State Estimation and The Meaning of Life


My friend Leland Brown recently found an amazing mathematical theory book called Optimal State Estimation: Kalman, H_infinity, and Nonlinear Approaches, by Dan Simon. In addition to being a great resource for a math problem Leland is working on, Appendix C turns out to have some fascinating meditations on the Christian Life — inspired by math! See below for some excerpts.

There’s also an essay on Professor Simon’s website that touches on similar themes:
Christianity and Control Theory

From Leland Brown:

Imagine my surprise when I came across Appendix C: “State Estimation and The Meaning of Life.” It contains the following sections:

  • Forgiveness and noise suppression
  • Discernment and bandwidth
  • Fellowship and persistent excitation
  • Spiritual growth and adaptive state estimation
  • Spiritual perfection and estimator optimality
  • The one true way and the single best estimator

Turns out the author [Dan Simon] is an evangelical Christian. Here are some excerpts:

“This appendix places state estimation in a larger, more meaningful context in the life of the reader. At first glance, state estimation may not seem to have much to do with The Meaning of Life. … However, … it is my contention that state estimation is intimately connected with The Meaning of Life.”

“If a certain artist paints a portrait one week, and a landscape the next week, the two paintings may appear upon initial examination to be quite different. But since they were both painted by the same artist, a close examination of the paintings will reveal similarities in style and other interesting connections. … So we see that if the same God creates both theological truth and mathematical truth, … a close examination of the two sets of truth will reveal similarities in style and other interesting connections.”

“Noise suppression in state estimation is similar to forgiveness. A state estimator that does not consider noise is incomplete and does not reflect an accurate view of reality. … A state estimator that is designed to perform well in the presence of noise is like a person who acknowledges the presence of sin in the world but does not allow it to ruin him.”

“The band-limited frequency response of a state estimator is similar to spiritual discernment. … A state estimator that rejects all measurements is clearly ineffective. Yet a state estimator that is equally sensitive to all measurement data will be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of measurement.”

“Adaptive state estimation is similar to spiritual growth. … These adaptive algorithms are never satisfied with their present performance, but continually adjust their parameters in order to obtain incremental improvements over time (see Section 10.4).”

“”God himself is the divine objective function. … We will never reach the standard of perfection … but we can continually get (asymptotically) closer to it throughout our lives. … Although optimality will never be completely attained, optimal estimators are still quite effective in practice. We do not give up on the notion of optimality just because it is not completely attainable.”

“… state estimation and The Meaning of Life have an underlying commonality. We see two paintings with similar artistic styles. … Is it a coincidence, or is there a simpler explanation? Occam’s razor says to accept God as the simplest explanation.”

It all strikes me as exactly the sort of thing Ernie would write. Any chance “Dan Simon” is a pseudonym? 🙂

Also reminds me of the “Parables for Modern Academia“.

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