Tag Archives: weather

Certainty is unattainable and near-certainty unaffordable

The economists John Kay and Mervyn King assert in their book ‘Radical Uncertainty – decision-making beyond numbers‘ that ‘economic forecasting is necessarily harder than weather forecasting’ because the world of economics is non-stationary whereas the weather is governed by unchanging laws of nature. Kay and King observe that both central banks and meteorological offices have ‘to convey inescapable uncertainty to people who crave unavailable certainty’. In other words, the necessary assumptions and idealisations combined with the inaccuracies of the input data of both economic and meteorological models produce inevitable uncertainty in the predictions. However, people seeking to make decisions based on the predictions want certainty because it is very difficult to make choices when faced with uncertainty – it raises our psychological entropy [see ‘Psychological entropy increased by ineffective leaders‘ on February 10th, 2021].  Engineers face similar difficulties providing systems with inescapable uncertainties to people desiring unavailable certainty in terms of the reliability.  The second law of thermodynamics ensures that perfection is unattainable [see ‘Impossible perfection‘ on June 5th, 2013] and there will always be flaws of some description present in a system [see ‘Scattering electrons reveal dislocations in material structure‘ on November 11th, 2020].  Of course, we can expend more resources to eliminate flaws and increase the reliability of a system but the second law will always limit our success. Consequently, to finish where I started with a quote from Kay and King, ‘certainty is unattainable and the price of near-certainty unaffordable’ in both economics and engineering.

More violent storms

I made a mistake last week by initially publishing two posts.  My apologies for confusing you or tantalising you with the prospect of going bungee jumping and then postponing the trip.  We’ll go bungee jumping next week.  I postponed it because it’s a preview of the new MOOC on ‘Understanding Super Structures‘ that I am writing and there was a delay in publishing the registration page for the MOOC.

When I posted my comment about postponing the bungee jump due to rain, I didn’t realize that, the following day Liverpool would be battered by Storm Doris, with 90 miles per hour winds that closed the Port of Liverpool.  As I sat writing week 4 of the new MOOC, the wind was swirling around our house causing the windows to rattle; and, on the top storey of our narrow but tall house, you could feel the house moving in the gusts of wind.  Across the street, people visiting Liverpool Cathedral were hanging onto the railings as they made their way to the entrance, and the trees were being bent over to an angle that made you think there would be a loud cracking and splintering of wood at any moment.  Fortunately, the storm was short-lived in Liverpool and moved on to wreak havoc inland.  Bungee jumping would have been very hazardous!

The number of violent storms appears to be increasing and the graphic shows the number of storms in the Atlantic basin since 1850.  Although there is a lot of scatter in the data, there is a clear concentration in the last couple of decades of years with fifteen of more named storms, which suggests there has been more energy in the weather systems in recent years.  The primary source of this energy is the temperature of the oceans and atmosphere.  There is a good account of the development of storms cells in Manuel Delanda’s book ‘Philosophy and Simulation: The Emergence of Synthetic Reason‘, see chapter 1 – The Storm in the Computer, which is available via Google Preview.

The increased frequency of high-energy storm systems is a very apparent manifestation of climate change that is having an impact on many people.  Yet, some governments refuse to even consider the possibility that our climate is changing and that they need to lead our society in discussing and planning strategies to mitigate the impacts.  It reminds me of the saying, attributed to Henri Poincare: ‘To doubt everything, or, to believe everything, are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.’