William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Since the last worked so well, and nothing exceeds like excess, there will be an extended e-holiday at the blog for at least the next month. New and guest posts are in the queue. Since the blog will not be monitored, the spam filter has been tightened to enormous degree: many comments will thus linger in limbo. Email will not be seen during this time. St Thomas, ora pro nobis.

Randomness & God

Reader Omer Abid points us to Serkan Zorba’s article “God is Random: A New Perspective on Evolution and Creationism”, which has concepts of interest to all of us (Abid asked me to look into this not quite two years ago, so you can see I’m a tad behind in my emails).

Regular readers know, and I prove in Uncertainty, that random means unknown. Random is an epistemological concept and not an ontological one: there is no “random force” as there is, say, a gravitational force.

With that, here is Zorba (jumping in about half way down).

Thus I will propound that generation and “understanding” of absolute randomness requires infinite intelligence. I will dare to speculate that true randomness observed in nature is a strong indication, if not the “proof,” of the existence of an infinitely intelligent entity (God). Absolute randomness is a telltale sign of God.

One way of seeing this is as follows. Perfect randomness is when the result of an event is independent of the past and future influences. That means the event is not determined by any physical cause although it transpires in our physical universe, but rather by what I will call a ‘transcause,’ a cause originating beyond our phenomenal level.

When a “wave function” “collapses”, if that is what really happens, it collapses to a specific value. The (conditional) probability, a function of the wave (the conditions), can be calculated that this specific value will result. Now this value before it results it is only a potential. Some thing actual must actualize this potential and so make the final state an actuality. If Bell is right, we cannot know what this actualizer is; but that it must exist is a truism. It cannot be that nothing actualized the potential, because nothing is not-a-thing, and nothing has no powers. It must be that some thing actual with power to actualize did the actualizing. Zorba will call this a “transcause”, which is as good a name as any, and maybe a better name than most.

Incidentally, Heisenberg spoke in exactly this Aristotelian language when he philosophized about quantum mechanics. Uncertainty has details on this.

I differ from Zorba in calling quantum events “independent.” I deprecate this word in statistics, too, and use instead relevancy. Prior knowledge of some proposition (event) is either relevant or irrelevant to some new proposition. To use “independent” is to say two events are not causally related, and in the case of transcauses (to use his fine word), since we have no idea of the reasoning behind the cause of the first event, we necessarily do not have it of the second. Two events may very well be, in the perspective of the transcause, dependent.

Furthermore, the independence of such random behavior of the past and future influences—a sort of memorylessness—is, I assert, indistinguishable from having a timeless omniscience, as the knowledge of the past and the future must really be known to truly render a correlationless behavior. Thus the introduced ‘transcausality’, by virtue of its having infinite computational wherewithal, implies the existence and intervention of a metaphysical and categorically-different intelligence, which I will name ‘transintelligence’.

‘Transcausality’ necessarily implies non-locality, which is a fundamental feature of quantum mechanics. Furthermore, the discontinuous and seemingly non-algorithmic character of wavefunction collapse also dovetails well with the idea of ‘transcausality.’

Well, we cannot claim “memorylessness”, especially if we’re going to, as Zorba does, equate transcausality with God. And we have to be careful about correlation, too. If we use it in the sense of relevancy, we’re on solid epistemological ground; but as lacking-causal-connection, we are not. (Besides, statisticians have the bad habit of speaking of correlation as if it only involves straight line undefined—perhaps causal, perhaps not—“links”.)

Non-locality, of course, applies to our material world. Since God is at the base of all existence, the First and Sustaining Cause of all (see the beginning of this series), Zorba’s suggestion makes sense. God is not here now, and there later. In a crude analogy, if you think of the universe right now emanating from a single point, a singularity, all points and all times are present to this singularity at once, which puts this singularity in the perfect time-place to be a (the) transcause.

I’ll skip over the bits about how our intellects work, which brings up many subjects, such as induction (such as also discussed in Uncertainty).

I thus posit that the information-laden perfect randomness observed in nature at the microscopic level entails the existence of an “oracle,” a transintelligence, namely, an omniscient being. To further identify this Being with God–who is conceptually defined as omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect–is not facilely accomplished, albeit such identification is not uncommon[4].

The transintelligent being inferred in this article must be omniscient and omnipotent due to the proposed ontological (creation/selection of quantum events) and epistemological (information-theoretic nature of the irreducible randomness of the quantum world) connection. Linking omniscience/omnipotence to moral perfection, as assumed or done in various forms of ontological argument (e.g., in Plantinga’s modal argument[5]), is beyond the scope of this article[6].

(About Plantinga’s version of an onotological argument, click here; and don’t miss the comment by Paul Brandon Rimmer.)

Zorba’s kicker is this: “If God is, by definition, infinite, absolute and singular, then, generally speaking, in what other pattern will a finite being—such as a human being—perceive Him other than randomness?”

This is far from a proof, though I agree with Zorba’s aim. God is “mysterious” in the sense that we do not know why this wave “collapsed” to this point. Of course, this hinges on the absolute correctness of quantum mechanics as it is now known. If, say, next week string theorists finally convince the world they know of what they speak, then would Zorba’s argument be weakened? Probably not, because (as far as I understand it) string theorists have no answer to what is actualizing the potentials of strings, either.

Russia’s (Soft) War With The West, Part II — Guest Post by Ianto Watt

Let us digress a moment and consider, as Svechin would, just what this word ‘action’ means to us in our present situation. Let us consider the peculiar nature of the battlefield before we select our strategy. And let us look at it as a Russian would. After all, this is what Sun Tzu would do.

To begin with, we must first know ourselves, correct? And as any Russian would know, the purpose of knowledge is to lead to action. This impulse towards action is the basis of Russian intellectual life. It is at the core of all the great Russian actors and thinkers, from the time of Ivan the Terrible (in his Letter to Prince Kurbsky) through Solzhenitsyn in his work To the Rulers of Russia in our time. This impulse is best summed up in the expression Chto delat? That is, what is to be done?

Yes, that was the famous question of Lenin in his work of the same title. But he didn’t originate it. He stole it, like everything else he came near. He stole it from Nikolai Chernyshevsky in his novel of the same name in 1863. (Editor’s note: Chernyshevsky’s book has lately been in the news: “Chernyshevsky was one of the great destructive influences of the past century”.)

Now all of these men have a unique outlook on life, and each has his own proposed solution to the crisis of the day. Yet each of these men, in classic Russian fashion, calls out for action. And in the typical Russian way, each of them has a universal view of their proposed solution. As George Young puts it in his brilliant work The Russian Cosmists, the defining characteristic of Russian philosophy is “the tendency to view every –ology as an opportunity for an –urgy, every discussion of ‘what is’ as an invitation to consider ‘how to accomplish what ought to be'” (p 24).

Young further notes the Russian tendency towards ‘the Totalitarian cast of mind’ that infects them all. Why is that? Because they all have a tendency ‘to place the good of the whole community above the freedom of the individual’. I know, that sounds ridiculous to ascribe to a man like Solzhenitsyn, eh? But consider that even he would say that there is a way that is true, and that to depart from that path is to invite evil. And evil knows no bounds, as he well knew. Read his address from 1983, Godlessness, the First Step to the Gulag if you want to see my point.

The logical conclusion for any thinking Russian then is that mankind must embrace the correct path. All of mankind. Because, after all, the Russian mind, whether religious (Solovyev), intellectual (Berdyaev), bolshevik (Lenin) or scientific (Fedorov) believes that the fate of the world rests in the hands of Russia. Therefore, any true solution must be of Russian origin. And, quite obviously then, of Russian implementation. This is the only way to a total solution. To universal peace, to Cosmic One-ness, to Sobornost. And as Young has observed, that would make it a totalitarian proposition, correct? Not that Solzhenitsyn would impose it on anyone. But the verdict Young renders about the philosophical nature of the proposition is correct. The solution must be global, or it is not really a solution. And only Russia can be the source of this solution, Komrade.

What does this have to do with the question of strategy? Well, we’re getting there, OK? We had to do this little exercise in order to understand how the Russian mind is going to look at the proposed battle. The proposed action. We have to know how he thinks in order to predict how he will judge the peculiar nature of the opportunity at hand. And so the way a Russian thinks, and the solutions he proposes (and will seek to impose) must, by definition, be global in nature. Remember that famous byword from the bygone days of détente? Co-existence, anyone? In the words of that famous Sicilian philosopher Anthony Soprano; fuggedaboutit!

Let’s get down to work. Let’s examine the situation the Russian Grandmasters were facing in the late 1950’s, and see what the strategic choices were in the particular situation they were in. To begin with, we must state, again, that these men saw the confrontation with the West as global in nature. Only one side would win, and the other side would succumb, militarily, politically, economically. And, religiously. Remember, every Russian leader since Tsar Alexis has been perfectly willing to manipulate the Church for his own purposes, even if he claims to be a believer. Khrushchev included, although he was no believer.

So then, if the confrontation is to be a global one (as both the Empire and the Empire-in-Waiting seek to capture the entire world), the strategy must be able to be applied on a global scale. Now if the strategy of (non-nuclear) annihilation is chosen, this would work to the detriment of The Land People, as Mackinder and Dugin clearly see, and I agree. How would Russia be able to project power into North or South America or Africa without a naval force equal to or greater than the navy of the Sea People, Imperial Rome? Even if the Bosporus were in Russian hands, Gibraltar is not. And besides, where is this wished-for fleet of Russian warships? The only thing remotely close to this is her admittedly strong hunter-killer submarine force, but this doesn’t project power, it only stops the other side from projecting power.

If the nature of the battle is to be global in scope, how can the strategy of annihilation be effective, short of the nuclear war scenario that neither side wanted? After all, both sides operate on the principle that no man destroys what he hopes to inherit. Ask the interrogators of Christian Rakovsky if this is true.

I think it is clear that under the military circumstances of the late 1950’s and even through today, Russia alone is not able to wage a conventional war of annihilation on a global scale, although this is becoming more feasible in Europe today, given the state of NATO preparations.

What about allies? Does Russia have any allies that could help her achieve world hegemony through open aggression? Yes, there was the Warsaw Pact, but that too was unable to project its power outside of Europe. And China in the late 1950’s was in no shape to conduct anything other than Asian land wars. She had no navy to speak of, and her only ace was the massive size of the People’s Liberation Army. But that ace was more of a joker in most hands, as Mao wasn’t currently in the mood to make hay just to achieve Russian domination. After all, Uncle Joe had failed to back him up in Korea. And so, Svechin would have said such a plan was unrealistic, even if the war was to proceed in stages (Europe first, etc). Not if you wanted to capture things intact. And the Politburo of 1953 knew all of this as well, in spite of Uncle Joe’s demands. Which is why he had to go.

If the war cannot be waged with a strategy of annihilation (if the desire was to capture a productive and intact West), Chto delat? What is to be done? It would seem clear to me, if not also to a few Russian Imperialists, that a shift in strategy had to take place. And the only other choice, according to Svechin, is a war of attrition.

But such a war of a thousand cuts cannot be executed on a global scale using standard military means. We’re talking here about guerilla war at the very least. And when one ponders the scale that would be necessary to conduct such a war on the West, its intelligence services and supply lines would need to be so massive in scope that it would seem to be more impossible than a war of annihilation. After all, it’s one thing to convince a Vietnamese that he should throw off his colonial overlords (whether French or American). It’s quite another to convince a Western European or a North American of this ‘need’ in the late 1950’s. And even if it were to be tried (and it was, in Italy, Angola, Central America, West Germany, etc. and even in the US with the Black Power movement), it would take so long to gain traction that it would exhaust the resources of the central planners in the Kremlin. But there would be a use for these exercises in the short run, if they were only a feint.

Here is where Golitsyn comes in, again. As he related to the CIA (and anyone else who would listen) upon his defection in 1961, there was indeed a new strategy for conquering the West. This was a Russian plan, dressed up as Communism. Out with the old Bonapartism of Uncle Joe, and in with the new solidarity of the re-invigorated Comintern. This plan foresaw that there were numerous other fronts that could be attacked in a non-military fashion that would eventually render the West helpless against the East. And the key to all of this is the same strategy a fellow named Lucifer has chosen for the past few hundred years: convince people you don’t exist. It’s quite effective you know. Have you seen anyone in the confession line lately? Has anyone seen you there lately?

Anyway, all you have to do to accomplish this goal of convincing people you don’t exist is to get them to look at themselves. That is, to take their eye off the ball. The ball, of course, being the enemy. And there are plenty of ways to do this. Educationally, intellectually, culturally, economically, religiously, musically, medically, the list can go on and on. The key, however, is to begin to ratchet down the direct external threat of the militarized USSR, while simultaneously engaging the western military in small nationalistic wars of liberation around the globe that sap her strength and eventually, her resolve. I won’t bother to repeat the litany of these. You already know it by heart.

Simultaneously with this brush-fire war tactic (which was never designed to be supremely victorious, and which never cost any Russian lives) was the tactic of supposedly opening up, in small ways, the Iron Curtain that imposed a uniformity of choice in all the areas mentioned above. Again, educationally, intellectually, culturally, economically, religiously, musically, etc. This was supposedly possible because of the cracks in the solidarity of the Communist movement, in China, Yugoslavia, Roumania, Albania, etc.

Now any objective observer of the West over the past 50 years or so must admit to one fact: that in all the areas mentioned above that constitute the Western social fabric, there has been an enormous change in the outlook of the people. There is no solidarity in the West. There is no unity of belief, and therefore there can be no uniformity of will. The Empire has been fractured, into a hundred different squabbling parts. Each part sees itself as the center of things, and demands the appropriate perceived share of the public attention and policy largesse. And each of these sectors has it’s own opposite faction vying for attention and funding. In other words, the very thing we were led to perceive in the Soviet Bloc (fragmentation and dissipation) has been in turn visited upon us. Why? Because we no longer viewed the East as the common and unifying enemy of our own civilization. And why did this happen? Because we no longer were unified in our own beliefs. And why was that? Well, we forgot what we believed. We just got busy, you know, with other things. Yoga, football, television, jogging, music, politics, the internet, video games, cooking, you name it, we did it.

Yes, I am sure there are those who will say, ‘Look, it just happened to turn out that way, it’s all a random occurrence.’ And if you believe randomness and chance are real things (as most people do), then this is a perfectly acceptable outlook. Plus, it comes with a bonus; you don’t have to do anything about it, right? It’s not your fault. It’s not anybody’s fault. It just happened that way.

So now we are back to the core question; could all of this have been something more than random ‘chance’? Could it have been planned and then executed in such a manner as to produce exactly what we see today? Where the East is rather unified, and the West is distracted, dissipated, even degenerated? Which, of course, is exactly what the Golitsyn plan predicted would happen, once the West became convinced that the exact opposite was happening within the Soviet world?

Now before you answer this, let’s look at one other man. A man who was said to prove that Golitsyn was a liar, and that we should not listen to him. A man who is the true Sinon of our day. This man’s name is Yuri Nosenko.

You can read the bio yourself, I won’t bore you with the details. Here’s the gist of it: Nosenko was a KGB Captain/Major/Colonel (take your pick) who defected to the West after Golitsyn did, and claimed that Golitsyn was a KGB mole. Nosenko said Golitsyn’s task was to mislead the West about actual Soviet intentions. Nosenko was disbelieved by the CIA but believed by the FBI. Nosenko was interrogated for over 1,200 days, and eventually ruled to be a genuine defector. But only after he had torn the Western intelligence community apart, and which sparked an incredible series of witch hunts within the CIA and FBI.

But to my mind, that’s not the point at all. To me, it makes absolutely no sense to believe Nosenko, because in essence, he was screaming at the top of his lung ‘look out for that man over there (Golitsyn), because he’s NOT dangerous’! Do you see my point? If Golitsyn was a mole who was sent to sell the story that the KGB had concocted a mis-direction ploy about a faux mis-direction ploy, that would have to mean only one thing. And that would be that if the West were to respond to the faux mis-direction ploy, then it would be harmful to the West. Isn’t that the supposed reason for Nosenko defecting? To warn the West of the danger of listening to Golitsyn?

Yes, I know, Nosenko said his main reason for defecting was personal, as he feared being recalled to Moscow. But it was later affirmed that he lied about this and numerous other things, so why were we so willing to buy this part of his story? But here is the real point; what harm could the West have suffered by listening to Golitsyn? What would be the cost of watching with vigilant suspicion every element of the Soviet ballet that would be played out over the next 30 years, ending with the disappearance of the Soviet world itself, exactly as Golitsyn predicted? How would it have harmed us? In what way?

Yes, I know, it might have interfered with the cross-cultural exchanges that helped bring about the downfall of the Evil Empire, as the Left would have it. Or it would have made no difference in the arms race that Reagan embarked upon that finally cratered the USSR, as the Right would have it. But neither of these two excuses deals with the fact that this entire scenario was predicted in 1961, at the height of perceived Soviet power. The plot of this play was already written, and both of these perceptions were part of the plan, each designed to appeal to both factions of the West. The real reason Nosenko was sent to deceive us was to forestall the collapse of the linchpin of the KGB’s plan.

And what was that? It was the need to keep us convinced of the continuing schism within the Communist world, especially as it related to the ‘Sino-Soviet Split’. Because, just as Lenin had fooled the West with his New Economic Policy in 1921, the chess masters of the Kremlin foresaw that the Soviet world would need two things to keep their side alive in the decades to come. The first was a massive infusion of Western money, trade and aid. The second was that the West must be continuously convinced that Russia couldn’t possibly catch up to the military might of the West in 1964, when Nosenko ‘defected’.

So it happened. We made our grand opening to the East when the idiot Emperor Nixon went to China, supposedly to continue weaning the Red Dragon away from the orbit of Moscow. To what effect today? Is China any more friendly to us? It certainly is richer. It certainly is stronger. And it all came at the expense of the citizens of the Empire. And is China still ‘estranged’ from Moscow?

Now we have two giants to contend with instead of one since we refused to believe Golitsyn. And these two behemoths seem to be in league with each other. Whaddya know! Whooda thunk it? And I don’t care what color you say the Dragon is, it is still a dragon. Do you know what dragons eat? Ask Cadwaladr if it matters which dragon won? Then tell me the Anglish haven’t stolen my island. Never mind, you have to be Welsh (and drunk) to understand that. Let’s get to the end, eh?

Here’s the final clincher: when the USSR finally ‘fell’ on Dec. 25, 1991 (another fabulous coincidence, right?), where were the celebrations in the East? I have not found a single report of people gathering in the streets, toppling statues of Lenin, drinking champagne, singing, hugging, kissing, dancing, and most of all, thanking God for their deliverance from 74 years of tyranny and torture. Where were the mobs lynching all those KGB informers and enforcers? Where were the people? What is it they knew that our idiot savants in the West couldn’t (or wouldn’t) comprehend? This omission is still screaming in my ears 25 years later!

My friend, if our leaders are feckless, and seemingly blind to the coming maelstrom, what is to be done, Komrade? The time is growing short. The final Peace Offensive is about to begin as Vlad and Donald begin their dance. And while I expect a period of seeming good will between them, I don’t expect it to last. This may be the final act of this KGB-produced play. And so, I think the answer to Chto delat? is rather simple. If you can’t see the cat (let alone the bag), it’s finally time to open your eyes. Before he eats you.


Editor’s note: contemporary video about Golitsyn.

Headline: We Used Terrible Science to Justify Smoking Bans. Amen: We Did

When they used to tell me I would shorten my life ten years by smoking, they little knew the devotee they were wasting their puerile word upon—they little knew how trivial and valueless I would regard a decade that had no smoking in it! —Mark Twain

Flabbergasted is the word we need. Or, if you hail from the Land Without Combs, gobsmacked. Taken aback—taken way back—and floored make acceptable substitutes.

For these words describe the emotion one experiences while reading “We Used Terrible Science to Justify Smoking Bans” in the magazine Slate, which is not on anybody’s list of traditionalist or even moderate publications.

All I want to do here is point to the article, which is long and has a wealth of observations. Including, if you can believe it, this one at the end.

While science can inform, though not fully determine, the boundaries of where people are allowed to smoke, the debunking of the previous decade’s heart miracles should provide some grounds for humility.

This is right. An admission scientism is not the way, and another admission of previous, wild over-confidence, a state brought about the misuse of statistics.

There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry. —Mark Twain

The story in brief: there was weak statistical evidence that second-hand smoked caused heart disease. But weak second-hand evidence provided by statistics cannot discern cause. The evidence that was once thought strong was gradually whittled down until it became clear that second-hand smoke—such as a man smoking a cigar on a windy beach—was not going to kill scores of women and children.

Yet puritanical “activists” wanted smoking banned altogether. Most of these tolerant, freedom-loving activists were not on the right of the political spectrum. Consider the same people who wanted to ban “second-hand” cigarette smoke generally supported smoke from other substances. A sort of political tremor and mini-moral panic swept the land and smoking was banned everywhere, even where it couldn’t possibly do any harm, like in parks and beaches. It became so idiotic there was even talk of “third-hand” smoke. Yes, really.

The heady effects of banning—I mean the bureaucratic satisfaction of non-appealable regulations well passed—folks began banning vaping, which produces no second-hand smoke. But it looks like smoking, and appearances count. And once you loose a bureaucracy, nothing but its violent dismantling will cause it to cease regulating.

So here we are, with anti-smoking zealots still with gleams in their eyes, and along comes this Slate article. It is smart money to bet against the article having much good effect, but it is not wrong to hope it does. Here are reasons for that hope:

And now that the evidence has had time to accumulate, it’s also become clear that the extravagant promises made by anti-smoking groups—that implementing bans would bring about extraordinary improvements in cardiac health—never materialized…The updated science debunks the alarmist fantasies that were used to sell smoking bans to the public, allowing for a more sober analysis suggesting that current restrictions on smoking are extreme from a risk-reduction standpoint…

In the paper’s admirably honest commentary, the authors reflected on the reasons that earlier studies, including their own, had overstated the impact of smoking bans. The first is that small sample sizes allowed random variances in data to be mistaken for real effects. The second is that most previous studies failed to account for existing downward trends in the rate of heart attacks. And the third is publication bias: Since no one believes that smoking bans increase heart attacks, few would bother submitting or publishing studies that show a positive correlation or null effect. Thus the published record is likely unintentionally biased toward showing a larger effect than truly exists.

It goes happily on. But allow me to remind that these studies cannot discover cause. It is always an outside assumption of what is causing the noticed reductions and increases, because why? Because the thing said to be doing the causing is never measured on individuals! Repeat that out loud, to yourself and the nearest stranger. Asserting cause in these cases is always by fiat or direct assumption—which is cheating.

Raise your hand if you remember the epidemiologist fallacy. Here’s an example with PM2.5, which is also said to be a deadlier killer than that shark in Jaws. Read more about the fine subjects in Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics.

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