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Monday, June 14, 2004day link 

 Intimacy Gradient in Social Software
picture Adina Levin, part of the SocialText team, talks about Chris Alexander's patterns that relate to levels of intimacy, and how that might apply to social software:
Alexander writes about an "intimacy gradient". There are some areas in a house that are public -- the front porch; areas that are indoors and public -- the living room; and areas that are indoors and more private -- bedrooms and bathrooms.

The design opportunity is to create livable, workable, more-public and more-private spaces, using a "social software method" that focuses on helping people connect and collaborate with people in the least restrictive, most appropriately trusting way.

This is a different design philosophy than the traditional methods for setting levels of privacy. The underlying traditional assumption is that information should be available, and users should have privileges, on a "need to know basis." Individuals should have as little information and as few privileges as they need to do their jobs.

The goal of a tool for group work is to be able to restrict access with as much control as possible. Content and privileges should be controllable at a highly granular level. A work process should be clearly defined, to determine what users should have access to what information, and a given stage of a process.

This methods depend on a highly-structured, formal process. Analysts and administrators need to carefully define the types of information, to parcel out privileges, and to be able to monitor information access.
So, the alternative might be to not have complicated and forced privacy and sharing settings, but rather to structure things so that the right things naturally tend to happen in the right places, and the right things tend to be seen by the right people? I'm all for it.

I've often thought about it, for that matter. A problem is that the hyperlinking nature of the web short-circuits a lot of what works in architecture, which is Chris Alexander's field.

In a house, different sorts of activities naturally happen in different places. That is in part based on how deep into the house those places are. The entrance hallway is easily accessible and has a number of doors. Good place to say hello and share general messages, but it is superficial. One can go further into the house, into the living room, which is more sheltered, and have a deeper conversation there. The bedroom is a step further, and feels more intimate, as it takes several steps to get there. Now, there might not be anything that physically hinders some guest from storming straight into the bedroom without being invited there, and start looking through the closets. But everybody will notice that it doesn't feel right, and will deal with it somehow. And it rarely happens in normal homes. You start in the entry hall, and if you sort of pass that test, somebody will take you further into the house, and for most people it doesn't feel right to overstep the norms for how one behaves in somebody's house.

But a website tends to have the equivalent of links that say "entry hall", "living room", "kitchen", "bedroom", all appearing at the same level. And with Google's help, there will also be direct links to "bedroom closet" and "the reading material next to my bed". Which sort of kills the gradients of intimacy.

The problem is that parts of the net aren't working as much as *spaces* as we think they might have. It is really just a lot of information. And we'd like direct access to information, with deep linking, without anything annoying standing in the way, like having to register.

Doesn't mean we can't re-invent *spaces* as a parallel effort. To get to certain spaces, to hang out with certain people, it is acceptable enough if I need to jump through some hoops to get there. I don't know how to design those spaces so it feels natural, but that is potentially solvable.

As long as a certain chat room or wiki page is accessible directly with a deep link, it is going to be very hard to make it feel more intimate than any other place I can reach with similar ease. So a hierarchical structure of links doesn't do it. On the web you can't force people to accept your hierarchy if it is all just links.

One thought is that the spaces that need to be more intimate should not have permanent locations, but rather a dynamic location. E.g. if I wanted a certain type of conversation with certain people, I might have to go through those people and get their agreement that they're up for such an interaction with me today. Rather than me linking directly into it. Even if we had a very similar conversation yesterday.
[ | 2004-06-14 18:29 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, June 12, 2004day link 

 Magick for Dummies
picture There are several kinds of magic. There's of course what a stage magician does to fool the audience into partially believing he's doing something impossible, and entertaining them in the process. Then there's the magic of wonderous moments, where the universe moves and reveals its mysteries in surprising and wonderful ways. Communing with nature, experiencing an artistic performance, or being part of a synchronistic event where things just come together in the exactly right, but completely unexpected way.

And then there's the deliberate practice of Magick, usually spelled with a 'k' at the end. It is something that is widely misunderstood, and very often shrouded in or lost in a lot of mysterious mumbo-jumbo symbolism that might or might not make sense to anybody. In the past that has been in part because masters of magick wanted to confuse and mislead the competition, or at least make sure that only the most dedicated and clever students would do the necessary work to figure out what it is. As its practice requires significant dedication and focused work. Many principles of the universe are involved, but mostly it adds up to something that is largely a discipline of the mind. One could say that it is:
To train the mind to move with the maximum speed and energy, with the utmost possible accuracy in the chosen direction, and with the minimum of disturbance or friction.
That is from Aleister Crowley. He managed, more than just about anyone, to explain magick in clear language and reveal most of its secrets. Strangely, he also became a very misunderstood and hated man. Maybe not so strange - a lot of people felt threatened by what he had to teach and what he stood for, and he didn't hesitate in being as provocative as he could when he had a chance.

Many of the things to understand are in rather paradoxical forms. Thus the above aim goes hand in hand with the aim:
To stop the mind altogether.
Which is what meditation or yoga or many other practices are about. It is quite logical, really. Most people's minds are full of a lot of uncontrolled, undisciplined junk, running on automatic. To focus in any effective manner on anything, one needs to be able to stop the flurry of random data. The better, the more completely one can do that, the more well poised one is for subsequent acts of great clarity and focus.

One of Crowley's basic tenets, which, again, is largely misunderstood and misquoted is:
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Love is the law, love under will.
Unscrupulous people usually quote just the first line, and misinterpret it to give a license to do whatever the hell one wants, no matter it does to anybody else. And, well, there are unfortunately too many people who live by such a principle. That's not what's meant here. The Will referred to is closer to what some people would call "Divine Will". But not in the fundamentalist understanding where, again, it is an excuse for doing things there is no excuse for. Rather, the most integruous and constructive thing is the thing to do. The most honest and authentic thing to do. The most loving. Not a human whim, but a connection with the universal mind. In a state of freedom. Hard to explain in words, as one has misunderstood it the moment one just takes the words literally. Anyway, here are some more excerpted basics on magick from Crowley, The Beast, 666 himself:
Definition: Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.

Postulate: ANY required Change may be effected by application of the proper kind and degree of Force in the proper manner through the proper medium to the proper object.


Every intentional act is a Magical Act.

Every successful act has conformed to the postulate.

Every failure proves that one or more requirements of the postulate have not been fulfilled.

The first requisite for causing any change is thorough qualitative and quantitative understanding of the condition.

The second requisite of causing any change is the practical ability to set in right motion the necessary forces.

"Every man and every woman is a star." That is to say, every human being is intrinsically an independent individual with his own proper character and proper motion.

Every man and every woman has a course, depending partly on the self, and partly on the environment which is natural and necessary for each. Anyone who is forced from his own course, either through not understanding himself, or through external opposition, comes into conflict with the order of the Universe, and suffers accordingly.

A man whose conscious will is at odds with his True Will is wasting his strength. He cannot hope to influence his environment efficiently.

A man who is doing his True Will has the inertia of the Universe to assist him.

Nature is a continuous phenomenon, though we do not know in all cases how things are connected.

Science enables us to take advantage of the continuity of Nature by the empirical application of certain principles whose interplay involves different orders of idea, connected with each other in a way beyond our present comprehension.

Man is ignorant of the nature of his own being and powers. Even his idea of his limitations is based on experience of the past. and every step in his progress extends his empire. There is, therefore, no reason to assign theoretical limits§ to what he may be, or to what he may do.

Man's sense of himself as separate from, and opposed to, the Universe is a bar to his conducting its currents. It insulates him.

Man can only attract and employ the forces for which he is really fitted.

Now, that is pretty down-to-earth, really. To make anything happen that you'd like to happen, you need to get certain forces into motion. And if what you're trying to make happen isn't in harmony with who you are and where you are, or with the universe for that matter, it won't work very well.

If you want pure water to drink, you'll dig a well in a place where there is underground water; you'll prevent it from leaking away; and you'll arrange to take advantage of water's accordance with the laws of hydrostatics to fill it. That's an example of magick. Decide to do something, and do what's necessary to make it happen. You could also go buy a bottle of water in 7-11 if there's one close by. But you can't do that if there's no 7-11, just as you can't dig a well if there's no underground water. Duh. There's a right place and time for many things, and in other settings they might not be right. Magick is when you're able to be in tune with that rightness, so you can make the right thing happen with the right tools at the right time.

That doesn't have to have anything with voodoo to do. If mostly doesn't. If you want to bake a cake, you get the ingredients and put them together the right way. You don't just sit down and do affirmations and prayers about cakes. You don't try to bake it on the freeway either. You do it in a kitchen.

If your calling is to be a carpenter, it might not work to try to be rock star. But if you really got a rock star in you, that's probably what you should do, even if everybody thinks you're a carpenter. And if you do it, you should really do it, not just half-heartedly.

Of course you'll notice that most people in the world are spending most of their time doing things that aren't really right for them, and which aren't working well, and they don't use the right tools. And it isn't what they really want.

So, obviously, there's a great need for ways to help people get clear on what they actually want and what is right for them, and able to stay on the same course for long enough to actually get there.

And there's a need for getting effective tools into people's hands and enabling them to use them. Nowadays, of course, information technology is part of the tools available. If you want to reach many people and make big things happen, you'd probably be shooting yourself in the foot if you don't use the Internet to the hilt.

Big things can be made to happen with small means, if it all gets lined up right, and the right tools are used, by the right people. That's magick.
[ | 2004-06-12 18:17 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, June 7, 2004day link 

 Forms of Collective Intelligence
Tom Atlee is contributing to the Blog of Collective Intelligence now. Like that very interesting post there on forms of collective intelligence. He mentions:
  • Reflective
  • Structural
  • Evolutionary
  • Informational
  • Noetic
  • Flow
  • Statistical
  • Relevational
Wow! Well, read the article to get the details of what they refer to. But that is marvelous. Yes, they overlap of course, but that is a very clear way of identifying some key ways that collective intellence manifests. Thus giving more hope for engineering it to happen when we'd like it to.
[ | 2004-06-07 17:45 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, May 29, 2004day link 

 Individual and Social Holons
picture On Blog of Collective Intelligence Jean-Francois Noubel mentioned an interview with Ken Wilber where he talks about the distinction between individual and social holons:
Briefly: individual holons are holons with a subjective interior (prehension, awareness, consciousness); they have a defining pattern (code, agency, regime) that emerges spontaneously from within (autopoietic); and they have four drives (agency, communion, eros, agape). Examples of individual holons (or compound individuals) include quarks, atoms, molecules, cells, organisms....

Social holons emerge when individual holons commune; they also have a defining pattern (agency or regime), but they do not have a subjective consciousness; instead, they have distributed or intersubjective consciousness. Examples include galaxies, planets, crystals, ecosystems, families, tribes, communities.... Both individual and social are holons, and they both follow the twenty tenets. Actually, individual and social holons are not different entities, but different aspects of all holons, since all holons have an interior and an exterior in singular and plural forms (the four quadrants), but they are indeed different aspects that cannot be merely equated.
And as he points out, when you confuse these with each other, it becomes a mess. Example: when you decide to lift your arm, and you lift it, all the cells in your arm go along. None of them decide to disagree and go somewhere else. They are parts of your arm, and subject to your centralized will. But a society works very differently. People are not parts, but members, with their own individual wills. Rulers with fascistic tendencies will often try to make society work as if its members are parts that simply are cogwheels that have to go along with the program, and that never really works.

The idea is that an individual holon has a coherent sentience, whereas a social holon is some kind of collaborative negotiation between its members.

Of course all holons have both aspects at the same time. The point is to not confuse the roles with each other, or it becomes apples and oranges.

Now, he's right of course, and it is as usual a brilliant way of putting it. But it also makes me think.

In a society, yes, it obviously isn't just a top-down hierarchy, no matter what kind of fascist police state dictator is trying to run it. But groups still act in many ways as individual holons. Just not in that predictable one-dimensional manner.

If a thousand people decide to do the same thing at the same time. Like go to a concert, or do some kind of smart mob happening. All the people who showed up are the people who showed up. 100%. To act as a unit, there's really no requirement that the component parts have been ordered in advance to do so by one of the units. When you lift you arm, most of the time it would be impossible to pinpoint exactly where that order came from, and what or who exactly made it. You lift you arm, because it somehow seems right at the time. Millions of cells getting in sync is what happens and various other faculties being in sync with that, including some kind of mental meaning and maybe idea of causality. Likewise, a thousand people find themselves in the same place at the same time, because it somehow seemed right and they were in-sync. Thus any concerted group action carries aspects of being an individual holon. It is just a matter of a different kind of continuity and more dimensions to it. Next week some of the same people might show up as part of another group of thousand people, or some other number. And that in itself might be very coherent. The people who show up, show up. The people who don't, don't. That in itself is not subject to a lot of negotation or disagreement.

The atoms and the cells in your arm aren't the same as they were yesterday, so that analogy breaks down quickly as well.

The model that a mental unit makes a decision and then some sort of body or body part carries it out - that's just too simple. For practical purposes, when I lift my arm, it might seem to work like that, and be practical to think of it that way. But it is really a lot more complicated than that. Or simple in a different way. For social systems, it doesn't work like that, so trying to make it so is a failed political ideology to start with.

Some kind of multi-dimensional swarm model might turn out more useful. The atoms in my body happen to be swarming in that format right now. But yesterday and tomorrow they're different. A hundred years ago, or a hundred years from now, those same atoms will be part of all sorts of different things in different places. At a sub-sub-atomic level it is even more wild. Particles zipping around between multiple universes and through different times. Nothing ever stays one unit, individual or social, for any meaningful length of time, if we look at it at that level.

Anyway, I think they're still useful distinctions. And part of the point of Jean-Francois's post was whether and how individual qualities scale up to social qualities.
For instance I recently asked myself whether a group of wise individual would emerge and act as a wise group. Or to put it in a more general frame, can a group benefit from the individual "social qualities" of its participants? My first reply was « yes », since we naturally advocate that if we want a group to have such or such quality, individuals need to get these qualities first. Then the second reply that came to my mind was: "maybe not"...
A group of smart people doesn't necessarily become smart. A group of people with the best of qualities, well-intentioned, experienced, might or might not become useful. Often, what the group is, and how functional or successful it is, doesn't relate directly to the qualities of its members. Or, rather, we often can't guess at the relationship between the individuals and the group.
On a more practical perspective, is it possible to envision emerging properties as the result of the mastering of these properties at an individual level? Do these properties have to be value-oriented? Will a group of wise individuals turn into a wise group or can it turn in a global mess with umpredictable side effects?
Maybe there could be ways of individually mastering certain qualities, which then translate into emergent properties of a very well functioning group. It probably just isn't the kind of qualities we normally would cultivate individually. A different kind of qualities.

Some people typically do very well in being catalysts or collaborators in groups. But usually only in certain kinds of groups. If a person has well cultivated qualities and skills that match what fits with the other members and the group itself, then it works. But not in groups with very different kinds of members. Few people have any clue how to be part of the success of ANY group. And maybe the attempt of cultivating that would be the wrong way of looking at it. Oxygen and Hydrogen form water, and they can form certain other things too. But there are many more things they certainly can't form. There's no point in a Hydrogen atom trying to be a Uranium atom.

So, it might be more about how one finds who and what one fits with - the people and circumstances one will resonate with, and where collective intelligence will emerge - rather than trying to become a perfect component in everything possible.

And what fits might change from moment to moment. So it is about being able to find it right now. Right now there are some things you can do, some ways of doing it, some people to do it with, that would produce absolutely marvelous results, rather easily. The Flow. And there are lots more constellations that just wouldn't lead anywhere great. If you have pre-conceived over-simplified ideas about those having to work, it makes it worse. If you are flexible and multi-dimensional enough to be open to something different than you know, and your perceptions are keen enough to notice where the energetic point of leverage is right now, it might be very different. That's very different from what both individual and social holons were supposed to be about. It's neither. It's an ad-hoc holon willing to re-invent itself anytime. Being part of something bigger than itself, where there's the most synergy, action, excitement. And conscious enough to catch a different a better wave when it appears.
[ | 2004-05-29 18:08 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, May 6, 2004day link 

 William Torbert’s Nine Developmental Frames
picture From Empowerment Illustrated, a mention of Action Inquiry and William Torbert's nine "developmental frames":
A system for understanding people and their roles in life is explained at Martin Leith's Resources site. William Torbert analysed autobiographies and found 9 developmental frames that represent a 'journey of life'. They are:

1. Impulsive (Conception)
2. Opportunist (Investments)
3. Diplomat (Incorporation)
4. Technician (Experiments)
5. Achiever (Systemic Productivity)
6. Strategist (Collaborative Enquiry)
7. Magician / Witch / Clown (Foundational Community)
8. Ironist (Liberating Disciplines)
9. Sage / Cron
Those levels or frames are described in detail in Martin Leith's site. It is quite intriguing. I like the progression of archetypes getting more and more mystical. I'm not sure I really buy the exact progression. Some of it seems a little arbitrary to me, or a little off. I'm not sure they're even a sequence. But interesting and useful, nevertheless. In part for recognizing what roles people are playing within an organization. Like, a Magician at level 7 is somebody who's likely to create transformation around them, changing paradigms, but without anybody recognizing they're doing it. Anyway, if I had to find myself on the list, it would probably be the Strategist, although I recognized myself also in Technician, and in Magician.
[ | 2004-05-06 08:22 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, May 5, 2004day link 

 Incidental Data Analysis
picture There's one discipline I'd like to be an expert in. Well, there are many subjects and disciplines I'd like to explore, but that I don't get around to.

I'm, however, very intrigued about techniques for figuring things out without direct access to conclusive source data.

Everything leads traces. Everything that happens leaves some kind of signs in the environment. Nothing real is completely isolated from its surroundings. Every event interacts with its circumstances, and will influence them in ways that can be noticed. Even if you don't have the thing itself, you will always have access to something that was in contact with it. If you're skilled enough, you can find things out indirectly that aren't available directly.

A good example of the principle is the rumor that whenever the Pentagon is planning a big operation, the number of pizzas ordered at night from Washington D.C. pizzarias to be delivered to the Pentagon, will increase. Obviously because a bunch of people are working long nights there, and they're hungry. It is kind of obvious. If you can find out where they order their pizzas, and you watch the graph of how many pizzas are ordered at which times, it can tell you that something is going on.

That also brings up the obvious objection to such an intelligence method. It doesn't really prove anything. It doesn't at first tell you *what* is going on. Maybe they're just doing the yearly audit in accounting. Maybe they just changed pizzarias. Maybe their own kitchen is out of order.

A lot of activities can stay very hidden exactly because such approaches generally aren't officially given much credence, and there are few organized techniques available to the general public for applying them. Which is in part because those people who're doing big things and have big things to hide would prefer that nobody can figure them out easily. And because they use such techniques themselves.

Pattern matching and profiling is one angle of it. If you find the data that sticks out, that doesn't match the normal profile of how something behaves, or that matches a profile of particular kinds of unusual behavor - you know something is going on. Again, you might not know exactly what, but you know where to look. Like how your bank might freeze your credit card because you did something they considered unusual, like buying jewelry in Hong Kong, when normally you only buy groceries in Wisconsin. But they're rather bad at this science, so they make mistakes half the time.

The folks who control large amounts of centralized data have a leg up on everybody else, of course. If one has access to your bank records, your telephone records, your travel records, etc, one could say a whole lot about you.

I suspect the FBI and CIA folks are not very good at it, though, and they're probably just drowning in data that they don't know what to do with. However, I also suspect that there are some groups that are experts at analyzing patterns in such data, but they probably aren't talking about it.

Anyway, the working theory is that any kind of incidental data can lead you to figure out big things that are hidden. Maybe not maliciously hidden, maybe just obscured from view and not yet discovered.

If I stood down on the corner and catalogued all cars that drove by, and I did that for a while, I'd learn something from the patterns. Duh, yeah, how many cars drive by, of course, which is useful for traffic planning. But if I look a little broader, I might see surprising data. Why are there an unsual number of red cars driving by every day around 3 o'clock? That might not provide the answer, but it might tell me what to look for next. Doesn't have to be anything exciting. I might just learn that they're company cars, and that the sales people for a certain company meet for donuts in a certain place at that time. But there's something to find out.

We're generally being sold a picture of the world as being very confusing and disjointed. A lot of discrete events that you can't all keep track of, and the only way of making sense of it is to listen to somebody's two minute summary on the news, or by adopting some ideology that summarizes the world in simple ways I can just believe in without examining it too closely. But I don't buy it. I think there are better ways of making much better sense of even a world represented by huge amounts of data.

Obvious techniques are to count things, and to categorize and catalogue them. And cross-relate different kinds of data. And then to look for certain patterns of things being "wrong" or "right" or "off" or "on" about them. E.g. things being out of sequence, misplaced, misnamed, or things fitting unusually well together, or working unusually well. If a hundred carpenters seem to produce a certain typical number of chairs and tables, and one of them produces twice as many, it tells us something. We might discover that he just works twice as long, or we might discover that he has an approach that works better. If a certain news agency produces considerably more erroneous news stories than the other news agencies, there's a story there somewhere.

Incidental data usually isn't random, even if it looks like it at first. Really, most things in the world are connected with each other, so things usually are the way they are because of the way other things are, and there's a bigger picture there.

That also opens the door for apparently non-sensical ways of divining what is going on. If Uncle Joe's left knee hurts before it is going to rain, and that is reliable, we don't really have to know exactly how that comes about. An analysis of his success rate is all we'd need. Likewise, if somebody has a system of divination based on tea leaves, and it happens to work, that is valid data as well. Even if somebody else would like you to believe that you can't say anything useful about things you can't explain as a direct cause-effect relationships.

There's a certain centralized power structure that exists in terms of information. Those who appear to hold the centralized stores of the "proper" data, like governments, the police, banks, credit bureaus, media companies, scientists and educational institutions, pretend that they have a monopoly on telling you what is going on. Where I postulate that we've gotten to a point where grassroot networks of regular folks easily could be as informed as any of those. But not just by passing vague rumors and opinions around. Some tools and proven disciplines would help.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. Life leaves tracks. Almost any kind of incidental data source, if analyzed a bit, can tell you where there are tracks. By combining a sufficient number of dimensions of data, you can probably see where the tracks lead, and you can make out the silhouette of what is there.
[ | 2004-05-05 07:13 | 12 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, April 24, 2004day link 

 Collective Intelligence
picture George Por says:
Could collective intelligence be the foundation for the next social and spiritual revolution?

Craig did it! Craig Hamilton, one of the four editors of the "What Is Enlightenment?" magazine pulled together an amazing issue on collective intelligence. Their website says:
In our May 2004 issue, Craig Hamilton's groundbreaking feature, Come Together: The Mystery of Collective Intelligence introduces you to pioneers who are discovering that wholes are far more than the sum of their parts. When individuals unite in a shared intention, something mysterious comes into being - with capacities and intelligences that far transcend those of the individuals involved."
Not much of it online. But there are some audio interviews. And the people working together on the subject of Collective Intelligence seem to experience it themselves:
I'm noticing a new way of working together, where our interest in what is possible - from the most creative to the most practical - comes deeply alive and our flow of ideas is like a dance, where we are each paying attention to one another, taking in the thinking and research that each individual has done prior to the meeting, and responding in such a way that we really come together. It is so far from any meeting I've ever had in any other work setting - and I don't know how it is happening - but we're able somehow to bring forward the ideas we have without being attached to them, and without our identity being wrapped up in them. It is as if this creative mind just sweeps down on us, and the more we pay attention to each other and keep open the space between us, something else happens.
Laura Hartzell, Lenox, MA
And, yes, I think that collective intelligence is possibly the most important thing we can figure out. If groups of us routinely can be smarter than us as individuals, we might actually be getting somewhere. As opposed to groups of people becoming dumber and more unscrupulous together than they individually are. The understanding of collective intelligence is key. It happens sometimes, and it can be magical. And other times, despite being very needed, it doesn't. We have to understand how to do it.
[ | 2004-04-24 13:33 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, April 21, 2004day link 

 Patterns for Living Communication
picture CPSR, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, seems to be doing many good things. One of them is a part of the Public Sphere Project called A Pattern Language for Living Communication. There is a collection of many patterns in various fields such as Community Action, Social Learning, Organization, and more.
The Pattern Language for Living Communication project is a long-term, participatory project to create a useful, compelling and comprehensive collection of knowledge which reflects the wisdom of people from all over the world who are developing information and communication systems that support humankind's deepest core values.
Some of them seems to be works in progress, but there's a lot of excellent resources there. 253 patterns listed! And you can contribute.
[ | 2004-04-21 18:12 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, April 9, 2004day link 

 Imagining the year 3000
picture Also posted at FutureHi.

A group of creative futurist thinkers tried to imagine the year 3000 within the framework of a conversation. It is somewhat interesting, I think, but mostly because the results are rather pathetic. Despite trying not to, they mostly end up imagining a little more of the same. As they mention, the people in the year 1000 would have made completely ridiculous predictions of the year 2000. They probably didn't even have a concept of "progress". Now, at least, we expect that lots of things will change in the future. But we have a hard time getting over just imagining a gradual evolution of the things we know. How would government be changed, and economy, and education, and shopping? Who says we'll have any? Anyway, one of the better statements from that conversation is this one from Bart Kosko:
"What is Heaven? Heaven's a place where you can create worlds at will, and the ideal Heaven is where you run the whole thing yourself. The current means of getting to Heaven involve various supernatural systems for which, at this point, there's no scientific evidence. So I think we can reduce Heaven to an engineering project, which we're doing. The demand for Heaven is great--witness the desire of every human heart, from the people who built the ancient pyramids to modern society, to live beyond one's biologically allotted time. Our plan is ultimately to transfer human consciousness from the brain to bits of information in a computer chip, or some other kind of computational medium, so that just by thinking--that act of volition--we'll be able to create our own personal world. And I think the first stage of Heaven will be the sensory world, and beyond that I think we'd hit a higher, spiritual plane.
Despite that I think that the project of transferring human consciousness into a computer chip is silly and misguided, I think he's got a good angle on it.

What will make all the difference is the disruptive events and technologies. I think there will be a whole number of those way before the year 3000, each of which will change everything. Like:

Open extraterrestrial contact. Thinking that extraterretrials are only folks we might meet once we've painstakingly developed intrastellar travel after hundreds of years is a little naive. They might well show themselves much earlier in the game. And nothing will be the same once we're dealing openly with races that are millions of years ahead of us in development. I'd guess we'd have joined the galactic federation long time before the year 3000.

Self-replicating nano-tech. If we can construct anything material simply by laying out the blueprint of how to make it, that changes everything. All stuff will be free, for one thing, and economy as we know it is no longer meaningful. Neither will a lot of the struggles we now have with the environment.

Multiple Parallel Universes. Once we realize conclusively and demonstrably that there are multiple versions of our universe, a close to infinite amount, and we can actually interact with them - everything changes. Quantum Physics is no longer just a bizarre, but interesting set of equations that theoretical physicists can play with.

Conscious Collective Intelligence. What if and when we realize conclusively that there are higher orders of intelligence than ours. My bet is not on artificial intelligence, but on the manifestation of collective natural intelligence. E.g. we discover that humanity has an intelligence that is way beyond our individual intelligences, but which includes all of our minds. And that intelligence starts acting more noticably and decisively. We can't quite think of ourselves the same after that. The Internet might possibly supply the initial wiring that helps this happen.

Virtual Reality more real than Material Reality. One way or another we'll develop immersive virtual reality that we can step into and which addresses all of our senses. The Holodeck. It might involve direct connections with our neurology and our brains, or it might be done with projections and sensory feedback on the outside. Either way, it will change our society dramatically if it suddenly is possible and practical for lots of people to live most of our life within virtual realities of our choice.

Information Singularity. At some point it becomes quite trivial to record everything that ever happens to everybody, and all meta-data that anybody can imagine applying to anything, and to make it thoroughly indexed and instantly available to anybody who needs it. It might no longer be meaningful to "search" for anything, or to keep secrets, or to pretend that things are any different from what they are, because anybody can check in an instant.

All of these are pretty much already on the program, and I'd expect them within the next 100 years, not the next 1000. And there are of course lots of things I might not even imagine, which will change everything even more. It is by its very nature very hard to predict surprisingly disruptive events. Even more so, a sequence of disruptive events, building upon one another.

There's a political and economical battle which will play out as to who should control all of this. We currently live in a political and economical system that will encourage and assist and reward certain people in power positions for keeping all of these things under their own exclusive control, and for keeping the rest of us in a more old-fashioned world that is manufactured by these very same technologies. Along the lines of "The Matrix". I.e. they might be the ones who make business deals with the extraterrestrials, and who will zip around in private hyperspace crafts, and who will keep the rest of us living in an immersive virtual reality where everything is pretty much the same, just a little fancier, where we still go to work and make money and watch TV and vote in elections, while they keep our every move monitored and catalogued and profiled.

The more important thing that needs to happen way before the year 3000 is something that is neither a technological change nor an external event. We as a species and as individuals need to realize where the real power is. We need to experience a grassroots revolution of consciousness where we discover without a shadow of a doubt that all the power in society comes from us, and that we're free to create something better, rather than just going along with what is presented to us. We need to go through a kartharsis, a transformation, after which it will be impossible for any small elite to control the rest of us by owning the information or the secret knowledge or the technology or the media. There's plenty of movement towards that in the mindsphere of the Internet at this point, but it is not nearly enough. It is hard to say exactly how it will look or how it will work. If we play our cards well and we wake up at the right time, and we figure out how to work together, a paradise of our own making will be ours, where wonders beyond belief are the routine of life. If we don't get it, or we're too late, we'll notice some day that we somehow only ended up with more of the same, and somebody else holds all the cards, and the cards are so powerful that we no longer have any opportunity for changing the system.

There's a window of opportunity that probably isn't all that large. It is an opportunity to evolve, individually and collectively, to be able to deal with a totally different world, as conscious and free and connected beings. The change will probably be within us, a psychological or spiritual change, but its emergent manifestation will be in the way we will be able to network and self-organize and collaborate on a wide scale. It is a matter of considerable urgency.
[ | 2004-04-09 17:27 | 11 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, April 7, 2004day link 

picture Via Dave Pollard. Edge asked a bunch of smart people for their personal laws. You know along the lines of Murphy's Law, Moore's Law, Metcalfe's Law and that kind of thing. Answers are here. These are some of my favorites:
Art Kleiner: Every organization always operates on behalf of the perceived needs and priorities of some core group of key people. This purpose will trump every other organizational loyalty, including those to shareholders, employees, customers, and other constituents.

Stuart Hameroff:The sub-conscious mind is to consciousness what the quantum world is to the classical world.

Sara Lippincott: God is evolving. So if you're an atheist, you'd better hope that the arrow of time only goes in one direction.

Steven Levy: The truth is always more interesting that your preconception of what it might be.

Matt Ridley: Science is the discovery of ignorance. It is not a catalog of facts.

George Lakoff: Frames trump facts. All of our concepts are organized into conceptual structures called "frames" (which may include images and metaphors) and all words are defined relative to those frames. Conventional frames are pretty much fixed in the neural structures of our brains. In order for a fact to be comprehended, it must fit the relevant frames. If the facts contradict the frames, the frames, being fixed in the brain, will be kept and the facts ignored.

Ray Kurzweil: (The Law of Accelerating Returns) Evolution applies positive feedback in that the more capable methods resulting from one stage of evolutionary progress are used to create the next stage. Each epoch of evolution has progressed more rapidly by building on the products of the previous stage.

Frank Tipler: (Tipler's Law of Unilimited Progress) The laws of physics place no limits on progress, be it scientific, economic, cultural, or intellectual. In fact, the laws of physics require the knowledge and wealth possessed by intelligent beings in the universe to increase without limit, this knowledge and wealth becoming literally infinite by the the end of time. Intelligent life forms must inevitably expand out from their planets of origin, and convert the entire universe into a biosphere. If the laws of physics be for us, who can be against us?

W. Daniel Hillis: The representation becomes the reality. Or more precisely: Successful representations of reality become more important than the reality they represent. Examples: Dollars become more important than gold. The brand becomes more important than the company. The painting becomes more important than the landscape. The new medium (which begins as a representation of the old medium) eclipses the old. The prize becomes more important than the achievement. The genes become more important than the organism.
OK, I've gotta stop. Read them yourself. It is a good exercise to boil big complicated phenomena down into simple laws and princples, I think. Even if you don't quite agree, you at least find that out faster.

Damn, I gotta think of some good law myself. Except for that "Funch's Law" sounds a little clumsy.
[ | 2004-04-07 14:08 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, March 31, 2004day link 

 The Singularity and the Fifth Dimension
picture The concept of "The Singularity" is all the buzz amongst certain types of futurists. Mostly it fits in with transhumanist thinking. It is based on the observation that a lot of technological trends are accelerating, even faster and faster. And there are a number of them that in and of themselves have the potential for deeply transforming our collective lives. Take nano-technology, which ultimately might allow us complete control over physical matter, so that we can build any physical object we might desire, at essentially zero cost. Take artificial intelligence. What happens if a computer becomes smarter than you are? What happens if computers are a million times smarter than any of us? What would they do that we wouldn't even be able to comprehend? Or, take genetic engineering. What happens if we're able to understand and design genetics freely? If we can make bodies or new life forms with whatever attributes we want.

The Singularity is both a potentially wonderful, but also terribly scary idea. The "point" of the Singularity is essentially when all of these trends go out of control. They move beyond our event horizon, and we can no longer follow along in any linear manner. Technological change is instant. And what if the machines decide we are no longer relevant?

Now, if one is well versed in other metaphysical models than the materialist transhumanist ones, there are some striking similaries to find. The Singularity is potentially like a technological ascension. It is like the Rapture. Many adherents will even deal with it in a rather religious way, even if they would deny any such thing.

However, the connection I particularly wanted to call attention to is with the model of "dimensions" or "densities", which is found in various mystical traditions, and which is common in new age thinking and often occurs in channeling. If we de-mystify it a little bit, it is simply a chart of how things change when they accelerate, and what stages the world is likely to go through as the frequency of everything is increasing. The story is usually told in a person-centered way. I.e. the focus is on how the world changes for people. But, as a corrollary, how the world actually changes. And the model shows some of the potentially dangerous pitfalls in an accelerating world, as well as the necessary answers. And it gives some hope that this sort of meta-patterns have built-in safeguards that means that vastly increased power has to somewhat go hand in hand with mental development.

Just notice for a moment that a number of the technologies that are envisioned simply couldn't be released into the world today. The world would be destroyed very quickly, mostly because there would be some wackos who would push the wrong button. Imagine if the plans for a do-it-yourself hydrogen bomb were available on the Internet, and anybody who could use a screwdriver could build one out of $50 worth of parts from Home Depot. It would be a matter of days before some crazy guy would decide that it is a cool idea to nuke your city, just to see what would happen. Nano-tech can be like that too. One big mistake with self-replicating nano-machines and you turn the whole world into grey goo. Humanity at large is obviously not of a mental state to be able to handle that kind of power and responsibility.

OK, so now let's talk about the 3rd, 4th and 5th dimension. Calling it "dimension" is maybe confusing, as we're not necessarily talking about dimensions in the geometrical sense, even though that might be a sub-part of it. Think "Buckaroo Banzai in the 8th Dimension". It is more like a place or a world or a level where the rules are different. More down-to-earth, the world doesn't necessarily go anywhere - it is simply that the rules change, as things move at a faster click. Instead of "dimensions", some people say "density". I'm not sure that makes it better, except for that it implies that more stuff is packed into the same space as we count up in the numbers.

So, humanity starts off in the 3rd dimension. Which is the world as we know it, or rather, as we knew it. The best way I heard of making sense of it is that this is the way that you get things to happen in 3D:

spirit -> thought -> emotion -> effort-> manifestation

I suppose you could replace "spirit" with something else if you don't believe in spirituality. "The sub-conscious" could fit somewhat, although not exactly. Regardless, the idea is that an urge or inspiration to make something happen forms at a deep, or high, non-verbal level. Then it gets formed into a thought. Then one gets into the right mood for doing it. Then one actually works on carrying it out. For some amount of time. And finally one gets the result. That might potentially have taken years.

For example, you might get the inspiration to make it big in the vacuum cleaner business. You then form the thought. I.e. you think about it, and you get clear on what your plan is. "Selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door - there's a huge market there!". And then you get excited about it. That's the emotion part. And it might include stubbornness, and various other kinds of emotions that support this project. Then you start working on it. You maybe start yourself, selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. You have failures and successes, and you learn. Maybe in a couple of years you're really good at it, and you make enough money to hire another person and have a bit of inventory. And over 20 years, maybe you built an empire, from hard work and dedication and 16 hour days. And you have 10,000 people working for you, and you can buy a yacht. And there's your manifestation: making it big in vacuum cleaners.

Duh, you might say. Or your parents might say. That's just how things are done. Work hard, and get a good education, get a solid job, and work hard some more, and maybe you'll make it to something someday. But it takes time.

So, to contrast it, let's move on to 4D, the 4th dimension, or 4th density. Here the sequence that leads to manifestation looks like this:

spirit -> thought -> emotion -> manifestation

You'll notice right away that we took out the part about effort, hard work, and long time. So, the way it works there is:

An inspiration appears, to make something happen. You formulate the thought of what that is. And then, if you can get into the right mood about it - if you can feel it, taste it, smell it, and you're excited about it, and certain about it - what you're asking for might just happen rather quickly.

So, here we're talking about a world where things move faster and where everybody's exposed to a lot of information. Now, what something looks and feels like suddenly is more important than how many years it took to make it. If you look the part, you can have the role. Doesn't really matter you didn't go to acting school. If a new product or idea or person is exciting enough, inspiring enough, and makes us feel enough - they might spread like wildfire into the public mind, and make a lot of money. This is where a one year old company of hackers doing software might buy out a venerable fortune 500 company that produces really substantial products and has existed for 100 years. Doesn't really matter any longer.

From a personal perspective, the trick is that if you really feel it, in a positive way, you can have it. If you obviously feel right about it, there will be someone you can go see who can get you what you want, like tomorrow. But one of the pitfalls is that you need to agree with yourself. It is not necessarily enough to act excited about your "bright" idea. It is more important that you're in alignment, in congruence with yourself than that the idea is really bright. It is more important that your emotions are real. So, your hidden negative emotions will come up and bite your ass. If you're not really sincere, people are more likely to notice, and it is much less likely you get where you want to go.

OK, on to 5D, the 5th dimension. What happens there is:

spirit -> thought -> manifestation

So, we cut out the emotion part. No longer necessary to get into the right mood, and broadcast the right vibes before you get things to happen. You just need to form the thought clearly enough, and, bing, there it is.

Well, that's kind of like the holodeck in Star Trek. "Computer! Give me ..." And, indeed, maybe technology is a way it will manifest.

One way or another, it means that the brakes have been removed. It doesn't take work to make things happen. It doesn't even take sincerity and dedication. You just have to form the thought.

You might realize, with the way most human minds work today, that it could quickly be a complete nightmare. Like, think about the humorous situation you have seen on film, where somebody's granted 3 wishes, and they screw them up, by lack of control over their thoughts or emotions. "I wish that hotdog was stuck on your nose", "I wish I was the pope". And you usually have to use the last wish to put everything back to normal, after which you're sort of relieved that you can't just go around wishing for things anymore.

So, imagine that you could. It suddenly becomes absolutely vital and essential that your thoughts are clear, and in alignment with what you really want. And that you don't let stray negative emotions suddenly decide what you think. One "I wish he was dead" can have fatal consequences that can't be undone.

This is where you again might imagine that anybody could build a nuclear bomb. "Computer! Give me a 50Megaton nuclear warhead!" ... and there it is in the matter compiler in your kitchen.

That would never ever work unless all humans are sane on a totally different level than today. Humankind would have to evolve and mature, mentally and emotionally, for that kind of world to be possible.

Even if we're not talking nuclear bombs, most humans of today would go insane rather quickly if whatever they were thinking or asking for continously would happen to them more-or-less instantly. You'd be bouncing against the walls, trying to undo the misplaced wish you did five minutes ago.

We could go on the same way to 6D:

spirit -> manifestation

which in more materialistic terms would mean that the whole contents of your sub-conscious will just be manifested, without you particularly having to voice it. That would be wall-to-wall nightmare. Or it will be nirvana and paradise. The cold drink appears before you realize you could use one. If your sub-conscious mind is very mature, or we could say, if you're aligned with yourself on all levels, it would be marvelous. If you aren't, it would be even worse than 5D. Think about a nano-tech matter compiler/VR/Holodeck thing mapped directly into your brain and into your sub-conscious. The slightest under-the-surface hint of something would immediately be manifested in front of you. Uaaarrrgh.

7D would be that you no longer need the manifestation even. Pure spirit. Or, if you want to look at it materialistically, it could be if you had uploaded yourself to a computer, and you were perfectly happy with simulated experiences, rather than "real" ones. And anything you might ever want is instantly available to you. All at the same time, if you want. You can be anybody you want. So maybe you move on to a different kind of meta-perspective that no longer seeks human kinds of experiences.

As to where we are now .... A lot of people think that humanity has moved from 3D into 4D. I.e. it is no longer a world where hard work and time invested is the most likely thing to pay off. More important what things look and feel like. Media exposure is more important than the facts. What you radiate is more important than what experience you've actually had.

And, one way or another, one of the next steps will be what is described as the 5D. We can easily lay out how it will happen with technology alone. But it is much more than that. It is a total change in how the world works. And it requires some substantial evolutionary changes in humanity to be able to deal with it without short-circuiting and self-destructing.

Luckily there's a bit of an inherent training program built-into accelerating change. You'll have to continuously run a little faster, and there will continously be more stuff to deal with, in terms of information, thoughts, emotions, ideas, people. The only way of surviving and staying sane is to somehow keep up with it, processing it along the way, which means that you evolve, and you become much better at handling the faster action. You might not notice, and you might think you're way behind, but if we compare what you deal with every day with what people were required to deal with in their lives every day 20 years ago, there's just no comparison. You're vastly more able to deal with fast-moving complexity than you've been before. And that will keep going. Some people will crack along the way, but if you make it, you'll someday take for granted that we can all comfortably deal with capabilities that would have frightened us out of our skulls before.

And, somehow, it is all not happening faster than we can (barely) keep up. It is probably because the change is generated collectively by us, ourselves, here, and there are some feedback loops in place. So things tend to not happen before we're somewhat ready for them. We might not think we're ready for them, but there's something in our collective super- or sub-conscious evolutionary mind pattern that's smarter than any of us.
[ | 2004-03-31 03:05 | 25 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, February 7, 2004day link 

 DikDik Strategy
picture I was watching this nature program on TV about small animals and their strategies for survival. What particularly stood out for me was the DikDik, which is a little dwarf antelope, and how it sometimes deals with lions. A female lion was standing around looking for some lunch when a dikdik walked by. It is pretty quick, but would be no match for the lion, and would be a nice piece of lunch. But what the dikdik did, instead of starting to run away, was that it walked sort of sideways, but directly up to the lion and started butting it in the side, like a lion cub that wanted milk. Its body language right away got the lion to change its idea of this being lunch, and instead its motherly instincts took over, and it started nuzzling the little antelope, dashing playfully at it once in a while, and otherwise patiently ignoring it while it is clambering all over you while you're attending to other business. Which of course meant it didn't get eaten.

The strategy is of course applicable in many other settings. Naturally when humans are dealing with dangerous animals. If you're in the water and you run into a big shark, you've better not look like a wounded seal. A scuba diver normally doesn't get attacked, because you don't look like food if you're moving around blowing bubbles. Likewise, a mountain lion or bear is much less likely to jump you if you stand up and wave your arms and yell at it, because that just isn't what you're supposed to do if you're a normal piece of prey.

Likewise in purely human affairs. A mugger only attacks you if you look like a victim. He doesn't usually do stick-ups with his pals or his family or police officers for example. So if you look like something else than a victim, you're off the hook. If the cops stop you for speeding, your best chance is to not look like a law breaker. Standing up and yelling would not help you there - you'd have to be more inventive.

Conversely, a lot of things are possible if you look and act the part that you're supposed to play. The bank will loan you money if you seem like a good and solid person to loan money to. People will vote for you if your body language and tone of voice sounds about right. Doesn't have to have much to do with whether you're actually qualified or not. Just like the lion's behavior isn't primarily motivated by whether you taste good or not. The surface behavior and body language is what is being read first.
[ | 2004-02-07 06:04 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, February 6, 2004day link 

 Collaboration Collaboratory
In looking for ways of collecting patterns for collaboration, Julian suggests Collaboration Collaboratory, hosted by Blue Oxen Associates which seems like an excellent place for doing so, as it is already happening. And in a way I think I'm in synch with, at least. And it is a wiki, so one can basically just move in and contribute. There's a Pattern Repository with some patterns that have been identified so far.

This is the suggested template:
  • Name
  • Context
  • Problem
  • Forces
  • Solution
  • Resulting Context
A pattern is a structured conceptual model of a solution to a recurring problem. It is usually deliberately vague on a lot of the details concerning the circumstances, but as precise as possible when it comes to the actual pattern. There's a certain context which is defined, and certain problems described that tend to come up in that context, and some forces that are at work. For example, we could talk about what happens if you put 30 people together in a room and they need to come up with some common plan. That would be a context. We wouldn't have to know who exactly they are or what the subject matter is. Without knowing that we can still guess that there are problems involved in agreeing on something within a certain time contraint, and the likelyhood that these people don't already agree, and the difficulty in getting them all to communicate well with each other at the same time. The forces involved might be the time, internal and external expectations, consequences of finding a solution or not, and the layout of the meeting space. There might be many possible patterns that might help such a group get somewhere. Not just one answer. But a pattern would be one solution that arranges things so that certain kinds of things are more likely to happen. And thus a somewhat new context is created.

So, the point is that there's value in writing such things down in a semi formal way, so that patterns can be passed on, and so one can install them more consciously, without having to re-invent them all the time.

[ | 2004-02-06 16:44 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, February 2, 2004day link 

 Collaborative Patterns
picture I'm looking for collaborative patterns. It would be good to catalogue useful ways for people to work together, particularly online. But I don't really easily find much in Google.

There's the excellent Citizen's Science Toolbox geared towards face-to-face groups working on public issues. But how about patterns for online collaboration? Even just simple stuff like: these are the qualities and pros and cons of a chat room, a WIKI, a bulletin board, a weblog. But preferably more comprehensive and in more detail.

While I was looking, I ran into Catalyzation of New Patterns of Collaboration which is an old document from 1992, which is a project proposal to a Collaborative Studies Competition.
The project aims to facilitate the ability to envisage viable configurations of functions based on structures more complex than those reinforced by hierarchical organization charts. It responds to the need for potential collaborators to design "conceptual keystones" essential to the coherence and viability of unforeseen coalition possibilities in difficult situations of governance.

The project focuses initially on the creation or modification of computer software for which an appropriate database is then developed in collaboration with a number of bodies. These tools are then used to provide a "catalytic context" from which new patterns of group and institutional action could emerge. The principal output would not therefore be any form of "report" but rather a piece of software (possibly a prototype). It is the dissemination of this software, ultimately through commercial channels, which would enable many people to explore the tool as a "collaboration enhancing" device. In this sense the real output of the project is new forms of collaboration.

Its claim to originality would lie in its ability to open up (and mid-wife) new and alternative patterns of collaboration -- especially across discipline, faction and cultural boundaries. In creating this device, the purpose of inter-institutional collaboration would be to enrich its scope (as represented by the database) and explore opportunities it opened up (specifically in relation to institutional arrangements for sustainable development).
It aims for some kind of system for cultivating and organizing the awareness of specific patterns, which can be used as conceptual scafolding for specific collaborations.
As with the construction of any building, there is a basic need for "scaffolding" to hold the conceptual and organizational elements in place, especially during the early phases of "imaginative, interdisciplinary" interconnection. It may be argued that it is the lack of this scaffolding feature which prevents many potentially useful initiatives from "getting off the ground" -- and staying up. And the more complex the psych-social structure, and the more communication space it spans, the greater the need for more complex scaffolding.
That's the kind of stuff I'm interested in. I found this on Anthony's Judge's website. He's been instrumental in gathering large amounts of useful information for ages, but I haven't really looked at what he had for years. An enormous amount of stuff there. See for example Documents relating to Paradigm Change, Social Transformation.
[ | 2004-02-02 15:11 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, January 21, 2004day link 

 Curves and Wiggles
picture From Euan:
Chris Corrigan has been doing some interesting bloging recently about circles and quotes this from Danish polymath Piet Hein:

Man is the animal that draws lines which he himself then stumbles over. In the whole pattern of civilization there have been two tendencies, one toward straight lines and rectangular patterns and one toward circular lines. There are reasons, mechanical and psychological, for both tendencies. Things made with straight lines fit well together and save space. And we can move easily - physically or mentally - around things made with round lines.

Spookily I read the following this morning from Alan Watts:

Civilized human beings, and Westerners in particular, are always trying to straighten things out and put them in rectilinear boxes. This arises out of the Greek superstition that there are three dimensions of space and from Euclid's brutally oversimplified fantasies of a world consisting of points, lines, surfaces, circles and cubes. It is hard to persuade and educated Westerner that Euclid was simply a fantast and that his so-called geometry had nothing to do with measuring the earth, but only with working out the rules of his own rather rigid and simple mind. Earth wiggles, water streams and waves, and nature in general dances and swings, but Euclid's mind never reached the biological level. It stopped in the purely crystalline stage of evolution. This is why generation after generation of school children have been bamboozled into the notion that a straight line is simpler, and thus more intelligible, than a wiggle. Ever after we have been trying to subjugate all experience, knowledge, and action to the supposed clarity and intelligibility of straight lines.

from Alan Watts' essay What On Earth Are We Doing?
Here's to wiggles!
[ | 2004-01-21 14:32 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, January 16, 2004day link 

 Rewards and Punishments
picture Here an article by Denise Breton and Christopher Largent about conditioning by rewards and punishments. The page shows badly in my browser, so I'm taking the liberty of including the text at the bottom. They mention the extensive research of Alfie Kohn on the negative effects of reward/punishment conditioning. Here are some of the problems:
• Rewards and punishments teach power-over relations. That’s the model. And when being on the receiving end of this model gets tiresome, we begin the mad race to be on top.

• Rewards and punishments corrupt human relationships, starting with the relation between those "higher" and "lower" in the reward-punishment hierarchy. Those under can’t tell the truth to those above them for fear of how "bad news" might further reduce their underling status. Even more commonly, those above don’t want the truth to be told. A May 1999 Frontline on the military career of Admiral Leighton "Snuffy" Smith, for instance, featured Smith confessing that during the Vietnam War (when he was a pilot), his superior wouldn’t let him report that he had failed to achieve his bombing objective. The higher-ups didn’t want the truth; they wanted only "we’re winning the war" reports.

• Rewards and punishments teach image management. Appearing to be good is more important than being good.

• Rewards and punishments require surveillance. We must be seen to be doing good or doing bad to get what we "deserve," so someone must be observing us—all the time.

• Rewards and punishments replace internal motivation with external motivation. This is a biggie, and the crux of it all. We don’t do what our inner guides tell us, what we love to do, or what we feel is right. We do what rewards us outwardly. Our inner motivation, what we get from our souls, is not controllable. For us to be made controllable, we must be unplugged from our soul source, and something external must be put in its place—something others can control. Given this agenda, rewards and punishments are inevitably soul-denying.

• Rewards and punishments teach selfish manipulation: "What’s in it for me?" "Can I avoid being caught?" In Beyond Discipline (p. 22), Alfie Kohn quotes eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant: "If you punish a child for being naughty and reward him for being good, he will do right merely for the sake of the reward; and when he goes out into the world and discovers that goodness is not always rewarded, nor wickedness always punished, he will grow into a man who only thinks about how he may get on in the world, and does right or wrong according as he finds advantage to himself."
It is rather obvious, really. The conditioning approach pre-assumes that you are a mindless robot who can't tell right from wrong, so you need to be trained into the proper pavlovian responses. Right answer: you get a piece of cheese. Wrong answer: you get an electric shock. That is a horribly barbaric view, and a false one. But, seeing that this is the predominant method used in the world of educating us into knowing how to act, it is no great wonder at all that we're rather messed up.
• Rewards and punishments hide real consequences, replacing them with artificial reward-punishment consequences. CEOs don’t think about real-world consequences—polluted air and water or human suffering; they think about financial rewards.

• Rewards and punishments replace inner integrity with the model that everyone "has a price." When people work only for rewards and behave selfishly, it doesn’t mean that they’re bad people or that humanity is innately greedy. It means they’re behaving exactly the way the culture has programmed them to behave—and then told them that they’re bad for doing it. How’s that for crazy-making?
Well, read the whole thing, this is vital stuff. And I'll give you a gold star.
[ | 2004-01-16 13:35 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, January 10, 2004day link 

 Citizen Science Toolbox
picture Here is an excellent list of principles, tools and strategies for groups of people trying to make decisions together. They're focusing on situations where there's an amorphous group of stakeholders who're working towards consensus on some particular issue. The emphasis is on tools that encourage the results to emerge organically. As an example, picked from the 63 entries, here's an excerpt about the Fishbowl technique:
Description: A technique used to increase participation and understanding of issues. The fishbowl represents an inner group of participants in a roundtable format involved in a decision-making process that is `witnessed` by a larger group who have the opportunity for input and questioning (see also Expert panels and Samoan circles). The fishbowl can be adapted with the use of role-playing techniques to highlight conflicts and alliances, the patterns that connect different points of view and the previously unrecognised linkages between different aspects of issues or problems. The fishbowl process can be modified to allow participants from the wider audience to join the roundtable (Sarkissian, W. et al, 1999).

Objectives: The fishbowl process aims to increase people`s understanding of other people`s perspectives on an issue or proposal, and to allow them to make connections and recognise links that may have been hidden.

Outcomes: Fishbowls can make a large group feel that their viewpoint has been represented in the discussion, even when they have not themselves had any input. Because they hear and see other people`s contributions, they know whether the issue that are important to them have been considered. As well, participants and observers will leave the fishbowl process with a greater understanding of the range of opinions and experiences that exist within their community on a particular issue or proposal. This provides community groups with options for building on commonalities and sharing resources.

There are detailed instructions and references and pros and cons for all those different approaches.
[ | 2004-01-10 10:09 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, January 2, 2004day link 

 Shifting Domains
picture Here's a couple of patterns that might be useful for various things. First of all, you can divide life into various spheres that encompass more and more, but that each work according to different rules. You could see them as somewhat concentric circles, starting with you as an individual as the innermost circle. So, like this, for example:

Personal domain - One individual person and everything that pertains to maintaining an individual existence. This includes one's body, one's name, one's belongings, one's personal interests and preferences.

Relationship domain - The interactions between two or more individuals close to each other. That includes friendships, marriages, family, but also temporary connections and interchanges between individuals.

Group domain - Several people associating to form group activities. That can be a company or club or cause, or any other association, permanent or temporary. A group tends to take on a life of its own, beyond the dynamics of the participating individuals.

Society or Culture domain - Larger groups of people co-exist in adjacent space to form societies or cultures or movements. A society can consist of many diverse groups and interests, but something ties them together. Maybe it is shared history or traditions, or maybe it is just geographical boundaries. A country would fit in there, as would a religion, or a social movement.

Global domain - A whole planetary system is a global domain. That includes societies and whatever else exists on a planetary sphere, like other life forms. This includes concern for ecology and whatever else is needed to manage co-existence of diverse groups and species and resources within a closed system. Ours is planet Earth.

And we could continue and describe domains of a solar system, a galaxy, a universe, a multi-verse, and All-that-is. Which is interesting too, and gets a bit more meta-physical. And it could be done in various kinds of ways.

But the point I wanted to stress is that each of such domains or spheres of influence will work according to different rules. And there's a key principle there:

A problem that can't be solved in a certain domain can often be solved if we move up to a higher domain, with more degrees of freedom

It makes sense if you think about dimensions. These areas don't exactly match physical dimensions, but the principle is similar. If you live in a two-dimensional world, certain things can much better be sorted out in three dimensions. Like, two dimensional beings can't see what's inside two-dimensional constructs. But that's no problem at all for three-dimensional beings. E.g. you can easily look at a piece of paper and see everything on it, even stuff that's inside spheres or rectangles with no openings in them. Sounds elementary, but it wouldn't be for a flatlander living in the plane of the page. Same thing if you live in 3D. A 4D person who came along could very easily see and deal with things that you'd have trouble with. If you had swallowed a ballpoint pen, he could just grab it for you, without having to go through your skin. Just as easily as you could go and erase some of the contents written on the paper inside a circle, without breaching the outer rim of the circle. Elementary if you operate in a higher dimension.

OK, that was a little digression to explain that it works a little similar with the domains of life outlined above. If you add more degrees of freedom, often found in the next higher domain, things can be resolved that couldn't be resolved in the lower domain.

Take an individual. There are lots of things one might figure out all by oneself, by sitting thinking about it, by noticing what one feels like, or by putting order in one's stuff. But when one really gets stuck, one often can't. And the answer is usually to ask somebody else about it. Somebody else you know might come along, and have a very different perspective, or a skill or piece of knowledge you don't have. And you talk a little with them, or they help you, and your problem gets sorted out. Many problems that are unsolvable for an individual all by himself get easily solved by relations with other people.

There are certain mechanics that exist in any relation of two people. They can, for example, agree on something. They can listen to each other's views and wishes and then decide on a common agreement between them. And, most of the time, two reasonably sane people can work out something between them that is mutually satisfying. Even if they agree to disagree on some particular subject. These mechanics are, however, very different from the mechanics of what an individual all by himself would do. So if any of the two parties don't notice the different rules, and try to continue acting as only an individual, they might have difficulties getting along with other people.

Whereas a unit of two people will pretty much have to agree in order to get anywhere, a bigger group does not. A bigger group might have a shared agreement, but it is more like a framework and general intention, and it isn't usually required that everybody in the group agree with everybody else on everything. On the contrary, a group works in part because it has internal diversity, and different people take on different functions. Like in a company or in a family. Somebody does the dishes, somebody does the accounting, and it wouldn't really be desirable that we all do the same thing at the same time.

So, some of the problems of a two-person relationship can be sorted out with the help of a group. If I like sports and you don't, I can just go to a soccer match with my buddies and you can go to a dance class. Or, amongst the diverse abilities available in a group, we might find some that might help us out in various situations. If two people in the accounting department don't get along, one of them might go and work in another department instead.

If individuals or relationships or groups have serious problems doing the right thing or getting along, it falls upon a next higher sphere or a society or culture to sort it out. An individual will be assisted by people who know them. A couple might be assisted by people around them. If that fails, it might come to society. Legal recourse is a crude form of that. Somebody can come along and apply some general moral principles and cut through and decide matters. More generally, a higher domain offers more variety of constellations of people, some of which will transcend the problem at hand.

A group might have clear rules of how one becomes a member, and whether one belongs to the group or not. A society typically doesn't. If you're born in a certain country, you can't just be thrown out. So, the rules are different. Deciding who's in or out is no longer part of the tools of that domain.

If somebody tries to run a country like it is just a group, it won't work well. If you just try to make sure the right people are inside the country, and they all get with the program, and the bad people stay outside - it won't work well, because it is the wrong level, the wrong domain to operate in.

On the planetary domain, again, it is different rules. Quite obviously there, nobody can just be kicked out. There needs to be room for everybody, even for the people you don't like, even for the people and plants and animals that don't have economic value. And you can't just make a uniform culture that everybody must belong to. That's the wrong level. A mono-culture might work for a smallish group, but works badly for a large group or a society or a planet.

If humanity can not figure out how to operate well, somewhat harmoniously with the rest of life on the planet, the next higher domain will sort things out by itself. I.e. humankind might go extinct and life will go on without us. Because the mechanics of how life works is of a higher order than how politicians might choose to manage foreign relations and environmental policy.

So, to summarize, different domains in life work by different rules. If what is going on isn't working, it might be because somebody's applying rules from too low a level. Or it might be necessary to involve a higher level in getting things sorted out. If a problem can't be solved, you usually need more degrees of freedom, not fewer.
[ | 2004-01-02 13:07 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, January 1, 2004day link 

 Unexpected Revolutions
picture Article in NY Times about how history often will demonstrate huge consequences of initially very casual decisions. The countries in the middle east were created by arbitrary lines drawn on empty maps by bureaucrats trying to split up the former Ottoman Empire. Such lines being the cause of much strife in following decades. Or the world changing effects of little changes and improvements in material.
We never know where change will take us. In a 1994 essay on military revolutions, "Cavalry to Computer," the historian Andrew F. Krepinevich described the advent of the six-foot yew longbow during the Hundred Years' War in the 1300's and 1400's. By substituting yew for heavier woods, an archer could carry a bow into battle that could pierce the armor of a cavalryman. Mr. Krepinevich warns that technology alone does not change the course of war; any advance must be coupled with changes in the structure and operation of a military unit. But the changes made possible by the yew longbow were a factor in a more powerful role for the infantry, and a competitive advantage for England in that conflict and beyond.

Of course, if we actually try deliberately to transform the world, the question becomes which decisions and improvements we can fairly easily make today which will have the most beneficial effect on the future. What memes can we create that surprisingly turn into something hugely wonderful later on.

Tim Berners-Lee just received a knighthood. The guy who invented the World Wide Web. Same thing there. It was 'just another program' he said. Yeah, but the right kind of program at the right time to change the world.
[ | 2004-01-01 15:57 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, December 9, 2003day link 

 Infinite valued logic
One could say that there are several different kinds of logic, which are differentiated by the number of possibilities one is considering at any one time.

You know, of course, two-valued logic. That is black and white thinking. It is when one considers that there are only two options, and one needs to choose between them. You're either for or against. You either support freedom, or you're a terrorist. You're either a christian or a heathen. You're either for or against abortion. A person who uses two-valued logic does merely need to decide whether to pick the 'good' option or the 'bad' option, and the only other thinking involved is to try to match the options with previously known 'good' or 'bad' labels. "Aha, he uses bad words, so what he's saying is of course bad".

There can also be three-valued logic. That's when there is Yes, No and Maybe. That is, the answer is either a clear Yes (good), a clear No (bad), or we just don't have enough information to decide yet, which is a Maybe. That can of course be considered a little more advanced than two-valued logic, as everything doesn't just get categorized at first glance. But not much better.

More simple than either of those is one-valued logic. That is when there's not even any need for or faculty for evaluating things. Things are just the way they are, usually because The Big Book says so, or The Big Guru, or The Big Government. And if they didn't mention it, it of course doesn't exist. Generally it is if you consider yourself so powerless that you just have to accept whatever comes along, from the only direction you're looking in. Like, if you've latched on to a literal interpretation of some kind of religion, and you believe that the decision making process is entirely out of your hands. Oh, nothing wrong in believing in bigger things, but here we're talking about whether you think or not.

If you predominantly use any of those three approaches in your life, you're somewhat less than sane. Or, more kindly, you are likely to make decisions that don't work very well for you, and you might not be able to figure out why.

Another, undeniably more effective, kind of thinking is what we can call infinite valued logic. Essentially that means that any situation, any problem, consists of many different factors. And each of those factors might be pegged on a scale with an infinite number of gradations, in relation to some particular measure or outcome. And to make a good decision, you'd need to relate and weight all these factors together.

Infinite valued logic will maybe appear less slick and convenient and forceful at first. Essentially it implies that the answer is "It depends" until you've examined all the factors involved. Including who do they apply to, and what are the exact circumstances.

Is smoking bad for me? Is extra-marital sex wrong? What is the Republican Party good for? Should I become a buddhist? Should I eat less cheese?

If you had the answer ready for any of those, without having to think about it, chances are you didn't really examine the factors involved in the questions, and you probably didn't look at how these questions related to me and my particular circumstances.

Take smoking. There are certain negative health influences. And there are certain positive things smoking might do for a person. Both of those are different for different people. What exactly are they, specifically for this person? And how much smoking are we talking about? A cigar every evening, or 3 packs of unfiltered cigarettes per day? And who are we talking about? A soldier in war who's being shot at every day, or an accountant sitting by a desk? What would he replace smoking with if he didn't have that? And what else does that person consume on a daily basis? Is he happy about it or not? All of those are factors that have a whole range of possible answers. Some of them will support the person's decision to smoke, and some represent reasons not to. You'd have to add all of it up to make the most rational decision.

You could do that very mechanically. Write down all the factors involved and peg each one on a scale between 0 and 10, or between -10 and +10, in relation to a particular outcome. And then you add the numbers up and see what you get. However, it doesn't at all have to be done that way. It doesn't even have to be done terribly explicitly. Good decision makers naturally do this internally. They are conscious of most of the factors involved, they rule out their own preconceived biases, they pay attention to the exact circumstances, and they might come up with an answer that just seems or feels or sounds right, without necessarily having articulated exactly why.

In brief, it is about avoiding categorizing things in advance. Avoiding making decisions based on abstract generalizations one carries around. It is about noticing what is actually going on right here and now, what the actual components and influences are, and responding rationally to what is in front of you.

For more on infinite-valued logic, check out Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics. See, for example, here, here, or here
[ | 2003-12-09 10:18 | 11 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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