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  • A Lazy Sunday’s Blogging

    Posted by onparkstreet on 10th April 2011 (All posts by )

    From a comment that I left here:

    Human behavior has too many complex variables to be plotted out neatly in graphs and charts and equations, and besides, humans beings lie. To themselves and to each other.

    So the data points you may enter into any equation will always be colored by human fallibility.

    What we want is to predict human behavior. We may be able to predict certain behaviors in very narrow circumstances but even that is fraught with difficulty. Why do people tend to buy a certain type of toothpaste or why do IEDs tend to be placed at certain times of day, etc? But even if we plot a graph and it fits a set of variables, we still don’t really know how or why we got the graph and whether it is related or a statistical fluke. For example, we may predict what toothpaste a category of persons likes to buy, but it’s a lot harder to predict why person A bought toothpaste B in country C at noon on a Sunday. Even if person A buys toothpaste in the same way every single time we have studied that person, maybe one day an old friend calls up out of the blue and says, “meet me for coffee.” No shopping that day.

    Did your linear progression have the variable for a friend calling up out of the blue in it? Adam Smith’s “the invisible hand” and all of that.

    Take for instance, historical examples of good and bad campaigns: sometimes two leaders within an organization just didn’t get along and that affected decision making. How does an equation explain such a human intangible?

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and predict behavior, it just means that we must understand the limitations of the tools that we use and be willing to reexamine the tools as experience dictates.

    Good discussion!

    *I posted this previously, but in the late 90s the Sokol hoax was a push back from the scientific community (in this case, a physicist) against the use of post-modern literary theory to understand science.

    There were several criticisms:

    1. The post modern theorists didn’t really understand the scientific terms that they were using and were simply decorating their prose with scientific terminology in order to sound more impressive.

    2. An analogy is simply an analogy. When you say something in human behavior is like fluid dynamics, it doesn’t mean that the equations for fluid dynamics can be used on human behavior. An analogy is not the same thing as, well, the same thing.

    I believe the misuse of scientific analogies is discussed in the following:

    Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science

    By the way, all of this is not against using narratives or constructs to understand the world but against the misuse of science. That was the real center of the discussion.

    Tell me what I’ve got wrong in the comments. Tell me a little something about human fallibility….

    Posted in Blogging, Book Notes, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Military Affairs, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Predictions | 11 Comments »