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Res Ipsa Loquitur January 10, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Humor, Mindfulness.

RWS_Tarot_01_MagicianDue to our Amazing Brains, and how we process information,  much of what we “know” about someone has absolutely nothing to do with who they really are.

Instead, our perceptions are based on who WE are and OUR experiences in life.

Our brains like complete images, and dislike attempting to put together a jigsaw puzzle only to find missing pieces.

When faced with a “missing link,” our brains search available data for stereotypical information to fill in the blanks.

We use information stored in our memory banks on related subjects to fill in the remaining gaps and get on to processing the next thought.

Due to the speed at which it happens, we are not aware of the brain’s duplicity.

Gender and profession tend to be important classification tools.

Once we know an individual’s gender or occupation, our brains automatically fill in the missing gaps with inaccurate, out-dated, over worn, trite, stereotypical information.

This skill is absolutely necessary to our survival.  It is hardwired in us.  It is true for all of us.  See Attack of the Killer ANTs

But knowing someone’s gender or profession is not the same as knowing someone.

If you are a fan of Saturday Night Live, you may be familiar with “Pat.” 

Wikipedia ~ Pat (Fair Use)

Pat’s character was androgynous.

Looking at Pat, it was impossible to determine whether Pat was male or female.

Pat drove viewers crazy, as their brains looked for subtle clues that would provide the necessary gender classification.


Why is gender classification so important?  What difference did Pat’s gender really make?

Male or Female, Pat would have been the same person ~ a person with poor fashion sense who wore ugly glasses and irritated everyone he/she met.

There is a legal expression, res ipsa loquitur, which loosely defined means “the thing speaks for itself.”

So, Pat (the male) was completely the same as Pat (the female).


Same person.  Same clothes.  Same mannerisms, glasses, skills, abilities, talents, likes, dislikes.

So why did our brains clamor to know Pat’s gender? 

Quote:  “It is easier to know man in general than to know one man in particular.” ~ Duc de la Rochefoucauld

No rules.  Just write!

Related posts:  Attack of the Killer ANTs * Using Stereotypes to Your Advantage (My Literary Quest) * We Are Not The Labels We WearWhat’s The BEST That Could Happen? * Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism


1. Richard W Scott - January 10, 2011

It is true that we fill in blanks in the people around us, and that we often do so based on the behavior of a previous acquaintance. Well, he (or she) looks like X, and therefore must BE like X. We force people into pigeon hole, and sometimes we use (mental) force to hold them there. This is an unfair alternative to getting to know a person.

That said, as writers, one of our strenghths, is this same…erm, skill. It allows us to use stereotypes (tip of the hat to Jodi Milner at http://myliteraryquest.wordpress.com/) to fill out characters. The practice and process allows us do pull up a framework to maniuplate into the character we want.

I love it when both sides of a coin are useful. Res ipsa loquitur.

nrhatch - January 10, 2011

Exactly. This hard-wired proclivity lets us (as writers) provide a brief outline of a background character . . . and give readers the opportunity to “fill in the blanks.”

BTW: I beat you to it ~ a link to Jodi’s on-point article is listed above, with the other related posts. 🙂

2. Greg Camp - January 10, 2011

One problem is that the assumptions about this topic make a useful discussion difficult. Are there real differences between men and women? There may be (beyond the obvious), and only a rational analysis of the facts will let us know. We also have to recognize that the variations within groups are often greater than those between groups, but if a category has any meaning, it must stand for some distinguishing characteristic.

nrhatch - January 10, 2011

I think that you hit a key point, Greg: “The variations within groups are often greater than those between groups.”

In short, we are NOT the labels we wear.

The more mindful and aware we become of our tendency to “connect the dots” with generic information . . . the more we start to see people for who THEY really are (rather than seeing them as WE are).

3. Paula Tohline Calhoun - January 10, 2011

Fabulous post. It brings my thoughts back to my favorite point-making noun: hermeneutics. Everything we know, see, read, hear – EVERYTHING is filtered through our own experience and understanding to date. It cannot be avoided. We as humans are incapable of complete objectivity. This is not necessarily a bad thing (doesn’t matter even if it is, because it’s the way things are anyway!). The more we keep that reality in mind, however, the less of a stumbling block to greater understanding it becomes.

Coming to know and understand people or subjects, whatever, is a process. If we cut ourselves out of that process by shutting down and closing our minds, then we greatly cheat ourselves of not just the knowledge but also meeting some really interesting people. Life is a process. The best thing about the hermeneutical process is that it guarantees growth. One need never worry about stagnating opinions/feelings/understandings because everything is in constant motion. We just need to acknowledge it and keep ourselves open to the opportunities afforded us each and every day.

Richard W Scott - January 10, 2011

Paula, you make an excellent point about how we perceive. To put a label on it (aside from stereotyping), it is the making of distinctions, and frankly, we could not live without it.

Imagine having to work out the concept of door, having to figure out how it works, and to even conceptualize “outside” just to get out of a room. Luckily we can make these assumptions once or twice–usually at an early age–and can thereafter interact with the world with some facility.

nrhatch - January 10, 2011

So true, Paula.

We see the world behind our eyes.

Once we realize that, we move in the direction of becoming a bit more objective about those we meet . . . even if we are prevented from ever reaching the “finish line” of Complete Objectivity.

@Rik ~ If we had to start from scratch every day, with complete amnesia about everything in the world and the way it works, we’d be worse off than most Alzheimer’s patients.

4. Maggie - January 10, 2011

It’s just the way our brains try to simplify things – by putting people in categories – so they don’t have to work harder. Our brains have to know a person’s gender to better put that person in a category and to satisfy the brain’s need to simplify things.

I need to remember that Latin phrase – everything is always better when said in Latin!

nrhatch - January 10, 2011

Latin is awesome!

I agree with you, but we knew all about Pat’s preferences and predilections . . . and still we waited, waited, waited to satisfy our curiosity as to his/her gender. 😉

5. Paula Tohline Calhoun - January 10, 2011

Right on, Ric. I’ve often thought that some forms of autism might struggle with that very thing. A constant wind, erase, rewind sort of thing that causes the person with autism to get stuck on one thing. Like the fixation on circles, or other repetitive things/activities. Focusing your life and activity down to ONE thing would make life more manageable if you constantly had to reconceptualize everything.

nrhatch - January 10, 2011

Interesting. I thought of Alzheimer’s patients who, for example, no longer know how to boil water for tea, and you thought of Autism patients who tend to have an inability to interact fully with the world.

Makes me feel quite grateful for the current functioning of my brain.

6. Carol Ann Hoel - January 10, 2011

We’re nosy. Ha! We just want to know, he or she? Oh, the brain. It wants to know because it doesn’t like gaps and that piece of information is usually known, so it keeps searching, like a computer that keeps trying to read the disc even if it continually cannot for some reason. Is this a trick question? My brain wants to know. Blessings to you…

nrhatch - January 10, 2011

That is a perfect analogy, Carol Ann!

A bit like the Robot from Lost in Space, “This does not compute. Does not compute.”

7. souldipper - January 10, 2011

“res ipsa loquitur” I love phrases that save a thousand words – and it’s a joy to run into people with whom they can be used when needed.

(It’s one of the reasons I appreciate the word “probity”.)

The brain clambour? That’s it! It’s the challenge of discovery that brings delight.

nrhatch - January 10, 2011

I expect you’ve got a point.

We want to fit that last piece into the puzzle so that we know that we’ve completed the challenge at hand.

And probity is a fine word. 🙂

8. Cindy - January 11, 2011

Great post and excellent debate in the comments. Thumbs up!

nrhatch - January 11, 2011

Thanks, Cin.

9. Booksphotographsandartwork - January 11, 2011

What Richard said about using mental force to hold people in a certain place is interesting.

nrhatch - January 11, 2011

We see what we want to see . . . and we do not want to be proven wrong. 🙂

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