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Mike S's picture

Pattern as a false positive

For me, classification is not the core of the issue, but is instead symptomatic of a larger issue. Regardless of the accumulation of information (I’ll keep a cautious distance from any notion of facts), story tellers attempt to reconcile their perception of reality both with and using that information (whatever its source). Thus, story tellers are classifiers/decoders (in some sense these are synonymous). If we cannot distinguish bits of information from one another, then there is no hope for understanding the whole. Some variation in information, we ignore because the decoding has no perceived effect on our working knowledge of a system (i.e., the decoding doesn’t influence our fitness). We focus on other particular variation because our decoding in those cases does affect our interaction with ‘reality‘ (i.e., our fitness is enhanced or degraded). So, given how selection (as one source of modifying stored information [genes]) provides differential consequences for our decoding, I am not surprised that we perceive what might in fact be continuous variation as quite clumpy. Across the entire range of possible continuous variation (in whatever), why should we assume that decoding the whole range should have equal consequence to our understanding (or fitness)?

Complementing this idea is another point, which I think is an interesting consequence of our decoding. Paul expressed some discomfort with the relaxation of the assumption of a ‘maker’, the notion of ‘no beginning, no end’, and the interaction between code and decoders. Oddly, this relaxation is an articulation of a long held notion of mine. The making of stories is a perception from which we’ve reconciled inconsistencies in what we perceive as real. One story line for which Westerners have particularly fixated is that time is finite, or at least it must have ‘started’. Interestingly, from an Eastern perspective, ‘no beginning, no end’ would seem very logical. Thus, different contexts (environments) have provided quite different decoding of similarly available information.  So I am not surprised or distressed ‘That we are always working in "subjective" worlds that may be different in different people’. That said, statistics might be a decent metaphor for making sense of the noise problem, i.e. the goal of statistics is to discern signal from noise. This idea is similar  to Wil’s ‘Only with many viewpoints do we dilute individual bias.’ Of course, given our common descent, do we really have all that many viewpoints? And thus, a sobering lesson from statistics is that any analysis with a small, autocorrelated sample size is quite susceptible to the acceptance of a hypothesis as supported when it is indeed false.

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