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Science can only falsify, not retire, ideas

In late 2012, I explained why

There are no hospitals for theories.
Surprisingly, unusually, and happily, I was in agreement with Matt Strassler (well, we would agree in a much higher majority of questions if the "ensemble of questions" were picked by a different algorithm than the choice of interesting topics for the blogosphere).

In science, we work with hypotheses and theories and only abandon them when they have been proven wrong – by the analysis of empirical and theoretical data – at a sufficient confidence level. There is nothing in between. In particular, a scientist cannot and mustn't abandon a possible explanation that seems just slightly – e.g. 5 times – less likely than another according to some counting; that would be like "elimination at the 80 percent confidence level" which is just way too weak. The "retired idea" may very well be correct and the correct explanations usually are explanations that could be abandoned by a similar sloppy, prejudiced methodology.




The basic process in science is falsification. Painfully enough, John Brockman's website Edge.org doesn't seem to grasp this fundamental feature of the scientific method. The scientists who are answering don't seem to be any better in that respect because (almost?) no one seems to protest against the hidden misconception hiding in the annual 2014 question:
What scientific idea is ready for retirement? (main hyperlink of this blog post; cache is here)
You may easily see that by the "retirement", they mean the very same thing as the "hospital for theories" discussed in late 2012. It's a "sort of falsification" which however doesn't require actual, objectively valid (or valuable) arguments that could imply proper falsification, just vague feelings and personal idiosyncratic philosophical preferences. Lisa Randall didn't disappoint me. She agreed with me in this tweet of hers:
Lisa Randall, @lirarandall: Yes @lumidek "What scientific idea I don't like" shouldn't be equated with "What scientific idea is ready for retirement."
This disclaimer seems to challenge the annual Edge.org question but it should be a part of common sense: subjective impressions aren't the same thing as objective knowledge or arguments. Science ultimately moves exclusively according to the latter – even though the former may represent intermediate steps that allow individual scientists to achieve the latter.




And indeed, the scientists are offering their (in many cases wild) streams of emotions – personal feelings that they would like to silently promote to objective science with the help of Edge.org.

They would like to "retire" lots of concepts and hypotheses even though they can't falsify them. They would like others to stop the research in research directions that may very well be right, according to the available evidence. And that's too bad. (Some of the concepts they want to "retire" have actually been established to be true and important, but the hardcore science deniers represent a minority – but not tiny minority – of the people who were answering.)

Andrei Linde wants to "retire" the uniqueness and uniformity of the Universe.

However, there's really no evidence that our Universe is non-unique or non-uniform. Linde repeats the anthropic "arguments" in favor of a multiverse but they're just tendentious slogans, not real scientific arguments. It's perfectly acceptable to argue that the would-be regions before the birth of our visible Universe (and perhaps even the spatial regions behind the cosmic horizon "now") are non-existent or unphysical (and therefore physically inconsequential and unusable in valid explanations of anything). It's perfectly sensible to hypothesize that the anthropic explanations suffer from the same need to "realize processes with a small probability" as the non-anthropic ones (because the prior probability of a theory depending on the anthropic selection should be lowered by the same factor as the factor that this anthropic model "explains"). The fundamental equations of string theory admit many solutions ("landscape") but that doesn't mean that all of them are equally real or realized somewhere in the Cosmos ("the multiverse") as ours. And while Linde's contributions to inflation and some other aspects are great, one must still distinguish things that have been established or semi-established by actual scientific arguments (at least the ability to explain some actual patterns in the empirical data) from those that want to be "established" just by Linde's personal authority. It seems to me that at least in this answer, Linde either can't or doesn't want to distinguish these two groups.

Later in the thread, Amanda Gefter of Nude Socialist offers a similar "recommendation to retire" as Linde.

Nina Jablonski wants to deny the existence of races.

This is one of the cases of the straight denial of important concepts. The association of individual humans to races is something that may be done almost perfectly for a vast majority of the mankind. The genetic, anatomic, physiological, and even behavioral differences between individuals in the same race are significantly smaller than the differences between people of different races which is exactly what makes the concept – and, more generally, any concept – legitimate and usually useful. These differences have evolved and increased due to thousands of years of (nearly) separate evolution history of the groups (races). She clearly wants to "retire" an important scientific concept just because it is inconvenient for her tendentious ideology. Hume and Kant could perhaps be considered white supremacists according to our current standards but that doesn't imply that the races don't exist at all.

Martin Rees thinks that our understanding is inevitably bounded.

It's a myth waiting for the "retirement" that we will never hit the boundaries of our understanding. But he can't really prove that such boundaries do exist. We don't have any "really new" yet solid arguments that our ancestors didn't have and that would imply that the hypothetical "boundaries of our understanding" are more real or more guaranteed to exist than they were in the past. At any moment in the past, it would have been profoundly stupid and counterproductive to believe that we were hitting the boundaries of our understanding. The particular realization of the "idea about the boundary" has been falsified in all cases – the idea has been repeatedly falsified by the scientific progress. The idea that "this time is different" isn't substantiated by anything whatsoever. The progress may always look difficult and sometimes it is difficult but that doesn't mean that it is impossible. There are tons of progress occurring also in theoretical physics at the conceptual level, especially within string theory, and if someone chooses to pretend that those things don't exist or even can't exist, he is really fighting against the scientific progress, the recently achieved scientific results, and against science itself.

Julia Clarke wants to retire the Urvogel.

It's the forefather of birds if you don't speak any German. She is surely right that the question "Who was a bird?" depends on the definition of the word – and Nature can't give us any rock-solid universal definition of words that were created to classify currently living species and not all species. However, some definitions are still better than others. Some pairs of species are closer to each other in the tree than other pairs. Archaeopteryx was a blunder (yes, I actually learned about that "discovery" at school!) but I do think that it will be increasingly established that the old ancestors of birds were very close to the animals we started to call "dinosaurs". Some of them were the first ones who could fly. They may very well be called the ("die") Urvögel.

She credits the late TRF reader Michael Crichton with the widespread belief that the birds' ancestors were dinosaurs. I am not defending the idea she opposes because I've interacted with Crichton but because I am convinced that it's the most economic and likely explanation of the known data. In the Jurassic and adjacent periods, the dinosaurs simply covered pretty much all animals that were sufficiently close, and it seems economic to believe that the then-living ancestors of present birds belonged to this class of dinosaurs (I really mean the clade Dinosauria), too.

Fiery Cushman, a psychologist, opposes the idea that big effects have big explanations.

It's a wonderful and correct answer. You must remember that I agree with him as I argued in the context of JFK and other conspiracy theories. The idea that big effects/events must actually have big explanations/theories has been genuinely falsified. It's an idea that can't be proved by correct logic, either. So a psychologist is actually the first pundit who wants to "retire" something that is actually demonstrably flawed!

His arguments and examples are actually rather similar to my arguments against the "two sharply separated roads" in the physicists' debates on naturalness.

There are about 173 contributions like that in total. It's a very mixed bag. I would say that most of the ideas "demanded" to be "retired" are actually either demonstrably correct or "totally plausible". Edge.org is an interesting venue clumping intellectuals and scientists but I do believe that campaigns trying to "retire" ideas without actual robust enough arguments are making a disservice to science because they are designed to reduce the diversity of research, eliminate ideas that may very well be correct, and impose group think rooted in random personal preferences that are only defended by vague and/or emotional words.

Just some briefer comments about some other answers.

I didn't understand the complaints about the "shared genes". Different species surely have different genes, right? A journalism professor says that there's nothing such as "information overload" – only the failure of filters. Well, kind of right. One could always say that there is "information overload" and in all cases, some filter is a solution, so no situation is really different from another. Well, except that some filters are inevitably failing if the incoming data are numerous yet look equally relevant or equally reliable, and that's the case when the term "information overload" looks right and unavoidable to me.

Some cognitive philosophers think that "knowing is a tiny portion of decisions". Bizarre. Well, the percentage is hard to define and context-dependent, anyway. Alan Guth claims that the Universe didn't have to have a low entropy to start with. Well, it surely had a lower entropy because of the second law – regardless of the ensemble of degrees of freedom that we call "the Universe" and its geometric arrangement. Because we may always ask "what was before that" and the only effect that prevents us from further extrapolations to the past is when we hit \(S=0\), we can say that \(S=0\) is unavoidably the property of the \(t=0\) moment. (A maritime guy named Bruce Parker wants to "retire" the concept of entropy itself. Embarrassing.)

Someone opposes Moore's law because other quantities than the number of transistors – namely the number of computers connected to yours – will become more important. It doesn't seem likely to me. There are billions of computers connected to yours through the Internet. Why should it matter? What should it matter for? And even if a new quantity became more important at some moment, one may gradually switch Moore's law from one quantity to another (like when a stock index is readjusted when a new large company is added).

A medical research official thinks that a "larger trial" doesn't necessarily bring more accurate results. Well, the greater size doesn't reduce the systematic errors but it surely reduces the statistical ones! And the statistical errors are often important – and they are often the "excuse" why people are satisfied with weak, 2-sigma-like results (that often turn out to be wrong). Note that the previous sentence is more accurate, more correct, and more informative than his longish diatribe.

Universal grammar is attacked because languages are more diverse than previously thought. Well, great, but the term "universal grammar" is still vague and may be adjusted to agree with the enhanced diversity. Yes, I do realize that I have just been defending Noam Chomsky, kind of. ;-) Some grammar-like abilities are surely hardwired to the brain although most of the detailed laws that Chomsky and others later added may be found incorrect in general.

Not shockingly for this world flooded with anti-quantum zealots, a software engineer and armchair physicist wants to "retire" the uncertainty principle, too. The arguments are complete gibberish – partly based on authorities, partly based on discussions of the right translation of Heisenberg's "Unschärfe Relation". You can't get to any real physics in this way, Mr Krause. At most, you will create feces. The word may sound similar to "physics" but it is not the same thing. Only crackpots doubt the uncertainty principle.

Gordon Kane wants to retire the idea that the world only has 3+1 dimensions. I sympathetic to the extent that many people should get used to the (likely and contradicting no established insights) possibility of extra dimensions. On the other hand, it still seems remotely plausible that the right future (marginally improved or even complete) explanations will only deal with \(d=4\) at some pragmatic level (even if they're rooted in string theory) so I wouldn't "retire" all researchers that assume \(d=4\) in their research even though I think it is very likely that their starting point misses some important points.

I had the temptation to react to every single answer but 173 is too many and many of the answers are too silly.

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reader anony said...

I am somewhat underwhelmed by the quality of the ideas involved on the website. Alan Guth is the only one with the stature to be even taken moderately seriously, even if the anti low entropy position is kind of silly on the face of it. Reading the article entries is somewhat depressing. I would propose that deities is probably an scientific idea that should probably retired, just to see if people would get the humor of the situation.


reader Dilaton said...

Thanks for this report Lumo, now I dont have to read the original link with all the comments that have a high potential to raise my blood pressure ... :-P

It is probably a good decision to not respond to all 173 or so comments, as getting too upset about things can really be dangerous for your health (I know what I am talking about :-/...)...

Of course, certain things in defense of correct science always have to be stated by at least some reasonable scientists, which is what this TRF article nicely does :-)

Cheers


reader Zephir said...

The conservatives are typical by their hypocritical attitude: although they've mouth full of noble ideas about how to falsify the theories, but when their pet theory faces falsification, they just seek for excuses why not to do it. The SUSY and string theory has been falsified so many times in recent past, but what we are listening is just the "narrowing of parameter space".


reader Dilaton said...

Such agressive low-level spam does not meet the TRF standard ...

Darn, that I can not flag spam here for deletion and/or host attention ... ;-)


reader Zephir said...

This is just an example of confirmational bias, i.e. the selection of posters by systematic censorship at this blog in the past. For example most of posters here are climate change deniers - did you ever think, why is it so? But I do appreciate, that LuMo changed his strategy and he allowed my post for now. It's first step towards unbiased objective thinking.

The conservative people have deeper tendency to hypocritical if not schizophrenic or autistic behavior by their very nature - it's geometric effect of their causal space-time. These guys are often living in cognitive duality. The liberals tend to be superficial instead.



http://tinyurl.com/b7knw3r


I may sound aggressively for you, but actually I'm just honest. I'm sure my stance from opposite side of causal event horizon may become useful for you.


reader Zephir said...

Actually it was Feynman before twenty (!) years already, who noted first, that string theorists "don't make predictions, they make excuses". So you can be sure, my stance regarding this is neither private, neither very unique in this matter.



We can just ask, why Lubos - the well known promoter of theory which evaded every attempt for its falsification for forty years now calls for more consequential approach to falsification by now.


reader John Archer said...

I go along with Dilaton — I won't read them either for the same reason.

Although I've read some history and philosophy of science I was never a student of them. I used to read them to relax rather like some people read novels. The main impetus was simple curiosity about how ideas that are presented to a student in polished modern form came to be — what were the thought processes that led up them. I wanted to see the mental 'scaffolding' by which they were constructed and not just the finished product so that I could understand things better and reconstruct them from the ground up for myself by going through the thought processes by which they were arrived but taking the short route to the modern formulation, trimming off the historical warts. But riding along with all that was a concern about the epistemological status of theories: 'How do we know that's right; what are the guarantees; how does this stack up against the gold standard, namely proof in mathematics (which ultimately is kind of empty anyway—apart from the startling clarity)?'

Inevitably one is led through induction and verification and finally to Popper & co and falsification. Great! But it turns out we still end up back where we started — namely with induction! Or so it seems to me. Haha. But it was a fun ride. :)

The way I see it, when it comes to the natural sciences, 'falsification' and 'proof' are simply two sides of the same coin: there's no proof (in the logical/mathematical sense), but at the same time, and by the same standard, there's no proof of incorrectness, i.e. there's no falsification*. Falsification is just proof of a negative, but it's still a proof. In the logical sense, Popper simply switched one problem for another.

I understand that if anyone raised this or a similar point with him he'd throw a hissy fit. I would have loved to have seen that. There's passion for you. :)

I do like Popper though. Especially his attitude, shared by Feynman (and others of course), that one should strive to break one's ideas, i.e. 'falsify' them. The ones left standing are more likely to be along the right lines, whatever they are. But that's induction for you! :)

* I think the two classic examples are the discovery of Neptune and the precession of the perihelion of Mercury. In the former case, the 'perturbations of Uranus'** far from falsifying the Newtonian view led to its confirmation [or 'corroboration' as Popper would have it — a weasel word :)] and a new discovery. In the latter, the nuisance 'anomalous' observation ("to be tidied up as and when") finally led to its downfall. Where does that leave falsification at any point in time; when are we finished — I mean logically finished (rather than in practice when the weight of evidence eventually forces one to come down on one side or the other)? I'd say approaching never. Meanwhile induction rules, whether we like it or not. (I'm easy.)

** I like to bring this expression up (with old-style pronunciation) in mixed company whenever I can find an excuse to do so. This isn't often. :)


P.S. I never liked Kuhn's 'sociological' take. In fact, I hate it.


reader John Archer said...

"...deeper tendency to hypocritical if not schizophrenic or autistic behavior by their very nature - it's geometric effect of their causal space-time."

That's a bit of a clincher. :)

Let me guess — you never got any further than your times tables at school, did you?


reader Rehbock said...

I think the problem is labels. There are plenty of very stupid, prejudiced, hypocritical land dishonest people that call themselves conservative.
But being a right wing bigot with low IQ or accepting current politically correct positions due lack of critical thought I voting for someone who promises to lower your taxes or adopting every socially popular pseudo science does not make one a conservative.
Not understanding what you are talking about is, however, correlated with being not well received. If you were really understanding the posts you would not have confused Motl with the labels you put on him nor make the declarations about ST and SUSY. I am happy too that Motl rarely bans idiots.


reader lucretius said...

To tell the truth, I am astonished by Lubos’ broadmindedness in allowing posts like yours to appear and remain. If I had my own blog intellectual zeros like you would not even be allowed to loiter in the vicinity.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Lucretius, I am sometimes approving Zephir's comments to offer a potential mirror to folks you, too, and to save their time so that they don't have to write down the same thing as Zephir! ;-)


reader Rehbock said...

He did learn how to divide, albeit incorrectly. -)


reader Jacques Lemiere said...

wow are you sure people who are conservative on a political point of view are conservative on a scientific point of view???


If you mean, theory hypothesis observation and falsification, i am conservative too....


we all are conservative about something...


reader Rehbock said...

I have been unsuccessful in linking to the Edge blog. Has it been retired?


reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, it doesn't work here, either. Maybe it has collapsed under the millions of clicks from TRF.

A cached version is here:

http://72.30.186.176/search/srpcache?ei=UTF-8&p=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.edge.org%2Fresponses%2Fwhat-scientific-idea-is-ready-for-retirement&pvid=ektG8jcyLjNrgqkpUlUsyQq7NzguOFLVejn_zxOI&fr=sfp&u=http://cc.bingj.com/cache.aspx?q=http%3a%2f%2fwww.edge.org%2fresponses%2fwhat-scientific-idea-is-ready-for-retirement&d=968083511345&mkt=en-US&setlang=en-US&w=2OC9mEyEz8DHQWniyD6L-mBbLK-951w1&icp=1&.intl=us&sig=nladYvKk0W37amTRvg1NjQ--



Even here, you must wait for 30 seconds or so.


reader Uncle Al said...

Randall and Sundrum are objectively brilliant in technique. What have they empirically achieved, prediction vs. subsequent observation? Zero empirical validation: KK-gluon, KK-(W,Z), KK-graviton; technicolor spin-1,2 resonances (V_8, rho, a1, omega); technipion, pseudo-scalar resonance; technicolor hyperdilaton, radion; new heavy fermions: baryons, fermionic resonances.

Empirical failure falsifies postulates not derivations (Euclid's fifth postulate and cartography). They are brilliant mathematicians, and it stops there. The masterfully crafted engine is fueled with sand.

"Nina Jablonski wants to deny the existence of races." Asians are 40% of the University of California despite virulent admission racism.

Discarding empirical cause and effect opens the world to the unqualified. This is the compassion of diversity. The unabled maximize self-esteem to be credible - effectively selecting for the deluded. Reality deficit disorder generates deformed decisions then economic cloudy days. This is technically called "bad luck." The solution is buying more lottery tickets (e.g., ethnic studies).


reader lucretius said...

Yes, I agree that it is always good to have a mirror handy, although in this case it would be something like first example, while I would much rather prefer the second.


reader TheDOC said...

On one hand, I have the gut feeling that you are a sentient AI masquerading as someone's uncle. On the other hand sometimes your sentences actually do make sense. Just what the hell are you, Mr. AL? Are you human or not?

Perhaps, I have got it all wrong. Maybe I am the one who isn't human. I might actually be the machine staring with incredulity at humanspeak. WHAT AM I???!!!!.............

Lubos Czech man. Lives in Europe. Europe cloudy. Heavy magnetic resonance caused by divine Mayan infidelity leading to 100% landslide victory of Mole King. Must use umbrellas shaped like pretzels.

"Red balloons improve rice production dissident Chinese farmer"-Mao Zedong, eating cashewnut ice-cream.
Etovos! Etovos! OZymandias!! 90u32reu90swdeojidweoj%^@...............


reader Werdna said...

The next part after "deeply moved agreement" was "The line of argument you yourself take depends on the very doubtful assumption that planning is not more efficient. Quite likely from the purely economic point of view it is efficient....

I should guess that according to my ideas you greatly under-estimate the practicability of the middle course. But as soon as you admit that the extreme is not possible, and that a line has to be drawn, you are, on your own argument, done for, since you are trying to persuade us that as soon as one moves an inch in the planned direction you are necessarily launched on the slippery path which will lead you in due course over the precipice,

I should therefore conclude your theme rather differently. I should say that what we want is not no planning, or even less planning, indeed I should say that we almost certainly want more. But the planning should take place in a community in which as many people as possible, both leaders and followers wholly share your own moral position. Moderate planning will be safe if those carrying it out are rightly orientated in their own minds and hearts to the moral issue....

What we need therefore, in my opinion, is not a change in our economic programmes, which would only lead in practice to disillusion with the results of your philosophy; but perhaps even the contrary, namely, an enlargement of them.... Dangerous acts can be done safely in a community which thinks and feels rightly, which would be the way to hell if they were executed by those who think and feel wrongly."

Which, it should be said, rather obviates the entirety of "agreement," it as if he didn't even read the book.

My maternal grandfather also fleed from communism (he was Hungarian, but this was *after* World War II) and yet was always fairly left wing in his views. On the other hand, my paternal grandfather had lived under Franco's fascist regime, and he was very opposed to leftism, and viewed FDR as a Communist.


reader Werdna said...

Given that the Iranians *are* the Aryans (the actual ones) I wonder if perhaps this is intended to be a compliment?


reader anna v said...

One might have said the same for the Higgs that has been floating around for decades : "just a mathematical trick".

What I have observed in high energy physics theories is that they come around. Regge poles were at their peak in the 1960s, went below radar when the quark model dominated and are right back now with strings. The toolbox of theories should be kept up, unless they become falsified.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Haha, it surely is. They are not only the true Aryans, they are also the ultimate contemporary Holocaust deniers. ;-)


reader Uncle Al said...

1958 National Defense Education Act. Uncle Al is product. Be careful when you wish.
"sometimes your sentences actually do make sense" It's not the writer. Chemistry + physics = HyperChem. Good. Physics +
chemistry = "don't touch me there." But physics, it's the only "there" you've got. All the others aren't "here."


reader John Archer said...

:) Division? Yeah, he took a class in Gardening For The Gormless in the fourth remedial under the tutelage of the skool's Resident Kommie Bastard* and almost learnt how to sow its seeds. Though, as we see, he really only mastered shovelling shit.

*All skools today have at least one. Most are crawling with the cockroaches.


reader Gordon said...

Hmm, so Karl Menger is the originator of "the Menger Sponge"--
http://mathworld.wolfram.com/MengerSponge.html

https://www.simonsfoundation.org/multimedia/mathematical-impressions-the-surprising-menger-sponge-slice/


reader John H. said...

You made the mistake of claiming I was perfectly suited to be writing for a group of conspiracy theorists. So much for your capacity to perceive how people behave and think. You made the mistake of explicitly stating you would not read my comments let alone respond, and advised others to do the same, then proceeded to provide a 1,000 word response. Even in this very specific instance you cannot predict your behavior. Your very behavior demonstrates the problem I have with general theories in economics, sociology, and psychology: they are too often contradicted by too much evidence.


Hayek's predictions in Serfdom are mocked by China. Perhaps you assumed that my comment about China was meant as support for a communist economy. I used the word "ironically" because given current economic thinking it doesn't make sense, it is kinda funny that China has lifted so many people out of serfdom. It is precisely those types of examples that we should pay attention too because these potentially point to serious flaws in the ways we think about economics.


For far too long too much economic debate has been around the Left-Right continuum. Round and round it goes, this has been occurring for so long that surely by now economists should be in the very least working very hard to find a new synthesis. At a joint conference a physicist once asked an economist why his discipline cannot come to some common agreement on certain fundamental matters. The economist replied that economics hasn't even had a Newton yet. That economist got to the heart of the problem, economists who still think that the Left-Right polarity is an adequate paradigmatic structure in which to function are old hat and not even wrong.


Fortunately there are many economists who are astutely aware of the above and laboring way in the tradition of science: gathering evidence and analysing it, trying to develop new ways to understand economics instead of relying on paradigms that have buried so much economic debate into hate. Sadly though the work of these economists is difficult and does not provide the easy cliches that politicians and others like to employ. It is foundational and therein lies the future of economics, not in the ideas of Hayek or Keynes, They are to be admired ror their efforts but as so often happens with great thinkers their ideas tend to become ossified, as if these are always and forever perennially true. If alive today I would not be surprised if both of them were singing very different tunes.


reader HøgeNord said...

Congratulations, Luboš!

I have visited your blog now and then for several years and I understand that you're a quite a famous blogger in the Czech Republic. That is partly because I met accedently some Czech hikers (tourists) on Finnmarkvidda last summer, and I mentioned you, and they knew of you.

Another European, a Dutchman, has been famous in the Netherlands to be an objectivist, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. So we can perhaps hope for Age of Enlightenment 2.0 in Europe?



Keep up the good work!


reader HøgeNord said...

What stands CIPig for? CollectivistIgnorantPig? :)


reader HøgeNord said...

It's a fallacy to imply that someone who coined the expression "survival of the fittest", is supposedly also wrong about being an advocate for private coinage - as you seem to do here.

By the way, are you lazy?
«Kitcher, like so many of Spencer’s other lazy critics, appears not to have understood what Spencer actually wrote. Yes, Spencer coined the potent phrase “survival of the fittest,” which Charles Darwin later added to the fifth edition of his Origin of Species. But by fit, Spencer did not mean brute force or ruthlessness. In Spencer's view, human society was evolving from a "militant" state, which was characterized by violence and coercion, to an "industrial" one, characterized by trade and voluntary cooperation. So not only did Spencer think labor unions could be a useful check on the “harsh and cruel conduct” of employers, he also believed “the spontaneous sympathy of men for each other” to be a necessary and proper element of true liberalism. Indeed, Spencer devoted 10 chapters in his Principles of Ethics to spelling out the importance of “Positive Beneficience,” or private charity. So much for not taking “steps to protect the weak.”» - In Defense of Herbert Spencer, Reason Magazine

Because of the phrase "survival of the fittest", is the responsibility of social Darwinism attributed to Herbert Spencer, but I want to dispel this prejudice. This prejudice originates from the book Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915 (1944), authored by the unreliable (cultural) Marxist Richard Hofstadter. Herbert Spencer was on the contrary a principle critic of contemporary European imperialism and the colonial masters treatment of the populations in the colonies. Spencer on the other hand endorsed and advocated gender equality and voluntary organization of workers.
If one is to blame someone the responsibility of social Darwinism, it must be the left.
«We all decry prejudice, yet are all prejudiced.» - Herbert Spencer


Once we are talking about Herbert Spencer and about the left, I would like to bring up the peculiar fact that the term liberal is being used on the left in the English-speaking countries today, while the term is still being used on the right in the non-English-speaking countries:
«In his first chapter, "The New Toryism," Spencer contends that "most of those who now pass as Liberals, are Tories of a new type." The Liberals of his own day, he points out, had already "lost sight of the truth that in past times Liberalism habitually stood for individual freedom versus State-coercion."
So the complete Anglo-American switch of reference, by which a "liberal" today has come to mean primarily a State interventionist, had already begun in 1884.»
- From Spencer's 1884 to Orwell's 1984, Ludwig von Mises Institute
The left slowly hijacket the term liberal.


reader lucretius said...

I will leave it to Werdna to speak for himself but it seems clear to me that you have been firing at the wrong target.


reader lucretius said...

Yes, indeed. In fact Karl Menger was also interested in economics and his work in this field has a relationship to his fathers. In fact, on of the founders of game theory, Oskar Morgernstern (collaborator of von Neumann) was also a leading member of what used to be called the Austrian School of Economic. The funny thing is that these early Austrian economists were highly mathematical and their work originated in an attempt to restore the then discredited classical English economics by ridding it of the labour theory of value (on which Marx relied so much). Von Neumann work on economics was also in the same spirit and there are reasons to regard him also as an "Austrian economist". However, for some reason, later in the USA what is called "Austrian economics" began to be regarded as rejecting all mathematical and statistical methods in economics.

An interesting obituary of Karl Menger can be found here:

http://www.ams.org/notices/199605/comm-menger.pdf


reader Zephir said...

"Being sure" with something (absence of global warming, string theory, whatever) is a typical attitude of conservative mind. Conservative people have difficulty with acceptation of new facts, but once they accept them, they will adhere on it with no respect to another facts like the autistic people. This is the principle of conservatism.


reader Werdna said...

Wrong target indeed, I said nothing against or for the idea of private coinage. I merely found it interesting.


reader Gordon said...

Thanks for that---are you sure that you are not Watson (the IBM one:)) ?

I will read the AMS link---you likely have read it, but there have been interesting articles as well on the strange mind of Alexander Grothendieck---

http://www.ams.org/notices/200808/tx080800930p.pdf


(I had read another one, but found the above just now---In some ways, his anti-technology stance mirrors Ted Kaczynski's views in his manifesto)


reader Werdna said...

The reason is probably because most people equate mathematics with arithmetic. "Austrians" but also such luminaries such as Frank Knight of the Chicago school have had a methodological approach resistant to the models of Keynes-which reduce human action to mere algebra.

The way that Mises viewed it, and Hayek also, economics, or the study of exchange (catallactics) is more a science of applied formal logic, than it is a set of solvable equations. This is not anti-math. It's a disagreement about the appropriate *sort* of math to use.


reader Alice Cheshire said...

CIPig: How is a thousand page novel with a complex plot and subplots "Nietzsche for Dummies?"


reader HøgeNord said...

That's weird ...


And it's also weird to bring up Herbert Spencer just out of the blue in a thread about Ayn Rand ...


Strange, indeed ...


reader Jacques Lemiere said...

there is no such thing as a conservative mind in general, we are all conservative about some things,.
Mr motl seems s to be conservative on a political point of view, but totally open to new hypothesis in physics.


An about the opposite? what about people who are always ready to believe something new is "good"?


the problem with global warming is that they want an hypothesis to become a undebatable truth...


Check the facts..that s all..


The point is you don't want to agree on science with a conservative because you must be liberal...it is completely silly.


By the way, you know adolf hitler beleived in agw?


reader John said...

Have a read of Tegmark's latest: http://arxiv.org/abs/1401.1219


reader Werdna said...

The very end of the post discusses, briefly, that Ayn Rand favored a Gold Standard, I expressed that my views on monetary economics are evolving as I read more about it. Strange?


reader lucretius said...

Yes, unfortunately people like Grothendieck, Erdős, and some others, have created the impression that to be a great mathematician one has to be on the verge of insanity (or perhaps even over). This is quite untrue, as anyone who has met Michael Atiyah will confirm (he was my thesis supervisor for a term ;-) ). But (as I have written before), my favourite sane mathematican was Vladimir Igorievich Arnold, because he was not only one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century but also a man of great common sense, wit, cleverness and integrity of character. He was also a superbly entertaining writer - on all kind of topics, ranging from his unorthodox views on the nature of mathematics, to history about which he knew a great deal . In fact Arnold’s famous teacher Kolmogorov started as a historian but (according to Arnold) when Kolmogorov (aged 17 at that time) wrote his first paper on medieval Russian history and gave a public lecture on the topic, the famous Soviet historian Bakhrushin told him: “young man, in History every thesis needs at least five proofs”. The next day Kolmogorov changed his subject from history to mathematics. (The historical paper he wrote was unpublished but after his death was re-discovered and published and apparently is now highly regarded).

Unfortunately most of Arnold’s non-mathematical writings have not been published in English but there is one fascinating little book “Huygens and Barrow, Newton and Hooke”, published in 1990 by Birkhauser. In my opinion it is one of the best and most interesting books on the history of science ever written.


reader Eugene S said...

My question concerns this:

The genetic, anatomic, physiological, and even behavioral differences
between individuals in the same race are significantly smaller than the
differences between people of different races

I don't think this is necessarily wrong, although one usually hears the opposite, namely that the differences between races (or arbitrarily defined major ethnic groups if one prefers that) are less than the differences between individuals in the same race (ethnic grouping).

I find both your statement and the conventional wisdom that is opposed to it vague. How would one go about measuring these differences while making sure that all relevant variables are accounted for?

Jablonski more or less admits that in the past, "race" was employed to justify exploitation (slavery) and privilege whereas today it is something used by the state to privilege one group over another to correct past discrimination (affirmative action in the U.S., reservations for lower castes in India, [and now also preferential hiring for Muslims in Western Europe, even in the absence of past discrimination but it follows the same pattern]). She twists herself into a pretzel trying to justify this modern racism as something social and class-based and therefore superior to the old racism. And she also admits that some diseases disproportionately hit certain racial or ethnic groups, yet she is somehow resentful of medical researchers daring to mention that. Lady has a chip on her shoulder and tries to dress up her communistic racism in a modern guise.

But getting back to your quoted statement. Can we really say that with certainty, not only for the present time but for future generations?


reader Boltzmann brain said...

"Alan Guth claims that the Universe didn't have to have a low entropy to
start with. Well, it surely had a lower entropy because of the second
law"
This is incorrect. I can recommend the nice lecture by Leonard Susskind that elaborates on the so-called "Boltzmann brain" argument. After reading Roger Penrose's book "Cycles of Time", and his views on the second law, I was also mislead to think that the Big Bang must have been with low entropy, isn't it obvious consequence of the second law. Well, Susskind makes it clear that it is not.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhnKBKZvb_U


reader HøgeNord said...

No, not anymore. :)


I was not quite sure what you meant by the last paragraph of your initial posting, so therefore I finished the first paragraph of my initial reply by writing «as you seem to do here». For the same reason I ask (if you are lazy) in the second paragraph - and do not draw any conclusions.


Herbert Spencer is condemned by the left, which now has all the power to define, but he is condemned for entirely wrong reasons.


And for the record, third and fourth paragraphs in my initial reply was not directed particularly at you, but was only intended as information for anyone who reads it.

Good luck with your further studies on monetary policy!
I suppose you have already read What has Government done to Our Money by Murray Rothbard.


reader Casper said...

Speaking of JFK and the conspiriacies, check out the provenance of the alleged murder weapon. See if you can make a list of all the anomalies and come up with relevant natural explanations. Its a simple test of your imaginative abilities.


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