Connecting Statistics to Reality

[] An online course entitled Real Statistics: An Islamic Approach (RSIA)- was launched on Saturday 27th July 2019. 200+ students registered for the course, which has now started. To accommodate the excess demand, I have converted the course to a self paced open enrollment course. Students can start at any time, and work through the lessons at their own pace. To register for the first module of the course (on Principles of an Islamic Education), signup on form: Registration: PIE. The 26m Video lecture below provides the motivational ideas which went into the construction of the online course. Additional relevant materials are listed in the Postscript.

Real Statistics: An Islamic Approach – (1300 Word Summary).

1450 Years Ago, the sun of Islam rose on a world covered in darkness and ignorance, and enlightened the World. The teachings of Islam launched a revolution, unique in world history (For details, see “What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization”). These teachings transformed the early Muslims from the bottom rank of civilizations, to leaders of the world. Today, the world is once again enveloped in ignorance and darkness, and Muslims are once again at the bottom rank of world civilizations. Can Islamic teachings launch the SAME revolution today?

The answer of Ummah is a clear NO! Today, we must catch up to the West. We have fallen behind the West in knowledge. The path to development and progress requires us to acquire the knowledge developed in the West over the past three centuries. The Quran and Sunnah is not complete and perfect, sufficient for our guidance today. We must supplement the teachings of Islam by the secular modern knowledge of the West, in order to progress. That is, our path to progress lies through Intellectual, Social, Political and Economic Slavery of the West! The Efforts of the Ummah – in nearly every dimension of life – is to re-create and replicate Western institutions.

Why do Muslims no longer believe that the Quran provides us with complete and perfect guidance, and provides us with brilliant out-of-the-box solutions to our modern problems? This is due to a Triple Crisis of Thought, which we now describe.

To a far greater extent than we realize, our thoughts our shaped by the great tides of history. In particular, Colonization is Conquest of Minds. Liberation requires standing outside the streams of history as an external observer. Three major forces which have shaped thinking of all human beings living on the planet are:

  1. Global Conquest by West: Led to creation of Eurocentric History
  2. The Great Transformation: from traditional societies to Secular, Modern Market Societies
  3. Western Education: Designed to creating Human Resources for use in Market Societies.

The impact of each of these forces could be explored in lengthy essays or books. For our present purposes we focus on just one question: “What is knowledge?”. These three forces have shaped the nature of knowledge that we learn in our university education. The Global Conquest produced the need for a theory of morality which JUSTIFIES this barbaric, ruthless, and cruel exploitation of all planetary resources for the enrichment of Europeans. This led to creation of myths of Western Superiority and Eastern Inferiority,  in all dimensions of life. The Great Transformation to Market Society led to the creation of the myth that all objects are commodities for sale, including human lives. When all objects are for sale, then money is supreme God; it can buy everything. A Western Education, which trains us to become part of a market society, spreads these ideas over the entire globe. This education is designed to reshape our identities; to teach us that we are human resources, not human beings. We are trained to value humans according to the amount of money they have, and we learn to identify our own self-worth according to money we can make by selling ourselves in the labor market. Once we learn these values, then it is automatic to define Useful Knowledge as “Whatever is required to make money (since this is a marker of social status)”. Today, the path to career and wealth lies in Western knowledge, so this is automatically considered the most valuable. Since learning the Quran and teachings of Islam cannot provide us with wealth and power (at least, it seems that way to us), they appear to be useless and irrelevant for our progress and development.

In order to learn the power of Islamic teachings, which are just as revolutionary today as they were 1440 years ago, we must take the Underground Railroad: Path to Freedom  and liberate ourselves from the spell of thoughts implanted in our minds by colonization, market society, and Western education. To do this, we must understand the Central Fraud which lies at Heart of Western Knowledge: Pretense of Objectivity. We are trained to believe that Western knowledge is objective, neutral, value-free, and must be accepted by all rational observers regardless of any moral or religious beliefs. Instead of trying to debate about whether or not this is true, it is enlightening to change perspectives, and look at the HISTORY of HOW Western knowledge was created, and HOW this idea, of objective knowledge based on facts and logic came into existence. This requires a brief detour into European History.

The key to understanding Western intellectual structures of today lies in the study of the European Transition to Secular Thought . Perpetual, intense, violent, battles with extremes of ruthlessness and cruelty between Catholics and Protestants, led Europeans to the conclusion the religion leads to warfare, and therefore it is necessary to build society on the basis of foundations which would be equally acceptable to all parties, regardless of their religious beliefs. This led to the creation of social sciences (see Origins of Western Social Science) based on OBSERVABLES and LOGIC alone. If the heart and soul of man was removed from the picture as a source of knowledge, then using reason and facts alone, all human beings would arrive at the same TRUTHS — the objective facts of reality.  In fact, even though the external reality is objective and the same for all, we have no access to this objective reality EXCEPT by the use of our subjective senses. Furthermore, to understand the complex real structures, we must organized them by the use of subjective theories – classifying a huge variety of different objects into one category of “tree”. So all observations are made by an OBSERVER, and the subjective aspect of the observation cannot be ignored. But European intellectuals could not afford to admit this, because it would destroy the basis for a secular society – a body of objective secular knowledge which all rational people must agree too. This is what led them to create the illusion of an OBJECTIVE body of knowledge, to deceive themselves and to deceive all those who receive a Western education today.

Statistics plays a central role in the creation of an APPARENTLY objective body of knowledge. Objective knowledge can only be based on observables — we cannot make guesses about the hidden structures of reality which create the appearances (even though this is actually an essential component of human knowledge). What can be observed can often be measured and quantified. Lord Kelvin enunciated the principle that the highest type of knowledge requires us to be able to measure accurately — if we cannot measure something, that is a sign of an inferior knowledge. The Western intellectual were led to try to measure everything — Intelligence, Love, Trust, Quality of Universities, etc etc etc. Once the numbers are produced, then statistics can be applied to obtain information. So there is a sense in which Statistics is the High Religion of Western Knowledge. There is emphasis on Data, and now on Big Data, as the central drivers of an information based economy. There is a crucial element which is missing from the calculations done by machine learning — the causal mechanisms which generate observables are always hidden, and can never be observed (see Causal Relations Via Econometrics). Any forecast about the future is based on a GUESS about the underlying causal structures (because they are never observable). Machine Learning and Big Data methods HIDE these guesses, making these methods extremely dangerous because they create a powerful illusion of objective analysis. It is no surprise that “How to Lie With Statistics” is one of the all-time most popular texts of statistics. As the popular saying “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics” illustrated, the conventional methodology for doing statistics is DESIGNED for deception, because it conceals all elements of subjectivity behind an apparently objective framework. One of the KEY elements of this course would be to bring out the hidden guesses and subjective elements which are disguised beneath the cloak of objectivity that covers a statistical analysis.

More than 14 centuries ago, the teachings of Islam created a revolution in the hearts and minds of the early Muslims, and elevated them from the bottom ranks of civilizations to leaders of the World. But, it was prophecied that “Islam came as a stranger, and will become a stranger”, and “Islam will remain only in name, and Quran, only in writing”, and that “We will follow the ways of the Christians and Jews, even crawling into lizard holes after them.” The Islamic society is built on the hearts of people, not from bricks and stones emphasized in a Western education. Islamic teachings produce an internal revolution, which is a pre-requisite for the external revolution: “God does not change the condition of a people until they change themselves.” The Quran states that Allah T’aala united the hearts of the Muslims in love. Those who buried their own daughters, started caring about the distress of birds deprived of their nestlings. In the Islamic approach to statistics, we will learn the subject in order provide service to the creation of God, out of the love of God. In this way, our teaching and our study of the subject will be an act of worship, as every act of a Muslim must be. End of RSIA Lec 01A:some more introductory material is needed before we can start a discussion of numbers and their analysis. That would be provided in Lec 01B

POSTSCRIPT: I have been writing a sequence of posts about my experiences and ideas which led to the creation of a new type of course on Statisics — Real Statistics –. The plan was to make this into the first chapter of the new textbook. But, in the process of writing, I realized that there was too much background to cover, and it would not be suitable for a textbook – for students, we want to get to number crunching as soon as possible. The teachers would also want the minimum necessary background information — instead of what may seem like a long and boring discussion of philosophy, methodology, and European history, which all seems quite irrelevant to Statistics. Just for organizational purposes, the sequence of posts is:

  1. Real Statistics: An Islamic Approach — provides a draft introduction, which explains how European history led them to reject the unseen and focus on the observable and the quantifiable. Methodology of modern statistics suffers from this defect of only looking at the numbers, and not looking at the complex reality which produced these numbers.
  2. The Quran: Faith and Reason: Instead of subjecting Quran to the test of reason, we must learn to reason according to the ways taught by the Quran. The Quran teaches us how to look at the signs of Allah, and to come to understanding the ways of our Creator. Statistics is also a way of looking at the observations and trying learn about the hidden realities which generated these observations. We can create an approach to statistics based on the way that strategies of persuasion in the Quran are structured.
  3. Economic Theory: Purpose of Life – All knowledge that we acquire is subordinate to the purpose of life. Knowledge is useful and valuable only if it helps us achieve our goals in life. When the goal is just the earning of money, then whatever sells is worth learning. When the goal is to seek beneficial knowledge which teaches us how to spend our unique and precious few moments on this planet, and how to serve humanity, the nature of knowledge, and the process of teaching and learning, all change radically. All courses based on an Islamic approach must begin with a discussion of our goal and life, in order to clarify and purify our intentions regarding the acquisition of knowledge.
  4. My Journey from Theory to Reality: This post explains how a Western education differentiates strongly between theory and practice, and teaches us that these two aspects can be studied separately. One of the KEY elements of the planned course in Real Statistics is to argue that this separation cannot be made. Theory cannot be understood outside the context of real world application. Also, we cannot understand the real without the help of theory. This post described my personal journey which led me to these insights, which moved me away from Western methodologies of education, and toward developing a methodology based on Islamic principles.
  5. The Forest and Tree Principle:  In this post, I explain how the forest (a theory, a generalization, a collectivity) cannot be understood without reference to the trees (example, special case, application), and a collection of trees becomes a forest by applying a theory which groups them together. This principle is of fundamental important in terms of the organization of the course on Real Statistics.
  6. Underground Railroad: The Path to Freedom — How historical forces have shaped our thoughts, and how we can become by standing outside the streams of history to observe how minds are shaped by history. In particular, what we believe about knowledge, and about our own identities, has been shaped by our experience of colonization, and by our Western education. Our approach to knowledge (and statistics) changes radically if we liberate ourselves.
  7. From Light to Darkness:  The West seems to enjoy the light of knowledge, while Muslims are covered in darkness and ignorance. This is in conflict with the Quran, which states that those who reject the faith will be led from light to darkness. To understand this puzzle, we must change how we understand knowledge itself. This is in line with the principle in the post on Quran: Faith and Reason, where we must learn how to reason from the Quran, instead apply reason to judge and interpret the Quran.


This entry was posted in econometrics, Islamic Knowledge, methodology, Real Statistics by Asad Zaman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Asad Zaman

BS Math MIT (1974), Ph.D. Econ Stanford (1978)] has taught at leading universities like Columbia, U. Penn., Johns Hopkins and Cal. Tech. Currently he is Vice Chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. His textbook Statistical Foundations of Econometric Techniques (Academic Press, NY, 1996) is widely used in advanced graduate courses. His research on Islamic economics is widely cited, and has been highly influential in shaping the field. His publications in top ranked journals like Annals of Statistics, Journal of Econometrics, Econometric Theory, Journal of Labor Economics, etc. have more than a thousand citations as per Google Scholar.

15 thoughts on “Connecting Statistics to Reality

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  3. Reblogged this on WEA Pedagogy Blog and commented:

    A (free) online course on “Real Statistics” starts on Saturday 27th July 2019. This course develops a radical new approach to the subject. This course is designed for teachers. Registration form is linked in the first paragraph of the post linked below. Register to get put on the email list for the course.

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