Science is a strange kind of reality worship. We want to know what really is, out there in the physical world, independent of the vagaries of our internal experience. We try to find what’s true for everyone, all the time. It’s easy for me to forget that there are some contexts in which what is actually happening, in a measurable sense, is not what matters most. Sometimes, it hardly seems to matter at all. Corporate PR hacks, religious proselytizers and other propagandists understand this intuitively. If you tell people a story they want to believe, often they will go ahead and believe it, regardless of any countervailing evidence. They will thank Big Brother for increasing the chocolate ration from 30 grams to 20 grams per week. But this kind of disconnection of external from internal reality isn’t always sinister. Sometimes it isn’t even a disconnection so much as it is an orthogonality. Disconnection suggests that the two were once connected, or are intended to be one, but our internal experience is just not the same thing as external reality. They are related, but separated, by warm vitreous pools of light and hairy waveguides. There is some part of us which is intrinsic, or such a distant and distorted echo of the outside world as to be unrecognizable.
Charter Communications, our local co-axial monopoly and recent bankruptee, sent a technician out to our house today, to hook up our new net connection. As is almost always the case, the tech was friendly, helpful and generally knowledgeable, in stark contrast to just about anybody you can ever get on the phone if you call the company. The customer service people are like robots. Sometimes, like robots with buggy firmware. They are, quite literally, running a program written by someone at Charter, codified in a choose-your-own-adventure style script booklet or web application. They seem to have no intrinsic knowledge of the business they work for, or the systems they are meant to support. Honestly, I wish Charter (and other such companies) would just put these resources on the web directly, so I can page through them on my own without having to be on hold first. They probably won’t do this, at least not in full, because one of the most important jobs this script/program does is to retain as much of their customer’s money as possible, whether or not they’re really supposed to have it, and to direct people into more lucrative service contracts, aggressively if need be.
Today I joined the erstwhile Masters of the Universe, and entered the red. My investments are now worth fewer dollars than I put into them. Am I freaking out? No. Not yet anyway. Another 25% down and we’ll see. I thank Bill Bernstein, Jack Bogle, and Burton Malkiel for this calm. Am I even surprised? No, and the thanks for that has to go to neo-Popperian Nicholas Nassim Taleb.