Thursday, June 27, 2013

Quality of Information

Those who claim the past is better than the present --"wisdom of the ages," in this case--are mistaken. The quality of information we have *improves* with time and the best information is what we should always use when making decisions.

Plus, making the case that any people from any point in time should be given the ability to control what happens to future generations should be dismissed outright. No one should be beholden to people who have been long dead. 


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Loyalty Unearned

Why do so many insist on loyalty to a country when no such assertion is made in regard to other human constructions like churches, schools, corporations and social clubs? It seems to me that loyalty needs to be constantly sought, not demanded, for any of the elements of society we create for ourselves. To me, countries shouldn't get a pass. To demand loyalty is, at least partially, to admit it's not warranted based on merit.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Problem of Scope

There is an concept about how we humans misconstrue contrasting measurements of all kinds that I've often tossed around in my head without coming up with a really good way to express it concisely. Part of the problem is the limitation of language that fails to provide me the words I need. But, here it is as best as I can describe at the moment...

The idea centers on how we see things much "closer" to us than is actually the case (opposite to the familiar warning on car door mirrors). I think it's true for things that are very small and very large. The distance (or space or interval or scope or other similar term) between the "I" we perceive of ourselves and the sun, for example, is foreshortened by our brains by default. Similarly, the "distance" between the perception of oneself and something really tiny like an atom is also foreshortened, for lack of a better term. In both cases, I think we comprehend these things as much "closer" to the more commonplace scale of things that describe each of us than they really are.

This problem of comprehension tends to make us mis-perceive anything more than a short "distance" from us. Look at the sun. It seems so close, yet it is 93 million miles away. That distance is so massive that if someone traveled a mile per minute through space, it would take over 176 years to get there. How can something that far away produce so much heat that we can feel it here? I think it's literally incomprehensible, forcing us to perceive it as closer in order to comprehend it at all. (And this problem gets even worse when we think of galaxies and the universe.)

I think we have a similar problem with objects that are really small, causing us to think of them as larger than they really are in order to get any sense at all of them, skewing them like a flat map of the earth make Greenland and Iceland look huge (but not for the same reason). 

The same is true for other items as diverse and money and time. Once numbers get too small or too large--and that threshold is really low, I think--we automatically "squeeze" the scale to bring the numbers closer to us, and by "us" I mean the commonplace sense of the size and scope of oneself. What we perceive as the space between 1 and 2, for example, is not proportional to the space we perceive between 2 and +/- 10 million--or any other really large or small number. We tend to falsify those very small/very large figures as "closer" than they really are.

While we can do math that will take care of this problem when working with raw numbers, our perception issues plays a big role in the decisions we make about how we run our lives and our societies. The time it takes to do something or the differences in wealth between rich and poor, noting just two examples, are areas where this mis-perception problem causes us to make faulty decisions about all kinds of things ranging from how much interest and tax rates matter to levels of deforestation and climate change.

I'm not sure if there is a solution, but I do think we need to acknowledge the problem in order to work on one.