- 1 HOLOTOPIA
- 1.1 An Actionable Strategy
- 1.2 Imagine...
- 1.3 Our proposal
- 1.4 A proof of concept application
- 1.5 A vision
- 1.6 A principle
- 1.7 A method
- 1.8 Five insights
- 1.9 Scope
- 1.10 Power structure
- 1.11 Collective mind
- 1.12 Socialized reality
- 1.13 Narrow frame
- 1.14 Convenience paradox
- 1.15 Large change is possible
- 1.16 Large change is easy
- 1.17 A strategy
- 1.18 We will not solve our problems
- 1.19 We will not change the world
- 1.20 Tactical assets
- 1.21 The arts
- 1.22 Five insights
- 1.23 The elephant
- 1.24 Stories
- 1.25 The mirror
- 1.26 The dialog
- 1.27 Ten themes
- 1.28 Keywords
- 1.29 Books and publishing
- 1.30 Prototypes
An Actionable Strategy
You are about to board a bus for a long night ride, when you notice the flickering streaks of light emanating from two wax candles, placed 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.
The Modernity ideogram renders the essence of our contemporary situation by depicting our society as an accelerating bus without a steering wheel, and the way we look at the world, try to comprehend and handle it as guided by a pair of candle headlights.
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."
What would information and our handling of information be like, if we treated them as we treat other human-made things—if we adapted them to the purposes that need to be served?
By what methods, what social processes, and by whom would information be created? What new information formats would emerge, and supplement or replace the traditional books and articles? How would information technology be adapted and applied? What would public informing be like? And academic communication, and education?
The substance of our proposal is a complete prototype of knowledge federation, where initial answers to relevant questions are proposed, and in part implemented in practice.
Our call to action is to institutionalize and develop knowledge federation as an academic field, and a real-life praxis (informed practice).
Our purpose is to restore agency to information, and power to knowledge.
All elements in our proposal are deliberately left unfinished, rendered as a collection of prototypes. Think of them as composing a 'cardboard model of a city', and a 'construction site'. By sharing them we are not making a case for a specific 'city'—but for 'architecture' as an academic field, and a real-life praxis.
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 the proposed ideas to a 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 call to action:
"It is absolutely essential to find a way to change course."
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."
This conclusion, that we are in a state of crisis that has cultural roots and must be handled accordingly, Peccei shared with a number of twentieth century thinkers. Arne Næss, Norway's esteemed philosopher, reached it on different grounds, and called it "deep ecology".
In "Human Quality", Peccei explained his call to action:
"Let me recapitulate what seems to me the crucial question at this point of the human venture. Man has acquired such decisive power that his future depends essentially on how he will use it. However, the business of human life has become so complicated that he is culturally unprepared even to understand his new position clearly. As a consequence, his current predicament is not only worsening but, with the accelerated tempo of events, may become decidedly catastrophic in a not too distant future. The downward trend of human fortunes can be countered and reversed only by the advent of a new humanism essentially based on and aiming at man’s cultural development, that is, a substantial improvement in human quality throughout the world."
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".
Holotopia is a vision of a future that becomes accessible when proper 'light' has been 'turned on'.
Since Thomas More coined this term and described the first utopia, a number of visions of an ideal but non-existing social and cultural order of things have been proposed. In view of adverse and contrasting realities, the word "utopia" acquired the negative meaning of an unrealizable fancy.
As the optimism regarding our future waned, apocalyptic or "dystopian" visions became common. The "protopias" were offered as a compromise, where the focus is on smaller but practically realizable improvements.
The holotopia is different in spirit from them all. It is a more attractive than the futures the utopias projected—whose authors either lacked the information to see what was possible, or lived in the times when the resources we have did not exist. And yet the holotopia is readily attainable—because we already have the information and other resources that are needed for its fulfillment.
The holotopia vision is made concrete in terms of five insights, as explained below.
What do we need to do to "change course" toward holotopia?
The five insights point to a simple principle or rule of thumb—making things whole.
This principle is suggested by holotopia's name. And also by the Modernity ideogram. Instead of reifying our institutions and professions, and merely acting in them competitively to improve "our own" situation or condition, we consider ourselves and what we do as functional elements in a larger system of systems; and we self-organize, and act, as it may best suit the wholeness of it all.
Imagine if academic and other knowledge-workers collaborated to serve and develop planetary wholeness – what magnitude of benefits would result!
"The arguments posed in the preceding pages", Peccei summarized in One Hundred Pages for the Future, "point out several things, of which one of the most important is that our generations seem to have lost the sense of the whole."
To make things whole—we must see things whole!
To highlight that the knowledge federation methodology described and implemented in the proposed prototype affords that very capability, to see things whole, in the context of the holotopia we refer to it by the pseudonym holoscope.
While the characteristics of the holoscope—the design choices or design patterns, how they follow from published insights and why they are necessary for 'illuminating the way'—will become obvious in the course of this presentation, one of them must be made clear from the start.
To see things whole, we must look at all sides.
The holoscope distinguishes itself by allowing for multiple ways of looking at a theme or issue, which are called scopes. The scopes and the resulting views have similar meaning and role as projections do in technical drawing. The views that show the entire whole from a certain angle are called aspects.
This modernization of our handling of information—distinguished by purposeful, free and informed creation of the ways in which we look at a theme or issue—has become necessary in our situation, suggests the bus with candle headlights. But it also presents a challenge to the reader—to bear in mind that the resulting views are not "reality pictures", contending for that status with one other and with our conventional ones.
In the holoscope, the legitimacy and the peaceful coexistence of multiple ways to look at a theme is axiomatic.
To liberate our worldview from the inherited concepts and methods and allow for deliberate choice of scopes, we used the scientific method as venture point—and modified it by taking recourse to insights reached in 20th century science and philosophy.
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 proportion.
A way of looking or scope—which reveals a structural problem, and helps us reach a correct assessment of an object of study or situation—is a new kind of result that is made possible by (the general-purpose science that is modeled by) the holoscope.
We will continue to use the conventional way of speaking and say that something is as stated, that X is Y—although it would be more accurate to say that X can or needs to be perceived (also) as Y. The views we offer are accompanied by an invitation to genuinely try to look at the theme at hand in a certain specific way (to use the offered scopes); and to do that collaboratively, in a dialog.
What is wrong with our present "course"? In what ways does it need to be changed? What benefits will result?
We apply the holoscope and illuminate five pivotal themes, which determine the "course":
- Innovation—the way we use our ability to create, and induce change
- Communication—the social process, enabled by technology, by which information is handled
- Epistemology—the fundamental assumptions we use to create truth and meaning; which determine "the relationship we have with information"
- Method—the way in which truth and meaning are constructed in everyday life; or "the way we look at the world, try to comprehend and handle it"
- Values—the way we "pursue happiness"; our values determine the course
In each case, we see a structural defect, which led to perceived problems. We demonstrate practical ways, partly implemented as prototypes, in which those structural defects can be remedied. We see that their removal naturally leads to improvements that are well beyond the elimination of problems.
The holotopia vision results.
In the spirit of the holoscope, we here only summarize the five insights—and provide evidence and details separately.
What might constitute "a way to change course"?
"Man has acquired such decisive power that his future depends essentially on how he will use it", observed Peccei. Imagine if some malevolent entity, perhaps an insane dictator, took control over that power!
The power structure insight is that no dictator is needed.
While the nature of the power structure will become clear as we go along, imagine it, to begin with, as our institutions; or more accurately, as the systems in which we live and work (which we simply call systems).
Notice that systems have an immense power—over us, because we have to adapt to them to be able to live and work; and over our environment, because by organizing us and using us in certain specific ways, they decide what the effects of our work will be.
The power structure determines whether the effects of our efforts will be problems, or solutions.
How suitable are the systems in which we live and work for their all-important role?
Evidence shows that the power structure wastes a lion's share of our resources. And that it either causes problems, or makes us incapable of solving them.
The root cause of this malady is in the way systems evolve.
Survival of the fittest favors the systems that are predatory, not those that are useful.
This excerpt from Joel Bakan's documentary "The Corporation" (which Bakan as a law professor created to federate an insight he considered essential) explains how the most powerful institution on our planet evolved to be a perfect "externalizing machine" ("externalizing" means maximizing profits by letting someone else bear the costs, notably the people and the environment), just as the shark evolved to be a perfect predator. This scene from Sidney Pollack's 1969 film "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" will illustrate how the power structure affects our own condition.
The systems provide an ecology, which in the long run shapes our values and "human quality". They have the power to socialize us in ways that suit their survival interests. "The business of business is business"; if our business is to succeed in competition, we must act in ways that lead to that effect. To the system it makes no difference whether we bend and comply, or get replaced.
A consequence, Zygmunt Bauman diagnosed, is that bad intentions are no longer needed for bad things to happen. Through socialization, the power structure can co-opt our duty and commitment, and even heroism and honor.
Bauman's insight that even the holocaust was a consequence and a special case, however extreme, of the power structure, calls for careful contemplation: Even the concentration camp employees, Bauman argued, were only "doing their job"—in a system whose character and purpose was beyond their field of vision, and power to change.
While our focus is on the power structures of the past, we are committing—in all innocence, by acting only through the power structures we are part of—the greatest massive crime in human history.
Our children may not have a livable planet to live on.
Not because someone broke the rules—but because we follow them.
The fact that we will not solve our problems unless we develop the capability to update our systems has not remained unnoticed.
The very first step that the The Club of Rome's founders made after its inception, in 1968, was to convene a team of experts, in Bellagio, Italy, to develop a suitable methodology. They gave making things whole on the scale of socio-technical systems the name "systemic innovation"—and we adopted that as one of our keywords.
The work and the conclusions of this team were based on results in the systems sciences. In the year 2000, in "Guided Evolution of society", systems scientist Béla H. Bánáthy surveyed relevant research, and concluded in a true holotopian tone:
We are the first generation of our species that has the privilege, the opportunity and the burden of responsibility to engage in the process of our own evolution. We are indeed chosen people. We now have the knowledge available to us and we have the power of human and social potential that is required to initiate a new and historical social function: conscious evolution. But we can fulfill this function only if we develop evolutionary competence by evolutionary learning and acquire the will and determination to engage in conscious evolution. These two are core requirements, because what evolution did for us up to now we have to learn to do for ourselves by guiding our own evolution.
In 2010 Knowledge Federation began to self-organize to enable progress on this frontier.
The method we use is simple: We create a prototype of a system, and a transdisciplinary community and project around it to update it continuously. The insights in participating disciplines can in this way have real or systemic effects.
Our very first prototype of this kind, the Barcelona Innovation Ecosystem for Good Journalism in 2011, was of a public informing that identifies systemic causes and proposes corresponding solutions (by involving academic and other experts) of perceived problems (reported by people directly, through citizen journalism).
A year later we created The Game-Changing Game as a generic way to change systems—and hence as a "practical way to craft the future"; and based on it The Club of Zagreb, an update of The Club of Rome.
Each of about forty prototypes in our portfolio is a result of applying systemic innovation in a specific domain. Each of them is conceived in terms of design patterns—problem-solution pairs, ready to be adapted to other applications and domains.
The Collaborology prototype, in education, will illustrate the advantages of systemic innovation.
An education that prepares us only for traditional professions, once in a lifetime, is an obvious obstacle to systemic change. Collaborology implements an education that is in every sense flexible (self-guided, life-long...), and in an emerging area of interest (collaborative knowledge work, as enabled by new technology). By being collaboratively created itself (Collaborology is created and taught by a network of international experts, and offered to learners world-wide), the economies of scale result that dramatically reduce effort. This in addition provides a sustainable business model for developing and disseminating up-to-date knowledge in any domain of interest. By conceiving the course as a design project, where everyone collaborates on co-creating the learning resources, the students get a chance to exercise and demonstrate "human quality". This in addition gives the students an essential role in the resulting 'knowledge-work ecosystem' (as 'bacteria', extracting 'nutrients') .
We have just seen that our key evolutionary task is to make institutions whole.
Where—with what institution or system—shall we begin?
The handling of information, or metaphorically our society's 'headlights', suggests itself as the answer for two reasons.
One of them is obvious: If information and not competition will be our guide, then our information will need to be different.
In his 1948 seminal "Cybernetics", Norbert Wiener pointed to another reason: In social systems, communication—which turns a collection of independent individual into a coherently functioning entity— is in effect the system. It is the communication system that determines how the system as a whole will behave. Wiener made that point by talking about the colonies of ants and bees. Cybernetics has shown—as its main point, and title theme—that "the tie between information and action" has an all-important role, which determines (Wiener used the technical keyword "homeostasis", but let us here use this more contemporary one) the system's sustainability. The full title of Wiener's book was "Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine". To be able to correct their behavior and maintain inner and outer balance, to be able to "change course" when the circumstances demand that, to be able to continue living and adapting and evolving—a system must have suitable communication-and-control.
Presently, our core systems, and with our civilization as a whole, do not have that.
The tie between information and action has been severed, Wiener too observed.
Our society's communication-and-control is broken; it needs to be restored.
To make that point, Wiener cited an earlier work, Vannevar Bush's 1945 article "As We May Think", where Bush pointed to the broken connection between scientific information, and public awareness and policy. Bush urged the scientists to make the task of revising their communication their next highest priority—the World War Two having just been won.
These calls to action remained without effect.
"As long as a paradox is treated as a problem, it can never be dissolved," observed David Bohm. Wiener too entrusted his insight to the communication whose tie with action had been severed. We have assembled a collection of examples of similarly important academic results that shared a similar fate—to illustrate a general phenomenon we call Wiener's paradox.
As long as the connection between communication and action is broken—the academic results that challenge the present "course" or point to a new one will be ignored.
An academic researcher may feel disheartened to see so many best ideas of our best minds ignored. What's the use of all the hard work and publishing—when even the most basic insights from our field, which are necessary for understanding the relevance of the nuances we are working on—have not been communicated to the public?
This sentiment is, however, transformed to holotopian optimism, as soon we look at the vast creative frontier that is opening up. We are empowered to, we are indeed obliged to reinvent the academic system that determines how we collaborate, and what the effects of our work will be.
And optimism will turn into enthusiasm, when we consider also this ignored fact:
The network-interconnected interactive digital media technology, which is in common use, was created to enable a new paradigm on that frontier.
The 'lightbulb' has already been created—for the purpose of providing our society the vision it needs.
We, however, still use 'candles'.
Vannevar Bush pointed to this new paradigm, which we call collective mind, already in his title, "As We May Think". His point was that "thinking" means making associations or "connecting the dots". And that given our vast volumes of information—technology and processes must be devised to enable us to "connect the dots" or think together, as a single mind does. He described a prototype system called "memex", based on microfilm as technology.
Douglas Engelbart took Bush's idea in a whole new direction—by observing (in 1951!) that when each of us humans are connected to a personal digital device through an interactive interface, and when those devices are connected into a network—then the overall result is that we are interconnected as the cells in a human organism are, by the organism's nervous system.
All earlier innovations in this area—from the clay tablets to the printing press—required that a physical medium with the message be physically transported.
This new technology allows us to "create, integrate and apply knowledge" concurrently, as cells in the human organism do.
We can develop insights and solutions together.
We can be "collectively intelligent".
Engelbart conceived this new technology to enable us, and our systems, to tackle the "complexity times urgency" of our problems, which he saw as growing at an accelerated rate.
But this, Engelbart observed, requires that we think differently; It requires that we use the technology to make systems whole.
This three minute video clip, which we dubbed "Doug Engelbart's Last Wish", will give us a chance to pause and reflect; see what all this practically means. Think about the prospects of improving our institutional and civilizational collective minds. Imagine "the effects of getting 5% better", Engelbart commented with a smile. Then he put his fingertips on his forehead and looked up: "I've always imagined that the potential was... large..." The improvement that is both necessary and possible is not just stupendously large; it is qualitative—from communication that doesn't work, and systems that don't work, to ones that do.
To Engelbart's dismay, our new "collective nervous system" ended up being used to do no better than make the old processes and systems more efficient. The ones that evolved through the centuries of use of the printing press. The ones that broadcast data, and overwhelm us with information.
Anthony Giddens pointed to the effect our dazzled and confused collective mind had on culture; and on "human quality".
Our sense of meaning having been drowned in an overload of data, in a reality that's become too complex to comprehend—we resort to "ontological security". We find meaning in learning a profession, and performing in it competitively.
Information, and the way we handle it, bind us to power structure.
How can we repair the severed tie between communication and action?
How can we change our collective mind—as our situation demands, and our technology enables?
Engelbart left us a simple answer: Bootstrapping.
Writing what needs to be done will not lead to solution (the tie between information and action being broken). Bootstrapping demands that we self-organize, and act, as it may best serve to restore systems to wholeness.
Bootstrapping means that we either create functional systems with the material of our own minds and bodies, or help others do that.
The Knowledge Federation transdiscipline was conceived by an act of bootstrapping, to enable bootstrapping.
What we are calling knowledge federation is an umbrella term for a variety of activities and social processes that together comprise a well-functioning collective mind. Their development and dissemination obviously requires a new body of knowledge, and a new institution.
The critical task, however, is to weave the state of the art knowledge and technology directly into systems.
We use the above triplet of photos ideographically, to highlight that we are doing that.
In 2008, when Knowledge Federation had its inaugural meeting, two closely related initiatives were formed: Program for the Future (a Silicon Valley-based initiative to continue and complete "Doug Engelbart's unfinished revolution") and Global Sensemaking (an international community of researchers and developers of collective mind technology and processes). The featured participants of our 2011 workshop in Barcelona, where our public informing prototype was created, are Paddy Coulter (the Director of Oxford Global Media and Fellow of Green College Oxford, formerly the Director of Oxford University's Reuter Program in Journalism) Mei Lin Fung (the founder of Program for the Future) and David Price (who co-founded both the Global Sensemaking R & D community and Debategraph—which is now the leading global platform for collective thinking).
Other prototypes contributed other design patterns for restoring the severed tie between information and action. The Tesla and the Nature of Creativity TNC2015 prototype showed how to federate a research result that has general interest for the public, which is written in an academic vernacular (of quantum physics). The first phase of this prototype, where the author collaborated with our communication design team, turned the academic article into a multimedia object, with intuitive, metaphorical diagrams and explanatory interviews with the author. The second phase was a high-profile live streamed dialog, where the result was announced and discussed. The third phase was online collective thinking about the result, by using Debategraph.
The Lighthouse 2016 prototype is conceived as a direct remedy for the Wiener's paradox, created for and with the International Society for the Systems Sciences. This prototype models a system by which an academic community can federate an answer to a socially relevant question (combine their resources in making it reliable and clear, and communicate it to the public).
The question in this case was whether can rely on "free competition" to guide the evolution and the operation of our systems; or whether the alternative—the information developed in the systems sciences—should be used.
"Act like as if you loved your children above all else",Greta Thunberg, representing her generation, told the political leaders at Davos. Of course political leaders love their children—don't we all? But Greta was asking them to 'hit the brakes'; and when the 'bus' they are believed to be 'driving' is inspected, it becomes clear that its 'brakes' too are dysfunctional.
The job of a political leader is to keep 'the bus on course' (the economy growing) for yet another four years. Changing 'course', by changing the system, is beyond what politicians can do, or even imagine doing.
The COVID-19 pandemic may demand systemic changes now.
Who—what institution or system—will lead us through our unprecedentedly large creative challenges?
Both Erich Jantsch and Doug Engelbart believed "the university" would have to be the answer; and they made their appeals accordingly. But the universities ignored them.
There are evidently two ways in which the social role of the university can be perceived: The role the university must fulfill (claim the new-paradigm thinkers) if our civilization is to continue; and the role that we, academic professionals, consider ourselves to be in.
We shall see that the roots of this dichotomy are in our institution's history. And that the key to resolving it is to admit the historicity of the academic ethos—as Stephan Toulmin pointed out in "Return to Reason", and we summarized and commented in this blog post.
We shall not argue that the contemporary-academic self-perception needs to change. Our point will be that, on the contrary, acting in accord with the way in which we, academic people perceive our social role requires a fundamental change—of the kind that can ignite a more comprehensive social and cultural change. In other words, we shall see that the academic tradition is in a similar situation today as it was at the time when Galilei was in house arrest.
We shall see why changing the relationship we have with information, which is presently in academia's custody, is mandated on both fundamental and pragmatic grounds.
We shall see why changing the relationship we have with information is the natural and easy "way to change course"—being something that we, academic professionals, have to do anyway.
This diagnosis will be an assessment of the contemporary university's situation, and its causes.
We will come to understand the university's situation as a consequence of three events or points in this institution's evolution. The first two will allow us to understand the origins of academic self-perception; the third to see why this self-perception demands that we change the relationship we have with information.
The first event is the university institution's point of inception, within the antique philosophical tradition, and concretely as Plato's Academy. John Marenbon described the mindset of the Academy as follows (in "Early Medieval Philosophy"; the boldface emphasis is ours):
Plato is justly regarded as a philosopher (and the earliest one whose works survive in quantity) because his method, for the most part, was to proceed to his conclusions by rational argument based on premises self-evident from observation, experience and thought. For him, it was the mark of a philosopher to move from the particular to the general, from the perceptions of the senses to the abstract knowledge of the mind. Where the ordinary man would be content, for instance, to observe instances of virtue, the philosopher asks himself about the nature of virtue-in-itself, by which all those instances are virtuous. Plato did not develop a single, coherent theory about universals (for example, Virtue, Man, the Good, as opposed to an instance of virtue, a particular man, a particular good thing); but the Ideas, as he called universals, play a fundamental part in most of his thought and, through all his different treatments of them, one tendency remains constant. The Ideas are considered to exist in reality; and the particular things which can be perceived by the senses are held to depend, in some way, on the Ideas for being what they are. One of the reasons why Plato came to this conclusion and attached so much importance to it lies in a preconception which he inherited from his predecessors. Whatever really is, they argued, must be changeless; otherwise it is not something, but is always becoming something else. All the objects which are perceived by the senses can be shown to be capable of change: what, then, really is? Plato could answer confidently that the Ideas were unchanging and unchangeable, and so really were. Consequently, they—and not the world of changing particulars—were the object of true knowledge. The philosopher, by his ascent from the particular to the general, discovers not facts about the objects perceptible to the senses, but a new world of true, changeless being.
The highlights we made in Marenbon's text allow us to formulate the first point of this diagnosis:
The university has its roots in a philosophical tradition whose goal was to pursue true knowledge—assumed to be the knowledge of unchanging and unchangeable reality.
Any rational method must ultimately rest on premises or axioms that are not rationally provable, which are considered "self-evident from observation, experience and thought". The fundamental axiom here was that true knowledge is "the knowledge of reality". The only question was how that knowledge was to be reached.
Subsequent developments determined the way in which this question is now answered—and hence the academic ethos, and institutional structure.
It was Aristotle, Plato's star student, who applied the Academia's rational method to a variety of themes. The recovery of Aristotle was a milestone in the intellectual history of the Middle Ages; but the Scholastics used his method to argue the truth of the Scripture.
Aristotle's physics was common sense: Objects tend to fall down; heavier objects tend to fall faster. Galilei proved him wrong by throwing stones of varying size from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He devised a mathematical formula, by which the speed of a falling object could be calculated exactly. To the human mind about to become modern, Galilei (and the forefathers of science he here represents) demonstrated the superiority of the scientific way to truth.
We may now interpret Toulmin's above cryptic observations as follows: How could the rational method of Galilei and Newton, which was conceived for exploring the questions that "had no day-to-day relevance to human welfare"—assume such an all-important role and become the model and the foundation for pursuing knowledge in general?
As the iconic image of Galilei in house arrest might suggest, when science was taking shape, the Church and the tradition had the prerogative of determining how people thought and behaved—which they held onto most firmly! The scientists were allowed to pursue their interests because they "had no day-to-day relevance to human welfare". But the educated, modern mind considered the fundamental axiom to be self-evident; so when the scientists proved that the "earlier theological accounts of Nature" were wrong, and offered to replace them by mathematically exact and experimentally demonstrable "natural laws", it seemed equally self-evident that theirs was the way to true knowledge, of unchanging and unchangeable reality.
We may now formulate our second point:
During the Enlightenment, science replaced the classical philosophy and the Scripture in the role of our society's trusted way to true knowledge.
This allows us to comprehend the way in which we, academic people, perceive our role: We are (according to our self-perception) not the producers of practical knowledge, but the custodians the standard of true knowledge. And also the way in which this role is implemented:
We tend to take it for granted that the standard of true knowledge is constituted by the laboratories and departments of "basic science".
This is reflected both in academic ethos, and in the structure of the traditional European university—which favored "fundamental" fields such as mathematics, physics and philosophy; and relegated the more practical pursuits like architecture and design to "professional schools".
And now our third and last point, why the state of the art of knowledge of knowledge demands that we change both our ethos and institutional structure:
The assumption that science is the way to the knowledge of unchanging and unchangeable reality has been challenged and disowned by science itself.
While we federated this fact carefully, to see it, it is sufficient to read Einstein. (In our condensed or high-level manner of speaking, Einstein has the role of the icon of "modern science". Quoting Einstein is our way to say "here is what modern science has been telling us".)
It is simply impossible, Einstein remarked (while writing about "Evolution of Physics" with Leopold Infeld), to open up the 'mechanism of nature' and verify that our ideas and models correspond to the real thing. We cannot even conceive of such a comparison! Science is only an "attempt to make the chaotic diversity of our sense-experience correspond to a logically uniform system of thought".
In a moment we shall propose an altogether different approach to founding truth and meaning—completely independent of "reality" or "correspondence theory". Instead of calcifying the foundations as what science is, we'll show how to make it a function of what science knows! We'll introduce an art and science of constructing foundations for cultural artifacts, so that our culture may grow large and strong.
We shall point to a way to allow the foundations of truth and meaning to evolve continuously—so that our culture may evolve in sync with academic and other insights.
But before we do that, let us illustrate the depth and the breadth of the epistemological gulf that now separates our popular understanding of "language, truth and reality" (to borrow Whorf's timely title, already 80 years old), and what we actually know about those matters. A vast and profoundly creative foundations frontier is opening up. Let us visit it, however briefly, to see how profoundly our handling of everyday matters is likely to change, when we make the overdue fundamental changes.
We condense a spectrum of academic insights to a handful of engaging stories or vignettes; and we combine vignettes into threads—where they enhance one another, and sometimes produce an overall dramatic effect.
The Piaget–Lakoff–Oppenheimer thread illustrates how profoundly the 20th century scientific results challenge the naive idea of right knowledge that marked the academia's ascent. The Odin–Bourdieu–Damasio thread shows that we need to understand the relationship between information and power in a completely new way.
We shall see who, or what, keeps 'Galilei in house arrest' today today—without any need for censorship or prison.
As a cognitive psychologist studying "the construction of reality in the child", Jean Piaget observed that children develop their conception of reality by manipulating physical objects. By studying "the metaphors we live by" as a cognitive linguist, George Lakoff concluded that abstract thinking is largely metaphorical—that it uses our experiences with physical objects as templates. By exploring why quantum physics is so difficult to comprehend, Robert Oppenheimer concluded (in "Uncommon Sense") that the small quanta of matter-energy defy common sense by behaving in ways that are different from anything we have in experience.
Scientific truth is not and cannot be confined to what "makes sense". Richard Feynman observed (in "The Character of Physical Law"):
"It is necessary for the very existence of science that minds exist which do not allow that nature must satisfy some preconceived conditions."
But this turns Plato's conception of true knowledge on its head, doesn't it?
Even more dramatic are the changes in our understanding of power and freedom—which the available insights now demand.
In "Social Construction of Reality", Berger and Luckmann described the social process by which "reality" is constructed. They pointed to the role that a certain kind of reality construction called "universal theories" (theories about the nature of reality, which determine how truth and meaning are to be created) play in maintaining a given social and political order of things. The Biblical worldview of Galilei's prosecutors—which invested the monarch with some of Almighty's absolute power— is a familiar historical example.
The Odin–Bourdieu–Damasio thread reveals something essential about ourselves, which we must know to be able to able to untangle the cultural knot we are in and "change course".
This thread offers the data we need to be able to resolve a mystery: How we could be loving our children "above all else"—and still continue destroying the living substrate of our planet, and committing them to a dystopian future? And also Why we could have been Alexander's mercenaries and Hitler's soldiers, or "cogs that mesh perfectly" of a modern corporation.
The Odin–Bourdieu–Damasio thread allows us to understand the inner, social-psychological workings of the power structure.
Since we already offered an outline of this thread, we here only highlight the 'dots' that need to be connected.
Through the turf behavior of horses as metaphor, Odin the Horse vignette points to an instinctive drive that we humans also share—to dominate and control; and to expand our 'turf', whatever it may be. Even if we may not want to take part in the human 'turf strife', we still live in the ecology that is created by it, and suffer the consequences.
The second vignette allows us to perceive culture, and the societal order of things we are socialized to accept as reality, as symbolic 'turf'.
As an alert witness of Algeria's war for independence, Pierre Bourdieu saw how power morphed in modernity—from the "classical" instruments such as censorship and prison, to the "symbolic" ones, woven in modern economy and culture.
And to understand the process, which we call socialization, by which that 'turf', and the "reality picture" that holds it together, are created.
Bourdieu's "theory of practice" explains how power play can be rampant without anyone's awareness.
Bourdieu used two keywords—"field" and "game"—to refer to the symbolic or cultural 'turf'. By calling it a field, he suggested something akin to a magnetic field, which orients our seemingly random or free behavior, without us noticing. By calling it a game, he portrayed it as something that structures or 'gamifies' our social existence, by giving each of us a certain set of 'action capabilities', in accordance with our role. "The boss" has a certain body language and tone of voice; and so does "his secretary". Bourdieu used the keyword "habitus" to point to 'action capabilities'. The "habitus", according to Bourdieu, tends to be transmitted from body to body directly. Everyone kneels down when the king enters the room; so naturally we do too.
Bourdieu's repeated emphasis that a "habitus" is "both structured and structuring" needs to be carefully considered. His point was that the human turf is completely unlike the leveled meadow of the horses; it is indeed as more sophisticated as our culture is compared to the culture of the horses.
The human 'turf' is a structured result of historical 'turf strifes'.
Bourdieu keyword "doxa" points to the role that our "reality picture" plays in turning us into willing participants in this often so profoundly unjust and so infamously destructive 'game'. (This keyword has a rich and interesting history in social studies, which through Max Weber reaches at least as far back as Aristotle.) "Doxa" is a specific and widely common experience—that our social order of things is as immutable and as real as the physical reality we live in. "Orthodoxy" admits that other possible "reality pictures" exists, but claims that only a single one is the "right" one. "Doxa" ignores even the possibility of alternatives.
The third vignette, whose lead protagonist is the cognitive neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, allows us to understand why "doxa", or socialized reality, has such an uncanny cognitive grip on us humans.
As a cognitive neuroscientist, Damasio explained the anatomy and the physiology of the doxic experience. Damasio's is a simple result with profound consequences: When a certain nerve that connects the brain with the body is severed, the patient preserves the capability to reason rationally—and loses the capability to perceive relevance and set priorities. Damasio concluded that while the brain does the thinking, the body determines what we are capable of thinking.
In a book titled "Descartes' Error", Damasio explained why the "homo sapiens" self-image that the modernity gave us is profoundly misleading: We are not only, and not even primarily the rational decision makers, as we tend to believe. Our rational decision making, and our consciously maintained reality picture in general, are largely controlled by an embodied cognitive filter, which determines what options we are able to rationally consider.
Damasio explained how we may be living in two "realities", and have two disparate sets of values—the ones we uphold rationally; and the socialized or embodied ones.
To honor this new self-conception, we adapted Johan Huizinga's the keyword, to point to our alternative identity, as homo ludens.
Damasio's research allows us to understand why we civilized humans don't rationally consider taking off our clothes and walking out in the street naked; and why we don't consider changing the systems in which we live and work either.
This reverses the common idea of power.
We may now condense the above cognitive and epistemological insights to a single point.
The relationship we have with information is a result of a historical error.
This error has been detected and reported, but not corrected.
Its practical consequences include:
- Stringent limits to creativity. A vast global army of selected, trained and publicly sponsored creative men and women are obliged to confine their work to only observing the world—by looking at it through the lenses of traditional disciplines.
- Severed tie between information and action. The perceived purpose of information being to complete the 'reality puzzle'—every new "piece of information" appears to be just as relevant as any other; and also necessary for completing the 'puzzle'. Enormous amounts of information are produced "disconnected from usefulness"—as Postman diagnosed.
- Reification of institutions. Our "science", "democracy", "public informing" and other institutions have no explicitly stated purposes, against which their implementations may be evaluated; they simply are their implementations. It is for this reason that we use 'candles as headlights'.
- Destruction of culture. To see it, join us on an imaginary visit to a cathedral: There is awe-inspiring architecture; Michelangelo's Pietà meets the eye, and his frescos are near by. Allegri's Miserere is reaching us from above. And then there is the ritual. This, and a lot more, comprises the human-made 'ecosystem' called "culture", where the "human quality" grows. The myths of old, including the myth that "truth" means "correspondence with reality", were mere means by which the cultural traditions pursued this all-important end. We discarded this 'ecosystem' because we discredited its "reality picture". But "reality" is not—and it has never been—what the culture is about. The 'cultural species' are rapidly going extinct. In culture we don't have 'the temperature and the CO2 measurements', to be able to diagnose problems and propose policies.
- Culture abandoned to power structure. It is sufficient to to look around: Advertising is everywhere. And explicit advertising is only a tip of an iceberg. Variuos kinds of "symbolic power" are being used to socialize us as unaware consumers or willing voters—as the story of Edward Bernays (Freud's American nephew who became "the pioneer of modern public relations and propaganda") might show.
The following conclusion suggests itself:
The Enlightenment did not liberate us from power-related reality construction.
Our socialization only changed hands—from the kings and the clergy, to the corporations and the media.
The Mirror ideogram characterizes the academic situation we are in, and points to the way in which that situation must be handled.
Twenty-five centuries of evolution of our tradition have brought us here, in front of this metaphorical mirror. Our situation demands that we restore the original academic ethos, and engage in self-reflective dialog.
A purpose of this dialog is to rid ourselves of socialized and inflated "knowing". But instead of appealing to common sense and logic, as Socrates did with his contemporaries, at the point of Academia's inception—we now have all the epistemological insights of the 20th century science and philosophy to work with. The taste bits we have just seen might already be enough to see why such a dialog is likely to be a game changer.
An informed self-reflective dialog will thoroughly change the academic self-image and self-identity!
When we see ourselves in the mirror, we see ourselves in the world. The mirror symbolizes self-awareness; it points to the need to put ourselves into the picture.
The world we see ourselves in, when we look at the mirror, is a world in dire need—for the kind of integrity, creativity and daring that our academic forefathers manifested, and gave our tradition the high esteem that we now enjoy. We see that now our tradition has a pivotal, vitally important role in that world.
The mirror symbolizes the downfall of reification, and the ascent of accountability.
But its main message is an unexpected way in which the evolution of the academic tradition needs to continue. The mirror is right in front of us. The continuation of the academia's evolution appears to have come to a standstill. But there is a straight and natural way to continue—however surprising or even 'magical' it might appear at first glance.
The academic tradition must continue its evolution by stepping through the mirror—and guiding our society accordingly!
On the other side of the mirror, a whole new academic and cultural order of things is waiting to be inhabited and develop. The academia must guide and liberate the oppressed—which at this point includes all of us; both "the 99%" and "the 1%".
The holoscope and the holotopia model the academic and the social-cultural order of things on the other side of the mirror.
What makes this key step, through the mirror, academically or technically possible is what Villard Van Orman Quine called "truth by convention"—and we adapted as one of our keywords.
Quine opened "Truth by Convention" by observing:
"The less a science has advanced, the more its terminology tends to rest on an uncritical assumption of mutual understanding. With increase of rigor this basis is replaced piecemeal by the introduction of definitions. The interrelationships recruited for these definitions gain the status of analytic principles; what was once regarded as a theory about the world becomes reconstrued as a convention of language. Thus it is that some flow from the theoretical to the conventional is an adjunct of progress in the logical foundations of any science."
But if truth by convention has been the way in which the sciences improve their logical foundations—why not use it to update the logical foundations of knowledge work at large?
Truth by convention is common in mathematics: "Let X be Y. Then..." and the argument follows. Insisting that X "really is" Y is obviously meaningless. A convention is valid within a given context—which may be an article, or a theory, or a methodology.
Truth by convention allows us to build a completely new foundation for truth and meaning—by defining a methodology.
Our methodology prototype, of which the holoscope is an extension, is formally called Polyscopic Modeling and nicknamed polyscopy.
The epistemology of polyscopy, which is defined by convention, is called design epistemology. We defined design epistemology by rendering the core of our proposal (to change the relationship we have with information) as a convention.
In the "Design Epistemology" research article (published in the special issue of the Information Journal titled "Information: Its Different Modes and Its Relation to Meaning", edited by Robert K. Logan; see this blog highlight with a link to the article) where we articulated this proposal, we made it clear that the design epistemology is only one of the many ways to implement the proposed methodological approach to information and knowledge. We drafted a parallel between the modernization of science that can result in this way, and the advent of modern art; by defining a methodology by convention, we can do in the sciences as the artists did, when they liberated themselves from the demand to mirror reality, by emulating the technique of Old Masters.
As the founders of science did, and as contemporary artists do—on the other side of the mirror we can create the ways in which we practice our profession.
The advantages of the methodological approach to truth and meaning include:
- Real academic freedom: When we no longer reify the worldview and the methods of our disciplines, we become empowered to be creative in entirely new ways. But to get there, we must face an interesting technical obstacle: Whatever we say within the traditional-academic and cultural order of things, even when that is "we are constructing reality"—by default we are saying how the things "really are", out there in "reality". Truth by convention allows us to liberate ourselves from reification completely, with no residues left.
- Real academic rigor. Truth by convention is the natural antidote to "relativism", which the 20th century epistemological insights have led us to ("if even science is constructing reality—what makes you believe that your constructed reality is any better than mine?"). Truth by convention is a practical way to restore agency to information, and power to knowledge. If we imagine the methodological approach to knowledge as 'lever' that can empower us to 'move the world' forward—then truth by convention is the requisite 'Archimedean point'.
- Real accountability. When we reflect in front of the mirror, we learn to disassociate information from "reality", and to see it as the core element of power. A written methodology is to work with information as a constitution is to social organization.
- The capability for continuous self-renewal. A methodology is a prototype. And as all prototypes do, a methodology evolves continuously—by federating relevant knowledge.
The polyscopy definition comprises eight aphorismic conventions called postulates; by using truth by convention, each of them is given an interpretation. We illustrate the power of this approach by discussing briefly the first two—by which Einstein's "epistemological credo" is turned into a convention. Here is how Einstein defined it (in Autobiographical Notes):
I shall not hesitate to state here in a few sentences my epistemological credo. I see on the one side the totality of sense experiences and, on the other, the totality of the concepts and propositions that are laid down in books. (…) The system of concepts is a creation of man, together with the rules of syntax, which constitute the structure of the conceptual system. (…) All concepts, even those closest to experience, are from the point of view of logic freely chosen posits, just as is the concept of causality, which was the point of departure for this inquiry in the first place.
A brief vignette, explaining how this all started, will enable us to contextualize this proposal in contemporary-academic order of things, and give it a reality touch.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Brussels Free University invited scientists and artists to "an interdisciplinary reflection on science, society, art and human action", called "Einstein Meets Magritte". To a section called "Worldviews and the Problem of Synthesis", we contributed a prospectus article for polyscopy, explaining how the methodological approach to information, modeled by polyscopy, can enable us to do that.
We showed a variant of the above slide, with a fragment of Einstein's "epistemological credo" and Magritte's "The Treachery of Images (This Is not a pipe) side by side; and explained that the 'meeting point' that Einstein and Magritte shared with so many of their contemporary creative thinkers was a groundbreaking insight—that we must learn to distinguish between "real" things and our representations of them.
We then introduced the methodological approach, enabled by truth by convention, as a practical way to overcome the division and the confusion that disparate languages, traditions, disciplines and worldviews introduced, and 'complete the Tower of Babel'.
The first postulate of polyscopy defines information:
Information is recorded experience.
It is thereby made explicit that the substance communicated by information is not "reality", but human experience. Hence we have "human experience" as 'common denominator', to which cultural artifacts across ages and traditions can be reduced—and then combined together.
Furthermore, as experience can be recorded in a variety of ways (a chair, for instance, records experience about sitting and chair making)—objects, customs, myth... become valid carriers of information, and we see it as our duty to extract and preserve whatever is of relevance, by making it accessible to people in our time.We become empowered to use or create other ways to record and communicate information—in addition to academic books and articles.
The second postulate explains how polyscopy handles the worldviews, and the methods by which they are created.
The scope determines the view.
By this convention, "reality" (or whatever is "objectively" causing our experience) has no a priori structure. The "aha experience", when we grasp an object of interest in a certain specific way, such as when we've understand its "causes", does not mean that w've seen and understood its "reality". By convention, the object of our representation is considered to be similar to an ink block in the Rorschach test—i.e. as something to which we ascribe meaning.
Different ways to assign meaning are possible, and legitimate. With Piaget, we postulate that "the mind organizes the world by organizing itself". Instead of basing the legitimacy of our worldview on a certain way of looking—we extend the requirement that our ideas should be coherent and make sense, by insisting that they must also serve their systemic purposes, whatever those may be.
This postulate is also a definition of scope—as whatever determines what we see. This definition empowers us to create scopes, to represent all levels of detail, and angles of looking. The way of looking that defines the holoscope is thereby made possible. We'll say more about this while elaborating on the narrow frame insight.
Finally, the second postulate points to an attitude in communication, which we've associated with the keyword dialog. This attitude is a direct antidote to doxic arrogance; we genuinely do our best to let go of "our reality", and to listen and stay open to new ways of perceiving and comprehending.
What practical difference can this make?
To answer that question, we submitted a preliminary version of the convenience paradox result to "Worldviews and the Problem of Synthesis", showing how relevant experiences can be combined across historical periods and cultural traditions, to inform and thoroughly redirect our "pursuit of happiness". Since convenience paradox is the theme of our fifth insight, we here answer by presenting another example.
"What's Going on" is the title of our first book prototype, with subtitle "A Cultural Renewal", which exists as a rough manuscript. The book answers its title question in an entirely uncommon way—by pointing to a slow-developing but centrally important event, which is taking place in our time, in the context of which a variety of other events needs to be understood.
The Cultural Revival ideogram interprets the nature of our contemporary situation, and points to the way in which it needs to be handled. Our visible problems are a reflection of a fundamental error—which needs to be remedied before our problems can be corrected, and building can be resumed.
It is argued that instead of 'building on whatever terrain we are', we must consciously create the foundations for what we uphold as "truth", and act on.
The book presents a careful argument for 'architecture' in information and culture construction.
Which is, of course, what we've been talking about all along.
Two concrete examples—our definitions of design and of visual literacy—will illustrate some of the advantages of using truth by convention to found academic work. Each of them is an example of substituting truth by convention for reification in an already existing academic field—and thereby giving the existing praxis an explicitly stated and up-to-date direction and purpose. The fact that those proposals were welcomed by the target communities suggests that this line of work may not need a new paradigm to become practical.
The example of design illustrates how the approach we are proposing can be used to provide both a rigorous academic foundation and a timely new direction to an academic field (this chronological summary provides links for in-depth exploration).
The definition of "design" gives us also a way to understand our contemporary situation, and our proposal.
We defined design as "the alternative to tradition", where design and tradition are (by convention) two alternative ways to wholeness. Tradition relies on spontaneous and incremental Darwinian-style evolution. Change is resisted; small changes are tested and assimilated through generations of use. We practice design when we consider ourselves accountable for wholeness.
Design must be used when tradition cannot be relied on.
Design must be in place when the rate change is too fast; or when the traditional order of things is no longer respected and maintained.
The situation we are in, which we pointed to by the bus with candle headlights metaphor, can now be understood as a result of a transition: We are no longer traditional; and we are not yet designing. Our call to action can be understood as the call to complete modernization—and become able to evolve in a new way.
Reification can now be understood as the foundation that suits tradition; truth by convention as the one that suits design.
The second example: Our definition of implicit information, and of visual literacy as "literacy associated with implicit information, for the International Visual Literacy Association, was in spirit similar—but its point was different (see this summary).
We showed the above ideogram to highlight that again and again, on our contemporary-cultural scene, two kinds of information meet each other in a direct duel: The explicit information, represented by the explicit, factual and verbal warning in a black-and-white rectangle, and the implicit information, represented by the colorful and "cool" rest. The implicit information wins "hands down", this ideogram shows (or else this would not be a cigarette advertising). Our larger point was that while legislation, ethical sensibilities and "official" culture are focused on explicit information, our culture is dominated and created by implicit information.
We need visual literacy—to
- understand our heritage
- understand how subtle messages affect us
- be able to create implicit information—and redeem culture from power structure
We have just seen that the academic tradition—instituted as the modern university—finds itself in a much larger and more central social role than it was originally conceived for. We look up to the academia, and not to the Church and the tradition, for answers to the pivotal question:
How should we look at the world, to be able to comprehend and handle it?
That role, and that question, carry an immense power!
It was by providing a completely new answer to that question, that the last "great cultural revival" came about.
So how should we look at the world, to be able to comprehend and handle it?
No one knows!
Of course, countess books and articles have been written about this theme since antiquity. But in spite of that—or should we say because of that—no consensus has been reached.
Since nobody felt accountable for supplying it, the way we the people look at the world, try to comprehend and handle it, shaped itself spontaneously—from odds and ends of science as they appeared to the public around the middle of the 19th century, when Darwin and Newton as cultural heroes were replacing Adam and Moses. What is today popularly considered as the "scientific worldview" took shape then—and remained largely unchanged.
As members of the homo sapiens species, this worldview would make us believe, we have the evolutionary privilege to be able to comprehend the world in causal terms, and make rational choices. Give us a correct model of the world, and we'll know exactly how to satisfy our needs (which we also know, because we can experience them directly). But the traditional cultures got it all wrong: Having been unable to explain the natural phenomena, they put a "ghost in the machine", and made us pray to him to give us what we needed. Science corrected that error—and now we can satisfy our needs by manipulating the mechanisms of nature directly, with the help of technology.
It is this causal or "scientific" understanding of the world that made us modern. Isn't that how we understood that women cannot fly on broomsticks?
While it is undoubtedly correct that the 19th century "scientific" worldview enabled us to wash away a wonderful amount of prejudice—it is also true that we have thrown out the 'baby' (culture) with the bath water.
From our collection of reasons why this way of looking at the world is obsolete and needs to be changed, we here mention only two.
The first reason is that the nature is not a mechanism.
The mechanistic way of looking at the world that Newton and his contemporaries developed in physics, which around the 19th century shaped the worldview of the masses, was later disproved and disowned by modern science. Research in physics showed that even the physical phenomena exhibit the kinds of interdependence that cannot be understood in "classical" or causal terms.
In "Physics and Philosophy", Werner Heisenberg, one of the progenitors of this research, described how "the narrow and rigid" way of looking at the world that our ancestors adapted from the 19th century science damaged culture—and in particular its parts on on which the "human quality" depended, such as ethics and religion. And how as a result the "instrumental" or (as Bauman called them) "adiaphorized" thinking and values became prominent. As we have seen, it is those values that bind us together into wasteful and destructive power structures.
Hear Heisenberg say that he expected that in the long run the philosophical and cultural consequences of atomic physics—the change of how we see everyday problems, and of culture—would be more important than the technical ones.
Heisenberg believed that the most valuable gift of modern physics to humanity would not be nuclear energy or semiconductor technology—but a cultural change, which would result from the dissolution of the rigid frame.
The theme we are touching upon is more than the relationship we have with information; what we are talking about determines the relationship we have with the world, and with each other. A suitable context for understanding its broader import is what Erich Jantsch called the "evolutionary paradigm". Jantsch explained the evolutionary paradigm via the metaphor of a boat in a river, representing a system (which may at the limit be the natural world, or our civilization). When we use the classical scientific paradigm, we position ourselves above the boat, and aim to look at it "objectively". The classical systems paradigm would position us on the boat, and we would seek ways to steer the boat effectively and safely. But when we use the evolutionary paradigm, we perceive ourselves as—water. We are evolution.
The narrow frame determines the way we are as 'water'—and hence our evolutionary "course", and our future.
In 2005, Hans-Peter Dürr (considered in Germany as Heisenberg's scientific "heir") co-wrote the Potsdam Manifesto, whose subtitle and message read "We need to learn to think in a new way". The reasons offered include scientific epistemological insights, and the global condition. The proposed new thinking is closely similar to the one that defines holotopia:
"The materialistic-mechanistic worldview of classical physics, with its rigid ideas and reductive way of thinking, became the supposedly scientifically legitimated ideology for vast areas of scientific and political-strategic thinking. (...) We need to reach a fundamentally new way of thinking and a more comprehensive understanding of our Wirklichkeit ["reality", or what we consider as "true"], in which we, too, see ourselves as a thread in the fabric of life, without sacrificing anything of our special human qualities. This makes it possible to recognize humanity in fundamental commonality with the rest of nature (...)"
The second reason is that even complex mechanisms ("classical" nonlinear dynamic systems) cannot be understood in causal terms.
It has been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Research in cybernetics explained this scientifically: The "hell" (which you may imagine as global issues, or the 'destination' toward which the 'bus' we are riding in is reportedly headed) tends to be a "side effect" of our best efforts and "solutions", reaching us through "nonlinearities" and "feedback loops" in the natural and social complex systems we are part of.
Hear Mary Catherine Bateson (cultural anthropologist and cybernetician, daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson who pioneered both fields) say:
"The problem with Cybernetics is that it is not an academic discipline that belongs in a department. It is an attempt to correct an erroneous way of looking at the world, and at knowledge in general. (...) Universities do not have departments of epistemological therapy!"
Truth by convention allows us to explicitly define and academically develop new ways to look at the world.
We called the result a methodology, and our prototype the Polyscopic Modeling methodology or polyscopy.
Polyscopy is a general-purpose methodology; it provides methods for creating insights about any chosen theme—on any level of generality.
Since the main purpose of the Polyscopic Modeling prototype is to point to the advantages of the methodological approach to general knowledge compared to both the narrow frame and the disciplinary approach, we here outline several of its design patterns.
- Polyscopy is a general-purpose methodology. As Abraham Maslow observed, to a person with a hammer in his hand everything looks like a nail. A scientific discipline is a 'hammer'. By virtue of being general-purpose, polyscopy allows for turning the traditional-academic approach to knowledge and to the world inside-out: Instead of having a fixed set of concepts and a method, and applying them where they can be applied (and thus sacrificing purpose to "objectivity")—we provide completely flexible concepts and methods, to be applied wherever reliable information is needed (while continuing to improve the methods). Polyscopy demands that we choose themes and ways of looking according to relevance; and that we create the corresponding information as well as we can. According to sociologists, we live in a post-traditional culture (where we no longer follow in the footsteps of our ancestors), in reflexive modernity (where we make lifestyle and other core choices rationally, by reflecting about them) and in risk society (impregnated by awareness of existential risks, which we don't know how to handle). Our situation demands that we create reliable information about life's basic issues. Reliability, and rigor, here are not in the process, but in (as Erich Jantsch called it) "process of process"—i.e. in the way in which the methods and processes evolve.
- Polyscopy is a prototype; it is explicitly defined by a collection of principles that are defined by convention. Hence it provides explicit guidelines for creating and using information. Those guidelines are themselves federated—and hence subject to change, when the society's needs or the knowledge of knowledge demand that. The formulation of a methodology gives us a way to spell out the assumptions and the rules—and provide the much-needed scientifically-based criteria and methods by which information is handled in our society.
- The method of polyscopy too are federated—by distilling and combining methodological insights in relevant traditions.
The methodological approach allows us to extend the project science to encompass all themes that are of interest—and give priority to the most urgent or vital ones.
A methodology is in essence a toolkit; anything that does the job would do. We, however, defined polyscopy by turning state of the art epistemological and methodological insights into conventions.
By doing hat, we showed how the severed evolutionary tie—between fundamental and methodological insights, and the way we the people look at the world—can be restored.
The methodology definition allows us to state explicitly the criteria that orient everyday handling of information. We used this approach to define, for instance, what being "informed" means. We modeled this intuitive notion with the keyword gestalt. To be "informed", one needs to have a gestalt that is appropriate to one's situation. "Our house is on fire" is a canonical example. The knowledge of a gestalt is profoundly different from only knowing the data (such as the room temperatures and the CO2 levels.). To have an appropriate gestalt means to be moved to do the action that the situation at hand is calling for.
Are we misinformed—in spite of all the information and information technology we own?
Could we be living in a misapprehended "reality"—which obscures from us the true nature of our situation, and the way we need to act?
"One cannot not communicate", reads one of Paul Watzlawick's axioms of communication. Even when everything in a media report is factually correct, the gestalt it conveys implicitly can entirely miss the mark—because we are told what Donald Trump has said; and not Aurelio Peccei.
Polyscopy offers a collection of techniques for 'proving' or justifying, and also communicating, the gestalts and other general or high-level insights and claims. Those techniques are, of course, also federated:
- Patterns, defined as "abstract relationships", are federated from science and mathematics; they have a similar role as mathematical functions do in traditional sciences; by being generally applicable and defined by convention, they no longer constitute a narrow frame
- Ideograms allow us to adapt the techniques from the arts, advertising and communication design, and give expressive power to gestalts, patterns and other insights
- Vignettes implement the basic technique from media informing, where an insight or issue is made accessible by telling illustrative and "sticky" real-life people and situation stories
- Threads implement Vannevar Bush's technical idea of "trails", and provide a way to combine specific insights into higher-level units of meaning
In the manner of a fractal, the following vignette will further explain why we need to federate the we look at the world, to be able to comprehend and handle it—both in the academia and in general; and illustrate the benefits that will result.
A situation with overtones of a crisis arose in the early days of computer programming. The buddying computer industry undertook ambitious software projects—which resulted in thousands of lines of "spaghetti code", which no-one could understand and correct.
The solution was found in creating "computer programming methodologies", of which the "object oriented methodology", developed in the 1960s by Ole-Johan Dahl and Krysten Nygaard, is a prime example. The longer story is interesting but we already shared it, so here we only highlight its main point, and offer a conclusion.
Any sufficiently complete programming language will allow the programmers to create any application program. The creators of the object oriented methodology, however, made themselves accountable for providing the programmers the conceptual and programming tools that would enable them, or even compel them, to write comprehensible, reusable and well-structured code.
When a team of programmers can no longer understand the program they have created, their problem is easily detected—because the program will not compile or run on the computer. But when a human generation can no longer understand the information they have created, or the world this information is supposed to explain—isn't that exactly the situation that The Club of Rome and Aurelio Peccei have diagnosed?
We may conclude from this parallel, and from the socialized reality insight:
The academia too must consider itself accountable for the tools and processes it gives to its members; and to our society at large.
The structuring template the creators of the object oriented methodology conceived and gave to the programmers is called "object". The core purpose of an "object" is to "encapsulate" or "hide" implementation, and provide or "export" function. "Object" is a piece of code that interfaces with the rest of the program through a collection of functions it provides. A printer may provide the function "print"; a scanner the function "scan"—and only those functions are visible in the "higher-level" code. The code by which those functions are implemented is made available separately.
The solution for information structuring we proposed within polyscopy is called information holon (we adapted the keyword "holon" from Arthur Koestler, who used it as a name for something that is both a whole, and a part in a larger whole). An information holon is closely similar to the "object" in object oriented methodology. The information, represented by the "i", is depicted as a circle on top of a square. This suggests the structuring principle, where the square represents a multiplicity of ways of looking, and contributing data and insights, and the circle represents the point of it all (such as 'the cup is broken'). As the case is with the "object", the information holon "encapsulates" the data within the square, and makes only the function available to the rest of the world as the circle.
When the circle is a general insight or a gestalt, the details that comprise the square are given the power to influence our awareness of issues, and the way in which we handle them. When the circle is a prototype, the multiplicity of insights that comprise the square are given direct systemic impact, and hence agency.
The information holon allows us to implement also the structuring principle, which the creators of the object oriented methodology conceived as the solution to their challenge.
Dahl's point, that "precise thinking is possible only in terms of a small number of elements at a time", must be federated and applied in our work with knowledge at large.
This means that we must be able to create small, manageable snapshots of "reality" (or whatever may be its part or issue we are considering), on any desired level of detail or generality; and that we must devise ways of organizing and inter-relating such views to compose a coherently structured whole.
We adapted or federated Dahl's insight by declaring a collection of principles that define polyscopy. We point to them by the metaphor of the mountain—and visually by the triangle in the Information ideogram.
To understand them, imagine taking a mountain walk: We may look at the valley down below, and see lakes, forests and villages; or at the trees that surround us; or zoom in on a flower and inspect its details. In each case, what we see is a simple and coherent view ("coherent" because it represents a single level of detail). It is in the nature of our perception that we are always given a coherent view—along with the awareness of the position our view occupies relative to other views, and to the world at large. The aim of polyscopy is to preserve that basic quality of our perception, which enables us to make sense of our views—by comprehending each of them and by contextualizing them correctly—also in the work with human-made and abstract information.
It is clear that this way of organizing and maintaining knowledge requires on the one side a new collection of social processes, by which the high-level views or circles are kept consistent with the corresponding squares, and with each other. And on the other side a general-purpose methodology, by which we can create new high-level concepts (corresponding to 'village', 'forest' and 'lake'), on any level of generality.
The required social processes are modeled by knowledge federation; the methodology by polyscopy.
The Holotopia prototype may now be understood as the circle that completes our knowledge federation proposal; which federates the proposal.
It is customary in programming methodology design to showcase the programming language that implements the methodology by creating its first compiler in the language itself. We applied the same approach and created a polyscopic book manuscript, titled "Information Must Be Designed".
In this book we described the paradigm that is modeled by polyscopy; and used polyscopy to make a case for that paradigm. The book's introduction provides a summary.
What we at the time this manuscript was written called information design, has subsequently been completed and rebranded as knowledge federation.
We turn to culture and "human quality", and ask:
Why is "a great cultural revival" realistically possible?
What insight, and what strategy, may divert our "pursuit of happiness" from material consumption and egocentricity to human cultivation?
We approach this theme also from another angle: Suppose we developed the praxis of federating knowledge—and used it to combine the heritage and insights from the sciences, world traditions, therapy schools...
If we used federated knowledge instead of advertising to guide our choices—what changes would develop? What difference would that make?
The Renaissance liberated our ancestors from worries about the original sin and the eternal reward, and they began to pursue happiness and beauty, here and now.
What values might the next "great cultural revival" bring to the fore?
In the course of modernization we made a cardinal error—by adopting convenience as our cardinal value.
By convenience we mean the unwavering faith—now so common—in direct experience as way to determine what is to be considered as "good", "desirable" and "worthy of being pursued". We define convenience rather broadly, and let it subsume also the closely related value egocenteredness or egocentricity—which we use, for instance, to decide what parties and policies to vote for, based on how their stated agendas affect our own personal needs and desires.
This error can easily be understood as a consequence of the narrow frame—the fact that we've been socialized to mistake the rewarding "aha" emotion when we understand how a certain cause leads to a certain effect as a sign that we've seen the very "reality" of that phenomenon. And so naturally, what feels attractive or pleasant gets reified as "the cause" of happiness. The scientists have the experiment to provide them the reality touch and the data for reasoning and action; the rest of us have convenience.
But convenience is, of course, also a product of our socialized reality. Advertising may promote all kinds of products; but on a more basic level—it always promotes convenience, by appealing to convenience.
And so since we believe that we already know what our goals and purposes should be, the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom has no practical value for us, and no esteem. We not seek information to orient our choices.
Convenience orients even our choice of information!
To comprehend the remedy we are about to propose, it is best to imagine that we are already living on the other side of the metaphorical mirror—that we handle information as we now handle other human-made things, by adapting it to the purposes that need to be served. That, furthermore, the narrow frame has been unraveled, and that we are capable of creating basic insights about all basic things in life; not the least—about values.
Imagine that the convenience paradox is common knowledge, that everyone learns it at school, as we now learn "Newton's laws".
We use the Convenience Paradox ideogram to explain the convenience paradox.
Like most of us, the person in the ideogram wants his life to be convenient. But he made a wise choice: Instead of simply following the direction downwards, which feels more convenient, he paused to see whether that direction also leads to a more convenient condition.
The convenience paradox is a pattern, where a more convenient direction leads to a less convenient situation.
The iconic image of a "couch potato" is an obvious instance of this pattern: Convenience as value separates us from the rewards that the cultivation of "human quality" can bring. And isn't that what "culture" is really all about?
The image of a child eating her favorite chocolate cake until her tummy hurts will points to another blind spot of convenience: It makes us ignore how our ability to feel changes as a consequence of our choices. When we stimulate our senses in a certain way, a certain pleasant emotion results. But with time and exposure, our senses become desensitized. For all we know, abstaining from convenience, and developing sensitivity, could be a better way to go.
The convenience paradox insight has also some non-obvious, game-changing messages. One of them is that there is an entire realm of happiness, or of fulfillment, or simply a far better way to be human than what our culture permits us to experience. We point to it by using wholeness as goal—and propose it as an informed, or further evolved, alternative to convenience.
Wholeness feels better than pleasurable things.
We can see that when we set aside cultural biases, and federate relevant insights—across cultures, geographical regions, and historical periods.
To begin, we don't need to seek out the enlightened yogis on the foothills of Himalayas; a careful examination of almost any cultural tradition will do, including good old Christianity. Here is, for instance, how C.F. Andrews described the original Christian community (in "Sermon on the Mount"):
"[Through their practice, the early disciples of Jesus found out] that the Way of Life, which Jesus had marked out for them in His teaching, was revolutionary in its moral principles. It turned the world upside down (Acts 17. 6). (...) They found in this new 'Way of Life' such a superabundance of joy, even in the midst of suffering, that they could hardly contain it. Their radiance was unmistakable. When the Jewish rulers saw their boldness, they 'marvelled and took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus' (Acts 4. 13). (...) It was this exuberance of joy and love which was so novel and arresting. It was a 'Way of Life' about which men had no previous experience. Indeed, at first those who saw it could not in the least understand it; and some mocking said, 'These men are full of new wine' (Acts 2. 13)."
A closely similar message is reaching us from the biography of Muhammad that Martin Lings composed, also based on earliest testimonies. And of course from other cultures, geographical regions and historical periods. What we see again and again is that the origins of religious or spiritual traditions were not in erroneous beliefs about the origin of the universe—but in an experience that people had when they engaged in a certain kind of practice; or when they were around the people who by engaging in practice came close to wholeness.
The second message of the convenience paradox ideogram is that the way to wholeness is counter-intuitive or paradoxical, and needs to be illuminated by suitable information.
In the ideogram this point is suggested by rendering the way as "yin" (dark or obscure) in the traditional Chinese "yin-yang" ideogram (which is a symbol of wholeness).
Here too Sermon on the Mount ("turn the other cheek") may provide an illustration; by federating across cultures and traditions, we justify or 'prove' this culturally all-important fact.
Lao Tzu is often credited as the founder of Taoism ("tao" literally means "way"). The legendary sage is often portrayed as riding the bull—which signifies that he conquered egotism; that he held convenience by its horns!
In the Convenience paradox article we offer further points of reference that will illustrate the breadth and the depth of the creative frontier that the convenience paradox insights is pointing to—and here only highlight several prototypes that will illustrate some of the research directions on this frontier.
Convenience Paradox prototype
The Convenience Paradox was the very first prototype of application of polyscopy and knowledge federation, presented at the Einstein Meets Magritte transdisciplinary conference in 1995.
The Convenience Paradox was then offered as a prototype result of the research direction that this methodology makes possible.
The ideogram, as we explained above, only points to a question; its main point is to show that our natural and necessary direction is wholeness; and that we do not know how to get there, that direct experience will only deceive us; that we must use suitable information to show us the way.
The ideogram is, however, only the main point, the 'dot of the i' of a large information holon—whose details combine, in an orderly form, a broad variety of insights, ranging from heterogeneous sources and time periods and cultures, that both support the basic insight and show how exactly wholeness is to be pursued.
The Convenience Paradox result showed how polyscopy can be applied to synthesize culturally-relevant insights across cultural tradition—and use them to inform and further evolve our contemporary culture.
The details were organized in terms of four aspects of human wholeness: physical (effort and effortlessness), emotional (happiness), cognitive (creativity) and biochemical (nutrition and metabolism).
Already the physical aspect, in a fractal-like or parabolical way, illustrates the nature of this result, and the power of the approach it introduces: While we try to eliminate effort by developing the technology, the heaviest thing we ever lift up and carry we can never get rid of. We combined the insights of F.M. Alexander, Moshe Feldenkrais and other pioneers of mind-and-body therapy, to show that a lion's share of our sensation of effort resides in our body as patterns of tension and tensing, which can be eliminated through suitable practice.
Nature-Culture-Health – Information Design
The Nature-Culture-Health – Information Design was a project developed in collaboration with the European Public Health Association, through Prof. Gunnar Tellnes who was then its president.
Aaron Antonovsky is usually considered as the iconic progenitor of "salutogenesis" (creation of health—where instead of seeking to find and eliminate "disease causes", research is focused on factors that contribute to health). Tellnes developed this research further, by applying its results to lifestyle change. In Norway Tellnes developed an organization called Nature-Culture-Health, whose goal is to further health by bringing people into nature, and through cultural activities and lifestyle habits. Our collaboration resulted in several prototypes:
- Together we initiated the Nature-Culture-Health International, see this strategy proposal
- Use of polyscopy to federate the salutogenetic insights, values and practices in everyday life, see this prospectus article
- We developed the key point dialog as a method for empowering awareness and lifestyle change, and applied it as a prototype in three Norwegian municipalities, see this article
At the inaugural meeting of the European Scientific Holistic Medicine Association, organized in 2004 in Copenhagen (by Søren Ventegodt, who in Copenhagen established and led the Quality of Life research insstitute), we showed this information holon and explained that holistic medicine, just as any holistic approach, depends on a different approach to science—which can help us see things whole.
Why is "healthcare" conceived as curing diseases, not as curating health?
At the 2005 conference of the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health in Paris we contributed a result called "Healthcare as a Power Structure", where the power structure theory is applied to elucidate this question. The historiographical data were vignettes about ignored research of Weston Price, Werner Kollath, Francis Pottenger and other pioneers of salutogenesis. By describing our method, we offered a methodological contribution—a way to complement the usual detailed and historiographic practice in this field by developing general "law of change" results. See this abstract.
Movement and Qi
Movement and Qi is a prototype course developed and taught through the University of Oslo PE Department. Since education is a theme of special interest to holotopia, and since this prototype introduced a number of innovations that could be developed further, we here mention some of its design patterns.
Body as medium. Education tends to focus on books and facts; it tends to favor verbal knowledge, and neglect the work with "human quality". This course works directly with the human 'instrument'. Movement is a keyword interpreted as doing something—anything—with the physical self, ranging from work with nutrition and values, to practices such as yoga.
Federating the heritage of the traditions. A vast body of knowledge relevant to "human quality" is waiting to be given citizenship rights in our culture. Qi here is a keyword, which allows for understanding in a simple way that the insights developed in disparate cultural traditions and therapy schools such as shiatsu masage, Alexander technique and qigong all point to the same simple image of human wholeness, and how to work with it. Each class meeting focused on a single technique. The goal was to both introduce a specific way of working with oneself, and often a tradition bringing forth a spectrum of insights—and also illustrate how the specific technique fits into the general qi model, in its own specific way. Notice that no "reality" claims are involved; qi is simply a created general concept, which allows us to make sense of and use the experience of cultural and therapeutic traditions in everyday life and practice.
Overcoming cultural barriers. Cultural barriers still need to be overcome; academic people still tend to consider all that fails to fit the narrow frame as "alternative". To bridge this gap, we devised a marketing strategy, centered around six posters—each bringing forth an entirely different aspect of this course, and work. We placed them in pairs, paired at random, on various bulletin boards around the university. The point here is that although most people who see the posters will not come to the course, their curiosity is still aroused, and the intended positive effect has been made.
Large change is possible
We now summarize the five insights, and show how they point to "a way to change course".
To establish an analogy between our contemporary cultural situation and the situation at the dawn of the historical "great cultural revival", when Galilei was in house arrest, we looked at five pivotal issues, which are the main aspects of that analogy:
- Innovation (analogy with the Industrial Revolution, which revolutionized the efficiency of labor)
- Communication (analogy with the advent of the printing press, which revolutionized the dissemination of knowledge)
- Epistemology (analogy with the Enlightenment, which enthroned direct experience and reason)
- Methodology (analogy with the advent of science, as an informed and effective way to knowledge)
- Values (analogy with the Renaissance, which empowered our ancestors to seek happiness on the earthly realm)
In each case, we saw that the way we comprehend and handle the issue is ripe to be fundamentally changed.
Innovation (power structure insight)
When "free competition" or "the market" steer our growing capability to create and induce change, the systems in which we live and work become power structures—which obstruct natural and human wholeness. A dramatic improvement in efficiency and effectiveness of our work, and of the human condition in general, will result from systemic innovation—when we learn to innovate by making things whole on every scale, and especially on the large scale where changes of institutions or systems are the effect.
Communication (collective mind insight)
We cannot make things whole without seeing them whole.
Our challenge is no longer to mass-produce information, which the printing press made possible, but to co-create meaning. Neil Postman observed:
“We’ve entered an age of information glut. And this is something no culture has really faced before. The typical situation is information scarcity. (…) Lack of information can be very dangerous. (…) But at the same time too much information can be dangerous, because it can lead to a situation of meaninglessness, of people not having any basis for knowing what is relevant, what is irrelevant, what is useful, what is not useful, where they live in a culture that is simply committed, through all of its media, to generate tons of information every hour, without categorizing it in any way for you.”
We have seen that the new media technology enables us to self-organize differently, and and think together, as cells in a human mind do.
Epistemology (socialized reality insight)
We will only be able to change our knowledge-work systems when we learn to treat information as we treat other human-made things—by adapting it to the purposes that need to be served.
We have seen that this pivotal and all-important eistemological leap is now mandated on both fundamental and pragmatic grounds. Reification—of worldviews, and of institutions or systems—has been the key instrument of socialization throughout history, by which the power structures imposed their order of things, contrary to our interests, and without our awareness. During the 20th century our self-awareness has evolved dramatically, and we are now able to self-reflect—about the social and cognitive processes by which "realities" are created. We are ready to liberate ourselves—abolishing reification and becoming accountable for the functions or roles that what we do has in our society.
Methodology (narrow frame insight)
Science eradicated prejudice and vastly expanded our knowledge—but only there where the methods and interests of its disciplines could be applied. The epistemology change makes it possible to extend the project "science" to include all questions where knowledge can make a difference.
Values (convenience paradox insight)
When we illuminate the pivotal issue of values by real information—we see that wholeness, not convenience, must be our goal.
The pursuit of wholeness most naturally leads to "a great cultural revival".
It is also the value that makes the competition unfeasible—and empowers us to innovate in a systemic way.
We can begin a comprehensive change
The holotopia vision, which results from the five insights, offers more than what Peccei asked for: Not only "a great cultural revival", but a sweeping and comprehensive change, similar in all respects as the change that developed after Galilei was in house arrest, is now both necessary and possible.
Large change is easy
The five insights confirm also The Club of Rome's and Peccei's strategic point—to not focus on individual problems, but on the general condition from which they all stem.
As we pointed out, also in the above summary, the courses of action he five insights point to are so co-dependent, that any of them requires that we do them all. Norbert Wiener's keyword "homeostasis" can here be used negatively—to point out that an undesirable condition or configuration can also be held in check by the system's tendency to maintain a stable condition, by springing back and nullifying change. A pathological condition can be stable—isn't that what we call "disease"? And isn't that why we don't call a drug a "remedy"—unless it is strong enough to change the body's pathological condition, to reverse its downward course.
Hence what is demanded is a comprehensive and coherent change—of our cultural paradigm as a whole.
To "change course" means to change the paradigm.
The Club of Rome's strategy is further supported by the insight reached in systems sciences—that restoring the ability to shift paradigms is "the most powerful" way to intervene into systems, as Donella Meadows summarized.
Our quest has thereby been reduced to the question:
What do we need to do to restore our society's ability to shift paradigms?
What "systemic leverage point" should we 'put our shoulders on'?
Presently, we have two strong candidates for the role.
One of them is "changing the relationship we have with information". To repair the broken tie between information and action; and between information and meaning. Each of the five insights is, before all—an insight. To see the new course, we must be able to create insights.
The other candidate is the one Peccei was pointing to, the "human quality". To be able to make the change to the new course, once we've seen it, we must see ourselves as parts in a larger whole, and prioritize making things whole to "our own interests".
To "change course", we must make both of those changes.
We will not solve our problems
A role of the holotopia vision is to fulfill what Margaret Mead identified as "one necessary condition of successfully continuing our existence" (in "Continuities in Cultural Evolution", in 1964—four years before The Club of Rome was founded):
"(W)e are living in a period of extraordinary danger, as we are faced with the possibility that our whole species will be eliminated from the evolutionary scene. One necessary condition of successfully continuing our existence is the creation of an atmosphere of hope that the huge problems now confronting us can, in fact, be solved—and can be solved in time."
Still more concretely, as we have just seen, we undertake to respond to this Mead's call to action, by federating the "tremendous advances in the human sciences":
"Although tremendous advances in the human sciences have been made in the last hundred years, almost no advance has been made in their use, especially in ways of creating reliable new forms in which cultural evolution can be directed to desired goals."
We, however, do not claim, or even assume, that "the huge problems now confronting us can, in fact, be solved".
Hear Dennis Meadows (who coordinated the team that produced The Club of Rome's seminal 1972 report "Limits to Growth") diagnose, recently, that our pursuit of "sustainability" falls short of avoiding the "predicament" that The Club of Rome was warning us about five decades ago:
"Will the current ideas about "green industry", and "qualitative growth", avoid collapse? No possibility. Absolutely no possibility of that. (...) Globally, we are something like sixty or seventy percent above sustainable levels."
We wasted precious time pursuing a dream; hear Ronald Reagan set the tone for it, as "the leader of the free world".
A sense of sobering up, and of catharsis, now needs to reach us from the depth of our problems.
Small things don't matter. Business as usual is a waste of time.
Our very "progress" must now acquire a new—cultural—focus and direction. Hear Dennis Meadows say:
"Will it be possible, here in Germany, to continue this level of energy consumption, and this degree of material welfare? Absolutely not. Not in the United States, not in other countries either. Could you change your cultural and your social norms, in a way that gave attractive future? Yes, you could."
Ironically, our problems can only be solved when we no longer see them as problems—but as symptoms of much deeper cultural and structural defects.
The five insights show that the structural problems now confronting us can be solved.
The holotopia offers more than "an atmosphere of hope". It points to an attainable future that is strictly better than our present.
And it offers to change our condition now—by engaging us in an unprecedentedly large and magnificent creative adventure.
Peccei wrote in One Hundred Pages for the Future (the boldface emphasis is ours):
For some time now, the perception of (our responsibilities relative to "problematique") has motivated a number of organizations and small voluntary groups of concerned citizens which have mushroomed all over to respond to the demands of new situations or to change whatever is not going right in society. These groups are now legion. They arose sporadically on the most variend fronts and with different aims. They comprise peace movements, supporters of national liberation, and advocates of women's rights and population control; defenders of minorities, human rights and civil liberties; apostles of "technology with a human face" and the humanization of work; social workers and activists for social change; ecologists, friends of the Earth or of animals; defenders of consumer rights; non-violent protesters; conscientious objectors, and many others. These groups are usually small but, should the occasion arise, they can mobilize a host of men and women, young and old, inspired by a profound sense of te common good and by moral obligations which, in their eyes, are more important than all others.
They form a kind of popular army, actual or potential, with a function comparable to that of the antibodies generated to restore normal conditions in a biological organism that is diseased or attacked by pathogenic agents. The existence of so many spontaneous organizations and groups testifies to the vitality of our societies, even in the midst of the crisis they are undergoing. Means will have to be found one day to consolidate their scattered efforts in order to direct them towards strategic objectives.
Diversity is good and useful, especially in times of change. The systems scientists coined the keyword "requisite variety" to point out that a variety of possible responses make a system viable, or "sustainable".
The risk is, however, that the actions of "small voluntary groups of concerned citizens" may remain reactive.
From Murray Edelman we adapted the keyword symbolic action, to make that risk more clear. We engage in symbolic action when we act within the limits of the socialized reality and the power structure—in ways that make us feel that we've done our duty. We join a demonstration; or an academic conference. But symbolic action can have only symbolic effects!
We have seen, however, that comprehensive change must be our shared goal.
It is to that strategic goal that the holotopia vision is pointing.
By supplementing this larger strategy, we neither deny that the problems we are facing must be attended to, nor belittle the heroic efforts of our frontier colleagues who are working on their solution.
The Holotopia project complements the problem-based approaches—by adding what is systemically lacking to make solutions possible.
We will not change the world
Like Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, the holotopia is a trans-generational construction project.
It is what our generation owes to future generations.
Our purpose is to begin it.
Margaret Mead left us this encouragement:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Mead explained what exactly distinguishes a small group that is capable of making a large difference:
"(W)e take the position that the unit of cultural evolution is neither the single gifted individual nor the society as a whole, but the small group of interacting individuals who, together with the most gifted among them, can take the next step; then we can set about the task of creating the conditions in which the appropriately gifted can actually make a contribution. That is, rather than isolating potential "leaders," we can purposefully produce the conditions we find in history, in which clusters are formed of a small number of extraordinary and ordinary men and women, so related to their period and to one another that they can consciously set about solving the problems they propose for themselves."
This—capability to self-organize—is where "human quality" is needed. And that is what we've been lacking!
The five insights have shown that again and again. Our stories are deliberately chosen to be a half-century old—and demonstrate that the "appropriately gifted" have already offered us their gifts. But giants and visionary ideas no longer have a place in the order of things we are living in.
We live in an institutional ecology that gives us "competitive advantage" only if we make ourselves small, sidestep "ideals", and become "little cogs that mesh together". Through innumerably many 'carrots and sticks' we have internalized the little institutional man who fits in, and keeps our larger self on a leash (see this re-edited and pointedly repetitive excerpt from the animated film The Incredibles; its ending will suggest what we must find courage to do).
Our core strategy is to change the institutional ecology that makes us small.
We will not sidestep that goal by adapting to the existing order of things, treating the development of holotopia as "our project" and trying to make it "successful"—within that very order of things we have undertaken to change.
We insist on considering the development of the holotopia as our generation's opportunity and obligation—and hence as your project as much as ours. Our core strategy is to inspire and empower you to contribute to it and make a difference.
We will not change the world.
The Holotopia prototype is conceived as a collaborative strategy game, where we make tactical moves toward the holotopia vision.
We make this 'game' engaging and smooth by contributing the following tactical assets.
This text will be corrected, improved and completed by the end of 2020. What is above is hopefully readable; what follows is a rough sketch.
Holotopia is an art project.
The transformative space created by our "Earth Sharing" pilot project, in Kunsthall 3.14 art gallery in Bergen, Norway.
The idea of "a great cultural revival" brings to mind the image of Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and in the midst of an old order of things manifesting a new one. When Marcel Duchamp exhibited the urinal, he challenged both the meaning of art and its limits. But the deconstruction of tradition has meanwhile been completed, and the time is now to construct.
What sort of art will manifest the holotopia?
In "Production of Space", Henri Lefebvre offered an answer—which we'll here summarize in holotopia's buddying vernacular.
The core problem with the social system we are living in, Lefebvre observed, is that our past activity, crystalized as power structure, keeps us "alienated" from our intrinsically human quest of wholeness. In our present conditions, "what is dead takes hold of what is alive". Lefebvre proposed to turn this relationship upon its head:
"But how could what is alive lay hold of what is dead? The answer is: through the production of space, whereby living labour can produce something that is no longer a thing, nor simply a set of tools, nor simply a commodity."
As an initiative in the arts, Holotopia produces spaces where what is alive in us can overcome what is making us dead.
While the role of the arts is to communicate and create, to put 'the dot on the i', the five insights model the holotopia's knowledge base. They ensure that what we communicate and create reflects the state of the art of knowledge in relevant areas of interest. Together, they compose a complete 'i', or 'lightbulb', or "headlights and steering", or "communication and control".
The symbolic language of the arts can condense the five insights to images and objects, place them into physical reality and our shared awareness—as the above paper models may suggest.
The role of this metaphorical image, of an invisible elephant, is to point to a quantum leap in relevance and interest, which specific academic and other insights can acquire when presented in the context of "a great cultural revival".
There is an "elephant in the room", waiting to be discovered.
Imagine the 20th century's thinkers touching this elephant: We hear them talk about "the fan", "the water hose" and "the tree trunk". But they don't make sense, and we ignore them.
Everything changes when we realize that what they are really talking about are 'the ear', 'the trunk' and 'the leg' of an immensely large and exotic animal—which nobody has yet seen!
To make headway toward holotopia, we orchestrate 'connecting the dots'.
By manifesting the elephant, we restore agency to information and power to knowledge.
The structuralists undertook to bring rigor to the study of cultural artifacts. The post-structuralists "deconstructed" their efforts, by observing that there is no such thing as "real meaning"; and that the meaning of cultural artifacts is open to interpretation. We can now take this evolution a step further.
What interests us is not what, for instance, Bourdieu "really saw" and wanted to communicate; with the post-structuralists, we acknowledge that even Bourdieu would not be able to tell us that, if he were still around. Yet he undoubtedly saw something that invited a different way to see the world; and undertook to understand it and communicate it by taking recourse to the only paraigm that was available—the old one.
We give the study of cultural artifacts new relevance and rigor—by considering them as signs on the road, which point to a paradigm that now wants to emerge.
These "stories" here are technically called vignettes. This in principle journalistic technique allows us to render transformative academic and other insights in ways that can be communicated to the public, or picked up by artists and journalists. But they are also fractals—which display the essence and the nuances of a larger and more complex situation, by focusing on one of its details.
We here illustrate this technique and its potential by a single example—The Incredible History of Doug Engelbart. We have told fragments of this story in different situations already, and plan to federate Engelbart's ideas and contributions carefully in the second book of the Holotopia series. So here we only offer some 'dots'—for the reader to connect together, and explore more deeply.
The Incredible History of Doug Engelbart is a story of a man who found an answer to Peccei's call to action, "a way to change course"—thirty years before Peccei issud it! It is a story about Silicon Valley's giant in residence, whom Silicon Valley has not yet understood or even heard—even after having recognized him as that!
The Story of Enelbart is a classic yet contemporary case of 'Galilei in house arrest'. It is a story of a visionary thinker whose ideas and contributions are still waiting to be recognized.
It is just as much a story about the rest of us, as a generaton of people who have become incredibly technologically savvy—and idea-blind!
If you find this too harsh, consider this sentence, found in the Wikipedia article about "The Mother of All Demos":
"Prior to the demonstration, a significant portion of the computer science community thought Engelbart was "a crackpot"."
The article is about the 1968 event where Engelbart and his lab demonstrated significant parts of the communication technology that marked "the revolution in the Valley", and is in common use today. Contributions to technology we can recognize and appreciate; not ideas.
So what were some of Engelbart's important ideas?
One of them is that new 'headlights' are "a way to change course". And on a more fundamental level—how 'electricity' can be used to create the kind of 'light' we now need.
The Incredible History of Doug Engelbart might begin in December 1950: A young man at the beginning of his career is taking a critical look at his future. He is twenty five years old, has excellent engineering education, he's employed by (what would became) NASA, he is engaged to be married... He sees his career as a straight path to retirement; and he doesn't like what he sees. So right there and then he decides to give his career a purpose—the one that he will maximize its benefits to mankind.
Engelbart subsequently spent three month intensely thinking about the best way to do that. Then he had an epiphany.
Has Engelbart succeeded in offering a gift to humanity that would have the largest benefits?
We could say "the rest is history"—but the real story has not been told!
We sometimes introduce it by sketching an image of the Silicon Valley's "giant in residence"—whom our most creative innovation hub failed to understand, or even hear, after having recognized him as that! With apologies for the echo, we here share this recording of the springboard story, and this one that explains the vision.
Then there is this this true pearl, Engelbart's "A Call to Action" panel presentation at Google, where somehow, and yes, incredibly, the first slides—which were to explain Engelbart's vision and provide a context for understanding all the rest—were not even shown! And so on the Youtube page where its recording is shown, Engelbart is still holding only a (computer) mouse in his hand—while it was a full-fledged elephant that he was offering and holding.
Here are some of Engelbart's contributions to the cause at hand.
- The first methodology for systemic innovation; Engelbart published an ingenious methodology for using our creative capabilities, to update both our "tool systems" and our "human systems" in a way that provides suitable "evolutionary guidance"—already in 1962, six years before Jantsch and others created theirs in Bellagio
- The technology and the processes for the collective mind paradigm—they were demonstrated at the 1968 Demo
- The "open hyperdocument system"; Engelbart understood (see the argument we shared above, related to information holon) that we would need to evolve completely new information formats and processes; that the proprietary systems (which are common today) would be a hindrance; hence he envisioned and implemented a system that enables free hypermedia evolution
- Concepts and templates for systemic re-organization of knowledge work, such as "networked improvement community" and the "ABC model"
What was Engelbart's "call to action"? These clues might help.
When around 1990 Engelbart and his daughter Christina created an institute, to share Doug's vision to the Silicon Valley businesses and academia, they called it "Bootstrap Institute"; and later renamed it to "Bootstrap Alliance", because an aliance (or shall we call it a "federation"), and not an institute, was the right institutional template. They then undertook to disseminate the core ideas by offering the "Bootstrap Seminar" at Stanford University. Also Engelbart's last message to the world, recorded at the Stanford University's Studio, was titled "Bootstrap Dialogs". So yes—it was to bootstrap the collective mind paradigm, to begin it with our own minds and bodies and computers, that he was urging us to do.
Let us begin with what is obvious: The mirror is a visual and symbolic object par excellence. In holotopia, however, its symbolism is vastly enriched by a wealth of interpretations—as we shall see here.
One of them is the holotopia's overall main message—that there is an unexpected, wonderful and seemingly magical way out of the "problematique"; a natural and effective way to transform our situation. We do not need to colonize another planet (anyhow we would carry to it our cultural diseases). The cure is here and now. We can move to an entirely different reality here on earthly realm—and indeed in our own offices, homes, and bodies.
Then there is this more concrete interpretation of the mirror as a symbol of cultural transformation—by discovering ourselves. By putting ourselves into the picture, through self-awareness, and self-reflection. By understanding that whatever we are feeling— our anxieties and desires, and our very happiness—is inside of us! And that's where it can and needs to be found, or created.
What are we really able to feel?
Love? Deep inner peace? Unity with all creation? Of course in an informed society, where "informed" means "seeing things whole", the "pursuit of happiness" will no longer be confined to acquisition of objects.
This, of course, is the theme of the convenience paradox insight.
Yet it also points to a way to resolve the power structure issue—by discovering, collectively, that the systems in which we live and work are largely unsuitable for making us whole. Here we see how the holotopia can result from a systemic revolution from within! The old "us against them" politics, and that very attitude, keeps us entrenched in power structures, and separates us from wholeness.
A still more subtle, but completely central function of the mirror, is perceiving and undoing what the power structure has done to us through socialization.
It has been repeatedly pointed out that Donald Trump does not believe in science. But when we carefully examine ourselves in the mirror, we see something far more to the point, and far more shocking:
Practically none of us believe in science.
Little Greta Thunberg does. She lives in the reality that the scientists created for us, and acts accordingly. But she was diagnosed of Asperger syndrome, so she doesn't count as a counterexample.
All of us "normal" humans live in a socialized reality created by the power structure.
That is what we see when we examine ourselves in the mirror—in the light of published theories and everyday experiential evidence.
The mirror reflects that we have two sets of values; and two worldviews.
We have the worldview and the values that we rationally uphold, as part of our self-identity. And we have a completely different embodied ones, which are the result of socialization. When we look at the mirror, in the light of the five insights, we see that there is a large discrepancy between them.
Healing the discrepancy between our rational values and our embodied ones is the key to cultural and social transformation.
The the work with embodied values requires practice—or more precisely praxis. The body is like a donkey—rational arguments don't work. Integrity (making our embodied values, and behavior, consistent with the values we uphold rationally) demands training. It requires a culture that socializes us in an entirely different way that the cultures we've known.
It is here, in front of the mirror, that "a great cultural revival" can earnestly begin.
It is in this context that we can fully understand the importance of the epistemological message we pointed to by using the mirror metaphor. The mirror shows us we must end reification—of not only emotions (which we have just talked about), but also of our worldview; of our institutions; and of our very concepts. And that we are also ready for such a step, because our knowledge of knowledge has already brought us the kind of self-awareness that is necessary and sufficient for such a step. What remains is to embody this self-awareness. And to act on it. .
The end of reification is the end of arrogance that breeds ignorance—and the beginning of true knowing.
When reification is removed, we are left with the question: "What do we really know, about the questions that matter?" The answer we'll reach may now seem preposterous, and shocking. So let us introduce it here by retelling and old story—told in Plato's "Apology". We offer this story as the story of inception of the academic tradition—which points to the true nature of this tradition. And to the role the academic tradition has had in our evolution, which follows from it.
In Athens, Socrates became a bit of a nuisance to some of the people in high esteem in power, by asking too many questions. So they accused him of "impiety" and "for corrupting the youth", and sentenced him to death. But the "corrupted youth", one of which was Plato, carried his work further by creating the Academy. In "Apology" Plato tells how Socrates instead of defending himself, adhered to the truth of the matter and explained what had happened.
An Athenian went to Delphi and asked the Oracle whether Socrates was the wisest man in Athens; and came back with the positive answer. When he heard that, Socrates was perplexed, because he did not consider himself a single bit knowledgeable or wise. So he endeavored to resolve this puzzle by seeking out and examining his contemporaries who were reputed as knowledgeable and wise. Surely he would find them superior! But in fact he didn't. He found that they knew just as little as he did. The difference was, however, that they believed they knew a lot more. In this way Socrates resolved the puzzle of the Oracle: A wise man is not the one who knows more than others—but the one who knows the limits of his knowledge.
We share this story to highlight the main point the mirror is pointing to:
The evolution of the academic tradition has brought us to the mirror.
It is the academia's prerogative to lead us through the mirror!
As we have seen (in socialized reality), the evolution of knowledge of knowledge—accelerated through the 20th century science and philosophy—brought us to this point.
Our exodus from the power structure–created reality must begin as an academic self-reflection. As change of academic self-perception, and self-identity.
The dialog, just as the mirror, is an entire aspect of the holotopia. This keyword defines an angle of looking from which the holotopia as a whole can be seen, and needs to be seen.
The mirror and the dialog are inextricably related to one another: Our invitation is not only to self-reflect, but also and most importantly to have a dialog in front of the mirror. The dialog is not only a praxis, but also an attitude. And the mirror points to the core element of that attitude—which David Bohm called "proprioception". But let's return to Bohm's ideas and his contribution to this timely cause in a moment.
The dialog is a key element of the holotopia's tactical plan: We create prototypes, and we organize dialogs around them, as feedback mechanisms toward evolving them further. And this dialog itself, as it evolves—turns us who participate in it into bright new 'headlights'!
Everything in our Holotopia prototype is a prototype. And no prototype is complete without a feedback loop that reaches back into its structure, to update it continuously. Hence each prototype is equipped with a dialog.
This point cannot be overemphasized: Our primary goal is not to warn, inform, propose a new way to look at the world—but to change our collective mind. Physically. Hands-on.
The dialog is an instrument for changing our collective mind.
The dialog, even more than the mirror, brings up an association with the academia's inception. Socrates was not convincing people of a "right" view to see "reality"; he was merely engaging them in a self-reflective dialog, the intended result of which was to see the limits of knowledge—from which the change of what we see as "reality" becomes possible.
Let us begin this dialog about the dialog by emphasizing that the medium here truly is the message: As long as we are having a dialog, we are making headway toward holotopia. And vice-versa: when we are debating or discussing our own view, aiming to enforce it on others and prevail in an argument, we are moving away from holotopia—even when we are using that method to promote holotopia itself!
The attitude of the dialog here follows from the fundamental premises, which are part of the socialized reality and the narrow frame insights—and which are axiomatic to holotopia. Hence coming to the dialog 'wearing boxing gloves' (manifesting the now so common verbal turf strife behavior) is as ill-advised as making a case for an academic result by arguing that it was revealed to the author in a vision.
But what is the dialog?
Instead of giving a definitive answer—let us turn this keyword, dialog, into an abstract ideal goal, to which we will draw closer and closer by experimenting, and evolving. Through a dialog. We offer the following stories as both points of reference, and as illustration of the kind of difference that the dialog as new way to communicate can mean, and make.
David Bohm's "dialogue"
While through Socrates and Plato the dialog has been a foundation stone of the academic tradition, David Bohm gave this word a completely new meaning—which we have undertaken to develop further. The Bohm Dialogue website provides an excellent introduction, so it will suffice to point to it by echoing a couple of quotations. The first is by Bohm himself.
There is a possibility of creativity in the socio-cultural domain which has not been explored by any known society adequately.
We let it point to the fact that to Bohm the "dialogue" was an instrument of socio-cultural therapy, leading to a whole new co-creative way of being together. Bohm considered the dialogue to be a necessary step toward unraveling our contemporary situation.
The second quotation is a concise explanation of Bohm's idea by the curators of Bohm Dialogue website.
Dialogue, as David Bohm envisioned it, is a radically new approach to group interaction, with an emphasis on listening and observation, while suspending the culturally conditioned judgments and impulses that we all have. This unique and creative form of dialogue is necessary and urgent if humanity is to generate a coherent culture that will allow for its continued survival.
Carl Jung's shadow
Carl Jung pointed to a useful insight for understanding the dialog, by his own lead keyword "shadow". In a non-whole world, we become "large" by ignoring or denying or "repressing" parts of our wholeness, which become part of our "shadow". The larger we are, the larger the "shadow". It follows us, scares us, annoys us. And it contains what we must integrate, to be able to grow.
The dialog may in this context be understood as a therapeutic instrument, to help us discharge and integrate our "shadow".
Dialog and epistemology
Bohm's own inspiration (story has it) is significant. Allegedly, Bohm was moved to create the "dialogue" when he saw how Einstein and Bohr, who were once good friends, and their entourages, were unable to communicate at Princeton. Allegedly, someone even made a party and invited the two groups, to help them overcome their differences, but the two groups remained separated in two distinct corners of the room.
The reason why this story is significant is the root cause of the Bohr-Einstein split: Einstein's "God does not play Dice" criticism of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory; and Bohr's reply "Einstein, stop telling god what to do!" While in our prototype Einstein has the role of the icon of "modern science", in this instance it was Bohr and not Einstein who represented the epistemological position we are supporting. But Einstein later reversed his position— in "Autobiographical Notes". This very title mirrors Einstein as an artist of understatement; "Autobiographical Notes" is really a statement of Einstein's epistemology—just as "Physics and Philosophy" was to Heisenberg. While the fundamental assumptions for the holoscope have been carefully federated, it has turned out that federating "Autobiographical Notes" is sufficient, see Federation through Images).
The point may or may not be obvious: Even to Einstein, this icon of "modern science", the dialog was lacking to see that we just cannot "tell God what to do"; that the only thing we can do is observe the experience—and model it freely.
But Einstein being Einstein—he finally did get it. And so shall we!
Dialog and creativity
Bohm's experience with the "dialogues" made him conclude that when a group of people practices it successfully, something quite wonderful happens—a greater sense of coherence, and harmony. It stands to reason that the open and humble attitude of the dialog is an important or a necessary step toward true creativity.
And creativity, needless to say, is yet another key aspect of holotopia, and a door we need to unlock.
Dialog and The Club of Rome
There is a little known red thread in the history of The Club of Rome; the story could have been entirely different: Özbekhan, Jantsch and Christakis, who co-founded The Club with Peccei and King, and wrote its statement of purpose, were in disagreement with the course it took in 1970 (with The Limits to Growth study) and left. Alexander Christakis, the only surviving member of this trio, is now continuing their line of work as the President of the Institute for 21st Century Agoras. "The Institute for 21st Century Agoras is credited for the formalization of the science of Structured dialogic design." (Wikipedia).
Bela H. Banathy, whom we've mentioned as the champion of "Guided Evolution of Society" among the systems scientists, extensively experimented with the dialog. For many years, Banathy was staging a series of dialogs within the systems community, the goal of which was to envision social-systemic change. With Jenlink, Banathy co-edited two invaluable volumes of articles about the dialogue.
Dialog and democracy
In 1983, Michel Foucault was invited to give a seminar at the UC Berkeley. What will this European historian of ideas par excellence choose to tell the young Americans?
Foucault spent six lectures talking about an obscure Greek word, "parrhesia".
[P]arrhesiastes is someone who takes a risk. Of course, this risk is not always a risk of life. When, for example, you see a friend doing something wrong and you risk incurring his anger by telling him he is wrong, you are acting as a parrhesiastes. In such a case, you do not risk your life, but you may hurt him by your remarks, and your friendship may consequently suffer for it. If, in a political debate, an orator risks losing his popularity because his opinions are contrary to the majority's opinion, or his opinions may usher in a political scandal, he uses parrhesia. Parrhesia, then, is linked to courage in the face of danger: it demands the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger. And in its extreme form, telling the truth takes place in the "game" of life or death.
Foucault's point was that "parrhesia" was an essential element of Greek democracy.
This four-minute digest of the 2020 US first presidential debate will remind us just how much the spirit "parrhesia", and of dialog, is absent from the oldest modern democracy; and from contemporary political discourse at large.
Dialog and new media technology
A whole new chapter in the evolution of the dialogue was made possible by the new information technology. We illustrate an already developed research frontier by pointing to Jeff Conklin's book "Dialogue Mapping: Creating Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems", where Bohm dialogue tradition is combined with Issue Based Information Systems (IBIS), which Kunz and Rittel developed at UC Berkeley in the 1960s.
The Debategraph, which we already mentioned, is transforming our collective mind hands-on. Contrary to what its name may suggest, Debategraph is an IBIS-based dialog mapping tool. While he was the Minister for Higher Education in Australian government, Peter Baldwin saw that political debate was not a way to understand and resolve issues. So he decided to retire from politics, and with David Price co-founded and created Debategraph to transform politics, by changing the way in which issues are explored and decisions are made.
In Knowledge Federation, we experimented extensively with turning Bohm's dialog into a 'high-energy cyclotron'; and into a medium through which a community can find "a way to change course". The result was a series of so-called Key Point Dialogs. An example is the Cultural Revival Dialog Zagreb 2008. We are working on bringing its website back online.
Dialog as a tactical asset
When it comes to using the dialog as a tactical asset—as an instrument of cultural change toward the holotopia—two points need to be emphasized:
- We define the dialog, and we insist on having a dialog
- We design our situations, and we use the media, in ways make that deviations from the dialog obvious
When a dialog is recorded, and placed into the holotopia framework, violations become obvious—because the attitude of the dialog is so completely different! We may see how this made a difference in the Club of Rome's history, where the debate gave unjust advantage to the homo ludens turf players—who don't use "parrhesia", but say whatever will earn them points in a debate, and smile confidently, knowing that the "truth" of the power structure, which they represent, will prevail! The body language, however, when placed in the right context, makes this game transparent. See [this example, where Dennis Meadows is put off-balance by an opponent.
Hence the dialog—when adopted as medium, and when mediated by suitable technology and camera work—becomes the mirror; it becomes a new "spectacle" (in Guy Debord's most useful interpretation of this word). We engage the "opinion leaders", and use the dialog to re-create the conventional "reality shows"—in a manner that shows the contemporary realities in a way in which they need to be shown:
- When a dialog is successful, the result is timely and informative: We witness how our understanding and handling of core social realities are changing
- When unsuccessful, the result is timely and informative in a different way: We witness the resistance to change; we see what is holding us back
Everything in holotopia is a potential theme for a dialog. Indeed, everything in our holotopia prototype is a prototype; and a prototype is not complete unless there is a dialog around it, to to keep it evolving and alive.
In particular each of the five insights will, we anticipate, ignite a lively conversation.
We are, however, especially interested in using the five insights as a framework for creating other themes and dialogs. The point here is to have informed conversations; and to show that their quality of being informed is what makes all the difference. And in our present prototype, the five insights symbolically represent that what needs to be known, in order to give any age-old or contemporary theme a completely new course of development.
The five insights, and the ten direct relationships between them, provide us a frame of reference—in the context of which both age-old and contemporary challenges can be understood and handled in entirely new ways.
Here are some examples.
How to put an end to war?
What would it take to really put an end to war, once and for all?
The five insights allow us to understand the war as just an extreme case among the various consequences of our general evolutionary course, by "the survival of the fittest"—where the populations that developed armies and weapons had "competitive advantage" over those who "turned the other cheek". It is that very evolutionary course that the Holotopia project undertakes to change.
We offered the Chomsky–Harari–Graeber thread as a way to understand the evolutionary course we've been pursuing, and the consequences it had. Noam Chomsky here appears in the role of a linguist—to explain (what he considers a revolutionary insight reaching us from his field) that the human language did not develop as an instrument of communication, but of worldview sharing. Yuval Noah Harari, as a historian, explains why exactly that capability made us the fittest among the species, fit to rule the Earth. David Graeber's story of Alexander the Great illustrates the consequences this has had—including the destruction of secular and sacral culture, and turning free people into slaves.
We then told about Joel Bakan's "The Corporation", to show that while the outlook of our society changed since then beyond recognition—the nature of our cultural and social-systemic evolution, and its consequences, remained in principle the same.
We could have, however, taken this conversation in the making in another direction—by talking about the meeting between Alexander and Diogenes; and by doing that reaching another key insight.
This part of the conversation between Alexander and Diogenes (quoted here from Plutarch) is familiar :
And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, "Yes," said Diogenes, "stand a little out of my sun."
In his earlier mentioned lectures about "parrhesia", Foucault tells a longer and more interesting story—where Diogenes (who has the most simple lifestyle one could imagine) tells Alexander (the ruler of the world) that he is "pursuing happiness" in a wrong direction. You are not free, Alexander, Diogenes tells him; you live your life in fear; you hold onto your royal role by force:
" I have an idea, however, that you not only go about fully armed but even sleep that way. Do you not know that is a sign of fear in a man for him to carry arms? And no man who is afraid would ever have a chance to become king any more than a slave would."
This theme offers to reconcile Karl Marx with "the 1%", the Western philosophical tradition with the Oriental ones, and the radical left with Christianity.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy introduces "alienation" in a way that is easily integrated in the order of things represented by holotopia:
"The concept of alienation identifies a distinct kind of psychological or social ill; namely, one involving a problematic separation between a self and other that properly belong together."
Or to paraphrase this in the vernacular of holotopia:
Alienation is what separates us from wholeness.
We offer the Hegel-Marx-Debord thread as a way put the ball in play for a conversation about this theme. This thread has not yet been written, so we here sketch it briefly.
To Hegel, "alienation" was a life-long pursuit. The way we see the world is subject to errors, Hegel observed; so we are incapable of seeing things whole, in order to make them whole. Hegel undertook to provide a remedy, by developing a philosophical method.
Marx continued Hegel's pursuit in an entirely different way. Having seen the abysmal conditions that the mid-19th century workers lived in, he grew diffident of philosophizing and of his own class background. The working class—the majority of humans—cannot pursue wholeness, because they must labor under conditions that someone else created for them. Science liberated us from so many things, Marx also observed, in the spirit of his time—why not apply its causal thinking to the societal ills as well? Logically, he identified "expropriation" as necessary goal; and a revolution as necessary means. Seeing that the religion hindered the working class from fulfilling its historical revolutionary role, Marx chose to disqualify it by calling it "the opium of the people".
Marx was of course in many ways right; but he made two errors. The first we'll easily forgive him, if we take into account that he too, unavoidably perhaps for a rational thinker in his age, looked at the world through the narrow frame: He sidestepped "human quality", and adopted "instrumental thinking". Where Marx's agenda was successful, "the dictatorship of the proletariat" ended up being only—the dictatorship! In the rest of world, the "left" understood that to have power, it must align itself with power structure—and became just another "right"!
The second error Marx made was to ignore that also the capitalists were victims of power structure. They too would benefit from pursuing wholeness instead of power and money. Gandhi, of course, saw that, and that was his great contribution to the methodology of group conflict resolution. But Gandhi's thinking was of holistic-Oriental, not instrumental.
Having failed to see there was a "winning without fighting" strategy—the left and remained on the losing side of the power scale until this day.
An interesting side effect of this development was that, having bing disowned by the "left", Christ became an emblem of the "right"—which is ironic: Jesus was a revolutionary! His only reported act of violence was "expelling the money changers from the temple of God".
Guy Debord added to this theme a whole new chapter, by observing that the immersive audio-visual technology gave to alienation a whole new medium and course—which Marx could not have possibly predicted.
By placing this conversation in the context of the convenience paradox insight on the one side, and the power structure insight on the other, we recognize the power structure—which includes all of us—as "enemy"; and wholeness—for all of us—as goal.
By placing this conversation about the reissue of "enlightenment" in the context of the convenience paradox insight and the collective mind insight, two most interesting venues for transdisciplinary cross-fertilization are opened up.
One of them is to use knowledge federation and contemporary media technology, powered by artistic and other techniques, to federate the kind of insights that can make the convenience paradox transparent, and inform "a great cultural revival".
The other one is to use the insights into the nature of human wholeness to inform the development and use of contemporary media technology. How do computer games, and the ubiquitous advertising, really affect us? In Intuitive introduction to systemic thinking we offered a couple of further interesting historical reference points, to motivate a reflection about this theme.
Here Gregory Bateson's important keyword "the ecology of the mind", and Neil Postman's closely related one "media ecology", can set the stage for federating a human ecology that will make us spirited and enlightened, not despondent and dazzled.
Academia quo vadis?
This title is reserved for the academic self-reflective dialog in front of the mirror, about the university's social role, and future.
A number of 20th century thinkers claimed that the development of transdisciplinarity was necessary; Erich Jantsch, for instance, who saw the "inter- and transdisciplinary university" as the core element of our society's "steering and control', necessary if our civilization will gain control over its newly acquired power, and steer a viable course; Jean Piaget saw it from the point of view of cognitive psychology (although Piaget is usually credited for coining this keyword, Jantsch may have done that before him); Werner Heisenberg saw it from the fundamental angle of "physics and philosophy", as we have seen.
By placing the conversation about the academia's future in the context of the socialized reality insight and the narrow frame insight, and in that way making it informed by a variety of more detailed insights, we showed that the epistemological and methodological developments that took place in the last century enable transdisciplinarity; that its development can be seen as the natural and necessary next step in the university institution's evolution; and that our global condition mandates that we take that step.
Jey Hillel Bernstein wrote in a more recent survey:
"In simultaneously studying multiple levels of, and angles on, reality, transdisciplinary work provides an intriguing potential to invigorate scholarly and scientific inquiry both in and outside the academy."
This conversation may take a number of different directions.
One of them is to be a dialog about knowledge federation as a concrete prototype of a "transdiscipline". Such a dialog is indeed the true intent of our proposal; we are not proposing another methodological and institutional 'dead body'—but a way for the university to evolve its institutional organization and its methods, by federating insights into an evolving prototype.
A completely one would be to discuss the university's ethical norms and guidance. Should we be pursuing our careers in traditional disciplines? Or consider ourselves as parts in a larger whole, and adapt to that role?
This particular approach to our theme, however, also has a deeper meaning; and that's the one that its title is pointing to. Nearly two thousand years ago the ethical and institutional foundation of the Roman Empire was shaking, and the Christian Church stepped into the role of a guiding light. Can the university assume that role today?
A warning reaches us from sociology.
"Max Weber's 'iron cage' – in which he thought humanity was condemned to live for the foreseeable future – is for me the prison of categories and basic assumptions of classical social, cultural and political sciences."
We have seen numerous examples of keywords; each of the five insights is one. Yt we shall briefly discuss another three—to illustrate the larger compendium of related issues, in a fractal-like way.
In "Culture as Praxis", Zygmunt Bauman surveyed a large number of historical definitions of culture, and concluded that they are too diverse to be reconciled.
We do not know what "culture" means!
Not a good venture point for developing culture as praxis (informed practice).
We defined culture as "cultivation of wholeness", and cultivation by analogy with planting and watering a seed (which suits also the etymology of "culture") . In this way we defined a specific way of looking at culture, and pointed to its specific aspect—exactly the one that we tended to ignore, while we looked at it through the narrow frame. No amount of dissecting and studying a seed would suggest that it needs to be planted and watered; the difference between an apple eaten up and the seeds thrown away—and a tree full of apples each Fall—is made by relying on the experience of others who have undergone this process, and seen it work.
There is, however, an obvious difference between the two kinds of cultivation, the agricultural and cultural one: In this latter one, both 'seeds' and 'trees' are inside ourselves, and hence invisible. This has historically presented an insurmountable challenge, to communicate cultural insights. But to us this is also a most wonderful opportunity—because we have undertaken to develop communication consciously, by tailoring it to what needs to be communicated.
Selling addictions being a famously lucrative yet destructive line of work, the traditional cultures developed legal and ethical norms to keep it under control. But the traditions reified the addictions—as things, such as opiates, or activities, such as gambling. What will hinder businesses from using new technologies to create new addictions?
The evolution gave us senses and emotions to guide us to wholeness. The technology made it possible to deceive our senses—and create pleasurable things and activities that take us away from wholeness.
By defining addiction as a pattern, we made it possible to identify it as an aspect of otherwise useful activities and things. To make ourselves and our world wholes, even such subtle addiction need to be taken care of.
From a large number of obvious or subtle addictions, we here mention only pseudoconsciousness defined as "addiction to information". Consciousness of one's situation and surroundings is, of course, a necessary condition for wholeness. In civilization we can, however, drown this need in facts and data, which give us the sensation of knowing—without telling us what we really need to know, in order to be or become whole.
In traditional cultures, religion was widely regarded as an integral part of our wholeness. Can this concept, and the heritage of the traditions it is pointing to, still have a function and a value in our own era?
We adapted the definition that Martin Lings contributed, and defined religion as "reconnection with the archetype" (which harmonizes with the etymological meaning of this word). The archetypes include "justice", "motherhood", "freedom", "beauty", "truth", "love" and anything else that may inspire a person to overcome egotism and convenience, and serve a "higher" end.
Since the corresponding ideogram has not yet been drawn, imagine an old-fashioned wheel with spokes. Wherever the spokes meet the outer rim of the wheel, there is an archetype. In the center of the wheel we find the central archetype, which is their 'common denominator'. We might call it "pure archetypal energy"; or "love", or "God".
The iconic image of Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel will help us highlight some of the nuances. Carol Reed's historical drama "The Agony and the Ecstasy" portrays this event through the relationship of its two main protagonists, Michelangelo (played by Charlton Heston) and Pope Julius II (played by Rex Harrison). Julius was a "warrior Pope"; yet he exercised his piety by enabling the Divinity to speak through the brush of his artist. Through Michelangelo, the film depicts the "agony and ecstasy" of the inspired artist.
Books and publishing
Occasionally we publish books about of the above themes—to punctuate the laminar flow of events, draw attention to a theme and begin a dialog.
Shall we not recreate the book as well—along with all the rest? Yes and no. In "Amuzing Ourselves to Death", Neil Postman—who founded "media ecology"— left us a convincing argument why the book is here to stay. His point was that the book creates a different "ecology of the mind" than the contemporary "immersive" audio-visual media do; it gives us a chance to reflect.
We, however, embed the book exist in an 'ecosystem' of media. By publishing a book we 'break ice' and place a theme—which may or may not be one of our ten themes—into the focus of the public eye. We then let our collective mind digest and further develop the proposed ideas; and by doing that—develop itself!
In this way, a loop is closed through which an author's insights are improved by collective creativity and knowledge—leading, ultimately, to a new and better edition of the book.
The book titled "Liberation", with subtitle "Religion beyond Belief", is scheduled to be completed during the first half of 2021, and serve as the first in the series.
In a fractal-like way, this book reflects the holotopia as a whole. We are accustomed to think of "religion" as a firm or dogmatic belief in something, impervious to counter-evidence. The Liberation book turns this idea of religion inside out—so that religion is understood as liberation from not only rigidly held beliefs, but from rigidly held anything.
The age-old conflict, between science and religion, is resolved by the book by further evolving both science and religion.
Prototypes, as we have seen, are a way to federate information by weaving it directly into the fabric of everyday reality. A prototype can be literally anything.
In the Holotopia prototype, everything is a prototype. In that way we subject everything to knowledge-based evolution.
A type of prototypes we have not yet talked about are events. They are multimedia and multidimensional prototypes—which include a variety of more specific prototypes. Events are used to 'punctuate the equilibrium'—to create a discontinuity in the ordinary flow of events, draw attention to a theme, create a transformative space, both physical and in media, engage people and make a difference.
In what follows we illustrate this idea by describing the holotopia's Earth Sharing pilot event, which took place in June of 2018 in Bergen, Norway.
Vibeke Jensen, the artist who created what we are about to describe, is careful to avoid interpreting the space, the objects and the interaction she creates. The idea is to use them as prompts, and allow new meaning to emerge through association and group interaction. The interpretation we are about to give is by us others. It is, however, only a possible interpretation.
The physical space where the event took place was symbolic of the purpose of the event. The building used to be a bank in the old center of Bergen, and later became an art gallery. It remained to turn the gallery, holotopia-style, into a transformative space.
The space was upstairs—and Vibeke turned the stairs too into a symbolic object. Going up, the inscription on the stairs reads "bottom up"; going down, it reads "top down". In this way the very first thing that meets the eye is the all-important message, which defines the polyscopy and the holoscope—namely that we can reach insights in those two ways.
The BottomUp - TopDown intervention is a tool for shifting positions. It suggests transcendence of fixed relations between top and bottom, and builds awareness of the benefits of multiple points of view (polyscopy), and moving in-between.
The mirror—the core symbol of holotopia transformation—is seen almost everywhere. In particular, a one-way mirror serves as the entrance into the space that used to be the vault of the bank. One enters the vault by literally stepping through a physical mirror. Instead of money and other physical treasures, the vault is a "safe space" for reflection. The inside of the vault was not illuminated, but one could see the world outside through the semi-transparent door, and reflect on it. From the speakers in the vault one could hear edited fragments from an earlier dialog—offered as information to build on and develop ideas further. There was a bag with seeds hanging in the vault.
We like to think of the objects that populated the space as furniture—and give that world a designed meaning. When one enters a room, the furniture in the room (a sofa, a couple of armchairs...) automatically invites a certain kind of interaction. Our furniture, however, was nothing like conventional furniture; it invites to recreate the interaction. And, of course, it offers certain prompts.