economic calculation applied to the pursuit of truth, part one
A central design issue for collaborative systems is how those systems bias the collective effort of their participants. To the extent that the systems support collaboration, they introduce the contribution of other participants into the consciousness of a single user. A very desirable goal for a collaborative information system is to bias the collective efforts of its users toward the pursuit and elaboration of truth.
Assuming that there is universality in truth, the pursuit of truth provides a common direction in which individuals may strive without otherwise coordinating their efforts. Regardless of the universality of truth, the personal perception of truth can be highly subjective. One of the ways that the truth of various ideas (such as scientific theories) are assessed is by the number and distinction of their proponents. In this case, the public statements of truth as perceived by individuals can be aggregated to arrive at an estimate of reality usable by a single individual.
At times, however, mass delusions or systemic biases can lead to the advancement of (sometimes dangerous) falsehoods as truth, held by broad majorities of esteemed opinion-makers. In a scientific context, the persecution of Galileo for advancing a heliocentric view of the solar system is an example of (what we now consider as) truth confronting officially sanctioned falsity. The racial theories of certain regimes, and similar manifestations of insanity, particularly apparent in socialist societies, can be seen in hindsight to not only be profoundly wrong, but also to have brought about severe consequences for many individuals and entire societies.
The question of what ideas, perceived as actionable truth today, will be recognized as disastrous falsehoods in the future is not the subject of this posting. Rather, the objective here is to recognize the possibility of using economic calculation, applied to information management, for the recognition of truth and the repudiation of falsity. Market transactions denominated in terms of money prices enable individuals to calculate the results of their efforts in coordination with others through economic exchange. The process of economic calculation, where individual actors in an economy are able to calculate the results of their actions through profit and loss, enables exquisite coordination of productive activities, and it is worthwile to seek to apply market mechanisms in new areas. The distributed coordination enabled by economic calculation, where individual direction can be derived from the complex interactions of a large number of independent participants, suggests that the pursuit of truth can be advanced by the application of economic mechanisms to information.
To be continued...