Nonfiction: Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics, by William Briggs (Springer Publishing): I know it’s the end of August and your preferred reading is something light. But I would be remiss if I did not bring to the attention of any hard-headed truth seekers out there—for whom exerting the cerebellum, even in August, is not an untoward occupation—a new book by William Briggs, the civilized world’s most amusing statistician. I know what you’re thinking: “statistician” and “amusing” do not belong in the same sentence, or, at least, that they cannot refer to the same man. (Disraeli’s comment about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” shows that the subject, anyway, can admit of some humor.) But do not take my word for it: nab a copy of Briggs’s latest, Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. It’s not for sissies, true, but its clear-headed (i.e., Aristotelian) approach to the subject of truth (which, in the end, is what exercises in probability and statistical analysis are all about, notwithstanding what they tell you in school) is refreshing: a long, cool drink of plain speaking about intellectual topics that, in these hot and humid days, is as enlivening as it is enlightening. One sadness that can be remedied in later reprintings: the index refers to a “Stove, S.” It is “Stove, D.,” as in “David Charles Stove,” the Australian philosopher, a patent and healthy influence on this book, who is meant. –RK
So you can see my enemies managed to slip in a typo of Stove’s name. My enemies are relentless buggers, the creatures. I’ve already alerted the production side about the mistake. And I’m sure it will not only be fixed in reprintings, but in the Second Edition.
1 FROM the foregoing it is shown that no intellectual substance is a body.
2 For no body is found to contain anything except by quantitative commensuration: wherefore also if a thing contain a whole thing in the whole of itself, each part will contain a part, the greater part a greater part, and the lesser part a lesser part. But an intellect does not contain a thing understood by quantitative commensuration: because by its whole self it understands and comprehends both whole and part, things both great and small in quantity. Therefore no intelligent substance is a body.
Notes You can’t chop your intellect into pieces. Your arms, legs, nerves, and, yes, your brain, but not your intellect.
3 Moreover. No body can receive the substantial form of another body, unless it lose its own form by corruption. But an intellect is not corrupted, but rather is it perfected by receiving the forms of all bodies; since it is perfected by understanding, and understands by having in itself the forms of things understood. Therefore no intellectual substance is a body.
Notes Forms, don’t forget, are not material. For instance, there is no material form “as tray” in a clay ash tray, but there is clay.
4 Further. The principle of distinction between individuals of the same species is the division of matter in respect of quantity: because the form of this fire differs not from the form of that fire, except by the fact of its being in different parts into which matter is divided; nor is this otherwise than by division of quantity, without which substance is indivisible. Now that which is received into a body, is received into it according to quantitative division. Therefore a form is not received into a body, except as individualized. If, therefore, an intellect were a body, the intelligible forms of things would not be received into it except as individualized. But the intellect understands things by their forms which it has at its disposal. Consequently the intellect would not understand universals but only particulars. Now this is clearly false. Therefore no intellect is a body.
Notes Thus, contra some science fiction stories I vaguely remember, you can’t eat somebody’s brain and assimilate their intellect.
5 Again. Nothing acts except in accordance with its species, because the form is the principle of action in everything. If, therefore, an intellect be a body, its action will not transcend the order of bodies. Wherefore it would understand nothing but bodies. Now this is clearly false: since we understand many things that are not bodies. Therefore the intellect is not a body.
Notes Question: What’s 1/0? Answer: Not a body. (Joke.)
6 Again. If an intelligent substance is a body, it is either finite or infinite. Now, it is impossible for a body to be infinite actually, as is proved in the Physics. Therefore it is a finite body, if we suppose it to be a body at all. But this is impossible, since in no body can there be infinite power, as we have proved above. Now the power of the intellect in understanding is in a manner infinite, for by adding it understands species of numbers to infinitude, and likewise species of figures and proportions. Moreover it knows the universal, which is virtually infinite in its compass, since it contains individuals which are potentially infinite. Therefore the intellect is not a body.
Notes How can we know that 1, 2, 3, … goes to infinity? How can we know that (my old saw) that for natural numbers x and y, that if x = y then y = x for x, y = 1, 2, 3, …? How can we grasp any infinite concept? This is what induction is about. This is wonderful subject, to be explored later. For now, it is enough to concede our intellects somehow operate in an infinite manner.
7 Moreover. It is impossible for two bodies to contain one another, since the container exceeds the contained. Yet two intellects contain and comprehend one another, when one understands the other. Therefore the intellect is not a body.
8 Again. No body’s action reflects on the agent: for it is proved in the Physics, that no body is moved by itself except in respect of a part, so that, namely, one of its parts be mover and the other moved. Now the intellect by its action reflects on itself, for it understands itself not only as to a part, but as to the whole. Therefore it is not a body.
Notes Ain’t those last two arguments pretty, as Captain Aubrey would say?
9 Again. A body’s action is not the object of that body’s action, nor is its movement the object of its movement, as proved in the Physics. But the action of the intellect is the object of its action: for just as the intellect understands a thing, so does it understand that it understands, and so on indefinitely. Therefore an intellectual substance is not a body.
10 Hence it is that Holy Writ calls intellectual substances spirits: in which way it is wont to name God Who is incorporeal, according to Jo. iv. 24, God is a spirit. And it is said (Wis. vii. 22, 23): For in her, namely Divine Wisdom, is the spirit of understanding,…containing all intelligible spirits.
11 Hereby is excluded the error of the early natural philosophers, who held that there was none but corporeal substance: wherefore they said that even the soul is a body, either fire, air, or water, or something of the kind. Which opinion some have endeavoured to introduce into the Christian faith, by saying that the soul is the effigy of a body, like a body outwardly imitated.
Notes It’s not only the early natural philosophers who make this error, many modern-day natural philosophers, i.e. scientists, make it, too. Hence we see experiments where a live body is weighed and weighed again after death to determine the weight or mass of the soul. Or we see others, usually on television, where researchers look for “energy patterns” of the soul. And so on.
Busy Saturday, so a plea from reader Aman Rastogi:
I am a student from Lucknow University, INDIA, pursuing my Masters in Public Health there.
Few days back I have watched two of your videos on youtube about statistical fallacies and crisis of evidence in public health and it has changed my perception of viewing the collected data, thank you for that.
In those videos you were saying that without observing each and every individual we cannot come on a correct conclusion about the causation or even the association of the problem with the disease because it may give a lot of statistical junk that we would believe.
So, what would you prefer for a country like INDIA where even the data collection is a big problem because of so many reasons like the weak health information system, low salaries and huge population covering burden on the local data collector, a not much interest of people itself, etc. here are so many uncountable problems to face for a health professional. So, what can be a one solution to counter this problem and engaging all of the needed population with a reliable statistical data.
Because the data suffers here when it goes from one level to another as either professionals don’t want them to be reported or some other reason. And the policy makers get a very manipulated data that arises the big problem. Because at first the data was not collected with keen observation and then it got manipulated.
Even the big shot organizations at state level or organization like UNICEF have to rely on the collected data, whatever it is, and then they make up the policy for it.
So please give me some sort of solution to counter this problem or please publish the solution in one of your paper or book ASAP.
I put this up for reader discussion since I know little about Indian health care and almost nothing about how the Indian government collects data.
But I do know about “anecdotal” data, which has been given a bad name. “Observational” or “anecdotal” data have different senses. The first are the daily living “data” that comes to us unbidden via regular experience, “data” which is responsible for tradition, commonsense, stereotypes, street knowledge, and so on. This is usually great data, and there is little wrong with the judgments we make using it.
The second sense is what we usually think of as observational data, collected ad hoc, say, from health ministries, and not gathered from controlled experiment. I use control in the same sense an engineer or physicist does, actual material control of a thing, and not in the statistical sense, which isn’t control at all but a way of seeing how uncertainty might change as a thing changes. That people mix these uses up accounts for much over-certainty.
Anyway, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with this second sense of observational data, except that it’s far, far too often input into statistical routines which guarantee over-certainty, like hypothesis testing and parameter estimation. People will claim causation has been found merely because they were able to quantify the analysis of observational data. Quantification is seen universally as superior to the conclusions reached by observational data of the first kind, when usually the reverse is true. This is because observational data of the second kind is often of a much more limited nature than the first kind, which reflects the broad experience of many.
Now WHO is one of those organizations, like all modern bureaucracies, that insist on quantification. This insistence is why so much is wrongheaded in government, because the insistence drives over-certainty. And the same would hold for true with the Indian medical system if it were to embrace rapid data collection. Again, it’s not that collecting data is bad per se, but that it’s collected for the sake of collection and then quantified because that’s what turns it into Science™ is a problem.
Therefore, it would be best to advocate discussions of elders, those who have had the longest experience in medicine as she is actually practiced.
Obviously there is much more that can be said, but you get the idea, I hope.
I’ve been asked to share ‘my notes’ regarding my previous posts about Islam vs. The West (Part I, II, III). Especially where I’ve said that the only way out for the West is the nuclear option. Because all the other options are gone. The only other thing that might work is to let Russia do our dirty work.
Well, no need for notes. Logic will do fine. Especially induction. To understand my reasoning you simply need to know my assumptions. Actually, I believe they are more than assumptions, I believe they are obvious to anyone with at least one eye. But let’s assume they aren’t. Here they are in a nutshell.
Everything has changed. First, Islam has changed. It’s becoming increasingly conscious of its command to Jihad. It is gaining momentum, regardless of the crudity of their ‘civilization’. Secondly, America has changed. It’s weary, it’s poorer, it’s disillusioned. It is no longer united. Invoking 9-11 does not elicit the same response. Thirdly, Russia has changed. She is no longer the 98 lb. weakling many thought she was in 2003. How she has done this in so short a time (if indeed that is the case) is another story. But the fact is, Russia is back. And seemingly with an attitude.
Finally, the only thing that hasn’t changed is Europe. Well, actually it has. It’s gotten worse. Weaker, in both a military as well as national sense. Admittedly, sovereignty is now an issue, but only because they are losing this same said characteristic of their past. They are awash with a foreign element that is increasingly belligerent. Turning this ship around can’t be done, as there is no rudder. Or should I say there are twenty-seven rudders. They both equal the same thing, eh?
So now, let’s start with the original version of this war (Iraq, Afghanistan). That version has only awoken the beast, not tamed it. Too few men, too short a time. Yet we’ve already spent a dozen years doing this. But let’s say we sent over another 300,000 men (which is what the Generals told George he needed to conquer and then pacify). Any clues as to where these numbers (and the payment for them) will come from? Put aside the public reaction, and ask yourself: who would be willing to join this coalition? A coalition that will need to stay in place for at least twenty years (one generation) if it is to have any hope of having a lasting effect. And then, I want to see anyone else’s notes that would guarantee that one generation would be enough.
And remember, we won’t be starting this round against a state-actor. We’re past that. We are into asymmetric warfare mode now, and it’s not just Afghanistan and Iraq. We would need to have boots on the ground from Indonesia to Morocco. The problem is, the other side doesn’t wear boots. They wear sandals. Starting at children’s size 4. And up. Oh yes, and women’s sizes too. They really do believe in women’s equality in Islam. Anyone can die for Allah!
Secondly, Islam today is not equivalent to the Islamic ‘threat’ perceived in 2003. The radical element in every faction of Islam is much larger than it was in 2003, and the fear of these radicals is much greater amongst the ‘moderate’ remainder. Neither brand (Sunni or Shia) is likely to stand aside while we annihilate the other brand. They know who would be next. Them.
So an outright war against Islam (even if we publicly call it a war against terror, or Shiism, or Sunnism, or whatever) will only produce a unified Islamic world. Sure, their unity would be short-lived. Once they eat our next round of cannon fodder, they will go back to their own brand of tribal warfare. But they will be happy to eat us in the meantime.
But let’s assume we could find the men and the money, and the 20 years (minimum) needed. Where will you find the united public willpower to exercise these assets? America is fragmented, and not just left-right. There are anti-war elements everywhere now. I know quite a few military men from corporals to colonels and they are routinely discouraged. Not by the task, but by the (lack of) leadership. Especially at the top. We are now led by gender-fixated maniacs. We are in a shambles at the top. And the damage done would take years to roll back, if it can be done at all. Again, where is the unified will power on the part of the people? Even amongst the religiously inclined (both Cat & Prot), there is a loathing to fight on behalf of a secular Empire that won’t stand up for religious beliefs. And the same is true amongst the seculari, who despise those who would fight for religious (vs secular) beliefs. Truly, we are a house divided.
And what about Holy Mother Russia? Let’s ask a silly question. What would Vlad (or any other strongman in Moscow) do if we unilaterally decided to move all this imaginary manpower into the Mid East and beyond? Remember, the cancer has metastasized. It’s everywhere there is an Islamic presence. But again, for the sake of argument, let’s presume we can muster the manpower and project it to the worst spots. Where does that leave NATO? Who’s left to guard the chickens? Chickens in every sense of the word, by the way. We used to keep 50,000 men and more, and 10,000 tanks to plug the Fulda Gap in Germany. Why? To stop the Russians. So, where are those troops and tanks today? They aren’t there anymore. They aren’t anywhere. Why? Because we bought the lie that Russia was no longer a threat. So we scrapped them. Just look at Germany. Ten years ago she had over 2,000 first-line Leopard tanks. Today, less than 300. Hell, Jordan has more tanks (1,250) than Britain, France and Germany combined.
But the Russians are still there. And they have brand new tanks that can stomp the daylights out of ours. But they don’t even need the new Armata T-14. They have over 15,000 of the older versions and they don’t have to transport them across the Atlantic to do what they were built for. And they aren’t interested in the Fulda Gap anymore. The Suwalki Gap is the new hotspot for European angst. And it’s right next door to Russia. They can get there on just one tank of petrol. Isn’t that convenient, Komrade?
But enough of that. Let’s ask ourselves, ‘WWVD?’ What Would Vlad Do? What would he do if he saw America send the bulk (if not all) of it’s manpower on a mission to neutralize Islam? Well, what couldn’t he do? Really, think about it. What is there he couldn’t do if the candy store is left unlocked? Here’s a little tip on what he could do. Check out the latest Army analysis—Russian Military Strategy, by Timothy Thomas—of Russian strategy and capability. My favorite part is the 50,000 Ratnik suits that have already been deployed. I want one sooo bad!
So let’s face it. We can either be on patrol to keep Europe safe from Russia, or to keep Europe safe from Islam. But not both. So, which will it be, Komrade?
Now for those still in doubt, read up a little on the Battle of Stalingrad. Read Days and Nights, a touching Soviet propaganda love-story set amidst the scenic backdrop of this Mother of All Battles. No, don’t read the whole damn book, unless you’re into S&M. Here’s a little taste. The point is this; embedded in the story is the truth of the brutal nature of Russian warfare. From the Battle of Kulikovo Field in 1380 until now, the nature of the beast has not changed. And there is no reason for it to change, if you’re a Russian. And you want to survive. To survive against all these bastard invaders, whether they be Mongols, Poles, Swedes, Pechenegs, French, Germans or Islamic hordes. Russia must survive. There is no other option.
Now take a look at Stalingrad II. Otherwise known as the Battle of Grozny, in the Second Chechen War. The war Vlad won. And notice the similarity between Stalingrad I and II. He won it by doing the exact same thing. He leveled the howitzer tubes and marched straight ahead, block by rubbled block. There were no civilians recognized in this march. The result was, as described by the BBC, ‘the most destroyed city on earth‘.
Now that’s what Vlad would do to the Islamic world. And that is the only thing that will work short of nuclear war. The only thing that will drive Islam back into it’s sleep of the dead. The same sleep that occurred after Vienna in 1683. And the West isn’t prepared, in any sense of the word, to do it. But Vlad is. Do we really want to stop him? For the benefit of Effeminate Europe? Really?