We’re pattern-seeking creatures, we humans, and as we plan and predict, we’re using the patterns we have identified to figure out how interact with our world. We rely on those patterns to effect what we want to happen… or to prepare for what we think will. We may have been told things, we may have read things, or we may have seen something, and then we jump into action, based on what it all means when we piece it together. At the sight of a brigantine in the foggy distance, you prepare to beg for your life or bargain for mercy. You don’t even bother readying your guns, because you’ve heard about a ship exactly like this one that’s reduced other ships like yours to floating tinder. Plus, there’s no way you’re going to outrun them, based on the winds, your cargo weight, and the relative speeds of your two different vessels. So, you save your gunpowder and get ready to (hopefully) strike a deal with the sailors about to overtake you.
Aggregate snippets of auxiliary information we’ve gathered from the world around us fill in the myriad gaps of our immediate perception, distracted and partial as it is. It’s impossible for us to directly experience and perceive every useful bit of knowledge we’ll need at some point, so we rely on second-hand information, as well as deductions and pattern-matching. We approximate, thinking that if a situation is close enough to another that we (or others) have experienced, the same thing will happen to us. Sure enough, the ship approaching does turn out to be pirates. They board your vessel, remove your cargo, and spare your life when you beg them not to kill you. Those “facts” have been confirmed. They may be assumptions based on hearsay, but we rely on them as “true”. Because, for whatever reason, they work.
Of course, there’s always the chance that we won’t experience an identical outcome. The ship approaching may turn out to be another commercial vessel, and they just sail on by. Or they might be pirates who are intent on killing everyone on board, no matter how pitifully you plead for mercy. Or they might have no cannon balls or gunpowder, are weakened by scurvy, and are easy to fight off. A different outcome than we expect means we need to identify different patterns. We have to “reason” through our experience and look for new clues that can help us predict situations in the future, when we have to react to a new situation. The next time a fast ship starts to follow you in the fog, you’re not going to hang out, waiting for it to catch up, so you can see if you should be afraid. You’re going to reach a conclusion that will give you a jump on the situation and keep you in charge of the outcome.
Of course, we’re always piecing things together as we go, based on what we’ve experienced before, what we’ve heard, what we’ve been told. No matter how intense or bland, glorious or desolate the quality of our lives, our view of what is, is always partial, always fabricated. It’s constructed from a combination of what is, what was, what we think is, what others have told / shown us, and what we hope will be. Our “truth” is an amalgamation of facts, half-truths, baldfaced lies, impressions, and assumptions, which we pull together on the spur of every living moment. And no matter how reliable that truth seems to be… no matter how confident it makes us feel, or how much control it seems to give us, our truth can never be verified 100%. Our internal information flow is so fraught with subtle physical, temporal, and conceptual gaps in our systems, they invariably lead to data gaps – or data loss. Every detail of our lives is specific to us, our biochemistry, our experiences and interpretations, and the ways in which we flesh out the missing pieces is as unique as each individual personality.
The one thing we all have in common is that we’re never actually 100% in command of all the available facts. That’s not how we’re built.