Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A depiction of space-time-action analysis (STA) in six slides — plus an addendum of revelatory quotes




The purpose of this post is to offer a depiction of my view of STA. The post also depicts the space, time, and action views I’ve found in writings I’ve reviewed lately — as I presume they may be depicted in a similar way for comparison purposes.

The genesis of my depiction dates from a briefing I started to draft in 2009, but never completed. Hopefully, offering this set of draft slides today can help convey STA at a glance.

This post’s placement here is temporary. After I finish an upcoming series on a writing about action orientations — meaning I’ve finished reviewing a book about each STA orientation — I’ll delete this post and reissue it in a subsequent position, amended to include a new slide about the action-oriented book.

I could have waited until then before publishing this preliminary post. But rather than let it sit idly on my computer for what may be few months, I’d rather put this version out now, out of place, with a hope that it will help as an evolving visual aid for conveying and clarifying STA.

Speaking of readers, my ongoing series of posts about STA appears to be of little interest so far. Posts about TIMN remain of greater interest, and I intend to return to writing about TIMN, for there is still a lot to be said. But for now, onward with STA — so that at least its rudiments are laid out better here.

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This post presumes a passing familiarity with the STA framework. Otherwise, read here first.

What I do here is let circles correspond to the three cognitive domains: space, time, action. Sizes indicate relative emphasis. Locations — e.g., separations, overlaps — indicate relative interactions, or their absence.

All diagrams are preliminary and impressionistic on my part. Your view may differ — in which case, feel free to redraw, or suggest that I redraw.

Slide 1: Many (most?) discussions I’ve seen over the years about space, time, and action factors are reflected in the diagram on the left, where space and time factors are discussed for their effects on activities, or action, which is broadly defined to cover all sorts of thinking and doing. But, though not entirely wrong, that approach ultimately misleads, for it makes action too much of a dependent variable.

The depiction on the right shows what STA looks like to me. Notice that all three circles — space, time, and action — are treated as independent but interactive variables, roughly equal in size and location, with complex overlaps. It’s basically a Venn diagram. It makes “thinking and doing” — not vague “action” — the dependent variable. And as I’ve argued in various writings, it’s a more accurate way to depict and assess cognition. This kind of diagram also offers a basis for comparisons, as in the next few slides.

Slide 2: While Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space ([1974] 1991) focuses on space, he devotes major attention to time as well. He does not write about action, but his treatment of “strategy” is somewhat cognate. (source: three blog posts, beginning here)

Hence, the largest circle is about space. Time merits a rather large circle too. And the space and time circles deserve a strong overlap. Lefebvre’s treatment of action/strategy figures less by comparison — so I’ve rendered it with the smallest circle and least overlap.

Slide 3: This slide depicts what I conclude from my reading of Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s The Time Paradox (2008). The largest circle by far must go to time. (source: three blog posts, plus a fourth in progress, starting here)

As for action, they emphasize the importance of “control” and “efficacy” as cognates. So it merits a medium-size circle. But their discussion tends to embed and suborn control within their treatment of time. Thus, in my assessment, the action circle ends up almost entirely engulfed within the time circle.

I spotted no discussion of space as a distinct cognitive domain, only scattered disparate references to various spatial elements (e.g., perceptions about self-worth, family, or government). Hence, I’ve drawn the space circle quite small and placed it almost entirely outside (though maybe it too belongs inside).

Slide 4: This slide is here as a temporary place marker until I have the material to fill it out. I’m pretty sure the book I will use is Alberto Bandura’s Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997), since it appears to discuss psychological efficacy in a manner that matches what I think action means in the STA framework.

Other choices might be grand theories of social action — e.g., by sociologists Talcott Parsons, Anthony Giddens, or Manuel Castells. They refer heavily to space and time factors. But they also use broader definitions of action than I think is best for developing STA at this point.

Another option might be a history of the Western concept of “progress” and its associations with space, time, and action innovations. Or a writing, perhaps by an anthropologist, about differences between Western and Asian ways of thought. But right now, I’d rather work with a writing of a more theoretical and psychological bent, like Bandura’s book.

Slide 5: This slide recapitulates my sense of what STA mindframe analysis looks like, ideally. All three of STA’s cognitive domains are identified. And they’re weighted equally, as are their overlaps. What is presumably a cognitive/cultural “sweet spot” lies at the core in the middle.

Of course, this depiction leaves open questions about the content of each domain, as well as about indicators and measures for each, and for their overlaps and interactions. Identifying those remains a challenge.

Moreover, this depiction is about what a comprehensive STA analysis should look like, ideally inquiring into all areas. The depiction may also represent what an actual mind (or culture) should look like, at its best: developed, balanced, and attentive in all three cognitive domains.

Yet, in reality, many minds and cultures do not conform to this idealized depiction — e.g., they may be more emphatic in one area, less so in another. If so, then the diagram would have to be redrawn to display that particular mind or culture. Which would then offer a basis for making comparisons, as I’ve tentatively done with the books reviewed above. And offering a method for depicting an ideal and making comparisons seems worthwhile to me, as a way to advance STA.

Slide 6: I’ve already written a variety of posts (starting here and here) claiming that all minds and cultures rest on space-time-action principles — indeed, that space-time-action orientations lie at the core of cognition and culture. Theorizing about this is the main purpose of STA.

STA also offers a way to understand evolutionary progress and regress, be that in the form of personal or social evolution. All such evolution depends on STA conditions. Jean Piaget’s writings about the cognitive growth of children speaks to this, and so do Zimbardo & Boyd’s writings about cognitive therapy for adolescents and adults. As for social evolution à la TIMN, I’ve previously indicated that the each TIMN form depends on different STA orientations (e.g., see sidebar and table titled “TIMN vis à vis STA” here). More could be done with this.

Furthermore, STA may provide a fresh way to think about strategy and tactics. Strategy is traditionally treated, particularly in the military world, as the art of relating ends, ways, and means — and sometimes, mostly in the business world, as the art of positioning. STA implies that strategy is the art of positioning for spatial, temporal, and actional advantages, in light of one’s ends, ways, and means. To design a strategy, STA implies making a comprehensive examination of space, time, and action factors as a set. Don’t just focus on time and space — as some strategic analysis seems to do — assuming that should determine action.

I remain convinced that STA could help with analyzing terrorist and other radical mindsets. Many terrorism analysts emphasize grand concepts — e.g., humiliation, alienation — but they could do better by digging into terrorists’ space, time, and action orientations. However, when analysts do so, most emphasize STA’s time and/or action orientations — yet it’s terrorists’ space orientations that may be more crucial. STA urges a comprehensive approach. (I’ve already written various posts about this, and I’ll elaborate further in my next post about Zimbardo & Boyd’s time-perspective theory.)

Finally, whenever I occasionally read about the prospects for cognition and consciousness in artificial intelligence (AI), I wonder how much that will may depend on the development of devices to generate space, time, and action senses. For example, isn’t the Google self-driving car a set of technologies — sensors, modules, algorithms — for just that? I’ve never seen AI discussed in anything like STA terms; but I’ve long mused that doing so could prove useful.

I hope this sketchy outline helps. Onward.

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Addendum: Scholarly quotes about the importance of people’s STA orientations

While I was refining the foregoing slides and text, I noticed various scholarly quotes I’d kept for old drafts about STA. These quotes might clutter the trim briefing-style post above. But they speak pointedly to the ideas behind STA. And they may help convey and clarify STA for some readers. So I’m providing a selection here, eleven in number. I’ve used a few in prior posts, but they’re worth repeating.

On space: These two quotes — the first from Michel Foucault, the next from Manuel Castells — speak to the importance of space orientations.
• “The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity; we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. … when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersections with its own skein.” (From Michel Foucault, “Of Other Space,” in Diacritics, Spring 1986, p. 24)
• “I shall then synthesize the observed tendencies under a new spatial logic that I label space of flows. I shall oppose to such logic the historically rooted spatial organization of our common experience: the space of places.” (From Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, 1996, p. 378)

On time: Here are three quotes about the significance of time orientations — one each from Karl Mannheim, Florence Kluckhon, and Fred Polak. The statements by Kluckhon and Polak represent the kind of background that I’d wish Zimbardo & Boyd’s book had included.
• “[T]he innermost structure of the mentality of a group can never be as clearly grasped as when we attempt to understand its conception of time in the light of its hopes, yearning, and purposes. On the basis of these purposes and expectations, a given mentality orders not merely future events, but also the past.” (From Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, 1936, p. 209)
• “Obviously all societies at all times must cope with all three time problems; all must have their conceptions of the Past, the Present, and the Future. Where societies differ is in the rank-order emphasis they give to each, and a very great deal can be told about the particular society being studied, much about the direction of change within it can be predicted, if one knows what that rank order is. Spengler, greatly impressed by the significance of the time orientation, made this statement in his Decline of the West: ‘It is by the meaning that it intuitively attaches to time that one culture is differentiated from another.’” (From Florence Kluckhohn, “Some Reflections on the nature of cultural integration and change,” in Tiryakian, ed., 1963, p. 224)
• “[Man's] image of the future is his propelling power. … [T]he rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as a society's image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive.” (From Fred Polak, The Image of the Future, [1955] 1973, p. 5, 19)

On action: That man has power to affect things, that progress is feasible, that social action can work — that human agency and efficacy matter — is a separate belief, not derived from space-time beliefs. This point shines in the following two quotes — one from Leonard Doob, the other from Alberto Bandura:
• “Basic to all such thinking …. must also be the belief that men themselves — not their ancestors, not fate, not nature, not other men — are able to control their own destinies. … for men everywhere are not likely to seek change unless they believe that change is possible.” (From Leonard Doob, Becoming More Civilized, 1960, p. ??)
• “This change in human self-conception and the view of life from supernatural control to personal control ushered in a major shift in causal thinking, and the new enlightenment rapidly expanded the exercise of human power over more and more domains.” (From Alberto Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, 1997, p. 1)

On space and time together: Of the three STA orientations, space and time are the two that usually get combined and discussed together. The following quotes — one from Lewis Mumford, the next from Daniel Boorstin — illustrate this:
• “[N]o two cultures live conceptually in the same kind of time and space. … [E]ach culture believes that every other kind of space and time is an approximation to or perversion of the real space and time in which it lives.” (Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, 1932, p. 18)
• “[T]he compass provided a worldwide absolute for space comparable to that which the mechanical clock and the uniform hour provided for time. … When you moved any great distance from your home out into the uncharted great oceans, you could not know precisely where you were unless you had a way of finding precisely when you were.” (From Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers, 1983, pp. 219-220)

On space, time, and action as a set: Finally, as intimations of STA, here are revelatory quotes — one from Sheldon Wolin, the next from Bruno Latour — that urge treating space-time-action as a triad.
• “Every political theory that has aimed at a measure of comprehensiveness has adopted some implicit or explicit proposition about “time,” “space,” “reality,” or “energy.” Although most of these are the traditional categories of metaphysicians, the political theorist does not state his propositions or formulate his concepts in the same manner as a metaphysician. … Rather, the political theorist has used synonyms; instead of political space he may have written about the city, the state, or the nation; instead of time, he may have referred to history or tradition; instead of energy, he may have spoken about power. The complex of these categories we can call a political metaphysic.” (From Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision, 1960, pp. 15-16)
• “Fourth, to talk like the semioticians, there is always simultaneously at work in each account, a shift in space, a shift in time, and a shift in actor or actant, the last of these always forgotten in philosophical or psychological discussions. … We should not speak of time, space, and actant but rather of temporalization, spatialization, actantialization (the words are horrible) or, more elegantly of timing, spacing, acting.” (From Bruno Latour, “Trains of Thought: Piaget, Formalism, and The Fifth Dimension,” in Common Knowledge, Winter 1997, pp. 178–9)

Bruno Latour!? I normally find his writing incomprehensible. Evidently I must reconsider.

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