I am glad to post that Miguel Aguilera presented his PhD thesis and is now officially a doctor in cognitive science by the University of Zaragoza. His thesis “Interaction Dynamics and Autonomy in Cognitive Systems” is a rare, challenging, broad, audacious and brilliant contribution to the study of autonomous systems. How does a “self” or an “autonomous system” emerge and constitute itself through interactions with the environment? It seems the answer is impossible to provide, you need to have a self, an identity, before it starts interacting with the environment, but, at the same time, some forms of sensorimotor or cognitive identity emerge and sustain themselves through interactions. You are an example yourself: your identity is the result of your actions, and your actions are caused by you. How could this be? Can we formalize and model this type of emergence of autonomous organizations through interactions? This is the fundamental question addressed by Dr. Aguilera. And the results are innovative, profound, operational and insightful. The core of the thesis is a robotic model capable to switch spontaneously between different behavioural preferences, and whose control architecture is itself a novel contribution to robotics: a kuramoto oscillatory network whose connections plastically change so as to keep macroscopic relationships homeostatic. The robot is a system that is capable to maintain its own behavioural organization while shifting preferences. Nothing is hard-coded, the controller is designed using a carefully scaffolded evolutionary optimization algorithm that gave rise to a complex dynamical system that shows macroscopic properties that emerge from distributed interactive processes at different timescales.
We just published a beautiful paper trying to understand the structure and dynamics of the 15M communication networks and they way in which they give rise to forms of collective identity.
Abstract: The emergence of network-movements since 2011 has opened the debate around the way in which social media and networked practices make possible innovative forms of collective identity. We briefly review the literature on social movements and “collective identity”, and show the tension between different positions stressing either organization or culture, the personal or the collective, aggregative or networking logics. We argue that the 15M (indignados) network-movement in Spain demands conceptual and methodological innovations. Its rapid emergence, endurance, diversity, multifaceted development and adaptive capacity, posit numerous theoretical and methodological challenges. We show how the use of structural and dynamic analysis of interaction networks (in combination with qualitative data) is a valuable tool to track the shape and change of what we term the “systemic dimension” of collective identities in network-movements. In particular, we introduce a novel method for synchrony detection in Facebook activity to identify the distributed, yet integrated, coordinated activity behind collective identities. Applying this analytical strategy to the 15M movement, we show how it displays a specific form of systemic collective identity we call “multitudinous identity”, characterized by social transversality and internal heterogeneity, as well as a transient and distributed leadership driven by action initiatives. Our approach attends to the role of distributed interaction and transient leadership at a mesoscale level of organizational dynamics, which may contribute to contemporary discussions of collective identity in network-movements.