Human Self as Information Agent: Functioning in a Social Environment Based on Shared Meanings

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Abstract

A neglected aspect of human selfhood is that people are information agents. That is, much human social activity involves communicating and discussing information. This occurs in the context of incompletely shared information—but also a group’s store of collective knowledge and shared understanding. This article elucidates a preliminary theory of self as information agent, proposing that human evolution instilled both abilities and motivations for the various requisite functions. These basic functions include (a) seeking and acquiring information, (b) communicating one’s thoughts to others, (c) circulating information through the group, (d) operating on information to improve it, such as by correcting mistakes, and (e) constructing a shared understanding of reality. Sophisticated information agents exhibit additional features, such as sometimes selectively withholding information or disseminating false information for self-serving reasons, cultivating a reputation as a credible source of information, and cooperating with others to shape the shared worldview in a way that favors one’s subgroup. Meaningful information is thus more than a resource for individual action: It also provides the context, medium, and content within which the individual self interacts with its social environment.

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