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Hayek and Behavioral Economics: Mindscapes and Landscapes: Hayek and Simon on Cognitive Extension

I see that the publisher now has a fully detailed page up for a volume that I’ve been privileged to be a part of. The Foreword is by a very nice chappie going by the name of V.Smith and includes luminaries such as McCloskey, Boettke, Gintis, Steel and others. My abstract:

Mindscapes and Landscapes: Hayek and Simon on Cognitive Extension

Hayek’s and Simon’s social externalism runs on a shared presupposition: mind is constrained in its computational capacity to detect, harvest, and assimilate “data” generated by the infinitely fine-grained and perpetually dynamic characteristic of experience in complex social environments. For Hayek, mind and sociality are co-evolved spontaneous orders, allowing little or no prospect of comprehensive explanation, trapped in a hermeneutically sealed, i.e. inescapably context bound, eco-system. For Simon, it is the simplicity of mind that is the bottleneck, overwhelmed by the ambient complexity of the environmental. Since on Simon’s account complexity is unidirectional, Simon is far more ebullient about the prospects of explanation. Hayek’s social externalism functions as a kind of distributed “extra-neural” memory store manifest as dynamic spontaneous orders. Simon’s organizational rule-governed externalism negotiates the “inner” world (the mind) with the “outer” world through a homeostatic interface that offloads the cognitive burden into the environment. Their respective externalisms may differ in detail but not in spirit in that it ameliorates their shared presupposition of cognitive constraint. Even though any “optimization talk” for Hayek and Simon is objectionable, knowledge acquisition can be represented by a contextualized stigmergic swarm optimization algorithm that gives due emphasis to both the individual and the environment. The key insight is that “perfect” knowledge is unnecessary, impracticable and indeed irrelevant if one understands the mechanism at work in complex sociality, a stigmergic sociality that in effect augments or scaffolds cognition.

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Can science ever explain consciousness?

Anil Seth, Chris Frith and Barry Smith (of Birkbeck, not Buffalo!) outline the topography in a podcast.

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Colin McGinn: All machine and no ghost?

Colin McGinn locates his position within philosophy of mind. Though not a fashionable position, I’m very sympathetic to it – and of course, it is a position that has much in common with Hayek.

The “mysterianism” I advocate is really nothing more than the acknowledgment that human intelligence is a local, contingent, temporal, practical and expendable feature of life on earth – an incremental adaptation based on earlier forms of intelligence that no one would regard as faintly omniscient. The current state of the philosophy of mind, from my point of view, is just a reflection of one evolutionary time-slice of a particular bipedal species on a particular humid planet at this fleeting moment in cosmic history – as is everything else about the human animal. There is more ignorance in it than knowledge.

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Colin McGinn on Philosophy of Mind

McGinn, one of my favourite philosophers of mind, notwithstanding Dennett’s view of McGinn’s well-known position:

In the Critics section of this week’s New Statesman, ten pages of which are devoted to a philosophy special, our Critic at Large is Colin McGinn, professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami, who surveys the current state of play in the philosophy of mind and consciousness. Although McGinn concedes, in the spirit Descartes, the irrefutable existence of the self, he cautiously downplays the scope of the intellect: “Human intelligence is a local, contingent, temporal, practical and expendable feature of life on earth – an incremental adaptation based on earlier forms of intelligence that no one would regard as faintly omniscient.” In Socratic vein, McGinn asserts: “There is more ignorance … than knowledge.”

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Remembering Herbert Simon

Simon died this day in 2001. Check out these two books – Models of a Man (as with most edited books this is uneven, but there is still much to recommend it) and Herbert A. Simon: The Bounds of Reason in Modern America, an excellent intellectual biography. Speaking of Simon, I have a paper coming out entitled “Mindscapes and Landscapes: Hayek and Simon on Cognitive Extension” to be found in a collection edited by Roger Frantz and Robert Leeson Hayek and Behavioural Economics” Vol 4 of Archival Insights into the Evolution of Economics with an introduction by non-other than Vernon Smith (whom I met in Tucson last May) and a host of other luminaries such as Herb Gintis, Deirdre McCloskey, Gerry Steele and others. Here is the abstract for my paper:

Hayek’s and Simon’s social externalism runs on a shared presupposition: mind is constrained in its computational capacity to detect, harvest, and assimilate “data” generated by the infinitely fine-grained and perpetually dynamic characteristic of experience in complex social environments. For Hayek, mind and sociality are co-evolved spontaneous orders, allowing little or no prospect of comprehensive explanation, trapped in a hermeneutically sealed, i.e. inescapably context bound, eco-system. For Simon, it is the simplicity of mind that is the bottleneck, overwhelmed by the ambient complexity of the environmental. Since on Simon’s account complexity is unidirectional, Simon is far more ebullient about the prospects of explanation. Hayek’s social externalism functions as a kind of distributed “extra-neural” memory store manifest as dynamic spontaneous orders. Simon’s organizational rule-governed externalism negotiates the “inner” world (the mind) with the “outer” world through a homeostatic interface that offloads the cognitive burden into the environment. Their respective externalisms may differ in detail but not in spirit in that it ameliorates their shared presupposition of cognitive constraint. Even though any “optimization talk” for Hayek and Simon is objectionable, knowledge acquisition can be represented by a contextualized stigmergic swarm optimization algorithm that gives due emphasis to both the individual and the environment. The key insight is that “perfect” knowledge is both unnecessary, impracticable and indeed irrelevant if one understands the mechanism at work in complex sociality, a stigmergic sociality that in effect augments or scaffolds cognition.

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Hayek in Mind: Hayek’s Philosophical Psychology

The book was published today. Here is the publisher’s webpage and the Amazon page.