Does P=NP?

December 5, 2009

If P=NP, then the world would be a profoundly different place than we usually assume it to be. There would be no special value in “creative leaps,” no fundamental gap between solving a problem and recognizing the solution once it’s found. Everyone who could appreciate a symphony would be Mozart; everyone who could follow a step-by-step argument would be Gauss; everyone who could recognize a good investment strategy would be Warren Buffett. It’s possible to put the point in Darwinian terms: if this is the sort of universe we inhabited, why wouldn’t we already have evolved to take advantage of it?  – Scott Aaronson (reason #9)

When you have some free time, watch this amazing lecture by Avi Wigderson about one of the great open problems in all of mathematics.

Mistaking Beauty for Truth

November 13, 2009

Peter Klein agrees with Paul Krugman that economists have mistaken beauty for truth, but disagrees that it has anything to do with the financial crisis so he won’t be signing the Hodgson petition.

Also at the Organizations and Markets blog, Nicolai Foss discusses a special journal issue entitled “Economic Models as Credible Worlds or as Isolating Tools?”

Speaking of models and truth and beauty, I found Murray Gell-Mann’s TED Talk fascinating.  He argues that in physics, a beautiful theory is more likely to be true.  This makes me a little nervous.  I would be especially worried about using this heuristic in the social sciences because the objects we are studying are complex, and have so much meaning to us that our aesthetic sense is more likely to attach to theories for reasons other than truth.  Truth may be beautiful, but so are our cognitive biases and ideologies.

Forced to Defend Rational Choice Theory

November 10, 2009

I’m finally responding to Eli Thorkelson, who asked for my comments on an article by feminist economist Julie Nelson.  The article is a critique of rational choice theory (RCT) and I think it has some omissions and misleading claims.

I regularly come across particular instances of rational choice theorizing that I dislike, but non-economists, including sociologists, often dismiss rational choice theory without understanding it, so when the topic comes up among non-economists, I almost inevitably find myself defending it.  My claim is that rational choice theory, broadly construed, is an important, though certainly not the only, useful framework for understanding human behavior.  This should be considered an utterly boring claim.  What is interesting is how any social scientist could deny it… Read the rest of this entry »


October 21, 2009

(What would Popper Do? Or perhaps more accurately, How would Popper feel?) An interesting thread on “identification” over at OrgTheory.

From the comments on the intent of the intial post: “What I [Fabio Rojas] am trying to get at is that there is a temptation to dump theory for ever more sophisticated hypothesis testing.” To me, a concern definitely worth heeding.