Out and Back

There are no exact sciences of human behaviour. Economics, criminology, sociology, and the many branches of psychology are amenable to study through statistics but their results are invariably subject to different interpretations by different experts in their fields and it is clear that there are never experiments which can resolve disputes in the way there have often been in physics and chemistry. We should think hard about why this is so.

Goodhart’s Law can be expressed in a number of ways. My preferred way is “Any robust statistical pattern breaks down when people rely upon for it for forecasting.” Why is this so? Its consequences are more obvious. For instance it is extremely difficult to get rich by backing horses, or investing on the stock exchange. It is impossible to predict with certainty reoffending behaviour in the criminally insane. This problem was captured for all time by the long time director of Broadmoor Hospital, Patrick McGrath whom I met once as a young psychiatrist when I went there. He said “We all know half the patients in Broadmoor could be released, the trouble is we don’t know which half.” Returning to Goodhart’s Law, reductionists think it is just a matter of complexity. I totally disagree. It is to do with intentional/volitional behaviour. Here is a poem which approaches this issue from the direction of the staggering unpredictability of the future.

Distance means time, I suppose, 
and a long way off
the boy standing in the boat by the further bank
cannot see the man and woman alone at the open window,
unless of course it is himself 
painfully present 
only years later on.
Even so, though the boat travels back and forth
memory and imagination
the round trip,
its a conceit:
out and back are not the same
and our imaginings use the elements of what we already are
however rearranged and concealed from ourselves.
The looking back makes out young hopes and fears
but the casting off
misses utterly the agony of regret.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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