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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Neuroeconomic and Neurophysics

In the course of criticizing neuroeconomics, Arnold Kling briefly summarizes it as follows:

Some interpreters of neuroeconomics appear to argue that:

1. Individuals make decisions that are not "rational" by economic standards.

2. With new means to study the brain, we can show that these irrational decisions are correlated with greater usage of the emotional part of the brain.

3. Therefore, government paternalism is justified in steering people away from the decisions that are correlated with emotion and toward those decisions that are correlated with reason.

Since today's social sciences are about as firmly established as physics was in the day of Aristotle, maybe we can consider how Artistotle might have reacted to neuroscience studying people handling physical objects. If neurology existed back then and if it had been applied to people throwing objects, it would have found:
  1. Individuals throw objects in ways that are not “rational” by the standards of Aristotelian physics.

  2. With new means to study the brain, we can show that these irrational decisions are correlated with greater usage of the more primitive parts of the brain.

  3. Therefore, government paternalism is justified in steering people away from the decisions that are correlated with instinct and toward those decisions that are correlated with reason.

We can imagine a government program to train people to throw objects the “rational” way, in straight lines instead swinging arms in circles. (Slings, of course, would be banned.) They might prohibit people from cooling soup by blowing on it. (Air is the hot, wet element and, of course, could not cool off anything.)

In retrospect, the above suggestions can be seen to be nonsensical. It takes reason a long time to find the truth. Why should we believe that current neuroeconomics has done so?

Come to think of it, the example of physics might show that once reason has hit upon the right approach, regulations become unnecessary. In the past few centuries, human beings have been handling physical objects using machines designed by human reason. There was no regulation passed commanding that.

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