Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bright New Horizons

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (December 24 2010)

As Gary pointed out - that I had pointed out - in the previous post, "being a superpower collapse predictor is not a good career choice". Since then, I have been tossing about in search of better career choice for myself. In this time of high unemployment it is important to think out of the box and look for opportunities to create a new market niche, preferably in a high-wage segment of the economy such as finance, medicine or law.

For a very short while I entertained the notion of establishing a new field of dentistry. Everybody knows of endodontics, periodontics, orthodontics and so forth. I am not a dentist; nevertheless, I thought that I might add one more: scrimshawdontics. I would serve people who desire to have a schooner under full sail scratched into the enamel of one of their upper canines, a likeness of Herman Melville into the other, and, across their upper incisors, a majestic scene of a harpoon boat chasing after a great big whale across storm-tossed seas, men straining at the oars, and, in the bow, a prominent peg-legged figure wielding a harpoon! But I was forced to discard this idea as soon as I realized just how few people would want to spend countless hours in a dentist's chair with their mouth open while I scratch away at their teeth with an etching needle.

And so I have tried to think of another plan, and decided to borrow a page out of Matt Savinar's book. After running a rather popular "doomer" site for some years (the term "doomer" is self-applied in Matt's case; he even referred to himself as a "Juris Doctor of Doom") Matt decided switch gears and to devote himself entirely to astrology. But the field of astrology seems far too general to me; I want to specialize further, and combine astrology with another discipline, preferably in a high-wage segment of the economy. I also want to use my technical and scientific education and put astrology on a more sound scientific footing by informing it with certain key insights from fields such as astrophysics and information theory. And so here is my new profession: astroeconomist. I will join the ranks of those who profitably combine astrology and economics.

Astrology concerns itself with the relative positions of planets within our solar system and their mysterious effect on the course of human events. But let me ask: Why do planets in this solar system exert greater influence on the course of human events than the planets that orbit all other countless stars within the billions of galaxies that populate the universe? Why is proximity of stellar bodies to us a key factor? This would plausibly be the case if the influence of planetary alignment were known to act through some known physical mechanism whose effect were attenuated by distance, such as the spread of facts of some sort, of the general form "A causes B through mechanism X". But being unable to attest to the existence of any such X, we are forced to concede that the statement "A causes B" is not a piece of information but, in a strict epistemological sense, the absence of a fact - a statement of ignorance, of the general form "It is not known that A causes B". Now, while information requires time and energy to propagate through space, and degrades in quality long before that energy becomes diffuse enough to be detectable as single photons, as it does in the vastness of interstellar space, ignorance is not bound by any physical constraints and is in fact instantaneous at all points in the universe. Therefore, we could justifiably assume that it is not just the nearby planets that guide our destinies but all planets in all solar systems in all galaxies, in equal measure.

You are probably used to thinking that the universe is finite; very large, but not infinitely large. However, it may well be the case that the universe is infinitely large, extending infinitely in all directions in both time and space. The leap from very, very big to infinite may seem like a technicality, but it is really a quantum leap, because infinite things have some dramatically different properties from finite ones. For instance, the national debt is very large, but it is not infinite; if it were, the interest on it, for any non-zero rate of interest, would be infinite as well and national default would be instantaneous. Aside from their insidious bigness, infinite things also tend to be infinitely complex, and contain an infinite amount of information. Take, for instance, the transcendental constant pi (3.14159265...). It is an infinitely long non-repeating sequence of digits. When calculated with infinite precision, converted to binary and treated as digital data pi is guaranteed contain an infinite number of each of the following:

* A high-quality video of you in flagrante delicto with every other person that ever lived

* An infinite number of Wikileaks documents containing irrefutable proof that Senator Joseph Lieberman is a Mossad agent, Obama is from the vicinity of the star Betelgeuse, while Dick Cheney is, in some unfathomable fashion, not from but the Crab Nebula itself

* An infinite number of copies and variants of this very article

More to the point, an infinite universe contains an infinite number of galaxies, stars, and planets, and, it follows, an infinite number of simultaneous planetary alignments. If, as I argue above, all of these alignments act together and concert irrespective of distance and time, then the signal conveyed by astrological data is completely randomness: pure, high-grade noise. It is not just any old ignorance but the purest, highest-grade, most reliably knowledge-free signal imaginable.

And this brings us to astrology's sister discipline, which likewise benefits from purity of ignorance: economics. It is well-known that stocks picked by expert money managers do slightly worse, overall, than stocks picked by monkeys throwing darts. (Good monkey! Here's your bailout!) The reason for this should be obvious: monkeys produce better results because of the superior quality of ignorance that drives their decision-making process. Similarly, economists who struggle with econometric models and statistical data collected by government and industry are sometimes accidentally correct in their predictions, raising expectations and creating false hopes. But if instead economists plugged in the pure nonsense of astrological data averaged across an infinite universe, they could easily achieve a six-sigma rating, being repeatably wrong 99.99966% of the time. And wouldn't that be exciting!?

Oh but wait a minute ...

Come to think of it, perhaps astroeconomics is not a promising career choice either.

Back to square one, then ...

Bill Totten


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