[See ... Affordances, Micro-global structures, discourses, fractured narratives, diaspora, algorithms, malgorithms, alt-mafia, etc ... feel free to add/edit etc ... ]

This is an (ongoing) ontology for the project on resonances of knowledges. It emphasises the new, micro/global relationships in the instantly connected ecologies of our tribalist global village.

The need for a new ontology
Knowledge comes in many different forms and, with the internet, a lot more people see themselves as knowledgeable. This project takes that at face value, and explores, with an open mind, what people now mean by knowledge. It has definitely changed.

We all seem to agree that knowledge is the capacity for effective action. Where we differ is: who decides what acceptable knowledge is, who decides what acceptable action is, and where and how the acceptability (of knowledge and action), is decided. Or to put it another way, what should we do about the fusion/elision/confusion/merger & acquisition/etc of epistemology by politics? In our networked, emergent, post/post-modernist, fractured global village, how do we manage our reference points, and do we have any in common? [Aside: Metaphysics seems to exacerbate this problem, but does that mean that metaphysics should be excluded from the domain of knowledge?]

Part of what we can do is to work on the basics, towards a nested ontology of resonances ...

The point about resonances is that they can amplify practices and knowledge in paradoxical ways: either to close down variation and diversity, or to enable and even encourage the emergence of innovative practices and new knowledge/s.

The descriptive tools that we need to build a framework for our new social ecology form a nested ontology of dynamic, predominantly relational (rather than discrete and static), and reflexive (rather than linear) factors: e.g.

  • signs, which are the product of the dynamic relationships between two difference systems: signifiers and signifieds;
  • affordances, which are the product of the dynamic relationships between actors and their microenvironment;
  • identity, which is a reflective sign of the capabilities of of particular actors (i.e. what they can, and are prepared, to do, i.e. who they are), albeit consolidated within shared experiences in micro-cultures; and
  • strategic [or executive] knowledge, which is the product of the dynamic relationship between formalised knowledge, resources, and context.

Together, these describe the way in which agency and emergence is enabled, and balanced, by structure (or not).

Verbal sign systems provide a good starting point for exploring abstraction more broadly. Verbal sign systems incorporate three levels of abstraction:(i) from the immediacy of need satisfaction (which is also the definition of work), (ii) from the use of a particular artefact to the use of artefacts of that type in general, and (iii) from the material of the sign itself (Williams, 1983, pp 363-4). However, as Ghassemzadeh points out (Language Sciences 27 (2005), pp 281-300), "this kind of independence allows the psychological functions based on verbal sign systems to be decontextualized ... [even though] these functions are [also] contextualised, in that they have evolved in [particular] ... social and cultural contexts in the course of history (Leontiev, 1978)". (See also Abstractions ...)

Affordances are the products of interactions between the actor and the environment. Each interaction contributes to the way the actor acts in, and makes sense of the world, and potentially changes both the actor and its micro-environment.

Affordances are realised within the ongoing development of the actor's identity, within social communities and within broader social discourses. Exploring and exercising affordances has consequences, depending on who or what you want to be, and to become. (See here ...)

Agency is the exercise of independent initiative, ranging from the desire for immediate need satisfaction to a complete abstraction from it. Such initiative is on the one hand 'individual', as in: unique and creative [or destructive] initiative, but on the other hand agency is always embedded and embodied in a wealth of borrowed/shared languages, genes, memes, temes, memories, cultures, histories, networks, friends (and enemies).

Ambiguity (and paradox) are inherent to this 'nested ontology'. (And it must be kept in mind that the borderlines between socio-semiotics (for H. Sapiens), and zoosemiotics, more broadly, have to be established for each case ab initio, as they are often fuzzy, or even not relevant).

And ... within these paradoxes, as the means and modes of interaction, communication and media production change and develop, so different types of skills and capabilities come to the fore, and different types of people rise up the communities and oligarchies du jour (see Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Linus Torvalds, etc).

For example:
1. The abstractions of sign systems allow for psychological functions based on verbal sign systems that are decontextualized, even though these functions are also contextualised, in that they have evolved in particular social and cultural contexts in the course of history (see Abstraction, above).
2. Or, to paraphrase Schroedinger, signs are simultaneously inside and outside history. Or to put it yet another way, all signs are both arbitrary and conventional, although the balance between the two is variable and elastic.
3. Signs are the fundamental tools for meaning and knowledge, even though every sign can be used to lie (Eco).
4. Signs, and particularly social media, function synchronously and asynchronously, simultaneously.
5. However disembodied (see decontextualized) signs are, they inevitably contain (at least some) echos of embodiment which, in an increasingly haptic-interactive world, means they are literally embodied - in our bodies, and in our muscle memories and experiences. [This is much more than the distinction in traditional semiotics between 'un/motivated' signs, which was a predominantly 'cognitive' or 'cortical' distinction]. (See also Synaesthesia, elsewhere in this ontology and this wiki, as well as here ...)
6. Lightness: The combination of lightness and negative constraints is, paradoxically, the basis for sustainable, robust, and resilient emergence. (See Lightness, elsewhere in this ontology).
7. Money: Money has the appearance of a thing, but is no more than a marker for the (dynamic) relationships (of credit and debit) between agents within particular markets. And it started off life as a debit - an IOU, a promissory note (until it too got thoroughly commoditized/decontextualized).
8. ( ... WIP)

(re-edited from notes, copied from Questions about resonance)

The creation of autonomy, within signs and cultures, as well as within individuals and their identities, is fundamental to the nature of semiotics and social semiotics. Autonomy (and alienation) is essential to bridge the analysis between de/contextualization, and linear and complex descriptors within our overall idea of the social (and identity).

I had not previously 'joined the dots' between the alienation of the sign and the alienation of the individual (or, the self-differentiation of the individual) from particular contexts. In both cases, semiotics provides the mechanisms for 'lifting off' (of the sign in one case, and of the individual's identity in the other) from context, to provide 'autonomy'. Autonomy includes both independent action (of signs, algorithms, etc), and independent initiative (of individuals), or agency. The two often seem to overlap.

The result of this 'independence' is, on the one hand, the creation of signs that 'take on a life of their own', particularly as they transform and develop from particular 'signs of uses' to more complex/abstract syllogisms, algorithms, programmes, discourses etc. On the other hand, it is the development of individual affordances, capabilities and identities which, just like signs, can 'take on a life of their own' (as the person or persons become alienated from particular contexts) which can, in turn, further consolidate that 'autonomy' within the fractured narratives and pop-up diaspora of micro-communities (which nowadays can emerge and 'go viral', at very large scale, very rapidly).

[Aside: Mirror phase, anyone, for reflective semiotics? Along with description, recognition and reflection as a key triad of tropes?]

Syllogisms, theorems, algorithms and their derivatives, nested signs, capabilities, ‘programmes’, scientific theories, policies, etc form the basis for autonomy – and provide both individuals and signs with ‘currency’: i.e. the facility to be ‘passed around’, and/or to ‘run around’ (or even go viral) across contexts, and to emerge into new forms and new levels of abstraction, with or without the constraints of a broader common social framework. These in turn add to the power of such individuals (or signs) as the new attractors (if the relationship to context is deep) or merely new celebrities (if it is shallow).

Signs/algorithms, and ‘individuals’ are inherently both viral and autonomous, which means that they are, in principle, capable of acting as ‘free’ agents – i.e. free of contextual constraints – for the development of innovative, emergent behaviour, and to become new cross-contextual attractors: for good or evil. That’s one of the central, if not THE central paradoxes of the social.

It is no wonder that radically ‘open’ social media, and radically open (aka free) markets provide a wealth of examples of these paradoxes. This demonstrates the inherent problem of emergent systems: that there is no sustainable emergence without appropriate constraints. The fact that 'free' (as in market) social media have thrown up a new generation of (financial, political and social) oligarchs should come as no surprise. Without constraint open systems tend to become, ironically & inherently, anti-social. Left to their own devices, the logic of their environment enables (even tempts) them to become financially, socially and politically autonomous to an extreme or, simply, feral. (See also Marx, as semiotician, in his analysis of the internal dialectics of capitalism).

By this logic, we could call all / most dictators 'feral celebrities', and, ironically, in this particular sense, Theresa May's adage that 'citizens of the world are citizens of nowhere' is - particularly in the political party and social circles where she is based - true. Extreme wealth is by definition global, feral, and totally alienated from any particular citizenship (although to be on the safe side, many of these global citizens now purchase a portfolio of passports, just in case: the current price ranges between about 1/4 of a million and 1 million dollars per passport, depending on which country you are buying from / 'investing in').

AI Autonomous Intelligence (extrapolated from Autonomy)
The penny has just dropped. The issue is neither 'artificial' nor 'intelligence', both of which makes it sound all exotic and 'sciency', and both of which are distractions, as is the disingenuously self-deprecating alternative term, machine learning). The issue is simply: autonomous signs, and autonomous signs-nested-in-networks/systems (aka: 'intelligence') which are as old as the hills, from the first pheromones to gestures, words, syllogisms, geometry theorems, computer programmes, genes/memes/& temes, etc. To paraphrase Bill Clinton: 'it's the autonomy, stupid' (that you have to be wary of). (See also MAD, one of our key balancing acts: of 'autonomous' Mutual Assured Destruction, our high-risk 'rebottling' of the cold war genies within guarantees [semi-autonomous] second-strike devastation of at least 40% of both combatant's industrial capability, as well as the recently ramped up version of this, in the hypersonic arms race, which is deliberately designing global weapon systems to be too fast to defeat, but which will also be too fast to withdraw).

All signs are artefacts, so they all have the potential to become autonomous - that's the whole point (of semiotics), and of communities, which are, contra Theresa May's ideas, the basis for people being 'citizens of the wider world': semiotics leaks.

And the most ubiquitous example of 'autonomous intelligence' is the 'free market'. It's only when you call it out as the 'autonomous market' that the full irony hits home. It's not that it doesn't have its own logic, uses, and even 'intelligence', it does. It's just that it needs constant 'adult supervision', as various (recent and not so recent) economic crashes have shown. The question is: which adults get to do the supervision, and on whose terms? If ever there was a watchword for autonomous systems, it's Adam Smith's autonomous invisible hand (of the 'free' market). (See also: XAI, below)

Complex-Adaptive Networks (or Systems) produce emergent behaviour, based on frequent interaction of a multitude of largely autonomous agents, within large degrees of freedom, but within some - negative - constraints. This behaviour is not predictable, but it does makes sense retrospectively, giving rise to formalised, complex (as opposed to prescriptive knowledge.

Discourses are sets of texts and practices that order texts and bodies (animate and inanimate), with a community of interests. Discourses are the primary unit of analysis for meaning, identity, and power, not texts or signs. They are often embedded in particular narratives and cultures, and/or the disciplines of formalised knowledge.

e-rocracy (aka e-government) is one of the emerging morphs of bureaucracy, based on rule by (semi-autonomous) algorithms. e-rocracy merges what used to be called 'intelligence profiling' with the freemium business model. It may stray into the realms of click-bait, trolling, and even fake-news, and could make 1984 look like a naive preamble to the real thing.

Flame wars / Flaming are the result of deliberately provocative / rude / hurtful / threatening contributions to social media, and could be called viral obscenity wars for short. They can and often do go viral, and I suppose they are perverted attractors - of a destructive kind, if that's your click-bait / business model / personal profile of choice.

The Freemium Business Model ... provides services 'free at the point of use' which can create a community of users, &/or a captive (and closely interrogated) audience for marketing, influencing and resale. There is often a contradiction between 'free' and 'point of use', because: i) 'free' might include handing over your life profile, which becomes a commodity, owned, sold-on and used without your knowledge by any willing buyer, for any purpose they choose: and ii) the 'point of use' can be defined in ways that are anything but free, as many users of the NHS in the UK are now discovering, with the 'rationalisation' of services resulting in fewer and fewer, and more and more distant, 'points of use', and with the consumer now becoming their own ('zero-hours') sales assistant / proxy service provider.

The Global Village is where we find ourselves now. As McLuhan reminds us, from the prescience of his 1969 Playboy Interview, this is not a unified, consensual village, but rather a "tribalist" one, of adversarial, fractured narratives and pop-up diaspora.

Knowledge is the capacity for effective action. It is based on particular networks of resonance - from the most formal and predictive, through the complex-adaptive, to the most absurd. It may be stored, accumulated and shared in texts, &/or events, &/or in embodied practices.

Light traces and short bursts of traffic are yet another paradoxical characteristic of our ambiguous / digitised / fractured / micro- global village.

On the one hand they are nothing new - they are text-book 'phatic' communications / resonances, e.g. greetings, which enable you to get in touch and stay in touch, but which have very little substantive content. [Aside: The isiXhosa song, and dance, phata-phata (or touch-touch - with some suggestive overtones) has serendipitous resonances with 'phatic' communication (even though 'phata' is pronounced with an aspirated 'p', rather than the 'f' of 'phatic')]. So, phatic communication allows you to open up communication with other people, with little or no commitment. Many greetings lead to nowhere in particular, but they do offer recognition, and affirm the other person's presence (see Big Bird's favourite line in Sesame Street "it's nice to be seen").

On the other hand, greetings may lead to a substantial conversations and interaction. This is the beauty of lightness - it's something you put out there for people to pick up on and take further - or set aside - as they choose. But it is the essence of emergence, change, and innovation in all open, complex-adaptive systems, which are based on 'multiple interactions between many agents, with large degrees of freedom' - sounds like a good description of Twitter.

However, emergence also requires some constraints - preferably negative ones (specifying what is not allowed to happen), rather than prescriptives ones (specifying what must happen). Without negative constraints emergence does not happen, and the communication quickly decays into noise, or into confrontations around prescriptive, predetermined positions - sounds like a good description of Trump. And then there is no recognition or mutual affirmation of presence, just an inflation of the presence of the speaker - and if there is any resonance, it's only with people who already share the speaker's prejudices.

So the affordances of lightness and short bursts of communication [and the phatic, asynchronous (largely) written texts of the new social media genres] can go either way - towards affirmation and emergence of a broader community, or to erect deeper barricades around existing prejudices.

It is, however, possible to develop the necessary 'negative constraints', and light-touch monitoring, to keep communication open: see for example the Open Source software community's protocols (particularly: "don't feed the trolls"). But that's a particular, constructive mode of 'free' speech, something quite different from a 'free for all' (e.g. what Milo et al tried to impose on others in September 2017).

The combination of lightness and negative constraints is, paradoxically, the basis for resilient emergence. Phatic communication, within such a framework, is an 'essential oil' for long-term, creative, stable, sustainable development. There is a world of difference between 'social' media and 'click-bait' media, but that has yet to filter through to hyper-monetised digital platforms, or to a broader consciousness. It is nevertheless a prerequisite for a sustainable commons.

Memes are ...

Meta-semiotics is ...

Micro-global structures are ...

Does an ontology have to include a boundary on 'obscenity'? I think so, yes. (See the essential role of 'negative constraints' in building a sustainable, resilient (emergent?) social ecology, elsewhere ...)

To start with, obscenity is about excess, and Dickens's Scrooge is a good starting point. Billionaires can be defined as someone who would have to spend at least £1 million each year for 1,000 years to use up what they 'possess'. That's a good working definition for obscene excess. (And today's super-rich, £50-billionaires, would have to spend £1m per year for 50,000 years ...)

Secondly, a business model based on 'click bait' is just raiding the sewers of humanity, no? I would include that in 'obscenity' too.

Thirdly, the bling/gin palaces of the idle rich, both in the countryside and on the seas, are monuments, past and present, to obscenity. Where to draw the line? Taking a look at National Trust properties, for example, a useful line might be drawn between the tasteful approach of Nuffield Place, versus some of the monuments to bad taste that the NT carefully preserves (take your pick). (Nuffield was reputed to have been the 'richest man in the world' at the time he lived there. See also Jan Smuts's House, a wood and corrugated-iron house situated in virgin grassland, where he stayed while he was Prime Minister of SA, Chancellor of Cambridge University, ecologist and classifier of indigenous grasses, snakes, etc).

Resilience is far too fashionable a term. However, it might be a better starting point than 'emergence' or (even more left-field), 'complexity'.

So, resilience might be a useful starting point, i.e: the ability of a network (of cultures, people, cells, genes, memes, etc) to adapt to changes in the micro- and macro- environment.

This is a particular reading of Darwin, and his algorithm "the survival of the fittest", which in the first instance has little or nothing to do with brute force (just ask those gigantic dinosaurs), and everything to do with the ability to adapt to change, to be nimble, creative, etc. The human brain's much lauded plasticity, H. Sapiens' extended neoteny (delayed sexual maturity) and our synaesthetic ability, are key mechanism for resilience, followed perhaps by micro-affordances, like the promiscuity of 'nucleus-free' bacteria, to mechanisms of selective gene expression, and epigenetics.

Openness is ...

Resonance(s) are ...
[Edited from: 21/8/17 Co-opting Resonance against the Other? Take #2]

... interesting at a range of levels; the first of which is when the action of one agent resonates with that of another one. The second level, where reflexivity kicks in, happens when the second agent becomes aware of that, and realises that their action 'resonates' (or makes sense) in a wider social context. Or, to put it another way, we could add to the definition of a sign ("every use [potentially] becomes a sign of itself") the codicil that "and ... every sign [potentially] resonantes with other similar uses/signs/users".

The first level is not much more than what my philosophy tutor (Johann Degenaar) used to call "a nice warm feeling". The second level is the base line for the development of culture - or shared, self-aware, resonance. It 'echoes' from one person to another, and back. It moves on from 'this is the way you and I do this' to 'this is the way we do this' (in our culture). Culture then takes on its own self-awareness, over and above that of the individuals, and becomes a collective agent in its own right, determining its own semiotics, and its own 'right' way to do things.

It would be easy to conflate this development of culture (or micro-culture) with the development of formal knowledge. But that's sloppy thinking.

Culture (as semiotics and as praxis) only becomes formal knowledge when it is shared within a framework with a rather more substantial dose of rigour, scepticism and openness. Openness, in turn, is not just another level of nice warm feelings; rather, it is radical scepticism, and must satisfy the falsifiability test. (In short, if a statement cannot be falsified, it is faith at best, and hocum at worst).

This is the third level of resonance, where we find formal 'knowledge' per se, as a particularly formalised type of open resonance.

And knowledge itself splits into two modes: it can be either 'predictive' or 'emergent' . In short, knowledge is either predictive into the future, or complex-adaptive and emergent, in which case a rigorous logic of the development of events can be traced, retrospectively, but only in hindsight. What this means is that knowledge can be used to ensure 'resonance' into the future (watch the error bars, though!) ... or ... it can be used to confirm 'resonance' in the past.

Signs are relationships between specific signifiers (or 'markers') and signifieds (systems of difference, or perceptual/conceptual 'cut/outs'). They may be stored and shared in texts: i.e. the traces that the use of signs leave behind in memory, dreams, documents, artefacts, embodiment, the unconscious, and the physical environment.

For example, highways 'carve out', and differentially valorise, different parts of the landscape - in both cities and the countryside. Dogs too can be read as texts - the poodle (nee 'puddel-hund') was first bread as a hunting dog in Germany, hence the unusual haircuts, which have been revalorised into Parisian cafe-life accoutrements. A definite 'resonance upgrade' for the dogs.

Meaning arises out of the shared use of these complex, interacting, 'difference engines', or as Barthes says: "every use (can) become a sign of itself".

and ... Synaesthetic Ability

Temes are ...

XAI Explainable Autonomous Intelligence (nee: 'explainable artificial intelligence')
There's the rub: explainable-autonomous, (or transparent-black-box) - totally oxymoronic terms, where the syllogistic and algorithmic chickens (of autonomous semiotics) have finally come home to roost.

An article in the NYTimes (26.11.2017), asked "Can AI be taught to explain itself?" Its a catchy title; but it puts the machine before the horse, as it were. The point is in the X: explainable to us, not to it/self. It cannot, precisely, be allowed to remain an 'x', a set of unknown variables, no matter how many [autonomous] 'internal dialogues' we are prepared to write into the software. Otherwise we are caught in a perpetually recursive loop [a defective program] in which the question: how did the programme make a decision? could just become and how did the programme make a decision on how to explain that decision? etc, etc, ad infinitum.

The issue is as old as the first proofs of the four colour (mapping) theorem, in which a complex, and opaque, computer programme successfully proved that four colours are all you need for any map. The question, however, is: How did we know that the computer wasn't cheating? We didn't. A proof, is the widest sense, must be replicable (and checkable) by humans, although in the case of this theorem this seems (?) to have been sorted out, eventually.

The point is that once the threshold of size and complexity of the data set / algorithm / network exceeds the human attention/life span, we're up a creek of our own making, without a paddle. Facebook, Google-search, etc are already potentially poisoned chalices (see 'foreign' state electoral interference in 2016/17) which we leave to the autonomous / hidden hand of the digital marketplace at our peril.

And when autonomous systems start carving out 'human-free' zones, as in California, which is phasing out botts dots (raised bumps that alert drivers when they cross a lane divider, or the edge of the road, because autonomous vehicles apparently don't understand them), we know we are in real trouble. Human-scale development might need to emphasise human-friendly highways on its list of must-haves for sustainable development (highways as in public throughways, not as in concrete neighbourhood dividers).

It's like creating a Silicon valley / global-hacker-customised-unconscious, which is coming back to bite us. Or creating a Swiss Banking black hole, into which a substantial portion of the world's disposable credit can be deposited, to be used anonymously, at will, for legitimate or illegitimate purchases (of power, commodities, favours, etc). At which point autonomous systems start to overlap/resonate with anonymous ones, in far too many ways.

All this sounds perilously close to the comment cited by Kuang from Tim Darell "'The solution to explainable A.I. is more A.I'" But Kuang does raise the pertinent issues: "Do the concepts that a network has taught itself align with the reality that humans are describing?" And he cites David Jensen: "we want people to make informed decisions about whether to trust autonomous systems ... If you don't, you're depriving people of the ability to be fully independent beings". (All references are to Cliff Kuang's NYT article, above).

The EU has started to address this, in a law (the General Data Protection Regulation) "requiring any decision made by a machine be readily explainable" - with fines to enforce compliance, from 2018. However desirable this is, whether it is practicable is moot: "It can be almost impossible to peek inside the [black] box and see what is actually happening". Kuang cites the by now classic case of Caruana's neural net algorithm for evaluating treatment for pneumonia patients, which worked just fine until someone noticed that it showed that having "asthma meant that a patient (with pneumonia) was likely to get better" than without the asthma - wrongly concluding that correlations implied causality (the oldest mistake in the book). Actually, the asthma patients were just considered more at risk, and were therefore given better care.

Articles 21 of the EU law "affords anyone the right to opt out of personally tailored ads" and article 22 provides the right to explanation: "EU citizens may contest 'legal or similarly significant decisions' made by algorithms, and appeal for human intervention ... or [the information providers] risk penalties of 4% of their revenue. Taken together ... [these articles] introduce the principle that people are owed agency and understanding when they're faced with machine-made decisions" (+).

That's the challenge.

And XAI as a new level of abstraction - road architecture WIP ...