Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Spectacle of A Darwinist-Economist Enraged Over Discrediting Of HIs Lunch Ticket

As luck would have it, there is an excellent example of just a small part of why claiming that natural selection is an appropriate mechanism to use in economics is absurd in another of Lewontin's lectures, by chance, given at the same Santa Fe Institute from where this part of my argument came.

After giving an excellent hour long lecture about the absurdities of claiming that Darwinian evolution provides a model for human culture an enraged economist (I'm guessing) asks a long angry question to Lewontin who points out something that I mentioned in passing, this morning, that Darwinism, natural selection, can only work through a specific kind of mechanism of inheritance which doesn't exist in economics and that it doesn't work at all except when the mechanism of inheritance is present.  The exchange starts at about 1:05:00.   Later in the questions someone asks him to describe genetic drift and, as an aside, he asks why the economists who are pretending to analyze economics using a biological metaphor don't include other mechanisms like genetic drift.  He doesn't say it but if you're going to claim that natural selection is at work in something as artificial and the creation of entirely artificial laws and dogmas - quite often designed to come out to a specific end for those who sponsor the changes in the law and the dogmas created by sponsored scholars - if you are going to claim that such things are governed by biological laws of nature (which they assume natural selection is) and so the economic results are a product of natural law, why shouldn't you have to include other relevant aspects of biological inheritance and evolution in your model?

Update:   That's right but that's irrelevant to the debunking of the claims.  I don't believe that natural selection is a real thing but if you're going to claim the validity of a model to make claims about economics you have to have a logically sound basis for doing that and there is none in claiming that natural selection can work as a description of economic activity. You can't as in a paraphrase of the famous cartoon, say "well, at this point something happens that makes it work" without filling that in with something that does work.  Lewontin, not surprisingly for one of the most eminent geneticists and evolutionary thinkers of his generation, correctly identifies that lapse in those claims as the absence of the actual mechanism which natural selection is supposed to start from, the actual mechanism that allows there to be something selected for or, rather, against.

The idea that biological laws could be applied to something as artificial, the product of laws, policies and practices which are 100% under the control of human made laws is so entirely absurd on its face, the fact that it is sold so freely proves that we aren't any more sophisticated, for all of our sciency modernism than any people at any point in the past.


  1. People who don't understand the first thing about philosophy think philosophers are twits; because ignorance. Yet they claim "logic" guides their reasoning, although they understand "logic" no better than a character on "Star Trek."

    People who understand next to nothing about biology blithely adopt what they think is "scientific" by parroting a few key words and using the concepts in, they think, the right way. Partly it's the infection of scientism: if it sounds like science, it must be true! Partly it's just intellectual laziness and using concepts that sound clever to the laity to fog over the fact you don't know what you're talking about.

    Engineers do it when they think engineering principles explain all problems; except the world is not one gigantic piece of engineering. I've seen lawyers do it, figuring if law underpins most of how civilization works (and it does, in one sense), then how hard can it be to do something that people without law degrees can do, like construction? Hell, don't even need a college degree for that, right?

    And if it sounds scientific? Hey! Atomic theory! Quantum mechanics! Natural selection! Genes are memes! Yeah, that's it!

    In the 19th century, chemistry was going to explain all things. Then physics was. Now it's genetics. Of course, biology is as complex as subject as cosmology or climatology, but who needs complexity when we have Big Ideas! Natural selection! Invisible hand! Market forces!

    Or, in the law, the Rule against Perpetuities. A lovely notion that has no basis in law, but was conjured up by a "legal scholar". Honored more in the breach than in the keeping (nobody keeps it), it's a sort of "natural selection" for the law, though more related to "nature abhors a vacuum" than to "red in tooth and claw" (which is also a legal metaphor, in context; although it predates Darwin and gets the state of nature wrong by positing a wholly incorrect theory of civilization. The metaphor describes civilization more than the lack of it.).

    Big Ideas are so much easier than thinking. They allow us each to be our own Donald Trump, secure in our ignorance and comforted by knowing we don't need to know anything else. And when it goes wrong, like Trump, we just expect somebody to fix it for us.

    After all, how could we be wrong?

    1. Earlier in the lecture Lewontin talks about which science has the highest and lowest status in esteem and influence being tied to how generally their ideas apply or, as in the case of the lower in esteem sciences can be made, through theory, to be asserted to have more general relevance. John Kenneth Galbraith once said something similar about economics, how the more theoretical an economic field was the more esteem it had and how the economics of agriculture were the lowest while the most unconnected to reality, the theoreticians, were highest in esteem. I think that's probably a general rule for all of the so-called social sciences. I think that actually rewards easily assimilated inaccuracies and inventions that please those with the money and power to distribute professional esteem in academia and publishing and publicity, certainly in economics, such people rarely having much understanding or concern about logic as long as the results are congenial and profitable for them.

      Trump is a product of people believing lies told on FOX and in the media, generally. He is a product of laws that enhanced the ability of such lies to be told with impunity and the media being excused from serving the public under theories of free speech and free press which permitted those lies to be told without consequence. That's my theory, but as he gained power through people believing in lies they heard on TV and hate-talk radio and elsewhere, I think it's a lot less theoretical than the kind of stuff that people get payed to say and argue before the Supreme Court.