Friday, June 22, 2012

Self-organization and fitness

We're still talking about Jane Jacobs. A few things tend to flow from seeing the economy as an ecosystem. Just like Stuart Kauffman, the mathematical evolutionary theorist we were discussing a few days ago, Jacobs notes that that the economy is not predictable.

A system can be making itself up as it goes along.. The weather is like that. Evolution is like that. Economies, if they aren't inert and stagnant, are like that. Since they make themselves up as they proceed, they aren't predestined. Not being predestined, they aren't predictable. p137
And just like Kauffman, she is fascinated by self-organization: 

Everybody talks about how amazing it is that the Internet is self-organized.. Also how remarkable that a system which originated when a very few computer users in universities and government offices, who had common research interests, linked their computers by telephone lines - how remarkable that it's ramified itself into a 'World Wide Web' by making itself up as it went along. Nobody planned such a thing. Is the Internet unusual?
There's something quite profound about this. Our ability to forecast is limited. We can't predict where things are going with any accuracy. But at least the system does have tendencies towards self-organization and structure.

The double nature of fitness

Another thing that matters is an ecological view is the nature of fitness and natural selection. She suggests Darwin's view of natural selection was in fact too narrow.

I'm proposing that fitness for survival by natural selection has two faces. . One is competitive success at feeding and breeding. This accounts for natural selection by survival of the fittest according to conventional evolutionary theory. The extreme version of the theory of fitness as determined by competitive success at breeding is the 'selfish gene' .. I'm suggesting this view is too simple. So was Darwin's own narrowing of success to competitive success. It doesn't take into account evolutionary success at habitat maintenance. Both the competition and the arena for competition are necessary. (p123)

Successful species coevolve. Lions could pursue game all the time, but bask and laze much of the day.

One could go on and on: Otters play on water slides; racoons gambol and roll about together - evolution has equipped them with things to do other than catching all the fish available or otherwise tearing apart their habitats. (p120)

It's a lovely poetic image, and it makes sense. Kauffman suggests the same thing based on his mathematical algorithms, rather than poetry.

Perhaps humans have even evolved a few traits that limit environmental damage, if very imperfectly, she suggests. They might include aesthetic appreciation or a tendency to tinker and invent new ways to do things - to mine coal instead of cutting trees for charcoal, for example.

I'll be developing the view that even if we can't accurately predict the course of the economy, we can have influence by exerting some control on what "fitness" means. I talked about this a few days ago here.


No comments:

Post a Comment