Friday, April 16, 2004

Analogous Reasoning

Brian Micklethwait of wrote an entry that pondered the concerns expressed in an article dealing with genetic engineering to achieve states of "better than health". The title he used: Is there perhaps a connection between the dangers of central planning and the dangers of genetic engineering? invokes a method that I use to a great deal on this blog, so I felt that I had to add my two cents worth.

Anything physical can be modeled with mathematics, and in my belief, so can the larger scale entities that evolve from those physical interactions, such as economies and societies. That being said, it does not mean that the math will be easy. Indeed, we have already cracked most of the easy ones such as the laws of kinetics and electrical circuits. Other problems, where we have the equations, are still intractible because of the need for perfect data to predict long term effects (we have the laws of thermodynamics down cold, but we still can't predict weather much past five days).

The difference between these two types of systems lies in the differential equations that define them. The easy differential equations are linear, the derivitives stand as they are. The hard ones are non-linear, the derivitives are squared, cubed, and even greater degrees of weirdness are imposed upon them. These as of yet unsolvable equations are the domain of chaos theory and what has become a whole new field of experimental mathematics.

Getting back to the Samizdata posting, I believe that there are really only a finite number of systems that are seen, systems that have a common number of derivitives that are raised to powers in the same places. This is sometimes found when the results of two different systems can be found to be driven by the same formulas. In one case (I believe this was referenced by James Gleick in his book Chaos) it was shown by a mathematician that the spasmodic movements of an eye due to a particular condition were similar to the motion of a ball in a semi-circular trough that was suspended as a pendulum. That all of the details of the strength and connectivity of the occular muscles did not exactly go over well with the optometrists at that conference.

It is possible that the equations for the biochemistry of the human body and the political operations of a human society may be of similar forms as well (so perhaps that old metaphor of the body politic isn't so far off). If those equations were to be found, and the necessary variable put into their respective places, then the variables that coincided in the similar places would be of a higher level of analogous. For instance, I sometimes picture stock markets and weather systems as being similar. If this were true, then I would believe that the sum total of money in the stock market would be analogous to the sum total of heat in the atmosphere. Both are the driving force within their systems, and all of the actions derive from them.

I am just now completing a promise to myself and finishing my first read of Popper's The Open Society and It's Enemies Vol. I. I definitely agree with his aversion to social engineering for the sake of acheiving utopia, and I too have a similar aversion to the idea of genetic engineering to acheive "better than health". I am more leery than Popper about "piecemeal engineering" however. One of the analogies I make is to propose an identity of the Butterfly Effect and Law of Unintended Consequences. Not to say that ameloriating deleterious effects (there goes by vocabulary budget for the day) is not wise, I would love to get rid of this pesky color-blindness, but that extreme care should be taken when making such changes. Wisdom won't come without pain, and wisdom is needed to avoid yet more.

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