The Generative Power of Signs: The Importance of the Autonomous Perception of Tags to the Strong Emergence of Institutions

The Generative Power of Signs: The Importance of the Autonomous Perception of Tags to the Strong Emergence of Institutions

Deborah V. Duong (OSD/PAE Simulation Analysis Center, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-236-7.ch012
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The first intelligent agent social model, in 1991, used tags with emergent meaning to simulate the emergence of institutions based on the principles of interpretive social science. This symbolic interactionist simulation program existed before Holland’s Echo, however, Echo and subsequent programs with tags failed to preserve the autonomy of perception of the agents that displayed and read tags. The only exception is Axtell, Epstein, and Young’s program on the emergence of social classes, which was influenced by the symbolic interactionist simulation program. Axtell, Epstein, and Young’s program has since been credited for strong emergence. This chapter explains that autonomy of perception is the essential difference in the symbolic interactionist implementation of tags that enables this strong emergence.
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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5, KJV)

Holland saw the creative power of the word as important in the formation of living systems when he included the tag as one of the three basic mechanisms of complex adaptive systems. A “tag” is simply a sign, such as a name or a physical trait, which is used to classify an agent. In the social world, a tag may be a social marker, such as skin color, or simply the name of a social group. A tag goes hand in hand with the other two mechanisms Holland thought important to complex adaptive systems, an internal model (whether tacit or explicit) to give meaning to tags, and building blocks to accumulate and recombine the structures that result from those meanings into hierarchical aggregates (Holland 1995).

Holland is commonly thought to be the first to use tags to simulate social phenomena. However, there is another variation on tags, the symbolic interactionist simulation technique, that was developed before Holland’s complex adaptive system research program, the Echo project (Duong 1991, Holland 1992). Like Echo, symbolic interactionist simulation recognizes the primacy of signs in the formation of living systems, but differs from Echo in that its agents have autonomous perception of the meaning of signs. The difference is understandable, because the principle of autonomy of perception is more prominent from the social sciences standpoint than from the biological standpoint, even if it exists in biology as well (Maturana, Lettvin, Mcculloch and Pitts. 1960). Many of the ideas in microsociology are inherited from phenomenology and hermeneutics, philosophies that contemplate the mysteries of autonomy, such as the paradox that human beings can only interpret meanings through their individual experiences with their senses, and yet they still come to share meaning (Winograd and Flores 1987). This hermeneutic paradox is core issue of micro-macro integration in sociology from the angle of perception: to solve the hermeneutic paradox is to solve the mystery of the “invisible hand” by which autonomous, selfish agents synchronize their actions into institutions for the good of the whole. Since emergence in agent-based social simulation is fundamentally about solving the micro macro link, symbolic interactionist simulation seeks to solve the hermeneutic paradox. It is by virtue of the preservation of autonomy that symbolic interactionist simulations exhibit strong emergence and constitute minimal social engines.

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