Wednesday, January 14, 2009

magical false positives...,

Warsocialism | “The human mind evolved to believe in gods... Acceptance of the supernatural conveyed a great advantage throughout prehistory, when the brain was evolving. Thus it is in sharp contrast to [science] which was developed as a product of the modern age and is not underwritten by genetic algorithms.” – E.O. Wilson

“Magical thinking” is defined as “non-scientific causal reasoning” or “correlation”. I define “political thinking” (which apparently has no formal definition) as trying to prove one’s assertions are true instead of trying to “falsify” them like a scientist or a good engineer.

We are genetically both “magical” and “political” thinkers. However, we can be specifically trained to use the scientific thinking in specific domains. Unfortunately, training in one domain does not mean we automatically use scientific thinking in other domains. The best scientists are just as likely as anyone else to use magic and politics in domains they haven’t been trained in.

Imagine yourself in Africa and you notice a herd of zebra staring intently at the trees. You stop and look at the trees, but you can not see anything. Suddenly a huge lion bursts out of the tree line, grabs an impala, and hauls it off. Every time after that, when you see zebras staring at trees, you will think “lions”. That is precisely the kind of magical thinking which would have kept our ancestors alive.

Political thinking co-evolved and was required to give magical thinking at least half of its value. Saving the lives of your fellows – by convincing them that a lion was nearby – was absolutely vital to your own survival. A few thousand years ago, almost no penalty would be attached to a “false positive” in this “lion in the trees” situation. Today, magical false positives on the part of social scientists are going to kill us all:

“Oil is a renewable resource, with no intrinsic value over and above its marginal cost... There is no original stock or store of wealth to be doled out on any special criterion... Capital markets are equipped to handle [oil depletion].” – M. A. Adelman

The social sciences employ magical (correlation) and political (proving oneself right) thinking. False positives on the part of economists (all economic theory) caused WW1 & WW2.

The “economic method” (correlation and “post hoc, ergo propter hoc”) is the opposite of the “scientific method”:


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