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†† Gary Schouborg, PhD

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Schouborg, Gary (2007).

"Freedom and Information Processing".



Freedom and Information Processing


Gary Schouborg



Friedrich Hayek is a more profound thinker than Milton Friedman. Or, perhaps more accurately, Hayek historically and logically lays the foundation for Friedman. Whereas Friedman tends to talk of freedom, Hayek grounds freedom in the more elemental notion of information. It's because we are information processing animals that freedom is necessary to us. Without that insight, appeals to freedom are merely moral, metaphysical ideology leading to the endless and sterile debates of individualism v. collectivism.


[Question from John Crillo: Gary, I'm missing something. What is the necessary connection (that I think you say exists) between information processing and the function of freedom? Or maybe I should ask: what is your concept of freedom in this context?]


Good question. Information processing by animals is a four-stage cycle of perception (information input), identifying alternative courses of action, deciding among them, and acting (output) upon them. The more complex the animal, the more information it can process, which in turn provides it with that many more alternative courses of action. To say that information processors demand freedom is simply to say that they are compelled to choose among the alternatives with which they are presented.


There are roughly three levels of information processing:


1. Current computers process information outside of the four-stage, action-oriented cycle referred to above. Their processing, at least to date, is only in support of human information processing.


2. Non-human animals process information that allows them to choose alternative courses of action. The scope of choices grows in proportion to the animalís processing power.

3. Humans process information whose scope and consequent freedom of choice are relatively unlimited compared to animals.


Human information processors (HIP) are therefore inherently presented with alternative courses of action among which they are compelled to choose. Consequently, when interacting with other humans, they demand to be free to act on the available information. When individual interests collide, they can choose along a continuum from winner-take-all competition at one end, through compromise along the middle, to unconditional surrender at the other end. Itís a critically important question to identify under what conditions the best political choice might be for tyranny or democracy and the best economic choice might be for a command economy or free markets.


Libertarians are pretty HIP, since they greatly appreciate this core structure of human processing. However, libertarians are not truly HIP or wise, since they overlook that individuals are in fact unequal in their access to information and their ability to process it. In fact, the weaker processors will create constraints on the stronger to reduce the chances of being exploited by them and to maximize their own power.


Wise, truly HIP politicians will step in to optimize the conflict among individuals of varying degrees of processing power, since too much constraint on strong processors kills the goose that creates the golden egg of wealth (economic, cognitive, spiritual) and too little constraint kills the mass consumers of that wealth whose labors provide resources necessary to the stronger processors (e.g., food, shelter, services).


Neither American political party seems very HIP, since neither exhibits much wisdom or optimizing power.


Republicans somewhat see the virtues of free economic markets but are beholden to cultural conservatives who would excessively constrain cognitive and spiritual markets. I say "somewhat see," because too many Republicans are willing to constrain economic markets for their own gain.


Democrats somewhat see the virtues of cognitive and spiritual markets, but are beholden to socialists who would excessively constrain economic markets. I say "somewhat see," because too many Democrats are willing to constrain ideas that they deem unrighteous.


What we need are truly HIP politicians, but our only moderately HIP citizenry is unable to produce them. That said, the US remains the most HIP nation in history and the one that holds the most promise of increasing HIPness in the future.