Posts Tagged ‘death’

Dying Asymptotically

Thursday, 2 July 2015

It seems as if most economists do not know how to handle death.

What I here mean is not that they don't cope well with the deaths of loved ones or with their own mortality — though I suspect that they don't. What I mean is that their models of the very long-run are over-simply conceived and poorly interpretted when it comes to life-spans.

In the typical economic model of the very long-run, agents either live forever, or they live some fixed span of time, and then die. Often, economists find that a model begins to fit the real world better if they change it from assuming that people live that fixed amount of time to assuming that people live forever, and some economists then conclude that people are irrationally assuming their own immortality.

Here's a better thought. In the now, people are quite sure that they are alive. They are less sure about the next instant, and still less sure about the instant after that. The further that they think into the future, the less their expectation of being alive … but there is no time at which most people are dead certain that their lives will have ended. (If I asked you, the reader, how it might be possible for you to be alive in a thousand years, chances are that you could come up with some scenario.)

On the assumption that personalistic probabilities may be quantified, then, imputed probabilities of being alive, graphed against time, would approach some minimum asymptotically. My presumption would be that the value thus approached would be 0 — that most people would have almost no expectation of being alive after some span of years. But it would never quite be zero.

While I'm sure that some models will only work on the assumption that people impute absolute certainty to being alive forever, I suspect that an awful lot of models will work simply by accepting that most people embrace neither that madness nor the madness of absolute certainty that they will be dead at some specific time. Other models may need a more detailed description of the probability function.

As I've perhaps said or implied somewhere in this 'blog; I don't think that real-life probabilities are usually quantified; I would therefore be inclined to resist adopting a model with quantified probabilities, though such toys can be very useful heuristics. The weaker notion that probabilities are an incomplete preördering would correspond to some weaker notion than an asymptotic approach, but I haven't given much thought to what it would be.

But Baby Made Three

Monday, 31 December 2012

Various unhappy things have occurred in my life since my last entry here. The worst of these was the death of the beloved cat of the Woman of Interest.

Some years before she and I had ever had any contact, the Woman of Interest was passing by a dumpster, and heard a cry as if from a tomcat trapped in it. So she went to free the creature. What she found, to her surprise, was not an adult, but a truly tiny little black kitten, with preternaturally beautiful green eyes. He had been closed in a box with a toy, put in the dumpster, and left for death. (We can only speculate about this combination of apparent affection and ruthlessness.)

He was far too young to be properly weened and separated from his mother — the Woman of Interest was horrified when a veterinarian estimated his age — but she became the best possible substitute for that mother. He grew to be a cat with an rather large frame (though she took care not to let him become obese, and put him on a diet when he became a bit pudgy).

Actually, though, he really never ceased to be a kitten, and a pretty rambunctious one at that. And, as far as he was concerned, she was always his Best Mommy. When he and I would be alone in her apartment, he would spend a fair amount of time laying where he could watch the door, waiting for her return; I'd not before seen an adult cat do that. (My family had a cat, and I had a cat of my own, so I'm not without prior experience.)

He was a talkative cat, who usually made something more like the sound of a duck quack than a typical meow; and, if he were awake and she were at home, then he'd usually be vocalizing at her — I think that usually what he was saying could be translated as Mom! — though sometimes he'd just roam-about, engaged in apparent commentary to himself. I'd be especially amused when I'd hear him trying to tell her something after she'd fallen asleep while on the phone with me.

He and I got along quite well. I was looking forward to spending years hanging-out with him. Without conscious categorization, I thought of us as buddies.

I won't here rehash the details of how he was lost. Not long before he died, tests established that he had developed diabetes; this was caught much sooner than is typical in house cats (because the Woman of Interest was very mindful of his health), and she began treating it as per the veterinarian's instructions. But what was also discovered at the same time was that he had a common heart condition. Neither, by itself, would have proved fatal. But, jointly, they were too much. She found him dead on the morning of the fourth.

I'm not writing here to grieve (though I sometimes still cry about him), but because I observe something qua social scientist.

My relationship with the Woman of Interest wasn't well-bounded by just the two of us. Her cat played a significant rôle in our relationship, and it was the relationship more of another person than of an impersonal thing. A relationship that I would have categorized as between two persons was actually somewhat rather like one amongst three persons. With his death, the relationship of the three of us took a terrible hit, and the relationship of the two of us is henceforth informed by that injury. He did not mean — and could not have meant — the same thing to each of us individually, but he meant something shared in the relationship as such; and, even if the loss to the relationship could be fully decomposed into our losses as individuals (an issue that I don't propose here to labor), still it is important to recognize it as a sort of loss to the relationship, albeït not one to cause us to love each other less or to become more distant.

(Many years ago, I lost my dog while I was in a relationship, but the nature of that relationship was different. For my part, I knew that, without radical and unlikely change, I needed to be freed of that wretched woman; and, for her part, she had already been preparing to discard as much of her responsibilities as she might, including any that were had for the dog. He died before she left us, but she was going to leave him too. So I didn't observe then anything analogous to what I observe now.)