My blog has such low engagement that it’s hard to tell, but I get the sense the last three posts about configuration space were only slightly more interesting than my baseball posts (which, apparently, are one of the least interesting things I do here (tough; I love baseball; gotta talk about it sometimes)).
So I’m thinking: fair enough; rather than go on about it at length, wrap it up. It’ll be enough to use as a reference when I mention configuration space in the future. (There have been blog posts where I couldn’t use the metaphor due to not having a decent reference for it. Now the idea is out there for use.)
And, at the least, I should record where the whole idea started.
To review: the idea of a configuration space is a metaphor we can apply to many real-life situations.
Its biggest value is that it removes the tug-of-war between distinct feelings by recognizing their orthogonality (that they don’t affect each other).
Another value is that looking at things this way expands the middle zone of “mixed feelings” from a knife-edge “on the fence” feeling into a spectrum that ranges from “don’t care” to “decisively agnostic!”
There may also be value in a visual metaphor of a larger space that embraces nuances of opinion as opposed to the one-dimensional space of “pick a number (or side)!”
Often, when dealing with just two propositions, the situation amounts to the classic Love-Hate Thing (as in, “it’s a”):
Which has never been a zero-sum game, in part because the reasons we love aren’t the same as the reasons we hate. Often they are unrelated to each other — orthogonal.
The main point here is that, on the chart, the more up, to the right, or both, the stronger the feelings. (Especially both.)
The shading in the chart above shows what we might think of as zones of intensity. Note how the upper-right has the most intense zone because there are strong feelings about both propositions.
When important issues have strong arguments on both sides, reasonable people tend to cluster somewhere along that diagonal line. Most will be on one side or the other, but will recognize the validity of the opposing view.
Unless things become polarized:
Then both sides withdraw to their corners, having strong feelings about their own proposition and none at all for the other. They may even deny the validity of the opposing proposition.
The more into their respective corner an opinion is, the more polarized it is. The ultimate polarization being [10,0] — or [0,10] — along the respective axes.
Generally, with real-life situations of any complexity, if there is controversy at all, it’s usually because both sides have a point. (If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a controversy; the matter would be easy to settle.)
But this can break down in two ways:
Firstly, when people don’t respond to rational or logical or factual arguments. People who can’t be reasoned with… well, that pretty much says it.
Secondly, outrage has become a social addiction, and it is outrage that leads to polarization and hate. (Just think about how we feel about an umpire or referee who blows a call.)
Tragically, our current culture is tribal and polarized. Worse, we devalue facts, rational argument, and honesty.
I’ll wrap up this segment about two-dimensional spaces with some real-life examples (including the one that planted the idea in my mind).
Let’s consider two of our culture’s most fraught social issues: gun ownership and the availability of abortion. Both are extremely polarizing issues with strong feelings on both sides.
Configuration space won’t help us solve them, but it can help to illustrate the territory of the opinions as well as give us a reasonable place to stand if we have strong feelings about both arguments.
It might even be helpful in communicating the nuance of our opinions to others. Perhaps it helps if we can show someone how much we do care about their side of things.
The gun ownership issue, to me, tries to balance two properties:
Which seems the central point. Cars are also dangerous, but their value far exceeds the risk of using them.
While we’d hope most people would recognize the danger, and thus be on the right-ish side of the graph, their perceived usefulness legitimately varies depending on one’s perspective.
Note the opinion in the lower-right, which says guns are very dangerous and have no useful value (a polarized view). Compare that with the upper-center opinion that sees guns as reasonably dangerous, but far more useful.
We could chart opinions about cars (or self-driving cars) or nukes or AI or any of a variety of things that are (in truth) both useful and dangerous.
There is a somewhat similar conundrum with the right to choose abortion:
Again, I’d hope most people could agree abortion does kill a living thing, and further that, at least often and eventually, becomes human.
The harder question is whether we can make that choice.
The chart shows three idealized opinions. One in each “true believer” camp and one more, in this case, literally on the fence. All three show very high feelings.
(And, yes, while this might help sort through mixed feelings, nothing can save us from genuinely seeing both sides equally. Sometimes we just have to accept there is good reason to see it both ways.)
This is such a personal thing that I’m not going to get into it; everyone needs to decide this for themselves.
I’ll note in passing we could borrow from the two above charts and make a Useful-v-Killing chart for animal-use issues. Currently, like gasoline, animals are the easiest means to accomplish goals we deem vital. One hopes technology moots this issue someday soon.
Attention: Let’s not discuss any of these social issues in the comments. This isn’t a door to those debates. Restrict any comments to the metaphor or directly related topics.
As long as we’ve gotten into social issues, here’s the chart that gave me the idea for this metaphor:
Back in the late 1980s, I thought it might help an online friend who complained (bitterly) about how, as a bisexual, both straights and gays disdained her — the usual charge being “fence-sitter (pick a side)” or “indecisive.”
As a Decisive Agnostic, I’ve noticed the same thing when it comes to religion. People want you to declare yourself. They want to know your tribe.
Unfortunately, my friend didn’t care much for the idea. She saw it as labeling or pigeon-holing. The irony is that I see it as a means of getting away from those things. Rather than a point on a line, an area in space!
Maybe if I had better graphics at my disposal back then. I tried to express the idea with ASCII graphics, which, as crude representations of abstractions, are almost a new language to be learned.
(It is, perhaps, also a lesson for me that, just because I see a great and useful idea, that doesn’t mean anyone else necessarily does. Value, along with beauty, is very much in the beholder’s eye.)
And that’s about it for two-dimensional spaces.
I’ll re-visit the well one more time to talk about some interesting spaces with more than two dimensions.
Beer space, anyone?
Stay expanded, my friends!