Holotopia: Collective mind

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H O L O T O P I A:    F I V E    I N S I G H T S

The printing press revolutionized communication, and enabled the Enlightenment. But the Internet and the interactive digital media constitute a similar revolution. Hasn't the change we are proposing, from the 'candle' to the 'lightbulb', already been completed?

We look at the socio-technical system by which information is produced and handled in our society, which the new information technology helped us create; and we zoom in on its structure. We readily see that its principle of operation has remained broadcasting—which suited the printing press, but when applied to the new technology exacerbates problems, instead of enabling solutions.

We see, in other words, that we are using the new technology to create 'electrical candles'.

Our collective mind needs structural change

What it takes to be informed

Imagine a world where correct understanding of one's situation is used as basis for action.

In knowledge federation we use the keyword gestalt for such understanding. And we use this keyword to make the intuitive idea of being "informed" precise and concrete: One is informed, if one has an "appropriate gestalt", or a gestalt that is appropriate to his situation. "Our house is on fire" is a canonical example of a gestalt. An appropriate gestalt points to a course of action that is required for handling one's situation.

Suppose, now, that we apply this idea to our very handling of information, and of knowledge. What gestalt would result? What course of action would it point to?

Knowledge work has a flat tire

In 2011, when the Knowledge Federation completed its self-organization as a transdiscipline, we decided to "go public" by proposing knowledge federation to Silicon Valley IT innovators and to a community of international knowledge-work changers, by organizing a workshop within the Triple Helix IX conference, at Stanford University. We used the flat tire metaphor to propose answer the above questions, and to motivate our proposal.

Knowledge Work Has a Flat Tire is a thread consisting of two short vignettes, where two leading scientists contradicted one other, while presenting to the public the scientific status of an urgent and complex policy issue, the climate change.

Our point was that the public had no way to resolve the contradiction and decide who was right. And that our present way of informing the public leads to confusion and inaction. Hence our overall in knowledge work is similar to the situation of people in a car that has a punctured tire. Pressing the gas pedal and surging forward (publishing, or broadcasting) is unsafe, and will not lead us to our destination. Our situation demands that we stop and take care of a structural problem, which our handling of information has developed.

Democracy needs structural change

Cybernetics of democracy

We are preparing a book series, to help us launch holotopia and knowledge federation. The second book in the series has the working title "Knowledge Federation", and subtitle "Cybernetics of Democracy".

But what is really "democracy"?

We tend to answer that question in the same way as we answer "What is science?" or "What is journalism?" We simply reify a certain practice as we've inherited it from the past. And the instruments of "democracy" we've inherited from the time when people rode horses and fought with swords.

But there is another way to answer our question. "Democracy" is derived from Greek words "demos", which means "people", and "kratos", which means power. So "democracy" would then be a social system where the people have power; where the people are in control. If we take this option, the next question naturally follows: Do we now have democracy? Are people in control?

Cybernetics, then, comes in handy to give us a scientific basis for answering this question. "Cybernetics" is derived from Greek "kybernetike", which means governance. Cybernetics is a scientific study of governance, or of governability. This study is by its nature transdisciplinary. Cybernetics shares its transdisciplinary nature and its goal with general systems science, and with the systems sciences more generally—which is to study systems of all kinds, both natural and human-made; develop a common language, which allows us to express how the structure of those systems drives or influences their behavior, and determines their important or observable properties. And then use this knowledge to understand, create and govern systems of all kinds—and social systems in particular.

All we'll need from cybernetics, however, is the obvious insight that motivated its development: In a bus without a steering wheel and proper headlights, which is speeding through uncharted terrain in the darkness of the night—nobody is in control. You might see someone sitting in the driver's seat (Donald Trump, or the people who elected him), and believe he's driving. But the moment you've examined the structure of the bus, you've understood that this isn't and cannot be the case.