You Cannot See What You Do Not Know Can Be Seen

This is a very similar post to “You Are Seeing What You Want To See” in which I spoke about Rachel’s people watching habit of not making any predictions about the nature of the people who are engaging each other. I wrote that one because I found her NOT making predictions to be unusual because it isn’t how I watch people. But as timing would have it, as I was writing that post I was listening to a book and a section in it struck me as extremely relevant.

The following quote is from Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe and Everything (Chapter 12):

At this point Arthur noticed a curious feature to the song that the party were singing. The middle eight bridge, which would have had McCartney firmly consolidated in Winchester and gazing intently over the Test Valley to the rich pickings of the New Forest beyond, had some curious lyrics. The songwriter was referring to meeting with a girl not “under the moon” or “beneath the stars” but “above the grass”, which struck Arthur a little prosaic. Then he looked up again at the bewildering black sky, and had the distinct feeling that there was an important point here, if only he could grasp what it was. It gave him a feeling of being alone in the Universe, and he said so.

“No,” said Slartibartfast, with a slight quickening of his step, “the people of Krikkit have never thought to themselves `We are alone in the Universe.’ They are surrounded by a huge Dust Cloud, you see, their single sun with its single world, and they are right out on the utmost eastern edge of the Galaxy. Because of the Dust Cloud there has never been anything to see in the sky. At night it is totally blank, During the day there is the sun, but you can’t look directly at that so they don’t. They are hardly aware of the sky. It’s as if they had a blind spot which extended 180 degrees from horizon to horizon.

“You see, the reason why they have never thought `We are alone in the Universe’ is that until tonight they don’t know about the Universe. Until tonight.”

He moved on, leaving the words ringing in the air behind him.

“Imagine,” he said, “never even thinking `We are alone’ simply because it has never occurred to you to think that there’s any other way to be.”

This reinforced the value of Rachel’s approach, or at least, pointed out a shortcoming of the approach to make predictions – in order for this approach to be effective, you need to be able to make the accurate prediction and this means you need to be able to see all of the potential outcomes and possibilities. If something is in the realm of possibility and you don’t consider it, the accuracy of your predictions will be called into questions.

This fact has been known to us for a long time and it is part of the reason why seniority and experience play a big role in business and the work force. It is why many company’s will hire externally for senior management positions – the assumption being that experience in other areas will open ones mind to the big picture and eliminate erroneous decisions resulting from too narrow a scope.

In the book there are devastating consequences to the people of Krikkit realizing that there was an entire universe outside of their planet, ones that I don’t think would have happened had they been aware of it all along.