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Context dependency and the development of social institutions

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

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Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 1
Context-dependency and the
development of social institutions
Bruce Edmonds
Centre for Policy Modelling
Manchester Metropolitan University
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 2
Philosophical Context
• A Naturalist Position
• Knowledge comes about as a result of cognitive and
social processes (usually a combination of both)
• These result in beliefs that are reliable and useful to
greater (or lesser) extents
• That a belief is developed as the result of social
processes does not mean that it is less reliable than
ones that are more individually produced…
• …rather it depends on the nature of these
processes and the uses to which one wishes to put
the knowledge to
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 3
Putting this a bit stronger…
• One cannot ignore the nature of the cognitive
and social processes if one wants to obtain a
useful and reliable understanding of the nature
of knowledge and its instantiations
• (unlike other things such as computation,
energy conservation etc.) there is no such
thing as abstract or general intelligence,
knowledge, reasoning, learning etc. separate
from the contingent particularities of human
cognition, society and the world we live in
• Rather our intelligence and knowledge have
been developed with respect to the needs and
abilities of our species
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 4
Outline of talk
This talk will (attempt to):
1. look at some plausible roots of human
cognition and its characteristics
2. in particular at the context-dependency of
human cognition and its usefulness for
social coordination
3. then apply this to the development and
entrenchment of social institutions
4. and finish by drawing some philosophical
corollaries
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 5
Social Intelligence Hypothesis (SIH)
• Kummer, H., Daston, L., Gigerenzer, G. and Silk, J. (1997)
• The crucial evolutionary advantages that
human intelligence gives are due to the social
abilities and structures it facilitates
• This explains the prevalence of specific
abilities such as: imitation, language, social
norms, lying, alliances, gossip, politics etc.
• Social intelligence is not a result of general
intelligence applied to social organisation, but
the essential core of human intelligence
• in fact our “general” intelligence could be
merely a side-effect of social intelligence
Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 6
An Evolutionary Story
Social 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 to
inhabit a variety of ecological niches (e.g.
the Kalahari, Polynesia) (Reader 1980)
• Thus humans, as a species, are able to
survive catastrophes that effect different
niches in different ways (specialisation)

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Context dependency and the development of social institutions

  • 1. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 1 Context-dependency and the development of social institutions Bruce Edmonds Centre for Policy Modelling Manchester Metropolitan University
  • 2. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 2 Philosophical Context • A Naturalist Position • Knowledge comes about as a result of cognitive and social processes (usually a combination of both) • These result in beliefs that are reliable and useful to greater (or lesser) extents • That a belief is developed as the result of social processes does not mean that it is less reliable than ones that are more individually produced… • …rather it depends on the nature of these processes and the uses to which one wishes to put the knowledge to
  • 3. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 3 Putting this a bit stronger… • One cannot ignore the nature of the cognitive and social processes if one wants to obtain a useful and reliable understanding of the nature of knowledge and its instantiations • (unlike other things such as computation, energy conservation etc.) there is no such thing as abstract or general intelligence, knowledge, reasoning, learning etc. separate from the contingent particularities of human cognition, society and the world we live in • Rather our intelligence and knowledge have been developed with respect to the needs and abilities of our species
  • 4. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 4 Outline of talk This talk will (attempt to): 1. look at some plausible roots of human cognition and its characteristics 2. in particular at the context-dependency of human cognition and its usefulness for social coordination 3. then apply this to the development and entrenchment of social institutions 4. and finish by drawing some philosophical corollaries
  • 5. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 5 Social Intelligence Hypothesis (SIH) • Kummer, H., Daston, L., Gigerenzer, G. and Silk, J. (1997) • The crucial evolutionary advantages that human intelligence gives are due to the social abilities and structures it facilitates • This explains the prevalence of specific abilities such as: imitation, language, social norms, lying, alliances, gossip, politics etc. • Social intelligence is not a result of general intelligence applied to social organisation, but the essential core of human intelligence • in fact our “general” intelligence could be merely a side-effect of social intelligence
  • 6. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 6 An Evolutionary Story Social 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 to inhabit a variety of ecological niches (e.g. the Kalahari, Polynesia) (Reader 1980) • Thus humans, as a species, are able to survive catastrophes that effect different niches in different ways (specialisation)
  • 7. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 7 Social 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 or aggregate behaviour misses crucial aspects • That the particular patterns of social interactions between individuals matter • In (Granovetter 1992) applied to emergence of institutions conceptualised in terms of an accretion then „lock in‟ growing from a network of personal relations
  • 8. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 8 Implications of Social Embedding • In many circumstances agents can learn to exploit the particular expertise and knowledge in their society, rather than do it themselves (invest in what Warren Buffet invests in) • This has the corollary that the causes of behaviour might be spread throughout large parts of its society – “causal spread” • This knowledge is often not explicit but is something learned – this takes time • This is particularly true of social knowledge – studying guides as to living in a culture are not the same as living there for a time • In particular the detail of when and where sets of behaviours/strategies are appropriate may be highly context dependent
  • 9. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 9 The Difficulty of Talking about Context • The word “context” is used in many different senses across different fields • Somewhat of a “dustbin” concept resorted to when more immediate explanations fail (like the 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 signal for a more “humanities oriented” or “participatory/involved” approach and hence resisting the encroachment of reductionists
  • 10. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 10 A (simplistic) illustration of context from the point of view of an actor
  • 11. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 11 Situational Context • The situation in which an event takes place • This is indefinitely extensive, it could include anything relevant or coincident • The time and place specify it, but relevant details might not be retrievable from this • It is almost universal to abstract to what is relevant about these to a recognised type when communicating about this • Thus the question “What was the context?” often effectively means “What about the situation do I need to know to understand?
  • 12. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 12 Cognitive 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 context effectively, abstracting kinds of situations so relevant information can be easily and preferentially accessed • The relevant correlate of the situation will be called the cognitive context • It is not known how the brain does this, and probably does this in a rich and complex way that might prevent easy labeling of contexts
  • 13. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 13 Combining Context Recognition with Crisp “within context” reasoning etc. • Rich, unconscious, imprecise, messy cognitive context recognition using many inputs (including maybe internal ones) • Crisp, costly, conscious, explicit cognitive processes using material indicated by cognitive context Context Recognition Context-Structured Memory Reasoning/plan ning/belief revision/etc. etc.
  • 14. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 14 The Context Heuristic • The kind of situation is recognised in a rich, fuzzy, complex and unconscious manner • Knowledge, habits, norms etc. are learnt for that kind of situation and are retrieved for it • Reasoning, learning, interaction happens with respect to the recognised kind of situation • Context allows for the world to be dealt with by type of situation, and hence makes reasoning/learning etc. feasible • It is a fallible heuristic… • …so why do we have this kind of cognition?
  • 15. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 15 Foreground features Later recognition Belief Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor n Factor n+1 Factor n+2 Etc. Consequences 1. Learning Situation Belief Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor n Factor n+1 Factor n+2 Etc. Inferences/ predictions/ decisions 2. Application Situation Possible abstraction to a „context‟ Assumed features The Context Heuristic Illustrated
  • 16. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 16 Implications of Context-Dependency • Behaviour of observed actors might need to change sharply across different social contexts • The relevant behaviour, norms, kinds of interaction etc. might also need to change • These may need to be different for different groups as well as different kinds of situation • Some kinds of social behaviour are necessarily context-dependent (e.g. compliance) • It is likely that a lot of social knowledge, behaviour etc. will not be generic or amenable to de- contextualisation (e.g. by reifying context)
  • 17. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 17 Social 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 individuals will bring the same set of norms, expectations, habits, terms, etc. for the same kind of situation • Thus allowing different ways of coordinating for different kinds of situation • If they were not aligned it would be hard to communicate as identifying common referents would be missing
  • 18. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 18 Studying Context-Specific Behaviour • Context-dependency is not magic, nor does context- dependency imply relativism • Just because a lot of behaviour is not generic does not mean it is not ameanable to study, just more resource consuming • If one correctly identifies social context, one should observe more regularity and identifiable patterns in human behaviour • Trending techniques (such as agent-based modelling, data-mining, big data) have the potential to help identify, represent and explore context and context-dependency in combination with existing methods • Identifying it could aid the placing in situ of qualitative knowledge and facilitate informing agent-based simulations at the micro-contextual level
  • 19. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 19 The Co-Development and Entrenchment of a Shared Social Context • Over time, due to their similarities, certain kinds of situation become recognised as similar by participants • This facilitates the development of a set of shared habits, norms, knowledge, language etc. that is specific to that kind of situation • The more this is distinguished with specific features in this way, the more recognisable it becomes as a distinct context • Over time this (associated with that kind of situation) can become increasingly entrenched • These may then become institutionalised in terms of infrastructure, training etc. (e.g. how to behave in a lecture theatre, data projection technology, etc.) including stigmergic mechanisms of coodination
  • 20. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 20 Some Comments • Under this view, institutions come out of a natural human cognitive ability that has its roots in the evolution of our species • This ability is precisely the ability to develop complex constructions for social coordination over a continguent social history that are specific to different kinds of situation • They can be recognised (by other encultured individuals) with a high degree of reliability • But they have flexibility and are developed and passed down as part of a rich and independent culture • They do not determine behaviour, but rather provide appropriate, socially negotiated frames for it • Individuals have the ability to consider a situation as if it were a different context
  • 21. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 21 Building on Granovetter 1992 • The “nest” of personal networks is replaced with a wider model of a social context • And thus brings with it other aspects of social coordination: norms, expectations, habits, language etc. • The explanation is grounded in considerations of human cognition and its likely social development • This suggests ways forward in studying it • The „lock in‟ is explained in terms of a plausible social process
  • 22. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 22 Philosophical Corollaries • Context-dependency is not the same as relativity or subjectivity due to the reliability of their intersubjective recognition (due to social alignment/co-development), hence our knowledge of social institutions might be effectively inter- subjective and reliable • Social institutions are often embedded/signaled in many ways (physically, legally, educationally, etc.) as well as culturally embedded, so that their existence is not limited to a social construct • Although the form of any particular institution might be specific to a particular culture and socially constructed, its roots may be in the nature of human cognition and its evolutionary situation
  • 23. Context-dependency and the development of social institutions, Bruce Edmonds, 1st Constructed Complexities Workshop, Surrey, June 2013, slide 23 The End Bruce Edmonds http://bruce.edmonds.name Centre for Policy Modelling http://cfpm.org The SCID Project http://scid-project.org

Editor's Notes

  1. Whilst fish live inhabit, we (as humans) inhabit society
  2. Reader 1980, Man on Earth
  3. 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
  4. AI, NL, Sociology, Philosophy, Mobile devices, Psychology, Cognitive ScienceFor detailed argument seem my previous papers on thisDustbin Like complexitywill talk about this problem later
  5. Social Intelligence HypothesisWittgenstein, Vygotsky, TomaselloContexts are often described using their social features “I was talking to my mother”