Monday, July 11, 2011

Emergence: Spontaneous Order Theory

Most of the material I've read about emergence traced its conceptual roots to the natural sciences -- even when dealing with social creations like cities or the world wide web. But there is a significant tradition focusing on 'spontaneous order' traceable to Adam Smith (known for the concept of the Invisible Hand) and the Scottish Enlightenment. So, here is some links to that material

1) The online journal Studies in Emergent Order

2) A couple of papers in the journal that look particularly interesting:

Conflicts and Contradictions in Invisible Hand Phenomena

This paper makes three interconnected arguments.
  • Building off my other writings, in a world where there are many non-teleological complex adaptive systems exist, no automatic harmony exists between their different coordinating processes. This paper will focus on four of these systems: the ecological system at the landscape level, and three cultural systems, the market, science, and democracy.
  • Organizations originating within one such system but operating within more than one, will ultimately be dependent on one set of feedback signals over the others. When conflict between sets of signals arises, such organizations will disrupt, undermine, or destroy the other ordering processes.
  • Therefore a system of Hayekian spontaneous orders such as the market, democracy, and science, is not and cannot be sustainable based solely on their own internal characteristics because conflict between them is an intrinsic feature of social life. The same hold for any of these systems and an ecosystem. They need to be viewed within a larger context.
From Hayek’s Spontaneous Orders to Luhmann’s Autopoietic Systems

In this paper I contrast Hayek’s and Luhmann’s treatment of law as a complex social system. Through a detailed examination of Hayek’s account of law, I criticize the explanatory power of his central distinction between spontaneous order and organization. Furthermore, I conclude that its application to law leads to different results from the ones derived by Hayek. The central failure of Hayek’s failure, however, lies in his identification of complex systems with systems of liberal content maximizing individual freedom. Indeed, in this way, he can only account for systems-individuals and not systems-systems interactions. I introduce Luhmann’s theory of autopoietic systems, which I submit, can solve all the mentioned problems and seems a much more promising conceptual architecture to grasp social systems in the context of a complex society.

3) An annotated bibliography of works on self organizing systems

4) An article tracing the intellectual history of the tradition: From Smith to Menger to Hayek: Liberalism in the Spontaneous-Order Tradition