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The main problem with mainstream economics

from Lars Syll

Many economists have over time tried to diagnose what’s the problem behind the ‘intellectual poverty’ that characterizes modern mainstream economics. Rationality postulates, rational expectations, market fundamentalism, general equilibrium, atomism, over-mathematisation are some of the things one have been pointing at. But although these assumptions/axioms/practices are deeply problematic, they are mainly reflections of a deeper and more fundamental problem.

c9dd533b1cb4e7a2e1d6569481907beeThe main problem with mainstream economics is its methodology.

The fixation on constructing models showing the certainty of logical entailment has been detrimental to the development of a relevant and realist economics. Insisting on formalistic (mathematical) modeling forces the economist to give upon on realism and substitute axiomatics for real world relevance. The price for rigour and precision is far too high for anyone who is ultimately interested in using economics to pose and (hopefully) answer real world questions and problems.

This deductivist orientation is the main reason behind the difficulty that mainstream economics has in terms of understanding, explaining and predicting what takes place in our societies. But it has also given mainstream economics much of its discursive power – at least as long as no one starts asking tough questions on the veracity of – and justification for – the assumptions on which the deductivist foundation is erected. Asking these questions is an important ingredient in a sustained critical effort at showing how nonsensical is the embellishing of a smorgasbord of models founded on wanting (often hidden) methodological foundations.  

The mathematical-deductivist straitjacket used in mainstream economics presupposes atomistic closed-systems – i.e., something that we find very little of in the real world, a world significantly at odds with an (implicitly) assumed logic world where deductive entailment rules the roost. Ultimately then, the failings of modern mainstream economics has its root in a deficient ontology. The kind of formal-analytical and axiomatic-deductive mathematical modeling that makes up the core of mainstream economics is hard to make compatible with a real-world ontology. It is also the reason why so many critics find mainstream economic analysis patently and utterly unrealistic and irrelevant.

Although there has been a clearly discernible increase and focus on “empirical” economics in recent decades, the results in these research fields have not fundamentally challenged the main deductivist direction of mainstream economics. They are still mainly framed and interpreted within the core “axiomatic” assumptions of individualism, instrumentalism and equilibrium that make up even the “new” mainstream economics. Although, perhaps, a sign of an increasing – but highly path-dependent – theoretical pluralism, mainstream economics is still, from a methodological point of view, mainly a deductive project erected on a foundation of empty formalism.

If we want theories and models to confront reality there are obvious limits to what can be said “rigorously” in economics. For although it is generally a good aspiration to search for scientific claims that are both rigorous and precise, we have to accept that the chosen level of precision and rigour must be relative to the subject matter studied. An economics that is relevant to the world in which we live can never achieve the same degree of rigour and precision as in logic, mathematics or the natural sciences. Collapsing the gap between model and reality in that way will never give anything else than empty formalist economics.

In mainstream economics, with its addiction to the deductivist approach of formal- mathematical modeling, model consistency trumps coherence with the real world. That is sure getting the priorities wrong. Creating models for their own sake is not an acceptable scientific aspiration – impressive-looking formal-deductive models should never be mistaken for truth.

For many people, deductive reasoning is the mark of science: induction – in which the argument is derived from the subject matter – is the characteristic method of history or literary criticism. But this is an artificial, exaggerated distinction. Scientific progress … is frequently the result of observation that something does work, which runs far ahead of any understanding of why it works.

aimageNot within the economics profession. There, deductive reasoning based on logical inference from a specific set of a priori deductions is “exactly the right way to do things”. What is absurd is not the use of the deductive method but the claim to exclusivity made for it. This debate is not simply about mathematics versus poetry. Deductive reasoning necessarily draws on mathematics and formal logic: inductive reasoning, based on experience and above all careful observation, will often make use of statistics and mathematics …

The belief that models are not just useful tools but are capable of yielding comprehensive and universal descriptions of the world blinded proponents to realities that had been staring them in the face. That blindness made a big contribution to our present crisis, and conditions our confused responses to it.

John Kay

It is still a fact that within mainstream economics internal validity is everything and external validity nothing. Why anyone should be interested in that kind of theories and models is beyond my imagination. As long as mainstream economists do not come up with any export-licenses for their theories and models to the real world in which we live, they really should not be surprised if people say that this is not science, but autism!

Studying mathematics and logics is interesting and fun. It sharpens the mind. In pure mathematics and logics we do not have to worry about external validity. But economics is not pure mathematics or logics. It’s about society. The real world. Forgetting that, economics is really in dire straits.


When applying deductivist thinking to economics, economists usually set up “as if” models based on a set of tight axiomatic assumptions from which consistent and precise inferences are made. The beauty of this procedure is of course that if the axiomatic premises are true, the conclusions necessarily follow. The snag is that if the models are to be relevant, we also have to argue that their precision and rigour still holds when they are applied to real-world situations. They often don’t. When addressing real economies, the idealizations necessary for the deductivist machinery to work, simply don’t hold.

So how should we evaluate the search for ever greater precision and the concomitant arsenal of mathematical and formalist models? To a large extent, the answer hinges on what we want our models to perform and how we basically understand the world.

For Keynes the world in which we live is inherently uncertain and quantifiable probabilities are the exception rather than the rule. To every statement about it is attached a “weight of argument” that makes it impossible to reduce our beliefs and expectations to a one-dimensional stochastic probability distribution. If “God does not play dice” as Einstein maintained, Keynes would add “nor do people”. The world as we know it, has limited scope for certainty and perfect knowledge. Its intrinsic and almost unlimited complexity and the interrelatedness of its organic parts prevent the possibility of treating it as constituted by “legal atoms” with discretely distinct, separable and stable causal relations. Our knowledge accordingly has to be of a rather fallible kind.

To search for precision and rigour in such a world is self-defeating, at least if precision and rigour are supposed to assure external validity. The only way to defend such an endeavour is to take a blind eye to ontology and restrict oneself to prove things in closed model-worlds. Why we should care about these and not ask questions of relevance is hard to see. We have to at least justify our disregard for the gap between the nature of the real world and our theories and models of it.

Keynes once wrote that economics “is a science of thinking in terms of models joined to the art of choosing models which are relevant to the contemporary world.” Now, if the real world is fuzzy, vague and indeterminate, then why should our models build upon a desire to describe it as precise and predictable? Even if there always has to be a trade-off between theory-internal validity and external validity, we have to ask ourselves if our models are relevant.

Models preferably ought to somehow reflect/express/correspond to reality. I’m not saying that the answers are self-evident, but at least you have to do some philosophical under-labouring to rest your case. Too often that is wanting in modern economics, just as it was when Keynes in the 1930s complained about Tinbergen’s and other econometricians lack of justifications of the chosen models and methods.

“Human logic” has to supplant the classical, formal, logic of deductivism if we want to have anything of interest to say of the real world we inhabit. Logic is a marvellous tool in mathematics and axiomatic-deductivist systems, but a poor guide for action in real-world systems, in which concepts and entities are without clear boundaries and continually interact and overlap. In this world I would say we are better served with a methodology that takes into account that “the more we know the more we know we don’t know”.

The models and methods we choose to work with have to be in conjunction with the economy as it is situated and structured. Epistemology has to be founded on ontology. Deductivist closed-system theories, as all the varieties of the Walrasian general equilibrium kind, could perhaps adequately represent an economy showing closed-system characteristics. But since the economy clearly has more in common with an open-system ontology we ought to look out for other theories – theories who are rigorous and precise in the meaning that they can be deployed for enabling us to detect important causal mechanisms, capacities and tendencies pertaining to deep layers of the real world.

the-first-principle-isRigour, coherence and consistency have to be defined relative to the entities for which they are supposed to apply. Too often they have been restricted to questions internal to the theory or model. But clearly the nodal point has to concern external questions, such as how our theories and models relate to real-world structures and relations. Applicability rather than internal validity ought to be the arbiter of taste.

So – if we want to develop a new and better economics we have to give up on the deductivist straitjacket methodology. To focus scientific endeavours on proving things in models, is a gross misapprehension of what an economic theory ought to be about. Deductivist models and methods disconnected from reality are not relevant to predict, explain or understand real world economies.


If economics is going to be useful, it has to change its methodology. Economists have to get out of their deductivist theoretical ivory towers and start asking questions about the real world. A relevant economics science presupposes adopting methods suitable to the object it is supposed to predict, explain or understand.

  1. October 11, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    The main problem with mainstream economics is that this is the best critique of it on offer.
    We have two views of science: both wrong. Lars Syll is, in a sense, closer to correct, but still wrong enough to neuter the critique.
    Science does not equal physics plus chemistry.
    Science does not reduce to physics plus chemistry.
    This sentence is false:
    “For although it is generally a good aspiration to search for scientific claims that are both rigorous and precise, we have to accept that the chosen level of precision and rigour must be relative to the subject matter studied.”
    Many, possibly most, scientific claims about human behavior are not the kinds of things that can be “rigorous and precise”.
    For example: When confronted by an unknown animal appearing suddenly, most people will demonstrate a fight or flight response.
    That is a true and important scientific claim. It is nonsense to inquire about its rigourousness.

  2. October 11, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    All economics, both mainstream and heterodox, has not one but two climactic problems.

    First, nobody of you knows how to make decisions when there is no more even “limited scope for certainty and perfect knowledge.” Zero, zilch, nada, ноль. (Do not know Chinese.) In the 21st century we are in “the age of black swan.” From AI and robots to WMD to climate, we are surrounded with existential dangers.

    Second, even more important, science and technology are valid only when they do not violate laws of nature. Economics and all adjacent disciplines do that. A law of nature is self-preservation, rather than maximization of utility. Ask the nearest amoeba about the Theory of Complexity.

  3. October 11, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    The answer is always an integration of only truth(s) which simultaneously creates a new thirdness that is a greater oneness. That is what economic theory needs.

  4. October 11, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    In my morning newspaper I read that Professor Bengt Holmstrom was asked at his news conference about the current high level of executive pay, he answered, “It is somehow demand and supply working its magic.”
    Imagine asking any ordinary botanist about how a little kernel of corn becomes a tall stalk of corn and all he can say is, “It is somehow soil and water working its magic.”

  5. Norman L. Roth,
    October 11, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    Couldn’t have put it better myself M. Lars Syll. And your firm grasp of the branches of philosophy most relevant to curing what ails economics,combined with your critique of the uses and abuses of mathematical applications, shows through. Hopefully, some of it might get through to “where the sun don’t shine”…No names or institutional identification please.

    GOOGLE: Norman L. Roth

  6. JohnB
    October 11, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    The last 3 economics/science themed quotes are grand, but don’t pick up the bad trend of doing meme-generator pics (like the first two), that some economics blogs have picked up – it strongly invokes cringing/wincing in readers, and I’ve nearly blacklisted some otherwise-good sources over that.

  7. October 11, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    “Human logic” has to supplant the classical, formal, logic of deductivism if we want to have anything of interest to say of the real world we inhabit”.

    Well yes; but human logic is not just a machine which churns out right answers; it is more like a television (more precisely a closed circuit television system) which displays more or less well the things we do so that we can see what we are doing; for it is our doing, not the economic system, which makes things change, In short, the problem is economists focussing deductively on how the TV set is imagined to work, and on the forces empowering it, and not on the positive feedback in its information processing which is so narrowing its bandwidth that only large slow changes show up in the picture, so (recalling a blog some time ago) Citycorp could say only the accounts of the richest 5% mattered.

    Economics is an information science, not a power science, and until guys like Lars get their heads round that, these discussions are going to continue going round in circles.

  8. jlegge
    October 12, 2016 at 6:10 am

    Extract from my book: http://www.transactionpub.com/title/Economics-versus-Reality-978-1-4128-6251-6.html

    Models can take on a different role: that of ideals. Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, was keenly aware of how erratic, messy, and unjust the real world could be. As a believer he could not accept that the god or gods who had created the Earth and the people on it could have made such a mess deliberately. He concluded that the real world was in fact perfect and predictable, but the gods had deliberately clouded human perception so that we could not see reality clearly. We could, Plato argued, get some idea of what reality was really like by studying mathematics, particularly geometry. He had “No entry without geometry” engraved above the entrance to his academy in Athens.

    The astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) straddles the Platonic and the modern scientific eras. He had access to a huge series of astronomical observations, a series sufficient to reveal errors in both the old Ptolemaic models and Galileo’s version of the Copernican one. Both Ptolemy and Galileo had assumed that the planets moved on the surface of perfect spheres, and initially Kepler retained that assumption. Kepler went further and assumed that the diameters of the spheres bore some relationship to the five regular polyhedrons described by the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Euclid.
    After putting himself though unspeakable mental torture, Kepler abandoned the idea of spheres and polyhedrons and demonstrated that the planets (or at least Mars) orbited the sun in ellipses. He set out three laws of planetary motion, which became the foundation on which Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) developed the Law of Universal Gravitation. Kepler, and even more decisively, Newton, ejected Platonic ideals from physics: physicists find facts and fit theories to them, rather than the other way around.

    Antoine Lavoisier (1743–94) did the same for inorganic chemistry at the end of the eighteenth century, and Friedrich Wöhler (1800–82) started the process of eliminating vitalism and ideals from organic chemistry in 1828. Louis Pasteur (1822–95) put biology on a scientific basis, and biochemistry emerged at the start of the twentieth century as the science of living cells. In the late twentieth century, the convergence of neurophysiology and psychology saw many psychologists adopting a scientific approach.

    The one discipline that calls itself a science but largely refuses to adopt the scientific method is economics. An economist who simply collects facts may be denounced as pursuing “measurement without theory”: papers that appear in the most prestigious economics journals set out a theory, often in the form of an elaborate set of mathematical equations, and such papers then offer a set of facts, or a statistical analysis of some data sets, that appear to support the theory.

    • October 12, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      I shall try to read your book, friend Legge, but coming after a comment which says an economy and the brains which invented it are more like a closed circuit television system than facts about unintelligent nature, this all looks pretty irrelevant, if divertingly interesting. (I’d been intending to say much the same about Ken Zimmerman’s anthropological critique of Structural Functionalism).

      Scientific method too has had its paradigm changes – from Aristotle’s classification of new discoveries, through Francis Bacon’s “taking things to bits to see how they work”, seen in Newton’s interest in both cosmic motions (simplified by his calculus) and the light by means of which they were observed. This led to scientific method separating from science, with Locke trying to take observational language, brain and government methods to bits to justify democratic political conventions on authority and ownership, but Descartes having invented mathematical models to compensate for doubting processes he couldn’t see, Hume likewise argued for basing social science not on analysis of physical processes but on localised “democratic” correlation of or agreement on independent (if by his logic impossible) observations. As Hume’s student was Adam Smith, economics went Humean.

      Science progressed anyway. Experiments with neural cells led to accidental creation of an electrical circuit, hence batteries, chemical polarisation, electromagnetism, evolving experimental possibilities with information and power communication technologies and the discovery of the periodic table, Soddy’s isotopes, quantum mechanics, geometrical relativity, circuit topology, information capacity, linguistic relationality and indeed, “the convergence of neurophysiology and psychology”..,

      Economics too has evolved, but Humean economists have blinkered themselves: fear of the political implications of Ruskin’s “Unto This Last” seemingly moving them around 1870 from disputed accounting arithmetic to obscure “divide and rule” models based on unfamiliar Newtonian calculus, and since 1940, in response to Keynes’s “General Theory”, to even more obscure models based on Maxwell’s hypergeometric mathematics rather than Heaviside’s operational PID simplification of them (the latter being akin to taking logarithms and using clock numbers). Since 1980, unpublicised automation of arbitrage in so-called markets has been euphemised as “rational expectations”, its complexity misconstrued and chaotic uncertainty of incomes induced by their over-control to the point of bifurcation.

      What you say interestingly here is that “We could, Plato argued, get some idea of what reality was really like by studying mathematics, particularly geometry”, but ” Kepler, and even more decisively, Newton, ejected Platonic ideals from physics: physicists find facts and fit theories to them, rather than the other way around”.

      These positions don’t seem to me to be mutually exclusive, and in fact, recent physicists went looking for evidence of their theoretical Higgs Boson. [This postulated on a theory of the number of different ways an atom could be smashed rather than the energy and mere four topological types of stable particle involved in its construction. C.f. Euclid’s non-metric “five regular polyhedrons”].

      Anyway, my own position is that economists in the past did adopt a scientific method, based on what was already feasible in 1740, so taking no account of philosophical criticism via Kant’s logical frameworks (1780’s), Hegel’s evolutionary dialectic (1820’s), Poincare’s conventionalism (1900), Popper’s falsificationism (1935) , Hanson’s “Patterns of Discovery” (1959), Kuhn’s revolutionary paradigm changes (1964) or Lakatos’s degenerative research programmes (1970), to say nothing of our dramatically different context (see e.g. Herman Daly, 2014).

      What Adam Smith added to Hume’s politically motivated agenda was specialisation, so that economists and other applied scientists have largely lost touch not only with the history even of economic methods but with instrumental developments in scientific method made possible by subsequent developments in non-mechanical scientific knowledge, notably the discovery of electric circuits in 1800, electromagnetic induction in 1830, radio in 1865, electric switching circuits forming both computer logic and bits of information in 1938, and error control by means of information feedback circuits in 1948. This last has exposed a politically double edged sword, whereby specialists in laissez-faire politics can represent honest error-correction itself as a mistake, dishonestly legalising “making money” as the aim of economics so they control their own freedom to free-ride by justifying austerity for and violence to others as error-correction. Perhaps it is no wonder economic hacks are not interested in it.

      In response to Vladimir, I suggest: (First), that in fact we can and do make decisions on the basis of trust and a policy of giving way to the weak, even if these are not always justified; and (Second), that Shannon’s information theory is all about not violating the laws of nature by “trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot”, i.e. about being able to measure and not exceed the information capacity of communication channels. That surely is crucial for a genuinely scientific methodology..

      • October 12, 2016 at 7:38 pm

        Blaming Hume is a huge part of the problem and a good example of how the heterodox critique is able to change without making any significant progress toward its putative goal.

        The revolution that economics missed didn’t happen between Hume and Kant. It happened between Newton and Darwin. The fatal flaw is graphically clear in your complaint that economics should learn something from electromagnetism.

        The science of living things cannot be graphed on a Cartesean Plane.

      • October 12, 2016 at 10:03 pm

        Thornton, given Hume’s historic situation and despite his admitted fortune-seeking, I don’t BLAME him: I point out his denial of energy and communication as roots of the nonsense which is mainstream economics. As it happens, Hume and Kant ARE between Newton and Darwin, and what economics should have learned from electromagnetism is that its absolutely distinct (being at right angles) graphical coordinates represent real differences between dynamic complementarity and mere opposition.

        Again, there is no such thing as “the” heterodox critique. My critique is my own, based on my own scientific training, observation, experience and the challenges of criticism and not initially knowing – and it HAS led me to significant progress towards my own scientific goal, which for half a century has been to refute Hume’s arguments with adequate theories of causation, human understanding, social scientific method and – in view of its practical significance – economic systems.

        Perhaps you should read W W Sawyer’s “Prelude to Mathematics” on topology, for the minimal schema of the science of living things CAN be outlined (if not numerically graphed) on a Cartesian or spherical surface. A “rubber” sphere marked with the Cartesian coordinates necessary to map it may be compressed into a tetrahedon and the tetrahedon pressed flat against the floor to create a crossed diamond still made up of four triangles: a Euclidian triangle being necessary and sufficient to define the continuity of a circle and hence a circuit. The rubber sphere may be replaced by a living thing, with life going on within its surface, in circuits within its circuits and via cyclic interactions with its environment and (in the sentient case) within its memory,

        The practical point of such a schematic map or theory is not to reproduce what is there but to give clues about where and how to look for oneself at what one is interested in. As the great French mathematician and philosopher of science Henri Poincare put it, “Symbols are [just] hooks to hang ideas on”.

  9. October 14, 2016 at 5:58 am

    To paraphrase, it’s the science, stupid. In another post I say, “Richard Feynman got it mostly right about science. Three steps: 1) guess about some event or action; 2) make
    observations to test the guesses; and 3) rewrite the guess based on the tests. And, repeat process. The weakness in his view is that he assumed connecting guesses and test results is a generally straight forward process. History of science has taught us this is not the case. It’s complex, uncertain, unclear, nonlinear, and always disputable. And it is, to use the vernacular of science and technology studies “socially constructed,” as is all of science and each particular scientific study. Once economists get past this hurdle they may have some
    chance of creating useful and understandable studies of “socially constructed” economies. But right now their work is mostly just pointless gobbledygook. Beyond this, however, the real problem is that economists insist on inflicting this gobbledygook on all the rest of us. And they do a lot of damage with it.” Economists are like small children playing doctor. They really want to get it right – white coats, stethoscopes, injections, etc. But since they don’t really know anything about the community of medicine, how it works, or who and how members are accepted the children can never treat any real illness or study patients. Economists really want to be scientists. They just don’t know how to do that and no real scientist is there to teach them.

  10. October 14, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    They cannot. They don’t want even to talk about two big problems. First, they have a “dodo paradigm” – no self-preservation instinct. Fiat erudition, pereat mankind. Second, they cannot make a single correct decision under radical uncertainty in this “black swan century.” Amen.

  11. October 16, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    Ken, try reading Fritjof Capra’s “The Turning Point”, (Bantam edition 1983), which was saying in 1982 what many here are still saying, 33 years on; still missing the point that reality includes language and therefore science includes Shannon’s information just as much as it includes Newtonian force, but saying lots of very interesting things about the Newtonian model in the chapter on the development in psychology leading up to the one on “The Impasse of Economics”, see especially p.168 (on Hume), p.175-7 (on Hull) and p.179 (on Freud). What creeps out is that Newton’s Euclidian space and mechanical models don’t provide for evolution, whereas Einsteinian space and the initially dark energy of a Big Bang does. (Capra’s still looking for it in quantum physics and the Yin and Yang of the Tao rather than in Genesis, but that’s another matter).

    What was more to the point was the discussion there of the psychological difference between men and animals, and a TV program last Tuesday (11 Oct 2016) on our UK Channel 5, about a boy born with no brain, who learned to speak and then grew one. This was completely unexpected, extraordinary and perhaps ultimately the proof of why the language facility (along with its possibilities of mistaken reference and dishonesty) is present as a separate (indexing) function in adult human brains,but not in wild animals. Do primates and intelligent domestic animals grow a rudimentary linguistic memory, one wonders?

  12. October 17, 2016 at 5:40 am

    The materiality-turn is a broad intellectual project partly related to the symbolic approach of artefacts. it develops post-discursive perspectives intended to make sense of the ‘materiality’ and ‘matter-iality’ of practices and processes at stake in organizations, organizing and management (Latour). The movement grew out of philosophical concerns about language, especially computer language and digitization, and materiality. The roots include historical-materialism. It has lead to the creation of whole new ontologies and research areas, the disentanglement of ideal and material dimensions, and questioning such distinctions as between Nature and Society. The re-invention of these seminal contributions have provided useful concepts such as materiality, material, devices, apparatus, performance, modes of existence, intra-action, affordance, agentivity, entanglement, heterotopic space, material or sociomaterial practices, ontologies, process, network, meshwork, among others. Some researchers interested in the materiality-turn focus on spaces, artefacts, objects, instruments, technologies and bodies and their relationships with practices, while others prefer to explore broader movements and associations. The latter are not so preoccupied with the usual dichotomies such as nature vs. culture, nature vs. society, or human vs. non-human entities. In sum, the material turn is a theoretical stream covering what is expected to endure across time and space, or what is temporally and spatially constructed through everyday activities, i.e. tools, objects, artefacts, technologies, built spaces, bodies and embodiment and their relationships with organizations and organizing. The turn, which began in the 90s is just now making its way into mainstream social science. Thought not, I’m afraid into mainstream economics.

    • October 17, 2016 at 5:56 pm

      Ken, what on earth has all this about a “materiality-turn” got to do with what I’ve just shared about language? I’m on about Descartes’ spiritual dimension, which Newton’s Euclidian geometry and Locke/Hume psychology excluded before the modern view of economics had even got started. Without a spirit (wind, energy) one cannot have Descartes’ spirit directing our mental “mechanisms”: these being mechanical sensory processes, initially conscious but eventually subconscious, directing our own energy along paths which redirect the energy to move the sensory mechanisms into a focus, and activate mechanisms to change the world being observed.

      The point of what I have continually tried to share, and was demonstrated in the boy growing his brain by being mentally stimulated (as it had been earlier by stroke damage and brain-splitting surgery), is that with language this can be a two-stage process. We not only, like the animals, have memories of what we see: we can direct attention to these (much as a book index directs attention relevant pages) via completely different linguistic memories of what we hear (and readers of different languages have learned to hear even as they see words whole).

      When, as here, you lose yourself in Humean association of words with the vast diversity of sounds, symbols and material technology, you fail to grow memories of what these refer to, i.e. fail to grow neural channels directing our energy to reset our senses to the state in which they are focussed not just on the symbols but on our bodily bodily states when we were conscious of their meaning. (What I’m saying new here is that the encoding of information in brains takes the form of the setting of the senses, not the form of what is sensed). The problem with city dwellers and industrialists is that they rarely get chance to program their senses via interacting with the activities and sights of the natural world and schematic representations of the interactive workings of the brain, so mistake the material symbols for the channels of the spirit and end up arguing about words.

      Lawyers, in particular, are notorious for demanding the letter rather than learning from the spirit of the law. If you really want to participate rather than obstruct the development of a new paradigm for social science and economics, read your brief (here Capra’s “The Turning Point” or Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”) before bombarding the jury and the judge.

      • October 17, 2016 at 8:10 pm

        Precisely my point. Sorry for the big words in my reply. I cut out as many as possible. But the materaility-turn is complex. I was merely attempting to sum up the move beyond the focus on language and knowing. And ontology as well. You use lots of words in your response but have no sense I think of their relationships to materialtiy. C.P. Snow described the “two” cultures. I want you to consider that culture, of any sort only exists in relation to separations of experience with words. Science vs. the humanities, society vs. nature, human vs. non-human, etc. Looking behind the words at how the material world is segmented, by whom it is segmented, and for what reasons it is segmented. Consider words just tools that divide up experience. That’s my point.

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