Quote worth noting

From an interview with Wim Gilles in Origin of Things, reviewed previously (line breaks mine, to aid reading):

How did you Design then, at the time?

Do you know the term heuristics? In science you pose a hypothesis, and it is true as long as you cannot prove that it isn’t (this is Karl Popper’s theory.) Science is therefore a process of verification. That is a bit of traditional scientific thinking, to draw a conclusion on the basis of establishing a few facts, and to deduce from all the facts that there appears to be a general rule. We call that a law.

Heuristics is based on a known piece of information. If you’re a carpenter, it is known (by passed down information) that you don’t hold a nail by its point, but rather with the point downwards. That has never been proved scientifically. You just do it like that. You’ll discover if it doesn’t work.

That is heuristics, an ancient Greek way of doing things that has been denied by science for centuries. You just do something. It’s a matter of trial and error. These is therefore a heuristics school and I belong to that school.”

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9 Comments

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  1. 3
    Ron Zeno

    Further elaboration then:

    Focusing on only those things that are readily discoverable leads to stagnation in skill and knowledge development. To break this, you learn to pay attention to finer levels of detail, or you learn to rely upon some weight of evidence.

    “In science you pose a hypothesis, and it is true as long as you cannot prove that it isn’t.”
    – A strawman argument. In science you pose a hypothesis, determine how to test it, then test it. The probability of a hypothesis being true depends on the number and quality of tests of the hypothesis.

    “That has never been proved scientifically. You just do it like that. You’ll discover if it doesn’t work.”
    – Another strawman. It’s been proven (or more accurately, the amount and quality of evidence is overwhelmingly supportive). Otherwise, you may or may not discover it depending upon your own ability to observe and most importantly, not be deceived (by yourself or others).

    Finally, examples of readily observable and easily understood objects are not arguments for objects that are not. People are not easily understood.

  2. 4
    Thomas Madden

    “An unverified, yet seeming workable hypothesis” seems to me like an odd usage of ‘heuristic’, although it does appear to be in circulation.

    “A speculative assumption, which if held as a model or starting point, allows for the verifiable discovery of other conclusions” may be a clunky formulation, but closer to the sense I am accustomed to. The nailhead example is not helpful for understanding this sense.

    You can even employ known falsehoods heuristically. NASA commonly uses a geocentric map of the solar system, because this is an easier framework within which to calculate trajectories. The idea is that the model doesn’t have to be true, it’s just a mental model that serves as a platform from which to draw conclusions that can be tested in practice.

  3. 5
    Ron Zeno

    Interesting comments Manu.

    “But in our profession Heuristic Evaluation doesn’t necessarily lead to only “readily discoverable” information.”
    + I dont believe Heuristic Evaluation is reliable nor valid, so we’re approaching this from completely different perspectives. If you want guidelines based on evidence, look to usability.gov But I agree with your statement because HE leads to data that is mostly based upon wishful thinking.

    “And what is “readily discoverable” and to whom?”
    + Good question. It’s subjective. We need tools that allow us to be far less subjective.

    “- It’s more effective when it’s compiled from multiple evaluators.”
    + Actually, it can be just the opposite. Research has shown that additional evaluators tend to add more incorrectly identified issues than to correctly identified ones.

    I have a number of references to research on heuristic evaluation in my weblog.

  4. 6
    Ron Zeno

    We have to realize that this is a game of gaining the confidence of those we work for. I suggest that our priorities in this game of confidence should be in the weight of evidence backing our claims. Of course there are other ways to play the game. That’s why confidence games are referred to as cons and those who play them conmen.

    While I don’t claim anyone is intentially conning others, but when people avoid backing their claims with any weight of evidence they certainly look the part, and more importantly are hard to distinguish from those who truly are conmen.

  5. 7
    Ron Zeno

    I wholeheartedly agree. This wannabe profession is dominated by people who want to convince others by sheer (and hollow) rhetoric, without any concern whatsoever for building a profession with a common set of skills and some minimal level of expertise. Without common skills and expertise, there are no success stories that matter, because the successes of one individual or group has absolutely no relationship to what any other individual or group can be expected to do.

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