On Political Science

Michael Heath asks my thoughts on this video mocking political science that Andrew Sullivan posted on his blog. Sullivan says;

A lovely rip-off of the moronic quantification and irrelevance of what now passes for political science. It’s why I escaped from this faux-bullshit-science that has no grasp of history, philosophy, or politics:

I respect Andrew Sullivan, but I heard this kind of argument all through grad school, and I was never remotely convinced by it. To simplify, there are two types of people in political science–those who go into it because they care about issues and want to save the world, and those who go into it because they actually want to analyze how things work. Turns out, it takes math to analyze how things work. It takes formal, or at least positive, theory to properly make sense of the world. Why do those who don’t take that approach have such a visceral hatred of those who do? I’ve never really been sure, except perhaps they’re so emotionally wrapped up in issues that they’re simply offended by those who aren’t. Certainly that was the case with some of the Marxists I knew in grad school. They were adamant that merely analyzing how things were was in fact participating in maintaining the status quo, when what is needed is radical change. (Those who’ve read Marx will recognize that sentiment.)

But contra Sullivan, my experience is that if you talk to most of the quantitative political scientists they tend to have very good grasps of at least two of those three fields–history, philosophy, or politics–Sullivan listed. My undergraduate mentor is the first one who taught me that political science needs clear theoretical concepts guiding its research; he also taught me political philosophy. My graduate mentor taught me that there’s an important distinction between political advocacy and political analysis; he had a master’s degree in history.

I suppose I could as easily mock Sullivan for not understanding math or biology, both of which I think are critical to understanding human behavior, and I’d probably question his knowledge of economics, too. But where does that get us? In Sullivan’s case, I think I’d peg him as just something of a classical humanities scholar. I don’t have any problem with that. But that he’d think that’s the end-all, be-all of the social sciences? That’s rather shallow, and it diminishes him in my eyes.

First, Sullivan obviously has a regrettably narrow definition of politics. (Compare to that of my graduate advisor.) Second, as at least a single data point showing that mathematical analyses really do relate to politics as narrowly defined, here’s a recent report on a quantitative analysis showing that early voting depresses turnout. Third, if we don’t do rigorous analyses of how the world really works, how people really behave, and how policies are really functioning, then all the passionate concern in the world won’t help us get to effective solutions. Philosophy and history are valuable (and I personally think history is crucial), but they’re not sufficient in and of themselves to give us guidance for the future.

Advertisements

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
This entry was posted in Political Theory. Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to On Political Science

  1. Jon Rowe says:

    I admittedly suck at math (well, relatively speaking; I think my math IQ is somewhere in the “average” area).

    That’s why I guess Law worked better for me than Poli Sci. I do teach political courses; but they are political aspects of law.

  2. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Hey, sucking at math has never stood in the way of most of the law and economics crowd!

    Criticisms of the relevance or desirability of the life academic aside — and Gawd knows I’ve thrown a few dozen brickbats in that direction over the years, myself — I believe Deirdre McCloskey (who is most certainly an academic insider) is right on the money in her criticism of the extent to which the use of sophisticated mathematical techniques has often led to a process over substance attitude in contemporary economics. Shorter version: mere statistical significance does not ensure actual significance, a fact the authors of many existence proof journal articles would do well to bear in mind.

  3. AMW says:

    I don’t care for math-heavy economics, myself. But that’s because I’m not a good mathematician. I prefer empirical stuff (probably because I can read it without crossing my eyes).

  4. James K says:

    DAR, I agree with McCloskey about the over-mathing of economics. I’m a quant myself and I know how useful quantitative approaches can be, but like any tool mathematics can be misused but unlike many tools it can be hard for a non-expert to pick up on it. The trouble with statistical significance is that up until recently econometricians didn’t have the ability to analyse large data sets so pretty much any effect big enough to meet statistical significance was large enough to be important. But now it’s possible to analyse massive datasets with elaborate specifications, often with nothing more than a desktop PC. When you can filter out more of the noise, you can find smaller and smaller effects, often to the point where they’re too small to matter.

    Still there’s a world of difference between a genuine expert taking issue with the way certain tools are used and a former PhD student complaining that if you want to make the world a better place you actually have to understand the world and that takes math.

  5. James Hanley says:

    I should add that, in political science at least, the term “quantitative” is used (much too) broadly by its critics, to include all rational choice theory and nearly all empirical work (unless it’s anthropological-type thick description). I don’t want to put words in Sullivan’s mouth because I don’t know that he means that, but many in his general camp would.

    For the record, I’m not great at math either (thanks to my 7th, 8th, and 9th grade math teachers). And I agree with those above who note that any tool can be overused (when all you have is a hammer, etc., etc.). But of course that critique applies equally to those who have but a single methodology that isn’t mathematical. But I count a basic understanding of bivariate statistics to be necessary general knowledge.

    At any rate, since I became chair of our political science department I instituted a required research methods course and a required statistics cognate. My students are all interested in “political” issues (narrowly conceived), largely because they’re not “tainted” by esoteric grad school profs yet. And the quality of their senior research projects has increased dramatically from what their forerunners were doing, because they understand the concept of actually applying some method and analysis to their research questions.

  6. AMW says:

    I’m not sure why, but when I think “math” in economics, “statistics” doesn’t come to mind. (Probably because a computer is doing all of the math for you.) So when someone complains about too much math in econ, and then starts talking about statistical significance, it gives my brain whiplash.

    When I think about too much “math,” I think about too many esoteric mathmatical models.

  7. tom van dyke says:

    Thank you for the McCloskey paper, DAR. I did take all day to go through it in bits and pieces—too much for this bear of little brain all at once. I cut the below to paste in as its strongest argument

    On the one hand: It’s obvious, you will agree, that a “statistically insignificant” number can be very significant for some human purpose.

    …the mirror of your own point. We only study what we measure, and conversely, tend to only measure what we already judge to be significant.

  8. Heidegger says:

    October 30, 2010 at 7:11 PM
    James, has your experience in the world of political science and social sciences in general been such that you would agree with this political breakdown among teachers, professors, associate professors, etc. Just curious.

    “At other schools we found these representations of registered faculty Democrats to Republicans:
    •Brown 30-1
    Bowdoin, Wellesley 23-1
    Swarthmore 21-1
    Amherst, Bates 18-1
    Columbia, Yale 14-1
    Pennsylvania, Tufts, UCLA and Berkeley 12-1
    Smith 11-1
    •Williams 51 Democrats, 0 Republicans
    Oberlin 19 Democrats, 0 Republicans
    MIT 17 Democrats, 0 Republicans
    Haverford 15 Democrats, 0 Republicans

  9. tom van dyke says:

    I didn’t intend to directly address your post here, Dr. Hanley, per our agreement, but I did want to thank DAR for the McCloskey, which I found probative. But if I may:

    To Mr. Heidegger—your source is David Horowitz.

    http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/news/1898/lackdiversity.html

    Non-starter. He’s an advocate: not a disinterested party, not an unbiased source. He’s like Mark Fuhrman in the OJ trial. If he touches it, it’s poisoned evidence. Know your judge and jury, know how they’ll view your witness.

  10. Michael Enquist says:

    If James Hanley believes the underlying question in Heidegger’s* post above merits a response, I would want to follow up with the question of why, if so many of the profs at American colleges are Democrats, then how has that led to the fact that nearly all of the college-educated CEOs of Americas businesses are Republicans?

    I think this is another one of those cases where a group of randomd statistics are shown to have no meaning when compared to the real world.

    But no need to go OT on this thread.

    Thanks,

    ME

    *Who has yet to inform us if he is “a boozy beggar, who could think [us] under the table.” (Or perhaps he did, but I missed it…)

  11. Michael Enquist says:

    On the early voting article: Is there any evidence of increased ease of ballot fraud in early voting states? Say, for example, a left-wing zealot postal carrier who works in a neighborhood he knows is mostly right-wing – Would such a person be tempted to shred the ballots he collects in the mail?

    All else being equal, it does make inuitive sense that there should seem to be more peer pressure to vote when doing so is limited to one day. For example, if Lefty Lois sees that Righty Whitey at work is wearing an “I voted” sticker, she may be more motivated to stop by and cast her ballot on the way home, for no other reason than to attempt to negate his.

  12. Heidegger says:

    Tom–why would an advocate necessarily mean his evidence is tainted?
    And what is he advocating? With the OJ trial, you literally have his blood bleeding from the scene of a double murder, into his car, from his car into the foyer of his house and then into his bedroom, with his blood spattered socks. And we’re not even talking the bloody glove. This is a man who was acquitted of double murder essentially because the homicide detective at the scene of the crime had used the N-word within the past 10 years.

    You will have to offer specific proof of bias in the Horowitz report to discredit the conclusions he came to regarding the overwhelming left-wing bias in academia. Only a complete fool would deny this is the reality faced by students in today’s politically correct tyranny.

  13. James K says:

    tom van dyke:

    On the one hand: It’s obvious, you will agree, that a “statistically insignificant” number can be very significant for some human purpose.

    …the mirror of your own point. We only study what we measure, and conversely, tend to only measure what we already judge to be significant.

    That quote strikes me as problematic, depending on what she means. If a number is statistically significant that means that you have insufficient evidence (after running a test) to conclude that the number is different to zero. If she means that getting a null result can be meaningful then I agree, if she means that a sufficiently large number can be meaningful even if it’s statistically insignificant, then I don’t agree. If something’s on the threshold of significance it might be worth getting more data to do a higher-powered test, or changing the specification to see if you can find a better fit, but otherwise a statistically insignificant result means that you didn’t find what you were looking for (unless you were looking for the absence of something).

  14. James K says:

    Dammit, that second sentence should have read :

    If a number is statistically insignificant that means that you have insufficient evidence (after running a test) to conclude that the number is different to zero.

  15. Heidegger says:

    Enquist, if anything, it sounds like it’s you who has been hitting the sauce tonight. Nitwit left-wing professors does not necessarily translate into nitwit left-wing students, thankfully. And the reason the majority of CEOs are Republican is probably because they are more intelligent–it really is that simple. Don’t forget–by any measurable standard of intelligence, George W Bush was far superior to that of John Kerry.

    This must be nominated as the jackass question of the year–
    “I would want to follow up with the question of why, if so many of the profs at American colleges are Democrats, then how has that led to the fact that nearly all of the college-educated CEOs of Americas businesses are Republicans?” It’s called, stepping out of bounds.

  16. Michael Enquist says:

    Then, why does it matter that:

    the people doing the educating are fervent, militant, left-wing ideologues which pretty much represents 95% of the social science faculty at American universities.

    To me, it proves that the students who “step out of bounds” and shuck off the idoctrination you seem to believe is happening in US colleges are the very kinds of thinkers we need. You answer above negates your concern regarding the left-learning nature of college faculty.

    If a student is so weak-minded that the only way he or she will ever come to understand the power of free markets is if it is spoon-fed to them by their profs – Why would we want such a person leading a company?

  17. Anna says:

    Heidigger – If you’re trying to use the registered D vs R stats as a defense of your statement that professors are 95 % “fervent, militant, left-wing ideologues”, you get a FAIL. Unless you can prove that being registered Democrat automatically equates being a “fervent, militant, left-wing ideologue” your statement remains conservative biased conjecture.

  18. Philosophy and history are valuable (and I personally think history is crucial), but they’re not sufficient in and of themselves to give us guidance for the future.

    As an aspiring historian, I have to agree that history has very little to tell us about what we should do in the future. It’s almost impossible to make the same mistake twice because the exact same situation never comes up twice.

  19. D.A. Ridgely says:

    I don’t think there is much serious room for argument over the claim that, on balance, the politics of post-secondary faculty members in the United States is decidedly to the left, let alone their well documented proclivity to vote Democratic. See, e.g., The Social and Political Views of American Professors, Gross & Simons (2007):

    Although we would not contest the claim that professors are one of the most liberal occupational groups in American society, or that the professoriate is a Democratic stronghold, we have shown that there is a sizable, and often ignored, center/center-left contingent within the faculty; that on several important attitude domains – and in terms of overall political orientation – moderatism appears to be on the upswing; that, according to several measures, it is liberal arts colleges, and not elite, PhD granting institutions that house the most liberal faculty; and that there is much disagreement among professors about the role that politics should play in teaching and research.

    Gross & Simons, p. 72.

    A point I found interesting in this study was the moderating influence of the inclusion of community college teachers on the overall results. Without meaning to insult Mr. Rowe, it strikes me that there are more differences between community college teachers and faculty members at baccalaureate granting institutions than there are between liberal arts college faculty and faculty at major research universities. I would, therefore, tend to remove them from the sample and crunch the numbers accordingly.

    Be that as it may, what the criteria are for what counts as liberal, moderate or conservative have always been and still are moving targets. A late 19th / early 20th century progressive, for example, would be more likely than not to favor some form of eugenics or, at the very least, think the idea worthy of serious consideration. And, in any case, a Democratic left leaning political perspective is no closer to Marxism than a Republican right leaning political perspective is to fascism.

  20. James Hanley says:

    Only a brief response, before I head for the airport.

    Michael Enquist–I only had time to look at Megan McArdle’s post on that article. The news article I linked to has a link to the article itself, for anyone who wants to take a look. But I don’t think the authors were looking at that question, so I doubt they address it. But I can add two relevant comments. First, not all early voting involves mailed ballots. In several states you can go down to city hall and they have a voting boot set up for a couple weeks before the election. Second, I lived in Oregon when they went to vote by mail. There was lots of concern about different types of electoral fraud becoming possible. IIRC, U of Oregon political scientist Priscilla Southwell did several studies over the next few years, and found no evidence of increased fraud.

    TvD–Thanks for noting Heidegger’s source. I don’t find Horowitz honest and reputable. That doesn’t mean his information here is wrong, but I do hesitate to accept it at face value given the source.

    Heidegger–Yes, in academia liberals are far more common than conservatives. As a libertarian, this is often annoying to me, especially when a left wing biologist or music prof talks to me about politics, assuming that the fact that they’re smart and educated means they must know what they’re talking about in politics.

    That said, what does it really matter?

    First, lots of occupations have a very biased distribution of political ideologies. Small businessmen and farmers are disproportionately conservative, as are members of the military. Why focus on and obsess about academics?

    Second, few conservatives go into political science (and probably even fewer go into sociology). There’s self-selection at work. Conservatives tend to dislike government, so they don’t want to study it

    Third, certain fields tend to be less overwhelmingly liberal than others, particularly business and economics, again due to self-selection. But even there, you’ll find that the more conservative-leaning faculty are normally more middle-of-the-road than people like Horowitz, Charles Krauthammer, etc. Why are the more educated conservatives less likely to be true right-wingers? Maybe that’s something worth pondering.

    Fourth, the idea that “fervent, militant, left-wing ideologues … pretty much represents 95% of the social science faculty” is laughable on its face. I suppose if a person’s far enough right, then anyone who’s middle-of-the-road looks militantly left-wing. But the reality is that the overwhelming majority of liberal faculty are neither militant nor ideologues. Here’s a nice anecdotal example. A very left-wing alum of my college is running for governor of Michigan, but most of my colleagues that I’ve talked to about him are far from enthusiastic about him. Some are planning to vote for him, but without enthusiasm, and others are planning to shift away from their normal Democratic voting pattern to vote for someone else. Of course a person like Horowitz can’t drum up contributions by railing against mild-manered, thoughtful, left of center, college profs, so he needs to create a parody. It’s true that such people exist–just as there are a handful of fascists in the military–but they’re not very popular. We have a guy who has been known to publicly excoriate other faculty (by name) for not being environmentalist enough, and who has literally yelled at other faculty for not taking his extreme view on global warming. He stands out for being both unrepresentative of the rest of the faculty, and is very unpopular precisely because he is such an ideologue.

    Fifth (and I’ve said this before), anyone who thinks professors can influence students’ ideology has never spent much time teaching. I can teach students facts they didn’t know, and can sometimes teach them to be more analytical and less reflexively ideological, but it’s rare to influence a student’s basic political orientation. Sometimes students do shift their political beliefs in college–but why assume it was because they were indoctrinated, rather than to assume that they were an open-minded person who shifted their beliefs based on their own study and consideration?

    Frankly, it’s stunningly condescending and demeaning to the students to claim they are blindly led by us fanatical faculty. I work with these young folks, and I have a little more respect for them than that.

  21. Jon Rowe says:

    “it strikes me that there are more differences between community college teachers and faculty members at baccalaureate granting institutions than there are between liberal arts college faculty and faculty at major research universities.”

    No insult intended. But I’ll give you my thoughts. We require a Master’s Degree for full time tenured appointment. You can get hired full time without a Master’s but must attain one by that time or you don’t get tenure.

    We have professors who teach ALL sorts of trade oriented things that have real world job applications that you tend NOT to think of as relating to higher ed. For instance, in my own Div., we have Aviation, Cullinary and Auto tech. It makes no sense to look for PhDs in these fields; but they are all subject to the Master’s requirement.

    However, when you move on to the more traditional college oriented courses, I see little difference in credentials and that’s because there is such a glut of PhDs. Virtually every new humanties hire has a PhD from a good school because that’s where they found themselves teaching.

    I think most of them — from what I know of them — are happier they ended up here anyway. On average, the pay and benefits are just as well, if not better. There is no publishing requirements. Yeah you have to teach 15 credits a semester which is more than at a 4 year college. And everyone who doesn’t get weeded out gets tenure.

  22. James Hanley says:

    Pierre,

    True, but I do think a knowledge of history does provide important guidance, even if the circumstances can’t be exactly the same. A better knowledge of the history of Afghanistan might not by itself be a good enough basis for our 2001 invasion decision, but it might have played a big role in shaping our strategy there.

    One of the things I’m truly proud of is that right now half–literally just over 50%–of my political science majors are double majors, and the most common major for that doubling up is history. And that double major in history and political science seems to produce some some really fine and thoughtful kids.

  23. Jon Rowe says:

    “Third, certain fields tend to be less overwhelmingly liberal than others, particularly business and economics, again due to self-selection. But even there, you’ll find that the more conservative-leaning faculty are normally more middle-of-the-road than people like Horowitz, Charles Krauthammer, etc. Why are the more educated conservatives less likely to be true right-wingers? Maybe that’s something worth pondering.”

    Again, this is true from my experiences. Our humanities div. is very PC. Yet, the conservatives in our Div. are more moderate NE types. We have a few conservative evangelicals but they know they have to be very polite about their religion. They can talk about their God belief in a lowest common denominator way that “fits” what the religious liberal types believe. Things like “if you don’t accept Jesus as Savior you are going to Hell” are off limits.

    It’s kinda unfair, academia is one place where religious conservatives are expected to be more closeted than homosexuals. And homosexuals, if you are not “out” enough for certain forces can get in trouble.

    ME: I try to present libertarian and free market economic ideas in a “fair” way. I don’t feel I need to proselytize. As long as I’m saying Milton Friedman is just as viable a choice to believe in as Paul Krugman, I think I’ve done my job.

  24. A better knowledge of the history of Afghanistan might not by itself be a good enough basis for our 2001 invasion decision, but it might have played a big role in shaping our strategy there.

    I agree. I think the lesson to take from, say the experience of the Soviets and the British before them would be humility. Nation-building and occupations are always tricky endeavors, but they appear to be especially difficult in Afghanistan, or if not more difficult, at least no easier than other places.

  25. Heidegger says:

    Gute Reise, Herr Hanley!

    You’ll be missed. Be safe. I guess in your absence, it will be up to the estimable Herr Ridgely to make sure the inmates don’t run the asylum–a task he is more than capable of handling. Tschüß…..

  26. AMW says:

    a statistically insignificant result means that you didn’t find what you were looking for (unless you were looking for the absence of something).

    There have been times when I’ve hoped to God for statistical insignificance.

  27. James K says:

    AMW: The one thing I always hope not to find is endogeneity, because it’s nearly impossible to deal with satisfactory without data I usually can’t get.

  28. Chris says:

    First, if the people using the phrase “statistically insignificant” were my students in a stats course, they’d all get F’s on the first test of the semester. It’s sometimes (mistakenly) used in scientific literature, but at least in psych literature and any literature that uses APA style, it’s explicitly against the rules (seriously, look in the Manual). Instead of “insignificant,” we use “nonsignificant,” because properly, a result that fails to meet whatever we’ve set as a cutoff point for statistical significance is not insignificant (in fact, it might be quite important). In other words, the use of “nonsignificant” is designed specifically to avoid the sorts of confusions that Tom describes. It’s true that null results (by the way, the null hypothesis is not necessarily “not different from zero”) tend not to get published, and therefore, not to get attention, but this is less a result of statistics than of inherent problems in the publication process.

    Also, as a non-economist who sometimes does econometrics to make an extra buck or two, I have to say that the math is really quite simple. Most of the statistical techniques used in econometrics could be done by hand by anyone with a couple calculus courses and some matrix algebra (though they’d probably just use Stata like sane people). And I say this as a self-professed math-phobe. Instead, where the difficulty lies is in the conceptual components of the research, and I don’t mean in the economic concepts, but in the statistical concepts. What type of regression should I use (there’s rarely a simple, straightforward answer), how do I deal with endogeneity or heteroskedacity, do I used fixed or variable effects, do I need to use some sort of clustering to correct for biased standard errors, etc., etc.? After a while, who knows what the hell is going on in a particularly complicated study.

  29. Heidegger says:

    Chris, and/or Michael Enquist, or any other thinkers on this blog, could you please answer this question? I’m deeply confused. Much obliged, sirs/madams.

    Why, among the billions of species of life on this planet, is it that humans are the only species to develop consciousness? Wouldn’t it be equally as advantageous for almost all other forms of life? And what I’m really stumped on is, why are we the only species to have evolved into being a bipedal species? Without being bipedal, we would never have developed the exquisite use of our hands, which has, for all intents and purposes, shaped our entire civilization. Could it be, that the hands and brain are one and the same, a direct and inseparable extension? Could it be that the brain and consciousness evolved because of the hands and not the other way around? I would be deeply grateful for any input from the very impressive brain power among the commenters and posters on this site. Many thanks.

  30. Heidegger says:

    I understand if no one has either the interest or time to get into this subject—maybe if you could provide any good links, that would be very helpful. Thanks so much!

  31. James Hanley says:

    Heidegger,

    How do you know we’re the only species to develop consciousness? Other species have been demonstrated to have self-awareness, and to have theory of mind. That sounds a lot like consciousness to me.

  32. stuartl says:

    And what I’m really stumped on is, why are we the only species to have evolved into being a bipedal species?

    Heidegger, without addressing the larger issues you raise, this specific statement is false. Off the top of my head the tyrannosaurus, kangaroo, and ostrich are/were bipedal.

    May I suggest you do a quick check of wikipedia? The bipedalism article mention four separate evolutionary events in mammals alone.

  33. Chris says:

    Heidegger, there are ten thousand or so species of birds, and even a few species of mammals (have you ever seen a kangaroo?) that are going to take offense to your assertion that humans are the only species to evolve bipedalism. A couple different species of lemur are already on their way to your home to kick your ass, bipedally.

    As for consciousness, what is consciousness? As James notes, certain aspects of mind once thought to be essential components of consciousness and therefore limited to humans, such as self-awareness, are now known to be present in some other species (perhaps in a lot of species to varying degrees). What’s more, consciousness is likely a multi-layered thing (various philosophers and cognitive scientists draw different distinctions; I’m partial to Damasio’s core vs. extended, though it’s a loose distinction), and it’s almost certainly the case that some non-human animals have at least some level of consciousness. So I’m not sure what you’re really asking about.

  34. stuartl says:

    I’m partial to Damasio’s core vs. extended, though it’s a loose distinction

    Woot woot! This is the first time I have seen Damasio mentioned by anyone besides me on a non-technical blog. I was going to suggest Heidegger read a few sciency flavored books targeted at the layman on conciousness , Damasio’s “The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness” and Pinker’s “How the Mind Works,” or virtually anything else by either author. DAR can certainly recommend more philosophically flavored works (he might skip Dennett though :-).

    FWIW, Damasio suggested that the human mind is similar to most other vertebrates, with 3 major exceptions: In general we have vastly better spatial skills, language skills, and memory.

  35. Chris says:

    I usually don’t recommend any of Damasio’s work because for the most part, he’s wrong (his somatic marker hypothesis is, well, just wrong), but The Feeling of What Happens isn’t a bad book. I also don’t recommend How the Mind Works, for similar reasons, though The Language Instict, particularly the preface, is an excellent intro to what cognitive science is (even if I’m not particularly partial to Chomskyan views of language and cognition): reverse engineering the mind is the best way of putting it that I’ve ever read. Susan Blackmore’s Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction isn’t terrible either. Really, when it comes to lay books on cognitive science, and consciousness in particular, that’s pretty much the best you’re going to do (isn’t terrible).

  36. Michael Heath says:

    Thanks for the insight James, much appreciated.

  37. Heidegger says:

    Chris, James, Stuartl, many thanks for your excellent, intelligent, and thoughtful replies. I am grateful. I have much to read and ponder even though, ultimately, trying to figure out the substance and composition of consciousness it like a finger trying to touch itself. And who and what is the”I” sensation we have every moment of our existence? The ultimate question-does any part of our being survive death is probably unanswerable. But what if it isn’t? Could you even begin to imagine the impact such a discovery would make on the human race if it was definitively determined that there is no after life, no hereafter? This is it, the whole ball of wax, no 72 virgins, no meetings with dead relatives, no seeing Jesus, Buddha, Krishna. Such a finding would create a state of dangerous anarchy, I think. We’re very hard-wired to want and need a god whether or not he indeed exists, and to lose that would be catastrophic beyond human imagination.

  38. Heidegger says:

    Interesting interview with Steven Pinker about this subject. Chris–thanks for the warning about the “not going to take it anymore” lemurs. They were fired up and pitched for battle—barely able to make it out alive.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/07/2/l_072_03.html

    From aboutintelligence.com

    “Differences in Human Thinking

    The key differences between human and animal cognition arise in four areas:

    The ability to recombine different types of knowledge and information to gain new understanding
    The ability to generalise apply a “rule” or solution for a known problem to a new and different situation
    The ability to create symbolic representations of sensory input and to easily understand them
    The ability to detach raw sensory and perceptual input from modes of thought.”

  39. James K says:

    Chris, you’re right about the math per se not being that hard, but of course the real skill of a quant is all of that extraneous knowledge you mentioned, and you need to think like a mathematician to be able to handle that knowledge. At the end of the day most of a mathematician’s education is actually just shaping their instincts so they can see the problem before them in the right conceptual frame.

  40. Heidegger says:

    Regarding bipedalism, my wee little problem of overlooking the entire bird kingdom was just slightly amiss–how about, the humans species is the only member of the Homindae family to evolve from being exclusively quadrupedal to being exclusively bipedal even with other options available to transport ourselves. Are we the only member of the great ape family to have an opposable thumb? That’s huge. The development of the opposable thumb is probably the most important and significant evolutionary event in our three million year old history. Without it, we’d probably still be swinging on vines in the forest grabbing all the bananas we could hold.

  41. Heidegger says:

    Chris–just ordered, “The Language Instinct”—looks GREAT! Thanks for the recommendation.

  42. Chris says:

    Well, we’re not the only species of the family hominidae to evolve bipedalism, we’re simply the only species to do so that’s left (and it’s not clear that all of the bipedal hominidae species were direct ancestors of ours). This is almost certainly a result of the changing environment where early pre-human hominids evolved: an environment that changed, for one reason or another, from heavily treed forest to sparsely treed grassland a few million years ago. Other modern nonhuman hominids still spend significant portions of their lives in trees, making legs designed for bipedalism inefficient. Our gait, which essentially entails falling over and catching ourselves with every step (seriously, that’s a weird design) is significantly more efficient for long distance overland travel.

    And all of the great apes have opposable thumbs. In fact, pretty much every primate species outside of South America does.

    I wonder where you’re getting your information.

  43. Pingback: On Political Science | The One Best Way -Political Fund USA

  44. Pingback: Political Campaign Expert » Blog Archive » On Political Science | The One Best Way

  45. Pingback: Get Political Fund » Blog Archive » On Political Science | The One Best Way

  46. Pingback: On Political Science | The One Best Way « Harrington Fundraising

  47. Pingback: Political Fund Consultant » Blog Archive » On Political Science | The One Best Way

  48. Pingback: Political Fund Consultant » Blog Archive » On Political Science | The One Best Way

  49. Michael Enquist says:
  50. Heidegger says:

    Chris, thanks very much for the reply and setting things straight–of course, you’re correct. I’m speaking of the opposable thumb issue. Not too long ago, I was in a discussion with a friend-she apparently has a background in anthropology–and the subject of hands and focal dystonia came up. Somehow the subject drifted to opposable thumbs–she maintains that homo sapiens are the only members of the great ape family that have a “true” opposable thumb. She went through a very anatomical, complex, technical explanation and was demonstrating with her hand the range of motion we humans have with our thumbs in relationship to our other four fingers, and compared it to monkeys and apes essentially saying they don’t pass the threshold necessary to be considered to having an opposable thumb. Everything you’ve said bears out to be true. I haven’t found anything to corroborate her ideas, although I did find something that said some monkeys do not have an opposable thumb—“New World” monkeys? A few other members of the ape family, but in any case, the information you’ve stated seems irrefutable. Thanks again.

  51. Heidegger says:

    Michael,

    The most troubling and difficult theological question I have is, why would God ever need to create a universe? What purpose could it possibly serve? If we live in a created universe, how could space-time be finite in reverse but infinite/eternal forward?

  52. James Hanley says:

    Heidegger,

    Drop the dubious and unnecessary assumption of God, and those questions go away.

    If your assumptions lead to paradoxes, reexamine your assumptions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s