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« Criticism and Contestation, Not Suspicion and Skepticism is What Makes Science Productive | Main | 2015 Carl Menger Essay Contest Winners »


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If you are interested in PhD core exams, have you seen "Microeconomics exams, puzzles & problems"?

It is a book that contains (among other things) Micro prelims from several different schools, including several from Chicago. I think most are from the early '80s, but as I remember it Chicago was still quite different from other schools. I want to say there was relatively more questions on intuition.

Nice write-up, Pete

A reason to take the history of ideas seriously, from a reconstruction of Popper's lecture on understanding in the series of 15 lectures that he delivered for a decade or more at the LSE.

"Most books on science talk about theories. Only a few of the best books even mention the problems. For this reason, the feeling arises that science actually consists of theories, and that understanding science means understanding these theories. But understanding a theory, I assert, is understanding how it is a solution of certain problems. So you can’t understand a theory if you do not know the problems that the theory his been developed to solve. Anything else is only scratching the surface. You may be able to follow the words in which the theory is formulated. You may be able to understand the mathematical formulae in which it is expressed. But a real understanding of the theory is achieved only when you relate the theory to the problems that it is supposed to solve. To understand how a theory is supposed to solve certain problems is really to understand the theory...

...I also think that there is a problem of understanding in the sciences, and that the biggest part of the problem of understanding is that we don’t teach our students to understand problems.
This, in fact, is one of our great faults in teaching mathematics. Mathematics teachers, as a rule, introduce their theories with no mention of the original problems that these theories were supposed to solve. And it is usually very difficult to correct this. One really has to give a sketch of the history of a science in order to explain how we came to be where we are. And one has to talk about problems — about the problems that led to a theory, about the problems within the theory, about the problems within the higher developed theory, and about the problems within the still higher developed theory. A physicist or an economist may begin by teaching his class the latest and most sophisticated theory that has been developed. But unless he explains the problems that his new theory is supposed to solve, he will exclude a large number of people — and very valuable people who really want to understand. But few teachers seem to do this. And so we very often get into this situation where people have learned to use a theory without really understanding it. The theory may be the result of many hundreds of years of development. But the whole past is more or less forgotten. And then, when the theory breaks down, they are more or less lost. They don’t understand the new problems because they didn’t understand the old problems. And in this way, the whole past can be more and more and more forgotten."

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