Philip Pilkington: Of Madness and Microfoundationsm – Rational Agents, Schizophrenia and a Noble Attempt by One Noah Smith to Break Through the Mirror

By Philip Pilkington, a writer and research assistant at Kingston University in London. You can follow him on Twitter @pilkingtonphil

Three stages in the development of a Menger sponge

If I were to put forward to you that we can learn as much if not more about human cognition, epistemology and methodology from the clinically insane as from our philosophers would you think me to be engaging in hyperbole, pseudo-intellectual claptrap and pretentious avant-garde nonsense? Perhaps you would, but I maintain that this is perfectly true and in what follows I hope to show it. I hope to highlight certain issues of aggregation which plague the social sciences and which, in the sphere of economics, have resulted in a strong regression to backward and primitive metaphysical mechanisms of thought since the post-war era.

Theoretical Schizophrenia

When the world falls apart some things stay in place
Levi Stubbs’ tears run down his face

– Billy Bragg, ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears

The word “schizophrenia” has been completely bastardised outside of the spheres of psychology and psychiatry today. Otherwise educated people generally use the term to refer to any manifestation of thought that involves holding two contradictory notions on a single issue at any one point in time. Thus schizophrenia is often portrayed as something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde phenomenon – at one time the person engaged in such thinking switches from Jekyll to Hyde without even realising. The reality of the disorder, however, could not be further from this. (A closer psychopathological metaphor might be “bipolar”, but even this is off the mark).

In reality schizophrenia is characterised by the complete breakdown of a person’s reality. Almost all cognitive functions are affected by this horrific disorder: perceptions of space and time fragment; linguistic expression becomes stuttered and aimless (this is usually referred to as ‘word salad’); and emotions become misdirected and emerge seemingly randomly. At one extreme of the disorder, in paranoid schizophrenia, the affected person may manage to reconstitute their world in some shape or form by making sense of the breakdown by postulating some grandiose series of delusions. While at the other extreme, in disorganized schizophrenia or hebephrenia, the breakdown becomes progressively worse and worse and the affected person typically loses the battle against the fragmentation of their reality. This usually results in institutionalisation until death.

The following short video might give some insight into this disorder.

Note that the patient suffering from schizophrenia tends not to answer the questions directed at him but rather responds with complete non-sequiturs. This is characteristic of the breakdown of language that we mentioned early – although it should be said that the breakdown can be far more extreme than in this case and language can degrade to the point where sentences themselves stop being coherent. The psychiatrist who comes on to discuss the case afterwards characterises the disorder nicely when he says that it is “a total involvement of a person in an illness, a very global impairment of what we consider the higher psychological function”. Clearly then, schizophrenia is a very different phenomenon than that what people appear to think of it when they use the term in colloquial linguistic expression.

Schizophrenia then, as the philosophers and psychoanalysts Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari recognised, can perhaps be given a topological expression in the Menger sponge, a picture of which can be found at the top of this piece. The symptoms of disorganisation and fragmentation that affect spatial perception, language and hearing resemble the breaking down of the sponge. While the reorganisation or re-aggregation that takes place in the recovery process of, for example, paranoid schizophrenia resembles the reconstitution of the cube that we might see if we move backwards through the series of images. The further the sponge breaks down, the more dysfunctional becomes the sufferer; while the more successful the reconstitution of the cube through delusional explanations of the bizarre events taking place the more functional the sufferer becomes. The Menger sponge is, of course, a metaphor, but it seems a particularly powerful one to help non-sufferers understand what schizophrenia is really about so that we can perhaps begin to try and move beyond the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nonsense that currently prevails in popular discourse.

Schizophrenia is quite obviously a pathological phenomenon. While schizophrenia’s organic roots have yet to be established beyond doubt – if, indeed, they are ever truly established beyond doubt – it is clear that we can still call it a “disease” in some sense because it leads the human organism to become severely dysfunctional. However, we also know that some of its symptoms can be simulated in “healthy” individuals by dosing them with Ketamine which suggests a more nuanced approach to the status of the illness. While most of the medical reports on this take the tired line that they might actually be discovering something about the nature of schizophrenia, the more reflective among us can see that what such experiments actually show is that there is a continuum of human cognitive abilities which can be stimulated by certain chemicals or events and that these states simply represent the extreme ends of this continuum that most of us never experience. Indeed, it is most fruitful to draw from this experiment the conclusion that Deleuze and Guatarri drew from their observations of schizophrenia: namely, that in its extremity it tells us something interesting about the nature of human cognition itself.

Deleuze and Guattari derived two basic principles from their analysis of schizophrenia and its importance for philosophy: they called these the “molar” and the “molecular”. The molar principle is an aggregative principle in which smaller entities are subordinated to larger entities. So, for example, a group of individuals are referred to as a named group – say, a football team – rather than by the names of each individual. The football team becomes, in a sense, a new cognitive entity from the individuals that make it up. The molecular principle, on the other hand, is the process of breaking down molar structures in order to create smaller cognitive entities. Thus, we can break down our football team into individual entities and from there we can break down each individual into a collection of emotions and thoughts and from there we might break down these emotions and thoughts as being generated by a collection of memories and fantasies and so on and so on; the depth of molecular breakdown that we wish to engage in being left up to our own judgment.

Deleuze and Guattari, being anarchists, believed that the molecular process of breakdown – which was, by its nature, potentially and logically interminable – was a better model which to live one’s life than the molar processes of aggregation. They applied this judgment to everything from the structures of social organisation to the way in which an individual views their own self. We are here not so much interested in value judgments but instead with the processes themselves and what they can tell us about the issues at hand.

Needless to say, these two principles are not really existing entities in any so-called material sense but are instead a manner in which we organise our cognition – our cognition being a feature through which we “filter” so-called reality. In this they broadly, if not completely, correspond to what economists and other social scientists usually refer to as “macro” and “micro” phenomena. Macro phenomena are those that take place at a highly aggregated level, while micro phenomena take place at a disaggregated level. What these social scientists generally miss however, but which Deleuze and Guattari certainly did not, is that the attempts to disaggregate are logically interminable and have no non-arbitrary end-point. It is the subject of cognition themselves – the social scientist, in our case – that brings this infinite regress to a halt by imposing some new macro or molar level of aggregation.

And with that discussion we now move on to how these considerations have affected the discipline of economics since roughly the 1970s.

The Microfoundations Delusion

Recently the Post-Keynesian economist and historian of economic ideas John King has published a book entitled The Microfoundations Delusion (my review will appear in the next edition of the Review of Keynesian Economics). I would encourage any reader who is interested in these issues to read this work as this work appears to me an important contribution to the macro-micro debate not simply in economics, but also in biology (the title is an ironic smirk to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion) and across the social sciences.

In his book, King lays out how economists have tried to establish supposedly disaggregated “microfoundations” with which to rest their macroeconomics upon. The idea here is that Keynesian macroeconomics generally deals with large aggregates of individuals – usually entire national economies – and draws conclusions from these while largely ignoring the actions of individual agents. As King shows in the book, however, the idea that a macro-level analysis requires such microfoundations is itself entirely without foundation. Unfortunately though, since mainstream economists are committed to methodological individualism – that is, they try to explain the world with reference to what they think to be the rules of individual behaviour – they tend to pursue this quest across the board and those who proclaim scepticism about the need for microfoundations can rarely articulate this scepticism as they too are generally wedded to the notion that aggregative behaviour can only be explained with reference to supposedly disaggregated behaviour.

The modern question of microfoundations is generally traced back the Lucas critique in economics, a crude criticism that macroeconomics lacked a so-called microfoundation and named after the economist Robert Lucas, who first raised the criticism in a serious way in the 1970s. The argument was a thinly veiled attack on Keynesianism which relied and continues to rely almost wholly on macro-level analysis. The Lucas critique itself is similar in many ways to a small child asking the question “why?” over and over again until told to shut up by the adult. If properly and coherently formulated the critique would be bottomless. First the critic would ask why the analyst has not taken into account the “behaviour” of “individuals”. Then he would ask why the analyst has not taken into account the “psychology” of these “individuals”. Then perhaps he would ask why the analyst has not taken account of the “biological” and “genetic” features behind this “psychology”, and so on and so on ad infinitum. (The sharp reader will note that the words placed in quotation marks in the last three sentences all imply some sort of aggregation, whether of something called an “individual” or of some sort of “average” of behaviours of this “individual” and so on).

This process of looking deeper and deeper into the micro or the molecular is, as we have seen in our discussion of schizophrenia and human cognition, by its very nature interminable. In order to stop at some point and stop the nattering questioning the analyst must come to a halt at some given level of abstraction. And this is precisely what Lucas and his followers – who pretty much constitute the entire of the mainstream economics profession – did.

The level of abstraction at which the microfoundations advocates came to a halt was the so-called Representative Agent with Rational Expectations (RARE). The idea here is that since all actors in the economy have rational expectations and access to perfect information – which means, for all intents and purposes, that they can tell the future – the mainstream economist simply aggregates all these individuals together and gets a single “representative” agent. This, in their infinite ignorance of methodology and philosophy, they consider some sort of solution.

“But wait…” the astute reader will say, “this is just another level of macro theorising. Isn’t this representative agent really a sort of average or mean of all individuals in the economy? And doesn’t this mean that this is, in fact, an aggregated or macro theory?” Yes, of course. But because your average economist has no shame in talking about things they have no idea about, they just ignore this. The problem is that the microfoundations crowd simply do not understand what they mean by “microfoundations”. They seem to equate it with some sort of methodological individualism, not recognising that this simply results in another aggregation – that is, our RARE agent who is not just an aggregation but a remarkably unconvincing aggregation.

In fact, we can go further still. If we examine carefully what this RARE agent actually is we will see that it is actually the economist himself, or at least the economist’s own ego (i.e. his representation of himself to himself).

In order to see this clearly we must run through what is going on here. Neoclassical economists believe that individuals act in a certain way and for certain reasons. We know that they have no evidence for this outside their own mind, since they cannot literally get inside the heads of others to find out if this is true. So, we can only assume that they postulate this RARE agent based on their own immediate lived experience. Whether the economists themselves are actually in any way similar to this omniscient RARE agent is a different question which we shall not broach here (note that I consider this to be a simple power fantasy), what we should be clear about is that as the economists made their way down the dark tunnel of theoretical disaggregation and disintegration what they ultimately met at the end was but a mirror image of their own ego. This is truly surreal and, it should be mentioned, not unlike the instances of heuatoscopy that take place in schizophrenia causing sufferers to encounter doppelgangers, albeit in our case we can clearly see that the economists encounter their doppelgangers in their intellectual constructions rather than in their lived reality thus ensuring that they remain on the right side of the abyss**.

Even on Their Own Terms…

Microfoundations, however, do not even make sense on their own terms – i.e. even if the RARE framework was realistic and was not just another aggregate. This is because large groups of people have more influence on the individual than individuals have on large groups of people. Consider, for example, a football stadium filled with one hundred spectators lined up ten-by-ten. They are all sitting down. We know that every individual can stand up to get a better view except those in the front row (whose view is not obstructed). Let us also assume that if the individual in front of another individual stands up, the individual having their view blocked will also stand up to compensate.

Now, what does this mean? Well, it means that any given individual can stand up to get a better view but by doing so they will cause other individuals to stand up. If the most influential individual in the front row stands he will cause nine other people to stand, while if the least influential individual in the back row stands he will have no influence on anyone else at all. So, the maximum power an individual has to block the ability of other individuals to stand up to get a better view is the power to block nine other individuals. However, if the group all stands up at the same time then no one is able to get a better view.

This is simply a numbers game with no metaphysical overtones and it applies to many problems in economics and other sciences. For example, the so-called paradox of thrift states that if the whole community try to save at one time, no one will increase their savings (because they rely on the spending of others for income out of which they can save). The group thus has an enormous constraining influence on the individual. However, if a single individual tries to save he will lower the group’s income to some very small extent (to put it in economic terms: the multiplier will fall by a small amount) but it will not have any very significant effect on the group.

This highlights quite clearly the importance of aggregation and macro phenomena. Not only are these absolutely necessary for us to think at all, but also there is an inherent tendency for larger phenomena to exert greater influence over smaller phenomena than for the smaller phenomena can exert of the larger phenomena. Again, no metaphysics here, no value judgements, it is just a simple numbers game.

Trapped in the Mirror

As already mentioned, some economists within the mainstream have come to question the need for microfoundations. Two notable examples on the internet are the New Keynesian economists Paul Krugman and Noah Smith. However, they do not appear to have a firm grasp of the methodological issues involved (not surprising given their training) and so they can only mount vague and watery defences of their position, the most convincing of which is that fully aggregated models have better predictive capacity than models with so-called microfoundations.

This is somewhat vexing because at least one of these economists, namely Noah Smith, really should know better. I say this because I recently came across a piece that he wrote not on economics, but on psychopathology. Smith published a piece on his blog entitled ‘A Few Thoughts on Depression’ in January of this year. Although I will freely admit that I do not regularly follow his blog, I think that I am nevertheless safe in saying that this piece was something of a departure from his other writings, which are entirely within the mainstream New Keynesian paradigm.

While Smith’s piece is peppered with cognitive-behaviourist language which I find rather sterile and lacking the expressive power needed to describe human psychology, the piece is nevertheless quite good. It is appreciative of the fact that mental constructions and behaviours of so-called individuals are, at the end of the day, rather arbitrary and not open to rational explanation in the sense in which that term is normally used. At one point Smith writes something that oversteps not only his economics but even, to a large degree, the psychological framework he seems to be familiar with:

Human beings are not consistent, we are not simple, and we don’t make sense. The narratives that we construct for ourselves are mostly bullshit. We construct them out of a need to make sense of the world, not as rational scientific theories that best fit the available data.

This is a very powerful statement and one that I would consider completely true. But it is certainly not something that a neoclassical would generally admit. Nor is it something that a cognitive-behaviourist would be inclined to say. This more so reads like something out of David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan or Deleuze and Guatarri. It is, when boiled right down, a powerful expression of what we tried to deal with in the first part of this piece: namely, the fact that when you really start to try to focus in on the micro-level of something you quickly come to realise, if you are theoretically honest, that this is an interminable process. Eventually one must come up with a new aggregation – a “narrative”, as Smith calls it – and it is these aggregates that we place upon disparate phenomena in order to make sense of and structure our worlds.

To what extent Smith realises the implications of this for economics, I simply do not know. I have seen him make somewhat nihilistic statements about the impossibility of knowing anything which I think, frankly, go too far. (Although, it should be said, in his confusion Smith almost articulates an important truth). It would be far more realistic if he recognised that certain phenomena can be explained quite cogently at a macro-level and that some narratives are superior to others – usually ones that incorporate a high degree of realism, dismiss arguments that derive their authority from their logical form, are flexible enough to bend with the data and do not get entangled in the interminable microfoundations delusion.

Mainstream economics has a long way to go before it can recognise and integrate these ideas and I for one, thinking as I do that it is a theology or ethical system rather than a science, am rather pessimistic that it can make this leap. But King’s book is an excellent sketch of where it needs to go and Smith shows that some neoclassicals, despite a degree of what I would consider indoctrination and brainwashing, are indeed able to think outside the box. So, perhaps there is some hope. Perhaps when the world falls apart something does indeed stay in place.
** Note that a more recent approach to this problem of finding “solid” microfoundations has led some behavioural economists to study peoples’ actual behaviour in a lab in the hope that they can come up with some sort of multi-agent model. The problems with this approach are completely insurmountable and it will only produce dross. Anthropologists have known for years, for example, that people act differently under conditions of observation than they do in their day-to-day lives. This leads to the conclusion, if we push our micro or molecular theorising to the limit, that there are probably as many potential actions as there are different individuals and different situations. Again, the search for the micrological leads only to interminable regress.

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  1. Ray Duray

    Re: “Note that the patient suffering from schizophrenia tends not to answer the questions directed at him but rather responds with complete non-sequiturs.”

    Sounds like a Presidential debate.

  2. Clive

    This is interesting and does offer an explanation for what I call the Cigarette Paradox. It should not be possible to buy cigarettes. Logically, governments, which exists to protect the citizenry, should not allow them to be sold. Consumers, being logical, should not want to buy them because they offer nothing but the most transitory benefit that can if needed be obtained at a much lower cost through the substitution of other products or not need to be purchased at all through changes in their behaviour. With no consumers, manufacturers should not have a market and so discontinue production.

    And yet, when I was at the supermarket this morning, there they were, still on sale. I’m sure they will be there next year too. And 10 years after that.

    As an aside, the 16 year old son of the family that lives next door to me has — much to his parents expressed horror — taken up smoking. I asked the parents what they thought of this and what, if anything, they were going to do about it. Apart from voice their displeasure and make him smoke on the porch, the answer was “not much” with the rationalisation that they couldn’t stop him anyway and they were grateful it wasn’t a more “serious” vice. I’ll leave readers to form their own views about what kind of collusion and abdication of their actually quite considerable authority and influence which they have in this situation is demonstrated in their response. But given the very small — token — amount of rent they charge their son for living in the house, they certainly do have an economic influence which they could bring to bear on the problem if they so chose. They don’t chose. They are also in a position to make his life a misery if they wanted. They didn’t wanted.

    As for the son in question, I asked him about why he’d taken up smoking. I didn’t get a hugely coherent response, being of that age and on this subject I didn’t expect to get one, but what he did allude to was an exertion of his “independence” and some overtones of rebellion that his taking up of smoking produced. I had a hunch that if the public health board announced that growing prize winning clematis was now linked to poor health outcomes, lower social class aspirations, incipient criminality and generally being thought of as being a bit of a bad egg, the chap in question would be soon heading off to the local garden centre to purchase some climbing perennials with fancy late Summer blooms.

    No-one in this whole little milieu is behaving in any way “logically”. No on is responding to the very very good (if not “perfect”) information they have available to them. A truckload of unspoken social, family, moral and economic factors are in play which defy any attempt at a rational analysis and production of any sane theorem about what is going on here.

    And that’s just my pretty ordinary next door neighbours. I shudder to think what I’d find if I looked under the hood of your average bank C-suite or derivatives trader team…

    1. jake chase

      The best discussion I have ever read of how people actually behave is Gustave LeBon’s masterful short work, entitled “The Crowd”. It provides most of the groundwork for two of the most pervasive featuress of modernity, advertising and public relations. These, unlike economics, are concerned with how people actually behave, because there are enormous amounts of money riding on understanding it.

      Economics is not science, merely theology. Its importance results from the sponsorship offered genuflecting captured economists by our predatory corporate elite, which is why one never hears much of anything about economists who attempt to deal honestly with economic variables and outcomes, while the charlatans and toadies continually make off with the Nobel prizes. Actually, they might as well be giving one in Alchemy or Astrology or Voodo.

      A surgeon friend of mine had a teenage daughter who smoked. He cured her by bringing home the lung he had removed from a smoker.

      1. Clive

        Thanks Jake, I was about to respond with a third person example to reinforce this point but there’s a better one with me and my decision on the purchase of the book you mention.

        It is a subject I’m very interested in. The book is cheap (9 bucks) and easily available. It is not that long so it’s not like I wouldn’t have time to finish it. But having read through the reviews on the a leading book retailing website, I kind-a rationalised to myself that I get the gist of it and what’s the point of buying it as I wouldn’t learn much more. Which is of course nonsense. I read this blog most days but still bought Yves’ “Econned” because I figured it would reinforce points which even if I knew, it would be good to see them in different contexts with a chance to explore them in more depth. So I’m being inconsistent and perverse. I added The Crowd by
        Gustave Le Bon to a “wishlist” so I might come back to it but at the moment it is on my list of things to dither about.

        So, any economic theory that I’ve ever seen in the mainstream has just fallen apart in 5 minutes of me making one single purchasing decision. I’m not I don’t think especially irrational. Just human.

        Any economic model that states “When you do A then B happens” is as you say just hokum and pseudoscience because it involves people and people aren’t like that.

        1. jake chase

          Clive, just so you know, the book is short but demands intense attention. I am now rereading it for the third or fourth time and always find something new.

        2. Nathanael

          “So, any economic theory that I’ve ever seen in the mainstream has just fallen apart in 5 minutes of me making one single purchasing decision. I’m not I don’t think especially irrational. Just human.”

          This says a lot about the mainstream.

          The behavioral economists have been trying to devise theories which describe, well, your behavior.

          It’s not “rational” behavior, but then “rational” behavior is a tiny subset of human behavior. An important one, but a tiny one.

          _Thinking Fast and Slow_ discusses the fact that most of us are *capable* of rational thinking, but none of us use it more than occasionally (partly because it is extremely energy-intensive). Most of the time we use simple subconscious heuristics.

          Something signalled to you which set off a heuristic telling you that you shouldn’t buy that book just then… maybe you can figure out what your heuristic was.

          1. Nathanael

            “Rational” — from “Ratio”. The type of thinking used to work out mathematical proofs. :-)

  3. Hugh

    Just a few notes for general information:

    Insanity is a legal term, not a medical one.

    Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde is fiction but clinically is probably more like a fugue state.

    Schizophrenia comes from Greek: σχιζω split + φρην soul or mind. The common usage I have always thought is quite close to this.

    DSM-IV descriptions of psychological manifestations of schizophrenia are:

    Characteristic symptoms: Two (or more) of the following, each present for a significant portion of time during a 1-month period (or less if successfully treated): (1) delusions (2) hallucinations (3) disorganized speech (e.g., frequent derailment or incoherence (4) grossly disorganized or catatonic behaviour (5) negative symptoms, i.e., affective flattening, alogia (poverty of speech), or avolition (lack of motivation)

    Note: Only one Criterion A symptom is required if delusions are bizarre or hallucinations consist of a voice keeping up a running commentary on the person’s behavior or thoughts, or two or more voices conversing with each other.

    Schizophrenics as they age tend to burn out, that is the positive symptoms tend to disappear and the negative ones tend to persist.

    Cognitive deficits and the type and location of the lesions that cause them, not mood disorders, have historically been the most useful in understanding how we think and more specifically how we learn and remember.

    1. Philip Pilkington


      1. Quite right. But there’s a case to be made that all psychiatric classifications are legal rather than medical classifications. So the issue is complex and definitely a very grey area.

      2. Yes, fugue state or multiple personality disorder (if the latter is indeed a real clinical phenomenon).

      3. The aspect of “splitting” in schizophrenia is very complex and goes back to the psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler — who coined the term “schizophreia”. Splitting is a theoretical/psychological term that designates the detachment of thoughts and feelings from one another. It is a description of what I referred to above as a sort of Menger Sponge phenomenon. This is undoubtadly the root of the confusion over the word “schizophrenia”, but it doesn’t excuse the ignorance that accompanies this misuse.

      4. That is highly contentious.

      1. from Mexico

        Philip Pilkington says:

        “…there’s a case to be made that all psychiatric classifications are legal rather than medical classifications.

        Or political? The plot thickens, as Richard C. Friedman explains in Male Homosexuality: A Contemporary Psychoanalytic Perspective:

        ***beginning of quote***
        Shortly after the publication of DSM-II (1968), the idea that homosexuality per se was a form of psychopathology came under widespread criticism. A series of dramatic and astonishing events occurred, including acrimonious debates between proponents and opponents of the pathological view of homosexuality, a poll of the members of the American Psychiatric Association, and disruption of scientific meetings by gay activists. In the third edition of the manual (1980), homosexuality was deleted a a mental disorder. The category “Ego-dystonic Homosexuality” was reserved for individuals who experience unwanted, distressing sexual arousal to homosexual stimuli and who wish to desire or increase heterosexual arousal. This revised judgment about the pathological significance of homosexual behavior is one of the most dramatic reversals of opinion on a health-illness issue in the history of medicine (Bayer, 1981).

        In the revised edition of DSM-III (DSM-III-R, 1987), even ego-dystonic homosexuality was dropped as a diagnostic category. Some psychoanalysts privately feel that the decision to drop the category was primarily political. I believe that the decision was sound clinically and scientifically.
        ***end of quote***

          1. from Mexico

            Those articles remind me of something Martin Luther King said:

            ***beginning of quote***
            Every academic discipline has its technical nomenclature, and modern psychology has a word that is used, probably, more than any other. It is the word maladjusted. This word is the ringing cry of modern child psychology. Certainly all of us want to live a well-adjusted life in order to avoid the neurotic personality. But I say to you, there are certain things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon all men of good will to be maladjusted.

            If you will allow the preacher in me to come out now, let me say to you that I never did intend to adjust to the evils of segregation and discrimination. I never did intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I never did intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never did intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. And I call upon all men of good will to be maladjusted because it may well be that the salvation of our world lies in the hands of the maladjusted.

            — MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., commencement address at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, 6 June 1961
            ***end of quote***

      2. j.s.nightingale

        “The word “schizophrenia” has been completely bastardised outside of the spheres of psychology and psychiatry today. Otherwise educated people generally use the term to refer to any manifestation of thought that involves holding two contradictory notions on a single issue at any one point in time.”

        ‘Negative Capability’ is the description you’re looking for. Defined by F. Scott Fitzgerald as “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function”. I knew that ‘An Incomplete Education’ by Judy Jones and William Wilson, from 1987, would come in useful again one day.

    2. Nathanael

      “Insanity”, from “insane”, “in-” meaning “non-” or “not”, “sane” meaning “sound” (of mind).

      In standard common usage, “insane” has retained its original meaning from its original linguistic roots. It refers to unsound thinking; thinking which does not make sense.

      If we use this common usage, we find that most people at least occasionally act insane — think unsound thoughts which lead to senseless actions. Probably more often than occasionally. We generally reserve the term “insane” for people who persist in thinking many unsound thoughts for long periods.

      However, thinking sound thoughts is *hard*. (Read _Thinking Fast and Slow_ for more.) We all must struggle to be sane. Some of us are hampered by brains which have inherent problems.

      Many other people choose to make themselves temporarily insane using drugs such as alcohol (because pleasure does not require sound thinking); we generally only consider this a problem if it goes on to the point of preventing sound thinking when it comes to eating, sleeping, working, etc.

      1. digi_owl

        The working bit seems to have been introduced with the supposed “protestant work ethic”. Also why i think alcohol is tolerated while say weed is a felony drug.

        One does not impact ones desire to work, while the other very much do.

  4. Claudius

    Noah Smith says:

    “Human beings are not consistent, we are not simple, and we don’t make sense. The narratives that we construct for ourselves are mostly bullshit. We construct them out of a need to make sense of the world, not as rational scientific theories that best fit the available data.”

    With perfect information and rational scientific theories at hand it’s probable that one’s own personal narrative is likely to be more perfect and better fits the available data model (Menger’s Sponege-form-encepha-schizophrenia aside). But, the point is that the average, mentally healthy person is:

    a.) Denied access to all available information and data
    b.) Is, deliberately, provided with imperfect or misinformation and data
    c.) Not sufficiently empowered to act optimally/perfectly on information and data.

    In the context of any one or all of the above information and data defects, to act “irrationally” and create a personal narrative that is “bullshit” is simply a subjective measure by which the more “rational” person (whom has a more perfect access to all information and acts more rationally within the framework of scientific theories that best fit the available data) is judging those that that don’t.

    Much, in the same way that an informed adult allows a child to believe in Father Christmas, we don’t call the child’s personal narrative bullshit simply because the child doesn’t possess all information, is misinformed and is not, typically, empowered to find the truth.

    But, do the same with adults – deny them access to available information (though lack of education, physical, monetary, legal barriers, etc.); deliberately lie or misinform them (manipulate LIBOR, Iraq WMD, safe medicines and foods, etc.); and – should they overcome these two major hurdles- don’t empower them to act in their own best economic interests (HAMP, HSBC non-indictment, monopolies, etc.).

    Then it’s hardly surprising to anyone who is just a little more in the know, that the life narrative of ‘others’ is indeed, to a greater-or-lesser degree, bullshit.

    As mentioned in your football spectator metaphor, it’s those few at the front that have the perfect, view, the most information and all the data immediately before them. Should they choose to stand, impair the view of those behind and cause them to follow suit they change the perspective of the game.

    Give everyone equal access to all the information and data, allow economic agents access to data, do not deliberately misinform them and empower them to act optimally; then human beings will be more consistent, simple and make more sensible/rational decisions that best fit the available data.”

    1. Hypothetical_Taxpayer

      Personally, I’ve decided not to listen to any economists until they can explain to me if a frog in the process of being boiled is acting rationally or irrationally.

      Then I’ll want to see the math model.

    2. from Mexico

      @ Claudius

      Your comment very much reminds me of this passage from an interview with Scott Noble where he critiques Adam Curtis’ The Century of the Self:

      ***beginning of quote***

      V-RADIO: Are you familiar with the BBC documentary “The Century of Self”? Did it influence your making of Psywar?

      Mr. Noble:
      It did, but not in the manner you might expect. Curtis is an extremely talented filmmaker with an immense repository of archival footage at his disposal (some of which I utilized in Psywar), and he puts out a great product. But I also find that he tends to exaggerate the importance of particular individuals, groups and fanciful ideas in lieu of basic class analysis; he also appears to self-censor, often at critical junctures. I don’t recall seeing the slightest hint of skepticism about the official story of 911 in “The Power of Nightmares”.

      There was a great review of The Century of the Self” published by Media Lens. In it, the author quotes a passage from the film:

      “Politicians and planners came to believe that Freud was right to suggest that hidden deep within all human beings were dangerous and irrational desires and fears. They were convinced that it was the unleashing of these instincts that had lead to the barbarism of Nazi Germany. To stop it ever happening again, they set out to find ways to control the hidden enemy within the human mind.” (The Century of the Self – The Engineering of Consent, BBC2, March 24, 2002)

      The critic goes on to state:

      “As you’ll know, if you’ve read Elizabeth Fones-Wolf’s study of the period, Alex Carey’s work, and countless books by Edward Herman, Noam Chomsky, and many others, this could not be further from the truth. Post-1945, as now, the real fear of politicians and planners was the existence of dangerous +rational+ desires and fears – popular desires for equity, justice and functioning democracy; popular fears that unbridled capitalism and militarism would once again lead to horrors on the scale of the two world wars. Freud’s theories were incidental – useful in refining traditional methods of popular control perhaps, but a sideshow.”

      In Curtis’ film, Bernays is presented more as a cause than effect. In reality he was joined by all sorts of other like-minded mind managers from the time period: scientists like John B. Watson, the founder of behaviorism, for example, and Ivy Lee, the unsung hero of embedded journalism, crisis management and the press release. Public relations evolved as a means of rescuing corporations from the wrath of public opinion, most notably in response to events like the Ludlow massacre.

      ***end of quote***

      1. MRW

        I loved Scott Noble’s rant on Ayn Rand. I take exception, however, with his comment that “I don’t recall seeing the slightest hint of skepticism about the official story of 911 in ‘The Power of Nightmares’.”

        Part 3 in that series was nothing but. BBC gulped bigtime. The series was effectively banned here because of it, with only a few private showings here and there. Public TV in Boston refused to show it. Ditto some station in NYC, specifically because of the OBL parts.

        I don’t know how Noble could say that. Does he not understand British irony?

      2. digi_owl

        Best i can tell, Curtis likes to create a chain from past to present. The only series of his that seems to not have this, that i have seen so far, is Pandora’s Box. But then that is more a collection of individual topics than a series in the traditional sense.

    1. D.P. Lentini

      By that, I mean an earlier attempt to post a much longer comment about the history of RARE based on Justin Fox’s book The Myth of the Rational Marekt.

          1. ebear

            1. Keep it short.

            2. If you must digress, use a different editor, save your work, THEN post it.

            3. Profit!

  5. from Mexico

    “The beginning of wisdom,” Confucius said, “was calling things by their right names.”

    And from the information Pilkington presents, what Lucas named “microeconomics” was actually “macroeconomics” taken to a ridiculous extreme. It would be difficult to find a more immoderate example of Platonic realism than the sweeping generalization that all human beings are Representative Agent with Rational Expectations (RARE).

    An interesting question, then, is what would motivate someone like Lucas — who named himself a “scientist” — to engage in such grotesque reductionism, and in the process rob humans of their immense variety and individulation. And since most ordinary questions that confront us mix ethics with self-interest, the answer to this quesiton remains elusive.

    The more cynical explanation comes from the historican Carroll Quigley. “The vested interests,” he says, “encourage the growth of irrationality because [it serves] to divert the discontent of the masses away from their vested interests. Accordingly, some of the defenders of vested interests divert a certain part of their surplus to create instruments…of irrationality.” Lucas, it could be argued, was therefore nothing more than one of the paid propagandists for the lords of capital, interjecting a bunch of confusion and nonsense into the public discourse.

    There is another possible explanation, however, that doesn’t paint Lucas in such a dark light. If, as Pilkington alludes, economics “is a theology or ethical system rather than a science,” then Lucas was more of a moralist than a scientist. And, as Susan Nieman has pointed out, “moral principles are never true.” “Truth is a matter of the way the world is;” she explains, “morality is a matter of the way the world ought to be.”

    And there is an argument to be made that if we were all RARES, the world would operate a lot smoother. As the philosopher Eric Hoffer, who dedicated his life to the investigation of mass movements, put it: “Every era has a currency that buys souls. In some the currency is pride, in others it is hope, in still others it is a holy cause. There are of course times when hard cash will buy souls, and the remarkable thing is that such times are marked by civility, tolerance, and the smooth working of everyday life.” So the idea of classical and neoclassical economists, in order to make society run smoother, is to lobotomize humanity, amputating those parts from the whole human which Thomas Hobbes observed led to “the continual competition for honor and dignity” in human affairs, the traditional ethnic and cultural loyalties which qualify a consistent economic rationaism, or the deep and complex motives in the human psychyce which express themselves in the desire for “power and glory.” All the conflicts in human society involving passions and ambitions, hatreds and loves, envies and ideals not recorded in the market place, can simply be erased from existence according to classical and neoclassical economists. They do not conform to their moral vision of “the way the world ought to be.”

    1. patricia

      Re Nieman: It does not follow that if “truth is a matter of the way the world is” and “morality is a matter of the way the world ought to be”, then “moral principles are never true”.

      The only way to make that coherent is to insist, as does the Calvinist and the nihilist, that the world is completely corrupted and nothing is ever the way it ought to be (in a different fantastical and ideal “world”). Nieman (who I’ve not read) might be merely postulating a different Platonic system, although not nearly as cheesy :-/

      It seems to me that ethics emerge from the nature of the object/creature and from its relationships with others and we discover them by finding that which promotes life and health, and which promotes deterioration/destruction. So sometimes various parts of the world are as they “ought to be” while at other times/places they aren’t. It varies over time and with different groups and seems to wax/wane. Whenever people don’t look at the nature of the creature as well as its relationships and the relationship of relationships, they end up with bullshit.

      Re Noah on bullshit narratives: Sure, humans need narratives (Jung among others, yes?) but why is an adequate story inevitably made of bullshit? If it were, wouldn’t Keynes metanarrative be as useless as RARE? Noah assumes that humans are thoroughly trapped in their stupidity/delusions and can’t handle any reality, a nihilistic assumption that may actually be at the core of depression. Noah might be showing that cognitive/behavioral therapies alone aren’t adequate for his treatment. Sometimes reality is just plain depressing, of course, and difficult to handle, but that doesn’t require such a venomously dualistic conclusion.

      Because we have limited knowledge/understanding, we make conjectures to get from one accuracy (as best we can see at the time) to another. Accuracies give the story structure and conjectures give the story fluidity. Some of it turns out to be bullshit, some remains unknown but workable. When it becomes completely unworkable, a new story is required. Stories are vital and also need to be gently held.

      Since economics is a social study about production, distribution, and consumption, it studies relationships of relationships but that doesn’t mean the singular isn’t an underpinning. It’s just not its proper focus.

      My two sense’ worth.

      1. diptherio

        Good points.

        Noah Smith says,

        The narratives that we construct for ourselves are mostly bullshit. We construct them out of a need to make sense of the world, not as rational scientific theories that best fit the available data…

        and all I can think is, does that apply to your narrative as well? (i.e. his story about how most narratives are bullshit may, itself, be bullshit and not any kind of rational, scientific theory)

        1. ebear

          “and all I can think is, does that apply to your narrative as well? ”

          Strange loops. Read Hofstadter GEB.

          Every point raised here was covered by him 30 years ago. If you want to go even further back, read McLuhan.

      2. from Mexico

        @ patricia

        Here is Neiman’s essay the quote was taken from:

        She argues that morality is possible, just not in the same way science is.

        Einstein said the same thing when he asserted that: “While it is true that science, to the extent of its grasp of causative connections, may reach important conclusions as to the compatibility and incompatibility of goals and evaluations, the independent and fundamental definitions regarding goals and values remain beyond science’s reach.”

        You say: “It seems to me that ethics emerge from the nature of the object/creature and from its relationships with others and we discover them by finding that which promotes life and health, and which promotes deterioration/destruction.”

        This is utilitarian morality. It’s the morality that classical and neoclassical economics — whose only ethical imperatative is the maximization of aggregate utility — are based upon. But those like Hobbes, who lived during the religious wars, saw that it had its limitations as an absolute morality because the possibility of gaining eternal life in some cases could outweigh the desire to preserve this life. “What’s absolute,” says Cornel West, “is what I’m willing to die for.” “I would rather die in abject poverty with my convictions,” said Martin Luther King, “than live in inordinate riches with the lack of self-respect.”

        Your concern for passive nihilism is most definitely warranted, but there is another type of nihilism — active nihilism — that you fail to mention. It seems to me there ought to be some middle ground between passive nihilism’s hopeless resignation and defeatism and active nihilism’s belief that heaven on earth is achievable if only the will exists to make it so. Martin Luther King, for instance, in both his theology and his politics tried to walk a tight rope between the two:

        **beginning of quote***
        I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodyness” that they have adjusted to segregation, and, on the other hand, of a few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because at points they profit by segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred and comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. This movement is nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incurable devil. I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need not follow the do-nothingism of the complacent or the hatred and despair of the black nationalist.
        ***end of quote***

        1. patricia

          from Mexico, utilitarian morality is not what I meant. I was obviously unclear but am exhausted right now. Maybe some other time.

          Thanks for your continuing intelligent concerns for integrity.

    2. Philip Pilkington

      Good comment, as usual — and I totally agree on the RARE thing. It’s quite simimlar to the Hegelian Geist, as the methodologist Kevin Hoover points out in a recent paper.

      I’d go further on this point though:

      “And, as Susan Nieman has pointed out, “moral principles are never true.” “Truth is a matter of the way the world is;” she explains, “morality is a matter of the way the world ought to be.””

      What I mean by a theology or ethical system is more so something that structures discourse at a very advanced level. So, I’d agree that “moral principles are never true”, but I’d go further than that they are simply a description of how the world should be. I more so think of them as rules governing discourse at a very basic level. Principles that structure what can and what cannot be said. The cognitive term “framing” captures what I’m getting at to some extent but it doesn’t go far enough. I’m thinking more along the lines of Michel Foucault’s work in The Order of Things.

      So, for me neoclassical economics is certainly an ethical/theological system. But because of its dominance it literally does already structure our world. Sure, people don’t act like RARE agents, but the very fact that people in power believe — in some sense — that people act like RARE agents, ensures that policies are implemented that (a) assume that they act as RARE agents, (b) structure the world as if they act like RARE agents and (c) may in doing so pressure them to act a little more like RARE agents.

      1. Hugh

        Neoclassical economics is propaganda whose only purpose is to give kleptocracy intellectual cover by invoking half baked and misapplied Age of Enlightenment mumbo-jumbo about rational agents.

        Rousseau in his Du contrat social, in fact, recognized the duality and tension between the “man of reason” and the “man”:

        “En effet chaque individu peut comme homme avoir une volonté particuliere contraire ou dissemblable à la volonté générale qu’il a comme Citoyen. Son intérêt particulier peut lui parler tout autrement que l’intérêt commun ; son existence absolue & naturellement indépendante peut lui faire envisager ce qu’il doit à la cause commune comme une contribution gratuite, dont la perte sera moins nuisible aux autres que le payement n’en sera onéreux pour lui, & regardant la personne morale qui constitue l’Etat comme un être de raison parce que ce n’est pas un homme, il jouiroit des droits du citoyen sans vouloir remplir les devoirs du sujet ; injustice dont le progrès causeroit la ruine du corps politique.

        Afin donc que ce pacte social ne soit pas un vain formulaire, il renferme tacitement cet engagement qui seul peut donner de la force aux autres, que quiconque refusera d’obéir à la volonté générale, y sera contraint par tout le corps : ce qui ne signifie autre chose sinon qu’on le forcera à être libre ; car telle est la condition qui donnant chaque Citoyen à la Patrie le garantit de toute dépendance personnelle ; condition qui fait l’artifice & le jeu de la machine politique, & qui seule rend légitimes les engagemens civils, lesquels, sans cela seroient absurdes, tyranniques, & sujets aux plus énormes abus.

        “In effect, each individual can as a man have a particular will contrary to or different from the general will which he has as a citizen. His particular interest can be at odds with the common interest. His existence, absolute and independent by nature can cause him to consider what he owes to the common cause as a voluntary contribution, whose loss will be less injurious to others than the payment will be onerous to him. And considering the moral person who constitutes the state as a being of reason, not a man, he would enjoy the rights of citizenship without wishing to fulfill the duties of the subject, an injustice which if propagated would cause the ruin of the body politic.

        In order then that this social compact not be a vain formula, it tacitly contains this commitment, which alone can give force to all others, that whoever refuses to adhere to the general will be constrained to by the whole of the body: which means only that one will be forced to be free. For such is the condition which, each individual having given himself to the nation, prevents him from acting purely in his own self-interest. It is the condition which makes possible the artifice and the running of the machine of politics and which alone renders legitimate civil commitments which, without this, would be absurd, tyrannical, and subject to the most enormous abuses.”

        1. Hugh

          “For such is the condition which, each individual having given himself to the nation, prevents him from acting purely in his own self-interest.”

          should read

          “For such is the condition which, each individual giving to the nation, protects him from being subordinated to it.”

          The odd syntaxe and usage threw me for a bit.

    3. diptherio

      “There are of course times when hard cash will buy souls, and the remarkable thing is that such times are marked by civility, tolerance, and the smooth working of everyday life.”~Eric Hoffer

      Uhh…unless you live in the Congo. Civility, really? Is that what he calls apartheid, slavery, genocide of native populations? Tolerance? Please…if I ever meet this Hoffer fella, I’m gonna give him a good whack upside the noggin, see if I can knock something loose.

      What he should say is that times when cash buys souls are “marked by civility, tolerance, and the smooth working of everyday life” for those with lots of cash (and little soul). That last part is muy importante.

    4. casino implosion

      In short:

      ECONOMIST: “Life sure would run more smoothly if you people behaved like the rational agents in my models. So much more smoothly, in fact, that there must be something morally wrong with you if you refuse to so behave.”

  6. Boy with machine

    Deleuze and Guattari developed the concept of the “body without organs” (a phrase from Artaud). On page 9 of Anti-Oedipus, they described the body without organs as a union of “desiring machines” functioning as a factory of “desiring production”.

    They took their model from schizophrenia. In schizophrenics, the symbolic — the codes of language by which society operates — didn’t take; nor did the concept of the Oedipal drama around which psychoanalysis (and most modern philosophy) revolves.

    Instead the schizophrenic is operating within a non-linear fragmented reality, consisting of perpetual presents. For Deleuze and Guattari, this is the place to be: the pre-Freudian, pre-Oedipal wilderness, not yet confused by language.

    Schizoanalysis, their name for the operating theory developed in these texts to negotiate these ideas, works primarily from two perspectives: the schizophrenic, and the paranoid (the latter a reactionary model of the former.) The body-without-organs is the body as a schizophrenic understands it (as s/he understands his/her own body.) The schizophrenic perceives self as collection of machine parts. Deleuze explains: “In human relationships one whole person never relates to another whole person because there is no such thing as the “whole person”. There are only connections between desiring machines. Fragmentation is a universal of the human condition.”

    Artaud’s body-without-organs functions to free itself from the social and political tyranies of language (and the particular evils of Oedipus and psycholanalysis) which have territorialized the body. It must purge itself of any totalizing idea (“god”) or any substance which invades the body (such as excrement).

    With this model Deleuze and Guattari render psychoanalysis useless to understand psychic reality. In Anti-Oedipus they explain it as follows:

    “The schizoanalyst is not an interpeter, even less a theater director; he is a mechanic, a micromechanic. There are no excavations to be undertaken, no archeology, no statues in the unconscious . . . The task of schizoanalysis is that of learning what a subject’s desiring-machines are, how they work, with what syntheses, what bursts of energy in the machine . . . (Anti-Oedipus, pg 338)

    Since the source for this idea comes from a schizophrenic’s own expression of reality as he understands it – (Artaud’s famous spoken poem/radio production To Have Done With The Judgement of God) – theoretically it is a concept which has some authority or authenticity. Guattari discovered Artaud in the days in which he was working in a mental hospital and theorizing psychosis.

    In To Have Done With The Judgement of God, Artaud attacks “the social language of representation, with is malicious urge to fix and to define.” His text attempted to “end the judgement of god” by creating a body without organs. For Artaud, excrement, “god”, language, ideas, signs and signifiers, are all excess organs of which he tried to rid the human body, for they are the narratives by which the body is interpreted in society and thus territorialized. For example, Artaud’s own body was assaulted by Freudian psychoanalysis, which defined/

    interpreted him as insane, and its practitioners, the doctors who subjected his body to electric shock for eight years to try to ‘correct’ his abnormal state.

    Deleuze and Guattari understand “mad” or schizophrenic individuals as simply speaking a different language. They recognize that the schizophrenic must destroy language (as society knows it) in order to communicate (as Artaud does, for example) and consequently, they consider these individuals to be in touch with truths to which normal, sane society is oblivious. In other words, they seem to be suggesting that psychosis is closer to the “truth”; i.e., it is a more realistic experience of human reality.

    Deleuze and Guattari displace Freudian analysis as an adequate or even appropriate interpretation of psychosis. According to them, their model is a more useful understanding of psychosis and its manifestations in contemporary experience.

    But Artaud had no need to identify with anyone. Either he found himself from the start in total alterity (not alienation, but alterity from his own body) or he participates in a chain of beings, and for him, these were not necessarily human beings, but those who inhabit language or situations.

    But even Artaud’s words can’t be taken literally in terms of their meaning and signification. That’s about all anyone can say about him. The way Artaud proceeds is akin to the symbolic strategies of primitive societies. He didn’t need to identify with his own culture in order to transgress it or go beyond a nostalgic culture devoid of meaning or depth. He was already standing in the filter of the void.

    1. diptherio

      Deleuze and Guattari understand “mad” or schizophrenic individuals as simply speaking a different language…they consider these individuals to be in touch with truths to which normal, sane society is oblivious. In other words, they seem to be suggesting that psychosis is closer to the “truth”; i.e., it is a more realistic experience of human reality.~Boy with machine

      The human psyche is an infinitely complex territory of which any map cannot but be a massive (infinite?) simplification. The Freudians have their map, the Jungians have theirs, and Deleuze and Guattari have theirs. The reality is that none of them can be said to be any closer to the truth than any other: they are merely different from one another, not better or worse. Each map yields information not found on the others, but none is complete, no matter how much information it contains.

      Different languages is a good metaphor. We don’t say that Italian’s representation of reality is “truer” than German’s, do we? In the same way, I think, we need to understand all of our disagreeing theories. Neo-classical economics has yielded some insights, but that doesn’t make it true. Keynes’ map of the economy also contained insights, but that doesn’t make it “true” either. One theory or the other may be more useful for one purpose or another, but that is a matter of pragmatism, not a matter of truth.

      In reality, the big-t Truth can never be known; which is to say it can never be wrapped up in words (or equations). All we have are our little-t truths to get us by. Problems arise when we start arguing over which of our little-t truths is really the big-t Truth.

      1. diptherio

        This seems tangentially relevant.

        The Quantum Conspiracy: What Popularizers of QM Don’t Want You To Know from Google Tech Talks.

        Richard Feynman once famously quipped that no one understands quantum mechanics, and popular accounts continue to promulgate the view that QM is an intractable mystery (probably because that helps to sell books). QM is certainly unintuitive, but the idea that no one understands it is far from the truth. In fact, QM is no more difficult to understand than relativity. The problem is that the vast majority of popular accounts of QM are simply flat-out wrong. They are based on the so-called Copenhagen interpretation of QM, which has been thoroughly discredited for decades. It turns out that if Copenhagen were true then it would be possible to communicate faster than light, and hence send signals backwards in time. This talk describes an alternative interpretation based on quantum information theory (QIT) which is consistent with current scientific knowledge. It turns out that there is a simple intuition that makes almost all quantum mysteries simply evaporate, and replaces them with an easily understood (albeit strange) insight: measurement and entanglement are the same physical phenomenon, and you don’t really exist. [emphasis added]

    2. patricia

      Hi, Boy with machine, I’m going to disagree with you here.
      I’ve spent time with quite a few schizophrenics during various hospital stays. It is terrible to be so psychologically fragmented. I have found them to be heroic, not because their illness shows how we also should exist, as Deleuze and Guattari indicate, but because they simply endure.

      The schizophrenic’s perpetual present is also accompanied by an ever-shifting sense of the past and future. Unlike the being-here-and-now of yoga-health, it is a constant wrenching from one moment to the next. The very foundation of self is in flux and there isn’t a still-enough place from which to find any patterns in the world. Imagine how it would be to wake up in the morning bewildered by the hold of gravity, and then find it astonishing that it’s still holding an hour later. Imagine how confusing it would be if one part of you has a deep conviction that everyone deserves to die or maybe get by while you are also certain you are a devil or a saint, not sure which, maybe both. Imagine how it would feel to “come out” of an episode, not knowing which is which or where, and then eventually fall back into another.

      The machine metaphor works as an attempt to drain away the pain and raw confusion by concentrating on the oily clicking and swooshing of rubbing and moving cool iron and steel. Yes, it’s “pre-Freudian, pre-Oedipal wilderness, not yet confused by language”. But it’s also paralyzed by chaos and ever-shifting mirrors, and it hurts most of the time. There is no porous boundary between interior or exterior–it creates deep feelings of vulnerability. The meaning in language shifts as quickly as the moment and the sheer difficulty of trying to put words around things that can’t be remembered can be defeating. As a place to be, it is dreadful.

      It also looks creative in the raw way that a 3-yr old’s drawing can look. But it is actually creative only for those who see it from the distance of over-civilization. We feel delighted and relieved/released, like Alice in Wonderland, because we have intact selves and an understanding of underlying consistency. Therefore we can use the condition of the schizophrenic as a device to dig out the worst of our hide-bound stiff-necked assumptions and accreted pointless rules.

      But unless we also take on the utter pain that is experienced by those with the illness, philosophical conclusions will be inadequate. The human does not thrive in such a state, nor does the world exist in such a chaos, and therefore most of the schizophrenic’s expressions swim in a deep sense of loneliness and meaninglessness. To confuse that for reality/accuracy and truth (T or t) is, in my opinion, hugely disrespectful of the real heroism of these people–that they endure. For whom, if they are lucky enough to reach old age, there is often a “reward” of cessation of the worst symptoms, something that the rest of us obtain from birth and don’t give a second thought because for us sanity is like water for fish.

      1. Boy with machine


        It’s difficult to write about Deleuze and Guattari’s relationship to schizophrenia, and I’m afraid I may have misrepresented their thought (which cannot be summarized in a few paragraphs) and I could have worded certain passages better, especially the sentence “for Deleuze and Guattari, this is the place to be….”

        So give them a chance to respond in their own words (and my apologies for the length of the excerpt):

        “The ego, however, is like daddy-mommy: the schizo has long since ceased to believe in it. He is somewhere else, beyond or behind or below these problems, rather than immersed in them. And wherever he is, there are problems, insurmountable sufferings, unbearable needs. But why try to bring him back to what he has escaped from, why set him down amid problems that are no longer problems to him, why mock his truth by believing that we have paid it its due by merely figuratively taking our hats off to it?

        There are those who will maintain that the schizo is incapable of uttering the word “I”, and that we must restore his ability to pronounce this hallowed word. All of which the schizo responds by saying: they’re f**king me over again. “I won’t say I any more, I’ll never utter the word again; it’s just too damn stupid. Every time I hear it, I’ll use the third person instead, if I happen to remember to. If it amuses them. And it won’t make one bit of difference.”

        Every time that the problem of schizophrenia is explained in terms of the ego, all we can do is “sample” a supposed essence or a presumed specific nature of the schizo, regardless of whether we do so with love and pity or disgustedly spit out the mouthful we have tasted. We have “sampled” him once as a dissociated ego, another time as an ego cut off from the world, and yet again – most temptingly – as an ego that had not ceased to be, who was there in the most specific way, but in his very own world, though he might reveal himself to a clever psychiatrist, a sympathetic superobserver – in short, a phenomenologist.

        Let us remember once again one of Marx’s caveats: we cannot tell from the mere taste of wheat who grew it; the product gives us no hint as to the system and the relations of production.

        The product appears to be all the more specific, incredibly specific and readily describable, the more closely the theoretician relates it to ideal forms of causation, comprehension, or expression, rather than to the real process of production on which it depends. The schizophrenic appears all the more specific and recognizable as a distinct personality if the process is halted, or if it is made an end and a goal in itself, or if it is allowed to go on and on endlessly in a void, so as to provoke that “horror of … extremity wherein the soul and body ultimately perish” (the autist).

        Kraepelin’s celebrated terminal state … But the moment that one describes, on the contrary, the material process of production, the specificity of the product tends to evaporate, while at the same time the possibility of another outcome, another end result of the process appears. Before being a mental state of the schizophrenic who has made himself into an artificial person through autism, schizophrenia is the process of the production of desire and desiring-machines. How does one get from one to the other, and is this transition inevitable? This remains the crucial question.” – Anti-Oedipus, pg 23-24

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        But back to from Mexico. We see this as an illness. But the human brain has limited cognitive capacity. Very limited.

        Your point re not having a good hold on linear time as we experience it is intriguing. If I’m not mistaken, some religions and even physicists question our interpretation of time as not what really happens.

        So what would happen if you got a more direct perception that was closer to how time actually operates but your brain could not process it? That does not make them any more able to adapt and lead productive lives, but it may mean what we see as illness is something quite different.

        1. Ms G

          ” … it may mean what we see as illness is something quite different.”

          Yes, absolutely. I think it *does* mean that, not just that it *may* mean that. There is no doubt anymore that definitions of what is “normal” or what is a “mental illness” have been, and remain (still, unfortunately), constructed in the context and service of very narrow socio-political agendas. This is one reason why Dr. Oliver Sachs’s writings about his patients, in whom he saw extraordinary perceptions or abilities, were/are so important. There’s obviously so much more to say on this subject, but this is a finance and econ blog and this is a comments section!

          1. Ms G

            Mainly, though, we all show our ignorance when we don’t realize that all of us exist along a continuum of consciousness, awareness and cognition.

        2. Philip Pilkington

          I think you’re going in the right direction, Yves. But you’re already applying terms that don’t mean much from a fully schizophrenic perspective. Time, as we’ve known since Kant, together with space, is just part of our psychic apparatus. It does not exist “out there”. There is no “out there”. Its all “in here” — i.e. in the mind.

          When we say that a schizophernic’s perception of time breaks down we’re already applying our own normative notions of time. It’s not right. It’s like talking about a blind person’s visual perceptions. It doesn’t really mean much.

          What schizophrenia (and hard hallucinogens) show is how this apparatus actually functions. By showing how the mind tries to construct reality under extreme duress we get a very real sense of the same principles as they operate “in the background” for most of us. In this sense it brings out a Truth that we find hard to articulate without an outside point of reference — it is also why a lot of people think they experience a new Truth when they take hallucinogens. In a sense, they do.

          By the way, the best work in the 20th century on this is the following:

          Bedtime reading, ya’ll.

        3. Glenn Condell

          ‘Your point re not having a good hold on linear time as we experience it is intriguing. If I’m not mistaken, some religions and even physicists question our interpretation of time as not what really happens.’

          ‘(Physicist Julian) Barbour argues that we live in a universe which has neither past nor future. A strange new world in which we are alive and dead in the same instant. In this eternal present, our sense of the passage of time is nothing more than a giant cosmic illusion. ‘There is nothing modest about my aspirations,’ he said. ‘This could herald a revolution in the way we perceive the world.'” Cosmologist Lee Smolin notes that Barbour has presented “the most interesting and provocative new idea about time to be proposed in many years. If true, it will change the way we see reality.’

        4. patricia

          Yves, late response:

          Yah, we know little about time and yet there it is everywhere around/within, hinting of overlaps and meldings and loops and spirals. W00t! I agree that we largely experience it linearly because of our limitations. I’m not sure that the schizophrenic’s experience of time is more accurate. It is certainly more to the point. Maybe because their experience is so discrete and narrowed, they can go off in more directions, like what can be done with bits and bytes in a computer. Maybe if we were larger creatures, we could use and transcend time via this method. I don’t know.

          For me the great revelation was in how human mind uses stories to extrapolate what is inside and outside. The schizophrenics were obsessed by story-making, continual attempts and re-attempts to make a place for themselves. I would become exhausted when hanging out with them–I can only imagine how exhausting it was for them. The anti-psychotics that are routinely given them are also called major tranquilizers.

          Their stories jerked and galloped. Parts were adopted into the next story but placed in an entirely new context, and suddenly something would re-appear that hadn’t been mentioned for, say, three days. I experienced their ramblings as intensely creative and came away from them with the same alterations I felt after seeing Guernica (for eg). And they were being creative, too, but from a desperate attempt to “make sense” (which perhaps is actually what all art is). The only one who gained from it was me (and any other person with creative curiosity but there are rare few of them floating around in the psychiatry/psychology field). That made me sad.

          But over time, their stories became somewhat tedious and I suspect it is because content is limited by the singular. Every schizophrenic I got to know (in the short times I was with them) left me with a sense of an individual, even though they could not grasp that for themselves. And so, perhaps the singular doesn’t function as bits and bytes, after all, or at least not very far.

          It is not their different understanding/experience of time that causes us to see them as disordered. Setting aside the political and socially-demeaning presumptions, they are in genuine existential pain and I think it’s because they don’t exist in the way they are meant to exist.

          I can’t find any hints of evolutionary advancement in their condition. I might be wrong. I would much prefer to be wrong. We humans will go through endless contortions to tame the psychologically unbearable idea that there is meaningless suffering. I haven’t yet found a way to bear it with integrity.

          1. Nathanael

            I’m not sure why it’s unbearable to so many people.

            I accepted the existence of meaningless suffering a loooong time ago. I still want to try to *reduce the incidence* of meaningless suffering. But it’s simply part of life.

            Just like meaningless happiness and luck are.

            The world is far more random, unintentional, and meaningless than most people think. This is something one learns when studying science if one studies it properly! I realized eventually that this is also the main theme of the works of Douglas Adams.

      3. Ms G

        Patricia, thank you for your eloquent comment on the profound and relentless suffering that schizophrenics experience from their involuntarily fragmented internal experience.

        I would go further, however, and note that trolling the “territory” of schizophrenia (a medical condition that afflicts real human beings without their consent) as these frenchmen have done, in the service of fabricating what I consider to be one of the great monuments of charlatanism produced by “creative” French philosophers post WWII, is offensive in the extreme — for the reason you alluded to, which I am paraphrasing as exploiting a tragic human condition as a field to harvest clinically cleaned up material to construct a “philosophy of psychology.” It is shameful, really. Fortunately nobody who actually works with or interacts with people suffering from schizophrenia appears to have paid much attention to this “work.”

        Many intelligent people have exposed that there is no-there-there in much of the pompous blatherings of Messrs. Deleuze and Guattari, but here is one that I was able to find quickly via Google. In very short form, it clarifies why that these two wrote dense and vaccuous nonsense pretentiously and indecipherably enough to convince too many otherwise intelligent people that they were onto some really deep stuff.

        1. Philip Pilkington

          While I don’t fully agree with D and G’s glorification of schizophrenia — or that of RD Laing’s or any of the other anti-psychiatrist people, I will say this: Guatarri, Laing and a lot of those other figures spent their lives helping these people. They gave them dignity back. If you look at the institutions they founded — like the La Borde clinic, which still exists today — the work they did there and the testaments of some of their patients (Mary Burns etc.) I think its quite clear what supposed “exploitation” these people were engaged in. Frankly I think its touchy-feely PC statements like the above — coupled with crude attacks on a half-understood “postmodernism” — that are really shameful.

          1. Philip Pilkington

            Mary BARNES. Excuse me. Typo. Mary Burns was Friedrich Engels’ mistress. Weird Freudian slip there…

            Anyway, read up on Mary Barnes and tell me about the exploitation of the mentally ill by the “evil” postmodernists.

          2. Ms G

            Thank you for self-correcting yourself on Mary Barnes, which you had spelled Burns. I’m aware of her story, thank you again. Ms. Barnes was a patient of Dr. Laing.

            I’m not seeing the connection to Deleuze and Guattari’s using aspects of schizophrenia as building blocks for their indigestibly written view that “madness is political” (see, e.g., Foucault — a great writer and thinker) and schizophrenics have been unjustly categorized and treated by the politico-psychiatric establishment.

            But then again, I’ve never heard critiques of the “post-modern” French philosophers labeled “PC.” Interesting new factoid, thanks Mr. P.

          3. Philip Pilkington

            I’ve always found it amsuing that D and G are considered “unreadable”. I found differential equations “unreadable” until I studied what they meant. Everything is “unreadable” until you know the background.

            D and G were very clever — as were the other post-structuralists — because they brought this “unreadibility” to the fore of their work by using terminology pulled from strange sources (Artaud etc). It was a rhetorical tactic and it is remarkably effective if you understand what they’re trying to do.

            And it generates the remarkably amusing result that people call them “unreadable”. Well, they’re perfectly readable if you understand the background to it. Just like everything else. There’s plenty of scientific papers that I can’t read because I don’t understand the background, yet I assume that other people are, in fact, able to read them, so I save my criticisms for something I’m confident I can read. Not so for post-structuralism. Its got a strange status in that everyone is an expert — even though they say that they cannot read it. Funny reaction. But very odd.

          4. Ms G

            @Pilkington. Phil, you must be right. Some of us are just simple. Or maybe, as with a lot of academic economic writing, those gentlemen wrote gobbledygook to obscure some rather, er, simple concepts. Just my .02. You’ve drawn quite a lively discussion today!

            Over and out!

          5. patricia

            Mr. Pilkington: “Frankly I think its touchy-feely PC statements like the above — coupled with crude attacks on a half-understood “postmodernism” — that are really shameful.” Frankly, I think it is possible to disagree with people without going pompous and rude. I mean, since there’s actually no actuality out there, you have no real basis to snap at what’s in Ms G’s head, or in mine.

            I repeat my original statement: Accurate conclusions cannot be legitimately drawn regarding the schizophrenics’ existence without taking into account their chronic suffering and the particular biases that such suffering causes to their world views. Yes, their experience of reality opens up, to us, all kinds of interesting windows into the ideas of existence.

            But I will tell you something you don’t know, Philip. Psychological suffering absolutely sucks. It is a constant disintegration of things one never knew had integrity, and for some, there is no apparent end to the repetitious episodes thrust on them. There’s nothing “touchy-feely” about acknowledging that pain isn’t something on which to hang a philosophy.

            “Unreadability”: Once in a while D and G fall into poetry and I liked those parts. But I repeatedly got bored and eventually wandered away because too much energy was required for the small returns offered. That’s an opinion. I am not an idiot. Neither am I an expert on their books, but I am an expert on some of the material they cover: what it means to be mentally ill.

            And unlike you, I get to make critical statements because I believe there’s a reality out there even if rather soupy, shifty and always mysterious.

            Good night, Philip

          6. patricia

            Oh, one last thing. There is no intelligent parallel to be drawn between the experience of the schizophrenic and the mind-opening that hallucinogens can create.

          7. Ms G

            Mr. Pikington,

            There is a certain irony, too, in the fact that philosophers such as Deleuze and Guattari devoted much thought to identifying the “subject/object” relations within social power structure and then advocating their subversion, whilst simultaneously constructing a philosophy (of psychology) built on a new subject/object relationship where they became the subjects and schizophrenia (or some carefully selected aspects of it) and by extension those suffering from it, became the objects. I think that’s called “reification” or something.

            Well, good night.

            Ms G

  7. Tom

    I think ‘normal’ is not normal. Why would consistency be desirable – sound rather boring to me and, the desire to have normalcy sounds like someone has a desire to manipulate as many folks into doing something…a mechanization .
    I truly believe everyone has a PhD in something…although you would think, with all the folks trying to get a PhD in economics that it must be somehow vitally important for the species as a whole….might be that trust, truth and honesty free from predators would be more important. Just saying that everyone has a PhD in something and it is not always recognized thru the blinders of our developing/changing/flowing/plastic civilization.

    Neuroscience is making large strides in understanding how maliable the human mind is and, how adaptive it truly is. It is breaking down old thinking about components of the brain being static, unchanging …..seems the old brain thinking models were accepted by economists in their rigidity to the rational man staticism.

    I really recommend The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D
    (I thought that much of the latest neuroscience findings were commonly known in everyday living – shows me how much …not getting a higher education kept me from learning rigid doctrine that is now proving wrong)

    1. Susan the other

      “I think ‘normal’ is not normal.” I think so too in this way: All our everyday delusion or religion is a defense against mental disintegration. A reaction against a process that is continuous and needs to be mitigated on an ongoing basis, like breathing to keep from suffocating. And here’s why I think this: I had a secondary encephalitis at age 35 from chicken pox. It was horrific. After I recovered I joked that I was smarter because only my dumb cells fried. And I did concentrate much better. That was weird but true. But I also had a terrifying side effect – temporal lobe epilepsy. I still can’t describe how awful it was when it struck, scrambling my brain, preventing me from speech, making me nauseous for hours afterward. I’m convinced that it shared a similar manifestation with schizophrenia and it was truly incapacitating. I couldn’t tolerate the drugs but, gradually, I got over it. All I am left with, now 30 years later, is a condition diagnosed as “visual migraine” which is not understood at all. It is actually quite common; many people have this misery.

      So to make a point: The fact that visual migraine is so common makes me wonder. I think I know the origin of my visual migraines, what about other people? I once read that the optic nerve never stops firing. Even when you are not looking at things; for instance when you sleep. No doubt it manufactures dreams 24/7. And dreams are the stuff of reality, clearly. So I wonder if the optic nerve plays a central role in the manufacture of “normal” reality. And if there is a difference between blind people and seeing people in the rate of schizophrenia?

      I’m not sure what this has to do with economics. Except as a caveat to take it with a grain of salt, which everyone seems to understand these days.

  8. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Fascinating to read this essay and not heard “quantum mechnics” mentioned once. Microfoundationlist Newtonian physicists drive themselves batty trying to predict whether Atom A versus Atom B will decay first. Quantum mechanics merely say that after a certain period of time half the atoms in a substance will have decayed, and don’t even hazard a guess why Atom A decayed and Atom B is still around. This is the same reason I love epidemiologists! (cf. the link to neonicotinoid pesticides and colony collapse disorder, which the microfoundationalist chemists and bologists initially claimed were unrelated).

    Anyway, struck me as a valid analogy, though I well might be mistaken.

    1. from Mexico

      Most physicists, however, I believe have moved on; whereas most economists are still stuck in the 17th century.

  9. Schofield

    Richerson and Boyd in their “Not By Genes Alone” book argue that it is energy saving for human beings to simply adopt other human being’s “narratives” about how things work in the world especially from those they look up to or observe having success with their “narratives.”

    From time to time some human being or beings will critically examine these “narratives” and argue for their replacement by a different “narrative” or a modified version of the “narrative.”

    Richerson and Boyd point out that this form of “cultural” evolution is similar to gene evolutionary theory ( I’m avoiding going into epigenetic theory ) where a mutant gene that’s adaptive to change or changes in the environment will spread. Unlike gene evolution, however, cultural evolution is much faster in its adoption and given development of critical processes, technologies, and institutions, like morality, fire, animal husbandry, agriculture, literacy, money (debt tokens), Division of Labour and government it’s enabled human beings to develop much more complex societies than other animals.

    Put simply this is all about information processing, applicable to gene and cultural evolution, in which strategies are applied to that information which support individuality or solidarity or a balance of the two.

    1. from Mexico

      But what about “mutant genes” that are momentarily adaptive, that result in inordinate fecundity, that spread like wildfire and take over the organism, until they kill it, along with themselves? Leukenia is what comes to mind. What initially appears to be a highly adaptive mutation, in the end, is not adaptive at all.

      The same can be said of mutant cultural genes. It seems to me that cultural mutations like Christianity, liberalism and Marxism might appear to be adaptive in their initial stages. But they all, given time to run their course, end up being non-adaptive to the social body. And in fact, I think a good argument can be made that liberalism is on the verge of exterminating humankind, along with a lot of other species on the planet.

        1. from Mexico

          Yes, what I am speaking of is liberalism as it was conceived in the 18th century, and now is experiencing a renaissance in a slightly modified version as neoliberalism.

      1. Nathanael

        in response to “from Mexico”:

        I’ve been talking about memes and genes which are “short term adaptive, long term maladaptive” for a while now. That’s what you’re talking about.

        I’ve commented before that the concept of “well-adapted” or “fit” genetically is only meaningful with reference to a timescale. The organisms which are well-adapted are defined as those which have lots of descendants — so the question becomes, when do you measure that? The organisms with lots of descendants 100 years from now are not the ones with lots of descendants 10,000 years from now. (This is due mostly to environmental change, such as climate change.)

        I’d love to discuss things more with you, we seem to be on the same wavelength (so to speak).

  10. The Dork of Cork.

    What do you make of RTEs look into the mind of Fingers Fingleton yesterday ?

    What a poor work of fiction………
    Although quite funny in a limited sort of way.
    Always always get the proles to wear those horse blinkers so that no rational context can be formed within the viewers little heads.

    You come away with the impression that because the paperwork was not so good the losses were built into the system !!!

    As if the proper paperwork had anything to do with the burning of resources during the building of the “asset” whose function whether conservative or Cavalier is to capture the hidden value of the fiat…

    I.e. free banks destroy physical capital to transfer real money claims on the remaining physical economy.
    That is what they do ?

    Too much money lent ?
    What does that mean ?
    Fingers great sin me thinks was that he did not engage in a sustainable rate of extraction

    That is reality is it not ?
    Or is it.
    I am confused…………

    AIB paperwork was probably a bit less sloppy but the losses were real never the less.

    “But the loans must be paid back”………….with fiscal bank money.

    The creepy Donal Donovan fills in the priestly blanks …..the moral force that must give the stamp of moral rectitude that is needed so as to use fiscal (tax) money to fill in the credit holes.

    The overall structure of the private monetary envoirnment is never NEVER questioned.

    Ireland is stranger then any fiction that Stevenson could ever imagine.
    Travels with a Donkey comes closer to the truth.

    What is this place ?
    If you are unable to recognize reality as projected by the people who have replaced the role of priests (people who define reality / unreality) – Are you mad ?

    I see Donal Donovan talking baby talk……

    He is a respected member of of the international financial community……
    I must be crazy Phil…..

    What must I do to adjust to this new or perhaps old reality ?

  11. diptherio

    One thing neo-classical economists are actually pretty good at is hiding, or at least obfuscating, their moral commitments. “Economics,” they say, “is a positive science. We speak only of what is and do not philosophize about what should be.” But their philosophy is simply hidden, not absent, and their denials only serve to deceive the unwary, sometimes even the economists themselves.

    “We only describe how things are, not how things should be.” But the morality is there: in the questions that are not asked, the social arrangements that are not questioned.

    A neo-classical economist in 1830’s Alabama, say, might publish a paper on the effects of whipping on slave output. He might show how returns to whipping first go up, as the slave is encouraged to work harder and pay closer attention to his task to avoid punishment. He might also find that whipping at some point shows diminishing returns, as the injuries from the whippings interfere with the slave’s ability to work, and as the slave slowly loses the will to live at all, which is necessary for punishment to be an effective motivator. He thus recommends that slave-owners be careful not to whip their slaves too vigorously, lest they inadvertently defeat their own purpose.

    Now, if someone were to protest that slavery is unjust, the economist would simply state that his is a positive science, not a normative one, and that he only talks about how things are and makes no claims about the justice of any particular arrangement. He might add that his work is, if anything, good for the slaves, since he has shown the folly of “over-beating,” and may thus spare some slaves some amount of lashing.

    Of course, framing the question as “what’s the right amount to beat a slave?” implies that there is nothing wrong with the institution of slavery itself. Slavery is, in fact, lent an air of legitimacy by being made the subject of bland, academic study. And then, the economist will also use words like “efficiency,” that have a positive valence and which tend to give moral credence. The effect is to lace “positive economics” with normative judgments. To speak of “efficient whipping” is to take a normative stance in favor of whipping, regardless of protestations to the contrary.

    The discipline of economics sometimes seems mainly like an exercise in avoiding ethical questions by pretending they don’t exist.

    1. Austin From Boston

      Economics,” they say, “is a positive science. We speak only of what is and do not philosophize about what should be.”

      That function is left to the law and economics movement, which basically characterizes justice in terms of relative economic value. Thus, property rights are no longer sacred, but can be overridden when the laws of economics dictate so, as in the very scary SCOTUS decision to extend the law of eminent domaine to takings by private entities.

      Indeed, Greg Mankiw recently argued against taking serious criminal action against banks such as HSBC for laundering money and trading with the enemy because of their economic importance.

      1. LifelongLib

        Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are rights. Property is an arrangement that may further (or impede) the exercise of those rights.

    2. Austin From Boston

      “The discipline of economics sometimes seems mainly like an exercise in avoiding ethical questions by pretending they don’t exist.”

      Welcome to positivism–only facts and figures matter; ethics and morality don’t count. But of course, as we saw with the TARP debate over banker and Wall Street compensation after the bailouts, abstractions like the sanctity of contract are still valid when it suits the powerful.

    3. JTFaraday

      Great comment!

      And, really, there is no school of economic thought that is not about efficient whipping, in one way or another.

  12. BlackBox

    I like the analogy of musical chairs to show that there are macro questions which cannot be addressed with micro information.

    When one chair is removed in each round of musical chairs, it is a macro truth that exactly one player will be caught without a chair when the music stops. No amount of information about the individual players can tell you this, although the individual characteristics can tell you which players are more likely to be shoved aside. Individually, each player would choose to find a seat, but the macro constraint guarantees that that desire cannot be satisfied for all the players.

    In economics too, there are macro truths (about monetary matters, for example) which do not arise from the aggregation of individual actions, but act as constraints on those aggregates.

  13. Jim

    What I find exciting about such discussions is that we seem to be edging towards a consideration
    of the impracticality of adhering to or aspiring to or promoting “objective truth” and “universal values.”

    We begin to enter into a discussion of the centrality of interpretation, not truth, in politics.

    Kant never called knowledge “interpretation” because he still thought that those a priori frames ( like space, time and the intellect) with which the human being is equipped are fixed and identical at all times for everyone.

    To, at least, consider that our human existence is in the world not as pure reason but as individuals with interests, expectations and cognitive instruments that we inherit from cultures and languages, is in my opinion, a step in the right direction.

    We seem to be interpreters who look at things with interest. Outside of the prejudice of knowledge as a mirror of nature, it becomes more difficult to imagine a world given objectively–instead it seems more persuasive to see the world a given through involvement.

    The old metaphysics (the ideal that an objective order exists independent from us and to which we ought to conform in order to know and act) is now under attack.

    A politics, without truth, may now become possible. On the internet and on this blog we are faced with a plurality of interpretations which seems to urge us to think of concepts as problem solving instruments rather than firm foundations from which to critique others who use different concepts.

    In the politics of interpretation the “real” still exists but only within certain paradigms, only within certain historical conditions or only within a particular political epoch.

  14. casino implosion

    I think Pilkington’s ongoing project to demonstrate that economics is a branch of ethics or morality and not a science is very important and needs to be don– and done well– which is why it frustrates me when he veers into gibberish, citing those old charlatans Deleuze and Guattari and making meaningless analogies with topology.

    1. Philip Pilkington

      Thanks. Sort of. But I will say: everything is an analogy. Everything (including mathematices, which a space-time analogical system). One is only meaningless if it conveys nothing. And I think the Menger Sponge does convey something — confirmed by the fact that people understand what I’m getting at and I understood what D and G were getting at.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      This is a blog, not an academic publication.

      So your boxing Pilkington around the ears will hopefully help him debug his arguments.

  15. craazyman

    You have to make something from something! Instead of RAREs I’d theorize “Mostly Insane Metaphysical Entities” (MIMEs). That captures both the atom and the void, which is the overall philosophical problem.

    You can play this game with your toilet too! Look at it and try to figure out where it starts and stops. Most people would not count the bolts that secure it to the floor. But if you don’t count the bolts, where do you draw the line? Do you count the handle you flush it with? Or is that an appendage? You’re right Phil, it never stops. Just flush the damn thing and stop worrying about it or you’ll be up to the lid in you know what. And what about the lid? Is that part of it? Once you start it’s hard to stop.

    1. craazyman

      personally, if it’s me, I will count the lid and the handle but not the bolts. that’s my own narrative, my own delusion. but the funny thing is, there’d be others like me out there. that’s a weird thought. ahahahahah hahahahahahah

      1. Philip Pilkington

        “The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles…when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones.”

        ― Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

        For some reason the Irish instinctively get this point. James Joyce too. It’s weird. Must be something in the potatoes… ;-)

  16. Skippy

    Wasn’t the original author of classical economics some drunk guy lying naked – in his – vineyard at high noon?

    Skippy… Sorry PP, love your work BTW.

  17. Schofield

    from Mexico says:
    February 12, 2013 at 9:40 am

    “But what about “mutant genes” that are momentarily adaptive, that result in inordinate fecundity, that spread like wildfire and take over the organism, until they kill it, along with themselves? Leukenia is what comes to mind. What initially appears to be a highly adaptive mutation, in the end, is not adaptive at all.

    The same can be said of mutant cultural genes. It seems to me that cultural mutations like Christianity, liberalism and Marxism might appear to be adaptive in their initial stages. But they all, given time to run their course, end up being non-adaptive to the social body. And in fact, I think a good argument can be made that liberalism is on the verge of exterminating humankind, along with a lot of other species on the planet.”

    Richerson and Boyd deal with non-adaptive cultural genes in their book and why they arise. They argue two things that our bodies and brains are only equipped so far to process information from the environments we find ourselves in and since gene modification is a slow modification process our development of cultural genes has far outstripped the hunter-gatherer societies we spent such a long time living in. So two examples illustrate this:-

    We tend to avoid eating anything bitter but certain bitter plants contain drugs that help heal us. We have learnt over time to over-ride our “taste distrust.” This could be argued to be mal-adaptive and yet it isn’t.

    Finally, technologies we’ve developed can be very difficult to understand like money because of their complexity and you get such things as the mal-adaptive Neo-Liberal dogma that government fiscal policy should be run like a credit card.

  18. steelhead23

    Phillip, Yves if fond of showing how economists themselves are not rational – that there models routinely spew wrong results, yet they tend to see their models as “correct.” (Is reality then wrong?). I would suggest that Krugman read Bernays. Bernays and the modern marketers well understand that consumers are NOT rational and they have devised tricks (sex sells baby) to engender irrational buying behaviors.

    A little story of a successful, if irrational, business model. Snob appeal and brand loyalty. I once had a conversation with the CFO of a high-end fishing gear company. His company’s products were of very good quality, but were priced 20 to 30% above competitors of similar quality. “Why”, I asked. “Snob appeal”, he answered. Folks that bought his gear were made to feel exclusive – after all, they paid top dollar. This exclusivity (doesn’t everyone want to be the biggest swinging **** around?) engendered not merely purchases of rods and reels, but of logo-ed clothing, money clips, bottle openers, etc. To be honest, I was quite surprised by this answer as I was steeped in McConnell. I knew nothing of marketing. Marketing and propaganda work. Please note that the term “Fiscal Cliff” is a propagandistic frame. No one wishes to go over a cliff ala Willy Coyote. So a surprising number of folks, dependent on the safety net, are quite willing to see it shrunken and frayed lest we all go over this cliff, likely feeling quite self-sacrificing (making their actions more pleasing to themselves) and all warm and fuzzy inside, while they shiver in the cold. In human decision making emotion frequently crushes logic.

    1. Philip Pilkington

      I totally agree. I’m trying to write a book at the moment on how and what neoclassical economics does and the first part is an in depth survey of microeconomics as nonsensical theological crap. Basically about how the rationality thing is used to veneer over the fact that human desires are evolutionary amd malleable — which anyone that has attended a focus group can confirm that the marekters are well aware of. Let’s see if I can pull it off.

      “sex sells baby”

      I’m stealing that… ;-)

      1. Skippy

        by Miriam H. Zoll

        When it comes to spending money on consumer goods, Madison Avenue apparently never underestimates the power of a whining child. And as the advertising industry increasingly aims commercial pitches directly at the very young, more and more companies are turning to child psychologists to help them hone their message. Some specialists in child development and psychology are disturbed by the trend.

        Dr Allen Kanner is one of them. A clinical child psychologist for nearly 20 years, Kanner works with children from the inner city and the wealthy suburbs. But regardless of where they come from, Kanner says, the children he sees have one thing in common: a growing, even insatiable, desire for material goods.

        “In my practice I see kids becoming incredibly consumerist,” said Kanner, who is based at the Wright Institute, a graduate psychology school in Berkeley, California. “The most stark example is when I ask them what they want to do when they grow up. They all say they want to make money. When they talk about their friends, they talk about the clothes they wear, the designer labels they wear, not the person’s human qualities.

        “I see parents in this context, too,” Kanner continued. “They come to me and say their kids are depressed and ask them for violent video games or the food they see on TV. Parents say they feel in conflict. They want to say no, but they don’t want to have their child be upset with them.”

        It’s not just the pervasiveness of marketing campaigns aimed at children, Kanner said. Nowadays advertisers are making their pitches to younger and younger audiences, many of them not yet out of diapers.

        “We became concerned about this because the practice is mushrooming and the age of the children targeted is dropping rapidly,” he said. “It’s about two years old now.”

        Do advertisements directed at toddlers work? According to Kanner, they do. “Recent studies have also shown that by the time they are 36 months old, American children recognize an average of 100 brand logos,” he said. – snip

        “You have to be careful when it comes to research with children,” said David Poltrack, executive vice-president for research and planning at CBS Television in New York. “We accept that children don’t have the same kind of built-up resistance to advertising that adults have, so we don’t allow the same kinds of things in advertising for kids that we allow for adults. There has to be a level of responsibility.”

        But Barry Ornstein, senior researcher at Hill Holiday Connors Cosmopoulos in Boston, says it is unrealistic for mental health professionals to think psychology could ever be removed from the process of designing effective commercials that motivate people to buy products.

        “Should psychologists have their own kind of Hippocratic oath? I don’t know. That’s their business,” he said. “We are in the business of manipulating people and the question is, are we going to manipulate them in a good way or a bad way? You cannot separate psychology from what we do in advertising research. How can you do research without a psychological component? And, like any tool, psychology can be used well or badly.”

        So where does this leave the child psychologists? The APA’s Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest is scheduled to review and consider the letter sent by Kanner and his colleagues when it meets this spring. But Farberman, the association’s spokeswoman, says she thinks it is highly unlikely the association will take an official position.

        Protecting children from advertising
        APA’s Council of Representatives supports a task force’s call for stricter regulations on ads geared to kids.

        June 2004, Vol 35, No. 6
        Print version: page 58

        The advertising industry spends $12 billion per year on ads targeted to children, bombarding young audiences with persuasive messages through media such as television and the Internet. The average child is exposed to more than 40,000 TV commercials a year, according to studies. And ads are reaching children through new media technologies and even in schools–with corporate-sponsored educational materials and product placements in students’ textbooks.
        But the buck stops here, if APA and its Task Force on Advertising and Children have it their way.

        In February, APA’s Council of Representatives adopted the task force’s policy and research recommendations to help counter the potential harmful effects of advertising on children, particularly children ages 8 and younger who lack the cognitive ability to recognize advertising’s persuasive intent.
        With this latest move, APA joins the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Kaiser Family Foundation and several other organizations that have recently suggested similar policies.
        And, APA has been making strides in getting some of the task force’s recommendations put into action.

        Among its recommendations, the task force calls for advocacy efforts for legislation to restrict advertising targeted to children 8 years old and younger and for conducting more research showing the influence advertising has on young children (see sidebar for the full list of recommendations).

        So far, APA’s Public Policy office has met with members of Congress, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to address advertising’s effects on children. APA also plans to co-sponsor a briefing in Washington, D.C., this month with Children Now and the American Academy of Pediatrics about child-oriented ads delivered through digital media and multicasting technologies.

        The task force report, with its empirically based recommendations, is helping to guide such advocacy efforts and to do the same for research–both major goals, says APA Board of Directors member Barry Anton, PhD, who is also a member of APA’s Council of Representatives.
        “We can use it to advocate to state legislators, organizations and foundations, and we can use the task force report as a way to request funding for research,” says Anton, who chaired a subsequent task force on children and adolescents.

        Ultimately, such efforts aim to spotlight the question of fairness in child-directed advertising, says Dale Kunkel, PhD, senior author of the task force’s report and professor of communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Is it fair to allow advertising to an audience that is too young to recognize commercial messages are biased and have a persuasive intent?”

        Skippy… BRANDING is what use to be done to live stock, informing of ownership. White hot poker to kids minds at months old… PROFIT!!!! in perpetuity~~~

        1. Skippy

          What is – not discussed – in the above, is the parents/adults have already been subjected to the psych op (albeit a simpler – not as scientific) and how many generations one would have to go back to find a non influenced base line… eh.

          Skippy… any system that requires the alteration of a child’s mind in order for it to preceded – function, based on securing profit from their mental enslavement via sophisticated conditioning… well… and some wonder why we have problems… barf.

  19. Noni Mausa

    Our eyes perceive the world by jiggling slightly, collecting streams of photon signals, running them into the brain and interpreting these signals. If the incoming streams are not providing crisp, unambiguous signals, we go a step farther by tilting our heads, blinking, moving back and forth, making various guesses about what we see, and so on.

    And that’s just the visual system. Our cognitive systems, our sense of self, our intellectual selves are much less straightforward. To use them reliably we have to constantly “jiggle” them, jump from one layer to another, triangulate between or driving appetites, social myths, our preprogrammed habits, our hormonal drives, whatever science we know, our perception of our immediate circumstances, and on to infinity, to have a hope of grasping and dealing with the world in a reasonable manner. We’re not just creatures of three Freudian layers, but of dozens of layers, most of them silent.

    Most of us can do this, amazingly enough. But we are hobbled or even crippled if we don’t recognize and make allowences for the contributions of the silent layers of our selves. We are so complex that if we think we are actually simple, nothing but tragedy can follow.

    It follows that anyone who tells or teaches us that the exercise of choice and will is simple, is doing us a serious disservice.

  20. pdooley

    I am surprised to see no mention of complexity/adaptive systems in this thread, given the discussion of the molar vs. molecular viewpoints. Are economies complex systems whose behavior fundamentally cannot be predicted from the behavior of the individual components? Even if the properties of the individual components are well understood, and perfectly identical (which non-economists appear to recognize with near unanimity is not a characteristic of “unique” individual humans)? So it seems to me that if useful economic predictions can be made at all, it can only be on a macro level.

  21. Schizo Stroller

    As a researcher of both the mental health recovery movement and Deleuze and Guattari, I’m afraid I have to find fault with your image of schizophrenia as used here. It is NOT a progressive brain disease, many recover, and if one takes the time to look at recent research you will find that there are many new methods of recovery, often developed in collaboration with people diagnosed with schizophrenia themselves. I’ll point out the Nearing Voices Network’s use of Voice Dialogue and Non-Violent Communication (as used by Rufus May in the documentary on UK’s Channel 4, ‘The Doctor Who Hears Voices”) and the Finnish Open Dialoue method.
    Much of this new work understands schizophrenia as a form of emotional distress due to trauma and pathological communication within the OTHERS close to the sufferer (possibly from a neuroscience point of view this fits in with developments that situate the emotional brain as developing before the cognitive brain evolutionarily (and that after the ‘reptilian’ parts), and also in child development, the mammalian-emotional part being essential to live young nurturing)

    Many do recover, I have enough to study a PhD and explain this.

    There is then the issue that many psychologist (eg Bentall but others too) think the schizophrenia label does not fit, in meta-analyses the manias tend not to be that different, and success in recovery tends to stem from focussing on the symptoms not the diagnosis, the DSM and ICD tend to try to categorise human distress that comes in many flavours and is not so easily packaged. And creates a kind of empty signifier.

    It is this empty signifier that Deleuze and Guattari use, much in the way that Marx critiques Smith and Ricardo. Snmith and Ricardo do not describe ‘real existing capitalism’ but models that do not ‘actually’ exist in the world that are used in classical economics.

    So ‘schizophrenia’ is such, and the term is more a sponge than the experience. There are probably some people diagnosed with schizophrenia who talk in a word ‘salad’ but this is by no means the experience of most so diagnosed. It is for this reason, that neuroscientific research into ‘schizophrenia’ has far more success when looking at specific symptoms such as voice hearing or paranoia than when looking for ‘schizophrenia’

    Rather than looking at the schizophrenic as incoherent, success has been far more forthcoming when psychologists and psychiatrists have actually been bothered to try to understand what they are talking about. See the work of Marius Romme here.

    Deleuze and Guattari use there understanding (which as I understand it is not to be confused with a clinical diagnostic annyway) as a way of being, that is based on their theories of multiplicities and as an attack on Freudian thought, specifically Lacan.

    This is not to say the work is not useful, Guattari’s ideas stem from his work at La Borde clinic, not too disimilar from Laing’s Kingsley Hall, and his own Three Ecologies stem in part from Bateson’s Ecology of Mind, including his work on double-binds. With the current work in recovery on communicative disfunction, and the success of doing so, the work of Bateson has resurfaced. It is important to remember that Bateson worked with war veterans who were traumatised by war, and many of the schizophrenics he worked with would today more likley be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Dsiorder. However where the diagnosis would overlap this bolsters the trauma-communication argument.
    Guattari’s group work that led to theories of schizoanalysis is also useful in looking at the success of the group work that is fundamental to the Hearing Voices Network.
    Deleuze’s parts on schizophrenia were more informed by artists, like Artaud, Beckett and Joyce. The ‘body without organs’ is taken directly from Artaud, and as such should never be confused with schizophrenia objectively and although it can be acknowledged to be a metaphor of someone’s actual experience of psychosis, to extrapolate it to an actual diagnosis is to make the same mistake any such extrapolation of subjective experience would make.
    And as such, it is important to remember that schizophrenia is a form of philosophical imagery for Deleuze, a concept.

    That is not to say Deleuze’s philosophy is not useful, his understanding of morphogenetics through bifurcations as opposed to an Aristotlean ideal is useful to help understand brain development and the course of the distress experienced by the schizophrenic, as is his understanding of the topology of multiplicities and rhizomes when trying to get away from the myth that brain disease is created by excesses of certain chemicals in certain areas, such as the rubbish spouted about chamical imbalances that has far more to do with pharmaceutical companies selling their products than any understanding of how the brain actually works. The brain is more like systems within systems, like a weather systems affected by the earths geography, that affect each other in a complex manifold, with certain areas of the brain creating intensities due as much to the effect and bifurcations of life events and the sedimentation of certain communicative habits due to the reterritorialisation of other people’s affective states that leads to a deterritorialisation of emotional experience leading to such symptoms as paranoia and voice hearing, as they are to do with the specific territory itself.

    However it would be a mistake to think that Deleuze and Guattari’s schizophrenia is a real thing.

    1. from Mexico

      Schizo Stroller says:

      “It is this empty signifier that Deleuze and Guattari use, much in the way that Marx critiques Smith and Ricardo. Snmith and Ricardo do not describe ‘real existing capitalism’ but models that do not ‘actually’ exist in the world that are used in classical economics.”

      I certainly don’t want to get into the debate about schizophrenia, because I know nothing about it (although I find the comments on this thread, including yours, incredibly interesting). But I think you take the wrong lesson away from Marx’s critique of Smith and Ricardo. Smith and Ricardo formulated a theory based on partial truths. In fact, their truths are so incomplete that their models have only a passing resemblance to reality, with just enough truth to make them verisimilar. We can speculate as to why they did this, whether their motives were benevolent or malicious. But that’s really beyond the point. The end product was the same: highly defective models of reality.

      Here’s how Robert L. Heilbroner describes the huge gap between the theory and the reality of capitalism in Behind the Veil of Economics:

      ***beginning of quote***
      [T]he degredation of the working class was not that which Smith expected. The brutality, not merely the monotony of work; the decline in real wages that lasted until in the 1820s; the rise of the industrial slum that drew from de Tocqueville the remark that “civilization works its miracles and civilized man is turned back almost into a savage” — all these were failures of a kind that Smith failed completely to foresee. These material — not moral — consequences of rapid accumulation were not an integral part of Smith’s scenario but were unquestionably an integral part of English (and to a lesser extent of Continental) and American early capitalist history.
      ***end of quote***

      So was Marx criticizing this reality of capitalism, or was he criticizing Smith’s model, which may of had a little bit more basis in reality than the Garden of Eden, but not much? The answer of course is that he was criticizing both.

      The lesson to take away from this, then, is that science has a propensity to create these highly reductionist models — reductionist to the extent that they have almost no connection to reality, and that border on the nonsensical.

      But Marx was intelligent and perceptive enough to know that in a Modernist age, dominated as it is by materialist dogma, this is the way the game is played.

      Marx’s critique of capitalism was actually far more nuanced than what either his simple-minded materialist followers (Marxists-Bolsheviks) or simple-minded materialist critics (capitalists-fascists) give him credit for.

      1. Schizo Stroller

        Thankyou for your correction of my simplification of Marx.

        Fortunately I believe my main point is bolstered by your statement: “Smith and Ricardo formulated a theory based on partial truths. In fact, their truths are so incomplete that their models have only a passing resemblance to reality”

        But I accept that i have read far more on schizophrenia and Deleuze and Guattari than I have Marx… so apologies for the crude reading of Marx.

      2. Chris Engel

        You have to have simple, reductionist models to break down the basic effects of certain changes on outcomes in a system.

        1. Nathanael

          Simple — specifically, oversimplified — models are the ONLY way anyone understands ANYTHING.

          This is actually bolstered by work in psychology. People are hard-wired to operate most of the time with fairly simple heuristics. Dealing with complicated, detailed models requires a type of thinking which nearly everyone finds exhausting and which most people avoid doing whenever possible.

          Humans are also quite incapable of holding large, disparate masses of data in the front of their minds at any time.

          The only way to approach knowledge is to start with simple models, get one which is roughly correct a lot of the time, and then start working out refinements. I don’t think any other method of knowledge acquisition / consolidation has *ever* worked.

          (“Reductionist” is another issue. Two methods of analysis are “reductionist” and “holistic” and they’re both useful. “Reductionist” would be analyzing organisms in terms of biochemistry; “holistic” would be looking at them in terms of evolution. They both require oversimplified models.

          In practice, reductionist methods are usually better at avoiding going down the “wrong track”, or spotting when you have gone down the wrong track.

          This is even true in economics. The “reductionist” method of reducing economic behavior to the behavior of individuals has *DISPROVEN* the entire theory of classical economics (which was originally a holistic theory), by showing that the known real individual behavior does NOT general the classical theory of macroeconomics.

          However, economists proceeded to pretend that their pet theory hadn’t been disproven, by inventing fictional “homo economicus” people. This sort of wilful denial of reality in order to protect a worldview is simply cultic or religious thinking, which is a whole ‘nother issue.)

    2. Philip Pilkington

      SS wrote: “It [i.e. schizophrenia] is NOT a progressive brain disease, many recover, and if one takes the time to look at recent research you will find that there are many new methods of recovery…”

      I wrote in the piece: “At one extreme of the disorder, in paranoid schizophrenia, the affected person may manage to reconstitute their world in some shape or form by making sense of the breakdown by postulating some grandiose series of delusions. While at the other extreme, in disorganized schizophrenia or hebephrenia, the breakdown becomes progressively worse and worse and the affected person typically loses the battle against the fragmentation of their reality. This usually results in institutionalisation until death.”

    3. patricia

      Schizo Stroller, I found what you wrote very comforting.
      It makes sense that what we have been pleased to call schizophrenia is better understood as the result of severe relational trauma at early stages of development. The schizophrenics I met rang deeply inside of me, and it’s likely because I was being frequently hospitalized for what I later realized was a wretched case of PTSD, with occasional brief reactive psychosis. (This after being assigned any number of other “diagnoses”.)

      It seems to me that the DSM/ICD manuals would be more useful if they were completely rewritten from the premise that most diagnoses (symptom clusters) are the consequences of and responses to trauma in the human psyche.


  22. Schizo Stroller

    Sorry, one more note, but reacting directly to your criticism of micro-foundations, you seem to have tried to bring in the analogy of schizophrenia from Deleuze and Guattari’s use of molar and molecular, and I think you may have had much more useful fuel for your critique if you had recognised that D&G’s molar/molecular concept comes from measurements of gases not schizophrenia.

    So one can look at the molar (macros) level as a distinct quantity, the measurement of a gas as a whole, whilst the molecular (micro) is what constitutes the gas, but which behaves separately to the gas at a molar level, which varies with temperature and pressure (the change in which is what D&G refer to as intensities).

    You then could have made your argument perfectly clearly (and for the record I think you have a good economic argument) without writing all the rubbish about schizophrenia, especially as the argument that the micro-foundationalists idea of the RARE is but a projection of themselves that is somehow faulty and unaligned to reality is closer to Lacan who D&G critique.

    The misunderstanding of schizophrenia however does not undermine your conclusion, that one needs to find a narrative rather than interminably dig down to more molecular units. You may be interested to know that there is vast literature on the use of life narratives as a therapeutic tool in the recovery from schizophrenia.

    I also recommend reading Sloterdijk with regard the historical formation of the subject as a breather from Foucault, Lacan, D&G etc. It’s like a breath of fresh air, trust me.

    1. from Mexico

      Newton’s laws of motion used as the basis for models of human society may be what classical economic theory is all about. As the mathemeticians Ivars Peterson and Vitanyi explain, that was most definitely the scientific fad at the time Adam Smith formulated his theories:

      The treating of human beings as if they were the same as inert particles of matter, with no free will and no ability to change their own course, subscribes to the philosphy of Thomas Hobbes, as explained here by David Allen Gillespie in Nihilism Before Nietzsche:

      ***beginning of quote***
      Hobbes spoke for nearly every empiricist when he argued that Descartes had established his system upon a faulty foundation by positing the I as fundamental (Replies, AT, 7/:171-96; CSM 2:121-37). The I and the whole subjective realm in this view are merely permutations of matter. Consequently, there is no free will. Human beings, like all other beings, are governed by the laws of matter. The supposedly free will is in reality only the last impulse before motion.

      ***end of quote***

    2. Philip Pilkington

      For Deleuze and Guattari its all the same thing. Molar/Paranoia/Identity, Molecular/Schizophrenia/Difference, — they’re just arbitrary binaries representing the same underlying concept. If you didn’t get this, I don’t think you understood their work.

      I took the “schizophrenia” representation as an example for narrative purposes so that I could engage with Noah Smith — who only has displayed any methodological understanding when discussing psychopathology (the rest of his work is mainstream New Keynesian stuff and based on misunderstandings regarding RARE agents and will always end up at a dead-end — although it might get him a job).

      I also took the schizophrenia example because it allowed me to make interesting metaphors and parellels. Its all just narrative, you can do it any way you want — which is the point of D and G’s work. And my narrative would have been less interesting had I talked about gases.

      Regarding my “understanding” of schizophrenia. First of all, you have misrepresented me. You implied that I said that schizophrenia is incurable and then got all mad because you think its not. But I never said that. You were just projecting onto me and then arguing with that projection. I clearly said that in cases where no reaggregation can take place (extreme hebephrenia) the likely course will be institutionalisation until death. I then said that in cases where “paranoid” reaggregation takes place people can get their bearings once more.

      Secondly, if you read between the lines you would have realised that my position is implicitly closer to Lacan’s and thus I agree with what you’re saying about forming narratives etc. But this is not a piece on schizophrenia. I’m just using schizophrenia as a metaphor. And you’ve stepped in and taken issues with what you have convinced yourself are my theories of schizophrenia because this is your area of study. You should be more discerning in how you argue with people. Otherwise you end up misrepresenting them and saying silly things like this:

      “…writing all the rubbish about schizophrenia…”

      The rubbish is only in your mind. You want to argue with someone who thinks that schizophrenia is incurable because this is your project/narrative, so you’ve just pretended in your own mind that I said that, when I never did. You should be more discerning.

      1. patricia

        Phil, you wrote: “For Deleuze and Guattari its all the same thing. Molar/Paranoia/Identity, Molecular/Schizophrenia/Difference, — they’re just arbitrary binaries representing the same underlying concept. If you didn’t get this, I don’t think you understood their work.” Better not to presume that if people don’t agree with Deleuze and Guattari, it must be because they don’t “get it” or understand.

        Many of the ideas you’ve presented on NC are interesting; they are vigorous beginnings. You use creativity to discover and recreate your ideas. I recommend you also use that creative openness towards even the most ridiculous. Almost anything carries some material that can be made useful, if only to broaden and deepen your approach. Otherwise you will eventually lose even the fresh beginnings from petrification.

        Also, if one stays somewhat detached from one’s ideas, disagreement won’t cause quick anger, since it’s not you that is being criticized but only the ideas.

        I wish you the best.

  23. Calgacus

    Replying to a nowadays overfamiliar – indeed omnipresent – view of truth and the mind:

    Different languages is a good metaphor. We don’t say that Italian’s representation of reality is “truer” than German’s, do we?
    But what if wise old Germans & Italians agree? And their representations, their thoughts on truth and the mind are truer, more advanced thoughts than the soporific, the sophomoric “modern despair of truth being knowable”? Here is a German guy’s Encyclopedia v3, Philosophy of Mind , Section 440:

    “Therefore, when people assert that man cannot know the truth, they are uttering the worst sort of blasphemy. They are not aware of what they are saying. Were they aware of it, they would deserve that the truth be taken away from them…”

    He goes on to quote an old Italian guy:

    Io veggio ben che già mai non si sazia
    nostro intelletto, se ’l ver non lo illustra
    di fuor dal qual nessun vero si spazia.
    Posasi in esso, come fera in lustra,
    tosto che giunto l’ha; e giugner puollo:
    se non, ciascun disio sarebbe frustra.

    In reality, the big-t Truth can never be known; which is to say it can never be wrapped up in words (or equations). All we have are our little-t truths to get us by. Problems arise when we start arguing over which of our little-t truths is really the big-t Truth.

    No, the problem is when we think that there are little-t truths & big-T Truths. As that German said, I forget where:

    “Absolute” Truth? As if there were any other kind!

  24. Newtownian

    “Mainstream economics has a long way to go before it can recognise and integrate these ideas and I for one, thinking as I do that it is a theology or ethical system rather than a science, am rather pessimistic that it can make this leap.”

    And therein lies the problem and the con. Economics and management present themselves as objective sciences. And while they may have developed some good principles they are essentially narratives, ideological and self reinforcing/referential with an internal logic and language that prevents challenge.

    I suspect the only thing that will discredit them if when a group or individual comes up with a revolutionary new perspective economics money and people that allows them to beat the market as Keynes once tried and as I understand it failed.

  25. Nathanael

    You dismiss lab observation far too cavalierly. This is lazy thinking.

    After all, plants and animals and even rocks are well-known to behave differently in the lab than in nature. Yet lab research has been extremely useful in figuring out how they do behave. Furthermore, *practically all useful research in psychology* is lab research, even though people behave differently in the lab than in the rest of life, etc.

    Laboratory experiments will be extremely successful as a means of figuring out how people behave economically. Guaranteed. It’s going to take a while just to figure out the baseline procedures for how to set up such experiments properly, however — just as it did with plants.

    1. Nathanael

      For instance, some of the early successful results of behavioral economics experiments showed:
      (1) People care very much about “fairness”.
      (2) People do not treat “play money” and “real money” the same way.
      (3) An amount of money below a certain threshold (the “too small to worry about” threshold) is thought about differently from a “normal” amount of money. In short, people are less concerned about such quantities and will give them away or spend them cavalierly. (Note that this phenomenon is abused heavily in marketing.)
      (4) An amount of money above a certain threshold (the “wealth beyond your wildest expectations” threshold) is thought about differently from a “normal” amount of money and will frequently cause people’s greed to exceed their desire for fairness — when it wouldn’t with a “normal” amount of money.
      (5) The definition of “fairness” varies culturally, by a huge degree.

      These are all extremely useful results for starting to figure out how people relate to money, but it’s only the beginning of figuring out how to even conduct more complicated experiments. The field is in its infancy, in the period of developing random disconnected observations, such as physics was at the very start of the Rennaissance. In a couple of decades, it may be developed enough to potentially start constructing more cohesive theories, and a few decades after that, it will probably be able to help inform macroeconomics.

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