The arrogance of mathematics and Chaos Theory

by Captain Walker

Categories: CW

Ooops! How can Mathematics and Chaos Theory (M&CT) be arrogant – at all? Hmmm.. first one has to think about what ‘arrogance‘ means. Off you pop to the dictionary meaning. Yikes! It means, “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.” Mathematics and Chaos Theory can do all that, except make claims. People make claims (or assertions, or presumptions and have ‘manner’). Unfortunately for some, links on this page and words in this blog require reading and thinking time. If you have a dog to bathe or feed, go do that and you can kindly forget to return here.

Chaos Theory (CT)

What does it mean? When people see the word ‘chaos‘ they tend to think about confused, random mayhem; with things going all different ways. ‘Theory‘ is usually considered to be some set of ideas that aren’t well tested i.e. some sort of speculation. So, those who lack depth and jump to conclusions, will take ‘Chaos Theory’ and ‘The theory of special relativity’ as ‘just theories’. And – if they make such assertions on social media, boy o’ boy they’ll be getting hundreds or thousands of thumbs ups. There are a group of people who are still stuck on ‘The Butterfly Effect’ – when nobody (with sense) actually thinks that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in South America will cause a typhoon in Asia.

In essence CT is a powerful set of mathematics – which most people cannot fathom – which analyses how mathematical representations of things interact. Even small variables or effects become meaningful in relation to how they may interact with the whole. The reason for the latter, is that small effects interact dynamically with larger effects to create instabilities or stabilities. Caution: I’m not saying that every small effect in every system needs to be considered. So – I am not promoting OCD! Get a grip! Consider the following examples:
  1. A tiny amount of a deadly virus or toxin can cause the deaths of thousands of people.
  2. A grain of sand in a high-performance gearbox will most certainly ruin it.
  3. A small percentage increase in atmospheric CO2 can disturb the balance of a whole planet, leading to serious climatic and weather changes across many countries.
  4. A typographical error in millions of lines of computer code can cause an airplane to crash.

To gain some knowledge of the real-world applications of M&CT go here. To explore more read from Prateek Joshi.  Just be clear, I don’t know him from Adam – and don’t ask me “Which Adam is that?“!

M&CT is a model that explains a lack of determinism in the universe, and how non-linearity operates. [I hope no dog is starving while anyone is reading and thinking about all this stuff!]

Arrogance in depth

Now back to the issue of ‘arrogance of M&CT’. Obviously, anybody – such as me – who rides on the back of M&CT to make ‘claims or assumptions‘, stands to be labelled as arrogant! No surprises there. Obviously again – mathematics has no attitude. It’s the person who expresses findings who has the ‘attitude‘. And apparently – anybody who is not an expert in some field who makes robust well-referenced claims, is to be labelled as ‘arrogant’.

Was I arrogant in stating that disasters in New Orleans, Fukoshima, and Ukraine were doomed to happen. Oh sure. Nobody cares about the M&CT underlying any assertion I might have made. More recently I was labelled as arrogant for forecasting that hyper-inflation was coming to the UK and other parts of the world, 6 months ahead of time. Do I need to be a financial expert, a weather forecaster, a nuclear reactor expert, or war expert visiting battlefields to make forecasts. Some will say ‘YES – else shut up, you arrogant git!” No joke – that’s the sort of comment that happens in some forums. Did I need to be a virologist studying the intricacies of viruses to make projections that beat teams of esteemed UK scientists? Well, history has proved that I did not! Boris Johnson was made aware of the reasons for my forecasts but chose to listen to his scientists. Hence, 200,000 people are dead – and he apologised for 100,000 of those deaths and got away with it!

Why do I not need to ‘know the field’? It’s this simple: I can spot patterns of events and weave those into a complex model in my brain, using the principles of Chaos Theory. Ooops! Apparently – stating that is also arrogant, even if it is the truth based on hard evidence. Nobody is allowed in thuh Empire to make claims that they can do something unique or better. After all, they doing so means that they are beating their own hairy chests. The truth – as evidenced by outcomes – no longer matters. The take-down off my arrogant pedestal, is what matters more.

Presumptuousness

Do I need to visit China, India, Iraq or Pakistan to make projections on what’s likely to happen over there? I do not! Take China for example with their recent lockdowns. I assert that China is right to lockdown large parts of its population in attempts to limit spread of COVID.

I do not need to visit any part of China or most provinces in China to extract data on its population, distribution of people, and cultural factors. All of that is in the public domain – and one can argue till the cows come home about the accuracy of such information. Do I need to visit China (or any other nation) to project that oppression eventually leads to rebellion? I do not! The normal linearity of thinking subscribes to views that one must have intimate knowledge of things to make reliable forecasts. I assert that that is wrong.

In my line of paid work, I use very little hard data and evidence to make forecasts about individual people. I don’t ‘know’ each person intimately, who may become the object of my professional opinions.  I don’t know all about their individual upbringing, their traumas, their mindsets, their parents or their cultures.

Rude interruption

Stupid: Wat? I thought that was what you were paid to do. You’re negligent!

CW: How did you get out again? Do you understand the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition?

Stupid: Drey who?

CW: Good. You know nothing of it. I’m not here to educate you! Suffice it to say, that experts often focus on patterns that they recognise rapidly, without need for delving into micro-detail.

Stupid: You’re creating an excuse for being slipshod.

CW: Rubbish. On many occasions I will delve obsessionally into details of a case, like the sharp scalpel of a surgeon into the human body – to the discomfort of many around me. But most cases I come across bear close similarities with others, so I do not need to focus on intricate detail. To do so in every case would mean becoming lost in details, and not focusing on the big picture of where risk is heading. It’s a matter for me to know when to dig deep and when not to.

Stupid: So you’re saying that you’re better than everybody else at what you do.

CW: I’m saying that I am recognised as an expert in a certain field – and as such I am better than most ordinary people at working the variables in that field compared to how the group of ordinary people would work them. That’s what expertise is valued for.

Stupid: I still think you’re arrogant!

CW: I still think you’re stupid!

Stupid: How… h.. nnn.. noooo!

CW: Yes – you’re gone. Poof!

[collapse]

Recovery

I had to lie down again for an hour to recover from the above interruption.

[collapse]

Now to continue – I don’t predict what people are going to do. I cannot. But I can say on a balance of probability what is likely to happen. If a person before me is a smoker, suffers with obesity, regularly drinks more than 30 units of alcohol per week, is hooked on cannabis, has active symptoms of depression and schizophrenia – I can say with a high degree of certainty that they’ll die before the age of 60. Did I say everybody like that will die before the age of 60? I did not! I don’t even need to know how many fags per day they are smoking. I don’t need to know how fat they are – I don’t need to check their BMI because from experience I can make a good estimate with my eyes. I don’t need to know how depressed or psychotic they may be. Why don’t I need to know the intricate details? Because there are sound mathematical projections for loss of life expectancy for each aspect of the latter. Where am I going with this? I’m saying that with my experience in a very complex domain of people, I do not need micro-detail.

Why is mathematics king?

You may not like it – but mathematics rules your world, from your first breath to your last. Mathematics decided your conception, your growth in utero, your birth and the physics that allowed you to take your first breath. Do you need to understand it all? You do not! Your ageing, the diseases you will contract later in life are all orchestrated by mathematics in the background.

But what is this ‘universe’ you live in? It is ruled by a set of laws that obeys mathematics (of varying levels of complexity). Nobody – not least the universe – cares whether you understand it.

Those who studied Einstein’s life in the series ‘Genius’, will understand and appreciate why Einstein was considered to be arrogant as he upset the world of mathematics and physics. His manner and assertions about the universe really got up people’s noses. To some extent his manner in those spheres permeated other aspects of his personal life.

But did Einstein need to visit the length and breadth of the universe to understand it, to expose how it worked and make forecasts about what would happen near the speed of light? He did NOT!

A cause for some hilarity, was that poor Einstein ‘visited‘ woman or rather women, in the course of relationships – but was none the better for all his experience there, in managing the chaos that would follow him. To be fair, he did not attempt to create a mathematical model about ‘women’. But if he did, he would have spent years, only to discover that the only equation output that works is ‘Yes dear! I’ll do that now.‘ ?? Thankfully he spent his time on other things. ?

Another nonsensical interruption

Stupid: So you’re saying that Einstein was with prostitutes.

CW: No.

Stupid: What you mean – you said he visited women?

CW: Yes – I said that.

Stupid: So that means he frequented prostitutes.

CW: No.

Stupid: How? This is ridiculous.

CW: Chrysst! This is the same thing over and over again – the social media mindset; where people take words on a page, conjure up the first thing that pops into their dirty minds and jump to conclusions. It’s most unusual for you to break out twice in one blogpost.

Stupid: Well – calm down. ‘Visited’ usually is used to indicate visiting prostitutes.

CW: You are so dumb. Had you read the whole set of text for context, you would have observed that ‘visited’ is a play on words from where I said ‘to visit the length and breadth of the universe.

Stupid: That’s dumb. You can’t do that!

CW: I can and I do what I like on my blog – and types like you can take a flying leap. In fact, I’m gonna help you out right now. Watch this! [Poof! You’re gone.]

[collapse]

WTF!!

Recovery

Ok – it took me 2 hours to recover from the above interruption. I had a lie down, then washed some clothes and cooked some food. So now, I’m eating steak, chips peppers and olives while writing this. I need no advice or hope that I do not get ‘indigestion’. Chrysst! What is it with people?! If I want to cause myself ‘indigestion’ that’s my bledy business – and I’m old enough to take responsibility for that. Right – where was I?

[collapse]

Ahhh..right  -recovering. If you’re talking about Nations, however – apparently, you’re meant to have actually visited them in breadth and depth before you can say anything of substance, else you’re some sort of armchair geezer among the crowd. Well, I totally disagree. Yes – a cultural understanding may help but that’s not an essential thing in forecasting macro-economic events. Why? Because macro-economic events depend on things that are subject to mathematics. No amount of trapesing around a Nation changes the variables. Oh yes – and COVID is a macroeconomic event as is its management- but of course some see it as a ‘medical event’. You could see the world through whatever lens you like!

Forecasts and Predictions

Do weather forecasters visit each city across thousands of square miles to give their weather forecasts? They do NOT! Do they need to visit each cloud containing wind and rain? They do not! Meteorological forecasts often involve the use of supercomputers to crunch a lot of data – and Indvidual meteorologists will not even see or know the data.

Everybody knows and believes that a forecast is a prediction. But not everybody knows what prediction means. I’ve dealt with the meaning of prediction before, so I don’t plan to spend much time here on it again. If I predict that “Summer is coming in June to September 2023“, nobody should be terribly impressed with that. As explained before, the seasons have an established pattern and ‘everybody’ of average intelligence knows about that. So, predicting something that is based on established patterns, is no great thing. If, however, I was to assert that “Aliens from outer space will be landing in a spaceship in Cumbria in Summer of 2023.” – now that’s an entirely different thing. There is no established pattern about that in Cumbria or in UK Summers. The point is that ‘The meaningful predictions equation‘ below applies (you won’t find in any journal) .

People are often upset that the local weather forecast got it wrong. For example, “They said it was going to rain, so I stayed indoors – but no rain fell. In fact it was sunny. What a waste of my time! I could have gone jogging instead of watching four walls.” The forecast was for a broad region, but you took it as accurate to your neck of the woods.

What this means is that a forecast is not the same as a prediction. People expect forecasts be accurate predictions of the future. They aren’t. They are probabilistic best estimates – and they are usually quite broad.

Potential pitfalls

In making estimates in the absence of hard data and without assistance of a supercomputer at hand, one is at risk of getting ‘it’ more wrong than right. That’s basic.

Variables may be weighted more heavily ‘in the head’, than they are due. Hence, internal biases can cause forecasts to be totally off the mark.

But just recognising all this is good. At least one is aware of the potential pitfalls and can take a step back.

Mathematics is a tool. Selecting the wrong tool and using the wrong way, can lead to disaster.

It is important to distinguish between ideas in the head and ‘reality’.

Concluding remarks

M&CT are robust tools.

Not everybody will understand Chaos Theory.

Not everybody will develop the knowledgebase to use CT appropriately and with due checks and balances.

Whilst CT recognises the impact of small dynamic variables in a non-linear environment, it need not be overly occupied with extreme accuracy.

Real world familiarity with ‘data’ may assist to some extent with interpretation but the mathematics sits pretty much separately.

The principles can be used without full-on mathematical knowledge: see Embracing Chaos Theory to Combat Life’s Unpredictability

The reading of posts on this blog is subject to the Terms & Conditions. Unpalatable truths and personal experiences may be told. Nothing posted on this blog is directed at any identified person. On occasions individuals are quoted anonymously. That does not mean that they have been identified to the world. Should any person or organisation reading this blog find something that makes them feel or know that they  are being referred to - any such perceived identification does not mean 'identified to the world'. ‘Stupid' is an impish figment of my imagination who occasionally is allowed to pop up – and does not represent any known individual or individuals. ‘Stupid'  carries the characteristics groups of people with 'social media mindsets'. The treatment of  'Stupid' is not representative of the way people are treated in real life. Adverse inferences made are dismissed in advance. 

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