One of my favorite songs begins with “Pardon me but your epidermis is showing…”. Many people have a Bayesian Filter that is also showing. We’ve discussed Bayesian filters before and yes, you probably used one right before you read this post. Your email program uses one to determine what is spam or junk email. We all use it with our regular snail mail every day. And if you have caller ID on your telephone, you use it there also.
During the eighteenth century Thomas Bayes published a paper entitled “An Essay Towards Solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances”. His essay has become what is known as the Bayesian Filter algorithm and is used by computers to sort things. When your email server sees a subject heading with certain words, it takes a chance or exercises a system of probabilities that said email is spam. This might include wording such as “free cars”, “credit”, “limited time offer”, or “unsubscribe”. The program assigns a certain value to this wording and in the case of the above-mentioned words, that rating is zero as far as your interest in it. Thus, it is sent to your spam folder before you even see it.
There are two basic interpretations of Thomas Bayes idea, two basic ways to determine the probability of importance or value a thing might have for us. One is an objective perspective which centers on the probability that a certain thing or belief holds true for everyone. The other view is subjective and holds that rationality and coherence will constrain the probabilities and allow some room for differences and ultimate decisions based upon such probabilities.
Most os us apply a Bayesian filter to what we see and hear and we do so without even realizing it. The problem is that doing so sometimes makes us blind. When we give value only to that which we know, then we disallow any new ideas and restrict and constrict the power diversity can give us.
Walking down a busy street at lunch hour we will encounter someone who is dressed differently than we are. If we apply a Bayesian filter to what we see we will end up thinking some clothing choices are “spam”, inappropriate, and perhaps even wrong. Some might even go so far as to label the people in said clothing worthless or immoral.
We need to explore the parameters with which we establish worthiness. How often do we put a label of “spam” on a person or culture or religious group simply because they are unknown to us? When we fail to expand our horizons and use our eyes to really see the world and not just that which seems familiar to us, then we have what I call intentional blindness.
We fail to see that we really are more similar than we are different. We all cry when we are hurt, grieve when we are sad. We all feel hunger when there is no food and miserable when life turns tragic or utterly difficult to handle. We all experience fear and, hopefully, we all experience joy.
What if we used our similarities as justification to act instead of as parameters for a filter with through which we reject others? What if we used our knowledge of those similarities as a justification to act instead of creating a filter to justify inaction and blindness?
What if we approached the dawning of each day with joyful hope instead of fearful denial?