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Guest Post: The Limits Of Engineering

Tyler Durden's picture


Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds

The Limits Of Engineering

The notion that better engineering can solve all our problems is rooted in an ignorance of non-linear systems and selective/wishful thinking.

I recently received an email from a Chastizing Retired Engineer (CRE) that reflected both a ubiquitous spiritual disease and a profound ignorance of the limits of engineering. What fired the CRE's undimmed rage was my long analysis which explained why the economy isn't going to generate 20 million jobs, and that as a result, we need a Plan B, which I also outlined: Getting 20 Million Unemployed Back to Productive Work: Here's How (August 16, 2011).

The CRE began by criticising the length of the entry, and by expressing the heartfelt wish that I was poorly paid for my writing. What does it say about the state of the nation's spiritual and intellectual health when retired engineers start their critique by hoping those they disagreee with are subjected to poverty? The spiritual illness at the heart of this sentiment is a topic for another time.

We might also wonder what's to become of the nation if retired engineers only want to read analyses of 250 words or less--perhaps because that is enough for them to decide the writer should be banished to poverty for the sin of disagreeing with their views.

Though he obviously held his own intelligence and powers of observation in high regard, Mr. CRE apparently failed to notice that this blog is free, and thus I earn nothing directly from writing it. This further suggests a rush to judgment so spritely that the basic facts of the matter are skipped over as irrelevant.

Mr. CRE recommended that I turn my attention to telling General Motors how to engineer the Car of the Future (COTF) and similar projects, presumably as a way of generating employment.

In other words, the problem is a dearth of bloggers telling corporations how to design products of the future. That the solution to our collective problems is for bloggers to tell GM et al. how to design the Car of the Future is certainly a novel idea, but it overlooks several key points.

Is GM interested in the views of bloggers? Perhaps in terms of marketing their vehicles, but I doubt they are seeking engineering advice from bloggers. GM undoubtedly has many experienced, talented engineers, some of whom designed the Chevy Volt as The Car of the Future, or at least as a car aimed at the future.

The design parameters of the Volt were dictated by GM management, which is probably even less interested in the advice of bloggers than GM engineers.

There are a number of other assumptions of interest in Mr. CRE's recommendation. One is that the Car of the Future needs to be designed, and another is that the Car of the Future would go a long way toward solving our unemployment problems.

Some in GM reckoned they've already designed the Car of the Future with the Volt. Some at Nissan reckon the all-electric Leaf is the Car of the Future. (Both manufacturers sold about 2,200 of these models in the first 5 months of 2011.) Those working at Tesla clearly believe their next production car is the Car of the Future.

The engineers at Volkswagen have been working on their Car of the Future for years, the so-called 1-litre car that travels 100 kilometers on 1 litre of fuel --about 235 miles on a gallon of gasoline. The vehicle weighs about 1,600 pounds and is quite compact--severe trade-offs had to be made to reach this level of efficiency. (Side question: how many adult Americans could even get into the car?)

The latest model is the XL1 which achieves 260 miles per gallon and a top speed of 99 miles per hour with a two-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (47 horsepower) and electric-drive assist.

By comparison, my 1998 Honda Civic weighs about 2,400 pounds, has a 1.6 liter ICE (internal combustion engine) that generates 106 horsepower. On our recent camping trip, we drove 2,400 miles and despite climbing above 4,000 feet on five occasions and using the air conditioner, the car achieved 39.91 miles per gallon (total gasoline consumption 60.5 gallons). This is roughly comparable to the mileage of the far more costly and complex Toyota Prius, and about double the mileage of the U.S. fleet average of 19.8 MPG.

The point here is that behavior and common-sense engineering can double the efficiency of the existing fleet without any new fancy (and costly) technologies.

All of which is to say that there are already many competing designs for the Car of the Future, and it is the marketplace and external factors such as fuel cost and availability that will decide which wins, not retired engineers, executives at GM or bloggers. Clearly, the ICE (internal combustion engine) is intrinsically inefficient compared to an electric motor, as a huge percentage of the energy consumed by an ICE is lost to heat and friction of its many moving parts. Just as clearly, a Car of the Future that relies on composite materials and complex technologies will not be cheap to manufacture.

There are a few other assumptions implicit in Mr. CRE's view that are questionable. Will building the Car of the Future generate millions of jobs? If Mr. CRE has toured any advanced auto factories, he would note that most of the work is performed by software-controlled robotic machines. At some plants in Japan, the total workforce is about 500 people.

While there are certainly many jobs provided down the supply chain, the idea that building the Car of the Future will generate millions of jobs is simply fantasy. Software and robots are replacing human workers everywhere, even in low-wage nations like China.

Indeed, we can guess that Mr. CRE was not a software engineer, as he doesn't seem to grasp that software is munching through industry after industry, hollowing out entire swaths of advanced economies while creating far fewer jobs than it has eradicated. If this concept is new to you, I recommend reading Why Software Is Eating The World.

The larger question is how big a part the Car of the Future will play in the U.S. economy. Vehicle sales have plummeted from a record 17.4 million in 2000 to 11.5 million in 2010. Certainly the recession was a factor, but there are much deeper forces at work than recession: people are driving less, and more people are opting out of car ownership: The Road... Less Traveled: An Analysis of Vehicle Miles Traveled Trends in the U.S..

This is a global phenomenon. In Japan, the younger generation is not enamoured by auto ownership; rather, they view it as a costly burden.

In analytic terms, we can chart this topping out and decline of miles driven and vehicle sales on a S-curve, as described by Cesare Marchetti in his seminal paper, A Simple Model for Complex Systems.

Simply put, the entire vehicle industry is in decline for structural reasons beyond fuel costs. These include demographics, financial considerations, cultural values and other factors which cannot be adequately quantified by engineering methodologies.

If the structural dynamics I described in the entry which so annoyed Mr. CRE do in fact play out, then we can also ask who will be able to afford to buy the Car of the Future other than the top 10% of households.

If imported oil drops precipitously for a combination of non-linear and linear systemic reasons-- geoplitical upheavals, aging super-giant field production, rising domestic consumption in exporting states, etc.--then we might also profitably ask where the fuel will come from to power the 254 million passenger vehicles registered in the U.S.

In conclusion, we can conclude that Mr. CRE is remarkably ill-informed about the auto industry and the structural factors influencing employment, design, sales, fuel consumption and availability, etc. Mr. CRE's tirade reflects several other common afflictions:

1. A deep, pervasive nostalgia for 1965

2. Know-It-All Syndrome (KIAS), which is unfortunately endemic to a subset of the engineering community.

The nostalgia for the mid-1960s is understandable. Back in those heady days, all the government had to do was throw unlimited sums of money at big engineering projects like putting a human being on the moon, and the engineers went to work and fashioned miracles.

This same mindset spread throughout the government, including the Pentagon, where it led to the engineering analysis of how to win the war in Vietnam, which can be summarized thusly:

1. Calculate number of bombs needed to kill X number of bad guys

2. Estimate number of bad guys

3. Estimate number of U.S. troops needed to locate/corral bad guys

4. Station X number of U.S. troops in Vietnam and drop X tonnage of munitions on bad guys

5. War will be won when number of bad guys killed rises above replacement level

This is not an isolated example of engineering idiocy or KIAS. The entire premise of the engineering mindset is that problems can be broken down to a small set of quantifiable inputs, processes and outputs. This works fine when measuring and controlling water flow, flow of electrons, and other linear systems, but it is catastrophically mis-applied when Know-It-Alls besotted by their success in extremely limited linear systems attempt to "solve" non-linear problem-sets with linear "solutions."

Case in point: war is highly non-linear. The "Whiz Kids" at the Pentagon did not even understand the problem-set, or the nature of war; how could their simplistic, Know-It-All "solutions" possibly work in the real world?

Most of our problem-sets are non-linear, and are thus inaccessible to engineered solutions. Even something as straightforward as designing the Car of the Future turns out to be largely controlled by non-linear, impossible to quantify factors such as cultural values, future availablility of fuel, etc.

The very success of engineering in highly limited fields of endeavor feeds a hubris which is largely lacking in scientists schooled in life sciences. I wonder how much Mr. CRE knows about the human immune system, which is extremely complex, interactive, dynamic and non-linear in nature. I once pondered a chart of the basic immune system on the wall of a PhD immunologist friend; the number of "moving parts" and the interactions of those parts is mind-bogglingly large.

The human immune system cannot be usefully mapped as an engineering project. This may explain why life scientists and others who work in non-linear systems tend to be circumspect about the applicability of their expertise in other fields. Meanwhile, quants in economics brim with confidence in their cargo-cult models of non-linear human behavior.

No wonder the economists are so successful in "solving" our structural economic problem-sets.

If we consider the stock market a problem-set, then shouldn't it be possible to engineer 11 good trades in a row? After all, the data is all there for the taking. If a whiz kid could engineer 11 trades that doubled the capital invested--not that impossible when trading futures contracts or options--then in 11 iterations a mere $500 blossoms into $1 million.

So go ahead and engineer a "solution" to the stock market "problem" which yields 11 good trades in a row.

The problem is that the market--and most of life--is non-linear, and "solutions" cannot be conjured out of simplistic linear models and inputs which cannot be quantified except with a highly illusory accuracy.


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Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:48 | 1615094 BaBaBouy
BaBaBouy's picture


Hopium Works Better ...

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:51 | 1615122 egdeh orez
egdeh orez's picture

Market turns positive on no positive news.

Is this market broken or what?

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:22 | 1615276 topcallingtroll
topcallingtroll's picture

a market rising on bad news or no news is sometimes a sign of a nascent bull market.

Not that I want to see one now.  I am all out of stocks again. 

 I drank too much zero hedge koolaid I guess.   I hope I didn't pull a Leo by getting out at the wrong time.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:25 | 1615577 eureka
eureka's picture

The trajectory of every single individual life - is, in terms of its inevitable outcome, namely death, 100%  linear and 100% predictable, regardless of the particular swirls and fluctuations each individual perceives in terms of quality, failure, success and happiness - and so, perhaps we should all prioritize the "happiness" that can arise in every moment from addressing it, each moment, to our maximum capacity for understanding, for applying ourselves, for sharing and caring - rather than to the perpetual, restless hunger for competitive advantage, which ultimately isolates us from the whole of life, from our fellowship and from community.

For all the chips we may win, none translate into eternity, but shared moments do - and allow us to say "I have lived and loved and my life was full and I am grateful for all those moments, which made my life bigger than I could ever have engineered it myself.

Be the competitive warrior, gambler and count your chips every day - or - be the lover, giver and receive the grace of all things beyond yourself and your constructs. It is your choice - and a choice for eternity.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:04 | 1616339 RockyRacoon
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 I drank too much zero hedge koolaid I guess.   I hope I didn't pull a Leo by getting out at the wrong time.

Don't worry about it -- worry being the point.   Too little emphasis is placed on peace of mind and enjoying a great night's sleep.   That is a dividend, a return, if you will.   Count that into your technical analysis of your decisions.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:46 | 1615095 The Deleuzian
The Deleuzian's picture


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:57 | 1615150 Oh regional Indian
Oh regional Indian's picture

There are no limits to engineering. Limits are imposed to make engineering "work" within the current dysfunction of it's own creation.


We are living the madness of Teutonic linearity. 

There are other ways, but they require a change so deep that most shrink at the thought. The destruction of one's dominant paradigm is too frightening for most.

Cycles, Waves, spirals and ellipses. 

Order in nature is implicit, not explicit. Ponder that if you will.


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:04 | 1615188 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Come on ORI, you are asking people to understand exponential functions and metabolic as well as energy flux.  Just too tall an order I think.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:18 | 1615259 Oh regional Indian
Oh regional Indian's picture

Well LawsofP, if that is what we live, then it behooves us to understand it, ne?
Not too tall an order to study our own bodies without the overlay of science. We can heal without incision. Nature works best if we understand cause and effect at a higher degree than we currently do.

We are living a Newtonian dystopia in a decidedly non-newtonian world.


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:24 | 1615292 topcallingtroll
topcallingtroll's picture

exponential functions are linear functions, you alleged law of physics.

A non linear function has two or more simultaneous y values for each value of x.

And there are lots of linear functions in nature, or at least close enough approximations we can land on the moon.l

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:08 | 1615521 exiledbear
exiledbear's picture

Perhaps you're referring to linear differential equations? Exponential functions are NOT linear.

Linearity is defined very precisely as follows:

f(Ax) = Af(x)

f(x + y) = f(x) + f(y)

Neither of which actually hold up if you start using exponential functions (or even polynomials).

exp(Ax) does not equal Aexp(x)

exp(x + y) does not equal exp(x) + exp(y)

You can linearize exp(x) for small values of x, and this trick is done all the time in the sciences.

exp(x) = 1 + x, for small values of x

This is why using a system that relies on exponential growth is so dangerous in the real world, because at the start, everything LOOKS linear, but it's not. It's only when you get to the stage we're in that the higher order polynomials start kicking in and then it all blows up.


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:27 | 1615587 DCFusor
DCFusor's picture

Yup, finally someone who knows what they are talking about.  Non linear isn't the same as single valued, nor is it necessarily non-monotonic.

Non linear problems are not insoluble, it's just that there is no P-complete rote solution to most of them.  Much more often the situation is utterly NP-complete and stochastic methodology has to be used to approximate an answer, and which can't guarantee the best anser in a multi-dimensional multi-zero error space is found.

Back in the day, while writing a book about digital signal processing, a real smart college kid and I devised an algo that would find best-fit coefficients to IIR filters to match an arbitrary frequency response (think speech bandwidth compression codecs for a use -- our code might be in your phone).  It was one heck of a job, but we did it and used everything from simulated annealing to genetic algs along the way, before we found a trapdoor for our case using MLFN neural networks, themselves rather computationally intensive to train.  Helps to know what you're trying to accomplish up front though, and you won't get that by trying to fudge incorrect linear models onto reality.  No good map there.

I'd have to believe that such tech would wipe the floor with most of the semi-linear plus ruleset algos out there, but haven't had time and energy to build up a robot of my own.  There's a heck o a lot of plain grunt work involved to hit the API of most of the brokers that makes my head hurt.  Funny how the simple part seems the hardest to a certain mindset.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:07 | 1616356 RockyRacoon
RockyRacoon's picture

Haven't the foggiest what you said, but I did get one good piece of advice out the comment:

Helps to know what you're trying to accomplish up front though...

Good advice in any endeavor, and so seldom seen.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:28 | 1615595 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

It is a little more subtle than that... Semantics is at play here.

Classical Electrodynamics is a linear theory, i.e. principle of superposition, as is Newtonian gravity.

Einsteinian gravity is a non-linear theory....

Non-linear functions as you describe (multivalued) are different from non-linear systems...

Anyway... another damn fine article from CHS

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:38 | 1615625 Boop
Boop's picture

A "function" which has two or more simultaneous y values for, lets say, a value of x is not a function. I'd say you were referring to continuous functions, but your description is of something which is not a function.

Engineering deals with non-linearity all the time, despite the author's imaginings.

Chaotic systems, discontinuous systems, and particularly adaptive systems (by which I mean systems which change with time) like the stock market are much harder to control or predict.

Hell, trying to calculate the motion of 3 bodies under Newton's law of gravity seems likely to be simple enough - but in general it's not possible.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:38 | 1616478 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

The three body problem is a bitch isn't it....

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 02:26 | 1618102 AnAnonymous
AnAnonymous's picture

Engineering deals with non-linearity all the time, despite the author's imaginings.


No. Engineering deals with linear approximations of non linear problems. The key has been to linearize 'everything' as solutions to linear problems are more understood and known.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 14:54 | 1616032 AnAnonymous
AnAnonymous's picture

exponential functions are linear functions,


I have a strong heart, thank you. Nice try to give people a heart attack though.

US citizens know no limit. Exponential functions linear functions?

We need somebody to be able to monetize efficiently US citizens natural trend to cheap propaganda. It will solve every debt issue.

Exponential functions, linear functions, good one. Typical to the US world order.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:11 | 1616052 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

Be careful, linear means many different things....

Non-linear usually means functions of the form  dy/dt = f(x,y)

The exponential function is non-linear from additivity and homogeneity, but it is a solution to many linear Diffy Qs..

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:22 | 1616113 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

The mathematical fetishists here miss the point. The problem in economics is more fundamental:

"Here we are faced with one of the main differences between physics and chemistry on the one hand and the sciences of human action on the other. In the realm of physical and chemical events there exist (or, at least, it is generally assumed that there exist) constant relations between magnitudes, and man is capable of discovering these constants with a reasonable degree of precision by means of laboratory experiments. No such constant relations exist in the field of human action outside of physical and chemical technology and therapeutics." - Ludwig von Mises, Human Action p. 55


"Deluded by the idea that the sciences of human action must ape the technique of the natural sciences, hosts of authors are intent upon a quantification of economics. They think that economics ought to imitate chemistry, which progressed from a qualitative to a quantitative state.1 Their motto is the positivistic maxim: Science is measurement. Supported by rich funds, they are busy reprinting and rearranging statistical data provided by governments, by trade associations, and by corporations and other enterprises. They try to compute the arithmetical relations among various of these data and thus to determine what they call, by analogy with the natural sciences, correlations and functions. They fail to realize that in the field of human action statistics is always history and that the alleged "correlations" and "functions" do not describe anything else than what happened at a definite instant of time in a definite geographical area as the outcome of the actions of a definite number of people.2 As a method of economic analysis econometrics is a childish play with figures that does not contribute anything to the elucidation of the problems of economic reality." - Ludwig von Mises, The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science p.63


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:24 | 1616144 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

Given that Smith's "invisible hand" is an unknown non-linear DE, as was Keynes "animal spirits", is it any bloody suprise that Economics is basically a light-weight social science?

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:44 | 1616213 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

>Given that Smith's "invisible hand" is an unknown non-linear DE

If it's admittedly unknown, then why do you think one exists?

Note that your belief is unfalsifiable - and unscientific.

>is it any bloody suprise that Economics is basically a light-weight social science?

I am not sure what you mean by "light-weight". Praxeology is currently the best tool available for understanding economics.

I could say that physics is light-weight: although the human brain is an element of the natural world, physics is utterly incapable of coping with teleological human action. Physics is powerless to explain why a human being walks into a McDonalds. 

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:48 | 1616251 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

Well... the goal of physics is not to understand the human brain, but you can be damn sure that whatever theory is found that the law of physics will be respected...

You might find some work by Penrose to be of interest....

And Mises was a sharp guy, but he wasn't the second coming....

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:09 | 1616364 RockyRacoon
RockyRacoon's picture

How does the ghost in the machine figger into them thar cakalashuns?

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:13 | 1616388 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

New avatar?? Or is your brother-in-law filling in?

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 20:12 | 1621111 RockyRacoon
RockyRacoon's picture

This is my sterner, more determined visage.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:58 | 1616577 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture


    Physics is the modelling of the universe via mathematics while being guided by experiment....Many deep principles may be expressed in words, but their power lies in the constraints on the Mathematics..... 

I'll bet my left nut that a quantitative model of the "Invisible Hand" will be a non-linear DE....  

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 17:18 | 1616641 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

>I'll bet my left nut that a quantitative model of the "Invisible Hand" will be a non-linear DE....  

Your belief is unfalsifiable through experimentation. After all, if you come up with any equation, when it fails catastrophically, then you can just say it wasn't the right one.

And your belief is logically dubious. If people had such an equation and made predictions, they could intentionally violate the predictions.

But keep believing in chimeras. There's no law against stupid.


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 17:29 | 1616658 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture

You seem to be suggesting that there is no cause and effect.

Just because the current practitioners of the physical sciences are unable to adequately describe these phenomena does not mean that it's impossible to do so.  Maybe you just need to wait for the fullness of time?  Got immortality?

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 02:21 | 1618100 StychoKiller
StychoKiller's picture

Almost all of the time, MOST Humans do NOT know their own desires, much less how any market is supposed to fulfill them!

Roughly 7 Billion enigmatic equations with an unknown number of variables, AND an unknown number of solutions...

Truly, a "Fatal Conceit!"

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 17:33 | 1616670 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

You've taken this somewhere else....

No one is saying that a model predicts, in a deterministic sense, the behaviour of an individual.. Now can apply such an equation to an ensemble and predict average behavior? Yes, I think its possible. Useful, I doubt it.

Much like the behaviour of an individual gas molecule...

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 18:24 | 1616755 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

>Much like the behaviour of an individual gas molecule...


Even when the problem is actually about gas molecules, the clowns on TV can't predict the weather 24 hours from now.

And I don't think Warren Buffet, Ben Bernanke, and Steve Jobs are each like an "individual gas molecule".

I think you might enjoy this video on marketing actually: 


Wed, 08/31/2011 - 02:34 | 1618109 AnAnonymous
AnAnonymous's picture

although the human brain is an element of the natural world, physics is utterly incapable of coping with teleological human action. Physics is powerless to explain why a human being walks into a McDonalds.


Dead bodies are also elements of the natural world.

The human brain might be an element of the natural world. It is not though when it commands the move to a shop. As it is not when it is used to comprehend why people walk into shops.

The natural world is not the cultural world. The distinction is only 2000 years old. So one could guess that US propagandists still need time to come with better propaganda about what the natural world.

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 02:29 | 1618105 AnAnonymous
AnAnonymous's picture

Non linear solution to linear problems exist. Being a solution to a linear problem (a lot of time linearized by the way) does not exclude being non linear.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:51 | 1615107 snowball777
snowball777's picture

All hail CHS and the know-nothing mindset!

So VW, a German company, has been working on a COTF for years? And what's their unemployment in Germany again? And their GDP for 2011? don't say.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:20 | 1615261 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture

Germany exports her unemployment.  This is the reason that the "PIIGS" have no money to pay their bills.  They've been underemployed for too long and have gone into debt to support German employment, i.e. German manufactured goods.  America is in the process of doing the same thing, first with Germany and Japan and now with China.  The end result will be the same.

We have met the PIIGS and they are us.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:28 | 1615319 snowball777
snowball777's picture

You really think Greece would be an economic powerhouse that competes on equal footing with Germany, if they were on the Drachma? Seriously?!

Think about how many VWs are assembled in Mexico and Tennessee for a second.


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:09 | 1615525 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture

You have a reading disability.  I never said or implied that.  Why are so many Americans illiterate?

Your example of the Mexican and  Tennessean VW assembly plants is not an apt one.  Neither Mexico nor the US are in the EC or use the euro and both of them, in contrast to Greece, have import restrictions on German autos.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:53 | 1615719 eureka
eureka's picture

In the final analysis and outcome, neither machines nor capital need human beings, except for another short while, as consumers. Capital is printed & leveraged out of thin air. Software/AI exponentially run all machines.

Consequently, all nationalist - or economical class - competition, is ultimately irrelevant.

The real question is: what will be the function of human beings in the future?

Or rather, what will we choose it to be - if we address the question before it is to late?

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 14:13 | 1615820 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture

What is the function of human beings today?  Some claim their function is to satisfy the ego of a supernatural being.  Observation suggests their only function is to breed and make more human beings, to "go forth and multiply".  There appears to be limits to this function.

We have met the pond scum and he is us.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:12 | 1616380 RockyRacoon
RockyRacoon's picture

Some talking head today was in Spain or Italy or one of those furren countries -- said that there wouldn't be riots 'cause it was too hot.    Too hot.   What has the unruly world come to.   Too hot?

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 17:36 | 1616679 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture

Global warming has made revolution without airconditioning obsolete.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:49 | 1615112 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

I'll be the first to admit that there is nothing worse than a technocrat on hopium that has a few facts, but limted experience in the application of said facts.  Knowledge versus wisdom.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:53 | 1615129 NotApplicable
NotApplicable's picture



Great article. Linear vs. non-linear systems do not get the attention they deserve, IMO. Of course, this might be due to all of the doers out there who insist upon marching, but knowing not where.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:53 | 1615132 Azannoth
Azannoth's picture

There's only 1 equation every (smart) person is(should be) looking at, how to I maximize my personal gains  vs. everybody else, everything else is just logic noise

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:11 | 1615226 snowball777
snowball777's picture

Your zero-sum vision of the world is a great strategy, for an insecure weakling.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:30 | 1615324 topcallingtroll
topcallingtroll's picture

I thought we were all Austrians here.  Azannon is giving the formula for a successful robust society.

Economics and maximizing personal utilities is not a zero sum game by the way.  No economic philosophy believes that, not even Keynesians

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:51 | 1615436 Mark_BC
Mark_BC's picture

No, we are all NOT Keynesians here. Common enemies make for strange bedfellows.

And economics is indeed a zero sum game. All the wealth we have realized over our history has been taken at the expense of the natural world. It's a pie chart.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:26 | 1615584 TheAkashicRecord
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//All the wealth we have realized over our history has been taken at the expense of the natural world.//

Thank you for stating the obvious (I am being sincere, not sarcastic here), this point has to be reiterated and hammered into the heads of people; people think labor produces things, lol, nothing is produced, just transformed. Silly humans -forgetting about thermodynamics.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:36 | 1615629 DCFusor
DCFusor's picture

Including you.  By your thesis 100 tons of rock containing an ounce of gold is just as valuable as the ounce of gold, or perhaps more so if the rest of the rock has another use.  Yeah, just as valuable in the ground as piled in your yard, right?  And the tiny chunk of gold you can put in your safe and carry with you in time of need is no more valueable than 10 big truckloads of rocks, right?  Agreed, no gold is produced that wasn't there before, but surely my hot rod is far more valuble than the tons of rock and oil it started out as -- can't drive those, but the SS Camaro rocks.  AT least in human eyes.  From a long enough distance, nothing on earth matters - you can't even see the slum from way out.

And certainly, seeds are just as valuable to a starving man as ready to eat food, right?  Even with zero sum, thermodynamic transformations have been found to be quite useful to the current economy -- tried to do without electricity lately?


Silly humans indeed.  Total atoms might be zero-sum outside of nuclear things anyway.  Total value, not so much.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 14:10 | 1615757 TheAkashicRecord
TheAkashicRecord's picture


Labor produces value (whatever your definition of value is, personally I agree with subjective theory of value) through consumption.

The language of economics ought to represent that fact, labor consumes and transforms, subjective value is produced as a byproduct of consumption and dissipated energy.

Mine is mostly an argument of semantics and where economics "fits" - whereas we are taught that labor produces value, it is not taught what that production of value actually means within the context of the biosphere.  


Wed, 08/31/2011 - 02:34 | 1618107 StychoKiller
StychoKiller's picture

As long as we ALL remain on this biosphere, no other entities will know, or care, about our puny problems.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:12 | 1616084 Azannoth
Azannoth's picture

That is a good question to what happens to the Universe 'in the end', does it collapse does it infinitely expand, does all the information get wiped out at some point,

if so, there is no point or meaning to life or anything it's just like a dream, as soon as you wake up it's all gone

So people give meaning to their lives through religion believing in something, regardless of how improbable it is and how much proof you got for it (seems the less proof the better)

People think that some 'god' would care enough for them that 'he' would grant them life after death etc. etc. well even if, he still could change his mind and just wipe you all out from

ever existing in the 1st place

So work/life/existance 1 way or the o ther have no inherent value, better to live by the day than try obeying meaningless rituals (religious or secular), if you don't make your own destiny you simply won't have any

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 02:40 | 1618114 AnAnonymous
AnAnonymous's picture

Boring strawsman. Cant US citizens come with better?

Where is the comment postulate that everything must be as valuable?

A population cropping another for organs (as US citizens do) does it at the expense of the latter.

How the mere utterance of this most obvious fact implies that a heart has as much value as hair?

Once again, typical US citizenism. When introduced with facts, they answer as their propagandist nature leads them to.

The US citizens nature is eternal.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:55 | 1615139 duo
duo's picture

The most important read since engineering school for me was "Chaos and Complexity" (now out of print).  Many engineers are linear thinkers and have no ability to cope with the slightest amount of ambiguity or chaos.

Ford motor was working on a cermaic engine block back in the '80s.  Since 2/3rd or more of the energy from gasoline is lost as heat, an engine that can run at the optimum temperature for combustion would be more efficient.  Of course, that was basic research, and nobody in the US does that anymore.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 14:03 | 1615751 eureka
eureka's picture

The most supreme human response to chaos is camlness and sharing of vision and resources - i.e. leadership and fellowship, attributes that make life worth living and indeed create more life.

Competition is for those who do not create. A creator has no time to waste worrying over other creators. That sort of stupidity and patheticness belongs entirely to competitors.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:25 | 1616147 Azannoth
Azannoth's picture

Did you just quote Marx ? sorry but I wouldn't know haven't read any of his stuff

Comptetition is not necessary for survival (in the short term) but essential in the long term, 'compete or die' is probably the most supreme law of life

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:49 | 1616258 Pay Day Today
Pay Day Today's picture

Indeed, however competition can occur on different scales; co-operation is often times more crucial as it allows your team (or tribe, or country, or corporation) to compete more effectively with outsiders.

A society without requisite balances of competition and co-operation will tend to tear itself apart, or be taken apart from the outside.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 17:14 | 1616626 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture

Societies must always  tear themselves apart or be taken apart from the outside eventually.  It's the natural order of things.  New societies (or organisms) will take their places.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:55 | 1615142 monmick
monmick's picture

This is a linear argument applied to a non-linear issue....

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:57 | 1615147 barliman
barliman's picture


Really?  You are this thin skinned? Someone sends you a rant and your response is a counter-rant belittling a profession ...



Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:15 | 1616397 RockyRacoon
RockyRacoon's picture

I think it was directed at a mindset rather than a particular individual or profession.   And relevant thus.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:02 | 1615183 nevadan
nevadan's picture

Engineering solutions always look so good on paper...

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:12 | 1615232 snowball777
snowball777's picture

Financial innovations always look so good on paper...

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:10 | 1615219 Seasmoke
Seasmoke's picture

as i like to tell anyone who asks me who i like at the racetrack, why would i ever tell you who i like , i am betting AGAINST you (i also like the stunned look)

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:13 | 1615243 snowball777
snowball777's picture

The bookie.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:10 | 1615223 Encroaching Darkness
Encroaching Darkness's picture

No sane engineer attempts to engineer PEOPLE. The inputs aren't sufficiently uniform, the data is incomplete and likely to remain so, the variables aren't all known let alone characterized, the "laws" describing their interactions are flawed, and there's no way to determine when an optimal solution has been reached. The term "social engineering" is an inherently defective oxymoron, invented and practiced by real morons.

That being said, CHS has his good and bad days, just like the CRE who wrote him. CHS always mentions how busy he is, how little rest and time off he has, and how far behind in his correspondence he is. CHS and CRE both need to take a few days off, relax, chill and return when they feel human again.

Two degrees (so far) in engineering have not made me omniscient, enlightened or willing to solve everyone else's problems. I was not linear to begin with, so there was no help there. Don't bother to design the best car; design something that's better (think outside the box). Where is my Jetsons flying belt when I need it?


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:15 | 1615246 snowball777
snowball777's picture

Yes, huge portions of engineering solutions involve counter-acting the fallibility of humans.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:39 | 1615650 DCFusor
DCFusor's picture

Yes, huge portions of engineering solutions involve attempting to counter-act the fallibility of humans.

There, fixed it.  Engineering solutions to social problems rarely end well.  No one seems to learn that, and all too many assume sci/tech will pull our asses out of the fire forever.  I'd say rather that we got lucky (not saying which polarity) for awhile.  And that's coming from an engineering scientist.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:16 | 1615250 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Good post, highlighting why robots will rule the day.

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 02:37 | 1618111 StychoKiller
StychoKiller's picture

Bow down before me (my avatar) and kiss my splintery, wooden ass!

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:16 | 1615251 Irwin Fletcher
Irwin Fletcher's picture

The negative connotation behind social engineering is why he advocates it under the name of 'Social Innovation'.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:30 | 1615333 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture

Edward Bernays proved beyond a reasonable doubt that this is not true.  Human behaviour can be engineered and controlled.   His methods are used to control society today.  You may claim that we're not so well controlled, but the evidence is we are controlled if one just polls enough of the proles to find out what their beliefs are about the various important issues of the time.  The controllers may not be pushing the correct buttons to make life better for the proles -- true.  They're likely motivated by their own selfish instant desires.

"If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it." 
"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the public is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country." -- Edward Bernays

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 14:05 | 1615776 gmj
gmj's picture

The TV marketing folks have been doing this for 50 years.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:32 | 1616186 tired1
tired1's picture

"It's the most imporatnt meal of the day!"

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:49 | 1616259 Medea
Medea's picture

Your frame of reference is too small. Expand your horizon a century in either direction and tell me how that control is working out for you.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 17:18 | 1616643 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture

The technology (and its methods of implementation, eg TV) is too recent to do that (and I likely won't be around in another century to tell about the foward expansion you want).

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:12 | 1615230 Irwin Fletcher
Irwin Fletcher's picture

The Limits of Charles High Smith's ability to diagnose spiritual disease? None, bitchez!

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:17 | 1615256 Hagbard Celine
Hagbard Celine's picture

This works fine when measuring and controlling water flow, flow of electrons, and other linear systems


But, both of those examples are highly non-linear...

And, engineers know that. They also know a couple of other things about non-linear dynamics that seem to have been missed by the author. One might say that they had a hand in figuring out how to solve these unsolvable problems in the first place.

Or, one might just keep talking out of one's ass.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:23 | 1615289 snowball777
snowball777's picture

Damn straight (or not ;). Stokes, Reynolds, Boltzmann...the list goes on...

"Scientists know...engineers know where to look"


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:36 | 1615362 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture

Not so!  The measurment and control of a single molecule or electron, like a single human, is impossible to precisely predict.  10^23 of them is quite another matter (no pun intended).

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:53 | 1615453 Chump
Chump's picture

Even a cursory glance at the Rational Method would dispel a lot of these misconceptions.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:19 | 1615265 topcallingtroll
topcallingtroll's picture

You can do 11 correct trades in a row if like goldman you engage in high frequency frontrunning and also have access to google's not so secret product price search engine.  The billion price project is primitive in comparison.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:23 | 1615274 myne
myne's picture

Some say the US is driving off a cliff.

Considering the theme of this blog, I am reminded of the scene where the narrator is driving with two space monkeys in the back, and arguing with Tyler Durden. The "paint a self portrait" scene.

It would seem that despite appearances to the contrary, no one has hold of the economic wheel.

Perhaps the rear differential will lock?

Either way, it looks to be time to accept our fates and let the chips fall where they may.


Or, perhaps someone will become the Tyler Durden, and carry out the end game of the movie. Could that be HeliBenny's mission? To wipe out the debt records? Scary thought...

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:22 | 1615278 wrs
wrs's picture

Looks to me like someone talking about linear systems and not knowing what they are.  That's not surprising though, I see it all the time.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:33 | 1615309 topcallingtroll
topcallingtroll's picture

I agree.

And there are lots of places where linear functions are found in nature, at least close enough.

Even for the stock market the best linear functions wins, just like the one eyed man in the land of the blind gets to fuck all the chicks, or something like that.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:27 | 1615315 DOT
DOT's picture

How do I look around corners ?

Why, mirrors or cameras or spys or some other engineered solution.

Thanks for the giggles CHS.  Now its back to looking for asymptotes for me.



Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:33 | 1615348 The Deleuzian
The Deleuzian's picture

Are humans the only thing that defy the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics......?

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:26 | 1615583 Irwin Fletcher
Irwin Fletcher's picture

No, except for the caveat that the Poincare recurrence theorem was formulated by humans.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:48 | 1616252 El Viejo
El Viejo's picture

There are islands in the stream that seem to defy the laws of nature. Like mini rallies in a bear market or asset inflation in a deflationary cycle or the earth growing things from the warmth of the sun.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:35 | 1615358 americanspirit
americanspirit's picture

Well Charles, the good news is that while Mr. CRE was fulminating and writing his 'critique' of you he was neither (1) terrorizing his wife nor (2) irritating his neighbors nor (3) kicking his dog. So you see, you really are a prince of a guy - and a heck of a good writer/thinker I might add.

Now, since Mr. CRE is no doubt lurking on this blog, please show yourself by giving me a big red down arrow. Go on - you know you want to. Do it.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:39 | 1615374 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture

Are you claiming that Mr CRE is incapable of multi-tasking?  If so, how do you know this?

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:41 | 1615382 Mark_BC
Mark_BC's picture

I can’t help wondering if these articles are merely veiled justifications for ignorance regarding science and engineering amongst economist types. I’ll give the author credit though for pointing out that linear solutions are not always appropriate for non-linear systems.

“Getting 20 Million Unemployed Back to Productive Work: Here's How”

Sorry, wrong. I’ll have a look at your article later (at work now) but I can point out right here, right now that from the get-go you are off the mark. You are incorrect in your most fundamental belief implied in that statement, ie, that labour has productivity. It does not. We produce ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Name me ONE THING that labour “produces”. I can guarantee that in order to “produce” that product, labour needed more stuff in terms of natural resources and energy, to make that product, than that end product contains. We consume; we do not produce. Only plants can produce.

“(Both manufacturers [Nissan and Chevy] sold about 2,200 of these models in the first 5 months of 2011.)”

If you had actually put some effort into following the Leaf and Volt, you would understand that there are massive wait lists (I am on it). Sales are constrained by production, not demand. It takes time to ramp up new assembly lines for new products.

“This is roughly comparable to the mileage of the far more costly and complex Toyota Prius”

That’s because hybrids by definition get similar range on the highway as a regular car. That’s there limitation, since all their energy ultimately comes from gasoline. Hybrids are best suited for stop and go city driving where the inefficiencies involved in constantly braking and accelerating can be soaked up by the regenerative braking system. Put a wall plug on the car and that whole analysis totally shifts.

“building the Car of the Future will generate millions of jobs is simply fantasy.”

Agreed. Nothing can bring back full employment at 40 hours a week, with automation technology pervasive throughout manufacturing. This is something almost all economists fail to grasp. If America was willing to innovate (Apple being the one exception), then it could attract a lot of its former manufacturing industries back and with this lots of jobs, but it will never get full employment back at 40 hours. This is mathematically impossible. The way to reduce unemployment is to reduce the work week.

“The entire premise of the engineering mindset is that problems can be broken down to a small set of quantifiable inputs, processes and outputs.”

No, this is the premise of the material reductionist mindset, which I will admit, engineers and scientists can be guilty of adhering to in situations where it doesn’t merit (yet, somehow all the simplistic imaginary two dimensional charts in economics textbooks aren’t doing the same thing????). This does not however preclude a scientific analysis of economies being valid, because science does not equal material reductionism. Our economies are in no way exempt from the laws of nature that govern everything else in the universe, even if an economist can draw a nice imaginary chart in his textbook suggesting otherwise.

“Most of our problem-sets are non-linear, and are thus inaccessible to engineered solutions.”

Again you are confusing “engineering” with “material reductionism”.

“The problem is that the market--and most of life--is non-linear, and "solutions" cannot be conjured out of simplistic linear models and inputs which cannot be quantified except with a highly illusory accuracy.”

Kind of. The inputs can indeed be quantified because nothing can escape the laws of physics, it doesn’t matter how non-linear that system is. NOTHING can violate the laws of thermodynamics (except for subatomic particles for brief periods of time).

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:46 | 1615410 Chump
Chump's picture

Was getting ready to post a similar comment but you already did a better job.  Well said.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:46 | 1615683 DCFusor
DCFusor's picture

With the caveat that you're astray in saying labor (human or otherwise) that rearranges the theromdynamics produces nothing, this is one of the better rants on this board.

You're sticking to a particular measure of value that only counts atoms, not utility.  Too simple.  You can avoid judgements on utility only be completely removing those who judge, so in a lifeless world, you'd be right.

But to many, the value of a nice juicy steak is higher than that of the wind and rain and dirt and grass and cow on the hoof it took labor to get into the right form to eat.


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 14:05 | 1615779 Mark_BC
Mark_BC's picture

In terms of physical things, we do indeed produce absolutely nothing. And we don't rearrange thermodynamics, what we do is we use the laws of thermodynamics to our advantage. What we do is we get energy transfer to do useful things for us, but we do not produce energy or matter in any way (except in nuclear reactors, but that's shifting between matter and energy, not producing it).

But you are right that we do produce things like ideas and lots of other similar "non-linear" things. This gets into the whole non-linear aspect the author brings up, which I would agree with. I am not a material reductionist, I am a scientist and engineer, and those things are not the same. Science is about applying the scientific method, which does NOT, contrary to popular opinion, seek to discover the "truth" (and therefore some simplistic theory to explain everything). I agree that scientists can sometimes become too hard nosed in their material reductionist approach (Richard Dawkins being the prime example). What the scientific method really does is identify what the truth ISN'T, by using "objective" observation and experimentation (this breaks down in the realm of quantum physics because the observer becomes part of the observed and can no longer be objective). It's then up to our brains and imagination to build upon this non-truth to theorize our own version of the "truth" and move on to the next scientific discovery to further refine that previous version of non-truth.

On a microscopic scale, subatomic "particles" do not follow linear patterns and material reductionism flies out the window. And this is also the scale at which biology originates....

This allows for spirituality and religion to coexist with science, while not in any way invalidating certain material reductionist scientific approaches to understanding physics at the larger scale of things we can see and touch.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:51 | 1616527 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

>On a microscopic scale, subatomic "particles" do not follow linear patterns and material reductionism flies out the window

Yet, wavefunctions are still believed to evolve deterministically.

> And this is also the scale at which biology originates....

There's no evidence of subtle quantum effects involved in the macroscopic operation of the human brain. This is just wishful thinking on your part.

>This allows for spirituality and religion to coexist with science

You're depending on gaps in your knowledge to support these things that you want. If the gaps are filled later, you will simply switch to finding new gaps.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:53 | 1616557 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

Now, now.... QM definately plays a role in describing brain function... in many cases a neuron firing is non-deterministic .e.g. tunnelling..  

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 17:09 | 1616594 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

Any references?

QM's significance in the brain seems pretty dubious according to this:

"The nervous system probably cannot display macroscopic quantum (i.e. classically impossible) behaviours such as quantum entanglement, superposition or tunnelling (Koch and Hepp, Nature 440:611, 2006).

In any case, whether the universe is ultimately deterministic or non-deterministic is a metaphysical question outside of science.

I still find it dishonest to adopt the position that religion and spirituality must be hiding in the scientific lacunae du jour. In one age, gods control the thunder and lighting; in the next, they're hiding out in unknown QM brain effects.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 17:17 | 1616636 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

Well, I don't think the case is closed and we are bordering on dancing on pinheads (at least for the Hedge)

The conclusion of this monogram is noteworthy:


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:45 | 1615407 Fred Hayek
Fred Hayek's picture

A good article again, Mr. Smith. 

I'm an engineer myself.  Maybe I'm too biased to see otherwise but I think that the abuse of the engineering perspective most always comes from non engineers who think that if someone is just as sophisticated and dedicated as that particular non engineer sees himself, he'll be able to whip those nerds into line and get X done. 

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:50 | 1615432 americanspirit
americanspirit's picture

Not my claim at all sir - but your point is well-taken. He could very well be doing all three while sitting at his desk composing his letter - that presupposes however that his wife, his dog, and/or his neighbors would be likely to be anywhere close by. And that is doubtful. But I'm sure that he could also be planning to affix a Michelle For President bumper sticker to his Ford Fairlane and composing an angry letter to the editor of his local newspaper along with 1,2 and 3 if wife, neighbors or dog were foolish enough to be in his vicinity. My only point was that while actually in the act of writing his letter to Charles, he was for at least a few blessed moments probably ( but not, as you point out, certainly) unable to execute on his other daily priorities. I am sure that Mr. CRE has very full days before retreating to the comfort of his Barcalounger in the evenings.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:51 | 1615433 carbonmutant
carbonmutant's picture

Astute observation, Charles.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:52 | 1615439 scratch_and_sniff
scratch_and_sniff's picture

Ok, consider the idea of modelling tree growth; take a branch and split it two, do the same with those two branches and the same again until you have something that looks like a tree. This is a linear process, and can be modelled easily, but in reality we all know it works out slightly differently. For example, the tree could be planted with its back against a wall so that particular leaves and branches get more sunlight, someone could damage the tree or break off a branch and hence the tree would grow differently at certain points so that the linear relationship of branches growing relatively to one another would break down.

But this does not mean that the growth of the tree does not follow mathematical laws, the same can be said for waves, crowds, animal or insect behaviour, markets, even serial killers follow mathematical laws when planning their attacks(there is a mathematician that pinpointed a serial killer to within 3 blocks, using a simple model, in fact its nearly impossible for humans to act completely randomly). What the writer is suggesting is that because that particular mathematician was not able to pinpoint the exact address of the serial killer, that the model he employed is completely and utterly useless? Its a classic case of a moaning philistine doomer wanting to throw the baby out with the bath water.  Of couse we cant predict the future, but we can create conditions from which to model it, whether short term or long term, then that is better than nothing. What is he even promoting with this attack? That people can never be 100% correct, all of the time? Calm down.


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:37 | 1615635 scratch_and_sniff
scratch_and_sniff's picture

As for calling 11 moves in a row, what about calling 21 bubbles in a row? is a link to Didier Sornette's FBE page where he uses Log periodic power laws to call tops in just about everything, consistently.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 12:58 | 1615480 exiledbear
exiledbear's picture

Isn't that what HFT does? Engineering 11 good trades in a row?

I guess HFT isn't dangerous if a few people are doing it, but it sure is when everyone is trying to engineer 11 good trades in a row.

What they'll end up engineering is a smoking hold in the ground where the exchanges used to be.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:03 | 1615506 The Deleuzian
The Deleuzian's picture

I always loved you engineers!!  "EITHER BUILD IT OR DESTROY IT"!!!

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:07 | 1615519 Steroid
Steroid's picture

@ ORI, Mark, wrs

Ludwig von Mises dealt with this issue in Human Action:

When people are involved, the problem is not linearity or non-linearity but the lack of mathematical instruments to handle human choices. Human choices are directed by priorities, best described by ordinal numbers. These require sets of inequations. Current mathematics can do very little with inequations.  She is making magic with equations on cardinal numbers but doesn't even know the scope and limitations of this different set. Inequations are the stepchildren of mathematics. How ironic that all those mathematician wants to solve the only problem they will never be able to.

Please, carry on.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:38 | 1615641 Bullionaire
Bullionaire's picture

39.91 MPG is NOT "roughly comparable to the mileage of the far more costly and complex Toyota Prius" Prius gets about 45 MPG.



Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:51 | 1615707 DCFusor
DCFusor's picture

I'd say it's pretty damn close in total cost of ownership, actually.  At high MPG's the other costs become more dominant in the equation.  And if you're driving a fixed miles like most commuters do, the difference isn't so big, really.  It takes multi-baggers to make much difference above about 30 mpg when you add tires, maintenance (had to change batteries yet?), insurance, and of course, the nebulous "fun to drive" quotient.  Which is why I have both a Cruze and a Camaro SS -- to each its task.  Both are more fun than a Prius, sorry.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:43 | 1615664 jmc8888
jmc8888's picture

Actually that's not engineering idiocy.


That is stuff aside from engineering.  You add-on bullcrap to engineers, and then call them idiots.


I say that's WRONG.


Let engineers do what engineers do. 


X bombs to kill X people, is sophistry.

Designing a rocket, is not.


You are equating the two CHS.


We need engineers, to do what engineers DO.

Not what Monetary economists, or geopolitical fucktards want them to do, so they know what wars to start (based on bullshit), or how much to forecast this or that.


Engineers aren't fucktards.  It's the people that misallocate them that are.  Let alone those that then believe the sophistry of misallocated engineers put into a groupthink box desiring a specific outcome.

Engineers doing what engineers do, can solve REAL problems.

Engineers misallocated into doing bullshit, garners very little results.


So first off, people must learn HOW to USE engineers.

Hint: not with sophistry



...then we can mag-lev, NASA, NAWAPA, Fusion, Fusion Arc, desalinization, so on and so forth.  These are REAL engineering projects.

They aren't...kill x people with how many bombs.  They focus on REAL things.   Real WATER.  REAL ELECTRICITY.  REAL technological progress.  REAL TIME AND ENERGY savings. 

Let the engineers do their jobs, and their job isn't do the other bullshit sophistry the monetarists want. 

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:50 | 1615698 The Deleuzian
The Deleuzian's picture

You can't (atleast yet) engineer human behavior.. 

If some 'ponoptic control machine was capable of it... Prisons would be the model to look @ for clues...

I don't know of any mathematical alchemy that can break that down into sets of Diffy Q's in a 4X4 matrix!!!

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:27 | 1616156 TheAkashicRecord
TheAkashicRecord's picture

//You can't (atleast yet) engineer human behavior.. //

You really think that social engineering doesn't take place?  Our whole society is predicated upon engineering human behavior, keeping variations in output (behavior) to a minimum makes us easier to control don't ya know.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 17:09 | 1616611 The Deleuzian
The Deleuzian's picture

The AkashicRecord...

I certainly believe that the 'Social Engineers' believe they are engineering it!

My point was more down to a repeatable, predictable, reductive, mechanical, molecular level of "engineering" Human behavior.

We have a long way to go!

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 14:21 | 1615875 Stuck on Zero
Stuck on Zero's picture

Charles is at it again: Killing Straw Dawgs!

The problem is that the market--and most of life--is non-linear, and "solutions" cannot be conjured out of simplistic linear models and inputs which cannot be quantified except with a highly illusory accuracy.

Charles, you are so linear.  Anyone who assumes that the "other people" are simplistic linear thinkers must be one of the same.  For example CHS, if everyone else is linear then you should be very rich out-thinking them with your linear thinking. 

Something ZeroHedge has been pointing out for aeons is that complex non-linear models and systems are devilishly easy to crack with a little straight linear thinking. 




Tue, 08/30/2011 - 14:25 | 1615899 Miles Kendig
Miles Kendig's picture

CHS - The only math the economic engineering crew need know is this representation of human systems and human systems that will fail 1:1

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:07 | 1616069 El Viejo
El Viejo's picture

Accusing someone of "Know-It-All Syndrome" is usually a symptom of 'Meta-Know-It-All Syndrome'.

Engineers deal with all kinds of non linear (called curvilinear sometimes now days) like the conductivity of solutions. Or the conversion to Relative Humidity in HVAC engineering. Chaos Theory was first recognized and Fuzzy Logic used to combat it in engineering by Japanese engineers back in the 80s to smooth out the acceleration rates of Japanese subways.

Here is an engineered solution to the instability of the stock market: Bring back the 90% tax bracket or do away with 401k plans. Take your pick. I'm not biased. I believe Minsky when he said too much money in the market is destabilizing. Have a nice day?



Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:29 | 1616169 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

Speaking of non-linear phenomena, Katia should be watched closely.... It smells like a replay of Ivan.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:54 | 1616286 El Viejo
El Viejo's picture

Ok Ok Charles you're smarter than some old retired guy. We'll give you that.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 15:59 | 1616306 kevinearick
kevinearick's picture

Traversing Black Holes: Social Constructs of Algebraic Reduction

Those resistors to the resistors are “cracks” in the looking glass, through which you traverse/build the periodic table, constructing a wave/bridge as you go, gap to gap, rung to rung on the ladder diagram, to install the wires. The wiring diagram is always under construction, subject to quantum changes.

Masters rule, slaves obey, and independents may play any or all roles, by absolving pride in self, which is the point of God or whatever you want to call the unseen. At each rung on the ladder, you will be required to dismiss your pride. If you fail, the gate will not only close on you, but it will also be closed thereafter to all similarly situated individuals, programming the social construct to deny liberty. At the end of a macro half-cycle, close the gate behind you regardless. The system distills intelligence. On the gravity side of the looking glass, stupidity is intelligence. Practice.

When the looking glass “momentarily” opens, you get one shot and one shot only. Don’t be surprised if the person most dear holds you back at that moment. Leave everything behind, piece by piece, as necessary to climb out. Be efficient to the gates and effective at choosing the next gate set upon completion. Funny how charge actually travels through the wire, to build the periodic table.

Did you actually think the sun made gold from lead?

“making it nearly impossible for cities to operate their own networks.”


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:46 | 1616522 scratch_and_sniff
scratch_and_sniff's picture

Hey screwball, do they let you use computers in the mental asylum? How times have changed.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 16:48 | 1616533 Bicycle Repairman
Bicycle Repairman's picture

The world's problems are not technological, or economic.  They are political.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 17:49 | 1616717 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture

Ever since women got the vote?

Thu, 09/01/2011 - 13:32 | 1616718 FeralSerf
FeralSerf's picture
Fri, 09/02/2011 - 08:50 | 1625768 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

I agree... somethings are best unsaid...

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 17:11 | 1616617 SeventhCereal
SeventhCereal's picture

oh please unless you work at rentech you aren't in any position to be making such blanket statements.  we are all idiots fortunately there are even greater idiots trading the markets.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 18:23 | 1616798 RunningMan
RunningMan's picture

This sounds like CRE really got to CHS. Normally, I enjoy his posts but this was off track. True, applying linear approximations to nonlinear systems can be problematic, especially as errors grow. But condemning all of engineering and suggesting science cannot handle nonlinear problems is idiotic.

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 01:37 | 1617965 janus
janus's picture

Dear Mr. Smith,


maybe janus could use a dose of rarified air from Washington's hinterlands. 

dout you'll recall, but a while back i shared a quote from my ole ball coach: "good, better, best; never let it rest, till your good is better and your better is best."  perhaps it borders a bit too closely along the boundry of bromide and folk-wisdom; even so, it's been a sort of mantra since its efficacy was so spendidly displayed in our trophy case (state champs, bitchez!) way back in 92'.  i resurrected it for a reason; that (the essay above), my good man, was spillin over into 'the best'.  you have a gift; and it's my job to ensure you deliver that gift to me -- and all i'm asking for is genius...and, really, it's the least you could do.

about 600 million BC, somewhere in the steppes of the asian subcontinent, God developed the car of the future; there's one a few hundred yards from my desk, and she gets about 50 miles to the bale of hay.  she's good company, too.

also, i want to make a point about humor; what it is, what it was, and what it can someday be again: people, do you see how Mr. Smith crafted that brilliant lil gem (in other words, the problem is a dearth of bloggers telling corporations how to design products of the future).  do you see the build up; the charecter development; the understated antipathy...that's what made things like andy griffith so funny.  we don't do that seems sophisticated humor is limited to the sights (and sites, too) and sounds of our various bodily functions, or else it just ain't funny.

seems we have something else in common: janus has never financed a car, nor anything else for that matter; save for his home (nothing!)...never carried a card balance more than two months, etc. (which is why i have the freedom and flexibility i have now).  why someone would EVER pay interest on a depreciating asset is to me the acme of folly. 

quick story: really great friend i once worked with shows up one morning in a brand new land he starts screwing with janus, teasin the ole sport about his pathetic auto, 'janus, you make more than me, why do you drive around in that piece of shit mazda millenia (it was like 8 years old at the time)?'  and then i reply, 'xxxxxxx, i don't ever do this, but since i'd like nothing more than to knock you down a peg or two, i'm gonna show you something.'  so we go to my office, and i pull up my savings balance, and, well, you could hear his testicles retreat deep within the ole scrotum.

cost per mile, bitchze!

You don't know me from the wind
you never will, you never did
I'm the little jew
who wrote the Bible
I've seen the nations rise and fall
I've heard their stories, heard them all
but love's the only engine of survival
Your servant here, he has been told
to say it clear, to say it cold:
It's over, it ain't going
any further
And now the wheels of heaven stop
you feel the devil's riding crop
Get ready for the future:
it is murder,


Mon, 09/05/2011 - 09:42 | 1634077 shacai
shacai's picture

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