Check my presentation on an empirical model of firm entry with endogenous product-type choices. (here)
A normal reaction to the presentation’s topic should be “whaat? why would anyone want to do this stuff for a living?”. It is a great question, I don’t have an answer to it. It is indeed viciously technical and deadly boring.
But I do have something really cool to share. Back home I was driving my 15-year-old niece to a museum and failed to find a humanly understandable combination of words to explain what science is. So now you check this combination of words, I think it is a really cool fit….
A human eye is able to capture a quite limited portion of light wave spectrum (Visible spectrum). We are unable to travel in time or reach most of the planets in the galaxy. Yet there is no need to be able to physically see the whole light wave spectrum to actually “see” it. And you do not need to be able to travel in time to “see” the past, just like you do not need to be able to travel to another planet to “see” that planet. Here is a cool angel on it. An information integration theory of consciousness, an exceptionally creative idea that, if appreciated properly, will blow your mind.
Human bodies have an enormous amount of systems like no other living being. We feel temperature, objects, we see and hear, feel emotions like fear, shame, happiness etc.. Our brain integrates all of this information from all the systems into a sense of reality. Put differently the reality as seen by a person is but an aggregated sensations from a set of systems, which continuously register information. Think about a feeling of pain. Pain is your body’s language. If your body needs attention from you, it sends a signal. However, the signal has only one dimension, it is kind of like a baby cry. Baby can only change the intensity of a cry but it is your job to give to this cry an interpretation. Your brain does the same. (To be more precise you do it yourself but unconsciously, it is one of that automatic processe, kinda like intuition) A conscience, or a capacity to separate yourself from other things, is just another trick of your brain. Instead of giving you a row information from systems that systematically aggregate information it gives you interpretation. Instead of overwhelming you with tonnes of sensations brain gives you a meaning of them. The reality is a brain’s interpretation of the aggregation of information from a number of systems that supply raw data.
Holy bologna!! But is it not what science is? Yes, indeed. Science is nothing but a natural extension of a process that your body does almost automatically. Aggregating information from systems that continuously register information and assign meaning to them (there is also this thesis that mathematics is nothing but common sense, a quite dense at times. I’ll see if I can make this post compact and readable enough if I do I’ll give you that idea as well)
It is also interesting to look at people’s temperaments. The system integrator (our brain, our consciousness) assigns different weights to different system’s from which it gets information. That’s why sometimes we observe people who are always scared or calm, sympathetic or cold. Of course, there are other things that define character, or predilection to specific kinds of decisions, such as upbringing and genetics, yet the system integrator has the last word.
Ok. Your brain has the capacity to integrate information from systems that systematically aggregate information and assign meaning, one of a product of this process is a conscience or a sense of reality. But the systems do not have to physiological, they do not necessarily have to be attached to your brain through common nerve system. It just has to be something that contains information. Let’s go back to the very beginning of this post. Yes indeed people see a quite narrow spectrum of the lightwave, however, there are devices which can capture those waves. Cameras, for example, continuously aggregate information. It would never have been done if we limited ourselves to physiological systems. However, for your brain information which is captured by the camera will have the same value as the information captured by your eyes. The only difference is that your brain will have to readjust itself to be able to aggregate information from it. And that is why in the beginning when you look at some figure which contains information you will be confused but with time you have to realign the integration process. In other words, you have to be able to incorporate this new information and combine it with information from other systems. When you do mathematics it’s very important at some point to stop and think what is the meaning of the equations that you have. You have to integrate this information with other information that your brain has and assign meaning to it. That is, in fact, a process of co-integration of information from different sources. And it is very costly for your brain to do, that is why it is so annoying. Another example from the beginning is our incapacity to travel across time. Well, the physical world, unfortunately, has this dimension which only goes one way and the speed of this going can not normally be changed. But all of us has some videotapes from the past. Imagine that there is a probe that is able to capture some information from the past and keep it (picture, videotape, documentary movies). Some system even allows us to travel through time and for our brain this is identical to if we were to travel in past ourselves. You just have to put in some effort to integrate the information from new systems. People who study history or work on documentary movies emerge themselves with systems that continuously register information from the past and their brain is trained well enough to easily incorporate this knowledge and assign a meaning to it. Another example is that to get the information about faraway planets one does not have to physically travel there, astronomical spectroscopy allows to systematically capture the information about the planets and then you can realign this knowledge so that your brain would incorporate and integrate into a perception of reality just like it would do from your eyes. And the final example is a statistical work. So if you have some data sets you can do some statistics to make some conclusions. But most often to do some statistical work a person has to merge two data sets. If those two different data sets are nothing but systems that continuously capture the information about some object. Put differently there are two independent systems that continuously register information about some object (it is other people that put down a number, in theory instead of a number they could have used words, but then we are back to crying baby case, the signal is not rich enough). They look at the same place and what people can do the camp combine this knowledge to assign some meaning to eat.
The point is our brain is capable to aggregate information from many many systems that supply information than physiological limits dictate.
In some sense, our brain is a prisoner of our physiological systems. So one way to say is science is setting your brain free. Seeing and thinking are the same thing when your eyes are closed. Put different things that we physically see here or feel is just a little fraction of what we potentially can see if we allow our brain to aggregate information and assign meanings from much wider systems that continuously register information. The sense of reality, conscience, is a computational shortcut. Because otherwise your brain would be overwhelmed with information.
In fact, any meaning is a computational shortcut that only your brain requires. The objective reality exists as an enormous mostly meaningless set of data. Life exists only because it can, asking for the meaning of life is the most idiotic question of all. Meaning itself is senseless it is nothing but a trick of your brain to aggregate information easier (It sounds really weird… hm… I probably should wrap up with this one, better do another post).
P.S. To survive people developed a capacity to form groups very quickly (morality) and to make decisions in uncertainty very quickly. A sense of reality, or consciousness, is sort of a “sufficient statistics”. For the decision at hand (to survive) we can form one parameter, a meaning, that would contain all useful information from the data that surround us. It economized on computational requirements and minimizes the risk of a mistake (sometimes a cost of a mistake is your life)