External Structure

Much work in economics, the social sciences, and elsewhere takes as its starting point a somewhat unrealistic conception of rationality — a conception that ignores or downplays both the temporal and the situated aspects of human reason. Biological reason, I shall argue, is better conceived as an iterated process of adaptive response made under extreme time pressure and exquisitely keyed to a variety of external structures and circumstances. These external structures and circumstances act as filters and constraints on the spaces of possible real-time responses. Paramount among such structures and circumstances, in the case of human reason, are the cultural artifacts of language and of social and economic institutions. Models of rational decision making need to situate the reasoning agent as just one element in a complex and time-sensitive feedback system in which such external structures play a major role. It is therefore crucial that we understand the complex and mutually modulatory interplay between individual cognition and the extended environmental loops in which it participates. I shall explore a few potential avenues for developing such an understanding including neural network research and multiple time scale..
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