In the Name of God بسم الله
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By Haji 2003 in ContemporaniaSummary
Multiple discovery also referred to as simultaneous invention - is where the same innovation is discovered by people working independently from each other. The notion suggests that individuals do not necessarily possess unique insights, but rather the presence of various environmental and cultural factors will engender innovation. A specific individual therefore has no specific genius that sets them apart from others. An alternative hypothesis is that specific inventions have been the work of lone individuals.
The question arises whether this debate links to our understand of God and man.
Who gets the credit?
The following problem is all too common when it comes to inventions:
Shama, G., 2019. The “Petri” dish: a case of simultaneous invention in bacteriology. Endeavour, 43(1-2), pp.11-16.
People like to be recognised for their efforts and there is always an issue when someone else lays claim to having invented the same thing at the same time or perhaps even earlier. But is the claim on the part of one individual to knowledge that no one else has misplaced?
Gratzinger, P.E., 2011. Was the Telephone Obvious: An Inquiry into Simultaneous Invention. Colum. Sci. & Tech. L. Rev., 13, p.71.
Why does it matter?
An early work on this issue I think explains the importance of simultanous discovery and its broader implications.
Ogburn, W.F. and Thomas, D., 1922. Are inventions inevitable? A note on social evolution. Political science quarterly, 37(1), pp.83-98.
And the link with God?
The literature in this area does not seem to have touched on the link with God, so here's my take. The story could go in one of the following ways.
Whether simultaneous invention exists or not has nothing to do with our understanding of God If innovations are determined by the social environment and not reliant on a 'genius hero' - this lends support to the idea that knowledge exists independently of man and is resident in a supernatural being If innovations are due to 'genius heros' would this discount the notion of a deity?
Ogburn and Thomas give the example of the steam engine as being an innovation that had many 'parents':
And their work is summarised as follows (see Fast Company link below for more):
So according to the social determinism perspective:
Simonton, D.K., 1978. Independent discovery in science and technology: A closer look at the Poisson distribution. Social Studies of Science, 8(4), pp.521-532.
However Simonton's empirical analysis seems to have been inconclusive:
According to Stuart Kaufman:
However, there is a challenge to the notion of duplicate inventions.
For the theist would the a priori position be that the hero innovator is less likely to be a phenomenon compared to simultaneous and independent innovation since the latter points to knowledge existing outside the domain of a specific individual?
There is more on multiple discovery here:
And this article provides a useful overview:
By Haji 2003 in ContemporaniaSummary
For Muslims, the questions around Riba are focused at the level of the individual because we want to know what we can and cannot do. This post looks at the broader societal issue. The conclusion is that riba and the business of lending can increase economic inequality between different segments in society.
Assuming an Islamic state has an overriding need to address economic inequality - it cannot accede to the provision of credit in a manner that we are used to in the West.
What is interest?
This may seem obvious. but it's worth exploring since the result can generate new insights.
Interest is a price charged by a lender to compensate them for not having the use of the money that they are lending. Interest can also be compensation for the fact that the money they have lent will be worth less in the future than today because of inflation Interest can also reflect a premium charged by the lender in order to account for the fact that some borrowers will not pay them back. The interest charged to the individual borrowers can vary because they vary in terms of their risk to the lender. Less risky borrowers are charged less and riskier ones are charged more. The last point is not immediately obvious to everyone it is important however and we shall come back to it.
Access to credit
In a free market, there are all sorts of lenders (e.g. seeking different levels of return and willing to take different levels of risk) and all sorts of borrowers (e.g. those with good 'credit scores vs. those with poor ones). Those with a good credit record can borrow more and more cheaply than those with a poor record. This may be because those with a good record have a history of making repayments on time and so on. And this is where we have our first macroeconomic effect.
People who are poor and find it difficult to buy food and pay rent will invariably find it hard to keep up with their debt payments and if they don't pay their creditors on time, they will have a bad credit record. As a result, either they will not have access to credit at all or if they do, they will have to pay a higher price for it (a higher level of interest). This sounds crazy, but it is true. Credit is one product where the poor will generally pay more than the rich and it is certainly a product where those who need it to survive (rather than buying luxury goods) may not have access to it at all.
Therefore in a society where there is credit, there are two mechanisms by which social inequality is increased, lack of credit to the poor and expensive credit where it is available. There is a third mechanism by which inequality is increased. If rich people have access to credit and the poor do not, the rich may bid up the prices of assets so that they become even more unaffordable to the poor. A real-life example of this is the UK property market, at the time of writing this post. Many young people are 'priced out' of the UK housing market because people with access to credit (e.g. investors) have bid up the prices of property.
No easy solutions
It would, however be naive to believe that the solution should be that lenders make credit available to all and at e.g. similar rates of interest. As we saw above interest performs a number of functions and one of these is to compensate lenders for risk. If lenders are forced to lend to the poor and at interest rates lower than they would normally offer, this may lead to losses for them.
There is another reason why there are no easy solutions. If someone has poor financial circumstances, then offering them more credit and associated interest payments could add to their problems rather than improve them. Credit unions, which do not seek to make a profit and are run for the benefit of their members offer a partial but not a complete solution.
Involvement of the State
If the market is unable to lend without increasing inequality then we must consider the role of the State, the criteria it uses to make loans and how it manages demand if interest is not a pricing mechanism that it wishes to use. This may seem radical and an intervention that is far too statist and dirigiste some might even describe it as socialist or even communist.
To put the above into context it's worth considering the role of the State when it comes to regulation of finance. It is notable that Martin Wolff a columnist writing in the Financial Times (the UK financial industry's newspaper) says:
He arrives at this conclusion via an analysis of financial crises and not via the lens of inequality that I have used.
It's worth examining some of the points that Wolff makes, they are widely considered to be true:
This is a perennial issue, high levels of regulation stymie the returns that the financial sector can make and there is subsequently a call from economic liberals to remove the 'shackles', a new problem then arises, bailouts are needed and accompanied by new regulation.
the latter being justification for a bailout.
So state intervention in the financial markets is not an anomaly in a wholly capitalistic system. At the moment such intervention is justified given the damage that a bank run would cause for the whole economy.
It's not outrageous therefore that if the welfare of the poor is considered to be important, the availability of credit for them and the terms of such finance should be of concern to policy makers.
Practicalities of intervention
One way of arriving at a solution is to consider why people need loans in the first place.
It is clear that sometimes people need to borrow money to increase their earning power. Loans for such purposes are obviously a 'good thing'. This is one end of a spectrum and the State should intervene to provide such loans at 0% interest, thus making them completely halal. However, an effect of such intervention could be to encourage colleges to raise prices, so where government is effectively subsidising a sector it may also need to intervene in terms of the prices it is willing to pay. The same applies to goods such as medical services. Buying a car. Now we are moving along the spectrum, is the car for enjoyment or for work? The latter could attract state funding, the former is less likely to do so. For enjoyment, people should be educated to understand that there is no alternative to saving up.
By Haji 2003 in ContemporaniaSummary
Buying and selling in the market place may provide advantages to minority groups at the expense of the majority. A State that represents the majority may need to act in order to address the imbalance in a manner that may seem on the face of it to be discriminatory.
The impact of buying and selling in the market place
The problem with money and markets is that they strip exchanges between people of all social and cultural content. In market-based exchanges, you can buy/sell with complete strangers. This has its benefits and particularly for social/cultural/ethnic/ religious minorities within a society, the market provides an almost anonymous means of interacting with the majority.
The impact of social networks
In fact, the story can even become worse for the majority because the denser social links/networks between members of a minority may mean that they can exploit higher levels of trust between each other and thereby compete more effectively in the market-place.
Over time, of course, this economic disadvantage may lead to significant differences between the wealth of the majority and minority communities.
In the diagram below is your multiculti, fully assimilated, and integrated, fully equal nirvana. Everyone interacts with all others regardless of their colour or other distinguishing characteristics. There is one group (pink) who are the majority, and the others are minorities.
One group of people (coloured brown) realise that they come from the same village back home, they have a shared culture, heritage and so on, they start to spend more time together.
Trust within minority groups
These commonalities enable this specific minority to establish bonds of trust between themselves that are stronger than the ones that exist between people of different groups. So they decide to interact with each other more than they do with other groups.
Role of religion
The issue is even more acute when they share the same religion because then they are more likely to share the same values - which are even more important when it comes to building trust.
Accidentally, I drew the first picture in a way that helps illustrate another point. The minority group accrues another advantage, where it can become a 'boundary spanner' e.g. between two different societies (the red line). That advantage is less likely to be open to the majority groups in the two countries in which this minority lives.
The economic impact
There is an obvious economic angle to these social relations, since the bonds of trust help reduce the friction of doing business, in fact, trust is more valuable in some industries (the ones with more risk and potentially more rewards).
Minorities outperforming majorities
A social aspect to their interaction therefore has economic repercussions. Left unchecked a minority group will gain an advantage over others. Societies can persist with the multi-culti fantasy for years.
But at some point there will be a reckoning, there always is. Obvious trigger points are when the majority face economic dislocation and see how much better minority groups are doing. You can 'hope' that this time there won't be - but that has not been the case over the previous millennia.
Longer term implications
Historically there are lots of examples of this all around the world and the end is never a happy one - with the majority usually seeking to address the problem via physical force. The challenge for societies is for them to offer minorities certain rights but at the same time put in place restrictions on the extent of their participation in the economic life of society so that they cannot dominate the majority.
In an Islamic society where distinctions between groups are not based on race, but rather of belief, this means that there has to be what seems like discrimination against non-Muslims, but which, is in fact, a sensible means of avoiding longer-term conflct between the majority and minority.
An illustration of the problem in terms of resources
The picture below illustrates the above idea.
The blue circles represent the majority in a society, each person gives an item of resource to the person immediately to their south and also one to their south-west. And they do so without regard to the 'colour' of the other person. Let's assume this is a very egalitarian society where the affiliations of individuals are completely ignored. The pink circles represent a minority and they behave in the same manner. However the yellow circles behave slightly differently, they give one item of resource without any discrimination to whoever is to their south, but instead of giving one item to the person to their southwest, they give instead to someone of their own tribe/religion/ethnicity/language group/cult or whatever other basis of commonality that they have established. Such an arrangement can be informal and communicated only to the group members - something which is helped by their being a minority in a society. Members of the yellow circle are able to identify each other due to their going to the same places of worship or gentlemen's clubs or 'lodge'. Such interaction may legitimately lead to higher levels of trust between members of the yellow group and their discriminatory behaviour could be argued to be inherently rational i.e. it makes sense from a business perspective.
Economic performance of members of the yellow group may, as a result of this behaviour be better than that of other groups. It may seem to them that their accumulation is due to their greater intelligence, business acumen or another positive trait. There may well be elements of those present, but their discrimination in favour of their own group could certainly be an important factor.
Such discrimination on their part can mean greater rewards for members of their own group and it may not be visible to outsiders, other than the realisation that this group of people are relatively better off than others.
Is discrimination by the State a valid response?
Any response by the majority to address this imbalance, e.g. by imposing restrictions on the economic or other activities of the yellow minority group is likely to attract charges of discrimination.
Because such communications cannot be done discreetly, communicating with the whole of society requires broadcasting to everyone rather than taking the narrowcasting approach the minority group pursued when they decided to discriminate in favour of their own group. Such narrowcasting is possible because the minority group are able to communicate with each other discreetly and in a manner that excludes everyone else.
By Haji 2003 in ContemporaniaSummary
Just because something is not created via the scientific method, does not mean it can't be useful - implications about how we think about religious precepts.
Serendipity (pot luck)
I have previously remarked upon how, in some fields of human endeavour where the scientific approach is held to be the ideal, in reality human scientific and technological discoveries has often been the results of luck and even mistakes.
Social science 'theories'
There is a corollary in the field of the social sciences which also emphasise the value of the scientific approach to generate knowledge. In this domain the anomalies are various frameworks and models that are widely taught and even used, but which have no basis in rigorous scientific research.
The famous work by Abraham Maslow on motivation and his resulting 'hierarchy of needs' is very widely studied and used. He posits that human motivation at the fundamental level is driven by physiological needs, and once these are satisfied (he did qualify this in later works) people try and address safety needs and then, social needs and self-esteem and finally self-actualisation.
But Maslow did not come up with this through any research that would hold up to scientific scrutiny.
Does the lack of a scientific approach invalidate a model or framework?
Yet the Maslow hierarchy is productively used by professionals in a variety of industries, managers, MBA students and others in universities. For example, people use it to understand why consumers buy certain products.
The same issue applies to Bloom's taxonomy in the field of learning and also Elmo's buying funnel in the area of marketing. The three laws of robotics have their basis in science fiction and in the area of web searching there is no scientific basis for the information-navigational-transactional categories that are used.
The implication from this is that while ideas and knowledge may ideally be the result of the scientific approach I.e. hypothesising and then testing, there are many instances where this is not the case. In the area of the social sciences and management the value of some types of knowledge seems to rest on their 'face validity', do they make sense to the individuals who are presented with them and can those individuals make better sense of their external environment as a result of using these tools and if they can, that is good enough.
Implications for religion
The same principle could surely apply to various aspects of religion. There may be no scientific proof underpinning various religious ideas, but if they have face validity, if they help the individual make sense of their external environment and manage it, surely that is good enough?
By Haji 2003 in ContemporaniaSummary
I have a few blog posts dealing with knowledge and information (see links at the end of this post). Some of that material tries to frame Qur'anic injunctions in terms of contemporary ideas about exchange to help understand them and their direction better.
This post provides some basic background to the contemporary concepts I am familiar with and which underpin some of that discussion. The ideas here are taken from the economics discipline. I have taken care to only reference credible (refereed) sources, rather than personal blogs etc. While I am familiar with these concepts, i would not say that I have a specialist knowledge of them.
This post does not just deal with abstract economic concepts, if you read until the end, you'll see an attempt to read the content of one ayah through the lens of concepts that I write about at the start of this post.
Given the existence of bounded rationlity what happens is that there can be an information asymmetry e.g. between buyers and sellers. This means that e.g. the sellers may have more information about what is being sold that the buyer does and the reverse can sometimes happen as well. The existence of an asymmetry means that the people with information can take advantage of those who do not have it. The following definition is from a financial context, but you can easily imagine the same in any other.
Drobetz, W., Grüninger, M.C. and Hirschvogl, S., 2010. Information asymmetry and the value of cash. Journal of banking & finance, 34(9), pp.2168-2184.
Why does information asymmetry exist?
Some market participants do not have as much information as others because because there can be limits to the ability of individuals to gather, process and retain information. This opens them up to being taken advantage of, via opportunistic behaviour. The following explains this in more detail.
What problems arise due to the existence of information asymmetry?
I think the following quotation from the economist Oliver Williamson covers the concept quite elegantly and he compares it to other concepts prevalent in the economics discipline, moral hazard and adverse selection.
The link below is to his complete article in the journal 'Managerial & Decision Economics, VOL. 14, 97-107 (1993). It gets technical in places, but don't let that worry you, just move on to the bit you can understand. That's what i do anyway. The article goes on to discuss socialism etc. which is something we can come back to.
Bringing the ideas together
The reference to information asymmetry is implicit in Qur'anic injunctions such as the following:
I have put into bold the relevant text.
The injunction seems directed at the seller who is able to measure accurately what they sell to the buyer but who may be otherwise tempted to cheat the buyer. The buyer may not be able to tell that they have been cheated (due to their bounded rationality) And as a result of this information asymmetry the seller is effectively behaving in an opportunistic manner.
By Haji 2003 in ContemporaniaSummary
This post is about the reasons why there is so much imperative in the Qur'an on sellers not taking advantage of their customers. The point being elaborated here is that it can be easy for sellers to take advantage of their buyers. The Qur'an uses a specific context (weights and measures) but this notion can be extended to other areas of the transaction.
We can lump together all sorts of decisions that we make every day. Amongst other things, these can be decisions about:
what products and services to buy whether or not to wear masks, get vaccinated or maintain social distancing haram and halal behaviours. Many (but not all) decisions are underpinned by the information that we have to go on.
But not all information is the same. I distinguish between different types of information that buyers can use and why they may have preferences for some types of information which is why it becomes easier for sellers to take advantage of them. I draw out implications for different groups of people.
I believe this analysis informs an understanding of Qur'anic ayats dealing with the fairness of commercial transactions.
The starting point is the Qur'anic injunction (in various places) about the requirements of transactions and commerce. I am starting off with ayats that deal with transactions and focusing on what may distinguish each one. 6:152 refers to full measure and justice, later we will need to explore the meanings of these terms, but for the time being we'll work with their face-value meaning.
11:85 makes reference to fairness and full measure and also adds the notion of not defrauding others and 7:85 seems similar.
17:35 recognises that the fairness of a transaction can be influenced by the tools being used to make the measurements.
Here is some commentary from 'The Study Qur'an', I have previously noted the need to use this resource with discernment, but on this topic it seems to be ok.
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein; Dagli, Caner K.; Dakake, Maria Massi; Lumbard, Joseph E.B.; Rustom, Mohammed. The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary (p. 438). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.
Some contemporary concepts
The following text provides some additional contemporary conceptual material that may help inform an understanding of the Islamic injunctions.
The information that we receive about products and services (and indeed about any life decisions) can be divided into two types, that which has high predictive value or low predictive value.
High predictive value
Information with high predictive value better reflects the reality of a situation. It is better at predicting how a product will perform, how a virus works or what the world will be like and It's better for us clearly to rely on information that has high predictive value.
Low predictive value
Such information is not very useful, it does not serve as a good guide about what things are like, how they work or how they perform.
Why does not everyone just use information of high predictive value?
This is where the cartoon at the top of this post comes in.
Not all information is equally easy to understand and use. We all know this to be the case from personal experience. Some information is easy to understand and remember, other information we may find impossible to understand, perhaps because it is too technically complex and we do not have sufficient education. And even if we do understand some information it may be hard to remember.
If you want a more graphic illustration of what I am talking about watch this 1.5 minute video:
Morgan Spurlock provides a humorous insight into how the fast food industry 'deceives' its customers. This screengrab from the trailer gives some indication as to how it does this. Each of the labels below carries a 'meaning' for us as consumers, in each instance, I think we can agree that these are positive meanings.
What Spurlock does in his engaging film is to show how in reality the meanings can be far different to what we think they mean (free range) or in the case of 100% natural the word has no meaning at all, but it still feels good.
Let's work with 'free range'. If I see this term being used on the label for a chicken product my understanding is that it means that the chicken was not cooped up in a small box for its life or even a shed, but rather it was allowed to roam free outside and in the sunshine. This may be naive, but this is what the term means to me. And the key thing here is that because it is a term that I read everyday and because it is simple and easy to understand, I am quite confident that I know what it means.
Let's move onto a concept that describes this phenomenon.
Every product description that we come across has a different level of confidence value for us. Continuing with the above example, 'free-range' has high confidence value, we believe we know what it means in terms of describing how a chicken has been raised.
The problem is that information which we confidently believe provides an accurate description may not actually do so.
Free-range is a case in point. In his documentary Spurlock explains what the legal implications of the term are in the food industry. Farmers do NOT need to have their chickens raised outdoors in order to call them free range. What they are required to provide (a tiny alcove next to the shed where they spend their lives), is not what most of us would consider free range.
Predictive value and confidence value
Bringing the two ideas together, then, we have the following result. 'Free range' has high confidence value, we think we know what it means. But it has low predictive value it does not really indicate how a chicken has been raised.
This leads to the following.
The problem we have in making sense of the world around us is that information which can better predict how products or even events and pandemics will pan out (it has high confidence value) may actually be hard to understand and evaluate (it has low confidence value). This is shown in the top right-hand box below.
The human condition
An aspect of the human condition is that sometimes we can be a little lazy in our efforts to engage with information that helps us to see how things will be because it is intellectually more challenging.
This leads us down the dangerous path of following information that is easy to understand (has high confidence value), but which has low predictive value (won't really tell us what the future will be like). This is shown in the bottom left hand box in the diagram below.
Unscrupulous people will give us the latter in abundance and we will enjoy a false sense of security, but will ultimately arrive at a destination that is considerably different to what we expected. This applies both to the products and services that we buy and the ethical and moral decisions that we make and indeed the health and lifestyle choices that we follow.
The diagram below illustrates that thought leaders within society are needed to show us those things which are easy to use and can accurately tell us about reality and they're needed to explain to us those things which inform us about reality and which are hard to use. Certainly, one thing which we need from society's leaders is the ability to protect us from those things which we think will help guide us and/or inform us about the way the world really is, but which in reality will not do so.
This example shows how the above can work in practice:
Here's another example, from the same article above:
Both of these examples show how consumers can make decisions off very limited amounts of information that do not fully reflect what it is that they are buying and the more important issue here is that marketers can take full advantage of this in terms of how they label products and how they photograph and present them.
By Yusuf71 in Yusuf's BlogI've been working on a podcast for reverts. It is specifically generic meaning that so far I've introduced Islam, not specifically Shia Islam. I'm still focussing in on the basics.
You can find it on Anchor, Spotify & Google podcasts
Let me know if you want to help me with making shows.
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