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“necessities of thought”

Concepts that have proven useful in ordering things easily achieve such an authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens.  Thus they come to be stamped as “necessities of thought,” “a priori givens,” etc.  The path of scientific advance is often made impassable for a long time through such errors.  For that reason, it is by no means an idle game if we become practiced in analyzing the long commonplace concepts and exhibiting those circumstances upon which their justification and usefulness depend, how they have grown up, individually, out of the givens of experience.  By this means, their all-too-great authority will be broken.  They will be removed if they cannot be properly legitimated, corrected if their correlation with given things be far too superfluous, replaced by others if a new system can be established that we prefer for whatever reason.

[Einstein 1916 in obituary notice for Ernst Mach]

  1. Ikonoclast
    November 13, 2020 at 8:25 pm

    Nicholas Rescher notes:

    1. “Only flux is experientially real: physical reality as we experience it is always unstable.”
    2. “Concepts are always fixed and stable.”
    3. “Stable concepts cannot adequately characterize an unstable object.”

    So, why do we blithely assume the following?

    “Adequate conceptual characterization of physical reality, as we experience it, is possible.”

    According to Rescher, Plato resolved this conundrum by assuming “Since real reality must be intelligible, this relegates the experienced physical realm to the status of a mere illusion.” On the other hand, Bergson according to Rescher, effectively says, “So much the worse for mere conceptual intelligibility. It reveals its own inadequacies by being unable to come to grips with experienced physical reality.”

    “For Bergson, the world transcends the limits of reason, seeing that a reality that has process, flux and change as fundamental features cannot be adequately encompassed by any fixed set of descriptive categories.”

    Quotes from “Process Metaphysics – An Introduction to Process Philosophy” by Nicholas Rescher.

    My position is that Rescher’s Process Metaphysics are a useful approach and a good antidote to the temptations of scientism. However, process metaphysics of this kind seems to lack a useful definition for “process” per se, tending to permit it to remain somewhat transcendental and mystifying, though this no doubt remains true to the spirit of avoiding essentialism.

    Complex systems philosophy, on the other hand, seems to me to take a next step which was lacking in process philosophy. There are clear definitions for systems, boundaries and processes (as changes in and between systems involving flows of matter, energy and information) in systems philosophy. From a pragmatic and scientific point of view, it is clear that we can understand some systems and processes adequately, in the hard sciences at least, for manipulation and prediction purposes.

    We need to look at complex systems ontology (in my view) to get a handle on economic ontology. This is something conventional economics typically, constitutionally and absolutely REFUSES to do, in my reading and debating experience. Referring to conventional economics’ lack of a founding ontological analysis is like referring to the emperor’s non-existent new clothes. It is just not the done thing and conventional economists will completely ignore you.

    It’s worth looking at “The Philosophy of Complex Systems” edited by Cliff Hooker. Read a selection of essays to suit your interests. I doubt many will have the time to read the whole tome. I certainly haven’t.

  2. November 14, 2020 at 12:16 am

    Concepts are useful, albeit the map is not the territory. Imaginations are useful also, albeit the stories which explain what we imagine may not correspond with what we think we are imagining.

    Percepts, especially when posing as concepts, are easily misused. Thus, ‘utility’ as pleasure/satisfaction OR a an objective benefit is a percept with no essential content. That this percept plays a central role in micro-economics and, by implication, macro-economics is highly disturbing. That anyone thinks one can derive ‘demand curves’ from such a percept, mathemagically transformed, is one :: only one :: of the many, many problems with existing economic theory. There is, after all, no such thing as a ‘demand curve’. None have ever been found empirically for goods, albeit I am unacquainted with the financial sector where trade in financial instruments may accidentally correspond with the predictions of theory today.

    But, as I said, this is only one problem with economic theory, micro and macro. But, it’s a biggee. No area of economics can –read WILL– remained unaffected one the theory of demand is, as it is currently, is removed from the paradigm. I am removing it.

  3. November 14, 2020 at 12:19 am

    Second to last sentence should have read: Once the theory of demand, as it currently is, is removed from the paradigm.

    • Craig
      November 14, 2020 at 5:19 pm

      Correct. And the way to permanently remove the theory of demand, as it currently is (indirect and monopolistically controlled), is to break up the paradigm of Debt ONLY via a universal dividend and a 50% Discount/Rebate policy of Direct and Reciprocal Monetary Gifting at the point of retail sale.

      Too simple for the intellectual vanities of the erudite, Too empirically and temporally beneficial for all economic agents, and effectively problem resolving not to be a paradigm change.

      • November 19, 2020 at 7:33 pm

        Craig, I am uncertain about your meaning here.

        The paradigm of DEBT is not unique to monetary societies, but to all economies which have a referential unit of account for exchange purposes and ‘loans’, i.e. one or more equivalent Standards of Value whether these circulate or not. Monetized differ from these in that ‘monies’ come to function as ‘permission slips’ one must have to participate effectively as active agents (sellers or buyers) in ‘markets’.

        Yes, indebtedness is a problem.

        But the manner in which ‘permission slips’ are distributed affect economic activity overall even if the paradigm of debt is addressed. This is, to my mind, the central problem which axiomatic-deductive models –a.k.a. deductive-nomological models criticized so effectively by Yoshinori Shiozawa– fail to take into account. And, the failure to take into account the distribution of ‘permission slips’, implicit in the idea of the ‘representative consumer’ used in the DSGE model lies in the faux demand ‘curves’ based upon maximizing subjective consumer preferences.

        There are objective standards for the measure of human welfare. Coase’s notion that those harmed by some can be ‘compensated’ for non-financial harms like cancer, birth defects and others fails to account for the reality that those harmed outcomes neither can nor will accept any money as ‘compensation’ for such non-financial burdens the behavior of others may cause. Human ‘welfare’ may not be reduced to compensatory payments for such losses based upon the complex mechanics of the price system.

      • November 19, 2020 at 8:19 pm

        I think I am beginning to get Craig’s meaning – much the same as my credit-card system, but missing what I see as the central point. So everyone is credited with a universal dividend, the buyer gets the goods half price and the seller is credited with the other half so he can buy replacement goods at wholesale price; but what keeps generating the universal dividend? We need to work, to help Nature regenerate its value; and if we are using money, I think we need Edward Fullbrook’s fractional way of valuing Nature’s total Market-value to establish and ‘ration’ the annual dividend.

        The UK experience during and after the Second World War was that though everyone had to survive on “short rations”, on the whole most of us came out of it fitter than we went in. In a recent BBC TV documentary Michael Palin went to see how penniless desert nomads survived and was amazed to find them happier than we are, being grateful for smaller mercies.

  4. November 14, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    Great quote!

  5. Meta Capitalism
    November 14, 2020 at 11:17 pm

    Philosophy without science is empty. Science without philosophy is muddled.

    — Paraphrasing A. Einstein, ‘Reply to Criticisms’ (1949), 684

    The philosophical response carefully separates determinism and causation and holds that quantum mechanics is compatible with a refined notion of causation. (Weinert 2004, 248)
    When a scientific theory is firmly established and confirmed it changes its character and becomes a part of the metaphysical background of the age: a doctrine is transformed into a dogma.

    — M. Born, Natural Philosophy of Cause and Chance (1948), 47

    When we consider the physical view of Nature at the beginning of the 21st century, we must be struck by the conjectural state of scientific knowledge. The understanding of Nature undergoes constant evolution. It engenders a continuous need for new concepts. Born was wrong: no scientific dogma is sacrosanct. The electron may be split in two, light pulses may travel faster than the speed of light, which itself may have been variable in the distant past. Such claims have made recent headlines. The conjectural nature of scientific knowledge does not mean that all is pseudo-science. Relativity and quantum theory are well-established scientific theories. Their conceptual innovations drew the fuzzy outlines of a new worldview. Planck divided it. (Weinert, Friedel. The Scientist as Philosopher [Philosophical Consequences of Great Scientific Discoveries]. Berlin: Springer-Verlag; 2004; p. 277.

  6. Meta Capitalism
    November 14, 2020 at 11:29 pm

    Causation and Determinism

    “If Gessler had ordered William Tell to shoot a hydrogen atom off his son’s head by means of an α particle and had given the best laboratory instruments in the world instead of a cross-bow, Tell’s skill would have availed him nothing. Hit or miss would have been a matter of chance.”

    — A. Eddington, quoting Max Born in New Pathways in Science (1935), 82

    In 1874, as young man, Max Planck went to Munich to consult with the physicist Philipp von Jolly about his prospect of a career in physics. Von Jolly saw no reason to encourage the young man. Physics, he explained, had reached a high degree of maturity. The recent discovery of the principle of the conservation of energy had crowned its achievements. Mechanism had developed in the 17th century and thrived to perfection in the 18th and 19th centuries. The development of electromagnetism and thermodynamics had completed the magnificent edifice of physical knowledge. With the principle of the conservation of energy physics had acquired its final, stable form. According to von Jolly, no major new discoveries were to be expected in physics. Admittedly, there would still [be] some ‘specks of dust and bubbles’ to be fitted into the edifice of physics but ‘theoretical physics was approaching a degree of completion with geometry had possessed for hundreds of years.’ Von Jolly was not a man of great philosophical foresight. He did not see that field physics and thermodynamics were undermining mechanics. Within a few years of his advice to Planck, the science of physics was set to undergo even more profound modifications. These revolutionary changes would have profound effects on the way science and its results were interpreted. Planck himself was to become a scientific revolutionary and a scientist philosopher. The understanding of new empirical findings increasingly resisted their interpretation in terms of classical physics. The edifice of physical knowledge was not complete. Planck, fortunately, ignored von Jolly’s advice and continued his study of physics. Von Jolly’s confidence rested on the extraordinary success of physics. Success makes blind. What von Jolly described as ‘specks of dust and bubbles’ were in fact new far-reaching discoveries. They would affect the most fundamental notions of physics and have profound philosophical consequences. The serious questioning of the notions of causation and determinism at the beginning of the 20th century had its roots in the 19th century. In 1859, Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen introduced spectral analysis. In 1897, Joseph John Thomson discovered the existence of electrons inside the atom. In 1900 Max Planck postulated a new fundamental constant in the analysis of atomic phenomena. Only a few years later, in 1902, Ernest Rutheford and Frederick Soddy formulated the transmutation theory of radioactivity and formulated a statistical decay law for radioactive elements. In 1913, Niels Bohr proposed a structural model of the atom, which was based on Rutherford’s discovery of the atomic nucleus. And in 1917 Albert Einstein formulated his theory of spontaneous and induced emissions and absorption, in which chance entered in a fundamental way into the picture of the physical world. (Weinert, Friedel. The Scientist as Philosopher [Philosophical Consequences of Great Scientific Discoveries]. Berlin: Springer-Verlag; 2004; pp. 193-194.)

  7. Meta Capitalism
    November 15, 2020 at 2:10 am

    Einstein’s Problem, Bohr’s Challenge and the Feedback Thesis
    One measure of the depth of a physical theory is the extent to which it poses serious challenges to aspects of our worldview that had previously seemed immutable.
    B. Greene, The Elegant Universe (1999), 386
    Prompted by the most recent discoveries in their respective fields, scientists provide new interpretations of the natural world and thereby contribute to its understanding. If discoveries are of a fundamental nature, conceptual consequences arise. Scientists make philosophical contributions. The heartbeat of science is at its most philosophical rhythm when major conceptual revisions or revolutions are afoot. Then scientists feel the need to extend their reflections beyond the search for mathematical equations. They desire to reach a level of understanding, in which some physical meaning is assigned to the mathematical expression of the natural world. But scientific revolutions may also lead scientists to a re-interpretation of the nature of the scientific enterprise. What is interesting in this process, from a philosophical point of view, is that empirical facts filter through to the level of conceptualisation and bring about changes in the way the world is conceptualised. ‘Old notions are dissolved by new experiences.’ The common territory between science and philosophy lies in this interaction between facts and concepts. In re-interpreting the world in the light of new experiences the scientist becomes an active participant in the shaping of human views about the surrounding world. In the face of a ‘confusing amount of new evidence’ from the atomic realm, Planck called for a new comprehensive physical worldview. This is the role of the philosopher-scientist of which scientists are fully aware:
    History has shown that science has played a leading role in the development of human thought. (Weinert 2004: 94-95)

    One of the basic tools of human thought in the process of understanding lies in the provisions of models, based on appropriate concepts. Models are used to gain understanding of the material world. Theories provide explanations. Under suitable conditions this leads to the natural sciences. Conceptual models can also be used to describe and explain the ways humans acquire knowledge about the natural world around them. Under suitable conditions this leads to philosophy. The interaction between facts and concepts and the interaction between science and philosophy give rise to a fundamental tension, which will reverberate throughout the pages of this study. The more fundamental their concepts are, the more humans cherish them. But when the facts speak against the adequacy of the concepts, something needs to give way. Throughout the history of science, scientists and philosophers have often give up or modified the concepts in favor of the facts. Dissatisfied with the everyday notions of time and space, Newton set forth his notions of absolute time and space. Dissatisfied with the notions of absolute time and space, Einstein set forth his notions of relativistic time and space. In many of his writings, Einstein warned against fixation on concepts. It would hinder the progress of science. Concepts, which once ordered the phenomena adequately, were always in danger of becoming ‘thought necessities’ (Denknotwendigkeiten). Fundamental concepts like Nature, time and causation were dependent on experience. Therefore, they were always subject to revision or rejection, depending on their empirical adequacy. Such philosophical reasoning formed the backbone of Einstein’s revolution in physics. However, Einstein was not consistent in his philosophical convictions. In his correspondence with Max Born on the interpretation of quantum physics, he declared himself unwilling to give up the notion of causal determinism. In a letter written to Born on April 29, 1924, Einstein refused to abandon the notion of causation in the face of the quantum-mechanical evidence available at that time. (Weinert 2004: 95-96) [bold added]

  8. Ikonoclast
    November 15, 2020 at 11:38 pm

    On another blog, a commentator referred to my claim to be using Occam’s razor to suggest a reason or cause for the arrival of zero real interest rates at the cnetral bank. The cause, I suggested, of interest rates now being low was because they have been intentionally financially engineered to be that low by the oligarchs and financiers, through their influence on central banks and politicians.

    The commentator jocularly suggested I was using Marx’s hammer rather than Occam’s razor and that everything looks like a nail to Marx’s hammer. I replied that perhaps we should be talking about Maxwell’s silver hammer! I mention this because of the issue of “pataphysics” but I will get back to that.

    My central starting point in the more serious part of the reply was that there are no fundamental laws to interest rates or anything in financial economics. A fundamental Law is any hard science law, like the laws of thermodynamics for example, which humans did not create and which humans cannot alter but rather can only work within. To command nature you must obey nature, as the philosopher Francis Bacon put it.

    Interest rates on the other hand, like money and like legal private property are human creations; social fictive inventions. They have not Fundamental Laws but are based on implemented rules (legal laws and regulations) employed as axioms. From axioms you may derive theorems, proofs that inevitably follow, if you are clever enough to derive them. In a political economy, those with the political power can change these axioms at will, subject only to other competitors in the sociopolitical and socioeconomic power game and ultimately in the physical power game (meaning gangsters, police and military).

    Looking for fundamental or natural laws in finance (like the “law” of supply and demand), is a fool’s errand, in my humble opinion. Rather, we should simply look for those with the power to set the rules (axioms), by fiat or by privileged negotiations. The masses do not participate in these negotiations except by indirect and usually ineffective actions like voting or by direct and sometimes very effective actions like strikes and revolutions.

    Margaret Thatcher infamously said there is no such thing as society. Au contraire, Maggie! In fact there is no such thing as economics. There is only political economy. All the rules of economics, as founding axioms, are made by humans and can be changed by humans, but specifically by those humans wielding effective power of some sort in society. Conventional bowdlerized economics is “pataphysics”. I offer this below as a whimsical, but at base still serious critique of conventional economics.

    All quotes below are from Wikipedia:

    “Pataphysics … ; French: pataphysique) is a difficult-to-define “philosophy” of science invented by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907)[1] intended to be a parody of science.”

    My comment: This is appropriate for economics as conventional economics itself parodies science, specifically 17th C to 19th C mechanistic, classical physics and its mathematical methods, particularly for static equilibria.

    “One definition is that “pataphysics is a branch of philosophy or science that examines imaginary phenomena that exist in a world beyond metaphysics; it is the science of imaginary solutions.””

    Conventional economics, at least of the bowdlerized Mankiw sort, is a science of imaginary solutions. There is something different in Arrow-Debreu, and their modelling, who at least, by my understanding of an extant interpretation, essentially propound that their modelling is axiomatic not empirical; prescriptive and not descriptive. Then they rigorously derive theorems from their assumed axioms. This permits, for example, the logical deduction, by deriving theroems, that an unregulated free market without a minimum wealth condition set for all participants does not permit free choices (of consumption) by all participants. This is a useful insight.

    The whole matter turns on the fact that there is a real economy and there is a financial/legal/regulations economy. The first is a real system (as hard science would use that term). The second is a formal system. At heart is the following question. What do formal rules, financial, legal and regulatory, do to real systems (and what can’t they do to real systems) when the formal rules are followed and enforced by and on humans to some significant degree. The formal rules, followed or enforced, program human behaviors to a considerable degree just as computer code programs a computer; albeit humans are creative and eve resistant interpreters of codes.

    Political economy creates economics. That is the sense in which I say there is no such thing as economics. I mean it is not free-standing with its own inherent laws. Rather it is conditioned by political economy, the current realization of our social fictive constructions especially when we remain largely unconscious (as false consciousness ignorance) of their constructed fictive or artificial (made by artifice by humans) nature. Change the rules (legal laws and regulations) and you will change economics. We are now realizing that we must change the rules of bourgeois economics because free market economics is inhumane as shown by “Piketty’s Law” [1] which is actually a theorem derived from the current axiomatic rules of capitalist economics. Piketty backed the elucidation of his “law” by extensive empirical historical which shows how that theorem plays out in practice. We are now also realizing that we must change the rules of bourgeois economics because free market endless growth economics is ecologically unsustainable.

    I invoke the term “pataphysics” because it nicely captures what is developed when the need for empiricism and a proper science-consistent ontology for economic processes and objects is ignored by the so-called discipline of conventional economics. Instead of a scientifically defensible and consistent ontology (especially of real system / formal system interactions) we get economic pataphysics: a branch of bowdlerized moral philosophy which examines imaginary phenomena that exist only in a world beyond even metaphysics. We get the “science” of imaginary solutions.

    Note 1: By Piketty’s “Law” I mean “If r greater the g then Inequality increases”. This is not a law but a theorem which demonstrable when we follow the stnadard rules (axioms) of capitalist financial economics.

    • November 19, 2020 at 7:51 pm

      Well said!

      ‘Marx’s Hammer’, so to speak, is neither more nor less than a focus upon the welfare inequities caused by the maldistribution of incomes in monetary societies.

      Economics is Political Economy. Although we can study the operation of the price system and the distribution of income upon economic activity, the reality is that economics is a scientia which must be based upon how we provide for ourselves. That is not only inseparable from our politics, the study of how markets operate is not equivalent to ‘how we provide for ourselves.” Nor should it be since markets ‘provide’ only what subsets of the population have the ability to pay for. No market has ever existed that ‘provides’ for everyone. Merchants cannot provide for everyone. To expect that they can or do is simply absurd.

  9. Craig
    November 18, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    “Philosophy without science is empty. Science without philosophy is muddled.”

    — Paraphrasing A. Einstein,

    Correct. But even philosophy is inadequate for actual and thorough change. The levels of forms of analysis from the bottom up are: Data Gathering, Theorizing, Philosophy and Paradigm Analysis and Perception. I would posit that we need a third axiom: Science without paradigmatic analysis is static and prone to religion.

    We’re still seeing the changes to scientific philosophy wrought by Einstein, Planck, etc. And what might the conceptually opposing, reality inverting paradigmatic thirdness in science be? Why the fundamental change from a dogmatic Reductionistic ONLY scientific mindset to a more inclusive one that incorporates the ultimate unitary concept of Grace as in simultaneous separateness and oneness.

    The NATURAL, PHILOSOPHICAL AND PARADIGMATIC concept of Grace is not a colloquially religious pronouncement, but rather a spiritual one.

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