The Duck Test

The Duck

Today while walking on the beach I encountered a Duck. Until that point I had been enjoying the strong cold wind, the hint of more rain to come and the wash of the surf breaking on the beach and rocks. The ocean was alive and it felt good to be there. I stared at the duck and the duck stared back. We were like a scene out of “The Far Side”.

There was something odd about this duck. For a start it did not seem to mind the wind or the cold, but then ducks are used to extreme conditions. It had all the features of a duck; plumage, shape and size were all distinctive. The Duck did not waddle or quack but based on my observations thus far I could surmise safely that this indeed was a Duck.

The oddity struck me. This Duck was not in its natural habitat. I was looking at a freshwater lake dweller far from home. For some reason the Duck had decided to join sea gulls on the beach. There were few other birds around and I started to feel worried for this duck. I asked myself, is this duck lost? Does this duck need help? How did it get here? Was it blown on the wind and separated from its group? Was it in fact a migratory duck? Could I see a tracker on its legs? Was it injured? Would it die? Should I call someone and report a wayward duck?

All of the sudden my mind was agog with concerns and questions about this duck. I had seen what I assumed was a duck and had made a whole lot of assumptions about it. It never struck me that perhaps this Duck was eyeing me in the same way; is that a human? What’s it doing on the beach in a storm? Is it dangerous? Should I leave now? Does it have food?

 Abductive Reasoning

There is a saying “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”. The phrase refers to a form of abductive reasoning commonly used by people to arrive at the most simple and logical conclusion. The Duck Test is based on observation and deduction. When we see something that appears to be what it is, we determine without much fuss that it is.

For example, if I see someone staggering down the street with a bottle of liquor in his hands, slurring his words and smelling of alcohol I can safely assume that this person is drunk. It would be a mistake for me to surmise that the person is also alcoholic without further proof. I can determine that the person may be unpredictable if approached because experience has taught me that people who are drunk in public can be unpredictable.  This does not make this person unpredictable, bad or a danger. I must simply be wary until we have passed and gone on our separate ways.

A ploy used by canvassers to get people to read their flyers is to hand them what appears to be a $100 bill. On one side is Benjamin Franklin and on the other side is an offer to sell something. I’ve fallen for it a number of times. Once I have scrutinized the piece of paper I realize it is a ruse. The canvasser is simply taking advantage of two things, human greed and the fact that everyone will do a Duck Test on a $100 bill to determine if it is real. We don’t keep the note hoping that it may somehow later prove to have monetary value. There are no assumptions made, we toss it away.


Why is that we always make assumptions and jump to conclusions about the important things in our lives? The temptation is to wander away from the facts that are presented. We hear a rumor that things are going poorly in the market and then fear the calamity of an economic recession and unemployment. A lump is felt somewhere under our skin and we do a bit of “Dr Google” and convince ourselves that it is cancer. A news flash tells us that the Government has increased its Terror Alert and we react in fear and stay away from public places. A report of an escaped fugitive somewhere in the city and we stay indoors and arms ourselves. An article on social media tells us that the planets, current affairs and wild weather herald the coming end of the world and based on the comments some of us believe it.

I was recently pleased to hear that the people in Guam are continuing on with their lives and holidays despite ominous warnings in the media about nuclear Armageddon visiting the Island. I’ve been to Guam and the local reaction does not surprise me. Why be freaked about about something for no real reason?


We alcoholics tend to be catastrophic thinkers. Over complication, dramatization and pessimism are alcoholic habits that die hard. We tend to tie ourselves in to knots over imagined fears. An argument is the end of a friendship or the start of a divorce. One missed repayment will cost us everything as we tell ourselves the banks will take the house. A mistake at work will surely blow our chances of promotion or cost us our job. This is the Ego representing itself as Fear. They are nothing more than mental impressions but have a powerful pull on us. In fear we do irrational things and make poor decisions. Through those actions we can realize our worst fears.

 Jedi Reasoning

In the Star Wars saga there are many examples where the Jedi use the Duck Test. The Jedi were cool headed under pressure, they saw things in plain view and worked in the now with the facts at hand. The Jedi had profundity, they had deep insight and knowledge as well as the Force guiding them. Yet the Jedi could keep their feet on the ground and “keep it real”. Decisions were often based on the simplest explanation of things.They did not over complicate things.

The Clones were soldiers who operated under very simple reasoning processes. It was in their genetic programming to see things as they appeared. Clone Troopers did not spend their time agonizing over unknowns. They had one purpose. Orders were passed down and obeyed without question. The Jedi used this to tactical advantage and led the Clones in to battle as an effective fighting force.

There were also many occasions where the Jedi were blinded by assumptions. Ahsoka Tano was framed and charged with attempting to destroy the Jedi Temple and was banned from the order with little chance to defend herself.

All of the Jedi Masters were fooled by the meticulous deception of the Sith. They were blindly led to the events which resulted in the end of the Galactic Republic. Obi-Wan Kenobi failed his student Anakin by refusing to accept the truth that his friend was straying from the Jedi Path. Darth Vader was fooled in to thinking that the Death Star was indestructible until a bold group of rebels were able to storm an impenetrable citadel and steal the master plans revealing the Death Stars fatal flaw.

We could argue that each of these events transpired because things “were not as they appeared”. In fact, the most decisive moments in Star Wars occurred because the characters failed to see things for what they were. There were no Jedi Mind Tricks to this, just failure to see superficial reality out of profundity when it mattered.

The Surface Appearance

Usually reality is nothing more than the surface appearance of things. Things happen and they happen as they appear. All of the other images of calamity and disaster might well be imagination. A Duck is really just a Duck. Who knows why it might be on a beach?

Sometimes it is better to stick with first impressions and allow the facts to reveal themselves as they do. For example, it would be ill advised to accuse someone of something based on a hunch or loosely held assumptions. The proper way would be to reserve judgement, allow the facts to present themselves, remove all doubt and then make a statement and present evidence. Allow the person to defend themselves; there may be more to it than is known.

 Superficial – out of profundity

Be Objective, stick with the facts and to quote Marcus Aurelius “don’t tell yourself anything more that what the initial impressions report”.  We are conditioned to judge, seek answers and work things out. Our cognitive abilities include critical thinking. Pragmatism should however never be compromised.

As Jedi we should be able to keep a cool head and see things as they are, we should reject the compulsion to automatically jump to conclusions. We should be, as Nietzsche referred to the Greeks, “superficial – out of profundity”. With insight and knowledge comes the ability to accept things as they appear without losing our minds. We should sometimes accept that a duck is just a duck and nothing more.