December 01, 2006

Statistical Communication

Adolphe Quetelet:

The constancy with which the same crimes repeat themselves every year with the same frequency and provoke the same punishment in the same ratios, is one of the most curious facts we learn from the statistics of the courts; I have stressed it in several papers; I have repeated every year: There is an account paid with a terrifying regularity; that of the prisons, the galleys, and the scaffolds. This one must be reduced. And every year the numbers have confirmed my prevision in a way that I can even say: there is a tribute man pays more regularly than those owed to nature or to the Treasury; the tribute paid to crime! Sad condition of human race! We can tell beforehand how many will stain their hands with the blood of their fellow creatures, how many will be forgers, how many poisoners, almost as one can foretell the number of births and deaths.

Thomas Pynchon (to my admittedly-philistine mind, the one worthwhile passage in Vineland):

If patterns of ones and zeroes were "like" patterns of human lives and deaths, if everything about an individual could be represented in a computer record by a long string of ones and zeroes, then what kind of creature would be represented by a long string of lives and deaths? It would have to be up one level at least—an angel, a minor god, something in a UFO. It would take eight human lives and deaths just to form one character in this being's name—its complete dossier might take up a considerable piece of the history of the world.

Randall "xkcd" Munroe:

Enigmas of Chance

Posted by crshalizi at December 01, 2006 08:00 | permanent link

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