[image: network] The great Interwebs feel more epically amazing when you learn more about the actual structure of our great human network. It's one thing to sit at a terminal and think "hmm, this is pretty cool." It's another to see a gigantic, brain-like visualization of the entire network, and to realize the truly intricate and complex nature of our civilization (Image courtesy of Lumeta Corporation, lifted by me from a 2006 Power Point presentation by Steve Harnish).
I'm sitting in a room full of science students as we listen to Ramstein (Important part of the atmosphere -- I can't describe that part in words), munch on pizza, pay lip-service to homework, and -- most importantly -- give play-by-play attention to the incoming United States presidential election results. Half a dozen laptops line the table, and people periodically call out "only 96 points to go!" or "ooh! McCain's up two percentage points!" as if the standard deviations on the way to the final result actually matter. [img: student laptops
History is so much fun when it's happening right now.
I'm wearing a sticker that says "I Voted." I'm sure there was no record-shattering great youth turn out at the polls, but we did all give Garret a very hard time for skipping out to do *cough* homework *cough* (It actually involved girls and motorcycles :-P).
I'm not going to take the time to talk about why I voted for Obama, except to point you to my year-old posts on first impressions. I showed up at the polls after walking for half a mile with an Artificial Intelligence textbook in hand. Checking in with my student ID (I'm still unclear as to whether I'm technically supposed to have a Michigan license to vote here... My license is still from Illinois), I settled in to a booth with my ballet.
This was my first time voting. Looking over the ticket, I recognized a few names from the cramming I did this morning, but only opted to specifically vote for three or four of the candidates. I was going to leave it at that when, at the last second, I decided to go with the Democratic ticket.
I am far from partisan. The economy and our civilization is far too complicated for me to pretend that I, as a junior math major, have the slightest clue how it should be run. Libertarian, Republican, or quasi-socialist, I don't know what the correct approach is. I can have my impressions, I can come to conclusions (Based all too much on the opinions of those around me). I don't think I'm any less ignorant than most voters, I'm just more honest about it. All I know is that (Like most intellectuals) I lean liberal, supporting gay marriage and the woman's right to choose abortion. In a word, I have more in common with Democrats.
But why go for the whole ticket if I'm no where close to a partisan zealot, far from a lemming? Because I recently read, in a book about complexity theory, about a mathematical/computational model in the social sciences that concluded that, while in one small village an issue-by-issue pure-democratic vote lead to the most happiness for all citizens, in a multi-village system -- in a system such as our nation -- a divided two-party system worked much better.
It's just an over-simplified model (I think it's the 1957 Economic Theory of Democracy by Anthony Downs), but I decided that maybe it implies that me choosing the straight ticket -- supporting a party as a whole instead of just in part -- was the best alternative. And, while I don't trust it to be true, at least it's an attempt at a scientific model, instead of the random blabberings of some television host, popular pundit -- who, influencial though they be, hardly bring their art into the realm of science.
Alas, we are far off from having truth in the matter. The 5,000-year-old experiment of civilization is still in progress:
"In a two-party system, it is rational for each party to encourage voters to be irrational..." -- Wikipedia
And so we are. One day -- one day politics will actually make sense. Until then we're stuck with reckless rhetoric and hyperbole. It bugs the begesis out of me, as a student of science and philosophy, where we actually apply critical thinking care if our statements are true, not just convincing.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1176