Friday, June 28, 2013

Psychophysics Is Psychobabble?

This is a spot-on article on the seemingly fashionable practice nowadays to make some quantitative description of various ideas in social science.

Psychophysics secretly dominates our social sciences. Such physics-ing often improves experimental practice, but its mathematical methods face new challenges. As every infant knows, but too many scientists ignore, people aren’t biological billiard balls.

I'd go even further and say that people aren't even quantum balls.

Clearly, people are subject to the laws of physics. But nothing in physics chooses. Physics needs no strategies or game theory. Its main business is mechanical causation. Physics has no future. Like the best Buddhists, it feels only the forces of the present. Human psychology is different from physics precisely because it evolved to weigh and choose between forces from different possible futures.

Physics developed in situations like this: Everything of type X always does Y under conditions Z, where X, Y and Z are mathematically related. And simple scenarios such as: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Some people behaviors are like that. But many are not.
And I've lost count how many times I've seen discussion on the economy or in politics that kept on using various physics terms such as "every action there must be a reaction" in trying to justify or strengthen their arguments.

This topic is no different than the "Physics Envy" topic that I've posted quite a while back. The problem with adopting physics concepts in describing areas involving human actions and interactions is not just based on what has been said here in this article, but also the fact that many of the people who are adopting these physics concepts are not physicists, and have only a very superficial understanding of what they are adopting (think Deepak Chopra). So they may be using the same words and phrases, but they are severely bastardizing the concept.


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