Ming the Mechanic - Tag:
synchronicity

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Wednesday, July 14, 2010day link 

 Consciousness of Pattern
picture Our minds are to a large degree pattern matching machines. As kids we've learned the difference between tables and chairs, and to recognize which things are edible and which aren't, and that food goes into the mouth, and trash goes into the trashcan, and trashcans go outside on Thursdays. We can smoothly decipher letters and words and sentences, in the languages we know. We can recognize thin ice, friendly or angry faces, and tunes from old TV shows. We're pretty damned versatile.

We're less good with more complex patterns. We certainly have developed some, and worked out a partial understanding of others. We live in societies with complicated infrastructures and we can entertain intricate theories about science and philosophy. Some of them are very useful and reusable. But we're not terribly good at being conscious of several levels at the same time. It tends to be one or another. Most people live in the everyday routine, at best keeping good track of when they're going to work, when bills need to be paid, and who will be in the superbowl. Others live in a more abstract pattern, seeing the world as one big scientific model, or as a philosophical exercise, at the same time being a little dense when it comes to the most immediate stuff.

But how about being aware of the forest at the same time as the tree? How can you be focused on the work at hand AND the whole group or activity you're part of?

Can one simultaneously be aware of being an individual, and a collection of cells, and a part of a group, and an expression of universal consciousness?

To be conscious of patterns of a higher order, it helps to have a language to describe them. Pattern languages are just that. They're ways of making abstract patterns explicit and thus easier to be aware of and work with. It you don't have a word for something, it is hard to stay aware of it, without slipping into unconsciousness about it. If you know explicit patterns, you can apply them to stuff you construct or participate in. Easier to knit a sweater when you have a pattern, easier to learn the dance steps if there are footprints on the floor.

There can be, and are, pattern languages for architecture, for software development, for collaboration. It is maybe a little odd to call them languages, as we typically merely are talking about collections of described patterns. A pattern language can also go further, and attach words to stuff that previously was impossible to describe. The existence of patterns or a pattern language can allow you to deliberately create certain effects that maybe otherwise seemed completely random and out of your hands. An architect who uses a pattern language might deliberately create a space that people feel good in, because he can express himself in forms that have certain meanings to the people who use them, whether they are consciously aware of it or not.

Another simple example. You're having a meeting with some people. This post was inspired in part by an online discussion I had with George Pór and Seb Paquet. Like most people who need to have an online meeting, we picked from the most available tools for doing such a thing, and we used Skype. We can talk at the same time, and we can chat at the same time. It doesn't yet do video for 3 people, if they're Mac users. But tools and meeting formats shape what happens. Are you aware of how? When you meet with a group of people, are you aware how the pattern the meeting is structured by will influence what will happen?

Patterns are just as important as what you "do" or what you focus on. Maybe more. If you work really hard, but you work on the wrong thing, it doesn't do you much good. The pattern is the frame, the setting, the subtext, the context. A pattern is maybe something abstract, but is an expression of something very real and concrete, which often is outside our awareness, and often not within our ability to talk about.

If you have a meeting where everybody says whatever they feel like, whenever they feel like it, that's some kind of pattern. If you have a meeting where the head guy talks first, and then people ask questions, that's another pattern. A meeting where different roles are assigned to the participants is different from a meeting without any roles. Somebody might keep written notes, somebody might do a mind map, somebody might try to summarize conclusions. A meeting where the members commit to doing certain things after the meeting, like trying to communicate the essence of what happened, or implementing what was agreed upon, is different from a meeting without such a commitment. All of those are different patterns.

If we know we're dancing together, we can relax and just dance. If we don't know what we're doing, maybe somebody will analyze it afterwards and tell us. But there's something to say for a coherence between different levels in real time. If you stay conscious of more complex collective patterns you're participating in while you're doing your own thing, maybe it all will fit better together.

In the past I've once or twice had the job of designing information systems for medium sized companies with 50-100 employees, where I was supposed to essentially computerize most of the activities and workflows that were taking place. I was somewhat stunned to discover that although each person was quite sure of their own job, the whole picture usually didn't fit together. Person B would undo what person A had done. Person C would put the files in alphabetical order, and person D would put them back in numerical order. And person E would do absolutely nothing, without anybody noticing. Lots of effort was wasted because nobody ever had looked at the whole thing. The CEO was doing CEO kind of stuff, the Receptionist was doing receptionist kind of stuff. Nobody had the job of making the whole thing fit together. But I had to understand that in order to make any attempt of creating an information system to support these people.

If you're busy doing something, but it is out of sync with what the overall activity is about, or if a bunch of you are busy doing stuff, but nobody has any clue what it all is about, maybe there's not much synergy. Or maybe there is, and you don't know it. Just imagine that you could be conscious of the next higher level as well. While you do what you do, you somehow sense what the bigger picture is as well.

What a group of people do together can't always be reduced to a neat organizational chart or an executive summary. It might not even be possible to express exactly what it is. The coherence in a collective activity isn't dependent on words. There might be an entirely non-verbal thing going on, but it might still be coherent. Non-verbal memes might even spread elsewhere, without anybody being able to say exactly what happened.

There are many levels to what is happening. The more you become conscious of patterns, the more likely it is that you're sensing more levels.

You can be in sync with higher levels of the system you're operating in without necessarily being conscious about it. Individual ants don't have to walk around being super-conscious of the whole ant colony. They just do simple stuff and it adds up to a coherent whole. The trouble with us humans is that we have the capability to imagine higher order patterns, but we aren't yet well equipped to get it right. So we might end up working on discordant higher order patterns, even though we each superficially appear to be doing our jobs well.

It reminds me of the idea of holonomics. Developing a sense of patterns on many levels and how they intertwine.

The awareness of patterns and of levels is maybe more important than whether you get it exactly "right". It isn't about great precision, but rather about being approximately in the same ballpark. If you're dancing with a thousand other people, there are many ways of doing it right. Yet, lawn mowers and chain saws and blue whales might not really be in harmony with the action.

Six billion people doing each their own thing doesn't make a healthy civilization. It is a little better if they have a sense of what they are doing and where that is going. Even better if they could sense what patterns they're weaving together. Better yet if most of us were conscious of the patterns of patterns that evolve.

The world is becoming very complicated and complex. The times where single individuals could understand and explain most of what goes on in the world have passed a long time ago. Several hundred years ago, really, and since then the complexity of our information has grown exponentially.

What we need more than a lot of specialists is people who can operate at a higher level. People who can sense patterns within clouds of uncertainty. People who can see the lay of the land, even if in low resolution. If you're too left brain and focused and insistant on accounting for everything, you probably can't. It takes a different kind of peripheral vision to sense the patterns in the whole.

What you're clearly and consciously focused on is just the tip of the iceberg, in several directions. You, yourself, have lots more going on sub-consciously than consciously. If you're not sensing where things are going for you, you're gonna miss your own boat. Same with your role in bigger things, your part in groups you're in, and in the world. What you're immediately focusing on is just one small part of it. Much bigger things are in motion. If you somehow can sense those currents and become a little more conscious of them, you're a lot more likely to do something constructive.

We're all able to sense the coherence of patterns to one degree or another. If you're watching a movie or somebody's telling you a story, you know if it feels right or not. There are many possible variations of good stories, but they tend to have a certain kind of flow and rhythm. They're not just random stuff thrown together. Yet in everyday life we seem remarkably willing to put up with stuff that doesn't fit well together. If we turn up our awareness of the patterns around us, maybe we'll find that we do have more choice about it than we thought.
[ / , | 2010-07-14 13:35 | 240 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Monday, June 28, 2010day link 

 Pump up the synchronicity
picture Synchronicities are meaningful coincidences. Subjectively meaningful. Several things happen in adjacent space or time that somehow fit together, even though they supposedly didn't have anything to do with each other.

Really, everything is always connected with everything else. The multiverse is probably really all in one piece. But there are so damned many pieces, and we're so out of touch with the inter-connectedness of everything, that most of the time most of the pieces just don't fit together at all.

Just look at your own day and the inflow you probably got today. Loads of e-mails, news stories, tweets, advertisements, phone calls, etc. Some of them were maybe exactly what you needed at the right time, but more likely, most of them didn't hit any spot and were just distractions.

A synchronicity would be if you suddenly get a bright idea, say that you could have a mushroom farm. Two seconds later you check your e-mail and, lo and behold, one of your friends just sent you an article about basement mushroom farming. It is a synchronicity. We could say that it is a random coincidence, because your friend didn't really know you just got that idea, and he sent the article for totally unrelated reasons. But it is meaningful to you, like a sign from the universe that, yes, that's a good idea.

Or, you join some new group on Facebook, and immediately run into somebody who you went to school with, who incidentally is into some other obscure unrelated thing you're into too, like paragliding or 12th century Russian poetry. A synchronicity. It isn't just some superstitious silliness. It tells you that stuff is connecting.

Just imagine now that we can jack up the rate of synchronicity in your life. More synchronicity per unit of time, and less non-synchronicity. What if most of the chance meetings you had turned out to be tremendously meaningful and useful? What if most of the unexpected pieces of information you received turned out to unexpectedly be exactly what you needed at the time?

There are lots of quite straightforward ways of increasing relevancy in your life. If we were talking ads, you could receive more targeted ads. Instead of ads targeted at "anybody and everybody", you might get ads that fit your profile, and that are likely to suggest something to you that you actually might want. Of course it would be even better if they only suggested to you exactly what you want, but it would still be an improvement. Amazon's book suggestions are pretty good, because I've bought from them and they can approximate what I might like that I don't already have. Book suggestions in random magazines in my mailbox are not very good.

By simply increasing the number of things I'm exposed to, we might increase the number of fits I run into. Particularly if we can lower the cost per exposure at the same time. It requires me much less effort to scan the twitter feeds of hundreds of people than it would take me to read all their blogs, which again is much less effort than would me needed if I had to interview each one to find out if we match somehow.

What we need and want, what inspires us, what triggers us - it is like the receptors on genes and anti-genes. OK, it probably isn't, but it is a suitable metaphor. Certain anti-genes will fit together with certain genes, because their "plugs" fit together. It is a general principle for many parts of living organisms. Receptors are essentially protein molecules to which certain types of signaling molecules can attach. Put a bunch of each together, in a big mix of other stuff, shake and stir it vigorously, and a lot of the receptors will end up connecting with the matching molecules. Increase the volume of any of them, or increase the speed of flow, or increase the random shaking, and you'll see more of them connect. Meme-receptors probably work the same.

It is a selection bias as well. One sees what one is looking for. But it is more than that. Synchronities are matches that we weren't particularly looking for at that time. Granted, we were looking for them elsewhere, so they were still present in our consciousness somewhere.

But it is all also more than that.

I would claim that synchronicities are a sign of collective intelligence. You see more synchronicities, something about the bigger system around you is working at a higher level. There's an alignment happening, possibly at a level you couldn't easily understand all by yourself.

It is like being "in the flow". Things are aligned. But not just aligned in a very straightforward one-dimensional way. Things are aligned at levels you aren't conscious of. So, things just appear when you need them, answers appear seconds after the question, solutions show up when there's a problem. You take a step into the river and a rock happens to be there to support you.

None of us appear to be smart enough individually to solve the big problems in the world. It doesn't matter if we put everything we know into a neat spreadsheet and analyze it carefully. We just tend to think in too few dimensions, like trying to solve five dimensional problems with two-dimensional logic.

So, we really, really need to find ways of operating at a higher order. The hope is for collective intelligence. That somehow we'll succeed in organizing ourselves in such a way that our efforts not only don't cancel each other out, but all together we accomplish more than the sum of our individual efforts. And that somehow the net result of our actions demonstrates a higher level of intelligence than what any one of us could have demonstrated individually. Collective Intelligence. Being smarter together.

Since it isn't just something we can *figure out* brute force the same old way we'll figure out what career to pursue or why our car makes a funny sound, we need some new types of tools.

We need tools that increase collective intelligence.

We also need ways of being aware of an increase in the signs of collective intelligence. I claim that synchronicity is one of those signs. If you see more synchronicities, more collective intelligence is happening. Something is lining up.

Like bio-feedback, if you have an indicator of whether something is going in the "right" direction or not, you might suddenly find that you can increase it, even though you didn't think you could. It certainly beats operating in the dark.

So, if you experience more fits, something more intelligent is going on. Even if you don't understand what it is, you might still be able to steer towards even more.

More surprisingly meaningful connections will, of course, weave even more coherence, and give rise to even more delightful just-in-time surprises.

[ / , | 2010-06-28 00:03 | 641 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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