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


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.