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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.

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Embracing the Creativity of Stigmergy in Social Insects

One of the doyens of stigmergic computational intelligence.

There is no master architect, nor even a supervisor in these colonies. Grassé has shown that the key information required to ensure the coordination of building actions performed by insects is provided by their previously achieved work: the architecture itself. Grassé coined the term ‘stigmergy’ from the Greek words ‘stigma’, meaning ‘sting’, and ‘ergon’, meaning ‘work’, to describe this form of indirect communication. For instance, each time an ant or a termite worker executes a building action in response to a local stimulus, such as adding or removing a piece of material from the existing nest structure, it modifies the stimulus that has triggered its action. The new stimulus will then influence other specific actions from that worker, or potentially from any other workers in the colony. The stimulus itself can be a particular pattern of matter sometimes soaked with chemical signals called pheromones. Coordination is simply achieved through judiciously chosen stimulating patterns of matter. And the architecture provides enough information and constraints to ensure the coordination and regulation of building actions. The whole chain of stimuli and behavioural responses leads to an almost perfect collective construction that may give the impression that the whole colony is following a well-defined plan. Thus, individual insects do not need any representation or blueprint to build their nest. At the Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale, part of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, we have spent the last 20 years identifying and characterising the interactions involved in the coordination of nest building in various species of wasps, ants and termites. This work has led us to identify similar building principles behind the impressive diversity of insect nest architectures and to build distributed construction models that implement these principles.

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Swarm and Fuzzy

Stigmergy gets a bit of a mention in Newsweek.

Swarms often work by “stigmergy,” a term coined by French biologist Pierre-Paul Grassé in 1959 to describe termite behavior. He defined it as “the stimulation of workers by the performance they have achieved.” It has come to mean a mark left in the environment. Think of stigmergic marks as road signs: A termite makes a ball of mud laced with pheromones (chemicals that affect behavior through smell) and puts it down. The next mud-ball-making termite that happens along smells the first, makes its own ball and adds it to the pile. Millions of balls later, a hollow mud spire stands 8 feet tall, as outlandish as the towers of Turkey’s Cappadocia region—a magnificent termite-apartment complex.

Each individual in a swarm acts seemingly at random—scientists term this “stochastic”—yet as a group a swarm is amazingly focused, coherent and logical.

Translating nature to math can be staggeringly difficult.

Check out a preview of Francis Heylighen’s paper for Ted and my forthcoming Human Stigmergy: Theoretical Developments and New Applications, Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics. Springer.

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Drawing upon developments in social epistemology, behavioral economics, social neuroscience, philosophy of mind, philosophy of social science, network science and computational intelligence, this is a practical instantiation of knowledge transmission, liberality and emergent order.

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