- 1 H O L O T O P I A P R O T O T Y P E
- 2 Five insights
- 2.1 Power structure
- 2.2 Collective mind
- 2.3 Socialized reality
- 2.4 Narrow frame
- 2.5 Convenience paradox
Each of these five insights leads to a gestalt change related to a collection of interests or issues; and to a change of the perception and the handling of those interests or issues. Each of them provides a vivid, moving snapshot of the holotopia's overall Renaissance-like scenario. Our contemporary condition is seen in a similar light as we might see the mindset of the Middle Ages. Change is seen as imperative.
Each insight is reached by looking differently. Each structural defect is resolved by embracing wholeness as value.
Seeing things whole is shown to reveal the imperative of making things whole.
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 explains why 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 were 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—a massive crime of a completely new kind.
Our children may not have a habitable 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 the 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 further 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 then 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 of perceived problems (reported by people directly, through citizen journalism), and proposes systemic solutions (by involving academic and other experts).
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 (see also this course flyer).
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 furthermore gives the students a 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—should 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 is to be our guide, then our information will need to be made suitable for that role.
In his 1948 seminal "Cybernetics", Norbert Wiener pointed to the second reason: In social systems, communication—which turns a collection of independent individuals into a coherently functioning entity— is 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 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.
A 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 the public ignores even our most basic insights, which are necessary for understanding the relevance of the nuances we are now working on?
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 would have to be devised that enable us to "connect the dots" or think together, as a single mind does. Bush 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 in the manner in which the cells in a human organism are connected 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; 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 effects of our dazzled and confused collective mind 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, 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 public event, where the result was announced and discussed. The third phase was online collective thinking about the result, on 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 these and so many other urgent and imposing creative challenges?
Both Erich Jantsch and Doug Engelbart believed "the university" would have to be the answer, and made their appeals accordingly. But the universities ignored them.
There are evidently two ways in which the social role of the university is perceived: The role the university must fulfill (claim the emerging 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 in the historicity of the academia's relationship with information—as Stephan Toulmin pointed out in "Return to Reason", and we summarized and commented in a blog post.
We shall see why changing the relationship we have with information is mandated both on pragmatic and on fundamental grounds.
We shall see why changing the relationship we have with information—which is in academia's hands—is the natural "way to change course".
We will come to understand the situation the university institution is in as a consequence of three events in this institution's history. The first two will allow us to understand the origins of the academic self-perception; the third to see why this self-perception needs to change.
The first event is the university institution's 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 point to the first reason for academic self-perception:
The university has its roots in a philosophical tradition whose goal was to pursue true knowledge, conceived as the knowledge of "unchanging and unchangeable reality".
Every rational method must ultimately rely 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 then was how that knowledge was to be reached.
The second event determined the way in which this question has been answered.
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 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 relationship people had with information was in the custody of the Church—which controlled it firmly! The scientists were allowed to pursue their interests because they "had no day-to-day relevance to human welfare". But the frontier thinkers considered the fundamental axiom to be self-evident; so when the scientists proved that "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 science was the way to true knowledge.
This allows us to formulate the second reason for academic self-perception:
During the Enlightenment, science assumed the role of our society's trusted way to knowledge.
We seem to take it for granted that the way to true knowledge, which is the knowledge of "unchanging and unchangeable reality", is equally "unchanging and unchangeable"; and that it is constituted by the laboratories and departments of "basic science". By design of the academic system, knowledge can only grow incrementally, by adding more to the already existing "reality picture"; by design, we have no provisions for updating our way to knowledge, when knowledge, technology and society's needs demand that.
The university has no way to transform 'candles' into 'lightbulbs'.
The third event, and the reason why this has to change, is that the fundamental axiom has been disproven 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 a way to say "here is what the 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 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 will propose an altogether different approach to founding truth and meaning—independent of "reality" and "correspondence theory".
We will propose a way to allow the relationship we have with information, and the way we look at the world, to evolve continuously—as knowledge of knowledge evolves. Instead of calcifying the way to knowledge as what science is, we will show how to make it evolve as a function of what science knows.
But before we do that, let us look at the relationship we have with information, and at social construction of truth and meaning, from another angle—which is what the socialized reality as keyword is pointing at.
Let us take a look at the relationship between information and power.
Let us take a look, however brief, at the vast and unprecedentedly creative foundations frontier that is opening up. We shall see how profoundly our handling of everyday matters is likely to change, when we attend to this due fundamental change.
We shall see who, or what, keeps 'Galilei in house arrest' today—without censorship or prison.
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 a dramatic overall effect. The Piaget–Lakoff–Oppenheimer thread will show how profoundly the 20th century scientific insights altered the idea of right knowledge that marked the academia's ascent. The Odin–Bourdieu–Damasio thread will project "changing the relationship we have with information" as a necessary political act—necessary if we should liberate ourselves from the power structure. If we should become free to understand our situation and our world; free to create our future.
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 we use our experiences with relationships between 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 we must make to accommodate the available scientific insights.
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—who used it to legitimize the monarch's absolute power, as delegated from the Almighty—is a familiar historical example.
The Odin–Bourdieu–Damasio thread explains the social psychology of reality construction.
It explains the dynamic relationship between information and worldview, and power structure. It allows us to understand why we can "love our children above all else"—and still commit them to a dystopian future.
Since we already offered an outline of this thread, we here only highlight some of 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 live in the ecology that is created by it.
As an alert witness of Algeria's war for independence, Pierre Bourdieu saw how the instruments of power morphed in modernity—from the "classical" ones such as censorship and prison, to the "symbolic" ones, which are woven in modern economy and culture.
Bourdieu's theory helps us perceive our "reality picture" as the cultural and cognitive aspect of what we called power structure; it helps us understand the functioning or the dynamics of power structure.
Bourdieu's "theory of practice" allows us to conceive of our social and cultural "reality" as symbolic 'turf'.
Bourdieu used two keywords—"field" and "game"—to refer to that '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; so does "his secretary". Bourdieu used the keyword "habitus" to point to symbolic '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; and naturally we do too.
Bourdieu's repeated emphasis that a "habitus" is "both structured and structuring" merits careful consideration.
The cultural 'turf' is a structured result of historical 'turf strifes'.
Bourdieu's "field" is the social-psychological aspect of power structure.
Bourdieu's keyword "doxa" (which he adopted from Weber, who adopted it from Aristotle) points to the role that "the reality picture" plays in the symbolic power game. "Doxa" is the experience that our social order of things is as immutable and as real as the physical reality we live in. "Orthodoxy" admits that there are other possibilities, but considers only one of them to be the "right" one; "doxa" ignores even the possibility of alternatives.
The third vignette allows us to understand the anatomy and the physiology of the doxic experience. It helps us comprehend why the socialized reality has such an uncanny cognitive grip.
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 the book he called "Descartes' Error", Damasio explained why the idea about ourselves that the modernity gave us is profoundly misleading:
We are not rational decision makers, as the modernity made us believe. It is not our brain but our body, that decides what options we'll prefer, or even rationally consider.
The insights already reached on the foundations frontier invite us to conclude:
The relationship we have with information is a result of a historical error.
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 could be evaluated; they simply are their implementations. It is for this reason that we still 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 "human quality" grows. A tradition's "reality picture" is an integral part of that ecosystem, only a means to an end, not an end in itself. When we discredited the ancient myths, we took away the tradition's bearings. 'Cultural species' are now going extinct; but there we don't have 'the temperature and the CO2 measurements', to diagnose the 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; the story of Edward Bernays (Freud's American nephew who became "the pioneer of modern public relations and propaganda") is emblematic.
The Enlightenment liberated us from one socialized reality—only to shackle us with another.
The socialized reality construction 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 needs to 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 a self-reflective dialog.
A purpose of this dialog is to rid ourselves of socialized and inflated "knowing". But instead of appealing only to common sense and logic, as Socrates did with his contemporaries at the point of Academia's inception—we now have the epistemological insights of the 20th century science and philosophy to work with. The taste bits we have just seen may already show why such a dialog will be a game changer.
An informed self-reflective dialog will thoroughly change the academic self-perception.
The mirror symbolizes self-awareness; it points to the need to put ourselves into the picture. We are not hovering above the world and looking at it "objectively". We are in the world.
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 we, the university as the institutionalized academic 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 role is to point to an unexpected way in which the evolution of the academic tradition can and needs to continue. There is no way around (the epistemological insights represented by) the mirror. The university's evolution appears to have come to a standstill. But there is a natural way out of this evolutionary entanglement—which may at first glance seem incredible, even 'magical':
We can step right through the mirror!
We can—and must—lead our society through the mirror!
On the other side of the mirror, a whole new academic and cultural order of things is ready to be developed. It is the academia's historical privilege to liberate and guide the oppressed—which includes all of us, both "the 99%" and "the 1%".
The holoscope and the holotopia model the academic and the social-and-cultural order of things on the other side of the mirror.
What makes this key step, through the mirror, 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?
Why live with "an uncritical assumption of mutual understanding", that the words mean the same to us because they reflect the same "reality"—when we can empower the author of a message to define, precisely and freely, what his concepts are intended to mean; and hence also the meaning of his message?
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 is formally called Polyscopic Modeling; the praxis it engenders we called polyscopy.
The epistemology of polyscopy is called design epistemology. We defined it by rendering the core of our proposal as a convention.
In the "Design Epistemology" research article where we articulated this proposal (published in the special issue of the Information Journal titled "Information: Its Different Modes and Its Relation to Meaning", edited by Robert K. Logan; and introduced in this blog post), 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 techniques 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 a 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 brought 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 the holoscope is the 'lever' that can empower us to 'move the world', truth by convention is the 'Archimedean point'.
- Real accountability. Truth by convention allows us to assign a rational purpose to an activity or profession—and disassociate it from power structure. Such a purpose is not binding outside the given context; and yet it allows us to argue, in the context of the chosen purpose, why certain changes need to be made. The methodology is to information as the constitution is to social organization.
- The capability of society for continuous self-renewal. A methodology is a prototype. And as all prototypes do, a methodology evolves continuously—by federating relevant knowledge. By 'unfreezing' its structure in this way, the university can be a means by which our society can continuously renew itself.
The polyscopy definition comprises eight aphorismic conventions called postulates, of which four are "principles", and the other four "criteria". By applying truth by convention, each of them is given an interpretation.
A brief vignette, explaining how this work began, will enable us to contextualize the methodological approach in contemporary-academic order of things, and give it a reality touch.
In 1995, 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".
At the section "Worldviews and the Problem of Synthesis" we showed a variant of the above slide, featuring a fragment of Einstein's "epistemological credo" and Magritte's "The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe) side by side—and commented that the 'meeting point' that Einstein and Magritte shared with so many contemporary thinkers was the insight that we must distinguish between things in reality and our representations. We then explained how the methodological approach, combined with that insight, makes it possible to resolve "the problem of synthesis"; or metaphorically—to 'complete the Tower of Babel'.
The first two postulates of polyscopy definition render Einstein's "epistemological credo" as 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.
The first postulate of polyscopy defines information:
Information is recorded experience.
According to this convention, the substance of information is not reality but human experience.
The first postulate enables extraction of meaning from cultural artifacts. The differences of language and worldview are bridged by reducing them to experience as 'common denominator'. Even a common object such as a chair can be considered as information—because it records experience about sitting and chair making. Objects, customs, myth... become information—and we consider it our duty to extract, communicate and and preserve whatever might be of relevance.
The first postulate enables also creation of artifacts. It empowers us to use or create other ways to record, communicate and put to use information, beyond traditional books and articles. In knowledge federation, as we have seen, the prototype, more than the printed text, tends to be the medium of choice.
The second postulate defines the way in which polyscopy handles truth and meaning.
The scope determines the view.
According to this convention, reality (or whatever is behind experience) is not assumed to have an a priori structure, which can be "discovered". Rather, like the ink blot in the Rorschach test, it is something to which we freely ascribe meaning.
The second postulate enables the creation of meaning on all levels of generality. We create scopes and views to look and see in new ways. And to synthesize the information from disparate artifacts, which the first postulate allows us to extract.
The second postulate makes distinct ways to attribute meaning to things both possible and legitimate. With Piaget, we confirm that "the mind organizes the world by organizing itself". The "aha" experience, which results when we have understood an object of study in a certain way (for instance when we have scientifically understood its "causes"), does not imply that we have seen "the reality".
The second postulate demands furthermore an attitude in communication, which we point to by the keyword dialog. We engage in a dialog when we genuinely do our best to let go of our habitual ways of looking, and stay open to new ways to see things.
The question must be asked: What will hinder us from amassing disparate interpretations of experience, and drowning in information ever deeper?
The answer is given by the polyscopy's criteria. Polyscopy definition provides four criteria—to replace and supplement the traditional factual truth ("correspondence with reality"). We here mention two.
The perspective criterion postulates that every whole has a visible and a subtle or obscure side. And that information needs to 'illuminate' what is obscure or hidden, so that we may see the whole in its entirety, and in correct proportions:
information needs to provide a clear and correct perspective"
Because of this criterion, a justification in polyscopy needs to explain the choice of scope; why we need to look at that specific theme in that specific way. An argument would typically involve showing that unless we looked at the 'cup' from the given 'angle', we would not be able to see whether it's whole or not.
The second criterion we want to mention is the "relevance" criterion:
Information must be relevant.
Less relevant information should not hide or obscure more relevant one. If our house is on fire, then the news about the sale in a fishing gear store is not relevant..
Notice how different the resulting idea of "truth", and way to "truth", are from the naive or traditional ones. Instead of relying on our culture's, or "tribe's", "ontological commitments", and eliminating whatever fails to fit in—we undertake to find a way of looking by which an implausible "reality" may make sense—as it did to the person who proposed it; or to the culture that upheld it.
Like a dutiful attorney, knowledge federation does its best to support every idea or cultural artifact, however implausible and foreign to our zeitgeist, with a solid case.
Let us apply this principle to Plato. Specifically to his claim that "Ideas", and not the experiential facts and details that constitute our reality, should be considered as right knowledge.
We are indeed in the midst of seeing that! The five insights are nothing but—ideas! They are general views, principles, rules of thumb. The fact that we are—in spite of the overabundance of factual knowledge—ignoring and violating such basic principles, amply demonstrates that Plato was right!
We may apply this principle even to the prosecutors of Socrates, and of Galilei!
Both Socrates and Galilei were tried for "impiety", which is a certain kind of arrogance. And indeed, we have seen that the complete faith in reason, which the modernity gave us, worked well for developing science and technology—but poorly for developing culture, and "human quality". That it gave us "instrumental" or "adiaphorized" values—which are the root cause of our problems.
We develop remedies by creating suitable prototypes.
The very first application, which was submitted to "Worldviews and the Problem of Synthesis" as the companion article to the mentioned one, showed how relevant experiences can be combined across historical periods and cultural traditions, to inform and thoroughly redirect our "pursuit of happiness"—and in that way redeem our cultural heritage. We will come back to it while discussing the fifth insight, the convenience paradox.
A book manuscript draft with title "What's Going on" and subtitle "A Cultural Renewal" answers the question asked in its title in an entirely uncommon way:
Instead of the usual variety of spectacular events that took place on a specific day, the book describes a single, slow development, "a cultural revival", taking place in our time—which provides the context necessary for comprehending specific events, and orienting action.
As the Cultural Revival ideogram suggests—our visible problems, like cracks in an apartment building, are consequences of a fault in our culture's foundation—which needs to taken care of before normal living and further construction can be resumed.
"Experience", "communication and "reasoning" are singled out as three ways to found information; art, tradition and science are defined as the corresponding aspects of culture. The foundation problem—which is shown to arise in all walks of life—is that instead of consciously founding information (as an architect would, when constructing a building), we tend to 'build' our beliefs on whatever 'terrain' we happen to find them. The prolific use of convenience is an example we shall come back to in a moment. And there are numerous others.
A cultural revival is to culture as architecture is to house construction.
Two concrete examples—the 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 another 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 face each other in duel: The explicit information, represented by the factual warning in the black-and-white rectangle; and the implicit information, represented by the colorful and "cool" rest. The implicit information wins "hands down"—or else this would not be a cigarette advertising. The larger point here, of course, is that while legislation, ethical sensibilities and "official" culture tend to be focused on explicit information, our culture tends to be dominated and in effect created by counterculture—through implicit means.
We need visual literacy to be able to
- understand our heritage
- understand how subtle messages affect us
- create implicit information—and redeem our 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 way we look at the world 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.
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.
The Paradigm Strategy Poster—discussed at length in Federation through Conversations—combines the described methods to compose "a roadmap for guided evolution of society"; and " "a way to change course".
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.