Bare Bones Biology 054 – Power and Success

Here on the internet I found a perfect example to illustrate the ideas of levels of organization and emergent properties, using other peoples’ words and experiences. For this illustration I’ll only focus on two levels, the economy and the universe, and I will not quote or link the authors because I haven’t asked their permission, but if you are one of them thank you, I appreciate your insights. First the economy.

(Post) “Modern economics is not a normative science. (Normative = establishing a norm.) Economists don’t say things like “business decisions SHOULD be determined by the market”; rather, they make bold assertions: “business decisions ARE determined by the market”. Firms …are either in business to make money, or they don’t stay in business. Charities put their donations to the uses the donors intend them for, or they don’t continue to get donations. In either case, the ones that survive and thrive are the ones who know how to give their patrons what they want. This is only depressing if you persist in the belief that the universe ought to be wired differently. Being “pro-market” is like being “pro-gravity”. Both exist, and both work according to their respective laws, whether you “believe in” them or not.”

Whoa, I thought when I read that. I was following this along OK until we got to the point where the ECONOMY is considered the equivalent of the UNIVERSE in terms of how it operates. The universe is MANY emergent properties more complex than the economy, and the economy is only a little tiny weenie subset of the universe, and furthermore it is man-made. Finally, I thought, finally I can understand why economists seem to me to be so illogical. But I did not respond on the internet. Happily, someone else did, and that post reads:

(post) “As for the “laws of economics”; (unlike the law of gravity) they have re-written those laws every fifty years since Adam Smith & continue to do so. So perhaps “rules” “guidelines-for-now” would be more accurate terms than “laws”.

That’s the end of that quote. Now we have another post, which I finally did get into the action, and this is roughly what I said:

“Yes! Finally someone gets it” ECONOMICS can never be more than a study of human behavior. If human behavior does not align itself with the laws of nature, then the laws of nature will simply eliminate humans. Therefore, the rules of economics do not MATTER to our human welfare on this earth. It matters how we behave relative to the requirements for our survival. The only good that economics has to offer would be if it were to help bring our human behaviors into line with the requirements of the ecosystem that we need to stay alive.”

That’s the end of that quote, and I will add that is not what economics is doing right now. But that’s my opinion as a biologist. Let’s next quote the opinion of the Dalai Lama, as reported in the 2010 report of the Mind and Life Institute.

“Classic economic theory is based on the assumption that humans are self-interested and rational actors, and casts doubt on the very existence of altruism. New research in both economics and neuroscience reveals a much richer and more complex picture of humanity where altruism and compassion are not only part of the equation, but can be encouraged and learned. Further, research is revealing that pro-social behavior is critical for the survival of humanity, while egoistic and non-altruistic behavior are antithetical to human well-being.” 2010 Annual Report, Mind & Life Institute

To the economist I say that “laws of economics” probably do exist, but I will not believe that you understand them until you can explain how they relate to the laws of the universe, of which they are a miniscule and relatively impotent subset.

Bare Bones Biology 053 – Winning
KEOS radio 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at factfictionfancy.wordpress.com
Audio at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

http://www.mindandlife.org/
Levels of Organization – BBB051-Levels of Organization
Emergent Properties – BBB052-Emergent Properties

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