Intelligent Agency on Multiple Scales

Patrick McGivern
The University of Wollongong

Project Summary

To investigate the diversity of intelligence, we need an account of intelligent action that isn’t biased toward the human scale. Small-scale creatures, such as bacteria, and slow-acting ones, such as plants and slime molds, need to be understood on their own terms, rather than being judged by human standards. 

This Diverse Intelligences project will develop such an account by focusing on the central concept of agency. Agency distinguishes intelligent action from merely mechanical responsiveness and from unguided spontaneity. But most standard accounts of agency also show a bias toward the human scale. Thus, agency needs to be re-conceived in a way that is compatible with activity on multiple scales.

Through philosophical analysis and through engagement with scientists working on “minimal” forms of intelligence in systems such as bacteria, plants, and slime molds, the project team will develop a rigorous account of agency that can apply across a diverse range of spatial and temporal scales. This will involve integrating agency with other scale-dependent concepts and building a better understanding of how we must conceive of agency at different levels of explanation.

The project will involve a two-year collaboration between Patrick McGivern and a postdoctoral fellow, resulting in a series of papers and a monograph tentatively titled “The Abundance of Agency: Understanding Agents on Multiple Scales.”

Project Details

Project Duration

17 February 202028 February 2022

Core Funding Area

Big Questions

Initiative

Diverse Intelligences

Region of Activity

Oceania

TWCF Number

0463

Amount Awarded

$233,738

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