Sunday, September 14, 2008

Meaningful Phrases

I am trying to recall some of the moments in my past where I had or read a particular thought that produced or summed up a great deal of the way I think. Here is a sample of what came to mind.

People are fundamentally selfish. They act according to their most "perceived beneficial" action at all times. I was first exposed to this concept formally in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. It was later spelled out in exhaustive detail by Von Mises' Human Action, and Murray Rothboard's Man, Economy, and State, and makes the basis of the Austrian School of Economics.

The Utopian vision of man vs the corrupt image of man. I first read about this in Thomas Sowell's book Basic Economics. Basically is man approaching some long away super society where he corrects his flaws and lives in harmony, or is where we are now basically where we have been all along and will always be. Basically realizing that you could split most political, moral, and social systems/thought with this one question. I tend to believe in the corrupt version.

The amount of information in a signal varies directly with how random it is. Put another way, the ability to compress information varies indirectly with how random it is. As an example, the particle movements of a wave crashing on the beach has an incredible amount of information in it. It would take incredible amounts of computer horse power to simulate it exactly. The main interest for me is that complexity is not in of itself useful or powerful. The more complex a system is not fundamentally better, and the reverse is more generally true.

Humans are rationalizing creatures rather than rational. The world is far more random than we think. This was an intuitive hunch for most of my life, with pointer's from Steven Pinker's books on the mind, but laid out beautifully by Taleb in The Black Swan, and Fooled by Randomness. People are fundamentally wired to see cause and effect in every situation and believe they know these causes, even in very complex systems. Humans are continually fooled by selection bias, and we share a universal inability to handle probabilistic thinking. This explains hero worship, our inability to learn from history, and explains the extreme epistemic hubris of most people. The apeal to me and the defining characteristic of the Austrian school of economics is its humility in regards to complex systems and its reluctance in determining cause and effect in history.

These are a few that came to mind this afternoon, what are yours?