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PHD-DESIGN  August 2009

PHD-DESIGN August 2009

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Subject:

Re: Who Designs?

From:

jeremy hunsinger <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

jeremy hunsinger <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 16 Aug 2009 10:51:06 -0400

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On Aug 15, 2009, at 6:21 PM, Ken Friedman wrote:

> Dear All,
>
> In this evolving thread, I have enjoyed many posts. Without getting to
> “mind” or any deeper issue, I tend to agree with Keith and Johann  
> that human
> beings design.
>
> If I were to be more precise, I would argue that only a knowing  
> agent can
> design.

I disagree, mainly because I think that agency is a term loaded with  
many conceptual frames that in all likelihood are only narratives  
which help us understand others, and perhaps may even be fictitious  
narratives.

I agree with Herbert Simon's definition, it need not require any  
'agency', design is a process, which things that exist, engage in, to  
change state of existence X to state of existence Y.   What  
transitions that change of state are actions in the world.

> Once again, I am going to define design using Herbert Simon’s (1982:
> 129, 1998: 112) definition of design as the process by which we  
> “[devise]
> courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred
> ones.” Without accepting all of Simon’s views on design, it is a  
> useful to
> define design as the process we use to change existing situations into
> preferred situations.
>
> Since this involves intentionality, it therefore involves agency. That
> brings design to an issue of sentience or knowing agents, that is,  
> creatures
> that can – or can be said to – 1) think or know, 2) possess will or  
> the
> ability to intend, and 3) act on their intentions.

I don't think it involves intentionality, I tend to think that  
intention and intentionality, which refer to some state of the brain/ 
mind/nous are much like 'will'... they are concepts that solve a  
particular theoretical problem of the middle ages or modernity, but  
alas don't exist.  What we mean when we say x intends, is merely to  
say that person will act or person will not act according to what he  
knows and desires, there is no special faculty of intention that  
separates persons from non-persons, etc.  In short, i don't think  
intention or intentionality exists as anything other than shorthand  
for knowing our own desires and realizing them in the world.  And  
really, that is all we need, we don't need 'intend' anymore than we  
need 'will', except as literary constructs.  To design then, does not  
require to intend, it merely requires knowledge/thought/desire+action  
which is equivalent to planning+action.

One of the issues of 'intend/intention' of course is that we cannot  
know it, we can only posit it and tell stories about it... the stories  
all are predicated on actions in the world, person did x, so we infer  
intention y.  however, we don't know if there is any real relations  
between the two and if we sit back and discard the narratives and  
metanarratives that structure our understanding of the relationship, I  
think you'll find that there is no necessary relation outside of  
stories we tell, because in the end, it is very difficult to tell the  
story of the state of someone's mind based on a state 'intention' that  
likely never existed.

so do dogs design?  yes.  can non-humans design, yes.  can machines  
design? yes.  you merely need the capacity for having a plan, and  
making it real in the world through action. some would say that  
something has to create said plan, and that might be the case, but  
then again human's don't create all plans, some they discover in  
nature, and others are free-floating signifiers/codes in our culture  
that we pluck out and use in reference to that culture.

So we can turn back to the dog examples and say... what really  
happened if we do not infer 'intention' because intention doesn't  
really exist... and at least i find, that the dog saw a plan, modeled  
a plan, and acted on a plan because it had a desire.  And when you  
tell me it had intentions, i'd say.. show me, and when you tell me  
that you have intentions, i'd say show me.  And in either case, when  
presented with skepticism toward the existence of the concept, I think  
one has to fold one's cards because there doesn't seem to be anything  
as best as I can tell, and believe me, like many of you... I've had  
students, peers, etc. all claim intentions, usually good ones:)   
Usually after the fact of a poorly reasoned, otherwise perhaps  
unjustifiable action.

Which then brings us back to the question of agency... agency has  
nothing to do with intention, and agency is merely the ability to act  
in the world.  Most things have agency, likely more things than some  
people are comfortable with, for instance, the concept 'intent' has  
acted in the world through humans and other beings to perpetuate  
itself as an analytic tool in a system of tools, or technologies that  
we use in sensemaking activities.  Is it the best tool, perhaps not,  
is it real, sure it is real in the sense that it exists as a concept  
and can act, does it have any relationship to the state of the mind  
that it claims... perhaps metaphorically, but not in any real sense of  
saying that 'a person intends to do x, then does not do x'  which is  
merely saying, 'i have a set of accepted stories about people, and in  
that set of stories, i use the world intend to mean that a person  
knows he or she should perform some act and desires said act, yet may  
or may not do so'  however, you don't know the person knows, nor the  
person's desires beyond anything they say, and even then they may be  
misrepresenting their knowledge or desires for other purposes.  What  
you have in the end though... is merely the persons actions... which  
exist in/as a system of relations, which exist.  You can posit all  
kinds of other things in the world and tell stories about them though  
and perhaps they'll enter into the analysis or not.  So... while  
intention may play a part in a descriptive narrative, it is shorthand,  
but in agency all you can really see is what people do, what machines  
do, what animals do, what nature does, what ecologies do,  systems and  
relations do, what exists.

Not everything that exists has agency, granted, but it is surprising  
as to what does when you take a much stronger sense of skepticism  
toward traditional descriptions and start treating things in the world  
symmetrically.









jeremy hunsinger
Center for Digital Discourse and Culture
Virginia Tech
Information Ethics Fellow, Center for Information Policy Research,  
School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (www.cipr.uwm.edu 
)

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