Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Equilibrium or Creativity in the Spontaneous Orders

In The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change, Randall Collins argues the following:
  • Paradoxical tensions drive creativity.
  • It was the emergence of scientific technology that resulted in rapid-discovery science.
  • Mathematics was rejuvenated when it came into contact with philosophy (Newton/Leibniz and Frege/Boole/Russell/Whitehead).
  • Philosophy is rejuvenated whenever there is either a change in institutions or it comes into contact with another social order (math, see above; literature, with the French Existentialists and Postmodernists).
With the exception of the point regarding new institutions, each of the last three are in fact specific examples of the first point. Collins discusses the first point in regards to philosophical positions and individuals arguing them, but any time a large enough number from one spontaneous order decide to work in another, creative tensions arise. The natural response of those in the order being entered is to become defensive and to accuse the other of intellectual colonialism -- but this, too, is often a creative response in the end.

We can see this in other orders as well. It was changes in banking that drove the catallaxy of the Medieval economy into becoming mercantilist. It was the combination of technology with the catallaxy that resulted in capitalism and the emergence of the rapid-growth economy (paralleling rapid-discovery science). The three orders interact to keep each other from equilibrating and, thus, ceasing to be creative and wealth-creating. The flat economic growth that lasted to the Renaissance is a perfect example of the catallaxy at equilibrium. The paradoxical tensions the changes in monetary institutions and the emergence of rapid technological innovation provided to the catallaxy threw it into a far-from-equilibrium state, making it more creative and wealth-producing than it had ever been.

How does this happen? As a social system settles down into equilibrium, fewer and fewer opportunities become available (or obvious). Entrepreneurs need gaps to fill, and if everyone is already coordinating perfectly, there is nothing left to do. New products, new institutions, new ways of doing things all create gaps for entrepreneurs to fill. The width of the gap is the amount of profit that can be realized -- and profit is of course payment for fulfilling others' needs and wants. The same is true in any of the intellectual orders. A mathematician can show a philosopher or a social scientist or a natural scientist a gap that nobody may have been able to see, because everyone was settled down into a comfortable equilibrium. Once people realize there is in fact a gap, people begin working to fill it. This disequilibrates the system, creating more gaps -- until there is a creative far-from-equilibrium state.

We also see that the disruption leading to creativity works both ways. New scientific technology drove science, which drove technological innovation. New practical technology drove catallactic growth, which drove technological innovation. New ideas in science and philosophy drove artistic/literary creativity in the 20th century, while those artistic/literary innovations in turn drove creativity in philosophy, giving rise to postmodernism, and the sciences, helping contribute to the emergence of complexity science and chaos theory. This is what happens when two spontaneous orders, each trying to reach an equilibrium if left to their own devices, come into contact with each other. The ecotone is where creativity is driven to exponential heights.

This would suggest that equilibrium models of social processes are helpful, but limited. We have to understand what happens when multiple orders come into contact with each other. At the same time, it shows the danger of equilibrium modellers thinking their models are what the process ought to look like. This can lead to recommendations of how to "fix" the process, to bring it back to equilibrium. However, if we want creative social processes, the last thing we want are for them to be in equilibrium. The desire for social equilibrium is a conservative desire -- a desire which does have it's place in helping to maintain stability, but only insofar as life improvement is not stifled.
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