I’m writing this on Monday evening. I’ve already voted. Obviously for Obama, since I think science is awesome and women are people. I can’t say that I think he’ll win, but I can’t say I think he’ll lose. I have actually internalized a state of complete uncertainty about this election (and, in fact, all elections).
True uncertainty is extremely difficult. It is, of course, an ideal of rationalism to actually feel uncertain about things of which you are uncertain, and to feel it in proportion to how uncertain you are. Yet despite exercises to hone such feelings, it is still extremely difficult to truly feel uncertain about many things that you shouldn’t have enough data to form an opinion on. One of my few exceptions is in the realm of elections, as this lesson was hammered into me in 2004.
Back then I was certain John Kerry would be elected over W. Bush. There was not a single doubt in my mind. Superficially, he was taller and better spoken, and was both a war hero and a peace hero (an unusual combination). Honestly I didn’t see how anyone could possibly vote for Bush. After 9/11 the world had been unified behind us, we could have done incredible things with the goodwill and support we had. And Bush pissed it all away to start a bug-fuck-crazy war against an uninvolved country under obviously false pretenses. There was nothing to be gained, immense debt and death as a result, and there was no plan and poor execution all the way down. He (I suspect) may have suffered a stroke early in his first term, and in my opinion at the time Kerry beat his ass so completely in the first debate that it was almost comical. I could not envision a world in which W would be re-elected. I couldn’t envision a populace that would re-elect him (or at least, not one that makes up 50% of the country).
When he won the shock was physically painful. Not the result – that sucked too, but it didn’t have a physical effect on me. But the sheer magnitude of having my model of the world be revealed as so disentangled from how testing showed the world actually was… it was a body blow. It was maybe the single biggest instantaneous update I’ve undergone (all others have been gradual).
The lesson stuck. I simply cannot understand how a sizable fraction of people think, from the inside. I cannot grok their motivations, and I don’t know how many of them there might be. And so despite all the analysis and predictions and polls, I am perpetually in a state of complete uncertainty when it comes to election outcomes. All I can do is observe what happens after the fact.
I wonder if this is how superstitious people feel about physics?