more reductionism working

i like reductionism. reductionism works (on a certain level).

from the economist:

Cry havoc! And let slip the maths of war

“Warfare seems to obey mathematical rules. Whether soldiers can make use of that fact remains to be seen….

“[T]he link between the severity and frequency of conflicts follows a smooth curve, known as a power law. One consequence is that extreme events such as the world wars do not appear to be anomalies. They are simply what should be expected to occur occasionally, given the frequency with which conflicts take place….

“In a paper currently under review at Science, however, Neil Johnson of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, and his colleagues hint at what that something useful might be. Dr Johnson’s team is one of several groups who, in previous papers, have shown that Richardson’s power law also applies to attacks by terrorists and insurgents. They and others have broadened Richardson’s scope of inquiry to include the timing of attacks, as well as the severity. This prepared the ground for the new paper, which outlines a method for forecasting the evolution of conflicts.

“Dr Johnson’s proposal rests on a pattern he and his team found in data on insurgent attacks against American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. After the initial attacks in any given province, subsequent fatal incidents become more and more frequent. The intriguing point is that it is possible, using a formula Dr Johnson has derived, to predict the details of this pattern from the interval between the first two attacks….

“Though the fit between the data and the prediction is not perfect (an example is illustrated right), the match is close enough that Dr Johnson thinks he is onto something. Progress curves are a consequence of people adapting to circumstances and learning to do things better. And warfare is just as capable of productivity improvements as any other activity….”

cool!

neat mathematical patterns like this (and this) — patterns that look just like those found in the behaviors of other species — are found when we look at human behaviors ’cause human behavior is just a product of our biological natures, just like ant behavior is a product of their biological natures.

it may seem to each and every one of us like we are acting rationally, or religiously, or whatever, but we’re really just acting biologically:

“Call it the physics of terrorism….

“‘When you start averaging over the differences, you see there are patterns in the way terrorists’ campaigns progress and the frequency and severity of the attacks,’ he says. ‘This gives you hope that terrorism is understandable from a scientific perspective….’

“It is weird when you step back and say, ‘There are thinking, social beings in these organizations, they have families and causes and ideals and so on.’ And I’m thinking about them as being a little bit like particles.

“‘But,’ he says, ‘the patterns speak for themselves.'”

previously: reductionism works

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4 Comments

  1. Me no mathematician, but I think power laws have no predictive power whatsoever, at least concerning the future. They’re good about the past though.

    Reply

  2. Isn’t there a close relation between power laws and the normal distribution? I forget what it is exactly, but something about the relative infrequency of outliers.

    Reply

  3. ““Dr Johnson’s proposal rests on a pattern he and his team found in data on insurgent attacks against American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. After the initial attacks in any given province, subsequent fatal incidents become more and more frequent. The intriguing point is that it is possible, using a formula Dr Johnson has derived, to predict the details of this pattern from the interval between the first two attacks….”

    How does that apply to terrorist attacks against the U.S. since 9/11? Or do you get to count the ones that occurred after we went over there? I’m in a debunkin mood.

    Reply

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