Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Popular distortions

Today's post is just a simple reflection on how society distorts perceived truths to make them more palatable, and make life easier for the individual by effectively reducing the psychological impact that it is negligible.

A simple example is the way society looks at hell. We're told that it's a dark place bad people go, but only bad people, not you. The devil is a red man with big horns and takes joy in poking you in the orange flames while twisted little black pixies laugh and giggle as they poke and torture you, and that if you do end up there from your nights of debauchery, you can just find all your damned friends and party in hell, or even take it over from the devil.

This seems to be a rather enjoyable fate when you compare the biblical definition of hell. The biblical definition is a much more frightening place, you're immersed in absolute darkness, there is absolutely no light, there is no sound, you are alone, immersed in black sulfurous heat, with no one, not even the devil to keep you company. Also, that's not even technically hell, hell is actually more of a holding room until your thrown into what is normally considered to be hell, the lake of fire.

The devil is also a much different character then what we consider him (if you'll allow me to, I will continue to refer to the standard gender definition of the devil to be male) to be, we, again, see him to be a red man with big horns who enjoys partying, encourages everything that we enjoy and is basically the guy you want to party with.

The biblical definition, is, again, different then the one we perpetuate. The bible does refer to him as satan, but there is no reference to a pitchfork, red skin or horns. In reality, the only image we have of him is before his fall from grace is really one of something in direct contradiction to the popular image of satan, in it he is considered to be radient, glorious, and the most beautiful of all of god's angels. It's not hard to imagine, if we take the christians point of view, that he has changed much, sin lives in the heart, not the skin, as they believe. And as christians believe, the devil does enjoy your partying, but not because he likes people partying, but because he knows that people who disobey god will be taken from god, and left to suffer in the lake with him, to burn in darkness and crushing solitude for eternity.

It's no wonder that we would distort such a concept. The question is, is this a good thing? Is it alright for us to distort a (perceived) truth in order to live a easier life?

If we apply this only to a religious difficulty, then we would seem to only have to worry about our immortal souls, which many don't believe in anyway, and few would argue that it makes better people. The problem is we keep using it, we used it to mock Nazi Germany both before and during the second world war, it was applied to demonize the Vietcong in the 1960's, we are still using it today, although it's no longer a state spnsored activity unlike it used to be in the 1940's, to insult and diminish Muslim individuals and practices so that we don't have to feel so bad about attacking and killing other human beings.

But the problem isn't that the methods don't work, they work spectacularly, propaganda against the third reich in world war 2 did allow the public to feel good about bombing and killing thousands of soldiers and citizens, but then it also made the German public feel good about murdering the gay, jewish and roma. It's a double sided sword, it enables us, yet it also degrades us.

Distortion, it can be argued, is necessary for a society to live. But what sort of society is absolutely required to distort it's surroundings for it to survive? It seems that after examination, it's not that there is a certain form of society, but that in order for there to be a society, we have to demonize others.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Evolutionary model as applied to world economics

  Evolution can be defined as a system in which the organism that is most adept to survive it's conditions will outlast those that are not as adept as it, or simply, the fittest survive.

 There's also a concept called Punctuated Equilibrium, which attempts to explain large expansions of speciation in the fossil record in certain periods of time. 

 The question I wish to give, is it possible that the latest crises is an example of the evolution of our financial system going through something similar to punctuated equilibrium? The world economic system in it's entirety can be likened to an evolutionary system, where hundreds of different forces affecting it's system force the components of the system ill-suited to it's surroundings die off, and the parts of the system best suited to the surroundings will survive.

 Tell me what you think.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Random concept: looking for ideas

 The idea behind random concept is to take two things that have no obvious relation to one another, and through logical derivation, attempt to find a link, however possible. I need suggestions for random topic, basically any two concepts that seem to have no immediate link to each other. If you have any ideas, please write it in the comments.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

When expectations are blinded by education, or why professionals make life harder

 Back in the 70's when nuclear was a much more intriguing concept for the general population as a means of energy production, someone was designing the controls for the reactors at three mile island. Considering the relatively simplistic design of the reactor, the team desiging the controls felt no special precautions were required to explain the operation and effect those operations would have on the reactor. They considered that, since the Babcock and Wilcox reactors were so stable and safe, the operators never needed to touch the controls.

 This meant anyone could run the plant. Anyone, apparently, included high school graduates with little to no training on the reactors. They were told they didn't have to worry about the controls, and that the reactors could pretty much run themselves without the controllers interference.

 This was obviously wrong. while the specifics of controlled fission are somewhat simple, the operations in place to control the fission of the materials and the resultant cooling systems are fairly complex. For instance, it is sometimes necessary to control the depth of the control rods to increase or decrease the reaction volatility. Failure to do so could potentially cause he reactor to meltdown. 

 In one famous case involving the control rod depth controls, the technicians placed two beer cans, both of different brands on the control levers so they would be able to tell which controlled the depth of the rods.

 let me clarify, this didn't cause the accident, but it is indicative of the thoughts of the design engineers.

 They were highly trained professionals who understood every facet of their jobs, but failed to understand that the people who were going to run the reactor did not necessarily have that same understanding. On march 28, 1979, a small event caused a pressure release valve to release, and through an error in the warning system, to not close. The valve allowed the escape of coolant in the TMI-2 reactor, and the system overheated. this may have been avoided, had it not been for the deluge of information given to the operators, that was largely irrelevant or erronous. The reactor had a partial meltdown, and the rest is history.

 This story illustrates a simple fact; well informed and well educated people can be ignorant of the fact that the people they are building, designing, or repairing their systems or devices for are not always as informed of the particulars as they are. 

 The explanation for these errors in  judgement are many, whether it be that knowledge is power; giving more information then is required to deal with the problem at hand causes confusion for the unprepared, while the informed can use that large amount of information to their advantage. Arrogance can cause it as well, the belief that the operators should understand the systems they design, no matter how complex. Or, just overestimating the experience and training that the user will have in dealing with the system.

 To properly address and avoid the problem such assertions create, has been readily addressed, and made seemingly complex operations imple for the user. A good example was the advent of MS-DOS, Bill Gates realized that the system was exactly what the computing industry needed at the time, an accessible, capable, and widely accepted single format for widespread use. This was a revolution for the industry that had up until that point been using several proprietary formats of OS to address the problem of access.

 Simply put, a lack of information both causes problems, and creates them, even when the creation is due to an excess of information.