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Just Right

March 22, 2011

Señor Jorge Luis Borges, light has always been, and I think will always be, a metaphor for wisdom (or knowledge or information or data).  From that perspective, the observation that everyone (current and historical) spends about the same proportion on lighting can be related to your interest area of information overload.  Just like there is a ‘right’ amount of light based on the technologies and resources available to a person, maybe there’s a ‘right’ amount of information as well, and maybe overload is just a temporary transient situation.  We don’t need the example of Funes the Memorious to tell us that infinite memory and infinite information processing is a burden that no one wants.  However, as stated in this article:

“Humans make errors. We make errors of fact and errors of judgment. We have blind spots in our field of vision and gaps in our stream of attention. Sometimes we can’t even answer the simplest questions. Where was I last week at this time? How long have I had this pain in my knee? How much money do I typically spend in a day? These weaknesses put us at a disadvantage. We make decisions with partial information. We are forced to steer by guesswork. We go with our gut.

“That is, some of us do. Others use data.”

This data is coming from all types of sensors and other modern technologies.  You may ask that if there is a human need for a fixed amount of information and we didn’t have all these sensors back in the day, how was the need for information satisfied?  My feeling is that first, the need was satisfied by looking out for tigers, wolves and poisonous mushrooms, and later in the quest for self-consciousness.

“Samkhya marked a new stage in self-consciousness.  People in India were becoming aware of a self that was obscured by the confusion of daily life, hidden in our bodies, fettered by our instincts, and only dimly aware of itself.” (p. 229-230, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong)

“Long before Freud and Jung developed the modern, scientific search for the soul, the yogins of India had already begun to explore and analyze the unconscious realm with unprecedented vigor.  These vrittis and vasanas had to be annihilated, ‘burned up.’  Only then could the self detach itself from the chaos of its psychic life, throw off the toils of nature, and experience the bliss of moksha.  And this herculean feat could be achieved only by sheer mental force.” (p. 232)

Let me finish up this post with an extended quotation from my magazine article about business analytics.  I promised I would elaborate more on the article and I will in due time.

“Baniya merchants of the Mughal Empire, burgher merchants of the Swedish Empire, and chonin merchants of the Tokugawa Shogunate had the same questions on their mind as businesspeople do today. To which townspeople should I sell my wares? Of folks that buy from me, are there any that might stop buying from me? Which groups buy which goods? Which saris should I show Ranna Devi to make as much money as I can? How much timber will people want in the coming weeks and months?

“The world has changed over the centuries with globalization, rapid transportation, instantaneous communication, expansive enterprises, and an explosion of data and signals along with ample computation to process them. In this new age, many continue to answer the aforementioned and other critical business questions in the old-fashioned way, i.e. based on intuition, gut instinct, and personal experience. In our globalized world, however, this is not sufficient anymore and it is essential to replace the businessperson’s gut instinct with science.

“That science is business analytics.”

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