Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Myth of "Complete Rationality" and "Perfect Knowledge"

Tomas Sedlacek, in  Economics of Good and Evil, cites Plato's use of myths as a source of modern economic theory. He writes:

"Plato uses myths and considers them as a potential means of discovering the truth. The fuzziness (they are not exact) of myths is a strength, an advantage, not a disadvantage. As a form of expression, myth has a much larger “frame” or reach than the “exact scientific” or mathematical approach. Myth reaches places where science and mathematics cannot, and it can contain the dynamics of a constantly changing world." (Kindle Locations 1871-1874).

Science, says Sedlacek, creates myths around "facts." "Facts" are not themselves seen physically. "We see that which we interpret to be their expressions. In the end, we all see the sun “rise”—but why, how, and for what purpose is up for interpretation. Here is where the story, the narrative, comes in." (Kindle Locations 1880-1881)

Plato believed that "reality," the "secrets of this world," can only be known through the lens of a metanarrative, something of a higher order. This happens via an archetype, a model, a "matrix" which lies above us, or perhaps within us. "Models," writes Sedlacek, " reveal the invisible laws of being."

This brings us to "faith." Science, as well as religion, rests on faith. Sedlacek cites philosopher of science Michael Polanyi, who said that "even science is “a system of beliefs to which we are committed.” Sedlacek writes:

“Faith is not an attack on science or a turn to superstition”; on the contrary, faith stands at the foundations of all science and all knowledge, for example, the elementary faith that the world is knowable. Myth, a faith in something unproven which we even sometimes know is not real (assumptions in economics, for example), starts to play a role as a superstructure." (Kindle Locations 1898-1902)

Such thinking is very European-philosophical, and very (philosophically) un-American and non-Facebookian. The American ideas that we can have a "complete rationality" and "perfect information" are themselves mythical constructs that are not found in science."

Sedlacek concludes: 

"There is nothing derogatory or shameful about myths. We cannot exist without faith in the unproven. But one must admit it and work with it as such. Only a myth can be set against another myth. Myth does not lead a fight with empiricism, with the real world (which revels in a large number of myths), but with other adepts at explanation, with other myths." (Kindle Locations 1910-1913)

My book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God will immerse you in the Christian theistic metanarrative.