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Emergence and Communication: Overcoming some epistemological drawbacks in computational sociology

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Abstract

Computational sociology models social phenomena using the concepts of emergence and downward causation. But the theoretical status of these concepts is ambiguous; they suppose too much ontology and are invoked by two opposed sociological stands, namely, individualistic and holistic interpretations of social phenomena. In this paper, we propose a theoretical alternative that not only might clarify those concepts, but also keep their heuristic and interpretative value for computational sociology. We do so by advancing two proposals. Firstly, we suggest a non-ontological framework that allows modellers to identify emergent processes. This framework asserts the macro level and micro level as the emergent by-products of an instrumental prompting (the very modellers' act of distinguishing). Secondly, in order to support analytically the modellers' simulations, we link this non-ontological framework with the theory of self-referential social systems. This theory gives an account of the emergence of the social realm from the bottom-up as communication and describes the process by which society limits the possible selections of individuals. These two proposals are well-positioned to overcome some epistemological drawbacks, although they also generate new challenges to computational sociology.
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... Recently, Sawyer has claimed that a theory of social emergence needs an explicit understanding of symbolic communication [11] [12]. We have made similar claims for the case of computational sociology in [10]. Computational sociology [3] models social phenomena by using the ideas of emergent complex systems, although the very notion of emergence is a contentious element within the field. ...
... Recently, Sawyer has claimed that a theory of social emergence needs an explicit understanding of symbolic communication [11, 12]. We have made similar claims for the case of computational sociology in [10]. Computational sociology [3] models social phenomena by using the ideas of emergent complex systems, although the very notion of emergence is a contentious element within the field. ...
Article
Full-text available
This paper reports the results of a multi-agent simulation designed to study the emergence and evolution of symbolic communication. The novelty of this model is that it considers some interactional and spatial constraints to this process that have been disregarded by previous research. The model is used to give an account of the implications of differences in the agents' behavior, which are embodied in a spatial environment. Two communicational dimensions are identified: the frequency with which agents refer to different topics over time and the spatial limitations on reaching recipients. We use the model to point out some interesting emergent communicational properties when the agents' behavior is altered by considering those two dimensions. We show the group of agents able to reach more recipients and less prone to changing the topic have the highest likelihood of driving the emergence and evolution of symbolic communication.
... Recently, Sawyer has claimed that a theory of social emergence needs an explicit understanding of symbolic communication (Sawyer, 2002(Sawyer, , 2005. I have made similar claims for the case of computational sociology (Salgado and Gilbert, 2008) and in this thesis (see Chapter 2). ...
Thesis
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The study of symbolic communication is a key research area in both the social and natural sciences. However, little has been done in order to bridge these scientific domains, so an unfortunate gulf between them still persists. Even less has been done in the field of computational sociology, in which most research using agent-based models has disregarded the importance of symbolic communication. It is this lacuna that the thesis addresses. In the thesis, it is claimed that the type of emergent properties that are inherent to social phenomena are likely to result from the unique fact that the participating entities are symbolic agents. It is proposed that symbolic communication is a threshold phenomenon that emerges in the intersections among human cognition, social interactions and human biology. A theoretical framework with which to clarify this connection is also presented. In order to test in silica some hypotheses derived from this theoretical framework, the analysis relies upon two agent-based models. Different simulation methods and techniques were used, such as reinforcement learning algorithms, genetic algorithms, graph theory, and evolutionary game theory. To investigate the simulation results, multivariate analysis techniques, social network analysis and differential equations were used. The first agent-based model was developed to study the properties of an emergent communication system, in which groups of 'speechless' agents create local lexicons and compete with each other to spread them throughout the whole population. The model results indicate that a common lexicon can emerge on the condition that a group of agents develops a communicative strategy that favours their mutual understanding and allows them to reach more recipients for their utterances. An analysis of the agents' social networks reveals that strong mutual relations among agents from the same group, high 'immunity' to external influence and high capability of speaking to agents from different groups play a fundamental role in the process of spreading lexicons. The second agent-based model was built to study the pre-linguistic stage of cooperation among individuals required for the emergence of symbolic communication. In this model, agents reproduce sexually, males and females differ in their reproductive costs and they play the iterated prisoner's dilemma. The model results show that, when male reproductive costs are less than female reproductive costs, males cooper- ate with females even when females do not reciprocate. This non-reciprocal cooperation, in turn, produces a sustained population growth, because females can reproduce faster despite their high reproductive costs .. Finally, a mathematical model of cumulative cultural evolution is used to investigate different patterns of population dynamics, and it is demonstrated that the artificial societies in which non-reciprocal cooperation emerges are able to sustain more complex cultural artefacts, such as communicative symbols. Linking computational sociology to appropriate theories of language evolution, communication, evolutionary biology and cognitive research, the thesis provides conceptually grounded mechanisms to explain the emergence and evolution of symbolic communication. In so doing, the thesis contributes both substantively and methodologically to academic work on computational sociology, as well as agent-based models of symbolic communication.
... В качестве основополагающих публикаций по данной проблематике мы бы выделили работу М. Мэйси и Р. Уиллера "От факторов к акторам: компьютерная социология и агентно-ориентированное программирование"[10], а также статью Н. Гилберта и М. Сальгадо "Эмерджентность и коммуникации: преодоление некоторых эпистемологических препятствий компьютерной социологии"[11]. ...
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The article deals with the nature of computational sociology emerged during the last decade of the past century: the sources are identified, the history of formation is traced, and the trends of further development are predicted. A great attention is paid to the expansion of subject field of computational sociology, where two main subfields, namely social simulation and intelligent analysis of sociological data, are the most significant and demanded.
... Recently, Sawyer has claimed that a theory of social emergence needs an explicit understanding of symbolic communication [4,5]. We have made similar claims for the case of computational sociology in [6]. Computational sociology [7] models social phenomena by using the ideas of emergent complex systems, although the very notion of emergence is a contentious element within the field. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
This paper reports the results of a multi-agent simulation designed to study the emergence and evolution of symbolic communication. The novelty of this model is that it considers some interactional and spatial constraints to this process that have been disregarded by previous research. The model is used to give an account of the implications of differences in the agents' behaviour, which are embodied in a spatial environment. Two communicational dimensions are identified and four types of communication strategies are simultaneously tested. We use the model to point out some interesting emergent communicational properties when the agents' behaviour is altered by considering those two dimensions.
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