Thursday, May 5, 2016

Growth analogies, microfoundations and Mathematical Biology of Social Behavior

You want MICROfoundations? In Mathematical Biology of Social Behavior, Nicolas Rashevsky attempted "the next step" of examining the social interactions of individuals in terms of the mathematical biophysics of the central nervous system. He paid special attention to economic questions of wealth, distribution, motivation, learning, rationality, habit, imitation, individualism and collectivism.

Rashevsky's mathematics must be seen as exploratory and often is qualified by the admission that assumptions are unrealistic but that more realistic assumptions make the math intractable. The results thus offer insights, not "conclusions." The contrast with alleged microfoundations as practiced by contemporary mainstream economists couldn't be starker. The latter embrace unrealistic assumptions as a feature, not a bug, because it enables them to crank out conclusions based on biases they are seeking to confirm.

Simon Kuznets on growth:
Growth is a concept whose proper domicile is the study of organic units, and the use of the concept in economics is an example of that prevalent employment of analogy the dangers of which have been so eloquently stressed recently by Sidney Hook. 
Sidney Hook on analogy:
As an argument it is formally worthless and never logically compelling. An argument from analogy can be countered usually with another argument from analogy which leads to a diametrically opposed conclusion. ...
At best an analogy can only suggest a plausible conclusion whose validity must then be established on other grounds. The uncritical use of analogies is the bane of much historical writing, particularly when the resemblances lack clear definition or when they are blurred and presented as identities. ...  The belief that society is an organism is an old but fanciful notion. It can only be seriously entertained by closing the eye to all the respects in which a group of separate individuals differs from a system of connected cells, and by violently redefining terms like "birth," "reproduction," and "death." 
Gregory Bateson on schizophrenia:
...the ‘word salad' of schizophrenia can be described in terms of the patient’s failure to recognize the metaphoric nature of his fantasies. In what should be triadic constellations of messages, the frame-setting message (e.g., the phrase 'as if') is omitted, and the metaphor or fantasy is narrated and acted upon in a manner which would be appropriate if the fantasy were a message of the more direct kind.