by ilene - May 31st, 2010 5:24 am
Courtesy of Tim at The Psy-Fi Blog
Clever Man, Stupid Idea
Simon-Pierre Laplace was a Very Clever Man who did many Very Clever Things. Unfortunately, like many clever men, having got hold of a Brilliant Idea he was rather inclined to go off and use it on everything in sight, which led to a number of Very Odd Conclusions. In fact as far as science goes, he may well have been the original man with a hammer; taking aim at every problem as though it was a nail.
As is the way of these things economists got hold of Laplace’s ideas, converted them to their own and started developing delicate and intricate webs of theories and practices. Unfortunately, over the succeeding three hundred years they’ve failed to keep up with advances in physics and biology, rather leaving economists as the only believers in an approach that suggests we have no free will, a position from which they’re having to be dug out and defused, one unexploded theorist at a time.
When Isaac Newton published his theory of gravity he knew it contained a serious flaw; his equations didn’t exactly match what was observed. He reckoned, correctly, that the differences between his theory and the observations were down to the gravitational effect on the planets of other planets – so called perturbations, which he didn’t know how to mathematically model. He said:
“But to consider simultaneously all these causes of motion and to define these motions by exact laws admitting of easy calculation exceeds, if I am not mistaken, the force of any human mind.”
And, of course, he was mistaken. The force of Laplace’s mind successfully solved the problem. Having achieved this, though, Laplace went a stage further. Because he could exactly calculate the position of any planet he could compare this with the results of observations from astronomers. What he discovered changed human history.
It turned out that observers made errors, but they made them in a particular way – their observations fell about the actual position of the planet in a very distinctive pattern. This pattern, of course, was the ultra-familiar Bell curve or normal distribution. Laplace realised that human error was statistically quantifiable and, therefore, could be effectively eliminated from the data. This…