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Machine Dreams - Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 20 May 2007 15:49:32 -0400 (CLT)

I've been reading this book for over a month now, making various comments
here as I did so, but now I've finally finished it, so I thought I'd write
a more complete review.

I have very mixed feelings about "Machine Dreams".  It competently
combines "hard" (maths, theoretical computer science, physics) and "soft"
(economics, history) sciences - a rare feat.  The author is smart enough
to understand the difference between cute examples and real maths.  And
the subject matter - connecting economics with ideas like thermodynamics,
information theory, the completeness and halting theorems - is

And yet.  There are times when the liberal arts verbiage becomes
overwhelming.  When the puns grate.  When you wonder why an editor didn't
hack this into a better, leaner book.  The middle third, if you are not
that interested in the minutiae of economics history, is pretty boring. 
Finally, and worst, the author's tone is crass.  You know the kind of
person who thinks the best way to show they are smart is to be sarcastic
about everyone else?   Imagine having to read 600 pages written by that
guy (curiously Mirowski, said author, appears in the documentary "The
Trap" I linked to earlier and, there, appears quite normal).

It remains a good book - but, damn, it could have been a great one.

I don't claim to have understood all that I read, but at least it made me
think a little.  What follows are some of the highlights from the last
third of the book (a summary of wherever I have folded over the page
corner).  They might give some idea of the technical flavour of the book.

I wonder if there is a good introduction to Computational Economics?

p 370-380 - nice description of how economics tried to make connections to
Shannon's information theory.  To my reading it seemed at first that the
author had missed the point, but if you read on into the details things
become clearer.

p 410-415 - fixed point theories.  A nice idea I used in my parallel
Sudoku solver (and it's amusing to see how inefficient that was).

p 418 - sketch of a proof for games in which there is a winning strategy,
but it is not computable.

p 426 - curious postcript about Didion and Nash.  Wonder if Didion's
review (of a biography of Nash, advocating, apparently, a less cheesy
treatment of his mental problems) is in any of her collected works?  Would
like to read it.

p 453 - introduction to Herbert Simon.  Sounds interesting...

p 478 - bounded rationality and the problem of its recursive construction.

p 514 (and nearby) - evolutionary game theory.

p 528 - detailed and illustrative argument showing the ongoing "battle"
between fixed point approaches and incompleteness.

p p 558 (and nearby) - introduces the idea of studying the complexity of
the market rather than the actors.  Makes reference to work by Gode and


Computational Economics

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 20 May 2007 15:57:21 -0400 (CLT)

This looks like it may be the book I want -

Computability, Complexity and Constructivity in Economic Analysis, by K.
Vela Velupillai


More Discussion

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 20 May 2007 16:25:33 -0400 (CLT)

links to http://www.nd.edu/~pmirowsk/pdf/Philosophizing_with_Hammer.pdf
(the tone of that reply is a lot more human than the book, incidentally).

I also made some related comments on Reddit -


Yet More Discussion

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 20 May 2007 16:33:23 -0400 (CLT)

A good review at http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2006/12/machine-dreams.html
- I completely forgot to mention a lot of the more "social history" stuff.
 I guess maybe that is more interesting if you already know the "accepted
version" that is being questioned.  To me it often sounded like more of
the usual (military funding drives research?  Well I never....)


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