Binary chop, chop, chop

“There are 2 types of people, those who believe the world can be divided into 2 types of people and those who don’t.”

“There are 10 types of people, those who understand binary and those who don’t.”

“It isn’t a binary” – one of the catch-phrases of Megan Murray on the Shift podcast. This post is dedicated to her.

There was recently an election in Scotland. UK citizens living there were asked to vote YES if they wanted to break away from the rest of the UK (they mainly wanted to break away from Westminster) or NO if they wanted things to stay as they were. I believe this election would have delivered an overwhelming majority for a “None of the above” option on the ballot paper.

It was not a binary question. There were a number of more viable options along a scale between the two extremes. For many questions there is a continuum.

Simple/manipulative people love binaries, as do IT consultancies, but consider who their customers are. I recall that chess players call forcing your opponent to choose one of two unpleasant choices, “a fork”.

Do you want to be in or out of the European Union?
Do you want this new flag for your city or this one?
Do you want investment in your area and a city mayor or not?
What’s it gonna be boy, “YES” or “NO”?

Complex decisions typically deliver scalar results, sometimes even vectors. They can have direction and distance, velocity or acceleration. They offer multiple, inter-related options.

And this brings me to The Point. My brain has done some subconscious pattern matching again.

Everything clicked into place when I saw a post about rating ‘mobile apps’ and a psychological profiling technique in close proximity.

I recognised an analytical technique I had first seen on a team building course several years ago. We were a mixed team of electricity traders and computer geeks. We were asked to rate ourselves along 2 scales. I remember that one was “formality”, mathematical rather than social. Given a problem, were we likely to guess or break out the spreadsheets. Once we’d rated ourselves, 1-10 we were asked to plot our result onto a graph, on which the two axes we’d unwittingly been using, were crossed at 5.5. Our results put us into a quadrant of the graph that defined the type of person we were. I was ‘analytical’. Shocker. A big cross had been drawn on the floor with tape to represent the graph and we were asked to go and stand in our quadrants. We were invited to look in the opposite corner where we would see all the people we had ever had serious disagreements with at work. They were right.

( I’ve received input from the Church of England that the other axis was Passive/Dominant, though I don’t think that was quite the terminology we used because that would have made me think enough to remember. Here are some slides on how to manipulate the 4 kinds of people in the world:, “Delivered by [a] Myers-Briggs-qualified test interpreter”
Thanks to the Rev’d Claire 🙂 @Clairemaxim1 )

The mobile apps were rated for frequency of use and how pleasant they were to use, leading to e.g. ‘the quadrant of frustration’. I’ve seen the same technique applied with 3 and 4 axes in different psychological profiling tests.

A model doesn’t have to be correct; it only has to work? The logic appears flawless. But who decided that the middle was the tipping point? What if there are 2 tipping points, maybe around a bell-curve, around that place we sometimes call normal? What if the area of the graph had been split into 9 instead of 4? Is it just the weirdos up the corners causing all the trouble? Has anyone even thought about this or do we just jump to invalid conclusions, like lemmings?

We could take any number of apparently independent scales and apply this technique: skin colour, left or right handedness, shoe size and ‘gender of the person most recently attracted to’ then make pronouncements that some people would believe.

There are 2**n types of people and none of them are binary.


1 thought on “Binary chop, chop, chop

  1. Do negative values of n take us into multiverse theory or multiple personality disorder, I ask myself?

    I only blog because people used to stare when I argued out loud.

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