worth of decisions should be called into question. After all, if I have made one stupid call, why assume I have not made numerous others?
My rebuttal is this: I Am Not Wearing Your Hat.
Shall I explain?
Let’s say, for the sake of a tale, my bad decision is one to do with computing. In this imaginary anecdote I have installed two different applications that serve data over the network which in itself is not a stupid thing to do. After all, who would question my need to have both a media server and a web server.
But alas. In this particular fabricated reminiscence, I have set both applications to use the same port. What a silly thing to do. Clearly a smart person would have thought of this beforehand and set one application to one port, and the other to another (whilst avoiding port 80, because everybody knows that port 80 is reserved for the internet.)
Please don’t correct my port knowledge in the middle of my anecdote. This is exactly my point. I have little knowledge of these things compared to those who would call it their profession.
Of course this is an imaginary anecdote. I was not scolded for making this particular mistake, but my point is a wider one.
And my point is this: Not Everybody Knows the Things that You Know.
In fact chances are, the particular combination of brainformation you have is unique to you. Nobody else has the specific information you have.
Why then, is it so commonplace to be called an idiot for not having the same information as the one doing the calling?
“But how is it,” I hear the little straw man in my head say, “that people are comfortable running around with inaccurate representations of the truth in their minds at all times? So that they would make such a mistake as this one?”
My rebuttal is this: Do you really need to understand how ports work to do 99.9% of what most people do with their computers?
No. You don’t.
And people don’t understand. They have what I like to call a Story.
A Story (capitalised in this case) is a little tale people tell themselves about how the world works. It’s the sort of thing that is accurate to about 99.9% of observation, but in reality is roughly 0.1% truth.
In this case, the anecdotal ‘me’ has a Story about his computer. He installs an application that serves media files to other computers on the network. It looks on the hard drive (a sort of microscopic filing system) and pulls out files, sending them through the wires (or indeed the air!) to the router, which sends them to the computer that asked for them. It’s all a pretty little process that Anecdotal Me has thought very little about because it doesn’t affect him.
Yes, if he thought about it, he might wonder how the information travels through the wires. Or how the computer knows what to send. Or how it discerns what program to send the files to once they reach the other end, but at this point he hasn’t wondered it because it doesn’t matter to him.
The truth is, even with Anecdotal Strawman’s wondrous knowledge of network ports and MAC addresses and lost packets, there are parts of his reality he has not questioned. How does his food become energy? What actually is energy? Why does he keep forgetting things right after he thinks of them?
But neither Anecdotal Me nor Anecdotal Strawman are idiots, or stupids.
This is where my little Story about Hats comes in. Hats in this case are metaphors for knowledge.
Let’s create a new Anecdotal Humanoid. His name is Harold.
Harold isn’t wearing any Hats, and in this way he is the default Humanoid. He has a basic understanding of many things (or to continue a theme, he has very basic Stories to explain how the world works).
Harold thinks that the smallest thing a hand can be broken down into is a hand (mostly because he hasn’t thought about it). He thinks that food is broken down and compressed into something like coal and in the stomach it is used to power a steam engine. (Of course he doesn’t really understand how a steam engine works: Paradoxically he thinks a steam train just eats coal.)
In Harold’s mind, computers might as well be little boxes of magic and light that respond to things we say and do.
Harold is not an idiot. He simply hasn’t questioned any of the very simple Stories he has constructed to explain how the world works.
Unless perhaps this is what an idiot is. I don’t think it is, but idiot is a word and words are simply a means to communicate an idea, and the idea that idiot communicates to me is not what Harold is. (Perhaps this is another topic for conversation.)
Anyhow, the Hats. Why the Hats?
Harold’s hand hurts. This goes against the Story he has in his head about how hands work. (I know what you’re saying: “Harold hasn’t hurt his hand before?” My rebuttal is this: No. Harold has only existed for seven paragraphs. Pain is new to him. This is a stretched metaphor but please pretend.)
Harold decides that he must figure out why his hand hurts, or he risks holding conflict in his head between the Story ‘How Harold’s Hand Works’ and the reality of the Harold-Hand-Hurt.
Harold decides to study it. He takes a short seven year course in Medicine, ending up with a Doctorate of Medicine. He now has a great understanding of how hands work, along with the rest of the body.
Harold has now put on a Hat. The Hat of Medicine.
More specifically, it is Harold’s Hat of Medicine. Harold knows that a hand is made up of many nerves and vessels and bones and hairs, each of which are made up of many cells, which erode over time.
He knows that cells are recreated replenished, and that his hand hurt because he hit it with a hammer.
Harold still knows very little about computers. His computer Hat is not very big. (He learnt a little from his classmates during his studies. It is no longer a little box of magic and light. It is now a bundle of wires and light.)
Harold then meets his friend Nora. (She was going to be Guinevere but that is a hard name to type. Such is life.)
Nora is telling Harold about her hand, and how it hurts. She tells him “Harold, it hurts even though I haven’t hit it with anything.”
Harold laughs at Nora and calls her a stupid.
And at this point, I will delete Harold from the future of the anecdote. He has become an arse-hole. Does he not realise that Nora isn’t wearing his Hat?
Another line of thought that I could follow is the thought of information recall speed.
Is it reasonable to expect someone to take all information into consideration?
Really? All of it?
That’s a lot of information, even if you’re only thinking of the information you have access to.
I genuinely believe that if you were to try to take every single possibility and piece of information into account when making any decision, you would make roughly one decision every… millennia.
So in summary: Stop complaining. I don’t have all the information you have. I Am Not Wearing Your Hat.