Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Simple and Complex Sciences

I would like to propose some new defintions:

Rather than "hard" and "soft" science, as we now use, how about "simple" and "complex" sciences?

Simple = physics and chemistry

Complex = biology, ecology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and economics

This would do a few things. One, it would identify right away what models and mathematics to use. That alone would be great, as we would stop using the wrong kinds of mathematics in fields like economics. Second, it would show how closely related biology actually is to the other complex sciences. Third, it would emphasize complexity rather than imprecise notions like "hard" and "soft," with their negative connotations. In fact, the "soft" sciences are in fact the hardest (most difficult) due to their complexity.

As for the humanities, increasingly philosophy is brought into the complex sciences. My dream is that one day literature will be as well. (Maybe then I will be able to get a job.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sandefur on Spontaneous Orders, Again

There comes a point where you wonder if the person one (or others) is arguing with is actually paying attention to any of the actual arguments, or if they are simply starting to get to a place where they are defending their position no matter what. After reading Sandefur's latest response, I cannot come to any other conclusion but that he has reached this point. Most of his points have been definitively answered already, especially by Hasnas in his last response. Sandefur still does not recognize the difference between an entity and an environment (putting him in the same camp as the economic planners Hayek was writing against, who equally could not tell the difference). A person does act based on a wide variety of bases, including rational decision-making, for a variety of goals -- but that does not make the person either a constructed or, certainly, a spontaneous order.A corporation can be defined in a similar way, though a corporation is certainly a constructed order. Such entities ad people and corporations (and non-profits, etc.) do have goals, and work toward realizing those goals, but a social system should not have goals imposed on it. This Hayek does make abundantly clear. The reason why is clear, if we understand, for example, what happens in a corporation.

When we work for a corporation, we align our goals with those of the corporation while we're working for that corporation. When we are at home, we do not have to do so any longer. And if we do not want to align our goals with the corporation, we can quit. The corporation, being in direct competition with other corporations, receives the kind of information that allows it to discover new ways of doing things, and new products to make.

When we are a member of a society, entry and exit are not so easy. Especially when we are talking about large nation-states. What is the "goal" of society? That should be a nonsensical question. But there have been people who have tried to construct society as a corporation -- this is the kind of constructivism Hayek is talking about -- and they have thus tried to give society "goals." When they do that, they have to align the society's members' goals with that of the state. Nobody can be allowed to have their own goals, because that can derail the social constructivist's goals. Thus, a constructed society necessarily is coercive, because there will be people who do not want to align their goals with the constructivist's goals. If you have to align your goals with someone else's goals, and have no way to legally escape it, then you are not free. Indeed, you are a slave. And slavery cannot exist in a true spontaneous order. Indeed, once we understand that only in a true spontaneous order that people are free to pursue their own goals as they see fit (so long as they do not involve coercion), do we see that spontaneous orders are the kinds of social systems that are conducive to liberty.

Sandefur objects that spontaneous order is essentially a non-concept because there is no pure example, that there are mixed systems. Indeed, there are mixed systems. They are called complex adaptive systems. But even if we cannot ever make a true spontaneous order, the concept is worth having because it is the model of complete social liberty. One can posit a kind of continuum from constructed social order to spontaneous order. But in that continuum, we also move from slavery to increasing liberty. What Sandefur claims are examples of spontaneous order arising from the interstices of constructed orders is really features of complex adaptive systems. Self-organizing, where possible> Yes. A spontaneous order as Hayek describes it? No.

I get all this from Hayek, with only some clarification from recent work on complex adaptive systems. I honestly don't know why Sandefur cannot seem to see what to me Hayek clearly says about the relationship between liberty and social spontaneous orders.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Solving Our Budget Problems

There are a few things we could do that would solve our budget problems.

1) zero-baseline budgeting, so nobody will be able to call a spending increase a spending decrease just because it was less of an increase than was built into the system.

2) an amendment to the Constitution making it mandatory for all extra-Constitutional laws to have a 10 year sunset. Thus, every law would have to come up for a revote every 10 years. If a law or program is worth having, it's worth passing again.

3) all bills should be stand-alones -- including pork. No more bundling of bills.

4) there should be transparency for all Congressional procedures not involving national security -- nothing should ever be allowed to be done behind closed doors

5) all bills should require at least 1 day per 50 pages between the bill being finished and it being up for a vote,so legislators can read the bills before voting on them -- then a short quiz should be required of each to see if they understood what they read. When 100% of legislators pass the quiz, the bill can come up for a vote. During this time, the bill should be available online.

In fact, this would go a long way to solving most of our problems whose source lies in our legislatures and in legislation.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Hasnas' Response to Sandefur's Response to Hasnas

Hasnas does an excellent job responding to Sandefur. Especially in his clarifying the distinction between a spontaneous and a constructed order. His observations have clarified for me that Sandefur seems to think that a spontaneous order must be made up of spontaneous orders to be a spontaneous order -- which makes as much sense as saying that environments must be made of environments to be environments. Not complex orders are spontaneous orders.

There is one thing I disagree with Hasnas -- and that is where he is in agreement with Sandefur -- which is on the issue of the evolution of morals.

As Marc Hauser has demonstrated in "Moral Minds," morals evolved. Frans de Waal talks about ethics among apes in "Good Natured," showing the origins of many of our own morals. So certainly morals evolved. Now, at this biological level, with morals as instincts, that evolution is slow enough to work as a stationary set of grounded moral principles. But it is a set that will likely not make either Hasnas nor Sandefur happy. Nevertheless, such instincts are sufficiently complex -- and often have their own paradoxical opposites -- that they set the groundwork for what Hayek partially (in)correctly understood as the origins of morals, and how they evolved: at the level of culture, tradition, and spontaneous order. Let me give an example.

In our original, tribal state, it is good to love one's tribe and to hate anyone not in one's tribe. Those who thought otherwise about other tribes ended up with spears through their bodies by those who practiced this. However, humans are also xenophilic -- this is likely a result of the kind of outbreeding we see in chimpanzees today, where the females leave their troupe when they become sexually mature, to join another troupe -- which helps prevent inbreeding. So humans are naturally xenophobic and xenophilic. As we developed larger and larger social groups, from small settlements to cities to empires and nation-states, our xenophilic tendencies were more adaptive than were our xenophobic tendencies. Along with this came our morals -- it is not ethical to murder, rape, and steal from one's family and tribe, and those morals were expanded along with the expansion of who we considered to be in our tribe. Those who consider all the world to be in their tribe thus have a hard time stomaching wars of any kind. This kind of expansion of morals is spontaneous, and was not legislated by anyone. Constructed legislation has in fact more often stood in the way of this natural evolution than is has helped. More typically, as I noted before, it follows society to where society has already gotten.

Now, as our morals evolve in this spontaneous fashion, another thing begins to emerge: moral reasoning. This is what we see in Plato and Aristotle, who begin to reason about the morals already present. And to critique them. Hasnas argues that moral reasoning comes first. It does not. It is a recent addition. A welcome one (sometimes), but a fairly recent one. It can only emerge out of the moral spontaneous order. Which is itself rooted in (and cannot become untethered from) our moral instincts.

On Sandefur's Response to Klein

WIth this response by Sandefur, I think I am getting what it is he is missing in his critique of Hayek's spontaneous order theory (in a response to my last posting, Sandefur argued he was not attacking spontaneous order as a concept, only Hayek's conception of it -- though again this response would seem to suggest otherwise). Actually, he is missing two things.

The first thing Sandefur is missing is the fact that Hayek does in fact defend a particular kind of rationality -- the Scottish enlightenment version of rationality, vs. constructivist rationality. Hayek does not reject rationality, as Sandefur suggests, only the constructivist version that arose on the Continent and which led to socialist ideology. If Reason is all-powerful, then those who have Reason should rightly rule and should use that Reason to construct a rational society and economy. This is what Hayek is critiquing. If one has a correct understanding of reason, one will know that one cannot construct a socialist utopia. More, such a rationality will be useful in making proper critiques, in making suggestions, in arguing one's position. Nowhere does Hayek argue that one should not argue one's point, including against tradition. One must also recognize that in challenging tradition, one puts oneself in a precarious position. One has to prove oneself -- and in doing so, one may meet with tragic consequences (this is the story of every work of tragedy). But in doing so, one brings the rest of society in after you.

The incremental changes Hayek suggests are like making a blaze to explore unknown territory. If you want to explore unknown territory, you have to make a mark on the edge of known territory before you venture out. If you want to keep exploring, you make another blaze -- within sight of the old one. Thus, you don't get lost. And new territory is discovered. The constructivist, on the other hand, just runs out ahead, not bothering to make a blaze, unconcerned about the territory he las left behind (it is such a terribly place anyway -- and what is out there, in the unknown, now, that is what's exciting!). The result? He gets lost. When one is in the savannah, jungle, or desert, this means certain death. The same is true of those societies that try to construct something completely different, ignoring tradition, ignoring what works. The constructivist, seeking to make something completely new, ignoring what is, places himself in much danger of getting lost, of getting killed -- or, in the case of a society, getting everyone lost, and killing many of one's citizens. Running ahead without consideration of where you came from, and you become food to predators, get stuck in mud or quicksand, etc. But if you make a blze, and are able to keep in sight of known territory, you can learn of the dangers and avoid them. And you can always find your way back home.

The second thing Sandefur is missing -- and one really cannot fault him for missing this -- is the fact that Hayek, being an Austrian, was culturally in many ways a German. German philosophy was obsessed with the Greeks, and both groups of philosophers believed the world was made of "physis" and "nomos". "Physis" is the natural world, and included all non-human nature. "Nomos" was essentially human culture and tradition. Many Greeks believed that the best society was one in which "nomos" mapped well onto "physis," meaning that the ideal society was a reflection of nature in its deepest tendencies. Indeed, Hayek does use the term "nomos." I would argue that Hayek understood the naturally-occurring, bottom-up spontaneous order as being the social equivalent of the self-organizing systems found in nature (he knew Bertalanffy and certainly knew of his work on biology and general systems theory). Hayek understood the brain to be a self-organizing system, and he thought the best society would be one that most resembled these natural processes. This is a normative thing if you understand the relationship between "physis" and "nomos" as the ancient Greeks and their German followers/imitators did. A constructed order would not be a "nomos," but a "techne," which is not a product of "physis" and does not resemble "physis," thus making it inappropriate as a model of society. If you understand that constructed orders are "techne," while spontaneous orders are "nomos," you begin to understand the real differences between the two. A "techne" is a human construct -- a "nomos" is not, but is rather something which emerges out of voluntary human interactions. A pencil is a "techne" just as much as a corporation is a "techne". Neither are the appropriate models for society.

If you combine both observations, I think it becomes clearer where Hayek is coming from with his concept of spontaneous order. It is not non-rational, and there is a place for the proper kind of rationality within it. In my Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conference paper, I argue that within each spontaneous order there is a rationality that arises that is relevant to that order, but may be inappropriate for critiquing other orders. Thus, we may in fact have a plurality of rationalities. Does that mean that there is not one rationality to rule them all? Of course not. But I think we need to learn as much as we can about these many rationalities first to learn what they all have in common. Then we may end up having that rationality Sandefur seems to think we already have that will be able to be used to judge from "outside" -- not that we can, in reality, ever get outside of the system we are in. All critiques are always from the inside, meaning we don't know what the outcome will be. We can always only hope for the best.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hayek and Spontaneous Order at Cato Unbound

following posting is in response to a series of articles discussing the nature of Friedrich von Hayek’s theory of spontaneous order at Cato Unbound. The first article is Four Problems with Spontaneous Order by Timothy Sandefur, with responses by John Hasnas, Daniel Klein, and Bruce Caldwell (the last of whom I met at a Hayek conference this past summer), and then a response to them by Sandefur. I’m going to make comments on each, in order. I am very much in disagreement with Sandefur, but I think some of the defenses of Hayek fall a bit short, which I’ll be taking up. Those who number their points, I’m numbering along with them.


1) The main problem that I see with Sandefur’s argument is that he doesn’t seem to know the difference between a spontaneous order and an organization. If you don’t understand this distinction, of course you think the difference is merely a matter of distance. He is mistaking lions for the savannah ecosystem in which they live. A lion is an entity with goals. An environment or ecosystem cannot have goals – any more than can a spontaneous order, which is a kind of human social ecosystem. His examples of micro- and macroevolution fails because evolution happens at the level of organisms/entities and, as already noted, a spontaneous order is more akin to an environment or ecosystem.

Now when it comes to law, one can argue that law as a whole should have never been considered a spontaneous order by Hayek precisely because it is constructed in legislation. One can nevertheless conclude that social norms of behavior are a spontaneous order. The fact that a spontaneous order can be co-opted and turned into a constructed order is no argument against the existence of spontaneous orders as distinct from constructed orders.

2) In spontaneous orders, we have naturally emerging bonds being made and broken between agents/entities. This results in maximum information flow, as occurs when we have a scale-free network. Interference in that process forces the maintenance of bonds that would have otherwise broken or the breaking or even prevention of making bonds that would have otherwise existed. The result is a rigid hierarchy. These bonds are not as concrete as Sandefur’s example.

If equality under the law is good and the increase of wealth and knowledge are good (meaning, the more rapid the increase, the better), then spontaneous orders are superior to constructed orders. This kind of equality (under the law) is necessary for the creation of a spontaneous order, which in turns increases wealth and knowledge. I suppose if one does not think that more wealth and knowledge are good. Then one would not see spontaneous orders as good, but even dictators pretend to what at least more wealth (though the consistent outcomes of attempts at constructed orders making less wealth, indeed, decreasing wealth, suggests otherwise for current defenders of such systems). A spontaneous order is therefore good because it is good for and good at producing wealth and knowledge. What people do with that wealth and knowledge is outside the realm of the spontaneous order proper, and therefore one should not criticize the spontaneous order for creating these things agents within the system misuse. One should keep one’s criticisms for the agents themselves. Thus, spontaneous orders in this sense are amoral, being ateleological.

3) Sandefur has a point when it comes to Hayek on morals, law, and legislation, but spontaneous orders can be rescued from Hayek’s own arguments of social constructivism with the recognition that humans do have instincts, including moral instincts (see Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds that lay a foundation for behavior and for judgment. More, humans have paradoxical drives that spontaneous orders can emphasize or play down, depending on the order. Sandefur also misses the point that different systems have their own internal logics and, therefore, different criteria for rational behavior. Hayek is warning against importing the rules form one spontaneous order into another just as much as he warns against arbitrary rules. More, the system should be judged by the outcome of the system, not by how some particular elements in the system are doing. This also answers his first paragraph of his response paper.

4) Sandefur does not seem to understand what really happened with his contrary examples. In the case of segregation, laws were on the books in the states to prevent social evolution. Tradition is not stagnant and unchanging, as anthropologist Victor Turner discovered. Our society, by the 1960’s, had evolved to a point where the people themselves as a whole wanted legislative change. The laws in the South were designed to prevent natural interactions from occurring, whether in the economy, socially, etc. The law changed after society did. The fact that the federal laws overturned state and local laws is no argument that the change didn’t begin as a spontaneous order, even if it did end in legislation. This kind of legislation always follows social change – it never leads it. The same is true of his other example, Lawrence v. Texas. Attitudes toward homosexuality had changed so much by then that the laws had to catch up with the prevailing morals. The presence of those who resist any such change is no argument against spontaneous order. In fact, to insist that tradition as Hayek understood it means stagnation is to ignore the fact that spontaneous orders are by definition dynamic. Tradition for Hayek is a touchstone helping keep the system stable – it is not ossification of the system (making it no longer a system). The judges’ behavior in Lawrence v. Texas was rational within the system that had evolved by the time of the decision. It would not have been considered – or considered rational – a hundred years earlier. But the evolution that led to that decision was bottom-up.


1) Hasnas is generally correct in his defense of the idea of spontaneous orders, but he also leaves out the issue of teleology. Organizations are teleological – they have a goal, a purpose. Spontaneous orders are non-teleological – they do not have a goal. When a leader says, “We need to pass X to create more jobs in the economy,” that leader is treating the economy as a teleological organization. Stalin’s infamous five-year plans did the same thing. On the other hand, a leader who says, “We need to pass X so companies will be more productive and make greater profits,” is not thinking of the economy as a made order, but as a spontaneous order in which there are made orders that will react in different ways to the proposed change. That may increase general employment – or it may not. But the rule change does not address the spontaneous order as such, only the elements within it and their interactions.

2) Hasnas does an excellent job refuting Sandefur’s second point, to which I have nothing more to add than what I said above in my initial response.

3 & 4) Hashas is generally correct that Hayek’s judicial and moral philosophizing has much to be desired – however, I think he does lend short shrift to the idea of spontaneous order in these realms. As I argued above, Hayek mistakenly decouples the spontaneous orders from our evolved instincts, and this includes our morals. There is room for ethics to evolve while being rooted in moral instincts. Just as much, moral reasoning evolves in such a system, making us able to critique and criticize. Still, we remain tethered to our evolved morality. We need all three: moral instincts, evolving tradition, and moral reasoning.


I think Klein gets to be a bit too cute with his idea of Hayek’s “code” – “custom” is not necessarily “liberal principle” (in fact, almost by definition, customs are not liberal in principle, but conservative in fact), “competition” is really economic competition, not freedom per se (though freedom of interaction does allow for and is a necessary foundation for true competition), and “the market” is by definition free of interference. He is correct, however, in identifying “spontaneous” with “free,” as one cannot be spontaneous without the freedom to do so.

His argument falls a bit short when he discusses what Hayek means by order. Certainly he “get it,” but he doesn’t go far enough in explaining what is meant. Critics of the market argue that the market is too “disorderly” and that the government is needed to make it “orderly.” The kind of order they mean, of course, is regular order – the kind of order found in crystals. Hayek argues for a kind of order that lies between “order” and “disorder,” one which creates patterns (of behavior in the case of spontaneous orders) that are not rigidly ordered, but not random, either. A good visual example is the self-organizing fields of rocks in Antarctica.


Caldwell is good to point out we need some historical context. That always helps us to understand what we are reading. However, we need to do better than “I know it when I see it.” That is what we’re trying to do at the Fund for Spontaneous Orders at the conferences and at Studies in Emergent Order.

Sandefur II

In his response, Sandefur continues in his error of thinking a corporation is a spontaneous order, which it clearly is not (nor did Hayek ever claim them to be). In fact, the core of his error in thinking is is not recognizing this difference. A spontaneous order is made up of various agents and organizations, each of which is behaving in a purposeful manner – but these interactions result in a spontaneous order with no goal or purpose. He essentially argues that, because lions are in an ecosystem, and because they interact with various other elements in an ecosystem, one cannot therefore distinguish between a lion and its ecosystem! Both may be complex adaptive systems (CAS), but they are different kinds of CAS’s. A spontaneous order is a very different kind of CAS than is an organization. The fact that both are CAS’s does not mean spontaneous orders cannot be distinguished from other CAS’s. This is essentially the logical error of “All lions are cats,” therefore “All cats are lions.” To Sandefur, house cats are really lions because both are cats.

His example of nationalized health care as appearing to not be a constructed order fails miserably because, apparently, for him, only one person can be involved in construction. There must be a goal in constructing a building, but does that mean only one (or a small group) is involved> Hardly. One could make a list as long as his of people necessary to construct a building – and a building could never arise through spontaneous order. Spontaneous orders just don’t order that way. Many people are coordinating to a common purpose to create a teleological system in nationalized health care. That makes it a constructed order. Next, it is imposed from the top-down. That “top” may be fairly large, but in the end it is a top-down construction. Just because a few bones are thrown to the hoi polloi to settle them down doesn’t mean a bottom-up process was used or in play.

His example of Wal-Mart fails because he fails to recognize that in a corporation, there is a hierarchy. There may be local centers of decision-making, but such a system is not truly decentralized, let alone scale-free. And there is not freedom of entry and exit. Those are decisions made by someone. I can’t just go open up a Wal-Mart because I decided to one day. A spontaneous order has these features; Wal-Mart does not.

In the end, Sandefur cannot even seem to understand the difference between a bottom-up social reformer who tries to persuade people and a top-down social reformer who uses the power of the state to impose his vision on everyone, whether they like it or not, whether it maps well onto human nature of not. The former is part of the spontaneous order; the latter destroys it. If Sandefur cannot understand that basic distinction, of course he cannot see the difference between spontaneous and constructed orders – nor can he tell the difference between freedom and dictatorship.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Spontaneous Orders and Literature

For those who like some reality in their literary studies, I offer you Literature and the Economics of Liberty: Spontaneous Order in Culture, Paul Cantor and Stephen Cox, eds. Naturally, I would have loved to have had a piece in this collection, but I was busy writing my own contribution to the field at the same time that Cantor and Cox were preparing this for publication. Nevertheless, Paul Cantor was kind enough to send me his introductory essay, which I was able to use in my own paper I presented at the Fund for Spontaneous Orders conference Dec. 5. That piece, after revisions, should appear in Studies in Emergent Order early next year.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Neither Path Nor Way to a Noble Peace

He stands upon the fjord, saying, "Peace."
He's granted adulations for the core
The sheep all think he has. He'll have their fleece
While wielding still the rusty blades of war.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


For several decades now, the postmodernists have been warning us that science is inherently biased and ideological. Well, I suppose when they made that claim, they didn't expect the bias would be clearly exposed as coming from the Left and global warming claims. Looks like postmodernism has come around to biting its own tail, poisoning itself.

I think most scientists were and are and will remain unbiased in their work. However, I also think that postmodernists gave many scientists the green light to become biased and to promote ideological science. Most of the objections to evolutionary psychology and sociobiology fall into that category, as has been the promotion of anthropogenic climate change. This isn't to say that humans don't affect the climate or pollute -- we do, as does every other organism on earth, now or ever. But this scandal has shown that there are people out there willing to put ideology before reality (not a shock -- it just shouldn't happen in science). The big problem here is that this scandal is a huge black eye to science as a whole. Especially those sciences, like biology (or climatology), that are necessarily ambiguous due to the complexity of the things being studied. When a real problem comes about, people are going to be less likely to listen, and then we might have a real problem on our hands.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cash for Clunkers Contributes to the Crash

The Cash for Clunkers program demonstrated definitively that the Congress and the President don't have the foggiest idea how the economy works, including how wealth is created.

Suppose you have two countries, Country A and Country B, and both countries make Product X at the rate of one unit per year. (We're making it a really simple economy.) That means that both countries have a GNP of 1 unit of X per year. However, let us next suppose that Country A destroys every unit of X it produces when it produces a new unit of X, while Country B keeps all theirs. At the end of four years, Country B will be 4 times wealthier than Country A, even though both show the same GNP each year. (Which also shows that GNP is not the best gauge of a country's wealth.) This is how wealth is created.

With the Cash for Clunkers program, people were encouraged to bring in their old cars for a discount on a new car. This discount was made available by the government, meaning by tax money. Thus, money that could have been used elsewhere in the economy was used for this program. This is aside from all those whose salaries were paid to run the program (such a program that redistributes money does not create anything new, and therefore does not contribute to the creation of wealth in the economy -- those people's salaries are also a redistribution of money). Next, the cars that were traded in were destroyed. Thus, we acted like Country A, destroying wealth -- thus, keeping even -- rather than creating wealth. Most of the cars purchased would have been purchased anyway, either during the time of the program, or shortly thereafter, so no real effect was made on the economy. In fact, to the extent that it just moved up purchases a few months, it took away from future sales. Further, it sent false signals to the car companies that sales were up. Thus, more cars will be produced for upcoming months when people won't be buying cars, creating a surplus that will put downward pressure on prices and idle workers. Deflationary signals and the inevitable layoffs from having idle workers will send yet more signals to the economy that the recession is worsening.

Cash for Clunkers would seem like a great plan only to someone completely ignorant of how the economy works. Which of course is why Congress created it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fix Health Insurance by Abiding by the Constitution

In the current health insurance debate, I have heard repeatedly that we need to allow people to buy insurance in other states. However, the prevention of such interstate commerce is itself unconstitutional. States should have never been allowed to prevent anyone from buying anything from other states in the first place. That is a violation of the interstate commerce clause. Not surprisingly, the biggest problem, it seems, comes about from a violation of the Constitution. It seems to me that the way to solve it is by fixing that violation, not by coming up with a plan that is a complete violation of the Constitution.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On the Richardson Christmas Village

(With Apologies to Johnny Mathis)

It's beginning to look like postmodern Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go;
You've got Existential angst and Derrida to thank'st
For the ironic references to snow.
It's beginning to look like postmodern Christmas
Putting off all fun
As we stand in line to see the nose that's artificially
Slapped on with paint -- you're done.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Psychological Inquiry

For those of us interested in evolutionary psychology, I present Psychological Inquiry.

Socialism Is Intelligent Design Theory

In the same way that evolution is a well-established fact, so is the economy as a free market (without the free market, there would be no economy per se). There are of course theories of evolution, just as there are theories of the market economy, but the fact that there are theories doesn't mean that we can deny reality without consequence. Those who support socialism of any sort are the same as those who support creationism or intelligent design -- and Marxism is a theory of socialism in the same way as there are theories of intelligent design. In fact, Marxism and other theories of socialism are precisely theories of intelligent design applied to the economy. People should be honest about what they are. Any sort of support for any kind of intelligent design rather than recognizing that complex entities such as living things or economies are self-organizing comes from a denial of facts and of reality. It is time we were honest about what is really going on here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quatrain 4

Two Scotsmen and a saint provide the light
And tension needed for the growth of man --
Behold their paradoxical delight,
The source of growth from when it all began.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quatrain 3

The island nation lights the lamp of liberty
As it goes out in the devalued, dying west
As they embrace lies' leaders and frivolity,
The promise they can all suck from the common breast.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quatrain 2

The fire shall sweep the countryside to ash
And singe the eagle's feathers, threaten her
Young eaglets in the nest. The nest will crash
Into the flames and crush the moral cur.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Quatrain 1

The fiat virus grows relentlessly
To sicken, poison almost all the herd
Until the herd itself is blamed -- the three
Shall kill the herd, supporting the absurd.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Job Search

If anyone out there knows of a job that would be appropriate for me, please let me know. Surely someone out there needs a Ph.D. in the humanities to do or teach something.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Book Critical of Heidegger Coming

It appears new book on Heidegger is coming, and it argues that you cannot separate Heidegger's philosophy from his Nazi politics. I hope it has profound effect, considering how deeply the postmodern Left has been influenced by him. I don't think we can dismiss him -- he did create the waste land that is 20th Century philosophy, art, literature, and art and literary criticism, after all. But the more throughly he and his work is discredited, the sooner these fields can heal. His fascist influence permeates our culture and politics far too much.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

On Tony Hoagland’s Poems

Shall I compare them to good poetry?
The lines are most atrocious, bordering
On adolescent ravings. Gallantry
Is pissed upon by a limp phallic spring.
They bravely condemn racism in the
United States in all their college lines
Ink-jetted in the racist century
Obama was elected, hate declines.
But surely, despite this, they have a point?
But, no – their mindless Marxism is flat,
Pathetic, most embarrassing. Anoint
Yourselves, you silly lines, with flames grown fat.
Such self-important poetry’s not art –
It's nothing but a psychopathic fart.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Literature and Evolutionary Psychology - An Objection

I had a recent email discussion with a fellow scholar who argued against using evolutionary psychology to understand the actions of Shakespeare's characters on the grounds that Shakespeare couldn't have put in something he didn't know about. The problem with this is that if evolutionary psychology accurately describes human behavior, then Shakespeare doesn't have to have known anything about it to nonetheless use it. I think this may be one of the main errors theorists make in their objection to using things like evolutionary theory and psychology.

Oddly. that never stopped many scholars from using Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, though.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Beauty and Paradox

Beauty is what emerges out of the interaction of paradoxical elements. The more paradoxical elements, the more beautiful the object.

I am pretty certain the above is true. Some examples:

Woody Brock's concept of relative complexity of theme versus complexity of transformation of theme
beauty balances symmetry and asymmetry (the golden mean ratio being an example)
beauty contains both unity and variety

Beauty is emergent from the conflict between paradoxical opposites.

More, the universe seems to also be emergent from the conflict between paradoxical opposites. Self-organizing systems, too, emerge when there are paradoxical opposites (I just finished reading Paul Krugman's "The Self-Organizing Economy," in which he observes that cities self-organize into complex patterns due to the simultaneous presence of centripetal and centrifugal forces among businesses, for example). Indeed, the strange attractors of chaotic, biotic, and self-organizing systems are paradoxical in nature, simultaneously attracting and repulsing. If all of this is true, then Frederick Turner is correct when he says that our recognition of beauty is the recognition of the deep tendencies of the universe itself. Since these deep tendencies keep arising -- and keep arising in more and more complex forms -- then it makes evolutionary sense for us to appreciate beauty.

Paradox is a pair that seem self-contradictory, but in fact arise out of reflexivity. How can something be both symmetrical and asymmetrical at the same time? Or both complex and simple simultaneously? These are paradoxical relations. The golden mean ratio is an irrational ratio (and ratios are rational), meaning it is a paradox.

An example:

Something cannot be both black and non-black at the same time and in the same sense, as that would be a contradiction. However, something can be a mixture of black and white. One kind of mixture -- a linear mixture -- gives us gray, of course -- but another kind of mixture, a nonlinear mixture where the object simultaneously becomes more black and more white at the same time will give us something with black and white texture, with large splotches and areas of black and white. For for something to become more black and more white at the same time is a paradox. It also gives one more order as well.

The strange attractor is strange precisely because it attracts and repels simultaneously.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Nobel Peace Prize? Really?

Although I'm not the biggest Obama fan when it comes to economic policy, and though I question his tendency to refuse to meet with friends and to show support for some pretty despicable leaders, I'm not exactly a knee-jerk anti-Obama guy. I hope he's successful on many of his professed social positions, and I hope that he is successful on the international stage. If you don't know anything at all about economics, it's too early to judge Obama about much of anything, considering he hasn't even been President for a year.

And considering that last fact, how on earth can the Nobel Peace Prize have been awarded to Obama? The Nobel Committee argues that it's for his "efforts" and because he gives "people hope." So he got it not because he has actually accomplished anything, but for what are at the present moment nothing more than symbolic actions and rhetoric?

Let's be honest here. Al Gore won the Prize because he was anti-Bush. This is the Committee's last middle finger to the Bush administration. Not that the Bush administration doesn't deserve such a gesture for much of its international efforts -- but that shouldn't be what the Prize is for.

Obama hasn't done a single thing to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. I hope he earns it, but I suspect he won't.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, United Kingdom; Thomas A. Steitz, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA; and Ada E. Yonath, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, "for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome". SPecifically, they each mapped out the location of each and every atom in the ribosome, helping us to understand better their function. And this is quite literally no small thing. Ribosomes are made up of several molecules of RNA and several proteins, so they are huge complexes. An impressive feat, to say the least.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology

This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to three scientists, Jack Szostak, Elizabeth Blackburn, and Carol Greider, for their discoveries of telomeres and telomerase. Telomeres, discovered by Szostak and Blabuburn, are found at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes, and prevent the chromosomes from being degraded with copying. Telomerase, discovered by Blackburn and Greider, is an RNA-protein enzyme that acts as a kind of reverse transcriptase that copies telomeres and adds them to the ends of chromosomes. Telomeres are particularly interesting because their lengths are associated with longevity. The fact that older couples' children tend to live longer than do children of younger couples implies something about the activity of telomerase, implying an environmental elements to inheritance of life span.

Friday, October 02, 2009

How to Get to Socialized Medicine

Here is the evil genius of the socialists . . . er, Democrats. To pay for the government health insurance plan, they plan to tax medical devices and replacement parts. This, in addition to taxing private health insurance. This will of course drive up costs, making it more difficult for people to afford medical care, and driving up insurance costs, which will of course be passed on to consumers if possible. The higher insurance premiums, etc. will create pressure for a government option -- which will be "cheaper" because it will be subsidized. Of course, since it will be subsidized, people will pick up the government option. Also, as insurance companies cut prices to try to compete, they will become less and less profitable, until they one by one go bankrupt. This will, in the end, leave people with only the government "option" -- meaning, we will have a single-payer, meaning we will have full-blown socialized medicine. And Baucus still wants to put me in prison if I don't buy insurance, no matter if I can afford it or not, or if I want it or not. So I will in the end be forced -- under threat of imprisonment, which is always a threat of violence, to buy government insurance, no matter if I want it or not. And this is supposed to be a better, more ethical system. A system based on threats and fear? WHen the mafia does this, it's called a protection racket. Why is this illegal for a gang of private citizens, but legal for this gang just because they call themselves our government?

Previously Published in Sojourn (out of UT-Dallas)

False Memories

Why have gaslight in an electric age?
Why feel the need to be transported
Back to a time none of us remembers,
So far removed it has turned cliché,
A time rustic and quaint, time
Flattening difference into utopia?
A Parisian café longed for
By a man who never left the States.
Narrow streets, full cafes, buildings
Centuries old. Or,
So he’s heard. A romantic place
Of Hemingways and Fitzgeralds, everything
An off-focus impression.
At night, lamplight, neon
Goes unseen. A myth
To be sure – uncommon, but
Not unseen. Waiters seat
Single customers with others –
Discussions, wine, and bread until
Gas-lit flame replaces day,
Flickering faces orange, the deep
Shadows drawing wisdom out
Of every café face.
A woman, in short shirt –
A navel, orange in the lamplight –
Draws the eye to new shadows unseen
In a clean electric-light place.

Darwinian Political Science

An interesting posting on the idea of biopolitics.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Jail for Me for Being Uninsured?!?

Think my previous post was hyperbole? Well, consider this article, which points out that if I don't buy health insurance, I could get a year in jail. And if I refuse?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Killing in the Name Of

When we say that the government should do this or that: is it worth killing someone over? Because, in the end, that's what we're talking about. That is what we're always talking about when we say the government should or should not do something. If you don't comply, you die. As George Washington said, government is not reason, it is force.

Another way of thinking about it: what actions can another take that you can legitimately kill them over? If someone tries to murder, rape, or steal from you, you can kill them, and you will find few who think you can't. But should you be able to kill me if I refuse to help you help someone else? Yet, we agree to let out governments act that way.

If Baucus' bill passes, I would get a fine if I didn't buy insurance (I currently am uninsured). Now, if I didn't have the money to either buy insurance or pay the fine -- or if I justly refused to pay the fine -- then what? Defenders of his plan have to agree that the government can then come and arrest and threaten to kill me in my own home, in front of my wife and children, because I don't want to buy insurance -- or because I can't. To support something like that is evil. Pure and simple.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Daniel the Darwinian Survivalist

This is Daniel Jesus Camplin. Today he is 7 days old. This is mostly how we see him. Well, if you go get sleep-deprived for a few days, then come back and look at his picture, then you would see how we mostly see him. When he's crying at 4 in the morning (after having slept the entire day during daylight hours), his cuteness acts as a natural defense mechanism.

My wife wondered today why babies stay up all night and sleep all day. I surmised that it makes sense as an evolved trait. During the day, people are awake, which protects the baby. But during the night, if everyone were asleep, including the babies, jackals, hyenas and African wild dogs would drag those sleeping babies away. The babies that didn't sleep through the night -- thus keeping their caretakers awake -- would thus have had an evolutionary advantage. There being no particular reason for this trait to go away, it's still with us thousands of years after it's no longer needed by most babies in most places. So now we're stuck with it. Try as you might to explain to Daniel that it's not necessary in the contemporary world, he still insists on sticking to his instinctual traits. You just can't reason with them at this age!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

On Leadership: A Poem

I cannot write about our Caesar –
Napoleon, we’ve never had –
We’ve lacked a Hitler, Stalin, Castro,
And such a loss makes many sad.
Democracy can never give us
Great leaders such as these, and so
We fight to tear it down, implode it –
No leaders rise, so it must go.
The awful people we’ve elected
Won’t be as bad, so we feel spurned –
Instead, our leaders rot so slowly,
And from the swamp, the swamp’s returned.
Our greatest heroes? Just pathetic –
Jack Kennedy could never be
An Alexander or Augustus –
That’s why we’re still just barely free.
And that is why each poet, artist
Loves dictators and praises them –
A poem praising complex systems? –
Too many facets in that gem.
Each poet wants to be Propertius
And praising Caesar endlessly –
Pathetic politicians are not
Worth lines of valiant poetry.
But what the poets lost, the people
Have gained, so keep great men at bay,
For order made by law brings freedom,
Makes possible the dawn of day.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Daniel Jesus Camplin

Today my son, Daniel Jesus Camplin, was born. He was 19 inches long and 6 lbs 10 oz. and has black hair.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How Music Soothes the Savage Beast

Why do humans enjoy bird songs? We do, after all, describe many bird songs as beautiful. Why would we find songs produced by another species, meant to announce their territorial boundaries and attract their mates, when those boundaries and mates mean nothing at all to us, attractive? One answer, perhaps, is that birds -- especially songbirds -- sing when it is safe to sing. If there are no predators around, it is safe for the bird to sing. But if a predator -- or any other large animal that could be a predator -- enters the bird's territory, they stop singing. It seems that a species that paid attention to bird song -- and especially its cessation -- would be able to use that as a signal to beware of the possibility of a predator. Those individuals that did pay attention to song and its cessation would be more likely to avoid predators than one that did not. And even the tiniest selective advantage spreads rapidly through the population. Further, the brain has mechanisms that result in its rewarding itself for beneficial activities. Thus, pleasure associated with bird song would result in the individual paying even more attention to bird song, making the individual even more aware of the song's cessation. Of course, now that we are no longer in many dangerous situations, where we have to worry about predators, we can mostly sit back and enjoy the songs we hear. Perhaps even transform that enjoyment into a poem for others to enjoy. And where does poetry come from? The unification of music and language. And where does language come from? My guess is: the bifurcation of territorial/mating calls into music and language. Another reason, then, that we love bird song: the remind us of us, of our distant, ancient past.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Obama's Hoover Move

In 1930, Herbert Hoover signed into law the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which essentially sealed the fate of the U.S. entering the Great Depression. Today we learn that Obama just signed into law a tariff against China. To placate the unions, apparently Obama is willing to throw this economy deeper into depression and start a trade war with China. Will someone please send Obama an economic historian?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Lamarckianism Strikes Back

Is Lamarck making a comeback? The French biologist Lamarck argued that traits acquired by parents in their interactions with the environment were passed on to their offspring. Darwin argued, rather, that changes in heritable traits were what were passed on, and those changes came about via mutations, which were selected for in the environment. There was no direct influence from the environment in the Lamarckian sense. While cultural memes could be argued to follow Lamarckian evolution, certainly biological traits do not.

And then epigenetics was discovered. It turns out that patterns of gene regulation can be established based on the organism's interactions with the environment, and that those patterns of regulation can be passed on. This seems to have been a recent discovery -- but, as it turns out, it is not. In the early 20th Century, a Lamarckian biologist, Paul Kammerer, did experiments with midwife toads that made them become aquatic within a generation or two by placing the first generation in constant aquatic conditions. According to Darwinian theory, that should not happen.

Of course, this is not at all inconsistent with Darwin, if you understand gene regulation. Entire genes can be turned off if not necessary. This is hardly inconsistent with Darwin -- but it is also consistent with Lamarckianism. With the combination of digital Darwinism (mutations changing genes) and analog Lamarckianism (passing on of epigenetic traits acquired in the environment), it seems that we have digital-analog genetic inheritance and evolution. Which is what we would expect in a digital-analog world (I argue that the world is precisely such in both my dissertation and in my book "Diaphysics").

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On Political Non-Support of the Arts

If my interest in politics were ego-drive in the least, I would have abandoned libertarianism a long time ago. With a few exceptions (you know who you are), I have found little support from libertarians for anything. And over half the time I can't even volunteer my services. You would think libertarians would welcome someone who can write and speak, but apparently not.

As a writer, my world view necessarily come out in whatever I write. One way or the other. So you would expect libertarians to be excited about there being a libertarian playwright who has a work getting a stage reading. But, no. Some Leftist has a new work out, and people from the Left flock to the theater, making sure he gets all the support he needs. Have to support one's comrades, after all. Have to support any and all Leftists, especially if there is a chance that they will portray a Leftist world view. Can't count on libertarians for that. Or conservatives, for that matter, who seem to think that all art is supported by the NEA and that it's all nonsense, anyway.

Want to know why the Left is winning the culture war. Come to my stage reading Sept. 8 and count the libertarians and conservatives, and you'll see why.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


I tend to go through cycles. While I maintain a continuous interest in a wide variety of fields, maintain strong opinions about politics and political economy, and maintain a strong interest in literature and beauty, the fact of the matter is, I often find myself waxing and waning in my interests.

For example, right now, I am feeling sort of fatalistic when it comes to politics. Obama has surrounded himself with advisors who are avowed Marxists, the Democrats are determined to shove a health care plan designed to drive the entire system toward socialized medicine which, of course, will work in this country when it has worked no place else on earth, and the Republicans are a complete joke, refusing to even try to actually reverse anything. The Libertarians are never going to get anywhere, because although half of those in the movement are sensible and are libertarians due to their understanding of economics, the other half are in the movement because they're paranoid conspiracy theorists. That latter group give libertarians and libertarianism a bad name, and make us all look ridiculous. Worse, they detract from the message of those who actually do find the government doing something terrible, because people just assume that it's all part and parcel of the conspiracy theory bull.

I need to be spending more time on the conference paper I have to write for the Fund for Spontaneous Orders. But I also started teaching composition at two community colleges. I am loving the one because we are teaching writing through reading literature. The other is an introductory writing class whose structure allows me a bit of freedom regarding what to teach and assign. These two classes are already starting to take up a great deal of time. ALl the more reason to hurry up with the conference paper, before I run out of time to work on it. I need to do this because I know what has happened in the past when I have had to work like this: all scholarly work and creative work end up going out the window. I run out of time. I find it very difficult to find the time to 1) prepare for classes and grade papers, 2) read and write scholarly work, 3) read and write creative work, and 4) spend time with my family (very soon to grow by one). Since I cannot sacrifice 1, and I won't sacrifice 4, that leaves 2 and 3 to suffer. And I can feel the scholarly interests waning as well. All the more reason to get that conference paper done soon.

At the same time, I can feel the creative part in my waxing. Perhaps it is because I am reading and discussing literature for 3 of my classes at one college. Perhaps it is because I am going to have a stage reading of my play "K(no)w" very soon. Perhaps it is because I have to have a 20 minute play for the DFW Playwright's Alliance meeting at the end of September (i.e., I'll need me one of those plot things soon). In any case, I feel some writing coming on (wrote a poem recently, in fact). Will I have the time? There's nothing worse than a round of creativity coming on with no outlet.

Is it odd that when I become fatalistic toward politics that my creativity rises? And when the creativity tapers off, it may be replaced by a rash of reading or a renewed interest in politics. I seem to cycle in many ways, over months or weeks or even days. Perhaps another round of plays will trickle up from my brain's maze.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Everyone should come see a stage reading of my play "K(no)w". It will be at the Dallas Hub Theater, where my play "Almost Ithaciad" was performed last spring for Cyberfest. "K(no)w" will be staged on Sept. 8 at 7:30. If all goes well, and there is a good audience response, the play might get an actual performance.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Beauty Isn't Sexual

Does our sense of beauty come from sexual selection? That is the standard evolutionary psychologists' view. But a study of how women perceive beauty in men's faces suggests otherwise.. It seems that there are two ways of judging beauty: sexually, and aesthetically. And they are located in two different parts of the brain. One part analyzes the face for evidence of health -- what will provide good genes for good babies. The other looks at the face as a whole, seeing the parts in an integrated, holistic fashion. The variety within any given face must have unity. The authors say they don't know how much culture plays into these decisions of attractiveness. May I recommend they read some of the latest work on beauty?

I just count myself lucky my wife finds bulldogs, shih tzus, and pugs beautiful.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Teaser from K(no)w

From my play K(no)w:

An empty stage lit by a pale red light.

Scene 1 – Enter FATHER FISCHER.


If time is real, then God’s illusion, but
If God is real, then time’s illusion. What
Is an illusion, then? Or am I wrong
In my conclusions? Sing the holy song
Of God, or nature’s song? Why do I feel
That I must choose? Why can’t they both be real?

[Enter CHRONOS as a demon.]


You don’t need God. Just look around. You see
The evidence – it’s truth can set you free.
Self-organizing systems now explain
The universe, so you would be insane
To keep believing in a God who made
The universe. His memory should fade.


I don’t believe that’s true. The universe
Was made by God so He could then disburse
His love to beings who could choose to love
Him back. He then descended as the dove
Of Christ to show that love to everyone.
His love was manifest within His Son.


The universe was made for love? You must
Be kidding me. It’s strife, you speck of dust,
That runs the universe, for without strife
You have a universe that’s bare of life.
The same is true of time, my foolish friend –
Without it everything you see would end.
So if you must insist that God’s not real
If time exists, then enter in the wheel
Of time and life and give up your illusions.


I’m not convinced by visions or delusions.


Then you’re cut off from true religion’s sight,
For vision is what lets in every light.


Now hold on, you’re confusing me. You said
That God’s not real, but then you’ve gone ahead
And said that true religious sight is found
In visions and delusions. I am bound
To reason, that’s the logos – John one, one.


Perhaps you need to go and read John Donne.
There you will learn that logos is far more
Complex – that God’s an information store
Beyond Cartesian reason. You will find
A truer understanding of God’s mind
If you break all your binary exclusions
And come to dialectical conclusions.


So you admit that God is real! I have
You now. Besides, with God, I have a salve
For all your stings, you scorpion. Your tail
Can lash out all it wants, but it will fail
To strike me. Do your best. I stand here, shod
With armor that was given me by God.


Don’t shut your mind to truth, my friend. You must
Be open to the truth. God doesn’t trust
The kind of man who shuts his eyes to how
He made the world. Believe in lies, you bow
To Satan, even if you think you stand
For God. Keep eyes on Him, but feet on land.


I do not understand why you would tell
These things to me. Aren’t you from Satan’s Hell?


You do not think that I’d betray my kin
If I could get in Heaven once again?


Is that what this is all about? You think
By helping me that God will let you drink
Out of the pool of goodness that is Him?


My friend, I used to be a cherubim –
A joyful time once with my God. I fell,
Revolting, but I no longer rebel.
I want to be a part of God again.
Do you think God would ever let me in?


Our God forgives. If you’re sincere, I’m sure
That God will show his love to you. Be pure
In your intention, be a solid rod
Of good, and you will stand again with God.


In truth, I am a pair of serpents on [Lights change to gold.]
A rod, a caduceus, bringing dawn
And knowledge to the world. I’m living Time,
The universe’s rhythms and its rhyme.
And God’s the one who sent me down to you
To test you to make sure that you are true
To what is true, to understand the mess
You’ve made in thought – for God’s all timefulness.
There is no conflict between God and me,
For time is what make you and God both free.
So embrace time and do not ever fear it,
For I am part of God, the Holy Spirit.

[FATHER FISCHER falls to the ground and bows to him. Lights go down. Exit FISCHER and CHRONOS/HOLY SPIRIT.]

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Fractal Nietzsche

I discovered an interesting blog by political scientist Larry Arnhart, Darwinian Conservatism. There he has been talking a lot about Nietzsche. Reading his posting on Nietzsche and Darwin, I think he makes a mistake in regards to the will to power. It is related to the idea of the eternal return, which Arnhart doesn't even mention.

When Nietzsche thought of the eternal return, he wanted to study physics. Lou Salome suggested he investigate it metaphorically. The result was Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He continued to think of it poetically.

I am convinced that NIetzsche was beginning to understand systems, and was developing a poetic version of systems theory. Specifically, he was beginning to understand the fractal geometry of the universe, and the strange attractors underlying everything. A strange attractor has the property of not being there, yet simultaneously having the ability to attract a system into creating an image of its becoming around it. This is perhaps what Nietzsche could mean when he says “There stands the boat – over there is perhaps the way to the great Nothingness. But who wants to step into this ‘perhaps’?” (TSZ, 224). If we extrapolate the idea of strange attractors up the umwelts from our understanding of them as working on the eotemporal level, we can see it acting to help create the biological forms and, if we extrapolate it up to the noetic level, helping to create ideas, concepts, goals, and values. We can now see something like the Lorenz attractor with apparent opposites. If we see one strange attractor as “good” and the other as “evil” (or pick any pair of opposites Nietzsche or Heraclitus affirm as constituting the world, through their agon – the Lorenz attractor makes an image of this very agon), what we see is that there is no pure good or evil, since the strange attractors are in one sense not there, though they do have an effect. Nonetheless, these strange attractors create a system of morals which pull our actions toward either the “good” or “evil” attractors – it is this system which can be said to be beyond good and evil, and is a more accurate vision of morals than are the strange attractors themselves, since the attractors are in a real sense not there, though they do affect everything. We can never be good or evil, since neither good nor evil have Being – we can only become better or worse in our actions. Or, as Ludwig von Mises says “The act of choosing is always a decision among various opportunities open to the choosing individual. Man never chooses between virtue and vice, but only between two modes of actions which we call from an adopted point of view virtuous or vicious” (45). The very choices of an individual are a complex dynamic system, making all of our actions, in this sense, beyond good and evil. This is, of course, a highly simplified metaphor. The “good” attractor is likely itself a set of agonal games set in opposition to the threat of destruction – to evil. The “good” attractor is a much more interesting attractor than is the “evil” attractor, though it seems this attractor is necessary for the “good” attractor to exist at all.

One could perhaps object that I have merely replaced the metaphor of the eternal return with another metaphor, the fractal. I do not deny that I am doing precisely that. The history of philosophy is a record of changing metaphors to fit philosophy to contemporary thought. The reason I am doing it in this particular case is because the metaphor of the fractal has the benefit of coming with a clear visual image which can help us understand the meaning of the metaphor. Also, it seems to me that any time one is using almost identical language to describe two seemingly different things, then those two things are probably the same thing. I have already given a few examples of places where Nietzsche seems to be using the same language to describe eternal return as I have for fractals, but are these the only ones?

Fractals show, as Nietzsche puts it, “what was and is repeated into all eternity” (BGE, 56). The repetition of the images act as a sort of “selective principle” (WP, 1058), which could help us “judge value.” What is selected? There appears to be a selection for dynamic systems with emergent properties creating greater complexity. We should judge such dynamic complex systems, and the creation of more complex systems, as valuable since they repeat regardless of scale. What Nietzsche says about how to endure eternal recurrence shows several other attributes of fractal geometry: “No longer joy in certainty but in uncertainty,” since one is uncertain which image one will encounter as one magnifies the fractal border; “no longer “cause and effect” but the continually creative.” The strange attractor does not have “cause and effect,” though the system is “continually creative”; “no longer will to preservation but to power” (WP 1059), since the image is always changing, meaning it is not preserved, though it has the power – in the strange attractors – to change; and “abolition of “knowledge-in-itself” (WP 1060). One can only see the effects of a strange attractor, one cannot know the true nature of any strange attractor, since they are all absent centers to the systems (which require time to exist) they create. In WP 1066, Nietzsche gives an excellent definition of a strange attractor: “the world may be thought of as a certain definite quantity of force and as a certain definite number of centers of force.” The world is not the Mandelbrot set, but a series of nested hierarchies like it, creating the grand system of multiple attractors we call the world, pulled into form by these “centers of force” – centers of force Nietzsche calls in WP 1067 the Will to Power. Further, Nietzsche connects the will to power to life in the same way as Stuart Kauffman connects strange attractors to life. “Life simply is will to power” (Nietzsche, BGE 259) There is a similarity too between the connection of entropy and dissipative structures to Nietzsche’s idea of discharge of strength and life: “Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and more frequent results” (BGE 13). Thus, Nietzsche asks us to suppose

we succeeded in explaining our entire instinctive life as the development and ramification of one basic form of the will—namely, of the will to power, as my proposition has it; suppose all organic functions could be traced back to this will to power and one could also find in it the solution of the problem of procreation and nourishment—it is one problem—then one would have gained the right to determine all efficient force univocally as—will to power. The world viewed from inside, the world defined and determined according to its “intelligible character”—it would be “will to power” and nothing else.— (BGE 36)

If we can connect the idea of the will to power to the idea of strange attractors and thus to dissipative structures, we can see Nietzsche arguing here – as I am arguing in this work – that everything in the universe can be understood through chaos theory and as dissipative structures. Nietzsche connects the will to power to life overall, but he also points out that the philosophers’ “will to truth is—will to power” (BGE 211). There is a connection between truth and power. Earlier, Nietzsche also said that “With the selective knowledge drive beauty again emerges as power” (PT, 26). With the connections I have made between strange attractors and both truth and beauty, the will to power could be seen as Nietzsche’s term for the world’s strange attractors – meaning the will to power is physics, not metaphysics (in the Kantian sense), as Nietzsche insists in WP 462 when he says the eternal return is the naturalization of metaphysics and religion. It can also be seen as the “will to beauty,” meaning, if the Will to Power is Nietzsche’s term for strange attractors, and strange attractors create complex fractal systems, then beauty comes from creating or seeing/hearing/etc. complex fractal systems. In light of this we can also now see what Nietzsche meant when he says in WP 522:

“Truth” is . . . not something there, that might be found or discovered – but something that must be created and that gives a name to a process, or rather to a will to overcome that has in itself no end – introducing truth, as a processus in infinitum, an active determining – not a becoming-conscious of something that is in itself firm and determined.

In WP 1067, Nietzsche describes the world again in terms that sound like he is talking about fractal geometry when he says the world is one that

does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself . . . not something endlessly extended, but set in a definite space as a definite force, and not a space that might be “empty” here or there, but rather as force throughout, as a play of forces and waves of forces, at the same time one and many . . . out of the simplest forms striving toward the most complex . . . eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying.

In other words, the world is a dissipative structure, a fractal. And – “at the same time one any many” – beautiful, as the Will to Power is the Will to Beauty.

WP 1066 gives us this other aspect of chaos theory – Prigogine’s dissipative structures, which show how form develops out of formlessness – or form creates itself through formlessness. The “eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying,” the self-organized dissipative structures. Previous theories of entropy (what Nietzsche calls “the mechanistic theory”) said the world was irrevocably running down, prompting Nietzsche to say that if “the mechanistic theory cannot avoid the consequences . . . of leading to a final state, then the mechanistic theory stands refuted” (WP 1066). Prigogine’s dissipative structures solve this problem. In them we see, in Nietzsche’s formulation, that “The world exists; it is not something that passes away. Or rather: it becomes, it passes away, but it has never begun to become and never ceased from passing away – it maintains itself in both. – It lives on itself: its excrements are its food.” Entropy gives order, which itself dissipates, increasing entropy. The excrement of dissipative structures is entropy – and entropy is their food. The dissipative structure – and the fractal – both show “that everything recurs is the closest approximation of a world of becoming to a world of being” (WP 617) – in both, the world of being exists through becoming. Formlessness gives itself form through constant change. This image recurs in TSZ: “And as the world once dispersed for him, so it comes back to him again, as the evolution of good through evil, as the evolution of design from chance” (88). From what we have seen above, this means the evolution of permanence or being through transience or becoming – the very definition of a dissipative structure, which can generate spontaneous order from disorder. Fraser notes in TOC that “self-similarity signifies the presence of a pattern of behavior or structure which retains its identity in a world of pure becoming; it represents the birth of permanence from pure change” (7) and that “beneath all natural phenomena lurks chaos into which all processes and structures may collapse at any time and out of which, under certain conditions, different permanent structures and processes may arise” (9). The metaphors continue to match.

The affirmation of all – everything good and bad, everything great and small – is another important part of the eternal return, as we see in “the Heaviest Burden.” In GS, Nietzsche says “What I do or do not do now is as important for everything that is yet to come as is the greatest event of the past: in this tremendous perspective of effectiveness all actions appear equally great or small” (233). This is known in chaos theory as The Butterfly Effect. Newtonian physics says small causes have small effects, and large causes have large effects. Chaos theory shows that small causes – like a butterfly flapping its wings, which barely perturbs the air – can have large effects – like a hurricane – over time. Nietzsche came upon this aspect of chaos theory too in his opposition to Newtonian linear cause and effect.

“The two most extreme modes of thought – the mechanistic and the Platonic – are reconciled in the eternal recurrence” (WP 1061). This note is what showed me that the eternal return could be visualized with the images of contemporary chaos theory. The mechanical world alone is insufficient for Nietzsche, since “an essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world” (GS, 373) – it is without ambiguity, which Nietzsche says gives the world meaning. There must be some disorder for the order to be meaningful. This coincides well with contemporary information theory, which shows that one must have noise (ambiguity) if one is to communicate information. Without noise, one cannot have information – meaning. The mechanistic view shows us a world that will get more disordered over time – it is belief in creationless destruction. But this, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, appears, as Dauer points out, to contradict the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, which says energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only transformed. In Dauer’s words, it shows “the inevitable recurrence of natural phenomena” (90), which she argues Nietzsche was attempting to reconcile with the eternal return. When Nietzsche points out that “The principle of the conservation of energy inevitably involves eternal recurrence” (WP 1063), we can see, as Dauer says, that he “is roughly correct from the point of view of physics” (90). At least, physics as it was known at the time Nietzsche was writing. In addition to the view of the world the physics of the time promoted, Nietzsche had a problem with the Platonic view, which he saw as metaphysical, with its Forms. One could see the Platonic (especially Platonic Christianity) as the opposite of the entropic – as belief in destructionless creation. For Nietzsche, both views lead to nihilism, the mechanistic because it shows the world as meaningless, the Platonic because Nietzsche sees nihilism coming out of seeking meaning in the meaningless and realizing one has, by doing so, wasted a lot of time and strength on something false (WP,12) – such as Plato’s Forms and other metaphysical systems (12,13). By reconciling these in eternal recurrence, we get a mechanical world with meaning – meaning derived from the will to power/strange attractors, which one could easily mistake for Platonic Forms (or a noumenal world or a Schopenhauerian Will), since, like the Forms, the world gets its form (in Nietzsche’s words, “image” – which are the only things which exist) from them. We get a world where some things have meaning, but where everything does not have to be meaningful. And we also get Nietzsche’s cycle of destruction and creation. Here we see the dissipative structure – the fractal – the eternal return.

But we are still left with a question. How can a fractal-image of creation be the heaviest burden? The answer lies in the fact that this view shows us we can never reach the truth – we can only try (the trying-to-say of the creator). The “truth” is the strange attractor, the absent center that attracts, yet is not there. It is a burden because it shows the futility of all searching after truth. It is a burden because it shows we must do it anyway (in the trying-to-say of the creator). We now know we must search after truth, knowing there is no truth to find, that there is only the search, the system of searching, pulled into form by the strange attractor of “truth.” This is the burden and the tragedy of the idea, particularly as one important aspect of tragedy is that those who speak do not themselves truly understand what they are saying. In other words, the very act of trying-to-say is tragic – meaning the creator’s life is tragic. “The search for truth appears to be a wild-goose chase, as indeed it is. There are no fixtures in nature, wrote Emerson. ‘In nature every moment is new . . . the coming only is sacred . . .’” (Fraser TCHV, 72). The fractal-image of truth shows how right Fraser is. Truth is exactly as Emerson, Nietzsche, and Fraser say it is – unattainable. With Nietzsche’s eternal return and fractal images, we can see precisely why and how this is the case.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Laws of the Spontaneous Orders

It seems to me that those who study a subject should be primarily interested in determining what the laws underlying the object of study are. The proper work of a physicist is to discover the laws of physics. The proper work of a chemist is to discover the laws of chemistry. The proper work of a biologist is to discover the laws of biology.

This is equally true of the humane sciences -- and of the humanities. The proper work of an economist should be to discover the laws of economics. How many, though, in fact do that, rather than trying to impose their own ideologies on the science? The same could be said of social scientists, political scientists, etc. They need to focus on IS and keep the SHOULDS out of it. Biologists find it ridiculous when someone brings "should" into biology in the form of intelligent design or creationism, but nobody seems to find it ridiculous when economists do the same. The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises observed that,

"The laws of the universe about which physics, biology, and praxeology [the study of human action] provide knowledge are independent of the human will, they are primary ontological facts rigidly restricting man's power to act.
Only the insane venture to disregard physical and biological laws. But it is quite common to disdain praxeological laws. Rulers do not like to admit that their power is restricted by any laws other than those of physics and biology. They never ascribe their failures and frustrations to the violation of economic law" (Human Action, 755-56).

This is no doubt because few economists are in fact trying to even understand economic law. They are instead trying to find out how they can manipulate this or that element of the economy. The result is dismal failure. Worse, they even use the wrong methodology -- mathematics. Math is great for simple systems, like physical systems, but almost useless for complex systems like economies. Some statistics is no doubt useful, but even statistics can be misleading -- and often are. What Hayek warned us about scientism is doubly true of mathematics: it provides a false view of reality when it comes to complex systems. True, there have been impressive advancements in complex systems mathematics, but even with those, we only ever get grossly over-simplified models that bear almost no relation to reality. If we treat the models as conceptual starting-off points, then they are useful. But when we use them as too many who use math do and assume that the math is a precise description of a precise reality, rather than a precise approximation of reality (something John Pierce, in "An Introduction to Information Theory," warned against). That mathematicization of the field of economics is what in no small part led to this current depression, the same way scientism led to the Great Depression and the various failed experiments in socialism.

In the end, we necessarily come to know about the laws of economics using methods appropriate to its level of complexity. The same is true of any of the social/humane sciences, as well as of the humanities. And we need to learn what these laws are so that we are not forever falling into error. The knowledge of such laws may not ever tell us what we should or should not do (that is the realm of moral laws), but they can tell us what is and is not possible. However, as Mises observes:

"Despots and democratic majorities are drunk with power. They must reluctantly admit that they are subject to the laws of nature. But they reject the very notion of economic law. Are they not the supreme legislators?… In fact, economic history is a long record of government policies that failed because they were designed with a bold disregard for the laws of economics.
It is impossible to understand the history of economic thought if one does not pay attention to the fact that economics as such is a challenge to the conceit of those in power. An economist can never be a favorite of autocrats and demagogues. With them he is always the mischief-maker.…
In the face of all this frenzied agitation, it is expedient to establish the fact that the starting point of all praxeological and economic reasoning, the category of human action, is proof against any criticisms and objections.… From the unshakable foundation of the category of human action praxeology and economics proceed step by step by means of discursive reasoning. Precisely defining assumptions and conditions, they construct a system of concepts and draw all the inferences implied by logically unassailable ratiocination" (Human Action, 67).

And anyone who knows the history of Leftist thinking knows that they have even tried to deny the validity of biology for human behavior. So they don't even have to "reluctantly" admit to being subject to the laws of human nature, having denied such laws exist. But what else is the role of the human sciences and the humanities but to find out what those laws are, and what the laws of the spontaneous orders to which we give rise are? Or to what laws give rise to spontaneous orders in the first place are?

This then opens up an interesting question: what theories are truly valid for what spontaneous orders? And what do we mean by "valid"? I mean by valid, what theories deal with the nature of the spontaneous order they are theories of qua spontaneous order? Theories give rise to immanent criticism of the spontaneous order. Keynes and Mises provide different theories of economics, meaning they are trying to figure out what IS the case. One theory is right, the other is wrong, but both are proper to analyzing economics as such. Marx, on the other hand, by his own admission, does not provide a theory valid to analyzing economics. When he admits that he's not interested in what is, but in what should be, he admits to being an ethicist, with a theory applicable to the ethical spontaneous order, and not an economist.

Let me put this in another way. Literature has many theories literary analysts can use. Some, such as Aristotle's theory, New Criticism, Structuralism, and Poststructuralism, are all theories of literature qua literature. Others, however, are imported theories. Marxism, feminism, and queer theory are all ethical theories used to analyze the content of works of literature. None of these can be used to determine whether or not a work of literature is a great work of literature qua literature -- but the first set of theories can be. The first set help us to understand how a work of literature comes to mean, how it provides information to the reader/listener/viewer. The second set only tell us things about the content, about how characters interact, what the author may have meant or intended (or meant despite his intentions). If we try to say one of these other theories is in fact the true theory of literature, we are trying to impose another rationality, another theory applicable outside the spontaneous order, to that particular order. That would be like saying, for a work to be literature, it must be feminist. Though there are no doubt some out there who would like that, we should all recognize that this is a ridiculous requirement. Yet, we make the same claim for other spontaneous orders -- the economy being a favorite. Outside theories might help us understand the specific content of a given work, but they cannot be used to understand the spontaneous order of literature qua literature. When we do, the result too often sounds conspiratorial in a rather grandiose, irrational sense.

THere is much work to be done, across the several spontaneous orders, if we are to find the laws of those orders. The good news is that they will all be there to be discovered, for they do no change. Different sets of rules make for different kinds of orders -- and that fact alone should make us excited for the possibilities.

Imitation, Social Bonding, Culture

The very way our children learn from us -- and, thus, learn best from us -- has been shown to -promote social bonding. More, such imitation seems to be central to the creation of larger groups, of the extended order we now live in. Such imitation is necessary for people of different cultures to get along. Thus, artists who use ideas and concepts from other cultures are not "appropriating" -- a term created by multiculturalists whose theories are atavistic in nature, wishing to keep us separate from each other just as much as do racial purists -- those ideas and concepts. Rather, such artists are working to create bridges between cultures, to bring us all together. Thus, are we learning from each other.

This is two lessons for educators.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Stupid Ad

Today I heard an advertisement on the radio that I at first thought was an anti-health insurance ad, promoting the government plan. It made health insurance companies out to not cover anything, and there was a family expressing horror at the bill they had received, wondering what use health insurance even was.

It turned out to be a health insurance ad. The ad of course claimed that their insurance would never do that, etc.

It seems to me that if the health insurance companies are advertising this way against each other, we shouldn't be surprised at the public's attitude toward them. Such ads undermine the very industry, and make the argument for government-run insurance. In the short term, such a company will get more customers -- in the long run, they will end up with none, and their industry made illegal except through government. A pretty stupid approach, if you ask me. Imagine if car companies had done something similar. We'd have the government making the argument that cars should be provided only through government. Of course, the government practically figured out how to do that anyway . . .

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Words Literally Make You React

Here is an interesting article for the language artists. It seems that, "language is not merely symbolic, but also somatic." Words induce physical reactions. Now there is something to think about the next poem or short story or play you (or I) write.

Friday, August 14, 2009

How Does One Make a Living While Becoming an Expert?

It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything. That's the new common knowledge. Let's accept that. At 10,000 hours, that is a full time job (8 hours), taking weekends off and a two week vacation, for five years. Or a part time job for 10.

Contrary to romantic versions of expertise, it's not genius, but hard work (this is something I have talked about before). Genius doesn't hurt, of course, but in many cases, one can learn to become a genius -- on the other hand, many a genius is lazy and will do nothing.

If there is no modern day Beethoven, could it be that few if any people have the 10,000 hours necessary? Why not? In the day of patronage, wealth equalled time equalled 10,000 hours to become a genius. In the present day, you have to already prove yourself a success to get any funding from anyone. At the same time, nobody in their right mind would find anyone coming along, claiming to be an artist, as that would encourage people who don't want to work to cheat and take advantage of such a system to continue to avoid work for a while.

It seems, though, that some sort of system could be set up to make it so that creativity is given a space to develop -- so that we could develop artists, writers, and philosophers who are truly experts. RIght now, people have to pay for the privilege to develop expertise (we pay to go to graduate school). So, again, wealth is the answer. But wouldn't it be more efficient, and develop more and better experts, if we paid people to become such experts? If becoming an expert, and maintaining that expertise were their full time job? Certainly willingness to pay demonstrates one's genuine desire to become an expert, but wouldn't a willingness to practice for 8 hours every day for five years also demonstrate that?

This seems to be an intractable problem. Who would be willing to pay people to do such things? What would be the selection criteria? What jobs, other than academia, would they be able to do? Couldn't there be a followup to the full time job of becoming an expert in maintaining one's expertise and contributing creatively? How would success be measured? Could they have secretaries to send out their works to make sure they are in galleries, having their plays performed, having their stories and poems published, etc.?

In other words, how can artists and philosophers make a living doing what they ought to be doing -- creating -- without having to rely on academia, where they have to teach, etc.? We can't pretend that artists, etc. don't have to eat and have a place to live, and take care of their families. They need the freedom to learn to do the work, then to do it, and also the money to live. How do we solve this problem?

Anyone who answers, "The government could/should do it" isn't taking this problem seriously, and is merely being intellectually lazy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Education, Capitalism, and Excellence

Today at Starbucks, my friend Bill Rough asserted that colleges were dumbing down because of capitalism -- because capitalism drives everything down to the lowest common denominator. My gut reaction was, of course, "No it doesn't." But we didn't have time to hash this out, as my wife, daughter, and I were leaving.

The first point I would make in response is that to argue that the market drives things down to the lowest common denominator is to argue that things become less valuable in the market. We know, in fact, that value increases through trade. If it did not, a trade would not occur. So on this point the statement makes no sense.

The second point is that only if only the "market winners" are what survive, while all other competitors die off, could it be possible for the lowest common denominator to dominate. But this is not true. What i just described would be more accurately termed as a "democratic economy." In a market economy, one has a wide variety of choices --some better than others. Not only that, but not just the most popular survive. There are markets in rare tastes -- sometimes you have to pay a lot for them, and sometimes you do not. Think of music, where a C.D. for a popular band costs the same as a band almost nobody listens to. With MP3's, those marginal bands are even more likely to get their music out there. As the market has expanded -- using new innovations in technology -- more and more marginal bands are able to get their music out their to fans, no matter how few those fans may be. Thus, it actually becomes more likely that excellence will have a chance to survive, even if it only survives as a marginal taste. In a democratic economy, only the most popular would survive. More, in a truly democratic economy, you would have to please 50%+1, meaning you would get a drive down in quality, as such products would have to please almost everyone somehow to "win." So in a market economy, there is certainly room for excellence -- at the very least as a minority taste. Someone will always be willing to cater to whatever tastes are out there, including the taste for excellence.

This then raises the question of what he said about colleges. Is it the market that has driven out excellence in the push to get more and more students through the doors? Not necessarily. One should in fact expect there to be a mixture of colleges, with a mixture of goals and reputations -- if there is truly a free market in education. For those who value excellence, and are thus willing to pay for it, one would expect there to exist colleges advertising that they will deliver excellence in education. Others, while certainly not advertising that they aren't excellent, will advertise rather that they provide different kinds of educational services. They can use terms like "student focused" or "learning what you want to learn" as codewords to let the consumer know that not much will be expected from them academically. They will provide job training -- which is fine, and what many people both need and want. More, places will hire based on their needs -- meaning, if they need someone who received an excellent education, they will hire from those colleges proven to excel in excellence. If they need someone with a certain kind of job training, they will hire from colleges which provide those educations.

The fact that this seems not to be happening -- the fact that there is rather a drive to the bottom in higher education across the board -- suggests, then, that something else is going on. I have already indicated what this could be in my comparison of the outcome of a democratic economy vs. a market economy. The colleges are all becoming democratized. The problem with this is that it results in the same education for everyone, regardless of need or ability. There are many things which have contributed to this, including affirmative action (which has outlived both its usefulness and its mandate), the dominance of egalitarian ideologies at all levels in our universities, and a fetishization of higher education by those same egalitarians, who in fact look down on those without college degrees and see physical labor as shameful. These same people then blame capitalism for the dumbing down of education. These are the people I heard this from before I heard Bill repeat it (and I'm guessing he heard it from some of the same people as I have).

So the bottom line is this: the dumbing down of education cannot be blamed on the free market system, precisely because the free market would never create such a situation across the board, as we see happening. Rather, it is the dominance of egalitarian ideologies in our educational system at all levels that is driving education down to the lowest common denominator. (Re)Read Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron for one of the best examples of this phenomenon in literature.