Friday, August 12, 2011

The Fallacy of Aggregating Experiences

A cursory observation of the busy streets of New York would reveal a multitude of satisfied people going about their rather enjoyable lives. Everyone seems to have places to see and people to meet, and most people seem to be comfortable with their fortunes. Though one would occasionally notice a beggar sitting on the floor, a blind man calling for help, or a vagrant missing a limb, these few outliers are not numerous enough to substantially reduce the average standard of living. Reports of tragedy frequently sprinkle the radio waves, but the volume of these adverse occurrences pale in comparison to those reported in the annals of history. When the modernized world is taken as a whole it is quite clear that people living in the twenty first century are living far better lives than those of their ancestors.

Making a comparison between the standard of living from one generation to another or from one population to another requires zooming out of individual biographies and instead observing the panorama of collective experiences. Selecting one individual from each population would not be sufficient to fulfill the purpose of collective comparison. It would be possible that those randomly chosen individuals would not be a fair representation of the rest of people. Therefore, large pools of people must be gathered, and special parameters and statistics must be calculated in order to gain insights into overall levels of well being. These numbers can then be compared with various populations and generations in order to glean valid conclusions. Essentially, for comparison purposes, it is the aggregate experiences that are important and not the individual ones.

Sampling and statistics generally follow the anecdotal observation that people are enjoying a far better standard of living today than ever before. However, although these sampling techniques work well to compare populations, the information gleaned may be misused, and result in false conclusions. The aggregate numbers seem to describe the aggregate feelings of populations. However, though aggregate feelings may look good on paper, they are never experienced in actuality. A population is not its own sentient being. Only the individual people can experience happiness or misery. Aggregating all the happiness or misery of a few people does not result in a more happy or more miserable population. Because the experience is localized to the individuals, it is not possible for a fantastic level of aggregate happiness or misery to be reached. Therefore, these aggregating techniques must be looked at as nothing more than calculations of the probability of any given individual being happy or miserable. A valid conclusion would give better odds for picking a person with a high standard of living out of a modern population than out of an ancient population. Though these conclusions are informative, they seem a lot less meaningful.

The fallacy of aggregating experiences is commonly used to compare populations and to evaluate tragedies. Economic indicators of prosperity are taken as signs that people are all happy, but economic indicators of recession are indicative of people that are all depressed. It is common to conclude that times of economic prosperity are better than times of economic slumber. One would often look back in the history books and pity those time periods of hardship and envy those periods of plentiful. But this conclusion is not valid. The population doesn't receive a dose of endorphins or feel a thrill of economic prosperity, and the economy is not crying when the unemployment rate climbs. Rather, individuals cheer when they close a deal, and workers sob when they lose their jobs. The probability of being in one state or another is effected by the population measures, but the individual experiences are still localized. People who close million dollar deals in the middle of recessions are no less elated than they would have been in the middle of an expansion. Similarly, homeless people are not interested if unemployment fell to near zero. Experiences of pleasure or misery are dependent on the conditions of the individuals. To consider aggregate data to be an experience of the population would be committing a fallacy.

The broad observation of standard of living may be useful for calculating probabilities, but it doesn't paint a picture of any aggregate feelings. The few individuals that live in abject poverty cannot be ignored. Their experience of frustration is no less real than the beggars of previous generations, and the prosperity of others doesn't average out their pain. The tragedies of lost loved ones reported in the news are no less painful for their relatives than those who witnessed mass murders in the past. Experience is in the minds of individuals, and experiences cannot be aggregated for better or for worse.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

You Never Know

The world is full of uncertainties. From little things like the weather to big things like the state of the economy, unpredictable circumstances surround us everywhere we go. Although we can't avoid uncertainties, we can develop an intuition with probabilities that can accompany logic in our quest to make the best possible decisions. We don't give up on logic altogether because it can't work a hundred percent of the time. Rather, we use logic to its limits and rely on our intuition for that shred of uncertainty that will never be completely removed.

An alternative to the preservation of logic for its limited use is the rejection of logical analysis entirely. Some people face the world as a completely chaotic and uncertain jumble, and instead of using their unsatisfactory reasoning skills they invoke the anti-logic or the logical suicide. Some take risky hobbies for ephemeral thrills without thought of the consequences, and others live unhealthy lifestyles giving no credence to medical research. Still others make minor uninformed decisions or buy into speculative investments. All of these people share the common underlying anti-logic: You never know. Although logic is a fine tool in places where it can yield a comprehensive solution, in cases of uncertainty it is completely useless. You can argue for years with all the logical reason the world has to offer, but no amount of solid logic can come close to denting the armor of this solid anti-logic. Whatever models you may construct and whatever statistics you may collect, in the end of the day you can never really know anything.

This most powerful form of anti-logic has presented itself on numerous occasions over the course of my life. I find that the temptation for me to fall prey to this motto is felt strongest when make decisions related to dating and investing. I frequently compare the decision of which girls to date to the decision of which companies to invest in. When I first hear of a girl that would be a potential match for me I usually have the same feeling as when I first discover an interesting company while browsing the Internet. In both of these situations I have absolutely no idea of what may come of these discoveries. Logical reasoning is waiting in the background, and the illogical exuberance races to the foreground. This girl may be the one for me. The share price of that company could triple by next year leaving me financially independent. I come very close to immediately offering a date to this girl, and I must hold myself back from throwing my hard earned money into this random stock. I must wait for some logic to gain control of the decision process.

After taking a deep breath I begin to think logically. I analyze each situation carefully. I peruse through the girls profile and I realize that she is older than me. This alone is not the end of the world, but I continue to realize potential problems. The girl seems judgemental, materialistic, overly spiritual, and demanding. She seems to have all the qualities of someone that I don't socialize with, and she describes her perfect spouse as someone who I clearly cannot relate to. My exuberance subsides and I am ready to disregard the idea in its entirety.

A similar mental path is taken regarding my potential investment opportunities. I start looking at the companies financials. I notice a P/E ratio of 50, a PEG ratio of 3.5, and profit margins of 5%. The company seems to operate in a highly competitive industry, and the company seems completely overpriced. The next company has its own problems. This one has a net loss, a declining share price, heavy competition, and a management that is falling apart. I have lots of money to invest and I am very eager to yield a large return on my investment. However, the logical circuits in my brain conclude that it is probably much wiser for me to save my money for another opportunity.

At this point my brain is teased by the powers of anti-logic. I am about to make a logically informed decision but something very powerful is holding me back. I can never be sure. I know many men who have married older women, and I may be misjudging this girls personality. I can't know for certain unless I go out with her. This may be the perfect girl for me, and I would be passing her up simply because I have some logical hypothesis. I might as well go out because I can never know for certain unless I do. Similarly, regarding my company under scrutiny, I may be passing up the investment of a lifetime. Many companies have gone from rags to riches overnight, and I can't be sure that this is not one of them. The company that seems overpriced may be valued that way for a reason. Its share price may continue going up. And that company that has a declining share price may be just about ready to start turning around. The management can be fixed and the margins can improve. Though all these things are counter intuitive, I can never really know where the stock price will go. After all the logical analysis is complete, I still may be passing up a great company. I might as well just buy a few shares in order not to feel bad when the company actually does succeed.

No matter how solid one's logical reasons are they can fall prey to the "you never really know" anti-logic. Though this feeling may seem compelling, it is very important to withstand its temptations. Once while tutoring a college student in statistics I mentioned about the improbable chances of winning the lottery. I clearly demonstrated that winning the lottery is basically impossible from a probability perspective, and if one is willing to buy a ticket for the one in a million chance of actually winning, the same person should avoid driving a car because of the one in a million chance of it being picked up by a tornado. Though I made the point very clearly, the student was convinced that winning the lottery was still a possibility. Though it may be incredibly improbable, those who created the lottery have tapped into our inner anti-logic. You can only know for certain that you won't win if you don't play the game. But if you have nothing more than a one in a million chance of winning, it may still be worth a shot because in the end of the day, no matter how logical something may sound, you never know.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's Not Fair!

Though many of us may start life with the ideal that all people are equal, I doubt few of us were fortunate enough to graduate first grade still holding on to such a naive approach to life. Upon being subjected to the basic misfortunes that we all learn to live with, most of us begin to realize that life is just not fair. Some people seem to always have the best of fortune and other people seem to be dealt a bad hand of cards. Most of us would suggest that a fair world would be the ideal kind, but in reality, for whatever reason, the demons of injustice seem to have the ball in their court. However, closer examination suggests that the nature of our world is a perfect reflection of what most people honestly consider ideal.

Though most people seem to espouse the idea of all people being equal, it seems highly unlikely for even one person to actually feel this way on a personal level. The spreading of all the pleasures and sorrows of life in a perfectly fair manner may objectively seem like a worthy goal. However, how many people live in the world of the objective? Looking at the world through the glasses of anything other than a human being can lead to false and deceptive conclusions. Ideals must be thought of in the context of a subjective human experience if they are to relate to reality in a truthful and pragmatic manner. Don't look at the world as a large reality that happens to be populated with humans, and instead think of the world as the frame of reference for a given individual human. With a purely subjective and human observation of the world it seems obvious to me that a fair and even spread of life's assets is quite far from what is considered ideal.

An exercise in subjectivity reveals the fallacy of this parity. Put yourself in your own shoes for a few minutes, and think if you would prefer if all people would be equal. Imagine yourself winning the lottery, and think of all the work that other people can do in order to partake in your prize. You can walk through the streets of the city and browse the sites of the web while exercising your debit card in a purchasing frenzy, and others are toiling for their bread by supporting your every whim. Does this reality of yours sound fair? I don't believe it does. But do you find it wrong? I don't believe you do. You probably think that the world is a big place and it's not that bad if one human has a free ride. If this is the case, where has your desire for a fair world gone? Apparently, a fair world takes second priority to a world where all of your wildest desires are satisfied. Your altruistic desire for the equality of people has dried up the second you have been dealt a load of fortune.

Now, instead of thinking of yourself as a lottery winner, think of yourself as an acquaintance of one. Someone who worked with you in the office has just hit a major jackpot. On the outside you are full of excitement for your colleague, but on the inside you are overflowing with envy. You play the lottery every week and he just happened to buy one with his extra change. It's not fair! If only life was fair. If only you could have won the lottery as well. But you realize that you don't wish for both of you to win the lottery. After all, if everyone won the lottery their would be no use in the money. You are upset because you would have preferred to win the lottery instead of him. The whole purpose for you to win the lottery would be for you to be able to sit back and relax while everyone continued working to satisfy your needs. You don't wish for the world to be a fair place. You only wish the world would be more unfair with results that treat you favorably.

With the proper perspective it becomes obvious why the world is naturally such an unfair place. In reality nobody really cares for a fair world. Though the unfortunate may lament the ills of an unfair world, they must realize that they by no means take what they say to heart. By playing the lottery they are acknowledging the fact that the ideal world is an unfair world. Though this world may bring many to misfortune, most people are willing to risk living in such a world as long as they are given the chance to be on the fortunate end. The unfair nature of life is nothing more than a reflection of the will of the human race.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How Did This Happen?

What's with this?

Either the end of the world has finally arrived or Google finance is having some serious trouble.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Shidduch System vs. Job Market

Nobody likes uncertain and disorderly systems. Humans are known to be risk averse, and people generally prefer one bird in the hand to two birds in the bush. However, when engaging in any sort of matching process, a sizable amount of nondeterministic randomness inevitably results. Although people tend to avoid situations that must lead to disorganized matching processes, such situations are unavoidable as they present themselves in the shidduch system and the job markets. It is the underlying nondeterminism in both of these processes which causes them to be such painful experiences for those who must endure them.

The purpose of the shidduch is to match an appropriate man with an appropriate women in order to hopefully lead to a successful marriage. There are many different venues for finding men and women of marriageable age, and many different kinds of matching techniques. After using the proper methods it is hoped that a match will result. Many people enter the process full of optimism, and they put their faith in their particular form of shidduch system. However, after months and years of failed attempts at finding a proper spouse, it is quite common to become disenchanted with shidduch methods. It is very normal to lambaste "the shidduch system" as a complete failure, and more often than not one will put forward a whole plethora of patches and tweaks that would likely be of benefit to the flawed process. Sometimes these supposedly constructive measures are carried out, but in most situations the disgruntled shidduch dater will just continue to moan for the duration of the process.

What ends up happening to the long-term shidduch daters? Of course those who are married within a few months of dating are considered great successes. In fact, those people don't give much thought to "the shidduch system" altogether, and they go about there daily lives pondering their next milestones. However, those who remain in the system too long become bitter and dejected, and they begin to loathe shidduchim in general. The longer they remain single the longer they ponder the ills of the system.

This process continues until some solution occurs. The first solution occurs when the person eventually finds his or her long awaited lifelong partner. At this point an interesting transformation takes place in the persons mind. Whether the system remains a soar memory of torture or if the system becomes a fond memory of character building, the shidduch system in the end of the day transforms into nothing more than an interesting memory. Given a few months, the topic will no longer enter the conscious mind. Another more pitiful solution occurs when the individual leaves the shidduch market. A decision is made that marriage is not worth the bother, and single life is a fine alternative to life as a couple. People such as these may become abject and crestfallen, or they may truly find comfort in their life altering choice. Either way, they will continue to display an antipathy for shidduchim, and will encourage people to find comfort in what on the outside seems to be a failure of a life. Given enough time, everyone exits the system and gives no more thought to how it can be improved. Passion moves on to the next agenda.

Although shidduch matching may seem like a very unique kind of process, it shows a striking resemblance to the job market. Like shidduchim, most people have an optimistic outlook while entering the employment search. A job resume is constructed in the same way a shidduch profile is created. And much like shidduchim the job market can take a serious toll on the mental health of job seekers. There are always those people who find jobs right out of college, and such people give little thought to the whole concept of employment search. But most people find themselves searching for months for the right job. Over time, the unemployed begin to lose hope in finding employment. Many people become depressed about the situation of the economy, and some even put forward methods for fixing the system.

What ends up happening with the unemployed? People who are unemployed for a long time become less and less convinced of ever finding a job. The longer they wait the more they detest the job market. But in the end of the day almost all of the unemployed become employed. Some people eventually find their dream job. To these people the job market rapidly becomes a distant memory. Other people take sub par jobs and continue to detest the job market. Still other people go back to school and develop new skills in order to find a new job. It is common to settle for a pay cut and lower one's standard of living as well. When all is said and done, the options are employment, disability, or death. Most people end up choosing employment from that short list of options.

The shidduch system and the job market are similar in a very fundamental way. Both of these systems represent a matching process. A direct result of this is nondeterministic randomness. This is a large source of anguish to human beings. We would prefer to see clear results from actions taken. But in both the shidduch system and the job market it is very common to find two people with identical resumes yielding completely different outcomes. This fundamental nature of these systems cannot be changed and no tweak in the system will make it fair. Those who succeed can either praise the system or ignore it, and those who fail will criticize the methods and occupy their minds with the topic. But there can be no fix to either of these nondeterministic random systems.

What can one do to prevent failure in the shidduch system? It seems that the situation is quite bleak for those who find themselves single at an older age. Many think they have a solution for the system, and others eventually give up trying altogether. However, the solution to the problem involves the main difference between the shidduch system and the job market. When a person fails in finding a shidduch he or she frequently blames the system, but when someone can't find a job he or she works on improving the probabilities. The solution to a personal shidduch crisis seems to be a matter of mathematics and probability. The people that find shidduchim within the first month of dating are very eligible shidduch material. They are usually normal people that may easily be set up with an equally normal mate. In theory, those who are most normal are compatible with the most people and will have the easiest time finding a shidduch. However, those who are unique for better of for worse will have a hard time finding an equally unique individual. There just happen to be fewer people that would be compatible with such a person. Similarly, in the job market there are people with marketable skills and there are people with very specific skills. Those who have the most marketable skills find a job the fastest while those with the more specific kind find themselves searching in a niche market.

Both the shidduch dater and the job seeker can increase their chances of finding what they want by becoming more marketable and less specific. The unemployed typically go back to school or settle for sub par work until they have what it takes to find a proper job. Those who have obsolete skills must learn new ones, and those with specific skills must learn some more universal ones. In this manner job seekers will almost always eventually find a job. A shidduch dater should be doing the same thing if he or she hopes to reduce the amount of time necessary to find a match. Becoming more marketable may mean improving ones appearance, social skills, or financial position to the point where they have reached the realm of normal people, or it may entail mingling with the lowly folks, eating fatty food, watching sports, or drinking beer in an attempt to lower ones self to the realm of normal people. Of course, the latter would involve a compromise comparable to those who settle for a sub par job. It may be necessary to give shidduch profiles to those who you would rather not ask for help from in the same way job seekers ask for job assistance from people they are normally uncomfortable approaching. Sometimes sacrifices must be made if one would like to increase the probabilities of successfully navigating through the shidduch system in a timely manner.

While such sacrifices are frequently made in the job market, people rarely feel like taking such measures while involved with shidduchim. People feel better blaming "the system" and not working on solving the problem. In the end of the day everyone needs food, and that is why people make the job market work. Although the same measures may be taken regarding the shidduch market, too many people see a single life as a plausible option, and they therefore choose the easy way out.

The shidduch system and the job market both suffer from the same fundamental problem. Any fix to the system would do nothing to change the underlying nature of the nondeterministic random process. Unique individuals, for better of for worse, will have a hard time finding an appropriate match. These people can spend a long time searching until they find the object of their dreams. However, both shidduch daters and job seekers have the opportunity of becoming more marketable individuals, and by doing that they can potentially decrease the amount of time in the matching market.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Chol Hamoed Pesach Trips - 2011

Although this years Chol Hamoed Pesach had only one full week day, I still managed to fill every moment of the time I had with the traditional holiday adventures. In previous years, my brothers and I would make a point of visiting the same places, and we would find pleasure in following what resembles a sort of Chol Hamoed field trip seder. This traditional itinerary would allow us to find pleasures in the simple things of life, and it would also result in less of a heartache in deciding exactly which excursions would maximize our holiday spirit. Naturally, it is the pictures taken to document the journey that make the outings much more worthwhile.

I enjoy snapping photographs of scenic discoveries, and this year was no different than any other year. However, this year there were certain pictures that I had to have in order to feel as if I had fulfilled the Positive Commandment of enjoying my holiday of Pesach. Having concrete goals is very important, and it can save a lot of storage in both your camera and hard drive if you are certain of which pictures are absolutely necessary. On the first day of Chol Hamoed I woke up bright and early and my two younger brothers and I prepared the car for a ride to the Bronx Zoo. The Bronx Zoo is not one of our traditional Pesach points of interests, but it has been a long time since we had been there and my brother just happened to really want to go there for some unknown reason. I was not terribly excited to be in an outdoor park on a pretty chilly day, but with my camera in hand I was all eyes. Immediately upon arrival I began carefully observing and photographing the various animals in there various habitats. I was very busy taking pictures, and it didn't even occur to me at first that I was really looking at live wild animals that are rarely seen in New York City.

These tigers are really large and it looked really cool the way they seemed to engage in peaceful dialog.

Not all animals are as peaceful, and one of the most thrilling sights of the day was this bear fight. A true grizzly sight.

On a more beautiful note, we witnessed a peacock open up and show its true colors.

We also witnessed a gorilla stand upright like a human.

A last but not least, I believe this is the celebrity Egyptian Cobra that escaped the zoo a few weeks ago.

Although the Jews never returned to slavery in Egypt, this Egyptian Cobra (now named MIA by its fan club) was not as fortunate to remain free.

On the next day of Chol Hamoed we did not have much time to do anything exciting. I am assuming most people were probably at a loss when it came to fun ideas for a Friday afternoon. However, this is where the concept of traditional visits to holiday destinations came in handy. On the second day of Chol Hamoed I went with my father and my two younger brothers to visit our families favorite tree.

Although this may look like any ordinary tree, we have visited this amazingly cool climbing tree almost every single Pesach Chol Hamoed since I was about 11 years old. Aside from being an awesome tree, visiting this tree year after year has turned an ordinary walk in the park into an amazing adventure.

And finally, today we made our yearly trip to the annual international car show in New York City at the Jacob Javits Center. I am not extremely knowledgeable of cars, but this place is really worthy of an annual visit. I first took a look at some of the normal cars, and inspected all the various gadgets. It is interesting to see how many different ways it's possible to adjust a drivers seat. Once I felt as if I had been sitting in enough cars that I felt as if I was just hoping into a taxi, I made my way to the expensive and extravagant automobiles in order to have some fresh footage for this years trek.

Here are the cool and expensive Ferraris and Bugatti.

This was just some weird looking car that I found very amusing.

Almost every automobile manufacture at this year's show was demonstrating some kind of battery powered car or hybrid. Here is an example of a hybrid from Mitsubishi.

This was pretty cool. The car used in the Transformers movie.

And here is what we came to see: We caught a glimpse of the widely publicized Chevy Volt (an electric and gasoline car).

Today ends another great year of Chol Hamoed trips. I feel very accomplished with the photos that I have taken, and I think this has been a successful Chol Hamoed. I hope to have as much productivity on all subsequent years to come.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My New Gadget

I have only recently become aware of all the cool gadgets that are available on Microsoft's latest version of Windows. Although I was not very impressed with the new version of Minesweeper, I have found the new picture puzzle gadget to be very entertaining. When I first started playing the game I was challenged with basic solving of the grid. However, after winning a few times I began to discover tricks and patterns. It didn't take long before I "solved the game" completely. But thanks to the good people at Microsoft, I have not been forsaken without a challenge. All I needed was a small timer placed on the top right corner of the gadget, and I have fulfilled my time wasting needs for years to come. Now I can continue to play this game in pursuit of my absolute best timing. This game may even take me as far as Minesweeper has, and I may even some day have the world record for having the fastest picture puzzling timing. Now I keep playing faster and faster, and I have already been able to solve the entire puzzle in only 20 seconds (see above). I was first a little worried about becoming too good too fast. If this challenge becomes either too easy or if beating my timing becomes completely impossible I might be encouraged to search for another hobby. However, I realized that even if I have reached my limit with the number format of the puzzle, I still have 10 other puzzle formats to chose from! The other puzzles are harder complicated pictures, and I haven't even been able to solve them completely yet. I am very excited about all of the years of challenges that lay ahead.