Twofish's Blog

July 24, 2006

Asking the fortune teller

Filed under: academia, Career, china, personal, wikipedia — twofish @ 5:06 am

I’m probably going to ask my wife’s fortune teller in Taiwan what to do with my career.  According to my wife the fortune teller has a very good track record, and he has good contact with the spirits of the past…..

Ahhhh…..  mumbo-jumbo nonsense.  Right?

Well lets look at this scientifically, you observe what he does, see the outcome, and then you draw the conclusions.  I saw him in action once.  Someone wanted to get some advice on a real estate deal and he pulled out some coins, and then looked at them and said that the spirits said that it was a good deal.

Poppy-cock….  Pseudo-science.

But I’m a scientist.  I don’t draw conclusions.  I observe.  I told me that it was a very bad thing for me to have gone to NYC last year, but that this year was better.  He also gave some more advice, and it was uncannily good.  My wife kept telling that he has good relations with the spirits.  I step back.  I’m a scientist.  I observe.  I make hypothesis, and test them.  I try not to make any premature judgements.   I don’t know how he does it, but he seems to be *very* good at telling fortunes.

He told me that really bad things would happen if I went to NYC last year, and judging from my nervous breakdown, it would have been a disaster.  I don’t judge.  I just know that he is good.  I don’t know how he knew that I was going to have this breakdown, but he does.  I tell me wife to go see him…..

When I do, my wife mentions an interesting thing about him, that she had known for years, but didn’t consider important.  The fortune teller happens to have a degree in business administration, and he has a lot of clients in business that go to him for advice.

Oh.  So *that* is how he knows so much about people.  He knows a lot more about business than I do so *that* is how he knew that I would have a breakdown if I went to New York.  In Chinese business society, the “fortune teller” has the same place as a management consultant does in Western society.  With a key difference.

This is why I think a “scientific mindset” is important and why textbooks teach science wrong.  If you come in with the wrong mindset, you see the coins and the Buddhist statue, and that you say mumbo-jumbo.  This is from the authoritarian view of science that they teach in the textbooks where the authorities say that fortune telling is non-sense.  But if you have a real “scientific mindset”, you observe carefully, you withhold judgement.   I observed.  I noticed that he was good, very good.  I didn’t know why, but I didn’t assume anything, and I think I have a plausible explanation of why his business judgement is much better than mine.

Some other points

1) I noticed that he plays what would be the role of the therapist in Western culture.  He listens and makes observations.  But he is better than a therapist because to go to a therapist means that you are sick.  You aren’t sick to go to a fortune teller. But don’t you have to be crazy and stupid to go to a fortune teller.  In the US maybe, but in Taiwan businesses go to fortune tellers all of the time.

2)  The coins make perfect sense.  You might think it is silly to let the spirits decide.  But let me ask you, how else are you going to decide where to build real estate and pick stocks.  We’ll I use “scientific” methods to think about it rather than this mumbo-jumbo.  OK, you use your “scientific” method, and you decide tech stocks.  Everyone else uses the same “scientific” method and tells there people to buy tech stocks.  You come around with coins and you come up with something totally random, which is something other than tech stocks.  What happens, everyone else buys tech stocks, they create a bubble, they crash.  You don’t buy tech stocks, you don’t get in with the herd.

The trouble here is that people mistake “deterministic” with “scientific”  and “random” with “unscientific.”  Sometimes the most optimal thing that you can do is to pull out a coin, flip it and let the spirits decide.

3) This illustrates the difference between “textbook science” and “real science.”  Textbook science would have just look at office with the I-Ching, listen to people talk about spirits, and assume this guy is a phony.  “Real science” involves observing, and not jumping to conclusions.  My wife says that he is about to really understand the spirits.  According to my observations, and I suspect that the fortune teller would agree, the fact that he has a Bachelor in Business Administration and  consults  with business people all of the time, really means that he does have better contact with the spirit world.

4) The most interesting part is how he gets paid, since payment determines incentive structure.  He’ll do you fortune for free.  You pay him how much you think his advice is worth later.  This is a good incentive structure.  He steers you toward good advice.  Away from bad advice, and the more money you make, the more you think you owe him.

Since he saved me from a really, really bad situation, I’m going to have my wife ask his advice, and if I make a huge chunk of change, he’ll get some of it.

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