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Deborah Hazen's picture

"Maybe the kind of agents

"Maybe the kind of agents that we are, with the brains that we have, makes incapable of ever really matching deliberate action with intended outcomes, that this is a structural blindspot in human cognition."

I keep rereading this sentence. If we apply Paul's idea and consider that this "structural blindspot" may be a feature or asset, not a bug or failing, and we assume that it is either an adaptive or non-adaptive feature where do we end up?

Take the economic crash---there were people (few to be sure) who were sending up warning flares in every direction that they could but were ignored. Greenspan and others held an ideology that they were unable to let go of---that individuals would exercise agency in their own best interests and that those interests served the best interests and safety of the group. He later said that he was wrong.  If I assume that no one intended to bring down the economic system, then I am left with a loop of stories that influenced future agency, that influenced the next story, and the next act of agency...and paused only when a counter-factual event allowed a new storyteller to take over. No straight line between deliberate action and intended outcomes, rather a meta-story that caused a faulty post hoc story to be told about the effects that agents would have on the outcome. So some people told the lower-level story "if we create these innovative financial devices, we can make a lot of money" and the overarching story focused on the power of the free market, denying the ill effect of the lower level story.

Perhaps we have the kind of brains we have because the most efficient way we experience paradigm shifts to meta-stories is through the crashing of a looping story/agency model with a strong counter-factual? So the norm is the status quo, we make the shift only when faced with incontrovertible evidence (for some in some cases no evidence is incontrovertible). From a societal viewpoint it would be non-adaptive to embrace the counter-factual? So straying outside of the status quo is a mutation--some will be successful (maybe become the new status quo) but most will fail? Or have unforeseeable outcomes?

 

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