4.6 Motivation, authority, and co-creation

This subsection returns to the concepts ‘authority’ and ‘co-creation’ that we introduced as essential for open-ended development. We aim to demonstrate that they are important not only as core concepts of cognitive science, but also as defining concepts for agency and even as main forces that shape our (geo)political world.

While discussing the target of open-ended development, concluded that the authoritarian personality type “seeks, appreciates, and even demands external authorities to maintain the living conditions (the normative order) in which they can function adequately”. In Section Two Brain Hemispheres we proposed that the need for external authority was a necessary consequence of left hemispheric dominance that requires a closed, static, and finite world to be effective. This entails that left hemispheric strategies and external authority are mutually dependent: external authorities are expected to maintain the conditions in which the left hemisphere functions adequately. Left hemispheric strategies — through for example intolerance of diversity — reinforce the impact of external authorities through actively allowing external authorities more control while reducing one’s own agency. Overall this mode of being reduces the complexity of the world through increased uniformity and shared or centralized authority: the defining characteristics of authoritarians [Stenner:2005]. In moderation this process accounts for the existence of corporations, governments, organized religion, and the military. In excess it leads to stultifying bureaucracies in each of these organizations and eventually to oppressive dictatorship.

However, control through increased uniformity and centralized authority is neither the only nor the best way to deal with a complex world. Section Personal development it is concluded that self-actualized or wise individuals feel a moral obligation to contribute to an improved world and we summarized wisdom as “the ability to produce broadly beneficial intended results while taking the full consequences of behavior into account.” Section on Personal development concluded that the libertarian personality developed the autonomy and skills to co-create living conditions in which (s)he and others feel and act adequately, without the need for external authority to maintain and create these. The driving dynamics for this ability is rooted in the self-confidence resulting from the interest-based exploration and playful behavior that prepared the agent well for an unknown future [Silvia:2008]. In effect this leads to the ability to co-create ever more extended (both in place and in time) environments in which one can self-maintain the condition for adequate functioning, which leads to increasing diversity and individual authority: the defining characteristics of libertarians [Stenner:2005]. This advanced ability characterizes the outer (pre-conditioned) loop of the spiral development in Figure 1.

The difference between the authoritarian and libertarian mode of dealing with a complex world can be [Horney:1945] summarized as ‘moving against’ or ‘moving with’. The (according to Horney pathological) ‘moving against’ mode controls diversity and reduces complexity through actively suppressing the inherent dynamics of the world. Note that this is the defining characteristic of our psychology or robotics labs. The (non pathological) ‘moving with’ mode works with or co-opts the inherent dynamics of the world to stabilize it or to prevent the disruption of reliable and useful inherent dynamics. As such ‘moving with’ is a summary of right hemispheric strategies.

The ‘moving with’ mode of being, characteristic of the wise and the self-actualized, allows them not only to create and maintain an individual environment in which they can function adequately, it allows them to co-create the wider environment by gradually reducing the need for external authority (also in others) by (re)allowing and shaping the inherent dynamics of the world in favor of all its inhabitants.

Motivation, authority and co-creation
Motivation, authority and co-creation

The Figure Motivation, authority and co-creation combines four qualitatively different types of environments in terms of the complexity of action selection and affordance content. The ovals around the agent (white circle) defines self-maintained environments in which the agent can more or less satisfy its needs (light versus darker shade) and be agentic (size of circles). The dark circle represents a source or novelty approached in danger (left) or safety (right).

Figure Motivation, authority and co-creation provides a graphical depiction of much of the information in table Mood, motivation, and mind-states, but it focuses on the relation between the agent and the environment and the difference between external (controlling) authority and internal (co-creating) authority. The large ovals reflect the agent’s world that is more (light grey) or less (dark grey) congruent with agentic needs. The prominence of external authorities (the inward pointing arrows) determines whether the world is characterized by suppressed dynamics (the authoritarian mode on the left) or co-opted dynamics (the libertarian mode on the right). The more the agent is able to create and extend a stable agent-maintained environment (dashed oval), the safer and more authoritative it is.

Figure Motivation, authority and co-creation provides the four motivational quadrants defined in terms of the quadrants shown in Figure 3 and Table Mood, motivation, and mind-states. In the left quadrants the agent is either trying to control or is actually controlled by complex and ill-understood external forces that function as authorities. In the upper left quadrant the agent is challenged by environmental and/or agentic influences which stretch its coping capacity, force it into a narrow range of coping behaviors, and depletes its resources. In the lower left quadrant the agent is part of a world that is mainly beyond its control and understanding, since it does neither afford the agent useful affordances nor resupply of resources. As such it has to accept a minimally agentic role, for example by being forced to participate in activities that may harm its future interests.

In the quadrants on the right the agent’s world is congruent with its needs (the most prominent of these is safety). The agent in the upper right quadrant is maximally agentic since it is able to use and explore the affordances of its world in safety and with satisfied basic needs. The agent exists in an interesting world in which it is free to participate in co-creation strategies that gradually elucidates and stabilizes more and more of the world’s inherent dynamics for shared benefit. The agent in the lower right quadrant exists in a safe, low complexity environment. It is unforced since, in essence, it profits from earlier co-creation activities of itself and others. This state allows the agent to resupply its resources (to address its needs) and to consolidate its experiences into generalized knowledge and skills.


This then, we conjecture, defines the success of open-ended development: successful open-ended development is characterized by a balance between the co-creation of a low complexity world, in which behavior selection is easy, in combination with high agency due to an abundance of affordances for maintained and extended co-creation. It is this dynamic balance that living agents find highly pleasurable. The enjoyment of successful agentic life – happiness – is therefore deeply meaningful: it is body and mind agreeing on success.


  • Stenner, Karen. 2005. The Authoritarian Dynamic. First Edition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Silvia, Paul J. 2008. “Interest—the Curious Emotion.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 17 (1): 57–60. doi:10.1111/j.1467–8721.2008.00548.x.

  • Horney, K. 1945. “Our Inner Conflicts, a Constructive Theory of Neurosis.” W.W. Norton & Company Inc, New York: 1–251.