Fetishising Mathematical Models. Economists as The New Astrologers

Interesting piece in Aeon on The New Astrology by Alan Jay Levinovitz.

Almost three decades ago, when we were developing training in business information modelling, a colleague once warned me never to forget a model was always a model, however effectively the model fitted its purpose, it wasn’t the actual world we were dealing with. I’d previously already developed concerns that even in my own engineering experience things weren’t always as objective as they appeared. It takes a lot more than maths and physics to keep 10,000 rivets flying in close formation.

As that engineering business information modelling evolved into ever more generic reference-data-based asset-lifecycle information architecture, it wasn’t hard to spot this warning applied to pretty much any model of anything we know about our cosmos. Even that brings to mind another colleague who admitted to regrets having suggested a philosophical reference(*) to one of our number, and yet another who eventually penned a skit on comparing schools of art with different schools of philosophy each modeller might happen to have read over a weekend.

One thing we know about the world is there is more than one way to look at it. All our models of reality have their limits.

The more free-thinking science-based rationality wins the war against dogma, religious or otherwise, the more dogmatic the PC acceptance that it’s the scientific way or no way. A well-formed model of well defined objects with predictable behaviour is de-rigeur even for the social sciences. Even where political dimensions of decision-making are accepted, the free and democratic expectations are that justifications meet basic rules of objective logic, and global economics is a big as it gets for our earth-bound eco-system.

This morning, before even picking up the Aeon link above, I found myself tweeting in reaction to the economic fears and forecasting coming out of the Brexit and Bremain eco-political camps.

When political economists
start using numbers,
it’s time to ignore them.
Economics isn’t a science.

I’m not the first to coin the idea of autistic economics. Our pre-occupation with arithmetic is indeed a fetish, an addiction we can’t seem to shake off. Worth a read.


[(*) The actual reference was to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus.]

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