Category Archives: Ah, Sophia!

Contemporary philosophical musings and their various relatives.

Understanding Statistics via the Media

The media lies.  They don’t necessarily intend to lie, but this is a consequence of having an agenda and of lacking scientific or philosophic rigor.  For this reason, I do have a modicum of sympathy for those shouting “fake news”.  It can be challenging to tease out the truth from the well-intentioned messages journalists pass around.

Take a look at this article discussing an important aspect of understanding statistics which you will some times see presented by the media:

How do death rates from COVID-19 differ between people who are vaccinated and those who are not?

Be cautious when receiving statistics from any media source, including that relative on social media.  Everyone’s a journalist today and so very few have the aforementioned scientific rigor.


You Can Relax Concerning the Doomsday Argument

Well, you can relax a little.

The Doomsday Argument has a very dramatic name.  Even it’s sometimes alternate name, the Carter catastrophe (after its first proponent), is dramatically tragic.  However, this tragedy is falsely earned.

The short version is that, statistically speaking, there is a likely end to our species around 1.2 trillion humans born (you and I are about the 100 billionth humans born).  This is of course some distance off into the future, but it is an end nonetheless.

It is easy to see why this would seem like a tragedy to the namers and contemplaters of this argument:  The end of the human species!

There are some pessimistic, even cynical, folks who would cheer this tragic end.  Sad little monkeys.

But fear not intrepid reader, this is not necessarily the tragic end it at first glance appears.

Evolution.  Marvelous machinations.  If the end of homo sapiens falls somewhere in the next 1.1 trillion members, we can also imagine that homo exim will arise during that period.  Nothing lives forever, but so many things do create viable offspring.

If any of this turns out to be true, then the Argument is correct in predicting the end of our species, but it is laughably wrong in its assessment of that outcome.  Let’s just hope we evolve into something more interesting than Morlocks.


Trolley Dilemma Refined

I once had an on-line conversation concerning the Trolley Problem where my interlocutor made an attempt to leap through the horns of the dilemma.  His stance was simply that doing nothing, not getting involved, was the most moral position because he could wash his hands of any deaths which resulted.  Let us leave aside the moral problem of refusing to get involved (I’m looking at you, eye-witnesses who won’t talk to the police) and test a slightly different version of the problem.

I present for you a version of the Trolley Problem with narrowed horns.

You are walking along the sidewalk when a distinct ka-chunk sounds and you are stopped in your tracks as a monitor comes to life to reveal the following situation.

You have actuated a plate in the sidewalk which has aimed an approaching train at a group of, say, five persons, who will all be killed if the train reaches them.  If you step off of the plate on which you are now standing you divert the train back to the former track where it will in fact kill one person.

What is your decision?

This modified version of the problem can be further modified in all the usual ways the former Trolley Problem has been modified (number of persons, status of persons, &c) for testing further moral nuance.  I trust though that this version will eliminate at least one avenue of attempted escape for those who would rather not contemplate the epically tragic and thus flee between the horns of this dilemma.


Fair in Height the Cells See Us

Living in the US means, from time to time, rejecting things French.  This includes but is not limited to French fries, French dressing, and the decimal system of weights and measures.  Damn, those French are busy beavers.

Since we tend to remain obtuse in matters Celsius, it can be tricky to understand — without resorting to a Web tool for translation — what the current temperature as measured in the C entails.

Let this simple lesson provide a useful framework.

Famously, water freezes at zero Celsius and water boils at one hundred Celsius.  (This is for sea level at any rate, but your elevation changes the numbers for both systems so let’s ignore that for this discussion.)  These two C values are not all that useful in a day-to-day sense.

Don’t get me wrong, if you remember zero is freezing it’s easy to understand the difference between 5 ° and -5 ° and what the roads are likely to be like.  Sure, that’s useful.  But it really ends there.  Ok, yeah, zero is thirty-two.  Yay!

But how many even remember that water boils at 212 °?  It doesn’t often come up in casual conversation and it’s never come up in the weather report.

So, to the lesson.

Remember these two numbers:  twenty and thirty.

That’s it.  If you can remember those two numbers Celsius (centigrade) will suddenly make enough sense in any context as to be useful in a day-to-day sense.

Let me explain.  You’ll see the simplicity.

Twenty is sixty-eight and thirty is eighty-five.  That is the full range of human comfort, that ten degree span.

20 ° C = 68 ° F

30 ° C = 85 ° F

Now you see the structure of what matters.  If it’s 20 ° and dropping (or lower) you know you’ll need to bundle yourself appropriately.  If it’s 30 ° and rising (or higher) you know you’ll need to keep to the shade and carry iced drinks from shaded spot to shaded spot.

That’s it.  That’s the entire lesson.  From twenty to thirty is where human comfort lives.  Now you know.