Monday, January 17, 2011

Methodological flaw?

Some explanations are in order. One of the things I have been doing over the last several weeks is listening to the "Induction in Physics and Philosophy" and the "Objectivism Through Induction" recorded lectures. I bought them at OCON08 but totally forgot about them until recently, and I still haven't finished OTI (I'm currently on lecture 5). They are proving to be extremely valuable... and also making me question the extent to which I have gone wrong in what I thought was proper inductive validation by oneself of another's findings.

Of present concern is how I had tackled economics, which I began questioning when I wondered if I had been wrong to some degree in the method. What I had been doing, at least to some extent, was effectively Aristotle's induction-as-suggestion method.

For this I had gathered a host of examples, both those themselves mentioned elsewhere (Merton's original paper and Wikipedia, mostly), examples I recall from others' specific instances, and those of my own observation and experience, and then treated them as the data for a preliminary induction. The next step I took was to examine the causes (and I have come to the conclusion that there are but two direct causes and that the other causes of the phenomena are in fact causes of those first two causes), and so tie the phenomenon to various facts (the complexity of existence, human capacities for focus and evasion/pretence, other facets of volitional consciousness, and so on). Finally, I then sought to reduce all the critical concepts back to direct perception. It is the second step there - the tieing in with other facts - that I am finding is problematic in what I have done.

I am glad I caught this at an early stage rather than waste a large amount of time only to find out the fact of such wastage at a later date. I'd hate to be in a similar position to a researcher that von Mises wrote about, who spent - and thus wasted - almost his entire academic life in systematically calculating the elasticities of every significant commodity that people regularly consumed. Yet, for what I have done so far, I am not sure that I have done exactly what Dr Peikoff said was wrong. I was not avowedly looking for broader principles to deduce the law from... but until I spend time going over my work from scratch a second time and working to fully comprehend the lessons of OTI it may well be that I had been unwittingly making that mistake anyway, so don't expect further publication from me in the immediate future.

By the way, over the last week of December I realised that I - and evidently a great number of others - had been making a subtle mistake. There is a definite distinction between that which was unintended and that which was unanticipated, and the law applies to the latter, not the former. This was both Merton's original description, and also cross-ties better with all the implications that are in fact inferred from the law by most and all those that should be so inferred. But more on that when I do finish writing.


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