the truth about sea monsters

If three sailors returned from a trip claiming to have seen a sea monster, we would find it hard to believe without any additional evidence (and even that would be scrutinised). But if the same three men claimed to have seen someone kill a man, it would be enough to send someone to prison for a very long time (or even sentence them to death).

What makes one seem more truthful (and therefore require less evidence to convince us) than the other? Do we have different levels of “truth”? Where some “truths” need more evidence than others?

Richard Wiseman, the well known Parapsychologist and Skeptic seems to think so, here is what he has said about ESP (specifically remote viewing):

“I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but it begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do.”

This is frankly absurd. What he is saying is that to prove ESP is true we need more evidence than, say, proving we have a cure for cancer? Wiseman defends that statement by saying:

“…they [evidence for ESP] do meet the usual standards for a normal claim, but are not convincing enough for an extraordinary claim.”

So, some truths are “ordinary” and some truths “extraordinary”? What’s the difference? How do we decide (and, more importantly, who gets to decide)? What he is saying is if the claim seems extraordinary to him (it is outside of his experience of reality) then he demands more evidence than if it seems ordinary (within his experience of reality).

Surely there is one truth?

The odd thing is there isn’t. Or if there is, we could probably never find it. Just think about it for a second. 500 years ago it was perfectly acceptable to believe in Angels, in fact you may even have been burnt at the stake if you said you didn’t. Nowadays, we tend to scoff at people who make claims that they have seen an Angel. We look back and laugh at the naivety of the people in those times. But, if history teaches us anything, it is that everything we know is probably wrong and people in 500 years time will probably look back and laugh at how naive they think we were. Or as Einstein put it “Truth is a product of time”.

How do our ideas about what is true change over time? I have I have already written in detail here about how George Polya attempted to discover how we create our understanding of the truth (our beliefs), but it seems our perception is inherently bias towards re-enforcing what we think we already know.

This phenomena is known as “confirmation bias” and is best summed up by Orff’s Law that “What the thinker thinks, the prover proves”. Or, our perception system will generalise, distort and delete all sensory evidence we receive to fit in with what we “know” already.

Why do we do this? Why are we biased to confirm what we already think we know? It seems that our perception is based on “best guess” pattern matching. If you see a chair, you know it is a chair because your brain runs a check against it’s stored patterns that have been labelled “chair”, but because chairs come in all different shapes and sizes we have to be flexible with our patterns, hence the “best guess” (which leads us directly to seeing shapes in clouds, etc).

So, if our perception is constantly running a check against what we already know, what happens if we have no internal representation yet? The experience is completely new? Well this will tend to get straight into our internal representation of the world (our “map”) without being “transformed” to fit our map. And then we will use that data to compare all similar future experiences. So, when people say “first impressions count” it is true.

Here are a couple of simple thought experiments:

1. Next time you find yourself making a claim to knowledge, ask yourself how you know that. You will often find that the evidence you have is relatively scant, and much of it will be, in fact, information you have been told by someone you trust (which takes us to a totally different topic of how we decide who to trust….), rather than your own personal experience.

2. Next time you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with something, ask yourself what references, experiences, and “data” you are using to create that comparison. Again, you may find much of what you are using is spurious to say the least.

[PS, it may seem as if I am “picking on” Dr Wiseman. I would like to make it clear that I am not, he is an intelligent and experienced person and I respect his views immensely (even if I may disagree with some at times), I am just using his quote as an example. Besides, I am sure, being a successful and intelligent man, he doesn’t really care what I have to say!]

polya patterns

The term Polya Patterns are thrown around in NLP and often associated to the Sleight of Mouth Patterns and talked about as “yes sets” but what are they really and who was Polya?

George Polya was a mathematician (much the same as Alfred Korzybski, the developer of General Semantics)  at Princeton who was curious about how people became to believe something if it wasn’t provable (and lets be honest, very few things are 100% provable). He referred to this ability to believe in something as “plausibility”, he wanted to see how things became so plausible, that at some point it becomes “true” for that person (they believe in it).

Polya Patterns of Plausable Inference

He described six patterns of plausibly (I have simplified the description to remove the complex mathematics. If you love maths feel free to dig out a copy the book these came from: “Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning, Volume II: Patterns of Plausible Inference: Patterns of Plausible Inference v. 2”):

1. The Meta Pattern: Probability

The likelihood that something will occur again based on its past performance. The more something occurs the more we will tend to believe it will occur again (the sun coming up for example).

Also, if something which is not very probably occurs it tends to validate the case-effect belief which predicted it (pressing the button more often gets the lift to come quicker)

2. Verification of a Consequence

If a particular belief (B) implies a particular consequence and we verify the consequence (C) than it makes the believe more plausible.

If B implies C and C is true then B is more credible.

3. Contingency

If a belief presupposes some event or phenomenon and we verify this contingent event then it makes the belief more plausible.

Polya’s example is about criminal defence or prosecution and is believed to have committed it, and that crime needs a contingent event and that event is proven to have happened it makes it more plausible that the person committed the crime.

Say someone is accused of holding up a store with a gun and the prosecution demonstrates the person has a gun, then the possibility that they they held up the store seems more plausible.

4. Inference from Analogy

A believe (b) is more plausible if an analogous conjecture is proven true.

This is where we draw comparisons to things that appear related, but aren’t.

Animal testing is the classic analogy. In fact much of science is based on analogous testing…

5. Disprove the Converse

The plausibility of a belief increases is a rival conjecture is disproved.

This is the classic argumental process that the philosopher Nietzsche would use. He would rubbish the challenging conjecture and then provide his own. His own was often no more plausible, but because he has rubbished the alternative his appeared more plausible.

6. Comparison With Random

If the belief can be shown to be able to predict results better than random guessing then it is more credible.

Why Learn and Apply These Polya Patterns?

Understanding how a belief can be generated allows us to explore and (if appropriate) challenge, change or reinforce that belief.

The Polya Patterns fit neatly into the Meta Model patterns of “Cause and Effect” and “Complex Equivalence” and are the foundation of Robert Dilts “Sleight of Mouth” Patterns.

To learn much more about these Polya Patterns and how we can use them in practice, book on my “NLP Master Practitioner Training“.

Or, if you want to revise your skills with the Meta Model, Polya Patterns and Sleight of Mouth, click here to see my “Advanced Language Mastery” cards. Or puchase them below:

Advanced Language Mastery Volume I: Meta Model and Milton Model

Advanced Language Mastery Volume I
The 36 card deck contains: • All the major and most important language patterns from the Metal Model and Milton Model to cut out. • A basic vocabulary refresher list • Suggested exercises • Tips for use These cards come as a pdf download for you to print out.
Price: £10.83

Advanced Language Mastery Volume II: Polya Patterns and Sleight of Mouth

Advanced Language Mastery Volume II
The 24 card deck contains: • All the 14 original Sleight of Mouth language patterns • 2 additional patterns that are often included • The 2 Meta Patterns • The 6 Polya Patterns. • An explanation of the structure of beliefs • An explanation of the Polya Patterns of Plausible Inference. These cards come as a pdf download for you to print out.
Price: £10.83

Advanced Language Mastery Volume I and II

Advanced Language Mastery Volume I and II
The complete 60 card set including • The 36 set of the major and most important language patterns from the Metal Model and Milton Model to cut out. • The 24 set of the 14 original Sleight of Mouth language patterns, 2 additional patterns that are often included, the 2 Meta Patterns and the 6 Polya Patterns. These cards come as a pdf download for you to print out.
Price: £16.66