The young, the old and the stupid…

Posted on January 3, 2012


It just dawned on me what the young, the old and the stupid have in common – they are blind to context.

Notice the vital role played by context in determining the meaning of any statement or event.

For instance the meaning of a word or phrase is determined by the context in which it occurs. Notice the profound influence  the missing letter ‘y’ has on the meaning of the following message: ‘our son is dead’ vs ‘your son is dead.’ The meaning of word is determined by context – by the sentence, nested in the paragraph, nested in the section, nested in the culture. That’s why someone not raised in a given culture has trouble with many of the jokes and makes social gaffs.

The young, the old and the stupid fart at the table… farting is fine… but not at the table … unless you’re attending a frat-house stag party!

Children gradually learn the importance of context in shaping what they say and do while  seniors gradually forget it… drifting back into their second childhood. Both groups lack the appreciation of time and place contexts in determining what behavior is appropriate. Both tend to want what they want here and now! 

If you’ve ever eaten a meal at a retirement home you’ll notice how many residents ignore the importance of context. Some, ignoring the time pressures on the serving staff so engage them in lengthy reports on the activities of family members or their health.

But you don’t have to be young or old to ignore context, recall Marie Antoinette’s famous instruction to the starving french: “let them eat cake.”  Being stupid works too.

In fact you don’t have stupid either, even the smartest among us must ignore context in order to make  a statement, a decision or a move.

Notice how all ‘scientific’ statements are couched in contextual cop-outs. Notice the press releases: ” New drug may cure diabetes” …” New experiments in Switzerland may locate the Higgs-Boson particle.” There a joke among physicts: “A Higgs-Boson particle walks into a Catholic church, interputing the service it says: ‘Stop, without me you can have mass.'” Well, to get the joke you need to be familiar with theoreticl physics… with the context.

In brief the appropriateness of what’s said or done all depends on the context.

When giving any answer it’s appropriate to prefix it with: “It all depends.” That’s why Stephen Hawking talks about ‘model dependant realism’… the reality you construct or discover all depends on the context… on the model you use to package it.

Posted in: Sciencing