Incomprehensible Bullshit

The mathematics professor Alan Sokal famously shamed much of the humanities profession by publishing Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’  — a paper intended as ambiguous gobbledegook — in the peer-reviewed postmodern cultural studies Journal Social Text in 1996.

Sokal’s paper was a cleverly and artfully constructed piece of trolling. Sokal did it by conforming to the stylistic trappings of postmodernists like Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard and Luce Irigaray — mimicking their dense and obscure verbiage, misusing concepts from science like quantum gravity (of which there exists no widely accepted scientific theory), and shrouding his argument in a great deal of ambiguity. The piece described the notion of a “postmodern science”, one that discarded the notion of objective truth.

The fallout from this paper underlined the divide between science (which seeks objective truth), and postmodernism (which does not seek objective truth). But more than that, it exposed postmodernism and cultural studies as being ambiguous, self-absorbed, and incomprehensible, to the extent that its own journals were tricked into publishing an article intended as nonsense.

Yet this issue — of baffling with incomprehensible bullshit — is not just a problem in postmodernism. Mathematics recently had a Sokal moment (and frankly, it is surprising that it took this long). Via the LRB:

Last month That’s Mathematics! reported another landmark event in the history of academic publishing. A paper by Marcie Rathke of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople had been provisionally accepted for publication in Advances in Pure Mathematics. ‘Independent, Negative, Canonically Turing Arrows of Equations and Problems in Applied Formal PDE’ concludes:

Now unfortunately, we cannot assume that

It is difficult, as a non-specialist, to judge the weight of that ‘unfortunately’. Thankfully, the abstract is a model of concision:

Let ρ = A. Is it possible to extend isomorphisms? We show that D´ is stochastically orthogonal and trivially affine. In [10], the main result was the construction of p-Cardano, compactly Erdős, Weyl functions. This could shed important light on a conjecture of Conway–d’Alembert.

Baffled? You should be. Each of these sentences contains mathematical nouns linked by the verbs mathematicians use, but the sentences scarcely connect with each other. The paper was created using Mathgen, an online random maths paper generator. Mathgen has a set of rules that define how papers are arranged in sections and what kinds of sentence make up a section and how those sentences are made up from different categories of technical and non-technical words. It creates beautifully formatted papers with the conventional structure, complete with equations and citations but, alas, totally devoid of meaning.

So mathematicians and mathematics journals are also susceptible to being trolled by their own bullshit, their own conventions, syntax and “rigour”. If a mathematics journal and the peer-review process can be fooled by a meaningless paper spat out by a computer program, how much well-intentioned but bad or meaningless mathematics has also slipped through the peer review process?

And what about the other subjects that have adopted mathematical symbols as their lexicon, like economics?

I have written at length about some of the problems connected to the very great increase of mathematical terminology in economics — and remain highly sceptical of the use of assumptive models in economics.  The social sciences are particularly unsuited to simplified mathematical modelling — unlike the physical sciences, the phenomena they seek to explain tend to be far less linear in observable causation, and so far more susceptible to wildness. No model or theory less than reality itself can fully represent human behaviour and human action; each transaction in an economy is unique, and arises from a different set of circumstances, representing a constantly varying order of human preferences. This tendency toward nonlinear causality is why transparency is critical to bullshit detection in the social sciences. Just as a sheen of ambiguous, obscure and poorly-defined English can make theories incomprehensible and closed-off from scrutiny and understanding, so too can a sheen of obscure and specialised mathematics.

Well-written work — whether in plain language or mathematics — requires comprehensible explanations and definitions, so that a non-specialist with a moderate interest in the subject can quickly and easily grasp the gist of the concepts, the theory, the reasoning, and the predictions. Researchers can use as complex methods as they like — but if they cannot explain them clearly in plain language then there is a transparency problem. Without transparency, academia — whether cultural studies, or mathematics, or economics — has sometimes produced self-serving ambiguous sludge. Bad models and theories produce bad predictions that can inform bad policy and bad investment decisions.  It is so crucial that ideas are expressed in a comprehensible way, and that theories and the thought-process behind them are not hidden behind opaque or poorly-defined words or mathematics.

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51 thoughts on “Incomprehensible Bullshit

  1. If a mathematics journal and the peer-review process can be fooled by a meaningless paper spat out by a computer program, how much well-intentioned but bad or meaningless mathematics has also slipped through the peer review process?

    that’s problem with review process, isn’t it? if editors and reviewers do not actually think what they are reading, focused on valid formatting, then it means they aren’t doing their job.

    let me inverse this question as follows:

    If a journal and the peer-review process can be fooled by a manipulational tirade, how many well-intentioned but full of cognitive biases papers have also slipped through the peer review process?

    the difference is that with natural language it is almost impossible to pinpoint misconceptions buried deep beneath the surface of ambiguous words, while with math you can still do that. it may be very hard but still possible.

    let me share a story told by one of my math professors. once upon a time he and one of his best students were exploring some model theory problem. this search led them to a result that was shockingly at odds with another important established proof, published decades before. that meant either their result was faulty or widely recognized theory contained an error (not found by review process). if they published that piece and turned to be right, they would be famous. conversely, if they were proven to be wrong, they’d make themselves fools. so they started to carefully review their reasoning step by step. it took them two months to pinpoint the problem: they had used Mathematical Induction within realm of Metamathematics where natural numbers do not exist. this made an impression on me how powerful tool math is if it can be used to validate reasoning about extreme abstracts.

    it seems that people used to spent 2 months on a review but today they prefer just CTRL-C/V tasks. is it a problem of math or indolence? and what to think about people who stare at math they don’t understand and just happily move on? do they actually stare at news in TV and do the same? is it problem with TV then or its audience?

    • the difference is that with natural language it is almost impossible to pinpoint misconceptions buried deep beneath the surface of ambiguous words, while with math you can still do that. it may be very hard but still possible.

      I think it’s possible to be clear in both mathematics, and natural language so long as we are very careful and specific about defining terms. Mathematics does admittedly tend to be more specific in defining its terms and operations.

      is it a problem of math or indolence?

      Probably more indolence than math. Steve Keen’s defense of math in Debunking Economics is titled “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano”, which is quite a reasonable piece of rhetoric. It’s possible to formulate very clear criticisms as Steve Keen does of mainstream economics (equilibrium, rational expectations, utility maximization, efficient markets hypothesis, diminishing marginal returns, etc) while still embracing the relatively heavy use of math. Of course, Keen’s popular writing is math-free, and a very good example of what I am talking about — presenting theories clearly enough that lay people can understand them easily while still providing technical proofs using mathematics to those who need them.

      • Allowing for more open-source journals, where peer views are conducted amongst more people producing a higher degree of intellectual scrutiny, would just serve to underscore the cognitive bias of society for practical clarity….

        Here’s Yale!

    • Mantrid of Oct. 20 @ 04:21:49: Your comment provides a couple of rare POSITIVE unintended consequences (or is it unanticipated lessons?). Devoting two months to avoid looking foolish is a tribute to professional integrity and standards. [How long ago?] As for the public and television news — both the viewers and the producers are grievously at fault. Network executives are known to admit that their audiences are boobs, as in “We are the ‘boob tube’ because we know that they are boobs and we give them what they want”.

      A century or so ago a noted British (or American?) wit dismissed public opinion with “The public is an ass!” A contemporary American entertainment executive added “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of audiences”.

  2. Well, Aziz and you other intellectuals: shame on you for trying to undermine my confidence in and reliance on clearly-stated and long-accepted truth, e.g., this brilliant insight from an undoubted mathematics genius!

    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

    • i didn’t get a chance to respond to you a few aziz-posts ago. if you were going to reccomend the Bible; i have to say that i agree, but i beat you to it. if you wanna know the Truth, janus cannot get enough of the thing. i confess this proudly, and i’m well past the point of caring what sort of assumptions are actuated in others upon hearing my confession. whether or not you believe in God is beside the point; it is truly the most amazing thing ever penned.

      with repect to profanity, i can promise only that i will not direct any of the stuff your way. i think i like you; so i’ll give my word on that basis. if you in the future reveal yourself to be less-than-likable, i’ll still honor my word.

      in any event, i am interested in this book you wanted to reccomend. i like books; and i suspect you may be wise enough to know which ones matter, and more importantly why they matter.

      i know i’ve read that poem…sounds like t.s. eliot and lewis carol had a mind-meld or shared a doobie. no, seriously, i’m sure i’ve read that…what (who) is it?

      cheers,
      janus — ‘the’ inimitable poetaster

      • Janus: glad that you have rematerialized — somewhere between Mississippi and Boston, between obscenities and the Bible.

        The quiz/puzzle I had in mind for you was to name the poet writing the “Jabberwocky” poem I introduced just preceding your post. You’ve got the poet, but I want you to look up the spelling — with double r and double l — because I think you could use the discipline to supplement your extraordinary creativity. [I might offer to buy you a keyboard with a “Shift” key, if you are not a reincarnation ee cummings].

        The book is “Godel, Escher, Bach — an Eternal Golden Braid” by Douglas Hofstadter(?). I’ll level with you — you needn’t feel humbled if you can’t understand all of it in one lifetime.

  3. I’ll take good ole John Kenneth Galbraith any day over these math voodoo worshippers. He had interesting ideas and expressed them in plain old English, with wit and humor. His books are great reading, even decades after they were written. The math voodoo priests of course never forgave him for that. “Not a serious economist……” etc., etc.

  4. But were Galbraith’s popular/fashionable ideas “right”? As I recall, he and Friedman disagreed on just about everything.

    • He was a Keynesian, yes, but in the original sense. Remember, even Keynes himself never advocated endless money printing, and what most people today call “Keynesianism” is really a caricature of the original idea, which was to print money and lower interest rates to get a moribund economy moving, then stop doing so once it was going on its own, and pay down the debt.

      Not to take it all too far, but many believe that Keynes himself never advocated endless debt expansion, and would have been shocked at the ways his ideas have been corrupted, as with the Bush administration’s borrowing and printing money to finance wars, tax cuts for the wealthy, and bubble blowing.

      Regarding Galbraith, maybe he was as much a philosopher and social commentator as an economist. But whatever one calls him, he still makes great reading, and AFAIK he never hid behind mathematical mumbo jumbo.

      • I have a lot of respect for Galbraith and Keynes.

        They both had a very healthy suspicion of turning everything into math, i.e. neoclassical economics in the tradition of Walras, Hicks, Samuelson and Patinkin.

        I am not a Keynesian per se, but most people who call themselves Keynesians today (e.g. Krugman) are only Keynesian in the most loose form, because they accept the idea of equilibrium in their models. Keynes believed the economy only equilibriated in the long run. I go even further: I think economic equilibrium is impossible, and economies (i.e. the expression of wants and needs) are by definition expressions of disequilibrium. If there was a true equilibrium, no human would act to satisfy his or her needs.

  5. As soon as I heard this story, I instantly thought of economics. I think it’s only a matter of time before someone sends in a spoof economics paper consisting of big words and no meaning. In fact I say its probably been done but no one noticed

  6. Yeah I noticed this in most of the modern psychology papers they made me read in University. I was always wondering why things were written so arcanely when much simpler definitions exist. And to be honest, most of the shit being “researched” seemed completely irrelevant… I always felt like screaming during lecture “WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL THIS? AREN’T THERE MORE RELEVANT THINGS THAN TRYING TO FIND THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN (Bullshit psychological-measure 1) AND (Supposed quantified personality trait 2)?”

    The most ridiculous one that I remember was a whole series of papers (by numerous researchers) trying to measure and quantify “transportation” which is pretty much the level of engrossment someone experiences when reading/hearing a story…

    It always seemed as if the researchers were more interested in generating a large quantity of research at the expense of quality. When trying to talk to a professor in the field Psycholinguistics about parallels in the field of evolutionary psychology it was like we were speaking a completely different language.

    Sadly, I don’t think most of these researchers grasp how inane their work is… Well I guess I understand where they are coming from. If you told me that everything I had studied for the past 15+ years was totally irrelevant to the real world, I would refuse to believe it. Because after all, I wouldn’t know anything outside of that niche, and in effect it would be the real world for me…..

    Sad :'(

    • Maybe not a proper place in the thread, but behold the amazing simplicity of these expressions of significant truth:

      f=ma. e=m(c)squared. Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, ..that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side.

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  8. thank you, aziz, for bringing this topic to the fore. this peer-review nonsense is an ongoing exercise in ingoble impudence and cavalier criminality (see, janus slipped his own “s” in exercize…janus is thinking about seeking political asylum in jolly ole england — but i still love boston — even so, for now, ‘new’ england suits me well). all the points you’ve made (and you’ve made some dandies, no doubt) notwithstanding, you haven’t even touched on the more nefarious issue of co-opted peers acting as proxies for the corporations that stand to benefit from this bastardized ‘science’. the most obnoxious iteration of said hucksterism is found in the pharm-racket…but it is no way limited to these ornery alchemists. the chem industry dictates the outcome of toxcisity studies & exposure thresholds as soon as they have an abstract for the molecular architecture…and they won’t even permit studies on the caustic chems that leaked into public use before these pesky public-health advocates started commiting the crime of treason…whistle-blowing is now tantamount to treason in our highly-transparent and egalitarian democracies. God bless us everyone.

    sorry for the relative brevity…janus would love nothing more than immolating these sacred-cows of science with some highly-incindary material, which is proprietary of Janus Labs., inc.
    it’s a formulation i’ve spent decades perfecting — a sintilating stew of words structured to stupify, subsume and sublimate all that make themselves and object of my wrath. well, i say i would love nothing more; but it seems you’ve caught me on college-football-saturday…so i haven’t applied anything resembling focus since i clicked to respond.

    i’ve got a request for you, aziz. i want you to become a fan of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. there’s something special going on with our football team (that’s be ‘real’ football, aziz…but i love soccor, too). and since i reckon you haven’t any particualr affection for one team or another, i can further reckon you lack a good reason for refusing to cheer on my beloved bulldogs. the showdown with alabama looms. both teams to meet undefeated next week (if, that is, we can take down middle tennessee later this eveneing).

    really, this is more a negociation than a request: you adopt the dawgs and janus will likewise graft your favorite soccor team into the Janus Fandamonium (a list of teams from different sports that merit my affection and allegiance). if i start to cheer for them, i predict a bounty of success and humilating losses for their foes.

    i’ve already spent too much time on this…the LSU/texas A&M game has been great and i’m missing it; all because aziz decided to be brilliant on a saturday. thank you very much, aziz. no, really, thank you.

    two clips por vous (real-football & gratitude a la the dead):


    (yes, my friend, that is an english bulldog…we don’t dye ours solid white (like they do at UGA); we be da ‘real’ dawgs — realer by far than harvard)

    okay, two dead tunes to commerate the close of indian summer:

    we live in money/
    they loaded down/
    so soon after pay-day/
    no it seemed a shame/
    you know my uncle (Sam)/
    he starts a friendly game/
    …i love my uncle (Sam)/
    he taught me all i know/
    taught me so well/
    i grabbed that gold/
    and i left his dead-ass there/
    by the side of the road,

    janus

  9. “Well-written work — whether in plain language or mathematics — requires comprehensible explanations and definitions, so that a non-specialist with a moderate interest in the subject can quickly and easily grasp the gist of the concepts, the theory, the reasoning, and the predictions. ”

    One of the things I like about this blog is that your writing fits this description; I find it very clear and easy to follow, despite my not being an economist. Einstein once said, at least according to the general consensus on the internet, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. I find that very true, but I think academia as a whole is prone to making things more complicated than they really are.

    • Einstein was exactly right. Certain academics argue various forms of elitism as to why they should not simplify their work for more general consumption, but all of this ultimately boils down to a either their own miscomprehension or intellectual laziness.

      • Or a result of ego, conceit, bureaucratic isolation, false pride, selfish interest, etc. etc. , all worse than dumbass or sloth.

  10. John, you furiously pound your fists at the door, but refuse to turn the knob in order to gain entry.

    How is it possible that language of mathematics can be materially different than any other language? The difference is that most have bought into the fabrications that define their lives through spoken language, whereas, in math, it becomes easy to critique the massive inconsistencies as they do not challenge our very existence..

    Intuitively, we sense that math can not come very close to describing Reality [for reasons we have discussed previously], but we refuse to acknowledge the same when it comes to that which defines our ‘self,’ that illusory conception of what we hang onto for dear life, as real.

    • Mathematics is not materially different to any other language. That has never been my point. Ultimately, we do not really know the nature of the universe. We can detect atoms, molecules, and what we call quanta (and probably eventually subquanta), but we cannot detect what the fabric of the universe is, and we can only speculate on where it has come from and where it is going. Everything else — especially economics — is a conceptual framework we are hanging onto an essence of uncertainty.

    • I have always had a problem with language as a tool to communicate ideas. How do you communicate the nuanced teachings of the Bible or German theory into English.

      Mathematics provides this equilibrium, but in economics I don’t think mathematics applies.

      @ aziz: “If a mathematics journal and the peer-review process can be fooled by a meaningless paper spat out by a computer program, how much well-intentioned but bad or meaningless mathematics has also slipped through the peer review process?”

      I think this paragraph is crucial in undermining confidence by Politicians in the Economics field. As Mathematics provides an aura of credibility (In the mind of a lay Politician) this is dangerous, as it gives Economists too much influence.

  11. The subjective/objective split is fuzzy there is no clear cut line where something becomes objective fact without any subjectivity built in. The subject is built into any objective reality, we might think we can diminish the subject or we might reduce any subjective interference but this is just another perception hiding that this cannot be done. It is really time scientists came clean on the problem instead of pretending it is not there just to keep the golden eggs (power, status, wealth) coming. Our scientific models of the world are subjective and they will always remain subjective even if they masquerade as objective truth, and whole communities of scientists endorse them. The medieval Church operated in similar fashion.

  12. Imp, Buddy, robc: Aziz opened this discussion by debunking postmodernism (which holds that there ain’t-no-sech-a-thing as truth or reality) and applauding “underlining the divide between science and postmodernism”. Let’s take care that we do not confuse this distinction with objective vs. subjective, mathematics (language/tool) vs. science (fact/truth-seeking). True science has NEVER pretended to know ultimate truth/reality! Newly detected sub-atomic particles and newly revealed (by space-mounted imaging) geology of heavenly bodies IS truth, but science doesn’t claim that it is the total or final truth.

    Personally, as science admirer and low-level recreational mathematician, I try to keep this in mind: Reality is usually more complex (obscure, mysterious, elusive, etc.) that any human concept, model, explanation, etc.

    • “Reality is usually more complex (obscure, mysterious, elusive, etc.) that any human concept, model, explanation, etc.”

      Actually, DG, it’s quite the opposite. [R]eality is absolute simplicity, that is, intellectual perception/conception taken beyond its limit.

      • I’m afraid I’m lost here, Imp. I’m thinking of dark energy/dark matter, Higgs boson, breakthroughs in brain function, gene-splicing (old science now, I guess), etc. Isn’t simplicity found in ideals — love is better than hate, truth andhonesty are better than lies and deception, etc.?

        • DG, consider the limits of math [although this would apply to any-thing]. Approaching zero and infinity, math completely breaks down. It breaks down because it is approaching Reality.

          All things [intellectual] break down as they approach Reality. Absolute simplicity is another way of saying, beyond the limit[s] of the intellectual sphere. Increasing complexity is simply adding additional intellectual layers, therefore, the more complex, the further you move from the Truth [Reality].

          If you are speaking of relative truth [(r)eality], then the ideas you were putting forth may hold water. The problem is that once you understand the way reality is constructed [how thinking works], you can then twist it to support any idea.

          Since all things are born of the infinite condition causing its arising, if you can change these conditions [what people do through language], then you can establish a new reality.

          Increasing complexity in any field is called upon in order to deceive and deflect attention.

          Whereas the Truth is eminently simple, the greater the complexity, the greater the lie.

  13. Advances in Pure Mathematics is not a journal anyone takes seriously, so APM publishing garbage isn’t a valid reason to go around trashing mathematics. Nice try, though.

  14. I’ll attempt to save John Aziz the bother of refuting the false accusation that he (and others?) “go around trashing mathematics”. Even if dmitry had added a modifying clause, “in economics”, (which he didn’t), I find the term “trashing” unjustified except perhaps as applied to criticism of shoddy (or corrupt, as perpetrated by the anthropogenic global warming fraudsters) peer review or papers.

    • With apologies for a bit of sneakiness*, please allow me a “war story” of an experience at Northwestern University in the fall of 1944.

      American Socialist Party (?) candidate Norman Thomas was running, once again, for president. After an appearance in Chicago, he came to Evanston to speak to Northwestern students. Curious (at age 16**) I attended, and found my econ prof seated at the head table as sponsor the campus Socialist Club.

      After econ class the next week, I approached the prof to ask some questions about Thomas’ talk and related issues. He stopped me abruptly with: “Mr. Guier, this is Economics 301(+/-)!
      If you are interested in socialism, you may come to our club meetings (at time, place)”

      This is “Academic Freedom” and integrity as practiced at that time and place! Does anyone have a more recent anecdote?

      * Mathematics in economics is peripheral to the message. My flimsey excuse for this post is that I was in a special (advanced) class for students studying calculus.

      ** When MANY years older, I found that Thomas’ 1944 Socialist party platform was less socialistic than the quadrennial Democratic Party platforms.

    • Saying that mathematics had a Sokal moment because some crackpot journal that no mathematician regards as respectable published gibberish IS trashing mathematics. Perhaps Mr. Aziz, and you too, Don, should stick to talking about subjects that you actually understand, instead of throwing up a strawman and ridiculing the entire discipline of mathematics based on the actions of an unrepresentative crackpot journal.

      PS: Many people have taken advanced calculus classes, by the way, so your bragging does not impress.

      • Dmitry: either I can’t write or you can’t read — I footnoted my calculus-economics to justify using this thread to brag on the long-lost academic virtue of objectivity (now replaced by political correctness and bias posing as “academic freedom”). On the charge of “ridiculing the entire discipline of mathematics”, I have “defended” math (which, of course, needs no defense) many times on Azizonomics, and it seems quite clear to me that John Aziz’s exposing bogus, frivolous, misapplied math is a defense of true math.

        I hope your attack is not merely another instance (by fraudulent anthropogenic global warmers, in this case) of attacking the messenger(s) when they cannot refute the message.

        • Further to Dmitry: It was the econ course that was “advanced”, not calculus — the point being that students with some proficiency in math were offered an accelerated econ class.

      • Saying that mathematics had a Sokal moment because some crackpot journal that no mathematician regards as respectable published gibberish IS trashing mathematics.

        How am I ridiculing the entire discipline of mathematics? The humanities scholars could have said much the same thing about the journal that published Sokal: “Oh, this is not representative of us, the people who accepted this are crackpots, blah, blah blah!”

        Both cases are symptomatic of an intellectual culture (to which it is absurd to suggest all mathematicians or all humanists belong) putting form over function. If you don’t like that, then that’s your problem.

        • You’re extrapolating from a flawed data point onto the entire discipline of mathematics. It’s silly.

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  17. The potentially fraudulent concept of people “wanting to be be bulshitted” -as you describe it – by others, either labeled as “specialists” or successfully pretending to be “specialists” in their field of expertise, applies to all social and intellectual layers of our every day life. The above mentioned social (mis)behaviour-concept is as old as humanity.
    The human motives behind this behaviour to act in this above mentioned way by both parties (experts and followers) are explained with a lot of humor in Hans Christian Andersens’ short tale “The emperor’s new clothes”.
    Anderson also presents the standard solution for this type of fraudulent concept.
    For those of you who don’t know the “The emperor’s new clothes” short tale; I advise you to read it and try to be as open minded, objective, bold and courageous as the child in”The emperor’s new clothes”.
    One of the negative aspects of too much specialisation. Everybody has to specialize more and more to survive in this Western world economical concept on which our every day life is based nowadays. As a result nobody has or takes the time anymore to see the whole picture. As a result of that present times fact everybody automatically takes the more or less ignorant position outside their own field of expertise. Every hearer in advance assumes the experts’ integrity, based on the principle of trusting the other humans’ good intentions. Through the ages, and in recent years for instance, the financial crisis, the politicians’ lies and the military decisions have shown us that it is still better to not trust stories, actions and plans of the financial, military and political elite decision makers’ good intentions beforehand. Always check their story yourself, confirm that the action in fact took place, check the motives of the participants involved in the practical implementation of the story.In other words; “Who infact, in reality, will benefit personally or as a group, from the result of the story, action, plan, and who will lose, suffer, personally or as a group, from the result of the story, action, plan?
    Vili Ross. Musician. Netherlands

    • VR: Do you know the 20th century musical “The Music Man”? It is a modern lesson comparable to “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

      • No Don. I don’t know that musical, but I checked an excerpt of the plot in Wikipedia.
        First I will add the wikipedia quote I need to specify the point I’m attempting to make in my above comment. After that quote I will specify the point I try to make in my above comment, compared to the “The music man” plot as mentioned in the Wikipedia excerpt.
        {quote wikipedia} The Music Man is a musical with book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey. The plot concerns con man Harold Hill, who poses as a boys’ band organizer and leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to naive townsfolk before skipping town with the cash. In River City, Iowa, prim librarian and piano teacher Marian Paroo sees through him, but when Hill helps her younger brother overcome his fear of social interactions due to his lisp, Marian begins to fall in love with Harold. Harold, in turn falling for Marian, risks being caught to win her.{end quote wikipedia}.
        Now my addition:
        Piano teacher Marian Paroo sees through the plot con man Harold Hill sells the naive townsfolk.
        But teacher Marian starts to fall in love with con man Harold. Because Harold is not only the bad guy, but – like all of us – sometimes good and sometimes bad. To be precise we all sometimes behave ourselves in what we all consider to be “a good human behavioural manner” in some situations and sometimes in what we consider as “a bad human behavioural manner”.
        I don’t know how this The Music Man plot will end. As mentioned I did not read the book, the musical- or filmscript.
        But am I wrong assuming we all feel it is right and just when con man Harold is in some way punished for betraying the townfolks and stealing their money if he in fact succeeds to steal their money and actually steals it?
        And am I also right assuming we all think it is not right when teacher Marian willingly lets con man Harold get away with this crime, in spite of the fact that Harold helps her younger brother to overcome his social interaction fears?
        Am I right in assuming there are a lot of us that see and feel the “grey” position of Marian between these black and white positions of Harold the con man and Harold the helper of her brother? We see and feel the difficulties she has to face in her decision making process and moral struggle to come to a – what ever she feel as a – “good” decision in this matter. What would we do in such a postion?
        Now I will come my point.
        Because of the fact that (con)matters in all sizes and levels in life are very often not only black or white (respectively bad or good), but in majority are complicated by the grey (personal interests) of individuals that have to decide in the decision making process of matters being shaped and concretisized on the basis of the everyday-reality-of-life.
        Hence the point I made in my first comment above:
        {begin quote} Always check their story yourself, confirm that the action in fact took place, check the motives of the participants involved in the practical implementation of the story.In other words; “Who infact, in reality, will benefit personally or as a group, from the result of the story, action, plan, and who will lose, suffer, personally or as a group, from the result of the story, action, plan?{end quote}.
        This concept will only work for all of us if we strive to think and feel objective, open and without prejudice. When we are as open minded, objective, bold and courageous as the child in” The emperor’s new clothes”.
        But that does not mean we have to do ourself any unnecessary harm by sharing this knowledge with ignorant others. Ignorant others from whom we know they will demonize us (for whatever reasons) when we tell them that “the earth is not flat but round”.
        Not all of us are called as Don Quichote or Jesus. (Wink).

  18. Yes, VR, you “get the point(s)” of both morality plays. And your dicta on skepticism and verification are spot-on as Aziz and other Brits would put it! I’m not surprised — musicians often share the same aesthetics and disciplines, including precision, with mathematicians and scientists

    But I beg to differ on your last thought above: we SHOULD share our knowledge (but not necessarily our opinions) with ignorant others. Not many of us are as unrealistic as Don Quixote or as brave as Jesus, but there is enough ignorance and disinformation out there to provide every one of us opportunities to improve the human condition. Add “ignorance” to “falsehood” as you listen to the poet:

    “Once to every man and nation
    Comes the moment to decide,
    In the strife of truth with falsehood,
    For the good or evil side.”

    If you will allow a somewhat-related anecdote, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s mea culpa: “We saw Viet Nam as part of a global cold war; they saw it as our interfering in a civil war.”

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