The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, September 06, 2019

The Point of Maximum Entropy

The inimitable Richard Fernandez takes a unique approach when he discusses how the Western Woke, the European elites, the Chinese, and the Russians strive to control the future by demanding that only ideas from the past are viable, and anything else is unacceptable. He writes:
From the point of view of information theory, the future is an alien signal. But unlike the characters in [a science fiction movie who have been contacted by aliens], the Chinese, Russian, European, and American elites are unwilling to start at a point of maximum entropy. Rather, they want to control the future and load the dice by constraining it with their legacy theories. That is because the Woke, EU, Chinese Communist Party, and the Kremlin are convinced they already know the future and the only difficulty is in getting the recalcitrant deplorables to go along.

In succumbing to the control urge, they achieve the opposite. By overspecifying the future, they make true discovery harder. As a result we don't hear the alien; instead what we hear is Bernie Sanders doing his best impression of a spaceman. But it's still a voice from the past. Observers get less information from an experiment when they rig it to prove what they already believe. But the explainers can't help it and rig it they must.
By controlling the message that comes out of academia, the mainstream media, Hollywood and the arts, along with a troubling percentage of "scientists", the left is rigging the experiment "to prove what they already believe."

But what does Fernandez mean by "maximum entropy?" He describes things this way:
True discoveries result from the unanticipated when the apparently random begins to take on an emerging pattern. When things don't make sense at first then gradually do, you are onto something. As a Khan Academy instructor explains it:
If I select a random word from a book ... you will have no clue what I might be ... if, instead I give you a random word from a book and ask you to predict the word that follows it ... you'll notice its likely easier to guess this word. If I give you a sequence of two words and ask you to predict a 3rd word it becomes more predictable still. ... Claude Shannon's measure of entropy ... as you recall, is a measure of surprise. Entropy can be thought of as the number of yes or no questions, or bits, required to guess the next word. As predictability increases, the information entropy decreases.
First, the surprise then the understanding. But not before one receives the first random word. This is known as the principle of maximum entropy. "In ordinary language, the principle of maximum entropy can be said to express a claim of ... maximum ignorance. The selected distribution is ... the one that admits the most ignorance beyond the stated prior data."
When we listen to the current crop of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, it's pretty obvious that (1) the majority have not a clue what entropy is, and (2) their ideas don't even consider the notion that we may just be ignorant about what the future holds. That's why they talk with such certainly about the future and adopt magical thinking that assumes the steady state. Everything will proceed as they imagine, they say, because ... they see the future clearly, even though their ideology and policy recommendations are from the past and have failed repeatedly in the past.

So the elites drone on, asking us to believe. Fernandez thinks otherwise:
Today the political elites are in a crisis resulting from an expected future that didn't happen. The End of History didn't pan out; Russia and China failed to join the liberal democratic club; the EU fell apart. The global world failed to last. But Brexit and the defeat of Hillary did not spur them to listen; instead, it inspired frantic efforts to reimpose absolute control via Chinese 5G, facial recognition, Google surveillance, G7 pacts against hate speech, and the NYT witch hunt against white supremacy.

Is it any wonder they are failing? That depression is rising among youngsters and social tensions are increasing? Not only are they jamming themselves, they are suppressing the small still voice that whispers in the heart of undiscovered genius. As the political elites gnaw at the ends of their stale agendas it is hard to remember that the future is still full of hope, danger, love, opportunity and things yet undreamed of.
I can remember a time when liberals were the ones who were "full of hope, danger, love, opportunity and things yet undreamed of." Now their "progressive" offspring have a vision that is dark — unaccepting of competing ideas, intolerant of other voices, incapable of seeing anything but a dying planet, and uncomfortable with the notion that tens of millions of "deplorables" just might not go along with their clearly authoritarian ideas (e.g., everyone should stop eating meat to save the planet!).

As we look to the future, we are, inherently, at the point of maximum entropy. But since progressives generally don't understand the meaning and the implications of that term, they, like the proverbial dying man, grasp at straws from the past.