Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hayek In Mind Essay Proposal

This is the project I am working on now:

As humans evolved more social behaviors, we evolved an improved ability to detect intentions in others, to the point of it becoming almost instantaneous. One result, though, is that “Our ancestral sociality endowed us with a hair-trigger when it comes to detecting intentions, even where there are none. When confronted with impersonal processes, we prefer to see design, purpose and agency” (Tonaka, Jiro. “What is Copernican?” The Evolutionary Review Vol. 1, pg. 8). This has resulted in errors in understanding the economy, society, culture, and even the brain. This tendency is perhaps why Descartes developed his mind-body dualism, and his homunculus theory of the mind.

F. A. Hayek proposes a way out of this designer fallacy. Hayek proposes a bottom-up emergence of system-wide patterns from the interactions of the system’s parts. This is the theory of mind advanced in The Sensory Order. To the extent that Hayek is talking about what is called general intelligence, he has proven to be mostly correct. What, then, do we make of the modular theory of the mind, as proposed by proponents of evolutionary psychology? Does that disprove Hayek – or does Hayek disprove evolutionary psychology? Or might they be reconciled?

Recent work in cellular regulatory systems suggests there are three basic structures: simple hierarchical structures, complex, decentralized systems, and intermediate forms (Nitin Bhardwaj, Koon-Kiu Yan, and Mark B. Gerstein. “Analysis of diverse regulatory networks in a hierarchical context shows consistent tendencies for collaboration in the middle levels.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010). We see similar structures in social organizations, with humans evolving in simple, hierarchical societies, and those societies evolving through intermediate-structured societies to complex, decentralized spontaneous orders. It seems likely the brain evolved in a similar fashion, and still retains elements of each, with human general intelligence as described by Hayek finally emerging. The modules proposed by evolutionary psychologists represent intermediate levels of complexity whose structures in humans are modified by human general intelligence structures. And more rigidly hierarchical structures in turn underlie the modules.

This has consequences for behavior, including moral and economic behavior. We would expect limits on behavior – and the kinds of systems humans will create naturally and can live in. More, if the three basic structures also follow the patterns of stability found in regulatory systems, we would expect simple, hierarchical systems to be most delicate and, thus, resistant to change, while complex, decentralized systems would be most robust and able to change (which is indeed a feature of general intelligence). We would expect behaviors associated with our most primitive brain features – inherited from territorial lobe-finned fishes – to be most rigid and unchangeable.

To traverse all of this, an interdisciplinary approach is necessary. The mind is an embodied complex system whose structure is created by complex interactions among genes, the body, and the social environment – each of whose structures resemble each other. At their most complex levels, Hayek seems to have created the most accurate models of the latter two. With modifications, Hayek’s insights can continue to move us forward in understanding the most complex entities known to man: our societies and our brains.
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