Autonomy and Cohesion

Good protocols are those that achieve reliable coordination with minimum loss of autonomy. In fact, they are able to increase agency with enabling constraints.

This requires different thinking habits. For example, when decentralization is a goal in itself, it is limited, for it couples purpose with structure. I believe the goal should be an increase in agency via new ways of balancing autonomy and cohesion. This will take some time to explain, so I started a series of articles and published the first two so far.

Would be happy to discuss this here.


Hey Ivo! Interesting that you use the term cohesion – the etymological root of “protocol” is Greek: prōtos ‘first’ + kolla ‘glue’. This article on glued time and forked time was also recently published.

I think you’re onto something with the role that individual preferences have in the appeal of certain protocols. Those preferences could be driven by culture, innate personality traits, hormones, etc.

Also I’d argue that language can supply both a cohesive and divisive force. Using certain words to prime people in Prisoner’s Dilemma experiments has been shown to affect how much they backstab or cooperate.

Seems like external cohesion technologies are more double edged than internal ones. Thoughts?

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For me, external and internal are useful distinctions when applied to cohesion forces and factors but not to cohesion technologies. But that might be interesting to explore.

How do you see this distinction applied to technologies?

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That makes sense to me. Now that you mention it, I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as an “internal technology”. Kinda seems like an oxymoron.

But, for the sake of argument, I suppose one could treat someone’s interpretation and/or memory of a diplomatic protocol as a sort of internal technology. Which could then provide a cohesive force. What do you think?

Memory technologies like notes and voice memos are one thing that could bridge the gap between external and internal tech. They also serve as foundations for forked time and glued time. Kei’s probably got some good ideas on this

I’ve been reflecting on the balance between autonomy and cohesion while exploring the concept of weak protocols. The emphasis on balancing autonomy with cohesion reminded me of Hume’s rowers thought experiment. Two rowers unable to communicate must synchronize their efforts to successfully cross a river. Initially, their efforts are uncoordinated and ineffective. However, through repeated effort, they find a rhythm that propels the boat forward. Once established, this rhythm becomes a tacit convention, with both rowers understanding the mutual benefit of maintaining it. This illustrates how, even when initially driven by self-interest, a desire for cohesion can naturally foster unspoken, weak protocols and methods of operation without the need for explicit discussions or formal agreements.


Thanks. I didn’t know about Hume’s rowers experiment but this reminded me of the fireflies synchronization. While there seems to be a consensus on why it happens (mating), there are many hypotheses about how it happens. And I found only one paper[1] studying it from the perspective of relevance for decentralized networks.

  1. Fireflies as role models for synchronization in ad hoc networks | Proceedings of the 1st international conference on Bio inspired models of network, information and computing systems ↩︎

This seems to me natural, not designed/produced so hardly a technology.
The distinctions is:

  • cohesion forces and factors contribute/bring cohesion but are difficult or impossible to influence
  • cohesion tools, technologies, and artifacts that we buy or create that brings cohesion (by design or by accident).

There are tools (smartphones come first to mind) that bring both autonomy and cohesion, depending on how and when it is used.

Indeed. And even more. In the first two chapters of the PKG book, I tried to show how graph-based notes-taking systems are at the same time mind extension (not to be confused with the second brain narrative) and have “mind of their own”.

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Where can I read about those?

Check out her website. Also her SoP essay will be available online here soon.

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The latest essay in the series is about a cohesion spectrum model, CABIN, distinguishing zones by how cohesion is achieved. Ordered from low to high autonomy, they are:
Coercive, Bureaucratic, Normative, Adaptive, and Interoperable.

(Maybe I should start a separate discussion on it; what do you think?)