The tyranny of positivism


Anyone who is not a positivist before 25 has no brain; anyone who is still a positivist after age 40 has no heart.

[Positivists promote] the tyranny of the lonely genius, seeking by contemplation in his warm room a universal system to impose upon us all.

An interesting question left largely unanswered in the essay is why introspection and hypothesis testing are so attractive to the young, yet not to the old. Is it because young people are at a comparative disadvantage in exercises that require broad knowledge and understanding? Do they have a comparative advantage in technical statistical work?

4 replies
  1. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:

    Non-positivism still uses introspection, so I’m not sure that call is fair.

    Also, I suspect it is the experiene that people have by an older age that makes them, on average, more able to answer normative questions – experience combined with introspection 😉

    • James K
      James K says:

      It’s harder to get people to take you seriously when you’re young, so you fall back on analytical methods which have strong support in the academic community.  Nobody cares about the introspections of a 25 year old.

      • Matt Nolan
        Matt Nolan says:

        You are right.  But of course to that I’d say all the more fool them.

        Yes, age is a signal of the quality of their introspection – but at a minimum if the introspection of older people is superior, they should be able to describe the conditions where it differs.  Otherwise, they have a poor understanding of the “experiments” they are undertaking in their mind, and as a result I find it difficult to trust their introspection 😉

        • jamesz
          jamesz says:

          You can be better without understanding how and why you’re better. In fact, that’s usually the case.


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