Friday, August 8, 2014

Countdown, part I

Given the struggle to understand what is good, what is moral, where I fall short, and how to choose, I wonder if statistics alone are good enough.

To some extent, we measure everything by the numbers in our society; statistics, it would seem, is supposed to provide us with objective answers. We use statistics to decide what kind of medical treatment to dispense; to decide what salaries should be, to decide where taxes should be spent. Statistics also dominate our sciences; it seems we live by averages and attempts to establish optimal outcomes.

I think metrics are a good thing; I use them all the time in business to determine priorities. For example, a program that is worth more money to the company ought to become a priority in terms of attention. It's not that different in personal life; the expenses that represent the greatest liabilities are the ones that have to have the greatest attention paid to them. Even in the life of a beehive, statistics dominate; its livelihood depends on how many workers the queen can produce, how much honey it can store, and so on. We measure everything by numbers.

It's impossible to conceive of a universe without numbers, since they seem to dominate everything we do. Numbers are all about counting and measurement; and it does seem as though counting and measurement, although they are abstractions produced by consciousness, run the universe. Perhaps the odd thing is that if consciousness ceased to exist, in a certain sense, statistics and numbers would still run the universe; they seem to have an existence that transcends consciousness itself, and is embedded in the nature of the material. Or, perhaps better said, expressed by the nature of the material; because the numbers themselves are not material.

Numbers, like time, don't actually exist; they are simply an expression of relative quantity. Subjectively – and perhaps even objectively — this is governed by numbers, yet we can all agree, I think, that we have made the numbers up. The relative quantities, just like the juxtaposition of objects and the exchange of properties between them (time), are all that actually exist. One could make up an uncountable number of ways to count them, and in the end, it would just be a relativity of quantity.

As such, it is probably peculiar of us to believe that we can derive a manifestation of good, or of bad, from the manipulation of numbers, yet we do this all the time. When you are selling things, under ordinary circumstances, a big number is good, and a small number is bad. The same can be said of profits; or lives saved. We measure by quantity; and we measure success by quantity. A lot of success is, supposedly, better than a little success. On the other hand, measurement alone does not imply success, failure, goodness, or badness; a lot of bad behavior is worse than a little bad behavior. And a lot of death in a war is worse than a little death.

Efforts to say that one death and a million deaths are equally bad (or good, if the deaths are "the deaths of the enemy") don't seem to fly, in my eyes. Scale does, to some extent, determine value. So we value through measurement; and valuation must come first, because we need to know whether the valuation "a lot is good and a little is bad" applies or not in any given situation.

In this way, we determine that valuation trumps numerics. First we determine what our values are; and then we begin counting. It is, it would seem, in our nature to count; we can hardly resist it.

 Thereby, I think it has been reasonably demonstrated that statistics alone do not provide any determination of valuation; valuation comes first.

Valuation derives from intention, or aim; first, I must know what my intention or my aim is, and only then can I determine what valuation is. That which serves the intention or serves the aim must be called the good; and that which frustrates or obscures or blocks the intention or aim is the bad.

Once again though, I must go back down through another layer of the onion towards the core; because there are two levers at work here, one an inner and one an outer lever.

 I will explain this tomorrow.


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