Monday, April 25, 2011

Failing for Freedom

Freedom may cost a little more and in a different way than we generally think. In order to be free our actions have to have meaningful consequences. These consequences have to include at least some possibility of failure. Without the possibility of failure, choices are meaningless and no one can be free.

What do I really mean by freedom in this context? I mean the ability to determine where we end up; I'm talking about outcomes. Freedom is the ability to make choices that you care about.

The best way I can think of to make this clear is an analogy. Pretend you're a contestant on the classic game show "Let's Make a Deal". You've made it to the end of the show and have to choose 1 of 3 doors. If all 3 doors have "zonk" (joke prizes like a toy car instead of a real car) prizes behind them, it won't matter which one you choose. The outcome will always be the same. In this deterministic setting, you can't really say you exercised any meaningful freedom as nothing you could have done would have changed the outcome. The same logic applies if all the doors had a major prize behind them. Once again your actions have no influence on the outcome, therefore, you weren't free.

In order for your actions to matter, in order to be free, there must be a variety of possible outcomes. Once different outcomes are possible , choices you make can have an impact on outcomes and you can reasonably be said to enjoy some degree of freedom.

The unfortunate reality of freedom is that sometimes "zonk" prizes will be chosen.


Mark Heiden said...

So which candidates qualify as zonks? :)

economistatlarge said...

I'll say this, I still want to vote none of the above.

economistatlarge said...

Btw this wasn't supposed to an election post.

Anonymous said...

Over time, I have a greater and greater appreciation of math.

The problem is not the math, it's the models we create and then on top of that, it's how we interpret the results.

I've said this many times, information is everywhere and is accessible one way or the way, data data data - it's all over the place; however, the problems start in the analysis and interpretation. It's great we have many opinions but that too is our weakness; since, at the end of the day, there is really a best answer not many.

Perhaps, it's on that end of the spectrum that we need to improve on and not the latter through new innovations.

Have your read "Competing on Analytics" and/or "Supercrunchers"?

Both great books and just show how math can really help us with decision making with little input from the human who would eventually taint any input and output.


Mark Heiden said...

I couldn't help but think of the election. It just seemed to fit so well!

economistatlarge said...

@RY on point as usual. We have to spend more effort on data. Haven't read either of those, they're now on my list. I'm with you on the idea of best answer, though a tie is possible.