Re: future language

From: Douglas P. Wilson (
Date: Fri May 10 2002 - 17:31:29 BST

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    From: "Douglas P. Wilson" <>
    Subject: Re: future language
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    > And I guess the guy who killed him thought he was saving the world from
    > another fascist, but may instead have created a martyr whose party may now
    > do better in the election as a result.

    Oh, for goodness' sake, one certainly doesn't need to kill fascists to prevent,
    weaken, or eliminate fascism. Fascism exists all over the place, and is even
    seen in the sunny, and intellectually enlightened, most pleasant, south-western
    British Columbia, Canada, where I live -- we've had a surprisingly large number
    of Nazi's here, though the overwhelming mass of people opposes them strongly,
    and sometimes tries to stamp them out with fascist tactics like denying them
    free speech.

    But fascism is demonstrably a mathematical mistake, and being the most
    politically naive person I know, -- not entirely an accident, since I remain
    fond of Descartes' naive realism, though actually a slave to pragmatic
    pragmatism myself -- sorry, rambling again -- being the most politically
    naive person I know, as I started to say, I delude myself with the delusion
    that once this mathematical error is pointed out to the fascists they will
    quietly disband and go about their separate ways, no longer any threat to
    anyone or anything.

    The mathematical error is a neglect of the importance of error-covariance. It
    is explained on my homepage, (all too inadequately, sad to say), with a
    stock-market prediction example (roughly, don't hire the triplets to predict
    the market, they won't correct each other's mistakes but will reinforce them,
    and also then mistakenly believe their consensus bodes well for accuracy),
    instead hire three very different people to do it, so they are only likely to
    agree when all three are right about something. On my home page I take many
    more words to say this, and have only an artificial example, but there is a
    telling little table, so it's better than nothing. If tolerant but determined,
    try visiting it at www.SocialTechnology.Org/dpwilson.html.

    'Fascism', for those whose formal education glossed over this stuff, is an
    exact literal translation of 'solidarity', and means "like people standing with
    like", similar people, e.g. all "racially pure" Germans, for example, standing
    by to support one another, while casting out all those who differ, Jews, Slavs,
    Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, etc. -- the ancient Roman fasces, or bundle
    of (very similar) sticks, (ancestor of the bassoon, the "ill wind that nobody
    blows good"), is the appropriate imagery here, as the name implies.

    But in any system more complicated than a dead stick, similar people, things,
    processing units, vitamin pills, and so on, make similar mistakes. The
    mathematical term for 'making similar mistakes' is 'error covariance'. A
    simple example should suffice.

    I take two or three small multivitamin pills a day. But not all of the same
    brand and composition -- three different brands and compositions, in fact.
    More bottles to purchase, open, and remember to keep straight, so a nuisance,
    but clearly a safer way to go.

    Biochemistry is not an exact science, and this fact sometimes creeps over to
    the technological correlative of biochemistry, the similarly named branch of
    chemical engineering that makes all these vitamin pills. So occasionally the
    manufacturers screw up a batch and instead of taking a few milligrams of
    niacinamide, for example, you get a few milligrams of nicotine or some other,
    very similar, extremely toxic pyridine derivative (did I remember that example
    correctly? I once did study a little biology and a little chemistry, but that
    was in some previous century or other).

    So if you do what I don't, and take one large or three little vitamin pills of
    the exact same brand, composition and batch number, you get three times as much
    nicotine and still no niacinamide. The smokers on the list might see that as a
    good thing, neglecting as they do every day the fact that nicotine is quite
    poisonous. What I do, on the other hand, is much safer and better and wiser
    in all respects (perhaps the only area of human life in which I display such
    virtues), since I will continue to get the vital daily dose of niacinamide from
    two of the three different brands of pills, and instead of three times the
    batch-screw-up dose of nicotine, as the other person gets, I will get only the
    one. (Actually I think niacinamide, while nice, is not quite so vital as I
    pretended above).

    The three-different-pill regimen has demonstrably lower level of the dangerous
    substance nicotine, but it has this lower level precisely because it has a
    demonstrably lower level of the dangerous property error-covariance, which is
    much more poisonous than nicotine.

    This is not an artificial example, merely one dimly remembered -- but there are
    real examples (somewhere, I've seen them) of people getting very sick,
    eventually, or even dying (rare) because they took a single large pill from one
    source of chemicals, when they would have been quite OK had they taken several
    small pills from several unrelated sources.

    Say, that's not a bad example, I should add it to my ever-changing,
    rarely-very-good, homepage, where it might help to delude people into thinking
    I really do have the answer to all of society's problems, through careful
    error-covariance minimisation and combinatorial matching based on the results.
    There now, that's a sentence just as long and incomprehensible as most of the
    ones on that never-adequate homepage, which I shall immediately go and update,
    and improve the overall health of it, with a dose of the most essential
    vitamins and minerals, if you ladies and gentlemen will excuse me for a moment.

            dpw http://www.SocialTechnology.Org/dpwilson.html

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