Kim Jones wrote:
> On 07/12/2008, at 3:00 AM, Brent Meeker wrote:
>> Kim Jones wrote:
>>> On 06/12/2008, at 6:18 PM, A. Wolf wrote:
>>>>> I guess what I am on about is a bit closer to the 80s idea of  
>>>>> "chaos"
>>>>> - something that is inherently unpredictable; at least if you adopt
>>>>> the stance of always launching your prediction from a single
>>>>> present -
>>>>> the one you happen to find yourself in.
>>>> I think you mean randomness, not chaos.  Chaos theory deals with
>>>> deterministic systems that vary widely in result based on small
>>>> changes in
>>>> initial starting conditions; these systems are 100% predictable.
>>> Don't believe in randomness. "Random" means we don't understand what
>>> determines it. Like "Junk DNA"; it's only junk up until we work out
>>> what it's really for.
>>> You can predict with 100% accuracy that systems with varying initial
>>> conditions will bifurcate and become chaotic once driven beyond a
>>> certain point. What you cannot say is what is determining the order  
>>> in
>>> the chaos once it arrives. That's closer to what I mean.
>>> 2 men start to dig a hole. They are instructed to make it reach a
>>> depth of 5 feet. One of them murders the other with his shovel.  
>>> Nobody
>>> predicted that would happen.
>> How do you know that?  Maybe it was quite predictable.
> Except nobody did predict it. That's my point. It was perfectly  
> obvious why only after the event. Police checks, medical checks etc.  
> revealed the pattern that pointed to the causation. Before the event,  
> this information was available too. Nobody saw anything tending or  
> pending in the information beforehand.

Some people saw it.  For example W saw a report titled "Bin Laden to 
strike in U.S."  An FBI agent was told that some middle eastern guy was 
taking lessons in flying an airliner but wasn't interested in learning 
to land it.  I'd say that in this case the difficulty is that while the 
relevant information was available, so was irrelevant information and 
the irrelevant information was so much greater it swamped the relevant.
> Schoolteachers have to do "Risk assessments" to evaluate the  
> possibility of harm to students on excursion. Studies have shown that  
> risk assessments do nothing to reduce the incidence of accidents or  
> misadventure. 
Of course predictions an analyses, however accurate, are useless if no 
one acts on them.  If the schoolteacher notes that sunburn is a likely 
hazard but she doesn't bring any sunblock is it an accident?  I'm very 
familiar with risk assessments and how worthless they are. I work at a 
major missile test range where risk assessments are required for every 
test.  The main reason they are worthless is that they *necessarily* 
include only risks we've thought of.  Any risk we've thought of has 
already been the object of efforts to reduce it's probability to a very 
low level, typically 0.001.  Of course the probability there is some 
risk we haven't thought of is greater than 0.001 - so it's almost always 
the risk we hadn't thought of that bites us.

> Accidents simply happen. Accidents are still determined  
> by something. We call it an accident only because we have no way  
> before it happens of knowing that the cotter pin in the driving arm  
> was about to shear off leaving the train without an effective brake  
> system. Once the plane crashes, the black box reveals most of what we  
> wish we had known beforehand.
> The problem is TIME - the sequence of the arrival of information  
> determines how we look at it

The problem is also TIME as in the man hours it takes to know about 
things.  We have a way to knowing whether that cotter pin was about to 
shear off - but it's expensive and time consuming to implement; so we 
don't go around x-raying cotter pins for micro-cracks.  We may require 
replacing the periodically, but that can be expensive to.  So a some 
level we decide things are *good enough*.  For example, do you know how 
many people were killed in accidents, hijackings, and terrorist events 
on U.S. airlines and airliners flying in U.S. airspace between Nov 2001 
and Oct 2005?   The answer is zero.
>>> We can 'determine' the reasons for this
>>> event only AFTER it happens, even though it was determined by
>>> something that we might have noticed prior to the event if only we  
>>> had
>>> been able to. All action can be seen as logically determined in
>>> hindsight.
>> You must not have heard of quantum mechanics.
> I have. I am clearly speaking about the macro world where time travels  
> (apparently) in one direction only and there is this tendency for an  
> action to be followed by an effect or another action. 'Action' in this  
> context refers mainly to the activity of conscious agents, humans. It  
> may yet be shown that protons and quarks have 'agency' but that is not  
> really at issue here

It may also be that random atomic events may be amplified by chaotic 
dynamics, in the weather or in brains, to have macro consequences.
>>  And how can you know the
>> causes seen in hindsight are correct.
> Not causes - merely that there existed a logical pattern of  
> connections that led from A through to D that we were blind to at the  
> time. If, in hindsight we do not spot the logical connections then we  
> have no way of understanding the event at all. I guess there may well  
> be examples of that, too
The "logical pattern" may just be our rationalization of what happened.  
Humans are good a seeing patterns in activities and also in clouds.  
Hitler, in his bunker a few days before he killed himself, complained to 
Speer, "You know, Albert. This is all the Jews' fault. They deliberately 
started this war just so they could destroy the German people."

>> Modeling the past is hard too.
>> In what sense do we know why the terrorists flew planes in the WTC?
> Because everything we already knew about them before the event was  
> still available to us after the event. After the event, everyone could  
> see the powerful pattern in the data that they were blind to before  
> the event. In a sense we knew this COULD happen. We simply could not  
> predict that they would make the decision to act on what everybody  
> (intelligence agancies, CIA etc.) already were aware of.
None of that answers the "why" question.  What motivated them?  Did they 
"hate our freedom"?  Or did they act out of revenge for something we did 
or the imagined we did? 

>>> Before something happens is where we would like to be more
>>> on top of things. Intelligence exists on terrorism but usually this
>>> usually fails to determine our actions to prevent terrorist acts,
>>> interestingly enough. If you look closely at what I am saying, it is
>>> the rather messy human consciousness part of the equation that SPOILS
>>> the mathematical modelling in most cases.
>> Sure.  Humans and even most animals are extremely complicated.  Even
>> things like weather and viscous flow over an aircraft are to  
>> complicated
>> to model except approximately over a limited range.
>>> I am saying that a full
>>> perceptual scan of the situation often takes us way beyond what the
>>> data suggests. Just like the Mumbai massacre - intelligence WAS
>>> available that suggested it could happen. Yet the massacre was
>>> "allowed" to happen, because nobody could see the looming pattern in
>>> the data until after it happened by which time it was bleeding  
>>> obvious
>>> to one and all. It seems that in many situations the sheer volume of
>>> information available is as much a part of the problem as the  
>>> decision-
>>> making process. 
Right.  The "obvious" pattern is picked out in hindsight and some 
"obvious" pattern would have been picked out in hindsight no matter what 
had happened.  I don't see how lateral thinking is going to do anything 
to solve the problem of too much data.

>>> How do we decide? Data alone are incapable of making
>>> decisions. You still need a wet, messy human brain with a  
>>> perceptually
>>> skilled mind to do that
>> And apparently that doesn't work all that well either.
> No it doesn't, if we only feed information and data into computers and  
> expect the computer to do our thinking for us.
That's a strawman.  Nobody was feeding data to a computer and expecting 
it to anticipate the 9/11 or Mumbai attacks. Those oversights were made 
by wet, messy human brains.

>>>>> Isn't this kind of like an act of  faith?
>>>> No.  Faith isn't based on evidence.  When we use math to model
>>>> things in
>>>> reality, we do so empirically.  If a distribution doesn't fit after
>>>> testing
>>>> it, we don't use it to model that set of data, for example.  How we
>>>> use math
>>>> functionally is different from math itself.
>>> Sure, but correlations occur between sets of data and there is a
>>> tendency for them to look like causations. Most scientists and data
>>> collectors are trained to say "correlations do not necessarily imply
>>> causations" which is great advice up until the correlation turns out
>>> to BE a causation
>> You just seem to on a rant against everyone who thinks, calculates,
>> predicts, etc.
> No - I am arguing for a different style of thinking, calculating,  
> predicting. I am arguing for more of what I have called "Creative  
> thinking" (Lateral thinking). Please go back and read my original post  
> again.
> Creativity is not a matter of whether a particular idea is right or  
> wrong. Creativity is not a matter of finding the best way of putting  
> certain things together. Creativity is a matter of trying to get at  
> what has been left out of the original way of looking at the  
> situation. 
But you don't know that anything significant has been left out until you 
are surprised by events.  There's nothing creative in just pointing to 
things that have been left out - there are always an infinite number of 
things that are left out.  In calculating flow over an aircraft I can 
leave out ionization of the air because it's not going to fly Mach 7.  I 
can leave out the gravitational pull of the Moon because it's too weak.  
Are there other things I've left out?  Sure.  The question is are they 

> One can never get at this simply by judging the  
> effectiveness of a particular way of looking at the situation. All of  
> our mathematical formalities of calculating and predicting things are  
> marvellous, wonderful and highly effective methods. I would be a fool  
> to suggest otherwise. I in no sense advocate that we get rid of them.  
> I suggest though, that we supplement them with creative thinking  
> because this allows us to avoid or at best sidestep the traps of  
> purely logical, vertical thinking. It is not a question of stopping  
> doing something we are already doing. It is not a question of changing  
> something we are already doing. It is a question of starting to do  
> something we are not yet doing - or doing at best, only half-heartedly.

Maybe you do it half-heartedly, the test engineers I know make a career 
of it.  Nothing makes them happier than to discover a potential problem 
nobody else thought of.
>>>>> If we could perfectly model where things are heading then
>>>>> please tell me why all the BTSOAPs of the dismal science of the
>>>>> economics world could not arrange a more stable financial future  
>>>>> for
>>>>> us than the one we are currently moving into?
>>>> The problem with (for example) economic forecasts is not that the
>>>> mathematics is flawed; the math is fine.  It's the data collection
>>>> that's
>>>> flawed.
>>> I would say that it is the premises - the starting assumptions that
>>> are probably flawed, not the collection method, unless by collection
>>> method we include the starting assumptions which are unavoidably
>>> guiding the triage of the data.
>> It depends on the problem.  Calculating the flow over an aircraft  
>> isn't
>> hard because of data collection, it's hard because there are no closed
>> form solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations and because the airplane
>> has a complex shape. Calculations about what humans will do is hard  
>> both
>> because knowing what's in their brains is hard and because there are  
>> no
>> good models
> So it appears then that we are in perfect agreement. Don't try and  
> MINIMISE the problem, Brent! The "wet, messy, human brain/mind  
> problem" is THE problem!

A few paragraphs above, it was the solution: "You still need a wet, 
messy human brain with a perceptually skilled mind to do that." and 
computers and calculation was the problem.
>>> The biggest flawed assumption of all
>>> is the belief that data collection of itself will give rise to ideas
>>> and concepts. Data do not do that. We choose our starting points and
>>> assumptions in all cases. Often we aren't even aware of these because
>>> - well, they are assumptions and nobody really questions assumptions
>>> much.
>> On what planet?
> I am saying that on the whole (not always) people skate past their  
> assumptions - in business, in politics, in religion, in education, in  
> a hundred thousand human endeavours. Maybe not so much in science and  
> math and philosophy - which is why I think this list is one of the  
> better audiences for what I am saying.

Sure.  That's why anything an engineer designs is checked and tested by 
other engineers.  That's why scientists review other scientists papers 
and try to replicate their experiments.  People generally have trouble 
seeing their own mistakes - ever proof read something you've written and 
then thinking you've caught all the errors give it to somebody else to 
>>> Our way of looking at the data is not itself present in any way
>>> in the data. I'm saying that if reality conforms to our model of it,
>>> then the danger is we are looking at only a part of the situation.  
>>> The
>>> issue in question is the WHOLE situation, not just that part we  
>>> to look at. How can we ever be ccertain that we are in fact looking  
>>> at
>>> the whole situation.
>> Of course we are never looking at *the whole situation* (the
>> universe?).  We know we are looking at enough of the situation when  
>> our
>> models make successful approximate predictions and when we understand
>> where the errors come from.
> Is it not interesting though, that "where the errors came from" is  
> usually available to our minds only after the experiment has run,  
> after the train has gone off the rails, after the planes have flown  
> into the buildings etc.??
When doing calculations and predictions I'm generally aware of many 
sources of error - but those are the ones I have under control so that I 
know they won't make my result to far off the mark - they'll make it an 
approximation, but a good approximation.  It is blindingly obvious that 
if I thought of a source of error I'd take it into account. That 
problems are caused by the unforseen is close to a tautology.  Since 
anything (short of quantum randomness) that can happen is in principle 
forseeable, it is also almost a tautology that whatever happened was 
"available to our minds".

> I'm not saying that we should be trying to invent some kind of  
> "crystal Ball" technology - only that techniques, formal techniques  
> which enable a better perceptual understanding of future possibilities  
> is already available to us and that it is high time we started to  
> value these techniques more - indeed, to teach them starting with pre- 
> schoolers. Education for one, NEVER teaches "how to choose concepts".  
That's a good point.  When my son was in the 8th grade I became 
concerned because after three weeks, according to his reports, they had 
done essentially nothing in his science class.  So I had a meeting with 
the teacher.  She explained that they hadn't gotten to any of the things 
I expected because they first had to learn how to plan experiments.  I 
said, "You mean techniques like brain-storming, symmetry, considering 
extreme values?"  She said, "No. I mean looking up terms in the 
dictionary, discussing it within a group, and asking me questions."

I had my son removed from her class.


> Yet, the concepts we use to view information are absolutely 100%  
> behind the choices we make when we act on information. If we choose,  
> for example the concept of "ALLAHU AKHBAR" as our starting premise for  
> what we do, that then enables an enormous set of activities predicated  
> on this idea. It is perfectly logical.
> regards,
> Kim
>> Brent
> >

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