Russ Roberts: Yeah, that was very deep. I thought about Joseph in the Book of Genesis, when, he is the steward of Potiphar's house. And you are thinking: Why is this lowly person given this control? He's really smart, was one answer; but it's not enough. It's that ability to punish down-side. And of course, as a result of it Joseph ends up in prison, really, in what appears to be a life sentence, but manages to get out. But the point about having a slave versus an employee is a really interesting one. And it highlights something--and we talked about this in another one of our conversations. And it's so trivial, but it's so deep, because it's so easily misunderstood. And the way you phrased it is: Probabilities aren't the same as expectation. The odds of something being remote is not enough to mean you don't have to worry about it. Because it depends on the consequences of that remote thing happening, not just the probability. So, being wiped out by your slave, or being able to punish your slave is really very powerful because it's the , not just the probability that matters. And I think that's just an incredibly--it's incredibly obvious--but it's very deep because people forget it all the time. They say, 'That's just a low-probability event.' Well, but if you when it happens, it's more important than if you don't die.
Russ Roberts: Let's talk about the honorable life. You say the following. You say,
Most people you run into in real life, bakers, cobblers, plumbers, taxi drivers, accountants, tax advisers, garbage collectors, dental cleaning assistants, carwash operators--not counting Spanish grammar specialists--pay a price for their mistakes.So, here I am--I have a great life, by the way; I'm very lucky and blessed. But I don't know how honorable it is, I don't have much skin in the game. I mean, I could do a bad or better job interviewing my guests, but I'm kind of just chitchatting here.
We cannot figure out the answer in a few months or years, we need to do whatever it takes to solve the problem.” Kip Thorne, a California Institute of Technology physicist, told us in 1997 that he attributed Einstein’s deep insight to his “conviction that the universe loves simplicity and beauty… His willingness to be guided by this conviction, even if it meant destroying the foundations of Newtonian physics, led him, with a clarity of thought that others could not match, to his new description of space and time.
The problem is that technology is often just there – fascinating, new, socially celebrated, affordable, and available – and it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that, since earlier generations did without it, we ‘moderns’/’postmoderns’ must therefore have progressed, that we are necessarily better off. Pernicious nonsense, Thoreau would say. We must show some discrimination in terms of what we choose to celebrate. If some new technology genuinely furthers our life goals and does not distract us from more important activities, then, by all means, we should take advantage of it. But Thoreau warned that all too often – in insidious ways – technology costs more than it comes to.
The ethical implications of belief in such a god are precisely the same as those of atheism; this inner agreement, however, is again disguised outwardly behind a cloud of metaphor. In the Christian order all activity in this life is viewed and judged in the light of the life of the future world, the life beyond death which will have no end. The unbeliever can have no idea of what this life means to the believing Christian; for most people today the future life has, like God, become a mere idea, and it therefore costs as little pain and effort to deny as to affirm it. For the believing Christian, the future life is joy inconceivable, joy surpassing the joy he knows in this life through communion with God in prayer, in the Liturgy, in the Sacrament; because then God will be all in all and there will be no falling away from this joy, which will indeed be infinitely enhanced. The true believer has the consolation of a foretaste of eternal life. The believer in the modern god, having no such foretaste and hence no notion of Christian joy, cannot believe in the future life in the same way; indeed, if he were honest with himself, he would have to admit that he cannot believe in it at all.
But perhaps most revealing of the infection of humanism by Vitalism is the strange axiom, romantic and skeptical at the same time, that the "love of truth" is never-ending because it can never be fulfilled, that the whole of life is a constant search for something there is no hope of finding, a constant movement that never can--nor should--know a place of rest. The sophisticated humanist can be very eloquent in describing this, the new first principle of scholarly and scientific research, as an acknowledgement of the "provisional" nature of all knowledge, as a reflection of the never-satisfied, ever-curious human mind, or as part of the mysterious process of "evolution" or "progress"; but the significance of the attitude is dear. It is the last attempt of the unbeliever to hide his abandonment of truth behind a cloud of noble rhetoric, and, more positively, it is at the same time the exaltation of petty curiosity to the place once occupied by the genuine love of truth. Now it is quite true to say that curiosity, exactly like its analogue, lust, never ends and is never satisfied; but man was made for something more than this. He was made to rise, above curiosity and lust, to love, and through love to the attainment of truth. This is an elementary truth of human nature, and it requires, perhaps, a certain simplicity to grasp it. The intellectual trifling of contemporary humanism is as far from such simplicity as it is from truth.
Liberalism and Realism have been leading men, for a century and more, down a false path whose end, if the path had not been deflected, would have been something like one of those "reverse utopias" of which we have now heard so much,--a more terrible "brave new world," perhaps, an inhuman technological system wherein all worldly problems would be solved at the cost of the enslavement of men's souls. Against this utopia of rationalist planning many protests have been raised in the name of the concrete and personal, of the unplanned and unsystematic needs of human nature that are at least as essential, even for a purely worldly "happiness," as the more obvious material needs; a protest, above all, in the name of "life," which, whatever it may mean, would clearly be stifled in the Realist paradise.
There is no question, then, of finding in Vitalism a return to Christian--or any other--truths. There is, however, inevitably some pretense among Vitalists to do so. Many critics have noted the "pseudoreligious" character even of Marxism, though that epithet is applicable only to the misplaced fervor of its more enthusiastic devotees, and not to its doctrine, which is too clearly anti-religious in character. In Vitalism the question of "pseudo-religion" becomes much more serious. Here a quite understandable lament over the loss of spiritual values becomes father, on the one hand to subjective fantasies and (sometimes) to actual Satanism, which the undiscriminating take as revelations of the "spiritual" world, and on the other hand to a rootless eclecticism that draws ideas from every civilization and every age and finds a totally arbitrary connection between these misunderstood fragments and its own debased conceptions. Pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-traditionalism, one or both, are integral elements of many Vitalist systems. We must be cautious, then, in examining the claims of those who would restore a "spiritual" meaning to life, and especially of those who fancy themselves allies or adherents of "Christianity." "Spiritualist" errors are far more dangerous than any mere materialism; and we shall in fact find, in Part Three of this work, that most of what passes for "spirituality" today is in fact a "new spirituality," a cancer born of Nihilism that attaches itself to healthy organisms to destroy them from within. This tactic is the precise opposite of the bold Realist attack upon truth and the spiritual life; but it is no less a Nihilist tactic, and a more advanced one.
There is very little of this crude Weltanschauung that is not shared, to some degree, by the multitudes today, especially among the young, who feel themselves "enlightened" and "liberated," very little that is not typically "modern." And it is precisely upon the basis of a Realism such as this, in which there is no more room for the "complicated" Christian view of life and the supremely important realities of the spiritual world, that the grossest superstitions and the most blatant credulity can thrive. Well-meaning men think to forestall the appearance of another Hitler by an attack upon "irrationality" and a defense of "reason," "science," and "common sense"; but outside of the context of Christian Truth these values, constituting a Realism of their own, are a preparation for, and not a defense against, the advent of another "terrible simplifier." The most effective contemporary "simplifiers" are those who hold power in the Soviet Union, who have made a religion of "science" and " common sense"; and anyone who looks to those most superstitious men for the defense of any value worth defending, is sorely deceived.
Russ Roberts: So, we're out of time. We're going to close with a--I want you to talk a little bit about complexity versus simplicity. And, you mentioned earlier that good science can be written on a napkin. That put me in mind of the 700-page Ph.D. thesis in the humanities. My thesis--for better or for worse; I don't think it was a very good work; but it was 70 pages. People always say to me, 'Only 70 pages?' as if that's somehow meant it wasn't serious or thoughtful or whatever. But I think in economics today, there's a big premium put on mathematical sophistication, on econometric sophistication. And there's been a big pushback from, I think, left-leaning folks, about what they call 'Econ 101'--simple ideas that they, say, disdainfully, like demand slopes downward or incentives matter. Or that somehow we are our undergraduates because we only teach them the --what they would call simplistic version of economics. And you have some nice things to say in defense of simplicity. So, why don't we close with that?