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Posts Tagged ‘chance’

This week my 11 year old daughter asked if she could download and join snapchat. I immediately nixed that idea. I haven’t nixed her getting involved in much else technically where the EULA allows it. Snapchat touched a chord and got me to thinking (again) about identity – how we identify ourselves – who we think we are – and who others think we are. I think about this deeply every so often, sometimes becoming unglued when I think too hard about it. It’s a complicated concept.

Who?

So many things contribute to the patterns that are what we are. Our identity and sense of place in this world – undoubtedly conditioned by the modern world – is built around physical place (and now virtual places) and social circles (and now virtual social networks) and status within established networks of influence. This was probably not always the case when people were far more nomadic and identity wasn’t tied to a hometown or a home school or a 150 person social network. But now, more than ever, identity is a thing.

I personally have moved residences over 20 times in my life. 13 of them different cities (social networks) and 5 across state lines.

Non Existence -> Born (don’t remember)
Littleton, CO (don’t remember, sorta remember)
Colorado Springs (k – 2nd grade)
Aurora, CO Laredo Circle House (2nd grade – 3rd grade???)
Aurora, CO Laredo Court House (4th grade??? – 7th grade)
Miami, FL Kendall House (8th grade)
Miami, FL Baptist Hospital House (9th grade – 10th grade)
Aurora, CO Salsaleto House (11th grade – 12th grade)
Aurora, CO Some Apartment I Forget Where (Summer before college)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Freshman year college)
Aurora, CO Buckingham Mall House (Summer between Freshman and Sophomore Year)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Sophomore year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Apartment (summer between sophomore and junior year)
Chicago, IL Blackstone Building/University Chicago (Junior year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Co-Op Apartment (summer between junior and senior year)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (1999)
Chicago, IL Roosevelt and Michigan Apartment (2000 – 2002)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (2002 – 2005)
Playa Vista, CA Fountainhead Apartment (2005 – 2006)
Venice, CA Abbot Kinney House (2006 – 2010)
Austin, TX Travis Heights House (2010 – 2011)
Austin, TX Deep Eddy House (2012)
Marina Del Rey, CA (2013 – present)

My own children have now moved 5 times (the oldest one) and twice across state lines.

And these are just the residence moves – not all the jobs, schools, social circles, life phases and other changes that go into making up our context and our history. I have 692 friends on facebook, a couple hundred followers on twitter, tens of followers on instagram, one attempt at snapchat, fifty pinterest followers and so on. Sometimes I think of this all as an audience, which is quite insane to me as a concept but I doubt I’m the only one that feels like they have an audience online. I’ve done speaking engagements at conferences, I’ve written 8 years of blogs, somehow I authored several whitepapers, I think i have a patent or three, I’ve performed in 40+ live theater shows, I built hundreds of websites and mobile apps with between 1 and 50 million users a month…. WHAT THE F*** DOES IT ALL ADD UP TO? WHO AM I? and WHY IS THAT EVEN A QUESTION?

It’s a question because my daughters keep finding new ways to “express themselves” and “connect to others.” They “identify” with my wife or myself by saying “oh, i’m so like mom!” They intellectually get the ideas of genetics and art and fashion and learning and the delineation between it all.  They are very keen at telling me I don’t “get” them…. I keep waiting for the day when the TSA finally says they are full human identities and require proof of the case (driver’s license/passport).

It’s also a question because everyday the Western world bombards each other in ways such as:
“what am I worth?”
“tell me about your past.”
“are you this ism or that ism?”
“what party are you?”

and every other variation of class, job history, race, culture, language, outward appearance…

Anchors is my best guess at identities. Us, limited beings, pattern creating and recognizing beings find ways to lay anchors and say THIS IS ENOUGH – THIS IS WHERE I’M DROPPING ANCHOR and REMEMBER THIS. We drop these anchors – which are complex patterns we simplify – and label them as classes, races, job titles, cultures, state lines, political parties, etc. We drop anchors to save energy. That is, we hope the anchors keep us from having to remember all of the context and history that lead us to here when we are in the heat of the moment of making a decision. We want to save time when working out who we hire, with whom we partner, with whom we commune, with whom we war…

Unfortunately.

Identity is an illusion.

We are not the isms, the races, the classes, nor the anchors we drop. We all are ever evolving changing masses of organs, cells, and atoms that respond to the changes around them. We are connected – to each other, to the Web, to the world, to nature, to everything that passes gamma rays into us – EVERYTHING.

And this isn’t a ZEN kind of thinking i’m talking about. It’s a very simple, real concept that *WE* don’t EXIST. and the idea that WE EXIST is a major reason why “we” all end up fighting and destroying and gloating and taking credit and paying dues and every other manner of paying homage to an illusion. We do this because the delusion of singular identity is efficient in many respects. Capital markets reward identities. Democracies, despite their conceptual idea of the masses, reward identities. Social media and the internet reward identities.

And in all this efficiency created by identities we actually end up destroying things. Identities are the most efficient destructive concepts we’ve collectively devised. They shut everything down. They allow entire populations to be ignored. They tune our attention out. They tune our own senses out.

It makes sense this is so and that it persists.

Can it be resisted? *I* don’t know. Can we live without it?  I don’t know.

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From Decision Science News:

What of the adage “the best predictor of future performance is past performance”? It seems less true than Sting’s observation “History will teach us nothing“. Let’s continue the investigation.

DSN did a nice analysis on a ton of baseball game out comes to see whether a team who had just won a game was more likely to win the next game.   There have been other studies like this involving basketball players “hot streaks.” Similar results revealed… well, it’s a crap shoot shot to shot, game to game.

Now, over the long haul winning records, shot percentages indicate there is some skill involved.  But at the micro level it just ain’t true!

Now why do we as fans, observers, interested parties believe in hot streaks, win streaks, etc. etc?   is it a side effect of some other useful thing we do in associating events?  or is there really some direct value in assuming immediate past performance indicates a similar future performance?

what can we test to figure that out?

the nba hot streak article has some insights….

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Below is a Washingtonpost.com article from 1-15-09 that encapsulates the events on the Hudson River in NYC that allowed 155 people to walk away for a ditched water landing in extremely chilly conditions.

(If you don’t like this particular description of events, pick another from the 1032 that were on the web by that evening. Any assessment will work for the questions I am raising under the sub titled heading that precedes the article.)

Determined but unpredictable

A Water Landing

An unlikely event plays out on the Hudson River


Friday, January 16, 2009; Page A18

THE NEXT TIME you’re tempted to ignore a flight attendant’s plea to direct your attention to the front of the cabin for safety instructions, remember yesterday’s dramatic Hudson River landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549. The aircraft had just taken off from New York’s La Guardia Airport en route to Charlotte when both engines were reportedly knocked out after being hit by birds following takeoff. Remarkably, the 150 passengers, two pilots and three flight attendants were rescued.

This crash could have been so much worse. That it wasn’t is a testament to a number of actors in the drama, particularly the pilots, that unfolded above the river’s frigid waters. By all accounts, the pilots brought the Airbus 320 down in a controlled manner, and the crew prepared passengers during what little time they had. A passenger interviewed on television said, “We hit hard!” But because of the pilots’ actions, the plane neither broke apart on impact nor sank quickly. One can only imagine the fear inside the cabin, especially after water started to fill it. That everyone got off the plane without life-threatening injury, despite the bone-chilling air and water temperatures, speaks of their pulling together in a time of crisis. The stretch of the Hudson where Flight 1549 went down is served by a constant flow of ferries between Manhattan and New Jersey. Within minutes of the plane’s entering the water, eyewitnesses said, boats were on scene to help pull passengers to safety until New York law enforcement could get there to lead the rescue.

Federal investigators will examine the plane to find out what exactly happened. But the lesson for everyone in all this is to pay attention to those preflight instructions. “In the unlikely event of a water landing” now has special resonance.

The events of the day were just as you heard or read about in the media. 81 tons of metal with millions of interconnected parts and environment physics malfunctioned after take off. No one has paused long enough to pose and extend answers to any of three questions…

Do you believe this was a set of miracles or a consequence of the 437 hours of training of the pilot and crew?” Pick one…

After a problem was detected by the pilot and co-pilot, did their behavior or intervention of Allah, Buddha, God, chance or karma etc., result in the plane landing as it did in the river?” Select the interventionist you favor…

Did the pilot and crew depend on any other agency, including the tower, to do what they did? Select a contributor to their set of results…

Can you explain why the consequences of this aviation event were what they were and other aviation events ended had less desirable consequences?” Please respond and share your views, beliefs and theories…

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The Ask Marilyn column in Parade magazine featured this question and answer in 1990 and 1991.  It received over 10,000 responses and over 1000 from PhDs.  Can you solve it and do you think Marilyn is right? (yes, this is an old topic but I just encountered it for the first time 🙂  )

Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car, behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say #1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say #3, which has a goat. He says to you, “Do you want to pick door #2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?

Craig F. Whitaker
Columbia, Maryland

Yes; you should switch. The first door has a 1/3 chance of winning, but the second door has a 2/3 chance. Here’s a good way to visualize what happened. Suppose there are a million doors, and you pick door #1. Then the host, who knows what’s behind the doors and will always avoid the one with the prize, opens them all except door #777,777. You’d switch to that door pretty fast, wouldn’t you?

Read the ensuing archived discussion and rebuttals here:

http://www.marilynvossavant.com/articles/gameshow.html

What a simple problem, right?  So simple, you don’t need any math training to solve it correctly.  Chances are, though, your brain won’t get it right and even after you read the explanation it won’t stick and/or you won’t quite feel right about it.

That’s probability for you.  There’s a bevy of books and research materials out now on uncertainty, probability and chance.  From The Black Swan to The Drunkard’s Walk to Chance to Fooled by Randomness.  It seems to be a hot topic whenever the markets appear to be haywire, when finances get tough, when wars carry on, when we start the red vs blue discussion.  

Decision theory, quantum physics, analysis of behavior, managing your daily life, parenting… all involve studying probability of events.  Frankly, we’re bad it.  We’re bad at researching it and we’re bad at really understanding it.  We’re really bad at talking about it.

Not only does the above type of problem vex us, we fall prey to the “if I recognize any detail about a fact, I’m more likely to agree with that fact than something I know nothing about” situation.  Same Names, same birthdays, cities you’ve lived in, color of your skin, same employer, political party…. we tend to those things we know even when it might not help us.

Some evolutionary psychologists will offer the explanation that we evolved into taking chances on partial information that are familiar with because it aided in survival more often than not. hmmm.

To me, that’s a stretch.  I think we just suck at probability.  There’s no evolutionary advantage or disadvantage.  It simply might just be that way because of the way everything else about us is put together.

OR, the big OR.

It’s really about behavior.  We are conditioned by the environment.  We gravitate to people, things, situations we have behavior for – we’ve been punished or reinforced for.  When we haven’t yet experienced the other options, we can’t attribute any value to them.  If we don’t value something, we can’t chase it or pick it.  As soon as we pick or don’t pick it and we experience what happens, we then can assign value to it for the next encounter.

So, why do we suck at probability calculations?  We don’t behave based on calculations.  We literally do not connect the dots via probability.  We associate stimulus (sounds, words, smells, information) with other stimulus.  When the connection is made, it’s not a probability statement.  Why that is biologically, I don’t know.  I know that you don’t get partial action potentials and partial connections and partial patterns in the nervous system.  We get patterns and if the stimuli/situation matches a pattern (neural, muscular, etc.) we associate it.

In the game show problem above, it’s uber important to the math and to the behavior to understand the actual sequence.  You pick an option first then the host picks a losing option.  You’re learning at each step and assigning value – people over value the option they pick first (don’t switch!), the other option is unknown.  

You can research this on that old clips of Let’s Make a Deal or just watch Deal or No Deal – people over value their own case they chose and they associate all sorts of crazy data in choosing cases – the strategies mostly stink.

So… our ability or inability to accurately determine probabilities may not be some cause or end to itself but is simply an intervening variable or side effect of how we learn.  Now, why we learn the way we do is a big discussion and is worthy of writing about behavior every day!

I sure wish I evolved a better way of gambling… I’d be rich!

 

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Genetic drift is one of the infrequently mentioned mechanisms of evolution along with our all-time favorite, natural selection, and the remaining two: mutation and migration.

 

Genetic drift is a form of selection by consequences.  In genetic drift it is a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/IIIDGeneticdrift.shtml  

Unlike natural selection, which operates primarily on the genotype over relatively long time periods, selection by consequences operates on the organism’s phenotype or behavior which is a combination of genetic and environmental factors of the organism that can change over relatively short time periods. 

 

 Genetic drift results in having reduced elements of variability in the population from which natural selection can work.  Some of the variants of the species that were zapped including mutations are no longer available for selection.

 

 Thus, just by chance, a part of the population was wiped out and the surviving organisms would be left to propagate and leave behind more genetic descendents than those that were killed. (dah!) The organisms in subsequent generations would thus be the “lucky” because they didn’t get zapped. 

 

 

Thus, the next generation organisms are not necessarily a better fit or a product of the survival of the fittest [in the biological sense].  The organisms represent the survival of the luckiest and in so doing, represent genetic drift in that they are there because they avoided the vagaries of chance. 

 

 Genetic drift affects the genetic makeup of the population but, unlike natural selection, these effects are via a random probability set of processes or events. Some gene attributes end due to things outside forces and independent of their behavior.  They are in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

 

 Such is the case with Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, the former Burma.

 

As if being stepped on in the form of a cyclone, the reclusive and isolated communities of Myanmar have been squished.  With 28,000 known dead and no water, food, or shelter, disease could take up to 1,500,000 people (3% of the population) in the coming months.  They have died for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

 

 Besides the huge losses, the callous and unconscionable refusal to deliver aid to its citizens will make the next decade hostile for life in Myanmar.  As a culture ethnically made up Tibetans and Chinese, they are one of the most superstitious cultures on earth.  This doesn’t bode well for changing their situation or for life.  Furthermore, small cultural groups disproportionally make up the ultra militaristic government and social and economic wealth of the country.

 

 

In a sense, are we seeing the effects of a genetic drift on an entire population take place?  The isolation by both tribes within Myanmar and the entire population as a whole has kept the genetic pool more free of global interaction from outsiders. The harsh military dictatorship and close control of visas has accentuated the effect of keeping the Myanmar people without much genetic variation over the last 40 years.   

 

 

·         Do you see a parallel here to genetic drift that results from wiping out a portion of a bird colony or a seals from their breeding grounds?  

·         What can we expect in this case?  Are some changes going to occur due to the loss of select tribes [in whole or in part] along the coast that never really intermarried or mingled with those in the deep forests?  

·         Is the superstition culturally at play today going to be accentuated or be challenged in an effort to survive?   

·         Is it likely that the soothsayers or the fortunetellers will be held accountable for not telling the faithful what was about to happen?

·         How is the surviving genetic pool – still isolated by military decree – going to change if they do change?

 

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