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Cultural dynamics: formal descriptions of cultural processes

  • Author(s): Fischer, Michael D
  • et al.
Abstract

Formalization is typically associated by both supporters and detractors of formal methods with an emphasis on form over content or meaning. However well founded, this association fails to capture why we employ (or not) formal descriptions of what we are describing.

One problem arises when we try to directly link human thought to human behavior (or vice versa); assuming the process of going from one to the other is complex and idiosyncratic, but direct. In this paper I examine an approach to developing a formal system that helps us represent the relationship between ideational and behavioral aspects of socio-cultural phenomena in a manner that is consistent with, and helps address the connections between, symbolic and materialist approaches.

People embedded in cultural processes demonstrate remarkable powers of creation, transformation, stability and regulation. Culture gives agents the power to hyper-adapt: not only can they achieve local minima and maxima, they modify or create the conditions for new adaptations. Culture transcends material and behavioral contexts. Cultural solutions are instantiated in material and behavioral terms, but are based in large part on ‘invented’ symbolic constructions of the interaction space and its elements. We will present an example of how a symbolic system 'drives' the material organization of human groups, explore how symbolic systems act over material domains as a general case, and examine some of the implications of this for multi-agent modelling as a theory-building process.

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