Thursday, October 29, 2009

'States' of Matter

The scare quotes are there because the way to objectively define states of matter is by a discontinuity on a particular graph, and this discontinuity shows that there are dozens if not hundreds of states of matter. (Update: when someone says 'fourth' or 'fifth' state of matter found, you should laugh at them.)

Regardless, sand dynamics are actually quite pretty.

The problem the physicists are having is that they don't truly understand what a states of matter are - if I asked one "What is a 'liquid?'" they wouldn't have an answer that really defines a liquid. If they did, they could simply look at the sand dynamic equations and say, "Ah, this part looks like a liquid, and this part looks more like a solid," or see edge cases where some solid properties and some liquid properties are present simultaneously. Moreover, defining this thing would likely clarify what, exactly, a 'state' of matter actually is.

Do you also think that the way the falling sand grains bead up looks awfully similar to the way stars bead up together?

Friday, October 16, 2009

AI Found a Blog, Was Disappointed, But In an Interesting Way

I ran across a history blog ("Muhlberger's Early History") and I thought I should have a crack at evaluating it, as it would be nice to have a history source that isn't Mencius Moldbug.

It's an official university blog. Strike one; the primary goal of the blog is institutional brownie points, not truth. On the Obama prize, Muhlberger links approvingly to Daily Kos. Strike two; although everyone makes mistakes.

Then I ran across this:

"If you want to slam academia... don't need to go after advanced literary theory. In fact there are juicier and more important targets."

"Well, I promised myself I'd finish this before the sequel appeared in the shops, and the conclusion has been made, shall we say, somewhat easier by the fact that the burden of my conclusion - that there is something terribly, horribly wrong with the state of modern economics - has become somewhat of an open door to push against."

""When future generations ask the economics profession 'What were you doing while the great bubble built up ahead of the Second Great Depression?', and we have to reply 'Lots and lots of quirky little working papers about sumo wrestling and speed-dating', it is going to be really, really, fucking embarrassing""

Strike three was a critical. I was hoping for a...slightly...more substantial criticism. Even if this one is true, I would just respond, "What, that's it? That's your slamming of 'academia?'"

I'll accept the Democratic axiom for the moment. Further, I'll accept that scientists should determine public policy. Even given this, there's a serious mismatch between the conclusions of economics and policy. (And it seems slamming academia is getting trendy.) However, the above pretty clearly isn't it.

To clearly see why I say so, compare this paper to the above:

"Economists have been complaining about anti-market, anti-foreign, make-work, and pessimistic biases for centuries."
"At the government agency where I have worked and where agency lawyers and agency microeconomists interact with each other . . . the lawyers are often exasperated, not only by the frequency with which agency economists attack their proposals but also by the unanimity among the agency economists in their opposition. The lawyers tend to (incorrectly) attribute this opposition to failure to hire “a broad enough spectrum” of economists, and to beg the economists, if they can’t support the lawyers’ proposals, at least to give them “the best economic arguments” in favor of them. . . . The economists’ answer is typically something like, “There are no good economic arguments for your proposal.”"

I can come up with at least four possible reasons why economics papers are focusing on niche topics. The first is that they're tired of being ignored, and are focusing on topics which aren't farts in the wind. Second is that they already unanimously agree on all the serious topics, have already weighed in, are spending time on other things. Third, the layman has no idea how relevant these topics are (speed dating) as models for fundamental economic theories. Finally, Daniel Davies actually has no idea what economics papers are on, (he admits to not reading The Economist, presumably he can admit to ignorance of other things as well) and is therefore misrepresenting the field.

Naturally, none of these are addressed by Davies. The simplistic thought on display here is a typical feature of ignorance, often indulged in by smart people analyzing anything that isn't in their actual field of study. (Which is troubling, as his whole blog appears to be about economics.) I'm probably committing this exact error right now to some degree, although the difference is that I'm eager to rectify my ignorance.

As a bonus, now I know I'm right for skipping Freakonomics. ("The basic problem with the Freakonomics era was that the profession abandoned the study of production, consumption and exchange." If that's what Freakonomics is, say no more, I'll be over here...)


Notably the blog seems very light on actual history, although the pictures are quite nice. On the front page as of now, there are only two posts about actual early history, on the same topic, and both are teasers for other websites.

If you really want to study what's wrong in the state of Denmark, the first step is to divide economics into microeconomics and macroeconomics. The second is to realize that the Austrian school is legitimate, and you must deal with it, pro or con, if you want to be a real thinker on economics. Just from this you have a 2x2 matrix, 11, 10, 01, 00, and you need to figure out which one is true. The full matix of questions you need to answer is much bigger, of course, but this is a good start.

I could add tone/attitude to my little comparison; you may want to do so yourself.

Turns out Davids writes for Crooked Timber. Ouch, that must suck.

I should clarify that I don't have much issue with Daily Kos' ideas, however the attitude and general epistemological ability of the place are in the pits somewhere. I've seen the ideas put forward politely and coherently elsewhere, places where I can respectfully disagree (and yes I disagree) without being labelled a heretic and exiled. If you want to make Daily Kos' points, you should find those places and link to them instead, unless you want brownie points instead of debate. Daily Kos is awesome for brownie points.