Is it inevitable that we all have different facts, and inherently disagree? I am color blind, so my perception of the world is different than someone who is not color blind. See here for a discussion on the benefits of color blindness. But, can people who are not color blind actually look at the same thing and see a difference?
Color is not an absolute in the physical world. It is a constructed representation in your brain of the effects of differing light wave. Maybe the more appropriately simple question we should ask would be something like – “Is your Red the same as my Red”? The above video tries to tackle this interesting subject and is well worth viewing.
The simple fact, is that it is really easy for smart humans to look at the same thing and perceive differences, even when there may be none. Why then do we believe there should be no disagreement, when data is collected and presented as fact, and the representation of the data in reality may present dramatically different meanings if looked at differently?
Lets take a simple example, using some fairly objective and deterministic facts such as quarterly results of a public corporation. On January 23, 2013 Apple announced record revenue of $54.5 Billion in the latest quarter ended December 2012, and one of the highest quarterly earnings ever reported by any public company, $13.1 Billion. Despite this extraordinary performance, numerous articles were written, such as this one: Understanding Apple’s Anemic Quarter, characterizing the quarter as weak, and a disappointment.
So, what gives? Well, let’s take a simple statistic such as sales growth from the previous year. Since sales the same quarter, the previous year, was $46.3 Billion, one would say that the increase of $8.2 Billion (to $54.5 Billion) represented a 17% increase, from last year to this year. However, since the previous year quarter included 14 weeks of sales and this year only 13 weeks, that 17% increase would not be an accurate representation. In fact, when sales are compared on a per week basis, the sales increased from $3.3 Billion per week last year to $4.2 Billion per week this year, or a dramatically different 27% increase!
Photographed by Jim Epler
In real world situations, simple objective facts have context. Even when the context is normalized and we can all agree on how it is measured, we may reach different conclusions as to it’s meaning. What some called anemic in Apple’s case, most corporations struggle to achieve.
Maybe it was my color blindness that taught me that when we are looking at the same thing, it is possible to see something different. My red is different than yours. See here for a discussion on whether you see what you believe or believe what you see. And so, when the debate has serious implications, I have always found it important to cultivate an exploration of the different opinions. We disagree, because maybe the facts or the implications are perceived differently, and thus are different in reality.
Agree or disagree, what do you think?