William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Behind The Russian Madness — Guest Post by Ianto Watt


Editor’s note: this is third in a series, Part I, Part II. You can learn about Patriarch Kirill of Moscow here.

The Russians are mad. No, I don’t mean they’re angry. Rather, I mean they’re insane. But these two mental states are often hard to tell apart. And I don’t mean to suggest that Russia isn’t highly irritated, if not truly angry. But truly angry people can’t think clearly enough to play chess. And Russia is currently playing several magnificent games, at the same time, against both the post-Christian West and the Muslim East. My hat is off to both Vlad and Kyrill. They are brilliant. But they are, nevertheless, deeply insane.

Now a number of folks seem to be under the impression that I am a fan of Vlad and Kyrill. Contraire, mon frére. I do think however that they are our best hope (humanly speaking) of avoiding an all-out Western-materialist war against Islam, which we can’t win short of a nuclear conflagration. But it remains to be seen what will happen after Emperor Donald lets Vlad take the reins in the Mid-East. Nevertheless, we can get a pretty good idea of what is coming if we understand the roots of Russia’s insanity. (Note: if I’m wrong about November, and it’s Empress Hillary at the wheel, we’re back to the Big War option. She’s anxious to prove she’s as tough as any guy).

But let’s get back to Russia. Her insanity is the result, in large part, of her geographic location. That is, she straddles the line between the mystic East and the material West. And this accident of history, wherein the Slavic people are constantly exposed to the best and the worst of each direction, produces a paralysis of will. Because the East and the West are antithetical to each other. You can’t fully embrace the one without repudiating the other. And our Russian cousins can’t bring themselves to let go of either.

Yes, I know, there is a mystical element to Western thought, but only within the Catholic world. The rest is strictly materialistic self-worship. That is the heart of materialism.

And I know that there is a material element in the East, at least among the ruling class. But the rest of their Eastern culture is built on self-denial. That is the heart of mysticism. Ask any Chinaman if he is more important than his ancestors. Then ask a Buddhist the same. Then ask a Muslim if his tribe is more important to him than his own life. But be sure to ask him before he explodes.

Now ask a Russian this same question. Depending on how you phrase it, you may get different answers. If the question is ‘is the Party more important than your life’, the answer these days is ‘no’. But if you ask ‘is Orthodoxy more important than your life’, the answer is, increasingly, ‘yes’. Then if you ask ‘is wealth more important than your life’, he will look at you like you’re an idiot, because you’d have to be to ask that question. What good is wealth without life? Now ask, ‘is life without wealth worth living’? The answer, again, is increasingly, ‘no’. See the mix?

So let’s look at classical insanity. That’s when someone tries to contain two diametrically opposed thoughts within their skull at the same time. Eventually, something has to give. Here’s an example. Sigmund Freud was insane. Brilliant but insane. Why? Because he said that neurosis was caused by mental repression and that the cure was to quit repressing. Or failing that, snort some cocaine. So which is it, Ziggy? Mind or matter? Which was the root of things? Physical or mental? Oh yes, and I almost forgot—he engaged in some of the very things (like incest with his niece) that produced the neurosis (guilt?) in some of his other patients, and apparently in himself. So, heal thyself first, physician?

Anyway, most insanity is harmless. Girls who complain that men look at them below eye-level still wear things that attract that gaze. Well, which is it? Do you want to be desired for your mind or your looks? We all know the answer—they want both. They’re mad if you look, and mad if you don’t. Oh well. But as long as women do not possess nuclear weapons, we are relatively safe. But now we are back to the question of Hillary, right?

So what happens when an entire nation is afflicted with an inability to choose between two seeming goods? After all, what’s intrinsically wrong with wealth? And isn’t spirituality a good thing? Well, yes to both, in a general sense. As long as your wealth wasn’t unfairly gained at the expense of another. And as long as your spirit friends aren’t demons. And therein lies the problem for Russia. She sees the wealth of the West, but which was gained (in so many cases) at the expense of others. And when she looks East, she sees the dreamy allure of nihilistic mysticism that will inevitably eradicate the believer’s personality. And she is both attracted and repulsed by each. And up to this point in time, she has not been able to choose one over the other. Why? Because the people of Russia (as distinct from her leaders, both material and spiritual) are capable of goodness. Just like us. But they have no honest leaders. Their leaders are wolves. Just like ours. And you know what happens when someone is raised by wolves.

Because of this unfortunate situation of location, betwixt the East and the West, Russia is unable to see that there is a third way. The way that gives equal weight to both body and soul, matter and mind. The choice that says both can be fairly had, while still keeping a person’s honesty and individuality. The blindness to this choice is what has led her to this conundrum. But soon, very soon, she will have to decide. Whether she can see or not.

Why will she have to decide? After all, she has spent a thousand years in this limbo of equal desires. Why now? The answer is simple, my friend. Demographics. The window of opportunity is closing, and closing fast. The Moslems, Hindus and Chinese are growing like weeds. I don’t care how much anyone talks about fertility ratios. When each of these three groups is ten times larger than you, and each has a fertility ratio greater than you (even though each is falling), then you’d better make your move while you still have a trump card. An ace in the hole. The Ace of Nukes. Better play it before the other guy draws a wild card. And now you see why the question of madness looms so large.

So which way will Russia move? She is bound to the East by the hypnotic Hesychasm of Orthodoxy. Do not gloss over this fact. It is much bigger than you think. It has had a profound effect on the formation of Russia, and how she has perceived herself as the Third Rome. But this dream she has of herself is so enticing, so utterly hyp-gnotic, that she doesn’t really want to wake up. Pity the person that awakens this Bear.

But at the same time, Russia is bound to the West by a lust for wealth and power. She has been in thrall to the West since Peter the Great and his grandson Tsar Alexis repudiated the spirituality of the ‘Old Believers‘.

You can blame her intermarriage to the Prussians and Saxons for this, as the Romanov dynasty lay captive in her other dream, the dream of Teutonic glory. She held to this desire from the time of Peter I until Nicholas II in 1917. By the way, did you know that Solzhenitsyn said (in August 1914) the best Russian generals in WWI all had German names? Then again, the best German general was French. Go figure.

And so Russia is still blinded by her dreams, both Eastern and Western. Blind to the third way that would give her what she needs most—the truth. And if you want to know what this truth is, you need to listen to the one Russian who understood all of this; Vladimir Solovyev. The pre-eminent philosopher of Russia, who died in 1900. He foresaw the whole bloody stretch of 20th Century history. He knew what would happen, because he had identified the dark spot on the Russian soul. Take a few minutes and read his work The Russian Idea. It’s only fifty pages.

This work is what led to all of his later and greater works, which are astounding. Acquaint yourself with this giant, if you truly want to understand Russia. Then see if you can guess the third way that Russia must choose if she, and we, are to live in peace. Here’s a hint: will Russia enter the Second Rome with pride, or the First Rome with meekness? It all depends on this choice.

But meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the explosive vest. Russia will have to decide soon, before her enemies decide for her. And we have a decision to make as well: is Russia truly our enemy? Are we any less mad? We too must decide, and soon. Because one way or another, we’re all going along for a globalist ride. So step into the car, Komrade. Come quietly and no one (here) will get hurt. Maybe.

Is Most Published Research Wrong? Yep. Here’s Why

One of my students—my heart soars like a hawk!—sent me the video linked above. I’ll assume you’ve watched it, as my comments make reference to it.

About the dismal effects of p-values, the video already does a bust-up job. Plus, we’re sick of talking about them, so we won’t. I’ll only mention that the same kinds of mistakes are made using Bayes factors; only BFs aren’t used by most researchers, so few see them.

Some of the solutions recommended reduce (nobody can eliminate) the great flood of false positive results, like pre-registration of trials, are fantastic and should be implemented. Pre-registration only works for designed trials, though, so it can’t be used (or trusted) for ad hoc studies, of which there are many.

Reducing the drive for publication won’t happen, for university denizens must publish or they do, they really do, perish. Publishing negative results is also wise, but it will never be alluring. You won’t get your name in the paper for saying, “Nothing to see here. Move along.”

A partial—not the; there is no the—solution is one I propose in Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics, is to treat probability models in the same way engineers treat their models.

Engineer proposes a new kind of support to hold up a bridge. He has a theory, or model, that says, “Do X and Y will happen”, which is to say, “Build the bridge support according to this theory (X), and the bridge won’t fall (Y)”.

How can we tell if the theory, i.e. the support, works? There is only one true test: build the bridge and see if it stands or falls.

Oh, sure, we can and should look at the theory X and see how it comports with other known facts about bridges, physics, and land forms, all the standard stuff that one normally examines when interested in Y, standing bridges. There may be some standard knowledge, Z, which proves, in the most rigorous and logical sense of the word “proves”, that, given X, Y cannot be.

But if we don’t have this Z, this refutatory knowledge, then the only way we can tell If X, Then Y, is to X and see if Y. In other words, absent some valid sound disproving argument, the only way we can tell if the bridge will stand is try it. This is even true if we have some Z which says it’s not impossible but unlikely Y will stand given X the theory.

Have it, yet? I mean, have you figured the way it works for statistics yet?

Idea is this: abandon the new ways of doing things—hypothesis testing, parameter-based statements (which are equivalent here to saying only things about X and not Y given X)—return to the old way of building the models Pr( Y | X) and then testing these models on the real world.

Out with the new and in with the old!

Examples? Absolutely.

As per the video, Y = “Lose weight” and X = “Eating chocolate”. The claim many seem to have been made by many was that

    Pr (Y = “Lose weight” | X = “Eating chocolate”) = high.

But that’s not what the old ways were saying; they only seemed to be saying that. Instead, the old ways said things about p-values or parameter estimates or other things which have no bearing to the probability Pr(Y|X), which is all we care about. It’s all somebody wanting to know whether they should each chocolate in order to lose weight cares about, anyway.

Assuming you’re the researcher who thinks eating chocolate makes one lose weight. Perform some experiment, collect data, form some theory or model, and release into the wild Pr (Y | X), where the X will have all the supposeds and conditions necessary to realize the model, such as (I’m making this up) “amount of chocolate must be this-many grams”. And that’s it.

Then the whole world can take the predictions made by Pr(Y|X) and check them against reality.

That model may be useful to some people, and it may be useless to others. Scarcely any model is one-size fits all, but the new ways of doing things (hypothesis tests, parameters) made this one-size-fits-all assumption. After all, when you “reject a null” you are saying the “alternate” is universally true. But we don’t care about that. We only care about making useful predictions, and usefulness is not universal.

The beauty of Uncertainty’s approach is simplicity and practicality. About practicality we’ve spoken about. Simplicity? A model-builder, or theoretician, or researcher, doesn’t have to say anything about anything, doesn’t have to reveal his innermost secrets, he can even hide his data, but he does have to say Pr(Y|X), which anybody can check for themselves. Just make the world X (eat so much chocolate) and see if Y. And anybody can do that.

The Difference Between Essential And Empirical Models

One, two, ...

One, two, …

I was having a back-and-forth with a colleague on modeling types (see this post for a modeling hierarchy) and falsifiability. It’s crucial we distinguish essential and empirical models, but first a word why falsifiability is not especially interesting. Regular readers know that I have no great love for falsifiability.

If a probability model says a thing has any positive probability, no matter how small, and the thing happens, the model has not been falsified. How could it have been? The model said the thing could happen: it did: the model was right. Saying the model has been “practically falsified” is like saying “She’s practically a virgin.”

For large, complex models, say of the climate or behavior, even if a model says a thing has zero probability for a thing which happens, all are reluctant to toss out the actually falsified model and instead say, “Close enough.”

There’s lots more to say, which I’ll skip. The crucial element is that we must never confuse probability and decision. They are not the same. This is why all hypothesis testing methods, p-values or Bayes factors, are wrong-headed. They all conflate probability and decision. See Uncertainty for a book-length discussion (I have not said all there is to the topic in three paragraphs).

Quick: how many legs do dogs have?

Even a Loyola graduate fresh from her safe space knows the answer is four. Dogs have four legs. Why? Who knows? They just do. It is in the nature of dogs to have four legs. The essence of a dog, partly, is to have four legs. Not three, not five: four.

Here is our essential model, which says, “Dogs have four legs”. Everybody understands what you mean by this. Nobody is confused. Everybody knows you mean to address the essence of dogginess. Essence or nature is easy! It is the universal quality of dogs to have four legs.

Notice that our model is incomplete. It doesn’t tell us all about dogs; it only mentions one essential feature. There is more to dogs than four legs, which everybody also knows. Our model also doesn’t tell us why. Why do dogs have four legs? Maybe you know, maybe you don’t. It doesn’t matter. Our model is silent on this important question. Our model is still correct and even obvious, though. It doesn’t have to say why to be useful, just like you don’t have to understand how a diesel engine works to drive a truck and know you are driving.

Now the big twist! “Dogs have four legs” can be taken in a strictly empirical sense, as a model that predicts every dog you see will have four legs. That a good model? No: my number-two son has a three-legged dog, for instance. The empirical model “Dogs have four legs” has failed; it has been falsified. It is not true.

The falsification of the empirical model does not—of course it does not!—falsify the essential model. Everybody knows that something has caused this particular three-legged dog to fail in its essence. You don’t have to know what this cause is to know that it must exist (or must have existed). There could be any number of causes. Indeed, I know I was told, but I forgot, why Ramona (the pooch) lost its leg. Or if it ever had it. Whichever, I know that it should have the fourth leg to be a “complete” dog.

I know, and you know, that something is wrong with the mutt, where “wrong” is used in the essential and not empirical sense. Nothing can ever be “wrong” in the empirical sense. Things are the way they are, and aren’t the way they aren’t, a tautology and a truth. But things can be askew essentially. Take a side away from a triangle and you’re left, empirically, with two lines, and there’s nothing wrong with two lines, unless you mean it to be a triangle, and then something essentially has gone wrong. The word “wrong” is not “judgmental”, but a plain statement of fact.

You can see the difficulty, since the model “Dogs have four legs” can be take essentially or empirically, mistakes can be made. The wings of equivocation beat the air. All models aspire to be essential, but most are empirical. The problem is too many empirical models are claimed to be essential.

“Objection!” some bright student will say, “It is possible, and people have been known, to make mistakes in identifying the essence of a thing, therefore all that is left to us is empiricism.” False, student, for many more have made empirical mistakes. Are we to deny the weatherman his profession because he occasionally calls a sunny day rainy? And are we thus to abandon all empirical measurement?

No, that our ultimate goal is always essence (or nature), and that we sometimes fail is no dissuasion.

More on this most important subject in Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics.

Summary Against Modern Thought: There Is Free Will

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

At last! An initial discussion of free will and what is meant by that. Recall last week we proved the existence of intellectual creatures.

Chapter 47 The intellectual substances are capable of willing (alternate translation)

1 Now these intellectual substances must needs be capable of willing.

2 For there is in all things a desire for good, since the good is what all desire, as philosophers teach. This desire, in things devoid of knowledge, is called natural appetite: thus a stone desires to be below. In those which have sensitive knowledge, it is called animal appetite, which is divided into concupiscible and irascible. In those which understand, it is called intellectual or rational appetite, which is the will. Therefore intellectual substances have a will.

Notes It’s almost tautological that that which we desire is the good. We decide what we think is small-g good. Small-g good is not necessarily the same as big-G Good, i.e. the Good. It might seem good in the moment to cheat at cards and so gain the pot, but cheating is not Good.

Of course, Thomas is not saying stones anthropomorphically desire to fall; he merely means the same thing any physicist does: a stone tossed upward can bean you. That natural falling is called—a technical term—natural appetite. We mean the word differently now, but it would be a crude fallacy to impose our current definitions on old words, would it not?

Worms and frogs have sensations and act on these sensations, i.e. their sensitive knowledge, and the direction of the acts is called animal appetite, just like the direction of the stone following physics was natural appetite. But worms and frogs don’t have the intellectual or rational appetite, which we do, which is also called the will.

3 Again. That which is by another is reduced to that which is by itself as preceding it; wherefore according to the Philosopher (8 Phys.), things moved by another are reduced to the first self-movers: also, in syllogisms, the conclusions which are known from other things, are reduced to first principles which are self-evident.

Now, in created substances, we find some which do not move themselves to act, but are moved by force of nature, for instance inanimate things, plants and dumb animals, for it is not in them to act or not to act. Therefore there must be a reduction to some first things which move themselves to action. But the first in created things are intellectual substances, as shown above [last week]. Therefore these substances move themselves to act. Now this is proper to the will, whereby a substance has the dominion of its action, because it is in it to act and not to act. Therefore created intellectual substances have a will.

Notes “That which is by another is reduced to that which is by itself as preceding it” and the analogy is syllogisms, such as this classic (premises) “No reptiles have fur, and all snakes are reptiles” gives (the conclusion) “no snakes have fur.” That conclusion was “contained” in the premises. If you move a rock, the rock moves, but the impetus is from you, etc. For a dumb animal that can be moved, think of a sponge. And, of course, we choose to act or not; the will points the way to the act.

4 Moreover. The principle of every operation is the form whereby a thing is actual, since every agent acts for as much as it is actual. Wherefore the mode of an operation consequent upon a form must be in accordance with that form. Hence a form that does not proceed from that which acts by that form, causes an operation over which the agent has no dominion: whereas if there be a form that proceeds from that which acts thereby, the agent will have dominion over the consequent operation.

Now natural forms, consequent upon which are natural movements and operations, do not proceed from those things whose forms they are, but wholly from extrinsic agents, since by a natural form a thing has being in its own nature, and nothing can be cause of its own being. Wherefore things that are moved naturally do not move themselves: for a heavy body does not move itself downwards, but its generator which gave it its form.

Again, in dumb animals, the forms, sensed or imagined, which result in movement, are not discovered by the dumb animals themselves, but are received by them from exterior sensibles which act on their senses, and judged of by their natural estimative faculty. Hence, though they are said after a fashion to move themselves, in so far as one part of them moves, and another is moved, yet the actual moving is not from themselves, but partly from external objects sensed, and partly from nature.

For in so far as their appetite moves their members, they are said to move themselves, wherein they surpass inanimate beings and plants; and in so far as the act of their appetite is in them a necessary sequel to the forms received through their senses and the judgment of their natural estimative power, they are not the cause of their own movement. Hence they have not dominion over their own action. But the form understood, whereby the intellectual substance acts, proceeds from the intellect itself, being conceived and, after a fashion, thought out by it: as may be seen in the form of art, which the craftsman conceives and thinks out, and whereby he works. Accordingly, intellectual substances move themselves to act, as having dominion over their actions. Therefore they have a will.

Notes Wee beasties move themselves only in a sense, yet, as Thomas says, the moving is from external stimuli and instinct (in the modern phrase, though “instinct” is a loaded and perhaps unfortunate term). But animals do not have “dominion over their action”. Why? Take care to understand what the next argument says about apprehension.

5 Again. The active force should be proportionate to the patient, and motive power to the movable. Now in things possessed of knowledge the apprehensive power is related to the appetitive, as the motive power to the movable: since that which is apprehended by the sense, imagination, or intellect, moves the intellectual or animal appetite. But intellective apprehension is not confined to certain objects, but is of all things: wherefore the Philosopher says of the passive intellect (3 De Anima) that it is that whereby we become all things. Hence the appetite of an intellectual substance has a habitude to all things. Now it is proper to the will to have a habitude to all things: wherefore the Philosopher says (3 Ethic.) that it is of both the possible and the impossible. Therefore intellectual substances have a will.

Notes The intellect can apprehend (understand, grasp, know) universals, for instance. There’s naturally much more to say on all this, which we shall come to.

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