On Symbolism in Science

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[Originally posted on Mises.ca]

[Note: Many economists justify their use of unrealistic mathematical models by reference to “the map and the territory”: that mathematical models are merely a map to the territory of the real world, and that a “perfect” map wouldn’t be a map at all. The origin of this metaphor is an extremely short (only 145 words!) story called “On Exactitude in Science,” which recounts an ancient myth of map makers who made the perfect map as big as the empire, which unsurprisingly turned out to be useless. However, I have recently uncovered a second part to this legendary tale, which elaborates on what happened when the map-makers abandoned their desire for realism….]

… The New Cartographers, having long ago abandoned their obsession with exactitude, had a new focus: prediction. Thus, they crafted a System of Symbols to simplify and minimize the size of their Maps, while maximizing their predictive Power. But the Symbolism became so complex and divorced from Reality that, instead of occupying a small Corner, Map Legends occupied many Pages—and required trained Expertise for interpretation. Hiring Teams of Map Interpreters became the norm for Travelers, creating many Employment Opportunities for the New Cartographers. Yet the Maps were so confusing, that even with Professional help, Travelers still lost their way in spectacular Fashion. In fact, as the Symbolism grew more complex, and the Fees of the New Cartographers skyrocketed, more Travelers failed to ever reach their Destination. And soon, for Reasons of Self-Preservation and Economy, both the New Maps and the New Cartographers were discarded.

–Suarez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLVI, Lerida, 1658

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Gravity, Alternative Physics, and the Force in Star Wars

With all the hype about the new Star Wars movie, I’ve been becoming more interested in the franchise. Specifically, I’ve become more interested in the concept of the Force.

According to Wikipedia, the Force ” is a binding, metaphysical, and ubiquitous power in the fictional universe of the Star Wars galaxy created by George Lucas…. can enhance natural, physical, and mental abilities, including strength (such as during a “Force jump” or to slow a fall from an otherwise dangerous height) and accuracy… other Force powers are demonstrated in the film series including telekinesis, telepathy,levitation, deep hypnosis, enhanced empathy, reflexes, precognition, and enhanced speed.”

So the Force isn’t just the ability to control objects at a distance, it’s something that seems to permeate the entire being of a person possessed with it, including their emotions. Sounds pretty mysterious, right? It’s almost like magic. At least, I always thought so. And others in the Star Wars Universe seem to think so as well.

But what if there was a non-mysterious, rational, and physical explanation for the Force, as opposed to mysterious metaphysical magic? Continue reading “Gravity, Alternative Physics, and the Force in Star Wars”