April 30, 2015

Rubberneck's reality

Comment on Asad Zaman on ‘Gödel’s theorems and the limits of reason’


In his paper ‘Understanding the problems of mathematical economics: A “continental” perspective’ Wolfgang Drechsler quotes: “...scientific concepts are idealizations; they are derived from experience obtained by refined experimental tools, and are precisely defined through axioms and definitions. Only through these precise definitions is it possible to connect the concepts with a mathematical scheme and to derive mathematically the infinite variety of possible phenomena in this field. But through this process of idealization and precise definition the immediate connection with reality is lost.” (Heisenberg, in 2011, p. 52)

What Drechsler suggests throughout his paper is that in the scientific process reality gets lost. Note, however, that Heisenberg speaks of the immediate reality. This reality is dear to so-called social scientists and consists of what the rubberneck sees when he looks out of the window and hears when he listens to his neighbors and the talking heads.

Atoms and quarks do not belong to this immediate reality. Neither does the economy. Nobody can see, touch, hear or smell the economy. So, nothing of importance is lost through the scientific process but much is gained. It can hardly be denied that Heisenberg and his colleagues reached a higher level of knowledge using the longest mathematical ladder. The same cannot be reported from the adepts of Verstehen. They are forever lost in liguisticality, that is, myth, storytelling, rhetoric, and gossip.

Economics fits Heisenberg's characterization of the scientific process, but only superficially. This has often been noticed.

“Suffice it to say that, in my opinion, what we presently possess by way of so-called pure economic theory is objectively indistinguishable from what the physicist Richard Feynman, in an unflattering sketch of nonsense ‘science,’ called ‘cargo cult science’.” (Clower, 1994, p. 809)

As far as Wolfgang Drechsler's and Asad Zaman's critique of mathematics and the scientific method is appropriate it hits the look-alike.*

To apply the method correctly and to state ‘axioms and definitions precisely’ is the task of Constructive Heterodoxy.**

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Clower, R. W. (1994). Economics as an Inductive Science. Southern Economic Journal, 60(4): 805–814.
Drechsler, W. (2011). Understanding the Problems of Mathematical Economics: A "Continental" Perspective. real-world economics review, (69): 45–57. URL

*  For detailed correction and refutation of Zaman’s arguments see the cross-references
** For the new curriculum see the cross-references