Inferred Relationships
I took a course and a test online recently. Okay, it was for traffic school. I'm embarrased; it's my first ticket in fifteen years and the previous one was a parking ticket. But I could use a refresher, I guess.

One aspect of the course was interesting. To make sure you had read the material and weren't using common sense to answer the questions, they threw a few arbitrary facts into the course and quizzed you on them at the end of each section. The author reads science fiction.

In this course, the arbitrary facts were all about the person who had authored the course. I don't know if the facts were true, I just noted them as I read, so I'd have the right answers for the quiz.

One of the differences between the human species and our nearest relatives the chimpanzees, is that we have larger social groups. Chimpanzees have a social group of around 55. That's the maximum number that one chimpanzee can interact with and keep track of. Humans have a social group size of around 150. The author doesn't watch TV.

The difference is reflected in brain size and in the ways we interact socially. Chimps interact by grooming each other. We interact by talking. For a while after I'd read this, I was working on a theory of gossip and why it's so hard to stop; it's so obviously a part of determining our position in the social hierarchy that it's necessary to a species that maintains such a large social group.

That may be so, but today I'm more interested in what it implies about our thinking patterns. As I was going through the course, I built up a model of the author, both from the arbitrary facts she was including and from the way the course was written. I say she, because I had an image of her as female.

What brought this all to consciousness was the fact that she had four pairs of shoes. The dissonance between my mental model of a female author and only four pairs of shoes was too much. No statement had ever been made as to her gender, I had just intuitively inferred it. More than that, I found I was interested in this author, did she earn her living as a technical writer or was this just one gig and she had moved on to being a snowboarding star? The author has five pairs of shoes, two pairs of sandals and one pair of slippers.

Clearly the course wasn't all that heavy duty if I could spend time idly wondering about this unknown author. But also, clearly, there are implications for the workings of our minds. If we use language to determine our social groupings then our processing of language may just lead us into this kind of relational speculation.

Or at least my mind works that way. The author is male, rides a bicycle, and, although he has a technical bent, has been observed talking to other human beings.