June 15, 2009

Blinded by science

First off, I?m appalled that Stacy would slander Sigmund Freud?s name by comparing this fascinating man to the hapless, dishonest shill for the investment banking industry Tim Geithner. (I?d also add that Freud?s Bildung and adherence to the social mores of the Wiener haute bourgeoisie place him well to the right of most in the contemporary conservative movement, not to mention Timbabwe.)

Though psychoanalysis is certainly deserving of severe critique, I don?t think its failures have much to do with the ?ascertaining and application of facts?; and interestingly, there?s a lot of evidence to suggest that Sigi?s patients actually got better under his care. It is true, however, that psychoanalysis fails the Popperian test of ?falsifiability?: that is, the problem is not that one can?t prove that Freudianism is a science but that one can?t prove that it isn?t one. If that last sentence is too confusing by half, think about it this way: if someone ever says, ?That Oedipal Complex thing is bunk? the Freudian can shoot back, ?You just think that because you?re suffering from it! Stop resisting!? (Ditto for Marxism, as critics can be dismissed easily by alerting them to the fact that they?re all trapped in their own means-of-production-owning bourgeois ideology.)

This being said, Freudianism is part of an important stream of German philosophy and has been a wildly productive theory for scientists, artists, sociologists, writers and more?despite, or perhaps because, it?s so wrong. This is more than one can say for the ?science? of Intelligent Design, the godly, anti-racists alternative to Darwinism currently embraced by ?conservatives.? J.M. Keynes, on the other hand, was (like Freud) quite wrong, but then (unlike Freud) his theories have generated poverty, misery, and, worst of all, Paul Krugman.

I?d also add that one central aspect of the ?Austrian School of Economics,? which Stacy references as a real science, is the degree to which the ?ascertaining and application of facts? is de-emphasized vis-?-vis its logical method and a priori assumptions. Indeed, ?Austrians? are always pointing out how facts deceive. In America?s Great Depression, Murray Rothbard demonstrates that if you simply look at the prices of goods and services over the course of the 1920s, you?d believe that there was hardly any inflation at all, nor any signs of unsustainable growth. But to the contrary, there was actually massive inflation of the money supply, as well bank-driven credit creation, but these developments were masked by the tremendous gains in productivity across the decade?and thus imperceptible if one were only looking at ?the facts.? (Similarly, one could look at the current CPI index (which is flat) and have no inking of the inflationary disaster we?re about to experience.) In turn, Keynesians often have facts on their side, as they can point to, for instance, some formerly out-of-work chap who now has a new job in a state-sponsored ?green? industry and say, ?See, our programs are working!? The real task, of course, is to discern the invisible cost of this or that project, which is often obscured by latest GDP and employment stats.

Facts are sometimes overrated. Let?s no forget that Copernicus?s heliocentric theory wasn?t any more accurate at predicting the location of planets than was Ptolemy?s systems of epicycles, and it was considered a great affront to ?common sense? when it was first introduced. If De revolutionibus orbium coelestium were published today, might Copernicus, too, be lumped in with the ?culture of death??         

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