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The Wisdom of Crowds

Sir Francis Galton (Wikipedia)

Galton undoubtedly thought that the average guess of the group would be way off the mark. After all, mix a few very smart people with some mediocre people and a lot of dumb people, and it seems likely you’d end up with a dumb answer. But Galton was wrong. The crowd had guessed that the ox, after it had been slaughtered and dressed, would weigh 1,197 pounds. After it had been slaughtered and dressed, the ox weighed 1,198 pounds. In other words, the crowd’s judgement was essentially perfect. … Galton wrote later, “The result seems more creditable to the trustworthiness of a democratic judgement than might have been expected.” That was, to say the least, an understatement.

James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

It’s crowded inside my head right now–

  • The national elections are coming up in November,
  • Some of my friends are predicting the end of the world as we know it,
  • We are experiencing a global energy transition,
  • We are trying to come to grips with the reality of climate change,
  • The universe is evolving toward infinite complexity,
  • We need to do something…

(One difference between me and my computer is that I can decided to jump outside of a problem without my computer thinking I am broken. I think I will do that now!)

I bought Surowiecki’s book, if not his argument. I think that strange things happen all the time in life, and while there is inescapable correctness in both democracy and the Iowa Electronic Markets, there are also brilliant flash-insights that go against the majority’s opinion.

Jumping out of jumping-out-of-the-problem, here are some interesting statistics that might seem unrelated to my list, or to ‘wisdom’. On one hand…

Americans’ self-reported church attendance has continued to inch up in 2010, with 43.1% of Americans reporting weekly or almost weekly attendance. This is up slightly from 42.8% in 2009 and 42.1% in 2008. The increase comes as Americans’ economic confidence has also risen, suggesting that, instead of church attendance rising when economic times get bad, as some theorize, the opposite pattern may be occurring.

—Frank Newport, Gallup

On the other hand…

Characterizations of religious life in the United States typically refererence poll data on church attendance. Consistently high levels of participation reported in these data suggest an exceptionally religious population, little affected by secularizing trends. This picture of vitality, however, contradicts other empirical evidence indicating declining strength among many religious institutions. Using a variety of data sources and data collection procedures, we estimate that church attendance rates for Protestants and Catholics are, in fact, approximately one-half the generally accepted levels.

—Hadaway, Marler and Chaves, What the Polls Don’t Show

“Secularizing trends?” You mean, like in science…

Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

The recent survey of scientists tracks fairly closely with earlier polls that gauged scientists’ views on religion. The first of these was conducted in 1914 by Swiss-American psychologist James Leuba, who surveyed about 1,000 scientists in the United States to ask them about their views on God. Leuba found the scientific community equally divided, with 42% saying that they believed in a personal God and the same number saying they did not.

More than 80 years later, Edward Larson, a historian of science then teaching at the University of Georgia, recreated Leuba’s survey, asking the same number of scientists the exact same questions. To the surprise of many, Larson’s 1996 poll came up with similar results, finding that 40% of scientists believed in a personal God, while 45% said they did not. Other surveys of scientists have yielded roughly similar results.

—The Pew Forum, Scientists and Belief

(In the direction of peer pressure, and since science is a collegial enterprise, one could assume that the unbelieving group of scientists would not be truthful.)

  • As many as 51% of scientists believe a higher power exists in the universe.
  • As many as 20% of “regular citizens” do not attend church regularly, but do lie about it.
  • Fracking could replace global warming as the Next Big Thing Argument.
  • Whoever gets elected in November will very likely be the right candidate for the job.
  • The world as we know it is always ending. That’s a good thing, actually.
  • The universe is probably evolving exactly as it thinks it should.
  • We don’t need to do anything, but we get to, if we want.

Gödel

Kurt Gödel (Wikipedia)

It’s easier to disregard someone when you leave them out. It’s easier to disregard ideas when we don’t think about them. We sometimes do this when faced with inconsistency don’t we?

Haven’t we learned that consistency is absolutely necessary in order to be logical?

To be logical is to be reasonable… Isn’t it therefore unreasonable to be inconsistent?

Although I am not a professional mathematician, I use mathematical concepts daily. Most of us think that mathematics is the epitome of logical thinking. Most of us would think that arithmetic –the “oldest and most elementary” kind of mathematics there is– has to be self-consistent, but this only turns out to be true so long as you assume arithmetic is self-consistent but don’t try to prove its self-consistency using arithmetical statements.

Officially,

[In] any consistent effective formal system that includes enough of the theory of the natural numbers …there are true statements expressible in its language that are unprovable.

Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem

But hang on a second, this is a theorem saying it is mathematically true that there are mathematically true statements that cannot be proven (or disproven) true mathematically!

Doesn’t that wreck mathematics?

The Blind Men and the Elephant, p. 6

If Darwin and Wallace could co-labor, can’t we?

I have certain basic beliefs –

  • Science and religion are both metanarratives whose validities hinge on the way they are acted out.
  • ‘Just so’ stories are not properly basic ever, at any time in any narrative.
  • Everything is a metaphor for everything else.
  • (Therefore) ‘Truth’ may best be encapsulated within ‘Myth’.
  • (So that) Even our most basic understanding of physical reality, e.g. ‘matter’ may be viewed as mythological.

Everything I ‘know’, I know by ‘faith’.

I think it would be nice if you would share…

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