The Pretence of Knowledge by Friedrich August von Hayek. (Nobel Prize Lecture in Economics, December 11, 1974)
From the lecture:
The particular occasion of this lecture, combined with the chief practical problem which economists have to face today, have made the choice of its topic almost inevitable. On the one hand the still recent establishment of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science marks a significant step in the process by which, in the opinion of the general public, economics has been conceded some of the dignity and prestige of the physical sciences. On the other hand, the economists are at this moment called upon to say how to extricate the free world from the serious threat of accelerating inflation which, it must be admitted, has been brought about by policies which the majority of economists recommended and even urged governments to pursue. We have indeed at the moment little cause for pride: as a profession we have made a mess of things.
It seems to me that this failure of the economists to guide policy more successfully is closely connected with their propensity to imitate as closely as possible the procedures of the brilliantly successful physical sciences – an attempt which in our field may lead to outright error. It is an approach which has come to be described as the “scientistic” attitude – an attitude which, as I defined it some thirty years ago, “is decidedly unscientific in the true sense of the word, since it involves a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed.”1 I want today to begin by explaining how some of the gravest errors of recent economic policy are a direct consequence of this scientistic error.
If you have some time for serious thinking over the weekend, visit or re-visit this lecture.
Substitute “computistic” for “scientistic” and capturing semantics as the goal.
Google and other search engines are overwhelming proof that some semantics can be captured by computers, but they are equally evidence of a semantic capture gap.
Any number of proposals exist to capture semantics, ontologies, Description Logic, RDF, OWL, but none are based on an empirical study how semantics originate, change and function in human society. Such proposals are snapshots of a small group’s understanding of semantics. Your mileage may vary.
Depending on your goals and circumstances, one or more proposal may be useful. But capturing and maintaining semantics without a basis in empirical study of semantics seems like a hit or miss proposition.
Or at least historical experience with capturing and maintaining semantics points in that direction.
I first saw this in a tweet by Chris Diehl