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.