Truthiness, scienciness, and product success

By Gordon Rugg

This is a Tempest Prognosticator.

800px-Tempest_Prognosticator“Tempest Prognosticator” by Badobadop – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

It’s a splendid example of nineteenth century ingenuity, right down to the name. What does it do? It’s intended to let you know if a storm is approaching. The way it does this is as wonderfully nineteenth century as the name. The Prognosticator is operated by twelve leeches, each of which lives in a bottle. When storms are approaching, the leeches become agitated, and climb out of the bottle. When they climb out, they disturb a piece of whalebone, which activates a bell. The more serious the risk of storm, the more leeches climb out, and the more bells ring.

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Tweet-sized thought for the day: Pattern matching, serial processing, politicians and word salad

Pattern matching is an easy way to check if a thing looks right. Serial processing is a hard way to check if it is right. A big difference.

There are two computational mechanisms for solving a problem, regardless of whether you’re a human or a computer. One of these mechanisms is parallel processing, where you carry out lots of tasks at the same time; this mechanism is very good for pattern matching, where you identify patterns (whether physical patterns, or underlying regularities in events, etc). The other mechanism is serial processing, where you do one task at a time; slow, but steady, and much better for catching errors in reasoning.

Humans are very good at pattern matching, which we find swift and easy, and very bad at serial processing, which most of us find slow and painful. So what? So this is why we appear to be an illogical species, and why demagogue politicians can get so far despite having policies that are little more than word salad.

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