Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
We've discussed this in various threads like object-oriented ontology and Edwards' work on social holons. In that light I came upon an interesting take on the agency of artifacts in light of the discussion of memes and temes. From Sinha, S. (2015). "Language and other artifacts: Socio-cultural dynamics of niche construction." Frontiers in Psychology.
"If (as I have argued) symbolic cognitive artifacts have the effect of changing both world and mind, is it enough to think of them as mere 'tools' for the realization of human deliberative intention, or are they themselves agents? This question would be effectively precluded by some definitions of agency […] In emphasizing the distinction, and contrasting agents with artifacts, it fails to engage with the complex network of mediation of distinctly human, social agency by artifactual means. It is precisely the importance of this network for both cognitive and social theory that Latour highlights by introducing the concept of 'interobjectivity.' […] Symbolic cognitive artifacts are not just repositories, the are also agents of change. […] We can argue that the agency is (at least until now) ultimately dependent on human agency, without which artifactual agency would neither exist nor have effect. But it would be wrong to think of artifactual agency as merely derivative."
There has been some discussion at FB IPS, copied below.
Wayne: Idk...passive agency seems am oxymoron. The artifacts symbolic character or causal efficacy is completely passive. They may be signs at collective intelligence level, and collective intelligence can certainly have agency. Ascribing agency to the artifact feel analogous to ascribing agency to a gene, or a string of bits. In his latest book " what is information " bob Logan makes a reaonable case using Deacon teleodynamic framework for language and culture being organisms (albeit obligate parasites) within each human brain, with Species at the agregate level. But it is really unclear how this could extend to artifactual symbols.
Me: I've had the same question about memes and temes, not thinking they had intentional agency. Even it they don't, the interrelation between minds and artifacts do suggest the latter have influence on the former, even if not an intentional agent.
Wayne: Edward Berge there are most assuredly feedback loops. The technology and culture we create both reflect and influence worldviews and paradigms...itterate..
Richard: Artifacts, especially those with some automatic mechanical, digital, symbolic, or linguistic function no longer dependent on the original creator aught to be considered to have some agency. Agency conferred by some creator but no longer directed by that creator. Unless one argues that determinism is inconsistent with agency, in which case it might follow that nothing has agency.
Me: I'm looking back over Edwards' paper "Through AQAL Eyes" part 3. He distinguishes individual from social holons and each express in the 4 quadrants. Therefore the social holon has an UL interior agency which he describes thusly:
"I want to again stress that the agentic aspects of the social holon are not to be seen as theoretically different to those of the personal holon. The agentic conscious and behaviour of the group has its own particular agency that is not reducible to the interactions of the persons in that group. The whole history of social psychology since the 1950's is testament to this. The research of Stanley Milgram, Solomon Asch and Philip Zimbardo show that group dynamics, i.e. the dynamics of social holons, must be seen firstly as a unique aspect of groups and only secondarily as expressions of individual interactions."
This comes right before his Table 6a.
Joseph: Interesting. An area of professional interest for me is social groupings in the LL, what I call "intrasocial" groups, of which dreams are an example. While the state of dreaming is UL, the agentic consciousness of dream groups themselves is not reducible to that of its members, yet there is no way that these groups can be put into the same category as normal social groups. In addition, there is another "level" of these intrasocial groups which is revealed only through becoming and interviewing perspectives of group participants (dream characters, both animate and inanimate) as well as the context of the group as a whole, called "dream consciousness." I have written books about this, "Dream Sociometry" and "Understanding the Dream Sociogram."
Me: From what I can tell so far in the initial article artifacts are a part of human agency via the extended mind theory, i.e., our own agency is not only shaped by artifacts like language but it is literally part of our agency. In that respect perhaps artifacts can be considered to have agency? It seems Sinha is crossing and intermixing the categories of evolution, development and sociology (EvoDevoSocio). Hybrid symbionts.
Richard: IMO something has agency (in plain language, the capacity of an actor to act in a given environment) if it is a necessary and sufficient cause of some effect, regardless of whether or not that agency is derived or aquired from some previous agents, actors, actions, or effects. The questions of independence, determinism, automicity, free will, consciousness, subjectivity, intent, etc. are separate questions.
We tend to think of a tool or instrument as something that explicitly requires the control of an agent, but an unattended soldering iron can burn down a house, so a thing can be both a tool and an agent, or either, depending on context. I think the distinction is functional or phenomenological rather than essential. I daresay the same applies to both artifacts and agents, though I have no idea how to prove it.
Me: Which would agree with those who argue for memes and temes: they have great influence on human thinking regardless of their 'intent.' Btw: Lock Dump Up! (Repeat a million times.)
Richard: I think the theory of memes and temes as semiautonomous or symbiotic replicators seems very plausible if not self-evident, though I think of them in the sense that Dawkins and Blackmore do and not the popular internet sense of the terms. However, I'm uncertain how productive or predictive the theory has been so far or even how to measure that. Who's working on that question?
LP: My reading of the "quadrants" is that they comprise four general categories of agency or intention. I would tend to place cognitive artifacts in the zone of systemic agency -- such that their active effect in shaping worlds depends not on the individual's surface recognition of the identity of the cognitive artifact but rather upon the changes to behavior produced by the ways in which the shape of the cognitive artifact skews procedures. This kind of tool is a "routine" and there seems to me no special reason to deny it agency. Especially since agency is something like a relative interpretive lens whose application is validated pragmatically rather than existentially in virtually every case.
Richard: I think "validated pragmatically rather than existentially" is similar to what I meant by function rather than essence. But when you say "categories of agency or intention" do you mean those are synonymous to you?
LP: Yes, I think function/essence is a good way to make that distinction.
I mean that they both can be used to approximate a legitimate designation -- in which the effects of a pattern are not treated as epiphenomenal nor as purely an extension of other patterns that produced this pattern. Dynamic autonomy relative the production of downstream patterning. This has an agent-like aspect. It also has an intention-like aspect. Perhaps several other aspects as well.
Richard: I've been thinking of agency as separate from consciousness but intention or intent as dependent on it. But maybe that's not right. I suppose a completely unconscious reflex may have an intent. But I'm not sure where the intent is determined.
LP: view intent as primarily unconscious -- both in the individual psyche and in the "will" of systems, groups, etc. Anywhere that "it acts as if it is trying to..." is an idea that clarifies rather than obscures a field of inquiry.
Richard: Makes sense. I'll start qualifying intent as consciousness or unconscious (or appearing as if) in contexts where it might matter.
According to Zimmerman on Edwards on artifacts, we're seeing more of the symbiotic relationship mentioned above in the feature article.
"I didn't put into the essay my hunch that the real thing about artifacts is not whether they have interiority or not but how we draw our holonic boundaries around them. Artifacts, by their nature of endowed complexity are those things that are best studied as part of the holonic system that includes the source of their complexity. There are better and worse ways of drawing holonic boundaries. Drawing a boundary just around the artifact and studying just it is a poor way to study it. Drawing a boundary around the artifact and the sentient being that created it is better. Let's draw a boundary around an axe. It's a holon with a very low level of interior development. That doesn't get us very far to understanding axes. Now let's draw our holonic boundary around the axe and its human user. We now can study this human-axe holon as a single coherent holon, and as a sentient active cultural entity. We can then place it within a holarchy that outlines the stages of tool use starting with birds using twigs to catch ants all the way up to humans using computers to write speculative essays on Integral theory. […] Consequently, artifacts are really best seen (and more coherently seen from an Integral theory perspective) as part of the behavioural dimension of the holon – the exterior of the holon. […] This way of seeing artifacts as part of the exterior dimension of holons ties in beautifully with Vygotskian ideas about tools, language development and the mediation of interiority through social means.”
More from the original piece resonant with Edwards:
"The most important features of niche construction theory for the purposes of this article are [that] it accomplishes a re-unification of Darwinian evolutionary theory with ecological theory, in which niche (or Umwelt, von Uexküll, 1957/1934), and organism-niche co-dependency, are key notions. […] It recasts the conceptualization of agency in evolution. Ecologists emphasize that species shape, as well as being shaped by, the niches that they occupy. […] Niche construction theory places an equivalent and complementary emphasis on the way in which organisms (and species) actively shape their environment (including the cultural environment), so that the dynamic of selection is driven by the behavior of the 'selected' as well as the 'selector.' Co-agency, as much as co-selection, is a crucial aspect of co-evolutionary processes."
From the above it is apparent that there's a developing worldview of how domains of research are cross-pollinating, as well as how we as individuals and societies are cross-pollinating within and between us. I briefly referred to this in my IR paper, at the end calling it hier(an)archical synplexity.