Contexts shape relationships

Fascintaing posting on John Hawks weblog argues that it is wrong (but may be helpful) to talk in terms of human emotions like pride – because pride (or dependency or aggresiveness) only really exists as an interaction between people.

Hawkss argument is subtle: terms like pride may have a meaning in an individual context, he argues, but this is purely descriptive and does not illuminate the mechanism by which the effect happens. (He calls this the dormitive principle after a line from Moliere, in which doctors, asked to explain why opium induces sleep, reply that this is because it contains a dormitive principle.)

However, a great deal of computer modelling for simulation seems to be done in object-oriented languages, which are ideal for creating agents, which have certain characteristics (methods). Perhaps the object being modelled should really be the group or the context, not the individual actors.

Molieres point, of course, is that the doctors are simply giving something a name, and thinking that this is the same as explaining it. Names and structures do make us feel a lot happier about things out there (dasein, did I here you mutter, explainingly?). However explanations are more difficult to come by. Thres an aircraft flying over as I write: that resulted from an explanation of the laws of aerodynamics. But human relationships? Are we any better at them today than we were when Pearse made the first powered flight in 1903?

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