The plural of anecdote *IS* data

Data is just a bunch of anecdotes that we decided are similar enough to put in the same category.

Why do people insist on the opposite statement? “The plural of anecdote is not data.” Bah! That is the opposite of the truth. But I was given inspiration by a Jewish proverb, and I’ve figured out why people think this.

“For example” is not proof. -Jewish proverb

This is true. Anecdotes are not proof. By adding an assumption, we can see the logical progression of their thoughts.

Data is proof. (Assumption)
The plural of anecdote is not proof.
Therefore, the plural of anecdote is not data.

This is a valid syllogism, but it is not sound because the added assumption is not true. Yet we see people say this all of the time, “such and such has been proven by data” or “such and such has been proven by scientific research”. These statements make a fundamental category error.

Data cannot be used to “prove” things. They can only be used as evidence for belief. Statistics can only be used to make statistical statements, such as “99.9999999999% of the time if something leaves the ground, it returns to the ground.” This is the ur-experiment: throw a rock in the air one billion times, and it returns to the ground. But we cannot say it is therefore “proven” that everything must return to the ground. Something may achieve escape velocity and never return, although this is pretty rare.

The tacit assumption that data is proof betrays an ignorance of where data comes from. Perhaps people assume scientists receive their data from heaven as divine revelation? But no, they are actually just counting up carefully controlled anecdotes which they call “trials”.

Each of those times you throw the rock is an anecdote (or a “trial”). Taken together, they are data. The only remaining consideration is whether we think each anecdote was a “good” anecdote, worthy of inclusion in our “good” data. Maybe one time you throw the rock downward instead of upward, and I complain that this is a “bad” anecdote. Then I would not agree to include this trial in my dataset. Maybe you agree, maybe you disagree. Science cannot replace understanding or reason. It can only inform belief.


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17 Responses to The plural of anecdote *IS* data

  1. Edenist whackjob says:

    Right. All evidence should be used to weigh your beliefs of future (and past (retrodiction is also a thing)). Data is anecdote which has passed through a framework to make us reasonably sure we’re not mis-believing.

    This is why the n = 1 / personal science (see: Seth Roberts) is so powerful. We only care about ourselves when it comes to eg what supplements to take, so we can use anecdote more directly. Less potential for confusion. If math scores go up consistently after eating butter and pork belly, that’s good enough.

  2. Edenist whackjob says:

    Insights: books are a form of appeal to authority (argumentum ad verecundiam). A book will come out, say Piketty’s book on capital, and the learned class will kind of pick up what it says and turn it into a meme. Notice how they will always refer to books and authors in discussions. They don’t unpack it further, necessarily. “As Piketty has explained, …..” But they don’t even refer to specific pages, tables, sources, etc. The book has been turned into a weaponized argument.

    it might be that the author has written a long and thorough argument, but still bungled it in some way. But no, a book is obviously true if it’s from Our Side. It’s almost like an ad baculum argument in that you can slap your opponent with the heft of the tome.

    Books also offer an element of obscurantism. If your opponent presses, you just say “go read such and such, they have explained it”. A book is monolithic – either you’ve read it and become aware, or you are at a disadvantage in the debate. That in itself is some kind of ad verecundiam as well – look at me, I’m smarter than you, I can namedrop all these titles I’ve read.

    Insight sparked by this:

  3. Edenist whackjob says:

    Definition of AH: the line beyond which things are prima facie crazy. Have a far-reaching AH means you go “but wait a minute, let’s stop and see what they actually mean” when other people go “haha, that’s nuts!”

    I definitely had a much smaller AH, and easier time calling fringe things nuts, when I was younger. So, it was easier to go along with the neurotypicals. (The psychoticism was still a problem though).

    Now, I get in trouble just for having AH. People think being able to think a thought == advocacy. Maybe this mechanism of “that’s just nuts!” is necessary to the neurotypical mind. If they start thinking something is not crazy, they immediately start to follow it.

  4. Edenist whackjob says:


    If you were beaten up a lot as a kid, you will imprint as weak and defenseless.

    If you got laid a lot in high school, you will imprint as the cool guy who deserves pussy.

    If you won spelling bees and did well on math in elementary school, you will always think you know how to solve problems.

    These are imprints.

    It strikes me that a lot of human struggle is concerned with going from the “closed” to the “open” imprint. Becoming the PUA. Class war. Thal secessionism. Etc.

    Kind of like Samsara.

    it also strikes me that to go from the trapped to free imprint you have to grow beyond the problem. It’s not enough to just go antithesis on it.

    Thal society:

    I was thinking about how I feel bad for having a cushy job where I get paid (subjectively) more than I should. When I consume goods, I am exploiting other workers in the economy who do have to work hard.

    Then I thought: would this be different in a society made up of all Thals?

    Surely, there would be robots, guaranteed basic income, cheap algae based food, stuff like that.

    Then I thought: no, probably not. We would still be living as hunter-gatherers, hunting mammoths. It’s doubtful if thals really desire the complexity of society. Even if they could envision it, would they be willing to go through thousands of years of free market competition to get there? (Which history is).

    So, melons built society. And we live in a society based on slavery. Pyramids yesteryear, central banks and corporations today.

    Maybe the Thal mammoth thing is a local maximum. Maybe we should go to the stars. That would mean the melon slave society was a necessary step. Kind of like how Marx saw capitalism as necessary.

    The thinking modes (spatial, linguistic, logical, etc) have a “screen resolution”. Someone who writes with very low precision and lots of typos and faults, has a crummy old 80×25 display. Whereas someone like Koanic has a 4K monitor.

    The trick is to figure out the resolution for each of your thinking modes. Otherwise, it’s easy to take your sharpest mode and extrapolate that to all others.

    I often assume people are smarter than they are, and gloss over their faults.

    The Facebook friend who writes a crappy sentence with weird structure and overall bad integrity, not to mention typos. Oh, he must just be lazy today.

    The minority on a TV show who goes “yo yo that $insert_obvious_problem there be baaad!”. He must be a pragmatic fellow who doesn’t waste time on overcomplicating the obvious.

    The café intellectual who goes around in circles, refuses to answer my objections, sprinkles tangents, casts aspersion on my character, etc. *I* must be the one missing something.

    The rare time when I do meet someone who I can transfer information with back and forth without friction or having to gloss over parts of their style? It feels so smooth, like an instant click.

    There’s an old saying that goes “be liberal in what you accept and conservative in what you emit”. Ie be tolerant towards others and try to understand what they mean, but hold yourself to an exacting standard of intellectual stringency. This is a very T-front mode of thought, methinks.

    Potential thought experiment: stop being so tolerant. Hold people to a high standard. Be more open to declaring other people inept, and leave them. “Smile and nod” as the Wall St Playboys say.

    Also, look for those rare people who you click with instantaneously.

    The mass media, as we know, is a mechanism for putting slogans and images into people’s heads. This seems to work with people who are suggestible (extroverts?), while it tends to induce depersonalization, anxiety, the drive to form weird subcultures, and the phenomenon of I-can’t-believe-it-but-I-can’t-disbelieve-it that I’ve discussed in some of my earlier comments. Ie sensing that the media is lying, but not being able to fully stand in the face of the blast and declare it an utter lie. Hitting the glass ceiling of insanity.

    Now, something more specific. I wonder how transsexuals in the media affect suggestible people. People are very confused about gender these days, especially men. There’s also all kinds of biological phenomena going on with hormones and so on. I wonder if the trannies on TV thing is a way to give people a concept they can latch on to in their confusion about gender. There is a big swirly cloud of confusion and you put the label of “transsexual” on it and suddenly pareidolia kicks in and people get a sense of certainty about themselves again.

    As I’ve said before, we are in a culture war where the thing being fought over is the right to name things. Putting transsexuals in the media constantly makes it a thing. People look at their inner confusion and wacky hormones and suddenly it clicks…

    • Edenist whackjob says:

      When I write stuff like this, I don’t really know if I’m insane or if I’m being really insightful.

      Is that a common thing?

      • Edenist whackjob says:

        I would say my main source of insight, as well as also being a big challenge, is “noticing what’s right in front of me”. Ie melons, for instance. (I actually noticed as a kid that all politicians looked kind of ugly and weird).

        Seems to me that someone like Tex has a really good capability there.

        Me? I feel kind of “fuzzy” when I notice bad things that are right in front of me. Like I am half-insane, like I can’t even trust myself. Maybe some amygdala damage there?

        I wonder how the neurotypicals feel about it? As a kid, like I’ve said before, I was much more neurotypical, and I certainly didn’t have a problem with mass immigration and such. I just accepted the slogans that “racists” are the ultimate evil and so on.

      • Edenist whackjob says:

        Re: the fuzziness. Sometimes it just feels like I am stringing together internally-coherent sentences according to a learned rule system. So hard to know if one is on to something, or just generating somewhat amusing gibberish.

      • Aeoli Pera says:

        No, it’s not common. Most people only think stuff that makes them feel insane if they are under great strain.

      • Edenist whackjob says:

        “No, it’s not common. Most people only think stuff that makes them feel insane if they are under great strain.”

        Interesting. Maybe having DP/DR and heavy anxiety for years on end made me level up in some way?

        I certainly feel like I am constantly going on willpower through life and analyzing everything logically so I can barrel through the fear. Even when I am drunk as fuck I have a pretty good autopilot, for instance.

        Some relevant forum threads I found from a quick googling of “depersonalization benefits”:

        I used to be afraid of meditation because apparently it can induce DP. I sometimes feel like I am reaching the limits of human cognition – thinking about what time, space, God, meaning, free wil, etc is. It’s like the nervous system becoming aware of itself and that it’s a computer. And not being able to break free of that.

        Science has proven that we don’t really make decisions. The thought arises in our mind to do something, and we rationalize a few millisecs after. I actually know this from introspection! Pretty scary.

        Of course, it seems that I have a quite functional computer. I can just pump out words. But it makes me alienated. There is some algorithm running in my head generating sentences. They are internally coherent and refer to reality, but there is always the niggling thought that I am going insane.

      • Edenist whackjob says:

        “No, it’s not common. Most people only think stuff that makes them feel insane if they are under great strain.”

        Guy who seems to think a lot like me:

        I approach religion from the perspective of it being an absolute necessity to make existence bearable. Without a metaphysical “gold standard”, something that provides Isness (or what you might call Meaning), is there really any reason to live? That’s why atheists strike me as silly – they haven’t thought it through. They are using a “borrowed concept”, as Rand says, when they say life can have meaning within the paradigm of just being a bio-computer with fake-consciousness.

      • Edenist whackjob says:

        “Science has proven that we don’t really make decisions. The thought arises in our mind to do something, and we rationalize a few millisecs after. I actually know this from introspection! Pretty scary.”

        Example: some kind of mental activity just happened in a corner of my mind’s eye. A quick flash of something and a desire to go for a cigarette. A small instant, later I hear myself rationalizing “yeah, I’ll go along with that”. But I *know* that I didn’t make the decision. I am just observing some inner machinery.

        Imagine if I actually thought I was making the decision to do things! I would be pretty opinionated :)

        Brb, off for a smoke.

    • Koanic says:

      My monitor actually is a bigscreen TV. I had a TT moment: “How does he KNOW?”

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