Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Legal Disputes: Subjectivity and Objectivity or the Wonders of Perception

I live in Ithaca, NY, "10 square miles surrounded by reality," as people like to joke. But is the joke really a joke? Ithaca is a strange place, strange because of the diverse range of viewpoints, strange because outside the box ideas are a constant source of conversation, amusement, and argument. As my kids say, "this place is really weird." Somebody is always protesting something or someone.

I Question, "What is real?"

No, I won't take you back to Philosophy 101 with the Descartes stuff but Real is what people think they perceive at any given moment.

I work in a world of disputes. DWI cases and car accident cases involve lots of opinions. Doctor opinions, law enforcement opinions, and witness opinions.

The doctors say you're ok, but other doctors say you need surgery. The police (the troopers, the deputies, the officers) said they smelled the strong odor of alcohol, that are was very unsteady, that I had slurred speech. Witnesses to events (like accidents) are often mistaken as well. Red light, green light, yellow light, speeding, I question their perceptions.

Using Ad-verbs and Adjectives

Did all that really happen? When people use adjectives and adverbs we start to get into troubling territory. Now we are truly making "value" judgments. Words like strong, weak, fast, slow, very, old, young,  high, and low. These are all based in comparisons. But what are they comparing anything to? Their own set of norms, their own set of beliefs, and their own set of experiences.

I believe that the problem lies in these filters. Unfortunately, we and they don't always see eye to eye. People say it would be great to have video of everything but even then I have shown juries tapes of police misconduct and still they have surprised me.

People will even deny what their eyes see plain as day to be consistent with their programming. They can't believe that their spouses, friends, and family did some heinous acts even with mounds of evidence in front of them. Scary but true, people are people, and they will follow their subjective instincts faster than any objective findings.

Dr. Lawrence Newman, D.C., J.D.