[OPE-L] the point of a dynamic model?

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Fri Mar 23 2007 - 16:20:52 EDT

Hi Jerry,

I was just reading Stutje's new biography of Ernest Mandel, just published,
and he notes that Mandel also ran into this problem of dynamic models back
in 1972.

"What had to be analysed was how the partially autonomous variables would
develop under different circumstances; how a new balance would be restored,
why new disturbances would appear and when and under what conditions these
would culminate in an overproduction crisis. Mandel did not succeed in
designing such dynamic schema's. Harry Chester, an American statistician,
wrote to him: "The difficulty is not the large number of independent
variables - in this age of the computer this is only a technical problem.
The greatest difficulty is rather the dialectical aspect of the system, the
fact that the same variable at different points in time and under changing
conditions yields opposite effects. How can a model be designed for that?"
(translated from Jan Willem Stutje, Ernest Mandel: Rebel tussen Droom en
Daad. Antwerpen: Houtekiet, 2007, p. 183). Chester referred to the example
of technological change, which could have quite different effects in times
of slump and times of boom (op. cit., footnote 1000).

Hence also Dr Carchedi's reference to "dialectics": "phenomena are both
determinant and determined. As determinant, they are the condition of
existence of other phenomena, the determined ones; as determined, they are
the condition of further reproduction or supersession of the determinant
phenomena" etc.

For example, the female nipple can stiffen and protrude outwards upon
excitation; but it can also invert.

Logically of course it is not impossible to formalise such a thing, if we
can specify and formalise the combination of trends which would cause a
variable to have the opposite effect of what it previously had, i.e. a
change in configuration. As a rule, if we are able to think it, we can
formalise it at least in principle - but the formalisation might be
enormously longer that a thought we can easily express in ordinary language.
Mandel himself remarked (in Socialist Register) that the number of
permutations which a chessgame permits is larger than all the stars in the
universe; the human brain is nevertheless capable of winning a chessgame,
even against a computer at times.

"Computers are becoming more and more dominant against everyone but the top
200 players in the world. That is leading to an overall performance rating
for computers that is getting higher and higher. However, the players in the
top-200 are holding their ground even against the latest and greatest
computers. Perhaps that group will soon shrink down to only the top-100, or
the top-50, but not inevitably, and not irreversibly."

The basic problem, I suggest, that lies at the root of this whole
controversy concerns the purpose/role of theory or models. The purpose of
theory is to make sense of the facts of experience and orient experience,
and the simpler they are, the better. By the time we make theory and models
extraordinarily nuanced to make sense of experience, then we are defeating
the purpose and we ought to be looking at the very conditions under which
the theory and the models themselves are formed. Something can be
overtheorised, to the extent that the fine distinctions have no real
purchase anymore on reality, and a far simpler explanation is possible that
satisfies all the conditions of a good explanation.

For many Marxists, it seems, Marx's theory is a classy ornament with which
they like to adorn themselves, it makes them feel proud and confident that
truth and history are on their side, and so on. In reality, the theory does
absolutely no work whatsoever - no attempt is made to explain real facts -
and it merely provides a sophisticated language with which the so-called
Marxist can flaunt his erudition and interpret the nature of reality.


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