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« The Work of Technology in the Age of Artistic Redundancy (Dean) | Main | Neither Corruption Nor The Appearance of Corruption (Norman Costa) »

October 20, 2011


Norman - I thought Kauffman's piece was rather strange, and am surprised NPR found it worth publishing. I suspect if he didn't have his theoretical-physics biologist credentials they wouldn't have. It's like he basically woke up one morning and noticed first that peoples' interests differ and collide, then quickly skimmed the game theory article at Wikipedia, and wrote it all up with some vague mutterings about cooperation and axial something-or-the-other as binding. Maybe next week he will notice that psychologists have been investigating the rational actor model from another angle and produce another article!

@ prasad:

Thanks for taking note and commenting. I think it's worth noting that the daily column on NPR is titled, "13.7: Cosmos and Culture." It's a vehicle for some top people in a variety of fields to be more speculative and even step into arenas outside their safe zones. Also, Kauffman is responding to the world-wide phenomenon sparked by "Occupy Wall Street."

Kauffman struck me, earlier this year, with his ideas on memory. Memory and learning, as you know, are probably the most central concepts in all of psychology. I am considering writing about his views. He is the first to acknowledge that they are speculative, but they are highly informed and well reasoned.

I'm sure you heard that old expression, "Remember, you heard it first, right here."

Thanks again.

Hi Norman, regrettably I don't know much about Kauffman's work in biology (and know nothing at all about these thoughts on memory and learning). He's a very well known researcher on these things, and I'd be very glad to read your article when you post it.

That said, I don't think he did "due diligence" in writing this article, which is on subjects where there is considerable expertise he *doesn't* share in. In the comments, for example, he pontificates extensively on Rawls starting with an admission that he's never read the man. The same goes for his superficial treatment of Adam Smith or Mill, and I'm having some fun imagining some game theorist reading his exhortations to cooperate and saying "I wish I'd thought of that!"

It's a very shallow article, and I think he gets away with it because his vague statements are of the sort NPR listeners want to hear right now.

@ prasad:

Let's assume that Kauffman was making commentary on 'Occupy Wall Street,' and taking the opportunity to question free market economics. He is asking whether or not the 'God of the Invisible Hand' can do as good a job as David's God in Psalm 23, when it comes to providing a bountiful table. This is allegory, of course.

The Invisible Hand God finds the most fundamental value, a good if you were, in free market prices. Adam Smith anticipated economic Darwinism when he deduced that this system would still have the poor, but that they would not reproduce, sufficiently, to sustain their survival.

He sees another value, and it comes from a different source. A combination of genes and culture are manifest in the idea of 'fairness' for us AND our primate cousins. This sounds good, and I would like to think it complements or even determines, in part, market price. Is this really the case? I don't know.

Another question, which I raise, is whether unfettered free market capitalism can be diverted from its natural course of producing abnormal concentrations of wealth and power in the hands of a few. I don't know whether he thinks the operation of 'fairness' is some invisible check on runaway capitalism or not.

It is my view that free market capitalism can never operate in its pure theoretical form. Free market capitalism will always attract those who will control it and manipulate it. 'Free' will only be a euphemism. I always liked Milton Friedman's description of the business person. The business person, he said, wants consistent and fair rules of trade for everyone else. For oneself, however, its special treatment.

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