Saturday, December 01, 2012

Book Reviews: Intellectuals and Society

Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell.

This book reflects a goodly number of my own views, so it wasn't exactly helpful to read it.  It was also extremely long.  He could have made his case in less than half the space he used.  Basically, you can skip the last ten chapters and be fine.

Here are the parts of the book I thought were particularly good:

The difference between causality and conveyance: An actor may convey something without being the cause of it.  A merchant may not be the cause of the high prices his store conveys.

The human mind is limited, so it is only by going to extreme levels of abstraction that you can conclude anything on a societal scale.  Consequently, humility is in order, as any time you change something, you'll change thousands of other things, most of which you don't know about (this is something I deal with at work all the time).

I liked the phrasing of "abstract people in an abstract world."  You need to be able to take a theory down to the individual specimen and test it, but this almost never happens systematically in the social science world.

I liked the chapter on filtering reality.  I think this plays into my view of science as a result of being a creationist.  Scientists know their own field very well, and know there are things they can't explain.  Places the theory doesn't work.  However, they don't know the doubts about other scientists' fields, and the "overwhelming evidence" from other scientists produces confidence that the theory is valid despite the flaws before their eyes.  If everyone you know and respect is saying one thing, being the odd man out prevents most everyone from speaking out, especially given the opprobrium that will be heaped on the heads of those who question sacrosanct theories.

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