Home > Uncategorized > The new minds of young people will be open to the new empirical evidence.

The new minds of young people will be open to the new empirical evidence.

from Ikonoclast

The methodological ideology of conventional economics will be destroyed by its failure in the current and ongoing collisions of its recommendations and applications with real systems. This is already happening as Herman Daly illustrates in his paper “Growthism: Its Ecological, Economic and Ethical Limits.”

In turn economics, like science, will progress theoretically and methodologically, or else disappear with humans themselves, “one funeral at a time” as not only current conventional economists die but as millions to hundreds of millions or even billions of other humans die due to ecological and civilizational collapse. The latter catastrophic possibility is what people seldom want to think about. Certainly, we should strive to avoid that outcome if we can. The genuine and imminent fear of ruin and death will certainly motivate people in a new way. Old theories about endless growth economics free from natural limits will be scorned. Those who persist with promulgating such theories will find a metaphorical academic or political “tarring and feathering” could be the mildest of the things that could happen to them.

The current generation of conventional economists will all have to go, by natural senescence and death, into dissolution and their ideas must and will go with them. Currently, science and logic cannot quite yet win the ideological and power war of political economy, at least not against mature devotees of that ideology. These devotees, who are so heavily intellectually and financially invested that they cannot change their minds, will simply have to pass away. Natural processes will achieve that.

However, science and logic do matter for the new minds of young people who are coming up and can be educated in new thinking. With no inherent intellectual investment nor motivated thinking in favor of the current physically and logically refuted ideology ad political economy, they will be open to the new empirical evidence which is constantly arriving even now. Then real change will become possible. People like Lars Syll are torch-bearers of new truths and will be fully vindicated in the long term.


  1. deshoebox
    July 23, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    Good post, Ikonoklast! Please excuse me if I provide examples: Science says there is enough to go around. Logic says we should share it more equally. Theoretically, we can work together to create life-sustaining public policy that supports life and dignity for all humans. Methodologically, we can develop a new way of thinking about and teaching economics that enables people to understand how the economy works and what they can do to promote good decision-making at all levels.

  2. Marc Batko
    July 23, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    Unlike a chair, an idea can be shared by a whole people – like the 4-day work week! Nature breathes again and gridlock becomes bearable. Better long-term health and more time sovereignty! Academia.edu could be the people’s publisher. With 20 million papers, academia.edu moves research into a new world!

  3. Craig
    July 23, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    It won’t make much difference if “the new minds of young people” chose mere economic reform instead of the complete inversion/paradigm change that a 50% Discount/Rebate monetary policy at the point of retail sale would effect. Look at its elegant and elemental power and keep on looking until you see it. If you don’t you’re selling your sons and grand sons onto inevitable economic collapse and the delay of fast forwarding sane ecological projects that will stave off resource wars and the probable 75% chance they won’t live beyond 40 years of age.

    Think about it….and look.

  4. Ikonoclast
    July 24, 2019 at 6:12 am

    Choosing to remain in the same paradigm via economic reform will not work. This is if we mean by “economic reform” changes which remain in the capitalist paradigm. This would be so even if the reforms, for example, attempted to repeat the Keynesian “Golden Age” of capitalism.

    The Keynesian “Golden Age” (in effect a “Golden Age” for developed nations only) was only possible because of;

    (1) The WW2 destruction of capital (solving any overaccumulation tendency).
    (2) The stimulus from rebuilding Europe and Japan and also from the Korean War.
    (3) The resource limits to growth had not yet been reached.
    (4) The process of global labor arbitrage had not then commenced in earnest.
    (5) Governmental fear of demobilized armies and of the industrial workforce.

    None of these factors apply any more. The modern global economy suffers from overaccumulation (mainly in the hands of the super-rich). There have been no war(s) big enough to destroy the overaccumulation of capital. The limits to growth have been reached and indeed overshot in sustainability terms. Global labor arbitrage processes are in full swing. There are at least 2 billion peasants still available to be pulled into the labor army but they won’t be now for various limiting reasons. Neoliberal governments don’t fear their fractured, largely non-industrial classes who have no experience of class solidarity, show less obvious class characteristics in any case and are currently obedient consumers; meaning quiescent, supine, physically unfit and mentally lacking in education and critical thinking capacity, at least in the developed nations.

    The above is not to say that I advocate wars, shortages and privations. I do not. But historically these factors have preceded radical and revolutionary changes. The case now is that limits to growth, climate change and other related issues presage global food, water, energy and other shortages plus general privations. If a positive internationalist approach is taken this will not lead to major wars. Instead, humanity may realize that for the first time it faces a common enemy and an existential threat together. The common enemy is one we have created for ourselves; our own over-growth plus spurned and ignored nature itself and its natural forces. It will be this struggle to survive together which could create a genuine post-capitalist system as a viable and worthwhile system. The only real alternative is collapse, barbarism and possibly extinction. Remnants of humanity could be forced to return to a hunter-gatherer existence, albeit in a much changed and damaged world compared to the Holocene and early Anthropocene. This over-heated PETM-like post-Anthropocene era would require at least 100,000 years for the biosphere to recover and become benign again to modern homo sapiens making civilizational attempts.

  5. July 24, 2019 at 7:18 am

    This is what we are all fighting against. Neo liberalism is foreign policy for the USA and aggressively so.

  6. Frank Salter
    July 24, 2019 at 9:36 am

    Unfortunately, the above discussion is all at the meta level — true but leads nowhere. Until a genuine scientific methodology is actually used no advances will be made. The required methodology is first principles analysis, solve differential equations through time, discard hypotheses which are empirically invalid and engage constructively with work applying these techniques. The latter is very important. My analysis, “Transient Development” (RWER-81) is a case in point. It is production theory. It meets every scientific test of empirical validity. But so far no one will discuss it in a scientific manner. As no one appears to be bringing this to the attention of students there will be no change. Only by serious engagement will this be changed. So please engage here. The comments for RWER-81 do not work.

    • Craig
      July 24, 2019 at 6:11 pm

      What I have advocated here has always been both meta level analysis and aligned policy. I am aligned entirely with Steve Keen’s analysis whose use of differential equations is spot on. The difference between myself and virtually every other economist or economic pundit is that I look at the economy from the ultimate integrative perspective of the pattern/paradigm. Every other form and type of analysis lies below and is included within the analysis of the paradigm.
      To paraphrase James Carville “It’s the paradigm, stupid!” So let’s get on with both the analysis and the action/policy crafting from that all encompassing perspective lest our analysis not be full and complete.

  7. July 24, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    Please excuse a small quibble on “People like Lars Syll are torch-bearers of new truths and will be fully vindicated in the long term.” Lars seems very perceptive in his critique of what Keynes called ‘pseudo-mathematics’, but his view of the relevance of mathematics seems to be based on dead economists’ accounts, not ‘the real deal’.

    If we are to ever take full and proper account of the ‘new empirical evidence’ it seems to me (as a mathematician) that good economists will need to rely on mathematics, if only to counter pseudo-mathematics. Don’t throw the genuine baby out with the soiled bathwater: you might want it later.

    July 24, 2019 at 11:04 pm

    Once again I reiterate I am not an academic, but just an average citizen with a limited education. In spite of that generally I agree with much of what Iconoclast writes and particularly his use of quotes of Mark Blaug.

    Where I want to comment is in his last paragraph, referring to young people:

    “They will be open to the new empirical evidence which is constantly arriving now”.

    On the one hand I ‘think it is great to see the importance of empirical evidence being emphasized. However on the other hand I am concerned about the questionable interpretations of what constitutes empirical evidence. From conversations with some students in their last year of schooling before entering university it was obvious that they had been told what to think , not taught how to think,( C T Kurien) for example, free trade was good, but no mention was made that it might make it difficult to find work.

    In my simple mind this is not education it is indoctrination conditioning them to become one of the mindless sheep running to their destruction in the search of the necessities of life.Ted

  9. Ikonoclast
    July 24, 2019 at 11:26 pm

    In relation to statements above about science and mathematics. The only real science is hard science; namely physics, chemistry and biology. The rest is not science. This is not to insist on mere scientism nor is it to insist that other subjects are worthless. It is simply to insist on the precision of definition for which those (mistakenly) arguing for precise science and mathematics in economics are in effect calling. Those calling for precise science and mathematics in economics become hoist on their own petard if they use, at any point in their calculations, dollars or “utils” or “snalts” (socially necessary abstract labor time).

    If you are calling for scientific and mathematical precision in economics then you must stick to the scientific units laid out in International System of Units (SI). These are base units;

    s second time
    m metre length
    kg kilogram mass
    A ampere electric current
    K kelvin temperature
    mol mole amount of substance
    cd candela

    and derived units;

    radian, steradian, hertz, newton, pascal, joule, watt, coulomb, volt, farad, ohm, siemens, weber, tesla, henry, degree Celsius, lumen, lux, becquerel, gray, sievert, katal.

    Does anyone see dollars, “utils” or “snalts” in that list?

    This is not a matter of merely being pedantic. If one is calling for science this is how one must work. Subjects outside of science and related to the economy are (for examples) political economy and moral philosophy, worthwhile and necessary subjects but not sciences.

    Bringing science into economics must necessarily entail measurements in the scientific units above (plus the utilization of taxonomic schemes for biota). Thus if we assess by scientific studies and measurements that we are causing the 6th mass extinction and forcing dangerous climate change by releasing CO2 from our fossil fuels, then we have assessed that we should stop using fossil fuels. How we stop is the next matter for consideration and then we must examine energy transitions, energy saving and consumption curtailment, all in scientific and technological feasibility terms. Only real resource considerations are meaningful. Money considerations are completely meaningless. This is if we are being entirely logical and scientific.

    However money, while being objectively unreal, is socially real. People are enculturated to its social meanings and uses with all that entails. Money is reified and fetishized to the nth degree. A thousand dollars in the bank is more real to most people than a thousand recently extincted species. This suggests that before money is obsoleted as a social control and coordination mechanism, it must be pragmatically used to control outcomes via scientific and logical direction rather than market direction (at the enterprise and national levels as opposed to local market levels where people will continue for some time in believing in money and conducting their daily living rituals with it).

    In pragmatic terms, the above suggests utilizing and managing money as per current MMT prescriptions. Money needs to be fully socialized (in the socialist sense) before being obsoleted. MMT is not the solution for everything, far from it. MMT still seems to explicitly or implicitly (depending on the advocate) accept growthism. Growth is seen as the solution to capacity under-utilization and unemloyment, even in MMT. However, further quantitative growth in the economy is impossible if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, environment poisoning and mass extinction.

    Talk of obsoleting money and finance capital, as a social command and control mechanism, will seem fanciful and preposterous. I imagine that to the denizens of medieval times, talk of obsoleting the control of the feudal lords and the church over most of society would likewise have seemed fanciful and preposterous, not to mention heretical. Yet history rolls on and we have the choice before us: continue capitalism and collapse… or try to figure out something new.

    • Craig
      July 25, 2019 at 3:40 am

      The profit making economic system of Direct and Reciprocal Monetary Distributism is the thirdness greater oneness system that synthesizes only the truths, highest workabilities, relevant applicabilities and highest ethical considerations of the duality of capitalism and socialism.

    • July 25, 2019 at 3:01 pm

      As a Chartered Mathematician and a lapsed Chartered Scientist it does annoy me when people confuse the two. I look at it like at this: mathematical physics is mathematics + various ‘assumptions’ which are ‘pragmatic’ for physicists but not necessarily for economics. For example, most physicists regard ‘stochastic processes’ as viable models for their systems of interest, whereas Lars, for example, seems to think them the work of the devil. Mathematics as such is silent on this. Mathematicians will happily tell you what the consequences would be if economies were stochastic, but can take no responsibility for such assumptions. (My own view is that the theory of stochastic processes is rather ‘mature’ (i.e., dull) and I would much prefer it if we could get on to something more interesting (such as that of Keynes/Turing/Good/Mayberry), but as a mathematician I need to rely on subject matter experts to produce empirical evidence against those assumptions which economists have traditionally regarded as ‘pragmatic’. From where I sit the case seems overwhelming. Why don’t others get it?

      (Euclidean geometry was once pragmatic: it took Eddington to show that it was wrong. But his evidence was not universally accepted straight away.)

      • Craig
        July 25, 2019 at 7:15 pm

        Euclidean geometry is nothing if not abstract and ephemeral to the individual and his/her everyday life.

        A 100% raise in your purchasing power, integrating price and asset deflation beneficially into profit making economic systems so that the money actually free and available to purchase every enterprise’s goods and services is doubled and a publicly administered non-profit financial and monetary system makes species and planetary survival no longer “too expensive”.

        In other words it hits everyone where they like to be hit and exposes the idiotic, arbitrary and suicidal notion that survival is an option.

        The financial elite would be happy to say to the 6.5 billion non-elite that “we can’t finance survival, have a nice day”. And anyone who doesn’t see the urgency of acting on the new monetary, financial and economic paradigm in the final analysis….is on their side.

  10. Ikonoclast
    July 26, 2019 at 12:16 am

    Some thinkers in economics, both orthodox and heterodox, seem to be looking for specifically economic laws. They won’t find them. There are no economic laws in the sense that there are scientific laws, except for those economic laws which are direct corollaries of scientific laws. For example, you require energy to do work.

    Robert Lucas put it perfectly;

    “Given that the structure of an econometric model consists of optimal decision-rules of economic agents, and that optimal decision-rules vary systematically with changes in the structure of series relevant to the decision maker, it follows that any change in policy will systematically alter the structure of econometric models. – Lucas (1976).

    In my language (and I have mentioned this before) there are “rules” and there are “laws”. Lucas writes “any change in policy will systematically alter the structure of econometric models”. I would write “any change in rules will systematically alter the structure of econometric models”.

    The search for economic laws, outside those which are direct corollaries of scientific laws, is entirely futile. Economics is about power, meaning in this case social power; which in turn is based on physical power, information, knowledge and moral suasion. (Information is not always knowledge.) Money, as a reification, crystallizes this power into abstract numbers, a formalism we are trained to obey from childhood and punished when we do not. Money is not a measure of anything objectively real other than of its own social instantiation as the power of command over the disposition and use of resources. We use money according to rules. By this I mean according to legal laws, regulations, customs and procedures (financial and accounting procedures).

    Any attempt to construct economics on the basis that money measures or quantifies anything real other than its own social instantiation as power to exclusively possess or dispose (the definition of private property) will founder.

    Conventional economics has not laws, but axioms and rules. If the axioms remain unquestioned, conventional economics remains unquestioned. The axioms are “private property is sacrosanct”, “markets are perfect”, “money measures value”. Until one critiques and disposes of these conventional economic axioms, one remains mired in conventional economics at the intellectual level.

    Pragmatically, at the real and practical social level, in day to day and year to year living, we all remain mired in the machinations of conventional economics. It is an inescapable totalising system.

    “In The Myth of the Machine, Mumford insisted upon the reality of the megamachine: the convergence of science, economy, technics and political power as a unified community of interpretation rendering useless and eccentric life-enhancing values. Subversion of this authoritarian kingdom begins with that area of human contact with the world that cannot be successfully repressed – one’s feelings about one’s self.” – Lewis Freid, Makers of the City, Univ Massachusetts Press, 1990. p. 115.

    Science and technology are now two sides of the one coin. Economics and political power are also melded. Democracy, even imperfect democracy including direct action and autonomous rebellion, remains the only feasible power outside the above megamachine complex. Speaking speculatively, it seems the megamachine is most vulnerable to a human refutation and repudiation of its conventional economics component. This perhaps suggests that instead of seeking a renovation of economics, economics should be abolished in toto, with all social decisions being taken democratically and morally with scientific advice on those matters science is competent to speak to.

    If we don’t abolish (conventional) economics, it will abolish us. All of those who are not science deniers know we are in the 6th mass extinction (an extinction a factor of a hundred faster than any other extinction) and facing catastrophic climate change and sea-level rise.

  11. Ken Zimmerman
    July 27, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    As I’ve said previously, it is the object of study that differentiates “natural” and social sciences. And humans invented both, but not alone. They invented them from their interactions with the things around them. Both to define and explain those things and themselves, and to usefully deploy these inventions in the efforts to survive and create worthwhile and agreeable lives. From the objects of study follow the methods, tools, mathematics (if necessary), and principles (first, if you like) that fit the science. Plainly speaking, that’s why the methods, etc. of natural sciences cannot be transferred indiscriminately to the social sciences. Both are sciences in the sense Einstein used that term, “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” This makes these the first two questions to answer. First, what is the nature of everyday thinking? Second, the would-be scientist must try to make clear in their own mind just how far the concepts which they use are justified. And just as the natural scientist does their work by “following nature” wherever it leads, so the social scientist must follow the actors who create culture and society wherever they lead. And unlike the physical scientist who has no need to consider the reactions of the universe to their studies of it, the social scientist must be reflexive. They must consider how their work effects the actors and actors’ creation of society and culture. Physical and social sciences are empirical, but in different ways. A spectrometer is useful in some physical sciences but can reveal little about the creation of societies and cultures. Participant observation can reveal details about peoples’ creation of culture and society but is of little use for physical sciences. Establishing the “facts” is difficult in any sort of science. As all sciences are culturally created and anchored in a certain culture. Thus, there are always multiple facts about the same observations made by laypersons and scientists. In all instances the judgments of those involved are necessary to choose among these facts. The refinement of everyday thinking Einstein mentions is just this. In making these choices scientists, in contrast to the layperson make more observations, from many more standpoints, with a much greater variety of tools. And then they give a great deal of time and creativity to using these observations to create facts unlike others created previously. We owe scientists a great moral debt for taking on this existential effort. Unfortunately, such stupid (I use the term clinically, not politically) people as Trump are unable to perceive either the moral purpose or the existential quality of the work. For them, scientists are just one more “self-interest” group to be judged as enemies or friends based on their loyalty or lack thereof. Luckily, others share this task with scientists – artists, novelists, poets, essayists, and even some historians. They all push to reveal “what’s happening,” in the field. Whether that field is the universe or human culture and society. Economics is not a science because it reveals only the thoughts and desires of economists. It could be a science if it worked, even it failed to reveal the works of the actors who create and try out economic ways of life. If economists choose not to pursue this course, they rightly belong in the dustbin of history.

    • July 27, 2019 at 8:52 pm

      Ken, maybe we should say that we should strive to develop a suitable logic for our subjects of discourse. As a mathematician, I would suggest mathematical logic as a starting point, but that would risk closing down debate. More practically, economists might do what they are comfortable with, but welcome insights from mathematicians, particularly where they seem to be (in Keynes’ terms) veering into pseudo-mathematics, lest other mathematicians should continue to answer the questions they are asked ‘as posed’ without appreciating the illogicality of the implicit assumptions behind the questions.

      Eventually, we might end up with some descriptions of assumptions that seem adequate to both subject matter experts and computationalists, as physicists seem to have. At least we could try. I suggest Keynes’ Treatise on Probability as a starting point, although its not an easy read. (Or maybe Lars will supercede Keynes one day soon?)

      • Rob
        July 27, 2019 at 11:36 pm

        [M]aybe we should say that we should strive to develop a suitable logic for our subjects of discourse. ~ Dave Marasay

        This resonates with my own viewpoint. I see it expressed by Fullbrook (2016) as Narrative Pluralism, by Söderbaum (2018, 7; 2000, 29-31) as paradigm co-existence. Really enjoy your comments Dave.

      • Yoshinori Shiozawa
        July 30, 2019 at 3:00 pm

        Dear Dave Marsay

        The following is a part of my third comment on Lars Syll’s post

        “Lars Syll and Asad Zaman are wrong in thinking that mathematics (axiomatic system is a form of mathematics) is a simple system of tautology. Mathematics is tautology only in the eyes of God. Syll and Zaman are forgetting that people, economists and mathematicians including, are being whose rational capability is limited. If the economy is a complex and large system, it is not easy to understand the structure and processes of the whole system. Mathematics and axiomatic systems are a tool to analyze and understand this complex system. Don’t be mislead by classical science philosophy before the complexity became topics of scientific investigation.

        What you are suggesting as “suitable logic for our subjects of discourse” may be related to the gap between our capability of logical reasoning and the difficulty and complexity of the world. This poses a great confusion about what mathematics is and what mathematician and real mathematical economists are doing.

    • Rob
      July 28, 2019 at 7:17 am

      Insightful and interesting post Ken. You quote: “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” Citation? I find this similar to the understanding of Holton & Brush regarding what science is and how it is done. Completely agree, “From the objects of study follow the methods, tools” etc.

      Beyond that I find your post-modrn ‘relativism’ and ‘social constructionism’ BS.

      Reference List

      1. Holton, Gerald and Brush Stephen G. Physics, the Human Adventure [From Copernicus to Einstein and Beyond]. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press; 2001.

  12. lobdillj
    July 27, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    A very interesting discussion. I resonate with Ikonoclast’s comments and those of Dave Marsay.

    • July 27, 2019 at 8:55 pm

      Oops! It may look as if you agree with my post of July 27, 2019 at 8:52 pm. Maybe you do? Otherwise, feel free to quibble.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 28, 2019 at 4:00 am

        Dave, Rob, lobdillj, above all else, what anthropologists do is ethnography. Ethnography is to the cultural or social anthropologist what lab research is to the biologist, what archival research is to the historian, or what survey research is to the sociologist. Often called – not altogether accurately – ‘participant observation,’ ethnography is based on the rather simple idea that in order to understand what people are up to, it is best to observe them where they are and when they are by interacting with them daily and over an extended period. All social science approaches ought to share the same focus as ethnography. To get out of the way and allow people to show us and tell us what their lives are like. Anything that gets in the way of this objective needs to be rejected by social sciences. Actions like imposing any sort of mathematical logic, philosophical axioms, psychologically invasive approaches, submersion in abstract concepts, etc. have limited applicability in any social science, economics included. And when they are utilized, the scientist must be convinced they will do more to reveal rather than conceal the lives of the people studied. Imposing statistical logic on responses to questionnaires can be useful if monitored properly. But behavioral experiments (laboratory or field) are never acceptable in the social sciences. Though psychologists still insist on using this approach. But consider the multiple mistaken conclusions the Milgram experiments created. Some of which are still around nearly 60 years later.

        You guys and I are on very different pages. You all propose multi-step abstract processes that leave out the most import part of social science research – hearing and seeing the human lives being studied. You’ve buried the subjects of social science under so many layers of BS their voices are likely never to be heard. It’s not the job of social scientists to theorize about or explain the actions and concepts of those they study. It’s their job to reveal and report these actions and concepts. Including the theories and explanations for the actions and concepts invented by the people studied.

      • lobdillj
        July 28, 2019 at 12:52 pm

        Ken, I don’t see myself as being on a “very different page” than you. I don’t see where you get the idea that I am proposing a “multi-step abstract process” for anything that is being discussed in this very interesting thread. I think of myself as being on a very different page than Craig however. Can you explain why you say I’m on a different page?

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 28, 2019 at 2:48 pm

        Perhaps I misread your comment. Did you write, “I resonate with Ikonoclast’s comments and those of Dave Marsay?” I disagree with both Dave Marsay and Ikonoclast, as I hope I’ve made clear here. Culture and society sometimes operate as you suggest; sometimes not. Which translates not just to uncertainty but uncertainty about uncertainty, etc.

      • lobdillj
        July 28, 2019 at 2:04 pm

        Dave, in your 7-27 8:52 PM comment you write, “Eventually, we might end up with some descriptions of assumptions that seem adequate to both subject matter experts and computationalists, as physicists seem to have.” I do resonate with that, but maybe not in the way one might suspect.

        As an applied scientist for 30+ years working in physics, physical chemistry, electrical engineering, and operations research, supporting the US Navy’s anti-submarine warfare efforts, I am amused at the thought of your statement quoted above. I was studying physics in grad school from 1963 thru 1966 while quantum mechanics was a focus of study and research. I don’t think the current state of understanding amounts to anything other than (1) an agreement that “it works for all practical purposes, so shut up and calculate”, and (2) that conscious observation creates the “reality” of entanglement (Chapter 17, Quantum Enigma, 2nd Ed.). Stephen Hawking said, “When I hear about Schrodinger’s cat, I reach for my gun.” Albert Einstein said, “I like to think the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.” So…modern physics has required concepts that truly are articles of faith. I don’t see this as a proper attitude for scientists.

      • August 4, 2019 at 9:06 am

        Ken, apologies for the delay in replying. You talk of “imposing” mathematical logic. If you are saying that the many people (not just in economics) attempt to impose inappropriate ‘mathematical logics’, I would agree. E.g Kahneman and others seem to think that probabilistic reasoning is the gold-standard for rationality. Similarly, most economists may be seeking to ‘impose’ quite weird views on the population at large, for their own ends. But surely the point of this blog is that there may be some sub-population of economists who are more reasonable. My main point is that I think that there may be a sub-population of mathematicians that you could work with. I further think that if you exclude the pseudo-mathematicians then those left tend to be open-minded, if not full of good insights (in my experience). Do you know of any relevant anthropolgical studies?

      • Ken Zimmerman
        August 5, 2019 at 11:08 am

        Dave. Reuben Hersh, a mathematician and mathematics professor, describes mathematics this way. “Mathematics is like money, war, or religion-not physical, not mental, but social. Dealing with mathematics (or money or religion) is impossible in purely physical terms-inches and pounds-or in purely mental terms- thoughts and emotions, habits and reflexes. It can only be done in social-cultural-historic terms. This isn’t controversial. It’s a fact of life. Saying that mathematics, like money, war, or religion, is a social-historic phenomenon is not saying it’s the same as money or war or religion. Money is different from war, money is different from religion, religion is different from war. But all four are social-historic phenomena. Mathematics is another particular, special social-historical phenomenon. Its most salient special feature is the uniquely high consensus it attains.” Amazingly insightful, in my view. My concern is that most scientists who use mathematics to support their work or their science, or both view and use mathematics as a formal system of logic, like philosophical logic. Thus, omitting most of Hersh’s delicate and multifaceted description. This is, in my view the use of mathematics in name only. Hersh’s book, from which the above is taken is “What is Mathematics, Really?”

        As for works by anthropologists, there aren’t many. For cultural anthropologists, mathematics tends to be treated as just one more flexible device for problem solving. Lumped with all the others. As Hersh says, as a device or tool, its most prominent feature is the high level of consensus it reaches. But you could check out these. Anthropological theory of didactic phenomena: some examples and principles of its use in the study of mathematics education by Carl Winsløw. Anthropological Study of the Essence of Mathematics by Teisuke Takezaki (mostly in Japanese).

      • August 5, 2019 at 6:43 pm

        Thanks, Ken. I see from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reuben_Hersh that he is not regarded as mainstream, but still his https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxyZXViZW5oZXJzaGFydGljbGVzZXRjfGd4OjNlZjEwY2M1Y2M1ZmVjODc does seem insightful. In practice, mathematics is a social construct, but the question is whether it attains an equal higher degree of validity than other disciplines. He seems to think so, and I tend to agree (which is what attracts me to the subject).

        Where Lars,I and others quibble is with his:

        ‘One famous example was probability– gambling or betting. Fermat and Pascal
        demonstrated “rigorous” (irrefutable, compelling) conclusions about some games of

        Mathematical logic makes a distinction between pure mathematics on the one hand and probability and calculus in so far as they are often interpreted as entailing questionable ontological assertions. Not all ‘mathematicians’ are quite so pedantic, yet I think it matters to your critique of what I think of as ‘pseudo-mathematics’.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        August 6, 2019 at 12:30 am

        Dave, Hersh’s book “Descartes’ Dream” fascinated me. Here was a mathematician writing like an anthropologist. Some anthropologists use mathematics (generally numbering or statistics) in their work. But none would see mathematics as anything other than a cultural construct. A very useful construct. But also a construct that taken too far, deemed rigorous or irrefutable can knock down entire societies, or even multiple societies. That is what’s happened in the west. Humans invented numbers, mathematics, and then allowed numbers to define the limits of culture. Now the question is how to break those limits before they annihilate our species.

        This is from “Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life” by Theodore Porter. “The Latin root of validity means ‘power.’ Power must be exercised in a variety of ways to make measurements and tallies valid. Nobody seriously doubts that phosphorus, say, exists in some real quantity in any given discharge of waste water. But it requires a massive exercise of social power to establish valid measures of such discharges. This involves not only a disciplined labor force, but also good public relations. If manufacturers or environmentalists think the measurement process is unreliable able or, worse, biased, it may well break down. If the most accurate methods are too expensive, inferior ones may become standard. To use the best methods in some particular case will then raise suspicions, or at least will present problems of interpretation in relation to sites that use the conventional methods. None of these uncertainties depend on any doubts about the facts of the matter. More than one solution is possible because more than one measurement regime is possible, and this means that there is a range of potentially valid measures.” Valid measures are cultural constructs. One of the reasons I’m always amused by Sc-Fi shows where humans and aliens measure distance in meters and weight in kilos. Hell, humans can’t reach such consensus among themselves on Earth. And if phosphorus valid measurement is difficult, consider such measurements as the census, economic benefits, or freedom.

      • August 4, 2019 at 9:33 am

        lobdillj (unusual name!),

        You say “I don’t see this as a proper attitude for scientists”. I’ve just been invited to lunch by a mathematical physicist, so I have to add a nuance. If we follow Keynes then we might regard most of physics as a domain in which ‘the articles of faith’ have been well tested and not (so far) found wanting. In this sense it is reasonable for such physicists to continue to use them as working hypotheses within their domain. What is not reasonable is for them or others to just read them across to other domains and to treat them as dogma.

        We should all question such unsubstantiated beliefs and it seems to me that mathematics can play a role here, even though economists have traditionally been resistant to such critiques.

      • Craig
        August 5, 2019 at 10:13 pm

        Almost no one here disagrees that neo-classical economic
        theory is a fraud and a failure, and virtually everyone agrees that the heterodox critiques of Keen, Hudson, Lars, Asad etc. are more accurate and the right direction. Can’t we move on to suggesting policies and structural changes that align with the conclusions of our agreed upon conclusions like:

        1) It’s a monetary economy, not “a veil over barter”
        2) Money and credit are the most potent and significant factors in such an economy
        3) Private for profit finance having a monopoly on credit creation is a massive contradiction in an allegedly free enterprise theory and system, and also requires that the sole form and vehicle for the distribution of credit-money be Debt ONLY
        4) Hence private money creation must end, but because public money creation could also be just as problematic its money creating ability and monetary policies must be firmly and unmistakably aligned with an unimpeachable ethic like the natural philosophical concept of grace as in love in action, i.e. policy as in direct and reciprocal monetary gifting at a strategically rational, effective and definitive point in the economic process. That is at retail sale, which will invert the presently agreed upon reality of individual and systemic monetary austerity into monetary abundance, and will also change the chronic inflation of modern economies into beneficial price deflation.
        5) Science as wonderful, necessary and interesting as it is, is immersed in complexity and rarely accomplishes solutions because its task is the reductive process of discerning factual truths. We should aim for discerning the elegant, deep, holistic and resolving simplicity (a single new concept) of a new paradigm, which concept applied intelligently changes the entire pattern of the area of human endeavor it applies to.

        Isn’t this the truly serious course of thought and action? Or is this blog merely a debating society?

  13. Ikonoclast
    July 28, 2019 at 1:10 am

    Dave Marsay,

    Not sure if you will agree with me but here I go. Logic and mathematics are specialist languages descended from ordinary language. In this sense, mathematics is not special and is no way set apart from language itself. Mathematics is special in terms of the specificity and accuracy it can bring to certain tasks. (Forgive me if I have posted the text below in another context on this site. I try to avoid that mistake but to err is human.)

    If we adopt complex systems thinking and the correspondence theory of truth, we can develop a persuasive theory of the operations of ordinary language and mathematics; of any formal system which uses signs. An analogy is a correspondence comparison. The Greek root analogos means “proportionate.” Mathematical operators like “equal to”, “greater than” and “less than” compare proportions. Language uses metaphors and similes (among other figures of speech) as comparators. Just as physics abstracts a shared characteristic, like mass, from real world existents, from different objects, and then uses comparators to compare quantities of mass, so do language “figures”, meaning figures of speech, abstract a characteristic, a “quality”, from reality (or imaginatively impute it) and then compare it to qualities in other existents; these qualities again being real or imputed. Expressions like similes or metaphors use analogies or refer to them.

    The relationship between mathematical language and standard language (e.g. modern English) is much closer than might first appear. They each operate via the same logic of abstraction of an essential quality, quantity, existent or imputed existent from diverse objects and then apply comparators in quasi-logical or logical operations. The metaphorical analogues of language preceded the more abstract and precise analogues of mathematics. The linguistic descent of mathematics from general language is thus clear on any proper analysis. Why does language itself exist and why does it work? Answer this question and we also answer why mathematics and logic, as direct descendants of general or ordinary language and as specialist languages in themselves, exist and work; meaning they work operatively for everyday practical tasks, applied and theoretical science and in philosophy.

    Why human language exists and works is open to an evolutionary explanation. A survival advantage for humans in terms of competition and natural selection was and is conferred by the development and continued use of language. This must be the basic hypothesis for the real-world development and use of language. In turn, language components as signifiers – as subjects, predicates and operators – must themselves undergo a kind of natural selection. Useful concepts, useful categorisations (creating basic sets) and useful operators (the latter developing as logical operators like “and”, “or”, “not”, “if” etc.) must confer a competitive, natural selection advantages from their uses. These advantages can only be conceived as functioning at natural, real system levels as social species members interact as a group with external nature and also at intra-species and inter-species levels. Language logic operators must themselves tend to be “naturally selected”, in a sense, over the combined and complexly integrated course of human brain evolution, mind evolution and social evolution. This occurs by their usefulness in conferring real natural selection advantage to populations using such operators and by conferring natural selection advantage to individuals with brains adept at using such operators.

    That is to say, the logical operators combined with subjects and predicates to create a language statement (each language statement) and formal systems capable of such statements must, in this system form, refer to and be analogically congruent (correspondent), to some extent, with real systems or part of a real systems. This is if the language statement manages to be pragmatically useful and applicable in some sense. The possibility of fanciful, speculative, mythical and lying language is not excluded by this theory. Such forms of language have social uses and can be used to obtain individual rewards and gains in many ways from entertainment to dogmatic authority claims, justifying ideologies and outright deceptions. These gains also can lead to natural selection advantages (but sometimes to punishments too) for individuals in human societies.

    How could language operators and operations be naturally selected? The answer must be that they possess an analogical congruence, homomorphism or correspondence with some aspect of external reality (reality external to mind and language). This congruence or correspondence confers higher probabilities of success upon some or all members of a social species, initially at familial or tribal group levels, in various survival endeavors while using some of these logical operators, logical systems and finally, mathematics.

    • Ken Zimmerman
      July 28, 2019 at 2:53 pm

      Dave and Ikonoclast. This is interesting, as an exercise in analysis. But now that you have this “theory of language,” what do you plan to do with it? Secondly, how does it apply, or not apply to cultures and languages today?

      Several specific questions and concerns. We know from research that human cultures and the societies that grow from these cultures vary greatly around the world. Since language is an element of culture, language varies greatly around the world. While there are similarities in how language is used in each culture, there are also great differences. Many of your references to language logic are not applicable, for example, in many Asian languages. Language in useful but not always in the same ways from one culture to another. You also contend that language operators and operations are naturally selected through an analogical congruence, homomorphism or correspondence with some aspect of external reality (reality external to mind and language). Language is used to communicate about humans’ understanding of what they see around them – the moon, the sun, the clouds, the weather, etc. Often these communications speak of the sun god, or the moon goddess, or the anger of the gods through weather, and today among many just the pleasure or anger of one God. But language’s great advantage for humans is to put their imaginations into their collective life. This gave early humans and continues to give humans today a survival advantage. But what about that external reality you mention. Historian Yuval Harari answers, “But what about truth? What about reality? Do we really want to live in a world in which billions of people are immersed in fantasies, pursuing make believe goals and obeying imaginary laws? Well, like it or not, that’s the world we have been living in for thousands of years already.” And that’s done through culture and the societies created based on it. And the primary tool here is language. Often not formal, often not logical (in one or more of the ways that term is used), and almost always not connected to external reality. And “like it or not” that’s worked thus far. Sapiens continues to survive and prosper. After all, culture is the source of the formal/informal distinction, if there is one. It’s also the source of what’s real and what’s not real. And what is mathematics and what is not mathematics. Sorry, none are engraved on the universe.

      My objections to considering language as you do are that the research on culture and language supports none of what you present. In the words of the adage, am I to believe you or my own eyes? I choose my eyes.

      • Rob
        July 29, 2019 at 11:42 am

        But what about that external reality you mention. Historian Yuval Harari answers, “But what about truth? What about reality? ~ Ken Zimmerman

        Yuval Harari is popular, a latest fad in post-modern relativism and social constructivism masquerading as history, when he is really also spinning tall tales and yarns and mythical stories.
        I think he has some good points, and some stories need to be disarticulated, but replacing one false myth with another is a dead end for humanity.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 29, 2019 at 12:40 pm

        Rob, I do not agree with all that Harari writes or says, particularly his admiration for standard science. But as to the quote, he is in my view stating the obvious. He states it rather bluntly like a punch in the gut. But that’s what makes authors popular. Look at Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway.

        Arnold I. Davidson is the Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, the Divinity School, and the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge. European Editor of Critical Inquiry, he is also a director of the France-Chicago Center. Part of Davidson’s work in on the history of perversion. He asks, were there any perverts before the latter part of the 19th century? According to Davidson, the answer is no. “Perversion was not a disease that lurked about in nature, waiting for a psychiatrist with especially acute powers of observation to discover it hiding almost everywhere. It was a disease created by a new (functional) understanding of disease, a conceptual shift, a shift in reasoning, that made it possible to interpret various types of activity in medicopsychiatric terms. There was no natural morbid entity to be discovered until clinical psychiatric practice invented one. Perversion was not a disease candidate until it became possible to attribute diseases to the sexual instinct, and there were no possible diseases of the sexual instinct before the nineteenth century; when the notion of diseases of this instinct loses its last remaining grasp upon us, we will rid the world of all of its perverts.” Davidson is not denying there have been odd people in all times. He is asserting that perversion, as a disease, and the pervert, as a diseased person, were created in the 19th century. It seems Davidson clearly ‘makes Harari’s point.’

      • Rob
        July 29, 2019 at 1:25 pm

        My gut didn’t get punched, Harari is full of himself.

    • August 3, 2019 at 9:30 pm

      On or about the 25th I was visited by a Trojan Horse. Hopefully I’ve seen it off. Meanwhile, a lot to respond to!

      The issue of whether or not mathematics is ‘just’ a language like any other, but adapted to dealing with numbers is clearly crucial. It seems to me that most ‘mathematics’ one comes across uses mathematics ‘just’ as a technical language, and the views of social scientists (including anthropologists) about such usage are entirely reasonable. But some (such as Keynes) make a distinction between ‘the real deal’ and pseudo-mathematics.

      Mathematical logic aspires to transcend the limitations of ordinary languaging. But does it?

  14. Rob
    July 28, 2019 at 6:50 am

    Often called – not altogether accurately – ‘participant observation,’ ethnography is based on the rather simple idea that in order to understand what people are up to, it is best to observe them where they are and when they are by interacting with them daily and over an extended period. ~ Ken Zimmerman

    This seems reasonable to me. In fact, it is also what a good manager of people does.
    Where or when, Ken, have I proposed anything like a “multi-step abstract processes that leave out the most import part of social science research – hearing and seeing the human lives being studied”? I think you are getting a bit sloppy with your rhetoric again friend ;-)
    Personally, I think smart people can chew gum and walk at the same time. You are, in my view, lacking the ability to think outside your silo Ken. Frankly, I think someone who can only view the world through one lens (e.g., for you, it’s anthropology) is mentally handicapped.
    Aso, I think you are failing to appreciate there are multiple ways of viewing and approaching any problem and not all are necessarily mutually exclusive. And you spew plenty of BS yourself, regardless of whether you recognize it or not. But you also say a lot of very, very, insightful things to, and overall I would say, you are on the insightful side.
    I think it is the sign of wise person who can hold two contradictory ideas in their head at the same time and exercise enough humility to think that they actually might have something to learn seeing the world through another viewpoint, and testing one’s own preconceived prejudices now and then, regardless of how “correct” one thinks one happens to be.
    Cheers, be happy, have a beer, and relax a bit. This is after all, just an rather insignificant comment section in a somewhat obscure blog.

    • Ken Zimmerman
      July 28, 2019 at 11:09 am

      Rob, physical scientists study what God has made, the universe. Social scientists study what humans have made, culture and society. Just like physical scientists want to reveal everything about nature, so social scientists want to reveal everything about culture and society. It’s easier for physical scientists, since each is trained not to replace the universe with their personal view of the universe. Though many still do. Social scientists aren’t always trained this way. Plus, many see themselves as obligated to “fix” culture and society or redesign them entirely. If the social scientist wants to reveal and describe culture and society, writing theories that explain them without any awareness of the theories and explanation the people out in the culture and society have already created to do this is at odds with this goal. Learning to listen closely and see clearly is more useful than all the social science theories in reaching this goal. That’s for any social scientist — sociologist, psychologist, political scientist, or anthropologist. That’s as direct as I can say it. Of course, this task is made more difficult for social scientists since, unlike physical scientists, social scientists live within one or more of the cultures and societies they study and help create. This issue is called reflexivity.

      Three other points. First, none of this is post-modern, pre-modern, or any other sort of bullshit. It’s just social science. Or what social science started out to be.

      According to Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” If you want to be a mathematician, then do that. If you want to follow philosophy, then do that. But devotion to either of these options certainly stands in the way of being a social scientist. So, choose.

      The quote is from Albert Einstein. First made in a speech by Einstein shortly after arriving in the US.

      If you want to see how this works in research, check out these.
      Thomas Hughes (1983), Networks of Power. Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930 is important because Hughes abstains from giving an explanation in terms of social shaping of technology and coined the expression ‘seamless web.’ See Thomas P. Hughes (1986), ‘The Seamless Web: Technology, Science, Etcetera, Etcetera’.
      Svetlana Alpers (1988), Rembrandt’s Enterprise: The Studio and the Market, is an excellent model for treating the rest of the social, even for those who like Francis Haskell (1982), Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations Between Italian Art and Society in the Age of the Baroque doesn’t indulge in any explicit social theory whatsoever.
      Geffrey Bowker (1994), Science on the Run: Information Management and Industrial Geographies at Schlumberger, 1920-1940.
      Philippe Descola and Gisli Palsson (1996), Nature and Society.
      Wiebe Bijker and John Law (1992), Shaping Technology-Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change.
      Science for the Citizen, A Self-Educator based on the Social Background of Scientific Discovery LANCELOT HOGBEN.
      Making Up People. IAN HACKING.

      • Rob
        July 28, 2019 at 1:45 pm

        Establishing the “facts” is difficult in any sort of science…. [T]here are always multiple facts about the same observations made by … scientists. In all instances the judgments of those involved are necessary to choose among these facts. …. [T]hey give a great deal of time and creativity to using these observations to create facts unlike others created previously ~ Ken Zimmerman

        One of the first thing one learns in philosophy to is define one’s terms. In my view, your usage of the term “fact,” as in the claim scientists “create facts,” is little more than nonsense on stilts. 


        The fact of sea-floor spreading existed independent of human awareness of it’s factual existence. It was physical reality long before humans even existed. The fact that this phenomena of sea-floor spreading combined with the  fact of the Earth’s periodic reversal of its magnetic field records the history of these reversals in the magma as it cools fixing particles in the direction of the magnetic field (geomagnetism) are empirical realities independent of human agency. No scientist created these facts, but rather, through creativity and ingenuity they discovered those facts and development hypotheses and theories to make sense of them giving birth to plate tectonics.


        Thought experiments, however, are not open invitations to flights of fantasy. Even a thought experimenter must sail close to the coastline of empirical facts, as both Ernst Mach and the German physicist Max Planck recognized. (Weinert, Friedel. The Demons of Science. Springer International Publishing. Kindle Edition.)


        Culture doesn’t create the empirical facts such as sea-floor spreading or geomagnetism. There may be physical artifacts culture creates, such as pottery, but common sense tells we are dealing with different domains. 


        Culture provides a lens through which a collection of empirical facts can be interpreted. No collection of facts alone constitutes science, but nevertheless, science by it’s very nature must sail close to facts less it become mere speculation. 


        You assertion that scientists create facts is nonesense without context and clarity of exactly what you mean by the term “fact.” 

      • Robert Locke
        July 30, 2019 at 9:07 am

        Ever hear of the Hawaiian God Pele, another way to explain volcanos. And so….?

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 30, 2019 at 10:17 am

        Robert, that’s a new and interesting fact. Thanks.

  15. Ken Zimmerman
    July 28, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    Rob, your perspective is wrong. For humans, in creating culture and society there is a time and a place for everything. The time and place for seafloor spreading was its invention by human scientists. Humans can imagine that it existed before that time and place. And may look for evidence to that effect. But humans are more certain that it does exist now and will exist in the future. If humans can create facts around it’s existence in the past then they will have greater certainty of its historical existence. That’s the perspective of humans. Perhaps God or gods viewing from higher or wider perspectives can see and understand more. But I’m only interested in the human perspective. As for commonsense, that’s been passed down to you from more than 5,000 years of human history. The history of human cultures and societies. Rules of thumb and short-cuts, included.

    • Rob
      July 28, 2019 at 9:27 pm

      As I said Ken, you are espousing nothing than post-modern “relativist” nonsense on stilts and cannot apparently tell a fact from a falafel. We are not going to have a meeting of minds on this one Ken, period.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 29, 2019 at 12:25 am

        Rob. Period!! Love it when that expression is used. Enjoy the period.

      • Rob
        July 29, 2019 at 12:30 am

        Ken, debating with someone who thinks they can create their own facts is like debating with a creationist. You are certainly entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. It is not only fundamentalist religionists like creationists that assert claims unhinged from reality, but so to do “social contructivists” like youself. I see little difference.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 29, 2019 at 2:26 am

        Rob, that is definitely not me. I said what any historian or anthropologist would say. Facts and truth are culturally and historically situated. If that bothers you, take it up with the powers of the universe, if you can find them.

      • Rob
        July 29, 2019 at 3:30 am

        [T]hat the world is epistemologically mediated by theories does not mean that it is the product of them. (Pålsson Syll 2016, 4-5)

        When I kick a rock and break my big-toe I think it is absurd to claim both the rock and my broken toe are mearly “created facts.” Your assertions are a discombobulated mash of confused jargon in which you throw out names (e.g., like James) and then make dogmatic assertions as though this is science and truth. Of course, you are doing philosophy, sloppy unconsious philosohy, but philosophy nonetheless.
        James doesn’t deny an objective universe of matter-energy existing apart form our conscious minds. James held a pragmatic view of truth.

        James was accused of subjectivism—of denying the existence of objective reality. In defending himself against this charge, which he termed slanderous, he introduced an interesting ontology consisting of three things: (1) private concepts, (2) sense objects, (3) hypersensible realities. The private concepts are subjective experiences. The sense objects are public sense realities, i.e., sense realities that are indepedent of the individual. The hypersensible realities are realities that exist independantly of all human thinkers.
        Of hypersensible realities James can talk only obliquely, since he recognizes both that our knowledge of such things is forever uncertain and that we can moreover never even think of such things without replacing them by mental substitutes that lack the defining characteristics of that which they replace, namely the property of existing independetly of all human thinkers.
        James’s sense objects are courious things. They are sense realities and hence belong to the realm of experience. Yet they are public: they are indepedent of the individual. They are, in short, objective experiences. The usual idea about experiences is that they are personal or subjective, not public or objective.
        This idea of experienced sense objects as public or objective realities runs through James’s writings. The experience “tiger” can appear in the mental histories of many different individuals. “That desk” is something that I can grasp and shake, and you also can grasp and shake. About this desk James says:
        But you and I are commutable here; we can exchange places; and as you go bail for my desk, so I can bail yours. This notion of a reality independent of either of us, taken from ordinary experiences, lies at the base of the pragmatic definition of truth.
        These words should, I think, be linked with Bohr’s words about classical concepts as the basis of communication between scientists. In both cases the focus is on the concretely experienced sense realities–such as the shaking of the desk–as the foundation of social reality. (Stapp, Henry P., Author. Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics. Heidelberg: SpringerVerlag Berlin Heidelberg; 2009; p. 62.)

        Doing history in context doesn’t mean we necessarily need deny the reality of matter-energy we call “material existence” or that we cannot use creative mind to investigate this reality. Nor does it require we deny scientists are able to empirically investigate a universe of energy-matter though the use of tools and languages such as mathematics and share these empirical sense experiences intersubjectively so that another scientist across the globe can either confirm through experimental findings. The physical sciences are based upon this fundamental ability of scientists independently confirm the experimental finding of their collegues. Scientists are able to independently empirically confirm certain physical “facts” about the objective independent universe outside our individual-subjective mind experience because there actually is a material universe independent of our personal experience of it.
        As you say above, “Physical and social sciences are empirical, but in different ways.” The answer as to how they differ the core subject of much of the heterodox critique of mainstream economcs.
        Lastly, when you unwittingly do sloppy philosophy, throwing out a mish-mash of self-contradictory claims in dogmatic fashion, and when challenged, can only retort, “take it up with the powers of the universe,” I think you reveal a lot about yourself, but zilch about how to reform economics let alone anything else.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 29, 2019 at 3:49 am

        Rob, over thousands of years of human history, humans have made up some (actually lots of) rules. One of the lesser ones is don’t kick rocks, particularly the bigger ones. You should have learned that one from your parents, friends at school, day care, etc.

      • Rob
        July 29, 2019 at 5:20 am

        Evasive sophistry.

    • Rob
      July 29, 2019 at 12:36 am

      Establishing the “facts” is difficult in any sort of science…. [T]here are always multiple facts about the same observations made by … scientists. In all instances the judgments of those involved are necessary to choose among these facts. …. [T]hey give a great deal of time and creativity to using these observations to create facts unlike others created previously ~ Ken Zimmerman


      One of the most important tasks of social sciences is to explain the events, processes, and structures that take place and act in society. In a time when scientific relativism (social constructivism, postmodernism, de-constructivism etc.) is expanding, it’s important to guard against reducing science to a pure discursive level [cf. Pålsson Syll 2005]. We have to maintain the Enlightenment tradition of thinking of reality as principally independent of our views of it and of the main task of science as studying the structure of this reality. Perhaps the most important contribution a researcher can make is to reveal what this reality actually looks like. This is after all the object of science.
      Science is made possible by the fact that there are structures that are durable and independent of our knowledge or beliefs about them. There exists a reality beyond our theories and concepts of it. It is this independent reality that is in some senses dealt with by our theories. Contrary to positivism, I cannot see that the main task of science is to detect event-regularities between observed facts. Rather, the task must be conceived as identifying the underlying structure and forces that produce the observed events.
      (….) Even if we have to acknowledge that the world is mind-independent, this does not in any way reduce the epistemological fact that we can only know what the world is like from within our languages, theories, or discourses. But that the world is epistemologically mediated by theories does not mean that it is the product of them. (Pålsson Syll 2016, 4-5)


      This turning away by science itself from the tenets of the objective materialist philosophy gave impetus to, and lent support to, post-modernism. That view, which emerged during the second half of the twentieth century, promulgated, in essence, the idea that all ‘truths’ were relative to one’s point of view, and were mere artifacts of some particular social group’s struggle for power over competing groups. Thus each social movement was entitled to its own ‘truth’, which was viewed simply as a socially created pawn in the power game. (Stapp 2007, 141-142)

      Ken, whether you are able to recognize it or not you are making philosophical claims despite your disdain and contempt for philosophy. You are espousing a form of philosophy (social constructivism and postmodern relativism) that have a history. You are not doing science when you espouse philosophy, and to claim your philosophical assertions are science is a form of scientism, not true science. The fact that you are unable to recognize this fact is rooted in your own unconscious philosophical assumptions, which when unexamined amount to little more than opinion rooted in prejudices and biases. As Friedel Weinert notes in his book The Demons of Science, “Such claims are philosophical consequences, which do not follow deductively from the scientific theories. (Weinert 2016, 2)”
      Stapp traces the history of this rise in a popular understanding of quantum mechanics, while Weinert discloses how Einstein’s Invariantentheorie is not and never was understood as post-modern relativism. Doing history in context requires the recognition that Einstein himself did not espouse such a philosophy and neither do many of the Founders of QM in its more mature forms.

      Einstein’s principle is relativity, not relativism. The historian of science Gerald Holton reports that Einstein was unhappy with the label ‘relativity theory’ and in his correspondence referred to it as Invariantentheorie…. Consider temporal and spatial measurements. Even if temporal and spatial measurements become frame-dependent, the observers who are attached to their different clock-carrying frames, like the respective observer on the platform and the train, can communicate their results to each other. They can even predict what the other observer will measure. The transparency between the reference frames and the mutual predictability of the measurement is due [to] a mathematical relationship, called the Lorentz transformations. The Lorentz transformations state the mathematical rules, which allow an observer to translate his/her coordinates into those of a different observer. (Weinert 2004, 66)
      The appropriate criterion for what is fundamentally real will (…) be what is invariant across all points of view…. The invariant is the real. This is a hypothesis about physical reality: what is frame-dependent is apparently real, what is frame-independent may be fundamentally real. To claim that the invariant is the real is to make an inference from the structure of scientific theories to the structure of the natural world. (Weinert 2004, 70-71)

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 29, 2019 at 2:50 am

        Rob, as Ikonoclast notes, philosophy, like science emerged from the ordinary lives of humans. All which is situated culturally and historically. Consequently, philosophy and science are culturally and historically situated. If this is now called post-modernism, social constructionism, etc. so be it. Why is this an issue for you?

        I understand that Einstein was concerned his theories might be misunderstood to promote relativism, particularly moral relativism. That’s a real concern, arising out of a particular culture and place in history. Einstein theorized that nearing the speed of light human history is changed. We’ll determine that, maybe when a human travels at light speed or faster. As to mathematics. Mathematics is of limited usefulness in studying human culture and history. Cultures created mathematics to explain things mathematically. So, mathematics and explaining mathematically are like everything else, culturally and historically contextual.

  16. lobdillj
    July 28, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    Seafloor spreading was asserted by scientists, not invented (created) by them. I sincerely doubt that any of them (then or now) imagine that the phenomenon might not have existed before they discovered it.

    • Ken Zimmerman
      July 29, 2019 at 12:23 am

      lobsillj, you’re having the same problem with perspective as Rob. Based upon the current (generally based in scientific assumptions) perspectives on knowledge, facts, and truth, neither your nor I can know seafloor spreading’s history. As to invention, what other word would you use to describe gluing together observations from hundreds of different sources, with a long list of assumptions from 400 years of science and non-science knowledge, with desires to be a good scientist (and famous also if possible), with interpretive skills and hands-on experience “learning to be a scientist?” I call it invention. Remember also that each such invention is historically and culturally specific. It is created in a time and place. Extended beyond those only by human imagination.

  17. Ikonoclast
    July 28, 2019 at 10:01 pm

    The above discussion illustrates the difficulties encountered by heterodox thinkers. Orthodox thinkers share a dogma, or at least a set of a priori assumptions, and usually a methodology. In essence, this makes orthodox thinking an echo chamber where basic ontology is never questioned. When the heterodox argue, as in the economically heterodox here, the argument eventually descends (or ascends?) into metaphysics; into ontology and epistemology. This is both the benefit and drawback of thinking and arguing from any kind of heterodox position.

    While we are all drawn here by our rejection of orthodox economics, each of us has a particular perspective. That perspective is drawn from our enculteration and areas of study. That perspective is a kind of filter through which we see and interpret the world. Our only commonality appears to be a rejection of orthodox economics. Thus I suppose, in theory, if we pooled our arguments of disagreement with orthodox economics, searched for commonalities there and then backtracked or “reverse engineered” our way to the implied ontologies and epistemologies of such disagreements with orthodox economics, we might then begin to find common ground.

    This, in effect, is what is beginning to happen in the discussion above. After rejecting orthodox economics, which unavoidably involves critiquing and rejecting its patently fallacious ontology, we are faced with the task of constructing a new ontology suitable for modern political economy. It’s not an easy task and there will be many disagreements on perspective as above.

    There are two keys in my view. Empiricism is one. “It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation.” [1] The second key is moral philosophy where we must decide on consequentialist or deontological ethics. Taking empiricism seriously must perforce mean a choice for consequentialist ethics. In my view, the choice for deontological ethics violates the empirical requirement for no reliance on pure reason or revelation. Note, I said “in my view”.

    At some point, we have to declare for something. I declare for empiricism and consequentialist ethics. I declare for the Correspondence Theory of Truth. From a complex systems perspective, models, truths and facts are human ideational systems about which we intend or claim they have some correspondence with other real systems. (An idea is actually a real system too in one sense, namely that it is instantiated in a brain via chemical and electrical activity or instantiated in media like books and computer chips via information patterns encoding languages.)

    “That truth is the correspondence of a representation to its object is, as Kant says, merely the nominal definition of it. Truth belongs exclusively to propositions. A proposition has a subject (or set of subjects) and a predicate. The subject is a sign; the predicate is a sign; and the proposition is a sign that the predicate is a sign of that which the subject is a sign. If it be so, it is true.” – Charles Sanders Peirce

    Truth (or falsity) belongs to propositions. “Fact” or “fallacy” belongs to propositions. I think Ken Zimmerman is simply saying that a “fact” is a constructed proposition. A “fallacy” is also a constructed proposition. However, if we are going to talk about facts and fallacies at all, and to argue that they are different and indeed diametrically opposed, then we introduce the notion of their correspondence or non-correspondence with something objectively real outside of human ideas per se and to which ideas may refer. This too is an ideational proposition. Any extended propositional logic is also constructed. In the final analysis, the only support for any of our propositional logic (like the correspondence theory of truth) is empiricism itself. The pragmatist notes that we experience something external and apparently real in a way the mind’s mere ideas and impressions are not. There is a consistency and persistence to this apparently real, objective, external world (consistent laws etc.) which said consistency and persistence is NOT a mirror of the qualia of the mind itself, the ideas and perceptions of which are fickle, inconsistent, given to fabrications, fancies, unconsciousness, sleep and finally death.

    Before the fact or fallacy is constructed, something real and external to the mind exists upon which the fact or fallacy is constructed. Relationally this must be so. Neither facts nor fallacies are constructed upon nothing. Before the fact which is correspondent there is and/or was the existent to which it corresponds in some degree. The fact is certainly constructed but it is constructed upon something.

    1 – Wikipedia

    • Ken Zimmerman
      July 29, 2019 at 1:42 am

      Ikonoclast, I am not descending or ascending into metaphysics. Just interpreting human history. As for the orthodox, having such orthodoxy is the usual for humans. Humans invented culture to provide the safety of an orthodoxy. Nice thinking on “reverse engineering.” But since humans create epistemology, etc., why not just look at the processes of invention? Then talk about inventing something different, something new.

      On your two fundamentals. Empiricisms have histories. That’s why the empiricism of Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey are different from the empiricism of John Locke and David Hume. Different also from the empiricism of Rene Descartes and David Boyle. Still different from the empiricism of Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, etc. Studying the history will help us see how these differ, how they are the same, and what they all considered important. Consequentially, this allows us a better understanding of how and why any sort of empiricism matters.

      As for your “declaration,” I prefer not to follow Kant. His notions have nearly destroyed civilization. Let’s not give then another opportunity. Truth is what comes out of history. It’s what survives. To find “correspondence” beyond humans’ lives you’d need a perspective outside human history. How does one obtain that perspective? The quote from Pierce is correct, I think. But Pierce never takes the correspondence beyond human history, the lives of humans in history. Love corresponds to love in human history. Truth to truth in human history. The moon corresponds to the moon in human history.

      • Ikonoclast
        July 29, 2019 at 5:50 am


        To be honest, I wasn’t aware I was following Kant. Obviously, if I read some Peirce I might be imbibing some Kant second hand. I suspect however that my views in detail are radically different from Kant’s philosophy and method.

        If anything, I follow George Berkeley’s philosophical empiricism and method EXCEPT that I discard his a priori assumption of and for a Christian God. You might legitimately wonder what is left of Berkeley’s immaterialism in this case.

        What is left is monism itself, in the form of a priority monist conception of “all existence” as a complex system of n-subsystems, as per systems philosophy, and encompassing the phenomena of emergence and evolution. Rather than materialism or immaterialism, one is then left with plain “existentism” which makes no essentialist claims about the nature of the existent(s), but rather deals with them only in terms of Relational Theory (via the search for consistent laws of relation at this stage of cosmic emergence and evolution).

        At this point I should stop or I will expound at length and likely carry nobody with me. It seems nobody, on this forum at least, is quite ready for what I am saying. This surprises me a little. My position is logically inherent and implicit in, and deducible from, modern science (post-reductionist, post-mechanistic) and complex systems philosophy.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 29, 2019 at 6:15 am

        Ikonoclast, as another commenter here pointed out there are many stories in humans’ history. Modern science (post-reductionist, post-mechanistic) and complex systems philosophy are only a small part of that history. What concerns do they address? What concerns might they address? How do they help us? Do they help us at all? The first questions I ask.

  18. lobdillj
    July 28, 2019 at 10:17 pm

    Here is where I fail to resonate with Ikonoclast’s remarks. He has made a lateral arabesque into a swamp and lost the original subject IMO.

  19. Ikonoclast
    July 28, 2019 at 11:18 pm


    What is your theory of truth? Presumably you have one, otherwise you have no basis for arguing anything. Metaphysics can be a swamp I agree. Most people float about on jury-rigged rafts on that swamp, imagining their position (on existence and knowledge) is true and common sense. Then some realize they are on a jury-rigged raft built by their forbears mostly out of fantasy, dogma and big doses of prescription (thou shalts).

    Refuting certain given fantasies and dogmas is possible with empiricism. Re-building an ontology consistent with all empirical findings to date is more difficult, more contentious and not an enterprise which will ever lead to absolute certainty.

    Nevertheless, my question stands. What is your theory of truth? What is your ontology? if we are questioning the ontology behind conventional (classical, Marxian and neoclassical) economics [1} then we must be prepared at some point to embark on the project of constructing a new ontology for political economy.

    Note 1. We ARE questioning the ontology behind conventional economics. That’s really the central theme of this site and of many other heterodox political economy thinkers who do not frequent this site. In the long run, it will not be enough to question the existing ontology (or ontologies) of extant political economy theories. We will have to construct a new ontology to support new methods, new practices and new ethics.

    • Robert Locke
      July 29, 2019 at 7:21 am

      I’m an historian and I have no theory of truth; what historians do is discuss what people say is truth and how it is derived, and there are lots of them. So truth is contingent on time and place and who is doing the talking. We learn from that what people on this blog don’t discuss because they limit discussion to money and markets. They do not discuss a business economics that is centered both on industrial as well as business firms. To find that one has to look at business economics outside the one in which this blog exists.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 29, 2019 at 11:40 am

        Robert, agree entirely. As I’ve written here previously, economic actions are more, much more than markets and money. Economists devote themselves to writing theories and NOT hearing or seeing the people who actually create and enact economies, with all their many interactions and categories.

    • lobdillj
      July 29, 2019 at 2:03 pm

      Paraphrasing Justice Potter Stewart, “I won’t try to state my ontology, but I know truth when I see it.” In all my years as a scientist no one ever mentioned ontology. It’s kind of like Hawking’s comment about quantum mechanics. When I hear about ontology and theories of truth I reach for my gun. :-)

      • Ikonoclast
        July 30, 2019 at 1:18 am


        Ontological assumptions underpin everything you do, even in science, whether you realize it or not. This is just as (to use a kind of analogy) gut flora underpin your digestion whether you know it or not. I don’t want to be rude but some applied science in established fields just becomes monkey see – monkey do. If you are not on the cutting edge of scientific research (practical or theoretical) or if you are hyper-specialized, it is true (but a little concerning) that you might never consider ontology (which is simply an overall concern with what is real, how it is real and how it interacts).

        I think you should reach for a book not a gun. Might I suggest “The Philosophy of Complex Systems” edited by Cliff Hooker. Even if you read just the papers by Cliff Hooker you will get a good idea of complex systems science ontology. Of course, such an ontology is still metaphysics not physics. But it is what I call a “near-empirical” metaphysics. It is the metaphysics suggested by the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) just beyond the boundary of the known. Of what use is such a metaphysics? In that it suggests in a meta way how everything hangs together (coheres, connects and interacts in a full relational system manner) it can train and guide the mind to avoid errors of scientific method and perhaps more importantly to develop hypotheses (for testing) just beyond the range of what is already known (to 5-sigma certainty).

      • lobdillj
        July 30, 2019 at 12:41 pm


        I don’t recall what your profession is, but I wonder why you think it is appropriate to suggest that I reach for a book on quantum mechanics. Are you a physicist? I suppose you think Einstein and Hawking could have benefited from reading Hooker too? Did they, too, need to study ontology? Maybe ontology should be taught to toddlers before they begin to think about life and the many things they will need to decide about as they grow up. Maybe that omission is why so many people differ on so many issues. Hmmm….

      • Ikonoclast
        July 31, 2019 at 12:47 am


        The book I suggested was and is “The Philosophy of Complex Systems” the subject of which is precisely conveyed by its title. It is not a book on quantum mechanics. I am not sure where you got that idea.

        Everybody studies metaphysics (ontology and epistemology) whether they know it or not. The language-learning and enculturation everyone receives in their given society, contains ontology (and epistemology). However, it is often un-reflective and un-comparative ontology. Every religion and every ideology (to give two category examples) contains its own implicit ontology. But when implicit ontology is accepted dogmatically as Truth (with a capital T) rather than being critiqued comparatively (and perhaps in other manners) then said implicit ontology remains invisible to the subject holding those views. To him or her it’s not metaphysics (any theory of what is true and how we can know it’s true) it’s simply true. Common sense is metaphysics which does not know itself.

        In terms of my qualifications of lack of them, the thread “Bringing science into economics must necessarily entail measurements in the scientific units.” lower down contains information about that from me.

    • Rob
      July 30, 2019 at 1:00 am

      [W]hen the facts speak against the adequacy of the concepts, something needs to give way. (Weinert 2004: 95)
      The notion of presupposition is well known to philosophers and historians of science…. It has often been observed that presuppositions play a pivotal role in human thinking…. It is important to realize that presuppositions change. But it is even more important to inquire how and why they change. (Weinert 2004: 100)
      The reason for the everlasting interaction between science and philosophy transpires clearly. The human mind musters an admirable ability to think up equations for physical systems. But equations need to be interpreted in terms of physical models and mechanisms. Science requires conceptual understanding. This understanding employs fundamental philosophical notions.
      (….) The scientific enterprise comes with philosophical commitments, whether the scientist likes it or not. The scientist needs philosophical ideas, simply because amongst the experimental and mathematical tools in the toolbox of the scientist there are conceptual tools, like fundamental notions. The despairing scientist may ask: ‘Will we ever get an answer?’ The philosopher replies: ‘Not a definitive answer, but a few tentative answers.’ Recall that the philosopher (and the scientist qua philosopher) works with conceptual models. At any one time only a few of these models are in circulation. They cannot provide the definitive answers of which the scientist is fond. But this is typical of models even in the natural sciences. (Weinert 2004, 278-279)

      Whether one is aware or not they are in the swamp. Whether one is aware or not they do have preconceived notions such concepts as “fact,” “truth,” and “reality.” The only question is are these concepts are open to self-critical and other-critical critique. To claim that in all one’s years as a scientist one has never encountered a philosophical idea or concept (i.e., “ontology”) is to confess one’s own intellectual poverty, perhaps unwittingly, and that one doesn’t read very widely in the writings of world-class scientists, or that one isn’t really deeply considering the nature of science as a human enterprise. Many scientists go on to become historians in their field, such as, for example, the founders of quantum mechanics, earth science, evolutionary biology, etc. Inevitably they encounter ideas that border on the philosophical, for in many historical caes it was philosophical assumptions that set the limits on what questions could and would be asked. Personally, I am partial to a critical realist view that takes a pragmatic view of truth.

      • lobdillj
        July 30, 2019 at 1:07 pm

        Please see my recent reply to Ikonoklast. Do you think Leonardo da Vinci prepared for his life’s work by studying ontology?

      • Rob
        July 30, 2019 at 1:16 pm

        Irrelevant question.

      • Rob
        July 31, 2019 at 12:19 am

        Leonardo da Vinci was described as having a gracious but reserved personality and an elegant bearing. He was known to be fastidious in personal care, keeping a beard neat and trim in later age, and to dress in colorful clothing in styles that dismissed current customs. The 16th-century writer Giorgio Vasari indicated that Leonardo cared little for money but was very generous toward his friends and assistants. He had an exceedingly inquisitive mind and made strenuous efforts to become erudite in languages, natural science, mathematics, philosophy, and history, among other subjects. The writings in his notebooks suggest that he may have been a vegetarian, and there is also some speculation that he may have been homosexual. (Leonardo da Vinci’s https://www.britannica.com/biography/Leonardo-da-Vinci)
        You quip that anytime you see mention of philosophy you reach for your gun, then ask the question above–which is silly in my view and very intellectually shallow–which you well could of discovered for yourself with little research yourself.
        You assume, erroneously, that da Vinci never benefited from studying philosophy.
        What kind of scientific living is it that neglects to do its own basic research?
        Besides the point that it is meaningless and rhetorical quibbble to ask such a question, it fails to understand that just because science can be done in a total unawareness of every-present philosophical assumptions present in all human intellectual frameworks,

      • Rob
        July 31, 2019 at 12:23 am

        … doesn’t mean philosophical assumptions don’t influence science, its methods and the questions it asks. One’s pre-existing worldview, one’s assumptions regarding foundational concepts, the theories one uses (especially if used uncritically) determine what one can see.

      • Rob
        July 31, 2019 at 12:42 am

        I must give up trying to type anything on a smart phone with old fat fingers ;-)

      • Rob
        July 31, 2019 at 12:45 am

        The citation if from Friedel Weinert’s “The Scientist as Philosopher: Philosophical Consequences of Great Scientific Discoveries. Springer” And he eloquently argues how this is a two way street.

  20. Craig
    July 29, 2019 at 6:05 am


    Michael Hudson’s latest post on his website. The three or four policies, particularly the 50% Discount/Rebate policy at retail sale would rectify, reset and maintain the mess he describes and we currently find ourselves in.

    • lobdillj
      July 29, 2019 at 2:21 pm

      Thanks for this excellent article by Michael Hudson. But I don’t agree that your 50% Discount/Rebate policy is the solution.

      • Craig
        July 29, 2019 at 3:10 pm

        Okay, why?

  21. lobdillj
    July 29, 2019 at 4:14 pm

    Your policy appears to me to be one method by which the sovereign could create and inject money into the economy. Wouldn’t the policy be inflationary?

    • Craig
      July 29, 2019 at 8:27 pm

      Historically “monetary” inflation has always been a small single digit percentage. Hyperinflations do not occur without several disastrous circumstances preceding them none of which are remotely likely in our economy. If you implemented the 50% Discount/Rebate policy at the point of retail sale which is where every consumer product from a candy bar to autos and homes terminally end (because it is the point where production becomes consumption) …how could you possibly have price and asset inflation? Play the policy out on a clay table for the consumer, the enterprise and the monetary authority and its power to transform monetary scarcity into abundance and chronic price inflation into beneficial price deflation.

      • Craig
        July 30, 2019 at 2:07 am

        Anyone here want to discuss/dispute the fact that retail sale is the terminal ending point of the entire economic/actually productive process? It’s a very significant economic realization and policy enlightenment point.

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