Economics (3) Surplus

Looking at reality through the filter of economics captures all of life with some additional false positives (things that we do not classify as alive but still seem to trade time and energy for material and energy).  Using investment as the filter eliminates the false positives at the expense of adding a far greater number of false negatives (most of life does not invest).  Evolution is at play, rewarding species that are predisposed to invest (predisposed either directly through genes or indirectly via thought).

A side effect of investment is that one might produce a surplus of a desired product (such as food), possibly in amounts beyond what the individual can consume.  It seems common enough for investing species to develop (in individual thought or in species wide genes) a protocol for sharing the occasional surplus with others.

In the simplest form, the genetically controlled protocol has no parameters and every incident is both like every other incident and at the same time independent of every other one.  The next rung up the ladder, if you will, is where each act of sharing affects the social standings within a community.  While I lack proof or references to supporting research, my crude thought experiments suggest that humans exhibit a range of mechanisms for long term profit from sharing, with the simplest being nearly indistinguishable from adjusting a single parameter that affects social standing.  I suggest that prior to adopting systems of writing, much effort went into rememberring every sharing incident (transaction) so as to, over a long term, balance out the net benefit to each party, with some of the “corrections” being more of sharing the deficits than sharing the surpluses.

One might think that a barter system would relieve the burden on the memories of the individuals in a community, but further reflection ought to highlight the immense difficulty getting exchanges to balance the values of what is being traded.  Given this limitation, one should expect that trading patterns in a community would be either between closely connected neighbors or be regularly recurring exchanges involving specialization (of skills or access to resources) or both. Some advances would be needed to enable communities (and civilizations), on more than a minimal scale, to practice, and profit from, specialization, investment, and exchange.

The reward for finding and using such advancements proved more than sufficient for several developments to come into practice, specifically counting (numeracy), writing (literacy), and money.  These advances were repeatedly discoverred around the world.

Economics (2) Investment

Investment is the oldest or first economic practice, even though the practice started long before we seemed able to do the economic analysis to justify it.  Perhaps, evolution selects for investment in that those who make investments are more likely to have descendants; such would permit investment to become more common without yet requiring that humans do conscience analysis.

In its simplest form, investment is doing work, expending time and effort, before it (the product) is needed.  In that very simple form, investment only changes long term outcomes to the most trivial  extent: most transactions are unchanged, some become more efficient, and some are wasted work.  The efficiency of investment grows as we see patterns in our transactions and anticipate needs before they become acute.

A very large impact can arise when some product or intermediary can be used more than once.  This situation is the an example of “economies of scale”, albeit at the very small end of that scale.  Some very early examples are: building a nest to use for more than one night (repeat use of a product), saving a rock that has been chipped in order to form a knife (repeat use of an intermediary product), planting a perennial crop (repeat harvest), and planting a field with seeds for an annual (parallel treatment of very many plants).

Studying and learning are among the most abstract investments, and may also have the largest  payouts.

Investments have build (or at least paid for) all the accomplishments of humanity.  They are also the foundation for almost all the other advancements in economics, including specialisation and trade.  I suspect that investment has some hidden costs, such as making war more common than it might otherwise be.

Economics (1) Life

This is the beginning of a new thread, economics. I see it as a study of life as seen through a filter, a defining filter. The patterns that show up when looking through that filter are both interesting in the abstract and relevant to directing our subsequent behaviour.

Distilling all human existence down to its most basic shows that our lives are a long series of transactions or conversions. We have a steady increment of time, we get one second for each second, such a trivial and obvious pattern. We have muscles to animate ourselves and have an impact on our surroundings. We have a series of needs, such as: food, drink, shelter, warmth, cooling, comfort, and safety. We use time and our muscles, in fact our whole bodies, to satisfy our needs. Of course, we have learned to use our brains (our minds) to increase our efficiency at getting satisfaction for the our expenditure of time and effort. We have learned to seek the maximum satisfaction for the minimum time and effort; this is the essence of economics.

Life is much more than can be seen through the filter of economics, but all the other pursuits depend on having resources beyond what must be converted (consumed) in order to sufficiently satisfy those needs on which we depend. This leads to a relationship, a pattern, of greater economic efficiency enables greater production of all esthetics, or in other words “economics funds the arts”.

Meta Thinking (4) Conspiracies

Given human nature and all the people who have ever lived, it seems likely that there have been millions of conspiracies spread unevenly over time, with most of them happenning recently. This means that we cannot issue a blanket dismissal of every claim to have discoverred one, even though it also seems that the majority of such claims are bogus. Thus the scorecard seems litterred with high counts of both false positives (bogus discoveries) and false negatives (undetected conspiracies).

Examining an example may provide illumination. Consider the claim that the moon landing in 1969 was faked. So many of the claims are focussed on the video images and some notion that producing fake images was some how easier than the actual effort could have been. While it is lots of fun to poke holes in these claims, it seems to be only a distraction with no hope of helping the poor fools who peddle them.

A much more complete rebuttal comes from going back to first principles. A conspiracy, by its very nature, is about secrecy, and not just at the time of the event, but forever. Secrecy is so very hard to maintain, and every additional person involved makes it harder. The moon landing event involved tens of thousands of people, regardless of whether it was real or faked; not quite enough to dump the claim yet.

Where the claim completely falls apart is in examining the audience for the event. Yes, the millions of viewers play a role, but most of them are just insignificant viewers. To understand, we need to look at the motivation for both the read event, if it happenned, and the illusion, if we were to suppose it was faked. The ordinary viewers in front of a family TV in the USA are a big part of the numbers but only a tiny part of that motivation. The principle target of the show was the masses of people around the world involved in the political competition between the USA and the International Communists. The family viewers may be easily duped (and are regularly), but the science and engineering communities around the world are much more discerning.

In this analysis, the video is actually relatively unimportant. The crux of the situation is the source of the radio (TV is just a special format of radio) transmission. Radio direction finding is technology that was already well understood in the 1930s. The spheroid shape of the earth, together with witnesses scatterred around the globe, means that faking the transmission would be detected immediately; do not doubt that the USSR would have pointed out such a glaring contradiction if the transmission had not been from the moon.

In summary, lunar landing deniers expect us to accept that tens of thousands of people worked for the USA to produce a fake video (along with the appearance of a functional rocket) that depends on a robot lander to get to the moon intact and operational, carrying either the video or a radio relay, in order to persuade the rest of the world that the USA is superior to USSR, and to reject International Communism. It seems so much more likely that the USA would risk scores of astronaut lives doing the real thing.

Meta Thinking (3) Epistemology

The dictionary at hand defines “epistemology” this way:

the theory of knowledge, esp. with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.

It is such a shame that this discipline is not officially  included at all in the standard public education.  I would want at least a several week long mini-course as a requirement for a publicly funded education.  Such coverage might still not help people discern which sources should be given more credibility, but it couldn’t possibly hurt in that regard.

Philosophers might reject my claim but I consider epistemology to be an import aspect of science.  How can you be sure that you have the power (the empowerment of science) unless you know how you know. You must either repeat every experiment so that you know that when you need it you will have the power to; or you need to be sufficiently assured that your sources are reliable.

All the scientists and engineers that I know do approximately the same thing: they cross correlate every bit of every model with every other bit of every model. This cross checking is usually done subconsciously except that the conflicts quickly bubble to the surface to be more carefully examined, and resolved. Some conflicts do not get resolved, and some of those become the basis of new research.

After decades of cross checking data and models in the hard sciences, many of us carry over the practice to all of our lives. I even question why anybody would fail to do this kind of checking, and why people continue to pay attention to sources that have repeatedly shown themselves to be faulty, especially news outlets like Fox News.

Random Thoughts (2) Food Precision

I like food.  I have fairly sensitive tastes.  I hate being lied to about what is set in front of me.  Specially, I have issues with the following list of foods:

  • Margarine is not butter and can never be.  So do not pretend otherwise.  Margarine has its place and in that niche butter is a poor substitute.  (There is trick to making cookies that involves mixing the butter and the margarine.)
  • Miracle Whip is not mayonnaise so do not pretend otherwise.
  • A hamburger is a sandwich made in the style of Hamburg as defined by a pair of brothers in a stall at the Hamburg World’s Fair, specifically a bun or roll with a cooked beef sausage patty (13% fat by weight).  It has nothing else in the patty, no onion, no bread crumbs, no eggs, no horse meat, no ham, ….
  • Pesto is a puree of basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil.  Do not pretend you are free to use parsley instead of basil, nor cashews for pine nuts, nor some other hard cheese.  Do not pretend that you can add sun dried tomatoes.  You can make all sorts of purees but they are not pesto.
  • Ketchup (or catsup) is not tomato sauce.  That condiment should have lots of vinegar in it, and then I would not want it on my pasta.
  • Blancmange is not custard.  Custard is made with eggs; mock custard is made with corn (maize) starch.
  • Red tea is not tea.
  • Pepsi is not Coke (I have always been able to tell them apart).

I am well aware that there are plenty of people with food allergies, and I believe that things should be properly labelled for them. I refuse to limit my diet to match their handicap. Do not confuse things with imprecise labels. If you want to help those with an intolerance for eggs, then make some products with “mock custard”; leaving out the “mock” only makes them more at risk from exposure to the real thing.

I do not appreciate people attempting to protect me from problems I do not have. Do not ever try to take away my sugar, my caffeine, my gluten, my eggs, my alcohol, my meat, my pork, my lactose, etc.  I want my caesar salad made with raw eggs. I want my steak tartare made with raw beef. I want my sushi made with raw fish (or not as is appropriate to the variety).

I want to re-experience culinary treats that I have grown fond of.  You offend me when you lie about what you are serving.

Politics (2) Democracy

Democracy is such a misunderstood term. Almost nobody in the world has experienced true democracy and almost never on a large scale. Many of us live in countries that have implemented representative democracies, specifically republics. Yet such a small proportion of those who live in republics understand how republics work, specifically how voting works in a republic.

An Unrestricted Analyst could debunk many of the popular misconceptions about voting in a republic. One such misconception is that a vote reveals what is wanted by the voter.

  1. Anyone who has ever held a paper ballot knows that there is no where near enough space on it to hold a complete and unambiguous express of what is wanted.
  2. Anyone who has ever tried to express any requirement or specification knows that the space to present it is the least of the problems (issues of completeness and ambiguity are overwhelming).
  3. One does not have to scratch deeply into the study of decision making by organisations to find that a huge portion of influence is exerted by the framer of the question(s) (as are being asked on the ballot).
  4. If the answer to the question is other than “yes” or “no”, then there is no general algorithm for combining answers from multiple ballots into a single answer from the election, referendum, or plebiscite — as in there are multiple algorithms where few if any give the same result as another.

Given these easily observed limitations (and there are plenty more beyond them), it is hard to justify the view held by so many that they should be able to express what they want on the ballot. Given their failure to understand the tool they are using, it is not hard to see why so many voters are so angry that the results of elections never seem to reflect what they want.  And for too many, the misconceptions about ballots and democracy is but the tip of the iceberg that is the failure of their education.

Meta Thinking (2) Science

Science is a pattern of thought and practice that promotes and is promoted by empowerment. Science is the cataloguing of incidents and the development of models consistent with those incidents. The credibility of science comes through the fundamental principle that all of it exists to permit each and every follower to recreate those incidents on demand and thereby verify the usefulness of those models.

For many people, it is the authority of the speaker that imparts truth to what is said, while for those in the thrall of science it is the speaking of truth that defines an authority. The scientist (and scientifically inclined) sees truth in the models that predict the behavior of the universe, each bit separately and collectively. If such a person cannot benefit by the predictions of outcomes, then the models are forgotten. The models that are shared are those that served best.

Science is different, very different, from mathematics, though both have need for the other. Part of the models used in science are when and how to use pieces of mathematics in producing reliable predictions; science is the connection of mathematics to reality. The objects in mathematics exist there only because they are needed for the consistent behavior of mathematical systems. Truth in mathematics is because it completes and agrees with the rest of mathematics; truth in science is because it predicts the behavior of reality.

Science is a religion or a portion of some religions, in that it requires a belief about the nature of reality. Where it seems to fail to serve all the religious needs of its followers is not explaining the purpose of existence nor proving the correctness of good, although it may provide aid to reason about good and evil.

Meta Thinking (1)

I am by many measures unusual. My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor’s of Science. This is without further qualifier, such as major. While I have spent decades working as a software engineer, I have come to think of myself as an analyst. I initially thought I was a systems analyst, but I suspect that I am really an unrestricted analyst and have been since years before attending university. I have met a few others who I would also call unrestricted analysts, but we are not common, in fact, not close to common enough, and this is the first time I have used that term to describe us.

I will attempt to explain what I mean by the term unrestricted analyst (UA). When a UA listens to a presentation or engages in a conversation about something, the UA builds light-weight mental models for all the relevant components. A UA then exercises those models to find an easily extracted properties and parameters, especially those that reveal the limits of those models and the corresponding components. Sometimes the exercise of the model spill over and we write down notes and formulae, and give instance to the general description “back of the envelope calculations”. This is similar to the behavior of a systems analyst except that a UA does not limit the practice to any realm or discipline. A UA may be at liberty to decide for his or her self how much detail to incorporate, what degree of precision to use, and even which questions to entertain. For a true UA every situation is potentially one to analyse.

Now for an extreme example. A friend of a friend tried to interest me in a video that purportedly provided indisputable evidence that a top government official played a role in the death of another official. I did not need to see the video to render the evaluation that the video was, at best, worthless. In order for the death of the official, as reported in the media, to have been murder, it would have required far more resources than would have been required to erase that friend-of-a-friend along with the video. Thus, the video was a fraud, the video was a threat to all who got near it, or the implicated official was so far beyond reach that no effort was being expended to suppress the evidence (and this later case could only serve to reveal how impotent we were).

Random thoughts (1)

While this blog started as an alternative to missives sent to a mailing list, it is likely to suck away my attention to farceBook.  This posting is a symptom of it.

The announcement of a report out of UPenn about the impact of reading the Harry Potter series on attitudes about Donald Trump triggerred a lot jumbled connections in my mind.  First are the questions about causality in the basic result, then were all the assorted issues about how people derive their votes (expressed opinions).

The report claims to show that reading the JK Rowlings works lessens the appeal (or strengthens the rejection) The Donald (DT).  I can see several different models that could align with those observations.  The simplest of them being that since each HP installment is larger than the one before it, the series constitutes a scale of serious reading (the more serious a reader the further into the series the reader will go), and serious readers are likely to reject DT.  Another model, discussed in other announcements, is that there are thematic similarities between DT and Voldemort, and readers are more likely to reject the real world counterpart of the fictitious bad guy.

My currently preferred model is a variant of the later.  In the narratives, all the people are struggling, to varying extents, to reconcile their emotional reactions against their logical analyses.  Harry’s team seems to have made their planning processes largely logical with emotional feedback to reflect the outcomes, while their opponent seem to have done the exact opposite.  I see the groups of people that back DT (and the Tea Party as well) as being more like the villain; actually, the model suggests 4 different categories of people where DT backers are either of those that do not base their planning on logic.