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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Structure and Dynamics

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The Structure and Dynamics eJournal welcomes articles, book reviews, data, simulations, research material, and special issues that examine aspects of human evolution, social structure and behavior, culture, cognition, or related topics. Our goal is to advance the historic mission of anthropology in the broadest sense to describe and explain the range of variation in human biology, society, culture and civilization across time and space. Submissions of databases, software tutorials, programs, and teaching materials are welcomed, as are communications on research materials of interest to a wide variety of science and social science researchers, including networks, dynamical models, and complexity research and related genre.


Reasons vs. Causes: Emergence as experienced by the human agent

Because they are in constant interaction with each other, human beings are often agents within emergent collective processes. Although they are then acting as particles in a field-type phenomenon, their awareness of what they are part of entails that they hold views about why they’re acting the way they do, these, they call “reasons.”

Should physicists dismiss such “reasons” as being illusory causes of events? “Reasons” are actually important explanatory factors of emergent phenomena involving human beings. Awakening and then responding to a catastrophic process will often signal a bifurcation in the physical emergent process. Coordinated behavior can interrupt a positive feedback by generating a counteracting negative feedback.

“Natural” laws were called after “legal” laws; in return, compliance to legal laws by human agents allows their behavior to appear organized, as if by a “natural” law. “Following a rule” conflates the logic of “causes” with that of “reasons” as it connects in phase space the “cause” at the origin (efficient cause) and the “reason” (final cause), the goal that is a representation of the end.

Empirical Formalism

The empirical status of formal systems of ideas is a crucial topic in the effort to establish a fully empirical anthropology. In anthropology, the dominant view of formal analysis, and the nature of formal structure, is derived from positivistic philosophy in general and logical positivism in particular. In this, "formal analysis" is identified with relationships that emerge from the imposition of arbitrary "analytic" categories on supposedly objective or external phenomena. The argument here is that this view is inherently flawed and such imposition is unnecessary. I describe an alternative and philosophically better grounded conception of form that sees it as non-arbitrary even though it is also necessarily conventional, and as something that can be elicited rather than something that must be imposed.