[From Frank Lenk (2010.11.24.1405 CDT)]
[From Bill Powers (2010.11.22.0837 MDT)]
BP: When PCT has found its proper place in the sciences of life, I think we will begin to see a lot of the old customs and superstitions about social life begin to come apart as people find better ways to understand their own structures of goals, and to see how much like other people they are in every way at this fundamental level. It's hard to mistreat someone in whose eyes you see yourself reflected. Maybe that will be enough to turn things around.
Bill - This concept of empathetic agents is exactly what I most want to find a way to model using PCT. I think it leads to a totally different conception of economics.
And yet, it is not anti-economics. Indeed it was Adam Smith himself who held a special role for what he called "Sympathy" in his other main work, *Theory of Moral Sentiments*, which beings as follows:
"However 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."
Smith was concerned how this new system of capitalism would regulate itself. While *Wealth of Nations* focuses on the forces of competition, it is competition guided by an "invisible hand" that allows the aggregation of individuals pursuing their own self-interest to also result in desirable outcomes for the aggregation of individuals we might call "society." But the term, "invisible hand", originates in and occurs more often in *Theory of Moral Sentiments* than *Wealth of Nations*. It is clear that these Moral Sentiments, of which Sympathy is the preeminent virtue, are what he thought guides the "invisible hand".
Sympathy requires a certain capacity. Smith goes on:
"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 of what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is on the rack, as long as we ourselves are at ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by **imagination only** that we can form any conception of what are his sensations." [emphasis added]
Bill, you have said that society is in our heads. I think the above passages do a good job in describing how that might work. Society exists in imagination, and it begins with the feeling of connection to others. In turn, this begins with and is felt most strongly with kin, but scales up, albeit in diluted fashion, to other persons and groups with whom we identify. These might include our community, our religious affiliation, our country, or the entire world.
This feeling/perception of connection is real, despite the fact it is the product of our imaginations. Moreover, it forms the basis for the most fundamental rules by which we live. Without it, the golden rule in either its Christian (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) or Jewish version (What is hateful to yourself, do not do to others) would have no moral force. Both implicitly require we imagine how others would feel when affected by our actions.
The other part of whether society is "real" or not is whether it has any power to enforce certain behaviors upon those who perceive themselves to be a part of that society. This may or may not happen in the imagination, it seems to me. People really do get thrown in jail when they violate laws created by the members of the society. Children really do get punished for lying and other behavior their parents think is wrong. Together these help establish and reinforce references for behavior. But the instances of specific socially enforced consequences any individual directly experiences seems limited to me compared to the vast number of actions people take within a social context. Therefore, it still seems to me that a large part of social influence on individual behavior also occurs in the imagination.
In the words of John Dewey, *Human Nature and Conduct*,
"When a child acts, those about him re-act. They shower encouragement upon him, visit him with approval, or they bestow frowns and rebuke. What others do to us when we act is as natural a consequence of our action as what the fire does to us when we plunge our hands in it. The social environment may be as artificial as you please. But its action in response to ours is natural not artificial. In language and imagination we rehearse the responses of others just as we dramatically enact other consequences. We foreknow how others will act, and the foreknowledge is the beginning of judgment passed on action. We know with them; there is conscience. An assembly is formed within our breast which discusses and appraises proposed and performed acts. The community without becomes a forum and tribunal within, a judgment-seat of charges, assessments and exculpations. Our thoughts of our own actions are saturated with the ideas that others entertain about them, ideas which have been expressed not only in explicit instruction but still more effectively in reaction to our acts."
In sum, PCT-based agents that have an imagination mode capable of perceiving a connection to others, where some references are intrinsic and some are set through a learning process mediated through these perceived connections seems to be the basis for a new kind of economic modeling.
Still working out the "implementation details"....(grin)
From: Control Systems Group Network (CSGnet) [mailto:CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU] On Behalf Of Bill Powers
Sent: Monday, November 22, 2010 10:35 AM
Subject: Re: [CSGNET] Calculating Appropriate Wealth Disparity
Martin Lewitt Nov 22, 2010 0347 MST --
What you call "greed" explains very little of this complexity. The
enjoyment of playing games, of ever refinement of skill of the
feeling of control and competence, may be a form of greed that had
survival value, but it is hardly the type you are demonizing.
But it is. What is a game to a person with millions to spend without
missing them is for those in the strata below a deadly serious,
dreary, and scary struggle to get enough to eat, a place to live,
help when sick, a future without anxiety. The rich don't pay the
penalties for their mistakes and miscalculations, the middle class
and poor do. You make the offenses seen innocent, harmless, and even
admirable, which of course is a well-proven way of perpetuating evil.
You assume that just because someone is rich, he is also smart, or
because he is smart about outwitting and outcheating the competition,
he is smart in every other way, or even one other way. I've met only
a very few in that position whose intellects struck me as out of the
ordinary. Pickpockets and con-men are also more than ordinarily
skillful and clever at what they do, but that doesn't make them admirable.
It's easy, of course, to pick out of a population of hundreds of
thousands a few individuals who stand out because they are so
different from their rapacious peers. Warren Buffet has said he
doesn't pay enough taxes, but I haven't noticed a line of
millionaires and billionaires rushing to sign up for membership in
Buffet's movement. Bill and Melissa Gates are giving away huge
amounts of money in a very caring and work-intensive way -- but that
money was accumumated by a man with an uncanny resemblance to Bill
Gates who is generally acknowledged to have been merciless and
voracious in his appetite for power and profit. I suspect that the
origin of a great deal of philanthropy is a guilty conscience. Not
all, never all. But "a great deal" is more than enough.
The desire for inordinate riches and power still looks to me like a
disease. When I think of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" I still see the
sickness pervading the book, and a pyramid of immature justifications
that show an awareness that something is wrong with this picture. Ayn
Rand in her innocence lays out in plain view every twisted
rationalization imaginable to excuse the inhuman way her heros treat
the rest of the human race, and the incredibly inflated egos they
boast about and she admires. Practically everything she holds up as a
virtue is something most sane people see as a moral failing or a sin
(skillfully executed, perhaps, but so what?).
I'm aware that I'm playing out this conflict at the level of its
symptoms rather than its causes, so having relieved myself of a few
passionate feelings I'm going to let this go. Pitting one conviction
against another generates heat but no useful work. When PCT has found
its proper place in the sciences of life, I think we will begin to
see a lot of the old customs and superstitions about social life
begin to come apart as people find better ways to understand their
own structures of goals, and to see how much like other people they
are in every way at this fundamental level. It's hard to mistreat
someone in whose eyes you see yourself reflected. Maybe that will be
enough to turn things around.
In that generalizable sense, even non-material utopias have their
"greeds" whether it is for group sex or spiritual communion.