Skewed Distribution of Outcomes


Written by: Kevin Cann


The world is a complex place.  In fact, the theory that attempts to understand the complexity of the world we live in is actually called “complex theory.”  I had read a few books on chaos theory and then found Per Bak’s book titled, “How Nature Works.”


This book I found to be very fascinating.  It explained the concepts of complex theory in a way that was very easy to understand.  He used examples from nature to help show the points that he was making.


Complex theory states that nature is perpetually out of balance, but in a state where anything can happen as long as it fits into well-defined statistical laws.  Catastrophic events are examples of this theory.


Catastrophes such as earthquakes, mass extinctions, evolution, and black holes can occur for no reason at all.  There does not need to be a triggering event.  Some of these events follow a power law distribution, where we can predict the frequency of them, but have no means to be precise about when they will actually occur, or at what intensity.


For example, San Francisco may get one earthquake every 35 years.  This frequency is pretty accurate.  However, we have no way of knowing when within that 35 year period the earthquake will occur, or where it will fall on the Richter Scale.


We have no way to know the severity of each of these events.  What causes small and large events are the same things.  They tend to follow a power law distribution, meaning that large events are just less likely to occur.


We can also compare to this to economics.  The economy also has events that occur more frequently than we would like to admit.  In 2008 we had the housing bubble and this year we had corona.  Both of these events drastically altered the economy.


We can also compare a large earthquake to a person that generates a ton of wealth.  An example of this may be Bill Gates.  The world is not equal, it is complex, and perpetually out of balance.  Attempting to bring it into balance can pose some great issues.


If the world is perpetually out of balance, and humans think that we can bring about balance, we are clearly missing something here.  We do not understand the complexity of these things.  We can’t answer the question as to where life came from.  Without this basic understanding of biology, we really can’t know.  We are floating through the atmosphere in a delusional state thinking that we are in control when we are not.


Per Bak in his book discusses self-organized criticality (SOC).  He explains this using landslides (as it is literally how he did the study).  SOC is a property of dynamical systems (see the tie in now?) that have a critical point as an attractor.


Once the critical point is reached, the system moves into a phase transition.  This phase transition is an event, for the sake of this example we will use a landslide.  If we drop one grain of sand into a pile at a time continuously, we can see this play out.


Over time the sand pile will build up.  Eventually it will reach a critical state, where it cannot grow higher based upon the initial conditions at the time.  This is where the system will move into a phase transition and we will see the event, a landslide.


The size of this landslide will vary but will typically follow a power law distribution of events between large and small events.  Large events are just less likely to occur than small events. We see this in mass extinction models as well.


There are computer models that place species within an environment together.  These models show the same elements as the landslides.  Eventually the system reaches SOC and there is a phase transition.  Sometimes this event is a large mass extinction without any external triggering event.


So where the fuck am I going with this?  Great question.  We are living in a time where we have all of these events occurring at once.  All of these events would fit into complex theory.  The virus, race struggles, economic equality, and so on.  Strength gains fall into this as well.


I am a fan of free markets because they are better at self-organizing themselves than an ignorant human attempting to control the complex.  I try to view myself in this light as a coach in understanding my ignorance to certain things.


The equality of outcomes will never be balanced.  If something works for one person, it may not work for someone else.  This is something that is universally understood.  However, each person is a set of initial conditions that differs each day.


There are an infinite number of feedback loops than can positively, negatively, or have zero effects on performance.  We identify some of these as sleep, nutrition, hydration, and so on.  Some people will work hard and still suck at the sport.  I am one of those people.


Others will pick up a barbell for the first time and lift a weight that it takes others 5 years to lift.  They can supply half the effort as others and see higher levels of success.  We tend to call this raw talent or genetics.


Life is not fair, but it does not mean you hang your head, kick rocks, and complain about your situation.  All of this forgets about the human spirit and every other aspect of your life.  Working hard, being disciplined, and committing to your goals have a lot of carryover in other areas of life.


Maybe that hard work doesn’t equate to a world record squat, but instead to a promotion, an advanced degree, or a number of other positive things that happen in life.  That lifter that was a natural and does not work hard or have the discipline, may lift big numbers, but most likely never achieves their potential, gets hurt, and falls back into mediocrity in life.  Hard work, commitment, and discipline teaches you to overcome adversity in any part of your life.


Stop focusing so much on the outcomes.  We are not in control of those outcomes.  This is true no matter how much that we want to believe that we are.  There may not be many Bill Gates, but if you continue to commit, work hard, and be disciplined, you can always improve YOUR situation.


Not everyone can be a world champion powerlifter.  However, with commitment, hard work, and discipline, you can be the best powerlifter YOU can be and that is something to be proud of.  This is the same in nature.  Not every earthquake is a cataclysmic event.  There are much more small ones than large ones.


Stop worrying about everyone else’s earnings, politics, and training.  You do not make the world a better place by whining and trying to make everyone agree with you.  Commit to a goal, work hard at it, and be disciplined enough to achieve it.


It is not up to someone else to make you more money or to make you stronger.  That is on YOU.  Equality does not exist anywhere in nature.  Nature is competitive.  Learn to compete.  Be the alpha.

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