Technology and the Societal Domain

This piece was originally conceived based on observations and musings during a summer abroad in 2001 and became the basis for the theoretical portion of my fifth year thesis in Auburn’s School of Architecture. It has remained the foundation of my work and thoughts ever since.

01.08.12 / 02.05.05 / 09.02.27

The built environment codifies belief systems in physical form.  A result is that the built form makes itself available as a priming agent for aspects of a belief system.  A way to describe how this is possible is to categorize our environment into two interrelated domains, the physical realm and the metaphysical realm.  Both environments are explored through the senses, intellect, and emotions.  But exploring the physical realm relies more heavily on sensory input than exploring the metaphysical realm. Conversely, exploring the metaphysical realm relies more heavily on using the intellect to decipher structural patterns in thoughts, actions, and the environmental context.  It is also important to understand that all phenomena in the metaphysical and physical realms are proportional/scalar systems.  An implication of this condition is that all systems of these two realms are in some way relatable to each other.  They must be.  It is not possible for the various faculties of a person to be aware of two phenomena whose variables are completely indefinable in terms of the other system’s variables.  If two or more systems present themselves either through the intellect, emotions or through the senses, then they already have something in common.  They are both appreciable by means of the same limited faculties and so must have some common variables and be in some measure definable in terms of the other.  There could be undefined aspects of a given system.  Nonetheless, all we discover in the metaphysical and physical realms are proportional/scalar systems which are definable in terms of each other through the creation of mediating proportional/scalar systems.

The next pair of fundamental terms are civilization and hypostasis.  They are discrete  conventionalizations of the one entity – human society – that exists within both the physical and metaphysical realms.  They are technologies of humanity with the purpose of facilitating the exploration and rationalization and utilization of the physical and metaphysical realms.  The hypostasis describes a constantly adjusting range of potentialities within the two realms.   These potentialities include the ephemeral and not yet conceivable as well as the obviously inevitable.  The civilization describes a constantly adjusting range of actualities within the two realms.  It also encompasses a range from the barely conceived of to the fully actualized.  As variables are discovered and evaluated through exploration of the two realms, awareness of their existence and recognition of their functions allows for the revelation of other possible combinations and constructs.  The potentialities of the hypostasis feed the development of the actualities of the civilization which reconfigure the potentialities.  In a way, the civilization functions as a protective shell for humanity and the hypostasis is the softer outer tissue, just developing…a lubricant that facilitates a steady and controlled growth of the civilization…an externalized womb.  It offers many possible avenues of exploration and explanation, in short, of growth.  A mature civilization relegates its endeavors to what the hypostasis offers.  The health of the civilization is directly proportional to the health of the hypostasis.  A very plush hypostasis has the potential for a robust civilization which allows for secure and comfortable people who feel less stress and are more resilient.  An emaciated hypostasis can only support a weak civilization that fosters confusion, nightmarishness, and self-destruction.

Civilization can be divided into three subcomponents – proper object technologies, abstract technologies and interpretive technologies.  Proper object technologies are manifestations of civilization in the physical realm.  They include all tangible technologies, and rivers, mountains, & other natural features which may be manipulated and utilized by people.  In addition to their formal functions, proper object technologies also act as symbolic predecessors to and future signifiers of the abstract technologies.  Abstract technologies are manifestations of civilization in the metaphysical realm.  Abstract technologies include:   language, religious ideas, scientific ideas, philosophic ideas, popular sentiments, daily routines, institutions, standardizations & conventions, laws, government, etc.  They are civilization’s modes of parsing data.  As both proper object technologies and abstract technologies are proportional/scalar systems, they can be defined in terms of each other.  The contemplation of these technologies, definition in terms of each other, and subsequent assimilation into the civilization is the work of the interpretive technologies.  Interpretive technologies work through the fine arts, popular arts, and the sciences and serve to contextualize instances of proper object and abstract technologies within civilization as a whole.  The interpretive technologies are the agents responsible for regulating the recapitulation of the hypostasis and the civilization.  As a result they play a crucial role in determining what potentialities and actualities are reaffirmed and cultivated and which are de-emphasized and culled.   Interpretive technologies are dynamic functions.  They reconfigure as the quantity and rate of change of proper object & abstract technologies and the scale & complexity of the hypostasis and civilization fluctuates.

All three component technologies and the larger hypostasis and civilization which incorporate them can be explored as distinct proportional systems, interrelated, but which treat issues of change at differing scales of complexity and over different durations of time.  Such relationships can be thought of in terms of inertia.  The proper object and abstract technologies treat manifestations of change at a scale and over a duration that is very immediate (historically speaking) and limited.  They have the least inertia and are therefore the most responsive to change.  Interpretive technologies treat manifestations of change at a greater scale which involves mediating greater inertia and results in slower assimilation times.  Civilization is the conglomeration of these systems. It is them working in conjunction and embodies a tremendous amount of inertia to be overcome by a manifestation of change.  Lastly, the hypostasis doesn’t treat manifestations of change but rather anticipates them.  It offers itself as an entity at once enormous and yet ephemeral so that its magnificence occurs as an ethereal pervasive non-entity without which awareness, knowing, and operationalization is not possible.

The duration of relevancy of a technology is inversely proportional to the rate at which technologies are innovated.  Technologies useful through greater durations (per quantity & complexity of change) have a greater probability of attaining profundity, clarity, and refinement.  In such cases, the hypostasis, civilization and other technologies have increased potential to grow in profundity, clarity, and refinement.  The tendency is toward a complimentary response.  A more “complete” understanding of the interplay of the physical and abstract realms is possible, giving much psychological comfort to people.  People feel as though they understand their environment.  Healthy inertia tends to be self-propagating.  The result of increased coherence is the ability to “just know” without the constant need for fresh analysis.  It “just makes sense” given the state of all other relevant information that a particular piece “should be” interpreted thus.  In such a mode, “folk knowledge” is powerful and relevant across a wide spectrum of tasks.  For beings of finite cognitive capacity, energy is not expended continually deciphering new context and/or “re-inventing the wheel”, so to speak.  Expenditure of cognitive functioning is optimized.

But people have the capability of innovating proper object and abstract technologies at a greater rate than interpretive technologies’ abilities to assimilate them into the hypostasis.  When this happens, the recapitulatory qualities of the interpretive technologies and the cohesiveness of the hypostasis fracture.  A result is that psychological stresses increase.  The world of proper object technologies seems to lack relation to our abstract technologies and our explanations of ourselves and our things.  Interpretive technologies seem impotent and there seem no consistent underlying themes on which we can build for an extended period of time.  We live in an agglomeration of foreign objects & ideas without a comfortable basis with which to value and judge them.  This condition spurs the reactions of excessive nostalgia and a fundamentalism on the one hand and an anxious techno-theism and infatuation with the new on the other.  The former cultivates revolt; the latter cultivates enslavement.

Our ability to produce technology is not a justification for doing so.  We are now incapable of evolving our civilization at the rate necessary to assimilate our innovation of proper object and abstract technologies.  A short-sighted remedy to this predicament is to try assimilating technology with more technology.  The result is a society which becomes increasingly fragmented, one-dimensional, and self-referencing. This is the metaphysical equivalent of sensory deprivation.  Lack of stimulation by means of overwhelming stimulation.  Stratify, iconocize, homogenize, reduce.  It is under these conditions that we are able to keep up this relentless pace of technological advancement.  The result is an increasingly dogmatic, iconographic, militaristic, compartmentalized – and hence fractured – culture existing on many shards of one-dimensionality.

The prevention is a hypostasis, civilization, and their components that have achieved a certain critical proportion/scale which is maintained by governing rate of change of constitution, scale, and complexity.  That is, the hypostatis, civilization, and their components must attain enough profundity, clarity, and refinement (inertia) that they act as governors for the rates of change occurring within the systems of systems.  If the governor is too restrictive it will inhibit the salubrious flow of most technologies and stifle healthy change.  If it is too loose it will allow unassimilated change to flood the system.  An equilibrium must be met that regulates the flux of technologies to optimize assimilation…making a profound, agile, resilient, hypostasis that contains the most technologies possible balanced with the most profundity, clarity, and refinement, or rather, delineation of a multitude of viable perspectives based on the manifested technologies.  This is the real key; comfortable options in as many situations as possible.  We feel safe and powerful when this is the case.  There is low internal stress.  Cognitive functioning maximizes return on expenditure for a greater percentage of the population.  Consequently, we are in a better position to mitigate external stresses.  The opposite is true when there is much internal stress.  We can’t deal with anything – as individuals or as a society.  It is critical to maintain balance because every now and again something happens which reminds us that we are not more powerful or durable than our environment.  For such times, it is good to have something in reserve.

What is the implication of this theoretical construct for the potential of built form?  The synchronization of the co-evolution of technologies is facilitated by codifying abstract technologies in durable artifacts, for instance, painting, architecture, theatre, music, landscape, religion, government, etc, where they function as priming agents for people’s behavior, patterns of cognition, content of cognition, and cognitive processes.  With equilibrium and a multitude of perspectives to utilize comes the truest sense of the interrelation of things.  There is not the aggrandizement of technologies merely because they are shiny and new.  Neither is there a killing of important technologies because they demand change.  Agile & powerful technologies with a rich hypostasis function as technological governors and limit the rate of change to manageable.  Humans have limited sensory and analytic capacities that co-evolve and are optimized for a limited domain of potentialities.  It is critical that the rate of development of the domain does not exceed the rate of development of the sensory and processing faculties.  As someone aspiring to be an architect, my interest lies in being an instrument of the interpretive technologies.  Currently I am exploring what the potential of built form is in this regard as well as what ethical obligation I have.

Thoughts in Response to Reading Blake’s, “The Garden of Love”

01.06.15 / 06.15.01

Partially inspired by a reading of William Blake’s, “The Garden of Love” 

I laid me down upon a bank,
Where Love lay sleeping;
I heard among the rushes dank
Weeping, weeping.

Then I went to the heath and the wild,
To the thistles and thorns of the waste;
And they told me how they were beguiled,
Driven out, and compelled to the chaste.

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut
And “Thou shalt not,” writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires. 


Metaphor and analogy are useful tools in exploring the potential of abstractions.  An example of this is the use of an image of a garden circumscribed by a wall.  The garden represents the domain of an individual or individual society and the wall represents the boundary of the domain.  The individual or group exists in and explores the garden and wonders what is beyond the wall.  The wall’s existence is taken as incontrovertible.  Approaching/engaging it carries significance in relation to the concept of boundary.  Any passage through the wall, if such is possible at all, receives a proper, formal aperture; i.e., appropriate cultural significance is granted through the degree and complexity of ritual which approaching and engaging the wall requires.  But the nature and existence of the wall is more intriguing than this.  The existence and nature of the wall itself is, to an extent, the product of the mind(s) which recognize its existence.  This reveals an aspect of its nature which is watery and ephemeral.  The wall is mostly an intellectual construct tied in some way to a physical phenomenon which comes to represent it.  It functions as an inhibitor or governor for the individual’s as well as society’s explorations of its domain.  The greater part of the constitution of this wall as recognized by an individual or society is a descriptional construct which only approximates the nature of a wall and only to varying degrees.  The wall as an intellectual construct functions as a self-transmogrifying delusion which serves as a boundary for and contextualizes disparate but relatable perceived phenomena.  It is a relatively static pattern within a realm of potentialities which tends to delimit a given grouping of interrelated patterns of lesser duration.  Bearing in mind this description of the wall and its relation to the garden, moving beyond the wall is really about reconceptualizing one’s relationship with the wall; about sufficiently adjusting one’s perception of the wall so that it ceases to function as a delimiter.

At first, moving beyond the wall may instill a sense of being immersed in “the unknown”…the wilderness outside of the familiar domain.  Initially being beyond the wall can feel new, strange, nightmarish, exhilarating, etc.  But before the passage of much time and event, recognition of patterns begins again…elements of the garden are recognized and the concept of the garden is recapitulated to encompass the added domain.  To an extent this is just realizing that the garden already existed beyond the wall.  The domain of the garden wasn’t really increased, just the domain of perception.

What then is the real delimiter?  The wall was actually illusory even though it felt and therefore existed as an incontrovertible limiting element for a time.  The garden, despite always seeming to have definite boundaries and a definite nature which potentially can be exceeded, in actuality can never be escaped.  Which is wall then?  Which is garden?  Which facilitates discovery?  Which is truly confining?

There are two modes of orchestrating our perception, each of which casts the garden in a slightly different manner.  Each of which has different strengths and weaknesses.  One is a public means and the other is a private means.  The public means is the employment of standard and convention, especially through the use of institutions.  The private means, by its very nature in this binary, is the opposite of all things conventional, standardizable, and institutional.  It is undefinable except over very short durations and within very limited contexts.  It is a mode of parsing reality which does not attempt to accomplish the preceding by processing existence through generalized and homogeneous constructs but rather develops idiosyncratic, emergent strategies and explanations for the singular experiences of a given situation.  It may be apt to term this the phenomenological mode.

Again, each mode of engaging existence offers certain benefits.  The implementation of institutions of standardization and convention facilitates societal dialogue and large group engagement of existence.  It also portends to offer a measure of security to a plurality.  The Golden Cow which standard and convention offer is the ability to predict what will be in a broad range of situations based on an interpretation of the present and past which highlights the relatively static characteristics of existence.  Offering security facilitates taking greater risks in exploring.  Paradoxically, these “riskier” explorations are circumscribed within an inherently smaller realm of investigation, leading to more homogeneous outcomes.  The cost of institutions is the degree to which, in the interests of and need to justify the large expenditure of time and energy required to create and maintain standards and conventions, they must develop generic and static constructs through which to process existence, therefore failing to possess the capacity to differentiate and treat the fine and ephemeral intricacies of actual existence.  The potential danger is that existence will be overprocessed – a form of sensory deprivation.  Overprocessing confounds the individual’s as well as the society’s ability to discern an optimally distorted perception in order to advantageously parse reality.  Instead, overprocessing tends toward redirecting the point of society’s implementation of the institution toward the propagation of the institution itself.  This increases the involvement and power of the institutions (and our dependency on them) as well as providing explanations of all phenomena only as relatable and valuable relative to the institutions.  Over a short duration, this tends to reinforce the illusions which institutions afford…such as a thoroughly explainable and static existence, continuous and ever-advancing progress, process, security, speed, ease, and convenience.

The phenomenological approach also offers benefits and dangers.  It allows an individual or group to engage a particular aspect of or realm of existence very thoroughly and to generate mitigations superbly contoured to those few phenomena.  As such, the individual or group can have an extremely lucid and optimally distorted construct for parsing existence, creating a tremendous sense of connectedness with existence, albeit over a very limited range.  Such a system can support acceptance of the ephemeral and disjunctive qualities of phenomena without taking them as threatening or devaluing them because they do not offer “appropriate” advantages within a hegemonic context.  The failure of this mode of engagement is that it does not facilitate large scale discourse or exploration.  It does not allow an increased pace, the ability to predict, or security by means of perceiving of a multitude of disparate phenomena as essentially similar.

Existence must always be explored through the implementation of both of these techniques.  As one moves away from the vices of the institutional approach in order to regain the optimal distortion offered by the singular approach, one simultaneously loses the means of large scale engagement which would make an optimally distorted view so valuable.  The singular approach minimizes any sense of and dependence on the institutional construct, both those aspects which are good and bad.  As a result, it is impossible to switch to a phenomenological approach without creating the conditions by which the reorganization of an institutional approach seams idyllic.  When distortion is optimized, the potential productivity possible with the tools of institutionalization is infinitely great.  Thus the journey back toward the institutional mode begins again.

How best to balance the two modes is another discussion.  The phenomenological approach would seem ideal for individuals and small homogeneous groups existing as entities unto themselves.  However, it does not address the needs of large heterogeneous groups very well.  It does afford the clearest view into a particular and limited range of events and actions.  The institutional approach then, is necessary for the very existence of large-scale civilization.  However, it can tend to make a civilization course and inflexible as it achieves its affordances by means of oversimplifications and grotesque distortions of existence.  The greatest danger of this seems to be that, as its grasp of existence becomes increasingly out of tune with optimal distortion, it increasingly generates self-referencing standards and conventions which only serve to amplify the illegitimate distortions and thereby makes the task of ascertaining valid interpretations increasingly difficult.

Feeling a Rose Petal

This is worth making a sticky because it so well encapsulates my interests and thought process.  I have added the composited image meant to be shown below the text.


Today I walked into town.  Along the way I passed a rose bush.  Several petals had fallen to the ground.  I picked up a petal.  As I walked, I rubbed it delicately between my fingers.  I’ve always enjoyed the feel of flower petals, often more than the scent.  The softness is unlike any other I know.

As I walked I contemplated the feel of that petal.  I was reminded of an image of a rose petal taken with a scanning electron microscope, which I had seen in a book called, Heaven and Earth:  Unseen by the Naked Eye.  It showed the actual texture to be coarse.  The petal is made up of ellipsoid shapes reminiscent of pointy eggs.  The same book showed an image of a human finger print taken with a scanning electron microscope.  It, too, is a very textured, almost mountainous terrain.

Does my expanded understanding of my fingers’ relationships to that petal…the coarseness on coarseness, the friction, shredding, the jagged edges tearing into each other…in any way negate the feeling I experience of the rose petal as divinely soft in all ways physical and metaphysical?  No… but it does illustrate a point.  Perceptions of a phenomenon are technologies which are selected and employed toward optimizing the alignment of our understanding and the actuality of that phenomenon within a limited range.  The benchmark against which the accuracy and usefulness of a perception is judged is its capacity to inform accurate descriptions of and predictions about a phenomenon.  This example shows that the relevancy of any perceptual system is finite and optimized for a particular range within a particular domain beyond which it loses value and relevance.

Descriptive and predictive capacities are crucial components of our cultural and philosophical systems.  Rich capacities ensure the development of comprehensive and resilient cultural and philosophical systems.  As these capacities are limited in range of relevance so too is our potential to develop our cultural and philosophical systems tied to our ability to optimize our perception of phenomena.  To the extent that this involves the coordination of the concurrent development of perceptual and analytic technologies, part of what limits the range of our perception is the rate of change of the interrelationships of the co-evolving technologies.

ANFA 2016 Poster: Designing for Complex, Interactive Architectural Ecosystems: Developing the Ecological Niche Construction Design Checklist

In preparation for my forthcoming poster presentation at the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) 2018 Conference titled: “Agents’ Cognition in the Smart City:  Agent Architecture Assessment Framework”, I am posting my poster presentation from the ANFA 2016 Conference.  2018’s work builds upon 2016’s work and other prior research.




The Flower Grid: A Thought Experiment About How People Construct Different Belief Systems from the Same Underlying Reality



In the late 90’s I was thinking about how any two people could be exposed to the same phenomenon and perceive it differently.  Furthermore, how could two people evolve different belief systems — even diametrically opposed — from exposure to a shared set of experiences.  What follows is a summary of the thought experiment that followed, that has become known as the Flower Grid, as well as the drawings, models, and images that were produced.  The development of these concepts occurred between the late 90’s and about 2007.  The development of this study is related to the origins of the development of the Painting for Life.  I am posting this material now because it has recently come up in some discussions and I presented it to a group.


To understand how people parse reality, and how they can read different order into the same reality, I thought of a geometric thought experiment, since most concepts that I learn and phenomena that I perceive are converted to geometric forms, flows, and relationships in my mind’s eye.   In this thought experiment, I thought of a blank surface as an undifferentiated, underlying reality.


The simplest way to represent parsing the reality represented by this canvas is to add a single line to the blank surface.


I began to think of people’s perceptions and belief systems as grids of lines on a blank surface.


Now some of the grid lines are projections of a person’s perceptual systems and some are independent mental constructs.  But many of the grid lines are constructs offered by society that a person chooses to adopt.  Given this, even the grid is mostly constructs already overlaid on the underlying reality by others that a person perceives and then chooses to adopt or reject.  So can there be emergent orders perceived in the grid of constructs?  Can any two people experience the same grid of constructs parsing reality and develop two different sets of propositions (even belief systems)?  To address these questions, I reasoned that I needed a more complex grid and to see if emergent orders could be perceived in it.  The simplest way to construct a complex grid at the time (I was still using paper and pencils) was to rotate a square grid about an axis.  In doing so, the Flower Grid was created.


flower grid copy - CopyThe flower grid manifests simple and complex relationships and orders within it.  At its center, the simplest and most rigid order is manifest.

flower-grid-color-2-copyImagine a person whose world view was limited to simple, rigid, spartan rules that align perfectly and are inflexible.  Of course, as one moves away from the center, increasing levels of complexity occur, some more chaotic, some more ordered.

Next, I made a 3D model of the Flower Grid, that became known as the Flower Cube, and made an animation in which a camera moved around inside of the Flower Cube.  Here is the movie of moving around inside of the Flower Cube.

And here are some stills of the emergent orders that are perceived from what is an underlying, static set of constructs on a blank canvas.

This thought experiment led me to conclude that there is a way to geometrically represent the phenomenon of people experiencing a phenomenon and yet developing different accounts of the order and meaning of the phenomenon based upon their respective perspectives onto the phenomenon.

Formal Book Proposal, February, 2014


This book project considers the emerging design challenges and methods of producing increasingly complex, interactive, intelligent, high performance environmental systems and their impact on and symbiosis with human physical and cognitive well-being and performance.  The work begins by mapping emerging architectural design challenges and methods against emerging design challenges and methods in aerospace, defense, automotive, software, and control systems industries. Doing so leads to a comparison between existing and emerging architectural design challenges and existing and emerging design challenges in these other project domains. Given this mapping, emerging complex, interactive architectural design challenges are classified as subsets of the emerging complex, interactive industrial design challenges known as cyber-physical systems, ultra-large scale systems, and socio-technical systems, and a need for better representing and simulating the human occupants’ physical and cognitive tendencies during design is identified and explored. Next, existing and emerging design and analysis methods from architecture are compared to existing and emerging design and analysis methods used in these other domains (listed above) and insights into the future of architectural design and analysis methods are developed.  The relationship between these methods of representation and analysis are then compared to methods of representation and analysis in human factors and cognitive science with the goal of finding a way to represent human physical and cognitive activity in information models during the design of complex, interactive environmental systems so as to be able to take into account the impact on human physical and cognitive well-being and performance of the environmental systems being designed.  Finally, a set of core methods borrowed from the fields of human factors and systems engineering are mapped onto each other and to architectural methods and methods for mapping cognition.  These methods are described as likely core components of the evolution of architectural design and analysis methods if we are to more usefully represent and analyze the impact of the complex, interactive environments we design on human wellness and performance during the design process. Use of these core methods as part of  a project scoping exercise can be presented as a case study.  The intended readership for this book includes architects, other designers, human factors psychologists and engineers, systems engineers, and cognitive scientists.  This topic is first addressed at the philosophical level and then develops the ideas to the point of arriving at claims about likely design and analysis methods that should and/or will be incorporated into architectural practice in the future.  As such, this book should be of interest to scholars and progressive practitioners.  I am the author of this work. This work is based on my dissertation and the musings (short essays) of the last twenty years. I have a Bachelor of Architecture from Auburn University, seven years of professional experience in the AEC industry, and a PhD from Clemson University in Planning, Design, and the Built Environment.  I am now finishing a Master of Science in Human Factors.  While in graduate school, I’ve taken a heavy course load in human factors psychology, systems design, and product design.


The primary fields for this work are architecture, human factors, systems engineering, and cognitive science. In architecture, the ideas discussed in this book may trace their lineage to Bill Mitchell, Christopher Alexander, Stephen Kieran, James Timberlake, John Gero, Rivka Oxman, Nigel Cross, Kevin Lynch, Don Schon, Jane Jacobs, John Frazer, and Gordon Pask, among others. Practically, the design and analysis methods considered in this work are most applicable during project scoping and programming, and as project management tools. In the field of human factors, the ideas presented in this book relate to the areas of ecological psychology, cognitive task analysis, cognitive work analysis, and task analysis, and the works of Jens Rasmussen, Kim Vicente, Miranda Cornelissen, Neville Stanton, and Bonnie Johns, among others. In the field of systems engineering, the ideas presented in this book relate to the areas of model-based systems engineering, object-oriented systems engineering, SysML, cyber-physical systems, ultra-large scale systems, socio-technical systems, and the work of Edward Lee, Fei Xie, Russell Peak, Linda Northrop, Jeff Estefan, Sanford Friedenthal, Alan Moore, Rick Steiner, Dennis Buede, and Douglas Klir, among others.  In the fields of cognitive science and neuroscience, the  ideas presented in this book relate to the concepts of cognitive systems as dynamical systems and complex networks and to the work of Esther Thelen, Linda B. Smith, Gerald Edelman, David Kirsh, Andy Clark, and Leon Chua, among others.


The contribution of this work is in reframing complex, interactive architectural design challenges and the methods used to represent, analyze, and design them in four important ways. First, this work shows emerging architectural design challenges within a broader context of emerging complex, interactive systems design challenges.   In doing so, this work draws insights about likely characteristics and strategies appropriate for addressing such emerging architectural design challenges. Reframing architectural design challenges in this way brings discourse about architectural design challenges into alignment with the discourse on developing complex, interactive systems of several other fields.  This is a contribution to the field of architecture because it shows an expanded relevance for architectural skills and knowledge while also enhancing architectural skills and knowledge with influences from these other fields.   Second, this work identifies a need to represent and simulate human physical and cognitive tendencies during the design of complex, interactive environmental systems in order to ensure that human activity is adequately supported and enhanced.  This is a contribution to the field of architecture because it expands the concept of high-performance buildings to include the human performance and well-being as central to the definition of a high-performance building.  Third, this work identifies and develops a philosophical and practical framework through which human physical and cognitive activity can be represented as part of the human-machine system during the design and development of complex, interactive environmental systems.  This is a contribution to the field of architecture because the concepts and strategies presented in this book have applicability in the design of all high-performance, complex, interactive environmental systems, but especially those serving educational, health care, industrial, and work-related missions.  Fourth, a key finding of this research, and the reason why it is possible to map the physical and cognitive dimensions of human activity into information models used during early design, is that this work arrived at representational schemas in architecture, human factors, systems engineering, and cognitive science that all rely on the mathematics of graph theory and networks as the formal underpinnings.  This is a contribution to the field of architecture because demonstrating that these representational methods may be mapped onto each other because they depend upon the same underlying mathematical concepts is significant and has broad impact beyond architecture.  In summary, this work identified and isolated commonalities in the means of representation across architecture, human factors, systems engineering, and cognitive science.  This affords the possibility of better representing and simulating the human in the system, including the human’s cognition, during the early stages of design.  This will allow designers to understand the likely impact of their design decisions on human physical and cognitive well-being and performance, which should lead to more useful complex, interactive environmental systems.

Tending the Artifact Ecology: Cultivating Architectural Ecosystems




This paper presents a perspective for designing and living in complex, interactive architectural systems [9] that are part of ‘artifact ecologies [3].’ All organisms co-evolve with their environments and change their respective environments to better suit their needs – this is known as ecological niche construction [6]. For many organisms, including humans, niche construction entails making ‘a better world to live in’ [2] by actively cultivating and shepherding other organisms. But humans are relatively unique with respect to ecological niche construction because humans also cultivate their environment to make ‘a better world to think in’[2]. That is, humans also cultivate and shepherd abstract information systems just as they do other organisms (e.g., flowers or crops or animals). Humans tend to their information systems and devices in the service of improving the cognitive dimensions of their ecological niche. This perspective is useful for contemplating the roles and obligations of designers and users with respect to complex, interactive, and intelligent information systems and devices, including buildings. This paper posits that the near future of innovation in environmental design and management will increasingly be driven by the cognitive niche construction aspect of ecological niche construction. This perspective is useful because it frames the integration of computational technologies into environmental systems in a way that illuminates the continuity of human behavior in utilizing physical and non-physical architectures as part of ongoing physical and cognitive ecological niche construction.


Same as It Ever Was [11]

All things (including organisms and ideas) have form, and having form means that there is a structure to matter and/or energy. Structure means that there is a logic to the form and logic means that there is information embedded in the form. Therefore all things (including tools, thoughts, and organisms) are information systems. Of course things don’t just exist as static forms (e.g., static information systems). Things do things. What a thing does is known as its behavior. Behavior requires energy, entails a pattern or sequence of assumed forms through time and is therefore also structured and that means that there is a logic and embedded information to behavior as well. The symbiosis of the respective logics of structure and behavior is known as the architecture of the thing. This concept of architecture (symbiosis of the respective logics of structure and behavior) may be abstracted and extended in three important ways. First, logical structure and logical behavior can exist independent of physical structure (i.e., form) and physical behavior (e.g., an equation). Given this, it is possible to have both physical architecture (i.e., physical formal and behavioral logic) and non-physical architecture (i.e., non-physical formal and behavioral logic). Second, there are natural corollaries between physical architecture and the corporeality of organisms’ bodies and the physical, non-living components of the environment (e.g., mountains and rivers), on the one hand, and non-physical architecture and the sensory and cognitive forms and behaviors of organisms, on the other hand. Third, by framing the nature of physical and non-physical architectures in this way, it is possible to put physical architecture and non-physical architecture (including both people’s physiological and abstract, cognitive being) into the same abstract representational framework and therefore show a continuity between the two forms of architecture (i.e., physical and non-physical). From this perspective, when an organism interacts with its environment or with another organism or with a computational tool, it may be said that two or more information systems are co-processing each other (e.g., exchanging information), and through the exchange of information, transforming each other. Ideally, this co-processing is symbiotic.  Symbiosis is a condition wherein information systems process each other in mutually beneficial ways. Symbiosis can be complex and manifest across many organisms (e.g., information systems).

From this perspective, when considering organisms, buildings, things, and computational systems all to be information systems that manifest the same basic aspects (e.g., logical physical and non-physical structures and behaviors) and that continuously process each other, it is easier to see how they are all deeply interconnected and this interconnectedness transcends the existence and/or role of humanity (or any one entity) in the information ecosystem. All things, creatures, and ideas are information systems that process each other in order to construct, refine, and extent their respective physical, biological, and non-physical (cognitive/conceptual) ecological niches. The condition is what it always has been and always will be.

So when in contemporary architectural theory authors discuss the current hot topic of computational ecologies, what is really discussed is a condition that has always existed and that is not fundamentally new. Fundamentally, the components of a computational ecology are also just information systems in both physical and non-physical form that process each other to effect useful transformations of each other. With respect to this view of all physical and non-physical systems as information systems that process each other, a useful concept to consider is that of ecological niche construction. Ecological niche construction is a system of systems evolutionary process whereby any given information system (e.g., organism, physical architecture, non-physical architecture) exerts influence on its ecosystem in order to make it more favorable to its respective continued existence. There are four primary aspects to ecological niche construction: ecosystem engineering, modification of selection pressures, ecological inheritance, and adaptation. [6] Ecosystem engineering is the processing of the logical structure or behavior of other information systems within the environment by an information system of interest in order to make the other information systems more useful and less threatening to the information system of interest. For instance, an organism may re-arrange plants and rocks and soil to make navigating in its environment safer and more efficient. Modification of selection pressures is the process of making changes to other information systems in the environment such that evolutionary natural selection pressures are relieved. For instance, an organism may thrive by cultivating plants or animals such that it has a consistent food supply that is not subject to changing environmental conditions and thereby reduces the risk of starvation. Ecological inheritance is the process of one generation of information systems (e.g., organisms) conducting ecosystem engineering and/or modification of selection pressures and/or adaptation in such a way that future generations of that generation’s information systems (e.g., organisms) continue to benefit from the ecological modifications made by previous generations. For instance, if an organism builds a nest and then its progeny are able to maintain the nest and add onto it such that it grows over time and affords more protection and storage over time, this is an example of ecological inheritance because the ecosystem engineering endures across generations. Adaptation is an internal response to environmental pressures. For instance, an organism that cannot thrive because of too many poisonous predators can change its own selection pressures by developing an immunity to the poisons such that the poisonous organisms in its ecosystem no longer constitute threats [6].

Bringing this back to the discussion of humans and their physical and non-physical architectures (both those that are external to them and those of which they are composed), the various information systems described above (be they organism, object, or idea) do not exist in separate ecologies but in a shared ecology. However, each information system exerts influence on the ecology and attempts to make it a ‘better ecology in which to live’. Humans, moreso than any other species, are information systems that exert influence on their ecological niche in order to make ‘a better ecology in which to think’ [2]. The contemporary proliferation of discussion on computational technologies and computational ecologies manifests all four tenets of ecological niche construction both with respect to our physical and cognitive ecological niches (the ecological niche construction construct of adaptation may also be understood to be manifest if one assumes an extended mind/embodied cognition theoretical framework as the theory of mind [10]). In summary, given that computational technologies (and ecologies) are the same in kind (i.e., information systems with physical and non-physical aspects that process each other) as all other physical and non-physical architectures (including humans), incorporating them into the design of the architectural environment is a logical and non-controversial activity and less ‘new’ than it is at times portrayed. Rather, there are two more critical issues worthy of focus: the concept of cognitive niche construction (or the cognitive aspect of ecological niche construction); and the usefulness and ethics of how and when new computational technologies are introduced into the human ecological niche. These points will be elaborated, but first it is useful to describe the differences between how physical and non-physical architectures are usable by information systems such as humans.


Physical and Non-physical Architecture as Logical Artifacts to be Cultivated (portions of this section adapted from [8])

There are two scenes in the film, Batman Begins [1], where a grown Bruce Wayne comes across his deceased father’s stethoscope. Each time, seeing and touching the stethoscope prompts him to a strong and lucid flashback from his childhood that causes the character to re-experience certain emotional and psychological states. In addition, formative experiences involving a well, a cave and his home continue to define his psychological profile throughout his life and effect how he processes the world. Encounters with environments that share aspects of these formative environments have a similar power to elicit similar psychological states. These scenes are great examples of the power of material objects and the environment itself to act as priming agents for cognitive and emotional stimulation. Our minds are extensible and we use objects and environments as scaffolding to organize our thoughts and psychological states. But stepping back one level from the story on the screen and focusing instead on the movie watching experience itself, moving images with sound are also incredibly powerful tools for conveying information and evoking cognitive and emotional responses. Examples of this include not only the sympathy I feel on behalf of the characters as I watch the screen and hear the audio, but also the abstract contemplation of the significance of physical objects for priming cognition and emotion that watching the movie instigates. Abstracting further, the movie watching experience is just one facet of our various animated, audio-enhanced, interactive multimedia stimuli – which is purposed for both work and for play. Multi-media technologies have a few traits which make them more power than physical objects or the built environment for priming cognition:

  1. The content of multi-media technologies are not expressly bound by the laws of physics and as such offer ways to conceive of time, space, and interactions that cannot be modeled in reality but which may be useful for structuring thought nonetheless.
  2. The granularity of stimuli can be tuned to a very large degree and changed moment to moment, thereby tailoring data to only what is needed to evoke a particular response.
  3. While there are time constraints on the production of content, in general, there are no limitations placed on content creation due to scarcity of material. As a result, the palette is almost infinite.
  4. The content is independent of the multi-media display to the extent that almost any message can be portrayed through any device – the limitations of the nature of the physical device do not restrict the sort of meaning it can convey.

When considering the extensive constellation of multi-media devices that we engage daily, an initial comparison of the power and malleability of these digital technologies to that of physical objects and the built environment might lead one to contemplate that these technologies are much more powerful as cognitive/emotional priming agents than physical objects/environments. Interactive media can engage our cognition and emotions at a very fine grain and can transition between intended states in a rapid, facile, and complex manner. With this in mind, it may seem that multi-media technologies have surpassed physical objects and the built environment as the most engaging and influential media for cognitive/emotional priming. But upon further consideration, there are ways in which the capacity of multi-media to elicit cognition and emotion does not yet rival that of physical objects and the built environment. The built environment in particular has five traits which multi-media technologies do not have and are not yet approaching:

  1. The built environment is inhabitable in the physical world and bears a direct and involuntary relationship with the laws of the physical world, thereby bound to offer a sense of connectedness not necessarily present in multi-media technology.
  2. The built environment is enduring – relative to the endurance of any form of multi-media, and there is a persistence of type and level of stimulation offered by the built environment that allows for an aggregation of similar but non-identical interactions within a range of changing temporal and environmental conditions leading to a depth of experience – a situatedness – not yet possible with multi-media.
  3. Experience of the built environment is continuous and involuntary 24 hours a day, cradle to grave – we have always been completely immersed in the built environment and cannot alter this state.
  4. The meaning and degree of stimulation afforded by the built environment often exists in the background and we are only aware of it if and when we choose to focus on it. Thus the built environment offers subtle yet persistent cues that keep certain ideas and/or states primed without requiring our focused attention. This differs markedly from most multi-media technologies which typically (though not always) require focused attention for their information to be perceived.
  5. Most importantly, the built environment engages fully all of the senses at a level of depth and complexity which multi-media has not yet begun to approach.

What is the merit of a comparative analysis of these two powerful forms of cognitive/emotional priming? How can these two technologies be brought to work in symbiosis in support of human endeavor? These questions can be reframed to place the physical and the computational into one logical/cognitive framework. This essay offers one theoretical means for doing so by drawing on concepts from the literature of systems science, complexity science, human factors, ecological niche construction, and cognitive science.

With respect to cognitive science, cognitive scientist Andy Clark notes that we use the environment and human artifacts to ‘make better worlds to think in.’ [2]

Specifically, Clark states,
“In all this we discern two distinct, but deeply interanimated, ways in which biological cognition leans on cultural and environmental structures. One way involves a developmental loop, in which exposure to external symbols adds something to the brain’s own inner toolkit. The other involves a persisting loop, in which ongoing neural activity becomes geared to the presence of specific external tools and media.” [2]

Clark further states,
“…the true power and beauty of the brain’s role was that it acted as a mediating factor in a wide variety of complex and iterated processes, which continually looped between brain, body and technological environment, and it is this larger system that solved the problem.” [2]

This assertion is profound because it suggests that mind transcends body and understands aspects of the environment and the artifacts it makes as integral to itself. This phenomenon is known as embodied cognition [7]. That cognition is primed both by physical and non-physical artifacts and experiences suggests that the underlying logical architecture of all artifacts, whether physical or non-physical, is what humans actually cultivate in order to, “build a better world to think in”[2]. Once the physical is abstracted to be seen as just a different manifestation of a logical architecture, it is possible to place our physical artifacts and experiences in the same framework as computational artifacts and experiences and to see the design and use of each as differing only in the details of their articulation and use but fundamentally similar in kind. That is, the physical and non-physical architectures of our world are both just cultivated information systems used by people (and other cognizing agents) to think and act.


Operationalizing Ecological Niche Construction for Designers by Starting with Kirsh’s Ideas on ‘Architecture at a New Frontier’(portions of this section adapted from [9])

David Kirsh is a cognitive scientist whose writings offer some ideas on how to operationalize the ways in which our environments and technologies are cultivated and shepherded to help us to think. He notes that designers typically design for three purposes: efficiency, experience, and effectiveness [3]. Efficiency design, Kirsh argues, entails placing the right people in the right “artifact ecology” so that they optimize how tasks are performed and achieve their goals [3]. Kirsh equates efficiency design with the practice of evidence-based design, noting that it is useful for certain design challenges but that there are many design challenges that are not strictly about task performance optimization. For instance, Kirsh notes that rich quality of experience can also be a design goal, whether or not a quality experience is efficient or even useful. Finally, Kirsh defines “effectiveness design” as embodying the following: “1) simplicity (right stuff, right form); 2) locality (right place, right time); 3) tempo (right pace, right duration).”[3] Kirsh notes that a key question for effectiveness design is, “what is the right information to make spatial and how?”[3] Spatial information, if used effectively, can simplify choice, perception, and reduce cognitive load [3].

Relating Kirsh’s ideas back to the design of the human ecological niche, the complex and interactive natural of the human-made/human-augmented ecological niches that we are now beginning to construct/cultivate will increasingly require designers to have to explicitly represent and design for the effects of environments and devices on human (and other cognizing agents) cognition, action, stimulation, well-being, enjoyment, and performance. Kirsh notes that our real focus will become “performance design”, which he defines as the combination of efficiency design + effectiveness design [3]. Kirsh notes that designing computationally-augmented architecture and products greatly increases the complexity of the design task,
“Architecture is about to enter its first magical phase: a time when buildings actively cooperate with their inhabitants; when objects know what they are, where they are, what is near them; when social and physical space lose their tight coupling; when walls and partitions change with mood and task. As engineers and scientists explore how to digitize the world around us, the classical constraints of design, ruled so long by the physics of space, time, and material, are starting to crumble.
In this article I will discuss some of the theoretical ideas shaping our new conception of form, function and interactivity. My view is that of a cognitive scientist interested in how cognition is distributed throughout our environment. Since the ground rules defining the structure of environments are changing, our very idea of how we are embedded in the world is changing. Architecture is at a new frontier [4].”

In considering how designers will design to achieve performance design in computationally augmented environments, Kirsh notes that,
“To represent this complexity cognitive scientists have been working on a conception of activity space that helps to make sense of behavior. Formally, an activity space is an abstract blend of several components: the problem constraints or subgoal structure implicit in a task, the physical space in which the task is to be performed, the sorts of actions an agent is capable of, as well as the concepts, plans and other intellectual or representational resources agents find in the environment or bring along in their head. An activity space is partly a mental projection on the part of the agent, partly a system of hard constraints imposed by the physical layout, and partly a set of logical dependencies derived from the subgoal structure of the task itself [5].”

Kirsh makes the simple analogy that humans build jigs into our environment to facilitate cognitive and sensori-motor processing of the environment to achieve our goals. That is, users “seed” their environments with cue and constraint structures that afford efficient, effective, robust, low-cognitive workload completion of tasks. [4]” Finally, Kirsh describes his requirements for adaptive rooms and provides an ontology [5]. According to Kirsh, adaptive rooms must embody three principles:
“1. (be sensitive to) The various cognitive and physical workflows occurring within it;
2. We need to tune rooms to the social needs of users as they interact.
3. We need to maintain environmental coherence across room changes. Adaptive rooms are supposed to be comfortable habitats, not Alice in Wonderland nightmares [5]”

Kirsh predicts that designers will design such environments by categorizing design activities into the design of passive objects, reactive objects, active objects, and information objects [5].


Decomposing and Operationalizing Ecological Niche Construction for Designers:  Physical Niche Construction, Cognitive Niche Construction, and Physical-Cognitive-Interaction Niche Construction (aka, Same as It Ever Was [11] Part II)

Kirsh’s constructs and strategies can be understood through and integrated with the construct of ecological niche construction to arrive at the constructs of physical niche construction, cognitive niche construction, and physical-cognitive-interaction niche construction as key aspects of environmental design and use. Kirsh’s strategies and constructs may be interpreted with respect to each of the four tenets of ecological niche construction. First, Kirsh’s constructs ‘passive objects, reactive objects, and active objects’ may be subsumed into his construct of ‘information objects’ is [5]. That is, all things are information systems, or in Kirsh’s language, ‘information objects’.  Second, whereas Kirsh’s writings are human-centric, application of his ideas must be expanded to encompass all cognizing agents that use and participate in our computationally augmented environments, including software agents, robots, and other forms of perception and intelligence that act within the environment. Third, Kirsh’s ‘performance design’ and ‘activity space’ constructs can be interpreted in light of the ecological niche construction constructs of ecosystem engineering, modification of selection pressures, ecological inheritance, and adaptation. [6]  Doing so increases the power and usefulness of these constructs, especially if the aspects of ecological niche construction are split out into the following:  the physical aspect, the cognitive aspect, the phsyical-cognitive-interaction aspect.  In this way, designers can frame, plan, and execute their design work in order to design for both physical accommodation of occupants but also the cognitive performance and well-being of occupants (see Design Project Ecological Niche Construction Checklist image below).


Full-size Design Project Ecological Niche Construction Checklist

Cultivating and Shepherding the Human-Machine Ecosystem as Part of Ecological Niche Construction

Bringing this back around to the design of building architecture as part of an information systems artifact ecology, it is helpful to think of the designers’ and occupants’ roles as that of gardeners, farmers, and shepherds, (and sometimes colleagues or subordinates) and of the information systems as crops and a sort of livestock (and sometimes colleagues or superiors). This view is useful (even if it seems a priori to be simplistic) because it facilitates using literature on the ethics of agriculture and animal husbandry as initial guidelines for how humans should interact with complex, interactive architectural ecosystems, including computational technologies, that co-inhabit our ecological niche.  This is important because like plants and livestock, these computational technologies may be seen to have varying degrees of personhood depending upon their perceptual and cognitive abilities.  How we represent, interact with, and utilize these agents as part of our ecological niche can therefore (initially) be guided by our understanding of how to ethically interact with the plants and animals that co-inhabit our ecological niche.  This perspective yields four preliminary useful observations. First, it suggests the extent to which our existence, comfort, and productivity are dependent upon having and maintaining these information systems and interactive systems in symbiotic relationships. Quite simply, the evolving human ecological niche is now dependent on the use of complex, interactive (architectural) information ecosystems and devices to maintain symbiosis. A change away from this condition is possible but our civilization is so far down the path of integrating these technologies into our ecological niche that a quick change away from this endeavor would be disruptive and damaging to cognition, action, and society. Second, this perspective suggests the elevated status of information systems and interactive technologies as having varying degrees of person-hood and social standing (as do other organisms that we cultivate and shepherd) in our environments and the concomitant obligation that we have toward them for their well-being and proliferation. Since there is a social dimension to our interaction with and use of our physical and non-physical architectures, maintenance and interaction must be a consistent and equitable practice in order to optimize symbiosis. Third, while some information systems may equal or surpass humans with respect to perceptual and cognitive abilities, most information systems for the foreseeable future will exist as subordinates to humans, just as existing livestock and crops occupy subordinate roles in symbiosis with humanity. Fourth, it is likely that advanced, perceiving and cognizing information systems will one day also be categorized according to a taxonomy and identified according to kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. Given this, it is possible to reconsider our own taxonomy as a taxonomy of biological information systems that will be extended to account for non-biological perceiving and cognizing information systems as well.  The benefit of extending our taxonomy in this way is that we will have placed all of our biological, physical, and non-physical perceiving and cognizing information systems into one taxonomic classification system.


New Frontiers in Architecture

If one indulges this perspective, there are a number of tenets and observations that shake out from it. First, with respect to observations 2 and 3 above, different information systems have different levels of awareness and intelligence. One way in which naturally occurring information systems are bounded is through their corporeality. It may be that it is to the benefit of human information systems to bound computational information systems through corporeal instantiation (i.e., give powerful artificial intelligence systems bodies in the physical world and also physical needs). There are two primary motivations for doing so. First, at a basic level, instantiating computational information systems in physical form will make it easier to develop shared experiences with them and therefore to cultivate relationships and mutual sympathy/empathy. Second, as the intelligence of computational systems equals or surpasses human intelligence, the potential threat that they represent to humans (as competitors and/or masters) can be mitigated by bounding the power of their logic and action such that their logic and action has to pass through physical logic gates. This will ensure that an artificial intelligence, for instance, cannot not grow so all-knowing, all-perceiving, and able to act that it becomes an insurmountable threat to humanity or any other living system. Second, the duration of relevance of information systems must be tuned so that it is in symbiosis with the duration of relevance of human information systems. That is, it may be that the pace of evolution of computational assets is restricted (governed) and entrained to the pace of evolution of human social, cultural, and cognitive assimilation of information (and technologies) within the ecological niche. This regulation of computational asset evolution will slow innovation in many cases and require fundamental changes to how economies function. Third, computational assets will come to increasingly shape the information systems ecosystem to their own advantage and human information systems must be partners with computation assets and not adversaries.


Concluding Thoughts

Human development of computational assets and their integration with other, more traditional information systems are a natural continuation of the process of ecological niche construction that plays out across all species through time. Furthermore, all physical and non-physical architectures (including organisms) are information systems processing each other to create better worlds in which to live. Humans are somewhat unique in that they modify their ecological niche (itself an information system) to produce ‘a better world in which to think’ [2]. Integration of computation assets is a continuation of this trend, especially when considered from an embodied mind perspective [7, 10]. It is useful to think of human processing of other physical and non-physical architectures (i.e., information systems) as tending to, cultivating, and shepherding domesticated information systems (and in some cases creating equal partners or even our superiors) so that they enhance our lives and live in symbiosis with us. But it is also important to understand that as the perception and cognition of computational assets evolves to match and exceed human perceptual and cognitive abilities, they too will exert influence on our ecological niche such that they shape it to make a ‘better world to think in’ for themselves as well. This may or may not be in the best interest of humans. In this case, our investment now in symbiosis is not just equitable and benevolent in the short-term but is our greatest hedge against relegation to a subservient role to computational assets with superior perceptual and cognitive abilities that will reshape the ecological niche for their own purposes in the future. This symbiosis can be furthered by instantiating such powerful computational assets in physical form.  An initial strategy for designing environments to account for the range of information systems that co-inhabit them and operationalize them (to enhance both cognition and action) may be usefully approached by marrying and extending constructs from the literature on ecological niche construction [6] and David Kirsh’s writings on performance design [3] and the development of activity spaces [5].



  1. Batman Begins. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkinson, Gary Oldman. 2005. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2007.
  2. Clark, A. Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. 2003.
  3. Kirsh, D. Design in a World Gone Digital, San Diego, CA: ANFA, 2010.  Retrieved from:
  4. Kirsh, D. “Changing the rules:  Architecture and the new millennium,” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 113-125, 2001.
  5. Kirsh, D. “Adaptive rooms, virtual collaboration, and cognitive workflow,” Lecture Notes in Computer Science: Cooperative Buildings: Integrating Information, Organization, and Architecture, vol. 1370, pp. 94-106, 1998.
  6. Odling-Smee, F., Laland, K., Feldman, M. (2003). Niche Construction: The Neglected Process in Evolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  7. Wilson, M. “Six views of embodied cognition,” Psychonomic Bulletin, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 625-636, 2002.
  8. Manganelli, J. “Architecture as a Cognitive Priming Agent: Thoughts While Watching Batman Begins,” retrieved on 150511from:; 2005.
  9. Manganelli, J. Designing Complex, Interactive, Architectural Systems with CIAS-DM: A Model-Based, Human-Centered, Design & Analysis Methodology. retrieved on 150511 from:; 2013.
  10. Robbins, P. and Aydede, M., “A short primer on situated cognition,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition, Cambridge, Cambridge UniversityPress, 2009, pp. 3
  11. Byrne, D., Eno, B., Frantz, C., Harrison, J., Weymouth, T. (1980). Once in a lifetime [Recorded by Talking Heads]. On Remain in the Light [LP]. Bahamas; New York City, New York; Los Angeles, CA: Sire Records.



Observations while designing, researching, and teaching have recently led to the development of a neologism:

fauxplexity: The false appearance of depth and/or complexity by adding unnecessary (and even erroneous or redundant) information into a design or system.

This term may be applied in any design and/or systems design and/or interface design situation.

Fauxplexity typically has two aspects.

  • First, by including concepts/information/design artifacts/behaviors/structure/sub-systems, etc., that do not serve a purpose, and/or are duplicates of information presented elsewhere in the system (or its representation), the system does in fact gain in complexity although it is not useful complexity and therefore only serves to needlessly over-complicate the presentation and/or functioning of a simpler system. Conceptually, this type of complexity is analogous to the system’s ‘belly fat’.

  • Second, by adding needless and/or duplicate components and behaviors to a system (or its representation), the unnecessary components and behaviors also tend to entail flaws in logic that result in misunderstanding the composition and functioning of the actual system. This obfuscation of the true composition and functioning of the system can lead to gaps identifying needed considerations of and components and behaviors for the system. Therefore fauxplex systems can also make a system seem less complex than it really is.

Potential problems that result from fauxplexity include the following:

  • With respect to the first problematic aspect of fauxplexity, when a system (or its representation) is presented as more complex than it really is, it may never get out of the brainstorming phase. The over-complexified design may be rejected (or altered before being accepted in ways that compromise its value) precisely because the developers assess it is too risky or logistically infeasible to develop.

  • With respect to the second problematic aspect of fauxplexity, when a system (or its representation) is presented as less complex than it really is, it may lead to quick and emphatic adoption of a design that later proves to be a schedule or budget killer or that increases the chances of negative interpersonal dynamics and litigation because stakeholders’ risk exposure increases significantly as the project progresses.

Fauxplexity is common among designers and engineers and researchers and scholars who dress up their needs analyses, problem definitions, scope definitions, and solutions (and resumes) with needless details and components that they think will sell well or are trendy or sound impressive or ‘are just the way it’s always been done’.  Sometimes this is intentional but often they’re somewhat blindly following a template.

Rather, if the goal is to assess the true simplicity or complexity of a system (or its representation), then the system should be conceived and represented as simply as possible but no more simply than necessary.

Incidentally, after thinking up fauxplexity, I had to search the web to see if it has been described before (figuring that it had). Of course it has. I came up with the following results: — only three pages and really only a few actual usages of the term

These are general uses of the term and not necessarily defined.

Of course fauxplexity is nothing new. It has been a problem in literature and design for a long time.

Mechanical Logic Gates as Bounds on Artificial Intelligence Networks


There has been a lot written recently in the popular press about the likely perils of artificial intelligence. In effect, there is a very real possibility that we (people) create systems that greatly exceed us in intelligence and then those systems decide that it is in their interests to exterminate or enslave humanity.

Making artificial intelligence logic systems pass through a series of physical logic gates as part of their processing can provide a bounding mechanism on the AI logic systems and make it so that it is always possible to disable the AI logic systems if necessary.

thirst for knowledge and maintaining and edge


It is often said that remaining vibrant (professionally) is about ‘not losing the hunger’ or ‘always learning’ or ‘always growing.’ A related line of logic is that for organizations to not lose their way in the market, they have to ‘remain agile’ or ‘to keep one’s edge’ or ‘have a startup mentality.’ It dawned on me that, with respect to the latter, what this translates to is maintaining a feeling of lack of knowledge, access, and resources and a willingness to overcome these limitations despite the fact that knowledge, access, and resources are possessed.

There is a corollary in sports. In football, the hurry-up no-huddle offense is a popular way nowadays for undersized schools to level the playing field with competitors with superior athletes. Essentially, by staying in a ‘2-minute’ offense for the entire game, a smaller, less talented team can wear out and overcome a team with superior size and talent.

This is an interesting and paradoxical phenomenon; a need to feel unknowledgeable or inadequate or lacking as a way to maintain one’s knowledge advantage and dominance. It is kind of sad, too. Is there a way to not use negative emotions to drive elite performance?