Why Self-Organizing Scale-Free Networks? A Personal Narrative

I started my education in molecular biology, majoring in recombinant gene technology at Western Kentucky University. As a result, biological thinking is pretty natural for me. And biological thinking, even when not explicitly stated, is complex systems thinking. As an undergraduate, I read everything I could get my hands on about science. As I was reading popular science books on things like quantum physics, I ran across a couple of interesting books: Chaos: The Making of a New Science and Order Out of Chaos. I was fascinated from there on about chaos theory and self-organization.

As an undergraduate, I was also introduced to another form of complexity thinking: economics. Oddly, I was introduced to it by a philosophy professor.

While I was introduced to free market economics by my undergraduate Intro. to Philosophy professor, Ronald Nash, it was in poet/humanities professor Frederick Turner’s “Game Theory and the Humanities” where I was introduced to Hayek, through his essay “Individualism: True and False.” I was also introduced by Alex Argyros to the work of J.T. Fraser, whose philosophy of time was based on self-organization, complexity, and emergence. As a Dallas Philosopher’s Forum, I heard a talk by Don Beck, co-author of Spiral Dynamics, on Gravesean pyschology, which is based on Piaget, self-organization, complexity, and emergence.

However, it was when I went to a Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conference that I was really put on the path to becoming a Hayekian. I had been interested in self-organizing systems before, and Hayek’s spontaneous order theory fit well into that interest. I presented a paper comparing ecosystems to economies, and after the discussion, Steve Horwitz pointed out that I had not cited Hayek, suggesting that I should, since “We are all Hayekians here.” I then found myself invited to a Liberty Fund colloquium on Hayek (not coincidentally attended by Steve). The following FSSO conference, I wrote a paper on “The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts,” which, in combination with the Cantor-Cox book, lay the groundwork for my blog Austrian Economics and Literature. I have come to embrace the Austrian school of economics precisely because it is the theory of economics that most clearly and obviously (and historically) has embraced a view of the economy as as complex, emergent system of complex human actors. In other words, it best fit how I already understood the world to be.

Since then, most of my published works have been on spontaneous order theory. For me, it is the sociological theory to use. I think with it as much as I think with evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology. I think them both in conjunction, in fact. Without Hayek and all of the other complexity theorists who have so strongly influenced my thinking, I might have a job, but I would hardly be the scholar I am, thinking the things I do, understanding the world as it is, in its full complexity.

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