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The earlier discussion on Stellan Ohlsson brought up the issue of abstraction. It appears useful to say a bit more on terminology.

An unfortunate confusion at wikipedia

Wikipedia – no source but a portal – on abstraction creates a confusion:

  1. Correct is: “Conceptual abstractions may be formed by filtering the information content of a concept or an observable phenomenon, selecting only the aspects which are relevant for a particular purpose.” Thus there is a distinction between abstract and concrete.
  2. Confused is: “For example, abstracting a leather soccer ball to the more general idea of a ball selects only the information on general ball attributes and behavior, eliminating the other characteristics of that particular ball.” However, the distinction between abstract and concrete is something else than the distinction between general and particular.
  3. Hopelessly confused is: “Abstraction involves induction of ideas or the synthesis of particular facts into one general theory about something. (…) Bacon used and promoted induction as an abstraction tool, and it countered the ancient deductive-thinking approach that had dominated the intellectual world since the times of Greek philosophers like Thales, Anaximander, and Aristotle.” This is hopelessly confused since abstraction and generalisation (with possible induction) are quite different. (And please correct for what Bacon suggested.)

A way to resolve such confusion is to put the categories in a table and look for examples for the separate cells. This is done in the table below.

In the last row, the football itself would be a particular object, but the first statement refers to the abstract notion of roundness. Mathematically only an abstract circle can be abstractly round, but the statement is not fully mathematical. To make the statement concrete, we can refer to statistical measurements, like the FIFA standards.

The general statement All people are mortal comes with the particular Socrates is mortal. One can make the issue more concrete by referring to say the people currently alive. When Larry Page would succeed in transferring his mind onto the Google supercomputer network, we may start a philosophical or legal discussion whether he still lives. Mutatis mutandis for Vladimir Putin, who seems to hope that his collaboration with China will give him access to the Chinese supercomputers.

Category (mistake) Abstract Concrete
General The general theory of relativity All people living on Earth in 2015 are mortal
Particular The football that I hold is round The football satisfies FIFA standards
The complex relation between abstract and general

The former table obscures that the relation between abstract and general still causes some questions. Science (Σ) and philosophy (Φ) strive to find universal theories – indeed, a new word in this discussion. Science also strives to get the facts right, which means focusing on details. However, such details basically relate to those universals.

The following table looks at theories (Θ) only. The labels in the cells are used in the subsequent discussion.

The suggestion is that general theories tend to move into the abstract direction, so that they become universal by (abstract) definition. Thus universal is another word for abstract definition.

A definition can be nonsensical, but Σ strives to eliminate the nonsense, and officially Φ has the same objective. A sensible definition can be relevant or not, depending upon your modeling target.

(Θ) Aspects of scientific theories (Σ) Science (Φ) Philosophy
(A) Abstract definition (developed mathematically or not) (AΣ) Empirical theory. For example law of conservation of energy, economics Y = C + S, Van Hiele levels of insight (AΦ) Metaphysics
(G) General (GΣ) Statistics (GΦ) Problem of induction
(R) Relation between (A) and (G) (RΣ) (a) Standards per field,
(b) Statistical testing of GΣ,
(c) Definition & Reality practice
(RΦ) (a) Traditional epistemology,
(b) Popper,
(c) Definition & Reality theory

Let us redo some of the definitions that we hoped to see at wikipedia but didn’t find there.

Abstraction is to leave out elements. Abstractions may be developed as models for the relevant branch of science. The Van Hiele levels of insight show how understanding can grow.

A general theory applies to more cases, and intends to enumerate them. Albert Einstein distinguished the special and the general theory of relativity. Inspired by this approach, John Maynard Keynes‘s General Theory provides an umbrella for classical equilibrium (theory of clearing markets) and expectational equilibrium (confirmation of expectations doesn’t generate information for change, causing the question of dynamic stability). This General Theory does not integrate the two cases, but merely distinguishes statics and its comparative statics from dynamics as different approaches to discuss economic developments.

Abstraction (A) is clearly different from enumeration (G). It is not impossible that the enumeration concerns items that are abstract themselves again. But it suffices to assume that this need not be the case. A general theory may concern the enumeration of many particular cases. It would be statistics (GΣ) to collect all these cases, and there arises the problem of induction (GΦ) whether all swans indeed will be white.

Having both A and G causes the question how they relate to each other. This question is studied by R.

This used to be discussed by traditional epistemology (RΦ(a)). An example is Aristotle. If I understand Aristotle correctly, he used the term physics for the issues of observations (GΣ) and metaphysics for theory (AΦ & GΦ). I presume that Aristotle was not quite unaware of the special status of AΣ, but I don’t know whether he said anything on this.

Some RΦ(a) neglect Σ and only look at the relation between GΦ and AΦ. It is the price of specialisation.

Specialisation in focus is also by statistical testing (RΣ(b)) that only looks at statistical formulations of general theories (GΣ).

The falsification theory by Karl Popper may be seen as a philosophical translation (RΦ(b)) of this statistical approach (RΣ(b)). Only those theories can receive Popper’s label “scientific” that are formulated in such manner that they can be falsified. A black swan will negate the theory that all swans are white. (1) One of Popper’s problems is the issue of measurement error, encountered in RΣ(b), with the question how one is to determine sample size and level of confidence. Philosophy may only be relevant if it becomes statistics again. (2) A second problem for Popper is that AΣ is commonly seen as scientific, and that only their relevance can be falsified. Conservation of energy might be relevant for Keynes’s theory, but not necessarily conversely.

The Definition & Reality methodology consists of theory (RΦ(c)) and practice (RΣ(c)). The practice is that scientists strive to move from the particular to AΣ. The theory is why and how. A possible intermediate stage is G but at times direct abstraction from concreteness might work too. See the discussion on Stellan Ohlsson again.

Conclusions

Apparently there exist some confusing notions about abstraction. These can however be clarified, see the above.

The Van Hiele theory of levels of insight is a major way to understand how abstraction works.

Paradoxically, his theory is maltreated by some researchers who don’t understand how abstraction works. It might be that they first must appreciate the theory before they can appreciate it.

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Listening to J.M. Jarre, The concerts in China,
and The Blooming of Rainy Night Flowers

Vladimir Putin called me on my fixed line and Xi Jinping was on my mobile phone. This difference already told everything.

They didn’t know that the other was calling me too- though I wonder about uncle Xi. They were negotiating and got stuck again.

See the map for their current division of Europe. The question mark gives the contested region. Neither of them wants it – so that it likely becomes an European Nature Park in which the European Bison on Wisent can roam freely again.

“Okay,” I asked Putin, “are those V.P. initials on Germany really necessary ?”

Vlad: “I lived there. Historians must know about the meaning of resentment, not just by Germans but by all people who have lived there.”

Division of Europe by Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping

Division of Europe by Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping whispered in my other ear: “Putin could have gotten all of Germany except for Bavaria, because we really want to have Bavaria. His initials now give us much of the Ruhr too. This is okay since we also get Rotterdam harbour. Do you notice that we divide Holland between the Protestant North and the Catholic South ? We presume that the Protestants will be a pain in the ass for Orthodox Christian Russia.”

Me to uncle Xi: “So you don’t get Amsterdam with the Concertgebouw Orkest and the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum. Why didn’t you draw the line at Bremen ? They only have a statue of the Bremer Stadt musicians, of a rooster on top of a cat on top of a dog on top of donkey.”

Town Musicians of Bremen (Source: wikipedia commons)

Town Musicians of Bremen (Source: wikipedia commons)

Xi Jinping: “In the negotations last December, president Putin essentially gave us Eastern Siberia, though he doesn’t know this yet. So we want him to feel as if he gets the better deal. We presume that his daughter Maria who fled Holland wants to return there again.”

Vlad: “I am happy that I could secure Serbia and Greece because of the Orthodox Church. I am a bit worried about Amsterdam however. I don’t know whether I want Vincent van Gogh and those coffee shops within my sphere of influence.”

Me to Vlad: “Amsterdam wouldn’t mind being rejected by both Russia and China. It could become some free enclave, still a city rather than an European Nature Park with the natives running around in animal skins again. Though they pretty much already do so.”

Vlad: “My problem is that I have been watching some of the video’s that Xi Jingping has been sending me. Ever since I watched Girls of Ali Mountain I have not been able to sleep well. I am afraid that I am falling in love with one of those Chinese actresses.”

Me to Vlad: “I suffer with you. But aren’t you changing the rules of diplomacy again ?”

Vlad: “Whatever. Check this out. This mystery actress at minute 1 is fabulous.”

Girls of Ali Mountain, mystery actress, minute 1

Girls of Ali Mountain, mystery actress 1, minute 1:00

Vlad: “But this other mystery actress at minute 1:30 is perhaps even more fabulous ! What is driving me crazy is that all these Chinese actresses look just the same !”

Girls of Ali Mountain, mistery actress 2, minute 1:30

Girls of Ali Mountain, mystery actress 2, minute 1:30

Me to Vlad: “Some people have all the bad luck of the world ! So your next plan is to make a film with you yourself featuring as one of the boys of Ali Mountain, so that you can get to know them better ?”

Vlad: “A great idea ! I actually tried to both show an interest in Amsterdam and use it as a bargaining chip: Xi Jinping can have Amsterdam when he tells these actresses for me apart and sets up a date for me – or two if that were needed.”

Me to Vlad: “My wikipedia tells me that Ali Mountain lies in Taiwan. Xi Jinping has nothing to say about this, yet.”

The fixed line went dead with a curse. The mobile connection ended with a polite click.

Last May, Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, agreed with a 30-year gas deal with China, then represented by CNPC Chairman Zhou Jiping. The deal is intended to secure Putin’s power base (with 3% of the next 1000 years) with a sufficient flow of liquidity, in the face of the US and EU sanctions on the Ukraine. Somehow it is a major failure in Western diplomacy that such a deal was made. Vlad was desperate though, and China is merely interested in a good business deal, and a way to get even with whom got them sucked into that Marx-Lenin idiocy.

When I said farewell to José Manuel Duräo Barroso last weekend, he slipped me a document.

It turns out to be the secret appendix to that treaty.  Putin and the Chinese leadership agreed to the following as well:

  • The Russians will impose the policy of at most one drunken child per family.
  • There will be no umbrella’s in Moskou or any other economically successful city in Russia.
  • Russia will offer Ai Wei Wei a home arrest anywhere in Siberia.
  • Russia will redraw the map of the Ukraine to look more like Tibet.
  • China will remake the film “Crounch Tiger Hidden Dragon” with Putin in the lead role.
  • The mausolea of Lenin and Mao will make a grand tour in the other country, spreading the chill.
  • Russian tea will be served in the Russian Orthodox Church with a Chinese ceremony.
  • The Dao De Jing will be used more often in Russian politics, especially the throwing of kopekes, with the dual goal of confusing outsiders and to discover hidden purpose for insiders who are at a loss what Russia intends to achieve.
  • Global warming will be denied by both parties to the treaty, and it will be seen as a good price to pay for dictatorship anyway.
  • Russia and China will make a new treaty in which China will respect the Russian border, like Russia has respected the border of the Ukraine.

If I have been somewhat lacklustre about Manny’s position in the past, then I must correct this now: at least he has the courage to inform some of his friends of what the future might hold.

This weblog has a serious topic – the boycott of Holland till the censorship of economic science is lifted – but it must also contain an element of humour, or, at times, even some joyful variety with song and dance and good drinking, to prevent an atmosphere of gloom and doom. Little is sadder than censorship, but, oh yeah, sadder is the voice of protest that is hardly heard and not reported on in the Financial Times. Nobody wants to read page after page of protest, this continuous wail, even if it shows good reasoning and sound advice.

Entertain or perish. Thus this weblog must show a lightness of heart, an openness of mind to the wealth outside of censorship and protest. John Maynard Keynes had his Essays in Persuasion that still make great reading. John Kenneth Galbraith accepted that others bested him in mathematics and developed his literary style to penetrate into deeper questions. The economy depends upon money but also upon talk. Klamer & McCloskey calculated that 40% of GDP was taken by rhetorics. An increase in productivity in this part of the economy requires the development of better narratives. Professor Yiannis Gabriel at the university of Bath studies the narratives in organisations, and uses his skills to comment on developments in Greece. With such examples, we should not only look at the Greek Tragedy in its Land of Origin but employ our openness of mind to also include the other side of the world.

When we speak about humour, joyful variety, that dance of the mind, that enchantment of suddenly new insights, then we naturally think about Ai Weiwei. Earlier this weblog focussed on his nudes but apparently he will take a seat in the jury for the Tiger Awards at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, January 23 – February 3, though without his nudes, and without actually coming to Rotterdam since the Chinese authorities think that it is better that he stays home and uses the internet. We are thus faced with a double absence of artistic inspiration. It is not impossible that Ai thinks that there aren’t enough Dutch ladies to give him a proper nude welcome in Rotterdam and that he merely inserts the government for a lame excuse. Alternatively, Dutch nudes will flock to Rotterdam and dance about to emphasise his absence, or rather jump around to keep warm in the present cold winter.

There is a peculiar difference in censorship between the (relatively) free democracy of Holland and the military dictatorship in China.

In Holland the narrative of democratic freedom turns against the victim of censorship. In a democracy there cannot exist censorship, is the axiom. The world has seen the paedophilia in the church, Jimmy Savile at the BBC, Lance Armstrong in bicycling, … and numerous other cases where freedom was quite infringed upon, and, also, for an amazingly long time. The curious (?) thing about the problem at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau is that it hasn’t anything to do with financial corruption, graft, sex, drugs or rock ‘n’ roll, but quite interestingly merely with economic theory and integrity of economic science. Still, the axiom is – John Kenneth Galbraith coined the term conventional wisdom – that there cannot be censorship of science at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau. Another axiom is that, even if there would be such censorship, then it would not be relevant for the Dutch export surplusses and current economic crisis and what other economists babble about. Subsequently it would not be useful to study the issues of the tax void, the dynamic marginal tax rate or the Economic Supreme Court. Hurray, no need to boycott Holland. Go, you blind people, I would say, go, and wash your eyes.

In China the narrative of dictatorship supports the economic development of the nation, up till a point where less than 40% of GDP is taken by rhetorics and where other narratives have to take over. For the Chinese dictatorship, I would not try to phantom their dilemma’s and the position of Ai Weiwei. The only suggestion that I can think of is a plan with a longer horizon. The current economic development in China came about by fixing the state enterprises at their levels of operation and allowing the new growth to come from new freeer upstarts. This strategy by Deng Xiaoping has taken some decades but produced wonders. In this line, the current leadership might draft a plan for a transition period of two decades with step by step changes in the narrative to eventually national democratic elections (see my book Voting Theory for Democracy). World developments are so fast that three decades would be too long. Sticking to the plan would enhance credibility. A prime focus would be on rule of law and basic economic security for everyone. In seven years there might be a free press on local issues, in twelve years on national issues. Well, who am I to suggest this ? The Chinese are quite capable of running their country, and we will see whether Ai Weiwei inspires them and can be more free to travel when he turns 75. An older artist, with older nudes, such is the tragedy of life, but perhaps still agile enough to drink and dance, in a possibly somewhat warmer Dutch winter.

Ai Weiwei designed the beautiful Beijing National Stadium, also known as the “Bird’s Nest”, that was used in the spectacular 2008 Olympics. The Chinese authorities locked him up for 81 days and after his release the artist expresses regret that he ever designed that stadium.

During his confinement Ai was accused of producing pornography and in protest there appeared pictures on the internet of people in the nude calling for his release. In an interview with the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant the reporter shows him that this newspaper also printed those pictures and Ai responds: “That you can print nudes just like that, shows that there is tolerance in Holland.”

I beg to differ. There is tolerance for nude pictures in Holland but there still is censorship of economic science by the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau.

Ai’s treatment by the Chinese authorities cannot be quite compared with my treatment by the Dutch authorities. There are some parallels in the abuse of power however. Ai observes: “They apparently had been instructed to use anything against me.” In the same way the Dutch government lawyers concocted all kinds of silly accusations to get me fired.

Ai: “I do understand it. These men have been given a task. I was supposed to confess to be guilty, on all charges. That is how they operate. They don’t have values, they just obey the commands. That makes them so dangerous.” This also holds for Dutch state lawyers. I was offered to leave the CPB ‘on good conditions’ but that also implied that I would accept the invented accusations and take the responsibility of departure and thereby forfeit any position of criticism. The difference between China and Holland is that China still uses the iron fist and that Holland uses a velvet glove around it.

The difference between Ai and me is that he is a famous artist while I am an unknown economist and remained unknown because of the censorship. Not unimportant, Ai also had his nudes. Ai has a better prospect to overcome his difficulties than I have for mine.

When I was in highschool in 1970 I read some good history books about China and was much impressed by Sun Yat Sen. China still is a dictatorship and struggling on the road from the old Empire and foreign invasions towards modern democracy. It is not entirely clear why the authorities don’t allow their artists to be impatient. Artistic impatience and the growth in human values help the transition. The establishment of the rule of law means a break with all of Chinese history. It was achieved in the West only after the French Revolution in 1789. It is still imperfect when the Dutch Court for Civil Servants allows a CPB directorate to censor science and dismiss a scientist by using untruths. One can imagine that change for China is not so easy. The examples of Taiwan and Hong Kong are inspiring but those smaller area’s cannot simply be extrapolated to the whole of China.

Besides, the West is making a mess of it itself. If we had full employment, low inflation, income equality, care for the environment and a steady rise in wealth and welfare, then it would be easier for other nations to opt for our economic and societal model. My analysis on the failure of the Trias Politica is intended to provide that better model, see the book DRGTPE. Alas, it cannot be discussed at CPB, the main advisor of the Dutch government. If you want to help China and Ai Weiwei, boycott Holland.