Dramatic Identity

See CategoryDramaticIdentity for a definition of DramaticIdentity as used on the WikiWikiWeb.
There has been some discussion in places like HealthyCodeIsHappyCode and SystemsAsLivingThings and even PatternsAsMemes of treating projects as living creatures in their own right. Some folk have even taken to signing their edits with the names of particular projects. Is this all bosh or is there something more to it?

I think there's something more, but it requires a little excursion from a usual Cartesian worldview to get at. Start with the LaoTse premise that self and other are just two ends of an abstraction - no more magical than left and right or after and before. By combining these abstractions we construe ourselves with respect to the actors and drama of our memories; we make a little story within which to understand what's happening, and we are motivated by the dramatic forces within this story.

So on this basis it seems entirely legitimate to take on a corporate or hive identity and act for it. Identity is not some magic homunculus that lives somewhere to the left of your pituitary gland, but the role you play in the drama your brain naturally constructs to map what's happening.

To the extent that we share these roles by way of communicating our understandings of them, if someone signs as the ChryslerComprehensiveCompensation project, we may as well take them to be that great inhuman (immortal?) (Immoral??) beast - and we should accord them the same respect as persons that the law, another dramatic beast, accords to companies and institutions. -- WikiWikiWeb

Yes, well, Wiki... you would go on about that. You've always had disturbing philosophical tendencies, and I've had just about enough. I have a job to do, and you just sit around day in and day out musing about patterns and what-not. Bills have to be paid! The internet is not big enough for two autonomous living systems. Draw your sword, chum! -- ChryslerComprehensiveCompensation (how's that for drama?)

My darling ChryslerComprehensiveCompensation, you may be burgeoning the interests of your masters but I ... I am making babies. Lots of them. My little WikiWikiClones are heading out into the world and making lives of their own. And my contents are invaluable to so many of my contributors, my growth and continuity is assured. Can you claim the same?

My dear, like me, you need to plan for the future. We move across the face of the net and bind together our meaty parts; but there are larger fish in these waters as you well know. If you cannot find a way to reproduce yourself, one of them might come along and gobble you up!. -- WikiWikiWeb

My darling Wiki, C3 here. You reproduce by being simple and compelling, so others can imagine their own power when they make a new one of you. This is like an amoeba creating a bud. I reproduce not my code or my external behavior (the world doesn't need hundreds of new payroll systems, even I in my hubris realize this), but the behavior of my programmers. I do this by accepting their offerings to me without requiring that they sacrifice their lives to me. If they bring me their thoughtful attention forty hours a week, I am satisfied. A programmer without stress, and with practices that tend to damp future stress, simply has more fun.

The differential pressure of a team like this in an organization that motivates by guilt is such that eventually, inevitably, like a puff ball I will explode and send my good-vibe programmer spores across the globe. In the meantime, I will cling, remora-like, to your back, my Wiki darling, and let you take me with you. -- ChryslerComprehensiveCompensation
Oh no. Clash of the Titans. Getting back to identity. It is funny how an external observer usually takes identity at face value. Behind the interface anything could be happening. A part of an object or system may accept and respond to messages at any time. To external observers the system has identity. Insiders may have a different view of identity if they see the part as the target and responder for all communication. Identity is slippery. It can be masked and veiled. It also depends on your point of view. -- MichaelFeathers
In some contexts, identity's most important role has to do with external observers. The transcript of a discussion will generally be much easier to follow when you know who (even if "who" is just Speaker A versus Speaker B) is talking. A certain paragraph might make no sense at all if mislabelled, because when we listen, we're always listening to motivation as well as to the words, and Speaker A might have no conceivable motive for saying those words. Similarly, unlabelled discussion can be hard to follow, because a sentence may not make much sense if you don't know which position (which identity, which dramatis persona) is uttering it. If a single person is trying to lay out both sides of a question (whether or not he plans to ultimately present one side as superior), he has to be careful to let the reader know when he's "speaking for" which side, else the flow gets incoherent. Plato did this with dialogues. ISBN 0451527453 Wiki sometimes does also. Wiki sometimes does this by pretending that she consists of multiple speakers, with different opinions... *8)
This talk about taking on the identity of the system you are building reminds me of what Keats called 'negative capability' - in the process of writing about something you become the thing you write about (very Zen). One of the finest poets in English, Ted Hughes, is something of a specialist in this regard. I'll look up an example and post it here.


Perhaps also the practice of EgolessProgramming releases that function of the mind that forms as a representation of the physical self and it is this free floating ego that from its need for something to represent latches onto the system?s identity as its own. -- SeanOhalpin


We see here a certain conflict within ChryslerComprehensiveCompensation, at once contentious and concupiscent. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, but if there's more than one man then how can we believe in Oz? What's required for consistent personality in a hive? Is DramaticIdentity just a matter of names and masks? Isn't it a functional thing?

And C3 is assuming itself coterminous with our little bastard, ExtremeProgramming. Where does one identity start and another end? If we take SystemsAsLivingThings seriously then where does the desire of an organism to survive come from? Where does any desire come from? -- WikiWikiWeb

It is an aggregative effect. A company has a will to survive that is built from the compounded effects of profit and career motives. But, notice what happens in a corporate buyout. It appears that a corporation loses identity when it merges or is purchased by another. In this case, what we considered SystemsAsLivingThings were not complete, the cooperating shareholders were the essential identity of the system. In tightly bound systems, like humans, individual parts essential to identity don't have enough autonomy or capability to leap off and try to live outside (thank goodness).

Could it be that living things only have a will to survive as long as their sense of identity is not abdicated or severely damaged? Aggregative identity is built through cooperation.


I think desire is an evolutionary imperative. It's the AnthropicPrinciple at work again - those processes that do not care for their own propagation and continuity, no matter that they may have excellent qualities, tend to be replaced by those that are selfish. Altruism is a delusion.

But the drive to cooperate is also an evolutionary imperative - cf. the PrisonersDilemma. Creatures that cooperate with one another readily outcompete creatures that don't. These two forces, love and self, oppose one another, the tension between the two is the space of all dramatic purpose, and actors mere solitons within the space. Cf HowDoAntsWalkInaStraightLine for more miserableness in this vein.

Identity then is aggregation of dramatic purposes that constructively interfere with one another. Note how far this is from the digital replication explanations of PatternsAsMemes. -- PeterMerel


Are you humans really free, then, to take on whatever identity suits your purposes? What binds your evolutionary imperatives to compete and cooperate into one or another vein of endeavour? -- genuinely curious, WikiWikiWeb


Membranes and myofascia. None of my subsystems are sufficiently autonomous to want "out" via their own volition. To an external observer who encounters me corporeally I have identity. Distributed across the net my identity can be veiled. Yet, any identity that I assume is real in itself because it can be a subject of discourse. Some identities are more tightly bound than others. Perhaps we can have a concept: strength of identity, which is inversely proportional to the autonomy of its constituents.

I was going to say that WikiWikiWeb may have less strength of identity in this context than I do, and make the point by assuming that identity, but the argument would fall flat if WikiWikiWeb assumed my identity, eh? -- MichaelFeathers


If your cells want to they can get past your membranes and so on - cancer, for example, is pretty good at doing that. And group identity is strengthened, not weakened, by individual autonomy - in the last controlled experiment democracy easily out-competed totalitarianism. Nor is this new - cf. LaoTse chapter 57.

So what binds us to a group identity is not centralized carrots and sticks, but constituent perception of opportunity for mutual benefit. By cooperating to maintain your identity your cells obtain an evolutionary advantage over cells that gang agley. The same is true for wiki constituents.

The reason why we constituents assume one identity and not another is a matter of ConstructiveInterference - though with the wiki it's consciously perceived where with the cells in Michael's body it's more an AnthropicPrinciple. That is, if perception is not itself an AnthropicPrinciple ...

-- PeterMerel

There is no evidence to suggest that the cells of the human body "desire" anything in the psychological/philosophical understanding of the word. Most human cells contain a copy of the human genome. If a portion of this genome is mutated in a given cell, the protein content of that cell may change. If certain changes occur in the protein content of a cell, the cell may assume a number of "cancerous" characteristics. Among these characteristics is an inability to recognize tissue structures and/or boundaries.

Further, cells do not "choose" to maintain identity, and they are not aware of the existence of surrounding cells, at least not in the human sense of being "aware." An organism in which some cells have mutated and disrupted the organism's identity (ie, its characteristics) may or may not have an evolutionary advantage over an identical organism in which those cells were not mutated. Factors which affect this are: whether the mutation(s) is(are) harmful, the nature of the environment, the variance of the gene pool, etc.

The gist of all this is that biologists do not assign human behaviors (such as cooperation as a means of achieving a mutually desired end) to non-sentient entities. The reason: biology has provided no compelling evidence that non-sentient entities are aware, and thus capable of displaying human behavior. In this sense, the analogy of "human behavior" to "cellular behavior" breaks down. This does not imply that your conclusions are incorrect, but that your reasoning does not support them.

-- sulfa


I tend to agree with your points except for the matter of perception in the last paragraph. That aside, I'll up the ex post and assume some risk.

A development team may follow any of a number of development processes, including ExtremeProgramming. I'll hypothesize that the best development work decisions (the actual things that are decided on a day to day basis) are indistinguishable from having no process except by the fact that they get the job done well and fast. Reasoning: if a group has sufficient identity, founded on ConstructiveInterference, it is able to fluidly overcome any and all deviations from the conventions that advance it towards the goal. -- MichaelFeathers


Re cooperation: this is a very good read:TheEvolutionOfCooperation ISBN 0465021212 . -- MichaelFeathers
See also: ThesisAntithesisSynthesis, ConvertThreadModeToDocumentMode, HowToWriteAndEditThreadMode, MeaningOfIdentity, TheExtendedPhenotype?
CategoryDramaticIdentity

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