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THE WEB-EXTENDED MIND

Well, this article was inevitable – first mentioned here). Francis Heylighen has been talking about this for a few years now as has myself in discussing Hayek, distributed cognition and co-evolved mind and sociality not to mention my ongoing interest in stigmergy which I argue is a species of EM.

Abstract: This article explores the notion of the Web-extended mind, which is the idea that the technological and informational elements of the Web can sometimes serve as part of the mechanistic substrate that realizes human mental states and processes. It is argued that while current forms of the Web may not be particularly suited to the realization of Web-extended minds, new forms of user interaction technology as well as new approaches to information representation do provide promising new opportunities for Web-based forms of cognitive extension. In addition, it is suggested that extended cognitive systems often rely on the emergence of social practices and conventions that shape how a technology is used. Web-extended minds may thus depend on forms of socio-technical co-evolution in which social forces and factors play just as important a role as do the processes of technology design and development.

Keywords: cognition, cognitive extension, cognitive technology, extended mind, Internet, linked data, Web science, World Wide Web.

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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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The Spatial Market Process

My chum David Emanuel Andersson has just had this edited collection published. Here is an excerpt from his intro:

In what is perhaps the best-known article in the history of the Austrian school, Friedrich Hayek (1945) asserts that market prices distill and thus reflect the unique local knowledge of a multitude of individuals, each of whom resides and works in a particular place. Because only an autonomously acting individual can take advantage of her unique creativity, skills, and personal connections to others, centralization of economic decisionmaking guarantees that much useful local knowledge is irretrievably lost. It is impossible to communicate the totality of all local entrepreneurial ideas and tacit knowledge to a small group of top-down planners; their cognitive limitations guarantee substandard economic performance (Hayek, 1952). We should therefore not be surprised that it is valuable to possess ‘‘knowledge of people, of local conditions, and special circumstances’’ (Hayek, 1945, p. 522). Given the great number of citations to Hayek (1945) in the general economics literature, it would require no great stretch of the imagination to imagine that Hayek – and by extension the Austrian school – had set in motion a way of theorizing about economic phenomena that later gave rise to theories about knowledge spillovers, urbanization economies, and local social networks. But this was not to be. There are virtually no references to Hayek or any other Austrian economist in the spatial economics literature prior to the year 2000. The lack of interest in Austrian economics among spatial economists was reciprocated by a similar lack of interest in spatial economics among self-professed Austrians. To my knowledge, Pierre Desrochers (1998) wrote the first explicitly Austrian contribution that deals exclusively with spatial economic phenomena. In spite of this historical disconnect, Austrian ideas have entered the spatial economics, economic geography, and urban planning literatures because of the close parallels between the influential ideas of the urbanist Jane Jacobs and Austrian market process theory. While Jacobs (1961) does not refer to Hayek or any other Austrian, her Death and Life of Great American Cities at times reads like an Austrian theory of urban planning: [N]obody, including the planning commission, is capable of comprehending places within the city other than in either generalized or fragmented fashion. They do not even have the means of gathering and comprehending the intimate, many-sided information required, partly because of their own unsuitable structural inadequacies in other departments. Here is an interesting thing about coordination both of information and of action in cities, and it is the crux of the matter: The principal coordination needed comes down to coordination among different services within localized places. This is at once the most difficult kind of coordination, and the most necessary. (Jacobs, 1961, quoted in Ikeda, 2006, p. 22) With her emphases on (implicit) methodological individualism, the importance of local knowledge, and complex evolving orders, Jacobs provides a rich source of insights for those who wish to combine Austrian economic theory with a dynamic approach to agglomeration economies. Such a dynamic approach focuses on entrepreneurial processes rather than on idealized equilibrium states. Unsurprisingly, both Hayek and Jacobs figure prominently in this volume. But they are far from the only influences. This book is a collection of 13 essays that address spatial aspects of the market process from refreshingly diverse approaches. They range from the extension of Austrian theory to spatial phenomena over hybrid combinations of ideas from distinct traditions to state-of-the-art spatial models that integrate Austrian concepts such as ‘‘roundaboutness’’ or entrepreneurial innovation.

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Morals and markets

Sandel plugging his latest. The journalist’s quote below has much resonance to me.

Even to a toddler’s mind, the logic of the transaction was evidently clear – if he had to be bribed, then the potty couldn’t be a good idea – and within a week he had grown so suspicious and upset that we had to abandon the whole enterprise.

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Intersubjectivity and Objectivity in Adam Smith and Edmund Husserl

This is a highly unusual collection worth checking out, co-edited by the very excellent Dagfinn Føllesdal – for the first time here is a work that seriously brings Adam Smith into the orbit of cogsci:

Contents

Preface

Introduction

Contributors

Can we have objective knowledge of the world? Can we understand what is morally right or wrong? Yes, to some extent. This is the answer given by Adam Smith and Edmund Husserl. Both rejected David Hume’s skeptical account of what we can hope to understand. But they held his empirical method in high regard, inquiring into the way we perceive and emotionally experience the world, into the nature and function of human empathy and sympathy and the role of the imagination in processes of intersubjective understanding. The challenge is to overcome the natural constraints of perceptual and emotional experience and reach an agreement that is informed by the facts in the world and the nature of morality. This collection of philosophical essays addresses an audience of Smith- and Husserl scholars as well as everybody interested in theories of objective knowledge and proper morality which are informed by the way we perceive and think and communicate.

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Clash of the Titans: When the Market and Science Collide

Coming soon the first of three papers I’ve co-authored with Dave Hardwick, this one due in Advances in Austrian Economics, Vol. 17

ABSTRACT

Purpose/problem statement – The two most successful complex adaptive systems are the Market and Science, each with an inherent tendency toward epistemic imperialism. Of late, science, notably medical science, seems to have become functional or subservient to market imperatives. We offer a two-fold Hayekian analysis: a justification of the multiplicity view of spontaneous orders and a critique of the libertarian justification of market prioricity.

Methodology/approach – This paper brings to light Hayekian continuities between diverse literatures – philosophical, epistemological, cognitive and scientific.

Findings – The very precondition of knowledge is the exploitation of the epistemic virtues accorded by society’s manifold of spontaneous forces, a manifold that gives context and definition, to intimate, regulate, and inform action. The free-flow of information is the life-blood of civil (liberal) society. The commoditization of medical knowledge promotes a dysfunctional free-flow of information that compromises notions of expertise and ultimately has implications for the greater good.

Research limitations/implications – While we accept that there are irresolvable tensions between these epistemic magisteria we are troubled by the overt tampering with the spontaneous order mechanism of medical science. The lessons of Hayek are not being assimilated by many who would go by the adjective Hayekian.

Originality/value of paper – On offer is a Hayekian restatement (contra the libertarian view typically attributed to Hayek) cautioning that no one spontaneous order should dominate over another neither should they be made conversable. Indeed, we argue that the healthy functioning of a market presupposes institutions that should not answer to market imperatives.

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From Ants to Economies

Readers with some familiarity with the eclectic content found on this website will be aware that the humble ant features strongly. Here is an article that offers a brief and accessible discussion of an excellent symposium to be found in Behavioral Ecology that features Mark Moffett’s work.

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Collective Intelligence 2012

Just under a week until the CI2012 shindig – as it so happens I’m busy co-writing a paper and co-editing a themed issue of Cognitive Systems Research on a species of CI – surprise, surprise “stigmergy.”