Von Clausewitz a Bayesian?

“Our knowledge of circumstances has increased, but our uncertainty, instead of having diminished, has only increased. The reason of this is, we do not gain all our experience at once, but by degrees; thus our determinations continue to be assailed incessantly by fresh experience; and the mind, if we may use the expression, must always be ‘under arms.'” On War, Carl Von Clausewitz

I like the Bayesian notion that we must constantly be examining our hypotheses against new information. And, if we take it a bit outside the math context (where I am more comfortable), it is our job to find that data. Because as Steven Landsburg put it, under Bayes’ Law “everything that can be relevant is relevant.”

A theory about the world or who you want to be – combining Von Clausewitz and Bayes – is a bit like a battle strategy. It doesn’t mean anything until it comes under siege. The enemy nor the data cares much for your plans. Success requires a certain prescience, sure, but more crucially, it needs a general that closely monitors the feedback from all sources of information and consistently learns from them.

And I don’t mean this is in the generic “can you be flexible?” sense that everyone throws around. We’re talking objectively, can you monitor and track your actions empirically? How quickly can you rewrite your operating procedures? Which of your assumptions are firm and which can be shifted? Do you fear new information or do you welcome it? How active is your pursuit of challenging feedback? Have you identified the false positives so you can avoid them?

From Clausewitz, I am thinking that difference between someone who can launch and learn and someone who can’t isn’t so much a difference in skill level as it is of planes.

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