Going Green

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Complex Adaptive Systems

Below is a fascinating article from Scientific American. The premise is that biological evolution and economic evolution are driven by the same phenomenon of complex adaptive systems. I'm not certain it truly fits within the "purpose" for which this blog was created but I include it here for reference anyway.


Evolution and economics are both examples of a larger mysterious phenomenon

By Michael Shermer

Living along the Orinoco River that borders Brazil and Venezuela are the Yanomamö people, hunter-gatherers whose average annual income has been estimated at the equivalent of $90 per person per year. Living along the Hudson River that borders New York State and New Jersey are the Manhattan people, consumer-traders whose average annual income has been estimated at $36,000 per person per year. That dramatic difference of 400 times, however, pales in comparison to the differences in Stock Keeping Units (SKUs, a measure of the number of types of retail products available), which has been estimated at 300 for the Yanomamö and 10 billion for the Manhattans, a difference of 33 million times! How did this happen? According to economist Eric D. Beinhocker, who published these calculations in his revelatory work The Origin of Wealth (Harvard Business School Press, 2006), the explanation is to be found in complexity theory. Evolution and economics are not just analogous to each other, but they are actually two forms of a larger phenomenon called complex adaptive systems, in which individual elements, parts or agents interact, then process information and adapt their behavior to changing conditions. Immune systems, ecosystems, language, the law and the Internet are all examples of complex adaptive systems.

In biological evolution, nature selects from the variation produced by random genetic mutations and the mixing of parental genes. Out of that process of cumulative selection emerges complexity and diversity. In...(complete article here).

The article touches briefly on the idea of a framework of "guiding principles" within which evolution occurs. The author seems to blithely accept the appearance of such a framework arising purely as a creation of the evolutionary process itself thus dismissing "intelligent design" as a misunderstanding of the facts based on their appearance. It would certainly be plausible to accept such an idea when evaluating the system from a purely secular-- or natural -- point of view. One's predisposition toward supernaturalism will determine the acceptance or rejection of such a viewpoint. I for one am of the belief that evolution (not as commonly understood, but as a process of change within boundaries) occurs within a framework created by the "guiding hand" of God.

For an interesting discussion of "naturalism" vs "spirituality" or "supernaturalism" see this article.

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