Axiomatic Psychology

Can we have an axiomatic theory of psychology?

A bit of background: since at least the time of Spinoza, up until the present day, a limited number of people have made attempts at creating an axiomatic approach to understanding and studying the human psyche.

They have all failed to gain any traction or respect. The most likely reason, in my assessment, is quite simply having way too many axioms.

An axiom is supposed to be a clear, “self-evident” truth, from which one can then logically derive other truths. The most famous use of axioms is by Euclid, where he used 5 very simply stated axioms (like “The whole is greater than the part”) to derive a few hundred pages of geometry. Modern mathematical economics also uses a handful of axioms, while the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises only required one axiom (“Human action is purposeful behavior”) to understand the world.

However, modern attempts at axiomatizing psychology include dozens of axioms. For example, the “pyscho-logic” approach has over 50 axioms. What’s worse, is that many of these axioms have been expressed mathematically.

To me, this is unnecessarily complicated analysis. So below, I have attempted to give a start to a new kind of axiomatic psychology, using only one axiom:

Axiom: Thinking is the ability of a brain to observe, analyze, and decide.

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RIP Walter Williams

Professor Walter Williams passed away last night. He was an extraordinary man who I had the pleasure to learn from through his articles, videos, and his lectures at George Mason University.

Many others have shared their Williams stories today, and I’ll share one of mine that I still think about often.

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What Causes Microbust Storms?

Note: This entry was initially written for Level 2 cadets at the 540 Golden Hawks Squadron. See other posts in this series.


An interesting weather phenomenon known as a “wet microburst”. which is when a lot of rain falls in a very small area, which causes a lot of winds as a result. These can look very cool, but are very dangerous to fly through!

Wet microbursts are a type of “downburst”, which happen during thunderstorms. A downburst is anytime cool air is forced out of a storm in a smallish area; if that air also has rain in it, and if the downburst is smaller than 4 kilometers in diameter, it becomes a “wet microburst”.

One way to think about thunderstorms is that they first need to “breathe in” by taking in warm air from the ground; and then as the warm air is cooled at high altitudes, the storm “breathes out” the cool air.

If the “breathed in” air is humid enough, and the high altitude air is cold enough, precipitation forms—which means the “breathed out” air can be either rain or hail. (This is why hail mostly happens in the spring.)

Thunderstorms — ANAC National Civil Aviation Agency - Brazil
Clouds first “breathe in” warm air, get bigger, then “breathe out” cold air and precipitation. Picture from the National Civil Aviation Agency of Brazil: https://www.anac.gov.br/en/safety/aeronautical-meteorology/conditions/thunderstorms

Most of the time, storms take in a “deep breath”, forcing the air to very high altitudes which also causes it to spread out, and then “breathe out” over large areas.

But sometimes, especially after a hail storm where the melting ice forms an area of much cooler air, the breathing out process starts much earlier—at both a lower altitude and before the air has had a chance to spread out over the sky.

This is what causes a downburst, and in effect it’s like dumping a huge bucket of water (or heavy air) from the heavens unto the earth. With gusts of wind that can travel up to 240 km per hour, you want to be very far away from one!

The RDA of Vitamin D is based on bad statistics

Vitamin D has been in the news lately, especially for its beneficial effects on immunity (as well as other benefits), and its potentially beneficial effects in preventing the development of COVID-19.

So how much vitamin D should a person be getting every day? The “recommended daily allowance” suggested by the Canadian and American nutrition authorities is 600 “international units” (equivalent to 15 micrograms).

A Brief History of the Modern RDA

Where did those RDAs come from? The answer is a 2011 report published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), called the Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Of particular note, it determined that Americans and Canadians require a daily vitamin D intake of about 600 IU per day by analyzing 32 studies of vitamin D supplmentation.

Their findings are explained and graphed in Chapter 5 of their report, pages 380-383 and figure 5-3: by supplementing with 600 IU of vitamin D per day, 97.5% of people will achieve adequate levels of vitamin D.

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Forget about the second wave of the virus, get ready for a recessionary tsunami

Originally published at the Hill Times.

In the midst of multi-phase re-opening plans, Covid-19 cases are back on the rise around the world. This has caused talks of a second round of lockdowns to circulate before this first round of unlocking. This is music to the ears of struggling business owners. Yet we shouldn’t expect a government-orchestrated economic plan to be harmonious. The new normal for businesses will still mean a cacophony of higher input prices and disrupted distribution networks. 

Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s fiscal snapshot delivered Wednesday predicts a very sharp recovery in GDP, with a gentle tapering of unemployment. This is a bad prognosis. With or without a second round of lockdowns, the economy will fall sharply ill again. Simply put, the global economy of the past few months has produced less stuff to use in trade, production, and manufacturing. What makes it worse is that these disruptions have happened at the arbitrary whim of bureaucrats. Even if demand returns to pre-Covid levels tomorrow, businesses may not be able to support their existing workforces or capital structure. 

The invisible hand of supply and demand will soon be greeting the market not with a socially distant salute; but rather with an invasive groping of revenue streams and supply chains. Investors and business owners must prepare for the worst. Expect more layoffs, store closures, and bankruptcies, as entrepreneurs unmask what the new normal will look like.

Politicians themselves will never admit to these problems. Many will tout that their decision-making has been prudent and shrewd, as they’ve been seeking expert advice. Officials tell us to expect the economy to bounce right back, even though these advisors are not economists themselves. Whether the recovery will look like a “V” or “U”, we should seriously question the alphabet soup of optimism that we’re being told to swallow. 

Foremost: politicians have no objective measure for determining what is and isn’t essential. The global supply and distribution system is, quite literally, unimaginably complex. The metaphor of a supply “chain” is misleading, as it implies a clear beginning and end. Since what may be a consumption good for one person may be a capital good for another, it’s more accurate to talk about an economic crochet—an intricate interweaving of supply threads and demand threads, coming together in an ever growing pattern of commerce. Plucking away at random threads may seem harmless at first, but it fundamentally alters the structural integrity of the whole economy. 

The impacts are already being felt. Scholars estimate an increase of over 253,000 cases of infant mortality this year due to the global lockdowns (compare that number to 550,000, the worldwide death total of Covid-19). 

Between overloaded mental crisis hotlines, deferred cancer testing and treatment, an increase in domestic abuse, disruptions in supplying pharmaceuticals, and a global food supply crisis that the UN’s World Food Programme says could lead to 270 million people being “acutely food insecure”, it will be years until the full effects of these lockdowns will be reckoned with. 

Governments around the world have been almost uniform in their response: hand out money to seemingly anyone who asks for it. Where did all this money come from, in a time when many are working and earning less? The central banks. Yet printing money to prop up financial assets devalues the currency overall. Ultimately, all of us will be forced to pay higher prices for everyday goods and services. 

Although this pandemic is novel, the laws of economics remain unchanged. Prices are determined by supply and demand, and enterprising individuals will find a solution to anything profitable. Understanding these principles will be the key to a healthy prognosis for recovery. The only complication to worry about is more meddling by politicians, which has a simple cure: civic vigilance.  

Human Action in One-Syllable Words

Human Action by Ludwig von Mises — in one-syllable words (inspired by the summaries of famous philosophical works by Jason Brennan). Here is a short summary, before launching into a part-by-part treatment:

You can choose. With this true face, we can use just our wits to learn some more true facts: like you act in time, you have doubt about fate, and that you give up your least liked piece of a thing to get more of what you want. If you live with a group that you trade with, you should each own the goods you use to make things with and trade them for cash. The cash math will help with your growth plans. If you don’t, your group will break and rot. If any bank makes fake cash and lends it out, it will cause a boom and bust. Folks are blind to these facts; you must help them see.

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Understanding the Fed’s Bond ETF Program

Yesterday, the Federal Reserve did something it’s never done before: purchasing exchange traded funds (ETFs) that are invested in corporate bonds. As a brand new program, this has generated a lot of confusion on behalf of the public. Why is the Fed buying bonds? Who is the Fed helping by buying corporate bond ETFs?

I’ll try to answer these questions (and more) in this article.

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