Thursday, May 06, 2010

Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?

    "Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?
    I see the way you're actin' like you're somebody else
    Gets me frustrated
    Life's like this you
    You fall and you crawl and you break
    And you take what you get, and you turn it into
    Honestly, you promised me
    I'm never gonna find you fake it
    No no no"


It is interesting, if you follow the news press, how frequently one finds references to "complex" problems, issues and questions: "Illegal immigration is a complex [...] issue with no easy solution," "Toyota faces complex legal woes as lawsuits mount," "Senate passes complex, controversial energy reform bill," "[T]he subject of radicalization [...] is a complex problem," and so on and so forth. One is left to wonder, what is not complex?

The difference between complex and complicated is that a complex system has new, emergent features that you would not have seen coming from studying its constituents alone. (For the meaning of "emergent", see my earlier post on Emergence and Reductionism.) The complex problem, it can't be decomposed. It can't be reduced. It's global, interrelated, it's on many timescales, and it doesn't respect professional boundaries either. Worse, you don't know were it begins and ends. It's full of "unknown unknowns." It's not only their problem, it's our problem too.

If you need any evidence for the popular appeal to complexity, even the Pope had something to say about it last year:
"The current global economic crisis must also be viewed as a test: are we ready to look at it, in all its complexity, as a challenge for the future and not just as an emergency that needs short-lived responses?"
In a recent article in the New York Times, David Segal wrote
"[C]omplexity has a way of defeating good intentions. As we clean up the messes, there's no point in hoping for a new age of simplicity. The best we can do is hope the solutions are just complicated enough to work."

Calling a problem "complex" seems to mean nowadays to acknowledge one doesn't really know how to handle it. A complicated problem, sure, we'd figure out what to do. After all, evolution has kindly endowed us with big brains. But a complex problem? Our political and social systems can't deal with that. *Shrug shoulders* Now what? Let's clean up the messes and hope that a complicated solution will do.

It is true that the problems we are facing are becoming ever more complex. This is a consequence of our world getting increasingly more and increasingly better connected. This creates new opportunities and fosters progress, but along the way it causes interdependencies and, when left unattended, lowers resilience.

It is however not true that we don't know what to do with a complex problem. We just don't do it. In contrast to our political systems, humans are good at solving complex problems. It's the complicated ones that you better leave to a computer. Look at the quote from Avril Lavigne that is title for this post. She's talking about relationships. Navigating in a human society is a multi-layered task on many time-scales with unexpected emergent features. It's full of unknown unknowns. That's not a complicated problem - it's a complex one. We have the skills to deal with that.

The reason why we can't use our abilities to deal with economic or political problems is simply lack of input and lack of method. These are solvable problems. And they are neither complex nor complicated.


I have written previously on what three requirements have to be fulfilled for a system to be able to develop into an optimal state, to find a good solution to a problem. One is free variation. Democracy and a free market economy are good conditions for that. The second one is to detect whether a small variation is an improvement or not. The third is the ability to react to the result of the variation. That's basically a poor man's way to find a maximum: go a step in each direction and take the direction that goes up*.

This procedure however dramatically fails whenever there is either data missing to find out whether a change is an improvement or not, or if there's no way to react to it. Take the recent economic crisis. There have been people all over the place who found something odd is going on; that this money creation out of nothing didn't make sense. They've had the data, but they've had no way to act on it. There was no feedback mechanism for their odd feeling. Way too late one would hear them saying they've sensed all the time something was wrong. From a transcript of a radio broadcast "This American Life" (audio, pdf transcript):
    mortgage broker: was unbelievable... my boss was in the business for 25 years. He hated those loans. He hated them and used to rant and say, “It makes me sick to my stomach the kind of loans that we do.”

    Wall St. banker: ...No income no asset loans. That's a liar's loan. We are telling you to lie to us. We're hoping you don't lie. Tell us what you make, tell us what you have in the bank, but we won't verify? We’re setting you up to lie. Something about that feels very wrong. It felt wrong way back when and I wish we had never done it. Unfortunately, what happened ... we did it because everyone else was doing it.
Italics added. (We previously discussed this in my post The Future of Rationality.)

It's not that nobody noticed what was going on. There was a variation taking place, but part of the change it was creating wasn't monitored. And there was no way to feed notice about the change back into the system. Computer programs made a risk assessment. They might not have made sense, but you wouldn't question them because everybody played the same game. In a recent NewScientist article, economist Ernst Fair is quoted saying
"Almost everyone in business, finance or government studies some economics along the way and this is what they think is the norm. It's a biased way of perceiving the world."

"Biased" is another way to say there's input missing.

We notice similar failures with other examples. Our economic systems are slow if not incapable of dealing with ecological problems because the problems don't automatically feed back into the system (at least not on useful timescales). There is a variation, but the optimization process can't work properly.


The reason why this close monitoring of the system (our global political, social, ecological systems) has become necessary and why no return to simplicity is possible is that even small groups of humans can cause a significant change to their environment. That may be a natural environment, social, or an organizational environment, which could be summarized as "background". In the earlier days, we were trying to achieve an optimization in a fixed background. Now, we can no longer neglect that we are changing the background by our own actions. In physics, this is commonly known as "backreaction."

If you take for example the deflection of light at the sun, then to compute the deviation you treat the photon as propagating in the fixed background field of the sun. That is an excellent approximation. Yet to be precise, the photon does actually change the background field too. If you'd take heavier objects passing by the sun, you'd eventually come to notice that they do contribute to the gravitational field too. The approximation of a fixed background is often made. For example, for the Hawking radiation of black holes, one commonly neglects the backreaction of the emitted radiation. This, again, is an excellent approximation, but one that breaks down at some point. (In this case when the energy of the emitted particles comes close to the mass of the black hole itself.)

If you are in a regime however where you can no longer neglect backreaction, as we are now with humans living on planet Earth, then you have to find a common solution for both the system and the background. Or you could say, they form a common system. This necessity to find a solution for both the background and the objects in it is one of the great insights of Einstein's theory of General Relativity, where the background is space-time, formerly thought to be an unchanging, fixed entity. You cannot have a time evolution for any system and just look at what the background will do or the other way round. You have to find a solution for both together. It is somewhat of a stretch to the notion of a "background" but I think that we are facing exactly this problem today when we are trying to find a sustainable solution for mankind living on this planet. We can either return to an era where backreaction was negligible and the background was eternally static and unchanging at our disposal. Or we learn how to find a stable solution to the full problem: us and our environment.

This issue is far more complex than you might think. That's because we are now in a situation were the change we cause to our environment does influence our own evolution and adaption to the environment. Human Culture has demonstrably been an evolutionary force since thousands of years already. And we are now only short of actively shaping our own evolution, not to mention that of other species. Whether that's a good idea or not depends on whether we are able to learn fast enough, ie whether assesment and reaction to a change is fast enough so the system doesn't just run down the hill before we can say bullshit.


And that's why I keep saying we need to finish the scientific revolution. Trial and error may have worked well to organize our living together for thousands of years, but this method has its limits. In an increasingly interconnected world, errors are too costly. We need to use a smarter method, a scientific method.

To be able to find a stable, sustainable, and good integration of the ongoing human development into the environment we need first of all to know what's going on. It is not too far fetched to think that Google will play a role in that with creating "real-time natural crisis tracking system," "real-world issue reporting system" or "collecting and organize the world's urban data" (see: Project 10 to the 100). The next step is to find a good way to extract meaning from all this data to be able to react in a timely manner to changes. People often seem to think that with that I mean the systems' dynamics has to be predicted. And let us be clear again that the system we are talking about is the global political, economical and ecological system. Having a model that makes good prediction would be nice, but it is questionable whether this is possible or even desirable. But that is in fact not necessary.

You don't need to predict the dynamics of the system. You just need to know what parameter space it will smoothly operate in so optimization works. You want to stay away from threshold effects, abrupt changes with potentially disastrous consequences. Think again about how we deal with human relationships. You don't predict what your friends, relatives or your partner will be doing. This would be pretty much impossible. But after you have got to know them you'll have an idea what to expect from them, and you'll be able to maintain a sustainable relationship on a balance of taking and giving. The same holds for the systems that govern our lives. You don't need to predict their evolution. You just need to know the limits. Life's like this...

* This does not find you a global maximum, but that's a more complicated problem that we'll discuss some other time.


  1. Mmm, parameter space. Physicists like many spaces. My favorite is phase space. What's yours?

    People mis-use "complex" and "complicated" all the time. I think the reason is they both have the same antonym: Simple.

    I like to come up with 4 "sets" of things to explain the difference, as I am a great fan of explaining by example. Also when I start going senile in about 20 years, it will slow my brain deterioration if I can recall images. Pictures are good:

    1) Complex and Complicated
    - The brain of Paul Dirac, Newton, and Gauss
    - The Large Hadron Collider
    2) Complex, Not Complicated
    - Quantum Field Theory
    - Other Non-Linear Theories
    - Life
    3) Not Complex, but Complicated
    - Quantum Mechanics and other Linear theories
    - Supermarkets
    - Box stores, e.g., the People's Republic of Wal-Mart
    4) Not Complex, not Complicated
    - Driveway stone (basalt) seen macroscopically
    - The brain of George W. Bush
    - The brain of someone who voted for George W. Bush. Twice.

    The examples in 4 were listed in increasing simplicity.

  2. Excellent post.

    The complex problem, it can't be decomposed. It can't be reduced.

    I came across this statement of yours, that may be a learning curve for me. Is it a statement that recognizes that you cannot indeed break it down to it's "component parts" from which to understand the larger picture.

    Is that a consensus of "scientific fact?" Something to support it by reference?


  3. Complex problems must locally solve themselves to their own satisfaction. Centralized micromanagement of positive feedback complex issues is the worst possible approach. "Worst" FEMA and NASA to Greece; fighting the whole of Islam with Smiley buttons.

    A lab coat exists to to be sacrificed. As a fashion statement it requires wearing an apron over it. Then, you will sweat. An army of jackasses dumping text into the Federal Register will specify local temperature and humidity, plus enforcement and fines - plus their own compensation.

    Give us what we want or we will bring democracy to your country.

    Physics has quantum gravitation, SUSY, the Higgs, dark matter... Like economics, they are not doomed for lacking rigor, self-consistency, or sufficient endeavor. They are doomed for embracing convenient postulates whose untruths are exposed when applied - but are not corrected.

  4. Hi Steven,

    I'm fine with any space as long as it's a Hausdorff space :-) Best,


  5. A Higgs field supposed to be responsible for the genesis of inertial mass (and, because of Einstein's equivalence principle, gravitational mass). When the universe is extremely hot, a Higgs field (which is supposed to have a certain curve of potential energy; as regards the shape of this curve, there is no unique consensus, except for a certain general feature, among the physicists) exerts a wild influence; but we will neglect this here. Once the universe cools down enough, below a certain temerature, the Higgs field assumes a certain value (i.e. a value of the Higgs field) which corresponds to the lowest energy level (i.e. the potential energy is zero, but the value of the Higgs field is nonzero; this level may be called vacuum). And this energy level continues to prevail throughout the whole universe (uniform, nonzero Higgs field).

    The falseness of illusions? The Higg's Field? "Physicists theorize that the omnipresent Higgs field slows some particles to below light speed, and thus imbues them with mass."

    To The Joker:


    What a false illusion thou art to human mind ! How cruelly thou deceivest thy possessor and those who covet thee ! Thou buyest for me by thy betrayal of mankind. Thou didst tax my energy to gain thee, and thy discount has lost to me and my fellow-men the greatest blessings of a continent, as well as the principal products of our toil. Few indeed are they who know and understand thy seductive power. We shall expose thy falseness so that our children shalt not be deceived by thee.

    General Observations-Charles Lindbergh, Banking and Currency and the Money Trust

    Which brings one back too, the understanding of the Economy?


    Stuart Alan Kauffman (28 September 1939) is an US American theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher concerning the origin of life on Earth. He is best known for arguing that the complexity of biological systems and organisms might result as much from self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection, as well as for proposing the first models of Boolean networks.

    Kauffman presently holds a joint appointment at the University of Calgary in Biological Sciences and in Physics and Astronomy, and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Philosophy. He is also an iCORE (Informatics Research Circle of Excellence) [1] chair and the director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics.

  6. Hi Plato,

    I came across this statement of yours, that may be a learning curve for me. Is it a statement that recognizes that you cannot indeed break it down to it's "component parts" from which to understand the larger picture.

    Is that a consensus of "scientific fact?" Something to support it by reference?

    That's an excellent question. Unfortunately, there is no agreement in the literature on what "complexity" actually means. The joke that the question what complexity is is too complex to be answered is frequently reinvented. There are some definitions of complexity for specific situations that however don't translate very well for more general systems (eg. computational complexity).

    There are however a few characteristics that most people agree upon what complexity entails. One of them is that a complex system is a composite system that has emergent properties on the macroscopic level. You cannot understand these properties from the single constituents, they only arise in their interaction. You can't reduce the system in the sense that if you'd take it apart, you'd lose the features that you were trying to understand.

    A widely used example for a complex system is a living organism. You can take it apart and study single organs, but this will hardly give you a clue what the organism actually *does.* If you take a house on the other hand, it may be constituted of a lot of single pieces that have to be cleverly put together to fulfill a desired function, but you know from the pieces what the result will be. The house is a, possibly complicated, sum of its pieces. An organism is more than the sum of its pieces. Best,


  7. I presented the Higg's field for comparison.

    How do you see your topic in concert with?


  8. Think of Fermi and LHC.

    Computational complexity theory

    Closely related fields in theoretical computer science are analysis of algorithms and computability theory. A key distinction between computational complexity theory and analysis of algorithms is that the latter is devoted to analyzing the amount of resources needed by a particular algorithm to solve a problem, whereas the former asks a more general question about all possible algorithms that could be used to solve the same problem. More precisely, it tries to classify problems that can or cannot be solved with appropriately restricted resources. In turn, imposing restrictions on the available resources is what distinguishes computational complexity from computability theory: the latter theory asks what kind of problems can be solved in principle algorithmically.

    Given the calorimeter position of information from "cosmological events" and I also include Tommaso's calorimeter design of LHC here.

    The basis of our examination "of the events" are parametrized in the formulation of the experimental design?

    The complexity of design "algorithmically" is the examination of "first principals" which are gotten by how we examine experimentally the questions of reductionism according to LHC and energy possibilities?

    I am not sure I have framed this correctly in context of your response.


  9. Bee,

    Your idea of backreactions in social systems is very similar to George Soros's notion of "reflexivity." You should check out what he had to say in his lectures earlier this year

    Also you and I have very similar interests. I'm still trying to figure our how best to apply these theories.

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  12. Your optimization criteria are rather incomplete since that kind of hill climbing optimization only works on problems with a single optimal hill. If you start on the wrong mountainside, you can get better, but not best. This shows up in lots of real world problems. For example, farmers in remote areas would benefit from having electricity, but the cost of running wires to their farms is uneconomic. The farmers and the power companies were caught on the top of a hill. In the US, the government subsidized rural electrification, and now farmers have electricity and vote against government intervention in the economy with no sense of irony whatever, but overall, society benefits. Germany had a similar problem when it was divided into hundreds of little states. It would have benefited from some kind of economic, and ideally, political, union, but this would have impinged on the powers of the existing states. The states were all caught on the same hilltop. In each case, some force had to move the climber from one mountain to another.

  13. Hi Bee,

    ”We can either return to an era where backreaction was negligible and the background was eternally static and unchanging at our disposal. Or we learn how to find a stable solution to the full problem: us and our environment.”

    In the overall I like what you’ve demonstrated to have argued here, yet I think your statement, which I’ve quoted above, sums it up the best of all. That is so often our environment and ourselves are taken as being pitted against each other, as considered being adversaries, rather than in fact indistinguishable as to be inseparable from the other; as we are not only an aspect of our environment, yet actually a product of it, as to be emergent. So that’s another way of asking, is it correct to consider ourselves as separate from it or rather better just one more piece of data being indicative not only of its limits, yet even more so its potential.

    I would agree then, in as our environment has fostered to have emerged to contain reason, that reason itself extends what constitutes to be the environment, to further not just to have able to define what it is, yet also what it may become. That’s as to continue in having asked, can something even be considered as an environment, if it serves to have nothing or no one found within to provide for?

    Thus I would argue, in that it’s becoming increasingly evident, that complexity not being actually a problem, yet rather in respect to what we’ve been able to learn thus far about our world, it may indeed be what stands as its solution. So then to avoid using our faculties and methods of reason, would be more then to just to ignore our problems , yet to leave us unable to have recognized its means of solution.



  14. Kaleberg: See footnote. The finding of the global maximum was not the relevant point of this post, it was instead taking into account the variation of the background, which is why I've been short on this.

  15. Hi Phil,

    Yes. As so often, the seeds for the solution lie in understanding the problem. It sometimes bothers me, when I follow discussions on ecological questions in particular, that the most prominently represented camps are both in the extreme. They are either trying to go back to leaving nature pristine and undisturbed, which I referred to as a fixed background in which we can pleasantly live as long as we don't disturb it too much. Or dominating nature, by forming it according to our wishes. I think neither of both will work. Or, the first might work, but not voluntarily (ie if a large part of mankind goes extinct for whatever reasons we might find ourselves back in that state in some thousand years or so). The latter extreme neglects that nature does also form us.

    The situation is very similar when it comes to the economic system instead. Some people want it to be radically simplified (back to the beginning) while others want us to have a tighter grip on its quirks. In either case I think people miss the point. We have to find a common, dynamical, solution for us and the system (this will necessarily include closer connections to the ecological, social, and political systems - more complexity!). There will always be surprises. We will never manage to have a grip tight enough on a system so complex for really being able to dominate it. What we should be doing is to be prepared to react. Best,


  16. Hi Plato,

    Sorry, but I'm not sure what you are trying to say with your quotation about the Higgs field. Yes, the Higgs field has also a potential and yes, it is believed that the "optimum" (in this case a minimum rather than a maximum) it sits in today is what causes particles to have mass (roughly speaking). If you go to high enough energies you'll manage to excite the field which corresponds to a massive particle. This is what is usually referred to as the Higgs itself. At energies higher than electroweak symmetry breaking, ie in the early universe, the field just wouldn't sit in the minimum. In this sense, yes, the approximation of being somewhere around the minimum would not hold. I am not sure though how this relates to what I said. I didn't actually say anything about symmetry breaking or phase transitions. (Though these play a role in a lot of systems actually.) Best,


  17. Hi Martin,

    It is funny you mention that because I've been told before that what I've said has some resemblance to Soros' reflexity. However, let me be very clear on this. I do completely agree that there are are two-way relations between human and the systems they use to organize their lives because this organization is ultimately based on their understanding (models) which change the system itself. I tend to think however that this iterative process has a fixed point, though this point might change over time since the conditions we live in are not static. (You might then occasionally have a phase-transition when the fixed point suddenly changes.)

    But leaving aside for a moment whether or not you have a model, my reference to backreaction was moreover saying that it's becoming increasingly inappropriate to only study one part of the whole system and treat the rest as "fixed." For example studying the economical system by treating the political system (governmental regulations, laws, or subsidies) as fixed. These both clearly influence each other, and we need a common theory for both. The same holds for our ecological and social systems (with social systems I mean for example the connectivity, link structure of social networks, social norms and things like this).

    There are certainly attempts to combine some of these, but the whole effort is very fractured and splattered across the disciplines. There's way to go, but I am very sure that's where we have to go. Best,


  18. Another complex problem...

    Giant box close to being over oil-spewing well

    "We haven't done this before," said BP spokesman David Nicholas. "It's very complex and we can't guarantee it."

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  20. Hi Bee,

    Yes that’s exactly what I was suggesting has happened as of late, that what these opposing views have in common today is some say all we need do is listen to nature without themselves knowing what tune it is playing:-) So with respect to our ecology some say better to go back to the caves, while others ignore the significance of our impact. The same with our economy with some saying striving to better oneself is the root of the problem and the other side saying things are best when left to themselves having neither side recognizing the dynamics of the systems they are talking about.

    This has me mindful of what Penrose said in his book “Shadows of the Mind”, when arguing that every living thing defines as being conscious to some degree, as it being able to react to the threats and opportunities of its environment, to have it decidedly able to survive, continue and proliferate., Yet the key to this having things being aware of their environment and able to react to it accordingly with a not only to a the degree of complexity in respect to the environment, yet moreover consistent in complexity with that of the organism itself.

    So in this respect the first group thinks we might be able to maintain our level of complexity by acting simpler then we are capable and the other group thinks we can ignore the environment all together, as it not our actions which affects the decisions on how and even if we are to survive to continue. In either case both groups would fail proving to be conscious within the terms of Penrose’s definition. I don’t know how others feel, yet I certainly understand myself to be more conscious and thus capable to have my decisions and those collective ones of our species be as relevant to survival and continuance as that of an amoeba’s :-)



  21. The Climate Debate

    I've never weighed heavily into it because I wanted to look at the science of it. If the world of cosmos particle collisions are not understood in this context (resulting cloud cover) are we really dealing with a full deck about the subject. How Muons travel through the earth? Any effective triggers for earthquakes etc?

    In State of Fear, short lived, I am still observant of nature. I had to see what it was doing in my own neck of the woods to suggest that such correlations maybe attributed too global warming. Today one might say the bug infestation may have moved onto a different temperate location ?

    I have never spoken against or for. I just did not have "enough information" to be satisfied that we could speak fully about what was happening in nature, may also be by natures hand.

    I understood "the effect of" proliferation of any of our actions within that environment.

    But back to Bee's "backreaction" in next comment.

  22. If conceived as a series of ever-wider experiential contexts, nested one within the other like a set of Chinese boxes, consciousness can be thought of as wrapping back around on itself in such a way that the outermost 'context' is indistinguishable from the innermost 'content' - a structure for which we coined the term 'liminocentric'.

    Is it a dynamical movement not only with ourselves and memory, but also with the events in the world that are objectively clear (economy) defined, then there is a subjective response to it.

    Figure 8 [replaced by our Figure 2] is to be conceived three-dimensionally, the circles being cross-sections of spherical shells in the plane of the drawing. A man is climbing about on the huge spherical surface 1; by measurements with rigid rods he recognizes it as a spherical shell, i.e. he finds the geometry of the surface of a sphere. Since the third dimension is at his disposal, he goes to spherical shell 2. Does the second shell lie inside the first one, or does it enclose the first shell? He can answer this question by measuring 2. Assume that he finds 2 to be the smaller surface; he will say that 2 is situated inside of 1. He goes now to 3 and finds that 3 is as large as 1.

    How is this possible? Should 3 not be smaller than 2? ...

    He goes on to the next shell and finds that 4 is larger than 3, and thus larger than 1. ... 5 he finds to be as large as 3 and 1.

    But here he makes a strange observation. He finds that in 5 everything is familiar to him; he even recognizes his own room which was built into shell 1 at a certain point. This correspondence manifests itself in every detail; ... He is quite dumbfounded since he is certain that he is separated from surface 1 by the intervening shells. He must assume that two identical worlds exist, and that every event on surface 1 happens in an identical manner on surface 5. (Reichenbach 1958, 63-64)

    Almost like, a topological relation then as to how one might define the concentric lines of an circle to describe which line lies inside, versus the outside of a sphere. We are talking about ourselves here.

    It is that difficult sometimes to say that this action is one in which we engage the world and the world engages us. That the mind can exist on it's own without the emotive content of our being, yet that inner circle may be emotively characterized and the outer, objectively defined.

    At what times would you know what is happening "at any given moment" with who you are if you did not already established the effect of subjective interpretation(memory and emotion), yet, mindful of a relevant response physically to the situation.

    This then would then be a "whole" new breed of scientists?:)


  23. In fact, in the reciprocal language, these tiny circles are getting ever smaller as time goes by, since as R grows, 1/R shrinks. Now we seem to have really gone off the deep end. How can this possibly be true? How can a six-foot tall human being 'fit' inside such an unbelievably microscopic universe? How can a speck of a universe be physically identical to the great expanse we view in the heavens above? (Greene, The Elegant Universe, pages 248-249)

  24. Hi Bee,

    In respect to this article 0f yours reagarding complexity, as to how imparitive it being getting a handle on it if we are ever to move forward in the future with confidence I offer this piece from the New York Times today. Here we find the elite of the financial community chasing their tails and scratching their heads once more, resultant of wondering about the cause of a particular near disastrous situation. Perhaps more food for thought as to have asked when will more wake up to smell the coffee:-)



  25. Bee,

    There are definitely both stable and unstable fixed points. And taking into account the backreaction is essential, agreed.

    If you haven't read any Schelling, you should take a look at Micromotives and Macrobehavior. There is much more there even than most people seem to appreciate.

  26. In a nutshell, what Karim showed was that each time a memory is used, it has to be restored as a new memory in order to be accessible later. The old memory is either not there or is inaccessible. In short, your memory about something is only as good as your last memory about it. Joseph LeDoux

    Backreaction is about our interactions with the objectively defined? Back reaction is about memory?

    If Bernanke did not recognize the signs of a inevitable bank collapse based on what he saw of the thirties , what would have been the outcome?

    He had two choices and he picked one. Contrary to the choice picked back then, he really had only one choice in his mind.

    Historically he did not want to see the outcome of that time play out, so the bailouts.

    Karim Nader: There are a lot of implications. All psychopathological disorders, such as PTSD, epilepsy, obsessive compulsive disorders, or addiction—all these things have to do with your brain getting rewired in a way that is malfunctioning. Theoretically, we may be able to treat a lot of these psychopathologies. If you could block the re-storage of the circuit that causes the obsessive compulsion, then you might be able to reset a person to a level where they aren’t so obsessive. Or perhaps you can reset the circuit that has undergone epilepsy repeatedly so that you can increase the threshold for seizures. And there is some killer data showing that it’s possible to block the reconsolidation of drug cravings.

    The other reason why I think it is so striking is that it is so contrary to what has been the accepted view of memory for so long in the mainstream. My research caused everybody in the field to stop, turn around and go, “Whoa, where’d that come from?” Nobody’s really working on this issue, and the only reason I came up with this is because I wasn’t trained in memory. [Nader was originally researching fear.] It really caused a fundamental reconceptualization of a very basic and dogmatic field in neuroscience, which is very exciting. It is the first time in 100 years that people are starting to come up with new models of memory at the physiological level.

    Bold added for emphasis.

  27. Hi Martin,

    I've read half of Schelling's book, but now I can't find it... must be somewhere in my moving boxes. But actually, I prefer books that have an equation every now and then. I read Keen's book "Debunking Economics" at some point. So there's the equations, but unfortunately the book is not well written (not to mention that it's a cheap print and not well readable). Even to me Keen's book seemed somewhat biased. Best,



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