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Stephen Downes

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Life with purpose

Philip Ball, Aeon, Oct 22, 2022

I like the way this article begins, posing as it does the question of how it is that we assign agency not only to white blood cells called macrophages but even to abstract geometric shapes moving about in space. 'Agency' is one of those cognitive concepts that means a lot in our work, but it is relevant to ask whether it's something that exists in the world or only something that we create in our own minds and attribute to entities in the world. This article argues that "a bottom-up theory of agency could help us interpret what we see in life, from cells to societies – as well as in some of our 'smart' machines and technologies." But this requires an account of some sort of rich cognitive environment, something that (say) could exist in humans but not in macrophages and abstract geometric shapes.

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