Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Networks -- Smoking, Obesity, and Epidemics

Not all spontaneous orders are good. For example, obesity has been shown to spread through social networks. If you hang out with fat friends, chances are you'll gain a few pounds yourself. Smoking also demonstrates network effects. If a person or people start smoking in a given network, more in the network will start. But if a person or people stop smoking, more in the network will quit. The elements that affect network effects are also interesting. For example, those with more education were more likely to quit if their network peers quit.

Albert-László Barabási also has an editorial in which he discusses network medicine in light of the article on obesity. He points out that these kinds of networks -- disease networks, genetic/regulatory networks, neural networks, and social networks -- all have the same basic architecture, meaning if we understand one network, we understand them all at a fundamental level. He also points out that understanding networks allows us to see connections among things we may not otherwise notice. Diseases can be networked together, and thus understanding one may shed light on another. And as he says "drug side effects are inherently network phenomena." Which is another way of saying there are unintended consequences/spillover effects in network processes. They can be positive, such as the "invisible hand phenomenon" of market economies, or they can be negative, such as drug side effects.

All of which shows that the content of the system matters as much as the architecture. Diseases spread through network effects, with emergent properties, as any epidemiologist will tell you. And there are tipping points. An epidemic is a spontaneous order, but I think we would all, from a human perspective (vs. the germs' perspective) agree it is a perverse one. But tipping points work both ways. Using epidemiology, we can also eliminate diseases. There is a tipping point for wiping out a disease as well.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Informational Ontology

I do not ascribe to a materialist ontology nor an idealist one, but rather, to an ontology of information. In other words, I take the following from John 1:1 seriously:

en arche hn o logos
"the foundation of all things is information"

Admittedly, this is a definition that comes about in light of information theory -- but if you truly understand both what information is, and all the meanings of logos, you can see that "information" is a good translation of "logos." Certainly a far better choice than "word," which is such a peripheral meaning of logos as to be almost completely inaccurate. When we "Logos," we communicate information one to another, process that information, and pass on that information. All things are information at different levels of complexity -- information processors, which all communicate different kinds of information at different levels. For biological organisms, the vehicle of communication tends to be chemical, though also photons and sound waves. Humans communicate using more complex information-carriers, particularly through grammatical, syntactical language. If we look at the ways to define information -- as a noun, it is that which is without form; as a verb, it is that which gives form to another. Thus, pure information is that which is without form, which gives form.

"The foundation of all things was information, and the information was 1) to the advantage of 2) at, near, by 3) to, towards, with, with regard to (the word translated as "with") God, and God was information."

That is the most literal translation of John 1:1 I can render. The story of the universe is one of foundation on information, and the increasing complexity of that information over time in the universe. Atoms have less complex forms of information than do chemicals and especially chemical cycles and systems. Biology is a set of highly complex chemical systems. The human brain is a highly complex neural system in complex interaction with other humans through complex social systems. That information is communicated through language, which itself must be highly complex in order to communicate most efficiently. One could thus view God as having most complexity of the universe, and thus have all the information. This is how God is both the Alpha (the inform information that gives form at the beginning of the universe) and the Omega (the most complex, most informed).

I suspect this may be too pantheistic for some. Call the all-the-information-at-its-most-complex what you will, then. Call it simply the universe at a future state. But humans are the most informationally dense entities in the universe we know of, and we are highly intelligent and self-aware. If the tendency of the universe is towards greater complexity -- toward increased density of information -- then we can expect more complex, more intelligent, more self-aware beings than ours to evolve. It may or may not be a descendant of ours. But that does not matter. What matters is that we understand this natural evolutionary tendency of the universe as a whole to evolve toward ever-greater complexity.

Complex processes emerge precisely because information is communicated to other entities in the process. In social processes, those entities are agents capable of processing that information and storing it as knowledge, then acting on that knowledge. Much of that knowledge is conscious, some unconscious. Much is tacit. Thus understanding information in the information theoretical sense of the term is important to understanding complex social processes as well as the physical entities that make up those social processes. If we understand that each is in fact made up of different kinds of information, we can bridge the gap among the physical, biological, psychological, and social sciences -- and even bridge those to the arts and humanities.

All the other theories I use in my philosophy, world view, scientific work, and art -- evolutionary theory, game theory, chaos theory, complexity theory, emergence theory, etc. -- explain the ways in which information interacts to create more complex things and how those complex things engage in complex interactions. Information theory is the foundation of all these things. Information is the foundation of all things.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Complex Feedback: Nature-Nurture

Many of us already know that the nature-purture debate is grossly oversimplistic. Still, all data supporting this fact is more than welcome.

We are all born with a set of genes which create our bodies, including our brains, the development of which informs our actions. We are born with instincts, which are genetically encoded. However, the environment also affects gene expression and the emerging structure of our brains' neural nets. This results in reactions to the environment, which change the environment, which in turn affects our brain's gemoetry and our genes' expressions. Etc.

This is, by any stretch of the imagination, a lot of complex interactions.

Nature-only and nurture-only explanations are simple -- indeed, simplistic -- explanations. This is true even though each of the systems involved -- genes and gene regulatory processes, neural networks, and social processes -- are each very complex in their architecture and processes. But let's face it: we are talking about three complex, self-organizing network processes interacting with each other. And we are not even talking about the complex sets and subsets of our social processes, and the interactions of each with the others.

Genetic (inter)actions --> complex bodies, including complex neural network/brain
--> actions and, with other people, interactions --> complex social processes
--> actions and interactions --> neural architecture and (inter)actions
--> genetic (inter)actions --> etc.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chemical Vapour Deposition Cauliflowers; or, Ignorance and Interpretation in Science

One of the reasons I think there should be a society that brings together all of those who are working in the various sciences involved in understanding emergent orders is that awareness of others' work will 1) reduce the rediscovery of laws/processes that have already been discovered, and 2) reduce the likelihood that there will be less right interpretations, given new information.

I would consider this article on creating cauliflower fractal patterns, summarized here to be an example of both issues. What conclusions would they have drawn if they had been familiar with constructal theory? It is obvious that their evaporation technique is an example of different kinds of flows interacting to create these patterns. Further, power law distributions are not random, so they have a less right interpretation of the data than they could if they had been familiar with the right data. The paper is interesting, but the interpretation coulduse some work.
Certainly part of the problem is that you can't read everything. And rarely does one read outside of one's area of expertise. But complexity science is, I think, necessarily an interdisciplinary science. We are finding these patterns, processes, and strctures everywhere in nature and society. Researchers in all fields need to familiarize themselves with what others are doing, and familiarize themselves with the work being done that is revolutionizing science.

Slow Power Law Avalanches Oscillate

Everyone familiar with complex systems are familiar with the fact that "avalanches" occur in a power law distribution -- few large avalances and many small ones. However, until now, it has been assumed that the avalanches themselves were random. Under the conditions described in the linked paper, under certain conditions, in which slow avalanches are created, the frequency of large and small avalanches actually oscillate. Thus, there is a pattern to the distribution of the power law distribution.

More and more, it seems that processes we thought were essentially random are in fact ordered. But the order is complex, not simple. And it is complex order on complex order -- giving the appearance of randomness.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Chaos Theory and Roulette

If there is anything truly random, surely it is roulette, right? Wrong. It turns out that using chaos theory allows us to discover patterns in roulette -- such pronounced patterns that the odds increase dramatically. Nevertheless, you have to have a lot of equipment available to be able to make the more accurate predictions, so even Mandelbrot's odds wouldn't have been able to have increased under normal conditions.

Does this suggest that there is no such thing as true randomness?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The journal Nature has a fascinating piece on cliodynamics -- computer analyses of patterns in history. What I find fascinating is that they end up with exactly the same analysis as I had on the revolution in Egypt. Each each case, we were looking at bubbles and the causes of bubbles. There is a bubble that resulted in the violence/unrest bubble. The bubble of my analysis seems to be the same as the bubble of Peter Turchin's analysis. One gets boom-bust cycles in complex processes when there is positive feedback. Cheap money is a kind of positive feedback. Third party payers, such as we see in health care with insurance, is another. And artificially low interest rates -- meaning, rates below what the market would create -- created the housing bubble that burst in 2008. There was an education bubble in the 1960's that led to the violence of the 1970's. I believe there is an education bubble now, as evidenced by the increasing prices and blooming number of bureaucrats -- and Turchin predicts revolutionary violence in the U.S. of the same kind around 2020. There are more aspects to cliodynamics than education bubble-created violence, and many more I am sure possible. One has to be careful, though, that one does not mistake the model for reality -- these are not accurate predictions, but pattern predictions. These are, nevertheless, very important.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Predicting the Unpredictable (But Not In Time to Do Anything About It)

One of the most important aspects of science is to discover universal rules. It is therefor perhaps not surprising that an interdisciplinary study of complex processes discovered there is a universal rule for transitions to the critical state. It constitutes an "early warning system" that a complex adaptive system is getting ready to jump a catastrophe cusp (also known as the moment of emergence). Very exciting work in complexity science!

Rediscovering the Constructal Law

The headline should read Physicists Independently Rediscover Constructal Law. The fact that we have so many rediscovering areas of complexity like the constructal law points to how important it is to bring together these disparate groups. Of course, any healthy system does have a certain amount of redundancy -- but at the same time, we don't have to keep reinventing the wheel, either.

Beauty and the Spontaneous Order

Beautiful works of art and literature help us to both understand and live well within spontaneous social orders. Indeed, beauty may be the missing piece that has caused us to feel alienated within these orders. We do not have to feel that way.

In On Beauty and Being Just Elaine Scarry argues that beauty brings us to justice because of beauty’s attention to symmetry, leading us to an understanding of “a symmetry of everyone’s relation to one another” (97, quoting John Rawls from A Theory of Justice). While symmetry is certainly part of beauty, it is in fact only one half of beauty, the other half being asymmetry. A perfectly symmetrical tree would be a ball on a column – hardly beautiful (equating symmetry with beauty also denies the fact that Japanese works, which focus on asymmetry, are also beautiful). Rather, a beautiful tree is one that has symmetry, yes, but also is ragged around the edges, uneven in its evenness, even in its unevenness. If this is the case, justice may in fact be distributive, as Scarry argues, but it cannot be purely symmetrical, as Scarry implies. Rather, it would exhibit qualities of symmetry and asymmetry simultaneously – as network theory in fact says happens in complex network systems. It seems likely spontaneous orders are the only systems capable of exhibiting such qualities – and of doing so without prejudice. This claim would be strengthened if it turned out that spontaneous orders were, themselves, beautiful.

One aspect of spontaneous orders is that they allow equal access to all (which is far different from equal outcome, as outcomes depend on many different things). In a truly spontaneous legal order, for example, there is equality under the law. In a truly spontaneous economic order, there is an equal ability to enter into economic transactions, broadly defined. Scarry observes that “the equality of beauty” in part resides “in its generously being present, widely present, to almost all people at almost all times” (108-9). Beauty is accessible to all, though the more engaged one is with the beautiful object, the more benefits one derives from it, the more beautiful it becomes. The same is also true of participation in spontaneous orders.

We see, using two different ways of defining both beauty and the nature of spontaneous order, a commonality: paradox. A beautiful object must be both symmetrical and asymmetrical. To have a just legal order, one must have equal treatment under the law (laws applying to all people equally), resulting in unequal outcomes. Contrariwise, to get equal outcomes, you must treat people unequally and, as a consequence, unjustly – as Vonnegut brilliantly demonstrated in “Harrison Bergeron.” The affirmation of paradox seems to lie at the heart of both the nature of beauty and of spontaneous orders. Beauty must contain both complexity and simplicity. Simple rules and feedback generate complex spontaneous orders (see diZerega, Hayek, and also Stephen Wolfram’s The Making of a New Science). Indeed, feedback, or reflexivity, is another feature of beauty. Both beautiful objects and spontaneous orders are ordered, evolutionary (changing over time), rule-based, simultaneously digital and analog, generative and creative (as Scarry also argues of beauty), scale-free hierarchies (what Turner calls heterarchies in The Culture of Hope) in structure, patterned/rhythmic, unified in their multiplicity, synergistic, novel, irreducible, unpredictable, and coherent (see Turner’s The Culture of Hope on these qualities of beauty and Christian Fuchs on these qualities of self-organizing systems). It seems, as I note in Diaphysics, that “there is a correlation between self-organizing complex systems and beauty. Each have the same attributes.” More, “all beautiful objects are information-generating systems. And to the extent that something is a self-organizing system, it is beautiful” (84).

If one of the problems with understanding spontaneous orders is that they are more complex than we are, we being nodes within the network, and a less complex entity cannot fully understand a system more complex than itself (Hayek, The Sensory Order, 185), then understanding the relationship between spontaneous orders and the nature of beauty (especially in regards to the internal structures of beautiful things, and how they interact to create the beautiful whole) could help us to understand the nature of spontaneous orders. More, learning to better appreciate and understand beauty – whether in nature or in works of art, music, literature, etc. – should help each of us to learn how to better live within the extended order and positively contribute to its health and growth. This then brings us back to the importance of the liberal arts. Plato saw beauty as a sort of master concept informing all the other concepts (or, ideas, to come closer to the Greek word) (Phaedrus). As we see here, there is much truth to that – and, as Keats reminds us, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” (“Ode on a Grecian Urn”). The truth-seeking orders, such as the scientific order, are more truth-seeking the more they are truly spontaneous orders – which is to say, the more beautiful they are. “Virtue aims at the beautiful” according to Aristotle (Nicomachian Ethics), and more goodness emerges out of the moral order the more it is a truly spontaneous order. And if beauty is fair, and the fair is just (Scarry), the closer the legal and the democratic orders are to being truly spontaneous orders, the more just they and the extended order will be. In fact, if beauty, truth, virtue, and justice are indeed so deeply related, it logically follows that spontaneous social orders, being beautiful, are going to generate people who are truthful, virtuous, and just – and if these are elements not typically associated with the market order, this is a failure as much of the critics of the market order as it is of the economy having yet become a full spontaneous order – or, more, the almost complete failure of money to have become a spontaneous order (which only serves to undermine the catallaxy).

If we come to embrace beauty, which is, as Frederick Turner observes, the “value of values” (Beauty), we can come to feel at home in the extended order. We evolved in the midst of an evolutionary drama – and this is precisely what a spontaneous order is (Turner, 131). We can find beauty in the social spontaneous orders precisely because they have all the qualities of the evolved, evolving natural ecosystem. Ironically, precisely as our social world has become more and more a set of spontaneous orders within the extended order, we have abandoned beauty as a value – thus cutting ourselves off from the very thing that would have helped us know how we fit in. As Roger Scruton says in his Beauty, “When we are attracted by the harmony, order, and serenity of nature, so as to feel at home in it and confirmed by it, then we speak of its beauty” (72). While I would argue against the inclusion of “serenity,” certainly the other two, and the list I gave above, equate beauty and spontaneous orders. Educated in beauty, we could learn to feel at home in the universe, including our spontaneous orders.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Instincts, Emergence, Evolution, and the Role of Literature in Culture

Humans have a number of cultural universals -- which one could easily understand as being human instincts. If we understand that our instincts, like our emotions and our actions, have narrative structure, we can come to see how important literature is to human psychological and social development.

Frederick Turner points out that the forty-seven cultural universals (to which he adds combat, gifts, mime, friendship, lying, love, storytelling, murder taboos, and poetic meter) make it "tempting to propose that a work of literary art can be fairly accurately gauged for greatness of quality by the number of these items it contains, embodies, and thematizes" (The Culture of Hope, 26), since "it is the function of [literature] to preserve, integrate and continually renew this deep syntax and lexicon [of cultural universals], while using it to construct coherent world-hypotheses" (26).

We have, according to Wilson (actually, George P. Murdock, who Wilson is quoting), sixty-seven cultural universals (On Human Nature, 160):
age-grading, athletic sports, bodily adornment, calendar, cleanliness training, community organization, cooking, cooperative labor, cosmology, courtship, dancing, decorative art, divination, division of labor, dream interpretation, education, eschatology, ethics, ethno-botany, etiquette, faith healing, family feasting, fire-making, folklore, food taboos, funeral rites, games, gestures, gift-giving, government, greetings, hair styles, hospitality, housing, hygiene, incest taboos, inheritance rules, joking, kin groups, kinship nomenclature, language, law, luck superstitions, magic, marriage, mealtimes, medicine, obstetrics, penal sanctions, personal names, population policy, postnatal care, pregnancy usages, property rights, propitiation of supernatural beings, puberty customs, religious ritual, residence rules, sexual restrictions, soul concepts, status differentiation, surgery, tool-making, trade, visiting, weather control, and weaving

Whereas I could identify in that list only twenty which chimpanzees share with humans: bodily adornment, cleanliness training (in some), community organization, cooperative labor (i.e., when they hunt), education (active teaching), family feasting (a true ritual in chimpanzees), games, gestures, gift-giving, greetings, hygiene (in cleaning each other of parasites), incest taboos (admittedly a questionable one, since it is clear the Westermarck effect is in effect, but not yet clear that it is also socially transmitted), kin groups, medicine (Frans de Waal, The Ape and the Sushi Master, 254-255), postnatal care, property rights (chimpanzees are very territorial), ritual (see family feasting, above), status differentiation, tool-making, and visiting. And this does not include the cultural differences found among chimpanzee troupes.

I say there are only twenty, but look at those twenty. Are we really so much better because we have developed calendars when chimpanzees have managed to develop medicine (albeit far more primitive than human medicine, to say the least, but quite impressive all the same). Many of those uniquely human cultural traits can be traced logically from this pool of twenty we share with our closest relatives. Religion rises from power (status differentiation), which would then naturally lead to things like divination and religious ritual (combining power with feeding rituals could do this). Government too would naturally arise in a species that has status differentiation and the need for rules. I could go on and on, but I think we can see how much of what we consider uniquely human is either shared by chimpanzees and bonobos or could arise quite naturally from a specialist species like chimpanzees to become a variety of things in a generalist species like humans.

This is highly suggestive of what ways we should investigate the similarities and differences between humans and chimpanzees. And as we can see, this also suggests how and why it's important to understand chimpanzees if you're going to understand the cultural role of literature.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

An Emergentist History of Western Ideas

I. Introduction

Complex systems theory shows that the more interacting elements there are in a given process, the more complex the process's behavior. New rules evolve that govern the behavior of the process, helping to coordinate activities and make the process work in a better and more complex fashion. Further, when complex processes contain different hierarchical levels, such processes act in even more complex ways – fluid hierarchies increase complexity of behavior, while rigid hierarchies and flattened hierarchies decrease the complexity of a process's behavior. This is true in quantum processes giving rise to chemical/Newtonian physical processes, to moecular processes giving rise to life, to neurons in the brain giving rise to thought and intelligence in animals, including humans, and even to the interactions of human societies.

Claire Graves, Don Beck, and Christopher Cowan theorize that both human thought and human societies develop in a particular way, and in a nested hierarchical fashion. Beck and Cowan in their book "Spiral Dynamics" lay out a hierarchical theory of psycho-social development that explains both the how each individual's psychology evolves by emerging into new levels of complexity and the consequences of this on the emergence of more complex social structures – and show that different people, and different societies, have particular features in a particular order for particular reasons.

What they – and I, with some modifications – propose is that human societies go through spiraling cycles of new levels of complexity, switching between individualistic and collectivist forms of social organization. This is often preceded by individuals who lay the groundwork for the new social organization. And even when one form of social organization is left behind, there are people who continue to think that way. And, to make the situation even more complex, we continue to have aspects of the lower levels holding up the new levels of complexity.

But that is all very abstract. What we need are details. Basically, Beck and Cowan suggest we start off in survivalist mode – what helps the individual survive is what we do. This is really the level of purely animal survival: food, drink, sleep, and sex. Next we develop into the roving bands/tribal mode – this is in the present day both athletic teams and the family unit, and is the kind of thinking we mean by "family values." This is the level of ritual, traditions and symbols. At its worst, it is the level of racism, superstition, and fear of change. Once this level becomes repressive, we develop into the powerful individual mode – this is in the present day dominant in rock stars and rebellious teens in general, as well as in gang members. In the past, this was ancient Greece during the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Rome during the Roman Empire. This is the time of heroes and strong leadership, storytellers and mythology.

The next level is the level of authority and order. People at this level believe the world gains meaning from doing your duty, respecting traditions and heritage, and obeying the religious laws. Authoritative people believe in good and evil, right and wrong, in sacrificing now for the future, love and charity, and in patriotism. At their worst, they fear trespassing upon the ordained order, are nationalistic and tend toward theocracy and authoritarianism. Many are royalists and, in the United States, have Puritan tendencies. Historically, this was medieval Christianity and the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle.

Following this is the development of the capitalist and scientific mode. There is strong support for reason and science. Such people and societies are optimistic and willing to take risks and are highly pragmatic in dealing with the world. Such people and societies support personal rights and liberties, and were responsible for abolishing slavery. For example, Emerson, whose thinking exemplifies this level of thinking, was a staunch abolitionist. Other thinkers at this level include Adam Smith, John Locke, Lord Acton, Voltaire, Kant, Machiavelli, and Descartes. At its worst, it promotes deterministic thinking and results in alienation.

Next is the development of egalitarian thinking, whic one could classify as post-capitalist collectivist thinking. Rousseau is a good example of an early egalitarian thinker. It was first expressed at the social level in the French Revolution. At its best, egalitarianism emphasizes being socially responsible, caring for all people, finding ourselves, and treating workers well. It promotes pluralism and relativistic, postmodern, multidisciplinary thinking. At its worst, it promotes feeling over reasoning. Having much of its thought based in Marx, it leads to welfare states, socialism, communism, and even fascism, is anti-hierarchy, and is redistributionist. The existentialists and postmodernists are egalitarian thinkers.

Now, each of these levels in what Graveseans refer to the first tier tend to be exclusionary, rejecting each other. Those above reject those below as being too simplistic, and those below are just plain confused about what is going on at higher levels. But there is then a second tierabove the egalitarian level, in which there are two levels (so far – more will emerge over time) – the integrationist and the holistic.

The integrationist returns to individualism, but also sees the values of each of the levels below. People at this level attempt to create a society were all of these levels can work together – both the individual psychologies and to develop a more integrated society. Thus, it tries to promote environmentalism, capitalism, religion, heroic individualism, and families simultaneously. Beauty, truth, and ethics are united into one way of thinking. Knowledge and competency are emphasized, as are fluid, nested hierarchies and interdisciplinary, chaotic, fractal thinking. This level is the first truly self-aware level, and there is no longer any fear of yourself or the world. Nietzsche may have been the first of such thinkers.

Holistic thinking, which is only just beginning to emerge, can be found in such thinkers as our own Frederick Turner. Everything is understood to be connected to everything else, there is interest in wholeness of existence, and patterns and living systems are emphasized. Such thinkers are interested in bringing holistic order to the entire society – and thus supports a kind of holistic hierarchy, or holarchy.

This is but a brief outline of how the different forms of thinking evolved. I think if we come to understand how different forms of thinking emerge, we can stop speaking at cross-purposes to each other. The lower levels are all necessary parts of our thinking, and each level is needed to help us develop a more complex and just society. But first tier thinkers won’t be able to do it. That is up to the integrationist and holistic thinkers, whose thinking is more complex, and who understand the value of each of the different levels.

Let us now look at this from a social point of view. If we start with animal survivalism, we move into tribalism, and from tribalism into a heroic culture (i.e. Achilles, and the Greek and Roman gods), from heroic culture into aristocratic/theocratic culture, from aristocratic culture to capitalist/scientific culture, from scientific culture into statist culture, and even now a move from all of these into ideas of world confederacy, and even into more complex, more holistic ideas. Thought also follows these patterns: mere survivalism leading to tribalistic thinking leading to conquering, heroic leaders leading to belief in order, law, regulations, and discipline to build character (typically "religious" thinking) leading to belief in the virtue of competition and progress and knowledge leading to egalitarian thinking leading to time-bound, hierarchical, pluralistic thinking leading to holistic thinking. The thinking always precedes the social development, but the thinking itself cannot jump levels any more than can societies, or any more than biology can leap suddenly out of quantum physics, skipping the molecular level. In other words, to move from tribalism to a culture led by heroic conquering leaders, we have to have people who begin to think in the new way while the culture itself remains in the old form of organization. It is this phenomenon I wish to investigate here, so we can understand why different thinkers were thinking as they were, and what value they have for the present day, and in the future.

We have to recognize, too, that each culture contains elements of the levels below, including people who continue to think this way. The first thing we should note is that to say a culture or a person is in one of the lower levels is not to say that it or they are inferior to a higher level. We need the lower levels to help hold up the higher levels – this is how nested hierarchies such as emergent reality and evolving cultures can exist at all. If we take capitalist, scientific culture, for example, we can see that it can and should continue to have religious elements to it, that it will continue to have heroic people, such as athletes, in it, and that it will continue to have tribalistic elements in it – primarily as families, friends and clubs. This is most important to point out to those levels that most tend toward communitarian thinking, including tribalism, religious thinking, and secular egalitarian statism, which evolve in reaction to the more individualistic levels (heroic, capitalist/scientific), since the heroic and the capitalist levels consider the communitarian levels below them to still be important. Further, higher level communitarian thinking also tends to reject lower level communitarian thinking – secular egalitarian thinking tends to consider religious thinking as ignorant and something that is best done away with (consider the French attitude toward religion now, starting with the French Revolution). In the worst cases, communitarian thinking is racist and exclusionary – tribes exclude other tribes, religions exclude other religions, communists must eliminate all non-communists or anyone else who does not fit into the world they are trying to create. So it is important that we be aware of this danger, and do what we can to avoid and prevent it.

Overall, the communitarian forms of thinking and social organization tend to be, regardless of the level of complexity, community-minded and, thus, order-oriented, interested in stability, ethics, faith and truth; they are fundamentally religious in outlook, centralized and rigidly hierarchical (today, bureaucratic), and have a belief that time is circular, or eternal, and that it will become this way at the end of history, where all progress will end. The individualistic forms of thinking and social organization tend to be, regardless of the level of complexity, individualistic, libertarian, able to deal with change and chaos, pragmatic, fact- and science-oriented, decentralized, and embracing time and change, having a fundamental belief in some sort of continual progress. As stated above, the communitarians tend to dislike the individualists, but the individualists tend to work to protect the immediately lower level of communitarian thinking and society, while seeing emergent levels of communitarianism as a threat.

We need to move beyond this way of thinking, and into more complex ways of thinking. The way to do this is to understand all the levels, what their values are, and integrate them. That will get us into the next level of thinking and social organization. And from there, we must next understand everything as being part of a single, dynamic system – more than just pluralist, but unified as well, with unity in its variety. In doing so, we must not forget that lower levels simply cannot understand the ideas of higher levels – for example, someone who is a religious thinker would find egalitarian thinking, especially late egalitarian thinking, like postmodernism, to be completely incomprehensible – confusing nonsense in the extreme. To get such a person to the level of the postmoderns, one would have to get that person to first be thinking as a capitalist/scientific thinker, and then move the person into early egalitarian thinking before moving them into postmodernism. Part of the role of the integrationist and holistic thinkers is to help to move all people and cultures into more complex levels, and to integrate the elements of lower complexity into an even more complex whole.

II. The Levels and their Thinkers

All of this is necessary in order to understand the evolution of thought and the history of ideas in their proper context – past and present. It seems that tribalism is associated with pre-literate times, and that the first writing evolved during heroic culture – the oldest story we have is Gilgamesh, and it is a story of heroism. With Homer, we have a heroic thinker in a heroic time. Achilles is an archetypical hero of this sort.

The movement from heroic culture into the next level begins in the Greek culture with the pre-Socratics, who are beginning to think in more orderly, purposeful ways while living in heroic culture – this is typically seen as the beginnings of the movement from archaic into median culture. We have with the Greek tragedies an art form designed to move Greek culture safely and non-violently into the next level – each tragedy starts with a heroic individual who must be destroyed in order for a new level of organization to come into being. The Greek tragedies are art forms that indicate that the culture is going through an emergence into a new level of complexity. Tragedies are how a culture gets safely initiated into a new level of complexity. This is why Nietzsche identified tragedy as being simultaneously Dionysian and Apollonian – Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus identifies Dionysus as the god associated with the madness of initiation and Apollo as the god associated with the madness of prophesy – and Greek tragedies aided in the initiation ritual into a new level of complexity of thinking while prophesying what that new level would be like. Sophocles prophesies the emergence of the emergent median way of Greek thinking, while Shakespeare prophesies the emergence of the scientific/capitalist age to come, though he was writing during a time when Medieval/religious thinking was still going strong. After the initiation into the new level of thinking in ancient Greece, we get both Plato and Aristotle arising as the greatest thinkers within this level of complexity.

But emergence into new levels of complexity is not certain. In the West, we get a backward movement with the rise of the Romans – the Roman Republic and Empire was a heroic culture, and was exemplified by people such as Julius Caesar (consider how similar in character he is to Achilles). With the rise of Christianity, we see the Roman Empire moving into the next level – Jesus was a religious thinker during a heroic time. The Christian Romans and Christian medieval Europe was clearly organized in a rigid religious hierarchy, with the hierarchical Catholic Church and the hierarchical forms of government in serfdom, monarchy, and aristocracy, all supported by the Church. The Christian thinkers St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas found such a strong connection with Plato and Aristotle, respectively, because they recognized in them thinkers on the same level of complexity.

The Renaissance helped move Europe into the next level of complexity – the capitalist/scientific level. We see in Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo some of the first, transitionary scientific thinkers. And the work of Machiavelli and Shakespeare both helped set the stage for capitalism and science. Newton and Descartes moved the West even more into this realm of complexity – and the height of such thinking occurs in people such as Voltaire, John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, and the American Transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau. All material and scientific progress occurred precisely when and because this level of thinking and social organization arose. We also see the abolition of slavery for the first time in human history precisely during this time (it is no coincidence that slavery still exists in regions of the world that have yet to enter this level of complexity). The United States’ form of government is the exemplary form of government that arises in and through this way of thinking – which makes it all the more ironic that it was the last of the Western countries to abolish slavery. That is, until you realize that the American South was one of the last places in the West where religious/authority thinking remained (and still remains) strongest. Because the next level was forced on them, the South has taken over a century to recover and get caught up with the rest of the United States – becoming scientific/capitalist just as the Northeast has become egalitarian in its world view. But the religious way of thinking is still strong – which is why the creationism-evolution (and its latest variant, Intelligent Deisgn) debate still goes strong in the United States, particularly in Southern and Midwestern states.

With Rousseau, we get the first of the egalitarian thinkers – and it is his ideas that led, more than anyone else’s, to the French Revolution, which was the first example of the modern State (while it is true that the idea of independent nations arose with the Enlightenment, after the Renaissance, the peculiar institution of the modern State as typically found in Europe arose with the French Revolution). It was based on secularism and egalitarianism, and this example, along with the ideas of Marx, led to the rise of the Soviet Union and other communist states, which combined this way of thinking with religious/authority thinking, while tending to throw in a heroic leader for good measure. Nazi Germany was yet another example of this kind of state, though they combined it with tribalist ideas, leading to the atrocities of WWII. Of course, the Soviet Union’s avoidance of tribalism did not prevent them from killing even more people – the difference simply being that the U.S.S.R was more personal in its murders, while the Nazis liked to kill people in groups. But both are based on the same way of thinking, and were reactions against Enlightenment thinking. This helps us to understand why people who think this way tend to support communist and fascist dictatorships, and cannot see the difference between them and democratic republics (in an egalitarian world, all forms of government are equal – equally bad, and equally good). Further, the tendency to see people of lower levels – especially those still stuck in tribal or heroic thinking and societies – as victims, and modern-day environmentalism are also based on this way of thinking, and the latter is distinguished by the idea of nature as unchanging – notions of the eternal, the end of history, etc. being part of communitarian thinking, both religious and secular. This is why much secular communitarian thinking, like environmentalism and communism, closely resemble religious thinking. But these are not the only forms of egalitarian thinking. Darwin introduced an even more fundamental form of egalitarianism when he suggested that humans evolved from apes, and that all animals were fundamentally related to one another. Thus, humans and animals were put on the same plane of existence – and it is this that creationists object to. The hierarchy between humans and animals, placing humans in a place definitively above animals, was flattened by Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Among the more recent thinkers in this more recent egalitarian tradition include Heidegger (who was, not coincidentally, a Nazi), Sartre (a communist), and various Marxist and postmodern thinkers, including Derrida. Some of these latter, the postmoderns, have come in toward the end of egalitarian, statist thinking, and have thus begun the move into the next level of thinking. This is perhaps because they claim a great deal of influence from Nietzsche, who was perhaps the first thinker in this tradition, in reaction to the German State and socialism. Since most of the philosophers and theorists influenced by Nietzsche have in fact been egalitarian, statist thinkers, they have mostly misunderstood Nietzsche’s ideas. One can understand clearly levels below oneself, but there is difficulty in understanding levels above oneself, unless one is trying to move into that next level oneself. As for societal organization, since this next level of thinking is new, there seems to be but a few societies based on this thinking, including the present-day United States and Great Britain, having gone through a lot of statist thinking, while retaining the essential form of the previous level, making it possible to be more pluralistic and hierarchical and inclusive), with organizations like the U.N., the W.T.O., and the World Bank acting to coordinate the world’s governments in a very loose confederacy. Perhaps because the U.S. and Britain were more solidly democratic republics than other Western countries, which attempted to create egalitarian States, this new form of more complex thinking appears to be most common in these two places, and less so in continental Europe. It is all-inclusive, and considers all the lower levels to be important constituents of society as a whole. It believes that there is a basic human nature, and that humans can nonetheless adapt and evolve in extremely complex ways – that we have instincts, but also highly plastic brains, which allow us to have highly complex ways of thinking. Further, this new level of thinking has so far occurred less often among philosophers, and more often among scientists, such as Victor Turner, E.O. Wilson, Steven Pinker, Jeff Hawkins, Benoit Mandelbrot, and Ilya Prigogine.

The next level, the holistic level, is very new, and includes very few thinkers in it – the only ones I know of being the poet-philosopher Frederick Turner and, of course, Clare Graves, Don Beck, and Christoper Cowan, since they could not have discussed a level above the one they were in. We have yet to see what possible form of social organization will come out of such thinking. Even though we have learned that other communitarian forms of social and government organization have been dictatorial every time, it seems likely, since this is a much more complex level of thinking, that it will be some sort of world federalist democratic republican form of government, where individuals are encouraged to be communitarian thinkers, while the government does not get in the way of people self-organizing into communities of their choice.

III. Implications for Understanding Philosophy and Philosophers

As we can see, there can end up some overlap in thinkers. Just because an egalitarian, communitarian thinker comes along, that does not mean that capitalist/scientific thinkers go away – and most scientists and businesspeople are in fact still thinking this way. And not just the average person, but philosophers and scholars as well. Most of the clergy of the Catholic Church are clearly thinkers in the religious tradition – as well they should be. The Pope should only be a religious thinker, and should not have moved into the capitalist/scientific way of thinking (even if his thinking begins to play on the borderlands, his thinking should mostly be firmly rooted in religious thinking). Do we really want a Pope who is interested in profit? And certainly we should not have a Pope who is a secular humanist. Yet, it has profited the Church considerably to integrate in scientific understandings of the universe, rather than continuing to oppose them. Thus, the Church performs its proper role in maintaining truly religious thinking – and in maintaining it in its best traditions, rather than its worst (which we should have learned from, and learned to avoid, by now).

I am certain, in making these identifications, that I have stepped on some toes regarding peoples’ favorite thinkers and philosophers. We do not like to think that Plato and Aristotle are less complex thinkers than some people are nowadays – or even are less complex thinkers than, say, Machiavelli. Such objections will undoubtedly be made, but they are made precisely because of two errors in thinking: 1) we project our own thinking on the thinkers of the past, and read our own complexities into those past thinkers, and 2) there are inevitably those who themselves think at the level of, say, Plato and Aristotle, and thus consider, say, Machiavelli, to be a highly complex thinker, precisely because their own thinking is only just now becoming as complex as Machiavelli’s was. For these people, someone like Derrida is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible.

The important thing we must remember is this: Plato is not a thinker. Aristotle is not a thinker. Machiavelli is not a thinker. They were thinkers. They were thinkers of their time, place, and complexity. This does not mean they do not have their values now, in our more complex times, because those levels of thinking still exist, are still relevant, are the base on which higher levels of complexity are built. Machiavelli could not have thought what he thought had Plato and Aristotle not thought what they thought. Machiavelli could not have moved us into a culture and society of capitalism and science from the Platonic/Aristotlean world view without this world view to move from. And each of these thinkers provide excellent basic models from which to build new, more complex self-similar levels. But we must not mistake any of these thinkers from the past for who they are not. They are not present-day thinkers, thinking in present-day complexities – they are thinkers from the past, thinking in their own levels of complexity. Oftentimes we forget this when we talk about them or read them. When we read them, we must remember that, and we must remember that we read into them, we don’t read them for what they meant at the times when they were writing. We interpret them over and over (individually and socially) into the present, making and keeping them relevant for today and the future. The same must be remembered of present-day thinkers. Should I be read in the future, you must remember not to mistake me for someone else. I am a thinker now; I will have been a thinker at some future time. And my thoughts will be relevant for the hierarchical level of thinking I am presently in, which will exist as a lower level in the nested hierarchy of some future level of complexity. I will seem relevant to future scholars who think at my present level of complexity; a mere source and spur of thinking for future thinkers, who will recognize too the relative simplicity of my thoughts compared to theirs, though it occurs as a spur to each higher level that is self-similar to my own.

There are a few things we must remember when considering the history of ideas in this way: 1) each higher level of complexity necessarily needs the lower levels on which to build and rest, while the lower levels do not need the higher levels in the least (this does not mean, however, that within a person, the lower levels are not affected by their own higher levels – family for a tribal thinker is different than family for religious thinker, which is different than family for a capitalist/scientific thinker, or even an egalitarian thinker, though the family unit remains at the same level of complexity-thinking for each) , 2) each level has its own values, benefits, and shortcomings, and 3) there is no upper limit of complexity. Let us consider these in order.
In this model, each of the levels must be traversed in order to reach upper levels. In this, Marx was correct in identifying different levels societies go through, and in realizing one must necessarily go through each lower level to reach upper levels. For example, countries like Germany and France have extensive welfare states that are based on the egalitarian world view. Since these welfare states were built on a solid foundation of capitalism, they have lasted quite a long time without extensive or severe human rights violations (though when Germany adopted a different version of this level in Nazism, they clearly did commit severe human rights violations, as has egalitarian France in is former colonies). If those welfare states are currently on the decline, as they indeed are, it is because those societies have for the most part rejected the levels below them – they are knocking the foundation out from under themselves. But this is a different problem from level-jumping. When the egalitarian/communitarian world view was imposed on an aristocratic society in Russia, we got Soviet-style communism, and thus a mixture of aristocracy and communitarianism, without a capitalist/scientific level (the Soviet rejection of science can be most clearly seen in their acceptance of Lysenko’s biological theories).

Thus, a true egalitarian/communitarian society was not reached, while places like France and Germany came closest to accomplishing such a goal. However, one of the problems with each of these levels up to the egalitarian world view is that each also tries to reject the other levels, and the egalitarian world view seems most keen on getting rid of both the capitalist/scientific and religious world views (mostly just capitalism and religion, since it does have its own brand of science in systems science, relativism and probablistic science). When lower levels are rejected, the effect is, as said above, to try to kick the foundation out from under oneself. One of the benefits of those levels above the communitarian level is the recognition of the value of each of the levels, and even the holistic integration of them all. The reason we need the lower levels is the same reason we need lower levels of reality. Atoms give rise to chemicals which give rise to cells which give rise to complex organisms, one of which is humans, with our complex thinking. We can destroy cells without destroying chemicals, and we can destroy chemicals without destroying atoms, but we cannot destroy an atom while keeping the chemical around. The atom, though at the lowest level of complexity, is the vital foundation of each of the emergent levels above it. In the same way, the noosphere, the sphere of emergent human thought, contains the biosphere within it, since the biosphere can get along just fine without humans or human thought, while humans cannot get along without the biosphere (this idea is Ken Wilbur’s, from A Theory of Everything, 98).

The relationship may in fact be a more complex feedback loop than even Wilbur admits, since one could also point out that other organisms that are clearly less complex than the biosphere as a whole could also be wiped out, without any real effect on the biosphere as a whole. The important thing here is that human thought is more complex than biology, including the entire biosphere. And more complex levels contain less complex levels, not vice versa. Thus, nature is a part of us even more than we are a part of nature. But I have gone through this to point out that levels of human complexity are also nested hierarchies, self-similar to the nested hierarchies of nature itself. Like atoms to molecules, the higher levels require the lower levels to exist at all.

Thus, we have to remember too that each level has its benefits – as well as its shortcomings. The lowest level is the level of pure existence. We cannot deny our needs for food, drink, sleep, and sex if we are to survive as a species. But this is what animals do, and we are more than mere animals in our cognitive abilities and social organization.

Thus, the first fully human level is tribal. This is the level of family and family ritual and, in the present day West, athletic teams. However, this level is fundamentally racist – anything non-self is considered bad by those who stay in this level.

The next level, the heroic, is associated with Homer’s heroes, the Greek and Roman gods, and Roman emperors. Here we also find athletic superstars. However, this level is extremely egocentric and can be very destructive (again, consider our athletic superstars).

The next level is authoritarian and theocratic. What we now think of as religion – exemplified by Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. – with its emphasis on giving life meaning, direction, and purpose, and a world that is well-ordered by God. However, these codes are so strictly enforced that they result in things like the Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials.

The backlash to such extreme measures gave rise to the next level, the capitalist/scientific level, which "seeks truth and meaning in individualistic terms" (Wilbur, 10), is rational, believes that the world is knowable through science, gave rise to immense material gains through capitalism, abolished slavery, and developed ideas of human rights. However, due to the fact that this level needed lots of resources, there was perceived exploitation of lower classes both within and without capitalist societies, and Newtonian physics was coming up against quite a few contradictions, both of which led to the next level.

The egalitarian/communitarian level insists on the equality of all people, sees the world as a system, and encourages ecological thinking and pluralism. However, this level, even more than the rest, seems determined to destroy every level below it. This is in part due to its opposition to hierarchy and its extreme form of equality.

As we can see, each of these levels comes with its own set of benefits – benefits which we need to both acknowledge and embrace. We need stronger families, a healthy sense of self, lives with meaning, direction, and purpose, but with material well-being and a scientific understanding of the world and how its works, and respect for all people regardless of religion, race, or color. Family, heroism, religion, science, economic and ecological thinking, and pluralism all have their place. And should.

Teleological thinking is something humans commonly engage in. In fact, one could go so far as to identify it as one of the human universals. Thus, we should not be surprised if and when people use it with a model such as this. There is no highest level in this model. The holistic level, the highest level of thinking we currently have, is not the highest. Whatever the next level will look like will have to wait until the integrative and even the holistic levels become realized more in social organization. We cannot know exactly what it will look like, only that it will have a family resemblance to the other individualistic levels, since it comes after the communitarian level of holism. And there will be a communitarian level after it, etc.

This is another reason why we should not mistake thinkers from the past for being more complex thinkers than they were. It is unlikely that a higher-level thinker will in fact mistake a lower-level thinker for thinking as he or she does, but there are those who may be on the same level as a past thinker, who may mistakenly think, just because he is in a more complex culture, that his thinking is also necessarily of the most complex form, and therefore think that a past thinker – say, Plato, who is an aristocratic thinker – is, say, a holistic thinker. This is particularly true among those who think that holism is necessarily the highest form of thinking possible (it is not – it is only one more rung on the emergent ladder).

Thus, if we take the integrative and holistic approaches, we can begin to see the importance of knowing thinkers from each of the levels of complexity. Plato and Aristotle have their places in helping to give our lives meaning and direction, and to provide an ethical basis for action. They can inform the way we think these issues even today – since it is a level that is necessary for us to live meaningful, ethical lives. The next level, the capitalist/scientific level, allowed us to individualize those ethics, to consider the origins of ethics and the justification for them, and develop ideas of individual rights and personal responsibility. At the same time, the pluralism of the egalitarian level allows us to apply those ethics to more and more people in our ever-expanding tribe. This is admittedly a utilitarian approach to understanding the great thinkers of the past – but if we are honest with ourselves, we are already utilitarian with them, studying them to write essays and to develop our own philosophies for our own times.

In the latter case, we have to know where we’ve been in order to know what’s already been done, and what still needs to be done. For the integrationist and holistic world views, knowing each level is vital to understanding how each level should relate to each other, and be used to develop more complex levels of thinking and social organization. As we become more and more self-aware (the dictum to "know yourself" applied in a larger and larger sense), we will come to understand how important it is to integrate the levels and to appreciate and affirm each level for the benefits they bestow – for both the development of new levels, and scholarship to understand each of the levels, particularly in how they relate to one another, and lead into new levels.

Another way we can come to understand these levels is suggested by Ken Wilbur: I-we-it-its. He talks about how we need to integrate all these aspects together – but we can also come to understand each of the levels through these four aspects. The tribalist level contains none of these in any real sense. There is not yet a real sense of individual identity, or the difference between individual and group – and technology is very primitive, and is not seen as really separate from the tribe. With the development of heroic culture, we get "I" culture. With the development of the authoritarian culture of Plato and Aristotle, Christianity and Islam, we get "we" culture. With the development of capitalist/scientific culture, we get "it" culture. And with the development of egalitarian culture, we get "its" culture (with systems theory, etc.).

Wilbur argues that I-we-it also corresponds to beauty(aesthetics)-ethics-truth. Thus we can begin to understand what is happening when Aristotle says ethics aims at to kalon, which can be translated as either "the beautiful" or "the good," since Aristotle has an ethical "we" philosophy that is also strongly "I". Also, we can begin to understand John Keats’ equation: "beauty is truth – truth, beauty," since Keats is an individualist living in scientific culture (romanticism was an attempt to recover aspects of heroic culture). And we can also begin, with more integrationist thinking, to understand that beauty, the good, and truth are all one and the same thing – and with the systems science of "its," we can also begin to really understand for the first time how deeply embedded all of these are in time. And if we include the idea developed by J. T. Fraser of time as a nested hierarchy, we can begin to understand more and more deeply how everything is related.

IV. Conclusion

Obviously these ideas need to be further expanded – but that is the topic of a full-length book, not an essay introducing the idea. With the idea of emergent complexity that contains the lower levels in a nested hierarchy, we can include too the I-we-it-its as well. We get a new idea of "I" when we move into the "we" of the authoritarian level, and a new idea of each as we move into both the "it" and "its" levels as well. And each of these aspects will change as we move into the intregrationist and holistic levels – change, while at the same time containing their original meanings. The "I" investigated by Homer and Socrates influenced Freud, but the "I" developed by Freud is clearly of a different kind, emergent and more complex. And the "we" developed by Plato and Aristotle influenced Heidegger, but the "we" of Heidegger is clearly of a different kind as well – influencing the "we" of postmodernism, including its worst aspects, such as political correctness. And while the ancient Greeks did have science and technology, it is clear that the science and technology of the scientific culture is of a different kind, emergent and more complex. And the highly complex systems science that has since developed and become more dominant had its origins in some of the thoughts of Goethe, and even Aristotle.

One might ask, "If Aristotle were alive today, would he still be an authority thinker?" Naturally, this is impossible to say. That may have been his natural disposition to such an extent that it would still be his disposition today. However, it is also just as likely that Aristotle, being the genius he was, and the most complex thinker of his day, would be among the most complex thinkers of today. There is nothing in Aristotle that makes him inherently incapable of our level of complex thinking – what made him incapable of it was his living and thinking in the time and culture in which he actually lived. In fact, every person living today, no matter what level they may currently be in, can also think in each of these levels – though if they are at a lower level, they would of course have to move through each level, in order. Level jumps in complexity of thought are just as impossible as atoms skipping molecules to create life.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Reductionism and Emergentist Models

In the Phaedrus, Plato says he likes dividing things into categories because it aids thinking. Nietzsche later reminded us that conceptual categories are, ultimately, artificial, and that we need to challenge them periodically, and remember that the divisions among things are not really so clear-cut.

That having been said, let me lay out several models I use that guide my thinking.

1) Information Theory. I begin with an ontology of information. If something is inform, it has no form. If something informs, it gives form. Thus, information is that which is without form, yet gives form. All things in the universe are information, and the universe itself began as information and continues to exist as information.

2) Chaos Theory and Fractal Geometry. The universe demonstrates considerable self-similarity regardless of scale, in several different fractal geometries.

3) Emergence. When different elements interact, they often give rise to phenomena with different properties than one could predict from understanding the part themselves without understanding the interactions as well. All laws of the universe evolved from separate entities interacting to give rise to those laws. Among these are strange attractors, whose paradoxical push-pull give rise to greater complexity. Cells are emergent processes from interacting biomolecules. Economies are emergent processes from interacting humans.

4) Nested Hierarchies. Everything in the universe evolved into its level of complexity from lower levels of complexity. Biological processes evolved from molecular processes, which evolved from quantum physical processes (atoms), and atoms evolved from quantum strings. New levels of complexity arise naturally from lower levels of complexity as the entities of that lower level interact as a complex, dynamic system.

The idea of nested hierarchies comes in several flavors:

1) The physical model exemplified by J.T. Fraser's umwelt theory of time. With his model, the timeless level of pure chaos evolved into the probablistic time of quantum physics, which evolved into the deterministic time of chemistry (Newtonian physics), which evolved into the weakly forward direction of biotemporality (biological time), which evolved into the strongly forward direction of nootemporality (human time). Each level contains more and more time. And each new level becomes increasingly complex, continaing ever-more fractal patterns, in nature.

2) The human cognitive and social model of psychological and social networks interacting to give rise to ever-greater complexity through emergence developed Clare Graves, as developed by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan. With the Gravesean model, the pure survialism of animal life evolved into the weak communitarian structures of tribalism, which evolved into the weak individualism of Achilles-type heroism/belief in power gods, which evolved into the stronger communitarianism of authoritarian-religious systems (like Medieval Christianity of modern-day Islam), which evolved into the stronger individualism of the capitalist/scientific social system (the Modern Era in Europe and America), which evolved into the stronger communitarianism of secular egalitarianism (Marxism/Communism, environmentalism, postmodernism), which evolved into integralism, which recognizes the value of each of the lower levels (lower in the sense of being less complex, as each level is more complex than the lower levels), which evolved into holism, which attempts to more smoothly unify all the lower levels. The last two levels recognize the value of complex, fluid, nested hierarchies, as opposed to the egalitarian level, which rejects all hierarchies, and the authoritarian level, which tries to impose rigid hierarchies on everyone.

To have an even more integrationist way of thinking, we cannot forget these four things: I-we-it-its : individualism-communitarianism-traditional science-systems science. And these must be fully integrated into the two forms of nested hierarchy mentioned above (as those two ideas must themselves be integrated).

This implies a more Scottish Enlightenment understanding of man as socially embedded individuals rather than the Continental European Enlightenment understanding of man as rational, atomized individuals.

As F. A. Hayek observed in his essay "Individualism: True and False," the Enlightenment gave us two kinds of ratinoality and of individualism. One is based on the rational philosophy of René Descartes. This branch of individualism was further developed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Emmanuel Kant, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, and the existentialists, including Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. I will call this Cartesian Individualism (the digital-exclusive view). The other is in the Scottish tradition of David Hume, Bernard Mandeville, Josiah Tucker, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, and John Locke, and further developed by Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton (the digital-analog agonal view). Cartesian Individualism sees man as fully rational; the Scottish tradition does not see man as fully rational, but also, perhaps primarily, influenced by his drives, wants and needs of the moment. Man's rationality, in this view, is bounded. These different views give rise to different forms of individualism. Perhaps the best way to show the differences would be to put the two traditions side by side in a table showing the difference between the two, and the consequences of each of these, traditions:


The individual is found within the social, and each affects the other

Man is not always rational, or even capable of always being rational – man also has impulses and instincts

Since man's rationality is bounded, and his knowledge necessarily always limited, he cannot design or plan something like a society or economy.

The individual participates in the social (cooperates) through pursuing his own interests.

It is not necessary to find good men to run the society, meaning anyone can participate.

It is not necessary for us to become better than we already are, making it easy to enter the game to participate

Freedom is granted to all

No one group ever always wins, which keeps people playing

Reason is seen as process in which any person’s contribution is tested and corrected by others.

Inherently unequal people are treated equally

Inherent inequality allows diversity

Hierarchical – intermediates encouraged


All of this results in the emergence of spontaneous orders/invisible hand phenomena.


Radical individualism, meaning society does not emerge naturally, but is imposed from outside.

Man is rational and has no instincts and can always control his impulses

Since man is rational, he can create through planning the ideal society or economy

Individual vs. the social – i.e., selfishness vs. cooperation – therefore need coercion

Social processes can be made to serve human ends only if they are subjected to the control of individual human reason.

Only the best can or should run society and make economic decisions – few can play

Men need to be improved (presumably made more rational) before a good economy or society can be created – hard to play

Freedom granted only to the good and wise

The "good and wise," "rational" rulers always win – no reason to play the game.

Reason found in the individual, especially in certain "good and wise" individuals.

People are made equal in actuality – thus, have to arbitrarily assign tasks

Only State and Individual, thus flattening society – intermediates suppressed

All of this suggests that all social order is created by someone and imposed on all the rest of society and that people will not coordinate their activities unless there is someone to actively, consciously guide that coordination.

The Scottish form of individualism provides us with a broader, more inclusive set of game rules. Anyone can play the social and economic games – making these systems more complex by containing more parts acting in coordination and cooperation. Man does not have to be "improved" for systems set up using Scottish principles to work, but man must be improved for systems set up using Cartesian principles. In the Cartesian view, there is one rationality; but in the Scottish view, there are many, which can often come into conflict.

As one can see, there are implications for which view of man you embrace. In a real sense, the Cartesian view is reductionist, while the Scottish view is complex and emergentist. The implication for understanding phenomena and processes is that one can only go so far with reductionism. One has to consider naturally-occuring interactions as well. The implications of each for both understanding society, and in making normative decisions regarding society, are profound.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why Self-Organizing Scale-Free Networks? A Personal Narrative

I started my education in molecular biology, majoring in recombinant gene technology at Western Kentucky University. As a result, biological thinking is pretty natural for me. And biological thinking, even when not explicitly stated, is complex systems thinking. As an undergraduate, I read everything I could get my hands on about science. As I was reading popular science books on things like quantum physics, I ran across a couple of interesting books: Chaos: The Making of a New Science and Order Out of Chaos. I was fascinated from there on about chaos theory and self-organization.

As an undergraduate, I was also introduced to another form of complexity thinking: economics. Oddly, I was introduced to it by a philosophy professor.

While I was introduced to free market economics by my undergraduate Intro. to Philosophy professor, Ronald Nash, it was in poet/huymanities professor Frederick Turner's "Game Theory and the Humanities" where I was introduced to Hayek, through his essay "Individualism: True and False." I was also introduced by Alex Argyros to the work of J.T. Fraser, whose philosophy of time was based on self-organization, complexity, and emergence. As a Dallas Philosopher's Forum, I heard a talk by Don Beck, co-author of Spiral Dynamics, on Gravesean pyschology, which is based on Piaget, self-organization, complexity, and emergence.

However, it was when I went to a Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conference that I was really put on the path to becoming a Hayekian. I had been interested in self-organizing systems before, and Hayek's spontaneous order theory fit well into that interest. I presented a paper comparing ecosystems to economies, and after the discussion, Steve Horwitz pointed out that I had not cited Hayek, suggesting that I should, since "We are all Hayekians here." I then found myself invited to a Liberty Fund colloquium on Hayek (not coincidentally attended by Steve). The following FSSO conference, I wrote a paper on "The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts," which, in combination with the Cantor-Cox book, lay the groundwork for my blog Austrian Economics and Literature. I have come to embrace the Austrian school of economics precisely because it is the theory of economics that most clearly and obviously (and historically) has embraced a view of the economy as as complex, emergent system of complex human actors. In other words, it best fit how I already understood the world to be.

Since then, most of my published works have been on spontaneous order theory. For me, it is the sociological theory to use. I think with it as much as I think with evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology. I think them both in conjunction, in fact. Without Hayek and all of the other complexity theorists who have so strongly influenced my thinking, I might have a job, but I would hardly be the scholar I am, thinking the things I do, understanding the world as it is, in its full complexity. And I would not be on the path to creating a Center for the Study of Spontaneous Orders to try to unify all of those actively working in these areas.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Call for Unification

There is a paradigm shift taking place in the sciences. It is taking place, though, under a variety of names and in a variety of fields. It is known as complexity or complex adaptive systems or emergence or self-organization or spontaneous orders. You can find scholars working in the traditions of philosopher of time, J.T. Fraser, in the Austrian school of economics, in psychology in the forms of evolutionary psychology, Piagetian psychology, or Gravesean pyschology (the last of which has been developed by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan in their work on Spiral Dynamics), and in complex systems. The latter of course are studied in places like the Santa Fe Institute and the Center for the Study of Complex Systems. The Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders, which is now associated with The Philanthropic Enterprise, and which has been an important institution for my own work, has worked for the past ten years to make these connections. Can we think of others?

But if this paradigm is to finally emerge as the dominant scientific paradigm, we need to get these groups speaking to one another.