Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Confessions of an empiricist I

I was reflecting this morning on what I see as one of my basic orientations toward life: empiricism. It's probably a good thing that I got into the business I'm in because I have always wanted to collect data to test assumptions.

In eighth grade we learned about something called the normal probability distribution and read various descriptions and proofs of it in our math book. Me being me, I was interested by far from convinced. So, what did I do? Went home and got 10 pennies. I put them in a cup, shook them, dumped them on the table. I then counted how many heads were showing. I figured that if this normal distribution really held, I'd see something like a bell-curve in terms of the number of heads. Most = 5, then 4-6, and so on.

I did this one thousand times and plotted the results. (In case you're wondering, the normal distribution really works... at least with pennies. I didn't try any other coins).

In two future posts I'll write about how this empirical orientation fits with sociology and religion.

By the way, I have learned that in the midst of a marital disagreement, the statement "well, it's an empirical issue", though often correct, is never, never helpful.


S.S.Stone said...

I admire you for remembering that from 8th grade!! I look forward seeing how this fits with soc and rel...

Ben said...

I'm looking forward to your posts on this. We frequently wrestle with one our of our professors (a linguist), who seems to share your affinity with things that are countable. How do you count spiritual and emotional phenomena? One of his memorable jobs as a youth was counting animal droppings for wildlife research?

Brad Wright said...

Very funny.

Sounds like I need to qualify my appreciation of empiricism. Many of the things I like are empirical, not all things empirical would I like.