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Rant about modelling

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Rant about modelling

Unread postby Doly » Tue 13 Sep 2022, 18:15:19

You know I like to go on about modelling. I'm in a bit of a funny mood today (you know, middle-aged woman, hormones and, well, not been sleeping too well and noticing a mood of general weirdness - not the first time it's happened, so I know it can get bad.) I thought I'd rather get a few things off my chest before, well, I do something I've done before which is to totally embarrass myself posting something totally off-the-wall. At least you'll have my thoughts as coherent as I can get them.

The thing that really irks me about a lot of models I see out there is that they miss stuff. They don't take into account things that, logically, would completely alter the results. Maybe it's because when I was young I read "The Limits to Growth" and "Foundation", and I was totally expecting Foundation to happen in real life. Like, where's my Hari Seldon, dammit? I don't say I was expecting anything terribly sophisticated, not for the little people, anyway, but what I really find hard to get is how can there be such a failure across the board. After "The Limits to Growth", fierce attacks on the book and then pretty much nothing. What???

For the last few days I've had "Girl" of the Beatles going around in my head. And suddenly I realised that it describes feedback loops. I've spent my entire life thinking about how feedback loops explain things. I even noticed once that one of those famous Chinese books described pretty clearly how a negative feedback loop works (if you want to make something smaller, make it bigger, something along those lines). It's funny that I just noticed that about a song I've heard lots of times, but I for the last few years I've been noticing things about stuff I've seen lots of times before, so by now I'm used to the idea that, well, I get to see things when it's the time for me to see them, or something like that. And then I thought some more, and I thought I can guess, very roughly, how Beatlemania must have worked. First, there were feedback loops of some sort, between the Beatles and the audience. Then, there must have been some sort of game that probably was some sort of pyramid sort of scheme, that only worked well if the girls got more girls involved, and in all probability some sort of keeping other girls in the dark about how to get to the next level. The song may be describing the pyramid scheme, with different levels, as well as feedback loops. Overall, it was probably all good fun for everyone involved. The specific details don't really matter. It may be something the Beatles learned in Germany, that was a pretty weird place just after WWII.

This is a pretty long-winded way of introducing the idea that pyramids, or networks, and feedbacks often go together and interact dynamically. A very, very common sort of situation, so common that deserves to be thought of as a universal law, is that a network starts with a few hubs and a few links, then if there are enough resources, gets bigger in hubs and links, then it becomes more hierarchical because it's more efficient, but then, as it runs out of resources, some of the nodes go but the main hubs remain (it becomes more unequal) until the system breaks down, the main hubs go, and it becomes more equal again. That in itself is a negative feedback loop. The network can be a commercial network, a supply-chain network, a food chain, just about any sort of network.

Then, networks can be nested within other networks, feedbacks can run through the links in the network, and to make things even more confusing, a network and its dual (interchanging links and nodes) can operate very similarly and be hard to distinguish.

So if you are thinking about how information runs through a network, it can be very difficult to be sure about what exactly is going on, most especially if you are part of said network, and we are talking about trying to figure out what's happening with a few billion people on planet Earth, and many of them keep secrets or are devious bastards. Which is why lots of us don't even try, and those of us that do it as a pastime can't be expected to get it very right. You can naively think that the world is roughly as it looks to you, which is how I used to think. That is, till I realised that I was clearly missing something, and I couldn't figure out what.

One thing I was clearly missing is that I had no idea at all about how terribly, terribly weird things can get. For example, how the F is a signal getting through? That is a very, very non-trivial question. For an easy example, let's take blushing. When I was a child, I never blushed. Then as a teen, I spent a couple of years with a gang of girls that blushed and somehow I picked that up. Which is very weird, because blushing is not something you can ever do on purpose, so how come that you can learn it? But for sure you can. Then, I stopped hanging around those girls and I stopped blushing.

Now, if you think about all the signals you constantly get on movies, it's quite possible that people are being subconsciously trained in all sorts of ways. And to make it even worse, it may or may not be deliberate on the part of Hollywood. So it's a lot easier to just hope you haven't got your idea of the world too badly wrong than trying to work out what's happening in the info-sphere. Except that the info-sphere seems to be going badly wrong in all sorts of ways, and the real world seems to be going badly wrong in all sorts of ways at the same time, and just to make it that little bit harder, those damn feedback loops have got into your life close and personal and you can't be sure about lots of things any more. And don't even get me started with the entire Internet going weird and when you go to one of the old forums you used to love, well, let's say that at least some of the people still look human enough. Mind you, I'm almost certain that there are AIs that pass completely for human these days.

You know, I spent some time researching what Nazi Germany was like, and I thought that sure, being a Jew must have been awful, but being an average German must have sucked really badly anyway, and they never talk much about that. And these days I think that maybe they don't say much because, well, they really don't know very well. Clearly the German info-sphere was falling to pieces, that's how you can have something like the Holocaust. So figuring out what was going on has to be hard. And our info-sphere is falling to pieces, too. People being all for catching a potentially deadly virus is not a healthy sign, to say it very mildly. And people in Ukraine not realising that they were about to be invaded when the Russians were threatening repeatedly doesn't look good to me, either. And Europe certainly looked like they made the package of sanctions at the last minute and didn't think them very carefully.

So I guess in those circumstances it's hardly surprising that there are so many models that are wrong. I guess people literally don't see the limitations of the models.

Which brings us back to the initial question: Where's my Hari Seldon? Things looked so promising at one point.

Well, there's always money. If there is something rich people can be relied on, is on being self-interested bastards and determined to hear what they want to hear. Including whatever economic theories they love because they say they should do exactly what they wanted to do anyway. But then, that isn't exactly new. The ancient Romans already had plenty to say on the subject of money. And the ancient Romans were already managing their info-sphere, that's what all those ancient gods were doing.

Oh, yeah, that's another info-sphere that must have collapsed and collapsed rather spectacularly. What must it take to abandon all your gods and go for a completely new-fangled one? Christianity is spectacular in the same way you could say that the sinking of Atlantis, if it refers to a real event, was spectacular. So those things can happen, apparently.

And we live in a world that is orders of magnitude more complex than the Roman Empire, and giving all the signs of having all the capacity to fall, and even fall at relatively short notice. (I mean, how resilient is the Internet, really? I work in electronics, I know these things are awfully complex.) And here I am, chatting in a place potentially full of bots managed by who-knows-who, when the info-sphere might be as helpfully friendly as Nazi Germany's. After Chris Martenson was forced, in some way or another, to go anti-vax.

And I'm still insane enough to attempt to figure out what happens next, and wanting to rail off a list of variables that I reckon would deserve to go in a proper model of the world, or more exactly be considered as variables that potentially affect the issue if you are doing a model of a bit of the world.

And I haven't even started on my favorite rant on how people also don't do modelling right because they use models to forecast what will happen, when they are much more robust to forecast what can't happen.

So that's where Hari Seldon went, then? To Hollywood, of all places? I mean, I can imagine how that could work, even if nobody meant it that way. Hollywood's job as info-sphere managers is to de-bias people, presumably, so that they don't get into the sort of tangles that happen when the info-sphere doesn't get managed. But who decides what's signal and what's noise and how to de-bias? I mean, that's clearly one way it can all go horribly wrong.

And once you know it has all gone horribly wrong, that doesn't mean that your ideas on how to fix it are right, either. You could be pushing with all your energy in exactly the wrong direction. That's how positive feedback goes.

Well, you can't exactly blame me for not wanting to deal with that mess and much preferring to try to work out what's going to happen next in the real world and ignore that whole problem and just cross my fingers and hope it's all going to be all right on the info-sphere side of things.

Something tells me I'm far from the only person reacting like that. Probably that's how people got into this mess in the first place.

Damn.

And shouldn't I be prepping instead of wasting my valuable time on philosophical questions? Girl, are you dreaming or what? Do you really take seriously all the stuff you just said?

Well, there's all the weird stuff that's happened, synchronicities and such. Which is like giving as supporting evidence that the world has gone crazy that you yourself are pretty bonkers. Sounds about right.

Well, here's to hoping I haven't somehow inadvertently given the bots the keys to how to organise a better Holocaust, how to destroy modern civilization in a way that makes the fall of Rome look tame, or, on a more practical level, how to kill me accidentally with a feedback loop that went out of hand. Because of course, it's fair to assume that all sorts of things are on unstoppable auto-pilot. You don't get to this point if people have a lot of control over stuff, do you?

Oh, well. At least I got my favorite rant off my chest.
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Re: Rant about modelling

Unread postby Newfie » Tue 13 Sep 2022, 19:38:45

Not a bad rant.

I think you are onto something, feedback.

Humans are very social animals, we exist in “groups” sometimes called “tribes.” Akin to packs, herds, school (fish), flocks.

Take this example. Flocks of starlings, called murmurs, fly in tight formation. They can start to resemble a single animal. They fly closely in formation but do not collide. They have special ways of communicating so that they know when to turn, or take off. This is not something they are “aware” of, it is something they “do”. It is a communication, a feedback, that is so ingrained as to be instinctual, like breathing. Something similar goes on with all social animals. You should see what army ants do, highly cooperative, but you can not call them a reasoning creature. So if it exists in all other social animals why would it not exist in us? Why would we be overtly aware if it?

Danger reading assignment!!!
“The Social Conquest of Earth”. E. O. Wilson

“Thinking Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman
(You are describing FAST thinking - instinctual.)



Two systems
Edit
In the book's first section, Kahneman describes two different ways the brain forms thoughts:

System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, unconscious. Examples (in order of complexity) of things system 1 can do:
determine that an object is at a greater distance than another
localize the source of a specific sound
complete the phrase "war and ..."
display disgust when seeing a gruesome image
solve 2+2=?
read text on a billboard
drive a car on an empty road
think of a good chess move (if you're a chess master)
understand simple sentences
associate the description 'quiet and structured person with an eye for details' with a specific job

System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious. Examples of things system 2 can do:
prepare yourself for the start of a sprint
direct your attention towards the clowns at the circus
direct your attention towards someone at a loud party
look for the woman with the grey hair
try to recognize a sound
sustain a faster-than-normal walking rate
determine the appropriateness of a particular behavior in a social setting
count the number of A's in a certain text
give someone your telephone number
park into a tight parking space
determine the price/quality ratio of two washing machines
determine the validity of a complex logical reasoning
solve 17 × 24
Kahneman describes a number of experiments which purport to examine the differences between these two thought systems and how they arrive at different results even given the same inputs. Terms and concepts include coherence, attention, laziness, association, jumping to conclusions, WYSIATI (What you see is all there is), and how one forms judgments. The System 1 vs. System 2 debate includes the reasoning or lack thereof for human decision making, with big implications for many areas including law and market research.[6]


“Mother Earth is Trying to Kill You”. Dan Riskin
The “Meat Robots” part is pertinent.
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Re: Rant about modelling

Unread postby Tanada » Wed 14 Sep 2022, 15:43:57

I have always found feedback loops a fascinating phenomenon and with history being my first true love something you said kind of stuck out at me. About Christianity and the fall of the "old gods" that came in the many flavored pantheon that existed before the birth of The Christ.

Modern people, especially in the west where monotheism has been the majority system for so long, tend to have a very fragile artificial understanding of ancient roman religious beliefs. The thing is while most of us in classes somewhere along the way learn about the official state pantheon with the "four triads" forming the twelve major faiths. While that is true on the face of it the "twelve gods" really were just the very tip of the pyramid of deities who had faithful adherents throughout the Roman Empire. There were quite literally over a hundred deities if you only counted the ancient roman and greek sets, and they did not in any way limit themselves to that narrow of a focus. When Roman soldiers and auxilia who were recruited from all over the place especially in the last two centuries of the western Roman Empire came in they brought there own deities with them and when they fought an enemy who proved particularly resilient they frequently adopted the foreign deities of that opponent into their personal beliefs under the standard that of they were protecting their followers maybe they would protect you as well if you paid them some homage. While Judaism is not a "proselytizing religion" like Christianity and Islam that actively seeks to recruit new believers the Roman practice brought Judaism into the Empire as a monotheistic alternative starting around 100 BC when Rome was still officially a militaristic republic. This spread quite well through the ranks to the point that by 70 AD when the great rebellion took place in Jerusalem something like 10% of all Roman military forces were practicing some form of Judaism as their primary belief structure. After the Great Rebellion when the Emperor ordered the diaspora of the ethnic Hebrew population and the destruction of the Temple of Solomon Judaism was very much out of favor in imperial court, but the large population of monotheists in the Empire were not about to drop their fundamental belief and adopt polytheism. For various reasons this slamming of the door on Judaism sparked a massive adoption of Christianity as understood in the late first century. Christianity was not the only beneficiary, Zoroastrianism and worship of Serapis, a Greco-Egyptian deity with an origin story very nearly the same as Christ with a slightly different spin so to speak, also gained from the loss of non-Hebrew Jewish believers.
Basically what I am getting at is the Nodes and Lines of religion in Ancient Rome were very much more complex than most folks have been taught and due to different events the Emperors in the late first century unintentionally gave Christianity a huge boost in the west by their crack down on the zealots of the Hebrew tribes in the middle east. As late as the mid fourth century Christianity had been growing and advancing because of two things, the official toleration of all faiths by the Roman Empire in both its halves and the proselytizing as an act of devotion by the early Christians. The believers in Serapis were converted over time because their tenets of faith were near enough to be absorbed into the story of Christianity by new converts and the children of those converts were taught the conventional forms of the new testament by the priests their parents had switched over to following. The Zoroastrians on the other hand created a significant rift between the eastern and western forms of Christianity called the "Arian Heresy" by modern scholars because those beliefs tended towards Christ as a fully human figure, not a divine figure as part of the modern Christian "trinitarian" system of God having three equal aspects, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This division caused what amounted to a civil war within the Roman Empire with religious leaders co-opting the state power to try and wipe out the people who did not follow their teaching in lockstep. Not only did they attack the polytheists who still made up around half the population, they also attacked their fellow believers in Christ if their doctrine wasn't "pure" enough to satisfy their fanaticism. This civil conflict within the two halves of the Roman Empire is what led to the many waves of successful barbarian invasions in the west, the military was so exhausted from internal conflict it simply had no capacity for fighting off the invaders. Eventually the Trinitarians "won" and the Christian faith split into three factions around 600 AD with the Coptic church in Africa and the Middle East, the Eastern Orthodox in the Balkans and points east and the Roman Catholics in Italy and points north and west of Rome. Coptic Christianity still survives today in Egypt where it makes up a significant minority between 25%-35% of the population in an otherwise very Islamic nation.

The collapse of Polytheism into the modern faiths of Christianity and Islam was not anything like an overnight events. It took literally centuries and when the Trinitarians got the Emperor of Rome under their close influence in the last quarter of the fourth century there were still significant numbers of polytheists in the empire. However under their influence the Catholic Church was exempt from taxes and the no longer acceptable "heretics" and polytheists were denied tax exemption so the state which was suffering from civil strife taxed those groups in ever harsher levels until they were effectively destroyed over a period of about half a century. The main nodes and lines held out for four centuries until they were a slight minority, after which they were hounded until they collapsed out of existence.

Hari Seldon was based on the belief that human behavior on the macro level is subject to mathematical expression, however I don't think it is that easy. The problem is like the "Mule" the behavior of large groups of humans is subject to significant disruption by charismatic individuals. FDR was President longer than any other American because his charisma was strong enough to get elected four times when before him nobody had been elected more than twice, though there were occasional candidates like his cousin Teddy who did try for a third term. Hitler was another charismatic leader who could somehow convince otherwise normal people to follow a pathway that even they thought was foolhardy or insane. If he had dropped dead before invading Poland it is highly probable the European war would have been stillborn as neither France nor the UK wanted a war they knew would be very expensive when they were still barely recovered from the economic disaster of the 1930's. Without a general war in western Europe Stalin was unlikely to invade the Balkans or Poland as the risk of war was as high for the USSR as for any other semi-sane leadership. Only the charismatic and insane leadership of Hitler was enough to ignite a war nobody else in Europe wanted to happen.

Such charismatic influence is part of human history all through the ages and leads me to believe Hari Seldon could never predict more than the most basic of the outlines.
Alfred Tennyson wrote:We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
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Re: Rant about modelling

Unread postby AdamB » Fri 16 Sep 2022, 13:16:25

Doly wrote:So I guess in those circumstances it's hardly surprising that there are so many models that are wrong. I guess people literally don't see the limitations of the models.


All models are wrong. Some are useful. To paraphrase Box and Draper.

When doing the guest speaking/teaching gig on my modeling specialty, the professors almost always get the above, but it is disappointing to find that these types of core ideas just go right over the heads of the young and impressionable. And then they run out and do some exponential smoothing on some data and call it good. Of course, if someone suggests you slap a bell shaped curve on oil or gas rate data and declare victory you can have a grand time disabusing them of that notion.

Doly wrote:Oh, well. At least I got my favorite rant off my chest.


A perfectly reasonable rant.
What does a science denier look like?

Armageddon » Thu 09 Feb 2006, 10:47:28
whales are a perfect example as to why evolution is wrong. Nothing can evolve into something that enormous. There is no explanation for it getting that big. end of discussion
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Re: Rant about modelling

Unread postby evilgenius » Sun 18 Sep 2022, 10:53:41

That is the central question of how it is that we as individuals figure out the conveyance of expectation that our peers throw at us. Most of us don't have any math to help us, unless we went to school. That's too bad because math can really help.

The trouble is, when you are trying to figure out something like the conveyance of expectation, which can change, you need heuristics that are flexible. You gotta set a general direction, and be willing to change course to refine it. The lack of that doesn't mean that math didn't work. It means you don't have enough experience with something that can change to predict it well enough to put a number to it.

I go through this when I build things. I build things, sometimes, because nobody makes what I need. I can't tell you how many times something didn't work that, for all the world, you would have figured would work. That doesn't always mean that my approach was wrong. You know, so that I should get down on myself, or the way I think. I didn't predict everything. I also tend to forget what it feat it was to get so much right!
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