Thursday, July 30, 2009

Uncertainty (cont'd.) ...

... a Comment by The Physicist. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I'm always amazed why we (humans) think that we can predict to any degree of accuracy what's going to happen tomorrow. We seem to accept the fact that we can't predict the weather very well but sure believe that the stock market will make a comeback ...
Well, we are skeptical of today's weather forecast, but scads of people seem to think we can predict what the long-term trends in climate are, even though climate is as complex and dynamical system as there is.

And here's a classic observation:

To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,
To report the behaviour of the sea monster,
Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry,
Observe disease in signatures, evoke
Biography from the wrinkles of the palm
And tragedy from fingers; release omens
By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable
With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams
Or barbituric acids, or dissect
The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors—
To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual
Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press:
And always will be, some of them especially
When there is distress of nations and perplexity
Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road.

The fact is, we are always trying to game complex systems. This is the root of all superstition. Genuine faith serves the function of enabling us to live in a world that is fundamentally mysterious and unpredictable - and to savor the mystery and grow with it and by means of it. If the evolutionists want a good explanation in survival terms of why religion came about, there's one for them. But the tendency to game complex systems corrupts religion as well, reducing it to a check list of do's and don'ts, turning the sign of the cross into something on the order of casting salt over your shoulder. Real faith bestows courage, not certitude.

Oh, and here's what a physician thinks of one reform idea: Stop Paying the Crooks.
What is it with these so-called policy gurus? Knowing little or nothing about how health care really works, they haul out the bromides and throw around statistics based on taking small numbers and projecting them across large populations, to come up with scary percentages which then echo around the web and inside the hollow heads of the parrots in media newsrooms. Oh, and our politicians then use this crapola to formulate policies, which always end up having massive unintended consequences and which never achieve the results promised.


  1. Frank as you say "[t]he fact is, we are always trying to game complex systems. This is the root of all superstition."

    I would note only that our failures go one step further; we are always trying to impose complex systems. This is the root of all evil.

    For in constantly creating what we think are accurate systems in many arts and sciences we try to discern good and evil and come down on the side of good. Exercising knowledge of good and evil is how Man lost the Garden.

    Man can’t create accurate systems. Our limitations are shown in fields as diverse as quantum mechanics -- where the mathematical complex system we use has predictive power but simply can't be understood non mathematically -- to religion, where we can’t answer the Voice’s question to Job: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.”

    Of course none of that means we should abandon science or religion as they and everything in between has led to the average person being exponentially better off than any time before in the history of Man…but the flaw remains, and humility on the part of those who would proclaim and use systems should result. Otherwise we just keep repeating the sin of the Garden.