How do We Assess Our Beliefs About Apple?

4 minute read
| Analysis

I write about Apple. I have opinions about how Apple is doing as a company. How do I know that my judgments bear any resemblance to reality?

Recently, I was reminded of the required thinking process in a book that I’ve been reading in the evenings. The Big Picture. It’s by Dr. Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. In Chapter 9, author Carroll is preparing to talk about how scientists know what they know, and how reliable their knowledge is about certain things.

Analyzing Apple or any company is, essentially, a real science. Via Shutterstock.

Stay with me here. There won’t be any math.

Author Carroll starts with an introduction to the Rev. Thomas Bayes (1702-1761) who was an English Presbyterian minister. Oh, and quite a good mathematician. We’re introduced to the methodology he worked out for “the best way of moving toward reliability in our understanding.”

On the same page, author Carroll more carefully defines the scientist’s argument that while they may not know everything, they know a lot of things. Here’s the quote that caught my eye as he answers the question about how we know the reliability of our understanding:

To even ask such a question is to admit that our knowledge, at least in part, is not perfectly reliable. This admission is the first step on the road to wisdom. The second step on that road is to understand that, while nothing is perfectly reliable, our beliefs aren’t all equally unreliable either. Some are more solid than others. A nice way of keeping track of our various degrees of belief, and updating them when new information comes our way, was the contribution for which Bayes is remembered today.

Degrees of Belief

Without repeating his Chapter 9, Carroll goes on to explain degrees of belief. Statisticians call theses credences. For example, if I told you that a man on a bicycle just rode past my house, knowing my location (Colorado) and your own world experience, you’d place a high credence on my casual remark.

However, if I told you that a headless man just rode by my house on a horse, you’d place a low credence on that fact. Later, I explain that a movie studio was filming a movie, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, in my neighborhood. Suddenly, with this new information, your credence, your estimation of the validity of my remark, goes way up.

Thomas Bayes formalized this process in a way that lends itself to statistical assessment of validity. So, when physicists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN reported in 2012 that they discovered the Higgs Boson, it was a statistical result, based on very high standard of confidence. This is a process that, without prior training or experience, is lost on most casual readers and authors.

Page 2: How does all this apply to Apple?

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MacFrogger
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MacFrogger

CudaBoy: Re: “The Kool-Aid Meister at work again -well those that can’t get published-write for the web as they say.”

Take a chill pill Dude. It’s OK to disagree with John as you well know. But lately your insults have been borderline childish while the above one is really quite over the top. Maybe someday you will grow up and become a CudaMan…but in the meantime you owe him an apology.

CudaBoy
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CudaBoy

The Kool-Aid Meister at work again -well those that can’t get published-write for the web as they say. Fact is iOS is a tiny percentage of mkt share over Android approx 1/6 and Samsung holds about double market share to iPhones and that is while their numbers drop for a few obvious reasons. Never weep for either Cupertino or Suwan (a paltry 23 trillion dollar PROFIT in the electronics div.) as they both operate a racket that dominates 99% of mobile – the real commodity that powers Apple. Stop the rubbish about Mac …that’s bull. Where’s the new FUNCTIONAL Mac… Read more »

brett_x
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brett_x

Good points, but I think most of the disillusionment of Apple over the past 4-5 months was aimed at the lack of progress in the Mac realm. That the year over year sales were up may just mean that people gave up waiting for something spectacular and finally replaced their aging machines. There was a lot of hype, and then MacBook Pro they released was not the MacBook Pro that most people were waiting for. The touchbar is neat, and a bit innovative, but it hardly is a must-buy feature. Especially when a lot of ‘pros’ don’t even use the… Read more »

YodaMac
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YodaMac

Man, I would have sworn that image you used was the top of a Mac Pro! lol

aardman
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aardman

Thanks, an article that Apple observers should read and incorporate in their thought processes. Might I add or emphasize a few items that folks should keep in mind when they try to understand Apple’s actions: 1. Starting from the assumption that Tim Cook and the rest of Apple management are ‘stupid’ is stupid. 2. We do not know a lot of information about Apple that Apple management knows. Specifically, unlike other companies out there who sound a five-trumpet fanfare for every little thing they come up with, Apple is very secretive about what they’re working on in R&D. We also… Read more »