You are about to board a bus for a long night ride, when you notice two flickering streaks of light emanating from two wax candles, placed in the circular holes where the headlights of the bus are expected to be. Candles? As headlights?
Of course, the idea of candles as headlights is absurd. So why propose it? Because on a much larger scale this absurdity has become reality.
By depicting our society as a bus without a steering wheel, and the way we look at the world and try to comprehend it and handle it as a pair of candle headlights, the Modernity ideogram renders the essence of our contemporary situation.
The core of our knowledge federation proposal is to change the relationship we have with information.
What is our relationship with information presently like? Here is how Neil Postman described it:
"The tie between information and action has been severed. Information is now a commodity that can be bought and sold, or used as a form of entertainment, or worn like a garment to enhance one's status. It comes indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, disconnected from usefulness; we are glutted with information, drowning in information, have no control over it, don't know what to do with it."
Suppose we handled information as we handle other man-made things—by suiting it to the purposes that need to be served.
What consequences would this have? How would information be different? How would it be used? By what methods, what social processes, and by whom would it be created? What new information formats would emerge, and supplement or replace the traditional books and articles? How would information technology be adapted? What would public informing be like? And academic communication, and education?
The substance of our proposal is the Knowledge Federation prototype—a complete and academically coherent answer to those and other related questions. An answer that is not only described and explained, but also implemented—in a collection of real-life embedded prototypes.
What difference will this make? The Holotopia prototype, which is under development, is a proof of concept application.
The Club of Rome's assessment of the situation we are in, provided us with a benchmark challenge for putting our ideas to test. Four decades ago—based on a decade of this global think tank's research into the future prospects of mankind, in a book titled "One Hundred Pages for the Future"—Aurelio Peccei issued the following warning:
"It is absolutely essential to find a way to change course."
Why did Peccei's call to action remain unanswered? Why wasn't The Club of Rome's purpose—to illuminate the course our civilization has taken—served by our society's institutions, as part of their function? Isn't this already showing that we are 'driving with candle headlights'?
Peccei also specified what needed to be done to "change course":
"The future will either be an inspired product of a great cultural revival, or there will be no future."
The Club of Rome insisted that lasting solutions would not be found by focusing on specific problems, but by transforming the condition from which they all stem, which they called "problematique".
Peccei's following observation, with which he concluded his analysis in "One Hundred Pages for the Future", will also be relevant:
The arguments posed in the preceding pages (...) point out several things, of which one of the most important is that our generations seem to have lost the sense of the whole.
Seeing things whole
In the context of Holotopia, we refer to the Knowledge Federation prototype by its pseudonym holoscope, to highlight its distinguishing characteristic—it helps us see things whole.
The holoscope uses suitable information in a suitable way, to illuminate what remained obscure or hidden, so that we may 'see through' the whole, and correctly assess its shape, dimensions and condition (correct our perspective).
The holoscope complements the usual approach in the sciences.
Science gave us new ways to look at the world: The telescope and the microscope enabled us to see the things that are too distant or too small to be seen by the naked eye, and our vision expanded beyond bounds. But science had the tendency to keep us focused on things that were either too distant or too small to be relevant—compared to all those large things or issues nearby, which now demand our attention. The holoscope is conceived as a way to look at the world that helps us see any chosen thing or theme as a whole—from all sides; and in correct proportions.
What possible futures would we see, if we used the holoscope to 'illuminate the way'?
The holotopia is an astonishingly positive future scenario.
This future vision is indeed more positive than what the familiar utopias offered—whose authors lacked the information to see what was possible; or lived in the times when the resources we have did not yet exist.
But unlike the utopias, the holotopia is readily realizable—because we already have the information that is needed for its fulfillment.
When the details offered on these pages have been considered, it will be clear why, metaphorically speaking, white (as the all-inclusive color that might symbolize the holotopia) is not only "the new black", but also the new red; and the new green!
The holotopia vision is made concrete in terms of five insights.
They show why fundamental changes are ready to happen in five pivotal domains
- the way we look at the world
as soon as we begin to federate knowledge, or 'connect the dots'.
The five insights and the changes they point to are so interdependent, that a more general insight naturally follows:
Comprehensive change can be easy, even when smaller and obviously necessary changes may seem impossible.
The relationships between the five insights provide us a context for perceiving and handling, in informed and completely new ways, some of the age-old challenges such as
- How to put an end to war
- How to overcome the dichotomy between science and religion
- How education may need to change, to help streamline the larger societal transformation
Making things whole
What exactly do we need to do, to "change course", and pursue and fulfill the holotopia vision?
The evidence we organized to support the five insights allows us to distill a simple principle or rule of thumb:
We need to see ourselves and what we do as parts in a larger whole or wholes; and act in ways that make those larger wholes more whole.
This is, of course, a radical departure from our current course—which emerges as a result of us pursuing what we perceive as "our own" interests; and trusting that "the invisible hand" of the market, or the academic "publish and perish", will turn our self-serving acts into the greatest common good.
It is also the course that the Modernity ideogram is pointing to.
The goal of knowledge federation is to restore agency to information, and the power to knowledge.
A federation is not completed, before the information brought together has resulted in changed public opinion; and in a change of relevant systems and practices.
The Holotopia prototype is not only a description; most importantly it is already "a way to change course".
The Holotopia prototype implements the strategy proposed by The Club of Rome: Instead of focusing on problems, we undertake to change the systemic conditions from which they arise.
As an initiative to give our society a new capability, to 'connect the dots' and see things whole, knowledge federation brings to this strategy a collection of technical assets. Their potential to make a difference may be understood with the help of the elephant metaphor.
Imagine visionary thinkers as the proverbial blind-folded men touching an elephant. We hear them talk about things like "a fan", "a water hose" and "a tree trunk". But they don't make sense, and we ignore them.
Everything changes when we realize that they are really talking about the ear, the trunk and the leg of an imposingly large exotic animal—which nobody has yet had a chance to see!
The elephant symbolizes the paradigm that is now ready to emerge, as soon as we 'connect the dots'. Compared to the sensations we are accustomed to see on TV, the elephant is not only more spectacular; it is also incomparably more relevant.
And it gives agency to academic results.
Initially, we are not aiming to get the proposed ideas accepted. The immediate goal of the Holotopia project is to organize dialogs around them.
The dialog, as a media-enabled and structured public conversation, constitutes the very 'construction project' by which our society's 'headlights' are rebuilt.