COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | ROGER BROWN

Andrei, Bruce and higher mathematics

Do you ever wonder why Bruce Jenner gets more media attention than Andrei Markov? The reason this may not strike you as an important question will explain why it is.

The Russian mathematician Andrei Markov (1856-1922) is credited with proving that, simplifying matters a bit, a stochastic process (randomness) with 1-period dependency converges to a probability distribution. This led to what is known as “the Markov Chain” and to your eyes glazing over about now.

If you do a Google search on “Andrei Markov” you get 427,000 results. If you perform the same search on “Bruce Jenner” you get 54,000,000 results. Here is the problem: Google searches are Markov chains. Without Andrei Markov, you do not have Google. Without Bruce Jenner you do not have…

Markov helps us predict whether the current state of affairs will lead to the same tomorrow or will change.

An example of a two-state Markov process is man-woman. Until recently, these were mutually exclusive alternatives. Man or woman, either-or and only either-or. But now it is possible to transition between the two, making it a Markov process.

This can be handy for the wife who wants to estimate the probability that her husband will wake up tomorrow and decide he wants to become a woman.

One of the requirements of a Markov chain is that each alternate “state” must be possible. So it doesn’t work if I wake up tomorrow and announce to my wife that I have decided to transition to a fish.

I have to wait until science perfects species reassignment surgery. I may also have to wait until an operation that long is covered by Medicare, but that is another story.

Back to the question we started with. Society has a problem determining what is important. Each day the media performs attention reassignment surgery on the perspective of a complicit, voyeuristic populace.

Clown acts and carnival sideshows have their place. They divert us from a reality we must confront to overcome difficulty. Life presents many challenges. Distraction is occasionally welcome. But a steady diet of only this palliative is not good. Ultimately, the piper must be paid.

Social scientists, using laws, have erected a huge edifice to the wrong kind of process. Before anything can be built or made, we must first determine if all the hot buttons of political correctness have been pressed.

We have to check the various “equality” boxes to make sure everyone has their fair share of both the process and what will be produced. My goodness, we can’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

In the meantime, less and less is produced as the delays grow longer. One message of Markov is that the probability of the next state being low production is dependent on the present state of production. Einstein made it simpler: Insanity is repeating the same action over and over and expecting a different result.

So, in our beginner’s lesson, we know that Markov makes predictions about future events based on current events only if future events are possible.

Torturing Andrei’s math just beyond what he had in mind transitions repeatedly in the direction of less is a chain that leads to nothing. Enough laws mandating enough specific behavior before anything can be accomplished marches us all in the direction of a zero result.

Our world is host to a dwindling number of humans who can accomplish something and a rising number of humans who prevent accomplishment.

The preponderance of the latter over the former explains low productivity, lack and want. We need to know which is which. We need to know which is more useful and which is more enduring.

Bruce provides a caricature of process; Andrei delivers substantive value. Without Andrei, at least culturally, Bruce does not exist.

We need lessons on what is important and what is not. Binding the hands of those who would produce leads to conditions in which nothing is produced. It should not take a probability theorist or higher mathematics to arrive at that result.

Markov showed us the probability mathematics of transition. 100 years later we still need Andrei. I am less sure about Bruce.


Brown is an investor and freelance writer in Alpine.

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