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 question we'll explore here is the one posed by the Modernity ideogram: How do we need to "look at the world, try to comprehend and handle it".
We build part of our case for the holoscope and the holotopia by developing an analogy between the last "great cultural revival", where a fundamental change of the way we look at the world (from traditional/Biblical, to rational/scientific) effortlessly caused nearly everything to change. Notice that to meet that sort of a change, we do not need to convince the political and business leaders, we do not need to occupy Wall Street. It is the prerogative of our, academic occupation to uphold and update and give to our society this most powertful agent of change—the standard of "right" knowledge.
So how should we look at the world, try to comprehend it and handle it?
Of course, countess books and articles have been written that could inform an answer to this most timely question. But no consensus has emerged—or even a consensus about a method by which that could be achieved.
That being the case, we'll begin this diagnostic process by simply sharing what we've been told while we were growing up. Which is roughly as follows.
As members of the homo sapiens species, we have the evolutionary privilege to be able to understand the world, and to make rational choices based on such understanding. Give us a correct model of the natural world, and we'll know exactly how to go about satisfying "our needs", which we of course know because we can experience them directly. But the traditions got it all wrong! Being unable to understand how the nature works, they put a "ghost in the machine", and made us pray to the ghost to give us what we needed. Science corrected this error. It removed the "ghost", and told us how 'the machine' really works.
"Truth", or "scientific" understanding of real-life matters, is what can be explained by using deductive reasoning from this new "reality picture", what follows logically from it, and only that. Isn't this how we, finally, understood that women can't fly on broomsticks—that this would violate some scientifically established natural laws?
Perhaps no rational person would write this sort of "philosophy". But—and this is one of our key points in this diagnosis—this "philosophy" has not been written. It simply emerged—around the middle of the 19th century, when Adam and Moses as cultural heroes were replaced for so many of us by Darwin and Newton. Science originated, and shaped its disciplinary divisions and procedures before that time, while still the tradition and the Church had the prerogative of telling people how to see the world, and what values to uphold. When the latter lost popular trust, the people were left to their own devices—to develop a new, "scientific" understanding of everyday matters; from whatever scraps of the 19th century science appeared to be suitable.
It is this ad-hoc scrapbook of 19th century ideas, frozen into a "reality picture", that most modern people, including surprisingly many scientists, still consider as "scientific worldview".
From a collection of reasons why this popular way to create truth and meaning needs to be updated, we here mention only two.
The first reason is that the nature is not a mechanism.
The mechanistic or "classical" worldview of 19th century's science was disproved and disowned by modern science. It has turned out that even the physical phenomena cannot be understood by reasoning as we do when we try to understand a machine.
Werner Heisenberg, one of the progenitors of this research, expected that the largest impact of modern physics would be on popular culture—that it would lead to a "great cultural revival", by removing "the narrow and rigid frame"—the way of looking at the world that our popular culture adopted from the 19th century's science—which prevents it from happening. In "Physics and Philosophy" Heisenberg described how the destruction of religious and other traditions on which the continuation of culture and "human quality" depended, and the dominance of "instrumental" thinking and values (which Bauman called "adiaphorisation") followed from the assumptions that the modern physics proved were wrong.
True, Heisenberg might have responded to the above argument, the narrow frame enabled us to eliminate so many of the superstitions our ancestors were living with; but we also threw out the baby (culture) with the bath water.
Needless to say, also this Heisenberg's insight remained without due action—as just another casualty of the Wiener's paradox.
In 2005, Hans-Peter Dürr, Heisenberg's intellectual "heir", co-authored the Potsdam Manifesto, whose title and message was "We have to learn to think in a new way". The new way of thinking, conspicuously impregnated by "seeing things whole" and seeing ourselves as part of a larger whole, was shown to follow from the worldview of new physics, and the environmental and larger social crisis.
The second reason is that even mechanisms, or more precisely the "classical" systems, when they are "complex"—as social and natural systems undoubtedly are—cannot be understood in causal terms.
We offer this as the second core insight that we the people need to acquire from the systems sciences, and from cybernetics in particular.
It has been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. There is a scientific reason for that: The "hell" (which you may imagine as the global issues, or as the destination toward which our 'bus' is currently taking us) is largely composed of "side effects" of our best efforts and "solutions"—of relationships that are obscured from us by the system's nonlinearity; of boomerang effects of our best intentions reaching us through the system's many 'feedback loops'. To see just how consistently simple causality is popularly considered as "modern" or even "scientific" thinking, what disastrous consequences this has had, and what wonderful possibilities have remained in its shadow—is to see the holotopia. <p> Hear Mary Catherine Bateson (cultural anthropologist and cybernetician, and the 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!"
The remedy we proposed is to spell out the rules, by defining a general-purpose methodology as a convention; and by turning it into a prototype and developing it continuously—to remain consistent with the state of the art of relevant knowledge, technology, and our society's needs.
Our prototype is called Polyscopic Modeling methodology, and nicknamed polyscopy.
By defining a methodology, we can define an approach to knowledge.
Polyscopy, for instance, specifies that for "knowledge" to be real knowledge, information must be federated. This means that we must abolish the habit of throwing out whatever fails to fit our "scientific worldview", or socialized reality or narrow frame. "Knowledge" maintained by ignoring counter-evidence does not merit that name.
This does not mean, of course, that anything goes. Rather, it demands a praxis that may be understood by analogy with constitutional democracy—in the realm of ideas. As even a hateful criminal has the right for a fair trial, so does an idea have the right to be considered. Based on this simple rule of thumb, we would, for instance, be advised to not ignore Buddhism because we don't find it appealing, or because we don't believe in reincarnation. The work of knowledge federation is here similar to the work of a dutiful attorney—it is to carefully sift through the heritage, find pieces that we may need to integrate; and support them with a convincing case.
Knowledge federation turns insights and data into principles and rules of thumb, which help us orient action. Especially valuable are the ones we call gestalts. A gestalt is an interpretation of a situation that suggests suitable action. "Our house is on fire" is a canonical example. This keyword allows us to define the intuitive notion "informed"—as having a gestalt that is appropriate to one's situation. You will easily recognize now that we'll be using this idea all along, by rendering our general situation as the Modernity ideogram, and our academic one as the Mirror ideogram. And that we are making headway toward a third—the holotopia vision. Suitable techniques for communicating and 'proving' or justifying such claims are offered, most of which are developed by generalizing the standard toolkit of science.
A parabolic image will help us see some practical consequences of this approach. Imagine you are talking on the phone with your neighbor, that he's at work and you are at home, and that you see that his house is on fire. Yet you tell him about the sale in the neighborhood fishing gear store. While from a factual point of view nothing is wrong (your neighbor is an avid fisherman, and the sale you are telling him about will deeply interested him), in this new "reality" we are proposing you are being untruthful and dangerously deceptive, because a wrong gestalt is implicit in the "reality picture" you present. You will easily see how this reflects upon our conventional media informing, and the way in which it constructs the "reality" we are living in.
The Polyscopic Modeling methodology is defined as a convention. We could turn anything into a convention—and it would be fine as long as it serves the purpose; as long as it "works". We, however, chose to federate this methodology, and turn it into a prototype.
This gives us a way to make the idea of "right" information this methodology represents a function of relevant insights reached in the sciences; and to allow it to evolve.
To illustrate this approach, and to point at some further nuances that are worth highlighting, we now describe a single instance of a source that has been federated in this way—and to give due credit.
A situation with overtones of a crisis, closely similar to the one we now have in our handling of information at large, arose in the early days of computer programming, when the buddying industry undertook ambitious software projects—which resulted in thousands of lines of "spaghetti code", which nobody was able to understand and correct. The story is interesting, but here we only highlight the a couple of main points and lessons learned.
They are drawn from the "object oriented methodology", developed in the 1960s by Old-Johan Dahl and Krysten Nygaard. The first one is that—to understand a complex system—abstraction must be used. We must be able to create concepts on distinct levels of generality, representing also distinct angles of looking (which, you'll recall, we called aspects). But that is exactly the core point of polyscopy, suggested by the methodology's very name.
The second point we'd like to highlight is is the accountability for the method. Any sufficiently complete programming language including the native "machine language" of the computer will allow the programmers to create any sort of program. The creators of the "programming methodologies", however, took it upon themselves to provide the programmers the kind of programming tools that would not only enable them, but even compel them to write comprehensible, reusable, well-structured code. To see how this reflects upon our theme at hand, our proposal to add systemic self-organization to the academia's repertoire of capabilities, imagine that an unusually gifted young man has entered the academia; to make the story concrete, let's call him Pierre Bourdieu. Young Bourdieu will spend a lifetime using the toolkit the academia has given him. Imagine if what he produces, along with countless other selected creative people, is equivalent to "spaghetti code" in computer programming! Imagine the level of improvement that this is pointing to!
The object oriented methodology provided a template called "object"—which "hides implementation and exports function". What this means is that an object can be "plugged into" more general objects based on the functions it produces—without inspecting the details of its code! (But those details are made available for inspection; and of course also for continuous improvement.)
The solution for structuring information we provided in polyscopy, called information holon, is closely similar. Information, represented in the Information ideogram as an "i", is depicted as a circle on top of a square. The circle represents the point of it all (such as "the cup is whole"); the square represents the details, the side views.
When the circle is a gestalt, it allows this to be integrated or "exported" as a "fact" into higher-level insights; and it allows various and heterogeneous insights on which it is based to remain 'hidden', but available for inspection, in the square. When the circle is a prototype it allows the multiplicity of insights that comprise the square to have a direct systemic impact, or agency.
The prototype polyscopic book manuscript titled "Information Must Be Designed" book manuscript is structured as an information holon. Here the claim made in the title (which is the same we made in the opening of this presentation by talking about the bus with candle headlights) is justified in four chapters of the book—each of which presents a specific angle of looking at it.
It is customary in computer methodology design to propose a programming language that implements the methodology—and to bootstrap the approach by creating a compiler for that language in the language itself. In this book we did something similar. The book's four chapters present four angles of looking at the general issue of information, identify anomalies and propose remedies—which are the design patterns of the proposed methodology. The book then uses the methodology to justify the claim that motivates it—that makes a case for the proposed paradigm, by using the paradigm.