Monday, September 22, 2014

Philip Pilkington — Is Economics a Science? Dogmatic Economics Vs. Reflective Economics

Meaning is contextual. Economics is a social science, therefore, its context is historical time. The only timeless laws in social science are tautologies (identities) that are empty of empirical content until interpreted semantically. This interpretation varies in applicability in different historical contexts, so that general descriptions and patterns held to be necessarily invariant do not hold over time. History is time-independent and non-ergodic.

Another way of putting this is that economic theory that claims to be timeless truth is utopian, idealistic and "Platonic." It is another instance of metaphysics spun from so-called self-evidence based on introspection. When it assumes the cloak of authority, its speculative metaphysics devolves into dogmatism.

Fixing the Economists
Is Economics a Science? Dogmatic Economics Vs. Reflective Economics
Philip Pilkington

Defining something as an X implies that the definition excludes this set from the set non-X. This involves specifying criteria for making the distinction. Generally speaking, saying that something is a science or is scientific implies that it it not something else than that, such as dogmatism based on authority, an ideology based on subjective values, or speculation based on claims of self-evidence by appeal to introspection. It is also a claim that the subject is not purely formal, that is, a branch of logic or mathematics.

Generally speaking, science involves claims having to do with discovering invariant patterns of actual events. There must be some way to connect the claims of science with actual events, that is to interpret theory and hypotheses semantically in such a way that claims are semantically true.

For social science, which includes economics, to be a science comparable to the natural sciences the behavior of whose subject matter is invariant across time, it would be necessary to discover time-invariant patterns of human behavior and to express this through operational definition that leaves no loose ends with respect to terminology.

Whether this is possible, we do not yet know. What we do know is where it has not been possible, and theorizing has failed either  semantically as an accurate representation of actual events or syntactically as a formal system that is well-formulated and internally coherent, that is, follows formation and transformation rules, e.g., adhering to operational definition.

The great promise at present is in the investigation of the brain and nervous system as the foundation of mental events and behavior. Cognitive science, molecular biology, and the application of quantum mechanics to consciousness are still in their infancy and the jury is still out on whether fundamental questions are solvable.

Discover Interview: Roger Penrose Says Physics Is Wrong, From String Theory to Quantum Mechanics
One of the greatest thinkers in physics says the human brain—and the universe itself—must function according to some theory we haven't yet discovered.… 
In your book The Emperor’s New Mind, you posited that consciousness emerges from quantum physical actions within the cells of the brain. Two decades later, do you stand by that?
 In my view the conscious brain does not act according to classical physics. It doesn’t even act according to conventional quantum mechanics. It acts according to a theory we don’t yet have. This is being a bit big-headed, but I think it’s a little bit like William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of blood. He worked out that it had to circulate, but the veins and arteries just peter out, so how could the blood get through from one to the other? And he said, “Well, it must be tiny little tubes there, and we can’t see them, but they must be there.” Nobody believed it for some time. So I’m still hoping to find something like that—some structure that preserves coherence, because I believe it ought to be there.
When physicists finally understand the core of quantum physics, what do you think the theory will look like?I think it will be beautiful.
Penrose is saying that discovery is based on elegance. The objective of science is to provide the most economical explanation of aspects of the world that are precise, accurate, and conform to the appearances (Aristotle — "save the appearances").

Obviously, physics is a science although not yet comprehensively definitive. It is therefore possible that economics met the criteria of being a science and not a dogma, ideology or speculative metaphysics, at least in some areas. In other areas, theory has demonstrably failed. There has been a modicum of success in other areas. Unfortunately, some economists have tended to exaggerate success.

Probably the question to ask is to what degree economic methodology is scientific.

This would involve recognizing that there are different economic methods. This seems to be the crux of the issue, in that the mainstream asserts that the methodological debate is now over and they won, so other considerations are irrelevant.

This brings up the issue of how that claim justified scientifically, or is is dogmatic, based on authority? That's a debate the mainstream does not want to have based on observed performance. This record of failure — we are on the second round of the Treasury view in a second great depression following "the Great Moderation" — suggests the question as to whether or to what degree economics, is descriptive or performative, or normative, or rhetorical. This pertains especially to especially macroeconomics which serves as a "policy science."

Is economics purely theoretical and only of interest to theoreticians, or it does it have application to policy and management similar to physics and engineering, or biology and biochemistry to medicine? If so, how do the successes and failures compare across these fields?

Even philosophy has become more formalized, focusing more on formal logic, and more scientific in consulting cognitive science wrt to epistemology, for example. The history of economics can be viewed as the transition from its more philosophical phase in classical economics to its more formal and putatively more scientific turn with the introduction of mathematical modeling by Alfred Marshall and the development of physics-like neoclassical theory seeking to discover economic "general laws of motion." What has survived in the crucible of experience and what has perished. Is economics about to experience a revolution similar to quantum mechanics and relatively in a transition from analysis of non-complex systems to complex systems?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For me, human intellect is like a little rabbit, caught in a maze of tunnels underground. It is frightened because it knows the network of tunnels is (‘theoretically’) as large as the universe itself. It tries to steady itself by coming up with notions of “applying pure thought to certain evidence”. :-) It doesn’t really understand how arrogant this is. Instead it thinks “Oh, this is so mysterious; and, “Oh, I must search for timeless laws”. It wonders what has created everything. Before it finds anything, it dies.

Some philosopher rabbits read the Upanishads: “The worldly mind is born in darkness, lives in darkness, dies in darkness”. Oh how true! Then it wonders to itself why it is using intellect to try and find its way out of the tunnels? Reads a little further: The rabbit in its entire being is a ‘door’. How mysterious! Scientia is just one leg of the stool; the others are Amicitia and Otium. How mysterious! I need not only Knowledge, but Friendship and Serenity – to open up the door of the heart? How mysterious. Boy, we rabbits sure need someone who knows about this stuff (that’s what the humble ones say). The rest dig and worship intellect.

Q: When physicists finally understand the core of quantum physics, what do you think the theory will look like?

A: I think it will be beautiful.