Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Saturday, December 8, 2007day link 

 Blindness and cognitive panoramas
picture An article I had meant to comment on for some time: "Playing Go - Braille Alphabet - Cognition - Creativity - Intelligence / Choice" by Heiner Benking. I don't always understand everything Heiner says, but we're on the same wavelength.

In today's information world I feel rather blind. There is more information available than ever before, and it is more easily and more instantly accessible. But it is hard to make sense of it, other than in little pieces at a time. I feel like a bat without my sonar, flapping around in the dark, bumping into stuff.

To make sense out of what is going on, you don't just need a lot of data. You don't just need a zillion disjointed pieces of information. It helps a slight bit that I can search on information by keywords, or that I can get chronological lists, but not much.

For information to have meaning, it needs context. You need to know what it relates to, and how. You need the background, you need to know how it came about, and you need to be able to cross-relate it with other information.

We do have new ways of discovering context and supporting information in the internet world. I can more easily than before find out more about an author of some piece of text. I can more easily get to talk with them. I'm more likely than before to already know them, and have some idea of their history. But the information we're talking about is still isolated clumps of somewhat arbitrary data. Articles, blog postings, comments, e-mails. People can organize them, bookmark them, tag them, link to them, quote them, but they still fit together rather badly.

A fundamental problem is in how our language works. It consists of words strung together. That is adequate for telling stories, or for working out how to work together on common ventures, or for sharing our day to day experiences with each other. Even for discussing deep philosophical issues. But it is not very adequate for examining, understanding or sharing something that is really complex. It can be done, but it is really cumbersome.

Yes, 10s of thousands of people might work together to design and build an A380 airplane, despite that none of them could do it alone. That takes 100s of thousands of documents and diagrams and complicated communication system. And they still discover when they try to put it together that the pieces the Germans made don't at all fit into the pieces that the French made. Nobody could see it, even though it was obvious once you saw it. Because large amounts of information don't necessarily add up to seeing the whole.

And it is seeing the whole thing we have a dire need for. The rapidly more complicated and complex inter-connected globalized world. Hardly anybody can see what really is going on, so we each specialize in some little slice, which we can gather enough information about to be able to seemingly talk intelligently about.

The computerized information revolution is mostly amplifying the little part of our minds that we could call the analytical or logical mind. Left brain. You know, where we try to focus on some facts in order to deduce their logical consequences. The same part of our mind that is incapable of focusing on more than 5-7 different things at the same time.

But we're not getting much help for the bigger part of our minds, the sub-conscious, the intuitive, the wholistic, the right brain. Which probably is atrophying rapidly.

Oh, the internet world has lots of raw material one could be creative and intuitive with. But it is not particularly wired to amplify our wholistic, intuitive way of seeing things.

I get back to dimensions again. The space of information we now live in has a great many dimensions to it, many more dimensions than we've lived in before, many more degrees of freedom. Yet all our tools have only a very small number of dimensions to them, and many limits and restrictions. You move around on the net and read documents, you can get lists of them, organize them on your desktop. You use an assortment of different applications that all have their own features, limitations and peculiarities. Much of that is cool. But all of it either has too few dimensions or not access to the data I'd want to see.

I'd want to not just have access to 100 billion articles, but more direct access to the actual information sources. Visual, auditory, kinesthetic channels, digital channels, all the raw numbers. And I'd want to be able to organize and visualize that as it suits me. Again, not as a catalog of articles, but as a mostly visual information space with many dimensions. And, since I can't make sense of it all alone, I need ways of navigating in multi-dimensional information spaces shared with others, and model shared meaning within them.

I'd certainly need the semantic web along the way there, or something better. A universal way of storing information so that it can be cross-related with any other information at will.

As to how to look at it, I don't know how exactly that will look, but I do know it has to be several quantum leap paradigm shift orders of magnitude above the collaborative newspaper interface we have to the net today.

It can happen in many small steps, of course. Google Earth and iPhone multi-touch interfaces go in that direction. Simple intuitive ways of accessing vast amounts of information quickly, without it ever getting complicated. More clever inventions like that might take us somewhere.

Anyway, back to Heiner's article a bit. He references some concepts and terms that hint at some of the thinking needed. And envisioned solutions like:

A conceptual superstructure that defines and identifies topics as logical places, displays relations and connections within these topics or issues"
This concept has been introduced by H. BENKING. The following comments are BENKING's explanations, plucked from a series of papers and lectures (see bibliography)
"The cognitive panorama is a metaparadigm to counteract cyberculture's anticipated impact due to its: 1)open-ended universality, 2) loss of meaning' 3) loss of context"
It is now obvious that we risk drowning in an ocean of incoherent data which could lead us to total conceptual anarchy.
According to Benking, the proposed cognitive panorama "allows us to embody and map concepts in their context and develop common frames of reference"
Such a conceptual superstructure " helps us to locate and become aware of: 1) what we know or miss, 2) where we are and what we think, 3) where we miss, underuse or manipulate information. By avoiding a "flat" chaotic mess of data which leads to the known "lost-in space" syndrome, we actually define cognitive spaces.
Through reflection on conceptual positions, outlining and embodying situations or topics (logical places or containers) we can follow meaning into embodied context and semantic spaces, and also scrutinize abstract "realities" by exploring participatory and collaboratory approaches.
®Conceptual navigation; Convertilibilty of meanings; Ecocube; Harmonization; Knowledge map; Underconceptualization
Yeah, I'd like one of those.

I think humanity has the potential for a great evolutionary leap, or several. But just like software lags years behind the capabilities of hardware, our information structures lag years behind the actual information. I hope we somehow can catch up, so I can feel a little less blind.
[ | 2007-12-08 23:53 | 13 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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