Niall’s virtual diary archives – April 2005

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8th April 2005

First thoughts on a new economic model

24th April 2005

Johanna ill

Friday 8th April 2005: 8.05pm. Easter break is nearly over, and it's not been a quiet one! I've had more or less one day entirely to myself during which I did get some chill time in, but I could have done with at least two days more. Still, what happens is what happens - and sometimes these things just snowball for little reason.

What I'd like to talk about in this entry is some ideas I've had regarding my "how to better model human populations in an ecosystem" idea for improving economic modelling. One should bear in mind that in what I am about to describe, I must restrain myself to that which can be modelled on a computer - therefore more ephemeral traits are not present. This is not to say that one could not model additional traits, but one must balance completeness of model with computational complexity and what we are after is something one can run successfully on a home computer in a reasonable time. And of course, this will introduce an inaccuracy, but then so does the fact one is not modelling each cell in the human body individually (which is currently computationally infeasible). What is important is that our model is: (i) far more accurate than the current "a human is a rational actor" system and (ii) can be expanded over time to become more complete as computational capacity improves.

Here are what I (so far) consider the four primary driving forces behind human behaviour (in order of strength):

  1. Physical Requirements Drive
    The obvious two, water & food, but also shelter, location (close to water & food or a good strategic location) and even more intangible things like feeling safe, something we've seen especial prominence recently in the so-called "War on Terror".
  2. Sex Drive
    I always think that this is far more obvious than other people seem to think, but I always fail in explaining to others what makes it so obvious. Put it this way - I think it's more oblique than how Freud put it, but not that much. The sex drive underpins much of male-female interactions, but also between hetrosexual friends of the same sex and also on an organisational level, such as the clear assertion of masculinity most company's management likes to make (look at how like a phallus the "Gherkin" tower in the City of London looks). For sure, humans at the population level clearly segregate themselves along sex as indeed do all mammals eg; types of occupation, role in the raising of children etc.
  3. Improving understanding/Gaining knowledge Drive
    At the individual level, this ranges from simple gossip to reading for a degree but it also affects subtler things such as popularity of location to smoke cigarettes (always where the most people pass and the best view is afforded - humans like to be able to look afar around them). Curiosity is probably the best known expression of this drive, as is frobincating. However, at the population level there exist powerful cultural reward mechanisms in most societies for special & unusual kinds of knowledge or understanding eg; a shaman, a doctor etc. and in the Western tradition (Christian and Islamic), great import was given to general learning and "being learned".
  4. Capacity to Affect Change Drive
    This is probably the most contentious of my categories, but I think it is one of the important because of that. It is certainly subtle, multifaceted and I personally think driven by that which most makes us peculiarly human even though all biological life also has it. The ways in which this drive are actualised are twofold: (i) Ideological/Technological and (ii) Power/Control.

    The first is about changing the way people conceptualise reality or increasing the magnifying effect tools have upon our human abilities so that we can achieve more with less effort (a process which has continued since the dawn of humanity at an ever increasing rate, though it comes in chaotic fits & starts). One should bear in mind that genetic evolution is rather important here over many generations (and I view each living thing as an incarnation of its genetic code ie; the DNA is an organism transcending its incarnations much as a populations's culture & society transcend its individual parts and lifespans of same) but one will note that with increasing complexity of organism, the greater genetic stability arises and thus the more important non-genetic forms of innovation become. However, for our purposes, we are modelling existing humans which as a simplification can be considered to not change genetically (indeed, much of the use of the model would be also holding ideology constant!).

    The second takes many forms, most commonly standing for election, becoming a manager in a company or becoming famous or a great leader through strength of character alone (eg; a hero). However one of the less obvious forms of power & control but the most obvious manifestation of increasing ones capacity to affect change is increasing ones wealth whereby one has increased purchasing power, as well as leverage (via fear and/or respect) against those who understand the disparity that affords.

As you can see, all drives apply though in different manifestations at both the microeconomic and macroeconomic level. Like an onion, the same drives appear at the population level as they do at the individual level - but this is obvious when you think about it if one considers entire populations as one organism. True, the sex drive becomes more of an organisational & segregational drive at the macro level, but it is still required for a population to survive. I find it interesting that many cultures hold that there is a dualism between male and female (with that relationship being dynamic in the East and more static in the West).

One should further note that all drives are a conjunction of accumulated preference and temporal preference. Accumulated preference is a combination of genetic predisposition as well as environmental interactions of the organism to date which may cause an individual like or dislike eg; one may dislike chocolate due to a bad childhood experience. Temporal preference is simply the stochastic variations of the moment in question (often called biorhythms) within the chaotic attractors underpinning biological functioning (or put another way, some days you're in the mood for ice cream, other days not - and your mood isn't predictable). As Gregory Bateson has noted, accumulated preference determines the boundaries of a drive and temporal preference oscillates between those boundaries in a semi-random way.

Throughout all four drives one can see some common expressions in all, such as love eg; love of food, love of sex, love of knowledge etc. One can also see that there is an inverse relation to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs though I think it does not suffer quite so much from odd individuals upsetting the model. I have already noted that for less complex organisms, more weight exists at the top than bottom and vice versa, and also No. 4 takes more of a genetic innovation rather than technological. All drives feed into one another, so any human behaviour can be an expression of more than one drive or one drive masquerading as another (this is where psychology comes in in analysing mental ill adjustment) much as Gardner's Multiple Intelligences are fuzzy categorisations. But I think the most important common factor is that all four enable creativity which is the primary purpose of all biological life, but also all four are enabled by creativity which fulfils an acid test of what a biological drive must be by definition. The effect of creativity on the model would be the velocity of ability to change the accumulated preference of an organism, as well as the range of potential usage of technology and consumption of resources.

Now the question becomes how can these be modelled? Obviously, the most important thing about any new modelling system is that it does not exclude the biosphere which almost all the existing ones do. And all these drives apply equally to all the organisms in a biosphere, so any model would apply them in a slightly different configuration to each species (eg; plants are rooted to a spot, animals can move). One would also need to consider pathogens, though I'd favour handling that via imbalanced (stressed) organisms being considered automatically "sick" as a simplification. The advantages of treating all the organisms equally is that interfacing human incarnations is identical to interfacing their interactions with the biosphere - therefore, another acid test becomes possible - a good model will be coherent ie; emergent properties should emerge at the aggregate level in form similar to reality as a proof that the model does indeed accurately model reality.

Anyway, such implementational considerations lie in Summer break, and I must get on with packing preparations. So, y'all be happy and I'll see some of you very soon indeed!

Sunday 24th April 2005: 4.07pm. It's been pretty nuts since I returned - at the end of the first week I was tripping out due to lack of sleep and I have only really caught up on that very recently. The first week back was marked by Johanna having a series of seizures which ate further time above and beyond that of the degree (which is already high, as the first modules really load on the hours at this time of year eg; essays and class tests) but on the bright side I got another ride in an ambulance plus to see Ninewells hospital in Dundee and of course the usual joy of watching the NHS in action. We're still waiting on a MRI scan end of May, but otherwise all the tests remain inconclusive - which means the biomedical system we have pronounces it to be psychological. The second week back saw me off to the annual Philosophy Undergraduate Retreat which was in a gorgeous old house in the middle of nowhere, unfortunately I had to spend half of it revising for an Economics class test on Thursday but I did get a little croquet in plus gave a talk on "Creativity - My thoughts of the last few years" which summarised what I've been up to and why.

I also got my new laptop back and I'm actually typing on it now while I sit in the AMH foyer supposedly distributing wristbands for the ball tonight. It's proved to be a good laptop though it's taken an age to get working up to a reasonable level - yesterday Windows Home Edition died when I tried to upgrade it to Professional so I had to reinstall it completely again. It's annoying, but it's also a very good spec - the screen alone is higher resolution than my desktop and it goes like a blue-arsed fly - especially when running in 64 bit mode where I gave the still-to-be-released Windows XP Pro x64 Edition a whirl (though I won't be keeping it past when its activation runs out). I've also installed SuSE Linux 64 bit and shall install FreeBSD v5.4 when it comes out next week and in theory, a 40Gb FAT32 partition is meant to be the main file store for all the operating systems (as there isn't really any other alternative). Unfortunately, if the machine crashes, that FAT32 partition seems to lose its allocation table which is currently frequently as Hibernate and Suspend don't work right - and worse, the integrated Intel wireless network card definitely hangs the machine if you push it too hard (which is why I've moved to using a USB-based wireless card).

Anyway, I'm to the end of my wristband distribution time so I'll be off now but I'll make another post soon now I have everything set up and running finally on the laptop. Everyone be happy!

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