Systems, Assemblages and Articulations

In social theory, Deluse and DeLanda direct our attention to the way societies are actually structured as multi-layered, overlapping groups functioning between and across scales. They resist theories of emergent reality assigned to component assemblages or the whole systems they compose. What they do affirm is the material basis at all levels, but it can't be the dead matter in some ontologies. Cybernetic or autopoetic systems are likewise multi-layered assemblages of overlapping components, themselves heterogeneous assemblages.

What these fields share is material grounding in epistemologies of science and engineering, which is why the language and ways of thinking will be powerful in the design conversations that we anticipate here. Consider extensive properties that relate to extension and territorial metaphors, vs. intensive properties that constitute the self identity of an assemblage. How do these interact in producting function or dis-function, growth and vitality or stagnation and loss? Intensities are not divisible, you don't split a temperature, pressure or speed the way you divide a space into length units in several dimensions. What emerges in assemblages is precisely the intrinsic properties of the assemblage. This is what defines an assemblage, its identity; the indivisible properties of the whole. It is also in this way that we can talk of the health and wealth of a collective social being as something concrete and materially grounded.

DeLanda diagrams two knobs on assemblages, one labelled Territoriality for the degree that the wholes are defined by extensive properties, and on labeled Coding for intesive properties. As an example, the Open Source fraternity is low on the first and high on the second. If you speak the language of code, you are in, if you are working on the same part of the codebase, you are close associates, no matter where you live or what extensive properties (gender, ideology even religion are extensive to the extent they do not color the technical collaboration). Highly coded assemblages can also share information and coordinate action within boundaries that are highly selective. Coded communications can be contained by physical (extensive) and by the technical means of encryption (intensive, by special coding).

According to Lessig, Code is Law, and moving from OS and the code (software) commons to the currency commons in which code is not just machine codings (software) but any language coded asset where copies of the coded assets are cheap to make. But these coded assets only have value in they way they code for processes that they support. DNA is meaningless without cellular metabolism that they code for. Cash is meaningless without a bank. The computer software is only the coding for the machine parts of larger assemblages of people and artifacts. The collective legal arrangements we make as instantiated in networks of legal contracts. The software can implement Ricardian contracts, and community based financial cooperatives will use the software, contract templates and ceptr/holochain DNA, keys, etc. to implement secure and open business processes. Coding (cryptography), technically locks the webs of aggreements such that there is little room for knavery. You don't need a sheriff, just validate the keys. The rest is social process.

Assemblages desolve and reform continually at a micro level through their articulations, the changes in configuration that connect subunits into an operational whole. A hunting party forms when breakfast groupings break up. Eating utensils are put away and weapons, ropes, nets, all the tools with each members of the party as they assemble and then enact the processes of the hunt, or any work for which a party can be assembled. Intensities, flows and desires drive the processes through the virtual potentials of affordances, that is opportunities to express capacities of the assemblage. The hunting party hunts, succeeds or fails when they desire a kind of food and seek to satisfy it. The desire for and pursuit of it is a function of other assemblages of home and family and necessary. A particular work party only happens when the collective desire exists and is focused on a plan; assembled from the virtual of potentials and capacities, and then realized as actualized or not.

Assemblages are multiple and more that just groupings, they overlap. Overlap is another way of saying connection. Though connections can be represented in diagrams and tracked as bits of data that can be processed and re-represented in many ways, the deeper reality always will have much more that can never be fully represented. A person as well as a smart phone, or a car or an airplane has an existance beyond any of these connections, overlaps and representations. In other words it isn't just representation; there is a material ground.

The subject matter of assemblage theory becomes the whole of material culture and what history we have been able to piece together. The unregulated expansion of aspects of that material culture threaten everything, but instead of discussing what has gone wrong, I am interested how we can use what we can learn from appied assemblage theory, that is the application of assemblage theory towards designing and building what we want instead of being at the mercy of external forces.

Considering the technical context of Ceptr, we are in the domain of social machines and hybrids of linked agents each of which may either a human agent, a pure bot, or something of both. At this point I only want to set the stage for talking about what it possible when we have clarity about everything involved. These ideas have power in describing the past and how we got here and re-orienting towards the future. In Delusian terms, the future is all virtual. Actual emerges as particular branches of the virtual are actualized in morphogenic processes.

This language even maps well onto physical ideas where the virtual is represented by the field equations the result in probability distributions, the wave sdie of the wave/particle duality. Particles represent stable identities that move and change. Identities are transformed in morphogenisis, in interactions where the numbers and identities of the particles may change. DeLanda presents a lot of these ideas with some depth and clarity in the videos. His discription of three reasoning styles is key here. The first is population thinking, which is very common in evolution, language and many other fields now. The second he calls intensive thinking and he identifies this with thermodynamics. The truth is that thermodynamics is really a mathematical treatment of really large populations of relatively simple parts so that we mostly only model the collisions like tiny billiard balls. The third he call topological thinking and he associates that with mathematics.

It is impossible to do justice to the ideas in such a short essay, but it is enough to set the stage and open the space. I hope together we can develop this language as it relates to the work into powerful tools for design. Intensive differences drive flows and they are the forces that drive population changes as well. The last style, though, is perhaps the most important. This is where the future is actualized from the virtual. To the extent that we give our comunities the capacities to share and model in the virtual spaces of potential and possibilities, we give them power to shape the future according to the visions shared. Can we describe holopticism in such a way that we can also guide the digital tool builders in actualizing the tools themselves? I don't see why not, we are already doing it. We already have a lot of the tools, or at least pieces of them, there's a lot of work to be done yet.


Wheeled by Wagn v. 1.18.1