The Austrophysicists, Post Astrophysicists, and New Astrophysicists

Stephen Hawking poses a paradox for astrophysicists: the accepted story about event horizons may not be true. I’m not going to pretend like I know what all of this is about. I just wanted to make a quick observation that relates this to economics.

If astrophysics had the same weight in public policy as economics, there would be a significant chunk of scientists — and an army of amateurs — yelling about anti-scientism, obvious errors nobody but them are aware of, and how clearly the facts are on their side. And, their readers would be misguided into believing that there are easy answers in astrophysics, even when the complexity of the problem grows. Anybody who disagreed with these easy answers would be clearly corrupted by politics, ideology, and money.

But, astrophysics, like economics, deals with complex problems, and complex problems have complex solutions. The problem and the solution are usually very difficult to grasp without abstracting from some aspect of it, and our research will, at best, offer incomplete answers. Scientists will come up with divergent theories, because of the way they interpret the problem and depending on what they abstract from. This is a reality we should come to accept; it’s a reality that the institutions of science try to grapple with. The more cynical scientists are typically those who don’t fully embrace this reality.

2 thoughts on “The Austrophysicists, Post Astrophysicists, and New Astrophysicists

  1. Alexi

    Well this is why Al Gore’s statement that the ‘science is settled’ is just so much hot air. Science is often distilled for the benefit of the masses, because a lot of it is esoteric and complex, and requires multiple disciplines to be brought together.

    Economics isn’t as complex, but it does deal with entities that are themselves complex, where multiple variables can be at work at any point in time, so it is tempting to focus on the “obvious” and ignore longer-term (or even completely unseen) consequences of particular policies. That said, if you read Thomas Kuhn, he describes the actual politics behind scientific change, which isn’t the idealised “pursuit of truth” many envisage it to be. It gets there, but it’s a lot grittier than that.


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