Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Self Calibration

When you're trying to contribute to a land of conscience, it's important to listen to your own conscience more frequently. Several hours after writing my last post (“Working Stiff”) it's clear that I was really full of myself, virtually gloating that I have a new job (if that's what you can call a contract gig these days) and bragging that I'm giving away my research so those “greedy bastards” can't profit from it. While everything I said was true, my conscience is more awake now, and I'm not so proud of where it was coming from, especially when I review the backstory of how I reacted when I got the news about the job.

The first thing I did was celebrate, which is one of my few traditions, by taking my wife out to dinner. Since being out of work, we've cut back on a lot relative to how we lived when we were both working full time jobs; we “walked the walk” of limiting consumption out of necessity, like too many other members of the vanishing middle class in the U.S. Knowing you have more money – or at least the promise of it – is like a drug, and I'm no less an addict than anyone else, binging on junk food, entertainment, and “replacement” equipment when it became possible again. While I was castigating politicians and business leaders for leading us all toward a cliff, in my own way and at a much smaller scale I was shuffling along in the same direction with rationalizations not dissimilar to theirs.

I've been thinking a lot about streamlines lately. The graphs I created on my Web site depicting the happiness and perceived environments of different people in the world's population bear a remarkable resemblance to those mathematical representations of the movement of water and air molecules that I studied as a physics student. It's not too far a stretch to expect that such an analysis might ultimately yield a similar field theory for the behavior of humans, which could have huge applications in strategic decision-making across all scales of life. Considering that prospect, I felt a burst of optimism that I haven't experienced in a long time. The “holy grail” of my research – a simple set of tools for anticipating the effects of everyday decisions on humanity's long-term future, the basis of my value system – appeared to be in reach, and it might be usable in time to avoid the global disaster that the use of our current set of tools is propelling us toward.

Not too surprisingly in retrospect, my head got bigger. On top of that, the career profile I completed at the local workforce center confirmed that I was more intellectual than practical, so I must be doing the right thing. I just needed to figure out how to get paid for it. That's where I was coming from last night.

The reader needs to keep in mind, as I reminded myself today, that I could be totally full of crap. As elaborate as my abstractions and musings have become, they are, at best, hypotheses based on an admittedly limited understanding of the world. I put them out to the world with the hope that others will test them and perhaps find them useful in some way I can't even imagine. I'm simply contributing to a conversation, doing my part to fill in the universal jigsaw puzzle that is human understanding of ourselves and where we live, so we can improve the chances of all living better and longer lives.

Sharing my personal experience is the newest part of that contribution. As a test engineer, one of my first steps in verifying the results of a measurement was to check the calibration of the equipment and procedures used to generate it. These reflections are, in large part, an effort to provide readers with information about my personal biases, so they can check my “calibration” and use it to filter the “raw data” I'm generating. Using that analogy, the review of the past using one's conscience is a form of “self-calibration,” which may be one of its most critical roles as the mind's way of viewing itself with something approaching objectivity.

1 comment:

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