Phantom patterns

The big data delusion

Far from revealing the world to us, the modern deluge of data leaves us endlessly searching for meaningful patterns. Raw data leads us easily astray, making human wisdom and experience more important than ever, writes Gary Smith.

Compared to other animals, humans are not particularly strong, fast, or powerful. We don’t have sharp teeth, claws, or beaks. We don’t have sledgehammer horns, tusks, or tails. We don’t have body armor. We are not great swimmers or sprinters. How did our distant ancestors not only survive, but become masters of the planet?

One fuel that powered our ascent was our prowess at recognizing patterns that had survival and reproductive value. Our distant ancestors noticed that elephants can lead us to water. They remembered that zebra stampedes can signal predators. They identified thousands of useful patterns, and those who were the best at it came to dominate the gene pool.

You can take the human out of the Stone Age but you can

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