One More in the Moron series. This one is about getting better.
“What? Again?? Am I crazy? Or is this just more “more on” stuff for morons?”
“Well, which question do you want me to answer first?”
In any case, and that being said, (Dontcha hate the expression “that being said”?) I do believe that in the previous post we firmly established that “getting better” was an admirable goal in whatever you do. Of course, the old philosophical questions quickly pop up like toast from a toaster (hopefully not burnt): How do you define better? How do you define good? And what did Plato mean by that cave allegory anyway ?
All the same, and Plato aside, we all want to improve ourselves. We seek perfection (again, back to Plato) even though we know that perfection or “the ideal” is never really within our grasp. Realization of this basic fact of life was stated by the 20th century philosopher and vaudeville comedian Joe E. Brown who consoles Tony Curtis at the end of Some Like It Hot with “Well, nobody’s perfect”. Of course, Joe E. Brown was no Immanuel Kant, but he wasn’t chopped liver either.
We like to think we’re getting better. I’ve been playing music, as you may know, and I am encouraged by the progress that I feel I’m making.
But just earlier, I listened to my last post of Banks of the Ohio. “Yikes!,” I said. And I decided I’d replace it. I started to look back at some of my earlier WordPress recordings of the song – of which there were a goodly number. Maybank and I have been doing this folk song weekly for several years and, as I discussed in the first getter better post, we are encouraged, and feel that we are “getting better”. Well, when I listened to songs, most of the recordings weren’t very impressive. One of the better ones was this one from six years ago.
Coincidentally, I’m reading Stephen Jay Gould’s Full House, in which he boldly posits that our tendency to detect trends (including the trend toward progress and “getting better”) is something of a human failing – in addition to an error in statistical analysis.
Not just gambler fallacy and plain old bias, but also the error in mistaking changes in variance for real change. Gould, as a highly-celebrated paleontogist, is concerned with understanding the dynamics of evolution, extrapolating from fossil evidence the processes of speciation, describing the history of life. Quite an admirable venture, no? However, above and beyond these inquiries into the processes of life itself, Gould is primarily concerned in this book with resolution of that greatest of all baseball questions: Why doesnt anyone hit .400 anymore? Why hasn’t anyone done it since Ted Williams in 1940? That’s what attracted me to the book I must confess.
Gould makes the point that the annual aggregate batting averages have held steady at around .260 for over a century. It’s just the variation, the tails of the bell-shaped curve, that have decreased. Similarly, when we look at the evolutionary trend toward complexity and progress over the ages (culminating, of course in homo sapiens) we see that our high complexity is also just an outlier on the bell shaped curve – which remains dominated by simple organisms. Hurray for the bacteria!
Gould’s scientific, statistical approach is like a heavy rain on our Getting Better parade. Never mind. March on. Keep playin that Country Music.