Agents, Intelligence, and Social Atoms

Alex Bentley and Paul Ormerod

in Creating Consilience

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199794393
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919338 | DOI:

Series: New Directions in Cognitive Science

Agents, Intelligence, and Social Atoms

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Traditionally, quantitative social scientists have, for mathematical convenience, assumed that human collective behavior gravitates toward equilibrium. As part of this tradition, mainstream economics (and human behavioral ecology) has as its core the rational agent, who gathers all available information on a problem and then chooses the optimal decision. Bounded rationality (e.g., in behavioral economics) assumes more local optimization under fixed agent preferences. This chapter considers relaxing the assumptions of rationality much further, by assuming the “zero intelligence” agent, who cannot act with purpose or intent, and cannot learn. By yielding complex collective patterns without requiring complexity of individual behavior, the zero-intelligence approach provides a better basis for understanding societies as open, non-equilibrium systems under constant flux. It deliberately assumes as little as possible, in order to identify the most general characteristics first, which can then reveal the effects of making agent behavior incrementally more complicated. In essence, this chapter argues that building upon a model of ignorance is more effective than relaxing a model of omniscience.

Keywords: cultural transmission; evolution; social learning; cultural drift; pattern formation

Chapter.  9133 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

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