Tag Archives: understanding

What Are You Saying?

Today is a great day for a long drive.

What does that sentence mean? Is it a fact? Or an inference or a judgment? Do we understand the difference between these three characteristics of our day to day communication? When we communicate, do we realize how these things affect our moods and our clarity of understanding? Understanding what is a fact, what is an inference and what is a judgment is easy in a classroom setting but in daily life, it demands acute attention from the person who is listening or reading. Without being aware of these distinctions, it is easy to get swayed by what people say. So please pay attention to how you encounter these qualities in everyday communication.

Let us start with some definitions

  • A fact is a piece of information that one has seen, read, heard, which is open to discovery or verification.
  • An inference is a conclusion about the unknown based on the known.
  • A judgment is an opinion that implies approval or disapproval of a person, object, situation or occurrence.


Example 1: Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella has warned that embracing Artificial Intelligence without reskilling people will have an impact on jobs.

Now this sentence is not a fact because you cannot go and verify it at least now. So it is a conclusion about the unknown based on the known. So it is an inference. It may turn out that way or it may not turn out that way. It is an educated expert inference coming from Microsoft chief so it is likely that it may turn out that way in the future.

However, someone might comment – I’m afraid AI will end all traditional jobs. This is not a fact, neither an inference. It is a judgment, an opinion. If you happen to hear this statement first, what would be your reaction? Will you be scared of losing your job? If you are listening carefully and notice that the statement seems like an opinion, you might want to inquire further why that person feels that way.

Example 2: One of our most unfortunate national traits is to adore a few visible successes, and ignore the unglamorous need to improve the fundamentals.

What is this if not a judgment? Is it a fact that can be verified? Can you go and measure a national trait? You cannot. Is it an inference about anything unknown? No. It is clearly a judgment. It is very easy to get influenced by a judgment if one does not attempt to verify the underlying facts or inferences.

Let’s say we list the facts. We sent 100+ satellites in orbit in a single rocket. We still have school children in the 5th standard in a few schools who cannot add or subtract. Now both these facts are true. They can be verified. What inference can you draw from them?

All I am asking you is to listen carefully when you listen to others or read anything – whether it is a fact or an inference or a judgment.

A doctor checks that your body temperature is 102 degree Fahrenheit. This is a fact. He may arrive at an inference that you have a viral infection based on his experience. But if he says – you do not take care of your health, then it is a judgment. It is his personal opinion on the matter. There is no compulsion for you or others to accept another person’s judgment.

All this while we looked at some examples which were maybe not relevant. But now let’s come closer home.

Example 3: When asked to submit a status report on a project, we usually comment, it is going well, client is happy.

Can you see what’s wrong in this? A report was asked for but a judgment was expressed. Judgments are most of the time useless. You cannot take a decision based on a judgment. What is important is facts and the expert inferences we can draw from those facts. Would it be better to state – We brought down the number of bugs from 300 to 25 over the last 2 months and client sent an appreciation email. But he wants to get the final delivery by month end and we are short of 1 resource. All this information can be verified. Now, an inference can be drawn about the unknown from this known that it would be possible to meet the deadline if 2 resources work on the weekend. There is no need for any judgment anywhere.

Many times we do not share facts because we are afraid that other people will judge us from them. But if we realize that judgements do not follow a logic, they are personal opinions which need not be taken seriously, then we will have the freedom to share facts. It is possible one person can draw a different inference from the same data set as compared to another. It happens all the time. Seeing the symptoms, one doctor might diagnose viral infection and another bacterial infection. Further tests would clarify that.

I can give many more examples but I believe the above would have succeeded in conveying my core message about keeping to facts as much as possible, developing your ability to draw right inferences and avoiding judgments at all costs. Watch for these in your speech and in other’s speech.

Now a quick quiz. What do you think about the starting sentence of this article? Is it a fact or an inference or a judgment?

Please share your views in the comments

Is Good Better Than Evil?

I am writing this with reference to the good and evil as depicted in Indian films. The hero or the protagonist is always shown to be on the good side while the evil is personified in the villain. The story is almost always a clash between good and evil and good is always shown to be victorious in the end.

If you have seen films like Ghajini, you see that Aamir Khan, the protagonist is the good guy while Ghajini, the villain is the bad guy. Ghajini kills the girlfriend Asin and injures Aamir Khan. Now, Aamir Khan is so filled with vengeance, that he has become more evil than the villain – just see the way he goes and bashes up the goons and eventually kills Ghajini.


This kind of story is the norm in Hindi films. First the villain does some harm to the hero or the society and then the hero destroys the villain’s business. But in order to do so, the hero must learn the evil ways first. So if good starts behaving in evil ways, what is the difference between good and evil?

Take another example – Sunny Deol. He becomes so angry in films that it becomes difficult to know whether he is the hero or the villain. You will seriously be afraid to associate with such a person (I am only talking of the character he portrays and not the person he is in real life) – I wonder how he even gets a girlfriend who would like to marry him.

An eye for an eye and tit for tat kind of revenge seems very much acceptable to our society. When the villain beats up the hero, the audience sympathizes and when the hero beats up the villain, the crowd cheers.

There are films where the protagonist plays a negative character such as Shahrukh Khan in Baazigar. He is taking revenge for the wrong done to his father and murders Shilpa Shetty (in the film of course). This violence is literally endless. It is possible that somebody from the villains family will one day kill Shahrukh Khan if the story would have continued.


Shahrukh’s justification in the film is simply – you started it first. It is a common dialogue in Hindi films – Yeh khel tumne shuru kiya tha aur main ise khatam karoonga. The film may end but the game never ends in real life.

In order to get hold of terrorists, police have to start thinking like terrorists. The idea is to instill fear of police in terrorists so that they will stop their evil activities. However, in the process, the police itself becomes so fearsome that they resemble terrorists.

In order to get hold of terrorists, police have to start thinking like terrorists. The idea is to instill fear of police in terrorists so that they will stop their evil activities. However, in the process, the police itself becomes so fearsome that they resemble terrorists.

For Obama, Osama is the villain but for Osama, Obama is the villain. In films, the story is told only from the hero’s point of view. There is never, if any, any investigation in to the life of the villain – what kind of life he faced and what made him do the things he did.


This is not an easy matter to solve. Real Goodness cannot be equated with the mundane goodness of ordinary life. Mundane goodness as depicted by heros in the films is just as evil as the evil villains they are trying to exterminate.

We must look for genuine Goodness beyond good and evil as normally understood.

Seeing Clearly vs. Clear Seeing


There is a difference between Seeing Clearly and Clear Seeing.

Seeing clearly means being able to see the differences between things, being able to distinguish between one and the other. This depends on sensory inputs. If your eyes have cataract, you will not be able to see clearly. What is true of the eye is true of the other sense organs including the ears, nose, tongue, skin and brain. When you understand a concept well, you can say that you see clearly.

Clear seeing is seeing the sameness in everything, despite apparent differences. This does not depend on sensory input. While sense organs provide you information to the contrary, there is the knowing that it is not as it appears to be. It is possible that a person with cataract may not be able to see clearly but he may be able to clearly see.

Clear seeing is an insight into the nature of things, into the nature of senses, into the differences, into the nature of seeing clearly.

What is better? Seeing clearly or Clear seeing? That depends.

In day to day life, people, schools, organizations and society gives more importance to seeing clearly. However, it need not be so always.

A close analogy is like the Necker cube which can be seen in two ways. There are some people who have difficulty in seeing the other perspective.


Seeing clearly can mean being able to see one or both of the perspectives. This may sometimes lead to arguments between those those who see one perspective and those who see the other.

​Clear seeing can mean being able to flip between the two at will and empathize with the person who is unable to see the other perspective.

The Word is Not The Thing


Our language can be considered to be a mutual agreement between all people to use certain symbols and associated sounds to represent various things found in nature or to represent various abstract notions developed by the mind. The invention of language gives tremendous power to human beings. All advances in science and technology, engineering and medicine would not have been possible without the foundation of language.

As much as language helps in changing our environment, it is also the source of much misery, misunderstanding and suffering. Words can deceive and words can hurt. Words can influence masses of people and words can make people fight with each other. The root cause of all the problems caused by our language can be traced to Alfred Korzybski’s famous statement – The Word is not the Thing.

Let me explain with an example. The word “bulb” stands for the physical object, which is spherical in form made out of glass and contains a filament made of tungsten. When connected to an electrical outlet, it glows and gives off light. You, me and everyone else has agreed to call it a bulb. We could have agreed to call it by any other name but for some historical reason we have called it the bulb.

The physical bulb is not a static object because it is undergoing change all the time. The filament is wearing off and the glass is getting weaker. But the name remains the same. The word “bulb” does not change. Now most people when shown a bulb will say that it is a bulb whereas in reality there is only the agreement to call it a bulb. The physical object can break when dropped on the floor but the word “bulb” does not break.

In the case of the bulb, there is no problem. Most people would agree wholeheartedly that the word, which is the symbol, is not the real thing. But in many other instances, all of us confuse the two. We fuse the word and the thing together as if they were never separate. And this confusion leads to all the troubles.

Let me explain with another example. The word “communist” stands for a person who believes in a certain way of thinking, who has a certain ideology and has certain political convictions. Communism is generally associated with negative connotations. Now, suppose you come to know that Mr. X, your friendly neighbor, is a communist. You will automatically forget all the excellent qualities of Mr. X and starting being cautious in interacting with him.

This reaction is common in many other cases where the symbol is confused to be the thing. We salute the flag (a symbol) to show our respect to our country. We offer flowers to a statue (a symbol) in order to pray to God. We give a birthday card (a symbol) to express our love. We attach a lot of emotion to our symbols. So if someone burns the flag, we consider it as an attack on the country and if someone throws away the card, we consider it as an insult.

If we think about our reactions with a calm mind, we will discover that they are not warranted. However because of our habit, we continue to confuse the word for the thing.