The good CDR posted regarding one of our first forays into Optimal Manning. The report of the experience that the crew of the MILIUS had with optimal manning didn’t jive with what SURFPAC thought of the results. This is not surprising, similar things have happened for generations–even in science,

I knew, of course, the most widely accepted answer to my problem: that science is distinguished from pseudoscience—or from “metaphysics”—by its empirical method, which is essentially inductive, proceeding from observation or experiment. But this did not satisfy me. On the contrary, I often formulated my problem as one of distinguishing between a genuinely empirical method and a non-empirical or even pseudo-empirical method — that is to say, a method which, although it appeals to observation and experiment, nevertheless does not come up to scientific standards. The latter method may be exemplified by astrology, with its stupendous mass of empirical evidence based on observation — on horoscopes and on biographies.

Those words were spoken by Sir Karl Popper, in an attempt to understand “When should a theory be ranked as scientific?” or “Is there a criterion for the scientific character or status of a theory?

Everything we do in the military is theory. There are precious few facts for us to use in deciding how to win wars. In deciding how to win, we also make all the other decisions: Proper manning levels, armament for ships, training for crews and so on. Because everything we do is theoretical, we really must treat every new initiative with a critical eye. A critical eye Sir Popper calls “Falsification”. Contemporaries of Popper were among the first to really take to the theories and ideas of Freud, Marx and Adler. He remarks that the admirers of those men were impressed by “a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appear to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred”. The supporters of those theories found ‘proof’ of the theories in everything.

The most characteristic element in this situation seemed to me the incessant stream of confirmations, of observations which “verified” the theories in question; and this point was constantly emphasize by their adherents. A Marxist could not open a newspaper without finding on every page confirming evidence for his interpretation of history; not only in the news, but also in its presentation — which revealed the class bias of the paper — and especially of course what the paper did not say. The Freudian analysts emphasized that their theories were constantly verified by their “clinical observations.” As for Adler, I was much impressed by a personal experience. Once, in 1919, I reported to him a case which to me did not seem particularly Adlerian, but which he found no difficulty in analyzing in terms of his theory of inferiority feelings, Although he had not even seen the child. Slightly shocked, I asked him how he could be so sure. “Because of my thousandfold experience,” he replied; whereupon I could not help saying: “And with this new case, I suppose, your experience has become thousand-and-one-fold.”

Real analysis, real scientific analysis looks for how the theory is false, where it errs, what doesn’t it explain. Indeed, Popper came to this conclusion: “It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory — if we look for confirmations”. Everything we do as a military needs to be focused on with this rigor of looking for what is false, wrong, not the right thing, not a panacea. To do otherwise finds us in the place we are today. We will not know if anything we decide to do works until the next war we fight at sea, or the next objective we must meet for our Country. With so much uncertainty, we cannot go forward if in every new theory we only look for it to work–force it to work. Rather we must look at these new theories and ask ourselves how it will fail, and why it will fail. If we can’t find something to (easily) fail, then we know we’ve found the best theory to use.

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in Navy

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  • Grandpa Bluewater

    I believe that the term of art is “the scientific method”.

    Theory must predict what will happen. If it does not, theory must be abandoned and a new theory proposed, based in what really happened.

    Real scientists don’t care what happened, they care that the theory correctly predicts what will happen under real conditions.

    Fleet sailors know something of reality, and something of theory, and something about theory and local practice in the face of local reality, not to mention something of risk. The problem remains that in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there almost always is. Therefore – theory is, to a greater or lesser degree, a lie, a miscalculation, an approximation. Innovative, untested theory doesn’t rate much respect for those who work with ships (or other machinery).

    They, rather, heed the “Secret of the Machines”: (by Rudyard Kipling)

    “But remember please, the law by which we live,
    We are not built to comprehend a lie,
    We can neither love nor pity nor forgive.
    If you make a slip in handling us you die!”

    Not so politically correct in this modern age. Not to mention
    very unpopular with cost cutters.

    But sooner or later, as so many times before:

    “Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their
    smooth-tongue wizards withdrew,
    And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began
    to believe it was true
    That all is not Gold that Glitters, and Two plus Two
    make Four –
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to
    explain it once more…”

    (“The Gods of the Copybook Headings” by Rudyard Kipling)

    As for “Revolutions in Military Affairs” and “comprehensive reforms” running to thousands of (unread, undigested)pages,
    my grumpy old man’s question is:

    “What in your life’s experience lead you to believe in the
    wisdom of trying to eat an entire elephant in one bite?”

  • Rick Wilmes

    Here is an interesting article relevant to the topic at hand.


    “Immediately after his definition of science, Feynman wrote: “When someone says, ‘Science teaches such and such,’ he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn’t teach anything; experience teaches it. If they say to you, ‘Science has shown such and such,’ you should ask, ‘How does science show it? How did the scientists find out? How? What? Where?’ It should not be ‘science has shown.’ And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments (but be patient and listen to all the evidence) to judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at.”

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “As surely as water will wet us,
    And as surely as fire will burn,
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings,
    With terror and slaughter return!”

    (To close the loop on Grampa’s Kipling theme.)

    The terror and slaughter may be a naval action some place for which we were not prepared as a nation, a Navy, or as Men o’ War…

  • Byron

    Henry, I think what the two old farts are trying to tell you is that if you want to know the true heart of the warrior and war, to read Kipling. Believe it or not, you’d be surprised at the people you run across who will drop a Kipple at the drop of a hat.

    Excellent take on the CDRs article, thanks, YN!

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Byron is correct, YN Gauthier. Kipling is worth the read, time and again.

    But for the record, Byron is older than I am……

  • Rick Wilmes

    For those of you that think Popper is correct, I offer the following for consideration.  Check your premises.

    “Again: Popper endorses the notorious sceptical thesis of Hume concerning inductive arguments, or arguments from the observed to the unobserved. This is the thesis that no proposition about the observed is a reason to believe any contingent proposition about the unobserved; or in other words, that the premise of an inductive argument is never a reason to believe its conclusion. Popper constantly and emphatically, and with detailed references to Hume, expresses his assent to this thesis. He writes, for example: “I agree with Hume’s opinion that induction is invalid and in no sense justified” [7]. And again: “Are we rationally justified in reasoning from repeated instances of which we have experience to instances of which we have had no experience? Hume’s unrelenting answer is: No, we are not justified […] My own view is that Hume’s answer to this problem is right […]” [8]. There are many other statements by Popper to exactly the same effect [9].

    Scepticism about induction is an irrationalist thesis itself, but its irrationalist character is enormously amplified if it is combined, as it is in Hume and in Popper, with the thesis of empiricism: that is, with the thesis that no propositions other than propositions about the observed can be a reason to believe a contingent proposition about the unobserved. For then it follows at once (since inductive scepticism says that there can be no reason from experience), that there can be no reason at all, to believe any contingent propositions about the unobserved: which class of propositions includes, of course, all scientific theories. Hume, being an empiricist, did draw from his inductive scepticism this even more irrationalist conclusion: `scepticism about the unobserved’, as we may call it. And Popper, for the same reason, does the same.”

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    And I am older than that. None the less, Byron, you should have written “We three old farts….”

  • When push comes to shove, over-manning is always better than under-manning!
    Over-arming is always better!

    However, if you believe the world will live in peace, the reverse may be your position, but you are just hoping push doesn’t come!

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    It’s more than an interesting ancedote from history, though. It is a way to think–how we should be thinking, in my opinion. There are only two things in military matters: History and theory. You can learn the moves made by those in the past, but they are not guaranteed to work. As in chess you can memorize moves and series of moves, which helps to play well. But, you can still lose no matter how much you memorize. Take theory seriously, use history for what it is, and be suspect of anything anyone tells you will work in every instance no matter what.

    However, there are very few writers I would place in the same regard as Kipling. He really is one of the greats.

  • Derrick

    A very interesting article. And it’s kind of scary thinking that a lot of the money being spent on the US Navy might be based on theory, considering there hasn’t been a major naval battle since World War 2.

  • Rick Wilmes

    Here are some more ideas to consider concerning Popper’s rejection of induction.

    Quote from Chapter 6. Causes of Error

    The Logical Leap by David Harriman

    “In contrast to perception, thinking is a fallible process.  This fact gives rise to our need for the method of logic.

    Logic, when properly applied, enables us to arrive at true conclusions.  But it comes with no guarantee that we will apply the method correctly.  The laws of deduction were identified by Aristotle more than two millennia ago, yet people still commit deductive fallacies.  If one remains attentive to the evidence, however, further use of logic leads to the correction of these errors.  The same is true of false generalizations reached by induction.  In this chapter we will see that even the best thinkers can commit errors in applying the inductive method.  But such errors wither and die in the light shed by continued application of the proper method.

    During the past century, however, many philosophers have rejected the validity of induction and argued that every generalization is an error.  For example, Karl Popper claimed that all the laws of Kepler, Galileo, and Newton have been “falsified”.(1). By demanding that a true generalization must apply with unlimited precision to an unlimited domain, Popper upheld a mystical view of “truth” that is forever outside the reach of man and accessible only to an omniscient god.  In the end, he was left with two types of generalizations: those that have been proven false and those that will be proven false.  He was then accused by later philosophers of being too optimistic; they insisted that nothing can be proven, not even a generalization’s falsehood.

    Such skeptics commit-on a grand scale-the fallacy of dropping context.  The meaning of our generalizations is determined by the context that gives rise to them; to claim that a generalization is true is to claim that it applies within a specific context”.    (p. 189-190)

    (1). Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III


    Even if we had a war at sea tomorrow and won, that does not mean that what would work the day after tomorrow would be any more guaranteed. Every decision is a theory until combat is complete, once the battle/war is over you know how accurate your theories were. Every decision in warfare goes from theory to history.

    Granted, when we procure equipment like our ships, our theories take on a more formal aspect, and we then derive doctrine which formalized our theories even more. Through our own decisions we make more certain how we will win or lose–we make things less theoretical. There’s inherently nothing wrong with this, and it would take someone smarter than me to figure out how else we could decide how to win. What is important, is that we recognize that we do this, we recognize our own failings when it comes to making these decisions, and that we anticipate the shortcomings and make up for them.

  • Byron

    It should be noted that (for the US Navy)virtually every naval battle fought in the Pacific save one was decided by carriers. Also, it’s not the ships, the aircraft or the missiles that will decide the outcome of a war; it’s the will of the body electorate and the training and committment of the men and women engaged in battle. An excellent example of how to lose a war even though the enemy was outnumbered and severely outclassed was Viet Nam.

  • My brain hurts.

  • Thomas Arno

    Older than Kipling, this. “Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If you are ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle”. – Sun Tzu. Of course, the problem is defining ‘know’…………..