Post Reply 
Thread Rating:
  • 1 Votes - 5 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
An Elegant Analogy About Complexity and Probability
08-30-2011, 02:17 AM
Post: #1
An Elegant Analogy About Complexity and Probability
I was working on an essay about innumeracy (the inability of people being able to understand probability, logic, and other mathematical concepts) and I came across this elegant analogy/explanation of complexity.

This is an exerpt from John Paulos' book, Irreligion, page 19:
Quote:How is it that modern free-market economies are as complex as they are, boasting amazingly elaborate production, distribution, and communication systems? Go into almost any drugstore and you find your favorite candy bar. Every supermarket has your brand of spaghetti sauce, or the store down the block does. Your size and style of jeans are in every neighborhood.

And what's true at the personal level is true at the industrial level. Somehow there are enough ball bearings and computer chips in just the right places in factories all over the country. The physical infrastructure and communication networks are also marvels of integrated complexity. Oil and gas supplies are, by and large, where they're needed. Your e-mail reaches you in Miami as well as in Milwaukee, not to mention Barcelona and Bangkok.

The natural question, discussed first by Adam Smith and later by Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper, among others, is, Who designed this marvel of complexity? The answer, of course, is that no economic god designed this system. It emerged and grew by itself, a stunningly obvious example of spontaneously evolving order. No one argues that all the components of the candy bar distribution system must have been put into at once or else there would be no Snickers at the corner store.

So far, so good. What is more than a bit odd, however, is that some of the most ardent opponents of Darwinian evolution - for example, many fundamentalist Christians - are among the most ardent supporters of the free market. These people accept the natural complexity of the market without qualm, yet they insist that natural complexity of biological phenomena requires a designer.

They would reject the idea that there is or should be a central planning in the economy. They would rightly point out that simple economic exchanges that are beneficial to people become entrenched and the gradually modifies and improved as they become part of larger systems of exchange, while those that are not beneficial die out. They accept the claim that Adam Smith's invisible hand brings about spontaneous order of modern economy. Yet, as noted, some of these same people refuse to believe that natural selection and "blind processes" can lead to similar biological order arising spontaneously. And their refusals, if responses to some of my irreligiously tinged books and columns are at all typical, generally range from vituperative to venomous with most clustering around the latter.


There are, of course, quite significant differences and disanalogies between biological systems and economic ones (one being that biology is a much more substantive science than economics), but these shouldn't blind us to their similarities or mask obvious analogies.

These analogies prompt two final questions. What would you think of someone who studied economic entities and insisted that they were, despite a perfectly reasonable and empirically supported account of their development, the consequence of some all-powerful, detail-obsessed economic lawgiver? You might deem such a person a conspiracy theorist.

And what would you think of someone who studied biological processes and organisms and insisted that they were, despite a perfectly reasonable and empirically supported Darwinian account of their development, the consequence of some all-powerful, detail-obsessed biological lawgiver?

My personal #1 reason that I don't like religion is because I like knowledge! And Religion suppresses knowledge; not just the knowledge unfortunately, but it suppresses the entire drive to understand.
Visit this user's website Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
Post Reply 

Share/Bookmark (Show All)
Facebook Linkedin Technorati Twitter Digg MySpace Delicious

Forum Jump:

User(s) browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)