Archive for August, 2013

As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been a bit preoccupied lately. I’ve been trying to find time to blog, but it just hasn’t been in the cards. So for that, I apologize (continuously), and I really hope to have more time in the coming weeks as summer winds down.

When I blog, I enjoy it–but I’ve never taken it seriously, so to speak. My motivations behind starting and continuing this blog are well documented, but it’s interesting the approach one takes to things when they don’t take it seriously. For instance, in the recent weeks when post frequency has dropped to maybe one per month instead of one every week or two, it’s nice to not stress about it. To be honest, the 15 or so people who make a habit of reading my posts probably can get by without doing so, and in that sense, this site has been more for me, and about me, than it has been anything else.

But at the same time, I still try to think up topics. I like the “rant” style blog more than anything else, because it doesn’t require any real planning. Every now and then, I think of something a bit more philosophical and deep than my standard bitching and whining. And while the latter typically requires a little more forethought, there’s an added perk in the opportunity to ramble on a bit before getting to the actual content (reference the first three paragraphs of this entry…). For instance, over the last 2 weeks, I’ve thought of no less than 6 decent topics, but due to the nature of those topics, I had trouble developing any connections meaningful enough to justify a full blog post versus a Facebook status update. Also–I find that I am terrible at recording these topics for later pondering, so they are usually just lost in the recesses of my mind after a few hours.

One of those topics that stuck with me was from a friend’s Facebook post: BU2B (Brought up to believe). The query challenged me to think of something that I was brought up to believe that I have found to be true throughout the normal goings-on of my life. And, much like someone who is looking for good resumé filler material, I immediately thought of “hard work and attention to detail.” It is a bit of a lame response, but let me explain.

In previous entries, I’ve presented two related ideas: the drunkard’s walk, which refers to the path a molecule takes as it interacts with other molecules, and hindsight bias, which is the inaccurate assumption that it is possible to deduce the outcome of certain events based solely upon the influences of the events leading up to it, when in fact those preliminary events were largely alignments of randomness that could not have been interpreted in a way that led to the actual outcome.

These two things together usually present an interesting opportunity for heated debate. Any of a number of conspiracy theories fit the model well. A more concrete example (and possibly my favorite) relates to the meltdown at Three Mile Island (to summarize, it was a perfect storm of errors that just happened to lead to a catastrophic event; read about it sometime). Since the goal of this entry is NOT to provide numerous examples of the hindsight bias, let’s assume it happens a lot–because it does.

Contrary to that, though–one place I rarely see hindsight bias being applied is in the interpretation of the drunkard’s walk we all take through life. At least in the last 28 years, I’ve not been able to identify a consistent path or set of outcomes in my own life that I should have ‘seen coming.’ Or my brother’s path, or my wife, or my closest friends. What about you? Are you where you thought you’d be in life, maybe 10 or 15 years ago? Or 20? Or 50? Would you want to be?

There’s a curious paradox here as well. When you observe the path of a molecule, all of the interactions it has are largely random–which other molecules it interacts with, the resulting new direction after that interaction, and the other molecules it will come into contact with further down its path, while those molecules are traveling their own drunkard’s walk. In every infinitesimally small moment, the molecules existence, interactions, path and future are all entirely random (or at least so complex that we have to call it random). Now consider your own life–I would be willing to bet that, while you don’t know how the hell you got to where you are today, you’re probably not that different of a person from 10, or 15, or 20 years ago. So in that sense, at least your existence or perhaps your existence and interactions aren’t entirely random–yet your eventual outcome, whatever it is, couldn’t even be predicted using hindsight bias.

(As an aside: this suggests to me something bigger is at work. Admittedly, this isn’t the time for me to pursue how this relates to my faith, but it does suggest to me there’s a bigger plan. Not a plan that keeps you locked into a certain, specific fate or future, and not a plan that takes away your free will or keeps your decisions from irrelevance. This plan gives me strength, and confidence, and comfort.)

Yet I can still try to apply hindsight bias personally: I was brought up to believe that a strong work ethic is important. That strong work ethic has been an ongoing influence in my life for at least the last 15 years, if not longer. What’s more, is that work ethic has, in my interpretation of it, made things considerably better for me and my family than they may have been without hard work. So while I never could have imagined that I would end up where I am today, it would be easy to say that there seems to be some presumably predictable direction, if for no other description, “better.”

Thanks as always for your support. Be well and stay tuned.