A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two
WITH NATURE’S CONSENT: The Biology of Wealth, Growth and Property
Those who think that there is no relevant biology in economics have insufficient respect for the cell metabolism, genetic structure, instinctual designs and the nervous system capacities and limitations necessary for having such a thought. That all human action forms out of our biology is axiomatic; since this is undeniably true, it would seem incumbent on any region of study of human action to make relevant aspects of our biology foundational. It can be reasonably posited that failure to do so would set the study off onto arbitrary tangents that may require generations for recovery to more veridical paths.
We have seen this in every area of study: astrology separating from astronomy over the centuries, alchemy to chemistry, various forms of magic becoming physics, vitalism working its way to biology, several aspects of religion slowing giving way to psychology and classical psychology giving way to evolutionary psychology and social biology. These are all reasonable and sensible adaptive changes to the ways in which we must interface with Biophysical Reality – that which is actually real and not just imagined as a handy intermediate understanding!
I think that this is our present situation: The formal study of economics began at a time when it was assumed, more than assumed, judged the truth, that humans were tabula rasa creatures made in the image of God, ready to be filled with either good or evil. Given such an unenlightened beginning, such a relatively short time ago, is it any wonder that economics is at the stage equivalent to the alchemy of Thomas Bacon? Of course, economists will not own up to such a thing, so it is up to the rest of us, in our own small ways, to try to bend their tangents back toward some direction at least parallel with the direction of our true natures.
It is not the intention of this book to reconstruct the widely available data of inequity and injustice, even as the data is torturously ignored and denied by major media, but is an exploration of how some of us must come to think about inequity. As with all thought, this is a matter of discovering the most efficacious context; I am proposing that such context is found in our biology and ecological relations.
Data, organized as systematic fact, eventually pushes ideas and beliefs toward adaptations that comport behaviors with Reality, but this process is multigenerational; it functions on evolutionary time scales. And it is clear that ideas and beliefs do not have to be in line with biophysical principles for behaviors to be adaptive within those same principles; in point of fact, beliefs rarely comport with reality while behaviors often have done.
What we, as a species, are confronting today is behaviors, driven by ideas and beliefs with no especial connection with biophysical Reality, with no reasonable way to reconnect those behaviors to Reality short of the destruction of primary ecological support systems and the direct failure of these behaviors in the world. The data supporting this understanding are piling up to mountainous effect against our increasingly ruinous barriers of belief; and as the data becomes more persuasive, the stubbornness of belief reflexively increases. In such a moment, new ways of thinking about our habits and beliefs must become the insidious cracks in the dominating structure.
I both admit and proclaim that I have no formal expertise in academic economics. I am doing what I hope these essays might empower others to do – to study and think about how the world is working, to question, to communicate and to act out a growing understanding of how it is best to live in the world. We all have, not only the right, but the obligation, to learn about and be critical of all that we are told – then to explore, think and conclude as best we can. What is antithetical to manifesting our full humanity, our specieshood, is passive acceptance.
The oldest essay in this collection was written more than 15 years ago, but is perhaps even more timely today than in the closing days of the last century. I’ll not identify it, and only mention it to indicate that the collection spans a goodly number years. This book is devoted to essays directly concerning economic matters. Future books in this series of collected essays will be devoted to politics, religion, the human dilemma and the nature of our species.
These are matters that we all should think about and communicate about, “expert” and common practitioner alike; we are all practitioners of the principles of life: biological and social, and we all have the most profound interest in doing them well.
Note on The Consciousness System of Order:
Many, if not most, of these essays make mention of and arguments involving the specialized information handling system used by humans. We are so much a part of this system – the system is, in a very real way, us – that it is largely invisible to us. But it is a completely new way of handling the information routinely used by the physical and living worlds as well as, vast amounts of information never before captured by any systematic design.
Talking about human adaptation and human social order without the concept of the Consciousness System of Order (CSO) is like trying to talk about the Living Order without the conceptions of evolution, genetics and the nature of the DNA/protein nexus of information selection, storage and implementation. Just as the Living Order creates a structure of probabilities for what its systematic design makes possible to bring into existence, qualitatively different from the Physical Order’s probability structure, so the CSO creates a probability structure that is qualitatively different from the Living Order.
A simple example can clarify: what is the probability of a jet plane being created in the Living Order? It is not denied as a possibility, but the DNA/protein nexus has no structural way of collecting and organizing the information needed to make a jet plane and so, the probability, while positive, is vanishingly small; random events could, like so many monkeys doing metallurgy and fabricating, make a jet plane, but there might not be enough time in the universe for one to actually be formed in this way. However, in the Consciousness Order the probability is clearly ‘1’ – certainty or nearly a certainty since there may be other living systems on other planets with evolved consciousness systems that have not produced a jet plane – but here on the earth jet planes are a certainty.
The CSO has a relationship with information, its selection, storage and implementation, that is new to the universe, more powerful than we realize and dangerous beyond our comprehension. It is this capacity to use details of information that couldn’t even be captured before, to combine these details in both veridical and illusory designs (usually without clear methods for telling the difference, the major source of its danger), to imagine objects and actions that have never been experienced before, and to then find ways to actually produce many of those imaginings. We must begin to understand this capacity and to bring it into an integrated relationship with the regular order of the natural world in which we live.
Clues to the nature of this new system of order are sprinkled through out these essays and will, hopefully, soon be the subject of its own book. But for now this brief introduction should be sufficient for reading the following essays.