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Re: Social Science, Science, and Empirical Study
by Luke Rondinaro
09 July 2002 02:08 UTC
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Mike Alexander wrote:

<Yes they are all probabilities, but extremely high probabilities we often call certainties.  The fact that mathematical descriptions for heat and mass and energy transport (the processes underlying weather and much else) have been formulated doesn't mean that this has been done for all fields in physics.  A GUT hasn't been found yet because nobody has found it.>

Isn’t calling them “certainties” somewhat misleading?  Might it not imply an absolutized, determinism of sorts? 

I see your point about not having a GUT because no one’s found it yet – but given what Science does know, shouldn’t we at least have a mathematic-predicate logical conceptualization of such a thing?  Or better yet, should we have at least an integrated, wholistic, mathematically defined understanding of its (unified) subsets in the topics of modern physics scholarship (i.e., “mini-GUT’s as it were) for Mechanics, Fluid Dynamics, and so on? …

<Complexity and Chaos theory are misunderstood by many people.  Weather cannot be accurately predicted because of the non-linear nature of the expressions describing transport phenomenon. Unlike linear equations, non linear equations can "blow up".  That is, a small discrepancy at the initial condition rapidly leads to ever larger discrepancies as time goes by.  An example is prediction of the position of a billiard ball after it ricochets off the walls of the table.  Given precise initial direction and velocity of the ball we can quite accurately predict the path of the ball after the first ricochet.  Indeed pool players routinely do this.  After several ricochets we no longer have an accurate projection of the path of the ball, even with extremely accurate initial conditions.  After 20 bounces the ball could be anywhere on the table, we have absolutely no idea where the ball will be.

Even if we had "perfect" knowledge we cannot know the exact initial conditions of the ball because of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.  Hence it is theoretically impossible to have any deterministic idea where the ball will be after some number of bounces.  The best we can do is may a statistical prediction.  This despite the fact that we know the exact mathematical laws that govern the ball's movement.  The complete failure to use these exactly-known laws to make a useful prediction is a direct result of the nonlinear nature of the mathematical equations that describe billiard ball motion.  This phenomenon is what is known as chaos. > 

This is a very good description you’ve given here.  I’ll be sure to keep it in mind when I talk about both these topics to people in the future. It’s a great help.  Thanks for giving it. 

It does raise a question though; doesn’t Complexity, Chaos, & Heisenberg (to some extent) represent really a paradigm shift from the radically-empiricist, positivized, deterministic, materialistic, et al, Science of yesteryear to the Science of today?

It seems scientists have always recognized the mysteriousness and majesty of the natural world around us in the cosmos (indeed its multidimensionality); but there often seems a contradiction between this appreciation of Science and its critical methodology/ presentation as we’ve always learned to give it.  Take your discussion above for example.  It certainly shows the nuts and bolts of C,C, & H; but still Chaos and Complexity seem to even ‘transcend’ [as it were] a description such as this.  For some reason these models better capture the mystery and wonder of the universe in a way that Newtonian mechanics never could?  What is it specifically about the former that makes this reality so? … If scientists with their science (in the 19th cen. & before) had just as much of a  sense and understanding of this complexity and awe-inspiring multidimensionality to the universe, then why couldn’t their presentation of science better reflect that principle?  Why does it tend to seem like its only today that we’re recapturing in the framework of our Science the same sense that early Renaissance, Medieval, and Ancient scholars – not just in Europe – had when it came to comprehending the cosmos?

Why does our ‘materialism’ and ‘empiricism” seem to imply “what you see is what you get”/”a potato is just a potato, no more no less” when clearly there’s nothing in the definitions of materialism/empiricism that would make this the case, and much of what we know from Science itself clearly shows that the cosmos is far more multidimensional and atomistic in its natural state (going beyond, in point of fact, the manifest objects and phenomena we encounter in our everyday experience) than such a concrete, practical “normalist” orientation would indicate? … If the cosmos is multidimensional and atomistic and we know (and have known f/ much of the history of modern science from the Scientific Revolution till today) that it is, then why is there this mechanistic, linear, normalistic orientation to our research and presentation of science?  Why does there always seem to be this attitude among many practitioners of science & social science that matter constitutes “just stuff” and the ‘manifest objects’ we encounter in our lives (through ordinary experience and/or experimental inquiry) are all that matters in our observations?  If the universe [like world history in Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel] is “like an onion” then how can we reconcile such with this “materialism of manifest objects” paradigm that posits a one-dimensional universe of only maybe a few layers to itself? …

<[Luke] The point I was driving at in drawing my distinction was that use tests and/or better yet “natural experiments” (of the kind mentioned in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel are really different from strict laboratory experimentation, the experimentation and empirical methodology par excellence. 

[Mike]  I don't see the difference (other than convenience).  Laboratory experimentation is fast.  This is why so much science has been done in the lab.  Consider, rather than waiting to see if a prediction comes true (which can take years for each experimental iteration) or searching for years to find the necessary data to conduct a "natural experiment" along the lines Diamond discusses, in the lab we can artificially produce the conditions that allow us to test our prediction and still get home in time for dinner!  Is it really so surprising that so much science has been conducted in a laboratory? 

Non-laboratory sciences progress more slowly (except for a few like astronomy which has a whole universe from which to pull natural experiments).> 

Convenience is a big part of it; and laboratory experimentation is fast.  But the difference I think comes down to something else besides – a matter of orientation.  If science is a matter of better understanding the nature of the universe via a precise study of its phenomena through empirical investigation, then would it not be better to get at the data of natural phenomena through the means of “natural experiments” and investigating objects, systems, and processes in their natural states? …

{And, why should it be just as valid to get at such knowledge via laboratory experimentation?  Why should “artificially produc[ing] the conditions that allow us to test prediction[s]” create for the same results we get from natural phenomena, if in fact we cannot replicate the systematic entirety of such phenomena’s interrelated linkages?  Why does nature, therefore, always seem to trump complete human mastery of natural phenomena through technology?  Wouldn’t it make sense that, if we had a completely exact understanding of natural phenomena and even the ability to physically apply that understanding, we should be able to completely master the wholistic and integrating dynamics of such natural phenomena? … Is there a specific difference to be had between the empiric methods of say “clockmakers” and those of “astronomers, etc.” as dealt with in the movie Longitude about the horologist John Harrison who solved the problem of getting longitude at sea by the use of his invented sea clock/chronometer?  I’m not talking about generalization versus specialization here as much as I am talking about the empirical orientation of those who use an understanding of ‘science’ to do/make something (techne/praxis) versus those who use an understanding of science to discover the workings of the universe, its laws and principles (episteme/scientia/   & noesis = ‘understanding’)?  What do you think about these points?}

<[Luke] I’m wondering; what’s your opinion of this notion that in order for something to be truly empirical and scientific, then it has to have lab work as its central operating principle?    [Mike]  Not so.  In fact laboratory science is rather recent.  Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences and it is not laboratory-based.  Newton's laws were based on astronomical data and Galileo's observations of projectile motion.  The painstaking measurements of stellar positions undertaken by Tycho Brahe and others (before the invention of the telescope) surely are empirical data--yet involved no laboratory.>

Yes, I like this explanation of yours also.  Here’s my question.  I do believe a lot of times Science’s critiques among religionists, creationists, some ID theorists, and scholars of pre-Scientific Revolution Western thought – the latter tending to be mainly tending to be Medieval/Classics of Greece and Rome among whom stand philosophers, theologians, and literary thinkers – have an axe to grind against the discipline.  Besides the obvious issue of “religious” and immaterial “spiritual” concerns, what other factors stand to divide this community from the scientific community?  That’s to say, what else might be behind their making this argument that lab work = true science and true empiric study?  What does it stand for these people to gain by discrediting Science, pointing out its “contradictions”, and pressing the scientific community itself to keep itself in the lab?

<[Luke] That is, in terms of the Stock Market examples we’ve been tossing around, there’s the level at which we’re using economic “analytical” tools (like Elliott Waves and Japanese Candlesticks) and the patterning of the Market itself to make detailed probability-predictions [and looking for specific results that match our particularized projection criteria].  That is the first level of empirical meaning I mentioned.  [Mike] Elliot waves and Japanese Candlesticks aren't economic analytical tools.  They belong to what is called "technical analysis" which is a kind of stock market astrology.  Some market analysts employ astrology.>

Point well taken.  Yes, they’re indeed part of “technical analysis” (which I should have said in my initial message or at least pointed out the somewhat arcane, dubious nature of the economic “analysis” involved with Elliott Waves and Japanese Candlesticks).  Quite right!

The problem is – as I see it – the dividing line between stock market astrology (technical analysis) and legitimate economic analysis is kind of blurred when we end up equating accounting, business, and personal finance with the study of micro & macro- economics.  If there is no difference between personal finance and economic science, then where stands the difference between “technical analysis” and true economic analytical tools that are used by economists? …  It all ends up amounting to personally and/or domestically-locally rolling the dice again and again to see where they fall and what they’re numbers are compared to the results of previous roles.  If there is no difference between personal finance, et al, versus economic science, then regardless of technical analysis or the more legitimate kinds of economic projections used, the whole attempt to predict, accurately estimate, or project market outcomes is no more than tossing dice and personally using astrology to maximize one’s gains or profits in the market.

<[Luke]  The second meaning of “empirical” would involve our consideration of the systematic Market process itself (and all aspects of its specified detail) in its natural state regardless of our observations/predictions as analysts.  [Mike]  I don't understand this.  What is the "systematic Market process itself" and how is this any different (in a useful sense to people who actually participate in markets) from our observations, predictions and actions (i.e. to buy or sell).  The market IS the observations, predictions (beliefs about future movements) and the actions taken by the people involved in the market.>

The ‘systematic Market process’ itself is what we get when we allow the Market to function according to its natural state regardless of political, social, and economic policy intrusions by government officials, corporate leadership, and or banking organizations.  More specifically, it’s the true “free market” guided by the “invisible hand” of unfettered economic activities of individuals and businesses doing their things in ‘harmonious’ concert – producing, selling, buying, trading, profiting, and consuming their wares – guided by the natural workings of human behavior, without the undue influences of organizations like the Federal Reserve, government treasury offices, or social elites (be they corporate, media, or so forth) monopolizing the system.  That is what I mean when I talk about the “systematic Market process” itself.  We would do well to let the real World System takes its course and be guided, unencumbered by undue outside influence, by the large-scale workings of world history and “eonic” evolution (as per Professor John Landon’s “Eonix” research).  At least, that’s what I think.

Regarding the difference between the “systematic Market process” itself and the mechanics/analysis of  the “finite game” (per James P. Carse’s book, Finite and Infinite Games about gaming theory) we call “personal investment”, “business”, “finance”, and “accounting”, the difference comes down to the fact that economics at its best (like the other sciences and social sciences) ultimately is about coming to an understanding about human behavior in an economic context.  That is to say, it’s about episteme, scientia, and noesis [to use the Classical Greek expressions for true knowledge, the true systematically reasoned inquiry into the entities of our world, and the true understanding of such things – in this case regarding human behavior and the state of human nature].  It’s, in some sense, less about – or at least secondarily about – doing something and/or making something (embodied in the terms techne and praxis) as it about delving into the true nature of the things we study and their systematic dynamics as real things.

So there’s a real formal distinction to be considered here between our object-as-is (human economic behavior & the systematic Market process itself (business cycles, economic trends, etc.) and the ways in which people use this object-as-is to their own ends (read “self interest”).  If there is no difference between the two, then all our analytical projections about what a market’s going to do is nothing more than rolling dice and hoping our number comes up; & furthermore, economics itself becomes nothing more than a game of Monopoly, Wheel of Fortune, and a Las Vegas casino all rolled into one.  I have the feeling that Economic science is much more than just this …

You ask:  how is this any different (in a useful sense to people who actually participate in markets) from our observations, predictions and actions (i.e. to buy or sell)?  The market IS the observations, predictions (beliefs about future movements) and the actions taken by the people involved in the market.”>  Your parenthesized point presupposes a pragmatist, utilitarian purpose to Economic science, so it may not be able to adequately posit, frame, or perhaps even ‘see’ the difference I’m suggesting.  But if economics is more than personal finance, etc., then we have a significant and all-important reason for looking at broad-based, long-term economic change (and a theory of World Systems) as our fundamental priority.  Without this distinction and frame of reference I’m talking about, our analysis can never go beyond the limits set by a pragmatic ideal of personal investment, accounting, and finance.  I suppose it’s good enough for a person to be an economic/financial analyst for a big Wall Street firm that monitors stock cycles as its business; this being for the purpose of personal finance and investment concerns.  But isn’t it better to monitor what’s happening in this respect from a larger, longer-term, systematic perspective of market change (one that’s more epistemological, more altruistic and less self-interested either in the stock performance of particular companies one’s firm is associated with and/or in giving them favorable projections whether or not these companies actually merit such by their true economic performance) ?  … I tend to think the systematic, epistemological model I just outlined is the better frame of reference in this regard, but what’s your opinion on this issue? …

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