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Posts Tagged ‘High Middle Ages

“There’s no idea in economics more beautiful than Arrow’s impossibility theorem”*…

Tim Harford unpack’s Kenneth Arrow‘s Impossibility Theorem (which feels a bit like a socio-economic “Monty Hall Problem“) and considers it’s implications…

… if any group of voters gets to decide one thing, that group gets to decide everything, and we prove that any group of decisive voters can be pared down until there’s only one person in it. That person is the dictator. Our perfect constitution is in tatters.

That’s Arrow’s impossibility theorem. But what does it really tell us? One lesson is to abandon the search for a perfect voting system. Another is to question his requirements for a good constitution, and to look for alternatives. For example, we could have a system that allows people to register the strength of their feeling. What about the person who has a mild preference for profiteroles over ice cream but who loathes cheese? In Arrow’s constitution there’s no room for strong or weak desires, only for a ranking of outcomes. Maybe that’s the problem.

Arrow’s impossibility theorem is usually described as being about the flaws in voting systems. But there’s a deeper lesson under its surface. Voting systems are supposed to reveal what societies really want. But can a society really want anything coherent at all? Arrow’s theorem drives a stake through the heart of the very idea. People might have coherent preferences, but societies cannot…

On choice, law, and the paradox at the heart of voting: “Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem,” from @TimHarford in @WhyInteresting. Eminently worth reading in full.

* Tim Harford


As we contemplate collective choice, we might send grateful birthday greetings to the man who “wrote the book” on perspective, Leon Battista Alberti; he was born on this date in 1404.  The archetypical Renaissance humanist polymath, Alberti was an author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher, cartographer, and cryptographer.  He collaborated with Toscanelli on the maps used by Columbus on his first voyage, and he published the the first book on cryptography that contained a frequency table.

But he is surely best remembered as the author of the first general treatise– Della Pictura (1434)– on the the laws of perspective, which built on and extended Brunelleschi’s work to describe the approach and technique that established the science of projective geometry… and fueled the progress of painting, sculpture, and architecture from the Greek- and Arabic-influenced formalism of the High Middle Ages to the more naturalistic (and Latinate) styles of Renaissance.

from Della Pictura



The Truth, Some of the Truth, Some of the Time…


“The problem with Internet quotations is that many are not genuine.”
– Abraham Lincoln

from Clayton Cramer, via Tomorrow Museum.

As we engage the elements of epistemology, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that Hal Foster debuted his long-running comic strip Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur, or more familiarly Prince Valiant.  Foster had earlier distinguished himself drawing Tarzan; when he pitched his original idea to William Randolph Hearst, the baron was so impressed that he (uncharacteristically) gave Foster full ownership of the strip.

The Arthurian saga is clearly meant to take place in the mid-Fifth century, but Foster juiced both the story and its setting with anachronistic elements: Viking longships, Muslims, alchemists and technological advances not made before the Renaissance all play roles; while many of the the fortifications, armor and armament used are from the High Middle Ages.

The strip continues to this day, now in the hands of Mark Schultz and Gary Gianni… and is available on the verisimilitudinally-challenged internet.



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