- 1 Holotopia
- 1.1 We have proposed to change our culture's relationship with information
- 1.2 The objective of knowledge federation is to turn information into effective knowledge
- 1.3 We are tangled up in a paradox
- 1.4 An intervention
We have proposed to change our culture's relationship with information
In 1990, when Tim Berners Lee was still only writing the code for the World Wide Web, Neil Postman (NYU's distinguished scholar of culture and communication) observed:
[Information] 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.
Postman warned that our habitual massive outpouring of information tends to have the opposite effect from what's intended:
Our information not only leaves us uninformed—it damages our very sense of meaning; our very capacity to be informed!
The crux of our knowledge federation proposal is to change the relationship we have with information. And through information—the relationship we have with the world; and with ourselves.
The objective of knowledge federation is to turn information into effective knowledge
Suppose we handled information as we handle other human-made thing—by suiting it to the various functions it needs to fulfill in our lives, and our society. Such as providing us effective knowledge; and effective meaning. What would the resulting information be like? By what methods, in what ways and by whom would it be created? How would information be used? What new information formats, what new kinds of information would emerge? How would the information technology be adapted and applied? In what way would our public informing be different? What would academic communication, and education, be like?
The substance of our knowledge federation proposal is a complete and academically coherent answer to those and other related questions; answers that are not only described and explained, but also implemented, as real-life embedded prototypes.
But having made this proposal, we are still facing the same challenge that our visionary predecessors failed to overcome.
We are tangled up in a paradox
The necessary change is blocked by the "ontological security" that the status quo provides.
As Anthony Giddens (the UK's premier sociologist and public intellectual) pointed out, we have learned to cope with the flood of information, the complexity of our world, and the general sense of meaninglessness (a natural consequence of riding into the future 'in a bus with candle headlights') by seeking meaning in another way: by performing successfully in "internally referential systems", notably in our careers. Would a successful football player want change the rules of his game, so that football may better serve the society?
Having been socialized to "mind our own business" and just publish more, as scientists or as journalists (because that's what we are paid to do, and what our careers depend on and our institutions require)—we have no incentive, no institutionalized methods, no will and even no willpower to make the kind of changes that would put information and knowledge into the service of effective meaning—the kind of meaning that our condition and the condition of our society now demand.
A goal of the Holotopia project, which is our next and current strategic task, is to overcome that obstacle.
What would our world be like, if we elevated the most vital insights from the "information jungle", and if we wove them together to give us the required or effective vision? How would our world be different, if the best ideas of our best minds were reflected in our comprehension of things—and if they were acted on?
The purpose of Holotopia is to not only provide answers—but to also empower us to implement the changes they are pointing to.
The objective of Holotopia is to help us change course
A half-century ago, based on a decade of The Club of Rome's research into the future prospects of mankind, Aurelio Peccei (The Club's visionary co-founder and leader) diagnosed that the humanity is on a collision course with nature:
It is absolutely essential to find a way to change course.
Peccei also made it clear in what way the course needs to be changed:
He singled out "the human development", directed toward improving "the human quality", as "the most important goal".
We take Peccei's diagnosis as a challenge, and as a natural benchmark test for our project. Can the 'headlights' we are proposing help our society "find a way to change course"? And if they can—what new course would result?
As a vision of a possible future, the holotopia is a positive answer to the question posited in this website's preamble:
Think about the world at the twilight of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance: devastating religious wars, terrifying epidemics… Think of the scholastics pondering about the angels dancing on a needlepoint; and Galilei in house arrest, whispering “and yet it moves” into his beard. Observe that the problems of the epoch were not resolved by focusing on those problems, but by a slow and steady development of an entirely new approach to knowledge. Several centuries of comprehensive evolution followed. Could a similar advent be in store for us today?
Just as the case was in Galilei's time, a new order of things or paradigm is ready to emerge—as soon as we once again begin to use the knowledge of knowledge, to update the very way in which we create and use knowledge.
The holotopia is a more desirable future than the common utopias—whose authors lacked the information that would enable them to see what is possible. Yet the holotopia vision is fully realizable—because we already own the information that is needed for its fulfillment.
The holotopia vision is made concrete or federated in terms of the five insights:
- The Convenience Paradox insight points to a revolution in "the pursuit of happiness" and in culture, reminiscent of the Renaissance
- The Power Structure insight points to a revolution in innovation by which human work is made incomparably more effective and efficient, as the Industrial Revolution did
- The Collective Mind insight points to a revolution in communication, analogous to what resulted from Gutenberg's invention
- The Socialized Reality insight points to a new way to create truth and the meaning, analogous to the Enlightenment
- The Narrow Frame insight is about a new way to create knowledge that is capable of providing high-level insights— analogous to science, and complementing science
While the upper three insights point to developments corresponding to the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and the revolution in communication that the printing press made possible, the bottom two insights explain why an Enlightenment-like change is ready to happen for fundamental reasons, as a consequence of the knowledge of knowledge we own. Hence together, the five insights complete a vision of a complete order of things, which is ready to emerge.
While each of the five insights will alone show us our time and condition in a similar light as we might see the circumstances from which the Enlightenment emerged, even more illuminating are their relationships. By exploring those relationships, we realize that we cannot meaningfully respond to any of those insights, without responding to them all.
A larger, overarching insight results:
Comprehensive change might be easy, even when smaller and obviously necessary changes may seem impossible.
This insight points to the strategy that gave the holotopia its name—where instead of focusing on specific problems, or specific improvements, we consciously aim to understand and transform the very order of things that holds them in place.
Making things whole
Considered together, the five insights point to a simple principle or rule of thumb: Instead of seeing the world in the light of our narrowly conceived self-interest (and trusting that "the free competition" or "the invisible hand" of the market will turn our self-serving acts into the greatest common good, which is, in the light of the five insights, perceived as markedly "Middle Ages")—we see ourselves and what we do as parts in a larger whole or wholes. And where we act in ways that make those larger wholes more whole.
Hence this formula (which Vibeke didn't like, but since nobody's reading this yet, let's leave it for now as Dino's private joke and foible):
But seek ye first the systemic wholeness, in all matters and on all levels of detail; and all these things shall be added unto you.
While I prefer to leave my private jokes unexplained, I realize that this one may need a few comments. It might require a moment of reflection to see how important this matter (providing a rule of thumb that actually works) really is, in the situation we are in. In a way that's what this is all about... We may doubt, however, whether the original version (to seek "the Kingdom of God") still means something to contemporary people. The "Golden Rule" ("do as you would be done by"), on the other hand, can be shown to be dysfunctional—as we begin to realize that, in a complex world, the road to Hell is indeed paved with good intentions. Finally and most importantly, both rules of thumb share the basic problem of our contemporary rule of thumb (trusting that "the invisible hand" of the market or one of its derivatives (such as academic "publish or perish") will turn our self-serving acts into the greatest common god: They don't point to some changes that must urgently be done.
Here we are federating a new rule— by demonstrating that it works in five pivotal domains, and ultimately leads to a change of course, from the dystopia to the holotopia.
I should mention that Alexander has a variant of the same rule, a bit more elaborated. I consider Alexander as someone who has done the federation, but intuitively, in his own mind. I sometimes say to Alexander that one day I'll federate him (another private joke); but he may not yet fully understand what exactly this means...
Seeing things whole
In the context of the Holotopia prototype we condense and simplify the core ideas of our knowledge federation proposal, until only its essence, which is its function, remains and meets the eye. To that end, we use knowledge federation only as a verb; and we refer to the proposed approach to knowledge by its pseudonym holoscope—which points to its core function, to help us see things whole.
Every whole has sides that are obvious, and sides that are hidden. A purpose of the holoscope is to illuminate what has remained obscure, so that we may correctly see our object of interest's shape and proportions.
If we should make things whole, we must first see them whole. And that's, of course, where the holoscope comes in.
The social role of the holoscope is to complement the traditional approach in the sciences:
Science gave us new ways to look at the world, and our vision expanded beyond bounds. The telescope and the microscope enabled us to see the things that were too distant or too small to be seen by the naked eye. At the same time, 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 big things nearby, which now demand our attention. The holoscope is conceived as a way to look at the world that helps us see any chosen thing or theme as a whole – from all sides; and in correct proportions.
Margaret Mead (who was germane in the development of both anthropology and cybernetics) appears here in the role of the holotopia's icon. Her familiar dictum points to the Holotopia project's core mission:
It is, however, the 'small print' that we found most relevant—Mead's insights (based on her research) into what exactly distinguishes "a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens" that is capable of making a large difference.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
This Mead's observation, made more than a half-century ago, points to a difference that the holotopia as a vision can make:
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.
We are reminded of Michelangelo painting his frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—and in the very heart of the old order of things sowing the seeds of "a great cultural revival". The Holotopia project is a collaboration of artists, scientists, knowledge-work media developers, young people, children and other stakeholders. We work together, and we all work as artists.
Holotopia undertakes to develop whatever is needed for "changing course". Imagine it as a space, akin to a new continent or a "new world" that's just been discovered—which combines physical and virtual spaces, suitably interconnected.
In a symbolic sense, we are developing
- A fireplace
- A library
- A workshop
- A gallery
- A stage
Holotopia's Box is an object designed for 'initiation' to holotopia, a way to help us 'unbox' our conception of the world and see, think and behave differently; change course inwardly, by embracing a new value.
We approach The Box from a specific interest, an issue we may care about—such as communication, or IT innovation, or the pursuit of happiness and the ways to improve the human experience, and the human condition. But when we follow our interest a bit deeper, by (physically) opening the box or (symbolically) considering the relevant insights that have been made—we find that there is a large obstacle, preventing our issue to be resolved.
We also see that by resolving this whole new issue, a much larger gains can be reached than what we originally anticipated and intended. And that there are other similar insights; and that they are all closely related.
Every new paradigm brings with it a new way of speaking. This collection of keywords is an alternative natural entry point to holotopia.
Wholeness is what distinguishes a healthy organism, and a whole and well-functioning mechanism. The point here is to see that it's not any detail as such, but the wholeness they compose together that makes "a difference that makes a difference". Wholeness is etymologically related to both "health" and "holiness". It is, as already mentioned, the value that defines the holotopia.
The epistemology, identified as the knowledge of knowledge and its various consequences, is the keyword we use to point to the very core function of the academic tradition. What Socrates, and Galilei, and other founding fathers of the academic tradition had in common, was that they used knowledge of knowledge to counter the effects of renegade and power-based socialization. And in that way help knowledge, and humanity, come out of its evolutionary pitfalls, and evolve further.
We define academia as "institutionalized academic tradition". Has this institutionalization been done correctly—in a way that secures the preservation of the academic tradition's social function, and values? And if errors have been made—what would it take to correct them?
- Knowledge federation
Imagine a world where people don't try to make their ideas consistent, in any way. Where they just believe in—whatever. Yes, I know, it is difficult to even imagine such a world. It is the nature of a healthy mind to try to keep ideas consistent. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote: Lion got to hunt...
So let this "keeping things consistent" be, roughly, knowledge federation, by definition.
The question then is—how do we federate knowledge? "During philosophy's childhood it was rather generally believed that it is possible to find everything which can be known by means of mere reflection", wrote Einstein. You'll notice that that's what Socrates was doing—engaging people in seeing that their ideas were not logically consistent. Galilei (the science) added mathematical theories, and experiments. And modern science saw clearly the limits of reason (as Oppenheimer observed in "Uncommon Sense").
So how shall we now federate knowledge? There is a meta movement here—we federate better ways to federate knowledge, by federating the knowledge of knowledge... Which is, of course, what our knowledge federation proposal is about, academically speaking.
So knowledge federation may be understood as "meta-epistemology"... It's what our mind does anyway, and we only need to do it on the meta-level, so that our mind may do that better. And, importantly, that's what our collective mind needs to do as well. A single mind is no longer capable of federating all the knowledge we own. We must learn to do it together.
CORE POINT: This is what the academic tradition is really about, since its inception. KF vs. socialization!... As a verb, knowledge federation points to all those various activities that enable us to combine specific insight into overarching more general ones–and thereby give them more visibility, and power. The federation is not completed before those insights are reflected in institutionalized and common ways in which issues are comprehended and handled. Thus naturally, knowledge federation is what enables us to create new meaning. And to change a paradigm.
The holotopia can be understood as a result of federating the knowledge we own—and consciously handling the priorities.
Let's think of it, for now, as the alternative to knowledge federation.
- Homo ludens
It's a devolution. We use "ontological security" or "socialization", to cope with the increasing complexity of our world, not knowledge. Extremely dangerous!!!
Is the academia guiding our society along the homo sapiens evolutionary path? Or the homo ludens evolutionary path?
The mirror is a gestalt, which points to the nature of the condition the contemporary academia is in. We keep busy with business as usual; but our condition demands that we stop and self-reflect.
When we do that, in the light of available insights, we see that a major change of epistemology is called for, leading to a change of our self-perception, and self-identity. On the Holotopia map featuring the five insights, this insight is what we called socialized reality, which is in the holotopia scheme of things analogous to the astrophysical insights of Copernicus and others (from which the epistemology of Galilei and others naturally followed).
Two insights result from the self-reflection in front of the mirror: (1) That what we believed was "objective reality" was really our own (that is, our culture's construction—hence that criterion for "right knowledge" (the maintenance of which is the academia's core social role) cannot be "objectivity" or "correspondence with reality". (2) The need of our society for effective knowledge has become vital and acute. The overall resulting main point is that it is the academia's natural mandate and duty is to act according to the values of the tradition on which legacy it's been created—and lead our society through the mirror, symbolically speaking.
The holoscope, and the holotopia, are the names we have given to the academic and the social reality on the other side of the mirror.
- Truth by convention
What is "truth" if it's not "correspondence with reality"? The holoscope consistently uses truth by convention—which is the kind of truth used in mathematics: "When I say X, I man Y. There is no point asking whether X "really is" Y. The truth by convention fully liberates information and knowledge from its dependence on "reality" (read "tradition"). It is offered as a new 'Archimedean point', which can once again empower knowledge to 'move the world' (shift the paradigm).
The keywords are defined by convention—hence they are allowed to have different meanings than they do in our traditional paradigm. The keywords allow us to speak, and also think differently. Until we find a better way, we distinguish them by writing them in italics.
A paradigm is an "order of things"—a collection of things that are so related to each other, that changing one of them requires that we change them all.
The elephant is almost synonymous to the paradigm. We use this keyword to point to the fact that an emerging paradigm is like the proverbial "elephant in the room". That the visionary thinkers who anticipate it, like the proverbial "blindfolded men touching the elephant", see and described its different parts, in ways that may at first seem unrelated and meaningless. And that our core aim is to use their insights as roadsigns, which help us see the whole big thing.
Culture is defined as cultivation of wholeness; cultivation is defined by analogy with planting and watering a seed.
Just as we do in cultivation of land, we depend on the experience of others to do any sort of cultivation. We define information as "recorded experience".
A gestalt is a way in which any situation or theme is comprehended, which points to a way in which it may need to be handled. The point here is that multiple gestalts tend to be possible. As this keyword is defined within the holoscope, having a gestalt that is appropriate to one's situation is tantamount to being "informed".
It is a natural tendency of our mind to hold on to a certain gestalt, and reject others. The dialog is a culture of communication where we consciously resist and counteract this tendency. David Bohm rightly considered the dialog as a prerequisite to true communication; to changing the paradigm; and to resolving our core issues by evolving further.
Sergei Chakhotin was a researcher in Ivan Pavlov's laboratory; he then participated in the 1932 German electoral campaign against Hitler. We mention him here because of the observation he made—that Hitler was doing to the German people what Pavlov was doing to his dogs: he was socializing them. We use this keyword to point to all various ways in which people's worldviews (and gestalts, and values...) can be subtly or overtly converted, even without anyone taking notice.
Once we've been socialized to accept a certain worldview as "reality", we'll tend to respond to anything that disrupts it with antagonism; or even anger. The dialog requires that we be mindful of such tendencies. And that we consciously counteract them.
Thus the holotopia may be understood as an intervention into our contemporary condition, which empowers us to overcome the effects of renegade socialization, acquire new gestalts, and become able to change our paradigm.
Just as our ancestors did in Galilei's time. And so many times before then.