ENSO Seminar Series

Entangled lives: introducing the constraint closure formalism for an anthropologically engaged enactivism

Juan M. Loaiza

Independent scholar
Dec. 5, 2019, 10 a.m. UTC // Dec. 5, 2019, 10 a.m. in UTC

The enactive approach perhaps has a particular appeal to a wider audience outside philosophy and cognitive science departments. I'm particularly interested in the connections to be made between enactivism and discussions in anthropology. Much of the way in which the enactive approach can be recast for an anthropologically engaged readership relies on the particular strand of phenomenology that it puts to work. For example, the idea of “living concern” used by some enactivists maps nicely onto studies of practices of care at play within groups of people (I discuss this elsewhere with reference to the feminist view of care). However, in this talk I set aside the phenomenological discussion and address the notions of operational closure and precariousness with a view towards “scaling-up” these concepts to the level of human socio-culture.

There are big challenges to this type of project. The move of “scaling-up” is not as easy as it may seem by existing mathematically idealised views of self-organising complex behaviour at the level of human populations. Anthropologists have already pointed out the messiness of human social living by appealing to notions of “meshwork” and “entanglements”: there are no fundamental scales of social life inasmuch as there are no ways to establish the extent of the interdependencies between processes happening across a wide range spatiotemporal scales. For this same reason the notion of operational closure may seem like an odd choice as it conveys the image of a network in a narrow range of spatiotemporal scales.

I propose to engage with the above “anthropological challenge” by introducing the constraint closure, a particular formalism found in the theoretical biology literature (Montévil & Mossio, 2015) and recently discussed in the work of Stuart Kauffman. I suggest to see the constraint closure formalism as capturing the right combination of properties of operational closure in order to “scale-up” and do justice to the messiness of human socio-culture.

Montévil, M., & Mossio, M. (2015). Biological organisation as closure of constraints.Journal of Theoretical Biology, 372, 179-191.

Link to join/watch the seminar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnImmeaw0mw