Friday, September 28, 2007

Covertibility! Convertibility! I'll convertibility your face!

Evening, all! It's been a while since I said hi to my adoring audience, so, well then hi! Well, now to the meat of the matter, that is to say the center of the matter, well, damn I'm hungry, but I probably will be going for food within 20 min., even if it does mean I might have to interrupt my session for a moment, but that just means you're a jerk. Understand? Do you understand?

I'm a history major, but overall to say fully, I'm more of an amateur in most everything a little bit. With history it's just more than a little bit, perhaps a lot, but I'm not really an expert, at least not in any particular field of history. With history, I know a bit of everything, but I'm never as good as the experts. It's often the case that I'm able to discuss matters with my professor but ultimately I'm generally outclassed by them. However, every now and then I'll outfox them a little in fields outside their specialty. When people ask, I tell them my specialty is World History. I know some about China, I know a good deal about India, I know a bunch about the US, a little about Mexico, some about Poland, a little about Ireland, and some about overall political history. It's never enough too blow somebody away in an argument, but I can hold my own in casual conversation. However, when faced with someone who prepared an argument, I often falter. They generally have researched some expert info in the field they're talking about and that usually crunches me.

It occurs to me often that I ought to simply pick a field and specialize, but usually the dilemma is I lack the patience in a single field and I have a curiosity that demands I indulge a little in all fields. This is true for general knowledge as much as it is for history. So I'm a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.

It's not a bad life, but when I deal with old fields of knowledge, ones that have been well developed and such, I find that I can't follow the latest research. And while I might be somewhat interested in the latest research, it's not say more so that I am in any other field. So while I might not understand all the abstractions in economics, I'm not more interested in that than I am in say all the abstractions of political science or philosophy. It would be bad policy to then say because I can't choose look at nothing, so I picked history. Within history, perhaps I have picked nothing, but that's because there's still enough in the lower levels of different regional histories and different aspects of world history to keep me occupied and engaged. But I must wonder. When it comes to making decisions on big items like climate change, globalization, different issues of morality, etc., what I do if I can't follow those great abstractions in the fields?

One course, is an ad hoc approach, which is to study very narrowly a small issue when it comes up. If you've got an amateur knowledge in a field to begin with, it is usually possible to at least get enough of a sense of a narrow issue to make a choice. But when you get to bigger issues with deeper complexities, things become harder. Sometimes the only way to understand an issue is to become an expert in the subject, but to do that would require far more effort than you can give. What to do then?

My reaction then, and this is my recommendation to others as well, is to find a trusted source, based on your basic knowledge of the field, who seems to know what they're talking about and seems to be honest and trust him. And lacking that, perhaps it is best just to go with consensus.

However, the recent times have brought a new depth to this dilemma. Nowadays fields meet and intersect. A political decision might involve economics, physics, philosophy, and a dozen other fields. And the experts within these fields, even when there is a consensus with the fields, often passionately disagree. Part of the problem is that while an expert in one field might be the master of it, another field which has implications for his field might be a complete mystery to him. This unknown field however might have experts who know nothing about his field even though it has implications for their field. Now many people might assume that if you're an expert in one field, if another field has implications for yours, you can easily pick up the basics of that other field and understand the implications. But that often isn't the case. High level sociology concepts that require years of study to understand might have implications in economics but might have a basis completely different than the rules of economics which an economist might be familiar with. Thus the economist might be as mystified by this sociology concept as the lay person but on the other hand the sociologist might be mystified by general economics.

Furthering the dilemma is the fact that most fields usually insist on the predominance of their own field in any dispute. This makes deciding matters difficult, and at times a matter of uneven guesswork. The only hope for resolving this I think, is creating covertability. That is making it easier for concepts to be transfered from one field to another. A good example of this is new work in psychology and economics, which gives psychological factors economic value allowing them to be translated into economics. Similar work must ultimately take place in all fields, until there is finally a fluidity between all research.

I suppose this all amounts to advocating for a general field theorem (a physics concept where all energy (and since energy and matter are convertable all matter) is united as the manifestation of a single force), for all knowledge. Given the difficulty of coming up with a general field theorem for physics, I cannot imagine one for all knowledge will be any easier.

So we are left with guesswork. With no definite rules for convertability we are left with figuring out as much as we can and then seeing what "seems" like the best choice, where "seems" means relying on that black box (a mechanism sealed up so that you cannot see how it works but which produces some outputs from inputs) which is our unconscious. Our unconscious is an immensely powerful black box mind you, but it is one that usually lacks consistency as it tends to often conflate tangentially related matters as if at random (although there probably is some logic to it, if we can ever figure out what it is). And since we use tools that lack consistency it is not hard to imagine different people, trying with all good will to reason their way through problems coming to different answers. Even if they're both educated, even if they are both experts in parts of an issue, or know many different experts on many sides of an important issue, there will be disagreement.

This is of course assuming that experts within a given field agree on a matter, which is an utterly false assumption no matter what the field. But my point is that with complex issues that stretch across multiple fields, even if there is a consensus, even a well-accepted, and understood consensus in each of those fields regarding the issues, that does not mean that the issue will be resolved, even if every party tries all in good faith.

So we are left with inevitable disagreement. And whenever the possibility of passionate disagreement arises we are left with the specter of conflict. And so we must live with that.

Anyways, take it to your head, take it to your heart, and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

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