Cover photo

The Release of Essay 5: What Are Enactive Agents?

Enactive agency, PageDAO update, upcoming book review dl.

Well hello, dearest email subscribers! It is an honor to be writing you today. We haven't had an update in almost a month, mainly because I switched dayjobs and have been exhausted fairly consistently, but I'll have the book review series on track again next week. More about that in a moment, the main headline this week is that Worldview Ethics Essay #5, with music by Andrew Nocker, art by Midjourney, and design by the Quest of Evolution, has launched on Rarible with a take it home price of 200 $MATIC!

Find the NFT here, and remember - if you pick this up, it gives you the power to add to the essay, then flip it.

Essay 5 Debuts at Quest of Evolution

The essay is about a concept I found in the literature earlier this year, which appears to have not been widely studied as recently as 2017-2018, or at least not widely written about in the spheres I was most familiar with. The idea is enactivism, which is essentially a vision of cognitive agency as a part of the world. While it seems obvious that people are part of the world that surrounds us, the surprising thing is that our best thought about how consciousness related us to our world before enactivism was embodiment. Our science was looking beyond the brain toward the body, but we weren't thinking in a deeply structured way about the way the body ties directly into its environment!

Temperature, air, hydration, health - the relationship between a body and its immediate surroundings is incredibly complex. The human brain is complex because it has to make sense of this unbelievably large data stream to maintain the life of the body. Where we sometimes say that the brain is the most complex thing in the world, and where I've said before that the relations between brains (ethics) is much more complex than anything that goes on in one single brain, it also makes sense to think about the complexity of the feedback loops that the brain processes and the one-way analogue computation that emerges from our observations of the results of our prior action.

Essay 5 will explore this subject in as much detail as I could fit into 3,000 words - and I've taken a slightly more conversational tone with the piece, even shoehorning in a few suggestions about areas that could be further explored by future contributors to the piece. Without futher ado, I give you the link to the essay:

A Very Lucky Find: Atoms, Institutions, Blockchains (by Josh Stark)

Essay 6 is coming in one month, and its subject is distributed cognition. I am also excited to share that, today, I found a completely unexpected piece from Josh Stark on Farcaster that details some very relevant ideas. Stark discusses two concepts in particular that are worth a glance if you're interested in the ideas at the heart of my work in Worldview Ethics and Formal Dialectics, hardness and casting. In a way, Formal Dialectics could be said to be about an inherent softness within our language.

Stark details hardness as a concept that relates closely to what I've called "determinism" in the past. We play billiards because we like to see our actions have an effect upon the world. The predictability of a given set of balls on a particular table is interesting because our minds build predictive models of the future basically all the time, and we feel pleasure when our predictions come true. Natural laws are very hard because they don't change, but one problem with natural law is that we don't get any input into how things operate there. Language and casting enable us to have more control, but the trade-off is that nothing in language is ever as hard as the things we find in nature.

Hardness can be natural hardness, which is essentially the tendency of natural objects to behave in predictable ways just as in our pool table example above; while softness is essentially what we don't know enough about to make reliable predictions. Softness in my work is the inability of things made from language to approach the level of reliably deterministic behavior we can see in the physical world. We can observe this softness in Chaos Theory and in the work of Kurt Gödel. Formal Dialectics was my first peer-reviewed philosophy book, and perhaps the main goal of conceiving of the world of literature as a sandbox in which the conflict between varying sets of opposites develops patterns and generates knowledge was in fact to explore ways of hardening thinking by observing the general limitations of language.

Casting is a fascinating concept because it details precisely the act of using complex thought to predict something that hasn't happened yet. Hardness gives us the ability to learn how to shoot pool, in which every shot is a sort of cast - the skill of the player is one part physical, one part mental. The mental component is the ability to cast, while the physical dexterity required to achieve one's goals determines the softness or hardness of even the most creative shots by the best players.

That was why I was so elated to see Stark's work earlier today, adding a beautiful and simple plain language account of relevant phenomena to the body of thought on these subjects, which now stretches from Ancient Greece to the Ethereum blockchain.

Find Stark's piece here:

PageDAO Progress

At PageDAO this week, we held a meeting in which we finalized department structure and prepared to move forward with our various plans of development. Led by @indefatigable, myself, Cryptoversal, and Rionna Morgan worked through a long call and set up payment rails to distribute $PAGE tokens to people who participate in the public build process. We decided at the last minute to skip town hall until there is something to report, which at this rate should not be long. Product-oriented calls with Robbie will be starting up again soon, if you have governance or partnership thoughts, you can get at me in the discord. Rionna will be spearheading efforts to build the next generation of PageDAO Community projects, and Cryptoversal is strategizing to get more people publishing on-chain in the Publishing department.

See Robbie's update here (PageDAO Membership NFT required):

Book Review #3: The Patterning Instinct, by Jeremy Lent

The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning

Jeremy Lent is a distinguished history professor with many decades of research experience under his belt. I don't know much about him that didn't come from reading this book, but sometimes you can just tell when you read a sweeping survey of the cumulative history of the thinking of mankind at scale that a thinker has been at it for a good long time.

I'm currently listening to this work on repeat at my day job and putting no small amount of effort into what will likely turn out to be a 5,000 word review if I am not careful! Still, the difficulty in attempting to treat with this piece in a concise way is a major compliment to its author. The structure and craftsmanship are undeniable, and the myriad connections Lent makes between culture, language, and the human brain during the course of history make this introduction to cognitive history a piece that everyone should read (or listen to!).

I first discovered The Patterning Instinct by pure chance in 2018 or 2019, ordered a copy, and was hooked. I think Amazon's algorithm saw me reading David Deutsch and Scott Aaronson and Antonio Damasio and Melanie Mitchell and noticed others who liked those works were also buying this book, but it's hard to remember for sure. The important part is that this work gives us a chance to understand new, relevant facets of culture in a highly complex new way: cognitivism.

Cognitivism is a subject I wrote a lot about 5-6 years ago, but I can't remember ever publishing much about the concept. The idea is essentially that minds don't have to be a black box - that we can understand cognition. I scoffed at IBM's old 'cognitive computing' marketing campaign because I knew the definition and their digital computers were... simply not nearly good enough to be thought of as anything like cognition capable. In any case, the full review is on its way. You'll get an update sometime next week when it goes out.

Thanks again for following the email chain here and don't forget: Essay #5 is either 200 $MATIC right now or destined to end up in the wallet of the highest bidder on Rarible in a month if nobody takes it at the roughly $100 current face value! Here's that link again:

See you next week.