Under-Appreciated Gems of Scientific Epistemology

Johnny 5 johnny5 at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 21 09:18:27 EST 2004

jlanfield2003 at yahoo.com (Jeff Lanfield) wrote in 
news:235c483f.0407201549.681ffa4 at posting.google.com:

> I am writing a paper on how new ideas gain acceptance in science. I
> would like to get opinions on what were the most profound books and
> thinkers on scientific epistemology you have encountered. 

Do weblinks count?  Here is one I read a lot because I was a real estate 
investor for a time.


The first group of people, and there are really three groups to whom I want 
to communicate, is composed of academics. These are people who are in the 
business of developing and disseminating knowledge, although some would 
prefer to call it a profession. How the professor treats his or her career 
is what makes the difference. The second group of people includes the 
recipients of the knowledge, particularly the thought leaders who develop 
policy for managing enterprises – public as well as private.

The Age of Enlightenment moved reason to the forefront of decision-making. 
But, the pendulum swung so far that emotion gets short shrift, and 
intolerance put an end to the Enlightenment. Irrational exuberance and 
other aspects of human nature may take us where we don’t want to go. So, we 
need a better understanding of the system. Academia is charged with 
providing that knowledge, but the structure and incentives are not working 
as well as they should. Part of the problem is that we keep breaking down 
the areas of knowledge into disciplines, but devote too little attention to 
interdisciplinary approaches. While discipline focus is a good way to 
develop better understanding of some parts of the system, when one has an 
issue with which to deal, it may be critical to draw on multiple, 
preferably integrated, disciplines. Furthermore, there are some underlying 
principles that apply to many disciplines so that we could do a better job 
in our specializations if we expanded our breadth of knowledge. Strategy is 
a critical part of dealing with issues. So, if one is really good at 
strategy, one can make good decisions in a variety of areas provided some 
basic facts are obtained and an appropriate strategy applied. Furthermore, 
if a critical point towards a trend is reached, then there may be a 
cascading effect, i.e., others may follow the shift to more relevant 
research and better decisions. That’s the story. I recall that 45 years 
ago, as a doctoral student, I was told along with my classmates in a Money 
and Banking class, by Professor Cleveland, that if we really understood 
this one sentence, “The quantity of money theory holds under conditions 
much more restrictive than required by its advocates, and a fortiori its 
critics,” we should just come back in fourteen weeks when we will spend two 
weeks on another book. It was a rigorous fourteen weeks. Not every reader 
interested in the ideas is interested in the rigor of my analysis, such as 
it is. Indeed, the development of the ideas is rather loose. But a wide 
array of literature is referred to, and is important in supporting the 
development of the ideas. In order to make it easier to read, especially 
for the second and third groups, I have used a style of including boxed 
text that may be skipped over when one is just looking for the line of 
reasoning being developed. For those not prepared to accept at face value 
the statements in the line of reasoning, elaboration is provided, usually 
using quotations. Thus, the book may be used as a point of departure for 
further study of the ideas that are put together to build the theme. The 
second group, “…the recipients of the knowledge, particularly the thought 
leaders who develop policy for managing enterprises, public as well as 
private,” includes those business leaders who are interested in influencing 
academic research efforts to produce knowledge relevant to the issues that 
they face. In the area of finance, Wall Street has been a great benefactor 
of relevant research coming out of academia. The applicability of research 
has influenced academics in selection of topics. I am not referring to 
consulting assignments, but rather to basic and applied research that 
enhances the understanding of the system in a way that becomes the basis 
for engineering a solution. The difference between basic and applied is 
that the basic has a longer time dimension and the application is not 
known. The engineering of a solution, if it develops a new process, is 
applied research. If it simply applies a developed process, it is 
The idea with this second group is to bridge the gap between industry and 
academia. This is one of the primary goals pursued by the Homer Hoyt 
Institute through its support of the Advanced Studies Institute in Real 
Estate and Land Economics and with its creation of the Hoyt Fellows. The 
third group, which includes philanthropists, also includes foundations. The 
Homer Hoyt Institute is such a foundation. In its 35-year history, it has 
switched from being a grant-receiving organization to becoming a grant-
giving organization. It has a track record of doing what is advocated in 
this book, and it certainly would welcome support for expanding research 
projects as advocated in this book. But it would also be pleased if the 
example set by the Hoyt Institute’s approach were applied to other 
disciplines. Because of this broader interest, the major audience for this 
book is social scientists, irrespective of discipline. Examples are drawn 
from real estate because that is what we, at the Institute, have been doing 
for more than a third of a century. The application to other disciplines is 
a big subject. As a start, the issue of terrorism has been selected to be 
an issue to which the concepts discussed may be applied, or more 
accurately, a case that can draw from many disciplines, including real 
estate. It happens to highlight a key area of study relating to decision-
making. That area is the influence of cultural differences on decisions – 
and it merits a plurality approach. The plurality concept is as value-laden 
as is the perspective of the system. The capsule summary is that Rousseau 
had it right when he saw a common set of arrangements as a social contract. 
The problem was an absolute set for all on a scale that did not allow for 
societal differences. Dealing with differences is a major issue, whether it 
is dealing with terrorists or the investors who have the irrational 
exuberance that drives our security markets to fiascos.

> By  this I mean a work that totally changed the way you look at the
> world and at science.

A work, I went through college, I was exposed to the standard education 
there, standard philosophers - most of the concepts I had encountered 
through SCI FI tv shows as a child or cartoons even - I have forgotten most 
of the cartoons - not Akira -  but I still have very vivid memories of the 
science fiction shows.  When I was younger I read future shock by alvin 
toffler, spiritual machines by kurzweil, but my cultural references in star 
trek and other scifi tv shows and movies are where my memories and my heart 
lies on a whole host of science and politics and economy.  I like 
entertaining education, entertaining exposure to new ideas, some of the 
concepts in these tv shows I did not understand or see real world relevance 
until I got older and identical things happened in my real world 
experience.  I always look for the multimedia version of information, I 
would rather watch a movie or tv show than read a book.  The internet is 
invaluable in my exploration of new ideas though.  I would rather engage in 
active commentary with sci.econers than go back and read the archives for 
the past 10 years.  Just not as FUN, seems like a DEAD thing, talking day 
to day is a living thing and reading 5 year old archives seems dead.  I 
accept I lose out on good stores of knowledge but hope to LEARN that same 
knowledge through my discussions - I had a poet buddy who read poetry, then 
he started travelling the world and living it, he said you need to live 
these books, not read them, not as easy to learn that way.

Marvin Minsky and others give some good ideas but I am always falling back 
on things that touched me emotionally, the first time I heard some vangelis 
or watched blade runner, 1984 was a good book, but I liked watching Blake's 
7 for my consumption of orwellian ideals and rewatch it today for it's 
hilarity and entertainment value.  The prisoner with Mcgoohan was good too.

The movie the Usual Suspects although not scifi touched my heart as well.

 Below is my list. I would be grateful for your
> additions. I
> am really looking for works that are novel and different, orthogonal
> to the ones I listed. For example, I included Bertalanffy's General
> System Theory so I do not want the many, many other books on General
> System Theory.

Never heard of it, went to amazon and read up on it, not something I think 
I will buy.

> I'm specifically looking for the thinkers and books that are not only
> highly original but also under-appreciated and not as widely known as
> they deserve to be.

Well if that is what those books represent, unknowns, why are they unknown?  
They were tucked away on some bookshelf and never exposed to popular 
culture, movies need to be made, tv shows etc.  If the sharing of thier 
memes never reached a critical mass there must be some problem to the flow 
of thier memes - too hard, to convulated, not entertaining, like the flow 
of a virus, it lived in just a few hosts and never jumped to too many other 
people in the world - why? - why isn't the virus spreading in these 
undiscovered Gems?  The people that write them are vague and not popular, 
the people that read them try to get the message out and the masses do not 
chomp down on the material,  I took philosophy courses in college, with a 
very good professor, but I dont remember those courses much, I remember the 
same concepts taught in the episodes of star trek I watched.  Its like the 
confederacy of dunces, people kept telling me to read it, that it was 
hilarious, I believe them, I have read about it on amazon, I heard wil 
farrell was going to be in a new movie about it, and when he his I will 
watch the movie, but I am not going to read the book.  Too lazy I guess.

 For instance, Aristotle, Plato, and Darwin will
> not make this list as their work is well known and universally
> recognized.

Think what they could have done in getting their message to the masses with 
modern day internet and a hollywood studio or PBS behind them?  Think if 
they had the cast of MAd TV to teach some of thier lessons, many people 
would watch it and laugh and learn.  Homer may have wrote a good book in 
the Iliad, but the movie Troy will be where my memories and visualization 

> My list (no particular order): 
> Rene Thom: Structural Stability and Morphogenesis

Read about it just now on Amazon, have read some robert rosen that amazon 
said was like Rene Thom, didnt keep up with Robert Rosen when I read some 
of his stuff 10 years ago.  I do still watch PBS and Nova and the SCIENCE 
channel though - just don't read books much with that kind of medium in my 

> Ludwig von Bertalanffy: General System Theory 
> David Bohm: Wholeness and Implicate order

Never heard of them either, read about them on amazon, it does not motivate 
me to buy thier book or even go to the library if the book is free, if 
however I am watching Nova or the Science channel and they come on I will 
listen to them and try to learn.  If Dennis Miller or Jon Stewart started 
dropping thier name I might have been exposed more.  Without this list I 
would probably have never looked them up, after looking them up I still 
have no incentive to keep up with them.  The meme touched me, and I am not 
going to pass it on.

Government policy in interest rates, and on finance generally, has been 
marked by vacillation, wishful thinking, electoral expediency of the most 
shameful type towards the end of last year, contortions and contradictions, 
all to accommodate the redneck economics of the National Country Party. 
(Harsard Aug.27 1981)

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