Close up view of yellow Wattle flowers

The relationship between statistics & reality

In thinking about life, how much do statistics shape things? While often painted as this fairly neutral representation of reality, don’t they also have an effect? Giving pictures of reality in such a way as to inform our responses or leave us feeling certain trends form inevitable paths we must follow. Almost these strange scientific predictions; wielding a power not dissimilar to superstition.

Of course, that’s not really “true” in the sense that they do depict reality through making inquiries of it and presenting the results. But aren’t there numerous ways things can be represented, many conclusions that could be drawn, and a deep significance to the questions being asked? So many variables that could make the same, raw situation appear quite differently, then lead us down different paths.

As thinking beings, aren’t we looking to statistics to inform us about reality? Valuing the oversight and insight this offers in terms of understanding situations deeply and purposefully enough to chart our way within them. Numbers giving us this dispassionate, objective sense of how things stand and where we stand within them. This very specific way of breaking “life” down into calculations for navigating it.

But, isn’t there an interesting space to be found between reality and our thoughts about it? This space where we create and maintain our understanding of life and how best to live it – a place filled with values, priorities, beliefs, opinions, inferences, judgements and evaluations. That delicate line between how we see things and how we will act (Notes One).

Don’t our ideas always, subtly filter out through the choices we’re making each day? Through our attitudes and assumptions; words and gestures; habitual and occasional decisions. Everything we do becoming this rhythm of how we’ll interact with the world – the kinds of sentiment or belief we’re giving voice to and bringing to life through our presence (Notes Two).

Ideas about reality “must” always be shaping how we’re acting within it and responding to all we find around us. And, increasingly, it seems we view situations quite coldly – as if others were patterns or types rather than people to care about. As if, given our overwhelm, we “can” use the cold lens of data to read and analyse human existence.

In some areas, why would we ever rely on statistics? Say, with faith: do the reported beliefs of any number of people bear any meaningful relation to what we ourselves might believe? Given how belief, by its nature, exists in that subjective space of “how we see things”, it can’t really be affected by data, trends or the decisions of others. (Notes Three)

Isn’t life, then, almost a question of belief? Our ideas around what matters; whether individual contributions count; or the trust we’ll place in others. Life, in its way, depicting our understanding of reality and belief in what’s possible. Whether those choices are shaped by statistical representations of bleak situations or trust in what our lives could serve to create must make quite a difference.

Notes and References:

Note 1: All that we add to neutrality
Note 1: Mutual awareness and accommodation?
Note 1: Understanding & staying informed
Note 1: Being trusted to use our discernment…
Note 2: What we create by our presence
Note 2: Any such thing as normal?
Note 2: Values, and what’s in evidence
Note 2: Things we give voice to
Note 3: The picture data paints of us
Note 3: Spirit as the invisible
Note 3: What if it all means something?
Note 3: Ideas that tie things together

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