Simulation is a Natural Thing


Ellen Zohil – ProModel Technical Writer

Dan Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, in a recent TED appearance, presented that in our ardent lifelong pursuit of happiness, most humans follow the wrong map.  Gilbert argues that our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy. And these quirks in our cognition make humans very poor predictors of our own bliss.

As a writer working in simulation, what I also found very interesting is that he speaks of how the human brain can simulate experiences.  And that simulation is one of those uniquely human characteristics, such as an opposable thumb and the ability to combine and recombine different types of information and knowledge in order to gain new understanding.

Isn’t it amazing that, in other words we can have an experience in our head before we actually ever have to face a real situation?

Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time. As Mr. Gilbert states, even though we have the amazing ability to do this as humans, we don’t always do it correctly.  Probably we allow emotions to cloud the accuracy of our simulations.

What is great about computers and simulation is that it uses statistics and mathematical analysis to perform simulation, therefore eliminating the room for error.  These simulations yield objective data from which we can make better decisions.  Decisions not based on emotion or intuition, but facts.  And…not only that, but we have the ability to have the experience on the computer, an incalculable amount of times.  In addition, we can change the situation slightly and test out the experience again.

To me, that is just amazing!  What are your thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Simulation is a Natural Thing

  1. I agree, and 5 experts could come to 5 different decisions about the same question, due to their different backgrounds and prior experiences. A computer simulation could serve as an objective referee, if properly built. That means it was not designed with some desired outcome in mind, which would make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  2. Good points, and well said. I think that the “gut feeling” simulations in the human mind are also based on the mind’s subjective database of prior experiences and observations. That database seems to get processed with mental meanderings (i.e., imagination) about some prospective scenario and converted into the “gut feeling” or intuition about some situation. It’s certainly an advantage that today we have the computerized technology to draw on much wider and objective databases, to provide objectivity to the analytical process, and to “think” tirelessly at astonishing speeds. It is indeed quite amazing.

  3. Nicolas, I think your point about gut feelings is well taken. It also confirms the tremendous value you get by using discrete event simulation and gut feeling. The optimum solution is to allow simulation to prove or disprove your gut feelings. Many ProModel customers have gotten counter-intuitive results and saved themselves time and money.

  4. Many decisions that happen on a daily or even more frequent basis are made by the gut feeling of experts, which could also be called by ‘simulation in the brain of a single human being’. The fact that the results of this kind of ‘simulation’ are not objective and not repeatable makes them quite error-prone.

    On the other hand we know that an experts gut feeling often yields good results. A good approach to me seems to be the combination of the experts gut feeling and an objective simulation to back the decision (and change it if necessary).

    In my opinion the term ‘gut feeling’ refers to nothing else than a quick simulation in the human brain, without the brain even knowing it.

    Great post!

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