Home > Uncategorized > Some suggestions for reorienting economics and philosophy of economics

Some suggestions for reorienting economics and philosophy of economics

from Gustavo Marqués

If it is assumed that (a) both agents and theorists are aware they are facing an uncertain context, and (b) they hold epistemic and ontological beliefs consistent with this state of affairs, the proper way to approach economic phenomena should be very different from those that guide current modeling practice. Particularly, instead of mechanisms or economic regularities that keep running independently of agents’ expectations, the decisive role of lobbyists within open-ended and uncertain processes based on expectations should be incorporated into the analysis. The following assumptions could be the philosophical core of a new conceptual framework for economics:

1) There are economic processes based on expectations and characterized by radical uncertainty. Agents involved in such processes act in two different ways (as decision-makers or as lobbyists).

2) Ex-ante knowledge of invariant sequences of events is generally not possible (because there are few if any sequences of this kind); more importantly, such knowledge is unnecessary as support and justification for the implementation of economic policies.

3) The role of theoretical practice is to identify the many feasible “branches” of a “tree of plausible outcomes” as well as the restrictions that each sequence of events faces.

4) It is not known (and it is not possible to know) ex-ante what “branches” of the tree (what sequences of feasible alternative events) will prevail. Science cannot help us with this.

5) Other types of knowledge (common and practical knowledge as well as practical skills) are crucial for shaping those processes. It is a sort of know-how knowledge, closer to management and administration than to scientific economics.

6) Although – as was shown in point (3) – theoretical practice has an important role to play in shaping processes, what is crucial in this endeavor is another practice, which we denote as lobbying (interventional) practice, which is performed by a wide range of economic players (mostly different kind of interest groups who are able to operate on the relevant context and agents’ expectations). 

The whole concept of theoretical practice should be rethought if economic processes consistent with the above assumptions are the target. Chapter Eight argues that there are some mechanisms of economic transmission at macro level which represent feasible (or credible) sequences of economic events. I insist on the concepts of “feasibility” and “credibility”. Feasible sequences can happen (they are attainable in our world), although it all depends on the interventions of many different lobbyists along the process. Correctly interpreted – as open ended sequences, not as mechanisms – feasible models could be useful. Consequently, when I speak of an alternative theoretical practice I am not demanding the invention of a new way of doing economic theory (a demand that would be rather foggy). Part of the required theory is already available (I mean, the feasible one): it offers sequences of stages which in principle could be reached and provides points of intervention for governmental administration and the several interested lobbyers.

Philosophy of economics could also be reoriented. To go beyond mainstream philosophy of economics the usual ontological and epistemological assumptions of conventional modeling practice should be critically examined and philosophical support to the above mentioned assumptions should be provided. It means to incorporate into the agenda an analysis of the ontological features of economic processes, like uncertainty, and to call attention to the decisive role of the practice of lobbing, Such problems as what kind of rationality, learning and useful theoretical practice can be achieved under uncertainty should be addressed.

Read more of this article here in the current issue of WEA Commentaries.


  1. Craig
    January 9, 2018 at 8:17 pm

    Very nice article. Science is but a mode, an aspect of Wisdom. It is an essential mode like food, and yet it is contained entirely within the digestive tract of Wisdom which being a more inclusive form of looking and knowing can lead to paradigm perception which is, defines and enables an encompassing single concept that applies to every aspect of a body of knowledge or area of human endeavor, and resolves the chronic “unresolvable” problems which exist in the current/old paradigm. Let us have a Wisdomics.


    • Rob Reno
      January 9, 2018 at 8:52 pm

      “The Department of Innovation and The Shit Kicking of Greed.” From wisdomicsblog.com. Wow, I’m lovin it 😁

  2. Rob Reno
    January 9, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    I am reading you book right now. “Wisdomnomics” … Craig that is great, I’m heading to the site now …

  3. Rob Reno
    January 11, 2018 at 2:18 am

    I am greatly enjoying your book and am grateful to Lars for recommending it. As I slowly work my way through it I am repeatedly seeing correlations with my studies in the history and philosophy of biology, specifically the work emerging from the field of developmental biology and epigenetics. Many of the conceptual issues you are addressing in your book have parallel discussions in the field of the philosophy and history of developmental biology. The details may be different but the philosophical concepts seem to be similar. Two wonderful series, the Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology (https://mitpress.mit.edu/category/series/vienna-series-theoretical-biology) and the Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology (focused on developmental biology and epigenetics) have been instrumental in clarifying the philosophical issues.

    Perhaps I am naïve; but as these parallels are emerging I find myself thinking of Friedel Weinert’s book The Scientist as Philosopher the following comment:

    Einstein’s principle is relativity, not relativism. The historian of science Gerald Holton reports that Einstein was unhappy with the label ‘relativity theory’ and in his correspondence referred to it as _Invariantentheorie_….

    Consider temporal and spatial measurements. Even if temporal and spatial measurements become frame-dependent, the observers who are attached to their different clock-carrying frames, like the respective observer on the platform and the train, can communicate their results to each other. They can even predict what the other observer will measure. The transparency between the reference frames and the mutual predictability of the measurement is due [to] a mathematical relationship, called the Lorentz transformations . The Lorentz transformations state the mathematical rules, which allow an observer to translate his/her coordinates into those of a different observer. (Weinert 2004, 66)

    (….) The appropriate criterion for what is fundamentally real will (…) be what is invariant across all points of view. (Weinert 2004, 66)

    _The invariant is the real_. This is a hypothesis about physical reality: what is frame-dependent is apparently real, what is frame-independent may be fundamentally real. To claim that the invariant is the real is to make an inference from the structure of scientific theories to the structure of the natural world. (Weinert 2004, 71)

    The thought has crossed my mind that if one could gain a meta-view of different histories in the fields of science that certain philosophical (epistemological, ontological, and methodology) _invariants_ may emerge across different fields and their respective frameworks. The idea – perhaps naïve – has intrigued me for some time over the decades as I have pursued studies in the history and philosophy of science in different fields. I hope to find the time after reading your book (and the other Syll recommended) to devote some time trying to put some flesh on this tentative idea.

    The Scientist as Philosopher: Philosophical Consequences of Great Scientific Discoveries
    by Friedel Weinert
    Link: http://a.co/etxUi8v

    Genetic Explanations: Sense and Nonsense
    by Sheldon Krimsky et al.
    Link: http://a.co/62ViRW5

    Evolution: A View from the 21st Century (paperback)
    by James A. Shapiro
    Link: http://a.co/20iTtkz

  4. January 11, 2018 at 8:32 am

    Gustav’s title was of sufficient interest for me to acquire and read his book. Here I agree with him on the significance of lobbyists – we’ve just been discussing that in terms of whether business education is in scientific truths or rhetorical persuasion – but am unpersuaded by his arguments, perhaps because he ends up where I began: on the need to do what I have already tried to do. I began by evaluating his fairly mainstream assumptions.

    1. There are economic processes GUIDED BY expectations DESPITE their being characterised by radical uncertainty. So yes, there is a logical difference between using illogical information in decision making and lobbying, but in both cases, garbage in, garbage out. The interest should be in the causes of the uncertainty and how to minimise it. (See Chaos Theory implying restriction of market variation to just two dimensions and occasionally three – e.g. holding incomes constant and regulating prizes – and Cybernetics, detecting and correcting errors which are themselves unforeseeable but that are again of two types and occasionally three, the third generating errors which themselves need correcting).

    2. Contrary to this assumption, invariant sequences of events are very common, it is ex-ante knowledge of their significance which is rare. Thus we can know that we have made trains run every hour without knowing what their passengers are doing; likewise with radio etc.

    3. The role of theoretic practice is, I suggest, not to evaluate the whole tree of knowledge but to find out where to look and how to find out where we need to, recording what we find so others are not faced with reinventing the wheel (unless learning to think by doing so).

    4. I almost agree we cannot anticipate what will happen, but in the short term we can see things beginning to happen and in the longer run we can know where there are relatively static dangers (like underwater rocks) we will need to avoid.

    5. This “other” is presented as a statement, not an assumption, and I largely agree with it.

    6. This is presented in terms of lobbyists rather than advisors: both anyway information channels but lobbyists usefully suggesting advice may not always be good.

    In the blurb which follows Gustave makes another assumption (or in any case asserts a judgement). “Correctly interpreted – as open ended sequences, not as mechanisms – feasible models could be useful.” But what mechanism enables one to have an open-ended sequence? Only being inside a closed loop which is protecting it from terminal events while enabling its energy usage to be maintained by replacement. This is entirely feasible, for that is what we humans are.

    What remains infeasible (subject to my version of assumption 4) is our modelling future events. Seeking future monetary profits is therefore unreasonable. What is feasible is our having not a guaranteed income but guaranteed availability of credit, enabling us to buy what we need when we need it. What there is to buy can still build up as science etc reveals ways and means of of financing with credit what is worth producing, but here perhaps is the crucial thing: that we continue to make things not in expectation of future profits but because IN THE PAST we have used them. The feasibility of this is shown by supermarkets restocking shelves.

    Right now we are busy emptying Nature’s shelves and have a lot of maintenance we need to catch up on.

  5. Rob Reno
    January 11, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    “But what mechanism enables one to have an open-ended sequence? Only being inside a closed loop which is protecting it from terminal events while enabling its energy usage to be maintained by replacement. This is entirely feasible, for that is what we humans are.”

    And your not making if-pigs-could-fly assumptions too about what it means to be human?

    ~ ~ ~

    Conceptualizing Cells

    We should all take seriously an assessment of biology made by the physicist David Bohm over 30 years ago (and universally ignored):

    “It does seem odd … that just when physics is … moving away from mechanism, biology and psychology are moving closer to it. If the trend continues … scientists will be regarding living and intelligent beings as mechanical, while they suppose that inanimate matter is to complex and subtle to fit into the limited categories of mechanism.” [D. Bohm, “Some Remarks on the Notion of Order,” in C. H. Waddington, ed., Towards a Theoretical Biology: 2 Sketches. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Press 1969), p. 18-40.]

    The organism is not a machine! Machines are not made of parts that continually turn over and renew; the cell is. A machine is stable because its parts are strongly built and function reliably. The cell is stable for an entirely different reason: It is homeostatic. Perturbed, the cell automatically seeks to reconstitute its inherent pattern. Homeostasis and homeorhesis are basic to all living things, but not machines.

    If not a machine, then what is the cell?

    ~ Woese, Carl R., Author. Evolving Biological Organization. In Microbial Phylogeny and Evolution: Concepts and Controversies. (Jan Sapp, ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2005: 100.

    The mathematician Jack Good, formally Turing’s colleague at Bletchley Park, Britain’s wartime code-breaking headquarters, gave a succinct statement of the Mathematical Objection in a 1948 letter to Turing:

    Can you pin-point the fallacy in the following argument? “No machine can exist for which there are no problems that we can solve and it can’t. But we are machines: a contradiction.”

    At the time of Good’s letter Turing was already deeply interested in the Mathematical Objection. More than eighteen months previously he had given a lecture in London, in which he expounded and criticized an argument flowing from his negative result concerning Entsheidungsproblem and concluding that “there is a fundamental contradiction in the idea of a machine with intelligence” (1947, 393).

    (….) Turing believed that

    ~ Copeland, Jack B. Posy Carl J. and Shagrir Oron, Eds. Computability (Copeleand et. al., ed.) [Turing, Godel, Church, and Beyond]. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press; 2013; p. 21.

    The inconsistency of the modern mechanist is: If this were merely a material universe and man only a machine, such a man would be wholly unable to recognize himself as such a machine, and likewise would such a machine-man be wholly unconscious of the fact of the existence of such a material universe.

    • Rob Reno
      January 11, 2018 at 6:02 pm

      If the field of physics and biologists (at least those who reach the top of their respective field) have realized the failed metaphor of the machine for addressing cells, organisms, people, and society, I wonder how long it will take economists?

    • Rob Reno
      January 11, 2018 at 6:16 pm

      My incompleteness theorem makes it likely that mind is not mechanical, or else mind cannot understand its own mechanism. If my result is taken together with the rationalistic attitude which Hilbert had and which was not refuted by my results, then [we can infer] the sharp result that mind is not mechanical. This is so, because, if the mind were a machine, there would, contrary to this rationalistic attitude, exist number-theoretic questions undecidable for the human mind (Gödel in Wang 1996, 186-187)

      ~ Copeland, Jack B. Posy Carl J. and Shagrir Oron, Eds. Computability (Copeleand et. al., ed.) [Turing, Godel, Church, and Beyond]. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press; 2013; p. 5.

      • Rob Reno
        January 11, 2018 at 6:20 pm

        How one understands what it means to be human determines one’s worldview. Physics and biology have long ago abandoned the human as machine metaphor as useful. Methodological reductionism is useful up to a point. There is much to be learned from cross-discipline historical studies I think.

  6. January 11, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    Rob, you are completely missing my point. Blood circulating in our bodies being re-energised by food is the condition of the feasibility of them being a complex information-processing system with learned abilities to consciously delay, say no and thus choose, i.e. not be forced, machine-like, to do what they are currently set up to do.

    As I understand it, a machine acts by transmission of forces. Thus a u-tube is a machine which produces an equilibrium in liquids. Arguably a cell is too, automatically inputting and outputting chemicals to maintain an equilibrium of ionic forces. So too are various subsystems in our bodies. Information processing is different, not reacting to forces but adapting to variations in the patterns of even miniscule sounds and electromagnetic forces.

    Incidentally, its about time you read the Guidelines for Comments.

  7. Rob Reno
    January 11, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    Perhaps you are right, I’m missing the your point, but it seems you are missing the authors too. We are more than the sum of our biological subsystems. Blood circulating in our system providing nutrients for our body is necessary but not sufficient for understanding the whole organism that lives and functions as an organic whole in a complex biological and social world. What an organism experiences within its environment can rewrite its epigenetic genome with lasting cross-generational effect. From what we eat, drink, and smoke, and more importantly even what we experience can have profound impact our epigenome that is heritable by our children and grandchildren. That is an open system for sure, that cannot be truly understood as the sum of its parts.

    I think the author is saying we are not, as human beings, operating in a “closed loop,” and I believe the findings of developmental biology and epigenetics support his idea.

    Humans, or for that matter any organism, are not operating in a “closed loop” on any level — biologically, individually, socially, informational, etc. One of the profound discoveries emerging from the field developmental biology and epigenetics is the extent biologically our entire organism is interacting with our external environment on the biological-informational level. The external environment can change our biology by rewiring our epigenome and it is heritable across generations. What we eat, what we drink, and what we even experience has profound and lasting effects on not only our personalities but our very biology. Circulatory and cellular systems operate within and are influenced by larger causal networks, including the central nervous system and external environment which are constantly interchanging information. What was once thought to be a one-way-street (the Central Dogma) we now know is a two-way (or multi-path) street. Signals, biochemical and experiential can actually re-write our epigenome. Even biological feed-back loops that are self-maintaining operate and respond to larger top-down systems. This is the reason Woese raises the questions he does.

    How much more so human beings with their complex minds and social interactions. Unless I am misunderstanding something that is what essentially the author means, I think it is this wider biological and social context the author is trying to include in his idea that, “Correctly interpreted – as open ended sequences, not as mechanisms – feasible models could be useful.” We are more than the sum of our parts and information, on every level, biological and psycho-social, flows both ways between the organism and the environment.

    Just the other day NPR published a scientific report that discovered that experimental results were influenced by the sex of the researcher and participant. It came as a real surprise; but as it turns out both biological (hormonal) and psychological influences were altering the results depending on the their sex. That is one more example that we as human biological creatures do not operate in a “closed” system and therefore cannot use the same methodology as would be sufficient for a mechanical system.

    It seems to be part of the obscuring problem is the language of statistics. I can only interpret the statement we are “open ended sequences” as we as human beings are part of a wider open ended reality of that is comprised of a sequence events in which a universe of things and beings (individual and social) influence our decisions and actions in unpredictable ways, unlike a mechanism that can be analyzed as a collection of parts and is the sum of its parts. Hence his argument that organic wholes are different that mere physical mechanisms (i.e., the distinction between mechanical and non-mechanical).

    When you ask, “But what mechanism enables one to have an open-ended sequence?” isn’t that the million dollar question?

  8. January 12, 2018 at 10:29 am

    Rob, I’m not missing your authors’ point, I’ve been prepared to disagree with it, having (like Copernicus or Newton) had insights that they and it seems possibly everyone else but me haven’t. Let us approach this open-ended sequence business another way. If I map an open-ended sequence by points representing movement along a line, for the graph to remain open-ended the line must disappear off into irrelevance in the spatial distance. However, if it is mapped to a circuit, by overlaying the localised graph the sequence can it continue for ever.
    Consider how a number of any size can be represented in arabic numerals by re-using them. However, an analogue clock can represent any period of time, a digital clock generates a number in the form of numerals which from their starting point would still disappear over the horizon if one used it to map motion in time for long enough. So are Gustavo Marques and your Woese seeing an open-ended sequence or an open-ended map? I’m “seeing” the sequence, and saying the closed circuit IS the answer to your million-dollar question.

    There is a related convention which, in light of the science I have been involved in, I am prepared to defy. This is the generalisation that you can’t have a perpetual motion machine.
    Well, one can have a superconducting circuit if the temperature is low enough, i.e if the vibrations set up by the impact of massive bodies are insufficient to impede the flow of massive electrons. But electromagnetic waves are not massive: they don’t interfere with each other. The fact that a high-powered radio station is broadcasting near you doesn’t prevent you picking up minute signals from other transmitters far away. Given that, the reasonable interpretation is that they are variations in the form of pure energy, much like the build up of pressure at the front and vacuum at the rear of a passing vehicle, such that if turbulence at the beginning of time bent the “vehicle” far enough the front would stick to the back of back of it – yet not cancel it, for going at the same speed it would never catch up. The properties of mass are then emergent from the form of the circulating energy flow much as cellular structure is emergent from the captive-energy form of dna molecules. When the flow is of massive particles these do interfere with each other, energy is lost and any closed circuit needs “feeding”. In an electronic circuit this can be achieved with electromagnetic induction; in cells and ourselves it is achieved by intermittent and/or partial opening of our containers.

    The point of all this, anyway, is how best to think of economics. I’m saying mechanisms are automatic reactions to forces, whereas information systems adapt themselves to the forms and not the ionic forces present in symbols, interpreting the forms in different ways depending on the “language” they are using. Do you really think, Rob, you are influenced by the ionic forces emanating from your American dollar bills? When economists know only the language of mechanics and don’t even recognise – never mind being prepared to try and learn – that of information science, it is sad but hardly surprising they are floundering like Steve Keen’s “ffishes out of water”.

    • January 12, 2018 at 11:45 am

      Looking back to see if I have adequately answered your biological arguments, I think it worth stressing that I agree with all you are saying about biological influences, but my point is they operate through forces (i.e. are mechanical) even though they involve complex information.

      A door key is a mechanical lever even though its applicability is encoded in its form; the dna of a virus operates on the dna of some cells but not others by interaction of ionic forces. When your eyes read what I am writing that is not what is happening. Your eyes turn and focus to maximise the sharpness of one type of electromagnetic image among many impacting the eyeball, and this is done by your brain adjusting the setting of your muscles, not by the actual image selecting itself and empowering the muscles to tune in your eyeballs.

      • Rob Reno
        January 12, 2018 at 6:35 pm

        Door keys don’t turn around and talk to the door frame, which in turn turns around and talks to the wall, and so on.

        A general character of genomic programs for development is that they progressively regulate their own readout, in contrast, for example, to the way architects’ programs (blueprints) are used in constructing buildings. All of the structural characters of an edifice, from its overall form to local aspects such as placement of wiring and windows, are prespecified in an architectural blueprint. At first glance the blueprints for a complex building might seem to provide a good metaphoric image for the developmental regulatory program that is encoded in the DNA. Just as in considering organismal diversity, it can be said that all the specificity is in the blueprints: A railway station and a cathedral can be built of the same stone, and what makes the difference in form is the architectural plan. Furthermore, in bilaterian development, as in an architectural blueprint, the outcome is hardwired, as each kind of organism generates only its own exactly predictable, species-specific body plan. But the metaphor is basically misleading, in the way the regulatory program is used in development, compared to how the blueprint is used in construction. In development it is as if the wall, once erected, must turn around and talk to the ceiling in order to place the windows in the right positions, and the ceiling must use the joint with the wall to decide where its wires will go, etc. The acts of development cannot all be prespecified at once, because animals are multicellular, and different cells do different things with the same encoded program, that is, the DNA regulatory genome. In development, it is only the potentialities for cis-regulatory information processing that are hardwired in the DNA sequence. These are utilized, conditionally, to respond in different ways to the diverse regulatory states encountered (in our metaphor that is actually the role of the human contractor, who uses something outside of the blueprint, his brain, to select the relevant subprogram at each step). The key, very unusual feature of the genomic regulatory program for development is that the inputs it specifies in the cis-regulatory sequences of its own regulatory and signaling genes suffice to determine the creation of new regulatory states. Throughout, the process of development is animated by internally generated inputs. “Internal” here means not only nonenvironmental–i.e., from within the animal rather than external to it but also, that the input must operate in the intranuclear compartments as a component of regulatory state, or else it will be irrelevant to the process of development. (Davidson 2006: 16-17)

        ~ Davidson, Eric H. wip. The Regulatory Genome: Gene Regulatory Networks in Development and Evolution. Amsterdam: Academic Press; 2006; pp. 16-17.

      • January 12, 2018 at 9:29 pm

        My lock example just illustrated more simply than genetics the important point that mechanical forces can both activate and prevent changes. (Our bodies develop not by cells talking to each other but by their accumulation restricting the ways in which they can develop). I cannot see that Eric Davidson says anything relevant to my point that “the genomic regulatory program for development” operates at the level of ionic forces rather than independently of them – i.e. via dynamic modulation of sound or radio waves – though “Throughout, the process of development is animated by internally generated inputs” does tend to confirm it. Try reading the ‘question’ and thinking for yourself instead of cribbing answers? We learn more that way.

  9. Rob Reno
    January 12, 2018 at 11:41 pm

    Thanks Dave, I appreciate your thoughts. I am going to take some time to think carefully. Cheers.

  10. January 13, 2018 at 7:14 am

    Thanks for taking that cheerfully. Overnight my mind has been taking its own medicine, telling me to read more carefully your ealier answers, trying to see what you saw in Marques that I perhaps hadn’t. Briefly, that seems to be Marques’ idea of a feasible open sequence as a journey made feasible by my rather than his interpretation of assumption 4: the intervention of government and lobbyists within the shortened timescale closing the loop with corrective feedback. His focus is on the sequence, mine on the corrective feedback. But why should the feedback be restricted to the short term? In data processing one has parity bits in every word but also check sums on complete accounts. What orthodox economics does is necessarily feasible but Keynes saw how in the long term it can lead to self-defeating unemployment. I see you and Woese seeing the same logic in the operation of biological systems; I have objected only that monetary economics doesn’t work by transmission of forces, only by our acting independently on the (mistaken) assumption that it does.

    If one wants to get ordinary people involved, one has to keep things simple: a suggestive title, a bare bones abstract; the paper or book is simply putting on record what one has to hope simple folk will be able to see for themselves. The argument needs to be at the level of our needing to choose between this paradigm or that, not in-depth detailed comparison of actual paradigms. When I started writing up my investigations I began with the challenging title Complex Truth, but even the bright guy who rose to the challenge didn’t begin to understand what I was talking about. My second attempt therefore became Simplifying Complex Truth, but even that proved unpublishable. (There was not yet a market for it, or even peer approval). I sought like minds first in Distributist (Chestertonian) economics and then in Critical Realist philosophy of economics (Tony Lawson’s, hence ‘Reorienting Economics’); but I stalled even there over the paradox of closed circuits being a necessary condition of successful open systems.

    Pardon me, therefore, if I hark back to my early mentors, Whitehead and Chesterton. The one argued the need to get hold of the right end of the stick; the other paradoxically said both that we are at a cross-roads and that all roads lead to Rome. Both these are true, for if all roads lead to Rome they also lead out of it. Taking the wrong road at a cross-road in any of them can thus leave us (as we seem to be) holding the wrong end of the stick and doing the very opposite of what we intended.

    • Rob Reno
      January 13, 2018 at 5:08 pm

      I’m glad I read this before I responded ;-)

    • Rob Reno
      January 13, 2018 at 7:33 pm

      My pleasure Dave, appreciate you thoughtful reply. Much there I agree with. My original point (minus the hyperbole) is simple. It seems, and I could be wrong, what Marqués is arguing is that the biology cannot be reduced to physics. That too is the argument made by Woese and others; if the cell is not merely a machine (using your terminology, transmitting ionic forces) it is not reducible to molecular biology. Jason Scott Robert says it better than I could:

      If the emergentist-materialist ontology underlying biology (and, as a matter of fact, all the factual sciences) is correct, the _bios_ constitutes a distinct ontic level the entities in which are characterized by emergent properties. The properties of biotic systems are then not (ontologically) reducible to the properties of their components, although we may be able to partially explain and predict them from the properties of their components… The belief that one has reduced a system by exhibiting [for instance] its components, which is indeed nothing but physical and chemical, is insufficient: physics and chemistry do not account for the structure, in particular the organization, of biosystems and their emergent properties (Mahner and Bunge 1997: 197) (Robert 2004: 132) (Robert, Jason Scott. Embryology, Epigenesis, and Evolution: Taking Development Seriously. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2004; p. 132. (Michael Ruse. Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology.)

      From my common-persons perspective this seems to be the very reason there is the need to shift from the machine paradigm-metaphor to the information processing paradigm-metaphor. And Woese is saying something similar, I believe. I would quote him fully, but then I would be “cribbling answers” ;-) It came as a profound shock to the mechanistic-reductionist paradigm that assumed biology was reducible to molecular biology. There are those who still think biology can be reduced to molecular biology, at least in a weak sense: “Can wholes be successfully decomposed into parts in models of biological systems? Do properties of the parts alone explain all properties of wholes? Such part-wholes reductionism receives a mitigated defense in these chapters for the case of biology, while its failure at lower levels of organization (for instance, in quantum physics) is duly noted (Sahotra Sarkar, 2005, 3, http://a.co/jjIHD00).” Sarkar goes on to suggest that all talk of information “should be abandoned in favor of a thorough going physicalism (Sarkar 2005, 4).”

      My point is only, and nothing more, that a similar conversation seems to be ongoing in theoretical economics. And the assumptions one brings to the table often determine theoretical outcomes and methodologies.

      My personal view is that _bios_ does constitute a distinct ontic level. More in line with information processing the genome is a read-write storage system under the control of the central nervous system (Cabej 2004, 11, http://a.co/bvC82jb). Now add that Jablonka’s Evolution in Four Dimensions and you have the socio-cultural dimensions as well.

      I would be amiss to not acknowledge your point (and many others to many to address without violating rules) about material constraint placing limits on development. I think this is true. Mechanism (molecular biology) does constrain developmental possibilities; there is bias in development via or what Waddington called canalization. (Davies 2015, http://a.co/08367cK, Zelditch et. al. 2012, http://a.co/dpNxG9u)

      But as far as I can see that is not the whole story; mechanism is there but it is not exclusive. A machine and cell are not the same thing either literally or metaphorically. Cellular biology cannot be reduced to molecular biology (except via murder); living protoplasm is not the same thing as dead protoplasm. The cell and the organism are not simply the sum of their parts. Organic wholes are a bios that “constitutes a distinct ontic level the entities in which are characterized by emergent properties. Add on top of all this the hard question of mind and social interaction and it gets even more interesting. I am specifically thinking of the oversimplification of homo economicus and Rational Expectations Hypothesis (REH), etc., all of which is a poor caricature of what it means to be fully human and living in families and society. Lars makes a good point about the individual and society in his book.

      One brief comment about “emergentist” language; in my view to say that something “emerged” from something else really explains nothing; it is descriptive but really tells us nothing about the underlying cause. It connotes realities in which the whole cannot be predicted (i.e., known) from the sum of its parts, and the “emergent” reality that is irreducible to its constitute parts. Jerry Foder (1974) colorfully expresses this view when he notes the “immortal economist” who vainly tries to derive economic principles from a knowledge of physics and the distribution of physical qualities in space-time (or for that matter probability distributions of virtual reality worlds of hyper-rational actors, REH). The notion of emergence has proven to be quite recalcitrant to precise characterization.

      “Briefly, that seems to be Marques’ idea of a feasible open sequence as a journey made feasible by my rather than his interpretation of assumption 4: the intervention of government and lobbyists within the shortened timescale closing the loop with corrective feedback. His focus is on the sequence, mine on the corrective feedback. But why should the feedback be restricted to the short term? In data processing one has parity bits in every word but also check sums on complete accounts. What orthodox economics does is necessarily feasible but Keynes saw how in the long term it can lead to self-defeating unemployment. I see you and Woese seeing the same logic in the operation of biological systems; I have objected only that monetary economics doesn’t work by transmission of forces, only by our acting independently on the (mistaken) assumption that it does.”

      I want to see if I am understanding the nub of the issue here (it feels like I’m not). First, I think I am confused by the language (physics metaphors) sometimes. Remember, I am coming at this as someone who (along with my spouse) whose career was as software engineers, technology company owners, and entrepreneurs, living and working inside and outside interacting with the corporate world. So when you speak of lobbyists I think special-interest groups seeking to influence government policies (Nelson describes this nicely). When I read your statement, “monetary economics doesn’t work by transmission of forces, only by our acting independently on the (mistaken) assumption that it does,” I am hearing in my mind that economic theories about money based on modeling the financial(?) systems and monetary exchanges like a physical energy-system misses the underlying “informational” reality that it is really all about competing interests (lobbyists, etc.) exchanging information (language, symbols, rent seeking, etc.) with the desire to influence outcomes such that they improve their bottom line profits. Crude though it may be, is that off base? Ordinary economics seems to be based on some erroneous assumptions that in the long run is self-defeating; it may be economically efficient according to theory, but lacking the political will (and wisdom) to assure that those displaced are retrained in meaningful jobs, it becomes more destabilizing to society as a whole. The same can be said of globalization. And what about Akerlof et. al. and their argument that the real market works nothing like it is portrayed in theory, being in far to many cases a matter of socio-political manipulation and deception.

      • Rob Reno
        January 13, 2018 at 8:28 pm

        I meant to say, “it seems, and I could be wrong, what Marqués is arguing is that the biology (metaphorically standing in place for individuals and society in all its glorious socio-political complexity) cannot be reduced to physics.”

      • January 14, 2018 at 2:48 pm

        We are at cross purposes over the impossibility of reducing biology to physics etc. Since Lakatos’s “Criticism and the Growth of Knowedge” (Oxford, 1970), most people have accepted that, but evolution implies the opposite: that biology can emerge out of physics. Lakatos’s point was that if there is a persistent failing in (say) economics, that is likely to be because a mistaken assumption not at the level of economics but at a lower level, e.g. interpreting money as something physically valuable when all that is physical about it is that it is a symbol, the meaning of which depends on contexts and human conventions. Today’s convention is that money is valuable, so worth stealing. I’m arguing that physically it is a mere symbol, representing (and indexing rather than measuring) in the one direction a degree of credit-worthiness and in the other human (not necessarily physical) work: expenditure of the credit leaving one leaving one indebted for the work. In logical terms, one cannot DEDUCE biology from the symbols of physics, but one can RETRODUCE biological theory to physics by abstraction of what is specifically biological (hence the alternative name, abduction, for what in more time-oriented logic has been called retroduction to the pre-biological).

  11. Rob Reno
    January 13, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    You expressed some ideas Dave that I find fascinating. I don’t claim to grasp them fully, but they have causes sympathetic neurons to go off repeatedly bringing back memories of my readings in biology decades ago. To avoid taking this conversation to far askew from the top of the moment (economics) I just wanted to share a couple resource from my library you might find interesting. The topic was, loosely remembers, you spoke of different levels of emerging simultaneously co-existing. You might find interesting these two resources: Origination of Organismal Form: Beyond the Gene in Developmental and Evolutionary Biology (Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology)
    by Gerd Müller et al. Link: http://a.co/8JXQIG0 and Biological Emergences: Evolution by Natural Experiment (Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology)
    by Robert G. B. Reid Link: http://a.co/fG8PEYS. There is one more, but I am old and have forgotten where to find it in my library. Perhaps later. Cheers.

  12. January 14, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Your appreciation much appreciated, Rob. I’ll go on with what I had started to write, but first let me explain where my own understanding of biological mechanisms came from: one of my daughters being ill fifty years ago with a deficiency of antibodies, getting me asking questions and ever after interested in evidence of developments. Something similar with neural science after another daughter was born with misconnected “wiring” leaving her artistic but dislexic. My “sympathetic neurones” led my to Nobel prizewinner Gerald Edelman’s “Bright Air, Brilliant Fire”, which I read as confirming experimentally what I had concluded about the senses tunng in themselves via emotionally bypassing memory. However, looking up your David Bohm in my new Oxford Dictionary of Scientists (which was interesting enough on encoding meaning so it disappears), I looked up Eddington (of The Expanding Universe) and found Edelman “being struck by a number of similarities between the immune system and the nervous system. … Neural mechanisms, he argued, are selected in the same manner as antibodies”. Which was what I had concluded perhaps thirty years ago.

    “And your not making if-pigs-could-fly assumptions too about what it means to be human?”

    The point of my previous responses above was that I didn’t. Actually, in a negative sense, Rob did: assuming human pigs can’t fly if they are mechanical. So are humans not animals? The Critical Realist term “emergence” suggests how it is possible for us to be both animal AND human, and likewise at once physical AND chemical AND mechanical AND living AND animal AND human, emerging ability to localise, contain and control actions making possible new capabilities that led up to the development of speech and self-conscious recognition of ourselves speaking. Interpreted along the lines of information theory, a gene may be a word in a genetic alphabet of four types of protein molecule. If you don’t yet know what it means, that can come out at two levels: you may be able to tell if it is an adjective or noun or adverb or verb before (having decided that) you can guess its meaning by its effect on subsequent words. Rather like locating a piece of a jigsaw by it shape if it is not obvious from the details of the picture. (The empirical proof of the pudding is that the picture DOES match).

    In the broadest of terms, the relevance of the “grammar” of the situation to economics is whether a money flow represents the empowerment of what we are doing, or correction of our aims for the different types of error detectable: those now, after a period of time and in the foreseeable future. The problem with avoiding errors in the future (e.g. by manufacturing something other than what you have been making) is that diversion takes one off course instead to keeping you on it, so that if supplying what people need is one’s aim, having diverted it is crucial that one gets back on course producing whatever is still needed.

    • Rob Reno
      January 14, 2018 at 4:55 pm

      “The Critical Realist term “emergence” suggests how it is possible for us to be both animal AND human, and likewise at once physical AND chemical AND mechanical AND living AND animal AND human, emerging ability to localise, contain and control actions making possible new capabilities that led up to the development of speech and self-conscious recognition of ourselves speaking.”

      I agree Dave. When I say “emergentist” language is descriptive I do not mean it is not real. Two views exist: 1. It is merely descriptive but not real, or 2. It is both descriptive and real. I believe we are not only observing it but more importantly, it is a real reality in the universe.

      I agree with everything you say about bottom up causation. What I seem to have failed in communicating is the idea there exists top down causation. Mind too is real. In my view, it isn’t a question of either or but both and more. Why I resist gene centric explanations is because I believe (and this is well founded in the scientific literature) that we now know this metaphor is misleading. Both my daughters are becoming neuroscientists. Just sent them Genetic Explanations by Sheldon Krimsky et al. (http://a.co/g90IhjJ). It’s a wonderful resource.

      As a parent who raised two daughters my heart goes out to you. I’m dyslexic. It caused me untold suffering because I grew up in an age when they had no clue. Thankfully my daughters dodged that bullet.

    • January 15, 2018 at 9:00 am

      Perhaps it’s my one daughter your heart should go out to. And I think I see what you mean by top down causation. What I have perhaps failed to communicate is that a theory of dynamic logic [mapping] which was been true since the beginning of time cannot be expected to spell out all the details: only, like the shapes of the pieces of jig-saw puzzle, draw attention to possibilities – including necessary sequences and likely failure modes which (perhaps unexpectedly) turn out to be true. Like a text, genetic and economic structures can grow by orderly combination or accumulation, but parts of them can fail by accidents in early development affecting future generations, and their phenotypes may suffer from competitive predation, so that history as well as logic is significant. So far as I can see, gene centric explanations are misleading only if they ignore the failure modes and the possibility of top-down after-the-event repairs or reconstruction. But yes, given human abilities, economic structures can even be developed top down, and given the range of human motivations, these can be malignant (cancerous) as well as merely faulty. A BBC 4 program on shipwrecks since c.1600 (Saturday 13 Jan 2018) showed graphically just how appalling capitalist enslavement has been: the aristocracy saving itself, leaving sailors and tied-down slaves to drown.

      My own “suggestions-for-reorienting-economics-and-philosophy-of-economics”, then, are to reorient our understanding of economics from its being a mechanical automation to its being a method of navigation relying on true information at all levels; and given the follow-my-leader nature of learned behaviour, to converting the shepherds to realist philosophy, enabling them to see their sheep not as surplus mutton but like their own children, cared for and wisely led.

      As this topic got to the roots of why the WEA was set up, I do hope Gustavo Marques or the editor who introduced him will come back with some reaction to our discussion, despite its inevitable untidiness. A lot of important considerations have been aired.

      • Rob Reno
        January 15, 2018 at 5:40 pm

        I do feel empathy and compassion for your daughters Dave. I hope they have been able to overcome their afflictions. Speaking only for myself though, I do not regret having dyslexia, for out my experience and struggles has come good too. It in a way, made me who I am, with all my strengths and weaknesses that I have had to find creative ways to compensate for. The greatest affliction is never to have been afflicted. Humans, it seems, only learn wisdom by experiencing tribulation. Stars are best discerned from the lonely isolation of experiential depths, not from the illuminated and ecstatic mountain tops. And I resonate with your metaphors; we really are not at cross-purposes ultimately.

      • January 16, 2018 at 9:11 am

        Thank you for this, Rob. I too have had much the same experience of having to creatively work round a problem – in my case an inabilty to remember strings of words (as against meanings) since a cycling accident when I was fourteen. Almost the only things I can quote off by heart are nursery rhymes and the Apostle’s creed! A right pain when one has been singing hymns for half a century and cannot remember the words! Hence anyway the importance to me of my library.

  13. Rob
    January 22, 2018 at 6:59 pm

    One can choose to model imaginary non-uncertain worlds inhabited by ex-ante rational agents, or to analyze open ended, intervenible [sic] processes…. However, if the target is real economic processes it is not easy (and maybe not possible) to build models that include uncertainty and many rival lobbyists. The essence of a model is that many things are omitted. At least this happens with those factors that are hard (or impossible) to represent within the model. All the issues connected with uncertainty may fall into this category. But uncertainty and conflict should be incorporated to the analysis by other means. One direct way to do that is to give up making models and just talk about economics (like trained entrepreneurs and journalist do). But if someone cannot do without models, uncertainty and conflict may be introduced into the analysis from outside the model: via its philosophical interpretation. This is a Khunean idea: if you “see” the world through the lenses of your mental framework (paradigm), why not extend this idea and assert that looking at models and theories analysts “see” them (their content, potential and significance) trough [sic] the lenses of their ontological and philosophical framework?” (Marques 2016, 156)

    [T]he hope that economics would one day become a positive science relying on the evidence to confirm or to refute theories has, up to this point, been in vain…. Furthermore, the notion that an appeal to evidence could resolve all theoretical disputes is — to put it mildly — methodologically naïve. As Einstein (1926) said: ‘Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.’ And as a philosopher of science, Imre Lakatos (1978), explained, the central propositions of any theoretical framework are surrounded by a ‘protective belt’ of ‘auxiliary assumptions’ that prevent them from being refuted. (Hill, Rod & Myatt Tony. The Economics Anti-Textbook [A Critical Thinkers Guide to Micro-Economics]. New York: Zed Books; 2010; p. 3.)

    My formal educational background was in business (accounting with an interest in forensic accounting) and informal education in technology and software engineering. While briefly working in corporate accounting in the mid-1990s I witnessed firsthand how management could evade the auditors and cover-up shenanigans yet still come away with a clean audit. After training myself in software engineering I eventually ended up working for Microsoft and witnessed firsthand how one of the Big Five accounting firms formed a partnership with Microsoft in which fellow co-workers (software engineers) could move from Microsoft into Arthur Anderson and back as though the two were one firm.[1]

    At the time the Big Fiver were “redesigning their identities” from being primarily auditing firms into multi-service “consulting” firms, with audition being just one of their roles. Having come from the field of accounting I was watching closely as Arthur Levitt and others were raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest as the trend showed increasing audit failures within the Big Five accounting firms that cost taxpayers dearly.

    “In the old days auditors were risk averse professionals, whose training was to keep people coloring within the lines. But Levitt saw them evolving into sleeker (and financially more ambitious) professionals who wanted out of their old identity and into a new one. Auditors in the 1990s started thinking of themselves as partners with their clients in value creation. Levitt saw the risks that this evolution posed but he could not really interest the market in this issue. In the end Chairman Levitt could not find political support for implementation of his view of appropriate public policy with respect to auditor’s permissible activities.” (Allen and Siegel 2002, 519-520) [2]

    The cause was plainly visible for anyone with enough common sense and not blinded by ideology (i.e., mainstream economics) and greed. The rise in consulting services increased the potential conflict of interest for auditors that were performing both IT consulting role alongside the auditing role for huge sums of revenue. The revenue stream from non-audit services sometimes exceeded fees for auditing services. [3]

    Investors, who rely heavily on the integrity of the auditor’s attestation, as well taxpayers who inevitably end up footing the bill for massive audit failures and fraud as exemplified in Enron’s case, could no longer depend on the “Independent expert judgment is the alpha and the omega of the auditing profession.” (Allen and Siegel 2002, 521) When auditing forms become providers of multiple professional services to their audit clients the potential for conflicts of interest increase proportionally, as was proven by Enron’s and then Arthur Anderson’s spectacular and costly collapse.

    Having already documented the trend and identified the conflict of interest posed by Big Five accounting firms rebranding of their identities and expanding roles (multiservice consulting in IT, legal, etc.) as well as a trend of increasing audit failures, “The SEC initially proposed a prohibition of consulting services to audit clients involving the design or installation of information technology systems.” (Allen and Siegel 2002, 533)

    Very quickly the Big Five accounting firms let loose the dogs of war (lobbyists) chief of which was Harvey Pitt, who launched a political attack – the war over consulting – with the aid of friends on Capitol Hill (aka corrupt politicians like Newt Gingrich and Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, a powerful House Republican who chaired the committee with oversight of the SEC) they attacked the SEC even threatening to defund SEC:

    “To block Levitt, the accountants turned to friends on Capitol Hill such as Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, a powerful House Republican who chaired the committee with oversight of the SEC…. Tauzin had received nearly $300,000 from the accounting industry since 1989 — even though he never had a serious challenger for his seat. In their war against Levitt, the accounting firms unleashed a massive lobbying campaign, spending nearly $23 million in campaign contributions to both parties.”

    The argument used by Pitt et. al. was that the Big Five were professional and could manage such conflicts of interest and that such government intervention and regulation would stifle entrepreneurship and innovation. In the end, the SEC lost, but did make its case clearly:
    “We believe that the independence issues that arise when the audit firm designs and installs the audit client’s electronic business system or another critical business system, are similar to those involving the design of accounting systems. The failure to recognize such similarities, we believe, reflects a failure to systematically think through the threats to auditor independence that results from the rush to issue a rule.” (Allen and Siegel 2002, 535)

    It was only a short time later that Enron’s massive fraud, and the collusion of Arthur Anderson were splashed across the news for the whole world to see. This kind of regulatory capture by corporations and their lobbyists continues today. One only needs to look at Trump and the erosion of the institutions that once provided Ethical standards meant to prevent such crony capitalism and its corrosive effect upon government, business, and society at large.

    As come to the last chapter of Gustavo Marqués “A Philosophical Framework for Rethinking Theoretical Economics and Philosophy of Economics,” I note that I can document case after case of his central thesis playing out, just as it did above, proving that mainstream economics has lost touch with the way in which real actors behave in the complex and unpredictable market place (although, certain pathways are foreseeable and patterns are visible, for human nature is consistent in repeating the same folly over and over), and that no wet dream of “getting the math right” and/or creating a “social mathematics” will prove an efficient solution to this problem or allow us to predict when and how such massive failures will unfold.

    Now I need to find a way of translating complex philosophical arguments into language the common man in the street can understand. Otherwise all this learning is for naught.

    ~ ~ ~

    [1] https://news.microsoft.com/2001/03/13/microsoft-collaborates-with-arthur-andersen-avanade-and-ksolutions-furthering-adoption-of-microsoft-project-and-visio-across-enterprises/
    [2] https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/law_lawreview/vol80/iss2/2/
    [3] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/regulation/congress/index.html#3
    See: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/regulation/

    • Rob
      January 22, 2018 at 9:10 pm

      Addendum: When G.W. Bush was elected the regulatory capture was completed by appointing the Big Five industry lobbyist as the head of the SEC. He subverted regulation (e.g., quashed ongoing investigations) and laid the groundwork for the laissez-faire culture inside the SEC that enabled by Enron and Arthur Anderson to perpetuate a massive Ponzi scheme upon the market. A few months after he assumed his role as head of the SEC Enron and then Arthur Anderson imploded.

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