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February 4th, 2021
When the variables are many, the cause can be hard to identify, but when the variables are variable, the task is virtually impossible. Because of this, consistency is vital. We are pattern recognition machines. All intelligence, meaning and progress depends on the identification and manipulation of patterns. These words are part of a complex pattern language that I am manipulating to create new meaning. Our own personal biology, our technological progress as a species, everything is a result or a manipulated extrapolation of a pattern.
Diet is an excellent one to take as an example. What we eat has an immense effect on the way we look, the way we feel, the way we sleep and the way we think. Anyone who wants to improve all of these things does well by examining diet. Without any examination or care nor thought, a diet is a vast smorgasbord of food groups, chemicals, and for the most part, a mindless satisfaction of hardwired desires that don’t have our modern interests at heart. Our taste for flavour is still stuck in the Palaeolithic era, and because of this few of us are ever happy with how the photo turns out. On top of this we are omnivores, and there’s little that isn’t available to snack on. Diet for most people is a huge spread of variables, and often the only thing that’s easy to point out is how bad it generally is.
Consistency can make subtle trends apparent. Without consistency, such subtle trends are invisible since variables that change simultaneously or irregularly create a dynamic set of changes. There’s no way to know if changes in certain variables are contributing to the change of other variables. Internal relationships become nearly impossible to spot. This is why scientific studies have a control group, to establish a semblance of consistency.
For the diet it might seem effective to cut just one thing out and wait for a change. But of course this doesn’t necessarily simplify the rest of the diet enough to notice anything. Pulling one variable out at a time isn’t likely to yield any insight, especially if other variables have some kind equivalent effect. It’s rather pointless to cut out bread if beer is always served with dinner anyway.
The point is to find some sort of pattern - a signal in the noise of variables, and one way to boost a signal (if there is one) is to simplify the noise. Cut out as many variables as possible and see how one or two effect the system. With the example of diet, this might look like: eat chicken breast and dry salad everyday for 3 months. The variables are practically nil, and because of this the cause and effect correlation between input and result is very robust. Notice though, the signal is just as strong if someone eats only ice cream and potato chips for 3 months. Strangely, it may be that many unhealthy people do have a fairly strong signal between cause and effect due to such consistently bad choices. In a system as dynamic as the body, the occasional bad input doesn’t have much of an effect. The odd circumstance of eating a tub of ice cream after a breakup, or smoking a cigarette. These things will have no effect. It’s the consistent choice that has the noticeable and meaningful effect.
The subtle trend we might benefit most from is often buried in a chaos of noise or beneath much heavier trends. Consistent simplification leads to a cleaner patterns, patterns which we can understand, and rearrange for our benefit.