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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Trial of Hari Seldon

I opened up Asimov's "Foundation" recently and found this:

Q: You are sure that your statement represents scientific proof?
A: I am.
Q: On what basis?
A: On the basis of the mathematics of psychohistory.
Q: Can you prove that this mathematics is valid?
A: Only to another mathematician.

and shortly thereafter:

Q: You quibble, Dr. Seldon. Can the overall future of the human race be changed?
A: Yes.
Q: Easily?
A: No. With great difficultly.
Q: Why?
A: The psychohistoric trend of a planet-full of people contains a huge inertia. To be changed it must be met with something possessing a similar inertia. Either as many people must be concerned, or if the number of people be relatively small, enormous time for change must be allowed. Do you understand?
Q: I think I do. The planet need not be ruined, if a great many people act so that it will not.
A: That is right.

Context: The 12k year old system has gotten too complex. Seldon calculated that it would take 30k years to come around again. He can't stop the collapse, but he thinks he can shorten the "dark ages" down to 1k years by storing certain, um, catalysts or triggers to speed up the growth. In creating these knowledge bases he is acknowledging the possibility of collapse so is charged with treason. Asimov was a clever bastard.


Debra said...

WOW, I am impressed. Great post.
Ah... the disadvantages of "reason".
Or should I say... preventive based actions ? ;-)

Thai said...

What a wonderful example of zero-sum. I agree with you Deb, this really is a great post.

... I kind of forgot that aspect of Foundation- I'll have to take a look at it again.

Your post kind of reminds me how a friend of mine once told me the Foundation series played major inspiration in his choice to study a physics... And it appears that Krugman was similarly inspired.

Thai said...

And by the way Deb, I saw your latest comment on Carlat. All I can say is "you go girl!"

I am totally on your side. ;-)

Debra said...

Which latest comment, Thai ? ;-)
I am a little bit of an iconoclast...
For the time being MAYBE Carlat will tolerate me.
Maybe.. Wouldn't want him to think that I was Grumpy, huh ? Or a nutto ?
(Sorry, dinky, about this... leaning over the bar and having a conversation that you can't participate in. It's.. BOORISH, isn't it ?)
The joys of science fiction. I shall have to get my hands on the Foundation series (if I don't already have it stored away somewhere..).
Those early sci fi men and women were... PROPHETS, you know ?
And they figured out how to use their prophet gift WELL, in a socially acceptable manner.

Debra said...

Hey, Thai, CHECK THIS OUT... (Re your link)
"The validity of psychohistoric analytic methods DEPENDS ON the assumption that individuals are themselves ignorant of the existence and tools of psychohistoric analysis." (This is not a quote, caution, it is my reconstruction of what appears in that link.)
That little sentence makes Disneyland look sophisticated.
That's like saying... I want my cake and eat it too.
That's like saying : I'm opening up a door that is not going to open up any other door.
That's like saying you can throw God out the door and NOT have him come back through the window.
Ah... the joys of (scientific) WISHFUL THINKING.

Debra said...

Hey Thai, I think I got thrown out of the Carlat saloon.
Let's face it... I'm not stodgy enough for that place...
It's another example of getting THROWN OUT by my ex "colleagues", and... tolerated on my loony forum.
Sheesh. It makes you wonder who the loonies REALLY are, doesn't it ?? ;-)

Dink said...

"I agree with you Deb, this really is a great post."

Ah, such nice words. I'll have to blatently plagiarize more often ;)

"Krugman was similarly inspired"

Writer for the NY Times? Meh. Nobel in Economics? Meh. Asimov fan? Wow, this guy is bright!!

I guess we all have our own weights and measures ;)

"leaning over the bar and having a conversation that you can't participate in. It's.. BOORISH, isn't it ?)"

No worries. I don't know what a "Carlat" is, but I'm glad you both enjoy it.

Debra said...

Thai, there is a guy commenting over there on the Carlat blog who I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO DEBAUCHE FOR OUR SALOON...ENLIST if you prefer.
Any ideas of how one goes about doing this.. TACTFULLY ?
Particularly as I may never manage to make it through that (smoke)screen again ?
Any help would be appreciated..

Thai said...

Dink, Carlat is a professor at Tufts and runs one of the most popular medical blogs in the world it happens to be on the field of psychiatry. You can click the link if you want to follow.

Deb, which person?

I have had a few emails with Dr Apria over statistics and DSM- he is a really nice guy.

Invite anyone you want. Tell me which person and I will see if I can help.

Debra said...

I was thinking of... Dr John.
Whaddya think ?
He would (probably) allow me to feel less.. LONELY on this blog. ;-)
(Just kidding, just kidding. I love you guys.)

Thai said...

He doesn't have a link. I would simply post a comment on Carlat with your email and asking to take a conversation offline with him.

This is how I started chatting with Dr Arpaia about the statistics of DSM, he offered his email address and said the same thing.

The worst that can happen is Carlat will block the comment but I seriously doubt he would block an effort to take a conversation to another place- you never can tell.

Debra said...

Na. It looks as though Carlat has decided to permanently block me.
His loss. It will save me Internet time.
(And people are not really PLAYING on his blog anyway. Psy people often have serious creativity difficulties... Why else would they be psys ?)
But, the Doctor John problem remains intact.
Did you give out your E-Mail address over the Internet, or in your profile ?
Remember.. I'm in France. Time zones make things difficult for telephone, if that's how you're chatting.

Thai said...

In effect but the other way around, Dr Arpaia left his email and asked I contact him.

Thai said...

And I am not sure how to help you. Dink, any thoughts on how to hook Deb up with her soul mate?

Dink said...

"any thoughts on how to hook Deb up with her soul mate?"

Deception and treachery. She can create a new "sock puppet" identity to log into Carlat and offer her e-mail address.

"Carlat has decided to permanently block me. His loss."

You went in with guns blaring. I'll grant that telling people that they're wrong (with clear subtext that you're their better) is extremely pleasurable. But like many pleasures you better manage it well or it will destroy you. I suspect the knee-jerk reaction to this advice is "so you want me to be some submissive coward?". No. Find some balance that avoids both extremes.

Example 1: The DSM is BULLSHIT and anyone who ADHERES to it is an IDIOT. An obscure intellectual 180 yrs ago already found the meaning of life and only the select chosen few can grasp it.

Example 2: Gosh, I completely agree with all of you geniuses. I may not understand it, but if authority figures like the DSM, it must be great!

Example 3: I'm concerned that the DSM does not acheive the goal of helping relieve suffering from mental illness. I come to this conclusion based on the following data xxx. I propose this alternative xxxx and/or ask for your thoughts on alternatives.

I hope this comes across as well-meant, helpful advise because I don't want your feelings hurt by being kicked off blogs that you enjoy.

Debra said...

Just wondering.
The point about the DSM and any "chiantific" approach to psychiatry is... just what constitutes proof and/or scientific data ?
Look at the TEXT in your post, Dink...
I didn't go in telling them that they were idiots. Give me that much credit.
Have I ever called anyone in the jungle an idiot ?
Now... if people WANT TO FEEL LIKE THEY ARE IDIOTS on the basis of my comments, they are FREE to do so, and indeed... HOW could I stop them from reading some such intent in my comments IF THEY ARE ALREADY LOOKING FOR THAT INTENT ??
I stick by what I said about psy professions having a tendancy towards inhibition, and stifled creativity.
And, as I said, it's THEIR loss, not mine.
Sock puppet treachery ??
Sounds devious. And probably beyond my technical capabilities.
Yawn. I have a dinner invitation tonight.
Then back to my loony forum. THEY appreciate me. ;-)
Ever wonder why Jesus hung out with the marginal elements in his society ?

Thai said...

Agree with Deb that she was not quite saying that. Indeed, I thought she was surprisingly deferential.

Carlat can be a putz but such is the nature of "mainstream" criticism. He can criticize but only if it goes so far.

It is what it is.

And Deb, I think Dink's trickery suggestion just might work. Dink, I have to raise a toast for clever idea with that one.

... Of course Deb will then have to explain to Dr John why she was acting so deceptively. Alas, she is the one pursuing her fancy.

And Deb, be nice to us boring folk. ;-)

Debra said...

I didn't say that YOU were boring here...
Not at all.
I said that we ARE having FUN here.
I'm waiting to see if Carlat has really definitively blocked me. If he has, then... I'll write a post about freedom of expression HERE. (I may write it anyway.)

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits