Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Our need for experts

Our world is so complicated but I think often it's easy to think you kind of have the gist of how something works, but as I type I'm looking at my laptop screen aware that I'm not quite clear on those liquid crystal things which are showing me the words as I type. Sure I could read up on them, again, but do I need to do that really? No. They work just fine whether I understand why or not.

And I have a good bit of medical knowledge, and even worked for years as a technician in a large medical facility, but yeah, if I have a medical problem, I go to a doctor and look for an expert assessment.

Experts are critical for us all, including experts themselves, who will tend to specialize in a particular area in order to know as much as they do.

Thankfully that expertise works incredibly well, or our modern world could not function.

Yet I've found myself pondering areas where I know expertise exists, looking for simple principles, and worked out some things for myself which works for me. I'm looking for functional tools in order to do things. But if I'm serious about it, I need to figure out why these are not part of established expertise.

My first guess has to do with norms. For instance I wrote a post that mentioned controversy with doctors who resisted washing their hands despite one doctor figuring out that such behavior could cut down on death for women after giving birth. But those high death rates which would be unacceptable today were simply the norm at the time.

So it occurs to me that experts may have problems in areas where established norms are challenged by some knowledge, and will tend to resist while sticking with norms, which makes sense! If I see, for instance, a cow float by, will suspect there are wires or something going on to explain something which is well outside of norms I am certain are true.

In economics, then I think we can assert that there are established norms for a lack of predictability consistent with times in human history when vast amounts of data was difficult to collect and very difficult to process, but today advanced electronic systems can process huge amounts of data from all over the world that is quickly collected.

Shifting from the norm may have escaped economists for the moment, while a more informed public is more aware of their failures in actually explaining what is going on in economies or helping when things go badly like in the Great Recession.

With limited information and processing ability, overly complex economic theories about money and economies might have seemed better than nothing. And modern economics may be weighted down with huge amounts of useless baggage in the form of ideas that could not be adequately tested until our time with our modern computer systems.

Like, how would you test my simple ideas that money is just an abstraction for a favor in the past? It may seem like a simple idea, but I make hypotheses about global economies with it, relying on data that I read from people who are connected to experts who are pulling in and processing vast amounts of information.

Actually I've seen a lot of areas where the real power of modern computers seems to be ignored by experts relying on norms established before them. And think it is the single biggest cause of expert failure across our planet. Computers are simply underappreciated as tools, or shoe-horned into wrong roles to sustain norms in thinking established before they gave the ability in many more areas to determine how the real world actually works.

The other problem I think with expertise can be tradition outside of norms, and the weight of complex social structures, like religion, which can weigh in against useful ideas.

For instance, with science I focus on prediction. But for many prediction is associated with religion, as a province of God, or with the supernatural, as a charlatan area, and science is seen as against such things.

That social feel that science is antagonistic to religion and especially charlatanism, could push people to reject the word "prediction" when it comes to science even though it leads to a very natural and simple definition for science which is useful in determining when it is being done.

And that covers enough for me to have a bit of framework to try and understand why I've found myself pondering such broad areas as money and science, and also why I can have some confidence in my own musings.

After all, we have no choice but to depend on people who have done the work to deeply understand things, especially in our very complex world. But we should get worried if we find areas where what they say just fails, and fails, and fails, and fails.

Seems to me that computers have pushed things far more greatly than many experts are yet willing to accept, and that vast areas of human understanding can be reworked where for the first time we have tools which allow us to keep up with so much more.

They simply have to be fully used, and useless norms must be dropped as new ones emerge.

Like with pregnancy, few women today would tolerate doctors not washing their hands, and few societies would accept the death rates during and after childbirth which were just the norm for much of human existence.

James Harris
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