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Exploring the Concept of Homeostasis and Considering its Implications for Economics

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The reality of human homeostasis expands the views on preferences and rational choice that are part of traditionally conceived Homo economicus and casts doubts on economic models that depend only on an “invisible hand” mechanism.

In its standard format, the concept of homeostasis refers to the ability, present in all living organisms, of continuously maintaining certain functional variables within a range of values compatible with survival. The mechanisms of homeostasis were originally conceived as strictly automatic and as pertaining only to the state of an organism’s internal environment. In keeping with this concept, homeostasis was, and still is, often explained by analogy to a thermostat: upon reaching a previously set temperature, the device commands itself to either suspend the ongoing operation (cooling or heating), or to initiate it, as appropriate. This traditional explanation fails to capture the richness of the concept and the range of circumstances in which it can be applied to living systems. Our goal here is to consider a more comprehensive view of homeostasis. This includes its application to systems in which the presence of conscious and deliberative minds, individually and in social groups, permits the creation of supplementary regulatory mechanisms aimed at achieving balanced and thus survivable life states but more prone to failure than the fully automated mechanisms. We suggest that an economy is an example of one such regulatory mechanism, and that facts regarding human homeostasis may be of value in the study of economic problems. Importantly, the reality of human homeostasis expands the views on preferences and rational choice that are part of traditionally conceived Homo economicus and casts doubts on economic models that depend only on an “invisible hand” mechanism.

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