“The best model of a cat is a cat”-Norbert Wiener

A cat is a cat is a cat.

This picture of the black cat looking a a painting of a black cats has been fascinating me since I took it in the city of Valparaiso, Chile in April 2013.

I was never sure what about it I found most intriguing. Some times it reminded me of points in my life where I had come to a halt to ponder about the state of my own exploration in search for essence and self. Sometimes it reminded me of Den Xiaoping and his very pragmatic theory of social order with Chinese characteristics. Before the Cultural Revolution, Deng pronounced “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.” Deng didn’t care too much whether a person is a revolutionary or not, as long as he is efficient and able to work under the command of socialism.

Just recently, I am beginning to think that what really captures my attention is that it represents the more general struggle of a model-builder.

Norbert Wiener wrote the title of this post. As a pioneer in the study of stochastic processes and noise, he found a rather innocent and harmless way to explain his understanding of the universe. I’ve come to appreciate that “unsophistication” of concepts.

When it comes to presenting the philosophy behind model design, the classic summary is what statistician George Box said in 1976 “All models are wrong, but some are useful”. More recently , statistician Nate Silver, and author of the book “the Signal and the Noise”, wrote: “A good model can be useful even when it fails. ‘It should be a given that whatever forecast we make on average will be wrong…So usually it’s about understanding how it’s wrong, and what to do when it’s wrong and minimizing the cost to us when it’s wrong.’ The key is remembering that a model is a tool to help us understand the complexities of the universe, and never a substitute for the universe itself.”

Today, I am thankful for the power of thinkers to pinpoint deep questions in the sea pragmatism. These thinkers offered me a new way to ponder and appreciate this colorful picture full of fond memories of family and travel and adventure, that I happen to cherish deeply.

un gato negro
un gato negro y la pintura de un gato negro

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