Here's how I think about this question abstractly, as it pertains to «membranes/boundaries».
This is only meant to be an abstract post— but soon I will publish the first post of a sequence that applies this in everyday life as rationality technique.
Epistemic status: I'm a bit uncertain about what I've said in this post, and I'm looking for feedback. I think there's definitely something real in what I've said here, though.
Agents are formed by their boundaries/membranes. If they did not maintain homeostasis of their boundaries, they would have died long ago. And they must continue to maintain their boundaries (ie: keep bad things out & keep sensitive things in) if they are to self-perpetuate.
I think the things that are in an agent's boundary/membrane can be most directly summarized by "the things that are within that agent's control" / sovereignty / autonomy / self-governance… Moreover, the things that no one else will do (that also aren't part of another agent's «membrane»).
[Also, if it belongs to one agent, it doesn't belong to any other agent.]
[In this post, I'm going to ignore boring/obvious considerations of "my skin is a membrane and my other organs are inside" and instead mostly discuss nonphysical things.]
I like to break this up into 4 categories. I might think differently about this in the future, but this is the way I think about it now.
I will take myself as an example. Things that are "in my boundary/membrane"…
I alone observe my subjective experience.
I alone control my actions.
I.e.: Responsibility for my preferences
Note: I'm uncertain that I've got this section totally right. I might revise this later.
Things other people give me permission to control — via agreement or a formal or informal contract.
Notice the symmetry of this section with #3. (Or, maybe #4 might better well be considered part of #3?)
[See the final section of this post for more about contracts.]
Everything else in the universe— everything I do not explicitly have within my boundary— is not within my boundary/membrane.
Critch writes something similar in «Boundaries», Part 3b:
your electrician is allowed to affect your home, and other aspects of your life in general, if they do so via electrical repairs on your home that you've consented to. Thus, by default you yourself serve as a boundary between your home and your electrician, and when you open up that boundary for the purpose of electrical repairs, the repairs on your home are supposed to be a boundary between your electrician and the other aspects of your life.
(This also relates to Critch’s Part 3a: Nonviolent boundary crossings.)
I.e.: For electrical repairs, you have allowed an electrician access to your home only for the specific and bounded purpose of electrical repairs. There is an agreement/ (formal or informal) contract. This is what I mean.
'Boundary/membrane transactions' occur via mutual agreements/contracts.
Essentially: "I agree to give you responsibility for (X : something that is mine) under conditions Y" and simultaneously "I agree to accept responsibility for (X : something that is yours) under conditions Z".
Note: I explain a detailed example of this in this post.
“Control” is different from mere influence. As long as I respect your membrane/boundary, I can only influence you if you give me permission— i.e.: if you open up your boundary/membrane to me in this way.
E.g.: I can’t control what you eat. And by default I can’t influence what you eat. But you can give me permission to influence you, eg you can ask me for advice on what you order for dinner.
Theoretically, I could try to control what you eat in that example by paralyzing and intubating you, but I still can't control that I'll be successful. For two, this would also be clearly violating your boundary/membrane. And third of all, are you even the same person after I do that? Because I basically just murdered you and replaced you with a lobotomized clone.
The company has to do this or else it will lose control of something that is within its own membrane/boundary. (For the company legally owns/rents the office.)
I think the use of the frame is in replacing agents by membranes and environments. The only way of interacting with an agent is via their membrane. An agent could be enclosed in multiple nested membranes, and you need to know which membrane you are interacting through, so really you are interacting with a certain membrane, not with a certain agent.
The you that interacts with that membrane lives on one of the sides of it, within an environment bordering the membrane. This you is also presented by a membrane that fits the environment it lives in and borders. So there is no need for agents at a basic level of description in this frame, it's membranes and environments all the way down.
The electrician example illustrates how environments are not just areas of the physical world, but abstractions, interfaces, affordances, commitments, distributions of possible events, and so on that hold within and are exposed through a particular environment. An environment establishes rules of the game that a membrane bordering it is adapted to. And multiple environments can overlap in the same area of the physical world, exposing different aspects of what's going on there.
oooo, that's interesting! maximal abstraction… *membranes all the way down...*
I do like this, I'll have to think about it more. Another thing this makes me realize that I like about this is that it requires no privileged perspective: you don't actually know that anything is an agent (just like reality— solipism— etc.)— all you know is that there are membranes and things you can't control…
I already think that trying to control fate is a membrane/boundary violation just as trying to control another sovereign agent is a membrane/boundary violation, and this would naturally make those the same.
Though, I think if the frame 'agent' were to be abandoned, we'd need a sort of meta-membrane that also accounts for the membrane's ability to leak, break, and get stronger/weaker ? (Eg "If you stab this membrane, it will pop" would be part of the interface of the meta-membrane, not the object-level membrane ?)
Random thoughts/clarification-to-myself about nested membranes: