Moron Getting Better

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.

9 thoughts on “Moron Getting Better

  1. And it gets worse, a geneticist would tell you that foxes are necessary for the ecological balance, but I reason that we can do better without the 1%, Nature will do fine without them. 🙂

  2. Hum… I pretty much agree, that getting better it’s a very relative term, things seem to change, but more like they transform, as for example not outright slavery, but awful working conditions, and miserly salaries on some countries, where living its atrocious. Aristocracy for a few kingdoms survive, but mainly considered as a thing of the past, but what about the so much talked 1% who do with the World as they see fit, and act as they own it?

    1. Well, we still have all that 99% to fight them with. The struggle is continuous Like guarding the henhouse from the foxes.

  3. We like to think that great technological progress in recent centuries equates to living in an advanced civilization, but in moral and ethical terms, have we really advanced all that much? The same technology which has allowed most of us to live less hard lives has also given humans the means and determination to kill each other more massively with each passing generation, and when the veneer of civilization and the smoke and mirrors of altruism is stripped from political spin, our political leadership is revealed in all its base ugliness as seen time and again throughout history.

    There is a reason that “Well, nobody’s perfect” — human nature is what it is and always will be. There is always hope that individuals can get their heads on straight and strive to be the best that they can be, but in my opinion, the world as an ethical and moral whole is a pipe dream.

    1. We have progressed a bit. Slavery is now illegal. There’s less starvation. But modern civilization no great prize as you say. The tradition in all cultures used to believe there was a golden age of gods and titans and that history is the story of our fall from grace. The whole progress notion is a new notion/ pipe dream. And with a larger geological perspective, all our dreams and great notions are blips on the screen pipe.

  4. I have a theory about those batting averages. I think there has been major changes in gravity, air resistance and the way molecules cling together. These changes in the laws of physics have impacted on all sports but particularly baseball! (At present this is just a theory. I have not devised any experiments to verify this and might just have to invent a time machine in order to go back and do comparisons – so presently you could say it’s a gut feeling).
    I too am getting better at all manner of things every single – particularly my writing. Now that just goes to demonstrate how bad it was back in its day. Never mind. We can delude ourselves cheerfully.
    As for your music – I find it consistently heartwarming!

    1. Thank you for the compliment. And your explanations of the demise of the .400 hitter pale in comparison with the convoluted hypotheses in the many, fine sports columns and books dedicated to this very real and troubling issue.

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