Saturday, May 14, 2005

Non-Secular Economics?

Friday Morning Reflections at the World Bank is a collection of four essays written by World Bank employees and published in 1991. The book is based on a weekly group meeting where employees at the World Bank met together to discuss the moral and ethical roots of their work. While the essays do not offer any surprisingly new insights into the idea behind combining religion and development, it is still work a read.

The essays have been written by people with very different religious and ethical backgrounds. They show how important religion is, even in secular institutions. While the book is a bit out-dated, it's only 80 pages long - an easy read on a rainy day.

To say that religion and ethical has no presence in economics or politics is naive. Politics is guided by the morals and ideologies of those in power and voters (one would hope). Thus, it is inherently religious, and the sooner we realize this, the better. I am not advocating the acceptance of a specific religious doctrine, but a cultivation of study of the connections between religion and politics would be nice.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Update on Privately Funded Science

On March 10, I wrote about funding pure science through donations, rather than depending on public funding. In some cases, government funding only supports specific views or goals, similar to Thomas Kuhn's "paradigmatic science".

On May 9, however, the Cosmos 1 project, a prototype ship being launched from a Russian submarine. The project is supported and sponsored by the Planetary Society, Cosmos Labs, Lavochkin Association and the Space Research Institute in Russia. The Planetary Society boasts that the project is being supported by its members, who donate regularly to support space-focused research.

This is a very exciting project. Not only is it testing a technology that may one day make it possible to "sail" in space using gigantic solar sails, but it is testing the technology for the benefit of pure science. If this trend continues to grow, it may be possible to fund more projects in such a way - imagine a society that works to promote science out of its own interest.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


I finished reading Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain : The Science of Neuroeconomics by Paul W. Glimcher yesterday, and have to say it was a good and interesting read. I initially picked up the book with the hopes of seeing how cognitive neuroscience can be applied to economics, but the book focuses on the opposite - how economics can be applied to cognitive neuroscience. But this wasn't disappointing by any means.

Glimcher explores the biological sciences and explains that the field of study is on a convergent path with economics. Probability theory, game theory, and many other economic tools being used to explain decision making within society are used in behavioural studies of animals, and other life sciences. He even shows a few models where successful experiments based on game theory have been performed on animals, showing that evolution tends to move towards near-optimal strategies that one can calculate using game theory.

Of course, this doesn't mean neuroeconomics is strictly concerned with using economics in the life sciences. The field works both ways. By studying the brain and developing neural models of decision making processes, can we create more accurate utility curves or create macroeconomic models based on simplified "brains" (neural networks) interacting within a "societal system" in a super computer?

I've found two very interesting blogs on this topic: Kevin McCabe's Neuroscience Blog and Decision Science News. Very good sources of information on economics, behavioural economics, and neuroeconomics.