Sunday, April 30, 2017

Magnets, Means, and Errors


Did you ever wonder what the world would be like if a notable person had never been born?  Did you ever realize the futility of that musing and wonder how it is that the work of one person could shape the whole of humanity in profound ways far beyond their intentions?  Well, today we celebrate a birthday.  No, not mine!  And my how I loved turning 50 this past week and the great celebration that attended the event.  No, the birthday in question was 190 years earlier – April 30, 1777 to be exact.  Like me, he was intrigued with mathematics.  Like me, he taught about magnetism and the universal principles associated therewith.  And like me, he was fascinated by light and the manipulation of light through lenses to understand its essence.  But unlike me, he thought that, “the world would be nonsense, the whole creation an absurdity without immortality.”

The birthday we celebrate today was none other than Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss.  And the reason why I care about his birthday is singular.  He gave humanity one of its most toxic cognitive forms of bondage.  And together with his French collaborator (of sorts) Adrien-Marie Legendre, Gauss is unconsidered at our collective great peril.

In an effort to predict astronomical movements – principally the orbits of planets – Gauss developed a computation known as the Gaussian gravitational constant which is built on a mathematical notion of least squares.  This algebraic notion – that observable phenomenon can lead to forward predictions and thereby minimize measurement error – was innocent enough for its immediate application.  When one is trying to figure out where a planet is going to be in three days hence, this math had its utility.  But, like other astronomical innovations, Gauss’ work unleashed a toxic divination impulse that has become the root of our modern scientific inquiry and the bane of humanity.  The notion of prediction based on linear regression.

Now some of you hate math and, acknowledging that, let me explain something.  As the abject failure of pundits and analysts have shown in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, if you measure consensus assumptions, your conclusions are entirely wrong.  In 2006 and 2007, I correctly described the conditions and the timing of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008[1].  Was I forecasting an outcome using predictive analytics?  No.  I was merely observing irrefutable documented behaviour in an occult industry and critiquing the system level convergence that was certain.  From mass pandemics (the Asian bird flu) to resource shocks to social paroxysm (the Egyptian multi-coups), the “trained” and the “expert” are left agape when linear regression behaviour is punctuated by disequilibrium events.  Regrettably, education’s obsession with the scientific method have taught regression but have assiduously ignored its dominant fallacy – that we know the variables that matter and we recognize that which is significant.  Elementary statistics teach us that interrogatory inquiry presupposes:
1.      Known variables;
2.      Known scale in which these variables operate;
3.      And Measurement Error.
Interestingly, the same discipline teaches us the error of untested assumptions about normalcy, kurtosis, skewness, and orthogonality.  However, the modern education system and the scientific method upon which it is built fails to account for these in every instance diminishing the efficacy of social and technical interventions.  Put another way, in the world of obsessive prediction and outcomes, we rely on our elementary algebra which seeks to solve for y in the classic linear predictive model:
y= mx +b
where y is the expected outcome; x is the variable(s) we think have an association with an observable; m is the scale or range in which x operates; and, b is unexplained variance.  This formula presumes that we know both the association between observations and effects (an entirely fallacious assumption), we understand the scale in which variables operate (an entirely untested assumption), and that the remainder is “unexplained”.  We don’t hold the possibility that the entire ontology projected in regression may in fact be prima facie false.

Here's the problem.  We are not conditioned to ask any of the fundamental assumptions that underpin the error of statistical divination.  We want to “know” what’s going to happen.  We want to “control” outcomes by manipulating variables.  But what we constantly ignore is the fact that the human analog experience does not happen on 2-dimensional scatterplots through which lines can be drawn.  Every struggle you’ve had; every emotional pain; every sense of loss; is based largely on the fact that you projected a plane in a dimension around which you built a narrative.  Often those narratives involved others.  But they had their narratives, their frameworks, their projections.  And just because a dot showed up in your world and a dot showed up in mine doesn’t mean that the lines that you connect and the lines I connect go in the same direction.  In fact, it’s certain that they do not.  So one day, using the exact “same” data, we arrive at different conclusions.  And then we expend amazing energy trying to re-narrate what we didn’t understand in the first place.

Gauss gave us a 2-D god-complex in a multi-dimensional world.  And as long as we subscribe to either of those features (the error of 2-D or the god-complex) we insure nothing but pain for our existence.  Our obsession with the “future” is nonsensical.  Making up stories and myths about immortality – a prerequisite for Gauss – implies that the present is insufficient.  And with that measurement error, all other measurements (and the measurers) will be disappointments. 

.[1] Martin, David E. “Social Contingent Liabilities and Synthetic Derivative Options” EUPACO-2, Brussels.  15, May 2007.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Requiem - Stop Buying Hope


 Hope.  What is about humans that so desperately want to cling to hope? 

That’s right.  Put down the chocolate bunny.  Back away from the brightly colored eggs.  Put a wrinkle or two into your frilly spring dress bought special for today.  Get serious.  What’s the deal with hope? 

For starters, it’s your mind playing a sinister seduction trick on you.  You’re telling yourself that there’s another condition – a better job, a more loving family, a nicer house, a purpose for… uh…. (more on that later) – that is remote from the present.  And isn’t it somewhat ironic that our perception gets objectively overridden by the exact same set of neurons which shape our view of the present and then convince us that an indeterminant, unobservable “other” will be “better” than the fully apprehendable “now”?

And why did I pick today to write this post?  Quite simple.  Because the power of myth – the animating impulse for judging the present to be inferior to some other, some later, some “out there” – is enormously animated by the way we tell the story of Easter.  And don’t think you can dodge the bullet my Jewish friends – Passover is no different.  Remember, we got to Egypt because Joseph was exiled by his family and sent to a far-off country where he provisioned the very family that rejected him!  Sure, we can all remember the story of slavery but we assiduously deleted the story about how we got there.  And a few weeks into 40 years, remember how we longed for the good ole days in Egypt?  But I digress.

Hope exists because we are taught to want.  Want exists because we are conditioned to compare.  And all of these dynamics are fundamentally pathologic because they ALWAYS rob the present of its completeness, its adequacy, yes, even its abundance.  In mathematical terms, hope is the imaginary error in our unexplained variance.  And more insidiously, it’s an admission that we’ve elected contempt for the present over our unfounded notion that we could concoct a “better”.  And how seductive is that?  We get to “believe” (once again, a self-referential delusion) that we can architect a more palatable scenario than the whatever situation we’re in at the moment. 

I love the Easter story that the Christian faith doesn’t explain very well.  It’s the one of Mary Magdalene.  Yeah, that Mary.  The one who was living her grief, sorrow, love, and passion when she went to visit the tomb of the man she loved and followed.  Sanctioned history approximates her pouring perfume on her beloved’s feet before the crucifixion.  And on that morning, she’s just doing what she knows to do as an expression of love – coming with fragrances to anoint her beloved once again.  She’s not hoping.  She’s not believing.  She’s doing.  And on the way to the tomb, sure she’s probably thinking, “Why did he have to be so damn stubborn?”  “Why did he have to piss so many people off?”  “Why couldn’t we have just lived a normal life like everybody else?”  “Why couldn’t he have seen how much I loved him?”  “Why wasn’t my life good enough to convince him to stay and let go of the mission?”  Cut the pious crap.  She wasn’t singing Easter songs.  She was crying.  She was mad.  But she was doing what she knew how do do – show love.  And when she found the empty tomb of the story, she even turns to Jesus and thinks he’s a gardner.  It’s not until he says her name – “Mary” – that she recognizes the man that just three days earlier was the center of her world.  And there’s the problem with the mind that manufactures “hope”.  It doesn’t slow down and recognize that the impulse that animates the unconsidered reflex of hope could be the very same impulse to say, “slow down and observe.”  “You’re missing something that’s standing right beside you.”

The Easter story is as much about this tender reunion as it is about death and life.  And we miss the point when we fail to see that in the sanctioned story, the Jesus who could fly, walk through walls, appear and disappear, that Jesus, stayed at the tomb to meet Mary.  No one talks about this.  Did he hope she would come?  Did he believe she would come?  Nope.  He knew that Mary wouldn’t miss a chance to anoint him and he waited for her to come.  Easter is NOT a story about hope.  Easter is not a story about belief.  It’s a story about certainty.

Now by now you’re probably thinking – what’s this got to do with economics.  Well here’s the dirty little secret.  Hope, want, and belief are GREAT for business.  Relationships end, great!  Hire lawyers to get what you deserve, counselors, therapists.  Drink.  Drown your sorrows.  Buy new clothes.  Change everything to rid your world of those memories.  Take down his pictures.  Need the house or car, great!  Spend more time at the office, drown yourself in so much work that you have to eat out, fly, drive, stay in hotels.  Today sucks!  Great!  We’ve got a pill for that, we’ve got the dream vacation that will give you all you can eat and drink all-inclusive.  This incarnation is tough.  Great!  We’ve got a heaven that’s waiting for you as long as you worship, restrain, conform, tithe, and repress.  Oh, and that should do wonders for your emotional well-being so you consume to drown out the scarcity and repression-induced lack of fulfillment.  Whether it’s the actual lottery or the metaphoric one, consumption is more fueled by hope of a better (experience, life, status, reputation, appearance, you name it) than it is based on an adequate present. 

When someone is hawking “hope” (or its ugly ephemeral cousins faith and belief), there’s a pretty high probability that there’s a present reality that is being neglected.  The promoters of hope are lacking a fulfilled power illusion.  The promoters of faith are lacking the discipline and vulnerability of deep and abiding inquiry into the knowable and the ease of unknowing.  The adherents to belief are lacking the certitude that life is an ever-present unfolding which is complete in each of its moments.  Not surprisingly the stories and myths that give us these sugar-coated placebo realities – whether it’s Paradise, Avalon, or any other distant “Bliss” – are told by aspirants, not by those who truly live.  The Arthurian ideal was to live in a way that modeled fully living.  Our addictive, consumptive, void-filling existences are merely indictments of an illusion created by the story-teller – not the protagonists. 

So my Easter celebration is an acknowledgement of the pain of endings.  Sure I had my dose of hopes and what-ifs.  But more importantly, this requiem is about allowing that grief to be seen for what it was – a projection of my own blindspots and senses of inadequacy – which can now vanish in the sunrise of a day which is met with simple gratitude for what is.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Just is.  And yes, I’m going to have some chocolate and while I’m eating it, I’ll give thanks for my dear friends in Papua New Guinea who grow, ferment, and roast it so that I can have the smile it brings to my face.  Thanks Mama T.  And Happy Easter.