Notes and Thoughts

An experiment to spark conversation


Superstitious Statistics and Productivity

I was writing this post on productivity and superstition—"Most cargo cult coaches are superstitiousMost cargo cult coaches are superstitious
Cargo cult coaches include productivity gurus, lifestyle coaches, self-help gurus, retired VCs, management degree folks etc. Not saying they are wrong or are intentionally misleading, for all I know they themselves could be a victim of this mindset. I am specifically talking about people who ask you to look at what successful people do or what the fancy analytical looking ideas are and copy/paste for a better life.

Some of it might be that these people know that most people are poor at self-...
"—couple weeks ago, which is when I felt if you can attribute morning routines of successful authors and scientist to their success, why not term superstition as statistical. And by that logic astrology should also be statistical and so should be anything that is seen as hokum by the scientism-based society, that is, a society that promotes science and its kindred branches as the only means of objective truth, thus implying that it is through science that the society must determine its normative and epistemic values.

For what it's worth, I am an Engineer myself, so the odds of me reconciling with the flaws of astrology and other similar superstitious beliefs are not very high. But the route I am trying to take here with this post is towards questioning the source of this hypocrisy. Why? Why are these "Productivity Gurus" running scot-free when the entire society is hell-bent on ostracizing the once highly regarded field of astrology. Is it because we have a consensus on what constitutes superstition?

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a computer scientist friend of mine, who was helping me with some efficiency tips-n-tricks that you can employ to get your code run faster. If you think about it, efficiency is pretty much the resource-world(non-human) equivalent of productivity, isn't it?

If no, then there is nothing to talk about here, but if you said yes, then do you optimize your code specific to an architecture, or just copy what you did with an x86-based system over to an arm-based system?

My point here is just because Richard Feynman was a quirky guy with some eccentric habits, emulating him or his mannerism won't make you the next Feynman. If I had to be honest, it might work in ways contra to your nature. I seriously do not know what to attribute this to, whether globalization and the proliferation of the internet, or the intrinsically slothful nature of humans, or maybe it is a combination of both these and some more that we can't think of. But it is clearly a culture shift that is eating up a lot of our bandwidth in the name of optimizing the server.

Some time ago, I wrote a post on this dilemma titled "How do I know if it is true?How do I know if it is true?
Every morning you open the science column of a newspaper, you have a new research finding – I don’t remember clearly if it was last week that I saw an article on a prestigious newspaper citing some research conducted in a university in the USA proving the ill-effects of certain dietary restrictions and today morning to my surprise, the same newspaper cites another research conducted in a university in France stating such restrictions can reduce cholesterol levels by more than 40%. As for diet...
", and I don't think things have changed much in the meantime. Some of these studies that claim statistical confidence do not fare well when you throw a basic question at them? Like when this article on dopamine's role in addiction questioned the status quo of throwing around dopamine for everything that is addictive. Or when a dietary study yesterday is refuted by some other study tomorrow. Is this a proof of the inability of statistics to be a viable medium of research when working in larger unbounded situations, or is it the sloppiness of our research methodologies? If it is statistics, then again we do not have anything more to talk about, but if it isn't then what gives a to-do list framework concocted by an unemployed joe more credibility than a carefully crafted research process(which is still considered not reliable enough to be adopted without a doubt)?.

This is not meant as a derogatory remark at anyone. All I am saying is if you feel the compelling urge to share your correlation on Euclid's handwriting and his ability to be prolific, at least consider the possibility that you could be wrong. And before you share your profound discovery with the rest of us, realize the cost and the benefit of preoccupying people with the trivialities of morning routines, reading habits, and handwriting over the much important thing i.e., the work that you are trying to excel at by optimizing through the aforementioned means.

Before leaving I just wanted to say that I am not advocating for one or the other. I believe that if you need some inspiration to jumpstart the activity that you've been procrastinating with, be my guest. Even Tyler Cowen says Talismans are an inevitable part of our life. They keep us going, but if you are going to acknowledge their necessity in life, also realize that they come with a tradeoff that can be used to question your hypocrisy w.r.t other perceived unscientific ideas.