Bryan Pflug's blog


When Europeans first colonized North America, passenger pigeons were extremely abundant. Huge flocks of the migrating birds would darken the skies for days. They often caused damage to crops and were hunted both as a pest and as food. For years, hunting had little apparent impact on the population; the prolific birds seemed to reproduce fast enough to offset most losses.
Then the number of pigeons began to decline—slowly at first, then rapidly. By 1914, the passenger pigeon was extinct. The disappearance of the passenger pigeons resulted from the non-linear relationship between their population density and their fertility. In large flocks they could reproduce
at high rates, but in smaller flocks their fertility dropped precipitously. Thus, when hunting pressure was great enough to reduce the size of a flock somewhat, the fertility in that flock also fell. The lower fertility lead to a further decrease in the population size, and the lower population density resulted in yet lower birth rates, and so forth, in a vicious cycle.

(from Skeptic's guide to computer models)

Using the force

Many technical problems can be solved by digital computers, but some problems require such high performance that they must be addressed by analog computers. In a similar way, our minds have simultaneous decison-making mechanisms - reason and emotion - which may be involved in the decision-making process.

If conscious reason were all we had, it would be impossible to make the right decisions in many high-pressure situations.

In the book, "How We Decide", .  For example, during the Persian Gulf War, Royal Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Riley was monitoring a shipboard radar station when he saw something heading toward the USS Missouri. The blip could have been either an incoming coalition A-6 aircraft or an enemy Silkworm missile. On gut feeling, Riley gave the order to shoot down what turned out to be an enemy missile. After hours of analysis, the officer and a cognitive psychologist resolved that his feeling had been a subliminal recognition that the missile had entered his screen at a slightly different interval from the planes he was used to tracking.


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