Guest post by Thomas Jockin

Arguments from statistics often rely on averages. However, for those of us working in social reality, the model of the average has issues.

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Imagine a room with an average temperature of 70° F over an hour. If the room has a low variation, the temperature fluctuates only slightly around 70° F … 67, 69, 71, 64, etc. If the room has a high variation, the temperature will fluctuate vastly over the hour. A temperature of 0° F for 30 mins and 140° for 30 mins will produce the same average: 70° F.

In both the low and high variation rooms, the average is the same: 70° F. While the average is correct and equivalent for both rooms, the high variation room’s average obscures a significant variable.

Social reality is an entity with high variation, rather than, low variation in its states of affairs. Refer to wealth, farmland ownership, book sales, music streams, etc. All of these outcomes are winner take all effects where the correctness of the average obscures the significance of such a state of affairs. In a social reality with such high variations, the average is not a sufficient measurement to guide decisions.

Design exists in social reality. Therefore, the average is not useful for decisions towards significance.

To return to the room temperature example:
In the low variation room, a human being has a qualitative experience similar to the average.
In the high variation room, a human being has a vastly different qualitative experience to the average.

For states of affairs with high variation, the average fails to grasp the qualitative heart of the manner. In such cases, value stems from significance rather than correctness.

The room temperature analogy is from the book “Antifragile” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The correctness/significance distinction is from Martin Heidegger’s text “On The Essence of Truth”.