The paper looks at a combination of systems theory, cybernetics, and sociological theory in search of a tool for inquiring into contemporary social forms. The idea of observing networks, drawing on Heinz von Foerster’s and Niklas Luhmann’s notion of observing systems and Harrison C. White’s network calculus of identity and control, is outlined to enable basic sociological intuitions about social forms to be integrated with an understanding of both complexity and recursivity organizing our perspective on the human condition in a precarious world. Social forms are shown to gain robustness not from substantial identity but from relational ambiguity. Observing networks, or so the hypothesis goes, combine bodies, minds, society, and – soon perhaps – intelligent machines. The paper looks at how an understanding of complexity, recursivity, system, form, and network may help flesh out the calculus of our human condition.
The paper compares social systems theory and social network theory in terms of what it is they respectively seek to elucidate. Whereas systems theory focuses on problems of difference and reproduction, network theory deals with problems of identity and control, the former privileging communication and the latter action. To understand their different foci, it may help to keep in mind that systems theory is a child of computing’s formative years, whereas the more recent success of network theory, despite its roots in a far older tradition, accompanies the advent of the Internet. The paper goes on to compare the two theories with respect to questions of mathematical modeling, culture, and self-reference, which interestingly are closely related. It proposes a mathematical modeling of culture, which uses Spencer-Brown’s notion of form to combine variables of communication, consciousness, and life into one network relying on three systems capable of reproducing themselves. The paper is relevant for constructivist approaches because it shows how systems are constructed relying on networks within their own interpretation as culture.
The paper deals with Aristotelian logic as the special case of more general epistemology and sociology of both science and common sense. The Aristotelian principles of identity, of noncontradiction, and of excluded middle are to be supplemented by the secondorder cybernetic, or cybernEthic principles of paradox, of ambivalence, and of control. In this paper we collect some ideas on how to evaluate the scope of Aristotelian logic with respect to the laws of thought they tried to determine and to do so within the historical moment of the impact of the invention of writing possibly triggering this determination. We look at some modern doubts concerning these laws and discovering an understanding of complexity that is not to be resumed under any principle of identity. The invention of sociology, epistemology, and the mathematics of communication follow suit in focusing not only on the observer but more importantly on the distinction between observers to further contextualize any talk of identities and operationalize both talk and fact of contradiction, paradox, and ambivalence.
The concept of “autonomy,” once at the core of the original enactivist proposal in The Embodied Mind (Varela et al. in The embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1991), is nowadays ignored or neglected by some of the most prominent contemporary enactivists approaches. Theories of autonomy, however, come to fill a theoretical gap that sensorimotor accounts of cognition cannot ignore: they provide a naturalized account of normativity and the resources to ground the identity of a cognitive subject in its specific mode of organization. There are, however, good reasons for the contemporary neglect of autonomy as a relevant concept for enactivism. On the one hand, the concept of autonomy has too often been assimilated into autopoiesis (or basic autonomy in the molecular or biological realm) and the implications are not always clear for a dynamical sensorimotor approach to cognitive science. On the other hand, the foundational enactivist proposal displays a metaphysical tension between the concept of operational closure (autonomy), deployed as constitutive, and that of structural coupling (sensorimotor dynamics); making it hard to reconcile with the claim that experience is sensorimotorly constituted. This tension is particularly apparent when Varela et al. propose Bittorio (a 1D cellular automata) as a model of the operational closure of the nervous system as it fails to satisfy the required conditions for a sensorimotor constitution of experience. It is, however, possible to solve these problems by re-considering autonomy at the level of sensorimotor neurodynamics. Two recent robotic simulation models are used for this task, illustrating the notion of strong sensorimotor dependency of neurodynamic patterns, and their networked intertwinement. The concept of habit is proposed as an enactivist building block for cognitive theorizing, re-conceptualizing mental life as a habit ecology, tied within an agent’s behaviour generating mechanism in coordination with its environment. Norms can be naturalized in terms of dynamic, interactively self-sustaining, coherentism. This conception of autonomous sensorimotor agency is put in contrast with those enactive approaches that reject autonomy or neglect the theoretical resources it has to offer for the project of naturalizing minds.
Open peer commentary on the article “Never Mind the Gap: Neurophenomenology, Radical Enactivism, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness” by Michael D. Kirchhoff & Daniel D. Hutto. Upshot: I strongly agree with Kirchhoff and Hutto that consciousness and embodied action are one and the same, but I disagree when they say this identity cannot be fully explained and must simply be posited. Here I attempt to sketch the outlines of just such an explanation.
Context: The discipline of knowledge management (KM) begins to understand a) that it should move towards a user-centred, socialized KM and b) which business objectives provide motivation to do so. However, it lacks ideas on how to reach the objective that it suggests and justifies. We contend in this paper that this change requires a more viable understanding of knowledge combined with a suitable model of social interaction, otherwise it will fail. Problem: The problem to be solved is to find a way to blend a model of social interaction and a suitable understanding of knowledge so that together they can contribute to the objective of implementing a “user-centred KM.” In this paper we show a solution articulated in several conceptual and experimental components and phases. Method: We use a systemic and cybernetic approach: systemic analysis of the problem, conception of a cybernetic approach, design of a systemic solution, and its evaluation in an experiment. The main methods used are systems engineering, cybernetic modelling, and knowledge engineering. Results: We propose seven interrelated results: 1. A defect analysis of KM; 2. The concept of knowledge as the “Logic of Experience”; 3. A set of five KM design principles; 4. The principle of “Knowledge Identity”; 5. The model of “Knowledge Cooperation”; 6. The architecture of a user-centred KM system; and 7. Insights from a KM experiment. Implications: Our results are useful for any stakeholder in today’s knowledge economy when they need to understand, design, build, nurture and support an organization’s capacity to learn and innovate for the benefit not only of the company’s financial owners but also of the individuals who work in it. Future research should urgently address the issues of “knowledge identity” and the “knowledge contract” and KM practice should design its next steps for moving towards a user-centred KM in conformity with the principle of “knowledge identity.” The paper links explicitly to radical constructivism and argues in favour of a radical constructivist foundation for KM in which knowledge is seen as the “Logic of Experience.” It also shows how this KM foundation can be extended with a social perspective and by that allow the individual and the social to be conceived of as complementary elements in one single KM system.
Context: In his work on neurophenomenology, the late Francisco Varela overtly tackled the well-known “hard problem” of the (physical) origin of phenomenal consciousness. Problem: Did he have a theory for solving this problem? No, he declared, only a “remedy.” Yet this declaration has been overlooked: Varela has been considered (successively or simultaneously) as an idealist, a dualist, or an identity theorist. Results: These primarily theoretical characterizations of Varela’s position are first shown to be incorrect. Then it is argued that there exists a stance (let’s call it the Varelian stance) in which the problem of the physical origin of primary consciousness, or pure experience, does not even arise. Implications: The nature of the “hard problem” of consciousness is changed from an intellectual puzzle to an existential option. Constructivist content: The role of ontological prejudice about what the world is made of (a prejudice that determines the very form of the “hard problem” as the issue of the origin of consciousness out of a pre-existing material organization) is downplayed, and methodologies and attitudes are put to the fore.
The enactive turn in cognitive science fundamentally changes how questions about experience and behaviour are addressed. We propose that there exists a suite of core concepts within enaction that are suited to the characterisation of many kinds of intentional subjects, including and especially animals, plants, collectivities and artefacts. We summarise some basic concerns of enactive theory and show how the common illustration of the single cell ascending a chemotactic gradient serves as a focus point for discussion of important topics such as identity, perspective, value, agency and life-mind continuity. We also highlight two important deficits of this example: the cell is ahistorical and asocial. Historicity and sociality are defining characteristics of living beings and are addressed within enactive theory by the concepts of structural coupling and participatory sense-making, respectively. This strongly biological framework is to be distinguished from scientific psychology which is, we argue, necessarily anthropomorphic. We propose a constrained bio-enactive framework that remains true to its biological foundations and that would allow us to negotiate consensus-based understanding in contested domains, where incompatible value systems enacted by competing systems are in conflict. A consensual ‘we’ is, we contend, a matter of negotiation, not of fixed essence. A bio-enactive framework may serve as a jumping off point for consensus-based discussion within contested domains.
Problem: The underlying assumption of all feminist theories is that in order to achieve our emancipatory goals we have to resolve the so-called female subjectivity problem first. That is, we have to answer the question of what is (is not) the nature/essence/main feature of being a woman. The debate about where and how we should look for that essence seems to be endless and it still continues in contemporary feminist theories. This stalemate blocks the initial political and social power of the whole feminist movement. It also seems to contradict the idea that philosophy can serve practical purposes, which was a driving force behind feminist theories as such. Solution: While analyzing contemporary feminist theories we can discover that they are dualistic with respect to the cognitive situation. Using tools taken from Josef Mitterer’s philosophy and the idea of emancipation developed by Bruno Latour, I want to consider the idea of avoiding stalemate situations in discussions on female subjectivity. I claim that this strategy can be more effective in achieving certain practical goals that are important from a feminist point of view. Benefits: We are able to show that the aim of our theoretical activity is not to agree about what a woman is and what kind of woman we are going to emancipate, but rather to define which problems should be solved in order to improve the situation of women. We just have to learn how to formulate the description from now on of initial matters of concern that is acceptable to all those involved in a given dispute.
This paper reformulates some of the questions raised by extended mind theorists from an enactive, life/mind continuity perspective. Because of its reliance on concepts such as autopoiesis, the enactive approach has been deemed internalist and thus incompatible with the extended mind hypothesis. This paper answers this criticism by showing (1) that the relation between organism and cogniser is not one of co-extension, (2) that cognition is a relational phenomenon and thereby has no location, and (3) that the individuality of a cogniser is inevitably linked with the question of its autonomy, a question ignored by the extended mind hypothesis but for which the enactive approach proposes a precise, operational, albeit non-functionalist answer. The paper raises a perspective of embedded and intersecting forms of autonomous identity generation, some of which correspond to the canonical cases discussed in the extended mind literature, but on the whole of wider generality. In addressing these issues, this paper proposes unbiased, non-species specific definitions of cognition, agency and mediation, thus filling in gaps in the extended mind debates that have led to paradoxical situations and a problematic over-reliance on intuitions about what counts as cognitive.