Friday, February 5, 2021

When outcomes do not conform to our mental map


Penicillin was discovered when Alexander Flemming had an unexpected result between James Bond books. A Petri dish contaminated with mold yielded unexpected results.

I have a friend who is a Progressive.

It is not what you think. I do it so you don't have to.

We worked together in the mid 1990s. He had some difficult luck on the job where his company was gobbled up by other companies. 

Throw in some health issues and an investment decision that, in retrospect, was sub-optimal and I can understand why he is unhappy with traditional values and thinking and wants to "fix" it.

Additionally, his wife is an attorney who works for a non-profit supplying legal services to people with no income or assets.

He listens to NPR.

Frankly, he is much more accomplished at "arguing" than I am. He argues for enjoyment.

He pummels me with articles about Black Lives Matter as if I will be convinced that it is not a scam.

The value of the unexpected

This week I have him off-balance.

I asked what I thought was a simple question: "Based on your buying into BLM's agenda, what demographic (age, race and gender) is most likely to die during an interaction with the justice system?"

He was incapable of answering the question.

He refused to commit regarding race...and he is 100% behind BLM. He refused to venture a guess regarding gender. He refused to speculate about age.

So what value does a theory or "movement" have when it offers no predictive capability?

I spotted him race and gender. It is Black/African-American and male.

He is still unable to even GUESS at the age group.

Why it might be important

Let me give a couple of examples.

Example One:

Suppose you have been given the task to program the welding equipment to make a brake-pedal bracket.

You review the material specifications and see that 1.0mm thick, ungalvanized steel has beens specified and that the weld must join two sheets together. You look at the parts and mic them and they are indeed bare steel and 0.98mm thick.

the only weld cap that the plant stocks are MPB15Z CMW weld caps.

You consult your red weld-book and it informs you that the process box for that combination is between 7000-and-13,000 amps, with times between 100ms and 240ms and tip forces between 4000N and 8000N.

While the illustration in the book shows a box experience taught you that you cannot weld at minimum Amps, minimum time and maximum tip force. You choose to split the up-rights with 10,000 Amps, 170ms and 6000N tip-force.

You fire the first test-shot and...No weld. No sparks. No discoloration of the metal due to heat.*

My BLM supporting friend would have claimed the machine was tuned in and make a dash-for-the-door as he encountered data that contradicted his expectations.

The fact that the brake pedal would not function is less important to him than the fact that he is still a member-in-good-standing of the cool-kid club.

Example Two:

Lysenko was the #1 Agricultural scientist in the Soviet Union. He postulated that yields would continue to increase in a straight line if as the number of seeds per acre increased. His reasoning was that Marxist-Leninist theory was that all competition is between different classes. Therefore, under M-L theory it was impossible for one wheat plant to compete with another wheat plant.

Researchers who contradicted Lysenko received all expenses paid sabbaticals in Siberia.

For the better part of a decade exorbitant amounts of wheat was planted in fields. Wheat that starving Soviet citizens could have eaten. And that very high planting rate? Yeah, it decreased yields.

Truth-and-Justice or Treasure-and-Power

I have a high opinion of somebody when they confront examples where their underlying assumptions are challenged. They are results oriented and committed to improving their processes.

The people who flee from situations where their mental maps have negative predictive ability are not seeking truth and justice regardless of what they say. There are other goals (like retaining membership in the cool-kid-club).

*Because Ed would want to know. The electrician had run the positive and negative jumpers to the same arm of the weld gun. The current went out and came right back without passing from one electrode, through the metal stack and back via the electrode on the opposite side of the stack.

Stuff happens.


  1. A fine example of what David Mamet calls "pretending not to notice"

  2. Just guessin' here, but what are the odds that Dems start investigating the petroleum industry again for "collusion" when gas prices start skyrocketing this summer.
    Know a guy that owns a excavating company and for future job estimates he's already including a price of $6/gal for fuel.


  4. That's hilarious. Thanks. I was wondering.


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