October 28, 2009

After my seminar for my methods class I got to thinking about emergence. This is a field of science that studies the sense that comes out of nonsense; the rationality in chaos. Why? We started the night talking about Rational Choice Theory.

Yes, that again; look, I think it’s fascinating. So a couple of more points that have occurred to me today and I’ll be off… to talk about… other things. One very interesting thing to think about as regards emergence is the human brain itself. Think about it; open up a neuron, and what will you find? Not a thought. Neurons just speed chemicals along through a brain, the thought arises apart from the neurons. Look too closely and you’ll miss the point.

The same is true of ant colonies. Zoom in on one ant, and they’re hopelessly stupid creatures. Pull the camera back a little bit, and all of a sudden the whole thing looks fairly rational. Quite amazing, actually. Now, in the case of an ant colony this is because of something that one scientist I read liked to call “inevitable accidents.” In other words, it is a totally random occurrence that any one ant might find a piece of food to bring to the colony. However, as that ant returns to the colony it leaves a scent trail of sorts, and when another ant stumbles on the piece of food, it does the same, doubling the strength of the trail. Before too long, the colony has a highway leading the colony to its goal, but it starts with a completely flukey incident.

Now previously, economists has thought that markets worked differently. At the base were rationally functioning things, so as the picture was scaled out it continued to look rational. The emerging picture is one of irrationality at the base, and as it zooms out, the whole thing begins to look like an ant colony. Good luck understanding it, because it one thing goes awry everything falls apart.


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