104 ways you’re wrong

August 5, 2010

Here’s a fun catalog of some of the many ways our cognitive processes trip us up. I’ve committed at least 37 of them today alone. How about you?

Cognitive Biases – A Visual Study Guide


Like most people, I’ve recently developed an intense interest in the workings of the interconnected systems known as the global economy. One thing I’ve learned about it: it’s really big. And as this 2008 New Yorker interview with Ben Bernanke makes clear, no one, not even the chair of the Fed, exactly knows how it works. Bernanke has as much information as anyone, possibly more, and even so has to fall back on best guesses. His models are incomplete.

Wired has a fascinating though completely depressing article describing the current global economic crisis in terms of bad modeling. Is a mathematical formula to blame for the current collapse? That’s the article’s premise, and it makes a good case. Read the rest of this entry »

Our CTO gave a presentation about modeling last week: what it is and why we do it. We use the word “model” a lot at my work. We use it to refer to ontologies, code that applies logic or mathematical analysis to data, and the concepts structuring an application. Little wonder that “model” starts to feel vaguely defined, even for people who build modeling software.

Roy’s talk described his personal history of modeling, ranging from building model airplanes to modeling shear and moment in architectural structures, to computer graphics, to the semantic modeling we do at Thetus. Roy gets around. Or, as he puts it, he’s been lucky enough in his life to show up at places where interesting things are happening.

His argument, and mine, is that modeling is a basic conceptual process we use to structure and make sense of the world around us. Models let us abstract, predict, and filter out the mass of information that surrounds us. And not just digital information: our analog, real-world environment sends us a continuous stream of information to our senses to process. This is the original too much information problem, and we couldn’t handle it without models. Read the rest of this entry »