Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surre...
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Context dependency and the development of social institutions

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A talk at the 1st Constructed Complexities workshop on "" at the University of Surrey, July 2013. http://constructedcomplexities.wordpress.com/

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It is well established that many aspects of human cognition are context-dependent, including: memory, preferences, language, perception, reasoning and emotion. What seems to occur is that the kind of situation is recognised and information stored with respect to that. This means that when faced with a similar situation, beliefs, expectations, habits, defaults, norms, procedures etc. that are relevant to the context can be brought to bear. I will call this mental correlate of the kind of situation the “context”. Thus the mental context frames conscious thinking by preferentially providing the relevant information making learning and reasoning practical, as well as allowing relatively “crisp” and logical thought within this frame. This is the “context heuristic” that seems to have been built into us by the process of evolution.
This recognition seems to occur in a rich, fuzzy and largely unconscious manner, which means that it can be hard to give distinct identities and talk about these contexts. It can thus be problematic to talk about “the” context in many cases, and indeed one cannot assume that different people are thinking about the same situation as (effectively) the same context from a third party perspective. Indeed one of the powerful aspects of the context heuristic is that it allows us flip between mental contexts allowing us to thing about a situation or problem from different contextual frames. Due to our facility at automatically identifying context and the indefinable way it is recognised it is hard for people to retrieve what is or signals a context (in contrast to what is relevant when recognised). However, they do seem to be sensitive to when they have the wrong context.
Thus learning is not just a matter of recording beliefs, expectations, habits, defaults, norms, procedures etc. but also a matter of learning to recognise the kinds of situation to organise their remembrance. A large part of our world is humanly constructed, or common (e.g. shared human emotions or a shared environment). Our classification of these kinds of situation is thus heavily coordinated among people of the same society – we learn to recognise situations in effectively the same way and hence remember the relevant beliefs, expectations, habits, defaults, norms, procedures etc. for the same kinds of situation. A shared body of knowledge (in its wisest sense) that constitutes a culture does not only include the foreground beliefs, norms etc. but also how the world is divided into kinds of situation. Some of these contexts will have universal roots, such as the emotion of fear or being hungry, and thus might be approximately the same across cultures (without transmission), others will be specific to cultures.
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  • Whilst fish live inhabit, we (as humans) inhabit society
  • Reader 1980, Man on Earth
  • that is NOT either trying to understand/program an agent on their own (against an environment) or as a uniform and completely socialized part of a society
  • AI, NL, Sociology, Philosophy, Mobile devices, Psychology, Cognitive ScienceFor detailed argument seem my previous papers on thisDustbin Like complexitywill talk about this problem later
  • Social Intelligence HypothesisWittgenstein, Vygotsky, TomaselloContexts are often described using their social features “I was talking to my mother”
  • Context dependency and the development of social institutions

    1. 1. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 1Context-dependency and thedevelopment of social institutionsBruce EdmondsCentre for Policy ModellingManchester Metropolitan University
    2. 2. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 2Philosophical Context• A Naturalist Position• Knowledge comes about as a result of cognitive andsocial processes (usually a combination of both)• These result in beliefs that are reliable and useful togreater (or lesser) extents• That a belief is developed as the result of socialprocesses does not mean that it is less reliable thanones that are more individually produced…• …rather it depends on the nature of theseprocesses and the uses to which one wishes to putthe knowledge to
    3. 3. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 3Putting this a bit stronger…• One cannot ignore the nature of the cognitiveand social processes if one wants to obtain auseful and reliable understanding of the natureof knowledge and its instantiations• (unlike other things such as computation,energy conservation etc.) there is no suchthing as abstract or general intelligence,knowledge, reasoning, learning etc. separatefrom the contingent particularities of humancognition, society and the world we live in• Rather our intelligence and knowledge havebeen developed with respect to the needs andabilities of our species
    4. 4. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 4Outline of talkThis talk will (attempt to):1. look at some plausible roots of humancognition and its characteristics2. in particular at the context-dependency ofhuman cognition and its usefulness forsocial coordination3. then apply this to the development andentrenchment of social institutions4. and finish by drawing some philosophicalcorollaries
    5. 5. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 5Social Intelligence Hypothesis (SIH)• Kummer, H., Daston, L., Gigerenzer, G. and Silk, J. (1997)• The crucial evolutionary advantages thathuman intelligence gives are due to the socialabilities and structures it facilitates• This explains the prevalence of specificabilities such as: imitation, language, socialnorms, lying, alliances, gossip, politics etc.• Social intelligence is not a result of generalintelligence applied to social organisation, butthe essential core of human intelligence• in fact our “general” intelligence could bemerely a side-effect of social intelligence
    6. 6. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 6An Evolutionary StorySocial intelligence implies that:• Groups of humans can develop their own,very different, (sub)cultures of technologies,norms etc. (Boyd and Richerson 1985)• These allow the group with their culture toinhabit a variety of ecological niches (e.g.the Kalahari, Polynesia) (Reader 1980)• Thus humans, as a species, are able tosurvive catastrophes that effect differentniches in different ways (specialisation)
    7. 7. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 7Social Embedding (SE)• Granovetter (1985) AJS 91 (3): 481-510• Social Embedding contrasts with the under-and over-socialised models of behaviour• Only looking at individual behaviour oraggregate behaviour misses crucial aspects• That the particular patterns of socialinteractions between individuals matter• In (Granovetter 1992) applied to emergence ofinstitutions conceptualised in terms of anaccretion then „lock in‟ growing from a networkof personal relations
    8. 8. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 8Implications of Social Embedding• In many circumstances agents can learn to exploit theparticular expertise and knowledge in their society,rather than do it themselves (invest in what Warren Buffetinvests in)• This has the corollary that the causes of behaviourmight be spread throughout large parts of its society –“causal spread”• This knowledge is often not explicit but is somethinglearned – this takes time• This is particularly true of social knowledge – studyingguides as to living in a culture are not the same as livingthere for a time• In particular the detail of when and where sets ofbehaviours/strategies are appropriate may be highlycontext dependent
    9. 9. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 9The Difficulty of Talking aboutContext• The word “context” is used in many differentsenses across different fields• Somewhat of a “dustbin” concept resorted towhen more immediate explanations fail (likethe other “c-word”, complexity)• Problematic to talk about, as it is not clear that“contexts” are usually identifiably distinct• Mentioning “context” is often a merely signalfor a more “humanities oriented” or“participatory/involved” approach and henceresisting the encroachment of reductionists
    10. 10. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 10A (simplistic) illustration of context from thepoint of view of an actor
    11. 11. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 11Situational Context• The situation in which an event takes place• This is indefinitely extensive, it could includeanything relevant or coincident• The time and place specify it, but relevantdetails might not be retrievable from this• It is almost universal to abstract to what isrelevant about these to a recognised typewhen communicating about this• Thus the question “What was the context?”often effectively means “What about thesituation do I need to know to understand?
    12. 12. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 12Cognitive Context (CC)• Many aspects of human cognition are context-dependent, including: memory, visual perception,choice making, reasoning, emotion, and language• The brain somehow deals with situational contexteffectively, abstracting kinds of situations sorelevant information can be easily and preferentiallyaccessed• The relevant correlate of the situation will be calledthe cognitive context• It is not known how the brain does this, andprobably does this in a rich and complex way thatmight prevent easy labeling of contexts
    13. 13. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 13Combining Context Recognition withCrisp “within context” reasoning etc.• Rich, unconscious, imprecise, messy cognitivecontext recognition using many inputs(including maybe internal ones)• Crisp, costly, conscious, explicit cognitiveprocesses using material indicated bycognitive contextContextRecognitionContext-StructuredMemoryReasoning/planning/beliefrevision/etc. etc.
    14. 14. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 14The Context Heuristic• The kind of situation is recognised in a rich,fuzzy, complex and unconscious manner• Knowledge, habits, norms etc. are learnt forthat kind of situation and are retrieved for it• Reasoning, learning, interaction happens withrespect to the recognised kind of situation• Context allows for the world to be dealt with bytype of situation, and hence makesreasoning/learning etc. feasible• It is a fallible heuristic…• …so why do we have this kind of cognition?
    15. 15. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 15ForegroundfeaturesLater recognitionBeliefFactor 1Factor 2Factor nFactor n+1Factor n+2Etc.Consequences1. Learning SituationBeliefFactor 1Factor 2Factor nFactor n+1Factor n+2Etc.Inferences/predictions/decisions2. Application SituationPossible abstraction to a „context‟AssumedfeaturesThe Context Heuristic Illustrated
    16. 16. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 16Implications of Context-Dependency• Behaviour of observed actors might need to changesharply across different social contexts• The relevant behaviour, norms, kinds of interactionetc. might also need to change• These may need to be different for different groupsas well as different kinds of situation• Some kinds of social behaviour are necessarilycontext-dependent (e.g. compliance)• It is likely that a lot of social knowledge, behaviouretc. will not be generic or amenable to de-contextualisation (e.g. by reifying context)
    17. 17. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 17Social Context• Since humans are fundamentally social beings…• …social context is often most important• e.g. an interview, a party or a lecture• Their recognition is aligned between individuals‟cognition due to social interaction over time• This has immediate social utility in that individualswill bring the same set of norms, expectations,habits, terms, etc. for the same kind of situation• Thus allowing different ways of coordinating fordifferent kinds of situation• If they were not aligned it would be hard tocommunicate as identifying common referentswould be missing
    18. 18. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 18Studying Context-Specific Behaviour• Context-dependency is not magic, nor does context-dependency imply relativism• Just because a lot of behaviour is not generic does notmean it is not ameanable to study, just more resourceconsuming• If one correctly identifies social context, one shouldobserve more regularity and identifiable patterns inhuman behaviour• Trending techniques (such as agent-based modelling,data-mining, big data) have the potential to help identify,represent and explore context and context-dependencyin combination with existing methods• Identifying it could aid the placing in situ of qualitativeknowledge and facilitate informing agent-basedsimulations at the micro-contextual level
    19. 19. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 19The Co-Development and Entrenchment ofa Shared Social Context• Over time, due to their similarities, certain kinds ofsituation become recognised as similar by participants• This facilitates the development of a set of sharedhabits, norms, knowledge, language etc. that is specificto that kind of situation• The more this is distinguished with specific features inthis way, the more recognisable it becomes as a distinctcontext• Over time this (associated with that kind of situation)can become increasingly entrenched• These may then become institutionalised in terms ofinfrastructure, training etc. (e.g. how to behave in alecture theatre, data projection technology, etc.)including stigmergic mechanisms of coodination
    20. 20. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 20Some Comments• Under this view, institutions come out of a naturalhuman cognitive ability that has its roots in the evolutionof our species• This ability is precisely the ability to develop complexconstructions for social coordination over a continguentsocial history that are specific to different kinds ofsituation• They can be recognised (by other enculturedindividuals) with a high degree of reliability• But they have flexibility and are developed and passeddown as part of a rich and independent culture• They do not determine behaviour, but rather provideappropriate, socially negotiated frames for it• Individuals have the ability to consider a situation as if itwere a different context
    21. 21. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 21Building on Granovetter 1992• The “nest” of personal networks is replacedwith a wider model of a social context• And thus brings with it other aspects of socialcoordination: norms, expectations, habits,language etc.• The explanation is grounded in considerationsof human cognition and its likely socialdevelopment• This suggests ways forward in studying it• The „lock in‟ is explained in terms of a plausiblesocial process
    22. 22. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 22Philosophical Corollaries• Context-dependency is not the same as relativity orsubjectivity due to the reliability of theirintersubjective recognition (due to socialalignment/co-development), hence our knowledgeof social institutions might be effectively inter-subjective and reliable• Social institutions are often embedded/signaled inmany ways (physically, legally, educationally, etc.)as well as culturally embedded, so that theirexistence is not limited to a social construct• Although the form of any particular institution mightbe specific to a particular culture and sociallyconstructed, its roots may be in the nature of humancognition and its evolutionary situation
    23. 23. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 23The EndBruce Edmondshttp://bruce.edmonds.nameCentre for Policy Modellinghttp://cfpm.orgThe SCID Projecthttp://scid-project.org

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