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Our behaviour in bulk is more predictable than we like to imagine

Statistics

This is an invaluable tool for the fields of biology, medicine, economics, arts and humanities and the administrative services of the government.

Statistics provides useful tools, but those calculations and assumptions are based on certain constants that can lead to serious mistakes if taken too literally or applied to a large size. These calculations provide usable figures in a ‘quick and dirty’ way.

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Our behaviour in bulk is more predictable than we like to imagine

Our behaviour in bulk is more predictable than we like to imagine

https://aeon.co/essays/our-behaviour-in-bulk-is-more-predictable-than-we-like-to-imagine

aeon.co

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Key Ideas

Social Physics

Psychohistory is a fictional way to predict the future of humanity, using mathematical techniques.

Applying maths on human behaviour was initiated by Adolphe Quételet in the 19th century, and is in a way the father of ‘big data’ and other statistical analysis that is prevalent today. He called psychohistory ‘social physics’.

Statistics

This is an invaluable tool for the fields of biology, medicine, economics, arts and humanities and the administrative services of the government.

Statistics provides useful tools, but those calculations and assumptions are based on certain constants that can lead to serious mistakes if taken too literally or applied to a large size. These calculations provide usable figures in a ‘quick and dirty’ way.

Adolphe Quételet's Estimations

Quételet, the mathematician turned astronomer who was performing social physics miracles as the central figure of Belgium science, got better in his game by learning probability theory and making use of his polymath brain. His work included estimations and calculations using the available data and his mathematical and statistical skills. Instead of counting everyone to know the population, Quételet used some reasonable estimates and then multiplied the number of births per year with the ratio of the total population to the annual births.

The new methodology was published in Quételet’s books in the 19th century, like Social Physics (1835) and its newer editions, and caught the imagination of the public. Concepts like the Average Man and the Bell Curve (a normal probability of distribution) simplified complex statistics and made it accessible to the world while being easily quotable and comparable.

Francis Galton's Eugenics

The data analysis method was adopted by many pioneers in social science which made use of the various techniques and improvised upon them, studying everything from human evolution, human traits, the inheritance of genius and greatness and ways to have better offspring. These methods were named ‘eugenics’ by Francis Galton.

He also invented regression analysis, which eventually led to the study of correlation, which is the degree of relationships between two different sets of data.

Poll Predictions

One of the biggest implications of social physics turned out to be election results and the surveys that provide accurate poll result predictions.

Random samples worked in some cases, and the ‘central limit theorem’ calculated a mean value to find out the smallest sample that could work in providing accurate predictions.

Patterns Of Human Behaviour

Our public records, the internet and social media have provided a lightning-fast way to collect data and predict outcomes.

Telephone calls, search history, credit-card purchases and global online trends provide us never-before windows to understanding and predicting the patterns of human behaviour.

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The Neuroscientist Karl Friston
The Neuroscientist Karl Friston
  • Karl Friston, a neuroscientist, published a radical theory called the ‘Free Energy Principle’ that has the neuroscience field in a tizzy. His papers, published in various journals, are heavil...
The Free Energy Principle

It states that the world is uncertain and full of surprises. Our brain, through perception, beliefs and action are trying to remain stable by minimizing the spikes, triggers and surprises.

We live inside our brains, and each of us has a unique perception of the outside world. Anything we say or document is just our way to explain the world we have lived. It has nothing to do with reality.

The Beautiful Mind
  • Our mind is programmed to sample the world so that the immediate future can be predictable, as a way to survive it with minimum surprises and disruptions, and as a way to conserve energy.
  • Free energy, outside the mind, maybe incomprehensible and even impossible to grasp fully, but our mind filters and curates much of the information and presents it to us in palpable format.
  • Our mind, when seen neurologically, is infinitely vast, much like the universe, which it even resembles visually.

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Early History

The connection between genius and possible insanity was first documented in 1891 in the Italian physicians’ book The Man Of Genius.

In 1869, this was taken up by the cousin of Charles Darwi...

Genius and Heredity

In a 1904 study by English physician Havelock Ellis, a list was made of 1030 individuals through extensive research, examining thoroughly the intellectual distinction people had by the various factors like heredity, general health, and social class.


These works established that genius minds are often hereditary.

Genetic Studies Of Genius

A body of work of Stanford psychologist Lewis M. Terman, was an in-depth multi-decade study of gifted individuals, and an attempt to improve the measurement of genius and its association with the degradation of mental stability. This also included an enhanced version of the French IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test.

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Statistics Inaccuracies

Most studies that involve statistical research remain largely inaccurate, and a large number of hypotheses use data samples which are inadequate.

Beliefs and Statistics
  • Researchers extract a lot of false certainty from data which is used to study a particular hypothesis, due to their myopic thinking, confirmation bias, and other cognitive assumptions that they aren't even aware of.
  • Many researchers believe in small samples of data as if they stand for the whole of the population, and this can lead to unpredictable consequences.
The Eye Poster Experiment

It points out our irrational bias and behavior towards our surroundings. How people succumb to irrational beliefs was demonstrated in an experiment at a University Kitchen.

It found out that if there was a poster with eyes put up near the kitchen counter, then people were more likely to pay for the food, subconsciously taking those eyes in the poster as someone looking at them.

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