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World Association of International Studies

Post Porcaria Again
Created by John Eipper on 01/20/17 2:34 PM

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Porcaria Again (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA, 01/20/17 2:34 pm)

I do not see the reason to use the equivalent in Yiddish and Polish to get the English meaning of the Portuguese porcaria.

Google translate gives the same result "filth" without the long equation we've gone through. Furthermore, the Larousse Portuguese-English dictionary--an excellent source I frequently use to prepare my lectures in Portuguese for my trips to Brazil--lists rubbishy (sem valor), filth (imundice), piece of junk (coisa malfeita), rubbish (coisa sem valor).

JE comments: But Rodolfo, the "long equation" is what WAIS is all about! We've turned a mere vocabulary word (porcaria) to a rich discussion on "swinishness" across the linguistic and cultural spectrum. Google Translate may be faster, but it's a coisa malfeita:  it doesn't provide what anthropologist Clifford Geertz would call the "thick description."

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  • Pigs, Porcaria, and Google Translate (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 01/23/17 4:39 AM)
    In response to John E's remark of 20 January, I do not believe that Google Translate can be regarded as a coisa malfeita--piece of junk, since it was not designed to provide what anthropologist Clifford Geertz called the "thick description."

    Google Translate is just a component of a chain of innovations or reforms that are the result of the need to improve something or solve a problem. The only way to beat an existing technology is to bring in a disruptive and creative new technology that is a strong alternative. Just bad-mouthing it and stressing its handicaps do not go very far.

    Nor is the "long equation" always the answer.

    Interestingly, I had the opportunity to see a copy of one of Albert Einstein's theses provided by a friend of mine working at a library in Zurich. To my surprise, it had only a couple of pages. Making something complicated simple is a positive skill. Conversely, making something simple complicated with a long equation is not.

    JE comments: Rodolfo Neirotti's countryman Elías Castelnuovo (my PhD thesis topic) said the same thing: Es fácil explicar las cosas en difícil. Lo difícil es explicar las cosas en fácil. (It's easy to explain things in "difficult." The difficult thing is to explain things in "easy.")

    Yessir, WAIS can be guilty of overanalysis.  But I'll stick to my original point that the chaff of the long-winded discussion can yield gold nuggets of insight.  Silver linings too.  (How about that dreadfully mixed metaphor?)

    My favorite Google Translate screamer came from a student who entered "wether" instead of "whether," and came up with the Spanish equivalent of Castrated Ram:  "We don't know castrated ram we'll go to the game tomorrow or not."  Garbage in, garbage out.

    (I'm not sure castrated ram I already posted this anecdote on WAIS.  If so, please forgive.)

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    • Easy Explanations of Difficult Things, and an Einstein Quote (Istvan Simon, USA 01/24/17 5:01 AM)
      Regarding Rodolfo Neirotti's post about easy explanations of difficult things (23 January), I'd like to quote Albert Einstein, one of my all-time favorite quotes. Einstein said: a theory has to be as simple as possible, but not simpler. This is a really deep insight. It basically means that there is value in having a simpler theory than a more complicated one, provided that it agrees with the observed facts. That's what the "but not simpler" means. The theory is too simple if it does not fit the known facts.

      Consider the ridiculous theory of Creationism versus Darwin's theory of Evolution. Creationism is the perfect example of a theory that is simpler than as simple as possible. It does not fit the known facts.

      JE comments: Simple but not too simple: that's it.

      The late, great Formula 1 car builder Colin Chapman (Lotus) is known for a similar quote: add lightness. He is reported to have said that the way you perfect a race car is to remove pieces until it falls apart. Then you put the last part back.

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      • Einstein Again: on the Simple and Complex (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 01/25/17 2:40 PM)
        Istvan Simon sent this quote from Albert Einstein: "A theory has to be as simple as possible, but not simpler" (23 January).

        Interestingly, we started this discussion with something as simple as the meaning of the Portuguese word porcaria, and now we are moving into the potential limitations of going too far by making something complex simpler--too simple?

        I enjoyed and appreciated Istvan's posting for raising the value of Einstein's concept.  It is particularly important in complex systems in which their function, performance, and outcomes depend on the interaction of multiple individual, technical, and organizational factors. These structures would not be strong and complete should one of its modules come to miss. In these complex socio-technical systems, human factors research has been a major contributor to safety, reliability enhancement, and error avoidance.

        The most conspicuous advantage of the human mind is its remarkable ability to simplify complex tasks, a strength that can also be a weakness. This is something I experienced during my entire career in cardiac surgery--a complex system that has much in common with other complex structures that often demand complexity in situations in which simpler may affects outcomes.

        JE comments:  I´m not sure what you mean by "come to miss," Rodolfo.  To be out of whack?  To fail entirely?

        But in any case, your message is clear.  There are times when complex is truly complex.  I hope Freud will forgive me if I say that sometimes a cigar is far, far more than a cigar.

        If I may ask, could you illustrate this with a specific experience you had in the operating room?

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        • Simple and Complex, or, Tales from the Operating Room (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 01/29/17 11:07 AM)
          When commenting on my post of January 25th, John E wrote: "I'm not sure what you mean by 'come to miss,' Rodolfo. To be out of whack? To fail entirely?"

          In complex systems, as I mentioned in my posting, function, performance, and outcomes depend on the interaction of multiple individual, technical, and organizational factors. Then, if one of the multiples components fails to perform--come to miss--the entire system is vulnerable.

          JE: "If I may ask, could you illustrate this with a specific experience you had in the operating room?"

          RN: Before being recruited by the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam and then recruited by Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I worked in Argentina, therefore, differences in culture, resources and technology have had a significant impact in my practice and interactions with colleagues, patients and the public.

          Rather than talking about specific experiences in the operating room, I prefer to emphasize the characteristics of the setting and the importance of short-term creativity to produce good work and dealing with the uncertainty of tomorrow's needs. In Argentina, where I performed more than 3,500 operations on children with congenital heart diseases, we were forced to implement an ingenious multi-principle adaptive work, the KISS approach (Keep It Simple and Safe), to help more patients with the available funds, equipment, and manpower.

          With this approach, which eventually became a policy, we were able to make a significant impact on pediatric cardiac surgery in Argentina, as well as in other Latin American countries, whose surgeons adopted it. Nonetheless, we were able to recognize the limitations of simplification--less is more--and to identify the conditions in which complexity demanded complexity. A flexible approach but never simpler that was adjusted to the patient diagnosis and needs.

          Interestingly, after some initial resistance, I was able to adapt and implement this approach in a different contexts such as Amsterdam and in Michigan that had first-world human and physical capital.

          I apologize for the length of my response, but this topic was relevant during my entire career.

          JE comments: To think that our colleague Rodolfo Neirotti has saved thousands of lives. I stand in awe.

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      • The Einstein Quote? Not So Simple (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 01/26/17 4:27 AM)
        As this article shows, the background of the "simple" quote attributed to Einstein is not simple at all:


        JE comments: Thank you, Francisco! It turns out we oversimplified the Einstein maxim, "a theory should be as simple as possible, but not simpler." (The essay above casts a wider net:  "everything should be as simple...")

        There is no record that Einstein said or wrote these exact words, but he "meant" them in several of his writings. It was the composer Roger Sessions who attributed the quote to Einstein in a 1950 interview. From that point, it became part of the Einstein popular oeuvre.

        Apocryphal quotes reach aphorism status if they convey what someone "should" have said.  In this sense, they're an interesting source of collective knowledge and myth-formation.

        I'll be spending more time with the Quote Investigator website.

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        • An Apocryphal Emma Goldman Quote (John Torok, USA 01/31/17 9:23 AM)
          In response to Francisco Wong-Díaz (January 26th), here's another apocryphal quote I rather like: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."

          --Emma Goldman

          JE comments:  Happy New Year to my good friend in Oakland, John Torok.

          WAIS never gives Emma Goldman her due.  See below for some classic quotes.  Note that #1 is on dancing and revolution.  Is our apocryphal EG quote not apocryphal after all?

          Here's another:  "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."  The US and UK of late have proved her wrong.  I think.


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      • More on Theories, Simple and Complex (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/29/17 8:42 AM)
        I could not resist this discussion on theory and research, and wish to add some observations.

        John Eipper may have stretched too far commenting on my 24 January post with: "[Conspiracy Theories], like 'true' theories, are examples of higher-level thinking. Non-human animals can develop technology, but they don't do theories."

        I am sure animals take action by assuming that it will lead them to something desirable. If they can develop technology, they do it with premeditation. That seems to indicate implicit theories (broadly defined) about reality, albeit informal. If the animal technology worked, the underlying theory was right and reinforced.

        Regarding Istvan Simon's post of 24 January, Einstein's words, "a theory has to be as simple as possible, but not simpler" have a direct bearing on the art of modeling any real-world phenomena where the modeler wants to include all relevant variables/parts in the model but not the unimportant ones which would unnecessarily complicate the model. Given the fact that any given real-world phenomenon can be as complex as we humans can handle, how does a modeler/theorist know how much is too much or not enough when developing a model or hypotheses? The answer depends first on the study's objectives, and ultimately on the model's ability to predict the real world.

        Istvan is right to state that "there is value in having a simpler theory than a more complicated one, provided that it agrees with the observed facts. That's what the 'but not simpler' means. The theory is too simple if it does not fit the known facts." However, sometimes it takes more than a more elaborated existing model. Even the great Einstein missed the boat a few times. For example, in the context of subatomic physics, otherwise good existing theory was useless, no matter how simple or complex we made them. It took a completely different view/theory/model (very unorthodox and rejected by Einstein and all until its predictive power was established) from another new great mind: Heisenberg.

        JE comments: Next up on the theoretical: Rodolfo Neirotti, with an example from his vast experience as a cardiac surgeon.

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