A man is walking down the middle of the street dressed in all black. There are no streetlights. No moon. At the same time, a car is driving down the same road with no headlights. At the last second, the car swerves to avoid hitting the man. How can this happen?
(Spoiler Alert: Don’t read any further until you want to know the answer.)
The tactic deployed in this riddle, and others, is called extraneous detail. The story overloads the reader with imagery of darkness and descriptions of things associated with night—streetlights, headlights, the moon—in an attempt to distract the reader from what is not being said.
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I told this riddle to my niece and she immediately asked if it was a self-driving car, which brings up another reason why readers are prone to the trickery of riddles—our own knowledge and experience. With the news in recent years of companies working toward the perfection of self-driving technology, it is easy to see how my niece jumped to this technology as an answer to the riddle.
It is also just as easy to see how our knowledge and experience can potentially lead to poor assumptions. For instance:
I write the numbers one through nine on a piece of paper, put it in front of you, and asked you to pick a number…any number. What number would you pick?
If you picked a number from one through nine, would you be surprised if I asked you why? After all, I told you you could pick "any number."
You’ll forgive the continued trickery, but I warned you about riddles. But my trickery is another example of how easy it can be to play on assumptions. Writing out the numbers and placing them in front of you with some importance is an act of extraneous detail, drawing your attention from the exactness of my words.
Poor assumptions are part of what is called a syllogistic fallacy. Attributed to Aristotle, a syllogism is a logical device, most commonly expressed in the structure:
From an algebraic standpoint, is easy to see the logic, but when attributed to statements it is easy to see how missteps in logic can take place even within the syllogistic structure. For instance, one can say:
Many mature trees are tall.
Many buildings are tall.
So, many mature trees are buildings.
"So, many mature trees are buildings."
Don’t feel bad if you have ever participated in a syllogistic fallacy, as the greats like Shakespeare have been called out for a syllogism that falls apart in the end. And don’t feel bad if you didn’t figure out the riddle. In my niece’s defense, she got it on the second try.
In the quality industry, dealing with big data can feel like battling extraneous detail and being ever vigilant against poor assumptions. With millions of points of data, we can be overwhelmed by what is important and what is not. One of the tools we have to navigate data is the proper use of ERP software.
So check out, "Make a Quality Part On Time Every Time With ERP Software," and meet this year’s Quality Plant of the Year, Reed Switch Developments Corp., in this month’s Quality.
Enjoy and thanks for reading!
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