On the World

Review / Rationalism versus Empiricism

June 14, 2017

Notably, most hard-science textbooks present themselves largely with mathematics. These textbooks lure significant number of people into believing that serious sciences are a hallmark of rationalism with auxiliary empirical guidance.

Many scholars who endorse this view are puzzled why rationalism fails economics while purportedly being so successful with physics. After all, Dirac equation was mathematically derived and successfully predicted positrons as negative energy electron holes, right? Actually no. Serious physicists today don't approve mathematically-derived negative energy positrons.

What's wrong with rationalism and puzzled scholars?

It's not hard. Essentially, for evidentiary sciences like physics, mathematics is a powerful deductive tool theories employ to move forward, but the ultimate judgement whether a theory is valid or not is made with evidences, not mathematics. Similar to modern judicial procedure, lawyers don't make ultimate judgements, but rationalists wrongly thought that courts are run by lawyers who employ auxiliary judges. While judges aren't perfectly reliable, rationalists are seriously problematic.

Why do natural sciences employ so much math with little presentation of evidences in textbooks and yet are empirical science? Readers' possible misconception results from the fact that mathematical theories falsified by great evidences won't be prominently featured in textbooks.

Rationalism fails economics, not for the reason that economics isn't as rational as physics, but economists don't understand physics is a evidentiary science, not a rational science like mathematics.

Our universe exists long before people on Earth had a chance to reason about it with rationalism. Expert cosmologists today can not even rationally agree on what brought our universe into existence. Evidences from celestial formations much older than our solar system are often so mysterious that people are probably destined to remain unsatisfied forever with little more than a rough understanding. Are rational people so arrogant to declare precedence of people's reason over evidences even reasonable?

Before we go beyond rationalism to speculate about the foundation for empirical sciences, we may appreciate what rational deduction, and mathematics in particular, has offered: a formal language much better than English, suitable for exact description of our world. However, a language, no matter how sophisticated, is not to be considered the ultimate judge for empirical sciences, for people lie, bullshit, and fool themselves ever so often with both English and mathematics.

People used to think some rational rules without proper quantifiers, called hypothesis tests, form the core of statistics and empirical sciences, with a golden egg called randomized control trials. It's utterly miserable that these rules often amount to fortune telling, using Newtonian mechanics for nuclear fission for your own safety.

These flaws are not insuperable. With sound logic, sophisticated theory, and advanced evidentiary methods empiricists and we worked out these years, a large portion of fraudulent modern scientific practices may be properly reformed for scientific soundness. If no workable rescue exists, we provide uncertainty analysis as a fallback procedure. Stay tuned for a modern reformation of empirical sciences.

[On the World]