Sunday, June 30, 2013

Data Makes the Crazy Better

I have bipolar disorder. With bipolar, a single isolated event can seem like the manifest destiny of a lifetime. One event can send you on a downward spiral into paranoia, despair, and the deepest depression. You may know you're just cycling when you're on one of these mental road trips into hell, but it sure doesn't feel like it.

So believe me when I say I understand what it feels like to watch the evening news and feel like the world is going to hell. Shootings. Terror attacks. Geo-political tension. Kim Kardashian. No wonder people think the end is nigh.

Even without bipolar disorder it's understandable that this information is disconcerting to the loyal late night news viewer. But, this information is just a single data point, and it is highly sensationalized.

One of the best books I have read recently is Steven Pinker's The Better Angels Of Our Nature. In it, he charts the improvement of society over time when it comes to violence:



When you watch the news it feels like the world is unraveling, but it's not. We still have a long way to go--don't get me wrong--but we are becoming increasingly egalitarian, increasingly adept at avoiding war, illness, poverty, and ignorance. It may not seem like it in our day to day lives--or when we watch the news--but that lump in your throat that forms at the hearing of bad news is actually more evidence that things aren't as bad as you might think. You are upset by all the sexed up nightly news because you are more civilized than your forebears. Hand wringing is a sign of developing conscience.

I know how it feels, but how it feels is not always the case. This is something of a motto for the person with bipolar disorder. Religion did not groove with bipolar for me; trying to discern messages from God is not a good preoccupation for a person in a manic state. Data on the other hand, is all comfort. There it is. There are the facts. They don't have feelings, they track over long periods. Errors can be weeded out, outliers can be explained. Data is a great comfort. It makes the crazy better.
 

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Data can be manipulated at any time. How much comfort is that?!

Spencer Troxell said...

That's true. You definitely have to be thoughtful about the data you consider.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

I also enjoyed your July 5th post.

Like most people I went through a stage in my life when I was younger never satisfied with who I was. I always compared myself to my classmates or some famous person on tv. It made me feel that my life was no as important. That something was missing. Luckily, I have outgrown that and I am constantly finding out who I am and loving the journey that I am now - every moment!!