The Situationist

Archive for November 6th, 2007

Deep Capture – Part II

Posted by Jon Hanson on November 6, 2007


This is the second of a multi-part series on what Situationist Contributor David Yosifon and I call “deep capture.” This post, like Part I, is drawn from our 2003 article, “The Situation” (downloadable here).

The most basic argument behind the prediction of deep capture is that if people are moved by internal and external situation (particularly while believing themselves to be moved primarily by disposition), then, to move them, there will be a hard-to-see or hard-to-take-seriously competition over the situation.

Part I of this series explained that our “deep capture” story is very much analogous to the (shallow) capture story told by economists (such as Nobel laureate George Stigler) and public choice theorists for decades regarding the competition over prototypical regulatory institutions. This post looks to history for another analogy to the process that we claim is widespread today — the deep capture of how we understand ourselves.

(Situationist artist Marc Scheff is providing the remarkable images at the top of each post in this series.)

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I, Galileo [Galilei], . . . seventy years of age, arraigned personally for judgment, kneeling before you Most Eminent and Most Reverend Cardinals Inquisitors-General against heretical depravity in all of Christendom, . . . swear that I have always believed, I believe now, and with God’s help I will believe in the future all that the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church holds, preaches, and teaches . . . . I have been judged vehemently suspected of heresy, namely of having held and believed that the [S]un is the center of the world and motionless and the [E]arth is not the center and moves.

Therefore, desiring to remove from the minds of Your Eminences and every faithful Christian this vehement suspicion, rightly conceived against me, with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith I abjure, curse, and detest the above-mentioned errors and heresies, . . . and I swear that in the future I will never again say or assert, orally or in writing, anything which might cause a similar suspicion about me . . . .

Galileo Galilei

With the foundation of shallow capture in place, we can now build upon it, or dig beneath it, to introduce deep capture. To catch your first glimpse of the phenomenon, recall the Galileo story. . . . Galileo . . . was committed to realism . . . [, and his critics, including Cardinal Bellarmine were], like legal economists, . . . wed to an unrealistic, reductionist model.

Let us push the analogy further. Galileo was, for most of his life, devoted to the idea that humans could, through methods of observation, discover and make sense of the natural order. He was committed to basing theories about our world and the place of it in the universe on all the evidence and clues available for human inspection, even if doing so challenged widely held self-affirming and faith-based beliefs about the Earth’s centrality in the universe. Recall that Galileo lived at a time when most people believed themselves to inhabit a stationary world. The intellectual establishment of the Renaissance, controlled to a large degree by the Catholic Church, perceived human knowledge as a fundamentally static thing. Certain environmental features seemed obvious: the Earth was not moving, and the Sun was rotating about the earth. The validity of those notions was bolstered by everyday experience and found confirmation in several biblical texts, and in the basic assumption that heaven reigned above the Earth and hell below.

Galileo, informed by the work of fellow astronomical realist Copernicus, was interested in exploring and studying elements of our planet and the celestial bodies whirling “above” it for hard-to-see clues into the reality of celestial dynamics. Mathematics and a telescope both provided critical lenses through which he could get a better view.

Using these tools, Galileo helped to turn the dominant Aristotelian model of the universe, and our place in it, on its head. It is important to note, however, that the Aristotelian model (as enhanced through Ptolemy‘s refinements) provided an adequate “as if” theory, for most purposes. Through theory and observation, Galileo removed the Earth from its stable center, around which the Sun was revolving, and placed the Sun at the immovable center of the Earth’s rotations. Put differently, by studying our astronomical situation more closely, Galileo discovered our astronomical fundamental attribution error: attributing the movement of the celestial situation to the centrality and fixity of the Earth instead of attributing our own movement, like that of the other heavenly bodies, to the celestial situation. Galileo did not provide absolute proof for his challenging worldview, although he believed the telescopic observations were sufficient to overturn the geocentric model. What he did provide was a refined theory and new observations–such as the discovery of four moons orbiting Jupiter, the phases of Venus, and an exegesis of the tides–that strongly suggested that the astronomical situation was far more influential than the then-dominant geocentric view allowed.


We want to push this analogy even further. Despite Galileo’s compelling evidence that the Earth revolved around the sun, he appeared to have been wrong. To be sure, we might look today and judge that he was (comparatively) right, after all. But forget for a moment the revival and celebration of Galileo’s pre-abjuration views, beginning in the eighteenth century, and temporarily ignore his stature today as a father of modern science. Instead, imagine yourself living in early seventeenth-century Italy. It is [Cardinal] Bellarmine‘s view–informed by biblical passages, religious authorities, popular perceptions, experience, and naked-eye observations–which confirms your intuitions and the formal positions of the most powerful groups and institutions in Italy. And it is Galileo, not Bellarmine, who recants and renounces his earlier “findings” and opinions. Chances are that you, that we, would have believed Galileo was a heretic and never doubted the process that “proved” him to be one. From this perspective, Bellarmine was obviously right, and Galileo, clearly wrong.

So how could one of the greatest scientists of all time be so wrong? The answer is obvious, indeed it is one of the reasons that the story is so well known: the scientific community was not sufficiently insulated from powerful institutions with a stake in scientific outcomes. More concretely, because Galileo’s work was threatening to the Catholic Church and its teachings, and because of the Church’s encompassing power, Galileo was under intense pressure–indeed, was ultimately convicted by the inquisitors–to “restate” his views on the structure of the universe. Galileo’s recantation was the result, not of scientific observation, but of religious persecution and the very real threat of a horrible death. The situational forces behind Galileo’s “restated” views are thus unmistakable. Galileo made his recantation decision with the equivalent of a gun to his head. Of course, as we have argued throughout this Article, such situational pressures are rarely so obvious.

This can all be expressed, somewhat stylistically, in Stiglerian terms. In recanting, Galileo was “captured” by the Church much like, say, the now defunct Civil Aeronautics Board was once said to be captured by the airline industry. He claimed to be saying what he believed “with sincere heart and unfeigned faith,” independent of any pressure from the Church, when in fact he was serving the Church’s interests, despite his own beliefs.

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Part III of this series begins providing evidence of deep capture today in the United States.  To read Part III, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, History, Legal Theory | 10 Comments »


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