Saturday, February 2, 2013

Greg Fisher — Social versus natural complex systems

Emergent principles, imagination, reflexivity in social vs natural systems.

Social versus natural complex systems
Greg Fisher

David Hales comments:
I think you’ve put your finger on a major issue here that is often not made explicit when ideas from complexity are applied to social systems. This has created a lot of confusion and miscommunication and we need more discussion at this level to clarify the issue. I think it was Popper who noted that since our actions in the world are strongly affected by our view or model of the world – and this changes with experience – then strongly predictive theories of the social world are logically inconsistent since they imply we can predict now how we will view the word tomorrow. Or to put it another way: if we can know now how we will view the world tomorrow then why are we not viewing the world like that now? Or to put it even more starkly – if you could produce a model that predicted the next theoretical breakthrough in physics then you’ve already made that breakthrough.
On the subject of coherent theories of collective action – well, there was the old classic by Mancur Olson “the logic of collective action” but that was from a purely rational action perspective. I would say that the more recent classic by Eleanor Ostrom “governing the commons” is the good start on this enterprise – based as it is on empirical work and self-organisation principles. What is true of both through is that importance of the group, how it is defined, where its boundaries are and how the behaviour of some relate others.
Greg Fisher recommends The Romantic Economist: Imagination in Economics by Richard Bronk. Here is some information at Amazon:
Since economies are dynamic processes driven by creativity, social norms, and emotions as well as rational calculation, why do economists largely study them using static equilibrium models and narrow rationalistic assumptions? Economic activity is as much a function of imagination and social sentiments as of the rational optimisation of given preferences and goods. In this 2009 book, Richard Bronk argues that economists can best model and explain these creative and social aspects of markets by using new structuring assumptions and metaphors derived from the poetry and philosophy of the Romantics. By bridging the divide between literature and science, and between Romanticism and narrow forms of Rationalism, economists can access grounding assumptions, models, and research methods suitable for comprehending the creativity and social dimensions of economic activity. This is a guide to how economists and other social scientists can broaden their analytical repertoire to encompass the vital role of sentiments, language, and imagination.
David Colander likes it, too: "The book is superb-a wonderful blend of common sense, erudition, and imagination." - David Colander, Christian A. Johnson Distinguished Professor of Economics, Middlebury College

Here is an Amazon review:
Yes. The problem is that " modern " economics is just old Benthamite Utilitarianism in new mathematical garb 
 By Michael Emmett Brady VINE™ VOICE
The author has,in general,put his finger on the fundamental problem facing economics today as it is taught to undergraduate/graduate students in the average college/university economics class. The problem is that economics is just the latest use of cribbed mathematical and statistical techniques shoehorned to fit the latest version of Benthamite Utilitarianism,which is what all variants of neoclassical and Austrian economics are. The author correctly points out that the " Romantics " rejected Benthamite Utilitarianism He recommends their writings as a counter weight to Benthamite Utilitarianism. However,a more powerful antidote , in my opinion,would entail going back and digesting what was written in the Old and New Testament, as well as in the works of Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Adam Smith. Smith ,for instance completely rejected both libertarianism and Benthamite Utilitarianism in Part V of The Wealth of Nations (1776). Unfortunately, Part V of the Wealth of Nations is not taught /covered in any undergraduate/graduate level course at any college /university in the world .


Roger Erickson said...

For Pete's sake. Where did ANYONE get the idea that social systems are not natural systems? How do YOU spell hubris?

There are many systems, and they differ in their distributed and net degrees of freedom.

If you start off with limited semantics, you drastically limit the discussion.

Tom Hickey said...

Yes, "natural" is usually contrasted with "artificial," "synthetic," or "constructed." Generally, natural systems are categorized as physical, biological and social, generally considered as in ascending order of complexity.

The boundaries may not be not sharp. For example, there is a debate in the philosophy of logic/math between intuitionists and constructivists over whether logic/math is natural or constructed .

Matt Franko said...

"Smith ,for instance completely rejected both libertarianism and Benthamite Utilitarianism in Part V of The Wealth of Nations (1776)."

That's interesting...


maybe he just means he has drawn a contrast between "social" systems and "natural" systems such as physical systems... ie many think we can just "set it and forget it" and take the human decisions out of it... ie no "active management" or "oiko-nomos" (house-law)... they think there is no group decision making required and we should just "let things work out the way they want to" (teleological) type of thing...

Like Larry Kudlow sez: "Free market capitalism is the blah, blah, blah...." ... They want no regulation, no performance metrics, no active counter measures, etc.. really brain dead...