Archive for July 22nd, 2008

The universe, the world, biology, human behavior is determined and unpredictable.

Business models will always be inaccurate as business is unpredictable and almost intractably so.

Software will always ship with bugs.  No amount of qa can squash them all.

Your best approach to product development is to try things and try a lot of things and see how they catch on.  Attempting to predict user preference or consumer demand beyond an educated guess is a waste of time, money and energy.

Time is intervening variable.  What we care about and what we actually measure when discussing time is change – the change in position relative to gear ticks, the change in position of the planets relative to each other, the change in our bodies relative to our experiences and so on.

If not you, someone else.  That holds for discoveries, jobs, relationships.  We’re all interchangeable and we will be interchanged.  The systems operate with or without us, sometimes “we” impact the system, sometimes we don’t.

Human cognition and the increase in our life spans is not “breaking the design” or “breaking from the constraints” of evolution.  The consequence of big brains, complex nervous systems can play out exactly as we are.  Other biological strategies are possible and have been “successful” at sustaining a species.  We do not know how we sustain the species by increasing life span and expanding knowledge, we can only observe and won’t know unless we persist as a species long enough or we die off (then we really won’t know).

There is a formal limit to knowledge.  The formal limit is far greater than our practical limit.

Philosophy provides little real insight into how it all works yet we all have a philosophy due to the practical limit of knowledge.

We are not even close to our practical limit of technology.

Math is a useful tool.  It is not pure and it is not objective truth.

Science is highly relative to/subjective of the person/people doing it.  It is a narrative, not statements of absolute truth.

If a theory takes longer than observation to explain something, it has little value.

We will never be able to predict the markets completely – never well enough to avoid the big shocks.

I’ll have more statements later this week.

Of course, I’ll even back these up!


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Have you ever played Civilization, the computer game?

Determined and yet unpredicable

Determined and yet unpredicable

If you haven’t, it’s really fun.  However, that’s not the point of this post nor the title.

What makes Civ or Sim City or any of the other sim games so interesting is that they are a great example of what it means to be completely determined and yet totally unpredictable.

So what, you say?  It’s a computer game.

Ah, I contest this game is far more like the real world than one might suspect.  Yes, I can “freely” control what I do with my civilization – move my citizens around, build different things, arm, disarm, trade, war, research, pray, etc. etc.  However, I’m actually quite forced into almost every move once all the contingencies come home to roost.  Did the computer just attack me?  Do I have the money? Do I have the people? How much power do I have? All of those and more filter the space of all possible moves.  Perhaps there’s a few “free” choices left on each move that become probabilities but even those are held under control based on contingencies (like my preferences for how to move).

So why then are the games (life?) unpredictable?  For one, initial conditions.  The set up of the geography, placement on the map, type of people and so forth change every time you start the game, so the game (under the same predetermined moves) takes a completely different form.  I’m always careful in discussing initial conditions because you can’t really ever make a claim as to what a real “initial” condition is in the real world (or even the game), as something must determine the initial condition you are looking at (even if it is a “random number generator).

Amazingly, it’s not just interesting initial conditions.  Simple rules (even the most basic rules you can imagine) can operate in fully unpredictable ways.  examples: http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Rule110.html and http://www.johnkyrk.com/DNAtranscription.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_number.  These three examples all of very simple rules of operation (how you generate them, how they evolve, etc. etc), yet their outcome/their behavior/their product is not predictable.

I digress (and don’t you hate when people say “I digress”?).

Perhaps my silly use of computer games does nothing for my argument about there being things that completely determined and unpredictable.  I could, of course, turn your attention to cellular automata or turing machines or some other simple system -some of these types of systems are unpredictable and they all are completely determined.  Unfortunately, many folks will complain that these aren’t “real world.”  The real world is full of indeterminism and lots of messy things that aren’t like computer games or automata.

It’s true that the world is full of systems that aren’t computer games or automata!  However, it’s not obviously true that these systems are indeterminate! How can we figure that out?

One way, if I can show you determined systems that exhibit the same behavior as the supposed indeterminate systems, that’s some evidence for determinate systems.

If I can drill down on your indetermined system enough I will like find your “rules” that drive it.  That’s my conjecture.  Send me a system, and we can discuss.  (markets, DNA, whatever you want).

Human behavior exists in this world of determined and the unpredictable.  Reinforcers/consequences, conditioned stimuli, unconditioned stimuli, discriminant stimulus — (biology + genetics + nervous system + environment) — control the behavior.  Layers of rules applied to a complex biological system.  It’s all weirdly determined but completely unpredictable.

Falsify my claim.

Suppose this is true.  So what?  The implications are relative to you.  If indeterminism services your world view or scientific approach, perhaps the implications are grave.

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