Again, this 15-slide briefing-style post an earlier incomplete version I posted in 2017 (here). Because this newly expanded revised updated post is rather long for a blog post and way too long for a simultaneous Facebook page post, I’m issuing it in three separate sections: Part I, this Part II, plus an Addendum.
This new post assumes a passing familiarity with the STA:C framework. If you are unfamiliar but interested, see prior posts throughout this blog, starting with a background story (here) and a preliminary overview (here).
The depiction recapitulates what a mind (or culture) should look like, at its comprehensive best: developed, balanced, knowledgeable, and attentive in all three cognitive domains. All three — space, time, action — are recognized and weighted equally, as are their overlaps (i.e., fusions, interactions). What may be a cognitive “sweet spot” lies at the core. I’ve added a feedback arrow to indicate that reciprocal adjustments and adaptations (OODA Loops?) are bound to occur as actors apply their cognitions to real-world thinking and doing.
Of course, many minds and cultures may not conform to this idealized depiction. They may be more emphatic and elaborate about one element, less so about another. If so, the diagram can be altered to depict that particular mind or culture. I should also note that the diagram implies that there is content, yet here it is devoid of specific content — e.g., about whether a time sense is more future- or past-oriented. That would have to be identified, and a display methodology determined (“word clouds”?), for the particular person or culture being studied. I doubt there is an ideal content for each cognitive domain; instead, what may be “ideal” is that it vary from individual to individual and from culture to culture (in accordance with Darwinian principles?). For example, as noted in other blog posts here, there is a large literature about differences between Western and Asian cultures and related modes of perception, and much of it comes down to differences in space, time, and action perspectives. Which I’d say further confirms that STA:C offers a sound way to make comparisons.
Note: Diagraming with 2-D circles must suffice for now. 3-D shapes, if I knew how to draw them, could convey better that the three STA:C elements may fit and function together much like a molecular bundle.
Slide 11: Space, Time, & Action As Our Cardinal Cognitions
As a result of the above, space, time, and action (or agency) may be deemed people’s cardinal or prime social cognitions, the fundaments of consciousness itself. They emerge and develop during infancy and are sine qua non for the rest of people’s lives, as a triad or triplex. The same goes for cultures. Every culture around the world develops its own distinctive nature in large part because of the dispositions it instills in people about social space, time, and action.
These three social cognitions form, function, and should be studied as a triplex — not singly. Consider frequent claims that space and time orientations are important as a pair — that’s common in the social sciences. Yet, without the addition of the action orientations to the cognitive bundle, subjects would simply sit there, inert, and their space-time orientations would mean nothing for cause or consequence. It may be a leap, from showing that experts studying any one of the three cognitive-cultural elements will inevitably recognize all three, to showing that the three combined are our primary or cardinal cognitions and should be viewed and studied as a triplex. But I am suggesting that it can and will be shown eventually — even if I am not the one to do it.
Whenever I question whether space, time, and action are sufficient to comprise our cardinal cognitions, I keep looking for what else may be cardinal — what I may be missing. So far, I don’t see what else. For example, some studies treat “the self” as a key cognition. But then the discussion is about the self as an entity that senses differentiations from and connections to others — which is a spatial orientation. Or that the self is expressed through expectations and aspirations — a time orientation. Or that the sense of self evolves as one learns to use tools and see cause-effect relations — an action or agency orientation. In other words, the ensuing discussion is about the self as a set of space-time-action orientations. I take this to mean that “the self” (not to mention perception of “the other”) is not a separate cognition that lies outside STA:C — it fits fine under or into STA:C’s triad. (Of course, there are cognitions that don’t obviously fit STA:C — e.g., the cognition of “beauty”. But I don’t see that as a problem that invalidates STA:C.)
While lots of literatures exist about the importance of each of the three cognitive domains, I can’t find any literature claiming the triplex is as cardinal as I am hypothesizing. Thus I cannot do much more than offer the hypothesis. But I’d further insist on it by noting parallels from physics and philosophy: Space, time, and action may be the cardinal cognitions, much as red, blue, and yellow are the primary colors; and space, time, and energy/mass (or something akin) are the fundaments of physics. Isaac Newton posited that physics rested on observations about space, time, and momentum. Immanuel Kant posited that the mind rests on conceptions of space, time, and causality. Sheldon Wolin argued that political metaphysics rest on ideas about space, time, and energy (the last in the form of power). STA:C amounts to an extension of all this.
Slide 12: What STA:C Can Be Good At: Improving Theory & Practice
As a triplex framework, STA:C is potentially better for everything the experts say their single- and dual-element frameworks are good for. Indeed, STA:C is a more inclusive, comprehensive, and accurate way to approach the fundaments of cognition and culture.
This and the next slide list some topics where I’d propose applying STA:C. Each topic is broad and could take up an entire blog post, but I offer only brief sketchy remarks here. This is just a partial list, for most of these topics reflect my limited personal interests in national-security matters. Of all the slides in this post, these may be the two most in need of future revisions, including to better reflect non-security matters.
• Analyzing cognition and culture — all mentalities and all cultures rest on space-time-action presumptions, principles: I’ve made this point so many times throughout this post that I shall refrain from elaborating again here. But it deserves to lead this list.
• Analyzing evolutionary progress & regress — both personal and social evolution depend on all three STA:C elements, not just one: STA:C offers a better way to understand evolutionary progress and regress, be that in the form of personal or social evolution. Jean Piaget’s space- and time-focused writings about the cognitive growth of children speaks to this at the personal level. So do Zimbardo & Boyd’s time-centric writings about cognitive therapy for adolescents and adults. As for social evolution, I’m a proponent of TIMN, and I’ve previously noted that each TIMN form (Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks) is associated with different STA:C orientations. More could be done with this. (For clarification, see sidebar and table titled “TIMN vis à vis STA” here.)
• Tracking & anticipating cultural shifts — from reversions to tribalism, to prospects for a better future for America; a new look at “human terrain” analysis abroad: What I mostly have in mind is rethinking opinion polls and attitude surveys. They are regularly used to track American’s views about consumer confidence, or government performance, or social policy, etc. The ones I’ve seen often contain questions, scales, and other measures that try to get at people’s space-time-action perceptions — but not deliberately and systematically, in ways that cover all three cognitions. I’d suggest that STA:C may provide a sound theoretical basis for designing polls and surveys that are supposed to reflect people’s key cognitions. A concern I’d raise is understanding and tracking the reversions to tribalism spreading all across America, as people lose confidence in our leaders and institutions and become polarized. Much of this is reflected in shifts in people’s space-time-action perceptions — a reason to propose new kinds of surveys so they covered all of STA:C’s principles, the better to track tribalization trends.
Meanwhile, as a TIMN quadriformist, I keep looking for positive signs that a new +N/network sector is emerging — maybe a “commons sector” that will function very differently from our established public and private sectors. If/as it takes shape, it will mean a profound systemic transformation for our society. While I usually discuss this prospect in TIMN’s organizational terms, STA:C’s cognitive elements are at stake too. For it will mean recognizing and approving an entirely new “space” where the “future” is reimagined and “agency” operates differently. Which makes me wonder, speculatively, whether STA:C (not to mention TIMN) could be used to track, anticipate, and even shape such a transformative future prospect.
Finally, the Pentagon’s ill-fated Human Terrain System (HTS) is also relevant to mention here. Its teams were supposed to improve cultural awareness and cultural intelligence for U.S forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it floundered from lack of competence and acceptance, among other reasons. I initially thought HTS was a good idea, when Montgomery McFate proposed it. But it soon became clear that, in practice, HTS and its trainers were unable to provide clear conceptual directions. I think something like STA:C (combined with TIMN) could have provided a coherent incisive framework for proceeding.
Slide 13: What STA:C Can Be Good At, cont.
Again, STA:C is good for everything that the single- and dual-element frameworks are said to be good for. This second slide continues in the fashion of the first, specifying particular topics where STA:C could improve upon existing single- and dual-element approaches to analyzing people’s cognitions and the implications for behavior.
• Analyzing & explaining extremist mindsets — terrorist, millenarian, other radical mentalities; CVE analysis: Many terrorism analyses, some related to CVE (countering violent extremism) efforts, emphasize psychological conditions — e.g., humiliation, alienation, etc. They could do better by digging into terrorists’ space, time, and action orientations. When they come close to doing so, most analysts have emphasized aspects of terrorists’ time and/or action orientations. Yet, their space orientations (e.g., sense of isolation from and/or connectedness to other) may be more determinative. STA:C urges a comprehensive approach. I’ve already written various posts about this, including here and in my post about Zimbardo & Boyd’s time-perspective theory.)
• Thinking about strategy & tactics — positioning for spatial, temporal, agentic advantages: STA:C may provide a fresh way to think about strategy. Strategy is traditionally treated as the art of relating ends, ways, and means, and sometimes as the art of positioning. STA:C implies that strategy is the art of positioning for spatial, temporal, and agentic (actional) advantages. To think about strategy, STA:C says to assess space, time, and action factors as a set. Don’t focus just on time and space factors, treating action mostly as a dependent variable, as some strategy writers tend to do, however insightful their work (e.g., Cunningham & Tomes, 2004).
• Waging cognitive warfare: Adopting a STA:C view of strategy may help particularly with the newest form of warfare we face: cognitive warfare — strategic information warfare waged to affect people’s hearts and minds, by means of information operations that deploy “militarized narratives” and “toxic memes” to polarize, tribalize, and atomize a society. As recent events involving Russian “active measures” reveal, we must learn to counter and conduct cognitive warfare more competently. STA:C (not to mention TIMN) identifies where some of the keys lie — they’re in people’s space-time-action cognitions that incline them to extreme tribalism.
• Constructing cognitive architectures for AIs: Finally, whenever I occasionally read about the prospects for cognition and consciousness in artificial intelligences (AIs), I wonder how much that will may depend on the development of technologies to generate space, time, and action senses. After all, isn’t the Google self-driving car a set of technologies — sensors, modules, algorithms — for just that? I’ve never seen AI discussed in STA:C-like terms; but I’ve long mused that doing so could prove conceptually and technically useful.
Slide 14: Thinking Back — Looking Ahead
• The idea that space-time-action orientations form and function together, and that a framework / theory could be constructed around the idea, occurred to me during a nap in 1966 or 1967, almost as an epiphany, back when I was in graduate school. So, STA:C has been obvious to me since then — over fifty years ago. Meanwhile, perhaps fortuitously for me, no on else has come up and run with the idea. I still have a chance to originate it. Yet, why hasn’t it been obvious to others? I remain baffled.
• A good explanation may be the nature of academia — the ways it fosters specialization, compartmentalization, and credentialism, along with conceptual and departmental rivalries. The study of social space seems centered around postmodern, often neo-Marxist sociologists who are politicized. The study of time perspectives seems mostly in the hands of psychologists, as does the study of agency — but separate from each other. Plus, there are cognitive scientists (e.g., George Lakoff, Steven Pinker) whose writings delve into space and time perspectives, but again on their own. I’ve noticed conferences being held about space, or time, or agency orientations — but never about any two together, though an isolated presentation or paper occasionally addresses space and time perspectives together. In other words, cross-field communication seems absent; the specialists seem siloed; and academia seems rife with obstacles to what I am proposing. Over the decades, I’ve made a dozen or so email efforts to contact selected academic experts about STA:C, usually to point out a blog post, but always to no real avail, no expressions of interest. They may have good reasons for being unresponsive, and I stand ready to be corrected if my impressions above are poorly informed — yet I can’t help but wonder whether the “Parable of the Elephant and the Blind Men” may apply here.
• (Re)naming STA:C might help: I use that acronym (and earlier ones) as short-hand, so I don’t have to write out every time that I mean “my prospective framework about people’s space-time-action orientations and their significance for consciousness, cognition, and culture”. But acronyms are surely not the best way to go. A short name could help. The term “social cognitive theory” (or “social cognition theory”) seems apt — but it’s already taken, for it’s the name used by Bandura and his colleagues for his/their agency-centered theory. Maybe try “mindframe analysis” or “cognitive-cultural theory”, or, better yet, “triplex cognition theory”. Maybe a reader can come up with something better. A good name could help with garnering an identity and acceptance for STA:C.
• I keep saying that space-time-action cognitions form and function as an embedded triplex in people’s minds, and should be studied as such. Yet I have no proof; and I’m not in a position to prove that this space-time-action triplex truly exists in people’s minds. There is plenty of scholarly proof about each single element. But proving that all three form and function as a bundle, much like a module, seems like a grand challenge — one that will have to be taken up by aspiring theorists other than myself.
• My closing exhortation, then, is that if any readers are in the process of studying any one of the three cognitions, you/they should change direction and turn to analyzing all three, as a bundle. Try it out. See what happens. Go transcend the conventional practice of focusing on just one of the three.
Slide 15: Wrap-Up Advice for Fully Developing STA:C
At this lateness in my life, I’ll keep working on writing up bits and pieces about STA:C. But I won’t be able to fully develop STA:C, least of all write the book-length treatment it deserves. Nonetheless, I still say STA:C is full of promise, and others would be well-advised to pick it up and work it out.
Here’s some advice I have for you who may do so:
• Make an evermore convincing case for treating space, time, and action (agency) cognitions as a triplex bundle: I just discussed this above, but it deserves a further mention in this advice column.
• Identify propositions for each that may generalize across all three: For example, minds that are orderly, and intent on being orderly, in one dimension may also tend to be orderly in the other two. If so, they may focus on restoring such order if a cognitive disturbance occurs. Thus, a mind that prefers to focus far more on the future than on the past or present, or far more on the self than on the world at large, may prove difficult to shift away from that focus. However, if orientations along one dimension do shift sharply, this may induce a shift in one or both of the other two dimensions. I’ve wondered about this before (here). Furthermore, as I tried to propose here, basic distinctions about conservative and progressive mentalities may reduce to differences in their respective space, time, and action orientations, particularly their sensitivities about boundaries and horizons. My point is, look for propositions that include consideration of all three elements, not just one or two. Thus, to give another example, if a single-element specialist claims that a contraction or deformation in that element may make a person’s life much more difficult to cope with — or vice-versa that extreme life difficulties can lead to a contraction or deformation in a person’s agency (or spatial, or temporal) orientations — then go ask whether this is true for all three cognitive domains and what the interactions are. Put limits on single-element thinking and analysis.
• Specify typologies for each of the three — and relate them to each other: Easier said than done, but I’d sure urge working on it. I’ve seen plenty of typologies about time, fewer about space or action/agency orientations, and no effort to relate them to each other and propose a composite typology, not even by theorists who write about space and then about time (e.g., Gurvitch). Time orientations seem easiest to typologize for research purposes since they can be easily separated into past, present, and future orientations (e.g., à la Zimbardo & Boyd). But that barely captures the richness and variety of people’s actual time orientations, as seen in more convoluted typologies (e.g., Gurvitch). Meanwhile, I’ve yet to see a typology of space or agency orientations that looks pertinent for triplex cognition theory. My own view of space orientations is that identification of the following should be included: the actors, objects, and structures defining the space — their identity, distribution, scope, relative size and strength; connections and pathways that link them; layout in terms of centers, distances, boundaries, horizons; divisions or partitions into realms, domains, layers; as well as organization of all the above into whole systems (as I noted here). But how to turn that into a manageable typology, one that can be criss-crossed with parallel time and agency typologies, is beyond me at the moment. I just sense it’s a potentially valuable agenda item for triplex cognition analysis.
• Design methodologies — e.g., questionnaires, indicators, scales, etc. — for measuring and mapping people’s views across all three cognitive domains: Separate methodologies have long existed for each of the three, and many incidentally include questions, indicators, or scales that actually measure one of the other two elements, not the one purportedly being studied. Combing through these while seeking to combine them may be useful. But my sense is that new methodologies may need to be developed, especially if they are to get at interactions and fusions among the three cognitions.
• Seek recognition and feedback from experts on each of the three cognitions. So far, I’ve not been able to succeed at that. Meanwhile, present write-ups to spread the word — persuade new scholars to join in developing and applying triplex cognition theory.