Archives for posts with tag: Bounded rationality

Humberto Maturana teaches us that human consciousness can be understood as our ability to ‘observe ourselves observing‘.
In other words, consciousness might be reduced to self-awareness.

I’m afraid it’s not enough.
While no individual can be described as conscious if not commanding a certain degree of self-awareness, being able to observe their own observations doesn’t elevate an observer to fully conscious status.

How many of us have ‘enjoyed’ messing up ants or other insects just for the fun of it? When we were teenagers, of course.
OK, we continue to squish the cockroaches we happen to see and to spray our gardens against mosquitoes and other pests.
Only we no longer do it for fun. We employ a ‘healthy’ rationale to justify our actions – cockroaches/mosquitoes are ‘bad for us’.
And we try to do it in a reasonable manner. We don’t soak the entire garden with the most potent insecticide available. Simply because we’ve understood, the hard way, that bees are also important for us.

Otherwise put, it’s not enough for us to be able to keep tabs on what we do, we must also take responsibility for our actions.

After all, we’ve been able to notice that bison ‘engineer’ their own environment.

“Herds of bison milling through Yellowstone National Park may seem aimless to the average visitor, but a new study reveals the animals are hard at work engineering their ecosystem. By rigorously mowing and fertilizing their own patches of grassland, the big herbivores essentially delay spring until late summer.”

Maybe the time is ripe for us to understand that we, humans, have done the very same thing for quite a while now.
The world we live in is, to a certain – but rapidly growing – extent, the consequence of our own decision making.

The faster we learn to accept that, the higher the chances we won’t repeat past mistakes.


Americans voting in the last elections had four options.

Two authoritarians, one libertarian and a “greenhorn”.

I really like Dr. Stein but her lack of ‘high level’ political or business experience made her an unlikely choice.

The authoritarians have generated much hype but so little real enthusiasm that many voters have chosen to stay home.


In this situation, with so many voters – who had shown up in 2004 and 2008 – dissatisfied with the mainstream parties, how come the libertarian candidate – who had both a solid experience, as a two term Governor, and a reasonable electoral platform did not manage a better score?
He did ‘rake in’ a little over 4 million votes – more than trebling his 2012 result – but he is still shy of the 5 % needed to qualify the Libertarian Party for federal funding in the next campaign.

Could it be that the libertarians need to ‘clean up their act’?

Judging by the antics performed by the current winner some ‘pundits’ might counsel them to ‘increase the pressure’ but I don’t think that that would be a wise thing to do.
Yes, today’s 2016 President-elect did display a rather unusual behavior for a presidential candidate, and ‘won’, but I’m afraid this was due to a certain set of ‘co-incidents’ rather than the American political scene undergoing a massive upheaval.
Trump is, we must admit that, a great ‘comedian’.
He does have a huge fortune – and presently enough  Americans are sufficiently obsessed with ‘financial success’ to forgive his rather unorthodox ways of amassing that fortune.
And we must not forget that there is a sizable number of Republicans so eager to regain power that they did tolerate his antics – precisely because they have perceived him as a ‘winner’ AND because he has successfully led them to believe that he will uphold their values.
Therefore I’m afraid that Trump’s performance would not be that easy to reproduce nor do I think that America should really go down this path.

Coming back to the Libertarians, they present to the general public such a wide spectrum of ideas that the ordinary American voter is actually bewildered.
For instance, everybody hates paying taxes but give them up altogether?

The business tycoons – those who successfully avoid paying taxes, as private individuals  or through their corporations – won’t give up this system simply because being able to avoid paying taxes constitutes a huge competitive advantage. Actually it would be rational for them to try to increase the ‘fiscal burden’ that weighs down everybody else but them.
The ‘man in the street’, the one who pays little to none income tax but who contributes hugely to the GDP formation simply because he buys the stuff sold by the business tycoons, won’t give them up because he knows that taxes pay for the roads he uses to go to work, for whatever emergency health care he gets, for his children’s schooling, for his meager pension, etc., etc….
It so happens that only the middle class would have any direct, even if highly debatable, benefit if the state would give up collecting taxes. They have private medical insurance, they send their children to private schools, they don’t rely on public pensions in order to have a decent retirement, and they think they have enough money to pay the tolls whenever they’d need to use the roads.

I’m not going to discuss here the practicality of the arrangements proposed by the ‘anarchists’ – private fire-fighters and private police, among others.

What grabbed my attention was the concept of ‘voluntary taxes’.

I work with the Catholic Church (on a consulting basis) and all payments are voluntary. If people don’t like what the church is doing, they either stop participating or stop donating. Similar idea for the government. If it performs a useful function at a friendly cost, people would support it.

This makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

OK, I won’t bother reminding you what would have happened up to two or three centuries ago to the brave enough guy who decided to stop paying the tithe.

But I will mention the fact that there still are countries in Europe who continue to collect taxes in the name of the church.

And, because of that – where possible, many people leave their churches.

Which reminds us that in modern days belonging to a church is optional.
People who actively engage in church life constitute a subset of the entire population, a subset of people who have selected themselves into this (mental)state.

Living (somewhere) is (not yet) fully optional.
No matter how hard someone tries it is possible that they will never get to live where they wish. Sometimes the natives don’t accept them or they die trying to get there.
On the other hand there are ‘places’ that don’t allow their inhabitants to leave – North Korea and Eritrea are the first two examples that cross my mind. Romania also used to be such a place.
In this sense taxes somewhat resemble Schrodinger’s cat. They are optional – for those who choose to join a certain group, to remain in a certain country or to join one – and are forcefully levied from those who cannot, no matter how hard they try, to leave the place where they have to live.
To compound the situation usually the countries who allow their citizens to leave also determine in a rather democratic manner the amount of taxes that have to be paid by those who choose to remain while in those who act as a prison for their inhabitants it is the local ruler who imposes the fiscal burden unto his subjects.
Now, isn’t it rather strange that this idea, “taxation is theft”, is making furors in the freest country on Earth?
One can leave America at will and most Americans have enough money to live like ‘princes’ almost anywhere on Earth. Not as safely nor enjoying the same degree of civilization… no wonder that very few of them actually leave while so many ‘aliens’ try to get in there…
But why don’t they reform the tax system AND the (wasteful?) way the taxes are being spent, instead of dreaming of a tax-less world?
And how come they don’t realize that in a ‘voluntary’ situation the ‘rational’ think to do would be to save your money, leave the other to pay whatever they want to and benefit from whatever spoils are there to be enjoyed ‘for free’?
After all this is already happening with vaccines.
Many diseases have all but disappeared from the ‘civilized’ world. So much so that ‘rational’ people have begun to stop vaccinating their children.
‘What’s the use to submit my children to a risk, however small, if all the other children are being vaccinated?’
For how long do you think this ‘rationale’ is going to work?
You will tell me that people have grown doubtful about vaccines only after a scientific study was published in a peer reviewed magazine…
Well, people believe what they want to believe.
Even the defenders of Dr. Wakefield do not pretend that he is against vaccination as a principle but only that he still is, to this day, preoccupied with the safety of the ‘triple vaccine’ (MMR) involved in the initial paper.
He did not advise his patients to stop vaccinating, but instead to vaccinate for these three diseases with single vaccines, rather than the combo.
See what I mean?
Far from being rational – people are seldom rational beyond their field of expertise and sometimes fail to be so even in that realm – we are nevertheless convinced that we consistently behave in a reasonable manner.
And this conviction of ours makes us easy prey for the spin doctors who constantly stalk us.
We need to admit that our rationality is bounded before the reasonable libertarians, like Gary Johnson, will have a real chance of stepping into the lime light.
Until then the authoritarians will divide the spoils amongst them.
Not before staging a heated, but fake, fight for our benefit.

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Donald Rumsfeld (b.1932)

“Of all things the measure is man, of the things that are, that [or “how”] they are, and of things that are not, that [or “how”] they are not.”

Protagoras of Abdera (c.485 – 415 BCE)

“Making (political) decisions requires judgement and skill. It should, Plato urges, be left to the experts.”

Plato (c.425 – 348/347 BCE, ‘translated’ by Johnatan Wolff in
An Introduction to Political Philosophy, 2006)

“The Prime Mover causes the movement of other things, not as an efficient cause, but as a final cause. In other words, it does not start off the movement by giving it some kind of push, but it is the purpose, or end, or the teleology, of the movement. This is important for Aristotle, because he thought that an effective cause, giving a push, would be affected itself by the act of pushing. Aristotle believed the prime mover causes things to move by attraction in much the same way that a saucer of milk attracts a cat. The milk attracts the cat but cannot be said to be changed in the process! “

Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE)

“Give me a place to stand and I’ll move the Earth”

Archimedes (c.287 – 212 BCE)

“For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action”

Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

“As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form”

Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.
They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes.”
Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

“Einstein deduced that there is no fixed frame of reference in the universe. Everything is moving relative to everything else….
… space has three dimensions, and the fourth dimension is time.
Space-time can be thought as a grid or fabric. The presence of mass distorts space-time.”

Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

“”Heidegger’s analysis of Plato attempts to show that a transformation occurs in the nature of truth in Plato’s philosophy, as a consequence of which Being is subordinated to the correct perception of beings. This subordination, Heidegger maintains, characterizes the history of Western philosophy as metaphysics.
The allegory of the cave is, for Heidegger, an illustration of the nature and process of paideia. At each level of ascent — within the cave to the light, and out of the cave to the sun — the individual experiences a painful blinding. Each stage requires an adjustment and transformation in vision. This transformation in vision expresses the turning of the soul from what is disclosed in one region to what is disclosed within another. This is paideia, according to Heidegger. The relationship of paideia, in this new sense, to alétheia is not apparent because, as Heidegger sees it, we have not only misunderstood the nature of education but, more importantly, have misconceived the nature of alétheia by conceiving it as “truth.” If paideia is a transition from one abode to another, affected by the soul’s receptivity to what is disclosed within each region, then alétheia is disclosure itself: “At first truth meant what was wrested from a concealment. Truth, then, is just such a perpetual wresting-away in this manner of uncovering.
Heidegger indicates that what “truth” means is not so much a correspondence as it is a disclosure.”

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

The depth of the uncertainty principle is realized when we ask the question; is our knowledge of reality unlimited? The answer is no, because the uncertainty principle states that there is a built-in uncertainty, indeterminacy, unpredictability to Nature.

Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976)

“Contrary to the tenets of classical economics, Simon maintained that individuals do not seek to maximise their benefit from a particular course of action (since they cannot assimilate and digest all the information that would be needed to do such a thing). Not only can they not get access to all the information required, but even if they could, their minds would be unable to process it properly. The human mind necessarily restricts itself. It is, as Simon put it, bounded by “cognitive limits”.

Herbert Simon (1916-2001)

‘Evolution is not as much about the survival of the fittest as it is about the demise of the unfit’

Ernst Mayr, (1904 – 2005, What Evolution Is)

“We human beings can reflect on ourselves, on what we do as well as on what we do not do, on what we imagine and on what we do not imagine, that is, we are self-conscious beings. Yet, how do we do this has been, and still is a mystery for many philosophers, scientists, and mystics that reflect on the matter. So, the search for an explanation continues, with some people hoping to Þnd some unique entity, different from what we connote or intend to connote as we speak of our self, that by itself may provide us (that which we are without it?) with this ability. Others look for some property of the operation of our brain that realises in us the ability that we call our self-consciousness. The old dilemma entailed in these and other different attitudes can be stated as follows: Is our operation as self-conscious beings a property of our brain, the gift of some external agent, or does it consist in some particular manner of our operation as organisms in our interactions?”

Humberto Maturana (b. 1928)

” “Consider a turkey that is fed every day,” Taleb writes. “Every single feeding will firm up the bird’s belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race ‘looking out for its best interests,’ as a politician would say.

“On the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief.” “

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (b. 1960)

It seems rather obvious that humankind has ‘consistently’ oscillated between two opposing views on things.

Some of us are convinced that the (whole) truth can be achieved (and that ‘they’ had already done that) while others have reasons to believe that while ‘individual efforts’ are indeed the source of everything that exists, the final results of those efforts are always being shaped/conditioned/reacted to by the medium where they are exerted and by those who bear the consequences.

Coming back to Rumsfeld’s words it seems that the most important (dangerous?) category is, contrary to our first impression, the (presumptive) ‘known – known’.
We cannot do anything about the unknown-unknowns, except for preparing ourselves in a ‘general manner’, and we can always ‘dig up’ something fresh about the known-unknowns but it seems that nothing can convince us that what we consider to be the known-known is but a thin layer of ice floating on a very deep lake.

So the real question that awaits our response is ‘What are we going to do, now that so many have told us what’s been going on?’

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