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.. Society
We Live in the Present

10 Views of Landscape
Affect and Effect
Culture is Ordinary
I pay rent.
Listening to Corn
The Reform vs Revolution Paradox
What is Public Schooling For?

AI and Art
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Is this picture real?
NonFungible Tokens
Public Art
Tearing Down Statues
What is Art?
Working With Reality

Artificial Intelligence and the Collingridge Dilemma.
Bird Brains
Bounded Rationality
Competence Without Comprehension
Consciousness is More Like Fame Than Television
Developmental Processes
Emergence and Cognition
I Lost My Knife
Incomplete Information and Stories
Is free will an illusion?
Natural Law
Necessary Illusions
On Affordances
Pencil and Paper
Post Phenomenology
Reflective Equilibrium
Return of the Law of Forms
Shifting Meanings
Taking Things on Faith
The Hard Problem
The I Love You Gesture
The Imagined Order
The Phenomenology of Swim Bladders.
Thinking about medical procedures
Thinking About Risk
Underdetermination and Redundancy
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
What Does Google Know?

A Country Is Not Like A Company
Alternate ideas lying around waiting for disaster
Blood and Money
Can Capitalism Survive?
Do Our Minds Own Our Bodies?
Everyday Communism
Invisible Hand
Job Creators
Job Destroyers
Money and Value
Money is Different
National Accounts
Necessary Production
Paper Wealth
Post Capitalist Society
Profit Motive Fails
Rentier Capitalism
Social Wealth vs Surplus Value
Spending Money Into Existence
The Metaphysics of Money
The Ontology of Debt
Thinking about Money
Wealth is What Money Buys

Blowing Up Pipelines

Absolute Knowledge
I do not know everything
Rethinking Knowledge
Rethinking Knowledge
The Curious Ineffectiveness of Facts
The Past and the Future.
Uncertainty and Unpredictability

Competition and Cooperation
Dr Malthus would be pleased
Error Correction
Evolution Defended
Evolution is not Religion
Evolution of Cars
Forces of Nature
Is Natural Selection Obsolete?
Politics and Evolution
The Evolution of Purpose.
The Problem with Natural Selection.
The Source of Bad Behavior
Thinking about Tails
Why Does a Leopard Have Spots?

Free Speech in the age of Twitter
Freedom and Badness
Freedom and Morality
Freedom From and Freedom To
Freedom in the Age of Convoys
Libertarian Coercion

Levels of Abstraction
Levels of Abstraction and Minds
What is a newspaper?

As Much As Possible
Zipfs Law

Emotional Plague
Memes: Imitated Behavior.
The Problem with Memes
What is a replicator?

Beyond Rules Based Morality
Freedom and Morality
Moral Realism.
What do we owe animals?


Maps and Territories
Metaphysics Without Absolutes
Philosophy Buds
Sincerely Held Beliefs
Sorites Paradox
Stereoscopic Vision and The Hard Problem
The Gorilla in the Room of Science
The Purpose of Science
What is Going On?

If It Walks Like a Duck
Right Wing Freedom
The Sovereign Citizen
Tyranny of the Majority


Constructed Life
Correlation Wins
Quack Doctors
The Great Shattering
The Material Space
Thinking about Interconnection
Too Small to See
Watching Pigeons
Weirdness in Physics

A society needs a government.
Belly of the Beast
Cultural Appropriation
Family Values
Griefers and Misinformation and Disinformation
Open Society and Falsification
Rules in a Knife Fight?
Sex and Gender
Society and The State
Spheres of Influence
The Care and Feeding of Free Speech
The Collingridge Dilemma
The Dual Meaning of Power
The Homeless
The Problem with Hedonism
To the Moon
Work - Productive, Useful, Worthless, and Bad.

Implications of Very Productive Technology
Modest Proposal
Problems with Universal Basic Income
Tormenting Unlucky People
Why there are oligarchs

Zipfs Law

The unreasonable effectiveness of math

When we look at the natural world we easily see physical regularities like the seasons or waves crashing on a shore. I wonder how long ago the human mind notice the FACT of gravity; ie become aware that things stick to the ground and fall from from trees as opposed to just acting based on that knowledge. Newton took that awareness to another level when he discussed gravity with math like calculus and Einstein extended it further by showing that gravity was the result the shape of spacetime. Brian Greene tells me that string theory extends that further - the very form of the law of gravity (it's an inverse square law) means that gravity only works in 3D spaces. I like this sort of thing - we can eventually learn from raw FACTs very fundamental things about the reality we inhabit.

I lately encountered a very interesting fact - Zipf's Law.
It turns out that if you rank the words in English by frequency of usage what you find is that the second most frequent word occurs half as often, and the third most frequent occurs a third as often. George Zipf discovered this while doing a concordance of Ulysses as a young man. (Ahh - youth :-) Anyway; the most common English word is 'the' and it occurs about 7% of the time. Next most common is 'of' at about 3.5%. 'And' comes next 1.7% and so on down the line.

A quirk of English? Not at all.
The same distributionn applies to Sanskrit, Etruscan, heiroglyphics.

Even when people make up languages Zipf's Law emerges.

Even when you make up random words from a set of letters Zipf's Law emerges.

OK - a quirk of language in general? Perhaps it's something to do with the way people happen to think.

It's been found in music, city population ranks, income distributions, mass extinctions, earthquake magnitudes and in the ratios of colors in pictures. And it's been found to apply to the frequencies that genes occur in DNA.

Think about that - a regularity is discovered in word frequencies in Ulysses - in itself that's interesting but no big deal. But then the same regularity is discovered in DNA.

I try to imagine what's going on here.
Let's note some aspects of this law. It is a regularity that is found but it's not the sort of regularity that has predictive value.

Knowing the law of gravity has predictive value. Knowing it you can predict the location of Saturn in a hundred years. Zipf's law predicts that the second most frequent word will occur half as often but doesn't say that if the first is 'the' the second will be 'of'.

Another thing to note is that Zipf's Law is one of many 'power' laws. A power law is pretty simple - y equals x squared is a power law where the squared is the power. Here's a graph of the power law.
Power Law Graph
The thing to note is that the graph has a pretty distinctive shape. So you can do things like take a bunch of data an plot a graph of it and then just look visually for the power curve that fits it best. And of course not all data sets fit onto smooth curves and in fact no data set fits any curve exactly. But you can get a pretty good kind of hint about the underlying mathematical structure that you're dealing with.

Which brings us around to the issue of the amazing effectiveness of math in helping understand reality. Just what is going on when so many frequency ranking situations follow something like Zipf's Law? Is this pointing to some sort of natural constraint imposed on reality by logic?

But think about it - is that really so surprising? Logic is stuff like not having two different things in the same place at the same time. And that's just the way reality is as far as we can tell. (Ghost stories notwithstanding). But what about reality that makes it so that wierd regularities like Zipf's Law hold?

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.