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To read past Dialogue click above on TCC Year 1 or TCC Year 2 or the months for TCC Year 3.
The following emails were exchanged between the Program Director and some members of TCC during January, 2000 regarding socionomic education.
10 January 2000....................reorganization of topics
Bulletin. The field of socionomic education is not thriving. Therefore I propose to tinker a bit. Notice the new definition below and order of topics. The study of complexity theory and more specifically complex adaptive systems introduces the concept of self-organization which is not, contrary to popular belief, an oxymoron. Austrian economics helps to explain how this concept specifically applies to society and evolutionary psychology shows how people are innately capable of productive self-organization and yet at the same time susceptible to being led into authoritarian forms of organization. The focus of socionomic analysis will shift a little toward understanding the consequences of the rules we adopt (or shall I say adapt) to facilitate the optimum results from social interaction (such as property rights v. taxation, etc) and a little away from understanding the moral development that underlies harmonious social organization. This is a rough outline of my current thinking on this subject. Now if we could just add some scientific method to all this we might be getting somewhere! Am I on the right track here? --From PD to AL and JV--
12 January 2000....................social issues and the scientific method
Q: Aren't social issues inherently outside the realm of the scientific method due to the lack of controlled experiments? --PD--
A: It seems to me PD is really raising three important questions bearing on the relevance of scientific method to the study of social phenomena. They are:
1. What does a social issue look like (literally, how is one apprehended by the senses)? What is its reality--its "real" aspects that can be "known" as opposed to maintained as matters of arbitrary opinion and emotion? As "social scientists," we are obliged to identify the domain of phenomena we are concerned with on the basis of what we can show others who are at least willing to use their faculties with a modicum of concentration. If we can't teach others how to make the observations we are relying on, we cannot claim scientific standing. It is as simple or as complicated as that. Whichever, we can't answer the question as to what a social phenomenon looks like until we figure this out. However, that we have not yet figured out how to make consensus observations of social events is no argument against the relevance of scientific method in social affairs. Galambos illustrated this challenge with a story about Galileo and the dilemma he faced after the invention of the telescope and the discovery of craters on the moon. How was Galileo to convince those imbued with preconceived (theological) notions of the celestial world handed down from antiquity that this particular celestial body was actually pock-marked? He would of course teach them to look at the moon through his optical contrivance and see what was there, i.e. "look through the tube." Then, he could engage them in honest inquiry on a level playing field, so to speak. As it happened, the Pope intervened on advice from his scholarly advisors to squelch Galileo's hospitality on the grounds that to use that infernal tube would bewitch or enchant the innocent person and put him at odds with his papa's religion. Although Galileo's life and career was injured by papal sanction, astronomy survived and thrived nonetheless. One wonders how astronomy and physics might have evolved had Galileo escaped official intimidation.
2. Are controlled experiments indispensible for the practice of scientific method? If so, Astronomy is not science. But astronomy is arguably the prototype of all the sciences. So what's going on here? This brings up additional questions. What is the scientific method anyway? What is a controlled experiment as opposed to any other kind of experiment or observation? These questions are rarely entertained by even practicing scientists, let alone science teachers and laymen. The idea that "controlled experiments = science" is anathema to libertarians. Naturally nobody volunteers to be the guinea pig in somebody else's experiment. Does this mean that to have a science of society, people have to be sacrificed on the altar of science? The so-called liberal authorities certainly think so. The state wants you, you and you, and it will have its way about it for the convenience of the government in the name of society, of course. The primitive idea of the controlled experiment = science is actually used as a social bulldozer. Yet, entrepreneurs regularly engage in controlled social experiments called new business in the marketplace. So maybe now with this hypothesis regarding entrepreneurs, we can begin to come to grips with the notions of social phenomena, social observations, social experiments and social science. I wish you would read my discourse on scientific method. I'll send it to you if you are interested. I find it strange that there is so much talk of science and almost none about its method, i.e., that which distinguishes it from other human endeavors. This was the reason behind my research in progress.
3. How many variables is too many for science to handle? Before J. C. Maxwell, there were too many variables to be able to understand the behavior of gases in terms of Newtonian mechanics, which was the sum of scientific knowledge on that subject at that time (mid 1800's). Maxwell persevered and gave us kinetic theory. Afterwards came thermodynamics, quantum mechanics and relativity. I could give you some other examples from physics but I hope you get my point, namely that there are always too many variables until someone is able to suggest a connection in the diverse happenings--a sense of order--whereby the sorting can begin. Genetics is another example to study. Economics is another, but many economists deny they are subject to the discipline of scientific method. Unfortunately, when it comes to social phenomena, we are facing a handicap like Galileo had--prejudice from the establishment and voluntary blindness and superstition on the part of the subjects. --AL--
14 January 2000.................more on reorganization
Yes I got your answer. How could an entrepreneur engage in the scientific method since the business environment is constantly changing? I see the entrepreneur as an adapter not as a scientist. But on a larger point. I think my goal with socionomics has always been persuasion through education. There was a time when I thought it was my patriotic duty to vote and pay taxes and it was not too long ago. After a considerable amount of reading, discussion, and reflection I "changed my mind". That is the process that intrigues me more than making socionomics more scientific than the other social sciences. Your emphasis on the later, however, is not unappreciated. It seems to me that the idea of a stateless society deserves more consideration than it gets in the educational system and that is what I am trying to do. As a teacher I have always been aware of the importance of sequence in developing concepts. You must learn certain basics before proceeding to the more advanced ideas. At least it helps the student learn in a more organized way. I teach my students how to interpret a graph before I use one to explain supply and demand, etc. It seems to make sense to build on lower level ideas to get to higher level ideas. The same is true in sports, music, and other fields. First learn the basics. Build the foundation. Now it seems to me that the advanced idea of a stateless society cannot be easily grasped without first learning the basic concept of self-organization, which economists have recognized by terms such as "the invisible hand" and "spontaneous order" for quite some time. That is why I think the re-arrangment of topics is a significant pedagogical improvement. Also the decreased emphasis on moral development is for the practical purpose of focusing the study, not because this topic is unimportant. There is a connection between concepts like morality and property and that is the necessity of rules to facilitate order. Different rules generate different results. The ultimate personal and social question is what results are we trying to achieve. Can the scientific method shed any light on the answer to that question? --PD--
17 January 2000................Austrian economics and socionomics
Here's an excerpt from one of my student's papers. I had them write on the topic "Essentials of Austrian Economics"............... "Humans experience two worlds, an external world of natural phenomena and also the internal world of thought and feelings. Purposeful human action is a combination of both these worlds because it directs in the external world in response to what is chosen by the mind in the internal world. Adding on this there are also two types of knowledge, the first is experimental or observation knowledge. Experimental knowledge is considered true if it accurately describes actions in the external world. The validity of the experimental data depends on how many times the experiment can be repeated while observingg the same data in the physical world. The other type of knowledge is known as logical knowledge. Logical knowledge is true if the reasoning of the assumptions and conclusions are both true. Logical knowledge does not depend on facts. __________The Austrian economists also assume that the gaining of knowledge is by deductive reasoning from first principles and not experimental data. They consider this knowledge as true when its assumptions are true, so the conclusions of economic theories can never be proven or falsified by reference to facts. The Austrians believe that in economics knowledge gained by logic accurately represents reality because economic logic and human choice exist in reality. The Austrians do not agree with the gaining of economic knowledge through means of experimenting. This is because experiments, assume repeatability and also that the same set of initial circumstance will always produce the same results. In reality different people put in the same situation will produce different results. Also if the same person was put in the same situation twice they have a capacity to choose and that means they can behave differently each time. Also the Austrians reject experimental knowledge because experimental knowledge assumes that data can be directly measured. But the Austrians believe that economic concepts are personally present in the minds of acting individuals." If this were also a description of socionomic knowledge what would be your response? --PD--
21 January 2000..............scientific method and socionomics
Your student's rendition of Austrian School of Economics epistemology was generally faithful to Mises' as I understand it. I have no doubt that the Austrians are convinced by their own rhetoric that this is what they do and how they do it to establish economic knowledge. However, there are alternative explanations for their accomplishments that rely on a scientific epistemology that was unfamiliar to Mises but rejected by him sight unseen. (I refer to Eddington's "The Philosophy of Physical Science," for example.) Mises assumed the so-called scientific method, which he lumped together with what he called "positivism," might apply to physical artifacts but never to human affairs. Unlike Hayek, Mises never did concede to an observational test as a court of last resort and that a seed of doubt shall remain with all scientific conclusions no matter how well tested, economics and physics alike.
There is no way I can see for one to apprehend the scientific method by contemplating the method professed by the Austrians because it relies on medieval scholasticism or neo-Aristotelianism which cannot illuminate the alternative now known as the scientific method. This obstacle was first explained by Bacon (Instauratio Magna and Novum Organum). Actually, Austrian liberalism is rooted in the scientific revolution of the rennaissance, not the earlier scholastics of Aquinas.
At least since Mises, the Austrians have tended to characterize natural science as adversarial to the laissez faire. Perhaps this was true for his engineer brother Richard who Ludwig contemptuously referred to as "a German." However, the generalization is sadly mistaken. I was able to see a balanced alternative to Mises strictly inductive method because I had studied the philosophy of science and scientific method before reading any Austrian economics. Curiously, it is easy for a physicist or engineer ignorant of formal economic theory to grasp Austrian laissez faire economics. On the other hand, Austrian School devotees have a difficult time apprehending the nature of physical theory. Some scholars think that economists must keep the method of science at arms length lest they be corrupted by reductionism. I agree to this extent--Newtonian physicists have a bad habit of trying to reduce all natural phenomena to a set of clockworks. This mechanistic approach is blind to spontaneous order without physical structure.
Referring once again to your student's summary, I think he will be handicapped in understanding the scientific method as long as he uses the word "truth" as he does. In science, truth is an observational matter. It is inaccessible to pure reason either by deductive or inductive logic. Science presumes that thoughts and reasoning do not occur in a sensory vacuum (except of course in the event of hallucination) and that all hypotheses are actually "a posteriori" of some kind of observable experience--facts. Mises often referred to his method as "a prioristic," meaning that his conclusions were arrived at prior to any facts gathered by the senses. Science holds such a feat to be impossible. Be that as it may, the Austrian School asserts that whatever observations may be rendered regarding subject matter explained by the Austrian economist are only to be "interpreted" in terms of the a priori and "rational" conclusions previously set forth. Such observations are not to be considered tests of economic reality. Thus, the Austrian economist never confronts a falsification because he never submits his (provisional) conclusions to an observational test. I think this attitude has handicapped growth in the acceptance of the Austrian wisdom. (see Mark Skousen: "Economics on Trial,: Vienna and Chicago: A Tale of Two Schools," The Freeman, Feb., 1998.)
The Austrian fear of the observational test is not entirely unjustified. Scientists rarely admit that the observational results (so-called facts) on which science depends are questionable out front. If not actually corrupted by emotional bias, facts may be theory laden. Either way, truth is always questionable and the scientific method would be incomplete if it failed to provide a check on this type of misapprehension.
An outsider like me might consider the nearly 200 years of economic history interpreted by the Austrians since Ferguson and Smith to be prima facie evidence of a scientific test of the kind utilized in astronomy. Notice the domain of phenomena being contemplated goes on quite nicely all by itself, oblivious to any tinkering by man who can look but not touch. Where human tinkering occurs, there is a different domain of phenomena, one that is something other than the laissez faire economy studied by the Austrians or the astronomy studied by Galileo. What might these other fields of study be--so closely associated but involving human tinkering? Astronautics? Politics? Political economy? War?
You ask: "How could an entrepreneur engage in the scientific method since the business environment is constantly changing? I see the entrepreneur as an adapter not as a scientist."
The natural environment is constantly changing everywhere. Yet, there is science (knowledge) nonetheless. The entrepreneur is engaged in science whether he knows it or not because he is using scientific method, summarized as follows:
(1) He is keenly observing (aware of) some aspect of human activity going on around him. This is the observational data gathering step.
(2) He somehow arrives at a generalization on the particulars of his experience. This is the hypothesis formulation step involving inductive reasoning a posteriori of the first step.
(3) Finding his hypothesis (es) are not contradicted by any prior experience he knows of, he ventures forth with deductive conclusions regarding particular affairs that can be experienced in the future based on his hypotheses (guesses) regarding the general order (rules) governing such affairs. This step is extrapolation a priori (i.e. anticipating new observational experience before the fact).
(4) Finding no logical inconsistency in his deductive conclusions, he considers his extrapolation valid, and given sufficient courage of convictions, he proceeds to submit his extrapolation to an observational test against future experience. This is the test step, controlled, opportune or whatever, that subjects his conclusions to a risk of falsification.
One, two, three, four; this is the way to know more.
Please note that Step Four can always be considered a controlled experiment in the sense that the observer chooses his arena and does his own focussing. Of course in doing so, he might well exclude some variables from his view, but he does so at his own risk.
You continue: "But on a larger point. I think my goal with socionomics has always been persuasion through education."
Can you see the application of the scientific method to education? To me, it IS the theory of education. When you said: "After a considerable amount of reading, discussion, and reflection ' I changed my mind. ' That is the process that intrigues me more than making socionomics more scientific than the other social sciences....It seems to me that the idea of a stateless society deserves more consideration than it gets in the educational system and that is what I am trying to do."
More power to you! However, don't you see now that you went through scientific experience--a process of amending your hypotheses based on some new insight on your way toward developing some new conclusions about the way things work. And you were probably motivated like the Austrians say we all are, namely to advance to a more satisfactory state of affairs in a life of limited duration. Assuming the Austrians are right (which I do), can you relate to an educational approach that would help others reproduce the mind-changing conditions you experienced? This is the essence of science in my view. Science is the way of life in the real world. Presumably, moral philosophy has the same objective.
"Different rules generate different results. The ultimate personal and social question is what results are we trying to achieve. Can the scientific method shed any light on the answer to that question?"
Mises was quite correct to say that the purpose of economic science is limited to determining what means are suitable for achieving given ends. That it is not the business of economics to prescribe the ends of human endeavor. As Watner the Voluntaryist says, "If one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself." What ends in life may be appropriate are for each person to decide for himself. This is the classical liberal idea of humanity that is more an esthetic and ethical question than an economic one. So here arises the volitional thing that differentiates social phenomena from other natural phenomena. Does this fit your concept of socionomics?
Of course, not every dream is realistic. Since science is only concerned with reality, some artistic and emotional people will rankle at the thought that their dreams might be so audited and, therefore, they disdain all science. But they are misguided. Science does not outlaw castles in the sky. It only tries to put foundations under them. --AL--
23 January 2000..............regarding the 10 January 2000 input
As to the original question about the new definition, I should think that evolution of this sort would embody the very essence of the study. Dave asks, "Am I on the right track here?" I'd answer that you're on the right track if you submit any prejudice(s) to the tests discussed earlier.
Al, your lessons on scientific method continue to enthrall me. I agree with you, though I'll offer one defense of the Austrians. Much of their informal logic (not relying on outside observations) was offered to expose the fallacies of established thought. As such, they were merely finally applying step #4 of your summarized scientific method to these accepted beliefs; no observations were required for these exercises, since the erroneous beliefs collapsed under the weight of their own tradictions. --JV--
25 January 2000...................science and the scientific method
Nice to hear from you. Thank Dave for being such a creative devil's advocate. He really gets me to digging. Read Eddington sometime. Einstein's day in his "court of last resort" made both immortal. The "controlled experiment" concocted by Eddington to test the Special Relativity Theory was to take an astronomical team to South Africa to observe the apparent position of a star as it passed from view through the limb of the sun (during a total eclipse) to see if light was affected by gravity as predicted by Einstein (one of his many odd predictions). The lesson: go look at it in practice. This point was made very clear by Vin Suprynowicz in his "person of the year " column which Dave forwarded us on New Years Day.
There is a story about Einstein, probably untrue because it portrays an arrogance that was at odds with his usual demeanor, that when questioned by a journalist on this occasion whether he was worried what Eddington would see, Einstein answered: "No indeed. I already know. They must do this to satisfy themselves."
Indeed they must and he must submit, which he apparently did and more as reported by Vin (couldn't resist the repetition):
FROM MOUNTAIN MEDIA
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE DATED DEC. 29, 1999
THE LIBERTARIAN, By Vin Suprynowicz
Getting one right
Paul Johnson's massive history of the past 80 years, "Modern Times," begins with a memorable passage: "The modern world began on 29 May 1919 when photographs of a solar eclipse, taken off the island of Principe off West Africa and at Sobral in Brazil, confirmed the truth of a new theory of the universe. It had been apparent for half a century that the Newtonian cosmology, based upon the straight lines of Euclidean geometry and Galileo's notions of absolute time, was in need of serious modification. ... Increasingly powerful telescopes were revealing anomalies. In particular, the motions of the planet Mercury deviated by forty-three second of arc a century from its predictable behaviour under Newtonian laws of physics. Why? "In 1905, a twenty-six-year-old German Jew, Albert Einstein, then working in the Swiss patent officer in Berne, had published a paper, 'On the electrodynamics of moving bodies', which became known as the Special Theory of Relativity. Einstein's observations on the way in which, in certain circumstances, lengths appeared to contract and clocks to slow down, are analogous to the effect of perspective in painting. In fact the discovery that space and time are relative rather than absolute terms of measurement is comparable, in its effect on our perception of the world, to the first use of perspective in art, which occurred in Greece in the two decades c. 500-480 B.C."
Even the elegance of Einstein's line of argument was described by his colleagues as a kind of art. In 1907 he followed up by demonstrating that mass and energy are interrelated and therefore convertible, encapsulated in the equation E=mc squared. Throughout the next decade -- undeterred even by the outbreak of the disastrous World War -- scientists around the world struggled to propose a more General Theory of Relativity, which would also embrace gravitational fields, until in 1918 Arthur Eddington, secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, revealed that the monumental goal had been achieved in a paper smuggled into England through the Netherlands in 1916. The author of the second paper was ... Albert Einstein. But such was the essence of Einstein's methodology that he insisted his equations be verified by empirical observation, devising three specific tests for this purpose, including the measurement of the extent to which light would be bent around the sun -- then measurable only during a solar eclipse. "What impressed me most," the philosopher Karl Popper of Vienna University was later to write, "was Einstein's own clear statement that he would regard his theory as untenable if it should fail certain tests. ... Here was an attitude utterly different from the dogmatism of Marx, Freud, Adler and even more so of their followers. ... This, I felt, was the true scientific attitude."
The final proof demanded by Einstein was confirmation of the "red shift" -- a shift in the spectrum of light-emitting objects depending on whether they move toward or away from the viewer, similar to the way the pitch of a train whistle undergoes a perceived drop to a lower frequency as the train passes a listener. The "red shift" was finally confirmed by the Mount Wilson observatory in 1923, after which "Einstein was a global hero, mobbed wherever he went," Johnson reports. As his discoveries led eventually to the atomic bomb and even to our modern epidemic of moral relativism, there were times, Einstein sighed near the end of his life, when he wished he had instead become a simple watchmaker. But "the emergence of Einstein as a world figure in 1919 is a striking illustration of the dual impact of great scientific innovators on mankind," the historian Johnson concludes. "They change our perception of the physical world and increase our mastery of it. But they also change our ideas. The second effect is often more radical than the first. The scientific genius impinges on humanity, for good or ill, far more than any statesman or warlord. Galileo's empiricism created the ferment of natural philosophy in the seventeenth century which adumbrated the scientific and industrial revolutions. Newtonian physics formed the framework of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and so helped to bring modern nationalism and revolutionary politics to birth.
Too bad scientific results gain acceptance without regard for the method that produced them. It is the lack of recognition of the conditions and limitations that apply to scientific results owing to its method that explains the prevalence of arrogant pretentions and worthless credentials. The scientific method might be called the method of self-rectification. It is a process that involves making specific commitments and facing up to consequent outcomes, then amending plans, changing courses, trying again and so on ad infinitum. "Going back to the drawing board" is a familiar experience, accepted by those who realize what's involved to make progress. The "market" has been well characterized as such a laboratory carried out on a vast and impersonal scale. Curiously, it is the Austrians who have so well described these autonomous proceedings yet fail to grasp the connection with their own. Be that as it may, Austrian excellence in Aristotelian logic, syllogistic reasoning and scholarship is a thing of beauty. Its just not the entire scientific method. They leave the messy part (observation) to others like the Chicagoans who they have considered mere technicians and statistical hacks. True enough, the Chicago school is not so idealistic and purely laissez faire as the Austrian school. But the Austrian school is not entirely free of statism either, at least not until Rothbard. The reason observation (however its done in economics) is so important--actually critical--is that there is no such thing as a "proof" of an inductive conclusion (hypothesis, postulate, assumption, presumption, premise, axiom, principle, etc.) in a closed system of logic. Not Aristotle nor any of his descendents in mathematical development (including Euler, Aquinas, Decartes, etc.) could develop one. The idea of perfect induction in math is certainly not it. All inductive conclusions are mere opinions, albeit sometimes compelling ones, until they survive a trial in the real world, i.e. an experiment with a visible physical outcome that is subject to falsication as explained by Popper. So nothing short of the scientific method will suffice for examining the validity of a generalization. Even then, the so-called proof is conditional and provisional. This gives scientific work an humbling aspect and makes it a poor ideological or political ally. To a conscientious scientist at his most charitable, politics is pure chutzpah. [From Martin Marcus' "Yiddish for Yankees," Chutzpah = collossal nerve. Theodore Bikel defines a person with chutzpah as one who murders his parents, then pleads for mercy in court on account he is an orphan.] Good luck with Popper. --AL--
26 January 2000.................Popper, scientific method, and making mistakes
To PD and AL:
My study of Popper has only just begun, and what little I've learned thus far convinces me that my understanding of the scientific method is about to expand greatly thanks to him. I'll hold off on any attempt at serious comment until my epiphany is complete. But one last thing: Dave says,"After a considerable amount of reading, discussion, and reflection 'I changed my mind.'" I too applaud this, as one thing I'm re-learning from Popper is that if we don't make mistakes, we don't learn. --JV--
28 January 2000................what socionomics students learn
Another good editorial. Bravo. I too am a hopefully not so nutty professor and I agree with the other professor. This is why the socionomics project is worthwhile and related to your objectives. In socionomics students first learn the concept of self-organization, which is counterintuitive. Most people have the "quarterback or captain of the ship" mentality, as I call it. Adam Smith referred to social self-organization as the "invisible hand". Hayek called it "spontaneous order" and more recently it has become more scientifically known as the theory of complex adaptive systems (cas). The idea remains the same. It is possible to have organization and order without having a plan or a planner. Next students learn the rules which allow society to operate as a complex adaptive system. These rules are known as natural rights. The resulting order is called civil society. They begin to question whether coercive central planning is impractical and/or immoral. And finally they understand the psychological roots of the communitarian "feeling" when they study evolutionary psychology. We are, after all, evolved from those whose very existence depended on being associated with a group or tribe. After taking Introduction to Socionomics, students will have a fresh perspective on the so-called drug war and other examples of social engineering. They will learn to see the big picture. --PD--
P.S. This edited email was sent in response to an editorial written by one of our TCC members.