[Humanist] 26.573 coevolution

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Dec 12 08:19:33 CET 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 573.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2012 10:49:26 -0500
        From: Wendell Piez <wapiez at wendellpiez.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.570 coevolution
        In-Reply-To: <20121211065016.07CE53A3A at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard and HUMANIST,

On Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 1:50 AM, Humanist Discussion Group
<willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
> And I hasten to add, to reassure Haines Brown, that I also am "not at
> all comfortable with approaching things by means of a cognitive and
> physical closure that supports explanation simply in terms of causal
> interactions", as he said. I am *deeply* puzzled by how humans and
> machines (or just about any two strands of development) are connected --
> how it is that such strands, often from very different origins, become
> interrelated. Computing provides a very good example of that original
> separateness, as Michael Mahoney pointed out repeatedly. But it is
> equally wrong, I think, to deny relatedness. And horribly difficult to
> talk about such matters simply -- as Einstein said, I think, as simply
> as possible but not more so.

I agree.

Last year I read (most of) Alicia Juarerro's "Dynamics in Action:
Intentional Behavior as a Complex System". It is only tangentially
related to this discussion (its main concern is action theory, the
branch of philosophy that seeks to distinguish "actions" from other
events), but it does a serviceable job of paraphrasing the idea that
complex systems suggest a notion of causation that is not simply
classical "Newtonian" (material and efficient) cause-and-effect, but
rather something closer to Aristotelian formal cause. This is because
components in complex systems work to constrain one another, and their
functioning is subject to such constraints (this is what it means to
be "in a system"). These constraints are not properties of the
components per se, but rather of the system in which they are embedded
-- which is "more than the sum of its parts" not by virtue of any
"spirit" or (material or quasi-material) essence, but by its
structured and sometimes (seen from the perspective of an even higher
system in which it is embedded) "purposeful" organization.

Evidently this has everything to do with the notion of co-evolution
you are pondering.

So I am suspicious of treatments of technology that consider
technological artifacts apart from our uses of them, as if there was
actually a "thing" there. My smartphone just chimed, signaling some
sort of interaction with the networked world in which it has been
embedded, supposedly by and for me, and in which it operates "on its
own" -- but I know better. (Hm: is it email from you?) The phone is
not a thing as much as it is a set of opportunities, more a playground
than a toy.

"A set of opportunities bounded and generated by a set of
constraints." To me this sounds like the definition of an artistic
medium as well as of a biological phenotype.

Best regards,

Wendell Piez | http://www.wendellpiez.com
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