The wisdom of crowds


In 1906 Francis Galton visited a livestock fair. The organisers had an ox on display, and the peasantry attending were invited to guess what the animal would weigh after it had been slaughtered and dressed out. Apparently nearly 800 participated, and Galton as a statistician was allowed after the event to study the entry forms. Whilst nobody got the weight right, the average of all 800 guesses was within 0.8% of the weight measured by the judges. It’s funny the things you come across at cattle marts isn’t it.

But anyway, earlier today I was checking sheep and in the distance noticed what appeared to be a balloon tangled up in the hedge. I didn’t have time to do anything about it then, but this afternoon I went and collected it. I wouldn’t claim discarded balloons are a major problem but I’ll notice a couple a year and I quietly collect them and pop them in the bin just to keep things tidy.

As I pulled this one out of the hawthorn I noticed it had a note attached. I assumed it might be a balloon race and looked more closely just to see where it had come from. It was as I read the card that I discovered the concept of the ‘angelversary’. It’s not the sort of discovery you expect to make in a cold field in the middle of a December afternoon. In case you’ve not come across them, it’s a commemoration of the death or stillbirth of a child. By definition the whole thing is heart-achingly sad.

And for any family in this situation the whole thing can be overwhelming. Somehow people have to cope and if sending a balloon with a kiss on it so that they can somehow kiss the little star they’ve lost helps, then frankly I don’t mind quietly pulling the spent balloons out of hedges and dropping them sadly into the bin on a daily basis.

But in spite of the scepticism of the educated and the sneers of the wise, I don’t think hoi polloi have adjusted to the fact that apparently now all we are is DNA frantically attempting to replicate, and that any sense we have of free will is merely a delusion built into the system.

Because in spite of the lecturing, it seems that the ignorant still have a feeling that there is something out there which isn’t us but is somehow greater than us, and it’s when the pain is strongest that you come closest to it.

It’s still better to light a candle than curse the darkness.


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6 thoughts on “The wisdom of crowds

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt December 4, 2016 at 4:12 pm Reply

    I’m a scientist by orientation and training, a writer by avocation. And a practicing Catholic. They all go together quite nicely in my worldview – each has different zones of influence, and there are no contradictions.

    Science understands and explains the visible or measurable. My church has no problem with science (though they did back in the dark ages). And I prefer that religion not have power over the material world – that seems to me to be a bad idea that was discarded after proof that it didn’t work for us. I don’t believe it works at all, and would hate to be subject to, say, Sharia law. Too many opportunities for human failure.

    It’s a little self-centered: something as wonderful as me can’t just disappear, can it? And I look forward to seeing again those who have gone before, including children and siblings and aunts and uncles who didn’t make it.

    You don’t have to be ignorant to believe ‘there is something out there which isn’t us but is somehow greater than us, and it’s when the pain is strongest that you come closest to it.’

    • jwebster2 December 4, 2016 at 10:25 pm Reply

      Christians were told to be servants and wash the feet of others, not masters. So yes, denominations should not hold power.
      And yes,if they try to take religion away from people, they make their own rituals and reach out in their own way to try and cope

  2. M T McGuire December 4, 2016 at 10:12 pm Reply

    That’s a wonderful thing. And my heart goes out to the folks who launched it, whoever they were.



    • jwebster2 December 4, 2016 at 10:23 pm Reply

      yes, my heart went out to them when I read the card

  3. Mick Canning December 5, 2016 at 9:22 am Reply

    We all need ways to cope with heartache and give us hope. And, of course, despite whatever certain sceptics and scientists may say, no one has proved or disproved anything in relation to possible afterlives.

    • jwebster2 December 5, 2016 at 9:26 am Reply

      Indeed the number of Physical scientists who’re believers in one religion or another is remarkably high 🙂

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