Saturday, August 23, 2008

Doomed to be wrong

I started writing this about a year ago (2007.8.10), and stopped short. I just added on the last couple paragraphs and figured I may as well post it. It's just a bunch of my thoughts mixed together, and I claim no true insight. I figure Holmes would be correct in saying that there is nothing new under the sun, and that it has all been done before.


I've spent most of my life trying to figure out what makes certain ideas wrong, or doomed to be shown incorrect at a later point in time. I'm going to take a walk around the block here and return to this basic idea after a couple asides. Hopefully they will frame my contention a little better than a direct statement would.

There are 365 days in a year. Except every 4 years when we stick an extra day in at the end of February. Except every 400 years when we don't add that day when we otherwise should. And then we have leap seconds thrown in for good measure.

But see, if we want to know where the earth will be located 500,000 years from now, we don't just use a calendar to compute that. If we did, we'd likely be very wrong. By about 1600 (give or take 50 years) the original calendar that Caesar put together with leap years every 4 years was wrong, and had drifted from "reality" by about 10 days. Quite a bit, actually. Another correction was introduced (do not leap every 400 years) to account for that. There are other hacks to make it generally work out correctly, but if we started with a 365 day calendar, we'd have summer in December in the northern hemisphere every 720 years or so. It's off by like a quarter of a day every year.

Days let us function a little more efficiently by being able to schedule things and work together, so the fact that it's never some true measure of any cosmological anything (

I had a talk with a good friend of mine the other day about laws, and how I think they're fundamentally flawed. Laws are meant to guide a member of society insofar as how they should operate within certain constraints to make the group as a whole more functional.

They fall apart in practice and need to be constantly amended to include unforeseen circumstances and so on, and regularly we have situations where nobody outside of the courtroom feels that justice has been done. It's easy to put the blame on the lawyers, judges, and juries involved, and I do this all the time, but some blame must lie with the laws themselves.

So how do I think they're flawed? I think that judging actions is incorrect. Actions are what we see, though, and are the easiest thing to point to when you feel that someone isn't playing well with the rest of the society. We have laws like "you shouldn't kill people," but can easily concoct situations where a killing is the optimal thing to have happen. Movies find these situations all the time, and they also happen in real life. Sure it's fairly rare to find a murder that was A-OK by the standards of society, but they indeed happen.

So even with something as extreme as murder, it's OK sometimes and not OK other times. Why on earth is it the thing that is being judged? It's not an absolute "bad," so why are there laws directed precisely at it? There are fixes for it, and different degrees of murder, some of them carrying little or no penalty, but it's a complicated set of rules around a concept that is mostly bad, but not always.

What's the answer? I guess I don't know right now, but the direction to look in (I'd think) would be for an invariant. But those invariants are difficult to come by with imperfect information. Imperfect information is something that we seem to have an abundance of, and is also something that we have a difficult time polishing enough to create perfect information.

Perhaps every phenomenon is truly a local one, and this would make every idea impossible to prove correct. This would make a lot of science largely useless outside of our extremely limited scope, but maybe we're forever doomed to only inhabit a small corner of the cosmos anyhow.

Most ideas are doomed to be incorrect in light of new information. The only solid concept that I've so far divulged from this line of reasoning is that it is far simpler to disprove something than to prove it, and that seems like it would be useful. Why? Well, it hints that the advantage is on the side of disproof and destruction rather than on the side of proof and creation. And I guess this goes all the way back to entropy. You can build a great big building with a ton of effort, and with a little work I can destroy the whole thing. This feels like it applies to concepts as well as physical objects.

I guess pretty much everything is doomed to be wrong, no matter how careful you are in devising it. You need to limit your sample space so severely that anything you offer will likely have limited or no real-world utility over the long term.

No comments: