Born on this day in 1899. It’s to analytical (social) epistemology’s (and philosophy of mind’s) impoverishment and shame that Hayek is not that well-known beyond the tiresome caricatures. For all my Hayekana see here. The featured image was very generously given to me by the highly exceptional Walt Weimer.
My chum Byron Kaldis’ big project has been brought to fruition. Bravo! My contribution: Hayek and the “Use of Knowledge in Society”. As you will see there is a terrific lineup – this is an exciting area to be in these days what with CogSci meeting social science – another project of Byron’s in the works.
Extracts from Troy’s paper:
In many ways this paper is necessarily an introduction. I want to introduce away to understand F. A. Hayek’s ideas on both spontaneous orders and the brain by understanding network structures. More, I want to distinguish between networks that emerge top-down in organizations and cellular regulatory networks and those that emerge bottom-up in self-organizing systems and spontaneous orders, whose relations to each other follow similar patterns.
Socialists argue, contrary to Adam Smith’s thesis that the economy self-organizes from the bottom-up (1776), that the economy should be consciously designed and given goals. Hayek modernized Smith with spontaneous order theory. At the same time, self-organization theory emerged in physics and chemistry, complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory emerged in biology, and network theory emerged in several disciplines; these are all in the same conceptual family as spontaneous order theory. Hayek was part of the 20th century revolution of bottom-up self-organization theorizing that sees the universe emerging on its own through natural processes.
If everything in the universe is self-organized, where do we get this idea, resurrected by socialists, that conscious design is the norm? Humans, like most animals, evolved to immediately, instinctively recognize the signs of others of their species. With wolves, lions, and other strongly territorial species, scent signs mark territory to warn off others. But humans are more visual, so we leave visual evidence of order. As a consequence, we associate the presence of order with an orderer or designer, and the development of creationist theories to explain nature, soul theories to explain the mind, and governments to order society. Darwinism and self-organization theories replaced creationist theories (for most people); top-down soul theories, including Descartes’ homunculus theory, evolved into CAS theories of the brain’s network structures, out of which the mind emerges; top-down social theories (where the hierarchical structure of the Catholic church was reproduced in other Western social structures, for example) gave way to Adam Smith’s bottom-up self-organizing ‘‘invisible-hand’’ theory. While life and mind have continued to evolve toward theories of self-organization, our social theories took a u-turn when socialism emerged as a respectable theory of economic ordering. The designer fallacy, increasingly abandoned in theories of life and mind, was readopted in our social theories.
When humans evolved in the African savannahs, there was little question about whether or not we designed the environment in which we built our social hierarchies. We did, however, tend to attribute the order of nature to nature spirits, gods, and goddesses, and, later, a creator God. We attributed top-down ordering of the world to external forces. Since it was the natural world, there was no question as to our having had a hand in designing it: if there was a designer, it wasn’t us. But then our numbers and density grew to give rise to new kinds of social ecosystems: spontaneous orders. As a tribal species, we assumed social structures were man-made; yet here was a social order not of anyone’s making, but emergent from our interactions. While language was a spontaneous order, its ancientness prevented us from considering it ‘‘man-made.’’ The same cannot be said of the catallaxy. While each order has roots in our evolved human behaviors, it seems the more recently a particular order emerged, the more likely we are to try to control it. Few try to control language (notable exceptions being constructivist efforts by the French and political correctness); the arts face fewer attempts at control (notable exceptions being constructivist Communist countries and conservative theocracies); religion and government both decentralized and became more heterogeneous in many places – though these typically required revolutions to precipitate the changes. The internet is the most recent spontaneous order to emerge, and we are only now facing people trying to control it.
Hayek developed his theory of spontaneous order to counter the designer fallacy. He argues, with Kauffman (1993), that the evolution of complex systems is essentially ‘‘lawless’’ (Hayek, 1991, p. 261), meaning one cannot predict future states. These lawless systems arise naturally, from the bottom-up, the interacting elements creating a network. They do not need a designer. Yet, this goes against our instincts. As humans evolved more social behaviors, our ability to detect intentions in others improved, becoming almost instantaneous. One result is ‘‘Our ancestral sociality endowed us with a hair-trigger when it comes to detecting intentions, even where there are none. When confronted with impersonal processes, we prefer to see design, purpose and agency’’ (Tonaka, 2010, p. 8). For Hayek ‘‘the sensory order is an imperfect representation of the physical order, and there are limits to what the human mind can know, as knowledge is acquired from experience’’ (Wenzel, 2010, p. 63). The presence of such built-in modes of thought/world maps such as the belief that order requires an orderer (the source of all top-down theories of cosmic and social order) also contribute to ‘‘an imperfect representation of the physical order’’ that can be overcome with sufficient experience. Since each person is born with this cognitive bias, each person must learn the natural world is not ordered top-down. This bias results in errors in understanding the economy, society, culture, and even the brain. It is perhaps ironic that the tendency to see intentionality everywhere, an evolved behavioral trait that can be traced to the brain’s structures, has been one of the primary barriers to understanding the brain’s structures, or similar networks. It is overcome only through understanding complex networks. This is what Hayek’s spontaneous order theory gives us. It may seem odd we are biased against understanding how the real world actually works, but if we understand the environment in which we evolved, it makes sense. Someone who thought a village could emerge naturally would end up killed by the villagers; those who believed if there is order, there is an orderer, would expect dangerous humans about. Unfortunately, that same bias is no longer adaptive.
Our hypersensitivity to intention may make it difficult to persuade belief in spontaneous orders. We want to believe in creationism or intelligent design, whether in cosmology, biology, government, or economy. Yet, science helps us understand the world beyond how we are programmed to see it (Hayek, 1952, p. 5.42). It is important we have the right science for the right system to create the right model. Without the right model, we make mistakes understanding the world. Widespread use of the wrong model will result in the same mistakes because ‘‘similar Hayekian maps (mental models) will lead to similar descriptions of the world among individuals with similar backgrounds and will thus never have exactly identical minds (Hayek, 1952, p. 5.28)’’ (Wenzel, 2010, p. 64). This is built on the speciesspecific structures that also unify us. It is thus possible to pile error upon error. And the more complex the data – such as economic data – the more open it is to interpretation and to confirmation bias.
Nevertheless, it seems that if spontaneous orders are human social environments, with parallels in the natural environment, then in a real sense human beings are preadapted to living in spontaneous orders. This hardly means there won’t be people trying to control those social environments any more than people have tried to control their natural environments – as ancient dams, irrigation, and rain dances prove. These controls are not without consequence, though. When you irrigate, you accidentally salt the earth, eventually decreasing soil fertility. Some, like rain dances, are simply ineffectual. Economic equivalents would be the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing in response to the Great Recession (where they ‘‘irrigated’’ the economy with money, with the likelihood that it will soon ‘‘salt the earth’’) and the stimulus packages (the economic equivalent to ‘‘rain dances,’’ since they are based on a belief that the economy is controlled by ‘‘spirits’’). Interfering with the natural evolution of spontaneous orders has negative consequences when one does not understand the processes involved. And even if you do, you won’t be able to predict when a transformation will take place in a TCAS. Such processes are inherently unpredictable and uncontrollable.
Our evolved general intelligence allows us to adapt to any physical environment, but it is our other mental orders that restrict the kinds of social environments we can thrive in. This is why understanding the human brain is vital to the work of social scientists. To understand the neurological basis of the various elements of our various cultures and societies, ‘‘a series of bridging laws must ultimately anchor cultural constructions to their relevant brain networks. These bridging laws must integrate, rather than eliminate, the laws of human psychology. They must also include the historical, political, and economic forces that shaped human society’’ (Dehaene, 2010, p. 304). Indeed, in writing The Sensory Order, is this not Hayek’s challenge to all of the social sciences?
Still on Hayek. Having just received my copy, I thought I’d give it another plug. My chapter Mindscapes and Landscapes: Hayek and Simon on Cognitive Extension is in this collection. The full line-up as follows:
Foreword; V. Smith
Introduction; R. Frantz & R. Leeson
Friedrich Hayek’s Behavioural Economics in Historical Context; R. Frantz
A Hayekian/Kirznerian Economic History of the Modern World; D. McCloskey
Was Hayek an Austrian Economist? Yes and No. Was Hayek a Praxeologist? No.; W. Block
Error is Obvious, Coordination is the Puzzle; P. Boettke, W. Caceres & A. Martin
Hayek’s Contribution to a Reconstruction of Economic Theory; H. Gintis
On the Relationships Between Friedrich Hayek and Jean Piaget; C. Chelini & S. Riva
Cognitive Autonomy and Epistemology of Action in Hayek’s and Merleau-Ponty’s Thought; F. Di Iorio
Hayek’s Sensory Order, Gestalt Neuroeconomics, and Quantum Psychophysics; T. Takahashi & S. Egashira
Mindscapes and Landscapes: Hayek and Simon on Cognitive Extension; L. Marsh
Hayek’s Complexity Assumption, Ecological and Bounded Rationality, and Behavioural Economics; M. Altman
Subjectivism and Explanations of the Principle; S. Fiori
Satisficing and Cognition; Complementarities between Simon and Hayek; P. Earl
The Oversight of Behavioural Economics on Hayek’s Insight; S. Rizzello & A. Spada
Complexity and Degeneracy in Socio-Economic Systems; G. Steel & H. Hosseini
Some extracts from Thierry’s paper:
Contemporary analysis usually divides games of chance into three dimensions. In Machina and Schmeidler’s (1992) terms, this division can be viewed based on the example of an urn containing 90 balls of different colors, out of which an agent pulls a ball, of which he must ex ante guess its color to achieve a predetermined gain. If the agent knows that the number of red, white, and black balls is the same (30), he finds himself in a situation of risk: He knows the possible consequences and the probability distributions, that is, he has one in three chances of getting a ball of any particular color. However, if he knows that these balls are red, white, and black, but in indefinite proportions, he is confronted with situations qualified as uncertainty: The consequences are known, but the probability distributions are not. Yet again, if the agent knows there are 90 balls of different colors in the urn but does not know how many of these colors there are, he is in a state of incomplete information: The agent is unable to define the list of possible outcomes (situation of ambiguity) and can expect some surprises identifiable ex ante, as states of nature are identifiable.
An extra dimension may be added to this distinction: If the agent has himself placed 30 red balls in the box, but he does not know what other elements of indefinite character and number there are in the box, nor the structure of gains or losses associated with various results, then we can consider that the agent is in a position of ignorance. Not only is he unable to define the list of consequences of the game, but he also does not know the distribution of events. The agent is able to define what he knows, but unlike the three previous cases, he cannot determine the scope and nature of what he ignores. The surprise is necessarily unexpected in the sense that the agent is unable to identify ex ante the possible states of nature.
It is in this latter perspective that Kirzner (1973, 1979, 1982) argues that market actors face a phenomenon of ‘‘genuine ignorance,’’ reflecting their inability to know all the opportunities for exchange or profit available in an economy. At any point in time, each individual perceives only fragmentary aspects of social reality in which he participates, and not its other facets. Each exchange is made in ignorance of other exchanges performed at the same time; thus, there is no common knowledge of prices and no actor can perceive the whole. In a monetary economy, the consequences of these independent exchanges are mutually dependent. The implications of this genuine ignorance on the coordination of activities are thus considerable. Using the example of Schmeidler and Machina’s urn (1992) from the time when the consequences of a draw for each individual depend on the (unknown) number of elements (of unknown character) deposited in the ballot box by an (unknown) number of (unknown) people, the ability of such a game to produce a balance is at least questionable.
The stakes of this phenomenon of ignorance compel us to identify its sources. These are not found in any complexity of information, neither in the cost of its acquisition nor in its treatment (deliberation) from a perspective of bounded rationality. They come from a more fundamental phenomenon of dynamic subjectivism. According to authors such as Kinder (1973, 1979, 1997) and Lachmann (1977, 1986), agents’ preferences, endowments, knowledge, and strategies should be defined as personal, unique. Therefore, each individual is a priori ignorant of how others evaluate goods and services. Economic analysis is not therefore based on a perfect, or even sufficient knowledge of actors to coordinate their activities. The diversity of actors’ preferences, interpretations, and expectations would certainly not be a problem if they were constants. A process of trial and error would lead to new learning, opening onto a price structure that would allow coordination. But this is in fact not the case because the individual performances would change continuously, according to an endogenous process, ultimately explained by ignorance or internal self-ignorance (Aimar, 2008a). As Hayek (1951a, 1951b) explained, the actor can only partially perceive the existing opportunities for satisfaction, for reasons related to the organization of the human brain and the tacit characteristic of knowledge. His conscious choices being ignorant of a portion of his subjectivity, he makes mistakes, expressed by disappointment with satisfaction. He undergoes a de facto internal discoordination, forcing him to change his representations to make his beliefs conform to the reality of his interior environment. But changing choices results in transforming his internal environment and de facto creates new unknown areas. The mind, constantly evading the consciousness’s desire to fully absorb it, makes the process of self-discovery never-ending. Thus, market discoordination, the result of genuine ignorance, is finally but an internal discoordination, consequence of a phenomenon of self-ignorance.
It was around this phenomenon of genuine ignorance and its perverse effects on coordination between individuals that Kirzner introduced the theme of entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurial function, driven by the incentive of profit, is to discover unperceived opportunities. Mobilizing qualities of alertness, reflected in cognitive openness, it reveals previously hidden information. Through his discoveries being translated into new money transactions, the entrepreneur socializes his knowledge and contributes to pulling market activities toward coordination. He goes beyond reducing ignorance; he transforms ignorance into uncertainty. But according to Kirzner, a parallel mission of the entrepreneur is to organize already discovered opportunities in the form of firms’ production plans, in order to protect them from risk of obsolescence resulting from the volatility of data.
In a dynamic world, discovery and exploitation of opportunity are then the two faces of entrepreneurship. The author argues that these two dimensions may be contradictory in the entrepreneurial mind. As much as discovery implies a cognitive opening to the outside, all exploitation of discovered opportunities is accompanied by elements of mental rigidity. These take the form of cognitive closure, thus opposing the entrepreneur’s perception of new opportunities. The aim of this contribution is to illuminate by the structure of this contradiction by economic analysis, to provide the means to verify it through experimental economics and to consider its extensions in terms of neuroeconomics.
Our plan is this: After explaining the basics of the theory of entrepreneurship and the elements that determine its duality, we will define the bases for an experimental protocol likely to support our thesis of an opposition in the cognitive field between the relative strengths of discovery and the exploitation of opportunities in the entrepreneurial mind. The last section forms the conclusion.
In the context of organizational economics, the relationships between cognition and complexity have been studied for many years through the lens of bounded rationality. However, this is outside Austrian theories, which do not define the act of knowing as the result of a deliberated choice between gain and cost but as the result of a spontaneous process. Unfortunately, the internal forces of this process remain ill-defined. Yet, much Austrian work has shown the relationships between the institutional environment and entrepreneurship. However, in spite of Kirzner’s (1985, p. 25) appeal for a psychological study of entrepreneurial qualities, the mental determinants of entrepreneurship have still not been studied. Therefore, our goal here is to use Austrian tools to define the relationship between organizational complexity and entrepreneurial discovery from a mental angle. Using the example of a protocol, we intend to establish the bases on which to experiment with the various theoretical propositions in this matter. This should allow a finer judgment of the determinants of entrepreneurial discovery and a better understanding of the effects of competition.
Here are a couple of extracts from Chor-yung’s paper:
Friedrich Hayek’s social philosophy is one of the most systematic and sophisticated among the contributions made by 20th-century liberal thinkers. His defense of the free market and individual freedom and his critique of collectivism of various kinds are mainly based on his epistemological theses, which in turn are derived from his social philosophy. Hayek once famously said, ‘‘the differences between socialists and nonsocialists ultimately rest on purely intellectual issues capable of a scientific resolution and not on different judgments of value,’’ and he believes that the doctrines advocated by the socialists ‘‘can be shown to be based on factually false assumptions,’’ and the whole family of socialist thought can be ‘‘proved erroneous’’ (1973, p. 6). One important area contributing to the development of Hayek’s epistemological theses is his works on theoretical psychology, and his book The Sensory Order: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Theoretical Psychology (1952a) plays a crucial role in this since it helped Hayek spell out the logical character of his social philosophy (1952a, p. v). It can be said that The Sensory Order enables Hayek to develop a conception of mind (which is essentially a classificatory and rule constituting complex order of a mental kind) that, on its own, enhances our understanding of cognitive psychology, and, when linked with Hayek’s social and political thought, helps strengthen Hayek’s epistemological defense of the free market and limited government. Although The Sensory Order did not attract the kind of scholarly attention it deserves for decades after its first publication in 1952, the path-breaking quality of the book and the integral part it plays in Hayek’s social philosophy are now widely recognized (see, e.g., Butos & Koppl, 2006; Caldwell, 2004; Feser, 2006; Gaus, 2006; Horwitz, 2000; Marsh, 2010; Rizzello, 1999; Smith, 1997; Weimer, 1982). Admittedly, The Sensory Order is a difficult book since it deals with questions of the most fundamental kind (such as the nature of mind and the limits of explanation). When one tries to relate The Sensory Order to Hayek’s broader defense of liberalism, the task becomes doubly difficult, and different interpretations of Hayek’s position in The Sensory Order may lead to diametrically opposite assessment of his contribution. Scholars who are unsympathetic to Hayek’s social philosophy tend to characterize his explanation of the mental order in The Sensory Order as ‘‘materialistic and naturalistic’’ and wonder how his brand of materialism with its implied physicalist notion of human agency can sit well with the defense of individual liberty. Contrariwise, defenders of Hayek like to stress his idea that the inherent nature of the mind as a classification apparatus sets limits to its capacity for self-explanation. They argue that social interaction in any developed society must involve so great a degree of complexity that no single mind or central planning unit can fully take into account all the respective preferences of, or the dispersed information possessed by, individual actors, making synoptic planning untenable. This chapter is an attempt to offer an interpretation of The Sensory Order in line with Hayek’s supporters. But it would like to go a step further by arguing that a liberal conception of human agency, in which the individual is characterized as distinct, free, evolutionary, creative yet culturally embedded, can be derived from Hayek’s theoretical psychology. In what follows, I outline my interpretation of The Sensory Order and defend Hayek against some major criticisms, including the criticism that his psychological works express or imply a physicalist conception of the mind. Furthermore, I identify some problems with Hayek’s conception of the self: in particular its ‘‘instrumental’’ tendency and corresponding lack of appreciation of the unique value of individual style and imagination.
All in all, it seems fair to say that there is a danger in Hayek’s liberalism to accord only an instrumental value to individual liberty. This is so because his idea of true individualism is derived from his social theory, and given the fact that there are inherent limitations in human rationality, the individual is valuable and his freedom should be protected precisely because it is only under such conditions that we can find out which individual gift, preference, and skill will eventually prevail through the process of free competition for the benefit of whole group. Perhaps, A. E. Galeotti is correct to say that to Hayek, liberty in the end is only ‘‘a procedural, methodological value’’ and ‘‘being a procedure, one appreciates it [i.e. liberty] on the ground of its positive results’’ (1991, pp. 284–285). If freedom is to be justified primarily on the grounds of beneficial results, does that mean that the autonomous and self-determining self has little value in itself or in other aspects that are important to humanity? The uniqueness of the human individual is valuable, according to Stuart Hampshire, because among living things as we know them, only the human individual displays the salient capacity ‘‘to develop idiosyncrasies of style and imagination, and to form specific conceptions of the good.’’ In addition, Hampshire points out that individual style and imagination, like works of art or the emotion attached to sexual love, is mostly unrepeatable, as ‘‘the leaps and swerves of a person’s imagination do not follow any standardized routes’’ and defy the prediction of rational and general rules and is therefore irreplaceable (1989, p. 118, 126). ‘‘If this individual essence is destroyed when the individual is destroyed,’’ says Hampshire, ‘‘the world is to that degree impoverished’’ (Hayek, 1952a, p. 117). One does not have to agree with Hampshire’s idea of individuality and the values he attaches to it here to see that something important is missing in Hayek’s liberal self. While this chapter shows that a distinct and creative self may be reconstructed from Hayek’s complex and impressive account of the mind, nowhere in Hayek’s voluminous works can we find any in-depth discussion of the value of individuality. If the self is unique and irreplaceable, its value as an individual not only should go beyond the requirements to struggle for better group survival, important though better survival for the human race is, the individual’s unique style, imagination, and personality should also feature large in any defense of liberalism. Although Hayek’s defense of liberalism is unique and theoretically sophisticated, his epistemological theses by and large have overlooked the need to explain those essential virtues that make the self uniquely valuable. Thinkers who are sympathetic to Hayek’s theory should have a lot of food for thought in moving forward the defense of liberalism beyond his contributions, which nevertheless are among the most thought-provoking in the 20th century.
The intro and conclusion to Chiara’s chapter:
Humans are social creatures and they deeply rely on mentalizing, which aims at understanding other people behaviors and formulating expectations about their future actions. The existence of inner mental states has been postulated to give an explanatory account of the observed behaviors of other individuals. In particular, the activation of theory of mind in social situations has been demonstrated by neuroeconomic and behavioral experiments such as: processes of market exchange and specialization of labor (Coricelli, McCabe, & Smith, 2000), decision-making involving strategic uncertainty, detection of social cheaters and, in general, cooperative games in which subjects need to predict their opponents’ strategies; these are all situations in which theory of mind1 is activated. Historically, two different models of mental processes have been considered in the literature about folk psychology: theory-theory and simulation-theory. Theory-theory posits that subjects who are attributing to others a particular mental state are applying a tacit piece of knowledge previously acquired ‘‘about what people feel, think, want, etc in given circumstances and how they will, therefore, act’’ (Perner, Gschaider, Kuhberger, & Schrofner, 1999). They basically own ‘‘folk theories’’ about others’ mental states and implicit causal laws about how the mind works. On the contrary, simulation theory posits that, in attributing mental states, subjects are not possessing tacitly codified knowledge, but they are rather running a simulation ‘‘putting themselves in others’ shoes.’’ Simulating means using one’s own mind as a model for other people’s mental states, while being unaware of this activity. Simulation directly bridges perception and action (Decety & Grezes, 2006). Hayek had already envisioned this relationship between sensory and motor activity (Hayek, 1952, p. 92) but he dwells more on a neuronal level explanation than a mental one.
Notwithstanding this historical opposition between theory and simulation, an approach that highlights their intermingling contributions and crossfertilizations has nowadays been favored (Goldman, 2006). This is the reason why, after introducing a brief sketch of these two positions, the paper focuses then on theory of mind broadly speaking as the capacity to share psychological states with others: this is the social cognitive capacity making humans collaborative and cooperative, able to be engaged in mutual coordinated actions and plans (Tomasello, 2005). Humans, as social actors, have to possess a cognitive machinery that makes them able to coordinate. This chapter investigates whether theory of mind can provide a plausible explanation, at the mind level, of the tacitly triggered process of knowledge coordination elaborated by Hayek. More specifically, does Hayek’s concept of coordinating and self-organizing orders imply a model of the mind that can be framed as the current philosophical concept of theory of mind? In particular, we address the question whether theory of mind can give an account of that ‘‘inter-personal’’ understanding of other people’s mental states that Hayek sketches without developing it in details (Hayek, 1952, p. 23).
The chapter is then structured as follow: second section frames the concept of mentalizing as it has been historically developed in theory-theory and simulation-theory; third section presents Hayek’s philosophical psychology, identifying specific issues to integrate the latter with modern theory of mind; it explains the roles of communication between individuals and the process of knowledge formation in Hayek’s view, trying to address the question why Hayek’s philosophical psychology does not properly consider the concept of ‘‘theory of mind.’’ Fourth section concludes with further ideas of comparison, presenting the concept of ‘‘social mind’’ from a neuroscientific perspective, considering the idea of mirror neurons.
Philosophical and experimental research in psychology has been centered on the social nature of the mind for the past 20 years. Imitation is an important aspect of social learning, even at the mental level: mental mimicry (Gallese & Goldman, 1998) is based on the capacity to imitate other people’s mental states and has been defined as a process of isomorphism between states of mind of different persons, according to which two persons feel the same state of mind just seeing the other person in a particular situation or understanding the other person’s mental state. A particular case of isomorphism is represented by empathy: this is an automatic process triggered by an affective state, elicited by the observation or imagination of another individual’s affective state. Empathy has been associated with both epistemological and social roles (De Vignemont & Singer, 2006): it provides knowledge of the environment around us, connecting emotional stimuli coming from the external environment, ‘‘their situative context’’ (ibid., p. 440), and the relationship between the empathizer and the target. Empathy has therefore a vivid social dimension.
Moreover, empathy has been advocated as one of the explanatory devices of altruistic and pro-social behaviors specific of human nature: justice and cooperation (Boyd & Richerson, 2006; Hoffman, 2000; Hume, 1739).
From a neuroscientific perspective, the ‘‘empathic’’ nature of the brain has been demonstrated by the existence of mirror neurons; in the second half of the Nineties a particular scientific discovery has been made in the macaque monkeys’ brain: mirror neurons (Gallese, Fatiga, Fogassi, & Rizzolatti, 1996; Rizzolatti, Fatiga, Gallese, & Fogassi, 1996). These are visuomotors neuronal cells that fire both during the individual execution of a goal-directed action and the observation of the same action in a target individuals. They are located in the so called area F5 of the brain that belongs to the ventral premotor cortex, and they are fundamental in developing a ‘‘motor-theory of social cognition’’ (Gallese, Keysers & Rizzolatti, 2004) since they completely change the philosophical basis of actions understanding: this means that with mirror neurons a direct link between ‘‘first and third person experience’’ (ibid., p. 396) is possible. Bridging first and third person, in particular, means connecting the ‘‘I do and I feel’’ experience with ‘‘he does and he feels’’ experience. This can occur, not on the basis of the visual representation and interpretation performed by a central system, but by the ‘‘penetration’’ of information related to the target into the neural system and knowledge of the observer, who is empathizing. The fact that the action perceived and registered by the mirror system is goal-directed is fundamental. In fact, in the original experiment on macaque monkeys (Umilta` et al., 2001), the mirror system is activated only when an action is explicitly directed towards an object: for instance, mirror neurons are firing both when the monkey is grasping an object and both when the monkey is looking at the experimenter grasping the same object. This happens in both a full vision and hidden conditions, that is, when both the object is present in the spatial vision of the animal and when it has been hidden beyond a sliding screen, but after being present. In contrast, mirror neurons do not fire when the object is not present from the beginning, and the grasping movement is directed toward nothing in particular. In this case, neither the full vision nor the hidden treatments are characterized by mirror neurons activation. This occurs because the action is perceived as not being goal-oriented.
More recent studies have shown that mirror neurons are present in human brain as well and that, moreover, they fire in response to a wider range of actions than the monkey system (Gallese et al., 2004). In particular, mirror neurons fire in humans in the case of facial expression recognition, because the observer tends to share the emotional and affective state of the target, demonstrating its understanding. Recognizing the powerful implications that the discovery of a mirror system in humans triggers, Gallese et al. (2004) propose a ‘‘unifying theory of social cognition’’ that is able to make sense of both first-person and third-person recognition and understanding of emotions and actions, both individually performed and observed in others: the understanding of social cognition implies a bridge ‘‘between others and ourselves’’ (Gallese et al., 2004, p. 400). Hayek himself highlights the relationship between perception and action developed by the mental order: in his opinion, the sensory representations of the environment are associated with a possible goal to be pursued in that environment through a movement pattern that will make the achievement of that goal possible. This process determines particular responses, suggesting possible corrections to be taken in the movement patterns if the first ones are not particularly successful. Hayek describes motor responses as directly belonging to the act of perception since they ‘‘serve for the proper evaluation of the stimulus’’ (Hayek, 1952, p. 92). The interaction between exteroceptive and proprioceptive impulses and the consequent feedbacks generate the processes of adaptation of the organism to the external environment, which are of particular significance for the elaboration of subjective knowledge. Hayek develops therefore a fundamental and modern theory about the mental order and its relationships with the physical and neuronal order, presenting in his ‘‘central thesis’’ the role of subjective knowledge created through a process of internal reconstruction and classification of external stimuli. It is precisely in connection with this specific point that the role of folk psychology may find its fruitful application in Hayek’s theory: folk psychology is the conceptual common sense framework that socialized subjects employ to interpret, understand and predict other subjects’ mental states and behaviors. Hayek believes that the fundamental operation that human mind can accomplish is classification. Beyond classification, we believe that mentalizing should be taken into consideration in order to give an account of the interpersonal and social dimensions of human life and human mind. In particular, of special interest for us, was to present an overview of current approaches in philosophy of mind, so to understand how the idea of folk psychology can be used as a tool to bridge Hayek’s theory of mental order toward an inter-personal conception of the mind, which Hayek himself seems to support, although never developing it in details.