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The Mysterious Box

  1. Aug 12, 2014 #1
    Author: ZapperZ
    Originally posted on Nov26-12

    You like to take walks and often explore new paths. During one of these walks, you either decide to try a new path, or you accidentally stumble upon a path you did not notice before. So you take it.

    As you walk along this path, as you turn around a corner, you suddenly see this "thing" on the side of the road. It is an unexpected sight, and certainly something you haven't seen before in all of the walks that you had taken. So out of curiosity, you decide to take a closer look.

    It appears to be something that is covered under a piece of black cloth. From a distance, you judge it to be roughly the size of a microwave. It is difficult to figure out the shape, because the cloth covering it is all folded and wrinkled, so you can't make out the exact shape of the object being covered, but it resembles a box.

    You continue to look at it closer, without touching anything. You walk around the covered object (it is on the ground) to try and get a better look at it. After all that, you come up with some speculation:

    1. There is an unexpected discovery along a walking path

    2. It appears to be an object that is covered under a piece of cloth. You think this is a reasonable assumption to make because you know what typically is a piece of cloth, and that big bump in the middle of it should be an object that it is covering.

    3. The object appears to be some sort of a box, roughly the size of a microwave, but this is only a guess because the cloth folds and wrinkles does not give you that clear of a view of the shape of the object.

    What is this thing?

    You come back home, all flush and excited after the unexpected discovery of this mysterious object. You tell your friends and family about this discovery. Some of them are as excited and surprised as you are. Some others are still unsure if you actually did see this unexpected discover. Another group actually do not believe you actually saw this thing. This is because some of them either just think that this is highly irrational for an object, draped over by a cloth, would just be sitting there, or that some of them actually have walked along that path before and didn't notice anything unusual.

    Nevertheless, you try to convince everyone that you found something. You sit down, and write the whole experience in detail, especially the description on this mysterious object from what you had observed. This is also when you make plans to walk along the path again and make another observation of this thing. This time, you decide to bring a measuring tape so that you can make a more accurate estimate of the apparent size of this object. You also try to enlist a few of your friends to come with you and take a look at it. Maybe they could offer new insight or opinion on the whole matter, and also to convince others that you are not the only person who is seeing this object. You need at least one more person to independently confirm that this mysterious object exists, and once that's done, to make preliminary characterization of this object, as far as what can be seen.

    What is this thing?

    Armed with a measuring tape, a camera, and 2 other friends, you decide to go along the path again to take a closer look at this mysterious object draped under this dark cloth.

    And sure enough, when you get to the same spot along the path, there is that object again! Your two friends also express a surprise in seeing it. So now, you at least know that you're not imagining the whole thing, and that someone else has verified that this mysterious object exists.

    You again do what you did last time, giving it a careful look all around, trying to remember if it is in the same position as before, and if it has change in any way. Has someone moved the cloth? Has someone else tried to study this object? It appears that, from your recollection, nothing has changed since the last time you saw it.

    You take out your note book and start to make notes on your observation. You write down, as best as you can, the nature of the cloth that's covering the object ("it looks like satin"), the color of the cloth ("dark grey with shades of black, depending on the fold and how the light hits it"), and estimate of how large the cloth is ("maybe 2 m x 2 m, but it is all wrinkled and folded over with creases that it isn't easy to get an accurate number"), the approximate size of the object based on the "bump" in the cloth that you can see ("length is ~50 cm, width is ~40 cm, height is ~30 cm"). You also snap a few photos of this thing from different angles. Short of removing the cloth, that is as much as you can gather based on what you can see.

    Your friends also do their own observations, and the three of you promise to compare notes later on and see if everyone comes up with the same set of observations. The three of you also agree that a plan should be drawn up to figure out the next step in what should be done to investigate this further. Can anything more be done the way it is now? Should you plan on removing the cloth and see what's underneath it? What kind of observation should we anticipate to do? What instruments should we bring next time so that we can get as much information as possible?

    You can feel yourself getting excited in trying to figure this out, but the question still remains...

    What is this thing?

    When you get back to your office, you and your friends decide that you should write down what you have discovered and seen. You all agree that this is interesting and unusual enough that other people might be interested in it. The observations that you have made should be presented so that they know you have found something unusual.

    Interestingly enough, a few days later, you receive a call from a member of the media. This reporter somehow got ahold of the story and decides that it is newsworthy. So he wants to talk to you and asks you some questions. You consent to it even though you think that this news story might diminish a bit the “newness” of what you and your friends are writing now and publish later.

    The reporter shows up and starts his interview with you. He asks you how you discovered the object, what made you so curious about it, what do you know about it, what you intend to do, and why you think this discovery is important. You try to answer as best as you can, especially the last part. You tell him that we are all naturally curious, and when you see something that is so out of the ordinary, it is a natural tendency to investigate it further. Whether it leads to something meaningful or not, that is hard to say at this moment. Still, if history is any indication, a lot of previous unexpected discovery such as this often leads to a lot of beneficial knowledge.

    After about an hour or so with the reporter, he leaves you. A few days later, a short news coverage of your interview, and news of your discovery of this mysterious box appears in the local newspaper. You read it with utmost interest, but notices that many of the things you said do not come out as you intended, especially after severe editing of your responses. While the general idea of the whole conversation was there, the details appear to be slightly mangled, and it seems to make you sound more enthusiastic about the importance of the object than you really are. Sure, you are curious about it, but you do not have the attitude that it is going to save mankind! After reading the article with a light amusement on how it was reported, you put it down.

    But a few days later, things turn. The same newspaper reports that someone has gone to see the object and made several contradictions to what you have stated. This person mentioned a list of characteristics of the object that are completely different than what you saw. The newspaper now is questioning the validity of what you had observed.

    You are very much taken aback by this and are completely bewildered on how this other person could have observed something that different. “What is going on?”, you wonder.

    Author: ZapperZ
    Originally posted on Nov26-12
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2014 #2


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    Ahh! I want more! It's like a mystery that doesn't continue to conclusion. What's in the box! What's really under the cloth! I need to know! :cry:

    I hate to speculate, but if I had no choice, and was forced to anyway, I would say that this is an exercise in critical thinking. And I speculate part or maybe even most of the discrepancy hinges on:

    (boldface mine)

    On a related note, I've been seeing a swath of bad "science" journalism on the Internet lately. The original studies seem fine to me, but misinterpretation of these studies in the popular media can get out of hand. And it seems to me it's getting worse.
  4. Aug 12, 2014 #3


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  5. Aug 13, 2014 #4


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    A person's biases affect what they see. Seeing may be believing, but believing isn't the same as truth when two people can look at the same thing, but see something completely different.

    For example, take this picture:

    http://lolomgwtfbbq.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/miracle-alcohol-aisle1.jpeg [Broken]

    My impression of this picture is immediately affected by the word "isle".

    Aside from that, I can gather that this picture is supposed to be funny, but can only speculate as to why.

    One reason would be seeing a person with a wheelchair actually standing on their own (hence the miracle). Anyone that wears reading glasses would immediately realize that a "real" disabled person couldn't possibly stand on their own - just as a person losing their reading glasses immediately becomes totally and completely blind.

    Oh, wait, losing one's reading glasses actually means you spend the day stretching and contorting your body trying to hold pieces of paper out as far as possible from your eyes in order to read them. You can get through the day without your glasses, but going without them makes life a lot, lot harder.

    Another reason would be because this person is using their fraudulently obtained Social Security Disability payments (fraudulent because this person obviously isn't really disabled) to buy alcohol - which everybody knows is one of those things that any adult is allowed to buy whenever they want to! Probably missing something there since that doesn't sound all that funny. Maybe there's a feeling that a disabled person can't possibly be a true adult and shouldn't try to do the things real adults do?

    Or maybe a person shouldn't use "charity" to purchase non-essential goods? Being a person that purchased a vision plan through my employer and get a new pair of reading glasses every couple of years even though I could survive without them, I actually relate to what she's doing (assuming, of course, she actually is using SSDI money to purchase her alcohol, which obviously isn't really known). She, like the rest of us, had to pay for that SSDI every single paycheck of her life whether she wanted to or not! Naturally, a person using the insurance benefits they pay for is kind of immoral?

    My own biases make it hard to figure out why this picture would be perceived as funny and almost certainly cloud my perception of what type of person would find this picture funny.

    I just see this picture as making fun of disabled people for some reason or the other.

    One picture. Definitely a drastically different perception of what this picture portrays - and even an almost certainly incorrect impression of some imaginary person that sees something different in this picture than I do.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
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