Jumping to Conclusions

The other day I read a reader review of Heritage of Cyador which stated that “Modesitt’s Utah heritage and belief system comes through in his writing.” That’s about half right. My books do reflect to a greater or lesser degree my beliefs. I believe that to be true of almost all writers, although it is more obvious with some writers and less so with others.

“Utah heritage,” however is another question, since I am neither of the LDS faith, nor am I a native-born Utahan. In fact, if we’re talking “heritage,” I’m a fourth generation Coloradan, who didn’t even move to Utah until I was fifty years old, years seasoned by nearly two decades spent in Washington, D.C., and whose beliefs are probably best described as Anglican/agnostic, and the reason I say Anglican rather than Episcopalian is because whatever religious traditions I do have are rooted in the King James versions of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer, which the Episcopalians abandoned years and years ago.

Why any of this matters is because it reflects on the human tendency to jump to conclusions based on inadequate or inaccurate facts… or even ignoring easily available facts. Since I write in a certain style and have lived in Utah for a number of years, this reader has immediately pigeon-holed me and assumed that my heritage is entirely based on my locale. This is obviously just one reader, but I could have given many examples of other equally erroneous “deductions” buy readers and others. At the same time, several more perceptive readers have deduced my “Anglican” aspects from the ritual passages describing the anomen services in the Imager Portfolio books, but such deduction requires more knowledge and thought, especially when there might be multiple explanations.

One reason often cited for jumping to conclusions is Occam’s Razor, which states that among competing hypotheses or ideas, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected, but all too often those who think they’re operating accurately under Occam’s principle fail to consider the linkage between a fact and the assumptions made based on those facts. Just because 62% of Utah’s population happens to be LDS, and 62% of the current population happens to have been born in Utah, doesn’t automatically or even statistically mean that because I live in Utah my heritage is Utahan – especially when my biography says I was born in Colorado. But it’s so much easier to assume I’m LDS and have a Utah heritage because I live in Cedar City and my writing meets a preconceived notion of what “LDS writing” is like. I explore moral themes. So do other writers. Some are LDS; some are not. To assume that a writer “is” something because of perceived similarities and where the writer lives, especially when there are published facts to the contrary, is not only intellectually sloppy, but also reflects a culture that wants quick and easy answers without much thought or research.

Then, too, it could also reflect the simplest interpretation of existing facts. My wife graduated from a Utah university, and has taught at two separate Utah universities for quite a number of years. I’m clean-shaven, don’t drink or smoke, and generally don’t use blasphemous curses in my writing [other kinds, definitely so]. We have far more than the average number of children… all of which suggests – erroneously – a certain religious affiliation.

And all of this also suggests why I tend to be most skeptical of people who cite Occam’s Razor, especially when they jump to conclusions. Life and the universe just aren’t that simple.

9 thoughts on “Jumping to Conclusions”

  1. JakeB says:

    This same reader must not have read The Parafaith War or the second Ghost book, is all I can say.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    One might however hope to be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that Recluce might have been inspired by Utah (in society if not landscape).

    1. Steve says:

      Unfortunately I have never been allowed to throw out those I do not like. Is anyone willing to take some convicts? We are trying to move our State Penitentiary. It would be nice to get rid of it all together.

  3. Steve says:

    It is common to make assumptions based on race, gender, and who a person associates with both individually and regionally. Your own blog has used broad strokes to paint a picture of Utah and its people. It is somewhat ironic that this ignorant reviewer would throw you into the older, white, male Utahn category. I have often wondered why you make Utah your home beyond the obvious that your wife works at SUU. You must find our state incredibly beautiful, if stark, and the people friendly and generous, even if prone to religion.

    1. As individuals, the people are very friendly, and the state, to my mind, offers the greatest range of beauty of any state [and I’ve lived in eleven and visited all but two of the remaining states]. Also, where I live the air is clean and the climate perfect [at least for us]. The politico-religious culture does leave a bit to be desired, insofar as we’re concerned, but my wife does love her job, and works with good colleagues, which counts for a lot. And practically speaking, since no state is perfect, one always weighs all the pros and cons.

  4. Wine Guy says:

    Anyone who has ever read the Phantom Tollbooth knows that you can only reach the Isle of Conclusions by jumping there. It’s easy to get there but hard to leave.

    To leave, you have to swim, thoroughly soaking yourself in the waters of Knowledge. The Humbug, of course, remains quite dry.

  5. Bob Vowell says:

    The amusing part to me is they gave you 4 stars. I’m curious if that makes their review valid having completely missed the mark or is it a case of a broken watch being right twice a day.

  6. Joe says:

    Do not multiply entities WITHOUT NECESSITY

    Ockham’s razor still stands. (Occam is a programming language.)

    1. “Occam” is an acceptable variation of Sir William of Ockham’s surname. And while Occam’s/Ockham’s Razor may still stand, it’s too often an easy excuse.

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