Home > Uncategorized > The vain search​ for The Holy Grail of Science

The vain search​ for The Holy Grail of Science

from Lars Syll

Traditionally, philosophers have focused mostly on the logical template of inference. The paradigm-case has been deductive inference, which is topic-neutral and context-insensitive. The study of deductive rules has engendered the search for the Holy Grail: syntactic and topic-neutral accounts of all prima facie reasonable inferential rules. The search has hoped to find rules that are transparent and algorithmic, and whose following will just be a matter of grasping their logical form. Part of the search for the Holy Grail has been to show that the so-called scientific method can be formalised in a topic-neutral way. We are all familiar with Carnap’s inductive logic, or Popper’s deductivism or the Bayesian account of scientific method.


There is no Holy Grail to be found. There are many reasons for this pessimistic conclusion. First, it is questionable that deductive rules are rules of inference. Second, deductive logic is about updating one’s belief corpus in a consistent manner and not about what one has reasons to believe simpliciter. Third, as Duhem was the first to note, the so-called scientific method is far from algorithmic and logically transparent. Fourth, all attempts to advance coherent and counterexample-free abstract accounts of scientific method have failed. All competing accounts seem to capture some facets of scientific method, but none can tell the full story. Fifth, though the new Dogma, Bayesianism, aims to offer a logical template (Bayes’s theorem plus conditionalisation on the evidence) that captures the essential features of non-deductive inference, it is betrayed by its topic-neutrality. It supplements deductive coherence with the logical demand for probabilistic coherence among one’s degrees of belief. But this extended sense of coherence is (almost) silent on what an agent must infer or believe.

Stathis Psillos

  1. Dominique
    February 14, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    On the one hand, Mathematics rests on logic; logic rests on subjectivism. On the other, Science rests on the troublesome von Neuman’s paradox; that is the troublesome subjectivity introduced into the real world by the observer. In other words, the whole edifice math-science rests on subjectivity. This calls for more humility at every step!

    • Craig
      February 14, 2019 at 5:03 pm

      Yes, the burden of objectivity is indeed continual vigilance….and humility is an aspect of what? That’s right, grace as in non-prejudicial inclusiveness and prejudice….in favor of well considered truthfulness.

  2. February 14, 2019 at 10:21 pm

    Who wrote this? Whoever it was has very little understanding of the formal nature of logic and algorithmic structure. I might have gone along with the casual reference to “Popper’s deductivism” had I not just read Bryan Magee’s “Popper” (in the Fontana Modern Masters series) which gave a very different account of Popper’s beliefs from that attributed to him by the likes of Carnap, and what I had picked up from his early “Logic of Scientific Discovery”. What came out that was an emphasis on falsification rather than positive proof. What comes out on p.65 of Magee’s book is a continuous development schema:

    “P(1) -> TS -> EE -> P(2)

    where P(1) is the initial problem, TS the trial solution, EE the process of error elimination applied to the trial solution and P(2) the resulting situation, with new problems. It is essentially a feedback process. It is not cyclic, for P(2) is always different from P(1); even complete failure to solve problem teaches us something new about where its difficulties lie”.

    So the point of Popper’s method is not inference but error correction, with errors not found by calculation using unchanging symbols being detected by translating propositions (words, logos] into error-prone physical trials. Deductive logic enables one to infer that if all of a set have given properties then any of them will have, it remaining for investigation whether the set has the properties or examples actually members of it. The Kuhn/Lakatos point was that if solutions are not to be found in the current set then one needs to move to a wider set; Popper apparently accepted this. The logic required to achieve it, however, is not deduction but abstraction, called by C S Peirce abduction or retroduction; Popper relied on problems evolving over time, not seeing retroduction takes one back to an earlier state. He has simply discounted statistical induction, but actually this has an appropriate name and a perfectly respectable role as a quality control procedure informing a [sometimes moral if often conventional] judgement as to whether the original problem has been solved well enough for the solution to be “inducted” into the set approved for use, where time may tell against it.

    For the chalice to hold the lifeblood of science it needs to account for it being human, with motive, personality differences, specialisation and development to be accounted for. The aim of science is to enable mankind to become able to see what has not been seen before; to be a scientist, whatever one’s specialism in a scientific team, is to have that aim. The method develops with the science. It used to be exploration of new lands. For Bacon it was taking things to bits to see how they work. Today, having taken atoms and communication processes to bits, the method is inventing instruments and seeing what more they reveal. The problem is not in the instruments but where it has always been: in humanity, where the immature are too ashamed of their errors to admit and correct them.

    • February 15, 2019 at 8:09 am

      If you have a look at the original posting on my blog you will find out who wrote the passage quoted — and then reconsider your “has very little understanding of the formal nature of logic and algorithmic structure.” Guess you were barking up the wrong tree this time …

      • February 15, 2019 at 2:17 pm

        Lars, you are here quoting without attribution. When I’ve looke

      • February 15, 2019 at 5:03 pm

        Pesky QWERTY keyboards with shift next to larger caps lock and shift keys! Okay, I touched ‘Lars Syll’ instead of ‘Reply’ and Stathis Psillos popped up. (When I tried the little link next to a little man at the top it just came back here). For ref:


        Okay, but I can’t see from this that Stathis has been working with active switching logic, information theory and dynamic error-correcting logic, which is what the above critical brief is about. My barking up a different tree to Stathis doesn’t mean either of us was wrong. Duhem I will say was wrong: he’s looking at scientific activity and not the growth of the corpus of scientific knowledge by repeated use of the procedures of scientific logic, in the same algorithmic way an arabic number format grows objectively when you add to it. That format has developed. To provide for motion one now has negatives, decimals and “scientific” as well as integer formats; but the algorithmic principle remains. Logic likewise has developed.

        I didn’t go on to discuss algorithmic structure as the recursive use of the same types of process, but Algol68 was devised in light of Chomsky’s Transformational Grammar, outlined in John Lyon’s “Chomsky” (p.81, Figure 9). I have not achieved the eminence of Sir John Lyons, but I was his younger contemporary at school and inconspicuously top in my final year there, as (due to my interest in philosophy of science) I was in my initial scientific training. My point is that I don’t say things lightly. I am defending this because it is still virtually unknown, leaving philosophy of science going round in circles instead of updating its paradigm, preventing understanding and development of economic schema informed by the new logics.

  3. Frank Salter
    February 16, 2019 at 9:36 am

    If you wish to use the term Holy Grail then the assertion that the search is in vain merely demonstrates that Lars Syll continues to practise, what he has to often condemned, looking under the lamppost because he sees that there is some light there. He needs to raise his eyes further. Scientific analysis from first principles is demonstrated by more than 1.8 million scientific papers. Mathematics applied to the axioms of reality is the basis of this method. He needs to deal with scientific reality NOT with economic prejudices.

    Until economics embraces appropriate scientific methods it will continue to present incomplete and distorted pictures of reality.

    • Craig
      February 16, 2019 at 7:12 pm

      That’s so close to being completely correct Frank, and yet so far from it at the same time. Let me re-phrase it for you:

      Until economics embraces both appropriate scientific methods and the superior mindset of wisdom which includes the very best ideals and historically significant breakthrough applications of science it will continue to present incomplete and distorted pictures of reality.

    • Robert Locke
      February 16, 2019 at 7:40 pm

      The problem is trying to establish scientific modeling of use in real world economics. It doesn’t work and it does’t explain anything. In 1980 the US economy dominated. in a rich country. In China 88% of the people lived under the poverty line, in 1917, 6% did, what a remarkable achievement. How do any of these models based on market capitalism explain it?
      Western economist sit around waiting for China to implode, with an analytical toolbox that ignores how the Chinese achieved their spectacular access.

      • Craig
        February 17, 2019 at 5:21 am

        What if today’s current paradigm for inquiry is Science Only and the new paradigm is wisdom as in the inclusive integration of only the truths in opposing perspectives including the scientific method? And what if the philosophical concept of grace as in the dynamic, interactive, integrative and unitary free flow of everything is actually the best and most accurate scientific description of the physical/temporal universe which we and the entirety of the legitimate economic process is embedded in and must adhere to…if it indeed also wants to be gracefully, abundantly and stably free flowing?

        Economics doesn’t need endless iconoclastic critique or equally endless theoretical tweaking, it needs philosophical search and exegesis for the concept that has been behind every historical paradigm change and that in fact is reflective of the concept behind every one of the cutting edge policy suggestions espoused by each of the cutting edge heterodox economists like UBI, government deficit spending and debt jubilees.

        Once Galileo saw the moons of Jupiter he knew helio-centrism was almost certainly the defining single concept of the new cosmological paradigm and it was simply a straight forward rational if precarious process for him and a few others to affirm it in the minds of others. When economists focus in microscopically and analyze the summing, ending and terminal expression point significances of the point of retail sale and craft a reality inverting direct and reciprocal monetary and pricing policy there…they can all become Galileo’s.

      • Frank Salter
        February 17, 2019 at 9:10 am

        Robert, you appear to have missed the point I was attempting to make. Your “It doesn’t work and it does’t explain anything” assertion is conditionally true With conventional analysis, your statement has been true. I know that you do NOT like my analysis of manufacturing development, but that the transient mathematical relationships developed are fully consistent with the empirical evidence and predict previously unrecognised relationships also confirmed by the empirical data, is objectively true. This is what Lakatos described as a progressive research programme. That implies there will be further developments in understanding. Unless you can prove what I have said is false then you need to accept my original contention that economics needs to apply first principles analysis if is to develop any capability of dealing with the real world. The number of blog postings being made here saying that conventional analysis fails clearly demonstrates this.

  4. February 17, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Still beyond the reach of economists: The Holy Grail of Science
    Comment on Lars Syll on ‘The vain search for The Holy Grail of Science’

    Forget the Holy Grail of Science, economists are too stupid for the elementary mathematics that underlies macroeconomics.

    “In order to tell the politicians and practitioners something about causes and best means, the economist needs the true theory or else he has not much more to offer than educated common sense or his personal opinion.” (Stigum)

    Economists lack the true theory to this day. Take Keynes as an example.

    “Income = value of output = consumption + investment. Saving = income − consumption. Therefore saving = investment.” (GT, p. 63)

    “His Collected Writings show that he wrestled to solve the Profit Puzzle up till the semi-final versions of his GT but in the end he gave up and discarded the draft chapter dealing with it.” (Tómasson et al.)

    Keynes, like his academic colleagues, NEVER understood what profit is and thus ended with I=S ― one of the worst blunders in the history of modern science. After-Keynesians, though, have NOT realized anything in the last 80+ years.#1, #2

    Just for the record: the axiomatically correct macroeconomic relations are given by Q=−S for the elementary production-consumption economy and Q=I−S for the elementary investment economy with Q business sector’s monetary profit, S household sector’s monetary saving, business sector’s I investment expenditures. From this follows that all I=S/IS-LM models and their derivatives are scientifically worthless.

    Economists are still in the proto-scientific gutter#3 with the Holy Grail of Science, i.e. material/formal consistency, far beyond their reach. However, from the fact that neither orthodox nor heterodox economists could reach the Grail does not follow that it does not exist. It follows only that economists are scientifically incompetent.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    #1 How Keynes got macro wrong and Allais got it right

    #2 Krugman vs MMT ― like the blind talking about colors

    #3 Opinion, conversation, interpretation, blather: the economist’s major immunizing stratagems

  5. Robert Locke
    February 17, 2019 at 11:32 am

    Don’t map the models of physical science onto society, that is the first mistake, which is the premise of this bloq in its constant attack on orthodox economics for doing so and becoming autistic. Asserting the real world significance of physical science as an entry into social science is our problem, because it creates a crisis in the invented discipline of economics. If you want to look at real world economics, then look at it without going through physical science. The problem I see is in the creation of wealth and its fair distribution. Some cultures deal with this problem better than others, so study cultures not some misplaced application of mathematics and physical science that ignores cultures.

    • Frank Salter
      February 17, 2019 at 1:09 pm

      You offer the injunction “look at it without going through physical science”. But this is a statement which is more akin to: “My mind is made up! Do NOT confuse me with the facts.” I would agree with you that the fair distribution of wealth is the most significant problem to be resolved but to conclude that the scientific understanding of the economy is irrelevant is a non sequitur. The two are NOT mutually exclusive.

      Again you avoid the issue about transient mathematical analysis providing a theoretical description of the development of manufacturing industries — a counter example to the logic of NOT applying science you espouse. The method can be seen to work so it should be used.

      • Robert Locke
        February 17, 2019 at 6:47 pm

        Sorry, Frank, as a fellow traveler on my segment of the journey of life, born in 1932, I was ready to accept scientific explanations, and can remember the excitement in universities post WWII when the social sciences imbibed the new scientific paradigm, circa 1950-1970 (I got my BA at UCLA in 1956). But one has to be blind not to recognize the failure of this new paradigm. One can persist in believe in paradigms, but the spectacular failure of neoclassical economics, and the habits of thought it has established from mathematics and physical science in the brain’s neural map, makes me suspicious of a social science enterprise that is not anchored in an understanding of culture, especially since I have spent most of my adult life living in cultures other than American.

      • Frank Salter
        February 18, 2019 at 7:18 am

        Robert, I am in total agreement with you on neocalssical analysis. Its tenets have been shown to be false to fact. (Zambelli, Aggregate Production Functions are NOT Neoclassical, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 2018) Then you throw out the baby with the bath water. Apparently asserting that, if one mathematical example is wrong then all mathematical analysis will be wrong.

        Why, in responding to me, do you continue to deliberately avoid transient analysis. It meets the requirements of Lakatos’ progressive research programme. I will repeat my previous final paragraph:

        Again you avoid the issue about transient mathematical analysis providing a theoretical description of the development of manufacturing industries — a counter example to the logic of NOT applying science you espouse. The method can be seen to work so it should be used.

    • Frank Salter
      February 17, 2019 at 1:11 pm

      You offer the injunction “look at it without going through physical science”. But this is a statement which is more akin to: “My mind is made up! Do NOT confuse me with the facts.” I would agree with you that the fair distribution of wealth is the most significant problem to be resolved but to conclude that the scientific understanding of the economy is irrelevant is a non sequitur. The two are NOT mutually exclusive.

      Again you avoid the issue about transient mathematical analysis providing a theoretical description of the development of manufacturing industries — a counter example to the logic of NOT applying science you espouse. The method can be seen to work so it should be use

      • Frank Salter
        February 17, 2019 at 1:20 pm

        Sorry about the double posting but at times there are problems with nothing apparently happening on making a posting so one tries again.

      • Robert Locke
        February 19, 2019 at 8:41 am

        Frank, today is my 87th birthday, do you think I have time for your machinations, which are a pimple on the scale of time. Good luck, but keep an open mind.

      • Robert Locke
        February 19, 2019 at 8:49 am

        Oh, one thing, who ever said that I did not want to apply the logic of science. I have been furrowing this row since the 1980s following the path of H. Thomas Johnson, Horst Wildemann, Mike Rother, and Jeff Liker, who are actually engaged in improving manufacturing industries. Bet you never heard of them, which is what is questionable about your “science.”

      • Frank Salter
        February 19, 2019 at 10:33 am

        Robert, at each point you are challenged to provide facts to support your prejudices, you pop up in another place reiterating the same prejudices, apparently using your 87 years of age to justify them. Again I challenge you to deal the empirical truth that transient analysis is NOT-invalidated by the empirical evidence. I will NOT expect you to provide any facts nor mathematical analysis as this seems NOT to be in your range of analysis but to quote a list of names as “authority” is pointless mumpsimus. Deal with the arguments presented NOT some other irrelevancy.

      • Robert Locke
        February 19, 2019 at 7:37 pm

        Are your ideas having any effect on work world management? The scientific thinking I follow do.

  6. February 17, 2019 at 9:50 pm

    So Egmont is back asserting (despite having the evidence refuting him repeatedly pointed out) that Keynes equated savings and investment, which in his General Theory he only did in stating the fallacy he was attacking). From his #3 link, “Economists work hard to maintain the status quo of the pluralism of false theories”. So does Egmont. If every possibility (as against opinion) we discuss here is wrong, how can we ever break out of the vicious circle of errors, including his own – mistaking the either/or of deductive logic for the changing conclusion of the system of scientific logic as evidence unfolds? As a scientist, most of whose work was with logic, I deny his assertion that deductivism is the logic of science. It is only part of it, and I can give reasons and examples why I have concluded what I have outlined above. I’d like to see Egmont’s justification for his opinion. It seems to me anyway my own case refutes him. What I am depends, as they say, on which hat I am wearing. With one on I am a scientist, with another I am an economist, albeit perhaps a more scientific one than most professional economists. Same me, different roles. I am also a parent, a Catholic, a sometime soldier, etc.

    Robert, the problem with your position is that anchoring social science in a study of culture rather than physics would leave it myopic and subjective when the significant problem has become global and objective – our endangering of mankind’s physical home. An evolutionary scientific view has human society and its real economy as a late development of the physical and firmly anchored within it, but neo-classical economic theory, as you suggest, is a figment of diseased brains which in Popper’s “Third World” have their subjective “Second World” closing off the objective possibilities of the original “First World”. I see this pictorally as like an arabic number in which the left hand digit, the initial digit continually being pushed further and further left, is always greater than all the other digits put together.

    • Robert Locke
      February 18, 2019 at 7:47 am

      “anchoring social science in a study of culture rather than physics would leave it myopic and subjective when the significant problem has become global and objective”

      My problem after 40+ years of watching people try to anchor social science in physics is that the results are “myopic and subjective.” I find that the global and objective should be sought though a study of culture, as, for example, in the sustainability movement that started with research into the Toyota Kata and ended up in “scientific thinking” about the nature of process.

      • February 18, 2019 at 8:47 am

        My thanks for this, Robert, and apologies for referring loosely to ‘physics’ rather than the physical world. Starting from the Big Bang rather than the observable universe, my own physics differs fundamentally (on perpetual motion, subatomic particles and mathematical interpretation) from the current canon of physics, which is itself as myopic and subjective as Ken would have us believe all science is.

        Your reference to study of sustainability at Toyota is not that far from my study of reliability in both physical equipment and information transmission. To coin a phrase, the latter hinges on tolerable tolerances, with chaos ensuing if intolerance leads one to seek precision of result rather than timing. I’m thinking of the first bit of electronics I designed where the rate of heat loss was marginally less than the rate of heat input! Somehow I think that may be very relevant globally in the next few years.

      • Frank Salter
        February 19, 2019 at 7:55 am

        Robert, you continue to avoid dealing with the truth of transient analysis which I ask to to explain within your hypothesising. You never confront the facts which I ask to to explain within your thinking. I can only conclude that it is easy to present disinformation. It is never easy to deal with facts which prove you wrong..

  7. Rob Reno
    February 20, 2019 at 3:12 am

    [T]oday is my 87th birthday. ~ Robert Locke

    Happy birthday Robert. My life is richer from having the opportunity to have learned from your many thought gems. Arigato Gozaimasu from Japn. May your special day be machination free yet filled with sweet mastication.

    • Robert Locke
      February 20, 2019 at 1:18 pm

      The life of every person is important, so we can celebrate my birthday without egoism.

      • Rob Reno
        February 21, 2019 at 2:12 am


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