Introduction: We Are Pattern-Seeking, Story-Telling Animals

Several years ago, I was listening to NPR on my way to work and I heard a commen tator say “Human beings are pattern-seeking, story-telling animals.” Those simple words rang off loud celebratory bells in my head, since that was exactly the mes sage that I have been trying to get across in my courses, but I had never said it so clearly, and maybe never really understood it. Armed with those powerful words, I promise to take you on a tour of the US macro economic data, looking for clear pat terns and telling compelling stories. This is a journey during which we will create knowledge together. When we are done, we will know a lot more about how the US economy has been behaving and why it has its ups and downs. Once we understand the history, we will be ready to look more clearly into the future.

You may want to substitute the more familiar scientific words “theory and evi dence” for “patterns and stories.” Do not do that. With the phrase “theory and ev idence” come hidden stow-away after-the-fact myths about how we learn and how much we can learn. The words “theory and evidence” suggest an incessant march toward a level of scientific certitude that cannot be attained in the study of the com plex self-organizing human system that we call the economy. The words “patterns and stories” much more accurately convey our level of knowledge, now, and in the future as well. It is literature, not science.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

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