DEV Community


Posted on

Why We Should Be Skeptical About Data Regarding the Physical World

In the video, Data and the Physical World (Gold) we look at the severe limitations of data about the physical world. In 2020, there was a worldwide coin shortage and there were discussions about what was behind the shortage. One thing we should consider anytime we're discussing data related to the physical world is how the data do not capture many nuances that must be understood in the physical world. In the linked video, I point this out when I highlight the numbers involving gold production, but how those numbers don't capture all the energy, effort and complexity related to gold production.

In 2020, I spoke with a friend whose family is worth over $100 million and yet they could not purchase toilet paper at a store. They felt stunned. They possessed over $100 million in wealth, yet they were unable to buy something as simple as toilet paper. One big reason for this is that one can succeed or be successful without understanding how reality works in the world that we live in, but that doesn't mean that at some point reality doesn't appear and affect us. This is precisely what happened: they were actually far more dependent on the system than they realized, even though they were in the top 1% of the 1%. In this example, being a top 1% literally meant nothing, as they faced the same reality (shortages) that the average person faced. This is what I mean when I say that you can have data on the physical world (reality), but not understand what those data mean.

As a note, shortages are not uncommon in the United States. For over a decade, the United States experienced a shortage of saline IV fluid (salt water).

With 196,000 metric tonnes of gold (as of the time of the video), we have data on the physical world as far as gold, but we don't necessarily all the meaning behind those numbers. For instance, how much energy does it currently take to mine one metric tonne of gold? How much energy does it take to transport that gold to the consumers? How much energy does it take to form that gold into material that consumers want? How much energy does it take to input that transformed gold into the required material that consumers can actually use? These are only a few questions of thousands of questions we would need to know the answer to before we have any meaningful idea of just one market - gold. This says nothing of thousands of other markets in the physical world.

A good example of this is the myth that "we'll just mine asteroids for gold since gold is all over asteroids." While there is an element of truth to a future where we mine asteroids for gold, what's missing in that assertion is the cost of doing that. For instance, how many ounces of rock does it take to mine one ounce of gold? Everyone has an opinion on how easy it will be to mine asteroids for gold, yet they don't even know how many ounces of rock are needed to mine one ounce of gold on Earth! Think of the absurdity of this: shouldn't we have an idea about our current reality before we assert something in the future will be easy that's related?

In the above video, I delve into these topics and more.

Discussion (0)