My friend Hendrik’s job is to teach evidence based decision-making. It makes him happy, so I don’t complain too much. In this post, I want to explore the ramifications of living a life having made decisions based on evidence. I have spoken of the nature of evidence on a few occasions. In brief, evidence comprises of three factors, each of which has to be present if it is to be classified as evidence:
1) Somebody needs to have noticed something happening.
2) They need to have regarded the ‘something’ as being worth recording
3) They will have written it down.
If they have done this, you have some evidence. Hence a tree falling in the wood will make a noise – it’s just that the passing scientist didn’t notice it because he had his nose buried in a book about trees. Whilst the tree did make a noise, nobody noticed – thus no evidence as condition ‘1’ was not met.
Evidence needs to have happened. Which helps a person who inhabits a world where everything is determined on what has happened – namely, a system. System dwellers are invariably those who demand evidence, mainly because their immediate boss tells them what to do. Well, that is the system, isn’t it?
So I get a phone-call from Hendrik late at night. Usually it means one of his cats is misbehaving and I have to calm him down. This time it wasn’t cats, it was his toilet. He mentioned that it had malfunctioned and that nobody could fix it, and could I help. I asked him what he had done.
Oh, he says, I phoned my friend Albert who is a professional handyman. Someone who is dependent on evidence will invariably need authorities in one form or another. Hence if someone starts using quotations in order to speak, the quoted person is one of their authorities. So, Albert being one of his authorities (God only knows why), he was invited along.
In my mind a red flag was being waved: this is a Dutch handyman. The kind who would find it challenging to get drunk in a bar where the drinks are free. Never mind, he came along and uttered the august wisdom that is the result of a lifetime’s experience: I dunno.
Left stranded, Hendrik phoned his brother in law the next day. His other authority, because in this instance, the man has a company selling sanitary ware. The kind of stuff you find in a bathroom. Be warned that again, this is a Dutch expert.
He dutifully toddled along and declared the problem beyond him. This is a man who only sells things. Anything, and as chance would have it, he sells toilets. That doesn’t mean he knows anything about the things he sells.
This did actually happen. Not the bit where Albert didn’t get drunk in the bar, that was just a metaphor; the other bits really did happen
Desperate now, Hendrik has no alternative but to phone me. Now since I’m not an authority – and have no intention of being such – I am a long way down the list of potential helpers. So it’s late at night and a long time after the problem became apparent.
It was making a noise, he said.
What kind of noise?
Like a hissing and a clunk.
You mean like ‘pssst-clunk, pssst-clunk, pssst-clunk?’
Yes, that’s exactly what it sounded like.
That’s the washer on the inlet valve that needs replacing.
The inlet valve is what lets in the water, until the toilet’s filled. When it’s filled, the washer closes off the valve and it’s full. In your case the valve isn’t closing properly so the water continues to come in and it flows over, thus opening the valve fully. Hence the pssst and the clunk. It sets up a rhythm. The washer’ll cost you thirty euro cents.
I’ve just bought a new toilet.
Because the other’s broken.
Take it back, we can fit a new washer.
Okay, so tell me how it’s broken other than it has a washer that needs replacing.
I broke it trying to take it out to find out what the problem was.
Why did you do that? – Which was a question I should not have asked as it took him twenty minutes to explain. After which, I sighed. Next time, phone me first, okay?
He still doesn’t because authority is hard wired into his comfort zone. He can’t do anything unless he’s ordered to, and won’t allow anyone else to help him unless they’re ordered. This is where the comfort zone bites back.
In the past, when one of his back doors was jamming he asked Albert to do it. Naturally by the end of the day it was still jamming, for all the work he’d done on it. He still needed paying… but that’s Holland for you.
In fact, when I took a peek at it, it was one of the hinges that had failed; Albert had chewed away at the fly end of the door hoping to deal with its sticking there. The intelligence of the average handyman isn’t that high, but it is certainly higher than Albert’s.
The Point Of All This Waffle.
Hendrik has been trained to walk backwards. That is to say, all his decision making capacities are based on evidence. Anybody you hear demanding evidence is walking backwards in their thinking. Because evidence is part of the past – and as such, cannot be changed. Whilst this is satisfyingly rigid for the dull witted among us, it does have certain drawbacks in terms of dealing with what life throws at us.
That is to say, the unexpected.
If you’ve been trained to solve problems with evidence, the consequence of this is that there are only certain problems that can be solved. The rest are forgotten, and eventually deemed not to exist – on the grounds that there is no evidence for them.
So what’s this about toilets, then?
The point is this: Hendrik couldn’t deal with the problem because it was outside his capacities to make decisions – his comfort zone by any other name. The result was that he needed help, and turned to his authorities, who also couldn’t help. The result was utter and complete confusion. He really didn’t know what to do or where to turn. In more extreme circumstances, this is called panic. Hendrik was on the verge of this, and he described it as a state of complete not-knowingness.
I tried to explain about how one cannot determine the future with evidence alone – albeit that statisticians try their damnedest and confuse young students like me with their arcane solutions to the fucking obvious. Well, it would be obvious if he wasn’t walking backwards all the time.
A Conclusion Of Sorts.
The point of this post was to illustrate the shortcomings of evidence in terms of determining outcomes. The main issue here is that if anybody is dependent on evidence in any way, they will have tied their hands when it comes to dealing with the unexpected. Living one’s life in accordance with the things that accord with the evidence that one chooses only means that they have a life that is bounded by that – which is how the comfort zone comes about. Life, however, isn’t so kind. As you will know from other posts, nothing in nature ever happens twice. Thus at some point in the future, someone with as closeted life as Hendrik has, will find themselves facing the unknown.
It’s not so much that the unknown is something we want to deal with every day, albeit that it does add spice to one’s life. It’s not better than sex, but it’s not far short. What’s more, you don’t need a taciturn hubby to lug around the rest of the time. It’s more that we must all expect the unexpected at times, and when the unexpected happens, someone like Hendrik will try to solve it. Usually by doing the wrong thing, which usually costs 1,000 as much as if he had done the job properly.
That is to say, buy a washer for the inlet valve that costs thirty euro cents. His new toilet cost him a thousand times as much and owing to Albert’s skills, is still waiting to be installed.