Friday, February 20, 2009

A Priori

I have become convinced that what the world suffers from is lack of a priori knowledge. I am now inadvertantly getting into little arguments about saturated fats, because saturated fats are not bad, but people think there are all kinds of studies that show saturated fats are bad for you. Meanwhile, our hunter-gatherer ancestors killed game and went straight for the saturated fat and the organ meats. Instead of modern-day songs about marijuana, early man was singing about suet.

In a similar manner, in the Austrian school of economics, a person is considered to be acting rationally if he a: feels some sort of unease and b: embarks on some course of action that he believes will remove that unease. Unfortunately, not all schools of economics have properly understood this, and now there is a genre called behavioral economics that actually runs around with studies purporting to prove that we are not, in fact rational, and therefore free-market style economics should be abandoned.

They do not, of course, explain why, upon finding that people are irrational, would they actually want anyone irrational ruling over them, and this is really because they are not talking about rationality; they are talking about morality. Addicts, for instance, are depressing rational, but they happen to place a higher value on getting their fix rather than good health. Even in rather mundane examples, such as trying to make a purchase when faced with several nearly equal choices, these so-called scientists miss the rational act because they search for a moral, elegant, or tasteful solution when there may be none. The best thing to do with the cereal aisle at the supermarket is avoid it, but assuming you still think cereal is food, the rational act is going to the supermarket to get food, not making great and subtle distinctions between cereals. The indecision that we sometimes feel when presented with a great abundance of options indicates that, with our current knowledge, the options are not sufficiently significant from one another. So we have a choice of trying to gain more knowledge if we think it is worth it, or just grabbing on particular option and trying it out. Even mindless grabbing provides us with new knowledge, so after several iterations most humans will end up making more informed choices later, but this does not mean the earlier, less informed choices were less rational.

There are similar situations going on all over the place, from anthropology straight through to zoology, with a long stopover at theology, because you know the atheists love to say belief in God is irrational. There is no proof, they say, meaning that there is no 'scientific' proof. The completely ignore the other sorts of proof used in courts of law. They require a level of falsifiability that would be laughable if it were applied to, say architecture. No no, we must test everything, so lets put the roof under the basement and then see what happens.

And the worst of it comes when they insist their little hypothesis wasn't wrong, but that there was this or that little variable that was wrong so we should go and try to do it over again. The economic policies of Keynes returns, with many of his followers believing the reason it didn't work all that well the last time was that enough money wasn't spent. (I believe Keynes himself would counsel against this stimulus bill- it's that bad!)

There is no science without a priori knowledge, there is only gambling. Gamblers are looking for the big win, and they try to tease out patterns in the facts in the hopes that it will pay off. It's easy to see at the race-track, but holding to and searching for non-existent patterns happens everywhere, even in bible-study.

And I am at a loss as to how to explain this in conversation.

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