As some of the more advanced members of our growing Braintenance crowd might have guessed based upon enhanced telepathic powers (or by having read the title), this is indeed a post on probability and uncertainty, and on chaos and complexity. All of these are nouns representing ideas or theories based upon observed behaviors, and upon the inherent limitations of observations.
Probability is the likelihood of a given outcome based upon observed experience over an expanse of time. We know that the likelihood or probability of a coin landing with the 'heads' side up is .50 or 50%. And we also know that each toss of a coin is an independent event. Despite this statistical logic, if we toss ten coins and they all turn up 'heads' -- we start to develop an "experiential probability bias," and we start to think (despite ourselves, and despite what we know to be the truth) that the next coin toss is more than 50% likely to result in a 'tails' outcome. We tend to think that way because we forget that probabilities are based upon averages over time, and we start to think that if one result is prevalent for a longer period than expected, there is a "cosmic force" of some sort that must make the ratios fall into line.
But again, probability is based upon observation of a given even over a significant period of time [whatever "significant" means].
Uncertainty is a different situation. Where we haven't observed a certain event enough times to determine a pattern of likelihood, we tend to be uncertain. Some of us will even attribute an arbitrary (but customary) 50/50 probability to an event where we don not have empirical evidence to support a probability pattern.
But what if those patterns are actually there -- but their periodicity is, say, longer than a lifetime. We frequently fail then to observe the probability pattern. If the scope of our observation of an even is limited, we deal in uncertainty and fail at predictability. Geologists and certain other scientist dealing with certain phenomena which take place over great lengths of time are becoming better at seeing patterns and periodicity in certain major events, and are becoming better predictors of the future based upon a greater gathering of experience based upon a longer perspective of history.
My favorite Braintenance analogy is the confusion between chaos and complexity.
Events that we may see or consider as chaotic, or random, may in fact be part of a very grand design which takes place beyond the ordinary scope of our perception (we are limited there), or beyond the period of time required to recognize the occurrence as a pattern. Perhaps we haven't lived long enough to see a recurrence of the seemingly isolated event -- for example, perhaps we have only lived long enough to see the passing through the heavens of Hally's Comet; a change in the Earth's magnetic polarity; a massive climatic change - yet, scientists do not only tell us that these events have occurred more than once before... in some cases they can tell us when they are anticipated to occur next.
In the above case, the relative shortness of our lives does not permit us to see the recurrence of the event and conclude that it is either a pattern or a part of a far greater and more complex series of cause and effect events which contain the pattern. I call our failure to recognize many such patterns as being due to a Human Temporal Insufficiency.
These greater wave-like patterns are either much longer in duration (i.e., they occur over a long period of time and are gradual and continuous enough that we cannot perceive of the change) or they occur at intervals to great for us to readily measure using our senses. Temporal insufficiency can handicap our view of the world, and it usually does. Economic and political cycles are much more recognizable as patterns because their "wavelength" is much shorter than the intervals between, say ice ages.
Other patterns which do not seem like patterns to us from our ordinarily visual perspective, are just too large in size for us to see unless seen from a much higher and greater vantage point. Some examples include many of the greatest wonders of the world (such super-sculptures as the pyramids, long 'runways', and the ever-popular crop circles) as well as astrological patterns and symbols which are not recognizable as such from the hiker's view, but which become very clear when seen from the air.
I refer to our inability to perceive these as non-chaotic and reasonable as Perceptual Field Insufficiency.
Together, our Temporal Insufficiency combined with our Perceptual Field Insufficiency make probabilistically determinable things seem like random events (uncertainty instead of probability), and make very large, potentially meaningful things (as patterns recognizable only from a 30,000 foot view) seem chaotic or discrete, and not a part of something greater.
I would suggest you read this brief article several times over, put your imagination to work [don't confine it to its usual inviolate parameters], and start to enjoy a new view of a far greater, vaster, more meaning-filled universe.
Douglas E. Castle for The Braintenance Blog and for The Daily Burst Of Brilliance Blog