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I think the ants are an extreme case of pure evolutionary adaptation. Pete often talks about the importance of constraints in markets and in other human interactions. The ants, let us assume, have no choice in how and when to carry out their specialized activities. These specialized activities have been selected by evolution in such a way that they are "perfectly" coordinated with each other. They are all about constraints. (Let's pass for the moment on why or how.)

Now human beings can make choices -- pure and originative. This has certain benefits. However, it also means that our actions will be much less perfectly coordinated with each other because people will only imperfectly be able to predict the actions of one another.

This suggests that the world of "perfect" coordination is not something human beings can naturally or automatically attain. In fact, they cannot attain it at all.

Perfect coordination is not human, just as complete chaos is not human (we strive to overcome such a thing). This leaves what O'Driscoll and I -- building on others -- called pattern coordination in The Economics of Time and Ignorance.

An ant colony is a good example of a spontaneous order, but it is qualitatively different from human societies on so many important margins. Scientists aren't even sure if it is correct to call the ant an organism - the ant colony might be the unit of measure which "reproduces." The correct analogy isn't between an ant in its colony and a human in society. It's an ant in its colony and a human cell in a human body.

This can be shown in the rare times that either individual bugs or individual cells revolt against the respective "general welfare." Under certain conditions, female bees who are not queens sometimes lay their own eggs since it is in their genetic interest to do so. This desire to procreate against the desires of the collective is biologically equivalent to cancer in the human body; the body needs to do many things to "convince" a cell in a particular organ not to reproduce itself, since for much of the history of life on earth it was a strong genetic incentive to reproduce. This comparison is made in pages 24-30 of The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley.

Tullock was certainly cutting edge if he was figuring this stuff out in the 1970s. But the cooperation you can observe among insects is qualitatively different than the cooperation you observe among human beings, besides issues like dispersed knowledge. Sociobiology (really evolutionary psychology) now generally focuses on our closest genetic relatives to understand our political behaviors today. Besides Ridley (and Seabright, whom I believe I've seen referenced in this blog), the academic starting point for these questions is Darwinian Politics by Paul Rubin, at least in my opinion.

Many higher order (not ants) social animals engage in what biologists call reciprocal altruism; not surprisingly to some socio-biologists, Axelrod's tournament winner was TIT-FOR-TAT. I think there is much more for us to learn about humans from higher order social animals than ants.

All familiar themes in systems theory at least since Herbert Spencer referred to the social level of organization as "super-organic" and society itself as "an organism." Fascinating to see these old themes play over and over again in different domains of thought.

The debate since Hume's time was whether society was organistic or mechanistic. The classical liberal theorists tended to come down on the idea that "society" is organistic and "the state" is a mechanism. But it became obvious over time that, like in the biological world of species evolution, clear demarcations don't quite capture the reality.

Tullock was "bent over" looking at the ant hill from above. You can do that with ants. But we are humans and we can look at human society only from within. That's one reason, I think, that we can only do pattern prediction and can only have pattern coordination. Thus, some of the differences between human and non-human societies have to do with our position in the system rather than with human nature or how intelligent the agents are. Nevertheless, I think we can learn plenty from non-human societies. Sure, why not? Ryan is right, of course: The ant hill is a spontaneous order. And he is right, IMHO, to point to evolutionary psychology and to Paul Rubin. BTW, I think we should not equate evolutionary psychology with sociobiology. Sociobiology tended to move directly from gene to behavior. The evolutionary psychology of Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby recognizes that you need a *mechansim* to get you from gene to behavior, and for humans the main mechanism is our evolved psychology.

Mario is correct about the nature of ants vs. that of humans. One can get perfect coordination in ants, but in humans you have coordination (Kirzner) and discoordination (Lachmann) simultaneously. With ants, communication is simple and perfect (interpretable one way), while with humans, communication is complex and imperfect (interpretable several ways). Also, one must note that ant colonies, while behaving as completely decentralized networks, have a goal; spontaneous orders do not have goals, even as the underlying entities (humans and organizations) all necessarily do. The ant colony is in fact an organization -- even if it has a "democratic" organizational hierarchy. THe goal-seeking ants participate in a goal-seeking organization with democratic hierarchical structure (ant colony) that, because of that structure, can be easily mistaken for having scale free network structure. The ant colony is one of many organizations participating (with a variety of species individuals) to create the scale free ecosystem network. It is thus more apt to study ant colonies as organizations, not as spontaneous orders. One should study ecosystems to better understand spontaneous orders.

Well done, but thankfully people are not as proportionally strong or our fights for power will far exceed that of the ants.

Are the comments working? I can't seem to get anything to post.

(If this works now I'll look like an idiot)

Some people take inspiration from animal studies which demonstrate coordination, teamwork, social behavior, even altruism. They see this as a counter to the Hobbesian view of extreme individualism, the “warre of all against all”. The most influential exponent of the conflict between individualism and altruism was probably Plato in Republic. This concern is manifest by Freud who had great difficulty accounting for the taming of the ego and the emergence of social behavior. Freud’s defective view on this and other matters was corrected by Ian D Suttie in his totally neglected work The Origins of Love and Hate (1935). Given that we evolved from social animals there is no problem to account for social/cooperative behaviour.

Taking up Troy's point on communication, one of the most distinctive human traits that cannot be found in the animal world is the evolution from the descriptive to the argumentative use of language. The lower forms of language, the expressive and the signaling functions occur in animals and machines (if the machine is programmed to respond to a signal). The higher level of description may be found in bees (a line ball example) and reaches full development with the development of speech and especially writing. The highest level, the argumentative or dialectical use of language permits enables thte evolution of knowledge and ideas that are carried outside the body and the genes so we can have evolution by eliminating ideas without eliminating individuals or species.

These views on the levels of language were developed by Karl Buhler (working in Vienna) and progressed by Karl Popper who added the argumentative level.

Introduction to Popper’s theory of language


true love not to be able to use the spoken language expression, the behavior is loyal best showed that

V.L. Smith, in a comment on Human Action, reported some "behavioural" economic experiments. From them he derived a natural tendency of people to cooperate: by mere action (offering money, in an experiment) they can send an implicit invitation of the kind "I give you my money not for you to take them and run, but employ in a way profitable for both", and the partner action works as a reply (he/she whether runs away or shares the higher outcome); the mass of experiments seems to prove that people have a tendency to "risk" to cooperate in a mathematically counter-intuitive matter (in those experiments game theory says that running with money is the dominant strategy, the you better do not risk), but actually gain a higher result on average i.e. they are right!

What can this mean?
- Ants simply grow in certain specialised biological forms, thus play a certain role, given how they are fed, which in turn descends from the contingent state of the group. The individual ant does not choose, simply gets involved in a role by the current organisation.
- People instead choose, on the basis of experience and reasoning, to try play a role, and the combination of individual choices tends to create a spontaneous organisation based on free will.

I think ants can learn us that nature tends to organise itself by use of the peculiar characters of the single form of life: ants can mutate shape by feeding, and actions follow; people can mutate actions by thinking, and further reasoning follow. Each form of life has got its own "comparative advantage" then parallelisms can be drawn in terms of most general principles but not a very fine level.
The main lessons is then for socialism supporters: people are not ants, so let them free to choose.

The spontaneous ordering abilities of schooling fish are being studied by a guy at Princeton -- I wrote it up and linked it at Taking Hayek Seriously earlier this year.

Any demonstration of non-top down spontaneous ordering gives added scientific legitimacy to Hayekian economic science, which those under sway of fake view of science would deny it.

Social organization and coordination among animal species is spontaneous over the long haul of evolution (and not cultural evolution). However, while generally functional, there is nothing "perfect" about it. Indeed, there are certainly now extinct species that were social but whose coordination was sufficiently imperfect that they failed to survive.

The evolution of cooperation within humans is really a very different matter and occurred mostly as part of our evolution since we split from the chimpanzees out of our last common ancestor, as chimpanzees do have some social order and communication.

Spontaneous social coordination among schooling fish is immediate and happens in real time.

Barkley wrote,

"Social organization and coordination among animal species is spontaneous over the long haul of evolution."

The latest research in multiple and overlapping disciplines seems to suggest that human cooperation somehow developed with the advent of making trades. It seems the genetics and behavior of humans differs from chimps in significant respects in this regard.

"The evolution of cooperation within humans is really a very different matter and occurred mostly as part of our evolution since we split from the chimpanzees out of our last common ancestor, as chimpanzees do have some social order and communication."

Social organization & coordination of all sorts of organisms happens in real time, there may be ultimate selective causal processes behind it, but their are proximate real time causal processes producing it in real time every day.

E.g. the flying formation of geese, the circling of musk oxen when threatened, and on and on.

All sorts of functions in your body are spontaneously organized in real time, and development of the individual organizes spontaneously.

Some of these real time processes are selective processes, e.g. the immune system (see the work of Edelman).

The brain is also a spontaneously order system, likely also using real time "Darwinian" selection mechanism (again, see Edelman).

Socially acquired imitative adaptive behavior occurs among and within several species, including most famously among chimps.

Birds do, bees do it.

It's not only humans who do it.

Troy, I'm not buying your articulation of these differences.

Puns are a real problem when using human domain words by analogy to characterize the non-human world.

This is a BIG issue, and contaminates / infects most all of science in one way or other.

I'm not sure what you're not buying. Your use of metaphor (contaminates/infects) seems to prove my point about language, at the very least.


ateleological biochemical network processes give rise to self-organizing teleological cells, which give rise (in some species) to self-organizing teleological organisms.

teleological social organisms give rise to ateleological social networks, and combinations of these give rise to ateleological ecosystems, which combine to give rise to the ateleological biosphere.

teleological humans give rise to teleological organizations, and combinations of these give rise to ateleological spontaneous orders (the catallaxy, the arts, language, etc.), which combine to give rise to Hayek's Great Society.

It seems a reasonable analogy, even if at a higher level of complexity for humans and their spontaneous orders.

Troy, that sound OK enough.

Functional explanations of all kinds fall under the category of the teleological.

See the work of Larry Wright, Alex Rosenberg, etc.

Biochemical networks in biological systems are characterized both chemically and functionally.

Taking up Barkley's point about the imperfection of evolution, the defensive formation of the musk ox is a good/tragic example. The defensive circle worked well with their natural predators but when hunters with firearms turned up the oxen held the circle around their fallen comrades. So even if the hunters only wanted a single beast for food, they had to kill a whole heap of the herd to get it.

A glycine is ateleological by itself; it is given teleology within the context of the cell (or the brain, as a neurotransmitter). Thus, the cell is teleological, but the chemicals themselves are not. They are made so only in the context of the cell's use of them. As a molecule, ateleological; as a biomolecule, teleological.

The point about functionality gets right to the issue, though. If something cannot be said to have functionality -- if it cannot be said to be used by a given process to achieve a goal -- then it cannot be teleological and, thus, is not an organization, with organizational network architecture (which is hierarchical), but is rather a scale-free network.

Troy, read Alex Rosenberg on this topic, it really clears up a lot of linguistic confusion.

And, of course, the most important writer on teleological explanation since Aristotle is Larry Wright, so I'd also recommend his book.

Note well, the word "teleological" has many connotations and uses, not all of them the same.

I am well aware of the wide varieties of teleologies. I'm hardly going to go into them all and make such fine differentiations in a blog post. In whatever way one wants to use "teleological," a glycine in a tube of water isn't teleological in any way, shape, or form. Neither, by definition, is an ecosystem, the biosphere, the catallaxy, or Hayek's Great Society. Those are the relevant points.

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