Musings on Evidence

There are some serious questions around evidence. These would include:

  1. what is evidence,
  2. how do we evaluate it, and
  3. how do we use it?

These are questions neither trivial nor dumb.

Evidence can come in many forms. It can be first hand, second hand or third hand. It can be written, visual, olfactory, in fact, coming in through any sense. Usually it would come in through multiple senses.

Perhaps you can’t separate the notion of evidence from the notion of meaning. Evidence will mean something to people. Just what it means is going to depend on the person. How they interpret it will depend upon their current understanding of the world, their system of belief, their perceptual abilities, their biases, their ability to draw inferences and undoubtedly many other factors.

So, the questions around evidence are neither trivial nor simply answered. We need to look at what evidence is used for, to what purpose is evidence put.

Evidence can be used to prove things to other people or to ourselves. It can be used to guide further action. In commonplace situations this isn’t particularly hard to understand. If you are in the woods and you come across a body, the carcass of a deer, torn asunder, you can assume that some wild animal had preyed on at deer. The deer is evidence. However your interpretation may be off. If you know nothing of the woods, predation or wild animals you may be a loss as to why that animal was there in such a state of destruction. So again the evidence may mean different things to different people. To some people it may mean just about nothing. To others it may tell a very detailed story. This story may be wrong, there may be misinterpretation, but people might look at it and say something along the lines of “Based on my understanding of the world, my past experience this is what this evidence tells me.” Of course no one ever talks that way. However that’s really, I think, a good description of the situation.

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