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Fuzzy Logic and the economics of sustainability

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Fuzzy Logic and the economics of sustainability



Fuzzy logic has so many applications--it literally boggles the mind. But there is one that truly fascinates--the application of fuzzy to the social sciences.

Now as most of you may know, the social sciences are not very scientific. By trying to describe human behavior in binary terms, the social sciences mostly produce computerized gibberish. Most output can be charitably described as very bad literature.

In most cases, this is harmless--the exception is economics. Economics in the late 1990s is still not very scientific. As a descriptive exercise, economics is merely awful. As a prescriptive exercise, economics virtually mandates environmental ruin.

The message is simple: If the social sciences do not become more scientific, the economists of the world will continue to prescribe disasters.

And I am convinced that only fuzzy logic can lead to truly scientific economics.


the key


In Fuzzy Logic: the discovery of a revolutionary computer technology and how it is changing our world by Daniel McNeill and Paul Freiberger, Simon and Schuster 1993 p29. The authors describe Mr. Charles Sanders Peirce as one of the two intellectual progenitors of Zedeh's fuzzy logic. (The other was Jan Lukasiewicz.)

According to McNeill and Freiberger, "Pierce laughed at the `sheep & goat separators' who split the world into true and false. (From Many-valued Logic, Nicholas Rescher, McGraw Hill, New York, 1969, p 5) Rather he held that all that exists is continuous, and such continuums govern knowledge. For instance, size is a continuum, as sorites shows. Time is a continuum, so though an acorn eventually becomes an oak tree, no one can say exactly when. Speed and weight form spectrums, as do effort, distance, and intensities of all sorts. Politeness, anger, joy, and other feelings and behaviors come in continuums. Consciousness itself is a continuum, varying not only in a single person, from high alertness through coma, but also across species, from humans to protozoans."


part two


One of Peirce's students at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore was a young man named Thorstein Veblen. Besides giving the language the expression "conspicuous consumption," Veblen influenced a whole generation of economists who gave America The Great Prosperity between 1940 and 1973. He also wrote a magnificent work called "Why Economics is not an Evolutionary Science."

Veblen did not really have an answer to the points he raised beyond suggesting that only the technologically literate have any business operating the important levers of an industrial state.

By the time Lotfi Zedeh had invented fuzzy logic, Veblen had mostly been forgotten. So it has taken some time to make the obvious link between these two descendants of Peirce. It is quite likely that Veblen would have been excited about the possibilities of fuzzy logic and would have considered it a useful evolution in methodological thinking.

Fuzzy logic is possibly the greatest intellectual breakthrough of a lifetime and most certainly has a place in the social sciences--in fact, it is utterly essential because people are FAR more complex than can be described with a logic that only admits yes or no, true or false, answers to questions.

If the social sciences insist on operating with the primitive logic of Aristotle, then they can never really become scientific because they can never really describe the reality of human existence.

Yet, the questions of social interaction on a large scale CAN be described in fuzzy logic terms. It may not be perfect, but it is FAR easier to describe society with fuzzy logic than with its more primitive antecedents. If sociologists, anthropologists, and political economists have tried to describe society before fuzzy logic, and they have, what possible objection could there be to attempting the same task using a better tool?

 About this site


Fuzzy logic has more good minds (and good websites) than Veblen. Therefore, much of this site is devoted to restoring the intellectual reputation of Albert Einstein's favorite American science writer. Any intellectual descendant of Lotfi Zedeh should find Veblen quite fascinating. Both were superb minds. This site intends to build bridges between the intellectual great-grandchildren of Charles Sanders Peirce.

Included at this site is the paper presented at the 1996 International Thorstein Veblen Association (ITVA)--as a .pdf file--trying to link Veblen's great intellectual distinction between the leisure and industrial classes with Fuzzy Logic.



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