Why facts and figures are just facts and figures

There’s a lot to be said for statistical analysis. Aside from the obvious, “There are three kinds of lies,” statistics help interpret the real world into manageable bits that our brains can digest. Because, if all we took in was raw data all the time, it would be difficult to make sense of anything.

Once information [from sensory organs] is processed to a degree, an attention filter decides how important the signal is and which cognitive processes it should be made available to. For example, although your brain processes every blade of grass when you look down at your shoes, a healthy attention filter prevents you from noticing them individually. In contrast, you might pick out your name, even when spoken in a noisy room. There are many stages of processing, and the results of processing are modulated by attention repeatedly.

Teach-nology

Statistics works much the same way that our brains filter out “noise”. By collecting data points from related information, we can visualize or understand more complicated systems of data that may otherwise be beyond our grasp.

When we look at a positive trend in the stock market followed by a precipitous decline of share values it can look like the world is coming to an end. But if we retrace the historical data points of the market we recognize its cyclical nature and understand that, at some point, the decline will cease and the market will rise again.

Mark Twain was attributed with the quote as saying, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”

So I guess what I’m saying is while we may not have the specific facts of a situation to rely on, we can believe that there is a historical context with which we can view it. Knowing that the Spanish Influenza killed approximately 50 million people between 1918-1919 isn’t as important as recognizing that these kinds of pandemics happen, such as in 1957, 1968, and 2009. Investigating what worked and what didn’t can help us today.

And these cycles occur across all industries, geopolitical affairs, and economies. It’s just a matter of finding an applicable context to compare then to now.

 

 

Thinking fuzzy

Back in 2013, Fast Company featured an article on 10 things about the brain. Item number one is: “Your brain does creative work better when you’re tired.”

The article quotes a study published in Scientific American, stating “Insight problems involve thinking outside the box. This is where susceptibility to “distraction” can be of benefit. At off-peak times we are less focused, and may consider a broader range of information. This wider scope gives us access to more alternatives and diverse interpretations, thus fostering innovation and insight.”

So what does that mean practically? When you need to come up with clever and innovative ideas, it’s better to do it from the side rather than straight on. Allow yourself to be distracted, or tired, or not even think about the problem at hand. Allow the unconscious mind some time to come up with the solution or find a breakthrough.

The night is dark

Woke up, after many troubled minutes of trying to get to sleep, with only 90 or so minutes of rest. Again, tried sleeping but couldn’t shut down the brain. It sort of rip-rocketed on overload tonight. There’s a familiar feeling in my stomach, one that harkens back to a night spent on my couch in 2004. Oh, the things you remember.

So, after trying to put myself back to sleep for near an hour, I knew it was impossible. I published my website, started writing, and read a little of Steven Pressfield’s War of Art. This month I finish this book, and check it off my reading list.

Why no sleep? Why is the brain disquieted on this dark night? Because the past is real and it isn’t. Though the Buddha teaches that only the present moment exists, the past has a living representation in our mind. When we recall a feeling, be it hurt or love, it isn’t anything external to our self that is causing that feeling. Only our mind.

And control of the mind is one (of the many) aspects of Buddhism I’ve not mastered.

Thus I decided to take the advice of Jim Collins, who said, “And what I’ve learned is I guess two or three things specifically about the sleep process for me. This is just personal. One, the 20-minute rule. If you wake up in the middle of the night and you check the time — first of all, it’s also by the way fun to see if you can guess what time it is, right? But then check the time. And then if you’re not back to sleep in 20 minutes, get up. Go back to the simple work.”