Thursday, July 02, 2015

Paradox Drives Creativity in Nature, including Humans (Executive Function Version)

New research shows that people who are maximally creative exhibit both imagination and attention. While attention requires the use of the brain's executive function, imagination has been shown to be optimal in those with weak executive function. Given that the executive function actually restricts creativity in the form of imagination, as I discuss here, we seem to have a paradoxical situation where the executive function both represses and is required for creativity.

Yet, paradoxical situations are the very drivers of creativity in nature. The strange attractors of chaos and bios both attract and repel, simultaneously. The most creative groups are those that are involve both individualism and group-think simultaneously, and which have a strong core with a clear boundary and also interdisciplinary overlappers with other groups. The strongest, most creative economies are those that exhibit both cooperation and competition simultaneously. It is in the overcoming of paradoxical relations, while maintaining those paradoxical relations, that drives creative problem-solving at every level of reality.

As a result, we should not be surprised that human creativity is driven by a paradox -- that we simultaneously need a weak and a strong executive function to work. Human psychological and social complexity is driven by paradox, and increasing complexity results in ever-more paradoxes, driving ever-more complexity. Still, we should expect to find some basic paradoxes, such as this.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On Minority Values

Understanding economics can be a curse. It can be a tragic knowledge in a real way for someone like me. Absent my understanding of economics, I would be a typical leftist intellectual raging against everyone for not valuing all the things I value, blaming capitalism for not enough people valuing all the things I value. Life would be easy not understanding that value is subjective and, therefore, the only things one can do is either respect everyone's subjective valuations or try to persuade people to value what you value. Or both.

At the same time, I cannot help but sympathize with my leftist intellectual brethren. They are all doing things that very, very few people value at all. The intellectuals who are fortunate to get university or think tank jobs are truly the lucky ones. They managed to find someone who values what it is they are doing. Or, more likely, they have found someone who values something -- teaching -- that is tangentially related to what they really value doing -- intellectual work.

What I value doing above almost anything else is my scholarly and artistic work. But that means that I have to have the time to do those things. If finished scholarly papers and poems are of very marginal value to very few people, almost no one values the time need to work on either one. Nobody cares to give you the time to work on things that few people even care to read.

Given this situation, is it no wonder that so many intellectuals get cranky and wish they could tear down the system? Surely, they think, if they were in charge, people would value truly valuable things, things of lasting value. You know, the things they do. Surely if I were in charge, people would love poems and plays and value scholarship and knowledge. Except, of course, that's hardly true. That, I know. And I know it because I understand economics and the subjective nature of value.

So that leaves me in what one could understand to be a tragic situation. The leftist intellectuals at least have the delusion that the right kind of society would cause people to value intellectual and artistic endeavors. I do not. And at the same time, I value what I value. And I value it deeply. I can somehow communicate to people any number of things very well and very clearly, but not that. I cannot manage to get people to at least understand why I value what I value. My obsessions, my loves are foreign to almost everyone. Even my politics are a minority value. And even those who do value the kinds of things I do value more their own doing it. And that I understand as well.

So I am left with no one to blame for not valuing what I value. I am left not being able to blame society or capitalism or anything else for society being what it is, what it has always been. Very few people value poetry, plays, novels, or scholarship. What I do makes no sense to almost anyone. And so I am left alone with my struggle to realize the things I value in the face of very few supporting me, of very few finding value in anything I do.

I sympathize with leftist intellectuals to a degree. But I'm afraid I know too much to fully empathize with them. And that leaves me alone even more.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Catallactics as the Study of Human Exchange

Catallactics is the science of exchange.

Exchange is a basic interaction between or among people. There are three basic kinds of exchange.

1) Mutual Exchange -- Each party has something the other wants and each party therefore wants the exchange to take place; both parties are better off as a consequence of the exchange. This is a positive sum exchange. Mutual exchange is the foundation of all economic action.

2) Gift-Giving -- One party has something he wants to give to the other party; the second party is better off, while the first party may or may not be worse off. This is at worst a zero sum exchange (if we include emotions, it may be positive sum as well). Gift exchange is the foundation of science and the arts.

3) Coercion -- One party takes from the other party; the first party is better off and the second party is worse off. This is at best a zero sum exchange (if we include reduction of trust and other emotions involved, it is better considered a negative sum exchange). Included in such exchanges would be robbery, rape, and murder.

These are the basic forms of exchange. They are often mixed.

For example, a mutual exchange in fact has a degree of gift-giving involved. I won't engage in a mutual exchange unless I am made better off by the exchange. Thus, value increases for me. More, the other won't engage in a mutual exchange unless they are made better off by the exchange. Thus, value increases for them. The excess value is a gift each gives the other. This is why mutual exchange is a positive sum exchange.

Those who prefer to work in the gift economy, such as scientists and artists, also have to pay the bills, so it is not uncommon for them to seek gainful employment. And there are those willing to pay. If we are talking about scientists working in an institute, we have people giving gifts to the institute so a mutual exchange involving wages and production is realized so the scientist can produce science, which is a gift. A novelist will seek to publish his book, which enters market exchange with readers.

There are forms of coercion which have elements of mutual exchange. If a government takes your property under immanent domain, often that government (if it's not completely corrupt) will pay you "market value" for that property. Thus, you are forced to make the exchange (which is coercion), but you are given something in exchange (which is mutual exchange). The same is true of taxes and the things done with taxes.

Often people consider threats of being fired from one's job as a threat of coercion. But is it really coercion if you no longer want to contract out their time and expertise? Refusing to continue to engage in exchange is not the same thing as coercion. Firing someone is simply breaking a contract, and breaking a contract is not coercive. Either side can break the contract -- the employee by not doing the work he or she was hired to do, or the employer by firing someone for things other than what the contract stipulates (like having the audacity to ask for a raise when it is due). In the latter case, the employee is in the right to take the employer to court for improperly breaking the contract.

One may not like the term "coercion." I invite someone to come up with another morally neutral term that nevertheless describes all exchanges of this kind.

All government involves the use of coercion. The idea is that it is "legitimate coercion." Democracy makes it more legitimate, as it then involves the discovery of community values that are worth using coercion to enforce. With democracy, versus other forms of government, you have a process that allows for the constant discovery of these values. Votes allows for the change of these values over time. The best democracies would be those with institutions that best allow for continuous change, continuous adaptation.

Catallactics so defined therefore underlies the study of all spontaneous orders, as exchange is what is taking place in each and every case to create the different kinds of orders. It is not just human action (whose study is praxeology), but human interaction. This is the beginning of understanding them.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Contracts

One of the main issues of our time is the nature of contracts into which we can enter.

I know, that doesn't sound quite as sexy as "gay marriage" or "Obamacare," but really that's what those two issues are about. And not just those two issues.

There is not a lot of consistency of thinking on the nature of contracts. What, if any, role should governments have in the contents of contracts? Courts will have to determine the validity of contracts, what should happen if contracts are violated, etc., but does that mean we have to have governments legislating the contents and who can be involved for the courts to do their jobs?

The issue with gay marriage is that the marriage contract is not simply between the two people getting married, but among each of the couple and the government. You have to register to get a marriage license. So you have to get the government's permission to get married at all. Of course, one can still go through the ceremony -- the ritual -- that makes you married, but you won't have the legal protections involved. And those legal protections are what are at issue in the licensing.

The protections aren't frivolous, but at the same time, what is being protected involves government legislation that perhaps shouldn't be in place in the first place. When a hospital restricts access to a patient, do you really think it is the hospital alone doing it, or is there a law on the books determining who can and cannot visit this or that person under this or that condition? So being married in the eyes of the government means you can visit your spouse, meaning a restriction created by government is lifted by government.

While one would perhaps prefer to get rid of all of this nonsense, it seems easier for now to simply expand the franchise to allow more people to get the privileges from government. That at least provides equality under the law, even if we may not be fans of the law.

Really, adults ought to have the liberty to enter into any kind of interpersonal relationship they wish. Christians who insist that Christians must only ever enter into monogamous, heterosexual marriages should keep in mind that 1) not everyone is a Christian, so your religious laws do not apply to them, and 2) nobody is or should be preventing you from or forcing you into entering into the kinds of marriages with which you disagree.

Which gets me to another main issue surrounding contracts. We should not be forced into contracts, either. There was a civil war fought over this issue of forcing people into contracts -- what more or less is slavery, after all? We would be outraged if a woman were forced into a marriage. We would be outraged if a man were forced into a work contract out of which he could not exit. But too many are not outraged if a person is forced to bake a cake for someone. Or if a person is forced to buy insurance against their will. All of these are interpersonal contracts, and we should not be forced into them if we do not want to be.

Along these lines, it does not logically follow that by allowing people to enter into one kind of contract (such as a marriage) that one must then force other people to enter into other kinds of contracts (such as making your wedding cake, catering your wedding, or performing your wedding). However, if you are a justice of the peace or other government official whose job description involved marrying people granted a marriage license,the only thing you can do is apply the law equally or resign your position. No one is forcing you to marry people; you can always quit your job if you have moral objections to doing it. This would also apply if the owner of the bakery wanted to make wedding cakes for gay couples but one of his bakers refused on religious grounds. The baker can quit the business and start his or her own, if they so desire. Or find someone with the same world view to hire them. But so long as they work for the owner, they have to do the job they were hired to do. You must abide by the contract into which you have entered, or you must exit it. And equally, you should not be forced to enter into a contract into which you do not wish to enter.

As for breaking contracts, many contracts have such provisions. Those should be worked out by the people in question. If a contract is broken and the provisions in question have been violated, that's what we have courts for. The courts may discover that a given provision of the contract is unenforceable (say, the contract states you can never break the contract -- which violates the very nature of contracts as temporary and provisional). Courts are thus sufficient for resolving any and all issues surrounding contracts. Out of their decisions emerges the common law regarding contracts, which stands as law (and in no way requires legislation).

Most of the problems we find in society involve confusion about the nature of contracts and who should be involved in their creation and decisions about their content and ends and ending. We need to work on clarifying these things. By doing so, we see what it is we are supporting and what we are against in clearer terms. And, hopefully, many of us will change our minds about what we support when we understand the nature of the contracts we are supporting.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Science of Artistic/Literary Production

The brain operates at criticality -- at the border of order and chaos -- resulting in a power law distribution of electrical cascades. As a result, original paintings demonstrate self-organization, just like the brains that make them. The same would be true of any complex product of the human brain -- typically, one of the arts. The production of works of literature, the production of symphonies demonstrate self-organization as well. This can be seen in their fractal patterns of note or theme word distributions.

Our social systems are similarly critical systems -- once they reach a certain level of complexity, of course. Looking back at the time when we lived in tribes is therefore of extremely limited use for understanding complex societies like we find today. We can use this to understand artistic movements in complex societies, for example. We would expect there to be periods of extreme creativity followed by periods of relative stagnation if artistic productivity in complex societies were a social activity. We would expect there to be artistic movements -- strange attractors -- attracting many artists to doing similar things. At least, for a while, until the idea is "used up" and ceases being creative and generative. That's when the paradoxes holding it together drives it apart. Think of how Baudelaire was simultaneously a romantic and deeply challenged romanticism to drive the creation of a new poetic sensibility.

Brains are self-organizing critical, our social systems that emerge out of our interactions are self-organizing critical, and our artistic products are self-organizing critical. Welcome to the science of artistic/literary production.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Gay Marriage Legal Across the U.S.

Today the Supreme Court struck down states' bans of gay marriage. There are those who argue that the states should be allowed to ban gay marriage because democracy. Of course, democratic majorities could also be in favor of Jim Crow laws, anti-miscegenation laws, and any number of other laws that are now odious to most people, but were not once upon a time. Was it right for there to be legislation passed to eliminate Jim Crow laws in states in which a majority favored their presence? After all, democracy.

The purpose of the Bill of Rights, and several amendments that followed (most notably the 14th), is to restrict the power of democracy. There are and ought to be some things that are out of reach for democracies. Oppressing minority groups of any kind is one of them. Denying a minority group something granted the majority group is another. Thus, while libertarians and anarchists ought to generally oppose government actions, they ought to support the Supreme Court any time it universalizes rights and privileges. There are those who argue the government ought not be in the marriage business in the first place -- something about which I may agree -- but so long as it is, it ought to be open and available to everyone. There are "second best" options about which libertarians and anarchists ought to be happy.

Basically, the federal government, through the Supreme Court, made a certain kind of legislation illegal. Fantastic. I don't care where it comes from -- I'm always happy when a kind of legislation is made illegal. That only means greater freedom for all.

Personally, I'm more impressed when the Supreme Court goes against the majority in favor of freedom. But that's not what happened here. Here we saw the same kind of cowardice we saw in the Democratic party, which suddenly favored gay marriage when over 50% of the population favored it. All we saw was the Supreme Court confirming the will of the national majority over local majorities. It is the same kind of cowardice that drives the Supreme Court to tend to find whatever the Congress passes to be Constitutional. But even cowards can do the right thing, eventually.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Will the 2020s look like the 1970s?

Rick Perlstein reviews the book Days of Rage, a detailed account of the revolutionary period around 1970 -- the lead-in and the decade that followed it. Those familiar with cliometrics are familiar with Peter Turchin's observation that revolutionary periods come every 50 years, and that the last one was 1970.

That puts us on a course for 2020. One of the things I learned from the review is that there was a great deal of revolutionary literature being read in the lead-up and during the time -- something that should not be all that surprising. What I did not realize was how much of that literature was being read by prisoners. And those prisoners, upon release, often became the most violent revolutionaries. 

This suggests a few things to me. If we want to understand what kind of revolution we may have in 2020, we have to take a look at the kinds of revolutionary literature being read, particularly in our prisons. Is it leftist literature? Right-wing literature? Anarchist literature? (Of course, anarchist literature comes in a variety of flavors.)

The book also points out that in revolutionary periods, there is a strong, hierarchical center to the revolution, and a periphery of "worshipful followers." The latter are as dangerous as the former -- perhaps more so, as they often feel a strong need to prove their value, to prove that they, too, are as true of believers as the center. And those in the center are always happy to have useful idiots around.

Another thing of note was the fact that it was the police that were mostly targeted. This is probably not all that surprising, as the police are the first-line enforcement arm of the government. It is the job of the police to enforce the laws of the government -- the just laws as well as the unjust laws -- and it is not uncommon to blame the police enforcing the laws for enforcing the laws. For whatever reason, people love to blame the enforcers, not the legislators, the game-players and not the game rule-makers. For example, people love to blame corporations for their involvement in government, but give the government a completely free ride for creating the laws, creating the regulations, creating the regulatory bodies, and generally creating the rules of the game that the businesses have to play by.

There would be no cronyism if the government did not have regulations favoring some people over others. Businesses deal with government and work to corrupt government because the government creates the conditions where the businesses have to deal with the government to get anything done. Businesses "corrupting" government is a feature, not a bug, of government regulations. So long as human beings are involved and so long as human beings have their own self-interests they will look out for (even as they lie to others -- and themselves -- that they are doing it for the greater good), government regulations will always result in corruption. And that corruption begins and ends with government. Only government has the ability to literally force people into these kinds of situations.

Thus, people blame the companies for the corruption of government, and the people blame the enforcers of the law (police) while letting the legislators off the hook. This is why the police and businesses were targeted in the 1970s, and why they will be targeted again in the 2020s.

This isn't to say that each don't do things that aren't blameworthy. The degree to which one chooses to play the corruption game created by our governments varies. And the police do seem to have a nasty habit of targeting certain groups more than others. More, when the government acts in certain ways, we can expect the citizens to behave in kind, as the government acts as a moral model for many people. I heard someone suggest that the terrorist Dylann Roof felt encouraged by some of the recent actions of the police around the country -- and I don't doubt that to be, at least to some degree, true. The same people who recognize this connection, though, somehow fail to understand that if you make guns illegal that only the police will have guns. Somehow, the same people who want to disarm the people are the same people who complain about police brutality (and the same people who favor giving more and more power to the government are also the same people who complain that that same government enforces those laws); they fail to recognize that you cannot simultaneously be against a police state and for all of the conditions to create one.

All of these disconnects is what led to the eras of political violence in the 1920s and the 1970s. Given that, it seems, nobody ever learns anything from history, we can expect a repeat of these patterns in the 2020s. And we can also expect our legislators to create a large number of acts of legislation to appease everyone, creating the conditions for future problems as those changes work through the system, corrupting it further. They will be seen as the saviors, and the useful idiots of the revolution will be appeased by their oppressors, who they never really understood to be their oppressors in the first place. But how else would you expect a pro-government revolutionary to act when the government -- who they see as the savior of all -- expands its power in response to the revolutionaries' demands? After all, leftist revolutionaries don't actually see the government as the problem -- they are revolting to get the government to do more, to expand more, to seize more power over more people. What, then, could be better for our government than a revolutionary period around 2020? Nothing is better than having a bunch of useful idiots.