Natural science and social science and how they are considered different: The example of Philip Mirowski's book More Heat Than Light.
I've been re-reaNatural science and social science and how they are considered different: The example of Philip Mirowski's book More Heat Than Light.
I've been re-reading Non-Natural Social Science: Reflecting on the Enterprise of More Heat than Light - Annual Supplement to Volume 25 History of Political Economy (Edited by Neil de Marchi. Duke University Press). The book is a collection of papers from a conference that grappled with issues raised by Philip Mirowski's book More Heat than Light: Economics as Social Physics, Physics as Nature's Economics (Historical Perspectives on Modern Economics).
In his book, Mirowski' explored the appropriation by founding neoclassical economists (Jevon, Walrus, et el) of field theory from physicists to construct the original theoretic economic model of people and markets i.e. utility, the theory of one price, etc. Mirowski explored much more than history, he weighed in on the substantial theoretical (metaphorical) and mathematical issues at stake, particularly as they divide between the natural and social sciences.
Mirowski charges that neoclassical economists went wrong in three ways:
1. Integrability: The founding economists loved the dynamics of the physicists which involved the math of differentiation (the calculus). Yet, calculations of differentiation must be able to integrate backwards (to be true?). As I understand it, economists can take a market and differentiate the utility preferences or take individual preference and differentiate a market. But they can't integrate back from individual utility to derive market conditions. All of this is over my pay grade but, the math of summing individual utility preferences can't add up to the math of market conditions. In the end, the founders of neoclassical economics settled in to a static analysis and it has not seriously left the static approach since.
2. Secondly, Mirowski argues that the conservation principle, assumed in all physical phenomena, was never maintained by the economists. Economists, however, believe they maintained conservation when newly created money is balanced by a corresponding debt. The math, economics, and physics here is too hard to comprehend but I appreciate the issue and it appears there is substance to the charge.
3. And finally, Mirowski's offers the problem of invariance and its applicability to natural and human social phenomena. Mirowski and many others argue that invariance principles, while the foundation of physics (Hamiltonians?), are generally not applicable to human social phenomena. I disagree with this assertion but appreciate the point.
My direction here is not towards the issues of economics and physics or their underlying math and subject matter. Rather, Mirowski's book (and a huge literature since) was an opening salvo in economics over the nature of social phenomena and the limits of natural science grounded theory to understand social phenomena. Mirowski began his book in 1981 and it reflected the growing upheaval in the philosophy of science beginning in the 1960s and 70s with the rise of the relativistic thinking. Those thinkers (Kuhn, Feyeband, et el) were offered a large opening when in the 1950s the logical positivists philosophical program (which was began in the 1920s) threw in the towel and abandoned their work as a failure. They admitted that knowledge can not be formally operationalized as true through a logical and empirical language.
Ultimately, the whole enterprise of science and its philosophical basis, seems to be buffeted and shaped by junctures in mathematics that eventually filter down and then are embraced by the thinkers and practitioners of science. To mention one such thinker, Kurt Gödel's Impossibility Theorem (1920s) demonstrated that even in math, some statements known to be true can not be proved formally - which apparently shook mathematicians up (there is no formal axiomatic system for arithmetic that is both complete and consistent) Or Turing's theorem that "there is no algorithm possible to decide whether a program will terminate." If it was impossible to prove all truths or solve all problems in mathematics how could the logical positivists ever hope to produce a system of truth through a formal language?
So, the cats out of the bag and biology and conservation biology are now themselves buffeted by intellectual waves produced in mathematics and philosophy starting as far back as the 1850s i.e. the geometry of Riemann....more
Andre Gunder Frank was truly remarkable for his intellectual integrity and willingness to follow the facts-of-the-matter as he found them. After spendAndre Gunder Frank was truly remarkable for his intellectual integrity and willingness to follow the facts-of-the-matter as he found them. After spending a life opposing capitalism and working for socialism, he came to believe that both concepts were necessary to set aside and that a new conceptual framework was required to explain current and ancient history. ReORIENT is his last major contribution to overturn accepted wisdom. The book re-centers China to its rightful place as a determining force in world history.