Saturday, August 21, 2010

Internalism vs. Externalism in Evolution and Order

A short piece in "Biological Theory" 5(1) 2010 by Marta Linde Medina titled "Two "EvoDevos"" points out that there are two theories of how life is organized and how it evolved: :the externalist and the internalist perspectives, also called functionalism and structuralism, respectively" (7). She observes that "Darwinism, and consequently, the standard theory of evolution, derives from the externalist perspective. From this point of view, living matter is a passive and non-intrinsically ordered entity, requiring organic form to have been forged by an external agency. This framework is the result of importing Newtonian mechanics into the study of living organisms by both preformationists and Darwin during the 18th and 19th centuries respectively" (7) On the other hand, we have the iternalist perspective, where "living matter is an active agent---an excitable medium capable of self-organization, i.e., capable of exhibiting "order for free" by the interaction between different subcomponents, without requiring an external organizing factor" (7-8). She observes that the latter was also how Kant imagined organisms to be.

This is also the issue in economics, culture, and other areas of social organization. Where does that organization come from? Does it come from the outside (i.e., from government), or is it properly organized internally? The answer for social organization and evolution, including for economies, is the same as that for the brain's organization and evolution, biological organization and evolution, and even --dare I say -- cosmological organization and evolution. I have posed this as creationism vs. self-organization. This is another way of stating it that keeps things scientific for those squeemish at the fact anti-market thinkers believe in economic creationism. Those who oppose markets and think the government is the answer to everything are externalists -- and just as wrong. Newtonian economics is as wrong as Newtonian cognitive theory (which requires the Cartesian homonoculus) and Newtonian biology.

Finally, she observes that "From the externalist perspective, where organization is a product of chance and sorting, the existence of organizational principles is denied and evolution is considered a historical narrative. from the internalist perspective, organic form is the result of the laws of organization, implying that evolution has a law-like component" (9). This last observation should sound very familiar to Austrian economists.
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