Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hanson's Peak Capitalism Discussion - Day One

Is an "intentionally sustainable" human society to replace capitalism even possible, or are countries condemed to fight to the death over the remaining energy resources? 

This first day I want to introduce a couple of key points raised in Henry Plotkin's EVOLUTIONARY THOUGHT IN PSYCHOLOGY and also discuss "magical thinking" in the social sciences. It's literally impossible to understand the problems that confront us today if one's methodology is flawed! Widespread ignorance concerning these topics exists today in our universities (perhaps intentionally for political purposes). Hopefully, the following comments will explain why our universities are helpless in the face of our widespread social problems and lead to changes and solutions. 

Plotkin identifies the origins of evolutionary thought (and the nature-nurture debate) as beginning two thousand years ago in Plato's MENO: 

"Can you tell me, Socrates - can virtue be taught, or is it rather to be acquired by practice? Or is it neither to be practiced nor learned, but something that comes to men by nature..." 

Plato's student, Aristotle, had a profound effect on Western thinking because his teachings were adopted and taught by the Catholic Church. One of Aristotle's major achievements was the invention of formal deductive logic which consisted of four forms of "causation." We are concerned here with Aristotle's first and last causes: the "material cause" and the "final cause." 

MATERIAL CAUSE 
The "material cause" of a book would be the physical processes used in making the book. For example, making paper from trees, making ink, running the paper through the printing press, etc. In other words, Aristotle's material cause would be cause and effect as a scientist would describe it. 

FINAL CAUSE 
The "final cause" of a book would be the "goal" of the book. For example, educating the public. This is also known as "teleological thinking" and is fundamentally unscientific because it places effects before their causes. Nevertheless, Aristotle's 2,000 year old final cause is still used by social scientists today. 

EXAMPLES OF SCIENTIFIC VS TELEOLOGICAL THINKING (or "Magical Thinking") 
Suppose one were playing pool and attempted to hit the ONE ball with the CUE ball. When the cue ball was struck, a scientific thinker would explain the behavior of the CUE ball in scientific terms: Hooke's Law, Newton's Second Law, and so on. However, a teleological thinker would explain the behavior of the CUE ball in terms of goals: the CUE ball wanted to hit the ONE ball. In other words, the teleological explanation places the effect before the cause. 

Suppose a man was driving to work. Suddenly, a dog ran in front of his car. The man swerved to avoid the dog. A scientist would explain his avoidance behavior in terms of photons striking his eye, the signals being sent to the proper areas of his brain, neurons recognizing the image, (and so on): cause before effect. A social scientist - a teleological thinker - would say that he wanted to avoid the dog: effect before cause. 

"Magical thinking" is the common term for the teleological thinking which social scientists use to explain our social world. If you haven't already done so, please view this video  

Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to discuss the issues introduced in this first post. Teleogical thinking is worthless for discovering how the human brain works.