The original idea of regression to the mean came to Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, when he was studying genetics and considering the children of tall parents and the children of short parents. He initially called the phenomenon “regression to the mediocre.” What he noticed was that tall people’s children often turned out to be shorter than their parents, while short people’s children often turned out to be taller than their parents. He also examined seed size variations in successive generations of sweet pea plants and found that regression to the mean operated on sweet pea generations.
I do not know if regression to the mean originally inspired experimenters to use a control group along with a study group, but it is a common reason now for doing so. The way to find and measure the effect of regression to the mean of course would be to compare the results of the two groups. The difference in the result could reflect regression. I had no idea that statistics, which previously seemed to me like the dry-as-dust tools and products of insurance adjusters or sports analysts could contain something as metaphysical as regression to the mean. It seems that statistics can.
I think of different things that could be affected by regression to the mean. Certainly I would consider my less-than-brilliant career in the performing arts as a possibility. Every time I started doing well, something happened to cause me to regress back to my former state of not being successful. I spent fifteen years battling regression to the mean without even knowing it. Luck plays a huge part in success, much more than people are willing to admit. Artists like me have known this for decades. I didn’t particularly enjoy this knowledge, because my professional luck was not good, but now I understand my lack of luck at key times and the effect of its absence on my career’s fitful and minor progress. I think this fluctuation of luck could at least partly be explained by regression to the mean during my career’s lifetime.
I’m not saying I am a particularly unlucky person. Overall, in my life, I’ve had good luck in marriage, pretty good luck in health, average to poor luck in the music business and unknown luck in the other arts that I express but have not tried to sell. I’ve survived to old age whereas a number of gifted and wonderful friends of mine have been taken too early from this earth. I think overall my life-luck has been better than theirs just because I am still here and still creating art. I don’t know what the regression or mean might be of the art I create, but for the moment, I think each piece I put forward is a little bit better than the one before. But this could also just be my ego pushing encouragingly from behind saying pay no attention to that regression hanging over your head.
Does regression apply in cosmic situations? What would be the earth’s mean over its lifetime of variations in orbit? Would this matter? Is gravity like some kind of regression to the mean, pulling away or pulling towards? Our universe must be expanding in an infinity of points geometrically. Does it waver? Could we know this? Maybe the arc of the repetitions would be too huge. We couldn’t notice our cosmos’ regression to the mean, because we are so infinitesimally small we can’t measure it. We might only be in absolutely the first cycle or generation in time as we know it for this particular universe.
Could regression to the mean operate on subatomic particles? How about fluctuations in atoms? Wasn’t it Niels Bohr who postulated about electrons being metaphorical rings of energy and jumping back in forth to different energy levels within the atom structure? Regression might work on those rings. I saw on TV that there is something like electron-energy-packets in the sun’s interior. There are energy pulses or something that work their way out to the surface from the center of the sun. Does regression to the mean make them advance and retreat? Does this operate somehow on the sun’s workings overall? Do sunspots have something to do with regression to the mean? They repeat every eleven years. We know they have variation. What would be their mean? Could chaos somehow have regression to the mean hovering around the edges of the fracas, throwing in a punch or two?
Would regression to the mean be at work at CERN in Switzerland when they do repeated cycles of colliding particles into each other? Some collision cycles produce particles the researchers are looking for. Some cycles do not. Is there a mean they can derive from the series of attempts? How do they express that? Would any variation of particles then be regression to the mean? Would this be useful to CERN in measuring the efficacy of their experiment?
For the sake of conceptualization, is there a consistent pattern overall to visualize when we consider regression to the mean? Is it in the shape of an arc or a wave or a line with waves through it? Or is it maybe an infinity of points going in and out, like breathing? When I am breathing are some breaths further away from my breathing’s mean and some breaths closer? I guess there would be, but I couldn’t know it exactly, because I would have to die before they could arrive at the quantity that helps determine the mean. Maybe the regression number continually resets itself. Maybe they could do some sort of posthumous statistics for me after I’m gone. At this point in my life, which is at the farther end, rather than the beginning (when I was a child), am I furthest away from my mean or closest? What would be my mean anyway? Is our mean determined before or after we exist? Do we have infinite means? I am not an eminent person. If I became eminent before I die, would that be my life reaching its acme and being furthest from its mean?
The idea of reaching the acme makes me think of George Harrison’s death as described by his wife. George Harrison was extremely spiritual despite his earlier rock ‘n roll life. He remained eminent, embraced Hinduism and was a devout follower to the end of his life. In an interview, his wife said there was light at his moment of death. Maybe he achieved an ultimate insight when he reached his transcendental instant, and he moved even further away from the mean, or maybe much nearer to it. Perhaps his mean had been his original eminence. Perhaps his regression from the mean was achieving nirvana. Or maybe it was the other way around.
Now I consider infinity/eternity which are the numerical/time expressions of the same thing, which is uncountable, circular, never-ending even in your dreams — a mobius strip. The number eight on its side. The circle of life in another metaphorical sense. I’ve recently found out there is more than one type of infinity. That’s a thought for pondering while taking a shower, a walk, or trying to go to sleep. Here’s infinity minding its own business being infinite. And here’s someone, anyone who wants to quantify anything, so they break infinity down into integers or little chunks of time, or quanta, or the steps of the tortoise in Xeno's original story, or, I don’t know, some kind of units of dark matter. And taking it to dark matter starts to make my brain hurt. I know dark matter is out there, but I have not a clue whether there’s any kind of repetition in it.
I can see regression to the mean and the manifestation of the uncertainty principle (in which of course the event changes if you observe it). I can think of gravity. I can see Zeno’s Paradox, which uses infinity as the reason you can’t get there from here, but of course, you can, which must mean that Zeno’s infinity might be different from the infinity that is the universe and the stars and the arc of the time/space continuum or the endless row of integers or seconds from zero to forever. Did regression to the mean start with The Singularity like we think everything else cosmic and subatomic that we know did? I guess it must have begun right after, since it can’t exist without series and repetition.
I think regression to the mean rides on the shoulders of time. All that I have mentioned in the paragraphs above depends on time in some way or other. Time carries everything. I think of the realm of possibility juxtaposed with the realm of probability, and time must be included. I think of eternity, which is another expression of time, that is endless time. Possibility is covered by anticipated time. Probability is covered by time that could happen but we don’t know how much yet.
I am reminded of the Stephen Miller Band song, “Fly Like An Eagle,” which opens with a wonderful line:
Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
Into the future
My life’s ups and downs ride on the shoulders of regression to the mean, and regression to the mean rides on the shoulders of time. If I try to look at me and my universe clearly, and consider everything that replicates or repeats, I keep seeing regression to the mean’s long fingers pulling on all the strings.