Simon’s Models of My Life


Jason Collins


July 16, 2012

Herbert Simon’s autobiography is probably not the best introduction to his work (I would suggest other starting points), but below are two paragraphs that caught my eye.

First, describing Chapter 15 of Models of Man:

Bracketing satisficing with Darwinian may appear contradictory, for evolutionists sometimes talk about survival of the fittest. But in fact, natural selection only predicts that survivors will be fit enough, that is, fitter than their losing competitors; it postulates satisficing, not optimizing. The paper showed how relatively simple choice mechanisms could enable an organism, searching through its life maze, to survive in an uncertain environment in which several incommensurable needs had to be met. It depicted a procedural rationality for organisms that was squarely based on satisficing rather than optimizing.

On whether the natural sciences are exact sciences:

As soon as they have to cope with the messiness of real world problems, as contrasted with the sometimes neat and simple laboratory problems, they become at least as inexact as the social sciences (which only rarely can retreat to the laboratory). I no longer have any patience with natural scientists who imagine that they have some kind of patent on exactness which they have not licensed to their social science brethren. …

The true line is not between “hard” natural science and “soft” social sciences, but between precise science limited to highly abstract and simple phenomena in the laboratory and inexact science and technology dealing with complex problems in the real world.