Flame of the red flag : cogntive ecologies of the Paris commune

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


This thesis addresses the longstanding intellectual framework that has divided mind from matter, agency from environment and humanity from nature. In an attempt to break down these dichotomies this paper explores the Paris Commune of 1871 as a case study in cognitive ecology. The paper hopes to answer the question of how people transform their societies without supervision or command from a central authority. It argues that cities are selection driven adaptive landscapes, co-evolutionary structures that emerge to facilitate and sustain dense human habitation through the material organization of cognition. This study seeks to answer questions about the entanglement of environment, social organization and cognition. Specifically the ways in which ecological dynamics and selection mechanisms affect social structure; how individual agency translates into collective action; and the ways in which cultural materials feedback into cognitive processes and social activity. By investigating flows of energy, matter and information during the Siege and Commune of Paris from 1870 to 1871 the analysis attempts to show how human cognition intersects with its environment to form self-organizing, complex adaptive systems. The research utilizes a number of theoretical frameworks to explore the evidence; Material Engagement Theory, Extended Mind Theory, Entanglement Theory, Developmental Systems Theory, Panarchy, and Complexity Theory. This paper demonstrates that contractions in energy, matter and information flows created by the Prussian siege triggered selection mechanisms favoring specific social institutions while disempowering others. Further, it shows that cognitive niche construction facilitated social revolution in the city. Finally, it argues that cultural materials helped to distribute cognitive processes in ways that enabled collective revolutionary action. This includes one clear example of a positive feedback loop mediated through physical objects. In conclusion, this paper shows that the most important feature of urban environments is the ability to facilitate individual adaptations to ecologies dominated by the physical and cognitive presence of their own species. The products of human cognition, circulating as materials in socio-cognitive ecologies, function to entangle ideas and relationships into the physical environment and organize behavior. Thus, human societies do not fundamentally break from the natural world but express the developmental properties of human evolution.




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