Objective Quality

Title’s an oxymoron, of course.

Still, it’d be nice to do better than a subjective, personal good-book-feeling, or an authoritarian canon handed down from on-high. Complicating this is the fact that quality is inherently subjective – but humans aren’t really all that different from each other, compared to two random minds in mind-space. So it’s a bit too early to throw up our hands and say “it’s impossible!”: we should be able to quantify likeability-to-humans-in-general, since humans-in-general are clearly a category with a certain amount of psychological unity.

(On a side note, it’s almost always too early to say something’s impossible.)

The first thought is: well, a book might by coincidence have quality with respect to a single person. But it’s much less likely for it to have quality with respect to a few million, if it’s by pure chance. So popularity works, to a first order approximation.

Honestly, we could stop here; as much as I may personally find it distasteful, clearly there is something that sets Twilight apart from other works, because those other don’t appeal to as many people. But post-modernism aside, there does seem to be a sense in which Shakespearethe Kojiki, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms are all “better” than, say, Twilight. The obvious difference seems to be diversity: Twilight has a very narrow demographic, if a large one, while Shakespeare and the Romance have fans in every walk of life over centuries.

Which really boils down to our original problem of subjectivity: if you average “I-like-this-book”-ness over a bunch of people who are mostly the same, that’s not going to be a good measure of quality-with-respect-to-humanity as a whole.

Which leads us to a result that, honestly, we could’ve seen coming: define “quality” as a function of popularity and diversity. A work has high quality if it appeals to many people in many groups; a work has medium quality if it only appeals to a single class of people, but has high appeal within that demographic; a work is low quality if nobody likes it at all. Which, as we would like for a designed metric, nicely reproduces our intuition: Shakespeare, popular over centuries, is high quality; Harry Potter, popular worldwide but only in the past few decades, is medium-high; Twilight, very popular in a narrow demographic, is medium quality; and Tweet #24234, which nobody actually cares about, is low quality.

(An easy test: the higher the quality, the more likely a random human is to like it. Go take a work of Shakespeare to a culture that remains insular – say, a random tribe in the Congo – and see if they like it, even if they “miss the point” due to cultural differences; compare, say, Twilight. To the first, at least, I can cite Shakespeare in the Bush.)


Twenty One Point One Years

That’s how long the average person spends sleeping across their 70 years of life (averaged worldwide). Wolfram|Alpha result: here.

That’s enough time to become an expert in 18 skills, if you spend 10,000 hours on each, and still have enough time to take two semesters in a college course. You could get a Ph.D. twice over with that much time, and have enough time left over to read 7,000 books, if you could find that many worth reading. Or perhaps to summarize: there’s enough time to play every video game ever made, get a Ph.D. in CS or Game Design, and then write your own game, and still have time left over.

Which is why sleep research started in 1913 – approximately the year when it became hypothetically possible to sit at someone’s bedside taking notes, I’m sure – and the first all-night EEG that discovered REM sleep was delayed 41 years after the first EEG.


Humanity, your rationality continues to amaze.

(Aside from Wolfram|Alpha, sourced from http://www.stanford.edu/~dement/history.html and Wikipedia.)

Conservation of Information: Our Manipulable Overlords

Fun fact: you have approximately as much control over the outcome of an election as do the Founding Fathers.

The next election, that is. Not the first. In any given election, your – that is, the voting populace’s, as a whole – control over the outcome is approximately equal to that of a few dozen two-hundred year old men in a smoky courtroom.

(Well, okay. The populace has about five times as much control. Still not as much as you’d thought, no?)

The original argument can be found here, for those interested in the math. The fundamental argument is this: by conservation of information, something must select one President from 300,000,000 individuals. Given that the voters choose between two candidates at the end (1 bit), plus perhaps another four for each primary (two more bits each, total 5 bits), something else has to determine the other 23-odd bits.

One bit gets set by restrictions on the Presidency by the Founding Fathers; a bunch more get set by individuals being unwilling to be President. The remaining dozen or so bits – decreasing the number of candidates by a factor of about 10,000, four or five times as many as the voters – must therefore be exerted by various power blocs: the media, the existing parties, lobbyists and so on.

Clearly this is quite an optimal solution to the problem of government. I think we can all agree that the heuristics of sensationalism, private interests, and a foolish consistency to prior stances are all that are necessary to guide one of the most powerful nations on the planet through the extinction-laden future, no?

It’s a shame that said interests have a few checks, though. After all – the media infamously publish what the masses want to hear; party leaders, of course, pander to the same masses; and the special interests – why, their money comes from what the masses purchase. Indeed, with all this indirect control, perhaps we could be considered primary deciders of the Presidency after all, if we were somehow convinced to use it.

And clearly that’s unacceptable, right?


General Prologue

Geoffrey Chaucer.

Well. That’s how it’s spelled. My dear mother was a bright woman with a particular love for linguistics, so certainly she intended the various consequences of giving a modern boy a Middle English pronunciation and a modern name.

In the interest of slowing the tides of /’dʒɛfri: ‘tʃɔːsər/, I’m going to start this blog. If it becomes popular enough, enough people will read this post to stop mispronouncing my name, making this not a complete waste of effort.

(For future notice: it’s /’gɑːf.ræj tʃɑ.ukʊr/.)

As a side effect, I will be able to use this blog to extoll the many-faceted virtues of those wondrous people in and out of power whose names we actually recognize.

(OOC: IPA and Great Vowel Shift from Wikipedia; Middle English from http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/resources/IOE/pronunciation.html and http://webpages.marshall.edu/~will2/chaucer.html)