Remembering Adam Smith
Adam Smith (1723 - 1790) is remembered primarily for writing An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, a bestseller, not only because of its message, but also because of its timing. Adam Smith published this book in 1776, the year of the American Revolution, an opportune time for its message. He proclaimed that rational self-interest and competition could lead to economic well-being and prosperity, laying the philosophical cornerstone for a new republic founded on capitalism.
Evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould speculated that Darwin's theory of evolution was in part inspired by Adam Smith's laissez faire economics in the Wealth of Nations: “I believe that the theory of natural selection should be viewed as an extended analogy - whether conscious or unconscious on Darwin's part I do not know - to the laissez faire economics of Adam Smith.”
C.S. Peirce saw Darwin as having extended political-economic views of progress to the entire realm of animal and vegetable life. A curious reversal. We typically assume that biological theories are translated to social systems, rather than vice versa. Suppose instead that Darwin was inspired by Adam Smith, or that Darwin's interpreters were so influenced by Adam Smith that his theory of evolution was interpreted to reflect capitalist ideology. If Peirce was correct that the translation ran from political-economic systems to the interpretation of a scientific theory, our common view that science leads the way, inspiring social science to translate scientific findings, is turned on its head. Instead we have a feedback loop where science is inspired by, and interpreted within, cultural paradigms, and where powerful, socio-economic forces mold our interpretations of scientific theories.
If science is interpreted within existing cultural paradigms, it cannot change them. Beyond Gould's hypothesis that Darwin was influenced by laissez faire economics possibly the fifty year wave of Herbert Spencer's pre-eminent influence (from 1852 to 1902 and beyond) molded an interpretation of Darwin's theory that still survives today. If so, then Darwin's strategy to overcome religious conservatism may have backfired, locking this theory of evolution to economic conservatism, which led to an interpretation of his theory that misrepresents what he intended. A socio-economic context cultured and selected for “survival as fittest” an interpretation of Darwin's theory of evolution that supported the parallel advancement of capitalist-industrialist visions of the late nineteenth century. Vestiges of this interpretation survive today, not because this interpretation is most true to how Nature operates, but because it is most true to how our socio-economic ecosystem operates. It serves those who want this interpretation to survive as fittest.
Our socio-economic system is highly stressed, even as natural ecosystems are in crisis, which also is no coincidence. Few know about the other half of Adam Smith's work, his other great book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published in 1759, exactly one hundred years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Adam Smith intended this earlier work to serve as a complement to his later Wealth of Nations, to be its other half.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments opens, “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. . . . As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation.”
Adam Smith viewed each man as responsible for the care of his own happiness, that of his family, his friends, and his country. He wrote: “Two different roads are presented to us, equally leading to the attainment of this so much desired object; the one, by the study of wisdom and the practice of virtue; the other, by the acquisition of wealth and greatness. Two different characters are presented to our emulation; the one, of proud ambition and ostentatious avidity, the other, of humble modesty and equitable justice.”
The second road was forgotten.
Note: Above is excerpted from Zann Gill's forthcoming book, What Daedalus told Darwin: from Darwin's Dilemma to the Struggle for Existence.
Remembering Garrett Hardin.
The traditional view of evolution asserts that the primary dynamic responsible for evolutionary advance is random variation and environmental selection, competition for survival of the fittest. In his 1968 article in the journal Science, Garrett Hardin highlighted the paradox inherent in the traditional interpretation of Darwin’s theory, visualizing how it would lead to the problem of the Tragedy of the Commons: Each agent, pursuing self-interest and competition for survival of the fittest leads to depletion of increasingly scarce resources for all competitors, exploiting shared resources to everyone’s detriment. This competitive paradigm of evolution converges toward a single logical outcome — the Tragedy of the Commons.
Today, as we plunge headlong toward a Tragedy of the Commons endgame, if every fisherman perceives that his self-interest is to use the latest technology to catch as many fish as possible, eventually over-fishing will destroy this resource for everyone. Competition alone is insufficient. To survive on Earth we must collaborate.
Hardin, Garrett. 1960. The Competitive Exclusion Principle. Science 131: 1292-1297.
_______. 1965. Nature and Man's Fate. New American Library.
_______. 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science. 162:1243 – 48.
Crowe, Beryl. 1969. The Tragedy of the Commons Revisited. Reprinted in Managing the Commons by Garrett Hardin and John Baden. W.H. Freeman, 1977.
Innovation (or Knowledge) Networks link participants, while maintaining their uniqueness and collaborative autonomy such that knowledge can evolve as networks grow, with potential for emergent, unpredictable patterns and innovative outcomes.
Problem mapping a priori, in contrast to information visualisation after-the-fact, generates visual frameworks, or “empty constructs” to structure the process of knowledge-gathering. Problem maps can evolve into navigable user interfaces. These open frameworks (partial patterns) tap the pattern recognition capabilities of users, serving as vehicles to order incoming information in process, and for use by participants during the problem-solving process. A classic example of a problem map is Dmitri Mendeleev’s Periodic Table of Elements, which prompted chemists to look for elements that appeared logically likely to exist, based upon the pattern of the Table.