Monday, October 20, 2008

Getting 100 Out of 100 In Both My Two Major Exams (Thoughts on Analysis, Prediction, and Evaluation)

The past semester, I got a hundred out of a hundred in the final exams of both my two major subjects. This was my first. Sure, I had another perfect last year, but that was a twenty-five item short quiz-turned-final exam. And that was a minor, and this time I aced my two majors’ final exams! It feels good.

But the reason of perfecting both exams was not that I know all the answers of the questions in it. I do not know all the answers. It is because through analysis of the test, the behavior of my teacher’s style of tests in the past, and using logic, I found the probable pattern, took a gamble by putting my faith on that discovered pattern though unsure if my deductions are correct, and it all paid off.

Now, applying analysis and logic are not only valuable on tests, but on real life situations also, where we need the situation interpreted or predicted. And I grew fond of mental exercises to interpret or predict behavior and events.

I am no genius. But I have a few amateur thoughts on rules in analysis, evaluation, and prediction.

One basic tool is the scientific method. Whoever invented it is a genius. The scientific method makes sense and applicable and practical on problems because it is based on organized steps.

Another is logic. It is a very valuable tool. Logical application is always a good starting point, and, I believe, among the most important tools. But I have to warn the being logical does not always mean being practical or correct. Logic is dependent only to connectable data, and the data obtained might be incomplete or irrelevant after all. One can derive a train of logic from given data, but it does not mean that the conclusion of it is correct. It means that the data available is correct independently, but when it is brought together, its conclusion is not. Logic’s inaccuracy can be lessened when more relevant data is obtained.

Knowledge, or what you know or the data you have, is the most basic thing. So it is very important to know as much as you can, no matter how trivial (who knows, you might need that certain knowledge in the future). From knowledge, one start analysis, prediction, and evaluation.

The gathering of data is the first point of all of it because it is from those data that one would use for analysis. It is important to gather the relevant data only, if possible. But most of the time, the relevant data is not always available and these relevant data is mixed with other data. I admit that, most of the time, gathering the relevant data needed is very difficult. Another that should be avoided as much as possible is taking “chewed up” data. What I mean by “chewed up” data are data gathered, processed, compiled, or analyzed by others. It is much better if you get the raw data on your own. However, it cannot be avoided, and at least one should be able to minimize the risk of error by making sure that the “chewed up” data is reliable, not biased, and “chewed” by competent and trustworthy people. (“Chewed up” data is especially very dangerous in theology and interpretation of the Bible.)

“When you eliminate the impossible factors, whatever remains, though improbable, must be the truth.” I learned that from Sherlock Holmes. It is my must favorite dictum. Of course, it is not always correct, but it is often so. Elimination of factors, using this Sherlock Holmes law, would almost always lead to the right conclusion.

And when inferences and theories are made, one should draw them, from the data available and not start with an inference or theory then use the data available to support it – which is biased. Drawing inference or theory based on the data, allowing the data to tell the story, is the most practical way and would allow less error.

I observed that “working back” is the most favorite method of many. Interpolation, substitution, and trial and error are usually the ways we use. But the most effective way of “working back” is to reason logically backwards, and then check if the reasoning is correct by starting again at the starting point to the ending and match if the “work back” and the logical chronology makes sense.

Now, prediction or “working forward” is a favorite of mine. But it is more difficult. It is made easier when more relevant data is available. An accurate prediction, having only minor errors or none at all, is dependent to the relevance and importance of the data available. Prediction’s accuracy is also dependent on the time period; predicting an event or conclusion that will happen on a sooner time has more chances of being correct than prediction of a later event. However, if too much data is needed in order to make a prediction, it starts to be complicated and lessens the chance of an accurate prediction.

The more complex a system is, the more chances something will go wrong and more for a behavior to be random, thus interpretations and predictions have bigger chance also of getting wrong. Example is the weather, mass behavior, the human mind, society, economics, theology, and many others. However, I believe that when this complex system is expanded or made bigger, one may start to see relevant patterns from all the randomness and erratic behavior of the complex system. Example, the weather. Now whether is so difficult to predict or interpret accurately, that when you put a specific amount of conditions and variables in experiment A, and then put the same amount of conditions and variables, both would give different results. Why? Because the system is so complex. But when you expand the experiment, it might be found that there are tiny details or factors between the two experiments that makes the differences. (Chaos theory explains this. These tiny details are the ones that made the whole complex system erratic, complicated, and unpredictable in general. And chaos theory aims to be able to interpret these complex systems. I don’t know much of chaos theory though – but I am interested in it and hope to learn more.) Widening the scope of study of complex systems would lead to concentrating into the details.
Another thing is to discard all distractions when making analysis, prediction, and evaluation. What I mean by distractions are prejudices, biases, and the most lethal of distractions, emotions. Emotion can cloud and distort the mind’s objectivity. One should be detached, unemotional, and rational when on analytical thought.

Intuition is one of the most important tools. Intuition is not instinct, ESP, or such. It is probably a God-given unconscious initiative and logical thought. Contrary to what they say, instincts should not be trusted, but intuition.

Common sense is the most important tool. Though it is claimed all humans have it, I think that the application of its full potential is a rare gift that only a minority have. No matter how smart you are, sometimes, it does not mean you have excellent common sense. Common sense is the most effective projection or identity of practicality.

Evaluation is at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Intelligence. This is like analysis and prediction put together but higher than it. Evaluation is where you will start to make conclusions, pass judgment, and decide what to do next. Evaluation is hard to do. After analysis gave you the interpretation or “look” of the situation, the question “What about it, then?” comes. One could use the collected dictums and thoughts I mentioned earlier on making an evaluation, but one is really in his own on making the higher conclusion and reacting to it. Responsibility and rationality is teamed up on evaluation.

So, these are my thoughts on analysis, prediction, and evaluation. Now, this is only on my part, and frankly, I am not sure if I am correct. But you can verify it on your own analyses and experience.

Our mind is a wonderful gift from God, and it is very stimulating when we put it to use. But before I end this essay, I have one more final dictum I want to share. That is, as much as possible never guess, assume, pass judgment, and make conclusions when there is insufficient data available. Believe me, it is to your advantage to keep your mouth shut when you don’t really know anything about the situation.

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