Archive for 6/2/2003
If there is anything I worship in this world, it can be summed by the word "competence." I respect any man who gets the best job that his abilities will allow and does it well – whether his profession is in aerospace or sanitation engineering. Perhaps this is why I get extremely annoyed by people who cannot even perform some measly job that anyone with mild retardation should be able to do. I remember one Disney flick that featured a scene where an "evil" capitalist boss chews out a waitress for spilling a pitcher of water all over him. (I paraphrase "Being a waitress is not a complicated job" he said, "there are only a few simple things asked of you, but you have managed to fuck them up." At this point the waitress cries and the theater boos the "greedy" boss, but I could barely resist shouting "hell yeah!"
Anyway, the major reason that I got out of the liberal arts field and into a technical one is that unlike the social sciences — where success is measured by federal grants, tenures, votes, and slaps on the back, the measure of success in a technical field is simple: your product either works or it doesn’t, your invention either makes money or it flunks. There is no "subjectivity" in deciding whether a certain solution is correct: as one of my profs pointed out today, there may a number of solutions to any given design problem, but there is only one that is best for the job. Both of the professors I am taking now match my ideal for both politicians and academics: teaching is not their primary occupation, and the material they teach is not just composed of abstract theories they have never applied or tested: they make their living with their minds, and they share knowledge that they know from firsthand experience to be true.
This is not to say that the social sciences are necessarily inferior to the technical ones, but that they have come to be that way because of their misguided philosophy. Some would say that the social studies are necessarily more "abstract" and "relative" because they deal with opinions and general statements that are hard to verify — as opposed to the hard sciences, which deal with directly observable facts. This is not true. In economics and politics I also dealt with many facts that are not in dispute (within most contexts) – the GPD of an economy, an inflation rate, a population size, a particular law, a known number of factories. Conversely, a very "hard" and "practical" field like information tech has many theoretical questions – what is the best model for software development, what is the trend in the relationship between centralized and distributed computing, what does the steady rise in outsourcing tech jobs to foreign countries mean for the industry, what licensing model is best for what kind of software development, etc. The primary difference and the flaw with the social sciences is the way that directly observable facts are integrated into theory. Ideally, one uses an inductive process by which he forms tentative conclusions from a great number of direct observations and constantly verifies his conclusions against reality to form a sound theory about some aspect of his field. Conflicting theories are resolved by comparing them to factual evidence and by integrating them into the field as a whole. The result is an integrated and comprehensive body of knowledge where each statement is firmly grounded in direct evidence and fits in soundly into a consistent body of knowledge. The actual method currently used in the social sciences is diabolically opposed to this. "Research" is split between abstract theories and studies based on direct observation. The first are disconnected from reality as well as from each other, while the second yield conclusions that while true, are useless statistics because they lack any sort of theoretical basis or connection to a larger theory. The end result is that conclusions are based on unstated assumptions and mistaken premises usually having something to do with Marx’s definition of commodies.