“At the very beginning of a course of study in a new discipline, the ‘why’ questions are difficult to avoid, at least initially. When the ‘whys’ are unavoidable, the most frequent recourse is to the putative ‘laws’ of the phenomenon: laws of nature, laws of behavior, laws of thought, laws of regularity. I have always been a little uneasy and perhaps even ambivalent about this curious appeal to laws. The very metaphor itself embodies a contradiction. Laws are conventions constructed by human beings, yet often they are invested with legitimacy through appeals to overarching principles or rules that are not the handiwork of humans. Particularly in the disciplines that seek to explain human society, the concept of law is frequently used, but not without a certain defensiveness. ‘We have laws, too,’ the social scientists maintain, with a nervous glance in the direction of their colleagues, the physical scientists.”— Philip Mirowski (1988), Introduction to Against Mechanism
“The economic laws aimed at and formulated under the guidance of this preconception are laws of what takes place ‘naturally’ or ‘normally,’ and it is of the essence of things so conceived that in the natural or normal course there is no wasted or misdirected effort . . . the resulting economic theory is formulated as an analysis of the ‘natural’ course of the life of the community, the ultimate theoretical postulate of which might, not unfairly, be stated as some sort of law of the conservation of economic energy . . . there prevails an equivalence of expenditure and returns, an equilibrium of flux and reflux, which is not broken over in the normal course of things. So it is, by implication, assumed that the product which results from any given industrial process or operation is, in some sense or unspecified aspect, the equivalent of the expenditure of forces, or the effort, or what not, that has gone into the process out of which the product emerges.”— Thorstein Veblen (1900), Industrial and Pecuniary Employments
See also: Beg analysisMirowski’s 1989 More Heat than Light was preceded by a six-year manuscript gestation period; a period tracing or rather seeded by a passing 1979-1980 comment that “value had to be conserved”, made by a speaker at an economics seminar at Stanford University, if in the speaker's model a certain mathematical assumption were to hold; the tone of the speaker's voice suggesting that no one in his or her right mind would find that a problem. The implied idea here, supposedly, being that the conservation of energy could be invoked ad hoc in economics and applied to "value theory" without question or objection.
|Mirowski's "energy architectonic metaphor triangle", according to which he argues that the three metaphors constituted the a priori content as well as the common context that made the energy concept possible, if not necessary: the motion/value (economics/physics) face responsible for the quantification and mathematization of the energy concept; the body/motion (human/physics) face responsible for the symmetry character of the energy concept; the body/value (human/economics) face responsible for the less-acknowledged anthropomorphic and social character of the energy concept, the religious overtones and cultural influences so often spurned as the opposite of scientific argument. |
“Instead of discrete influences, imagine, if you will, the energy concept as an ever expanding pyramid with the three metaphors of body, motion, and value at the base vertexes. As the vertexes grow further and further apart, the metaphorical distance between physics and economics also widens, until it becomes commonplace to assert thaty ther are indeed separate and distinct systems of explanation. Nevertheless, they operate in the same cultural milieu, partake of much of the same language and formalisms, and most important, maintain a reciprocal metaphorical legitimation and support: they remain a pyramid.”
“As late as a week ago, such a phrase as ‘hopefully awaiting the gradual convergence of the physical sciences and the social sciences’ would have provoked no more than an ironic tingle or two at the back of my neck. Now it howls through the Ponchitoula Swamp, the very sound and soul of despair.”
|Mirowski's core physical economics book trilogy: Against Mechanism (1988), which touches on the notion that economic laws are assumedly somewhere buried in the physical sciences; More Heat than Light (1989), on the origin of energy and the conservation of energy as employed in economic theory; and Machine Dreams, on the cybernetics era movement of John Neumann, Norbert Wiener, and Alan Turing, etc., in economics.|
“Economics needs protection from science, and especially from scientists such as Richard Feynman, or any other physicist who thinks he knows just what is needed for economists to clean up their act. Economics needs protection from the scientists in its midst, the Paul Samuelsons and the Tjalling Koopmans and all the others who took their training in the physical sciences and parlayed it into easy victories among their less technically inclined colleagues.”— Philip Mirowski (1988), Introduction to Against Mechanism