Loving Ugly, Stupid Models

But simple, beautiful mathematical explanations can make us greedy. While we wish for all explanations of the world around us to be elegant, science often involves “the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact,”

…“there is growing empirical evidence that people use a common source for evaluations of both beauty and truth.” The source he refers to is processing fluency, the state of being able to easily parse and understand a situation. Essentially, the more easily we can get a handle on a situation (because it’s mathematically simple, we’ve seen it many times before, it’s symmetrical, etc.), the more likely it is to seem right.

That’s from this article by Sam Arbesman. I’ll bang my actuarial drum again here: we are trained to use a series of very elegant models of random processes which often involve some clever math but in reality the models only become convincing once you have enough historical data to… well, throw the model away.

There is nothing elegant about social/economic interaction. Go crude and go ugly.

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