Chemical Organization Theory and Autopoiesis

E-mail communication of Francis Heylighen on 29 May 2018:

Inspired by the notion of autopoiesis (“self-production”) that Maturana and Varela developed as a definition of life, I wanted to generalize the underlying idea of cyclic processes to other ill-understood phenomena, such as mind, consciousness, social systems and ecosystems. The difference between these phenomena and the living organisms analysed by Maturana and Varela is that the former don’t have a clear boundary or closure that gives them a stable identity. Yet, they still exhibit this mechanism of “self-production” in which the components of the system are transformed into other components in such a way that the main components are eventually reconstituted.

This mechanism is neatly formalized in COT’s notion of “self-maintenance” of a network of reactions. I am not going to repeat this here but refer to my paper cited below. Instead, I’ll give a very simple example of such a circular, self-reproducing process:

A -> B,

B -> C,

C -> A

The components A, B, C are here continuously broken down but then reconstituted, so that the system rebuilds itself, and thus maintains an invariant identity within a flux of endless change.

A slightly more complex example:

A + X -> B + U

B + Y -> C + V

C + Z -> A + W

Here A, B, and C need the resources (inputs, or “food”) X, Y and Z to be reconstituted, while producing the waste products U, V, and W. This is more typical of an actual organism that needs inputs and outputs while still being “operationally” closed in its network of processes.

In more complex processes, several components are being simultaneously consumed and produced, but so that the overall mixture of components remains relatively invariant. In this case, the concentration of the components can vary the one relative to the other, so that the system never really returns to the same state, only to a state that is qualitatively equivalent (having the same components but in different amounts).

One more generalization is to allow the state of the system to also vary qualitatively: some components may (temporarily) disappear, while others are newly added. In this case, we  no longer have strict autopoiesis or [closure + self-maintenance], i.e. the criterion for being an “organization” in COT. However, we still have a form of continuity of the organization based on the circulation or recycling of the components.

An illustration would be the circulation of traffic in a city. Most vehicles move to different destinations within the city, but eventually come back to destinations they have visited before. However, occasionally vehicles leave the city that may or may not come back, while new vehicles enter the city that may or may not stay within. Thus, the distribution of individual vehicles in the city changes quantitatively and qualitatively while remaining relatively continuous, as most vehicle-position pairs are “recycled” or reconstituted eventually. This is what I call circulation.

Most generally, what circulates are not physical things but what I have earlier called challenges. Challenges are phenomena or situations that incite some action. This action transforms the situation into a different situation. Alternative names for such phenomena could be stimuli (phenomena that stimulate an action or process), activations (phenomena that are are active, i.e. ready to incite action) or selections (phenomena singled out as being important, valuable or meaningful enough to deserve further processing). The term “selections” is the one used by Luhmann in his autopoietic model of social systems as circulating communications.

I have previously analysed distributed intelligence (and more generally any process of self-organization or evolution) as the propagation of challenges: one challenge produces one or more other challenges,  which in turn produce further challenges, and so on. Circulation is a special form of propagation in which the initial challenges are recurrently reactivated, i.e. where the propagation path is circular, coming back to its origins.

This to me seems a better model of society than Luhmann’s autopoietic social systems. The reason is that proper autopoiesis does not really allow the system to evolve, as it needs to exactly rebuild all its components, without producing any new ones. With circulating challenges, the main structure of society is continuously rebuilt, thus ensuring the continuity of its organization, however while allowing gradual changes in which old challenges (distinctions, norms, values…) dissipate and new ones are introduced.

Another application of circulating challenges are ecosystems. Different species and their products (such as CO2, water, organic material, minerals, etc.) are constantly recycled, as the one is consumed in order to produce the other, but most are eventually reconstituted. Yet, not everything is reproduced: some species may become extinct, while new species invade the ecosystem. Thus the ecosystem undergoes constant evolution, while being relatively stable and resilient against perturbations.

Perhaps the most interesting application of this concept of circulation is consciousness. The “hard problem” of consciousness asks why information processing in the brain does not just function automatically or unconsciously, the way we automatically pull back our hand from a hot surface, before we even have become conscious of the pain of burning. The “global workspace” theory of consciousness says that various subconscious stimuli enter the global workspace in the brain (a crossroad of neural connections in the prefrontal cortext), but that only a few are sufficiently amplified to win the competition for workspace domination. The winners are characterized by much stronger activation and their ability to be “broadcasted” to all brain modules (instead of remaining restricted to specialized modules functioning subconsciously). These brain modules can then each add their own specific interpretation to the “conscious” thought.

In my interpretation, reaching the level of activation necessary to “flood” the global workspace means that activation does not just propagate from neuron to neuron, but starts to circulate so that a large array of neurons in the workspace are constantly reactivated. This circulation keeps the signal alive long enough for the different specialized brain modules to process it, and add their own inferences to it. Normally, activation cannot stay in place, because of neuronal fatigue: an excited neuron must pass on its “action potential” to connected neurons, it cannot maintain activation. To maintain an activation pattern (representing a challenge) long enough so that it can be examined and processed by disparate modules that pattern must be stabilized by circulation.

But circulation, as noted, does not imply invariance or permanence, merely a relative stability or continuity that undergoes transformations by incoming stimuli or on-going processing. This seems to be the essence of consciousness: on the one hand, the content of our consciousness is constantly changing (the “stream of consciousness”), on the other hand that content must endure sufficiently long for specialized brain processes to consider and process it, putting part of it in episodic memory, evaluating part of it in terms of its importance, deciding to turn part of it into action, or dismissing or vetoing part of it as inappropriate.

This relative stability enables reflection, i.e. considering different options implied by the conscious content, and deciding which ones to follow up, and which ones to ignore. This ability to choose is the essence of “free will“. Subconscious processes, on the other hand, just flow automatically and linearly from beginning to end, so that there is no occasion to interrupt the flow and decide to go somewhere else. It is because the flow circulates and returns that the occasion is created to interrupt it after some aspects of that flow have been processed and found to be misdirected.

To make this idea of repetition with changes more concrete, I wish to present a kind of “delayed echo” technique used in music. One of the best implementation is Frippertronics, invented by avant-garde rock guitarist Robert Fripp (of King Crimson): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frippertronics

The basic implementation consist of an analogue magnetic tape on which the sounds produced by a musician are recorded. However, after having passed the recording head of the tape recorder, the tape continues moving until it is read by another head that reads and plays the recorded sound. Thus, the sound recorded at time t is played back at time t + T, where the interval T depends on the distance between the recording and playback heads. But while the recorded sound in played back, the recording head continues recording all the sound, played by either the musician(s) or the playback head, on the same tape. Thus, the sound propagates from musician to recording head, from where is is transported by tape to the playback head, from where it is propagated in the form of a sound wave back to the recording head, thus forming a feedback loop.

If T is short, the effect is like an echo, where the initial sound is repeated a number of times until it fades away (under the assumption that the playback is slightly less loud than the original sound). For a longer T, the repeated sound may not be immediately recognized as a copy of what was recorded before given that many other sounds have been produced in the meantime. What makes the technique interesting is that while the recorded sounds are repeated, the musician each time adds another layer of sound to the layers already on the recording. This allows the musician to build up a complex, multilayered, “symphonic” sound, where s/he is being accompanied by her/his previous performance. The resulting music is repetitive, but not strictly so, since each newly added sound creates a new element, and these elements accumulate so that they can steer the composition in a wholly different direction.

This “tape loop” can be seen as a simplified (linear or one-dimensional) version of what I called circulation, where the looping or recycling maintains a continuity, while the gradual fading of earlier recordings and the addition of new sounds creates an endlessly evolving “stream” of sound. My hypothesis is that consciousness corresponds to a similar circulation of neural activation, with the different brain modules playing the role of the musicians that add new input to the circulating signal. A differences is probably that the removal of outdated input does not just happen by slow “fading” but by active inhibition, given that the workspace can only sustain a certain amount of circulating activation, so that strong new input tends to suppress weaker existing signals. This and the complexity of circulating in several directions of a network may explain why conscious content appears much more dynamic than repetitive music.

Chemical Organization Theory as a Modeling Tool

Heylighen, F., Beigi, S. and Veloz, T. . Chemical Organization Theory as a modeling framework for self-organization, autopoiesis and resilience . Paper to be submitted based on working paper 2015-01.

Introduction

Complex systems consist of many interacting elements that self-organize: coherent patterns of organization or form emerge from their interactions. There is a need of theoretical understanding of self-organization and adaptation: our mathematical and conceptual tools are limited for the description of emergence and interaction. The reductionist approach analyzes a system into its constituent static parts and their variable properties; the state of the system is determined by the values of these variable properties and processes are transitions between states; the different possible states determine an a priori predefined state-space; only after introducing all these static elements and setting up a set of conditions for the state-space can we study the evolution of the system in that state-space. This approach makes it difficult to understand a system property such as emergent behavior. Process metaphysics and action ontology assume that reality is not constituted from things but from processes or actions; the difficulty is to represent these processes in a precise, simple, and concrete way. This paper aims to formalize these processes as reaction networks of chemical organization theory; here the reactions are the fundamental elements, the processes are primary; states take the second place as the changing of the ingredients as the processes go on; the molecules are not static objects but raw materials that are produced and consumed by the reactions. COT is a process ontology; it can describe processes in any sphere and hence in scientific discipline; ‘.. method to define and construct organizations, i.e. self-sustaining networks of interactions within a larger network of potential interactions. .. suited to describe self-organization, autopoiesis, individuation, sustainability, resilience, and the emergence of complex, adaptive systems out of simpler components’ [p 2]. DPB: this reminds me of the landscape of Jobs; all the relevant aspects are there. It is hoped that this approach helps to answer the question: How does a system self-organize; how are complex wholes constructed out of simpler elements?

Reaction Networks

A reaction network consists of resources and reactions. The resources are distinguishable phenomena in some shared space, a reaction vessel, called the medium. The reactions are elementary processes that create or destroy resources. RN = <R,M>, where RM is a reaction network, R is a reaction, M is a resource: M = {a,b,c,…} and R is a subset of P(M) x P(M), where P is the power set (set of all subsets) of M and each reaction transforms a subset Input of M into a subset Output of M; the resources in I are the reactants and the resources in O are the products; I and O are multisets meaning that resources can occur more than once. R:x1+x2+x3+..→y1+y2+… The + in the left term means a conjunction of necessary resources x: if all are simultaneously present in I(r) then the reaction takes place and produces the products y.

Reaction Networks vs. Traditional Networks

The system <M,R> forms a network because the resources in M are linked by the reactions in R transforming one resource into another. What is specific for COT is that a reaction represents the transform from a multiplicity of resources into another multiplicity of them: a set I transforms to a set O. DPB: this reminds me of category theory. My principal question at this point is whether the problem of where organization is produced is not relocated: first the question was how to tweak static object into self-organization, now it is which molecules in which quantities and combination to conjuncture to get them to produce other resources and showing patterns at it. In RN theory the transform of resources can occur through a disjunction or a conjunction: the disjunction is represented by the juxtaposed reaction formulae, the conjunction by the + within a reaction formula.

Reaction Networks and Propositional Logic

Conjunction: AND: &; Disjunction: OR: new reaction line; Implication: FOLLOWS: →; Negation: NOT: -. For instance: a&b&c&..x. But the resources at the I side are not destroyed by the process then formally a&b&..→a&b&x&… Logic is static because no propositions are destroyed: new implications can be found, but nothing new is created. Negation can be thought of as the production of the absence of a resource: a+bc+ d = ac+ d – b. I and O can be empty and a resource can be created from nothing (affirmation, a) or a resource can create nothing (elimination, aor →-a). Another example is aa and hence a+(-a) = a-aand a-a: the idea is that a particle and its anti-particle annihilate one another, but they can be created together from nothing.

Competition and cooperation

The concept of negative resources allow the expression of conflict, contradiction or inhibition: a→-b what is the same as a+b0 (empty set): the more of a produced, the less of b is present: the causal relation is negative. The relation “a inhibits b” holds if: : a is required to consume but not produce b. The opposite “a promotes b” means that a is required to produce but not to consume b. When the inhibiting and promoting relations are symmetrical, a and b inhibit (a and b competitors) or promote (a and b cooperators) each other, but they do not need to be. Inhibition is a negative causality and promotion is a positive influence. If only positive influences or an even number of negative influences are included in a cycle then negative feedback occurs. When the number of negative influences is uneven then a positive feedback occurs. Negative feedback leads to stabilization or oscillation, positive feedback leads to exponential growth. In a social network a particular message can be promoted, suppressed or inhibited by another. Interaction sin the network occur through their shared resources.

Organizations

In COT and organization is defined as a self-sustaining reaction system: produced and consumed resources are the same: ‘This means that although the system is intrinsically dynamic or process-based, constantly creating or destroying its own components, the complete set of its components (resources) remains invariant, because what disappears in one reaction is recreated by another on, while no qualitatively new components are added’ [p 8]. DPB: I find this an appealing idea. But I find it also hard to think of the basic components that would make up a particular memeplex, even using the connotations. What in other words would the resources have to be and what the reactions to construct a memeplex from them? If the resource is an idea then one idea leads to another, which matches my theory. But this method would have to cater for reinforcement: and the idea itself does not much change, it does get reinforced as it is repeated. And in addition how would the connotation be attached to them: or must it be seen as an ‘envelope’ that contains the address &c, and that ‘arms’ the connoted idea (meme) to react (compare) with others such that the ranking order in the mind of the person is established? And such that stable network of memes is established such that they form a memeplex. The property of organization above, is central to the theory of autopoiesis, but, as stated in the text, without the boundary of a living system. But I don’t agree with this: the RC church has a very strong boundary that separates it from everything that is not the RC church. And so the RN model should cater for more complexity than only the forming of molecules (‘prior to the first cell’). The organization of a subRN <M’,R> of a larger RN <M,R> is defined by these characteristics: 1. closure: when I(r) is a part of M’ then O(r) is a part of M’ for all resources 2. semi-self-maintenance: no existing resource is removed, each resource consumed by some reaction is produced again by some other reaction working on the same starting set and 3. self-maintenance: each consumed resource x element of M’ is produced by some reaction in <M’,R> in at least the same amount as the amount consumed (this is a difficult one, because a ledger is required over the existence of the system to account for the quantities of each resource). ‘We are now able to define the crucial concept of organization: a subset of resources and reactions <M’,R> is an organization when it is closed and self-maintaining. This basically means that while the reactions in R are processing the resources in set M’, they leave the set M’ invariant: no resources are added (closure) and no resources are removed (Self-maintenance)’( emphasis of the author) [p 9]. The difference with other models is that the basic assumption is that everything changes, but this concept of organization means that stability can arise while everything changes continually, in fact this is the definition of autopoiesis.

Some examples

If a resource appears in both the I and the O then it is a catalyst.

Extending the model

A quantitative shortcoming, a possible extension, is the absence of relative proportions and of the relative speeds of the reactions. To extend quantitatively the model can be detailed to encompass all the processes that make up some particular ecology of reactions.

Self-organization

If we apply the rules for closure and maintenance we can know how organization emerges. If a reaction is added, a source for some resource is added which interrupts closure, or a sink is added which interrupts the self-maintenance. In general a starting set of resources will not be closed; their reactions will lead to new resources and so on; but the production of new ones will stop if no new resources are possible given the resources in the system; at that point closure is reached: ‘Thus, closure can be seen as an attractor of the dynamics defined by resource addition: it is the end point of the evolution, where further evolution stops’ [p 12]. In regards to self-maintenance, starting at the closed set, some of the resources will be consumed but not produced in sufficient amounts to replace the used amounts; these will disappear from the set; this does not affect closure because loss of resources cannot add new resources; resources now start to disappear one by one from the set; this process stops when the remaining resources only depend on the remaining ones (and not the disappeared ones): ‘Thus, self-maintenance too can be seen as an attractor of the dynamics defined by resource removal. The combination of resource addition ending in closure followed by resource removal ending in self-maintenance produces an invariant set of resources and reactions. This unchanging reaction network is by definition an organization’ [p 12]. Every dynamic system will end up in a attractor, namely a stationary regime that the system cannot leave: ‘In the attractor regime the different components of the system have mutually adapted, in the sense that the one no longer threatens to extinguish the other they have co-evolved to a “symbiotic”state, where they either peacefully live next to each other, or actively help one another to be produced, thus sustaining their overall interaction’ [p 12]. DPB: from the push and pull of these different attractors emerges (or is selected) an attractor that manages the behavior of the system.

Sustainability and resilience

An organization in the above sense is by definition self-maintaining and therefore sustainable. Many organizations grow because they produce more resources than they consume (e.g. positive feedback of resources: overproduced). Sustainability means the ability of an organization to grow without outside interference. Resilience means the ability to maintain the essential organization in the face of outside disturbances; a disturbance can be represented by the injection or the removal of a resource that reacts with others in the system. Processes of control are: buffering, negative feedback, feedforward (neutralizing the disturbance before it has taken effect). The larger the variety of controls the systems sports, the more disturbances it can handle, an implementation of Asby’s law of requisite variety. Arbitrary networks of reactions will self-organize to produce sustainable organizations, because an organization is an attractor of their dynamics. DPB: this attractor issue and bearing in mind the difficulties with change management, this reminds me of the text about the limited room an attracted system takes up in state-space (containment) explains why a system once it is ‘attracted’ it will not change to another state without an effort of galactic proportions. ‘However, evolutionary reasoning shows that resilient outcomes are more likely in the long run than fragile ones. First, any evolutionary process starts from some arbitrary point in the state space of the system, while eventually reaching some attractor region within that space. Attractors are surrounded by basins, from which all states lead into the attractor (Heylighen, 2001). The larger the basin of an attractor, the larger the probability that the starting point is in that basin. Therefore, the system is more likely to end up in an attractor with a large basin than in one with a small basin. The larger the basin, the smaller the probability that a disturbance pushing the system out of its attractor would also push it out of the basin, and therefore the more resilient the organization corresponding to the attractor. Large basins normally represent stable systems characterized by negative feedback, since the deviation from the attractor is automatically counteracted by the descent back into the attractor. .. However, these unstable attractors will normally not survive long, as nearly any perturbation will push the system out of that attractor’s basin into the basin of a different attractor. . This very general, abstract reasoning makes it plausible that systems that are regularly perturbed will eventually settle down in a stable, resilient organization’ [p 15].

Metasystem transitions and topological structures

A metasystem transition = a major evolutionary transition = the emergence of a higher order organization from lower order organizations. COT can be understood in this way if an organization S (itself a system of elements, albeit organized) behaves like a resource of the catalyst type: invariant under reactions but it has an input of resources it consumes I(S) and an output of resources it produces O(S), resulting in this higher order reaction: I(S) + S S + O(S), assume that I(S) = {a,b} and O(S) = {c,d,e}, then this can be rewritten as a+b+S S+c+d+e. S itself constitutes of organized elements and it behaves like a black box processing some input to an output. If S is resilient it can even respond to changes in its input with a changed output. Now the design space of meta-systems can be widened to include catalyst resources of the type S, organizations that are self-maintaining and closed.

Concrete applications

It is possible to mix different kinds of resources; this enables the modeling of complex environments; this is likely to make the ensuing systems’ organizations more stable. ‘Like all living systems, the goal or intention of an organizatrion is to maintain and grow. To achieve this, it needs to produce the right actions for the right conditions (e.g. produce the right resource to neutralize a particular disturbance). This means that it implicitly contains a series of “condition-action rules” that play the role of the organization’s “knowledge”on how to act in its environment. The capability of selecting the right (sequence of) action(s) to solve a given problem constitutes the organization’s “intelligence”. To do this, it needs to perceive what is going on in its environment, i.e. to sense particular conditions (the presence or absence of certain resources) that are relevant to its goals. Thus, an organization can be seen as a rudimentary “intelligence” or “mind”’ [p 20]. DPB: I find this interesting because of the explanation of how such a model would work: the resources are the rules that the organization needs to sort out and to put in place at the right occasion.

Stigmergy as a universal Coordination Mechanism (II)

Heylighen, F. . Stigmergy as a universal coordination mechanism II: Varieties and Evolution . Cognitive Systems Research (Elsevier) 38 . pp. 50-59. 2016

Abstract

One application is cognition, which can be viewed as an interiorization of the individual stigmergy that helps an agent to a complex project by registering the state of the work in the trace, thus providing an external memory’[p 50]. DPB: I understand this as: according to this hypothesis, stigmergy exists prior to cognition; this means that natural but non-living processes use stigmergy on an external medium; once they are alive they are (in addition) capable of internalizing stigmergy, namely by internalizing the medium. The process of internalization of individual stigmergy is the same as (the development of?) cognition. This is another way of saying that the scope of a system changes so as to encompass the (previously external) medium on which the stigmergy takes place. The self-organization is now internalized. Cognition is now internalized. How does this view on the concept of cognition relate to the concept of individuation as a view on cognition?

1. Introduction

To bring some order to these phenomena, the present paper will develop a classification scheme for the different varieties of stigmergy. We will do this by defining fundamental dimensions or aspects, i.e. independent parameters along which stigmergic systems can vary. The fact that these aspects are continuous (“more or less”) rather than dichotomous (“present or absent”) may serve to remind us that the domain of stigmergic mechanisms is essentially connected: however different its instances may appear, it is not a collection of distinct classes, but a space of continuous variations on a single theme – the stimulation of actions by their prior results’ [p 50]. DPB: this reminds me of the landscape of Jobs: at the connection of the memes and the minds, there is a trace of the meme left on the brain and a trace of the brain is added to the meme, leaving the meme and the brain damaged. This means that from the viewpoint of the brain the memeplex is the medium and from the viewpoint of the meme the brain is the medium. The latter is more obvious to see: traces can be left in individuals’ brains. The former implies that changes are imposed on the memeplex; but the memeplex is represented by the expression of ideas in the real and in the mind; the real is an external medium, accessible through first order observations; the expression of the memeplex existing in the mind is an external medium, because it exists in other persons’ minds and in versions of the Self, both accessible through second-order observations. Back to the landscape: it is there anyhow, the difference in states is how the Jobs are connected and as a consequence how they are bounded and how they individuate.

2. Individual vs. collective stigmergy

Ants do not require a memory, because the present stage of the work is directly discernible by the same ant, and also by a different ant. Because they have no memory, the work can be continued by the same ant, but by another just as well.

3. Sematectonic vs. marker-based stigmergy

Sematectonic means that the results of the work itself are the traces that signify the input for the next ant and the next state (Wilson Sociobiology, 1975). Marker-based means that the stigmergic stimulation occurs through traces in the shape of markers such as pheromones left by other individuals (ants, termites!) before them, and not by traces of the work itself indicating a particular stage (Parunak, H.V.D., A survey of environments and mechanisms for human-human stigmergy, In Environments for multi-agent systems II (Weyns, Parunak, Michel (Eds.), 2006). Marker signals represent symbols, while sematectonic signals the concrete thing. But this is not straightforward: the territory boundary indicated with urine markers are an indication of the fact that there is an animal claiming this territory, while the urine contains additional information specific for that animal. To spread urine evenly around the claimed area and to interpret the information contained by it is useful for both the defender and the visitor in order to manage a potential conflict. And hence to reduce the uncertainties from the environment for both. The point is that the urine represents both information about the object and about the context.

4. Transient vs. persistent traces

We have conceptualized the medium as the passive component of the stigmergic system, which undergoes shaping by the actions, but does not participate in the activity itself’ (emphasis of the author) [p 52]. But a medium is bound to dissipate and decay, unless the information is actively maintained and reconstructed; without ongoing updates it will become obsolete, especially as the situation changes. No sharp distinction can be made between transient and persistent traces, they are the extremes of a continuum. A persistent trace does not require the simultaneous presence of the agent, while a purely transient trace does require their simultaneous presence. Synchronous stigmergy means to broadcast some signal, releasing information not directed at any one in particular. ‘A human example would be the self-organization of traffic, where drivers continuously react to the traffic conditions they perceive’ [p 53]. DPB: the gist of this example is that the behavior of the drivers is the signal: it is synchronous, not directed at anyone in particular, and it is sematectonic, because it represents the state of the system.

5. Quantitative vs. qualitative stigmergy

Quantitative stigmergy means that stronger conditions imply more forceful action to follow, or, in practical terms: the stronger conditions imply a higher probability of action. Qualitative stigmergy refers to conditions and actions that differ in kind rather than in degree: thís trace leads to thát action. There is no clear distinction of these two categories.

6. Extending the mind

Traditionally, cognition has been viewed as the processing of information inside the brain. More recent approaches, however, not that both the information and the processing often reside in the outside world (Clark, 1998; Dror & Harnad, 2008; Hollan, Hutchins & Kirsh 2000) – or what we have called the medium. .. Thus the human mind extends into the environment (Clark & Chalmers, 1998), “outsourcing” some of its functions to external support systems. .. In fact, our mental capabilities can be seen as an interiorization of what were initially stigmergic interactions with the environment’ (emphasis of the author) [p 54]. DPB: beetje brakke quote. This reminds me of the idea that a brain would not have been required if the environment was purely random. Just because it is not, and hence patterns can be cognized, it is relevant to avail of the instrument for just that: a brain embodying a set of condition-action rules to generate an action from the state of the environment sensed by it. Stigmergic activity lacks a memory: its state represents its memory as it reflects its every experience. But now the system is dependent on the contingencies of the part of the environment that is the medium: in order to detach itself from the uncertainties of the environment it internalizes memory and information processing.

7. The evolution of cooperation

In a stigmergic situation the defector does not weaken the cooperator: the cost of a trace is sunk.

Stigmergy as a Universal Coordination Mechanism (I)

Heylighen, F. . Stigmergy as a universal coordination mechanism I: Definition and components . Cognitive Systems Research (Elsevier) 38 . pp. 4-13. 2016

1. Past, present and future of the “stigmergy” concept

The concept is introduced by Pierre-Paul Grassé 1959 to describe a coordination mechanism used by insects: the work of one leaves traces in the environment that stimulates subsequent work by that insect or by others: ‘This mediation via the environment ensures that tasks are executed in the right order, without any need for planning, control, or direct interaction between agents’ [p 4]. DPB: how can execution in the right order be assured: it is not sure in what order the other agents will encounter the traces and hence in what order they will be motivated to act? From the examples in the text it appears that the stage in which work is left by the previous worker is input for the decision rules of a later worker; this implies that the stage of the work can be recognized. This is not the same as the agents assessing the stage of the work in the sense of attributing a meaning to it, or as in distinguishing this earlier stage from that later stage, because in that case the agent would have to have an idea of the finalized work and to what extent it would have to be complete in relation to the finalized work. Another example is pheromone trails left by insects and that are followed by others. These ideas can in some cases explain self-organization in social systems aka swarm intelligence (Deneubourg 1977). Conceptually a next step is computer supported collaboration between human agents, in particular via the www; another example is the establishing of a price on a market: a price emerges from the myriad of interactions between people that then serves as a reference for their decisions thereafter. DPB: anchoring means that once one has become used to some mark, it serves as a frame of reference thereafter, priming means that once a reference price was given, this serves as a frame of reference thereafter; are these stigmergic effects of a Luhmannian communication on the human mind; is spoken human language an example also, because it damages the direct environment and it only lasts as a damage in the minds of the people involved in the conversation; is written language an example in a kind of slow and long lasting way: once written its damaging effects remain forever; in that way, language (spoken or written can be deframed and reframed and be assigned a new meaning). Understood in this sense stigmergy is ubiquitous and it can clarify many things: ‘Stigmergy in the most general sense does not require either markers or quantities. Another, even more common misunderstanding is that stigmergy only concerns groups or swarms consisting of many agents. As we will show, stigmergy is just as important for understanding the behavior of a single individual’ [p 5]. The notion that an unintentional trace in a passive medium is far removed from the notion of a direct influence of the behavior of one agent on the behavior of another agent.

2 From etymology to definition

Stigmergy is derived from the Greek stigma which means mark or puncture and ergon which means work, the product of work or action: as a joint concept it was originally as a goad or prod or spur (prikkel): ‘Thus (Grassé, 1959) defined stigmergy as ‘the stimulation of workers by the very performances they have achieved (from the original English abstract)’ [p 6]. More recently it was understood as follows: ‘if we understand stigma as “mark” or “sign”and ergon as “action”, then stigmergy is “the notion that an agent’s actions leave signs in the environment, signs that it and other agents sense and that determine their subsequent actions”’ [p 6]. DPB: the understanding of Grassé is that stigmergy means motivation by the work (of others) and the understanding of Parunak is motivation by marks left by the work. Suppose an uttered word already leaves a mark on the mind of some people in a network that is the environment of someone, then the difference between the two is that in the notion of Grassé one has to be present and in the notion of Parunak one does not. DPB: the expression of a meme leads to other expressions of it. ; ‘Stigmergy is an indirect, mediated mechanism of coordination between actions, in which the trace of an action left on a medium stimulates the performance of a subsequent action’ [p 6]. Also the picture is interesting:

In the medium: a mark: which stimulates >>

In the agent: an action: which produces >> [p 6].

DPB: this is my Logistical Model exactly! Using memes it is: an expression of a meme produces a mark in a medium and a perception of that mark stimulates an action in an agent. But what I find missing here is the effect of a meme in the internal, the mark that is left within the agent. That is a difference; let’s see how the stigmergy is defined later on, and whether it includes the mind of the agent when it is included in a social system.

3. Basic components of stigmergy

Action is defined as a causal process that produces a change in the world (real). Agent is defined as a goal-directed autonomous system: this concept is not necessary because actions of a single unspecified agent can be coordinated by stigmergy (but it is useful if more than one agent is involved with different kinds of actions: stigmergy is the coordinator of actions that are merely events or (agentless) processes. This can be represented by a condition-action rule: the condition specifies the state of the world inducing the action, and the action specifies the subsequent transformation of that state. This can also be written as: a+b+c+.. >> x+y+.., where the + indicaes the conjunction of the conditions and of the actions. Chemical Organization Theory (Dittrich & Winter, 2008) show how collections of these simple reactions tend to become coordinated by acting on a shared medium (reaction vessel), where they produce an evolving trace expressed by the concentrations of the different ‘molecules’ (a,b,..). This coordinated pattern of activity defines an organization: a self-sustaining, dynamic network of interacting ‘molecules’. The relation is causal but not deterministic: the probability that an action takes place increases if the conditions are met (P (action I condition) > P (action). DPB: the medium is the whole of the environment that can contain (be damaged to show) data in the sense of a signal whether fast or slow to disappear and widely or narrowly distributed, e.g. a tombstone (in the real) or a change in the state of the mind of one’s interlocutor caused by the irritation of one’s words (in the virtual of Simondon). In the latter case the minds of the interlocutors are a part of the environment of the person: ‘The medium is that part of the world that undergoes changes through the actions and whose states are sensed as conditions for further actions’ [p 7]. The medium is an aspect of the environment: ‘First, .. , the environment is not in general perceivable an controllable. Second, the environment normally denotes everything outside the system or agent under consideration. However, stigmergy can also make use of an internal medium’ (emphasis by the author) [p 7]. DPB: waarvan acte! As a consequence aspects of the agent system are controllable by elements in the environment and hence they belong to the medium. The environment is that part of the world with which an agent interacts; phenomena perceivable and controllable are different for each agent and hence every agent has a different environment; ‘When we consider stigmergic coordination between different agents, we need to define the medium as that part of the world that is controllable and perceivable by all of them’ [p 7]. DPB: this reminds of the discourse / population idea, where a multitude of people included by a communication (the discourse) is defined as a population. This is different because in the discourse people are included that find themselves to be attracted as a result of their life experience and because of the selections of the communication. The medium is a broader and wider concept because it is determined by what people can perceive and control, but that does not necessarily attract them because of their life experience so far. The role of the medium is to allow interaction between different actions to take place, and thus, indirectly, between different agents; this mediating function is the true power of stigmergy. A final component of a stigmergic system is a trace or a mark; it is the result of an action and as such it contains information about the action that produced it: ’We might see the trace as a message, deposited in a medium, through which the pattern of activity communicates with itself, while maintaining a continuously updated “memory” of its achievements. From the point of view of an individual agent, on the other hand, the trace is a challenge: a situation that incites action, in order to remedy a perceived problem or shortcoming, or to exploit an opportunity for advancement (Heylighen, 2012)’ (emphasis by the author) [p 8]. DPB: I think in the Logistical Model the medium is the mind of the person as well as the communication: both are simultaneously and differently damaged through their mutual irritations.

4. Coordination

According to the Oxford Dictionary, coordination can be defined as the organization of the different elements of a complex body or activity so as to enable them to work together effectively’ (emphasis by the author) [p 8]. In the case of stigmergy the ‘elements’ are actions or agents; ‘effectively’ means that a goal is pursued; ‘working together’ means that the agents or actions are harmonious or synergetic ‘the one rather helping than hindering the other’ [p 8]. ‘Organization’ means a structure with a function, where ‘function’ is the achievement of the intended effect and ‘structure’ is the way agents or actions are connected such that they form a coherent whole. ‘This brings the focus on the connections that integrate the actions into a synergetic, goal-oriented whole’ (emphasis of the author) [p 8]. DPB: this reminds me of autopoietic systems: the properties of the elements of a systems determine the relations between them. The goal-orientation and the synergy (or harmony) of the elements (or rather of the body they form) is per definition dedicated to their autopoiesis.

5. The benefits of stigmergy

Stigmergic organization limits the gap between planning, instructions and reality; it is robust to contingency and shock; it is less prone to error of communication and errors of control than traditional forms of organization; it is less dependent on the number of agents or actions involved or the dependencies between them. The only requirement is that the agents have access to the medium and that they can recognize the conditions to start their actions. There is no need for: planning, memory, direct communication, mutual awareness, simultaneous presence, imposed sequence, imposed dividion of labor, commitment, centralized control.

6. Self-organization through negative feedback

Error-controlled regulation means that a deviation from the goal of an agent implies a change of behavior of the agent such that a compensatory action suppresses the effect of the deviation, the error. The agent must be capable to sense the error and to execute a compensatory action. In regards to the establishment of effective collective action, the only additional assumption is that the goals of the agents are not contradictory, but the goals are not necessary the same for it. ‘We may assume that agents have acquired their condition-action rules (and thus their implicit goals) through natural selection of instinctual behavior or differential reinforcement of learned behavior. This means that their condition-action rules are generally appropriate to the local environment, including the other agents with which they regularly interact’ [p 11]. DPB: the entire system maintains its autopoiesis and its parts maintain theirs; the entire systems develops (evolutionarily) in its environment of other systems and its parts develop in their environments of other parts; the parts develop autopoietically within the conditions of the autopoiesis of the entire system. Their ‘goals’ are their autopoiesis as it is trained to the requirements of their (local) context.

7. Self-organization through positive feedback

This is the amplification of movements towards an existing goal; they can be called diversions because they divert action from its ongoing course.

8. Conclusion

Virtually all evolved processes that require coordination between actions seem to rely at some level on stigmergy, in the sense that subsequent actions are stimulated by the trace left by previous actions in some observable and manipulable medium. The trace functions like a registry and map, indicating which actions have been performed and which still need to be performed. It is shared by all agents that have access to the medium, thus allowing them to coordinate their actions without need for agent-to agent communication. It even allows the coordination of “agentless” actions, as investigated e.g. by Chemical Organization Theory (Dittrich & Fenizio, 2007)’ [p 12]. DPB: I disagree with the ‘that require coordination’ phrase: what about a wandering discussion, where the medium involves the brains of the the other participants. This does not require coordination as such but it is coordinated.

Social Systems as Parasites

Seminar 1 December 2017, Francis Heylighen

Social Systems as Parasites

The power of a social system

1. In an experiment concerning punishment, people obey an instruction to administer others electric shocks. People tend to be obedient / “God rewards obedience” / “Whom should I obey first?” 2. When asked to point out which symbol is equal to another, people select the one they believe is equal, but when they are confronted with the choices of the other contestants, they tend to change their selection to what the others have chosen. Social systems in this way determine our worldview, namely the social construction of reality by specifying what is real.

Social systems suppress self-actualization

Social systems don’t ‘want’ you to think for yourself, but to replicate their information instead; social systems suppress non-conformist thought, namely they suppress differences in thought, and thereby they do not allow the development of unique (human) personalities: they suppress self-actualization. Examples of rules: 1. A Woman Should Be A Housewife >> If someone is a woman then, given that she shows conformist behavior, she will become a housewife and not a mathematician &c. Suppose Anna has a knack for math: If she complies then she becomes a housewife and she is likely to become frustrated; If she does not comply then she will become a mathematician (or engineer &c) and she is likely to become rebellious and suffer from doubts &c.2. To Be Gay is Unacceptable >> If someone is gay then, given that she shows conformist behavior, she will suppress gay behavior, but show a behavior considered normal instead; Suppose Anna is gay: If she complies she will be with a man and become frustrated; If she does not comply then she is likely to become rebellious, she will exhibit gay behavior, be with a woman, and suffer from doubts &c.

Social Systems Programming

People obey social rules unthinkingly and hence their self-actualization is limited (by them). This is the same as to say that social systems have a control over people. The emphasis on the lack of thinking is by the authors. The social system consists of rules that assists the thinking. And only thinking outside of those rules (thinking while not using those rules) would allow a workaround, or even a replacement of the rules, temporary or ongoing. This requires thinking without using pre-existing patterns or even thinking sans-image (new to the world).

Reinforcement Learning

1. Behaviorist: action >> reward (rat and shock) 2. socialization: good behavior and bad behavior (child and smile). This was a sparse remark: I guess the development of decision-action rules in children by socialization (smiling) is the same as the development of behavioral rules in rats by a behaviorist approach (shock).

Social systems as addictions

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter producing pleasure. A reward releases dopamine; Dopamine is addictive; Rewards are addictive. Social systems provide (ample) sources for rewards; Participating in social systems is a source of dopamine and hence it is addictive (generates addiction) and it maintains the addiction.

Narratives

Reinforcement need NOT be immediate NOR material (e.g. heaven / hell). Narratives can describe virtual penalties and rewards: myth, movies, stories, scriptures.

Conformist transmission

When more people transmit a particular rule then more people will transmit it. DPB: this reminds me of the changes in complex systems as a result of small injected change: many small changes and fewer large ones: the relation between the size of the shifts and their frequency is a power law.

Cognitive Dissonant

Entertaining mutually inconsistent beliefs is painful: the person believes it is bad to kill other people. As a soldier he now kills other people. This conflict can be resolved by replacing the picture of a person to be killed by the picture of vermin. The person thinks it is ok to kill vermin.

Co-opting emotions

Emotions are immediate strong motivators that bypass rational thought. Social systems use emotions to reinforce the motivation to obey their rules. 1. Fear: the anticipation of a particular outcome and the desire to avoid it 2. Guilt: fear of a retribution (wraak) and the desire to redeem (goedmaken); this can be exploited by the social system because there can be a deviation from its rules without a victim and it works on imaginary misdeeds: now people want to redeem vis-a-vis the social system 3. Shame: Perceived deficiency of the self because one is not fulfilling the norms of the social system: one feels weak, vulnerable and small and wishes to hide; the (perceived) negative judgments of others (their norms) are internalized. PS: Guilt refers to a wrong action implying a change of action; Shame refers to a wrong self and implies the wish for a change of (the perception of) self 4. Disgust: Revulsion of (sources of) pollution such as microbes, parasites &c. The Law of Contagion implies that anything associated with contagion is itself contagious.

Social System and disgust

The picture of a social system is that it is clean and pure and that it should not be breached. Ideas that do not conform to the rules of the social system (up to and including dogma and taboo) are like sources of pollution; these contagious ideas lead to reactions of violent repulsion by the ones included by the social system.

Vulnerability to these emotions

According to Maslow people who self-actualize are more resistant to these emotions of fear, shame, guilt and disgust.

DPB: 1. how do variations in the sensitivity to neurotransmitters affect the sensitivity to reinforcing? I would speculate that a higher sensitivity to dopamine leads to a more eager reaction to a positive experience, hence leading to a stronger reinforcement of the rule in the brain 2. how do higher or lower sensitivity to risk (the chance that some particular event occurs and the impact when it does) affect their abiding by the rules? I would speculate that sensitivity to risk depends on the power to cognize it and to act in accordance with it. A higher sensitivity to risk leads to attempting to follow (conformist) rules more precisely and more vigorously; conversely a lesser sensitivity to risk leaves space for interpretation of the rule, its condition or its enactment.

How Social System Program Human Behavior

Heylighen, F., Lenartowicz, M., Kingsbury, K., Beigi, S., Harmsen, T. . Social Systems Programming I: neural and behavioral control mechanisms

Abstract

Social systems can be defined as autopoietic networks of distinctions and rules that specify which actions should be performed under which conditions. Social systems have an enormous power over human individuals, as they can “program” them, ..’ [draft p 1]. DPB: I like the summary ‘distinctions and rules’, but I’m not sure why (maybe it is the definitiveness of this very small list). I also like the phrase ‘which actions .. under which conditions’: this is interesting because social systems are ‘made of’ communication, which in turn is ‘made of’ signals, which in turns are built up from selections of utterances &c., understandings and information. The meaning is that information depends on its frame, namely its environment. And so this phrase above makes the link between the communication, rule-based systems and the assigning of meaning by (in) a system. Lastly these social mechanisms hold a strong influence over humans, even up to the point of damaging themselves. This paper is about the basic neural and behavioral mechanisms used for programming in social systems. This should be important for my landscape of the mind, and familiarization.

Introduction

Humans experience a large influence from many different social systems on a daily basis: ‘Our beliefs, thoughts and emotions are to an important extent determined by the norms, culture and morals that we acquired via processes of education, socialization and communication’ [p 1]. DPB: this resonates with me, because of the choice of the words ‘beliefs’ and ‘thoughts’: these must nicely match the same words in my text, where I explain how these mechanisms operate. In addition I like this phrase because of the concept of acquisition, although I doubt that the word ‘communication’ above is used in the sense of Luhmann. This is not easy to critique or even to realize that these processes are ‘social construction’ and difficult to understand them to be so (the one making a distinction cannot talk about it). Also what is reality in this sense: is it what would have been without the behavior based on these socialized rules or the behavior as-is (the latter I guess)? ‘Social systems can be defined as autopoietic networks of distinctions and rules that govern the interactions between individuals’ (I preferred this one from the abstract: which actions should be performed under which conditions, DPB). The distinctions structure reality into a number of socially sanctioned categories of conditions, while ignoring phenomena that fall outside these categories. The rules specify how the individuals should act under the thus specified conditions. Thus, a social system can be modeled as a network of condition-action rules that directs the behavior of individuals agents. These rules have evolved through the repeated reinforcement of certain types of social actions’ [p 2]. DPB: this is a nice summary of how I also believe things work: rule- based systems – distinctions (social categories) – conditions per distinction – behavior as per the condition-action rules – rules evolve through repeated reinforcement of social actions. ‘Such a system of rules tends to self-organize towards a self-perpetuating configuration. This means that the actions or communications abiding by these rules engender other actions that abide by these same general rules. In other words, the network of social actions or communications perpetually reproduces itself. It is closed in the sense that it does not generate actions of a type that are not already part of the system; it is self-maintaining in the sense that all the actions that deifne parts of the system are eventually produced again (Dittrich & Winter, 2008). This autopoiesis turns the social system into an autonomous, organism-like agent, with its own ideintity that separates it from its environment. This identity or “self” is preserved by the processes taking place inside the system, aand therefore actively defended against outside or “non-self” influences that may endanger it’ [p 2]. DPB: this almost literally explains how cultural evolution takes place. This might be a good quote to include and cut a lot of grass in one go! Social systems wield a powerful influence over people, up to the point of acting against their own health. The workings of social systems is likened to parasites such as the rabies virus which ‘motivates’ its host to become aggressive and bite others such as to spread the virus. ‘We examine the simple neural reinforcement mechanism that is the basis for the process of conditioning whilst also ensuring self-organization of social systems’ (emphasis by the author) [p 3]. DPB: very important: this is at the pivot where the human mind is conditioned such that it incites (motivates) it to act in a specific way and where the self-organization of the social system occurs. This is how my bubbles / situations / jobs work! An element of this process is familiarization: the neural reinforcement mechanism.

The Power of Social Systems

In the hunter gatherer period, humans lived in small groups and individuals could come and go as they wanted to join or form a new group [p 3]. DPB: I question whether free choice was involved in those decisions to stay or leave – or whether they were rather kicked out – and if it was a smooth transfer to other bands – or whether they lost standing and had to settle for a lower rank in a new group. ‘These first human groupings were “social” in the sense of forming a cooperative, caring community, but they were not yet consolidated into autopoietic systems governed by formal rules, and defined by clear boundaries’ [p 4]. DPB: I have some doubts because it sounds too idealistic / normal; however, if taken for face value then this is a great argument to illustrate the developing positions of Kev and Gav against. In sharp contrast are the agricultural communities: they set themselves apart from nature and other social systems, everything outside of their domain fair game for exploitation, hierarchically organized, upheld with symbolic order: authorities, divinities paid homage to with offerings, rituals, prescriptions and taboos. In the latter society it is dangerous to not live by the rules: ‘Thus, social systems acquired a physical power over life and death. As they evolved and refined their network of rules, this physical power engendered a more indirect moral or symbolic power that could make people obey the norms with increasingly less need for physical coercion’ [p 4]. DPB: I always miss the concept of ‘autopolicing’ in the ECCO texts. Individuation of a social system: 1. a contour forms from first utterances in a context (mbwa!) 2. these are mutually understood and get repeated 3. when outside the distinction (norm) there will be a remark 4. autopolicing. Our capacity to cognize depend on the words our society offer to describe what we perceive: ‘More fundamentally, what we think and understand is largely dependent on the concepts and categories provided y the social systems, and by the rules that say which category is associated with which other category of expectations or actions’ [p 5]. DPB: this adds to my theory the idea that not only the rules for decision making and for action depend on the belief systems, namely the memeplexes, but also people’s ‘powers of perception’.

How Social Systems Impede Self-actualization

Social rules govern the whole of our worldview, namely our picture of reality and our role within it (emphasis DPB re definition worldview): ‘They tell us which are the major categories of existence (e.g. mind vs. body, duty vs. desire), what properties these categories have (e.g. mind is insubstantial, the body is inert and solid, duty is real and desire is phantasmagoric), and what our attitudes and behaviors towards each of these categories should be (e.g. the body is to be ignored and despised, desire is to be suppressed)’ [p 5]. DPB: I like this because it gives some background to motivations; however, I believe they are more varied than this and that they do not only reflect the major categories but everything one can know (or rather believe). They are just-so in the sense that they can be (seen or perceived as) useful for something like human well-being or limiting for it. They are generally tacit and believed to be universal and so it is difficult to know which of the above they are. ‘.. these rules have self-organized out of distributed social interactions. Therefore, there is no individual or authority that has the power to change them or announce them obsolete. This means that in practice we are enslaved by the autopoietic social system: we are programmed to obey its rules without questioning’ [ p6]. DPB: I agree, there is no other valid option than that from a variety of just-so stories a few are selected that are more fitting with the existing ones. For people it may now appear that these are the more useful ones, but the used arguments serve a mere narrative that explains why people do stuff, lest they appear to do stuff without knowing why. And as a consequence the motivation to do things only if they serve a purpose is itself meme that tells us to act in this way especially vis a vis others, namely to construct a narrative such that this behavior is explained. The rules driving behavior can be interpreted more or less strictly: ‘Moreover, some rules (like covering the feet) tend to be enforced much less strictly than others (like covering the genitals)‘ [p 6]. DPB: hahaa: Fokke & Sukke. Some of the rules that govern a society are allowed some margin of interpretation and so a variety of them exist; others are assumed to be generally valid, and hence they are more strictly interpreted, exhibiting less variety, leaving people unaware that they are in fact obeying a rule at all. As a consequence of a particular rule being part of a much larger system they cannot be easily changed, especially because the behavior of the person herself is – perhaps unknowingly – steered by that rule or system of rules. In this sense it can be said to hinder or impede people’s self-actualization. ‘The obstruction of societal change and self-actualization is not a mere side effect of the rigidity of social systems; it is an essential part of their identity. An autopoietic system aims at self-maintenance. Therefore, it will counteract any processes that threaten to perturb its organization (Maturana& Varela, 1980, Mingers, 1994). In particular, it will suppress anything that would put into question the rules that define it. This includes self-actualization, which is a condition generally characterized by openness to new ideas, autonomy, and enduring exploration (Heylighen, 1992; Maslow, 1970). Therefore, if we wish to promote self-actualization, we will need to better understand how these mechanisms of suppression used by social systems function’ [p 7]. DPB: I fully agree with the mechanism and I honestly wonder if it is at all possible to know one’s state of mind (what one has been familiarized with in one’s life experience so far, framed in the current environment), and hence if it is possible to self-actualize in a different way from what the actual state of mind (known or not) rules.

Reinforcement: reward and punishment

Conditioning, or reinforcement learning, is a way to induce a particular behavior. Behavior rewarded with a pleasant stimulus tends to be repeated, while behavior punished by an unpleasant stimulus tends to be suppressed. The more often a combination of the above occurs, the more will the relation be internalized, such that it can take the shape of a condition-action (stimulus-response) rule. This differential or selective reinforcement occurs in a process of socialization; the affirmation need to be a material reward, a simple acknowledgement and confirmation suffices (smile, thumbs up, like!); these signals suffice for the release of dopamine in the brain. ‘Social interaction is a nearly ubiquitous source of such reinforcing stimuli. Therefore, it has a wide-ranging power in shaping our categorizations, associations and behavior. Maintaining this dopamine-releasing and therefore rewarding stimulation requires continuing participation in the social system. That means acting according to the system’s rules. Thus, social systems program individuals in part through the same neural mechanisms that create conditioning and addiction. This ensures not only that these individuals automatically and uncritically follow the rules, but that they would feel unhappy if somehow prevented from participating in this on-going social reinforcement game. Immediate reward and punishment are only the simplest mechanisms of reinforcement and conditioning. Reinforcement can also be achieved through rewards or penalties that are anticipated, but that may never occur in reality’ (emphasis by the author) [ p 8].

The power of narratives

People are capable of symbolic cognition and they can conceive of situations that have never occurred (to them): ‘These imagined situations can function as “virtual” (but therefore not less effective) rewards that reinforce behavior’ [p 8]. Narratives (for instance tales) feature tales where the characters are punished or rewarded for their specific behavior. Social systems exploit people’s capacity of symbolic cognition using narratives, and hence build on the anticipatory powers of people to maintain and spread. ‘Such narratives have the advantage that they are easy to grasp, remember and communicate, because they embed abstract norms, rules and values into sequences of concrete events experienced by concrete individuals with whom the audience can easily empathize (Bruner, 1991; Heylighen, 2009; Oatley, 2002). In this way, virtual rewards that in practice are unreachably remote (like becoming a superstar, president of the USA, or billionaire) become easy to imagine as realities’ (emphasis by the author) [p 9]. Narratives can become more believable when communicated via media, celebrities, scripture deemed holy, &c.

Conformist transmission

Reinforcement is more effective when it is repeated more often. Given that social systems are self-reproducing networks of communications (Luhmann, 1995), the information they contain will be heard time and again. Conformist transmission means that you are more liable to adopt an idea, behavior or a narrative if you are communicated it by more other individuals; once adopted you are more likely to convert others to it and to confirm it when others express it. DPB: I agree and I never thought of this in this way: once familiarized with it, then not only can one become more convinced of an idea, but also can one become more evangelical about it. In that way an idea spreads quicker if it is more familiar to more people who then talk about it simultaneously. Now it can become a common opinion; and at that point it becomes more difficult to retain other ideas, up to the point that direct observation can be overruled. Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet exist!

Cognitive dissonance and institutionalized action

People have a preference for coherence in thought and action: ‘When an individual has mutually inconsistent beliefs, this creates an unpleasant tension, known as cognitive dissonance; this can be remedied by rejecting or ignoring some of these thoughts, so that the remaining ones are consistent. This can be used by the social systems to suppress non-conformist ideas by having a person act in accordance with the rules of the social system but conflicting with the person’s rules: the conformist actions cannot be denied and now the person must cull the non-conformist ideas to release tensions [p 10]. ‘This mechanism becomes more effective when the actions that confirm the social norms are formalized, ritualized or institutionalized, so that they are repeatedly and unambiguously reinforced’ [p 10]. DPB: an illustration is given from [Zizek 2010]: by performing the rituals one becomes religious, because the rituals are the religion. This is an example of a meme: an expression of the core idea; conversely by repeating the expression one repeats the core idea also, and thereby familiarizes oneself with that idea as it becomes reinforced in one’s mind. But that reminds me of the idea of the pencil between the lips making a person happier (left to right) or unhappy (sticking forward). And to top it off: ‘Indeed, the undeniable act of praying to God can only be safeguarded from cognitive dissonance by denying any doubts you may have about the existence of God. This creates a coherence between inner beliefs and socially sanctioned actions, which now come to mutually reinforce each other in an autopoietic closure’ [p 10]. DPB: this is the role of dogma in any belief system: the questions that cannot be asked, the nogo areas, &c.

Distributed Intelligence

Heylighen, F. and Beigi, S. . mind outside brain: a radically non-dualist foundation for distributed cognition . Socially Extended Epistemology (Eds. Carter, Clark, Kallestrup, Palermos, Pritchard) . Oxford University Press . 2016

Abstract

We approach the problem of the extended mind from a radically non-dualist perspective. The separation between mind and matter is an artefact of the outdated mechanistic worldview, which leaves no room for mental phenomena such as agency, intentionality, or experience. [DPB: the rationale behind this is the determinism argument: if everything is determined by the rules of physics (nature) then nothing can be avoided and the future is determined. There can be no agency because there is nothing to choose, there can be no intentionality because people’s choices are determined by the rules of physics (it appears to be their intention but it is physics talking) and there can be no personal experience because which events a person encounters is indifferent from the existence of the (physical) person]. We propose to replace it by an action ontology, which conceives mind and matter as aspects of the same network of processes. By adopting the intentional stance, we interpret the catalysts of elementary reactions as agents exhibiting desires, intentions, and sensations. [DPB: I agree with the idea that mind and body are ‘functions of the same processes’. The intentional stance implies the question: What would I desire, want, feel in his place in this circumstance, and hence what can I be expected to do?] Autopoietic networks of reactions constitute more complex superagents, which moreover exhibit memory, deliberation and sense-making. In the specific case of social networks, individual agents coordinate their actions via the propagation of challenges. [DPB: for the challenges model: see the article Evo mailed]. The distributed cognition that emerges from this interaction cannot be situated in any individual brain. [DPB: this is important and I have discussed this in the section about the Shell operator, who cannot physically be aware of the processes out of his own scope of professional activities]. This non-dualist, holistic view extends and operationalizes process metaphysics and Eastern philosophies. It is supported by both mindfulness experiences and mathematical models of action, self-organization, and cognition. [DPB: I must decide how to apply the concepts of individuation, virtual/real/present, process ontology and/or action ontology, distributed cognition and distributed intelligence (do I need that?), and computation/thinking/information processing in my arguments].

Introduction

Socially extended knowledge is a part of the philosophical theory of the extended mind (Clark & Chalmers, 1998; Palermos & Pritchard, 2013; Pritchard, 2010): mental phenomena such as memory, knowledge and sensation extend outside the individual human brain, and into the material and social environment. DPB: this reminds of the Shell narrative. The idea is that human cognition is not confined to information processing within the brain, but depends on phenomena external to the brain: ‘These include the body, cognitive tools such as notebooks and computers, the situation, the interactions between agent and environment, communications with other agents, and social systems. We will summarize this broad scale of “extensions” under the header of distributed cognition (Hutchins, 2000), as they all imply that cognitive content and processes are distributed across a variety of agents, objects and actions. Only some of those are located inside the human brain; yet all of them contribute to human decisions by providing part of the information necessary to make these decisions’ [pp. 1-2]. The aim of this paper is to propose a radical resolution to this controversy (between processes such as belief, desire and intention are considered mental and other such as information transmission and processing, and storage as mechanical): we assume that mind is a ubiquitous property of all minimally active matter (Heylighen, 2011)’ (emphasis DPB: this statement is similar to (analogous to?) the statement that all processes in nature are computational processes or that all processes are cognitive and individuating processes) [p 2].

From dualism to action ontology

Descartes argued that people are free to choose: therefore the human mind does not follow physical laws. But since all matter follows such laws, the mind cannot be material. Therefore the mind must be independent, belonging to a separate, non-material realm. This is illustrated by the narrative that the mind leaves the body when a person dies. But a paradox rises: if mind and matter are separate then how can one affect the other? Most scientists agree that the mind ‘supervenes’ on the matter of the brain and it cannot exist without it. But many still reserve some quality that is specific for the mind, thereby leaving the thinking dualist. An evolutionary worldview explains the increasing complexity: elements and systems are interconnected and the mind does not need to be explained as a separate entity, but as a ‘.. mind appears .. as a natural emanation of the way processes and networks self-organize into goal-directed, adaptive agents’ [p 5], a conception known as process metaphysics. The thesis here is that the theory of the mind can be both non-dual AND analytic. To that end the vagueness of the process metaphysics is replaced with action ontology: ‘That will allow us to “extend” the mind not just across notebooks and social systems, but across the whole of nature and society’ [p 5].

Agents and the intentional stance

Action ontology is based on reactions as per COT. Probability is a factor and so determinism does not apply. Reactions or processes are the pivot in action ontology and states are secondary: ‘States can be defined in terms of the reactions that are possible in that state (Heylighen, 2011; Turchin, 1993)’ [p 7]. DPB: this reminds of the restrictions of Oudemans, the attractors and repellers that promote the probability that some states and restrict the probability that other states can follow from this particular one. In that sense it reminds also of the perception that systems can give to the observer that they are intentional. The list of actions that an agent can perform defines a dynamical system (Beer, 1995, 2000). The states that lead into an attractor define the attractor’s basin and the process of attaining that position in phase-space is called equifinality: different initial states produce the same final state (Bertalanffy, 1973). The attractor, the place the system tends to move towards is its ‘goal’ and the trajectory towards it as it is chosen by the agent at each consecutive state is its ‘course of action’ in order to reach that ‘goal’. The disturbances that might bring the agents off its course can be seen as challenges, which the agent does not control, but which the agent might be able to tackle by changing its course of action appropriately. To interpret the dynamics of a system as a goal-directed agent in an environment is the intentional stance (Dennett, 1989).

Panpsychism and the Theory of Mind

The “sensations” we introduced previously can be seen as rudimentary “beliefs” that an agent has about the conditions it is experiencing’ [p 10]. DPB: conversely beliefs can be seen as sensations in the sense of internalized I-O rules. ‘The prediction (of the intentional stance DPB) is that the agent will perform those actions that are most likely to realize its desires given its beliefs about the situation it is in’ [p 10]. DPB: and this is applicable to all kinds of systems. Indeed Dennett has designed different classes for physical systems, and I agree with the authors that there is no need for that, given that these systems are all considered to be agents (/ computational processes). Action ontology generalizes the application of the intentional stance to all conceivable systems and processes. To view non-human processes and systems in this way is in a sense ‘animistic’: all phenomena are sentient beings.

Organizations

In the action ontology a network of coupled reactions can be modeled: the output of one reaction forms the input for the next and so on. In this way it can be shown that a new level of coherence emerges. If such a network produces its own components including the elements required for its own reproduction it is autopoietic. In spite of ever changing states, its organization remains invariant. The states are characterized by the current configurations of the system’s elements, the states change as a consequence of the perturbations external to the system. Its organization lends the network system its (stable) identity despite the fact that it is in ongoing flux. The organization and its identity render it autonomous, namely independent of the uncertainties in its environment: ‘Still, the autopoietic network A interacts with the environment, by producing the actions Y appropriate to deal with the external challenges X. This defines the autopoietic organism as a higher-order agent: A+XA+Y. At the abstract level of this overall reaction, there is no difference between a complex agent, such as an animal or a human, and an elementary agent, such as a particle. The difference becomes clear when we zoom in and investigate the changing state of the network of reactions inside the agent’ [p 14]. DPB: this is a kind of a definition of the emergence of organization of a multitude of elements into a larger body. This relates to my black-box / transparency narrative. This line of thought is further elaborated on in the COT, where closure and self-maintenance are introduced to explain the notion of autopoiesis in networks. Closure means that eventually no new elements are produced, self-maintenance means that eventually all the elements are produced again (nothing is lost), and together they imply that all the essential parts are eventually recycled. This leads to states on an attractor. Also see COT article Francis. //INTERESTING!! In simple agents the input is directly transformed into an action: there is no internal state and these agents are reactive. In complex networks an input affects the internal state, the agent keeps an internal memory of previous experiences. That memory is determined by the sequence of sensations the agent has undergone. This memory together with its present sensations (perceptions of the environment) constitutes the agent’s belief system. A state is processed (to the next state) by the system’s network of internal reactions, the design of which depends on its autopoietic organization. A signal may or may not be the result of this processing and hence this process can be seen as a ‘deliberation’ or ‘sense-making’. Given the state of the environment, and given the memory of the system resulting from its previous experience, and given its propensity to maintain its autopoiesis, an input is processed (interpreted) to formulate an action to deal with the changed situation. If the action turns out to be appropriate then the action was justified and the rule leading up to it was true and the beliefs are knowledge: ‘This is equivalent to the original argument that autopoiesis necessarily entails cognition (Maturana & Varela, 1980), since the autopoietic agent must “know” how to act on a potentially perturbing situation in order to safeguard its autopoiesis’. This is connected to the notion of “virtue reliabilism”, that asserts that beliefs can be seen as knowledge when their reliability is evidenced by the cognitive capabilities (“virtues”) they grant the agent (Palermos, 2015; Pritchard, 2010) [p 15]. UP TO HERE //.

Socially distributed cognition

In our own approach to social systems, we conceive such processes as a propagation of challenges (Heylighen, 2014a). This can be seen as a generalization of Hutchins’s analysis of socially distributed cognition taking place through the propagation of “state” (Hutchins, 1995, 2000): the state of some agent determines that agentś action or communication, which in turn affects the state of the next agent receiving that communication or undergoing that action. Since a state is a selection out of a variety of potential states, it carries information. Therefore, the propagation of state from agent to agent is equivalent to the transmission and processing of information. This is an adequate model of distributed cognition if cognition is conceived as merely complex information processing. But if we want to analyze cognition as the functioning of a mind or agency, then we need to also include that agent’s desires, or more broadly its system of values and preferences. .. in how far does a state help to either help or hinder the agent in realizing its desires? This shifts our view of information from the traditional syntactic perspective of information theory (information as selection among possibilities) (Shannon & Weaver, 1963)) to a pragmatic perspective (information as trigger for goal-directed action (Gernert, 2006)(emphasis of DPB) [pp. 17-8]. DPB: this is an important connection to my idea that not only people’s minds process information, but the organization as such processes information also. This can explain how a multitude of people can be autonomous as an entity ‘an sich’. Distributed cognition is the cognition of the whole thing and in that sense the wording is not good, because the focus is no longer the human individual but the multitude as a single entity; a better word would be ‘integrated cognition’? It is propose to replace the terms “information” or “state” to “challenge”: a challenge is defined as a situation (i.e. a conjunction of conditions sensed by some agent) that stimulated the agent to act. DPB: Heylighen suggests that acting on this challenge brings benefit to the agent, I think it is more prosaic than that. I am not sure that I need the concept of a challenge. Below is an illustration of my Shell example: an individual know that action A leads to result B, but no one knows that U →Y, but the employees together know this: the knowledge is not in one person, but in the whole (the organization): John : U V, Ann : V→W, Barbara : W→X, Tom : X→Y. Each person recognizes the issue, does not know the (partial) answer, but knows (or finds out) who does; the persons are aware of their position in the organization and who else is there and (more or less) doing what. ‘Together, the “mental properties” of these human and non-human agents will determine the overall course of action of he organization. This course of action moves towards a certain “attractor”, which defines the collective desire or system of values of the organization’ [p 21]. DPB: if I want to model the organization using COT then this above section can be a starting point. I’m not sure I do want to, because I find it impracticable to identify the mix of the ingredients that should enter the concoction that is the initial condition to evolve into the memeplex that is a firm. How many of ‘get a job’ per what amount of ‘the shareholder is king’ should be in it?

Experiencing non-duality

Using the intentional stance it is possible to conceptualize a variety of processes as mind-like agencies. The mind does not reside in the brain, it sits in all kinds of processes in a distributed way.

Individuation of Social Systems

Lenartowicz, A., Weinbaum, D., Braathen, P. . The Individuation of Social Systems: A Cognitive Framework . Procedia Computer Science (Elsevier), vol. 88 (pp 15-20) . Doi: 10.1016/j.procs.2016.07.400 . 2016

Abstract

Starting point is formed by the Theory of Individuation (Simondon 1992), Enactive Theory of Cognition (Paolo e.a. 2010) and the Theory of Social Systems Luhmann 1996). The objective is to identify how AI integrates into human society.

1. Introduction

Social systems influence cognitive activities. It is argued that social systems operate as cognitive systems: ‘.. autonomous, self-organizing loci of agency and cognition, which are distinct from human minds and manifesting behaviors that are irreducible to their aggregations’ [p 15]. DPB: I like this (in bold, to end all others) way to formulate the behavior specific to the whole, as opposed to the behavior specific to the individuals therein. It is argued here that these systems individuate in the same way, and their mode of operation is analogous to, other processes of life. This paper does not follow some others that take a narrow approach to cognition starting at the architecture of the individual human mind; instead it presents a perspective of cognition that originates from a systemic sociological view, leading to a socio-human cognitive architecture; the role of the individual human being in the establishing of networks and their operation thereafer is reduced. The theory if based on the view of Heraklitus that ontologically reality is a sequence of processes instead of objects and with Simondon’s theory of individuation: ‘This results in an understanding of social systems as complex sequences of occurrences of communication (emphasis of the authors), which are capable of becoming consolidated to the degree in which they start to display an emergent adaptive dynamics characteristic to cognitive systems – and to exert influence over their own mind-constituted environment’ [p 16]. DPB: this reminds of my understanding of the landscape of Jobs, where Situations and Interactions take place as sequences of signals uttered and perceived.

2. Individuation of Cognitive Agents

The basis is a shift from an Aristotelian object oriented ontology to an Heraklitian process oriented ontology (or rather an ontogenesis); not individuals but individuation are the center-piece; no individual is assumed to precede these processes; all transformations are secondary to individuation: ‘Individuation is a primary formative activity whereas individuals are regarded as merely intermediate and metastable entities, undergoing a continuous process of change’ [p 16]. In this view the individual is always changing, and ‘always pregnant with with not yet actualized and not yet known potentialities of change’ [p 16]. DPB: His reminds me of the monadic character of systems: they are very near completion, yet never quite finished and always ready to fight the previous war. Local and contingent interactions achieve ever higher levels of coordination between their constitutive elements; the resulting entities become ever more complex and can have agency. Cognition can be seen as a process of sense-making; cognition can facilitate the formation of boundaries (distinctions). This is explained by the theory of enactive cognition that treats sense-making as a primary activity of cognition (Varela, Thompson & Rosch 1992; Stewart, Gapenne &Di Paolo 2010; De Jaegher & Di Paolo 2007). This idea is radicalized in this paper: sense-making is assumed to be bringing forth distinctions, objects and relations; sense-making precedes subjects and objects and it is necessary for their emergence; sense-making precedes the existence of consolidated cognitive agents to whom the activity itself would conventionally be attributed. DPB: this firstly reminds me of the phrase ‘love is in the air, even if there is nobody there yet’; ‘processes of individuation constitute a distributed and progressively more coherent (as boundaries and distinctions are formed) loci of autonomous cognitive activity’ [pp. 16-7]; also the process of individuation precedes the process of autopoiesis: the latter cannot exist as a work in progress, but individuation occurs also without autopoiesis; and so autopoiesis can only be a design condition of a process that has already individuated. In this way individuation is taken from its narrow psychological context and projected to a general systems application: ‘Sense-making entails crossing the boundary between the unknown and the known through the formation of tentative perceptions and actions consolidating them together into more or less stable conceptions (emphasis by the author)’ [p 17]. DPB: this is a useful working definition of sense-making; these processes are relevant not just for psychic and social processes, I believe they have their root (and started in some form once) as chemical and physical processes, for which the above terminology does not seem fully suitable; from that point on, these multitudes of elements ‘grew up’ together and became ever more complex. ‘Individuation as an on-going formative process, manifests in the co-determining interactions taking place within the heterogeneous populations of interacting agents. These populations are the ‘raw materials’ from which new individuals emerge. The sense-making activities are distributed over the population and have no center of regulated activity of synchrony. Coordination – the recurrent mutual regulation of behaviors is achieved via interactions that are initially contingent. These interactions are necessary for the consolidation of any organized entity or system’ [p 17].

3 Social Systems as Cognitive Individuals

By a social system is meant any meta-stable form of social activity. DPB: but what is meant with meta-stable. This is the Luhmann understanding of a social system. This paper demonstrates 1. the individuation of social systems and 2. identify social systems as the metastable individuals. Events that are the building blocks for social reality happen as single occurrences of communication, each consisting of: 1. a selection of information, 2. selection of the utterance, and 3. the selection of the understanding. DPB: this is as per my Logistical Model. If and only if the three selections are combined do they form a unity of a communicative event, ‘a temporary individual’. ‘This means that it distinguishes itself from its environment (i.e. any other processes or events) by the means of three provisional boundaries, which the event sets forth: (a) an ‘information-making boundary’ between the marked and the unmarked side of the distinction being made (Spencer Brown, 1994), i.e. delineating the selected information (marked – M) and the non-selected one (unmarked – Un-M), (b) a ‘semiotic boundary’ (Lotman, 2001) between the thus created signified (SD) and a particular signifier selected to carry the information (SR), and (c) a ‘sense-making’ boundary between thus created sign (SGN) and the context (CX), i.e. delineating the understanding of information within its situation (Lenartowicz, Weinbaum & Braaten, 2016)’ [p 17]. DPB: I am not sure what to do with those three selections; I have not used them and instead I am working with selection of some piece of information, while it is uttered, and while it is also perceived (made sense of). I must figure out whether (and how) to use this. Maybe ask ML to clarify how they connect to my logistical model, and especially the E and the B operators. It is important because it is a chain-link in a chain of events: ‘The three selections and corresponding boundaries of an event make the communication available to interact with or to be referred to by another communicative event constituted by another triple selection’ [p 17]. DPB: all this sounds a bit artificial and procedural and mechanical: how can this process come about in a natural way? Once recorded and remembered these elements become available for endless re-use independent of space, time and context (frame). In closed networks of communication, however, they have a tendency to converge into recurrent self-reinforcing patterns, such that the become established and difficult not to be associated with, even if in a negative form or critique. From the associations of these selected simple forms can arise complex individuated sequences, social systems. Through their interactions these systems gain and maintain coherence; as they recur the probability that the same pattern is repeated is higher than the probability that a completely new pattern is selected. Initially contingent boundaries become self-reinforced and stable. ‘On account of their repetition, a social system can be said to develop perceptions (i.e. reappearing selections of information and understanding), actions (i.e. reappearing selections of utterance) and conceptions (percept – action associations) that dynamically bind them. Each such assemblage thus becomes a locus of identifiable cognitive activity, temporarily stabilized within a flux of communication’ [p 18].

4. The Role of Human Cognition

The (three) selections individuating social systems are performed by other cognitive individuated systems. In a social system that is individuated to a level of stability and coherence, emerging patterns in that system further orient the selections made by people. And reciprocally the the psychic environment of the people facilitates the individuation of the social system by selecting new instances of communication that somehow fit the existing parts. Human beings are indispensable for the continuation of communication and hence for the maintenance of a social system, but they are incapable of influencing the social system in the sense that one seedling is incapable of influencing the amount of water in a lake. Only when a social system is at the early stages of its individuation and taking shape can it be influenced by individual people: a pattern of a large social system is confirmed by many other communications and also one different communication, that does not follow the pattern, doesn’t hold sufficient weight to change its course. ‘Taking into account a variety of powerful factors that guide all the linguistic activities of humans: (a) the relative simplicity, associative coherence, frequent recurrence of the cognitive operations once they become consolidated in a social system, (b) the rarity of context-free (e.g. completely exploratory and poetic) communications that is reinforced by the density and entanglement of all “language games” in which contemporary humans are all immersed in, and (c) the high level of predictability of human selection-making inputs observable from the sociological standpoint; it will be reasonable to set the boundaries of our modeling of he general phenomena of human cognition in such a way, which delineates the dynamics of two different kinds of individuating cognitive agencies operating at different scales: the human individual and the social system. Instead of reducing all cognitive activities to the human individual we can clearly distinguish cognitive agencies operating at different scales’ [p 19]. DPB: I like the three arguments above for the likelihood of patterns to appear in communication and also that human cognition is to some extent built with the(extensive) help of social systems, such that human cognition cannot be fully reduced to the individual itself, but also to the social systems in the environment of the individual.

Individuation of Social Systems

Lenartowicz M, Weinbaum DR (Weaver), Braathen P . Global Brain Institute, Free University Brussels . Social Systems: Complex Adaptive Loci of Cognition . Emergence: Complexity & Organization, 18(2) . 2016

Abstract

Human social systems are concrete non-metaphorical, cognitive agents operating in their self-constructed environments. This theory is an integration of social systems theory (Luhmann) with enactive cognition theory (Di Paolo) and theory of individuation (Simondon). It is marked by a number of shifts in thinking about social systems: 1. becoming rather than being, 2. three-layered understanding of the environment where identities of social systems individuate, 3. a reactive rather than a responsive approach to adaptiveness and 4. social systems are cognitive systems. Social systems are complex individuating communicative interactions that together constitute cognitive agencies. DPB: the text says: ‘sequences of communicative interactions’: from the network perspective, the interactions will most probably not be sequential; they might be from the perspective of the individual agents; they surely are from the perspective of the individual unities of communication (which go ‘from hand to hand’). The discussion about individuation should be in interaction EINT? The relation of these agents with their environments (including other such agencies) can be clarified through the Hayek-Hebb-Edelmann perspective and the Maturana-Varela perspective of perturbation-compensation. The theory is demonstrated by an example of a NASA communication showing how ‘.. a social organization undergoes a process of individuation from which it emerges as an autonomous cognitive agent with a distinct and adaptive identity’ [p 1].

Introduction

Social systems are seen as complex in the sense that they consist of many parts that interact in a non-simple way (such that it is not trivial to infer the behavior of the whole from the properties of the parts). They are seen as adaptive, because they operate in their environment maintaining a set of their characteristics invariant. But they are not seen as cognitive: 1) the cognitive capacity of the human mind is typically involved, which can be viewed in a black-box manner (to encompass the supposed cognitive qualities of the social system) and 2) when invoked for an entire social system there is a risk of using it in a mystical sense. DPB: would cognition not also be seen as requiring physical sensory machinery, and so where cognition is invoked and individual people, then, given that they avail of the machinery, it must be them providing the cognitive functionality? But this paper supports the claim that social systems are indeed cognitive; this is approached through a re-conceptualization of the concepts of complexity and adaptiveness. Social systems are seen as sequences of complex, individuating sequences of occurrences of communication (events); their operating is approached from the perspective on systems adaptation of Hayek-Hebb and from Maturana-Varela, each revealing a different and complementary facet of the operation of the system, resulting in an integrated abstracted model of individuating, autonomous, and distributed cognition.

Concept 1: Components

It is often assumed that the basic component of social systems is the human being. Luhmann however proposes that social systems consist of sense-making, meaning-processing communications. Properties of human beings (the contents of her mind) play a role only when they are expressed socially, else it remains in the social system’s environment. The Heraklitian shift from being to becoming was elaborated by Nietsche, Simondon, Deleuze, DeLanda, Bergson to emphasize that not objects but processes are the basic elements of systems (‘even the most solid objects are networks of processes’ [p 3]); if this is the case then much of the fabric of reality is overlooked by delineating objects; and we are looking at what is happening within them and among them; looking at actions instead of agents implies looking at differences in states instead of fixed states. From this perspective the agent is left out of the observation, not treated as a component but as a catalyser: ‘an aspect or part of a state that is necessary for the action to occur’ (Heylighen, 2011:8)’ [p 3]. If the ontology is changed from agents to actions then, in Luhmann’s approach, the focus is on communication and not on humans, a communication as a difference-making selection process: 1. selection of information, 2. selection of the utterance, and 3. selection of the (mis)understanding of information and the utterance (Luhmann 2002:157). Only if all three are present communication occurs. DPB: this is how i’ve modeled it and this is also how I have come to understand Luhmann. It is quite different from what I understood form the article Individuation of Social Systems. That difference is important and I must discuss it with Marta. With regards to the NASA example: this illustrates the emergence of a unit of communication; what would be a valid and illustrative example concerning the operations of a firm? The three selections are in this example made by (subjective and changeable) human minds, but this selection can be deferred to objects, machines, AI &c; the selective processes take place regardless the properties of the substrate (chemical physical &c.). When the three selections have taken place then the event of a communication has taken place: ‘Nothing is transferred – Luhmann claims – Redundancy is produced in the sense that communication generates a memory to which many people can lay claim in many different ways (2002:160)’ [p 5]. Operation of these three selections is often imprecise, ineffective, associative, incomplete and inadequate: it is in other words more often than not made up of just-so stories. Given that these communications events interact between them (and via human beings) then their properties are different from those of human agents. Examples of the effects between the selections are: 1. the selection of understanding in one communication event will constrain and be conserved in the following ones, 2. the selection of an utterance in one event will be retained, refused or refined in the following, and 3. adhering to a shared form (utterance) will prompt selection of understanding in a coherent way. These selections lead to sequences that may under the influence of individuation lead to pattern of which a few examples are: organizations, languages, nations, organizations, discourses, &c.

Concept 2: Individuation

Individuation is a primary (to what) formative activity, where individuals are always intermediate, temporarily stable entities, undergoing ongoing change: ’Individuation is a process where boundaries and distinctions that define individuals arise without assuming any individual(s) that precede(s) them. The nature of distinctions and boundaries is subtle: inasmuch as they separate subject from object, figure from background, and one individual from another, they must also connect that which they separate. A boundary, therefore, is not only known by the separation it establishes but also by the interactions and relations it facilitates’ [p 7]. DPB: perhaps another way to formulate this brings a different perspective: ‘A boundary is established by the interactions and relations it’s component’s properties facilitate through their attractions to some and repulsion from properties of other components’ in their environment and within the system itself. In this sense the boundary is a resultant from the myriad attractors and repellers that may exist all along the outer surface of the system. And that outer surface also has an important contribution to the capacity of the system to be distinguished by other systems’. For him (Simondon), the individual is a metastable phase within the a continuous process of transformation, ever impregnated with not yet actualized and not yet known potentialities of being. .. a plastic entity, an on-going becoming’ [p 7]. DPB: this is my monad; but I have never defined the ontogeny of a monad and a individuation process does that. How can this network of communications form an assemblage (DeLanda, 2006) of interacting components? Communication (three elements) results in temporary boundaries: 1. information selection: marked-unmarked (information), 2. semiotic: signified-signifier (utterance), and 3. sense-making: sign and context (understanding). DPB: I am still not sure about the use of these kinds of boundaries, but between brackets the link to the three selections.

Concept 3 Environment

An environment of people is topological, an environment of communications is semiotic. A tentative definition of a communication event is: ’Whatever the communication refers to and is being referred to’ [p 11]. The environment is not the surroundings of the communication process, but the semiotic space delineated by the three meaning-creating selections (utterance, information, understanding). The nouns in an utterance describe (or characterize) the environment of a communication. Once a communication event has taken place, any future event may refer to the initial one as its environment: The environment is not only what it refers to or what is being referred to, but also all the communications that perform the referring. The possibilities for a communication to be referred to are, in ascending order: gestures, speech, writing, social media. ‘Since all communications are endlessly available to be referred to, also the environments that they delineate become available endlessly. Each such an environment has a potential of becoming evoked by a following occurrence of communication and thus, by the means of repetition of such occurrences, has a potential of becoming more or less stabilised’ [p 13]. DPB: reference to the mechanism of the process of individuation, where it produces temporarily stable entities. When communications interact they individuate and become more entangled and so do their (partly shared) environments; and the more a shared environment, the other communications (hetero-reference) and the communication itself (self-reference) are referred to by the various communications, the more stable they can become. As a consequence some communications belonging to each other and they belong to a particular environment: ‘Thus, the whole socially constructed reality (Berger & Luckmann, 2011) comes into existence’ [p 13]. DPB: this is an important argument in the formation of a stable pattern as a system. ‘At some stage of the process of individuation, the locus of control over the boundary between the environment and the individuating sequence of communications (which at this point can be called a system) has started to be positioned within it. This way the Luhmannian social systems arise, which ‘have the ability to establish relations with themselves and to differentiate these relations from relations with their environment’ (Luhmann 1995 Social Systems:13) (emphasis by the authors’ [p 16-7]. DPB: the ontogeny of an assemblage of parts individuating up to the point that they become a system in the sense that they self-organize and then at some point they (it) may get to the point that they (it) become(s) autopoietic: assemblage > self-organized system > autopoietic system. I am not sure about the term assemblage, because it sounds a kind of designed (an assembly is put together), whereas it should be thrown onto a heap such that they come to stick into a group.

Concept 4: Adaptability

Social systems self-maintain their own coherence and identity through their own operations: when a change in the environment occurs, the systems adapts. According to the theory of Hayek-Hebb the system responds and according to Maturana-Varela the system reacts to a change in its environment. The responsive approach claims that the system develops a model of its environment as per a pattern in internal interactions; but this is known not to exist (perhaps something in a functional and abstracted way). The theory of reactive adaptation claims that the system is operationally closed: the operational responses only depend on internal processing and hence on the internal structure of the system, in turn depending on its internal states. If the environment changes then the state may change and the reaction at the next click changes.’It follows, that the system-environment interactions take place only in a way that allows just that: the system’s recursive production of its own identity pattern under ever-changing conditions. Whenever a change in the environment forces an internal shift in the system, the shift is compensated by some other internal changes’ [p 18]. DPB: not very new but well worded. The choice is for the reactive model, given its relevance for biological systems but its controversial status concerning its application for social systems. The center stage position for human beings is no longer required after the Luhmannian explanation of communication; the concept of systems autonomy is a sufficient theoretical justification for the perturbation-compensation mode of adaptation to be derived for social systems: ‘What is needed for such an application is merely understanding the dynamic of systems as structurally defined i.e. that they will not be able to produce any consequent behavior which is not not encoded already in their current structure and state’ [p 19]. DPB: disagree, there is n need for that, it has been shown to not be required.

Concept 4.1 Responsive adaptation

In terms of the Hayek-Hebb responsive adaptation model, the system’s internal model gets updated as a result of a change in the relations between the system and its environment: some get stronger, others weaker. The problem with this approach is that it takes the boundary between system and environment as a given, whereas that boundary can change because of the changes in the environment (the relation between the map and the mapped territory, the interaction between the map and the mapped &c.). The Hayek-Hebb theoretical approach does not allow tracking of the emergence of the boundary between an individuating sequence of occurrences of communication and its multi-layered environment.

Concept 4.2: Reactive adaptation

The ‘reactive adaptation’ approach posits that operational responses of a system in relation too external changes (perturbations) depend only o the inner structure and the state of the system and can only induce further changes to its inner structure and state’ [p 24]. In order to observe a reactive adaptation in sequences of communications, one observes how a communication X points at a previous communications Y using its selections as a rationale to understand how the systems refers to a perturbation in the environment. So, the reference of X to Y reflects the reaction of the system to the change in the environment. X and Y being related as per some criterion, ‘belong’ to the same sequence of communications. DPB: perhaps this is the sequence with the hooks between the events (as a commonality of flavor) that Marta mentioned to indicate the relation between memes and (the individuation of) communication? This theory predicts that a change in the environment leads to a sequence of communications. DPB: this reminds of the Wagensberg model, where a change in the environment leads to changes in the complexity of the system and/or of the complexity of the environment and also to an increase in the amount of information at the boundary. What needs to be addressed is how it can be known whether communications X and Y ‘belong’ to the same sequence of communications: this can be known by the signifier selecting the communications in the entire sequence. The above method of observation using the signifier renders the reactive adaptation method takes a more relaxed stance towards the signifier (someone claims that..), and hence it is much more suitable for the process ontology of social systems. ‘Should a pattern of reactive adaptation be detected in such a fluid realm, this may imply (prove) a temporary existence of an individuated sequence, coherent enough to display an adaptive behaviour’ [p 26]. DPB: I like this, it is a spot-on explanation of the way a firm can be start (while not yet founded) and already takes shape and represents a body of thought. ‘The fluid, processual milieu populated by various occurrences of communication is exactly where the boundaries of the individuating assemblages are formed. It happens by distinguishing between the communications that belong to or are owned by a specific system and those which do not’ [p 27]. DPB: this can explain more specifically how a firm is formed, namely that the ideas belonging to the organizing of the specific production plan are owned by the owners of the firm.

Concept 5: Cognition

This final argument is that social systems áre cognitive systems, and so the argument goes beyond a mere metaphor: ‘a communication-constituted social system is a cognitive system and its on-going constitution is a process of cognitive development (emphasis by the author)’ [p 28]. The argument is 1. that all individuating processes are cognitive processes (following the enactive cognition approach of DiPaolo e.a. 2010) and 2. this approach is used to ‘explicate the intrinsic cognitive nature of communication constituted social systems’ [p 28]. The activity of cognition is ‘naturally associated’ with agents in environments whose operation can be described as an on-going problem-solving activity. But how does this set-up of agents, objects and their relations in an environment emerge? Even though they might be vague and not (yet) fully clear, determined and they can merge or even disappear completely: ‘Crossing this, often unseen, boundary between the unknown and the known, the unformed and the formed is what we call sense-making. Sense-making is the bringing forth of a world of distinctions, objects and entities and the relations among them. Even primary distinctions such as ‘objective-subjective’ or ‘self – other’ are part of sense-making. A relatively new appearance on the sage of cognitive science, the so-called enactive cognition approach, regards sense-making as the primary activity of cognition. The term ‘enactive’, synonymous with ‘actively bringing forth’, makes its first appearance in the context of cognition in the book “The Embodied Mind” (Varela, Thompson and Rosch, 1992) and has since been the subject of many developments and debates (Stewart, Gapenne, and Di Paolo, 2010; Thompson, 2007; Di Paolo, 2006; De Jaegher and Di Paolo, 2007). A guiding idea of the enactive approach is that any adequate account of how the body (i.e. any embodied system) can either be or instantiate a cognitive system must take into account the fact that the body is self-individuating: […] By saying that a system is self-constituted, we mean that its dynamics generate and sustain an identity. An identity is generated whenever a precarious network of dynamical processes becomes operationally closed.[…] Already implied in the notion of interactive autonomy is the realization that organisms cast aa web of significance on their world. […] This establishes a perspective on the world with its own normativity [.] (Di Paolo, Rohde, and De Jaegher, 2010, pp. 38-9, 45). The enactive theory of cognition therefore incorporates the idea of individuation rather naturally as it asserts cognition to be an on-going formative process, sensible and meaningful (value related), taking place in the co-determining interactions (i.e. communications in our case) of agents and their environment (Di Paolo, Rohde, and De Jaegher, 2010)’ [p 28-9]. The concept of sense-making means 1. cognition as a capability of an already individuated system and 2. the individuation of cognition as intrinsic to cognition itself [p 29]. DPB: I believe this is all the same thing: it can have started with fluids or even gases that found themselves to cluster around certain attractors (and away from repellers) and to then form clusters of ever more complex molecules with regulating functionalities to form cells, small organisms &c. But before anything else the elements in each of the clusters must ‘make sense of’ their environment such that they can manage to be attracted by this or repelled by that. The formation of their regulatory functionalities = their organization = their self-individuation = their cognition. Concerning point 2 above: ‘The latter meaning of sense-making is the one corresponding to the acquisition and expansion of concrete cognitive capacities and it also generalizes the concept of cognitive development beyond its psychological context (Piaget, 2013) and makes it applicable to general individuating systems (Weinbaum & Veitas, 2014). Furthermore, in the broadest sense, every individuation process where boundaries, distinctions and relations are progressively determined, is a sense-making process and therefore is cognitive’ [p 29]. DPB: I fully agree. This is an important element in the understanding of the emergence of organizations and firms. Now I know how they come to be, and I already knew how they come to ‘pass away’. But the million dollar question is Why, what is the relation of these events of emerging and dying to the production of information on a cosmic scale, what is its utility? The theory of enactive cognition assets that a relatively stable and autonomous individual is required for sense-making: ‘In contrast, we argue that the broader understanding of cognition as sense-making precedes the existence of systems as already individuated identities (cognitive agents) and is actually a necessary condition to their becoming. Only that at this pre-individuated stage there is still no one for whom sens is being made’ [p 29]. DPB: this is a crucial argument. It is somewhat mistaken (or misleading), because it tacitly assumes that consciousness is required for the sense-making to take place. If the next step is also taken (or what is stated above is followed on) then the sense making is just the processing information in general; if it is about conscious systems, then that has the sense of the processing of the communication events by the mind. In other cases, it is the processing of information, such as the figuring out what to do by some chemicals leading up to the Beloesov-Zhabotisnsky reaction after a shock is administered, having found out that other chemicals are in the vicinity. ‘Our understanding of cognition derives from the broader sense of social systems as individuating systems that enact sense-making via on-going communications. .. Even more importantly, if cognitive development is intrinsic to cognition as argued by Weinbaum & Veitas (2014, 2015), cognizing is not only a core activity of social systems but also a vehicle for their evolution. Embodiment can be understood as a combination of the ‘raw material’ constituents, in our case communications instances, and their coordinated organization, in our case the way communications are related and associated reflecting complex distinct structures. The situatedness of a social system can be understood as the totality of its immediate interactions over already established boundaries. In other words, the situation of the system is the immediate circumstances of enacting its sense-making. Of course for social systems both embodiment and situatedness are distributed and fluid’ [p 30]. DPB: this reminds me of the Situations of the Logistical Model: I had defined them as the change of one meme in the mind of a person. If the sentence in bold above can be taken to mean the forming of a thought (for a person) then the meaning of the two definitions might not be far removed, because to enact its sense-making means to use a ‘tool for thought’ to make sense (process information) of the immediate environment (circumstance?). ‘In a communication-constituted operational domain, the process of individuation may be initiated by a difference of strength of association between a few contingent communications (see also (Weinbaum & Veitas, 2015, pp. 19-23)). A recurrent set of occurrences of communication which are more or less consistent and coherent constitutes a semiotic boundary or part of it’ [p 30]. DPB: this reminds me of my model of the associative relations between memes, connotations. This above does explain that they are contingent, and so there is no certainty or anything goes; it does not explain how these associations can gain strength &c.

Enacting – Structure and Agency

Lenartowicz, M. . How Social Forms Come Alive: The Enactive Workings of Discursive Positioning . Working Paper v.1. . 2017

Abstract

This is an exploration of the possibility to conciliate the structure and agency dichotomy in social science through the use of positioning theory. The focus is on the structural-enactive aspect of discursive positioning: ‘I argue that the positioning theory precisely identifies the social act which creates and sustains social forms’ [p 1]. DPB: without having read the article yet, the phrase above reminds me of the action by which a Situation (a Bubble) emerges: And an utterance is performed, And an information is included, And a perception is performed, by the triple selection of which a communication comes into being (or it is replicated and hence becomes part of a sequence).

1. Introduction

Traditional scientific disciplines are founded in traditional ontology, and hence attempts to address issues concerning traditional ontology do not usually originate in those same traditional sciences. The reason is that their differentiated existence would come into question. As a consequence the concepts used in such a field of research ‘involve’ in an ever more differentiated manner, without questioning the all too general ontological basis. Some of the ontological assumptions are wrong according to Van Langenhove (Van Langenhove L. Innovating the Social Sciences . Vienna: Passagen Verlag . 2007) and conserved by their perpetuation. In summary the problem of the common ontology is a Newtonian/Euclidean/Humean approach, in summary: thinking is performed by solid objects, fixed in space and time, deterministically influencing one another by cause and effect relations. The structuralist view on the world still dominates, because of the ontological problem with the phenomena (institutions, organizations, nations, communities &c.) around which the disciplines of the social sciences are organized. ‘When explicitly discussing their formative mechanisms, social scientists now tend to point to language and its creations, such as texts, discourses, or stories. However, in order to do social science, they seem to have no other methodological choice but to enter and continue the language game themselves. The comprehension of the linguistic, symbolic composition of the social matter, thus, has not yet taken them far; it does not bear much consequence for their research methodologies, or, even more importantly, for their research questions (emphasis by the author)’ [p 2]. The issue is that all social thinkers have presupposed the existence of language to, then, given language, think about the nature of society. The role of this paper is to research the fundamental constitutive function of language: ‘I will address the need for a conceptual path to bridge the gap between the formative function of language and the shapes and forms that people perceive and interact with while participating in the social world’ [p 3]. A methodology is required to account for these steps: human cognition > language > language use > social actions > social structures. ‘Such paths must be sound enough to make sure that what appears at the other side of the spectrum is, indeed, the result of ‘re-assembling the social’ (Latour 2007) not a projection’ [p 3].

2. Typification of social forms

Allowing people to forge and sustain representations of reality, language also allows us to name these representations. By the means of such naming, what initially was merely an entwinement of actions that happened to be observed as resonating and corresponding with one another – a frequently seen pattern, a repetitively performed chain of action, or a cluster of certain observable features – becomes a social form (entity, structure, system, institution, organization, network, rule, role, etc.). Alfred Schutz, Thoman Luckmann, and Peter L. Berger call that naming typification (Schutz 1967, Schutz & Luckmann 1973, Berger & Luckmann 1966). Typification is an assignment of a symbolic signifier to mark a social form, or, as Rom Harré (1975) calls it, a social icon’ (emphasis by the author) [p 5]. DPB: ‘When it has a name it is probably dangerous’ Lenartowicz, private conversation]. Once some assemblage has individuated to the point that its repetitions become noticeable / perceptible it is ready to beget a name. A pattern of a sufficiently individuated assemblage is in this way typified and the typified thing is now a social form or a social icon. Once it is named or rather that its name has been repeated a couple of times it is a communication. The name through the communication reciprocally provides stability to the pattern also: now it clear what it is and what it does.

3. Discursive positioning (intentional, on purpose, purposeful, rational)

Through speech acts people can place themselves and be placed by others in a social world via the vehicle of their social persons. This is an effect of the perlocutionary force of an utterance (what social position does it point at), hidden behind the locutionary aspect (what is said) and the illocutionary aspect (what is it said for) [p 5]. The effect of these utterances in practical terms can be monitored using 1st and 2nd order cybernetics. DPB: this reminds me of the connotations: I can account for the locutionary aspect (1st order: information content) and illocutionary (2nd order: to charge the information / idea with a ‘spin’); the perlocutionary is strictly speaking the social version of an illocutionary aspect and as such it is a 2nd order observation; it relates to the cognitive connotation, namely the perceived importance of the information / idea by the group. Perhaps this is a link between social systems and how memes are enacted in people’s minds.

4. Form Mutability

The positioning theory originally focuses on the manners in which speech acts are used to affect and shape social persons and confine them to a set of (rightly or not) assigned attributes and powers. In the triadic conceptualization of Harré and van Langenhove (1999) social actions/acts allocate people to positions, which are construed in relation to a relevant storyline. In my understanding, a storyline is what I referred to above as a social form: a symbolically marked typification of a different scrap of the overall social reality. As a result, while focusing on persons and their thus constructed situations, the theory precisely captures yet another perlocutionary consequence of speech acts. Positioning modifies not only the relative situations of persons but also the state of the social form to which the position is attributed’ [p 6]. DPB: In this way the knife cuts both ways: the person is assigned a position and as her narrative, explaining the entitlement to that position, is in use harnessing her social position, the position it designates is also tested against the social reality the person – and her symbolic position – are in. ‘If we realize that the ‘fabric’ from which a typification of any social form can be carved is nothing else than the totality of all social acts that are available to be observed, an inclusion of the acts performed by one particular person to that selected group of acts is admittedly equally as a phenomenological, interpretative operation as was our previous delineation. Nonetheless, there is one significant addition: the act of including – that is, the act of positioning. Because this is a social (speech) act as well, it is added to the totality of all acts that are available to be observed. The social fabric is expanded by another know, another twist. .. By the means of positioning, by the embedding of a reflection of a person in a form, a single social action can now change the state of that form dramatically – in just one sentence, one gesture, or one grimace’ [p 7]. As all communication, positioning now has become alive and it has come to serve its own purposes: to connect the behavior of social systems and people as social beings through the dynamics of social forms: ‘People who position themselves at the conference podium behave so similarly that the question arises: is it not the social form itself that is acting and affecting the world?’[p 8].

5. Enaction of social forms (I guess I would use the term enactment)

Searle (1990) aptly claims the we-mode of speech – in which we socially act not simply as ourselves but as a part of a social arrangement – to be the very peculiarity of language that brings social ontology into existence’ (emphasis by the author) [p 8]. DPB: tis I find an interesting thought: the reflection or projection onto language of a social construct that includes not just myself, but any form of social construction that includes others too. That word is the reflection of the whole of social systems and it forms the basis for social ontology. ‘When our speech acts position us in a particular social locus, and especially if this happens by the self-positioning of the first order, perlocutionarily, we speak as apart of social entities – possibly almost indistinguishable in our agency from theirs. We speak ‘for them’, ‘as them’, and ‘on behalf of them’, driving what is to be done, why, and how from what the form is comped of already. The dynamic agency of social forms deployed in such a we-mode can no longer be considered merely phenomenologically. Another ontological status is needed’ [p 8]. DPB: I like this as an example of ho someone can speak on behalf of a firm, in any case in the various roles that people associated with firms can have. What distinguishes this theory from others, is that it shows that people, for whatever reason, can actively pursue to manage their position in the group of people they are included in. And then the million dollar question: ‘What is, then, the relationship between people and social forms? A good name for this seems to be enacting. People engage in performing actions, interactions with the world on behalf of a form, as if they were its components, when they are not. Thus, the psycho-social process of positioning and being positioned by others bears a structural consequence: a thus-enacted social form comes to be seen as acting itself’ [p 9]. DPB: I have used this term enacting for the acting out of memes: when people are motivated (set in motion) to act as per the memes they are guided by at some point. But is is not necessarily in a social context, any meme goes. This theory complements the social systems theory by identifying by which mechanism one communication connects to another. In addition enaction is argued to be 1. the fundamental feature of cognition and 2. the formative mechanism that precedes the individuation of all cognizing entities, and hence: ‘the state of being enacted opens up a path for the conceptualization of the emergence of an even stronger existence of social forms’ (emphasis by the author) [p 9].