sitemapCo-gnosis and Co-praxis: Dimensions of Human Interactivity
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Pure and Applied Research into Human Interactivity

Randall Whitaker

Copyright 1989, 1992, 1996 Randall Whitaker.
This material may be freely cited, copied, and/or distributed, so long as the author attribution is included.

[Background][Cognosis vs. Copraxis][Menu]

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Background: Interactivity as the Key Dimension of Current Events

Humans are not the only social animals. In the sense of signification for action, humans are not even the only social animals to manifest a 'symbolic aspect' to their interactions (cf. the dancing of bees to indicate promising vectors for pollen-gathering flights). To the extent of our current ability to discern, however, humans are the only such animals whose interactivity encompasses a capacity to interact with respect to symbolic abstractions of the very patterns of interactivity they realize. By virtue of this capacity for self-referentiality, we have generated constructs delimiting our canonical perspectives on those aspects of life we treat as functionally basic (e.g., 'the family'; 'the economy') or operationally distinct (e.g., 'the nation'; 'the company'). At the totalizational extreme, these constructs include both 'culture' and 'society'.

Whatever their explanatory merit (and whatever one precisely connotes by them), few would dispute that both 'culture' and 'society' are undergoing radical changes. What is remarkable is that the vehicle for these changes is the very vehicle by which those constructs were generated in the first place -- i.e., communicative interactivity. If there is any 'hallmark' for the 20th Century, it is the explosive growth in the underlying instrumentalities, level of traffic, and personal stress associated with interpersonal communication. Nowhere is this more evident than in the proliferation and absorption of information technology (IT) into all aspects of personal and working life. Your reading these World Wide Web pages is based upon a recently-propagated facility for sharing 'information' (HTTP/HTML) within a medium (the Internet) which itself evolved from a closed command and control system for nuclear warfare to a global public forum in the space of three short decades. Speaking figuratively, the Internet represents the most significant 'sword' ever 'beaten into a plowshare'.

This significance has not been lost on the Powers That Be and the Powers That Would Be. There is a shift of emphasis from the 'physical labor' which typified the Industrial Revolution to the 'knowledge work' facilitated by IT as the focal domain for 'leveraging' advancement and advantage. This shift has resulted in IT being increasingly treated as something more than a background technical factor; in some quarters it is becoming the focal metaphor for the forms and means of progress. Networks have become the newly-canonized paradigm for organizational structures (e.g., corporations) and functions (e.g., patterns of workflow). Unlike previous efforts at organizational improvement, the currently faddish enterprise innovation typically termed business process reengineering (BPR) incorporates IT as a core dimension for both issue analyses and constructive interventions. The military, awakening to the notion of cyberspace as a critical 'landscape' with both tactical and strategic significance, is working hard to understand and prepare for the presumably nascent warform -- information warfare.

Thus there closes a referential circle encompassing the critical developments of this era. The interpersonal interactivity through which we reciprocally delineate and enact our social relations and our institutions, augmented by the proliferation of advanced IT, has become the focal venue for both constructive and destructive exercises of power. The 'metaphysics' and the dynamics of cyberspace are unlike those of the physical space within which prior epochal stages of civilization were manifested. As a result, there is no reason to unquestioningly presume that the dimensions, granularities, or topographies of 21st Century empowerments (political, financial, etc.) will bear any necessary resemblance to the analogous factors upon which the 'modern condition' is based.

The Conventional Classes of Interactivity: Cognosis and Copraxis

Addressing these issues will require an appreciation of the manner in which we as humans interact. As the title of this Web space suggests, the materials herein shall attempt to address the two conventional dimensions of said interactivity:

  1. Cognosis ('co'-'gnosis'), by which I connote mutual creation, diffusion, and/or manipulation of significations. Phrased another way, cognosis refers to those communal acts whose focus is 'information', in that term's colloquial sense of something abstract and possessed of 'meaning'.

  2. Copraxis ('co'-'praxis'), by which I connote mutual creation, diffusion, and/or manipulations of tangible things. Phrased another way, copraxis refers to those communal acts whose focus is instrumental change in the physical world.

These two terms are introduced not as a priori ontological categories, but merely as descriptive distinctions which map onto the mental/physical dichotomy left us by Descartes. Beyond their descriptive utility in the current historical context, it is unclear that acts are uniquely classifiable to one or another of these classes. There is no cognosis (e.g., informative discussion) without the attendant copraxis of instrumental discourse-related coordination among interactors (e.g., telephone manipulation, keyboard entry, gavel-banging, etc.). Conversely, there is no effective copraxis without attendant cognosial acts (e.g., 'shared knowledge', explanatory digressions, directions, etc.).

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GO:  CSCW and Groupware

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The inaugural entries in this Web space will focus upon the research and development area under whose rubric the understanding of, and IT support for, cognosis and copraxis is proceeding. The research area is generally termed computer supported cooperative work (CSCW), and the relevant IT applications and products are labelled groupware.

GO:  Internet Resources: CSCW / Groupware

This is a compilation of key Internet resources related to CSCW, groupware, and IT support for cognosis / copraxis generally.

GO:  CSCW Literature Guide

The CSCW Literature Guide offers my selections for the key basic literature on CSCW and groupware, capsule descriptions of these items, and direct links for accessing some of the listed items online.

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