Theory of special relativity explains how relative positions of observers can often lead to contradicting perceptions. For example, two actors who are in different inertial frames can both claim to be in a state of rest, or they both can observe that the clock possessed by the other one is running slower, or dispute the length of the stick they are carrying. The vantage point matters, but thankfully with physics we have an explanatory scheme, once we prove the consequences of space and time in special relativity we can appease both the actors.
Depending on the mental state of an observer his perspective about a drunk destitute can vary from absolute empathy to an outright contempt, to a certain degree even this perception is transient. Our emotions are also relative to some reference point, try describing happiness in absolute sense, actually a sub-saharan African nomad might just be more contented than a wall-street banker. Recently I watched a documentary which claimed the slum dwellers of Kolkata are on an average happier than the residents of the United States. Ignorance can be bliss, but it’s irrelevant because no matter how attractive this happiness may sound not many Americans will trade their suburbs for an Indian slum residence. Similarly, ranking emotive responses of various individuals after disregarding their relative mental benchmark is quite meaningless.
“We are studying mental and not physical events, and much that we believe to know about the external world is, in fact, knowledge about ourselves” – F.A.Hayek
In “Human Action” Ludwig von Mises elaborates on the epistemological problems of historical interpretations, and rightly so, because no matter how unbiased a writer might be his narrative has to be from a vantage point determined by the particular facts he had prioritized and picked for analysis. We can logically classify information as relevant only based on our relative experience and exposure to various coherent abstract patterns. For example, a person unaware of a right-angled triangle can never classify the structure nor derive its Pythagorean properties, for him it might be just another triangle. Our comprehension is indeed relative to the recognizable abstract structures developed in our mind, rest becomes incomprehensible jitters. Why do you think every time you reread a book or go back and listen to your favorite song you discover something novel?
Robert Higgs had convincingly refuted the case of military Keynesianism by interpreting the events after World War II from a different perspective, similarly a study of market reforms in India by GP.Manish provided contrasting insights to the same sequence of events. Thomas Sowell’s Economic Facts and Fallacies is quite successful at clarifying various clichés in social sciences. Here theories are closely related to the subjective mental classification of the phenomenon in question. The researchers who saw economy as represented by quantifiable aggregates (like GDP) interpreted the events differently from Robert Higgs and G.P.Manish. Scholars who disregarded the relative position of various distinct elements within an order of organized complexity committed several fallacies, which Thomas Sowell successfully clarifies. When you grasp a complex problem using a separate analytic framework then different relevant details emerge for the very same phenomenon in question, hence the relative mental framework matter.
Value preferences also influence interpretation, especially within politics. A Socialist take is relative to utopia, a progressive ideologue narrative is relative to egalitarian values and similarly conservatives have their own flavor. Opinions are formed by comprehending a group of related facts which are perceived and evaluated by employing some ethical value system, hence individuals possessing different ethical benchmarks can express conflicting views, there is no absolute hierarchical order for such values but they can be definitely arranged in an order of compatibility with regards to a particular social framework. Only those ethical preferences which encourage actions compatible with the overall scientific nature of a social order can produce the intended results, in an optimal manner. For example, we cannot expect to employ ethics compatible with hunter gatherers to a market society and expect similar outcomes. In fact, the scientific method to evaluate divergent ethical views would be to understand its contextual social relevance without engaging in claims of its absolute moral superiority.
Here is a paper on mental contamination and mental correction, seems our motivation, awareness and ability to correct a mental bias is essential for precise identification of problems in social sciences. Objective laboratory based proofs cannot exist, so our mental constructs can play a significant role in defining how we perceive and classify a problem of highly engaging complexity. Society is built on human action driven on an immensely diverse set of causal factors, our biases can consciously or unconsciously play a significant role in defining how we look for data within this complex order, they are closely related to the specific questions and corresponding answers sought to define a problem. The same Wall Street crash event is interpreted from the perspective of lack of regulation to over-regulation; hence the identified causal factors vary relative to our theoretical and ethical mental biases.
Content from the archives, this was posted elsewhere over 4 years ago.