Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Brain studies

In the past, I've been tempted to consider that most attempts to 'understand' the brain better are doomed to failure, tending to end up in bald statements about 'neural pathways' and such-like, with associated behavioural phenomena which are meant to enhance or damage mental development. These are all varieties of mentalism - but mentalism has tentacles that spread not just to blatant positivism. It also infects constructivism: ("exactly where is the world constructed? where is it stored? how is it recalled?"). The net result is often rather alienating and carries unpleasant political overtones in the various exhortations to how we should or shouldn't behave, or the educational methods we should or shouldn't adopt.

However, I'm beginning to think my 'anti-brain-study' is a bit too strong. Maybe the alienating and unpleasant political overtones about brain-studies are the thing to deal with in all this, and once they are dealt with, a new perspective on the brain which is more in harmony with the current political climate might emerge.

There are remarkable things to think about. From a cybernetic perspective there is no reason to suppose that the brain's function is anything but regulatory. But what is regulated? How does the regulation work? And what is the relationship between the processes of regulation and our conscious processes of perception and action? I think Gibson was probably right about perception, that the processes of perception were geared into the relationships between living things and the environment... and those relationships have to be regulated somehow. Ulric Neisser's model of perception explores this more fully, showing I think explicitly how what Merlau-Ponty called "the flesh of the world" really interacted in the process of perception:
But although Neisser's model pinpoints the regulating activity of the brain in coordinating engagement with the environment, I think it fails to see the environment of the grey matter itself. Because for all those electrical and chemical signals, the same physical processes apply as to the environmental outside the body. In other words, it may be that Neisser's insight is but one level of a recursive process.

This is not dissimilar to Bateson's "criteria for mental processes":

  1. A mind is an aggregate of interacting parts or components.
  2. The interaction between parts of mind is triggered by difference, and difference is a nonsubstantial phenomenon not located in space or time; difference is related to negentropy and entropy rather than energy.
  3. Mental process requires collateral energy.
  4. Mental process requires circular (or more complex) chains of determination.
  5. In mental process, the effects of difference are to be regarded as transforms (i.e., coded versions) of events which proceeded them. The rules of such transformation must be comparatively stable (i.e., more stable than the content), but are in themselves subject to transformation.
  6. The description and classification of these processes of transformation disclose a hierarchy of logical types immanent in the phenomena.
As an abstract cybernetic mechanism, this contains the essence of Bateson's theories from the Double-bind and double-description to levels of learning and logical typing.

But it is probably a mistake to lose sight of the grey matter itself, because it is not 'just wires' in the same way as Niesser and Gibson would argue that the environment is not 'just the environment'.

What may be needed as a way of approaching this is a clear distinction between
  1. those processes which operate (as far as we know) on physical and chemical laws and about which we have reasonable knowledge 
  2. those processes which operate on what (for lack of a better term) is a bio-psychosocial basis in maintaining homeostasis through regulation.
  3. the mechanisms which relate 1 to 2.
In essence, 1) deals with what Bhaskar calls 'intransitive mechanisms', and it may be the case that entropy is the driving principle. 2) deals with what Bhaskar calls 'transitive mechanisms', where morphogenesis is the driving principle. In 3) we are really asking:
"what is the relationship between entropy and morphogenesis?"

And it seems that entropic intransitive mechanisms go all the way down, as do morphogenetic processes. Perhaps if we could get a better grasp on this, then we would have a brain science which could guide us in sensible ways and in particular, tune us in to living more peaceful and fulfilling lives.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Open Atrium and the Hysteresis of Project Management

Ok - I've set myself a challenge in this post title! I've not got anything specific to say that Open Atrium (which I've been playing with recently) exhibits hysteresis (but can it?), except that I have two very different things on my mind at the moment.

Hysteresis came up at the cybernetics society conference during the paper given by Faisal Kadri, who talked about 'multiplier feedback' (as opposed to negative feedback) and its relationship to hysteresis (and its relationship to homeostasis). Hysteresis is a property whereby "There is no way to predict the system's output without looking at the history of the
input (to determine the path that the input followed before it reached its current value) or inspecting the internal state of the system" (Wikipedia). In effect, the system has 'memory'.

So what about OpenAtrium?

Well, I've been looking at how I might use it to manage the workflow for a little project where a number of people will have to process a range of files through a number of stages in a set pattern. Open Atrium is cool - I looked at BaseCamp first, but OpenAtrium seemed more usable (once I'd managed to install it) and more suitable for what I wanted to do.

Does it have Hysteresis?

Well, to some extent, all online social systems have hysteresis, because human beings have hysteresis (that was one of the most interesting things about Faisal's paper). One the one hand, we regulate and maintain homeostasis. On the other, our outputs are path-dependant. What OpenAtrium does is allow you to manage the path in some way.

Is that interesting? How different is it from Winograd and Flores's assertion that computers allow us to manage the commitments we make to one another?

Obviouly OpenAtrium does that too. But there may be something here which is to do with the 'shared concern' that humans engaged on a project exhibit. The experience of working together on projects is one where individual human states (the states of the participants) continually change in response to communications and tasks in the project, as well as other things happening in their lives. Patterns of individual contributions to team working are revealed through tracking the emergence of the 'paths' people take.

Sometimes outputs are not forthcoming in the way they were a few weeks back. Being able to see the history of actions allows for the overall hysteretic system of the project to be managed, and individual hysteresis to be identified and addressed in subtle ways. Underlying it all is the need to maintain harmony as well as homeostasis - which suggests the link to multiplier feedback too.

So maybe it wasn't such a crazy title! My little project has some implications I think for other applications of workflow. Within the University's CO-EDUCATE project, for example, the challenge has existed to find ways of managing the innovation and validation of new courses. That too is a challenge to manage not just a homeostatic system, but a hysteretic system. Indeed, it may be because of the ultra-stability of Universities (even in this crisis!) that the homeostasis can be taken forgranted. It's hysteresis we should be worrying about!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Ego-tools and Eco-tools

This is a bit of rambling post, but I'm struggling with a number of ideas that are fascinating me. First, I've been thinking about a distinction between what might be called 'Positive' and 'Negative' music:

Positive music is music of the ego: that product of self-expression which (for better or worse) consumes the environment of others. In the hands of genius, everyone takes note and listens because the environmental changes it produces are very striking and recognised as such: others adapt to the music. I think positive music may be more 'attentive' than it is 'aware' (to use Oliveros's categories) - or maybe its range of attention and awareness is constricted in some way...

Negative music is music that expresses the collective ambient environment, not the self. Individuals not only tune in, but act to harmonise with the environment. As a result, sounds emerge through acts of self-organisation. Negative music may be more aware than it is attentive, although it would depend on how 'awareness' and 'attention' are defined.

I'm waking up to the tradition of what I would call 'negative music-making', which I had not really given much thought to until now (tending to dismiss it as a bit of a gimmick). I think I'm beginning to understand it a bit better. What's really made the connection for me is the fact that I've always felt that music is necessary in a society; but much as I might love the products of the Western art music tradition, I cannot assert its necessity on those who do not care for it (apart from defending its right to exist).

Right now we have an enormous social problem which can basically be summed up as an 'excess of ego' (in fact, it's the same old problem that Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Marx, etc. identified, but perhaps a little more acute now because there are so many of us and we have such powerful technology). The hubris of ego-driven rational man is the greatest threat to our survival, and the technologies that rational man has equipped himself with have served the ego to an ever greater extent and to the detriment of convivial existence.

And I don't think social networking is the answer - that's another ego-tool.

We need 'Eco-tools' - the tools of the collective (but I'm not thinking about energy efficiency or bio-degradable tools). I think Cage, Oliveros and other musicians in that tradition might be able to show us how to do it. For the experience of 'coming together' (which was always at the centre of social music-making), the sharing in a ritual.. these play an important role in the regulation of viable societies.

These might be tools which help us to 'tune-in' to our environment and assist in our actions which harmonise with it. They might be seen as 'improvisation assistants', or maybe even 'tools for collective meditation'. If the world was seen through the lens of such tools, what would be the effect on rational decision-making? At the moment we see the world through the lens of rational decision-making ego-tools. The result is rational decisions which further the separation of ego from the world (positive feedback).

Eco-tools are negative tools, which may balance out our positive inclinations (from which I doubt we can escape).

The internet has given us a potential for realising the power of the collective. But we can do that I think in two radically different ways. We can use it to form mass movements for good and bad - but both of which serve the ego, presenting the 'easy alternative' to individuation. Or we can use it for the collective appreciation of the social environment as a way towards individuation, and gauge the impact of the actions we take as we live out our lives.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Why are robots crap at Table Tennis? (or "How to do away with Time")

I've just spent a very relaxing week in Devon with family. It's one of the few opportunities I get for playing Table Tennis (but I'm not very good). But I'm better than this...

And that raises an interesting question. Human reactions in table tennis are very fast. Our anticipation of what is likely to happen next feels almost unconscious. It feels as if our movements naturally lead us to hit the ball when it's returned to us (if things go well). Sometimes we might be caught out by poor anticipation, or simply that our movements in one moment make it physically impossible to be in the place that our brains tell us to be in the next.

What is going on in our anticipatory system?

Coming back from the cybernetics conference, I have been wondering about anticipatory systems and our conception of time. In fact, time presents a lot of problems for cybernetic thinking generally, since it is a somewhat unexplored concept (and it is a concept!). Might it be that without time there is no difference, and without difference there is (essentially) no cybernetics as it is currently understood?

One approach to anticipatory systems is the idea that observing systems are 'nested' running at different (faster) clock speeds, where the differences picked up by a low-level observer are detected by a faster-level observer and extrapolated for likely future developments. This seems to me to be a bit like the statistical approach to evolution. And the problem there is that there are too many possible states to be explored for the anticipatory mechanisms to be at all effective. Yet we know they are effective. So what else might be going on?

One way of approaching an alternative response is to do away with the concept of time. In place of the concept of time, let's have an understanding of concrete individual human experience (i.e. a phenomenology). That might mean replacing one abstract concept with another and seeing where it takes us... so I'm thinking of replacing 'time' with 'symmetry'.

This is helping. Because there is something symmetrical in the playing of table tennis: a pattern of circular motions of the body and the ball which somehow come together. And this leads to what is a new insight for me: that what is modelled by a player is not what the other player might do (and what they might be thinking), but rather the emerging form of the relationship between them and what the individual might do to tune into that new form of relationship: it is a continual process of staying tuned-in.

Thinking symmetrically rather than in time means that we start to think about the proportions of adjustments to regulators in response to the changing environment around an organism. And understanding proportional adjustments means that the processes of anticipation become more foreseeable because of the recursive nature of the proportionality.

Once again, I'm thinking of Pauline Oliveros's listening exercises. But also I'm thinking about Faisal Kadri's paper on multiplier feedback and hysteresis. Multiplier feedback is about harmony and proportion in a way that negative feedback is about stimulus and corrective response. The negative feedback model might need time in a way that it doesn't acknowledge (although this is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater).

But it seems clear that with the science of organisation in man and machine, organisation in man is distinct from organisation in machine, and yet the two are closely related. But it is hard to escape the phenomenological roots of it all... but to do that, maybe some of the metaphors of machine do not help us as much as we thought - particularly in the field of human anticipation.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Garrison Towns

Stafford Beer made the remark that Washington DC was effectively a 'garrison town' because outside the walls of the government offices, much of the city was (although perhaps it's a bit better now) very dangerous to visit. This analysis has been echoing with me as I thought about the riots, and I reflect on my visit to the states.

On my last day, I visited Dayton, Ohio because I was flying out from there and had a few hours to kill. The idea was to do some shopping. The very friendly taxi driver who took me from Richmond to Dayton airport, on hearing of my plan to go to downtown Dayton I think tried to talk me out of it. But he didn't say "I wouldn't go there mate if I were you - it's really crap!". What he in fact said was "If you want to go shopping, there's a great mall you should go to". He even drove me past the mall in question to convince me. It didn't convince me, and I decided the last thing I wanted to do was to spend hours in a shopping centre. I wanted to see a real city.

It turned out that Dayton was rather crap - but in a weird way. My plan to go shopping was frustrated by the fact that there were no shops. This is very surprising because any British town, despite all other aspects of crap-ness, at least has shops (albeit the same shops). But Dayton, unlike British towns, looked impressive. It could pass for a little bit of New York - and very clean. And then I thought about those imposing skyscrapers and the associated emptiness around them, and I thought it was like wandering around some sort of military encampment: the feeling that somehow I was out-of-place; I oughtn't be there. Is this how the Welsh thought around the imposing castles of Edward I in the late 1200s?

The experience of alienation was one where I felt I could form no attachment to the place: or at least, only a 'negative attachment': "this is not for me". There's an aspect of double-bind here: "this is not for me... yet I am here... and I am unable (prohibited?) to express that aspect of my identity which causes me to feel uncomfortable"

I wonder if there may be something about this alienating experience which sheds some light on the riots the other week. I was also wondering about the propensity for Hollywood films to revel in the destruction of the urban environment. Destruction and vandalism may be acts of attachment. Fantasy destruction may be one way in which some form of attachment can be made to otherwise alienating environments.

But are European cities any different? We don't feel alienated by the Welsh castles any more - we instead see them as being deeply romantic. That shift, I think, is to do with history and permanence. The permanence of buildings allows people to weave their stories around them. Dayton's empty streets may one day become rich and romantic. But only if its structures have permanence... maybe imbued with a degree of sanctity. But to do that, the values of the corporations who put them there need to change.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Listening, Method and Cybernetics

It's difficult to achieve anything on your own... I've been reflecting on this at the Conference on 'listening' for the American Society of Cybernetics. 'Listening' is a very personal thing.. we get hurt when we're not listened to; we annoy people when we don't listen to them. But listening is essential if people are to work together. But 'working together' and 'listening' does not equal 'agreement'.

This was brought home to me by the wonderful singing activities we have been involved with conducted by Pauline Oliveros. The beauty of the sounds we made (they felt beautiful to us) resulted from a combination of coming together and moving apart, but always conscious of what was going on around us.

That is the principal lesson I shall take away from this conference: awareness of what is around me, what it does to me, and what I do with it. I think this is this is the essence of skilful political action. It is the art of dealing with difficult people, difficult situations, personal crises, disruptions and violence in a way which hones in on the beauty which connects me with it. Like the singing.

But I've been reflecting on the method whereby this is done. There is probably a method, probably a methodology.. I think that in the difficult situations, with difficult people, etc... I've got better in my methods over the years (still a long way to go though!). If there has been improvement, then I think I attribute this to a more solid grounding in reality, and a way of approaching reality which:

  1. doesn't compromise ideals
  2. doesn't become naive in its idealism
  3. is defensible
On the whole, it is not cybernetics which has given this to me, but realist philosophy. But I have found cybernetics entirely compatible, because the critical realism which has fascinated me has concerned an ontology of mechanisms, but has been hampered by an inability to express mechanisms in a sophisticated way without resorting to established philosophical categories which preclude the expression of more dynamic theories. The cybernetic contribution enriches the expressive power of realism by broadening its vocabulary for describing the world.

But critical realism has helped me in another way, which is to connect issues of ontology and epistemology to ethics. Cybernetics tries this too, but it often lacks the philosophical sophistication to make statements about philosophy which are philosophically defensible. The join that critical realism identifies between ontology, epistemology and cybernetics (as the description and exploration of mechanisms) is methodology. In short, our knowledge about the world informs our political structures. But our knowledge is dependent on the methods by which we come to know it. The methods are also part of the political structure, and beneath the various methods that are deployed in the social sciences lie views of the world (ontologies) which are fundamentally incompatible, but rarely expressed or explored. And that is where ethics comes in, because the articulation of what ought to be means understanding what there is. And understanding what there  is means properly exploring the dissonances between the different world views that underpin different methodologies. 

A proper exploration of ontology is therefore a necessary preliminary to the critique of method which in turn can underpin a critique of political structures. And I think that exploration of ontology needs cybernetics. It's what cybernetics is fundamentally about. 

But cybernetics seems stuck. It seems more concerned with epistemology than ontology; more concerned with "questions of knowing" rather than "questions of being". Reflecting on the conference, I would say it's got stuck because it's lost touch with reality, or rather it's lost confidence - because of the epistemological conclusions of some of its theories - in its ability to say anything about reality. 

There is probably a need to dig beneath the foundations of this edifice. In history of cybernetics, a whole host of different conflicting world-views have come and gone. Were there more in the beginning than there are now? Possibly. Right now in the American Society, I only see one ontological world view. There is a need for explicitly articulating more possibilities. That means more difficult situations, difficult people, person crises, disruptions and (maybe even) violence! But maybe we've begun on a journey which has equipped us with the skills to listen for the beauty that emerges between us.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Mindless Society

If we all weren't mindless at times then we wouldn't have formed the irrational attachments to plasma TVs, sports cars and bijoux residences that keep our economy going (just about). There's clearly a difference between that sort of mindlessness and the mindlessness of children who slowly stream through a city centre breaking windows, starting fires and stealing goods. However, it's not easy to specify where the difference lies.

The concept of attachment is useful. In an increasingly consumerist society, the risk is that people become more attached to 'things' than they do to each other; that individual identity becomes more dependent on what you own than who you love and care for. What is shocking in the behaviour of the rioters is the degree of lack of attachment to those people who are directly injured by their actions. Many people may become attached to plasma TVs and mobiles phones, but still care deeply for their families and loved ones. But the balance between attachment to things, people and individual identity can tip when attachment to things becomes either a substitute for love or a means to attachment to a gang.

Fromm talks about what he sees as the existential terror facing young people as they face the challenge of individuation. The group (in this case, the gang) provides the alternative to individuation, and the rules of the group can lead to increased attachment to ideologies, symbols and commodities.

Our economy seems to teeter between mindlessness and risk: each of us walks the tightrope. Whilst we seek to establish our identities through mindless commodity attachments, which we covet partly to allay the existential anxieties of our condition, those anxieties themselves become part of the deeper mechanisms of self-regulation of the economy as we seek to remain within the regulatory system for fear of losing our status, our credit rating, our reputation, our freedom, our future ability to manage our anxieties.

But those regulators only work if people actually feel anxiety in the face of those risks to reputation, status, credit rating, freedom, etc. If they don't fear them, then the distribution of risks in society develops a 'hole' into which those who technically carry the greatest burden of risk (the most deprived) actually appear to bear none and move freely to do what they want.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Music, Learning and Semiosis

I discovered today that the eminent music theorist Leonard B. Meyer was present with Warren McCulloch, Tom Sebeok and Martin Gardner at the first lectures in semiotics given by Charles Morris in the 1930s at the University of Chicago. I've always been quite attracted to Meyer's 'expectation=emotion=meaning' theory because it was to me profoundly audible. But Harre is right to point out that Meyer seems to attribute the 'expectation' to the notes themselves, rather than the social and cultural conditions within which they are heard.

But what about semiotics? Meyer was deeply influenced by Peirce and Dewey. The wikipedia article on Meyer states that:
"Peirce had suggested that any regular response to an event developed alongside the understanding of that event's consequences, its 'meaning'". 
In this way, we might suggest that Meyer's expectation theory depends on a continual process of 'sign-making' as the music unfolds: "here are the signs... and now we follow them!" So, in this analysis from Beethoven's 'Les Adieux' sonata (taken from Nicholas Cook's "A guide to music analysis"), the falling pattern is established in the first three chords, to be replicated at other registers, with 'gaps' (staves 1 and 2) in the melody implying the need for resolution through a falling scale later in the music. This triadic pattern similarly is 'resolved' through continuation in the third stave down.
Lurking behind Meyer's assertion is an ontology of 'fundamental properties' in the perception of music. But fundamental properties behind notes may be one thing (and the criticism is valid), but fundamental properties behind the biological aspects of our response is another. I am inclined to argue that the expectation-resolution idea reveals something that relates our biology to the physical properties of sound and that may well be ontological. Behind the recognition of a pattern lies some mechanism of attachment to aspects of sensual experience which underlie the processes of maintaining our identity and viability. In a deep way, I think (in line with Bowlby) that is primeval.

In this way, when we talk of 'signs' we really talk of 'attachments'. The processes of sign-making (semiosis) are processes of managing attachments which in turn is a process of maintaining viability. The things to which attachments are formed are highly dependent on individual and cultural circumstances. But the process of forming them is universal.

As a rich description of the ways in which 'individual and cultural circumstances' inform the process of making attachments and making signs, Positioning theory is very valuable. What Meyer is interested in is what is going on in the storyline. Indeed, his theory is all about the construction of an 'anticipatory system' (see my blog post here: But attachment is only one dimension, relating the social and cultural 'position' to the individual's storyline. The individual also makes communications, making selections about utterances, which in turn also change the positioning.

When experiencing music through listening, I wonder if this aspect of agency, which clearly doesn't involve making direct communications, is nevertheless a matter of 'selection of attention'. Thus the 'game' that Kant and Gadamer talk about in aesthetic experience is played out.  From one moment to the next we choose those aspects of perception around which we make new signs (form new attachments).

Learning is so closely related to this process. On the one hand, learning might be characterised as 'semiosis' (Dewey clearly thought so), which in my language would be the 'making of attachments'. But that doesn't say anything about the social consequences of learning. Harre has the best definition as told to me by @sciencematters: "Learning is the change in positioning". That means that when I learn something, my communications change in response to a change in my storyline.

The really profound thing about this is that is debunks the attitude of teachers who complain about their "dumb students who'll never learn anything". Positioning is a two-way street, and it may often be the teachers who prevent it developing!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Learning Design, Positioning and Video-based teaching

I had a great chat to Mi today about her PhD. We talked about the difficulties concerning the fact on the one hand we are interested in technologies which haven't really worked (IMS Learning Design) but which puzzle us as to why not (because they seemed like good ideas). On the other hand, something exciting is happening around video-based OER, as exemplified by the Khan Academy.

I think these two apparently separate issues in e-learning are related. One of the central criticisms of Learning Design lies in the fact that teachers are different. Rather, it is not the design of learning sequences that determines its success, but the way it is taught. This is uncomfortable for those learning technologists who wish to relegate the teacher to the role of 'coordinator of learning', but the individual human skills of teaching are fundamental in the success of learners' experiences. It is merely surprising that we find this surprising: but it means that some of the theories of learning are simply wrong.

I think Positioning Theory is a better theory for characterising the relational nature of teacher-learner engagements. Indeed, with large-scale technical implementations like learning design, before you talk about the positioning between teachers and learners, you have to talk about the positioning between learning technologists and teachers - because the teachers have to be convinced that the technology is a good idea before they'll even start to use it!

But let's leave LD for a second, and look at OER video.
I think Positioning Theory helps to understand why the Khan Academy videos are so popular and (apparently) effective. The key is to understand the way Khan presents his knowledge in these videos. Unlike a video lecture like this one:

Khan's audience is not sat in front of him in a lecture room; they are you and me on the web. He is talking directly at us. That positions us differently to begin with. We are not "spying on some special expert knowledge in a holy place of learning". Instead "we are invited to Sal Khan's probability party on YouTube". That makes us feel different I think before we get started.

But Khan reinforces this 'invitation to a party' feel with his very up-beat presentation style. I have analysed this in more depth by looking at the 'knowledge performances' in the videos (see I think a high degree of openness in the 'person form' of the knowledge (that's Khan saying "this is what I know and I think it's fun") opens up the positioning with the audience. Because it is hand-written on-the-spot, the content-form of his video is strongly tied with the person form, and has a spontaneity about it which again invites the audience in. I think also, he is always aware that people will dip in and out of his videos; that the video itself is a 'tool' for learning and that the tool is in the control of the learner. Once again, there is some good positioning in that: it acknowledges the multiple storylines in each of his viewers heads, and equips each of them with tools to develop their own storylines as they wish.

Finally, the ethos of what Khan is doing is something admirable, and which we can all relate aspects of to our own storylines to. So we listen to him.

There is likely to be a need to stimulate video-based learning but to have criteria for what might be effective and what might not be. There may be a way of looking at video-based learning from the angle of its positioning and the ways in which individuals perform their knowledge through the technology that can help us make these judgements. But the insight into the importance of positioning belongs to our work on IMS Learning Design, because having attempted to distil the essence of learning into sequences of activities, we realised what was missing, and what it was that teachers actually do with their students.

Finally, here's my bit of 'positioning': my own revealing of self through marking the iTEC deliverable document (which is driving me crazy) and my improvisation. I wonder if revealing improvisations through video might also be a way of positioning people in empowering ways...

Monday, 1 August 2011

Attachment and Anticipation

Had a great trip to Nottingham to chat to @sciencematters today about Positioning Theory, Rom Harré, educational technology and teaching and learning in general. On the way down, I got much deeper into Leydesdorff's work on the 'Triple Helix' relationship between University, Government and Industry. Leydesdorff identifies a clear role for 'anticipatory systems' in the architecture of the 'knowledge-based economy', and he has been experimenting with mechanisms of anticipation (basically where the 'clock speed' of an observer is faster than the 'clock speed' of observations, so that projections of future events can be produced and evaluated in anticipation of them happening.)

One topic of conversation with @sciencematters was the nature of Harré's 'storylines' in his positioning triangle (see below). The question that emerged for me was "is a storyline an anticipatory system?". I think this could well be the case, but how might it be modelled?

Here I have some further thoughts on the model of anticipation that I think Leydesdorff has in mind, because it doesn't really engage with the problem of memory and the way that memory engages with the 'internal conversation'. If we just talk in terms of 'storage' then we're down a road of mentalism/cognitivism, which I think is simply incorrect.

My thoughts on this are that Bowlby's 'relationship control system' model might help out, and that memory might be characterised as a process of maintaining sets of attachments. Indeed, if the links between the nodes of Harré's triangle were to be labelled, then I would say that between 'storylines' and 'positions', there are attachments; between 'storylines' and 'speech acts' there are judgements, and between 'speech acts' and 'positions' there are 'communications'. This maps onto Luhmann's distinctions between psychic and social systems quite nicely too, which helps because Luhmann maps out the specifics of the selection processes of making an utterance and interpreting a communication (which provides a nice hook back to Leydesdorff!)

I was originally planning an extension to my NetLogo model by adding 'objects of attachment' which 'shadowed' the agents. I might still do this, but there's a question (as with all agent-based modelling) as to how it might be interpreted. On the one hand, these objects of attachment (shadow agents) might be used to model the interations with the real world, and project future likely interactions. That would tie nicely in with the idea of positioning as 'steering'. But I'm not sure it's really like that.

What I suspect happens is that our continual interaction with the objects to which we are attached actually serves as a regulating mechanism the product of whose operation is the generation of rational narratives and the process of deliberation as to the next communications to utter. That explains to me why diseases like Alzheimers appear to cause 'memory loss', when in fact what it does is to break the regulatory mechanisms so that attachments cannot be maintained.

But the generation of anticipatory narratives from attachments is much harder to model.. I'll have to play with that one!