Sunday, October 21, 2007

The scientific method

I was really proud of myself the day I told my third block English class that they had to have the foresight to see the hindsight. I was hoping there was someone with ink and quill somewhere to jot down this line into a tome of timeless quotes, my name now among Abraham Lincoln and Confucius. I don't even remember the topic of that day's discussion, but I was giving some pseudo-sage advice about making wise decisions -- about considering the consequences of actions. Hindsight, we all know, is 20/20. So we have to look forward and consider what that hindsight will reveal to us. This is the simple and infallible key to decision-making.

It is also complete crap.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I cannot make decisions. I cower at questions and flee from responsibility. I don't know, maybe someday an editor of Bartlett's will include me, but only by mistake. Or only because of the cute parallelism of the sentence: We must have the foresight to see the hindsight.

As it turns out, this is a rule that I've been imposing upon myself for a very long time, but I didn't realize it until today. Let's face it, I'm drowning in a sea of decisions that need to be made. Or so it seems. They range from small (What am I going to teach tomorrow?) to larger (What am I going to do after I graduate? With my life?). And I get the distinct feeling that these are all connected. Like I can't answer one question unless I've answer the others. A circular puzzle. A dog chasing its tail, for sure. But nevertheless, I have been sorting out my thoughts in an attempt at answering the larger questions. The answers, though, don't come.

That's what I have been expecting for as long as I have had a concept of The Future. That life, its questions, and its answers come to me as they will, and I will be prepared to go with that flow as it drifts by. Recently, though -- and I am using a lose definition of the adverb "recently" -- I am realizing that passivity isn't exactly the best way of handling life. Yes, there are factors that we cannot control -- circumstances that present themselves, and the best we can hope for is to roll with the punches. But really, we have to be active, to be intentional, to take initiative. I realize this.

The problem is, though, that I don't take iniative. That requires making a decision. It requires, so I thought, the foresight to see the hindsight. It sounds noble, doesn't it? It's impossible, though. How can we possibly ever see the future?

I don't purport to have all the answers, but I think I've found one. I've looked at the decisions I've made, including some very pronounced indecision, and at the crises that surrounded those decisions. Then, I solved for x. Okay, it was more of a guess-and-hope strategy, but when I plugged "fear of regret" into all the equations, they balanced.

I have been operating on the principle that I should know how everything will turn out. Somewhere along the timeline, I got the idea that looking at all the possibilities of cause and effect was healthy. And I don't know, maybe it is. But what happens is that I try to channel my future hindsight, and as soon as I detect the possibility of regret, I melt down.

I know the what-if game is supposed to be pointless. But I always thought of that in the context of looking at the past. Somehow I have excused it by looking to the future -- unforeseeable as it may be -- and playing the what-if game with decisions that haven't even been made yet.

I'm afraid I'll make the wrong decision. It's that simple.

The question remains, though, what exactly is it that I am afraid of? How bad is a bad decision? Obviously, there are some decisions that are just plain bad, but what about the ones that are more nebulous? It's like forcing gray to be either black or white.

What ever convinced me that I wouldn't be able to recover from a mistake? Who ever told me that once I'm in a dreadful situation I wouldn't be able to get out of it?

There was a student in the same third block class who once encouraged me with a quote after I had attempted to conduct an activity that had not worked at all. In disgust at my own choice of instruction and at the group's failure to cooperate, I said something about it having been an experiment that had completely failed. He raised his hand and said, "No experiment is a failure." I responded, "Why? Because we learn from it?" He nodded his head affirmatively.

We can hypothesize all we want, but we never know what results an experiment will yield until we have actually carried out the process. Maybe life is just an exercise in trial-and-error, in guess-and-hope. Or maybe there are scientific proofs and mathemathical equations we can use to predict everything and to avoid hardships, but something tells me that there aren't.

All I know is that when I'm trying to make a decision, all I can see is the possibility that, no matter what I choose, it all might go disastrously wrong. I forget that it all might go miraculously right. I just never know.