Why I Stopped Trying to Understand the Real World – Starbuck (2004)

September 2004


William H. Starbuck

Years ago, I believed that rationality could manufacture understanding. I lived in physical and social environments that were real and I wanted to understand the social realities. I wanted to create a genuine ‘behavioral science’ based on mathematical models, computer simulation, and systematic experiments. Various experiences over the years have challenged these beliefs. I discovered that rationality can not only be a deceptive tool but a potentially dangerous one, and I learned a few techniques to help me challenge my rational thought. I discovered that research findings have very low reliabilities, that some fields make no discernible progress over many decades, and that societal cultures strongly influence researchers’ judgments about what constitutes useful knowledge. I saw that much that passes for research is merely random noise dressed up in pretentious language. Rather than realities, the social systems I was studying proved to be arbitrary categories created by observers or social conventions. I became an advocate for research that actively attempts to change situations rather than merely to observe what happens spontaneously.

(PDF) Why I Stopped Trying to Understand the Real World