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Notes Towards Day 8: The Odds of That?

Anne Dalke's picture

Notes Towards Day 8 of Food for Thought

I. coursekeeping
postings--what WAS the carbon footprint of our field trip??
on using the web to enlarge your paper, but...
being skeptical of what you find!

new writing
(papers due @ 5 tomorrow):
any questions? go round and describe topics?

reading for next Tuesday:
first part (75 pp.) of
The Paradox of Choice,
by Swat pysch prof Barry Schwartz;
popular version of the scientific dilemma we've been chasing this week-->
how to trust your data? how to decide what's right?
Schwartz generalizes the problem

II. Tuesday we talked about what health is
(and who decides? is the definition individual? biological? cultural?)

[OED:  O.E., Old German hail-s WHOLE, HALE] 1.a. Soundness of body;
that condition in which its functions are duly and efficiently discharged.

III. What does Lisa Belkin add to our double-stranded discussion,
on Tuesday, about about what it means to be healthy?
how do we decide how to behave?
how should skeptical scientists negotiate the world?

coincidence: unexpected connections that are riveting and rattling
religious faith that nothing is coincidental; vs.
science: an exercise in eliminating the taint of coincidence
police work a parry between coincidence and complicity

pure happenstance: surprising concurrence, w/ no apparent connection,
perceived as meaningfully related
discomforted by idea of random universe:
noticing coincidence elevates it/transcends definition as pure chance

coincidence feels like a loss of control; finding a reason/pattern makes it less frightening
conspiracy more comforting than something "just happening" (Ahab in Moby-Dick!)
most stunning patterns not even there:
what look like miracles could have been predicted by statistics
odds are very good even in unbelievable situations
law of large #s: with a large enough denominator/big wide world, stuff will happen
too taken w/t superfluous facts, findings with no beaing on statistics of coincidence

real yardstick: how surprised should we be?
something striking happens only incidentally to us
chance of anything is fairly high: world is quite small
amazed by overlap, we conveniently ignore countless things not in common
because conceivable, might not happen; because never happened, might

as species: biologically programmed to see patterns/conspiracies:
tendency increased when we sense danger: hard-wired to over-react
pattern-seeking animals: biology conspires to make coincidences more meaningful:
respond to anomalies as if they were real

finding connections is the way we make sense of the world:
coincidences derive rich knowledge from limited situations
urge to weave things together

fundamentally rational or irrational?
mini-trend of viewing coincidence as fate/signposts

laws of big and small #s:
world so large anything can happen, so small wierd things do
field of coincidence theory: "debugging humn intuition"
we notice only winning streaks:
stupid to be surprised/power of personal involvement
the more personal the event, more meaning we give it/add significance
coincidence as Rorschach test: look to find what we already believe
give it meaning because it means something to us
conspiracy theory speaks to child in us all

Web has changed scale of things:
technical ability to gather random noise, find chance patterns
random clumping looks significant
conspiracy theorists frustrated novelists: making up stories out of random facts

IV. to conclude/continue the conversation:
from the most recent session of the Evolving Systems Group:
a few Rorschach tests of our pattern-seeking inclinations....