Careful with that Razor, Occam !

Mentioned earlier that Foucault & Quine (and many others) consistently warn against the “simplification” implicit in scientific method when arriving at descriptions of the world. Part of my thesis that “received rationality” is unwise in complex systems, and I’ve already used the thought of “Avoiding cutting one’s own throat with Occam’s Razor” in my original “manifesto“. Found an interesting aphorism from Ted Samsel, in a Google thread started by Jorn called “Two thoughts on e-life” namely “ObConcept : Occam’s Razor meets the Procrustean Bed” (apparently the Athenian tyrant Procrustes had a bed of fixed length into which he “trimmed” miscreants to fit – one size fits all idea.)

Normal Mailer on US Psyche and 9/11

Normal Mailer on US Psyche and 9/11. Full text from the Times interview with Mailer, from Google (in two parts) via Jorn. Long interview on thoughts around the US Psyche, following 9/11 / Enron / Andersens / WorldCom etc and “why nobody loves us”. Powerful stuff about rationality, the complexity of life, and a reasonable balance between security and freedom, based on statistics.

Quite a bit on principles of democracy and pragmatism. Also seems Mailer is part of that growing number of commentators who seriously thinks it’s possible the world as we know it may not exist for another century. Several serious scientists have the doomsday scenario driving their efforts to find alternative worlds to accomodate the remnants of the human race. Heavy.

Bjorn Lomborg

Bjorn Lomborg. Saw this guy do his “alternative” documentary on the Earth Summit last night on the beeb. Turning most global warming / natural resources / industrial polution / global economics received wisdom on its head. The individual mechanisms may well all be technically (scientifically) correct, but the long term emergent effects are much more complex, and all decision making based on such “scientific” information is entirely political. His (much challenged) claim is that well intentioned “conservationists” are typically calling for completely the wrong lines of action, whereas big bad US / Global economics / Dubya are probably doing the right long-run things, if not necessarily for the “highest” of motives. Wide-ranging issues covered in convincing pseudo-scientific style. Need to follow-up further links to this guy. Powerful themes around chaos and complexity, and pseudo-periodicity being mis-interpreted as trends over selected timescales (the Antarctic Survey Ice Core Records stuff – incidentally, housed in the next door office) Also the same lines around evolution and success of species and the effect of man on all of this. Magic stuff, [ post note ] but beware enormous quantity of scientific backlash against Lomborg since he first published in Danish back in 1998 – Notice however many of the counter-arguments are “statistical trend” based (Cf S J Gould). The Skeptical Environmentalist debate could be useful test-case for my thesis. When is bad science better than good-science ? – I wonder what anti-Lomborgers think of Wolfram ?)

Decision Making Chaos at NASA

Decision Making Chaos at NASA. Dr W H Jones at SpaceRef.Com (via Jorn). Interesting observation that “political considerations” force rationalisation of immediate tangibles to justify investment, even where these bear no relation to the real long term goals. (As an aside – the long term goal is apparently to get us off the planet – CF Stephen Hawking’s motivation.)