28 October 2012

Human Judgment, Uncertainty, and Madame Marie

As Daniel Kahneman wrote in Thinking, Fast and Slow, decades of academic research suggest we place too much confidence in human judgment.

Kahneman's thesis lays out the dichotomy between rapid, instinctive and emotional thinking, and slower, deliberative thinking. Kahneman enumerates various cognitive biases associated with instinctive and deliberative thinking. The distinctions in modes of thinking and the potential fallacies in believing in their validity make sense to me.

But what about our ability, or lack thereof, to divine the future?

Academicians don't put much stock in divination. And, rightfully so. It's the stuff of priests and boardwalk hucksters. Yet it interests me how much attention popular culture pays to predictions, prophesies, and divination.
"Did you hear the cops finally busted Madam Marie for tellin' fortunes better than they do."
- Bruce Springsteen, lyrics from "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)"
Attempting to foretell the future, putting forth prophesies, practicing soothsaying, and practicing a religious faith, all strike me as testament to human kind's primal need to contain, control, or spin uncertainty into order and predictability.
Madam Marie's Temple of Knowledge.
 Asbury Park, New Jersey
Madam Marie, fortune teller and psychic reader, was the longest running tenant on the Asbury Park boardwalk (1932 – 2008). Marie Castello (1915 – 2008) allegedly told Bruce Springsteen he would be a huge success. Springsteen later joked that she told all her musician clients the same thing. 
Beach fortifications in preparation
for Hurricane Sandy
Odd coincidences and serendipitous connections continue to amuse me.

I made the photograph of Madame Marie's "Temple of Knowledge" as Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on Asbury Park.

Coincidentally Sandy is a part of the title of Springsteen's song "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" - the same 1973 song with the lyric quoted above that turned Madam Marie into an icon.

The "Sandy" of Springsteen's song is, by popular accounts, a composite of girls Springsteen grew up with in New Jersey. Springsteen refers to this song as "a goodbye to my adopted hometown and the life I'd lived there before I recorded."

As it happens, I left New Jersey in the mid-1970s for college which was about the same time Springsteen was gaining national fame.

14 October 2012

Who Knows?

This is the season for retrospective contemplation. I find myself longing for what I might have lost. And I sense what I am about to lose. Yet I take comfort knowing I am part of earth's rhythms.

For me, earth's rhythms signal introspection. I feel sadness and solace knowing I am integral to these inexorable rhythms.
"There is a measure of serenity in earth rhythms, the seemingly friction-less spin of the earth, and the earth's reliable orbit around the sun."
Bunny Rabbit and Batman
Recalling Halloweens past, I feel a knot in my gut. I miss Batman, with his purposeful cookie eating, and I miss Bunny Rabbit, with her care-free floppy ears. I know we will be seeing our super heroes soon.

But I can't know time. Perhaps this is because time is confoundedly deceptive:
"When we are aware of it, it creeps along as if to defy us. When we are consumed by it, it vanishes."
I remember a wonderfully melancholic song from my teenage years beautifully sung by Judy Collins:
Who Knows Where the Time Goes
lyrics by Sandy Denny

Across the morning sky,
All the bird are leaving,
Ah, how can they know it's time for them to go?
Before the winter fire,
We'll still be dreaming.
I do not count the time

Who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

Sad deserted shore,
Your fickle friends are leaving,
Ah, but then you know it's time for them to go,
But I will still be here,
I have no thought of leaving.
I do not count the time

Who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

And I'm not alone,
While my love is near me,
And I know,it will be so,till it's time to go,
So come the storms of winter,
and then the birds in spring again.
I do not fear the time

Who knows how my love grows?
Who knows where the time goes?