Naturalism: Audacious Thoughts on the Consilience of Physics, Biology and Economics

32 Pages Posted: 29 May 2007

See all articles by Carsten Herrmann-Pillath

Carsten Herrmann-Pillath

Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies

Date Written: May 26, 2007


Edward O. Wilson has defined consilience as a strong reductionist program in science. This paper proposes an ontological approach to consilience, which allows for an emergentist interpretation. The methodological basis is naturalism, which is defined through some fundamental notions such as the unity of the world and the impossibility of the detached observer. Naturalism includes, for example, evolutionary epistemology. It does not imply a reductionist approach to human mind and society, but to the contrary the convergence of Naturwissenschaften und Geisteswissenschaften. A major reference point is the naturalization of the Gödel theorem, presaged by Hayek in his Sensory Order. Its implications match recent insights of the brain sciences, such as modularization and complex interaction between reason and intuition, which are being received by neuroeconomics research. The Gödel theorem is also related to fundamental theorems about randomness, such as Chaitin's number. The world is random in the sense of being singular, which, however, we cannot perceive adequately because our knowledge is propositional, hence relies on provability in a general sense. This diagnosis matches with certain economic approaches to entrepreneurship and uncertainty, such as Shackle's. The relation between regularity and singularity evolves during the expansion of the universe, according to the theories of Chaisson and Brooks/Wiley, and can be measured as increasing information content that emerges from the growing differential between possible entropy and realized entropy. The difference reflects the growing number of constraints on possible states of the world. These processes are triggered by a continuous flow of energy, in particular through dissipative systems, which minimize entropy internally and maximize externally. From this, the ontological principle of bimodality is deduced, i.e. every state of the world is matterenergy and knowledge. Knowledge is interpreted as non-referential, i.e. as a result of a universal principle of variation, selection and retention, which also applies for the human mind, thus including referential (propositional) knowledge as a special case. Finally, the paper sketches the consequences of ontological consilience for economics, which include the recognition that growth is growth of knowledge driven by energy throughput, that institutions as a fundamental expression of order are singular and hence, irreducible phenomena, and that the human actor is the interface of complex evolutionary processes on both the biological and the social level.

Keywords: ontology, naturalism, Gödel theorem, singularity and randomness, growth of entropy and order, energy and information growth, convergence of Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften

JEL Classification: B0, Y8

Suggested Citation

Herrmann-Pillath, Carsten, Naturalism: Audacious Thoughts on the Consilience of Physics, Biology and Economics (May 26, 2007). Available at SSRN: or

Carsten Herrmann-Pillath (Contact Author)

Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies ( email )

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