Rational Fools

Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen, coined the term “Rational Fools” nearly 35 years ago. In his famous paper, Sen criticized the first principle of economics: “Every agent is actuated by only self-interest”. On top of this axiom of rational self-interest lie rational action and rational expectations, leading all the way up to the efficiency of the markets. As mentioned in my earlier post on Galileo, this is basically how science is done: models are devised using abstractions and idealizations. However, if the model turns out to be totally meaningless in explaining the world, then those who stick with such a model are indeed fools, rational fools.

Here is a song that I wrote and animated on such ‘Rational Fools’:


The Ship of Theseus sails in Water (and not H2O)

The difference between natural language and the language of science

The problem of reference in philosophy deals with relations of words to the world. Do words correspond to some mind-independent objects in the external world? In the following text, I propose the thesis that “reference” is one area where science and everyday affairs take sharp, diametrically opposed directions, and that this in turn implies that we use different faculties of the mind in doing science as opposed to everyday work.

In everyday life, words can be used to communicate to others what we mean. “There is a chair in the room”. This sentence appears simple to understand. And it is. Everyone can easily understand what it means and it communicates one’s beliefs about the world. The simplicity of the sentence leads us to believe that the constituents of this expression, the words of the sentence, refer to some mind-independent objects called “chair” and “room”.

Let’s examine the word “chair”. The dictionary defines a chair as: “A seat, especially for one person, usually having fours legs for support and a rest for the back and often having rests for the arms.”

Instead of wasting “ink” over explaining why the word chair can’t possibly refer to any external object in the world, I refer the reader to the following pictures of chairs, Continue reading The Ship of Theseus sails in Water (and not H2O)

Wittgenstein contra Wahhab

The basic tenet of Salafi/Wahhabi Muslims is that the word of God, i.e., the Quran, is not open to interpretation; the meaning is apparent from what is stated and woe unto those who indulge in the needless and dangerous talk of interpretation.

On the other hand, those who hold views similar to those held in the Mutazilite tradition, for example Shias and some  Sunni sects, believe that the literal meaning needs to be interpreted and we can interpret the Quran to obtain its true meaning.

Interestingly, two groundbreaking, and opposed works by the same man, the unrivaled genius Ludwig Wittgenstein, shed valuable light on these issues.  Continue reading Wittgenstein contra Wahhab

The Evolution of Human Behavior?

On why scientists should not make unsubstantiated claims in popular science works especially where human beings are concerned

It is quite fashionable these days to try and explain human behavior as a result of evolution through natural selection. Just as a small example, I quote the following from an article by the renowned evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker : Continue reading The Evolution of Human Behavior?

Bombs, Sectarianism and Blasphemy: What’s Art Got To Do With It?

March 4, 2013

Was coming back from an “Art Event” at the Karachi Arts council. I don’t go to such events but mom insisted (emotionally blackmailed to be precise), so I went. While coming back we started getting messages and calls on our cellphones that there had been two bomb blasts a few hundred meters from our home. Continue reading Bombs, Sectarianism and Blasphemy: What’s Art Got To Do With It?

I ♥ Game Theory; Let’s all be irrational, shall we?

Some nights back, my flight from Karachi to Islamabad couldn’t land due to bad weather in Islamabad and instead it had to land at Lahore airport. We waited and waited, with no official intimation of takeoff plans. Hours passed. I started feeling very hungry and so I went ahead and bought something to eat in a stylishly decorated and exorbitantly expensive eatery called “The Elbow Room”. Only after seeing the bill did I realize why the other passengers had not followed suit (no, the prices were not listed on the menu card). Continue reading I ♥ Game Theory; Let’s all be irrational, shall we?

Newton’s ‘Quantum Revolution’ and the Death Knell of Materialism

In an earlier post on Einstein, I discussed Newton’s demolition of the mechanical philosophy. Since the topic of materialism is so widely misunderstood, I think the significance of what Newton did should be discussed at length. Unfortunately, the revolutionary import of what Newton did has still not been absorbed by many people, even after the lapse of over 300 years. (Newton obviously had nothing to do with Quantum Theory. The reason I have used the words ‘Quantum Revolution’ in the title are to underline the fact that what Newton did, was considered by everyone (including himself) to be as exotic, mind-boggling and non-sensical, in his time, as Quantum Mechanics is considered in our day. This is a fact that is forgotten even by many physicists who describe Newton’s physics as ‘common-sense’ physics, which it was anything but). Continue reading Newton’s ‘Quantum Revolution’ and the Death Knell of Materialism