Faulty Logic Postulated on Imperfect Data Collection


Luther is a show I have been watching recently. A very well-crafted series with a superb cast. It is a psychological crime drama with a certain moral ambiguity which challenges the mind in a deeply satisfying and slightly disturbing way.

I saw the second season in the series first, a while ago, loved it, it was excruciating viewing, with every character created to torture the viewer, and with a very convoluted and intriguing storyline.

I have just finished watching the third season, which was bloody annoying. I almost wimped out of watching the rest of it after a couple of episodes. It had too many characters who were just too frustrating. People who are convinced of their righteousness and everyone else’s wrongness, and they keep shoving their morally superior existence down everyone’s throat without invitation to do so. Their ideal of goodness ends up doing more harm than the badness which they are fighting against.

The tagline for the show is: What if you were on the Devil’s side without knowing it?

But then Alice Morgan turned up, and she persuaded me to watch a little longer to see what she would do.

If there is anyone who can make a Sociopath likeable it is Alice Morgan.

Alice Morgan: Are you trying to beguile me?

DCI Luther: No, I wouldn’t be so foolish. But I will tell you this, Alice. You can revel in your brilliance for as long as you like, but people slip up. Happens time and time again.

Alice Morgan: Well that’s just faulty logic postulated on imperfect data collection. What if you only catch people who make mistakes? That would skew the figures, wouldn’t it?

DCI Luther: Yes, it would. But criminals aren’t as smart as they think they are.

Alice Morgan: Oh, that must get monotonous for someone as brilliant as you.

After the end of season three, I decided to watch the first season, the one which introduced all the characters, and gave birth to the fascinating Alice Morgan.

I think what makes her character so likeable is that there is a brutal and rather liberating honesty to her. She is fully cognisant of her motives and accepts responsibility for her actions, thoughts and words. She lives her life according to her own set of values and rules. She is who she is and is not ashamed of it, in fact she is proud of it, yet not in an overbearing way. She is very logical in her approach. Her mind is clear, her thinking razor sharp, not bogged down by sentiment, nostalgia, self-pity, emotional blackmail, the need to appease the judgement of others. She feels, but her feelings are her own, very distinctive, not clouded by the feelings of others or concern for the feelings of others.

Of course Alice Morgan isn’t real, she is the figment of someone’s fantasy, and the creation of a very talented actress. It is just a TV show. The characters are made up. Some of the psychology is questionable. The story is often farfetched and stretches credibility due to every scene and every character being adapted to fit a predetermined ending. Still… in fiction truth can reveal itself, truth which reality tends to prefer to hide.

This morning I read a news article – Psychopathic Criminals Have Empathy Switch – about a study which had been carried out on the brains of psychopaths.

“Placed in a brain scanner, psychopathic criminals watched videos of one person hurting another and were asked to empathise with the individual in pain.” © Melissa Hogenboom

A conclusion had been reached that psychopaths can experience empathy, but that they have a switch which allows them to turn it on and off at will.

The main concern was that psychopaths only experienced empathy when they were directed by the researchers to do so, whereas non-psychopaths experience empathy as a matter of course.

The problem with a study like this one is that the people who are being used as test subjects are aware that they are being tested, that they are being observed and judgments are being formulated based on what is observed. Thus the results are influenced by an external factor which lies outside of the study, but which is an intrinsic part of it.

The non-psychopathic and psychopathic test subjects’ brains have factored the scientific researchers in. They are aware that they are being watched. Scientific researchers often forget that very important detail and think that what they are observing excludes their presence and observation. They only see a part of the whole. Perhaps because they forget that they are there as they are too focused on what they are doing and the results they are seeking. They also overlook the fact that they too are being observed by those they are observing. Being consciously aware of all the data our brain is absorbing, processing and computing is too overwhelming, and we filter most of it out especially if we want to focus on one thing.

The results being observed do not show how these people’s brains would react if they were alone and unobserved. So it could be concluded that psychopaths are less affected by the opinions of others, being observed does not bother them, they do not care what others think of them or feel towards them, whereas non-psychopaths are very much affected by the opinions of others, being observed does bother them, it makes them very self-conscious, and they care very much about how they are perceived and what others think of them and feel towards them.

Who we are in private, in secret, when we know that no one else can possibly know what we are thinking and feeling is often different from who we are when we know that we are under observation, being tested, rated, judged and classified. Studies have been done about this, about how much we are influenced by the opinions of others, of what we think and feel others are thinking and feeling about us. This can make all the difference to our behaviour, our speech, our actions, our choices, feelings, thoughts, and who we are. This is partly why no one will ever understand us or know us for who we truly are, because we find it almost impossible to be our private selves when we are in public, even when that public is a very intimate acquaintance.

Have you ever wondered why films, documentaries, news stories, books, and TV shows about crime are so popular? If we are all so empathic, why do we enjoy watching pain being inflicted on others, real or fictional? Is empathy judgmental, based on opinion, on the ability to relate to the other person according to whether we think they are like us or not like us, on whether the pain being inflicted is done to someone we believe to be an innocent victim or to someone whom we consider to be evil? Can we all switch empathy on and off?

Alice Morgan: “The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” The universe is not evil, John, it is just indifferent.