Collage by David Hickman

Carlo Parcelli

Syllogism Part III


67.1 In June of 2013 Gilles Paquet wrote a paper published in Optimum online which began:

“This paper addresses some concerns raised by Pitirim Sorokin some 50 years ago (Sorokin 1956). At the time, Sorokin was somewhat distraught by social sciences falling prey to all sorts of manias and foibles – mindless application of methods in use in experimental sciences to social sciences issues, sterile formalization, useless number-crunching, and the like – that were in danger of derailing socio-economic inquiries away from the purposes that had given rise to social sciences to begin with – which were to respond to une fringale de sens.

Sorokin’s book attacked a variety of pathologies, but spent two chapters on what he called quantophrenia.”

67.2 Then Paquet and by extension Sorokin adds this caveat:

“It should be clear that Sorokin’s attacks were not directed at quantification per se.”

67.3 But why the caveat? One fundamentally agrees with the Paquet’s statement and once again by extension Sorokin that “Quantitative methods have been used from time immemorial as a powerful instrument of reasoning.”

67.4 Paquet goes on to write, “The problem arises when the use of such tools becomes the basis of a cult roughly captured by Lord Kelvin’s positivist embroidered tea cozy “if it cannot be measured, it does not exist.””

67.5 Does this statement not also perfectly describe the situation on the hard sciences? In fact, in the hard sciences isn’t the line between existence and non-existence even more starkly drawn?

67.6 After all, modern precepts for mathematization, formalized systems, quantification, binary systems, digitization et al have their origins in the hard sciences, most notable the Calculus and algorithms.

67.7 And doesn’t such a prohibition conflate nicely with the last proposition, prop number 7 of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schwiegen.”  (“What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”)

67.8 Is this not the final aspiration of the mathematical formalism of the Logical Positivist movement spearheaded by Moritz Schlick and the Vienna Circle? And would not the Vienna Circle come to regret the sea change in Wittgenstein’s later philosophy exemplified by his Philosophical Investigations.

67.9 Sorokin’s point is that over quantification can lead to harmful e.g. bad social policy.

67.10 Quantification in the hard sciences led to technologies which in the short term ‘benefited’ varying numbers of mankind usual succinct minorities in the West. But those self-same hard sciences which made mathematical quantification their non plus ultra are ultimately responsible for the destruction of the planet and their seat is the West.

67.11 If a lesser bad outcome in the social sciences can be construed as bad social science, what would prevent most modern technologies abutting and abetting our current planetary denouement from being assessed as ‘bad science’? Isn’t the literal end of the world at the hand of the mathematical sciences a worse outcome than any social policy has brought about?

67.12 Paquet’s paper almost immediately begins to define sound and unsound social science methodology through the metaphors of classical and quantum mechanics/physics.

67.13 Outside of a raw sociopath like Edward Teller most people, physicists included, would at best see nuclear weapons as a ‘necessary’ evil.  Only recently after many adverse nuclear events highlighted by Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima Daiichi have been brought to the public consciousness has nuclear power itself begun to be viewed as at very best a ‘necessary’ evil with that ‘necessity’ largely induced by economic forces.

67.14 With one of the planet's most obvious and historically validated denouements concerning nuclear power plants already known e.g. the disposal of nuclear waste, spent fuel rods etc., quantified analysis that is in no way methodologicaly different than that which drives say social welfare policy will find formulas to justify more nuclear power plants even when faced with planetary destruction.

67.15 Here public policy and science conflate. And their common denominator is the quantification, the mathematization that drives the hard sciences. In essence, it’s quantification which created both. But only one is destroying the planet, the one which is derived from and vociferously defends the technologies that are the products of the mathematical sciences.

67.16 The reliance on mathematical sciences and the ‘endtimes’ they create have become so ubiquitous e.g. dire, that this writer recommends you ignore this paper altogether, put your head down and bask in the thought that it’ll be a lot worse for the grandkids.

67.17 If you think the present state of the planet has anything to do with bible thumping, think again. Such an interpretation would have to go something like this:

67.18 Surprise! The mathematical sciences are responsible for the end of the world. Damn, with all of our prophecies and prophets, we all saw it coming but never could figure the agent. But it makes sense. All them godless scientists destroyed the planet. Or better yet god played a trick on them and made their mathematical hubris responsible for destroying my family and making my pick up truck an environmentally lethal weapon. Even the Grand Inquisitors didn’t suss out ‘quantification’ as the culprit. Enough of this biblical apocalyptic nonsense.

68.1 But let us reverse, ‘flip’, the process. If the processes of quantification become more complex the more we involve biological complexity, in particular human biological complexity, what does that biological complexity bring with to the problem as the heretofore undiagnosed observer?

68.2 Are not scientists who rely on mathematical processes first and foremost biological entities?

68.3 What are such beings subject to? Does this not suggest ‘perceptual’ limitations especially quantified ones?

68.4 Paquet writes: “The production of useful but limited observations merrily blended into broader aggregates may not constitute meaningful syncretic measures of the performance of the whole cluster of policy arrangements.” Remove the word ‘policy’ and is this not descriptive of the so-called hard sciences too faced with the complexity and limitations of the biological entity which has fostered them?   

68.5 On the various chat lists I used to visit at this point where it was challenged a fierce defense of western epistemology would ensue.

68.6 This usually took the form of examples of the predictive power of physics or the immutability of mathematics.

68.7 “In my world 1 + 1 = 2” a correspondent would defiantly point out when clearly on the machine he was typing this eternal equivalency relied on binary systems and Boolean logic which clearly do not depend on the “1 = 1” truism nor 1 + 1 = 2. (A student and publisher of philosophy actually posited this as proof of the inviolability of mathematics and by extension the mathematical sciences.)

68.8 Mathematical physics was usually conjured for its predictive powers vis a vis trajectories either subatomic or planetary.

68.9 But because mathematics was available to so few, resolutions of ‘quantum wave packet’ or wave/particle paradox were rather few and far between.

68.10 Actually they were non-existent like Lord Kelvin’s unmeasurable objects so that in some bizarre way by not being subject to explanation these quantum phenomena which clearly defy all logic and sensible explanation are none the less real but unavailable to the sensibility of their defenders lay or otherwise.

68.11 Pointing out that ontologically such examples were at best anecdotal and insisting it was the same mathematical process in the interface that is responsible for the end of the world brought little more than a bewildered and inchoate western epistemological defense among scientists and layman alike.
69.1 Taking into account that the input mechanism is constituted of the very limited species and its reliance on finite variables that has brought the planet to the brink of ruin furthered by the established fact that the particular epistemology most responsible has no coherent response to the problem and in most cases cannot even hear it, I think it's fair for this correspondent to claim that the entire western mathematical scientific enterprise can best be described as “Garbage in. Garbage out.”

Syllogism Part 1 appeared in FlashPoint 15

Syllogism Part 2 appeared in FlashPoint 16

Syllogism Part 3 appeared in FlashPoint 16