November 12, 2009

There must be a simpler generative matrix underlying surface complexity

No solutions from Cafe Hayek by Russ Roberts

Thomas Sowell has said that economics helps you understand that there are no solutions, only tradeoffs. In that spirit, I want to recommend Arnold Kling’s study of the financial crisis, Not What They Had in Mind. My favorite quote from the essay is a variant on Sowell’s:

The lesson is that financial regulation is not like a math problem, where once you solve it the problem stays solved. Instead, a regulatory regime elicits responses from firms in the private sector. As financial institutions adapt to regulations, they seek to maximize returns within the regulatory constraints. This takes the institutions in the direction of constantly seeking to reduce the regulatory “tax” by pushing to amend rules and by coming up with practices that are within the letter of the rules but contrary to their spirit. This natural process of seeking to maximize profits places any regulatory regime under continual assault, so that over time the regime’s ability to prevent crises degrades.

Counterfactuals, revisited from Cafe Hayek by Russ Roberts

My favorite perspective on the political economy of counterfactuals came from a reporter (Tom Foreman of CNN) who gave me his analysis of politicians and the economy. It went something like this:

Politicians taking credit from what they’ve done for the economy are like little kids working the controls of video games without putting any money in. There’s all kinds of stuff happening on the screen of the video game and they think that it’s all due to the frantic work of their fingers.

Selfishness is No Virtue from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy

Self interest is not about selfishness.
If everybody tries takes and few give in exchange, commercial society would be impossible. The very act of exchange is about each giving something to the other party which they prefer in place of what they give up to get it. If everybody expects others to give without them getting something back, we would soon be impoverished. Poverty is the absence of exchange relations; it is not caused by them, Greg. 11:21 AM

Thinking through Claude Lévi-Strauss @ Neuroanthropology from by Tim Jones Here’s a link to a post at Neuroanthropology

The linked essay was constructed by Greg Downey, in which he considers amongst much else, traditional structuralism, its origins and cycle of acknowledgement in academia, and how modern research into the brain and and its complex behind-the-scenes activities would seem to fly in the face of much structuralist thought. As we see from this extract:

This is perhaps one of the first and simplest distinctions between structuralism, together with some forms of cognitive anthropology, and neuroanthropology. The belief that, underlying human expression is a simpler structure of thought, one that can be described as an oppositional framework of categories, is, in my opinion, not consistent with current neurosciences. Structuralist analysis assumes that, underlying surface complexity in myth, ritual, and even conscious thought, there must be a simpler generative matrix (this is also one of my issues with Pierre Bourdieu, and the reason that I think his thought is overly structuralist).

Increasingly, neurosciences are leading us to the opposite conclusion, that conscious thought and overt expression are the thin surface of much more complex processes, a staggeringly Byzantine thinking organ embedded within a baroque organism upon which it depends for sensation, experience, subsistence, and even motivation to exist. Even the theorists of mental modularity, with which I disagree on many things, come into direct conflict with the stupendous simplification of mental processes required by structuralist analysis (for more, see Andy Clark & Michael Wheeler: Embodied cognition and cultural evolution).

The Cambridge Torres Strait expedition and British social anthropology from The Memory Bank by keith

In his posthumous book, Conflict and Dream (1923), Rivers recalls one of his own dreams whose preoccupation was with “Hidden Sources”. His initial explanation is that the dream referred to his frustration in not being able to reply to mistaken American critics of his kinship theories, because of overwork as an army psychiatrist. In a practical sense, but possibly more seriously, a conflict existed between psychology and ethnology. But, pushing the analysis further, Rivers concludes that the dream reveals the fundamental harmony between psychoanalysis and ethnology which are based on the same method, the excavation of hidden sources which help us to understand the complex history of both human personality and culture. Armed with this integrated vision of self and society, Rivers came out of the war ready to change the world, not just to understand it. 8:01 PM

Mediation and memory in the theory of money via The Memory Bank by keith on 9/10/09 Money as mediation

Money is often portrayed as a lifeless object separated from persons, whereas it is a creation of human beings, imbued with the collective spirit of the living and the dead. Money, as a token of society, must be impersonal in order to connect individuals to the universe of relations to which they belong. [...]

The two great means of communication are language and money. Anthropologists have paid much attention to the first, which divides us more than it brings us together, but not to money whose potential for universal communication is more reliable, in addition to its well-advertised ability to symbolize differences between us. [...]

Following Goethe, Spengler made a contrast between history (becoming) and nature (what has become). The counterpart of longing, of the desire to move forward that is becoming, is the dread of having become, of finality or death; and this pair together drive cultural creativity.

‘Life, perpetually fulfilling itself as an element of becoming, is what we call ‘the present’, and it possesses that mysterious property of ‘direction’, which men have tried to rationalize by means of the enigmatic word ‘time’.’ [...]

The Apollonian idea of money as magnitude (which is classical) and the Faustian conception of money as function are opposites. ‘Classical man saw the world surrounding him as a sum of bodies; money is also a body’ (talents, coins). [...]

Spengler concludes with a prophecy that the world of money and machine-industry will be overthrown by ‘blood’ as the dominant life-principle; and at this point we leave him. But his framework contains much of value for an analysis of the conscious and unconscious influence of money on our actions today. [...] 2:21 PM

From Reason to Illuminated Vision from Sri Aurobindo Studies by sriaurobindostudies

When we look into the evolutionary process we see in the world, it is easy to discern that there are laws that govern the process and the manifestation. Investigating these laws we find an inherent knowledge that is expressing itself absolutely and precisely. This knowledge is inherent in all the forms and expressions of nature. In the material world, we see it as the laws of physics. In the cosmic world, we see the laws of mathematics at work. In the world of life, we can view this as inherent instinct, which is another word for a “self-law” expressing itself precisely.

When we come to the human mentality, we see the working of Reason trying to make order out of the assortment of facts and impressions that we collect. There is a systematic working of Reason that can be equated to the natural laws in other aspects of the manifestation, so that Reason is itself an indicator of a higher or deeper Self-Knowledge that is unfolding through the operations of Reason, however slowly or imperfectly it seems to our short-term and limited vision. The object of Reason is the embrace of the cosmic reality that is manifesting the infinite truth of Sat-Chit-Ananda.

In order to grasp the ultimate reality however, we need to go beyond Reason, which is the “law” only as long as we work within the framework of the human mentality, but which has limits that must be overpassed in order to achieve ultimate Knowledge.

“But it is only when we cease to reason and go deep into ourselves, into that secrecy where teh activity of mind is stilled, that this other consciousness becomes really manifest to us–however imperfectly owing to our long habit of mental reaction and mental limitation. Then we can know surely in an increasing illumination that which we had uncertainly conceived by the pale and flickering light of Reason. Knowledge waits seated beyond mind and intellectual reasoning, throned inthe luminous vast of illimitable self-vision.” reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 13, The Divine Maya

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