Two physicists

Image: João Nitsche
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By OSAME KINOUCHI FILHO*

Two intellectuals talk about the current state of the world and criticize social Darwinism

Noam: “I agree with you about the effectiveness of journalism, I think it is a very powerful vehicle nowadays. I just don’t know if I agree with the metaphor of the media being the “social mind”. If so, then we are living under the mind of a religiously fanatical society, completely adept at the wonders of the free market God, closed to any criticism or alternative proposals, rigid, relentless, violent and lying. My main problem is the absurd and enormous degree of homogeneity that has been achieved in press opinion [a process that Chomsky calls “consensus building”]. A homogeneity completely to the right, of course. This corresponds to the destruction of biodiversity in the memesphere, with consequences that we can hardly imagine.”

Freeman: I used the social mind metaphor in the same sense (or in reverse) as The Society of the Mind, by Minsky. But I think the consensus is not necessarily conspiratorial, it is more of an emerging phenomenon based on the intellectual laziness of media agents, the effective external field over each journalist (what opinions are acceptable at a given time, intellectual fads, etc.), the constraints social media that you know well, etc.

Noam: “The idea of ​​us writing articles for newspapers really appeals to me. Do you think that specifically this issue of Newtonian vocabulary is still relevant? I mean, after all the global crashes, the “complexity” hype a la Santa Fe Institute + the easy log-logism of “How Nature Works“, and after the Black-Sholes Nobel Prize and the emergence of Econophysics, economists still continue talking about static equilibrium and political scientists using metaphors such as social tension, correlation of forces, sphere of influence, etc.? The question is not rhetorical. It’s just that I really don’t know.”

Freeman: Economists maybe not, but journalists yes. I'm thinking about publishing mine somewhere Engels: A precursor of complexity science in the 19th century. I reworked the entire order of presentation and polished the ending a little more. If you want to take a look, I'm sending an attachment. I think what Econophysics will end up showing is that the capitalist system inevitably leads to power laws in the distribution of wealth and power (Pareto Laws). And that all this will be, increasingly, accompanied by self-destructive crashes, as Engels said. I think that if this is true, that is, if computational-economic models really create a consensus around this, then all of Adam Smith's (and Roberto Campos') liberal rhetoric (invisible hand that leads to widespread benefits for everyone) will be dead and buried within 20 years…

Noam: “Actually, I think what is *really* lacking in Brazil is a serious study of the media, showing how it is effectively governed by the interests of the big ones [a study like Chomsky's “Necessary Illusions”, which is quite objective], followed by an equally serious discussion about how to resolve this problem”.

Freeman: Yes, Noam, but we don't have the background or the clout to do that, do you agree?

Noam: “To comment on your articles, I think I will focus more on the article you did with Marco, since the other one is submitted (I liked the other one). Look, let me start by warning you that I don't understand much about Econophysics and I honestly don’t have much interest in that, or at least not in “Capitalistophysics” – the world we live in today is such that economics has become synonymous with the administration of capitalism. So I don't know how relevant the model is in this sense. Reading your interpretation of the model, I was left with the question: what happens when the problem is non-LS (non-Linearly Separable), from an “economic” point of view? That the environment fluctuates and randomly benefits all economic agents? (Remember that I don’t have the figures, I could be talking nonsense)”.

Freeman: The non-LS situation represents a state in which there are more economic agents than are supported by the market. The various constraints cannot all be satisfied at the same time and general (average) well-being is low. The problem is solved by increasing the market (N) or reducing the number of agents (P).

Noam: “I'm also not sure I understand the motivation for the “extremal” algorithm in the context of economics. I think the other extreme actually occurs. Those who are “better off” have more power to act on the environment, leading to income concentration. Is there any model in this regard? Or is the phenomenon too obvious to warrant modeling?”

Freeman: Actually, Noam, the algorithm Hebb extreme it is socialist, that is, the market is changed (by some external agent such as the State) in order to favor agents with less stability. This makes the system reach its maximum support capacity for different economic agents, α critical = 2.

In the free market game, the algorithm to be used to describe the dynamics would be a type of anti-Adatron: the strength F of each economic agent would be an increasing function of its stability λ. This would possibly lead to a collapse (alignment) of the market in the direction of the most powerful agents (oligopoly type, Microsoft etc…). For those who want to bet a beer: I think using a non-extremal algorithm (i.e., drawing agents at random) in which the change in the direction of S is proportional to its stability (F = λ), I will obtain Pareto's Law for the stabilities P(λ) = ˉτ for λ large, unlike the semi-Gaussian with delta function, which is the distribution of maximum stability (that is, everyone above the line of economic viability λ = 0).

I'm kicking badly, huh! If you don't accept, you'll be missing out on a beer! Next week I will be doing the simulations. Note that this description is conservative, as I am assuming that an agent's economic strength to align market J with itself is linearly proportional to its economic health. λ. A more realistic description probably would assume that F increases with λy with y>1

Make your bets!

Noam: Hi Freeman, starting with your PS: “I used the social mind metaphor in the same sense (or in the opposite sense) as in Minsky's The Society of Mind. But I think the consensus is not necessarily conspiratorial, it is more of an emerging phenomenon based on the intellectual laziness of media agents….”

Freeman: I agree. My (reasonably obvious) point is precisely that different political-economic systems or situations generate different “social constraints” and, therefore, different levels of intellectual laziness on the part of media agents. The process is very simple: if a leading journalist from the Folha de S. Paul If he managed to put “Corporations Destroy Brazilian Society” on the cover, this guy would be on the street the next day, and the newspaper would suffer retaliation in its ads, putting it at risk of extinction. In a slightly less barbaric capitalist system (assuming that this could exist), with social-democratic considerations, let's say, the journalist's thesis would be taken seriously and at least discussed. Therefore, we would have greater memetic biodiversity. The concentration of income observed in capitalism ends up translating into a concentration of ideas as well. And this is doubly harmful (and the concentrations feed into positive feedback).

Noam: “I think what Econophysics will end up showing is that the capitalist system inevitably leads to power laws in the distribution of wealth and power (Pareto's Law). And that all this will be, increasingly, accompanied by self-destructive crashes as Engels said. I think that if this is true, (that is, if computational-economic models really create a consensus around this) then all of Adam Smith's (and Roberto Campos') liberal rhetoric (invisible hand that leads to widespread benefits for everyone) will be dead and buried within 20 years…”

Freeman: The question I ask you is: do you “really” think that the leaders of the IMF and the World Bank, or even the stupid Roberto Campos, believe that this invisible hand leads to widespread benefits for everyone? Do you think the Ford owner believes that? He might say that on TV, to see which governor will give more tax breaks, but do you think they believe that? I believe in the sincerity of “theoretical” neoliberals, so to speak, like Jean. But as for the “practical” ones, the sharks, I can’t believe they believe they are “generating benefits for everyone”. Hugs, Noam.

Freeman: Noam, notice that I said liberal rhetoric would be dead… Not that capitalist exploitation would be dead…

What rhetoric? Roberto Campos' rhetoric that modern studies would point to the beneficial self-organization of the market, while only the intellectual dinosaurs on the left would still think that the State's role in the economy would be important. We would show that, in terms of intellectual sophistication, the dinosaur would be the one who defended this “naive” stance towards the market. Roberto Campos does not have the tooling Econophysics, we own. I agree with you that for sharks, this is nothing naive. But I could remember that people in general need ideologies that legitimize their actions (like I'm a businessman, but I'm contributing jobs, I have a social function, etc.). After all, what do you think is in these New Age or Buddhist books for businesspeople?

What I'm saying is that, at the level of intellectual debate, basically what is being done is this war of ideological legitimation and delegitimization. And this is important, because nowadays even a superpower like the USA bows down if public opinion considers an action illegitimate (this started with the Vietnam war).

Even the National Socialists needed this self-legitimation, they really believed that they were making a great movement to liberate the world from the globalizing savage Judeo-liberal capitalism that dominated the world media! Sorry for the provocation! But I think that this recent fusion of nationalism + socialism made by the anti-globalization left needs to be rethought… I am more in favor of Internationalism + UN + Globalization = free migratory access without green card + Gaian Deep Ecology + Capital flow control by international bodies + Democratic Internet + NGOs + “Planet Earth is my Country” + International justice catching dictators + free elections for CEOs of multinationals + everything we can create in the same direction) .

This is not just utopia, as there are already a lot of social groups that work like this, and they are not marginal groups. For example, this type of self-organization and self-management of producers with a fluid hierarchy and dependent on merit, with extreme international cooperation, free exchange of intellectual production – that is, public and collective ownership of knowledge, without copyright but with Copyleft – is carried out, and its viability and economic-productive efficiency is exemplified, by the international scientific community (Hmm… Jean is going to call me a science evangelist again…!). Okay, I forgot that there are Pareto laws on citation distribution, the big-science, the slave labor of postdocs… Ok…Ok… fine! The glass is half full, my friends!

Richard says that I (like him) are elitist. After all, every person who is irritated by mediocrity is. I agree. But we have already reached a conclusion on this. One thing is intellectual, artistic, sporting elitism or whatever. After all, no one wants the Olympics to become a little café au lait game (have you ever noticed how the Left sometimes falls into this maternalism, treating people as if they were not autonomous adults, but café au lait children to be protected?).

However, economic elitism is different. Nobody dies because of the Olympics or the Nobel Prize. Children die of hunger due to the economic championship. Paulo of Tarsus was elitist (contrary to what Nietzsche thought): he distinguished the strong from the weak, but proposed that the strong, precisely because they were strong, should receive less protection and serve the weak.

But deep down, deep down, it is not a question of an economic system being able to provide or not the well-being of the masses, it is a question of concentration of power, of absolute concentration of power (Pareto's Law of power with a lower exponent than one), of a power that corrupts absolutely. As Plato said, there are no honest rich men because dishonesty produces much more rewards...

Unless the CEOs of banks and multinationals start to be democratically elected, or at least each shareholder counts as one vote, an idea that is not absurd: remember that in the beginning in democracy only those with income above a certain threshold voted, and that his vote had weight proportional to his wealth. In other words, we are at the beginning of democracy in free-market companies. Which would be a pretty interesting proposal, wouldn't it? After all, nation-states are really disappearing: Microsoft is my country! Bill Gates is an enlightened despot, a kind of Fidel of capitalism. But what about when Bill Gates dies? Who will manage all that accumulated power? Unidealistic and reactionary careerist bureaucrats? Perhaps 21st century politics will organize itself around this.

Noam: “Well, actually I don’t know if it’s that hard. But I think you're right when it comes to the “buy-in”, I don't know if anyone would pay attention. But anyway, you ended up not answering: does the question of Newtonian socioeconomic vocabulary remain or not? I want to write an article about this (and I’m going to start paying more attention to this point in my daily newspaper reading…)”.

Freeman: I thought about writing a text commenting on a certain article by Roberto Campos in Folha in which he tried to use ideas from complexity sciences in an awkward and ill-informed way (assuming he doesn't hear any malice). But it seems that R. Campos had a stroke, he is no longer writing the columns, I don't even know if he will recover, poor thing... In other words, we are getting old, the people who were important in our generation are all dying...

Freeman: Noam, I'll try to recap the ideas for the news article we discussed over the phone, and a possible division of labor between us to collect data for the article.

1. (Freeman) Introductory hook: The release to the public of Pareto's diaries on June 21, 2000. Brief biography of Pareto.

2. (Freeman) Description of Pareto's Law of income distribution, discussion of its validity and its implications for society (extremely unequal distribution of power and wealth; an individual's wealth = non-linear result, disproportionate, to the effort of the individual).

3. (Noam) Example: Distribution of rural property sizes in the state of São Paulo. It would be interesting if there were data on Mato Grosso and Goiás as well, where there are large properties. Perhaps a comparison with size distribution in the USA or France.

4. (Noam) Relationship between the tau exponent of the Pareto distribution and other human development indices (HDIs, Gini). Feudalism (tau = 1), wild capitalism (tau = 1.5), domesticated capitalism (tau = 1.8 to 2.0) or log-normal distribution, communism = Gaussian distribution of wealth (but unfortunately not power).

5. (Freeman) Presentation of the Solomon model, and the result alpha= 1/(1-c) where c = Wmin/ .

6. (Noam) Discussion of the implications: a) the income distribution and the alpha exponent change when a minimum income proportional to the average income is guaranteed: Wmin = const * ; relationship with universal minimum income policy proposals.

7. (Freeman) Discussion of the “invisible hand” and self-organization in criticality. Self-organization does exist, but it is not necessarily beneficial for people, firms or the economic system. Example: self-organized extinctions in the Biosphere (Bak-Sneppen model), self-organized earthquakes, propagation of damage in strongly interconnected networks. Curiosity: probable future crash of the world stock market due to resources diverted to the reconstruction of Tokyo after the Big One: economic earthquake triggered by a geophysical earthquake.

8. (Freeman) Discussion of liberal globalization as analogous to a transformation from a spatially extended ecosystem to a network small world, unstable, turbulent, with synchronized avalanches. In real ecosystems, the American cougar does not directly compete with the African lion or Asian tiger. If it did, it would have been extinct a long time ago. In other words, self-organized ecosystems are no longer good analogies for globalized markets, and the liberal rhetoric about the market as a natural system similar to a forest falls apart. Comment on the financing of the complexity sciences program by John Reed, CEO of Citybank. Close with quotes from John Reed and Ruelle.

Is this too big? In fact, Pareto would provide several articles. Pareto was a kind of Roberto Campos from the beginning of the century, that is, a right-wing liberal who was quite intelligent and full of rhetoric. In fact, I think nowadays he would be considered a libertarian American, that is, that anarchist-liberal-fascist hybrid being that is difficult to classify. This means two things: a) we need to be generous with him, that is, know how to distinguish his valid ideas from his ideological rhetoric; b) his liberal rhetoric to the Roberto Campos leads him to make several statements that are now very dated and even ridiculous, in other words, it would be interesting to show how liberalism can be stupid and narrow-minded when seen from a certain temporal distance.

Maybe you disagree with topic a), that is, that we should always be generous with our enemies. For my part, this is more than a religious precept. The attitude of rejecting a person's ideas en masse because of an ideological label is a temptation that we need to resist — this is one of the Left's recurring (and suicidal) mistakes, because it cancels out precisely the only truly effective feedback to correct our mistakes, that is, criticism from intelligent people (let's be real, this self-criticism thing doesn't work...). And when we eliminate corrective feedback, Stalin emerges on the horizon, and I don't think anyone is in the mood to re-edit Stalin.

Topic (b) would make for a second article: an assessment of Pareto's liberal rhetoric one hundred years later. There's every ridiculous thing he says, I was wondering if he, intelligent as he was, was really capable of believing it all. Could you look at yourself in the mirror without laughing? It even looks like an editorial from Estadão!

A third article could be about the Left and Darwinism. Pareto was a social Darwinist, and I think a critique of Social Darwinism would be interesting to make these days, as Darwin is on the rise and liberals and conservatives always want to monopolize him. Of course, my proposal is to use current Darwinian thinking (with its emphasis on the emergence of cooperation, high frequency of mutualistic symbiosis, innate human tendencies towards sociability, etc.) to do this service. I would also like to use the book as a hook Left Darwinism, by Peter Singer, and the fact that Marx, Engels and Kropotkin were radical Darwinists.

Well, at this point you may not be able to follow me, as this goes against the usual trend of the Left, with its emphasis that there is no human nature and the human being would be a tabula rasa to be shaped by social and environmental conditions (which is equivalent, ironically, to radical behaviorism). I honestly believe that this attitude is a dead end that the left has found itself in since Lisenko (or perhaps since Lukács). Radical behaviorism is dead and buried.

In other words, here I am again, as always, defending Enlightenment socialism that is not afraid of science, against romantic, reactionary and obscurantist socialism, and I know that this idiosyncrasy of mine is difficult to follow. Ah yes, by Enlightenment socialism I mean a system capable of using science to question its assumptions and criticize itself. In Kropotkin's words, which we can equally apply to Socialism:

Noam: “Are the conclusions of anarchism accurate? The answer will be given to us, firstly, by scientific and honest criticism of the foundations on which it seeks to rely and, secondly, by practical life. There is one point, at least, where Anarchism is absolutely on the path to truth and right reason. It is when he considers the study of social institutions as a chapter of the natural sciences, it is when he completely divorces himself from metaphysics and adopts the same method that served as the foundation of all modern science and all natural philosophy. By following this method, any errors that anarchism may have made will be easily corrected.”

Freeman: Criticizing science was a super necessary task in the sixties, at the height of technocratic thought. It's even possible that it will become necessary again, but I think it's a bit out of place to beat a dead horse (that science has been co-opted and instrumentalized by the system of domination is a common point, right? Or is there still someone in the human sciences who thinks the otherwise?) I prefer to beat live horses, like the new fundamentalist and fascist right emerging from the 21st century.

In fact, I think I'm a bit extreme on this issue, as my equation is: Socialism minus Enlightenment = Totalitarianism. Nationalist/ ethnicist/ relativist socialism = National Socialism. Which is a bit of an exaggeration. Although they share ethnicity, anti-enlightenment, romanticism, spiritualism, philosophical relativism, conspiracy theories, a justifiable anti-Zionism, but which easily devolves into anti-Semitism, we can still distinguish the left New Age of the extreme right for feminism, anti-racism, pacifism and ecology (ops, maybe not ecology, the Nazis were the pioneers in romantic ecology... and they were the ones who created the expression New Age, see Plínio Salgado).

Although criticizing the left can also be beating a dead horse. I think the real players in the next fifty years are the theocracy of the American religious right and other global theocratic movements: we will still close ranks with the liberals in defense of a secular society, do you want to bet a beer on that?

*Osame Kinouchi Filho He is a professor at the Department of Physics at the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of Ribeirão Preto (USP). Book author Juliana's kiss: four theoretical physicists talk about children, complexity sciences, biology, politics, religion and football… (Multifocus). [https://amzn.to/3NLFRwi]


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