Economics vs physics

An interesting post by the Economic Logician that bears on our recent discussion:

Physicists believe that social sciences can only be described as true sciences if on can figure out some laws that always apply, without exceptions, and if there some invariant constants that would be good, too. Social scientists do not believe this is the right approach, foremost as one has to deal with individuals and societies that make choices.

James Wayne realizes that Physics lacks one ingredient that is essential in social sciences: choice.

  • “This paper attempts to create such universal laws, and asserts that economics is a branch of quantum physics”

    I’ve heard that in the past from other economists – but it is a bit beyond me. More reason to read the paper!

    • I didn’t read that bit: way over my head!

      • jjw

        James, it is not that difficult. It’s is just very broad indeed.
        It involves many important threads in physics, economics, philosophy, history, politics, biology, psychology, finance, mathematics, information science, and even religions! (Did Adam and Eve have free will ?)
        But it is important. Otherwise, we would not talk about them for thousands of years. We don’t have better alternatives.

    • frswbsits

      Well but then one could argue that every single thing in the universe – including all sciences – is just a branch of quantum physics. After all, at the very lowest level, that is what governs everyhing. Even human decision-making.

      • I see your point that is what he’s saying – but I can’t help point out my concerns about free-will and determinism here (as it gives me a chance). I know that isn’t really in vogue nowadays – but doesn’t suggesting that human choice is reducible to quantum physics in a causal sense rule out free will?

        I am less certain about our ability to find these universal laws …

        • jjw

          Matt, Wayne’s paper’s central point is that human choice is not reducible to anything else more fundamental. Therefore, choice becomes fundamental for BOTH PHYSICS AND ECONOMICS.
          Then economics is a branch of quantum physics because every human decision is now a quantum phenomena. Then we need physics laws of social science to organize all thoughts in economics and other social science.
          The detail biology of free will is not very important to economics. At this point, it is not well understood anyway.

        • jjw

          It’s very easy to see human choice are something fundamental for BOTH PHYSICS AND SOCIAL SCIENCE.

          For example, if Hillary Clinton chose not to marry Bill Clinton, the course of history would be a slight different. Her single choice actually altered the course of the universe itself!

      • jjw

        You made a very good point. If it is a very general argument that anything including economics is quantum physics, it really solves nothing.

        It must show it can help solve real problems, like creating a fundamental equation of economics ( ) that economists at least have something in common at the starting point for arguments.

        That’s exact the problem of today’s economics. Everyone looks at the same economic data releases. Yet everyone has their own opinion. These are not average Joe. These are professional economists! In physics, for past 400 years, physicists very much arrived the same conclusions by looking at the same data set. Thanks to Newton!

  • Wilbur Townsend

    I don’t get this– are physicists arguing that biology and psychology aren’t sciences? I’m not even sure that chemistry is a science under the ‘universal law’ criterion.

    • Good point. To be fair to them, I am not sure that physicists are quite this doctrinaire with their views!

    • This is someone’s caricature of physicists so I wouldn’t take it too literally. The main point is that the absence of choice makes the problem—whatever it is—easier. Expecting social sciences to ever look like physics would be silly.

      • jjw

        No. No. No. It’s not silly at all.

        It turns out only physics can resolve for sure foundational questions in social science. For example, we could create a fundamental question for entire economics by using physics laws of social science. Please check out

    • Wilbur Townsend

      Sure — from my experience only a few physicists spend as much time as they should contemplating the philosophy of economics anyway 🙂

      I s’pose my point is that expecting *any* science other than physics to look like physics is silly.

      • And that is a good point – one I definitely agree with!

  • Oxigen

    Thanks for the kind words, Best of luck with your lessons!
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  • sdasd

    choice is irrelevant when you’re talking about the laws of nature. nature is as nature is. our ‘choice’ has nothing to do with anything.

    • jjw

      Quantum mechanics is all about choice. Physicists just sometimes feel more comfortable to use different terminologies like “wave function collapse”. Wheeler used the word “choice” in “Wheeler’s delayed choice”.