Hayek Smiles

On page 210 of his otherwise-wonderful book Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars, Lee Billings lets slip a bit of hubris:

We are now beginning to appreciate the complexity of the Earth system, and we are faced with controlling that complexity.

This quote is evidence that Billings does not, in fact, appreciate the world’s complexity. Nothing can fully understand something more complex than itself. A human could not possibly understand, let alone control, something so vastly larger, older, and more complicated than he is.

As with the physical world, so with the social world. Peter Boettke counsels economists, who study social processes, to be students, rather than saviors. Bad things happen otherwise. Similar advice applies in this case to natural scientists.

This quibble aside, Billings has written an excellent book that is as well-written and personable as it is informative. I recommend it highly.


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