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Re: towards a theory of reputation
I am far behind in my C'punks reading and am likely to get farther
behind before I catch up, so perhaps this is well-known or dated.
However, the recent revival of reputation discussion reminded me of a
very interesting claim made by Miller & Drexler in "Comparative Ecology:
A Computational Perspective"
(http://www.webcom.com/~agorics/agorpapers.html). I'll quote from
> ... Trademarking of services and products enables producers to establish
> valuable reputations. The lack of this mechanism in biology 
> contributes to the relative sparseness of symbiosis there.
> 4.4. Food webs and trade webs
> Biological and market ecosystems both contain a mixture of symbiotic and
> negative-sum relationships. This paper argues that biological ecosystems
> involve more predation, while idealized market ecosystems involve more
> symbiosis. Indeed, one can make a case that this is so even for human
> market ecosystems-that biological ecosystems are, overall, dominated by
> predation, while market ecosystems are, overall, dominated by symbiosis.
> In human markets (as in idealized markets) producers within an industry
> compete, but chains of symbiotic trade connect industry to industry.
> Competition in biology likewise occurs most often among those occupying
> the same niche, but here, it is predation that connects from niche to
> niche. Because of the lack of reputations and trademarks, symbiosis in
> biology occurs most often in situations where the "players" find
> themselves in a highly-iterated game. In the extreme, the symbiotic
> system itself becomes so tightly woven that it is considered a single
> organism-as with lichens composed of fungi and algae, or animals
> composed of eukaryotic cells containing mitochondria. Predation, of
> course, links one symbiotic island to the next.
> Ecology textbooks show networks of predator-prey relationships-called
> food webs-because they are important to understanding ecosystems;
> "symbiosis webs" have found no comparable role. Economics textbooks show
> networks of trading relationships circling the globe; networks of
> predatory or negative-sum relationships have found no comparable role.
> (Even criminal networks typically form cooperative "black markets".) One
> cannot prove the absence of such spanning symbiotic webs in biology, or
> of negative-sum webs in the market; these systems are too complicated
> for any such proof. Instead, the argument here is evolutionary: that the
> concepts which come to dominate an evolved scientific field tend to
> reflect the phenomena which are actually relevant for understanding its
>  Wickler, Wolfgang, Mimicry in Plants and Animals (World University
Library/ MaGraw-Hill, New York, 1968).
This collection of Miller&Drexler papers is very much worth reading if
you haven't run across it yet.