There was a television interview of a man who had to deal with severe breathing problems through much of his adult life. He underwent various procedures although he found little relief. In fact, the adverse impact to his body was long-lasting. So he was surprised to discover how he was extremely allergic to his breakfast cereal, something that he ate almost without fail. When he stopped eating the cereal, his breathing problems disappeared. I am sure that many people would regard the plight of this individual as a unique case. However, I have found a number of cases in the literature showing that people are often capable of tolerating inhospitable conditions. I would even suggest that in the world we occupy, we have learned to normalize toxicity and stress. Our senses have learned to bury the reality such that they become imperceptible. A way out of this is through the use of technology, adding a sense or perceptive ability that few if any of us had at birth. I call this sense “ghost tracking,” the ability to use technology to follow obscure and intangible pieces of information in order to solve different types of problems.
When I was younger, there was a movie called “Ghost Busters.” These were in-your-face ghosts that seemed unusually well embodied albeit rather oozy. I recall a Japanese anime character called a “ghost detective” that seemed frequently surrounded by things spiritual as if those things were also tangible. But from my technical interpretation of ghosts, these are not things that necessarily conform to our perceptions of reality. For instance, one might not perceive the shadow of one’s own death in the numbers: it might be unclear how a particular course of action, if it occurs under specific circumstances, might lead to death. A slight breathing problem from a food allergy might not be particularly life-threatening on its own. If we add the flu to the equation, perhaps even a minor increase in incapacity can make a challenging medical condition quite dire. Not all of us get to enter the “front gates” of Valhalla through mighty blows in combat: lance, rapier, axe, broadsword, or grenade launcher. Nay, we are haunted through life with relatively common disabilities; we might not be fully aware of the patterns and signs around us heralding the onset of our final battle.
A ghost is a ghost because it falls outside our primary senses. As such, what we might interpret to be a ghost might be something else completely. Many of us find ourselves stuck in traffic every day only to hear of further perhaps more serious construction to come in the future. It might not seem that somebody has just said, “You will die early in life due to hypertension.” Our human senses are just not designed to communicate with us in such a way. What is a human body to do? It might have to invoke a symbolic message using an avatar in dream state. “Dude, this is killing you.” Well, putting aside speculative communication with the spirit world, there is actually a real need to come to terms with intangible data, the things that don’t ooze or come at the face but rather hide outside our immediate perceptual realm. I would say that if all of us could spend a lot of time trying to sort out our individual problems, we would likely have some success doing so. However, we frequently suffer from time deficits. Part of the problem might be related to our problem-solving methodologies and perhaps the math, something I expect cover in other blogs.
I often refer to a computer program to help me determine what things seem associated with better sleep. Consider my earlier story about the man dealing with breathing problems due to an allergy to his breakfast cereal; this is not a situation that would likely affect me given that I also monitor breathing problems and apparent allergic reactions. The implication here is that I do not rely on a central information authority. I should also point out that I have superior information compared to any central authority at least in the areas of interest to me as the data pertains to my own body. So if somebody releases a report pertaining to Omega 3 and Omega 3-6-9, without necessarily questioning the report I can determine whether or not there might be particular benefits to me specifically. This is not to say that I run clinical trials on myself. I can say whether visiting particular gasoline stations might affect my breathing. Those interested in making a blanket statement involving people more generally might need to conduct elaborate trials; however, after the money is spent, the end-result of such a process is a generalization relying greatly on human normalcy in order to be relevant. As sure as the sun rises in the morning, some percentage of the population will indeed be allergic to hydrocarbons or the detergents in the gasoline. Some people will have horrific allergies to breakfast cereal. No amount of expenditure on centralized information will alter the dynamics.
The question here is whether people are open to the idea of believing in something they cannot see or touch; rather distant from mainstream society; and having less social acceptance than even disease. To believe in personal “signs” that others cannot confirm is indeed like believing in ghosts. “Why don’t you want a slice of cake?” “I just know this is going to kill me. It’s going to make me fat; then I’m going to die.” If find myself in that situation, I boldly accept the cake just to impress those around me. “No, sir, I don’t believe in such foolishness. Watch me eat that cake.” Then I “double-up” on the goodness. Okay, there is absolutely no evidence that cake is good for me. All right, eggs in virgin olive oil, cheddar cheese on top, decaffeinated black coffee, and some dark chocolate; the data suggests that these things “might” help me. This is not to say that such a combination would necessarily be helpful to people in general in all sorts of circumstances but rather me specifically in those situations that I tend to find myself. Decentralized information works in this manner: it is person-, site-, and situation-specific.
To reach a point where a person deliberately makes decisions based on personal data is something of a leap of faith. A person needs to have trust in his or her own handiwork. But on a more fundamental level, it is necessary to believe in signs; to believe that in how the future can be foretold; and that the evidence is openly available for the taking. One only has to reach out and grasp its quivering mass. Within this framework, there are some simplistic perceptions that can interfere with how people make use of personal or decentralized data. I introduced the idea of ghosts early in the blog because I consider it useful on different levels. As explanation, I will boldly post some of my own data and discuss some of the basic features. The following images are from the “how well I am sleeping” data, which I mention periodically in blogs I guess because it is my oldest and therefore most complete database. Now, the graphical interface called “Storm” is actually a bit peculiar. I would summarize this peculiarity as follows: it makes use of kinetic decay gradients. If the underlying activity fades, the plume patterns start to become incoherent. Conversely, if the activity becomes quite intense, the patterns adjust in order to normalize the extreme conditions. For instance if the price of a stock increases dramatically, Storm automatically forms a new baseline to reflect the sustained level.
So here we take a look at my sleep data. The first thing that I want to point out is that the data is “normal”; that is to say, it sort of resembles any other data that might be plugged into the graphical environment. My sleep perceptions exhibit cyclical highs and lows. However, I believe that most people would agree that there are more areas of green (highs) than areas of blue (lows) on the image; this is because I am deliberately trying to push the green. In the long-run, this is a futile effort, since Storm will compensate by raising the normal thereby preserving the kinetic sensitivity of the imaging environment. But consider the conceptual implications of being part of a cyclical pattern. It is actually a “concept” to think that I can have any influence at all by altering the things that I eat, consume, and do. Some portion of my evaluation most certainly contains environmental determinants. Using an analogy, a person might take a pill to deal with a headache, but this doesn’t alter the existence of stressors in the environment.
All right, so where is the ghost? Well, examining the bottom portion of the images carefully, one would see that I seem to be headed towards increased blue. I might experience some difficulty sleeping well. This is probably not a big deal given that the baseline for the systemic low has improved over time. But I consider it necessary to be more cautious and to squeeze every possible advantage out of the numbers. So over the next few months, it might not be a good idea to risk that deadly slice of cake. I might not be able to buffer the consequences. This is the ghost. It’s the spook. Actually, it’s not all that spooky if we accept the premise that each of us is connected to everything else. We are systems within ourselves, but we are also part of systems outside us; and more often than not, the parts of us that reside inside are becoming subordinate to the social constructs and determinants outside. Our identities are not entirely ours to define. So what seems to be a "sign" is really just plain normal. The ability to sense it is new.
I want to point out that the illustrations focus on a particular type of data: it is data that I would like to control or influence. It is not data that I directly control. I often directly control what I eat and do, and in certain respects it wouldn’t be constructive to examine data that I directly control through the graphical environment. I am distinguishing data resulting from the decisions made from the data representing a particular outcome of the decisions. If a delivery service makes many thousands of driving decisions every day, I would use this graphical environment to evaluate not the ability of the service to make decisions (unless it has a problem making decisions) but the multifarious impacts of those decisions. Why not use the graphical environment to consider each individual decision? Since there might be millions of decisions each day for any given organization, the correct approach is to handle the decisions in an embodied, objectified state as big data. This provides an accessible and persistent framework for future analyses.
I wanted to be the first person to juxtapose ghosts and algorithms. I believe that I have succeeded to some extent. Usually when people talk about ghosts, they mean something spiritual. I mean something intangible. Others are haunted by ghosts. I am saying that there can be signs or a foretelling of events. Some feel that ghosts wander over the world after existence. I suggest that we are all connected, and our realities unfold not entirely within us but as a result of our interaction with society and the world. So our existence is not substantively ours to write but at times rather incidental. However, as humans, we sometimes lack the natural ability or perhaps inclination to perceive our existence outside ourselves. We can augment our senses. We can use algorithms. In our perception of “sales,” there is some presumption of internal locus of control. But a sale is something we would like to control. The factors that we directly control - we leave these to disembodied spirit world - so great is our inability to harness the power of information. Sales wander the world decapitated and alienated, foraging behind desks and trash bins. It is time to reunite the metrics to their bodies.