Posted 20 January 2014 by Chris Farmer
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Recognising arbitrary statements
Communication is a vital skill to master. You can define the term "Communication" as: "the transfer of information, from one mind to another." And you could define "excellent communication" as: The accurate transfer of information, from one mind to another, without error, omission, distortion".
Excellent communication is not an easy target to hit.
Communication is primarily about the transference of information and ideas, from one mind to another. But not all information and ideas have the same status.
It is important that you make distinctions between the quality of information and ideas that you accept.
Let us make the following four distinctions.
But before we do, I want to point out that three of these following classifications, you already know, and I suspect that the fourth one on my list, you do not know. So pay attention to the fourth one on this list.
All statements that you hear or say may be classified into one of the following four categories:
Let us make a definition of each type.
True statements are statements for which ALL the available evidence supports the statement and no evidence contradicts the statement, and the amount of evidence in support of the claim, makes that statement conclusive. For example: Example of a true statement is, the sun is the ultimate source of heat and light and energy for all systems on the earth.
False statements are statements for which all the available evidence, contradicts the statement.
Example of a false statement: the moon is the ultimate source of heat and light and energy for all systems on the earth.
Possible statements are statements for which there is some evidence in support of the claim, but the evidence is not conclusive. Note please that there is some evidence. There is some plausible basis to support the statement, but the amount of evidence is not sufficient to grant the statement the classification of true.
Example of a possible statement: There is, or has been, simple life forms on the planet Mars.
Arbitrary: an arbitrary statement is one for which there is no evidence. There is no evidence on the matter. None to support it and none to deny it.
An example of an arbitrary statement is: there are intelligent aliens on mars that live underground and who are planning an invasion of the earth.
This idea is conceivable. You can imagine it. You can understand it. It is a clear statement. But it has no evidence to support it. And it has no evidence to deny it. It is an arbitrary statement.
But the point is this, it should not be regarded as a Possibility. It is not to be regarded as a possible statement.
Here is my point: do not mistake arbitrary statements as being "possibilities".
If the guy says, "There are aliens on Mars intent on invading earth. That's possible isn't it?" It would be a mistake for you to say "Yes, I suppose it is possible".
If you are at the airport and your partner says, "It is possible our plane might crash". It would be a mistake for you to say,
"Yes. It is possible the plane might crash. We had better not get on. We could catch the next plane."
Your partner could say, "But is it not possible that the next plane could crash?". It would be a mistake for you to say, "Yes. I suppose it is possible. Let us not catch the plane; let us drive to our destination........"
Your partner says, "But isn't it possible that we might have a car crash?"........
You say, "Yes. I suppose you're right. Do you think we should hitchhike?"
This can go on forever.
Please note and understand the following statement:
The arbitrary statement should not be confused with the possible statement.
You should ask of arbitrary statements: Where is your evidence?
In my example above, you should have asked, "Where is your evidence?"
Where is your evidence for aliens invading earth?
Where is your evidence for our plane crashing?
Where is your evidence for our car crash?
Anything is conceivable but not anything is possible.
Any arbitrary statement is conceivable, but not anything is possible.
Be wary of the person who claims that "anything is possible".
The truth is "not anything is possible".
The question you must ask is: Where is your evidence.
If the guy has no supporting evidence for his claim, then you must classify his statement as arbitrary, and you should not act on it.
Question: What happens to the person who mistakenly agrees that arbitrary statements are possibilities and changes his plans to take into account the possibility of Martian invasions, or gets off the plane because "it could crash".
Remember the question: Where is your evidence?