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Systems and Complexity Thinking in the General Practice Literature: An Integrative, Historical Narrative Review

Here’s an interesting survey article. My regular collaborator (a pathologist, special adivisor for planning for a large medical school and a complexity theorist — all one person I might add) has been subtly implementing such an approach for many years. What is unusual (and I think right) about the graphic below is that though all of the giants of the complexity are there, Varela and Maturana are not typically viewed in such company. Nice touch.

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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”

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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Constructivist and Ecological Rationality in Economics

All those interested in extended mind/externalist/situated type thought should be aware of the field of Behavioral Economics (BE) in general and the work of Vernon Smith in particular. BE is a body of literature that was ploughing this trough some twenty years before the hypothesis of extended cognition took root in cognitive science. It is interesting to note that the Clark and Chalmers thesis took some inspiration from Herbert Simon (Clark & Chalmers, 1998). Simon writes:

Human beings, viewed as behaving systems, are quite simple. The apparent complexity of our behavior over time is largely a reflection of the complexity of the environment in which we find ourselves . . . [I] would like to view this information-packed memory less as part of the organism than as part of the environment to which it adapts . . . (Simon, 1996, 53, cf.8, 62, 99, 110).

But what is remarkable about this is that Simon in turn credits and endorses Hayek for this view:

No-one has characterized market mechanisms better than Friedrich von Hayek . . . [His] defense did not rest primarily upon the supposed optimum attained by them but rather upon the limits of the inner environment – the computational limits of human beings (Simon, 1996, 34).

What Simon has grasped is the corollary to Hayek’s spontaneous order externalism – “cognitive closure” (or in Simon’s terminology “bounded rationality” was a key presupposition to all Hayek’s work and set out in its most technical form in Hayek (1952/1976). Cognitive closure is the idea that the human mind is constitutionally delimited – a condition that can be ameliorated if the social and artifactual world functions as a kind of distributed extra-neural knowledge store.

Through the work of Vernon Smith (the provenance going back to his classical namesake, Adam), ecological or situated/bounded rationality has received its most recent and finest articulation. Unlike some Nobel Laureates (no names) Vernon is not a prima donna. He is exceedingly approachable, very kind, generous, modest and open-minded. I was lucky enough to meet  Vernon in Tucson and he put me at ease very quickly as did his charming wife. Recently, Vernon gave me an inscribed copy of his Rationality in Economics: Constructivist and Ecological Forms along with his autobiography Discovery – A Memoir, the former deeply informing my work; the latter interest taking wing from my talking to him about his Kansas youth.

Nobel Lecture

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