Sunday, December 27, 2015

Philosophical Anarchism of Paul Feyerabend

During the past few weeks I have enjoyed reading Against Method by Paul Feyerabend (revised edition 1988). As suggested by the title Feyerabend argues for philosophical anarchism, for an anything-goes approach to scientific method. Feyerabend responds to the method of falsification advanced by Karl Popper by showing that no theory can stand under that ideal: Every revered theory of science stands in spite of some contradictory evidence! Practitioners who need to get on with their work mostly just ignore contradicting evidence, and Feyerabend shows this turning away from uncomfortable evidence is okay and even necessary for all sorts of advance. I find this very interesting and mostly convincing.

I differ however, if I have understood Feyerabend correctly, in a view suggested by the Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM, which is the focus of this blog). RPM starts out with an assumption — that resource patterns (RPs) exist concretely in our universe, and even though this is only an assumption I believe almost all people will feel confident building large structures upon this assumption. The challenge of living things (LTs) in RPM is to discover and learn how to exploit RPs. So for us humans (being LTs) our important discoveries about RPs are not found in a universe of anarchy. Rather the locations of RPs, and the physically possible ways to exploit RPs, are orderly. What we may discover pertaining to RPs is also orderly, an order extant in the physical facts of the extra-human universe. Feyerabend’s anything-goes method suggests to me a failure to recognize this order underlying what we humans learn about our surroundings.

But my difference just mentioned may boil down to almost nothing when I allow that we humans do not know what we will discover until after we have discovered it. If we could gain a God’s-eye view before we start a search then it would not be a search; we would know beforehand the necessary direction of search. So my objection has merit in that God’s-eye view. But for we here below who lack that view Feyerabend seems to have a good point.

Let me add that RPM provides an excellent platform for continuing development of the philosophy of mind to which Feyerabend has contributed. We start with tabletop critters which have minds (or more specifically computer programs) which we have specified to be just barely sufficient for their survival at a low level. We add a huge RP which the critters can never hope to exploit unless they can discover new modes of cooperation. Then we start giving the critters incremental senses and/or calculating routines, running the model to see which increments in ability enable a population of critters to discover and exploit the RP. In this quest we will face concrete examples of development of language, leadership, and lying. We will come face-to-face with what looks to us like a thought which exists not in a single critter but in a connected network of critters — a thought possible only in that higher level of life.

I hope my promises just expressed will show more clearly as I post drafts of the remaining chapters for my book underway.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Report of Conference on Social Science Simulation

On the recent weekend of October 29 – November 1, I attended this year’s conference of The Computational Social Science Society of the Americas, at Santa Fe, New Mexico. This Society emphasizes computerized agent-based modeling. So their work bears some relation to my project in this blog. My project, to give a clue to newcomers, is exposition of a new model of our human experience, the Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM). Below I will comment upon two of the papers presented at Santa Fe. The second of those papers led me to read a few papers by Robert Axtell. I will end my comments here with what I found in Axtell’s papers. Overall I found affirmation in the conference. Affirmation, that is, of the approach to modeling I use in this RPM project.

Mirta Galesic presented her paper with Daniel Barkoczi, “Social learning strategies, network structure and the exploration-exploitation tradeoff”. The “social learning” subject of this paper catches my attention because social learning could describe the main question of interest that arises in RPM. Evidently this paper is only a small part of a body of literature on social learning now available. This literature has a context which bears some relation to RPM, so it will need to be studied as research is undertaken on social learning within RPM.

Digression: Before proceeding with the remainder of this post let me tell that I struggle to understand what I am doing on this blog. In a sense my drive is clear: I am promoting RPM which gives a better understanding of some important facts of life. But I have paused over questions such as: What is a model? Does conjecture have a place in science? I want my methods of both science and communication to withstand scrutiny. So I am looking for guidance, looking for what I may learn from the experience of others — especially those who have labored to communicate new agent-based views of science.

With that said let me say that in RPM the agents and their world remain, at this stage, mostly a thought experiment. I have started to computerize the agents as I reported earlier, but that effort did not promise enough rewards at this stage to justify the time it would require. So I am presenting a thought-experiment agent-based model of economic and psychological life.

Matthew Koehler presented a paper “Exploring Organizational Learning and Structuring”. But for me the most interesting part of Matt’s presentation was a long digression with which he started. In this digression he talked about the degree of specificity of agent-based models, praising what he had learned from Robert Axtell’s papers (see below). Matt showed a table (unfortunately not in the available paper) in which one axis represented the degree of specificity. Thought experiments were shown at the low-specificity end of that axis. I was heartened to see this because it seems to endorse the usefulness, within a broad view of science, of thought experiments at the early stage of development of scientific theories.

Matt also offered a suggestion for how to make a paper about a computerized agent-based model more meaningful to a reader. This was to lay out natural-language sentences, the sentences describing the agents and their world, in the first column of a table. Then in the second column give a reference to the computer code, that is to the line numbers of computer code in an appendix with the paper. This linking of natural language to computer language would empower a careful reader to understand exactly what is meant by the unavoidably fuzzy meanings of natural-language sentences. It may be impossible for some readers to gain a comfortable feeling of comprehension without such specifics. That may be helpful for me with exposition RPM. In some cases I have told more detail than I had believed necessary at first. But still I do not know how much detail to spill.

Robert Axtell, cited by Matt Koehler, has written in two papers (see references below) about a helpful way to categorize agent-based models. He suggests models be evaluated based upon their correlation at two levels with the empirical world. The two levels are the micro level of the agents and the macro level of system-wide developments. In each of these levels correlation with the empirical world is ranked, ranked to be either qualitative or quantitative, with quantitative judged to be better. This categorization ranks a model with a number from 0 to 3, with 3 being awarded to models which correlate with the empirical world at both micro and macro levels.

To equate Axtell’s terms “micro” and “macro” with what we use in RPM, recall that RPM allows for consideration of life in four or more levels. Almost all of our attention in RPM will focus upon the psychological implications of how living things on one level may advance to the next higher level. So Axtell’s term "micro" might refer to any level n in RPM, and then "macro" refer to level n+1. Also, micro might refer to the critters and macro to the organizations of critters which form in response to resource patterns.

RPM would be ranked at the lowest level in Axtell’s categorization scheme, because it is not close to empirical quantification at either micro or macro level. But that is alright, because RPM is still in the early fuzzy-language stage of paradigm development.




References

R. Axtell (2005). “Three Distinct Kinds of Empirically-Relevant Agent-Based Models”. Brookings Institute, 30 September 2005.

R. L. Axtell, and J. M. Epstein (1994). "Agent-Based Models: Understanding Our Creations". Bulletin of the Santa Fe Institute, Winter 1994, pp 28–32.

Daniel Barkoczi, and Mirta Galesic (2015). “Social learning strategies, network structure and
the exploration-exploitation tradeoff”. CSSSA 2015 link.

Matthew Koehler, Luciano Oviedo, and Michael Taylor (2015). “Exploring Organizational Learning and Structuring”. CSSSA 2015 link.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Steve Schapiro, Scenes of Art

Last weekend I attended an agent-based conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I expect to share a few notes about that conference in my next post. But let’s start with some serendipity. On my trip home I met Steve Schapiro, a photographer from Chicago. Chance tossed us together on two legs of the journey: the shuttle to Albuquerque then the flight to Chicago.

Steve showed me this. When you are eating a meal either alone or in company — stop — sometime during the course of the meal. Look at the scene before you on the table. The arrangement of food and implements will be a scene of art. It will be perfect. You cannot improve it. If you try to improve it by moving things around you will only break it. You will make it worse.

First Steve told me about this, then later he proved it. After I had mostly finished my airline snacks and cup of coffee, he stopped me to look at the tray-table in front of me. It was indeed a satisfying scene of art.

What a delight!

Of course I can’t leave this alone. I need to explain this phenomenon. Here goes my attempt.

The scene invites you to participate. A person looking into that scene may know exactly where he or she would start. When I look at that scene I feel an impulse in my arm to start an action.

One reason for this feeling is, I suppose, that almost everything in the scene was made for use with human hands. The table, utensils, napkin, and servings of food were all made for human touch.

Let us compare the scene of a partially completed meal with three alternative scenes:
meal just set
If we look at the table with everything set in place but the meal not yet commenced, we human observers might know how we would start but we are not sure we have permission. Is this place setting mine or someone else’s? Has the time to dig in been signaled? It would be improper if we started without these permissions. The scene does not quite invite my participation.
craftsman’s workbench
We might look at a midday scene on a craftsman’s workbench and, as in the scene of a meal in progress, see objects which were made for use with human hands. But if I am not familiar with that particular craft I do not have any sense of what I would do next. The scene does not invite my participation.
extra-human landscape
A natural landscape with no evidence of human existence may appear beautiful to my human eye but this sense of beauty differs from the art I sense in a partially completed meal. I do not know how or if I would start to do anything in this scene. It does not invite my participation.



Why, you might ask, am I writing about scenes of art in this blog which has the purpose of promulgating the Resource-Patterns Model of Life? Psychology. The main interest which I find in RPM is its implication that we living things are probably biased to search for resource patterns. Such searches might be expressed as instincts or impulses. And this could possibly include our sense of art.

I could grope forward here to propose more specifically-worded ways that a sense of art may help LTs find RPs. But I prefer to encourage the reader to think in that way.


Addition: March 23, 2016
David Sloan Wilson seems to deal with a similar question. See for example Chapter 16 in Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, (2007). Wilson looks into this question from a different model, a different perspective, although there are strong parallels.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Perspectives in the Resource-Patterns Model of Life: A Search for Externalities and Who Can See Them

People commonly “talk past each other”. Each person represents a different perspective. But we often fail to see this difference in perspective as we struggle to be civil.

The Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM) calls our attention to the need for specific perspectives and shows limitations under which living things must somehow develop perspective. By focusing our attention on the development of perspective, I would hope that RPM would make us more aware how our perspectives serve our specific interests.

My discussion here of perspective was stimulated as a side effect of another question. I suppose it may be helpful to compare RPM with older, well established models in physical and social science. In this vein I have started to compare RPM with models familiar in mainstream economics. I have looked in RPM for the some of the objects with which we are familiar in economics, objects such as “commodity”, “price” and “market”. Recently I came across “externality”, another object familiar in mainstream economics, and realized I had not identified externalities in RPM. Uncomfortable with my ignorance I explored the question. Most of what I found, it turns out, is about the development of perspective, so that became the main subject in this post.

Let me offer a definition of “externality” for those readers who have not learned how economists use this term. An externality is a side effect of economic activity, an effect upon parties not part of the economic exchange, parties that is who are external to the activity. For example the smoke which comes out the stack of an electric power plant is an externality if we assume that neither the producers nor the buyers of the electricity are motivated to care about the smoke. Normally we think of externalities as being negative. But externalities can also be beneficial, if for example your neighbors have a loud band playing in their back yard for a party – and you like the music. Wikipedia offers a longer definition of externality.

The first two perspectives

As we search for externalities in RPM we will use the model of tabletop critters. The critters, as you may understand if you’ve been following development of this blog, start out as dirt-poor hunter-gatherers. Then the critters gain prosperity as they gain new ways of cooperating among themselves, cooperating to exploit resource patterns in their environment.

Figure 1. A community of critters prospering without knowledge of either their relative prosperity or the causes of this prosperity.

Figure 1 shows such a prospering organization of critters, organized in a line of exchange between the model’s two essential resources, water and sugar. For review, the water and sugar constitute a single resource pattern (RP).

Externalities have not yet been mentioned in the development of this model, but when we ask if there are externalities which result from the cooperation among the critters in that line, we easily imagine that externalities could result from such enterprise. An externality could be added to the model if we wanted to experiment with its effects. The externality could be added in either of the two classes of models we might employ: (1) thought experiments or (2) computerized agent-based models. The externality might be smoke or trashing of the environment surrounding the line of exchange. It would impact other critters not in the line of exchange, or other living things also added to the model. Let us add such an externality. I have not attempted to show the externality in the Figures in this post, but please assume it is there.

Let us notice who is noticing this externality. We human modelers who have created this thought experiment can see the impact of the enterprise in the line of trade upon other life, i.e. the externality. Or at least we humans who have learned the meaning of “externality” can see the externality.

But the critters in the line of cooperation cannot see the externality. We can assert that the critters cannot see the externality because we created those critters as we created this model. We gave them a list of capabilities and those capabilities do not include capacity to sense the welfare of another critter, at least not in this early and not-much-extended application of the model.

My confidence that these critters can not sense or think some things grows from my computerized modeling. I have written computer programs which are the “brains” of such agents, thereby I can know what the critters can “sense” or “think” or “remember”. For more about the psychological capabilities of the critters see the draft chapter on psychology.

The need for a new perspective

The critters in that circumstance described above benefited from a RP because of a good fortune which lay outside of their control: the RP was there in their environment and we modelers gave them the rules of cooperation which would empower them to exploit that RP even if they could not perceive the RP.

But the critters would enjoy a still brighter future if they could:
  1. perceive the RP which feeds them,
  2. start to act in ways which constitute a search for the locations of other RPs like the one that feeds them.
Those two abilities suggest what I will define as “perspective” for our purpose here: Perspective is the ability of a living thing (LT) (or an organization of living things, see life in levels) to adapt its actions in response to some feature in its environment. The actions of the LT to which I refer may be either internal (thoughts or decisions) or external (physical movement).

Let us suppose that the critters of Figure 1 live in only a small part of a larger universe. Near the center of Figure 2 we see that same prospering community of critters from Figure 1, but now the scale is reduced to about one-third of the former size to show the larger surroundings. Now we can see that the universe of the critters contains many pairs of water and sugar, many RPs that is. In fact we see a larger pattern, a pattern of RPs. But, while our critters have happily colonized the RP from which they derive their sustenance, we humans can see that the critters could do much better if they could perceive what it is that makes their success possible (the RP and the rules we gave them) and start a search for other similar RPs.

Figure 2. The same thriving but unperceptive community of critters from Figure 1, but seen in the larger universe of their surroundings, a universe with many opportunities for extension of critter-life.

With a new perspective the critters may go on to occupy their corner of the universe. Figure 3 shows what this little world might look like with all the RPs being exploited, a consequence of the critters succeeding in developing the perspective we have suggested.

Remember that our goal as human modelers is to gain insights from RPM, insights about ourselves and our society. So we will proceed by extending the model, giving the critters new sensual and computational powers, trying to understand which additions are necessary to empower the critters in the model to take this next step toward mimicking our human experience.

Recall also that life exists in levels. In RPM a living thing can appear singular, as a single critter or single human. But an organization of living things can also be conceived as a single living thing, a LT on a higher level. Conversely, rather than look up in the order to larger living things, we can look down in the order to smaller living things: Any single living thing, such as a critter or human, can probably be dissected and discovered to be an organization of smaller living things, LTs on a lower level. The development of perspective, the ability of an organization to recognize and act upon an RP, is a key component of level-to-level advance.


Figure 3. The critters, having learned a perspective of their larger environment, have populated their larger environment.

How a new perspective might be developed

While I cannot predict how our critters (aided by much human tweaking) might eventually gain ability to develop the new, needed perspective, here I will briefly describe two broad avenues of development.

Avenue 1: Diversity in population along with specialization

Some of the LTs in an organization may have or develop special abilities. For example we might extend our model of tabletop critters such that some fraction of the critters are born with a rudimentary sense of sight, so they can detect a concentration of particular colors of light coming from certain directions, and we might also give distinct colors to the sugar and water.  So these critters gifted with rudimentary sight can directly sense the resource pattern which enables the prosperity of their community of critters. This new ability within the set of critters may constitute one step in development of the needed perspective. Other needed steps may include rudimentary signaling, or language, and induction or the ability to propose the existence of additional RPs.

Avenue 2: Systematic organization, spontaneous order, moral codes

This second possible avenue for development of perspective grows from spontaneous order, or the relatively new science of chaos theory and its kin. An entire population of constituent agents, when viewed as a single combined agent, may often exhibit behaviors which we humans could not have predicted from our knowledge of only the abilities of the constituent agents. A set of LTs within RPM may act in a way that enables it to discover and exploit neighboring as-yet-unused RPs, although we observing humans may not be able to explain how this happened.

In this avenue of development we may consider an analogy with our own human nervous systems. The psychology of a human being derives somehow from the interactions of millions of nerve cells. We could not predict the behavior of a human even if we could perfectly understand the behavior of the human’s constituent nerve cells, or so it is commonly asserted and I probably agree.

Reflections on development of perspective

Here are a few reflections on the development of perspective in RPM.
  • We human modelers face a challenge to give the critters enough powers (senses, physical actions, and calculating or “thinking” power) so that they can develop the needed perspective. This challenge is large and difficult. It is probably more than I can accomplish. It may require the careers of a score of modelers.
  • I find it difficult to write about this topic because I want to write clearly and concretely. But I am groping into a dark, unknown region. The words at my disposal serve poorly to convey either what I am finding or what my findings may mean. But then I suppose that this is the experience of any new science, of anyone who hopes to describe new concepts, which have not yet spawned their own terminology, with our existing set of words.
  • In spite of the difficulty which clearly lies ahead for RPM, I claim that the structure provided by RPM is a big step forward. RPM narrows the problem of development of perspective, providing a resource-constrained framework within which to work.
  • As noted above, we humans struggle to invent new language so we can discuss what we see in RPM. But we also notice that the critters in our model could use some ability to communicate. They could, we may imagine, discover the RP which empowers their present level of success if they could give signals to each other. A vocabulary with only a few meaningful symbols may add considerably to their ability to organize. I hope to learn more with subsequent research.
  • Recall that this discussion about the development of perspective was stimulated by an observation about economic externalities: Educated humans can perceive an externality in RPM, but the low-level critters at the start of our thought experiment could not perceive the externality. Now, after we have discussed development of a higher-level perspective for our critters, in which perspective the critters can perceive the RP that sustains them, we may wonder if this higher-level critter can perceive the externality. No. We still have not given them anything like general overview of affairs in which an externality may be perceived.
  • Wealth spawns philosophy and exploration, or at least that is an assumption I make about societies. The golden age of Greece would provide a first example among humans. Second, present American civilization has wealth which spawns both space exploration and my development of RPM. A third example is provided by the critters in Figure 1. They can obtain all the resources they need to survive with only a small fraction of their time-effort. As such they have resources which they may apply to the challenge of learning about their universe, and that exploration may yield discoveries which increase the probability of the long term survival of their descendants.
  • One human speaker sometimes challenges another to explain what the other means by the word “we”. We humans often shift our base as we speak, sometimes speaking only for ourselves, sometimes speaking as representative of an already-extant group, sometimes hoping that the group suggested by the “we” will come together at some future time. I am trying to hone my skills in recognizing when I shift base while speaking, or when I hear another speaker shift base. I believe I have a long way to go in gaining this skill and I sense that I am not alone. But RPM may help us with this education, help us to see that “we” represents a specific interest. Critters which specialize, using abilities often helpful for the larger community, will probably signal with an implied “we”. Each perspective may have its own “we”.

Correlation between perspective and interest

RPM reveals a strong correlation between perspective and interest. A given perspective, if it either aids or promises to aid the expansion of a population, will probably be valued by agents in the population. Those agents have an interest in the perspective as I will argue here.

But let us start with our initial population. Recall the condition in Figure 1. This population of critters enjoyed a comfortable standard of living but at that stage no critter could perceive the RP which fed them, so no effort to find neighboring, similar RPs could have started. There were none among them whose wellbeing relied upon the perspective which developed later in our story. So obviously, at this preliminary stage, there were not any critters whom we might characterize as having an interest in the perspective not yet developed.

But after that perspective of the resource pattern was developed and used (as illustrated in Figure 3), then a much larger population was made possible by use of that perspective. It follows that the lives of most of that larger population depend upon that new perspective. Without the perspective their lives would not exist. We humans looking into the model from our perspective can reasonably conclude that those critters have an interest in the perspective. The perspective, having been developed and used to advantage, correlates with an interest among the critters.

A nuance may catch our attention. Consider the specialization paradigm which we described above (the first of the two avenues for development of a new perspective). Under specialization some critters may come to have or to control large amounts of saved resources, and those powerful critters might be expected to risk some of their savings in research which might yield a profitable new perspective. Research may be funded that is. So we may expect funding to give rise to another specialty, being researchers, critters willing and able to perform research for compensation. Thus researchers naturally have an interest in the search for new perspectives which provides their livelihood. So, in exploring this nuance we discover the effect of a new and not-yet-described RP. The funding of research, overseen by some powerful critters, becomes an RP for other critters, and this creates a distinctive inner niche where life – if following appropriate rules – may thrive.

Conclusion

Stimulated by “externality”, a concept familiar in economics, and by the question of whether externalities can be spotted in RPM, we have been sidetracked into a discussion of perspective. It has become clear, I hope, that an externality in RPM can be spotted by a human modeler educated in economics. But there is no way the primitive critters of the tabletop model can hope to “see” or “know about” an externality. We modelers know what calculating powers we have given to the critters, so we can know with considerable confidence what the critters cannot know.

We have lingered over the challenge presented by development of perspective. RPM lays this problem open to us, on a workbench as it were. In the example presented, we see how a population of critters could grow if the critters can develop a broader perspective. We see programs of research through which we may seek a deeper understanding of our own individual and group psychology, and these programs are given greater, realistic focus by RPM.

We humans often seem to blame other humans for being wrong on some point; we wish we could shout some truth into our opposites. But what we do not always see is that our opposites have a different perspective, a different interest. They are seeing a different RP or opportunity for organization.

Friday, May 22, 2015

RPM makes obvious what some earlier writers have overlooked.

This post is stimulated by my reading of "The new entropy law and the economic process", by Alan Raine, John Foster, and Jason Potts, Ecological Complexity 3 (2006) 354-360. I refer to this as Raine's paper.

Raine's paper overlaps in significant ways with the Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM) which is the subject of this blog. But RPM adds important ideas which I do not see in the scope of Raine's paper. Here I copy from Raine's paper (page 355):
A basic puzzle remains: why do biological and socioeconomic systems expand their structure (and populations) with the result that they use increasing amounts of free energy (and associated materials)? Generally, they expand to whatever energetic limits exist and, as Malthus failed to perceive, economic self-organization can keep on extending these limits. The notions that biological populations will expand if they can, and that economic ‘progress’ will continue are taken for granted, but on reflection, it is not entirely obvious why. [emphasis added]

My response: RPM makes it entirely obvious.

Biological and socioeconomic systems can expand to use increasing amounts of resources where those resources exist in large patterns in the environment. These patterns are:
  • larger than can be exploited by individual organisms (or organizations) at an earlier-and-smaller level of development, but 
  • not too large to be exploited by groups of organisms (or organizations) when those groups discover and employ rules of behavior which produce beneficial cooperation among the individual organisms (or organizations).
The above statements refer to resources distributed in large three-dimensional patterns. But the same can be said about resources which are difficult to exploit because specialization is needed. Much of our human flourishing has been made possible because specialization has enabled exploitation of resources which, although nearby in three-dimensional space (fossil fuels, silicon), can be exploited only by individuals who can focus their attention on technical details.

Please do not consider this to be criticism of Raine's paper. That paper has contributed to my knowledge. I write to call attention to the additional contribution of RPM. I thank Jason Potts for calling my attention to Raine's (and Jason's) paper.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Platform for Development of Language

The Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM) provides a delimiting framework within which many questions of social science may be pursued. This morning I came across a paragraph telling about tension in the field of linguistics. This tension would be eased, it seems to me, among linguists who had embraced RPM, because RPM shows perhaps the principal problem which evolving lifeforms need to overcome through language.

Now here is that paragraph, by John Searle (1972).
The most spectacular conclusion about the nature of the human mind that Chomsky derives from his work in linguistics is that his results vindicate the claims of the seventeenth-century rationalist philosophers, Descartes, Leibniz, and others, that there are innate ideas in the mind. The rationalists claim that human beings have knowledge that is not derived from experience but is prior to all experience and determines the form of the knowledge that can be gained from experience. The empiricist tradition by contrast, from Locke down to contemporary behaviorist learning theorists, has tended to treat the mind as tabula rasa, containing no knowledge prior to experience and placing no constraints on the forms of possible knowledge, except that they must be derived from experience by such mechanisms as the association of ideas or the habitual connection of stimulus and response. For empiricists all knowledge comes from experience, for rationalists some knowledge is implanted innately and prior to experience. In his bluntest moods, Chomsky claims to have refuted the empiricists and vindicated the rationalists.*
Recall the initial condition on the tabletop after a large resource pattern has become available to critters. Heretofore the critters have been barely surviving as hunter-gatherers by searching everywhere incessantly.
The population of critters can multiply if the critters find rules of cooperation.

Now these critters can live comfortably and reproduce a lot more, if and when they can learn some simple rules and conform their behavior, during working hours at least, to those rules. These critters need a crude language. What will it be?

In one of my first exercises with computerized agent-based learning, I modeled two agents who needed language. It went like this. The first agent learned of some condition in the world (a condition set randomly from a small positive number of conditions), but had no power of physical action. The first agent could only display a symbol visible to the second agent (a symbol selected from among a small positive number of symbols). The second agent could not sense the condition experienced by the first agent, and had no way of knowing (at first) what the first agent's symbol might mean. The second agent could act effectively in the agents' world, and each act available to the second agent would produce a result which was either positive or negative for both agents — depending upon whether the act of the second agent correlated correctly with the condition observed by the first agent. Both agents had memory of prior conditions, that is memory of what they had sensed and done and whether their acts had succeeded or failed. In each cycle of the model the agents got a new chance to try again.

Obviously, my agents eventually stumbled upon a correlation between a symbol and a desirable action. They learned a language. Thereafter they did naught but thrive. I thought I had shown something important. Although I allow it is obvious that the agents' linguistic success had to happen; I had designed it to happen.

So I have this experience with modeling primitive language formation, and I see the situation of the critters who need a language which is much more advanced than the first language just described, but which is still much simpler than our human natural language. I hope to proceed with attempting to model that groping for language among the critters, some day. In my eager thinking, this modeling relates to the tension in linguistics described above by John Searle.

If we imagine some Darwinian evolution acting in our model, the critters may be descended from ancestors who had lived in environments which rewarded signaling between cooperating agents. The signaling pertains to finding and harvesting from patterns of resources in the environment. Does not that begin to frame an answer to the question of what capacities of language may be inborn in a critter?


*"Chomsky's Revolution in Linguistics" by John Searle,  © 1972 The New York Review of Books, found in On Noam Chomsky: Critical Essays, edited by Gilbert Harman, 1982, U. Mass. Press, ISBN 0870233556, page 19.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Entropy" has different meanings

I share the following quote because it expresses something I hope to get my head around.
The measure of the amount of information which communication theory provides … is called entropy. If we want to understand this entropy of communication theory, it is best first to clear our minds of any ideas associated with the entropy of physics. Once we understand entropy as it is used in communication theory thoroughly, there is no harm in trying to relate it to the entropy of physics, but the literature indicates that some workers have never recovered from the confusion engendered by an early admixture of ideas concerning the entropies of physics and communication theory. [Italics in the original.]
from: John R. Pierce, An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals and Noise, 2nd revised edition, 1980, Dover Publications, page 80.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Answers to the questions posted on March 12

Here I will give answers to the two questions asked in my preceding post, dated March 12, 2015.

Question 1: Why do people form firms?

Quick Answer: To exploit a resource pattern.

Discussion: 
A “firm”, if you are not familiar with this usage, means a business firm. This term is used by economists to describe a business organized under a single ownership or control.

Our question “Why do people form firms?” is an important question for economists because the main models of neoclassical economics can not explain why people form firms. We see firms all around us. But neoclassical models of supply and demand in markets rest upon assumptions which seem to eliminate any possible need for firms.

This inadequacy of neoclassical models motivated Ronald Coase’s 1937 paper “The Nature of the Firm”. Coase called attention to transactions costs and suggested that people form firms to reduce transactions costs. His great work spawned a new sub-discipline in economics. Wikipedia tells more.

The Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM) offers another answer to our question “Why do people form firms?” People form a firm to exploit a resource pattern (RP). Figure 1 recalls our first example in which a population of critters exploits a RP which none of the critters acting alone could have exploited. We might call this population, which thrives by following a simple set of rules, a firm. The concepts which I am trying to build, at this stage in our development of RPM, overlap somewhat but not perfectly with the meanings we impute to our common terms "organization" and "firm".

Figure 1: A thriving community (exploiting a RP by following rules).


Let us consider two ways that critters might have formed this firm.

1. Spontaneously
When we think about it, it seems evident that a population of critters living in the vicinity of a resource pattern will eventually discover and exploit the pattern. Just random movement can explain the discovery, if we allow enough time. Furthermore, critters may be endowed with properties such as curiosity and civility which increase the speed with which they could be expected to discover the RP.

2. With forethought
First, remember two of our assumptions:
  • There are resource patterns in the universe.
  • Living Things survive by finding and imbibing resources.
In our thought experiments we will endow our critters with increasing abilities of calculation and perception. At the outset our critters do not know that the resources upon which they rely are distributed in patterns around them in their environment. But, given certain levels of intelligence and experience, our critters will recognize such patterns and they will focus their activities in order to minimize the effort they expend to gather their necessary resources from these patterns.

Later on, given more intelligence and experience, our critters might guess that there exist other RPs in the universe out beyond their community, as yet undiscovered by critters. That is, they will guess that there are patterns of RPs in the universe. Some fortunate critters in an established community may lend their surplus resources to a party of explorers. The explorers, upon traveling to a location that seems to promise viability, may succeed in establishing a new community. Such a community, we could claim, had been established with forethought, and not from time-consuming spontaneous discovery.

Question 2: When does planning for a new firm succeed?

Quick Answer: When the plan connects with a resource pattern.


Discussion:


Figure 2: A thriving population (center) ready to attempt colonization.
Consider Figure 2. We see an established population of critters exploiting a resource pattern in the center of this area. We also see an available resource pattern to the right of that established population. Recall that the dotted line around the RP means that we human modelers know about the RP, but the critters do not know about it yet.

We imagine, as we have just sketched above, some colonists are sent out from the established community, following hopeful plans to settle new RPs. In Figure 3, we see the results of two such plans, one plan being to establish a new colony to the right of the parent, the other being to establish a new colony to the left of the parent.

Figure 3: One plan destined to fail; another plan likely to succeed.
I hope it is obvious to my reader that one of these plans (to the right) has a good chance of succeeding, while the other plan (to the left) has no chance at all. Will you join me in supposing that, in order for a plan to form a new firm or organization to succeed, it is necessary that the plan connects with a RP?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Test Your Understanding of RPM

Here are two questions which I hope a reader of this blog will find easy. Remember, try to answer in the framework of the Resource-Patterns Model of Life, and not in terms of other models you may have learned.

Question 1: Why do people form firms?

Question 2: When does planning for a new firm succeed?

If you need to review, look at earlier entries on this blog. The paper from last week should be enough.

Answers will be given in the next post.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Life in Levels

This is a draft of Chapter 4, in the book outline

Life Grows From Level to Level


Introduction

The Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM) suggests that life grows in levels. This chapter develops this Life-in-Levels (LiL) concept.

Note about the term “level”
In this writing I adopt the term “level” for a central concept. Previously I have used “generation” for the same concept – while apologizing that I was stretching the meaning of “generation”. I could not think of a better term. But now I have learned of a paper by Herbert Simon (1962) in which he uses “level” for an analogous concept. I follow his lead.

Look at our biological past: Life has grown in levels

We have evidence that life on Earth has grown in levels. We know that our human bodies are made of many cells, that is we are multicellular organisms. But other living things on earth, such as amoeba and paramecia, have just one cell, and, as we learn from biology, our multicellular type of body is a newcomer in the history of evolution. Perhaps a billion years ago there were no multicellular organisms; single-cellular organisms were the fanciest creatures on Earth. Somehow, through a historical process which we are only beginning to understand, it seems that single cellular organisms discovered ways to live together, to create gradually more complex multicellular organisms.

Even though this seems like fantastic progress, from single- to multi-cellular organisms, I have read that some biologists are even more impressed by the progress made in an earlier step of evolution. The single cells which I have mentioned, and the “cells” of which we usually speak, are called eukaryotic cells by biologists. These eukaryotic cells, when examined under a powerful modern microscope, are seen to be incredibly complex. Like a human city, eukaryotic cells contain a large number of specialized structures. And many of the specialized structures in eukaryotic cells look to biologists like close cousins of even smaller and simpler life-forms known as prokaryotic cells. Biologists are impressed by that evident feat of organization, from single prokaryotic cells to municipalities of prokaryotic cells (to eukaryotic cells).

Prokaryotic cells, a class which includes simple bacteria, were once, in their turn, the masters of the Universe. Or at least they were the largest and most advanced form of life on Earth, and that for a few billion years! According to the fossil record, it seems that prokaryotic cells first appeared perhaps three billion years ago, and stood atop life’s kingdom until the development of eukaryotic cells about one billion years ago.

To summarize, we can pretty clearly see three levels.
  1. prokaryotes,
  2. eukaryotes,
  3. multi-cellular present-day organisms, like us.
Notice that each visible organism in the higher levels (2 and 3), which at first appears to our senses to be a single entity, turns out, when we look more carefully, to be composed of many smaller living components. I suppose the same may turn out to be true of prokaryotes, the level to which I have assigned number 1. But these three levels are enough for this introductory discussion. The challenge for us humans, as I suggest next, concerns the possibility of level 4.

A new level of life now grows as we organize our lives

I propose that this growing process continues. As we people go about organizing our affairs we are in process of building a next-higher-level of life. Think about all the kinds of organizations that we form: families, partnerships, business companies, churches, governments, the United Nations. These organizations are able, because of their internal order, to accomplish things which would not be accomplished by a disorganized but otherwise equal set of constituent individuals.

A contrast with methodological individualism

This proposition, that we are engaged in building new super-organisms, may seem incredible to some readers. Some of my friends staunchly defend methodological individualism, which asserts that analysis of human affairs must focus on the choices of individual humans, and which denies that useful analysis can be performed while viewing organizations or aggregates of human individuals. But I would like to ask methodological individualists to consider the idea that a human organization can have a voice. I choose “voice” as an activity to consider, since its expression includes both thought and physical action.

Voice of an organization
It seems clear to me that a representative of an organization, while speaking on behalf of the organization, speaks with a power which is lacked by an individual while acting alone. Barak Obama, while speaking as President of the United States, gets much more respect and attention from other heads of state than he got while speaking as a member of the state Senate in Illinois, because as President he is in fact speaking as the executive officer of the United States government. The United States government has a voice, I assert, and even though it comes from an individual human, it differs in significant respects from the voice of an unaffiliated human.

Voice of a human
To continue my argument, consider the voice of a human. One of us proud humans will probably assert with confidence that he, as an individual human, speaks with a voice which he possess and controls. But think about the biological production of a voice, about the nerve cells and the muscle cells. Any one of those cells could discredit the idea that the human has a voice, using logic parallel to that used by methodological individualists to discredit the idea that an organization made of humans has a voice. Each cell can accurately assert that the human did nothing which was not actually the work of individual cells. To the cells it probably seems that they are making all the decisions, they are doing all the work.

So, on the question of whether you might perceive that an organization has a voice, it may depend upon whether you, the observer, represent an organization yourself in your communications.  If you do then you may be especially interested in the communications of your organization’s peers; you may be interested in the voices expressed by other organizations.

Emphasizing the growth between levels

So far I have tried to establish a view of levels in the growth of life. But obviously what is interesting and important to us humans now is what goes on between levels, on the process of organizing. How does life advance from one level to another? How do the constituent organisms accomplish their reproduction, organization, and survival within a larger “skin”?

The process of growth in levels which we have discussed so far may be represented like this:
1 → 2 → 3 → 4
Here I am saying that the most interesting part is not the numbered stages which we can recognize, but rather the arrows between stages. We humans, organisms living in level 3, grapple every day with frustrations and tensions in the organizations of which we are members. We try to improve the organizations. In this way we are thrusting toward level 4, I suggest.

Aspects of LiL


Here we will clarify a few aspects of growth from level to level.

Outsiders remain on the scene
When a new level of organisms takes shape and comes into view, some organisms from the earlier level remain living independently in the environment. That is, not all members of that earlier level joined in the new order. After eukaryotic cells formed, for example, there still remained many prokaryotic elements living in the environment. These prokaryotes were cousins of the others which had joined into the new order, and their descendants still live independently in our environment today. This suggests that the environment which could support the earlier level can still support the earlier level, even though many members of that earlier level have become subsumed, in our view, in larger organizations. The earlier level was, and remains, a viable way for a race of organisms to survive.

Organizations are heterogeneous
My discussion so far has suggested the possibility of similar or related organisms on one level joining together to form the higher level. But actually the larger organization probably includes many dissimilar constituents, including some lifeless raw materials which are manipulated by the living elements. For example, consider the prototype of a family farm of the early 20th century. We envision the farm containing its family of humans, its cows, chickens, hay and corn fields, fences, barns, and machines. This gathering of diverse elements into a productive farm organization may represent a stage in the development of a single, new, and larger organism.

A way to separate organizations into eight classes

As we focus upon the growth of organizations we naturally notice that organizations differ. There is a bewildering array of organizations. To clarify our thinking we will find it helpful to subdivide what we mean by “organization”, by noticing characteristics which are possessed by some organizations but not by others. I suggest three characteristics with which we may accomplish such a division:

  1. Member-Aware. In some organizations the members are aware of the existence of the larger organizations. In other organizations this is not the case.
  2. Self-Aware. Some organizations possess a self-awareness, by which I mean these organizations have headquarters which can make conscious decisions on behalf of the organizations. Other organizations lack this trait. 
  3. Encoded. Some organizations have an ability to reproduce themselves. I call this "encoded" because I suppose that ability to reproduce requires that the constitution (or the set of decision rules) of the organization be codified somehow. Other organizations lack this trait.

These three yes-or-no (boolean) characteristics create a taxonomy with eight categories of organizations (because 2x2x2 = 8). In my 1999 paper I have written more about this taxonomy and given examples of each of these eight types.

The relationship between organizations and resource patterns

Some of the types of organizations which we humans form, such as families, business firms, religious orders, and states, can be seen frequently whenever we look at a human society. This frequent appearance of a type of organization suggests there is a resource pattern in the environment. It suggests we humans are suited to exploit the resource pattern when we cooperate appropriately, accepting rules conforming to the resource pattern. The business practice of franchising suggests, where it succeeds, a planned order, a mastery of some of the necessary factors that hold a specific style of organization together.

The importance of this thesis to the Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM)

This idea, that life grows in levels as outlined above, mixes with other ideas in RPM. I think it is part of RPM, but not the most important part. Most of RPM can stand independently of this life-in-levels idea. So RPM may offer valuable insights to you even if you reject LiL. But I have to admit that I want to take more time to explore the interdependence of the several ideas that mingle with RPM.

The possibility of inter-level learning

You might reasonably doubt that this grand idea of LiL could be of any use. So consider this. We might take what we have learned about organization on one level and see if it might help us understand organization on another level. For example, our successes and failures as humans, as we try to build businesses and other super-human organizations, may give hints to biologists who are trying to understand how single-cellular organisms managed to overcome the organizational difficulties entailed in establishing multi-cellular organisms.

The tantalizing "Origin of Death" thesis of George Wald

A poster caught my eye on the campus of SUNY at Buffalo when I was an undergraduate. Probably this was in fall 1969. The poster announced a guest lecture titled “The Origin of Death”. The thesis, presented by George Wald of Harvard, struck me and has lingered in the background of my thoughts ever since. Now I see that it may promise inter-level learning.

We should notice, Wald told, two facts about most primitive forms of life such as most single cellular organisms:

  1. they reproduce by dividing in two. They divide their bodies while giving each offspring a copy of the parent’s DNA; 
  2. they do not necessarily die of old age.

So an amoeba that we see today could arguably be a billion years old. Throughout all that time it never grew old and died, although obviously it has divided many, many times along the way. We, on the other hand are not so lucky. We necessarily die of old age, as do all other higher forms of life.

Wald examined the advance of the complexity of organisms, an advance parallel with the progress of evolution, looking for the origin of death. He discovered that death appeared on the scene at the same time as sexual reproduction. Apparently, at this stage in the history of evolution, organisms discovered the way to create an embryo which would grow its own new body, after mixing DNA with a partner. At this stage is was no longer necessary for the body of the parent to survive. The genes had found a way to continue their existence, while each body would live only for a time as a temporary carrier. Death as we know it originated at the same time as sex as we know it.

For me this suggests a possibility of inter-level learning, which I will describe by using anthropomorphism. Imagine if you will that you can identify with genes. The genes faced an organizational problem. They had discovered a design, an organization plan that worked except for one flaw. The managers, whom the genes hired and placed in charge of the organization, always expressed their own selfish interests by diverting the aim of the organization to serve their (the managers’) interests, rather than the interests of the founders and owners (the genes). Try as they might, the genes never discovered any way to manage the self-interests of the managers. The genes knew how to start an organization with rules which enabled it to thrive and succeed for a time in that given environment, but every single time the managers, in whose hands the genes entrusted the organization, steered the organization onto a different and ultimately self-destructive path.

To recap, the genes knew a good organizational plan and knew how to write it down, but the genes could not learn how to entrust this plan for any prolonged period of time to a management team. The genes found a solution in sexual reproduction. In that solution, the managers empowered by the genes were given motivation to reproduce and thereby to pass on copies of the genes’ management plan – copies which had not been edited in any way by the current managers. Thus the genes discovered, in sexual reproduction, how to give prolonged life to their good organizational plan.

Conclusion

Leading up to this chapter, we have learned that when we observe many organisms of a similar size surviving in an environment, it should suggest to us that the environment contains resource patterns appropriately scaled to exploitation by those organisms. Otherwise those organisms could not survive.

In this chapter we have learned to suspect that our universe contains resource patterns on a large range of scales, and living things growing into those scales. We probably assume that life started on a tiny scale, sustained by tiny resource patterns. But the universe also has resource patterns on medium and large scales. We living things seem to be building ourselves level by level so that we can reach, one day, the astronomical scales.


References:

Alchian, Armen, "Uncertainty, Evolution and Economic Theory", Journal of Political Economy, 58:211-21, 1950.

Hammer, Richard, “The State Is a Form of Life, a Legitimate Peer in the Family of Organizations”, Formulations, Vol. 6, No. 4, 1999. Available on Internet.

Kabnick, Karen and Debra Peattie, “Giardia: A Missing Link between Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes”, American Scientist, January-February 1991, pg 34-43. Available on Internet.

Kelly, Kevin, Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World, 1994.

Simon, Herbert, “The Architecture of Complexity”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 106, No. 6. (Dec. 12, 1962), pp. 467-482.

Wald, George, “The Origin of Death”, 1970, a lecture given apparently many times (once attended by this author in Buffalo, NY), and published by Wald’s son on Internet.

Wikipedia pages on: Eukaryote, Prokaryote, Symbiogenesis.

Wilson, David Sloan, Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, 2007.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Cooperation Encouraged by Resource Patterns

A paper presented at the Austrian Economics Forum,
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina,
March 6, 2015


Introduction


I have a model of life which encompasses our experiences as living things, a general model which grows from complexity (or chaos) theory. I will try to show you my theory and some of its sub-theories. Economics and morality are among these sub-theories. But the view of economics suggested in my model relates only partially with the current range of academic economics, as I will suggest.

A First Look at the Theory

My theory starts in my experience. I seem to be a living thing. I seem to think. I seem to sense things around me. I have wants, for food, safety, and relationships with other people.
  • Fortunately I live in a world where my wants can be filled, if not always then at least well enough that I’ve survived this long.
  • And I believe that I have many peers, that is there are others around me whose experience is probably like mine. And there are other living things not so much like me, also all around me.
So, extrapolating from that experience which I believe all of us share, let me give you the assumptions underlying this model of life.
Living Things Exist in a Universe 
Properties of Living Things
  • senses,
  • purpose,
  • memory,
  • calculating capacity,
  • resource consumption,
  • resource storage,
  • ability to act,
  • nondeterministic choice of actions.
(The above list does not claim to be a complete list of properties of living things, but I hope it contains the most important elements, the highlights.) 
Properties of the Universe
  • space and time,
  • living things exist in the universe,
  • resources patterns. That is, the resources necessary to sustain life exist here and are distributed in patterns which may be discovered by adequate powers of perception.
Living things survive by finding and imbibing resources.  If living things don’t find enough resources their numbers will decrease.  If living things find abundant resources their numbers can and probably will increase.

I believe these assumptions, or axioms of the theory, apply to living things on all levels: bacteria, people, and nation states. Do you agree?

For the time being I have decided to give this model of life a name, being the Resource-Patterns Model of Life, RPM for short. I will sometimes abbreviate: living thing as LT; resource pattern as RP.

Considerations

In each increment of time each LT has a range of choices about how to act.  Probably most of these possible actions will be useless in that these actions will not contribute to the effort to imbibe resources.  So a LT needs to narrow its range of choices.  This focusing of choices is the principal requirement of the LT's calculating capacity.

Any particular supply of a necessary resource must be finite, assuming that this supply has been discovered by LTs at a particular place and time.  This supply can be exploited only until it runs out. Ongoing life therefore requires an ongoing discovery of new supplies of necessary resources.


Cooperation


Thought experiment 1, a world with two continents

Suppose there is a planet which has two continents. The first, a frozen polar continent, gets 99% of the planet's precipitation, but is so covered with glacier that only a few blades of grass grow during the warm week of summer. The second is a vast, warm desert, with fertile soil but no water. Notice the possibility for agriculture if fresh water can be transported from one continent to the other.

Figure 1: A world with two continents, promising agriculture.

Suppose that this agriculture, if achieved, could support a population of one billion humans for the foreseeable future. But suppose that at present, with no agriculture, only ten thousand humans live on this planet, and they live near starvation in scattered bands.

Now obviously the task which we see, which promises vast wealth in the form of crops, cannot be achieved by any one of the humans. This task requires companies, or whole industries, of ice carvers, shippers, and farmers. But, equally obviously, the humans can achieve it if they organize and combine their efforts appropriately, each doing a small part of the whole task.

Considerations, 1

What can we say about the circumstances in which cooperation may help LTs to exploit some RPs?

Consider three kinds of circumstances:
  • Some resources are abundant but far away, too far away for a single LT to exploit.
  • Other resources are near at hand but too difficult to extract without specialized tools or knowledge.
  • Some resources may be extracted only through an effort which continues during a long span of time.
Thus, if a set of LTs can discover modes of cooperation, that set of LTs may flourish in an environment where a similar set of LTs, but without cooperation, would perish.

Thought experiment 2, a green plant, with its millions of cells in roots, leaves, and stem

The environment in which these cells live has a resource pattern: above the ground there is abundant energy in sunlight and below the ground there is abundant water; but the distance between these two necessary resources is too great for any of the cells, acting alone, to exploit. The plant is an organization in which each cell plays a part. Without participating in the scheme of the plant probably few of these cells could have survived in this environment.

Considerations, 2

But keep this in mind. Resources might be other living things. We people live by cooperating to exploit cows and wheat. But it does not stop there. We can also exploit other people through our cooperation.

This model, I argue, offers a basis for some social science, for some economic models.


Thought experiment 3, tabletop critters

Now I will develop one more example. This has become my principal model to date. It serves to help illustrate my points about morality.

Figure 2: Tabletop critter, a tiny, perhaps one-cellular living thing.

Imagine a flat surface, perhaps a tabletop, upon which some tiny, perhaps one-celled, critters live. These critters need both water and sugar to live, and this tabletop upon which they find themselves is basically a desert. The wind blows and occasionally deposits a few molecules of water or sugar within reach (Figure 3). This just barely enables the critters to survive and reproduce themselves.

Figure 3: The initial condition on the tabletop.

Now suppose that onto this tabletop fate places a drop of water at some spot, and a crumb of sugar at another spot a centimeter from the water (Figure 4). Suppose that this distance, a centimeter, is much further than any one of these critters can travel in its entire lifetime.

Figure 4: A resource pattern is added to the initial condition.

But suppose that the critters do have ability to pick up raw materials, carry them for small distances, and then drop them again. Then this environmental feature, the pair of reserves of water and sugar, looks like a niche ready to be exploited. If the critters can learn appropriate rules of behavior, millions of them can start to live in a filament of trade between the water and sugar (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Critters follow simple rules of cooperation to establish a thriving population.

The critters which would make up this chain of trade would need to follow some simple rules. Such rules might be:
  1. If you see water on the left, carry it to the right and set it down.
  2. If you see sugar on the right, carry it to the left and set it down.
  3. If you get thirsty or hungry, help yourself to what you need from the materials that pass through your possession.

Considerations, 3

With this model before us, we can consider three points.
  1. The rules (reminiscent of the planet with two continents) are not arbitrary. The rules work because they help the critters exploit an environmental feature which is bigger than any of the critters, and which none of the critters can change. So in a sense the environment in which the critters live determined the rules, more than the critters themselves.
  2. The perhaps-surprising fact that millions of critters can live successfully by following only a few simple rules derives from the simplicity of the environmental feature. The rules are simple because the feature (a distance separates the two essential resources) is simple.
  3. Cooperation, which is expressed as behavior restrained by rules, is necessary for success in many of its forms.
The biggest question for life is: How will the rules be learned? Remember that I asserted the rules in this thought-experiment model. But suppose the critters do not have me doing that for them? Suppose they are out there on their own, doomed to fall back to primitive hunter-gatherer existence when the presently exploited resource pattern runs out? I have some ideas on how to start searching for rules, but more questions than answers.

We might think of that line of exchange as one living thing,  and not as the numerous individual LTs that comprise the line. Indeed, one of us humans looking at the tabletop without the aid of magnification will probably report seeing one thing. Whether the line of exchange is perceived as one living thing or as a multitude of critters probably depends upon the needs and abilities of the perceiver.

Rules, formation of organizations

There may be debate about whether the line of exchange is one living thing, but we can without difficulty call that line of exchange an organization. People form organizations, some of which we call firms. Recall that Ronald Coase famously asked: Why do people form firms? This visualization in the model of the critters helps us to propose an answer to that question. I propose that people form firms to exploit resource patterns in the environment.

Figure 6: Two different resource patterns cultivate two different sets of rules.

In Figure 6 we see two thriving organizations of critters. Notice that they must have different rules. If a critter wandered from one organization to the other, and tried to behave in the new organization according to the rules of its former organization, it would fail. We have the same critters in the two organizations, but different rules of behavior: rules determined by facts in the environment and not by wishes of the critters.

Figure 7: An undiscovered resource, an opportunity for improved life.

But how will the rules be discovered? In Figure 7, the dotted line around the deposit of sugar indicates that the sugar is there, but as yet it remains undiscovered by critters. Perhaps it lies just a short distance beneath the ground: easy to get but still unknown.

There is a tension between cosmos (spontaneous order) and taxis (planned order). We can plan to a small extent; there are firms after all. But we are constantly discovering anew, driven by feedback from the real world, the limitations on our new attempts to plan.


Searching for RPM’s dependence upon economics and other science


In this section I will review what I have found relating to RPM in three fields: complexity and agent-based modeling, mainstream economics, and Austrian economics.

Relating to complexity and agent-based modeling

To the extent that RPM grows from agent-based modeling in complexity theory, let me tell that I have been enthusiastic about agent-based modeling pretty much since the beginning of that practice in the 1980s. I have tried to catch up with the literature as it relates my work a few times in the decades since then. In the early 1990s I read books on the new field (Kelly, Waldrop) and I owe to those books much of the inspiration for my most complete paper (1997) on this subject to date. But there are important parts of RPM which I believe I have not seen developed by other writers, in particular my emphases on the necessity of rule-restricted cooperation and the moral influences upon group psychology suggested by that necessity.

If RPM indeed covers new ground, why would others have overlooked a study which seems so clear and promising to me? One explanation might be that others are looking in another direction. I have a bias, I admit, to counter the growth of government power. From my biased viewpoint it seems that many others work with a different bias. The others’ bias leads them to be either neutral or favorable toward the prospect of an expanding state, it seems to me. Therefore, through their scholarly work, they either accept or support extension of state powers.

As evidence for my conjecture about these biases, below I copy a listing of 19 accomplishments reported by Joshua Epstein (p. 7–8) (For brevity I have omitted references, names and dates, which Epstein supplies for each accomplishment.)
A range of important social phenomena have been generated in agent-based computational models, including: right-skewed wealth distribution, right-skewed firm size and growth rate distributions, price distributions, spatial settlement patterns, economic classes, price equilibria in decentralized markets, trade networks, spatial unemployment patterns, excess volatility in returns to capital, military tactics, organizational behaviors, epidemics, traffic congestion patterns, cultural patterns, alliances, stock market price time series, voting behaviors, cooperation in spatial games, and demographic histories.
Out of those 19, it seems to me that 12 or more might be in part motivated by ambition to demonstrate a problem in laissez-faire society. Motivated, in my view that is, to support the possibility of expanding state power. Whereas I see only 3 or 4 out of the 19 which might have been motivated to show a superiority of laissez-faire society.

Jason Potts (in Cosmos & Taxis 2:1) lists five ways that innovation may be explained in Cosmos.  None of these five touch RPs, as I see it. But Potts does occasionally and indirectly show awareness of the environment.

If my RPM research is finding things which others have not found, it may be because I am looking for things which others do not seek. I will welcome your reactions.

Relating to mainstream economics

Consider the situation where a prospering population of critters survives by following simple rules between deposits of water and sugar. I think the prosperity and the rules of cooperation are important economic categories, but I see little that relates to these categories in mainstream economics. And I do not think that my model of tabletop critters stands upon absurd assumptions which disqualify it from consideration. RPM offers a new way of modeling some economic situations which we living things face every day, a way that overlaps only slightly with mainstream economics.

Figure 8: A textbook supply-and-demand chart.


Recall that the starting point of so much of mainstream economics is the chart of supply and demand, and recall that this is about commodities. It is about goods traded in a market for a price, an amount of money.

Figure 9: Where are the commodities, markets, prices, or money in this thriving economy?


Now look again at the thriving economy of a population of critters (Figure 9), and tell me where you see any of those items italicized in the previous paragraph (commodity, market, price, money). None of those items exist in the primitive economy as modeled. You might say that water and sugar are commodities in this model. But I would counter that water a long distance from the large reserve of water differs substantially in its importance from water a short distance from the reserve; water is not a commodity in the economic sense.

Figure 10: What a market might look like in the tabletop critters model.


If there were to be a market on the tabletop, it might look something like pictured in Figure 10. Such situations may be studied in RPM, I suppose, but that is not a direction I find enticing at present.

Wealth is certainly an important concept in economics. A critter on the tabletop can be poor or wealthy, I claim, depending upon its circumstances, and poor or wealthy in ways with which we humans can empathize. In a RPM sub-project, which I have called Wealth in Institutions, I suggest that wealth may consist of having favorable choices. A critter with favorable choices for its next move, or for its plan for many moves to come, is a wealthy critter. But such wealth is not clear in mainstream economics, to my knowledge.

One major difference I see, between RPM and mainstream economics, concerns the mainstream’s emphasis on competition, competition held as a favorable ideal standard never fully attainable. But I claim that real life is not nearly so much about competition. It is about opportunity for cooperation that brings prosperity. To focus on competition overlooks the fact and promise of economic growth.

Another important difference is RPM’s connection with resources from the Earth on which we live. Mainstream economics, on the other hand, seems to float above the earth. Mainstream economics – like mathematics – seems to consist largely of concepts which should be true in any world. It is fine to float above the Earth, but the abstraction makes it too easy for practitioners to propose policies that seem to have lost sight of necessary conditions of life.

Supporting my contention that mainstream economics floats above the Earth, I notice the first two equations offered in the chapter on production functions in a respected textbook of microeconomics (Nicholson & Snyder).
q = f (k, l, m, …)      equation 9.1
Thus, a firm’s output is a function of capital, labor, materials, and possibly some other inputs. The textbook continues: “For … most of the purposes of this book … it will be more convenient to use a simplified production function …”.
q = f (k, l)       equation 9.2
Their science proceeds without materials.

Relating to Austrian economics

From what I understand of the socialist calculation debate, Mises focused upon prices of factors of production. Hayek focused upon information available to planners. It is my impression, at this stage of my education, that these men worked toward a truth which RPM shows more simply and clearly: The stuff we need comes from the Earth, not from votes in the central committee. The stuff we need exists in certain places, not in other places, and can be obtained through particular specialized procedures, but not through abstracted procedures.

A communist critter in the planning office cannot know where the next large reserve of water will be found. If a population of critters has attained some prosperity, then that prosperity has come about because critters all across the tabletop have incentives and means to use knowledge they discover in their wanderings.

To be fair to the Austrian side in the socialist calculation debate, I suppose the Austrians argued as they did because they were arguing against mainstream economists. They were not arguing against RPM.

And, to be fair to both mainstream and Austrian economics, I admit that my ideas about where RPM could go show increasing abstraction; the resulting models start to look more like established economics. When the critters become fancier (having promises, contracts, and money), they will gain for themselves more certainty that their necessary wants of water and sugar will be satisfied. And their certainty will extend farther into the future as the critters succeed in learning how to exploit resource patterns. Ultimately critters in ivory towers will make models which ignore the necessity to discover food on Earth.


What Should Living Things Think?


In Figure 5, we saw the success that came to critters who were given rules which guided them to successful cooperation. But living things do not always have deities or story tellers to supply them with such rules. In the general case, living things have to discover rules by themselves. This opens a huge field of questions about which I will say only a few things here.

When critters start to succeed, they should start to invest in “research”, i.e. in wandering unexplored regions hoping to discover new resources. If critters are given capacity to learn specialized occupations then they will probably discover that they do better when they employ that gift and indeed divide themselves into specialized roles. A need for specialty in critter-type research is confirmed by Joshua Epstein who tells that random wandering, which we know intuitively will eventually find the trading path between water and sugar, often takes prohibitively long in computerized agent-based modeling. My own experience with computerized agent-based modeling corroborates this difficulty of finding resources through random wandering.

The cooperation of critters may be enhanced if they learn language.

It will not be enough if our critters are merely satisfied or happy, because Darwinian survival may be awarded to another species in which the members were never satisfied with how much they had secured their lives, and the lives of their progeny, against improbable calamities. Calamities will strike. Only a few will survive, if that. Survival may be awarded to the descendants of wealthy critters who, in spite of their wealth, continued to aspire for more assurances of well being.

Since the difficult and large challenges of the critters’ world can be solved only through cooperation, it will probably be a good strategy to have some critters specialize on planning. These specialists would focus upon what might be done by an organized group of critters. That is, I suppose it will be best to have critters that specialize in leadership, or rule-giving.

But we must not lose sight of the fact that some living things survive by eating other living things. Living things represent, after all, a pattern of resources in the environment. If rules of cooperation can be discovered to enable one set of living things to thieve from, or eat, another set of living things, then in many cases RPM encourages that feeding. Deceit may be encouraged where it can succeed. So critters need to be suspicious, at least in some circumstances which are not easy to nail down.

Even though some living things may find it best to feed upon other living things, remember our first example of great success which critters found, not by turning upon each other, but by behaving in cooperative, mutually gainful patterns. A neighbor critter may supply you in trade during his lifetime with twenty times as much resource as you could acquire by killing and eating him. As such, a successful race of critters may have an evolved disposition of civility.


Conclusion: Theses which might be supported by the Resource-Patterns Model of Life


In this concluding section I will list a few propositions which may be given substantiation in extended use of RPM.

  • The idea of “increasing returns” (W. Brian Arthur) is not surprising but makes sense in RPM when existing technologies are carried into use on new, larger RPs.
  • Favorable conditions, in which critters find it wise to seek cooperation and not predation, probably, when mixed with Darwinian evolution, give rise to civility, to fellow-feeling. Property rights (negative rights) arise in the context of a need to discover new ways of cooperating (new rules to exploit as yet undiscovered resources).
  • The great economic successes in life, which have been achieved by our human species, have almost always grown in places and ways which were not conceived ahead of time. Our great successes were not planned. Rather these successes grew as a consequence of our civil dispositions.
  • If a set of rules discovered by critters can be duplicated and applied successfully again and again, that implies there are numerous instances in the environment of a correlated type of resource pattern. In such circumstances it will probably be wise for critters to encode the rules. Such encodings may be named commandments, genomes, or corporate franchising plans.
  • Political debate in the US does not appear two sided to me, but rather is one-sided insofar as only one side is organized by vision of how it can proceed. The state provides a visible hand. It is easy for people to believe what they can see. The opposition to this visible hand is not organized, is not visible, except and to the extend that a new threat of coercion from the state motivates organization among those who stand to lose from this threat.
  • Life seems to grow in levels, such as from single-cellular organisms to multi-cellular organisms (such as we are) to the organizations which we make (families, firms, states — which I propose may be considered as living). There is a possibility of inter-level learning. For example, our successes and failures as humans, as we try to build businesses and other super-human organizations, may give hints to biologists who are trying to understand how single-cellular organisms managed to overcome the organizational difficulties entailed in establishing multi-cellular organisms.
  • But there might be dark and foreboding strains in this inter-level learning. George Wald points out that death in old age, necessary as it seems to us highly evolved organisms, is not necessary in lower forms of life; in the record of evolution the necessity of death started at nearly the same time as sexual reproduction. Also, recall that all the cells in our human bodies have the same DNA (the same written rules); this should chill an advocate for freedom of thought and expression in our human level.
  • Assuming that life grows as RPM suggests, and that we humans are now the highest form of evolved life in our solar system, the future looks promising. We have barely started to tap the energy of the sun, and we have not yet started to snack upon the raw materials of Jupiter. This is the optimism of Julian Simon.

Addendum (June 2016): Do you think you have understood this material? Take the quiz.

Bibliography


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     - A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, 2007.

Wald, George, “The Origin of Death”, 1970, a lecture given apparently many times (once attended by this author in Buffalo, NY), and published by Wald’s son at <http://www.elijahwald.com/origin.html>.

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Other works by Richard Hammer on this subject