Friday, May 22, 2009

Apophenia, sounds like a Who concert only it isn't

Presidents can sure let you down. I mean, they can be truly great in some ways, yet so terribly flawed in others. Nixon was like that, and to various extents, Kennedy, Carter, Bush, and probably all the rest. No surprise I wasn't a big Bill Clinton fan, along with most of the US military. I felt fully vindicated about those feelings after the whole Lewinsky business; it just seemed like the highest office deserved better than the way he handled that. That said, I had to admire Clinton's record as an administrator, because it seemed to be the best boom in the economy since post WW II; and a budget surplus? Unheard of.

What was his secret? Some say he fanatically used focus groups to stay on the sunnyside. But one aide, I don't recall his name, admired most that Clinton had an uncanny knack for "seeing the connectedness of things." That statement really resonated with me. I've always admired people who could hear about an event, or take some sort of action, and somehow, immediately and accurately know how it would affect, say, the price of carrots. It is particularly impressive if these connections have significant impact on the domestic or world stage.

In my old job, which was largely logistics, the ability to predict the various impacts of a "disturbance in the force" was highly prized and often, the only key to success. Certainly, the golden rule in the military is you must often make significant decisions on courses of action even without adequate information. You can see how recognizing true connectedness would be a godsend. I can't say I was a master at it, but sometimes I saw some angles nobody else did--instant gratification there. A truly great talent would be seeing the patterns in certain activities so as to allow one to predict the future. If I could master that, I'd live in Las Vegas, and quite nicely.

There's a whole realm of math that I don't understand that chases specific outcomes of events (deterministic prediction) and random outcomes (stochastic prediction, an array of outcomes, some more likely than others). But then, there's also apophenia: the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena, or the propensity to find meaning, patterns, and significance where there is none. Maybe that's the line between genius and pure paranoia. But who then is to say that a purported pattern is real or not? In the end, it doesn't matter; if knowing the answer does not result in useful information to optimize things, it just doesn't matter.

Next blog, I'll tell you where I'm going with this...

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