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Austrian Theory and Economic Organization: Reaching Beyond Free Market Boundaries

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The first volume (of two) edited by Guinevere Liberty Nell.

The Austrian economic school famously predicted and explained the problems of calculation in a socialist society. With their concept of spontaneous order, they challenged mainstream economists to look beyond simplified static models and consider the dynamic and evolutionary characteristics of social orders. However, many feel that Austrians took their victory too far and became ideologically devoted to laissez-faire.

Austrian Theory and Economic Organization is a collection of essays on problems and possibilities in economic organization, written by economists and political scientists with an interest in the dynamic and evolutionary nature of market economies. Each chapter explores areas of potential agreement between Austrian theory, market socialist economics, and other heterodox schools of economic and political science. The collection aims to bridge cultural and political divisions between free market advocates who stress individual rights and left-leaning thinkers who stress social justice and a culture of solidarity.

COSMOS + TAXIS Archives

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With the cessation of operations for the journal Studies in Emergent Order C+T have agreed to host and make available SIEO’s full back catalogue of papers comprising a Who’s Who of Austrians and their sympathizers.

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COSMOS + TAXIS 1:2

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Coming Soon: C+T 1.2

Frederick Turner — “Quality, quantity, granularity, and thresholds of emergence”

Stefano Moroni — “Two different theories of two distinct spontaneous phenomena: orders of actions and evolution of institutions in Hayek”

Chor-yung Cheung — “Hayek on Nomocracy and Teleocracy: a critical assessment”

Lauren K. Hall — “Guiding the invisible hand: spontaneous orders and the problem of character”

Joseph Isaac Lifshitz — “Spontaneous order theory in a Heideggerian context”

The Neuroscience of Freedom and Creativity

Earlier this year I trailed Joaquín Fuster’s latest book that he so kindly sent me as an uncorrected galley. I’m pleased to report that the book is now finally available. Not surprisingly, Hayek features in this work. If anyone suitably qualified would like to review this book for The Journal of Mind and Behavior or Cognitive Systems Research, please let me know. Pat Churchland has given it a resounding thumbs up.

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Hayek in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

It’s about time that Hayek had a dedicated entry in the SEP. I’ve been “lobbying” for FAH’s inclusion for some time now. Here is the stated brief of the article:

This essay concentrates on this enduring theme [spontaneous order] of Hayek’s work, and a question: why would the scholar who did more than anyone in the twentieth century to advance our understanding of price signals and the emergence of spontaneous orders also be driven to claim that social justice is a mirage?

This is fine but it really should only be a subsection to an entry that has FAH as the title. It’s a shame that a broader conspectus isn’t on offer much like the entries on Popper and Berlin. How can one  appreciate the depth of Hayek’s social theory without taking cognizance of The Sensory Order (1952)? – there is a link between Hayek’s philosophical psychology and spontaneous order. Also missing, again from 1952, is The counter-revolution of science: Studies on the abuse of reason – surely an important work for Hayek’s philosophy of social science.

There is nothing wrong with the entry – it’s just disappointing for the novice to Hayek (or the preconceived caricatures that abound) that Hayek’s full breadth and depth is not made apparent (maybe there are supplementary articles in the works). And why is there a reference under “Other Internet Resources” to Matt Zwolinski’s “Libertarianism” in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy? Arguably one of the best internet resources (if not the best) is Greg Ransom’s aptly titled site Taking Hayek Seriously.

Spontaneous order, as a species of emergent phenomena, is not at all dealt with in an analytical way as befits the SEP. The concept is perhaps Hayek’s most problematic and contentious concept notwithstanding being one of the slipperiest of terms within philosophy at large. The concept is a critical element of the five-faceted cornerstone of Hayek’s philosophy of social science: the others being complexity, the dispersion of knowledge, rationality and methodological individualism.

Speaking of long overdue SEP entries how about Herbert Simon and Michael Oakeshott?

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Stigmergic epistemology, stigmergic cognition

Here is the intro and conclusion to Chris and my paper:

To know is to cognize, to cognize is to be a culturally bounded, rationality-bounded and environmentally located agent. Knowledge and cognition are thus dual aspects of human sociality. If social epistemology has the formation, acquisition, mediation, transmission and dissemination of knowledge in complex communities of knowers as its subject matter, then its third party character is essentially stigmergic. In its most generic formulation, stigmergy is the phenomenon of indirect communication mediated by modifications of the environment. Extending this notion one might conceive of stigmergy as the extra-cranial analog of artificial neural networks or the extended mind. With its emphasis on coordination, it acts as the binding agent for the epistemic and the cognitive. Coordination is, as David Kirsh (2006, p. 250) puts it, “the glue of distributed cognition”. This paper, therefore, recommends a stigmergic framework for social epistemology to account for the supposed tension between individual action, wants and beliefs and the social corpora: paradoxes associated with complexity and unintended consequences. A corollary to stigmergic epistemology is stigmergic cognition, again running on the idea that modifiable environmental considerations need to be factored into cognitive abilities. In this sense, we take the extended mind thesis to be essentially stigmergic in character.

This paper proceeds as follows. In Section 2, we set out the formal specifications of stigmergy. In Section 3, we illustrate the essentially stigmergic characteristics of social epistemology. In Section 4, we examine extended mind externalism as the preeminent species of stigmergic cognition. In Section 5 we illustrate how the particle swarm optimization (PSO) algorithm for the optimization of a function could be understood as a useful tool for different processes of social cognition, ranging from the learning of publicly available knowledge by an individual knower, to the evolution of scientific knowledge. In Section 6, we offer some concluding remarks.

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A great deal of ground has been covered in the course of which we have made a case for two central claims:

1. Social epistemology has the formation, acquisition, mediation, transmission and dissemination of knowledge in complex communities of knowers as its subject matter. Such knowledge is, for the most part, third party and as such it is knowledge that is conditioned and modified. Understood thus, social epistemology is essentially stigmergic.

2. One might conceive of social connectionism as the extra-cranial analog of an artificial neural network providing epistemic structure. The extended mind thesis (at least the Clarkean variant) runs on the idea that modifiable environmental considerations need to be factored into cognitive abilities. This notion of cognition is thus essentially stigmergic.

With 1 and 2 in mind, two disclaimers are in order. First, a stigmergical socio-cognitive view of knowledge and mind should not be construed as (a) the claim that mental states are somewhere other than in the head or, (b) the corollary, that as individualists, we do not think that what is outside the head has nothing to do with what ends up in the head. A stigmergic approach, necessarily dual aspect, does not require one to dispense with one or the other. There is no methodological profit whatsoever to throwing out the Cartesian baby along with the bath water. Second, a socio-cognitive view of mind and knowledge be not be mistaken as a thesis for strong social constructivism, the idea all facts are socially constructed (a denial that reality in some way impinges upon mind) – again, it would be inconsistent with the environmental emphasis entailed by stigmergy.

For Clark, “[M]uch of what goes on in the complex world of humans, may thus, somewhat surprisingly, be understood in terms of so-called stigmergic algorithms.” (Clark, 1996, p. 279). Traditional cases of stigmergic systems include stock markets, economies, traffic patterns, supply logistics and resource allocation (Hadeli, Valckenaers, Kollingbaum, & Van Brussel, 2004), urban sprawl, and cultural memes. New forms of stigmergy have been exponentially expanded through the affordances of digital technology: we’ve expounded upon Google’s RP and Amazon’s CF but of course include wiki, open source software, weblogs, and a whole range of “social media” that comprise the World Wide Web. These particular examples serve to make the wider stigmergical point that the Janus-like aspect of knowledge and cognition must be set against a background fabric of cultural possibility: individuals draw their self-understanding from what is conceptually to hand in historically specific societies or civilizations, a preexisting complex web of linguistic, technological, social, political and institutional constraints.

It is no surprise then that it has been claimed that stigmergic systems are so ubiquitous a feature of human sociality, it would be more difficult to find institutions that are not stigmergic ( Parunak, 2005 and Tummolini and Castelfrananchi, 2007). If stigmergy were merely coextensive with “the use of external structures to control, prompt, and coordinate individual actions” (Clark, 1997, p. 186), then the concept would amount to a claim about situated cognition in all its dimensionality Solomon, 2006b. While stigmergy includes these aspects, it distinctively emphasizes the cybernetic loop of agent → environment → agent → enviro nment through an ongoing and mutual process of modification and conditioning, appearing to dissolve the supposed tension between the self-serving individual and the social corpora at large through indirect interaction. Though this process of behavior modification has long since been identified by both PSE and SSE theorists, only recently has there begun a concerted effort ( Turner, 2001 and Turner, 2003) to, as Ron Sun puts it (Sun, 2006) “cognitivize” human sociality. Social theory and cognitive science must now recognize the virtues of a “cognitivized” approach to all things social.