Hiding reality under a pile of words: ideology, faux philosophy, and crackpots

Modern physics, the ideas inherent in quantum mechanics and fundamental particles, bothers some folks. Sometimes so much they attempt to create an alternate reality. That gets Luboš Motl going. He describes how Philosophy became a euphemism for crackpot physics. What he describes is a phenomena seen in many issues where ideology trumps reality such as in economics, climate, or medicine.

“philosophy has turned into a social movement where one can hide if his ideas have been falsified – killed by a procedure that is the most important building block of the scientific method. Because philosophy as an institution is a hideaway for people who are wrong, it is a factor that isn’t just neutral. Instead, it reduces the efficiency of the scientific method.”

“The point is that the partial evidence and even the rock-solid evidence just doesn’t have the ultimate power to decide and beat other arguments. The ultimate power comes from people who describe themselves as the philosophers. To a large extent, they treat themselves as infallible and their authority as permanent. This intrinsic dependence on the highly imperfect humans – humans that are not subject to any mechanism that would guarantee that they improve themselves or converge closer to the truth – is the real #1 reason why science works and philosophy doesn’t.”

“The principle is about the priority of tools and it’s the calculations that are treated as more powerful in physics than verbal arguments. It is an extremely important principle necessary for physics to work. “

The idea that mathematical calculation is a priority – often asserted in physics as “shut up and calculate” – is also true elsewhere. A standard dictum in management, for instance, is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. The issues surrounding the measurement of temperature are a major problem in climate change. It is when you define the measures, how they are obtained, and the ‘analysis’ or calculations based on those measures to reach your conclusion that you actually have something for productive discussion or debate.

“This ability of the humans to unify all of their knowledge in this crisp way is stunningly inspiring. People like Carroll who are “sad” if they see concise foundations of physics that leave no room for babbling just hate science – and they don’t belong to science. Philosophers may prefer a world where the foundations of physics require 500 pages of rhetorical babbling. But our world isn’t like that. The “verbal”, conceptual foundations may be summarized in one sentence or two and all the other “details” are a matter of calculations. This conciseness of the foundations is pretty and people who actually like theoretical physics have been attracted by this conciseness (and the expectation that they would unify the foundations even more than that – make them even more concise) – exactly the aspect that repels physics-haters like Carroll.

An ordinary layman could be simply said to be deluded, intellectually insufficient to grasp the true foundations of modern physics. However, people like Carroll are pompous fools, aggressive self-confident idiots who try to paint their intellectual defects in rosy colors and decorations such as the word “philosophy”. They won’t hesitate to claim – and look into people’s eyes while doing so – that their misunderstandings of modern physics makes them intellectually superior while those who dare to understand the basics of modern physics are intellectually impoverished.

The correct term for these people is “arrogant cranks” and the more other philosophers fail to protect their trademark “philosophy” against parasites like Carroll, the more accurately the words “philosophy” and “crackpottery” will be turning into synonyma.”

This brings to mind the recent Congressional hearing about IRS malfeasance. The commissioner also provided this rather arrogant superiority in proclaiming his ignorance of statute and dependence upon what he claimed was “common sense.” It seems that if you can’t calculate, then hubris and a lot of uncommon words make for a good blanket over what is piling up under the carpet.

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