- 1 Introducing our initiative
- 2 Introducing knowledge federation
- 3 Intermission
- 4 Knowledge federation introduces itself
- 5 A case for a new paradigm in knowledge work
- 6 Turning on the light
Introducing our initiative
A historical parallel
To understand the nature of the vision that motivates our initiative, think about the world at the twilight of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance. Recall the devastating religious wars, terrifying epidemics... Bring to mind the iconic image of the scholastics discussing "how many angels can dance on a needle point". And this other iconic image, of Galilei in house arrest – a century after Copernicus, whispering eppur si muove into his beard.
Observe that the problems of the epoch were not resolved by focusing on those problems, but by a slow and steady development of an entirely new approach to knowledge. Several centuries of accelerated and sweeping evolution followed. Could a similar advent be in store for us today?
"If I have seen further," Sir Isaac Newton famously declared, "it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." The point of departure of our initiative was a discovery. We did not discover that the best ideas of our best minds were drowning in an ocean of glut. Vannevar Bush, a giant, diagnosed that nearly three quarters of a century ago. He urged the scientists to focus on that disturbing trend and find a remedy. But needless to say, this too drowned in glut.
What we did find out, when we began to develop and apply knowledge federation as a remedial praxis, was that now just as in Newton's time, the insights of giants add up to an excitingly novel approach to knowledge. And that just as the case was then, the new approach to knowledge leads to new ways in which core issues are understood and handled.
It is a glimpse of this uncommon opportunity – that a line of work may exist which is at the same time academically fundamental and practically necessary and transformative – that compelled us to apply the best of our abilities to its exploration and development.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality", observed Buckminster Fuller. "To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” So we built knowledge federation as a model or a prototype of a new way to work with knowledge (or technically a paradigm); and of a new institution (or technically a transdiscipline) that is capable of developing this new new approach to knowledge as an academic and real-life practice.
By sharing this model, we do not aim to give conclusive answers. Our aim is indeed much higher – it is to open up a creative frontier where the ways in which knowledge is created and used, and more generally the ways in which our creative efforts are directed, are brought into focus and continuously recreated and improved.
When making this proposal, do we imply that anything might be wrong with the fine work our academic colleagues are doing. Science rose to prominence owing to its successes in dispelling age-old prejudices, by explaining the natural phenomena; science was not conceived for the role of informing people about basic things in life. We have ample evidence to show that – if our society shall have the kind of benefits that it can and must draw from academic results – then (something like) knowledge federation must also be in place.
We will not solve global problems
Donella Meadows talked about systemic leverage points as those places within a complex system "where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything". She identified "the mindset or paradigm out of which the goals, rules, feedback structure arise" as the most impactful kind of systemic leverage points. Our proposal is to act in this most impactful way.
We are proposing an approach to contemporary issues that is complementary to the conventional approaches, which are focused on those issues.
This does not mean that we are proposing to replace or diminish the worthy efforts of our friends and colleagues who are working on specific problems such as the climate change, or on the millennium development goals. Our proposal is to vastly augment the prospects of such efforts to succeed. And to change the mood in the realm of interests that the word "sustainability" is be associated with, from sustaining to re-creating. We offer to add enthusiasm and vigor, and the excitement of discovery.
We will not change the world
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has", wrote Margaret Mead. You'll find evidence of our thoughtfulness and commitment on these pages.
And yet it is clear to us, and it should be clear to you too, that we cannot really change the world. The world is not only us – it is all of us together! Which of course includes you as well.
So if the world will change, that will be a result of your doing; of your thoughtfulness and commitment!
Collaboration is to the new paradigm as competition is to the old one. In Norway (this website is hosted at the University of Oslo) there is a word for this – dugnad (pronounced as doognud). A typical dugnad might be organized by the people in a neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon, to gather fallen leaves and branches and do small repairs in the commons, and then share a meal together. Consider this as an invitation to a dugnad – in which fundamental academic work, technoogical innovation and social entrepreneurship will join hands to enkindle society-wide renewal.
Introducing knowledge federation
Knowledge federation is just knowledge creation
As our logo might suggest, knowledge federation means 'connecting the dots' – combining disparate pieces of information and other knowledge resources into higher-order units of meaning. The meaning we assign to this keyword is as in political and institutional federation, where smaller entities unite to achieve higher visibility and impact – while preserving in some suitable degree their identity and autonomy.
One might say that what we are calling knowledge federation is just what we normally do with ideas turn them into knowledge. You might have an idea in mind – but can you say that you really know it, before you have checked if it's consistent with your other ideas? And with the ideas of others? And even then – can you say that your idea is known before other people have integrated it with their ideas?
Science too federates knowledge; citations and peer reviews are there to secure that. But science does its federation in an idiosyncratic way – by explaining the mechanisms of nature, and the phenomena as their consequence.
Why develop an initiative around such an everyday human activity?
A natural approach to knowledge
What we have undertaken to put in place is what one might call the natural way to federate knowledge; or the natural handling of knowledge. Think on the one side of all the knowledge we own, in academic articles and also broader. Include the heritage of the world traditions. Include the insights reached by creative people daily. Think on the other side of all the questions we need to have answered. Think about the insights that could inform our lives, the rules of thumb that could direct our action. Imagine them occupying distinct levels of generality. The more general an insight is, the more useful it can be. You may now understand knowledge federation as whatever we the people may need to do to maintain, organize, update and keep up to date the various elements of this hierarchy.
Put simply, knowledge federation is the creation and use of knowledge as we may need it – to be able to understand the increasingly complex world around us; to be able to live and act in it in an informed, sustainable or simply better way.
Our vision is of an informed post-traditional or post-industrial society – where our understanding and handling of the core issues of our lives and times reflect the best available knowledge; where knowledge is created and integrated and applied with that goal in mind; and where information technology is developed and used accordingly.
As a way of handling knowledge, knowledge federation is in the proper sense of that word (as Thomas Kuhn defined it and used it) a paradigm. We offer it as an alternative to the approaches to knowledge where the goal is to create a single "reality picture", with which whatever is to be considered "real" or "true" must be consistent. Isn't the dictatorship of any single worldview an impediment to communication; and to evolution of ideas? In knowledge federation the ideas and their authors are allowed to preserve in some suitable degree their autonomy and identity. The goal is still to unify them and make our understanding of the world coherent – but not at all cost! Sometimes good ideas just cannot be reconciled. Sometimes they represent distinct points of view, each of which is useful in its own way.
We would not be echoing Einstein's familiar adage if it did not point so perfectly to the very first step with which our journey together needs to begin. In what ways may our thinking need to be different, if we should be able to understand and help develop an emerging paradigm? We highlight two characteristics which – as everything indeed tends to be in a paradigm – are so closely related that we may as well see them as two sides of a single coin.
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
The first characteristic of the new thinking is that we give it the time it requires.
Slow thinking is to "same thinking" as slow food is to fast food – it does take a bit of time, but it also gives far better nourishment and digestion. A paradigm being a harmonious yet complex web of relationships, some mental digestion is mandatory if we should see how to deliver on the general promises we've just made.
The second characteristic of the new thinking is that it's systemic. We now invite you to stop and reflect on what exactly this may mean; and what differences it may make. To help you, we have prepared this brief intuitive introduction to systemic thinking, which will give you a down-to-earth glimpse of some of the social realities we are proposing to see in this new way and then thoroughly change.
Knowledge federation introduces itself
Knowledge federation is a language
Science taught us to think in terms of velocities and masses and experiments and causes. Knowledge federation too brings along a new way to speak. But this new way of speaking is no longer fixed. As we shall see, knowledge federation allows us to create concepts and methods as we need them.
You may think of knowledge federation as a way to liberate science from its disciplinary constraints, then combine it with what we've learn about knowledge and knowledge work from journalism, art and design, and apply it to illuminate any issue where prejudice and illusion may need to be dispersed.
We shall now let knowledge federation introduce itself by a metaphorical image or ideogram, four concepts that in different ways describe its essence. You'll have no difficulty noticing that those four concepts are really just four ways of saying the same thing – that single core insight or idea or rule of thumb that our ideogram is metaphorically representing, from which the details of our initiative most naturally follow.
But before we do that, to give you a hint how this approach extends the conventional science, we provide a very brief (as brief as we are able) historical introduction.
How we got where we are
The rediscovery of Aristotle (whose works had been preserved by the Arabs) was a milestone in the evolution of ideas. But the scholastics used his rational method only to argue the truths of the Scriptures.
Aristotle's natural philosophy was common-sense: Objects tend to fall down; the heavier ones tend to fall faster than the lighter ones. Galilei saw a flaw in his logic and proved him wrong experimentally, by throwing stones from the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
It was, however, Newton that brought mathematics into this affaire: v = gt. The constant g can be measured exactly by an experiment. We can then use the formula to predict precisely what the speed v of an object will be after t seconds of falling.
This approach to knowledge proved to be so superior to what existed before, and so fertile both in explanation and in application, that it naturally became the standard of excellence that all knowledge was expected to emulate.
A curious-looking mathematical formula
But why use only maths?
Ideograms can be understood as a straight-forward generalization of the language of mathematics. Think of the above example as a curious-looking mathematical formula. Just as the Newton's formula does, this ideogram describes a relationship between two things, represented by the bus and its headlights. But while mathematical formulas expresses only quantitative relationships, between quantities measured by dry numbers, an ideogram can represent virtually any relationship, even an emotional one. It can express the nature of a situation!
By depicting modernity as a bus with candle headlights, the Modernity ideogram helps us point to an incongruity and a paradox. The ideogram depicts a situation where in our hither-to modernization we have forgotten to modernize something quite essential – and ended up in peril.
But this situation can be remedied!
When we say epistemology we mean the assumptions and values that determine what we knowledge we consider as true, or more generally worth creating and relying on.
An epistemology is at the core of every paradigm, and of science in particular. Galilei was not tried for believing that the Earth was moving, that was only a technical detail. It was his epistemology that got him into trouble – his belief that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to "abjure, curse and detest" those opinions (Wikipedia).
So we are dealing here with an audacious question: What's next? Can you try to imagine the next similar change?
If you'll consider the light of those headlights to be information or knowledge, and the headlights to represent the activities by which knowledge and creation are created, then you'll easily understand how this points to an epistemology – where we consider knowledge and knowledge work to be a system within a system; and develop them and use them as it may best serve their important roles within the larger system, such as showing the way.
But there's also a subtlety, which on the one hand represents a fundamental departure from the past – and makes it all fit together snuggly... In design the "truth" is not a new "reality picture", into which all the things are supposed to fit. Also our definitions, and claims, are not claims that things "really are" as stated. They are conventions!
Let the Modernity ideogram point to this subtlety: What the design epistemology really does is create a convention, as a mathematician might say "Let x be...". Truth here is as in mathematics – it is a convention, and there's no point to argue about it. We'll see what all this means in Federation through Images.
But the Modernity ideogram also bears this subtler message: No sequence of improvements of the candle will produce the light bulb. The resolution of our quest is in the exact sense of the word a paradigm – a fundamentally and thoroughly new way to conceive of knowledge and to organize its handling. To create the light bulb, we need to know that this is possible. We need a model to guide us. You may now understand what's being told on these pages as a description of that model. It's what we need so that we may waste no time trying to improve 'the candle' – when it's really the 'the light bulb' we should be talking about and creating.
If you consider the movement of the bus to be the results of our creative efforts to change things, or of "innovation", then systemic innovation is what resolves the paradox that the Modernity ideogram is pointing to. By definition (that is, by convention) – it is the safer and better way to be creative, and to move ahead.
You'll easily understand the reason, why a dramatic improvement in the way we use of our capacity to create or innovate is possible, if you just consider for a moment the principle that directs innovation in our present paradigm, in the light of our metaphor. The dollar value of the headlights is course a factor to be considered; but it's insignificant compared to the value of the whole bus (which in our metaphor may point to our civilization and all of us in it; or to all our technology taken together; or to the results of our daily work, which move the 'bus' forward; or to whatever else may be organizing our efforts and driving us forward into a future). It is this difference in value – between the dollar value of the headlights, and the real value of this incomparably larger entity and of all of us in it – that you may bear in mind as systemic innovation's value proposition. Systemic innovation is introduced by this image as what can make the difference between the whole thing becoming a mass suicide machine – and a vehicle that can take us to any place or condition where we may reasonably wish to be
To see that the issue this points to is deeper than just industrial innovation, why we offer systemic innovation as the signature theme of an impending Renaissance-like change, see that the dollar value is our characteristic oversimplification, which has enabled us to reduce the complex issue (value) in a complex reality to a single parameter, which can be measured precisely and objectively. We could then apply "scientific thinking" to optimize our behavior, and to develop businesses and industries...
But the reduction to dollar value, however ubiquitous it may be, is not the only oversimplification we have been culpable of. A close second is our pervasive reduction of what is really of benefit to what feels desirable or pleasant – which drives not only our "pursuit of happiness" but also our democracy. It's the belief that we know what is good for us because we can simply feel that. This phantasmagorical oversimplification, this driving in the light of a pair candles, leaves some of the most interesting systems out of the picture – ourselves (how what we do affects our own capacity to feel...) and our various environments (cultural, bio-physical, socio-economic...).
Here belongs also the way we've been directing our academic creativity, the "publish or perish" principle, by which we managed to measure also our creative contribution quite precisely; and turn the success in creative work into a fair game for us all.
You might wonder about this word, systemic? The ideogram provides two distinct ways to define "systemic innovation", which are really just two ways to say the same thing:
- innovating (or recreating) at the level of basic socio-technical systems or institutions (which you'll understand if you think of the headlights, and turning the candle into a light bulb – to adapt it to the function it has in the larger system
- innovating with the goal of improving the larger system or systems (which you'll see if you focus on the bus, and think that what we do with knowledge really acquires the meaning and value in this larger context)
We practice systemic innovation when our primary goal is to make the whole thing functional or vital or whole. Here "the whole thing" may of course be a whole hierarchy of things, in which what we are doing or creating has a role. We offer it as a rule of thumb pointing to a new evolutionary direction
Notice that knowledge federation and systemic innovation are so closely related, that (at this level of generality where we are presently talking) we may consider them as synonymous. We can now understand knowledge federation as simply systemic innovation in knowledge work. But we can also understand systemic innovation as the result of knowledge federation – as the way we'll naturally use our creative capabilities to 'steer ahead' once the light of the proper 'headlights' has been turned on.
Guided evolution of society
If you'll consider the movement of the bus to be our society's travel into the future, or in a word its evolution, then guided evolution of society is what resolves the paradox. Our ride into the future, posits the ideogram, must be illuminated by suitable information. The handling of knowledge we've inherited will not suit this purpose; therefore a more suitable way must be created.
Stated in this way, the guided evolution of society is of course just an unverified claim, as a scientific formula might be when it's first stated. What we need is a proof – or something that amounts to a proof. A purpose of this website is to provide that.
We took ovr this keyword from Bela H. Banathy, who considered the guided evolution of society as the theme of the second great revolution in our civilization's history – the first one being the agricultural revolution. While in this first revolution we learned to cultivate our bio-physical environment, in the next one we'll learn to cultivate our socio-cultural environment. Here is how Banathy formulated this vision:
We are the first generation of our species that has the privilege, the opportunity, and the burden of responsibility to engage in the process of our own evolution. We are indeed chosen people. We now have the knowledge available to us and we have the power of human and social potential that is required to initiate a new and historical social function: conscious evolution. But we can fulfill this function only if we develop evolutionary competence by evolutionary learning and acquire the will and determination to engage in conscious evolution. These are core requirements, because what evolution did for us up to now we have to learn to do for ourselves by guiding our own evolution.
A case for a new paradigm in knowledge work
How we plead our case
What we offer here is a 'view from a mountain top', or a 'view in the light of a light bulb' (created by federating knowledge) of the need and the possibility for a new paradigm in knowledge work or creative work.
Our point of departure are three disruptive changes that developed during the past century:
- fundamental insights have been reached in the sciences, which challenged or disproved the assumptions based on which our knowledge-related values, and practices, have developed
- new information technology enables, and as we shall see also demands that we reconsider and change the way we handle knowledge
- our civilization has reached a condition, and also a level of development or maturity, where what we need as information is entirely different than what the case was just a generation or two ago
It has indeed turned out that each of those changes have been so clear-cut and so spectacularly large in degree, that each of them alone provides more than a sufficient reason for engaging in the kind of changes that we are about to describe and propose. We highlight that by weaving together the stories and the insights of giants that represent the main milestones in the mentioned disruptive changes. We see that what's really going on in our time, and what's really worth seeing and attending to, is not Donald Trump but a sweeping Enlightenment-like change. And we already get glimpses of iconic characters and stories that might represent it, as Galilei and Newton were the icons of the previous such change.
In each of the four modules in which our case is presented, we look at our case from a different angle. You may understand them with the help of our metaphorical image, the Modernity ideogram, as showing respectively that (1) we have, and need a different principle of operation – not fire but electricity; (2) we have the technology that is needed for creating the light bulb; (3) a plan of a light bulb, together with the proof of concept – showing in what way the light bulb can be created, and what practical differences it may make; (4) the larger picture, where by looking at our civilization's evolution 'in the light of the light bulb', and the particular point in it where we now find ourselves, we see our own times and mores in a similar way as we may see the mindset of the Middle Ages – which of course makes the change immanent.
Here and also in those four modules, we use the technique that is common in journalism – which is to present a larger issue by telling a concrete story, which typically involves a giant and one of his core insights. This will give some real-life touch and zest to our stories – but it will leave you the challenge of seeing the larger picture we are pointing at by talking about concrete people and things.
Federation through Images
Our ideas of what constitutes "good" information have been evolving since antiquity, and they now find their foremost expression in science and philosophy. In Federation through Images we show that the developments in 20th century's science and philosophy empower the next disruptive change, along the lines we've just discussed.
You may interpret what's told there in the light of our Modernity image, and the challenge to create the (socio-technical) 'light bulb": Is there a whole new principle of operation, so that we may no longer use 'fire' but 'electricity', and be provide a light so strong that it can illuminate our way as far as our speed might now require?
We answer by 'standing on the shoulders of giants'; we show that surprisingly many of the 20th century's giants in science and philosophy saw that the new insights challenged the very foundations based on which our knowledge-work practices developed, and the very criteria we commonly use to assign value to knowledge and to knowldge work.
And we'll represent them all here by a single one – Werner Heisenberg. Who sixty years ago, in "Physics and Philosophy", explained how
the nineteenth century developed an extremely rigid frame for natural science which formed not only science but also the general outlook of great masses of people.
He then pointed out how this frame of concepts was too narrow and too rigid for expressing some of the core elements of human culture – which as a result appeared to modern people as irrelevant. And how correspondingly limited and utilitarian values and worldviews became prominent. Heisenberg then explained how modern physics disproved this "narrow frame"; and concluded that
one may say that the most important change brought about by its results consists in the dissolution of this rigid frame of concepts of the nineteenth century.
If we now (in the spirit of systemic innovation, and the emerging paradigm) consider that our social role is to provide good knowledge and viable standards for good knowledge – then we see that just this Heisenberg's insight alone gives us an obligation – which we've failed to respond to for sixty years.
The substance of Federation through Images is to show how the fundamental insights reached in 20th century science and philosophy allow us to develop a way out of "the rigid frame" – which is a rigorously founded methodology for creating truth and meaning about any issue and at any level of generality, which we are calling polyscopy. You may understand polyscopy as an adaptation of "the scientific method" that makes it suitable for providing the kind of insights that our people and society need, or in other words for knowledge federation. In essence, polyscopy is just a generalization of the scientific approach to knowledge, based on recent scientific / philosophical insights – as we've already pointed out by talking about design epistemology, which is of course the epistemological foundation for polyscopy.
As the technique for extracting and presenting core insights of leading thinkers we used the metaphorical and often paradoxical images called ideograms. The result is a cartoon-like introduction to the philosophical underpinnings of a refreshingly novel approach to knowledge.
Federation through Stories
The abstract definition of systemic innovation we've given a moment ago, and the "value proposition" to make the kind of difference that the comparison of the dollar value of the headlights with the value of the entire bus and the people in it may suggest, may have left you wondering: Are there real-life, practical examples that confirm this theory?
You may have also felt, when we introduced knowledge federation as 'the light bulb' that uses the new technology to illuminate the way, that we were doing gross injustice to IT innovation: Aren't we living in the Age of Information? Isn't our information technology (or in other words our civilization's 'headlights') indeed the most modern part of our civilization, the one where the largest progress has been made, the one that best characterizes our progress? In Federation through Stories we explain why this is not the case, why the candle headlights analogy works most beautifully in this pivotal domain as well – by telling the story of Douglas Engelbart, the man who conceived, developed, prototyped and demonstrated – in 1968 – the core elements of the new media technology, which is in common use. This story works on many levels, and gives us a textbook example to work with when trying to understand the emerging paradigm and the paradoxical dynamics around it (notice that we are this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of Engelbart's demo...).
These two sentences were (intended to be) the first slide of Engelbart's presentation of his vision for the future of (information-) technological innovation in 2007 at Google. We shall see that this 'new thinking' was precisely what we've been calling systemic innovation. Engelbart's insight is so central to the overall case we are presenting, that we won't resist the urge to give you the gist of it right away.
Digital technology could help make this a better world. But we've also got to change our way of thinking.
The printing press analogy works, because the printing press was to a large degree the technical invention that led to the Enlightenment, by making knowledge so much more widely accessible. The question is what invention may play a similar role in the emerging next phase of our society's illumination? The answer is of course the "network-interconnected interactive digital media" – but there's a catch! Even the printing press (let it symbolize here the Industrial Age and the paradigm we want to evolve beyond) merely made what the scribes were doing more efficient. To communicate, people still needed to write and publish books, and hope that the people who needed what's written in them would find them on a book shelf. But the network-interconnected interactive digital media is a disruption of a completely new kind – it's not a broadcasting device but a "nervous system" (this metaphor is Engelbart's own); it interconnects us people in such a way that we can think together and coordinate our action, just as the cells in a sufficiently complex organism do!
To see that this is not what has happened, think about the "desktop" and the "mailbox" in your computer: The new technology has been used to implement the physical environment we've had around us – including the ways of doing things that evolved based on it. Consider the fact that in academic research we are still communicating by publishing books and articles. Haven't we indeed used the new technology to re-create 'fancy candles'.
To see the difference that makes a difference, imagine that your cells were using your own nervous systems to merely broadcast data! Think about your state of mind that would result. Then think about how this reflects upon our society's state of mind, our "collective intelligence"...
When we apply the Industrial Age efficiency thinking and values, and use the Web to merely broadcast knowledge, augment the volume, reduce the price – then the result is of course information glut. "We are drowning in information", Neil Postman observed! A completely new phase in our (social-systemic evolution) – new division, specialization and organization of the work with information, and beyond – is what's called for, and what's ahead of us.
There are in addition several points that spice up the Engelbart's history, which are the reasons why we gave it the name (in the Federation through Stories) "the incredible story of Doug):
- Engelbart saw this whole new possibility, to give our society in peril a whole new 'nervous system', already in 1951 – when there were only a handful of computers in the world, which were used solely for numerical scientific calculations (he immediately decided to dedicate his career to this cause
- Engelbart was unable to communicate his vision to the Silicon Valley – even after having been recognized as The Valley's "giant in residence" (think about Galilei in house arrest...)
So the simple conclusion we may draw from this story is that to draw real benefits from information technology, systemic innovation must replace the conventional reliance on the market. And conversely – that the contemporary information technology is an enabler of large-scale systemic change, because it's been conceived to serve that role.
We use vignettes – short, lively, catchy, sticky... real-life people and situation stories – to explain and empower some of the core ideas of daring thinkers. A vignette liberates an insight from the language of a discipline and enables a non-expert to 'step into the shoes' of a leading thinker, 'look through his eye glasses'. By combining vignettes into threads, and threads into higher units of meaning, we take this process of federation all the way to the kind of direction-setting principles we've just been talking about.
Federation through Applications
In Federation through Applications we showcase the creative frontier that is opening up.
One way to enter it is by taking a look at your smartphone; appreciate so many fruits of finest human work and ingenuity that had to come together to produce this true wonder of technological micro-gadgetry. Then consider the even more wonderful neglect which we have shown toward those incomparably more important mega-gadgets – in which people and technology come together to give us the knowledge we need. The last century gave us the airplane, the washing machine, the TV and the computer. If this century's inventions are going to be systems that make ourselves and our society and our environment whole and thriving (a better way to inform the public; a better way to direct our creative work; a better way to (re-)educate the young and the old; or a completely new approach to healthcare or to tourism) – then who, and in what way, will do that sort of innovation? What might be its results? What technologies might enable it? What practical differences might this make? What can we do to ignite such a change?
Alternatively you may consider what's presented here as a sufficiently complete prototype of the (socio-technical) 'light bulb', with examples of application, which amounts to a proof of concept, showing "It works – and look what we'll be able to see when it's been turned on!"
Fifty years ago Erich Jantsch made a proposal for the university of the future, and made an appeal that the university take the new leadership role which, as he saw it, was due.
[T]he university should make structural changes within itself toward a new purpose of enhancing the society’s capacity for continuous self-renewal.
Suppose the university did that. Suppose that we opened up the university to take such a leadership role. What new ways of working, results, effects... could be achieved? What might this new creative frontier look like, what might it consist of, how may it be organized?
The technique demonstrated here is the prototypes – which are the characteristic products of systemic innovation. Here's a related question to consider: If we should aim at systemic impact, if our key goal is to re-create systems including our own – then the traditional academic articles and book cannot be our only or even our main product. But what else should we do? And how?
The prototypes here serve as
- models, embodying and exhibiting systemic solutions, how the things may be put together, which may then be adapted to other situations and improved further
- interventions, because they are (by definition) embedded within real-life situations and practices, aiming to change them
- experiments, showing what works and what doesn't, and what still needs to be changed or improved
In Federation through Images we exhibit about 40 prototypes, which together compose the single central one – of the creative frontier which we are pointing to by our four mentioned main keywords. We have developed it in the manner of prospectors who have found gold and are preparing an area for large-scale mining – by building a school and a hospital and a hotel and... What exactly is to be built and how – those are the questions that those prototypes are there to answer.
Federation through Conversations
In Federation through Conversations the theme is the larger societal change – and the change of our understanding of core issues.
In 1968 The Club of Rome was initiated, as a global think tank to study the future prospects of humanity, give recommendations and incite action. Based on the first decade of The Club's work, Aurelio Peccei – its founding president and motor power – gave this diagnosis:
The future will either be an inspired product of a great cultural revival, or there will be no future.
If there was any truth in Peccei's conclusion, then the challenge that history has given our generation is at the same time a historical opportunity.
The last time "a great cultural revival" happened, the "Renaissance" as we now call it, our ancestors liberated themselves from a worldview that kept them captive – where the only true happiness was to be found in the afterlife. Provided of course that one lived by the God's command, and by the command of the kings and the bishops as His earthly representatives. Is it indeed possible – and what would it take – to see our own time's prejudices and power issues in a similar way as we now see the ones that the Enlightenment liberated us from? What new worldview might help us achieve that? What new way of evolving our culture and organizing our society might we find to replace them? These, in a nutshell, are the questions taken up in Federation through Conversations.
Another way to approach this part of our presentation is to say "Now that we've created those 'headlights' – can we use them to illuminate 'the way'? Can we see where we are headed, and find a better road to follow?" Which of course means that we must explore the way we've been evolving, as culture and as society; because that's 'the way', isn't it?
If this challenge may seem daunting, the giants again come to our rescue. Pierre Bourdieu, for one, who saw French imperialism show its true face in the war in Algeria in the late 1950s. And who, as Algeria was gaining independence, saw the old power relationship mutate and take a completely new form – so that the power was no longer in weaponry and in the instruments of torture, but in economy and the instruments of culture. This insight made Bourdieu a sociologist; he understood that the society, and the power, evolve and function in a completely different way than what we've been told.
We federate Bourdieu. We connect his insights with the insights of Antonio Damasio, the cognitive neuroscientist who discovered that we were not the rational choosers we believed we were. Damasio will help us understand why Bourdieu was so right when he talked about our worldview as doxa; and about the symbolic power which can only be exercised without anyone's awareness of its existence. We also federate Bourdieu's insights with... No, let's leave those details to Federation through Conversations, and to our very conversations.
Let's conclude here by just highlighting the point this brings us to in the case we are presenting: When this federation work has been completed, we'll not end up with another worldview that will liberate us from the old power relationships and empower us to pursue happiness well beyond what we've hitherto been able to achieve. We shall liberate ourselves from socialization into any fix worldview altogether! We'll have understood, indeed, how the worldview creation and our socialization into a fixed worldview has been the key instrument of the sort of power we now must liberate ourselves from.
In this way the circle has been closed – and we are back where we started, at epistemology as issue. We are looking at the way in which truth and meaning are socially created – which is of course what this presentation is about.
Far from being "just talking", the conversations we want to initiate build communication in a certain new way, both regarding the media used and the manner of communicating. We use the dialog – which is a manner of speaking that sidesteps all coercion into a worldview and replaces it by genuine listening, collaboration and co-creation. By conversing in this way we also bring the public attention to completely new themes. We evolve a public sphere capable of developing public awareness about those themes. Here in the truest sense the medium is the message.
Turning on the light
Where shall we point it?
Sometimes when we talk about this work people ask "so where do you think this can be applied?" Well, it's a new way to work with information, we answer. So it can be applied wherever information is applied. This is of course true, but it still misses the main point. Which is that our main value proposition is to vastly broaden and strengthen the application of information or knowledge. This leaves a vast range of possible themes for us to talk about. But it's time now to be concrete, and choose one. Or a handful.
So imagine that you had it – a strong and flexible electrical flashlight (metaphorically speaking), which you can point at will toward any question or theme you may want to illuminate. Suppose that a prototype of this flashlight has just been completed, and now you want to demonstrate its value in practice. You want to show it to people, show what it can do, invite – and attract – the people to try it and use it. What themes would you choose?
We've chosen the following three themes.
The paradigm strategy dialog
One could say that this is the most natural and straight-forward choice we could have made. The 'road of the bus' is really the course of our civilization's evolution. Can we illuminate that – and show how exactly it's been developing; where we are coming from and where we are headed; and what we should do at this particular point on this road where we currently are, what course should we steer? And how? These are, roughly, the themes of The Paradigm Strategy dialog.
While of course anyone can participate, the intended primary audience are the informed and concerned creatives, the global change makers. Can we engage them to co-create a vision? Can we use the knowledge federation techniques and technologies to orchestrate a global conversation where the best insights of our present best minds are aided by the most relevant insights of the historical giants, to co-create a state-of-the-art vision for all of us, and for our society?
The prototype vision that is offered is what we called the paradigm strategy – which is to focus our energies on shifting the whole paradigm. The insight to be developed is that while even small and obviously necessary changes may be difficult or impossible (because they don't fit into the existing paradigm), the biiig change may still be easy (because we are at the point in our evolution where everything's been prepared for it, and where that's just our natural next step).
To illuminate our evolutionary trajectory and the just mentioned view of our present-day position on it we have developed The Paradigm Strategy poster, where a variety of knowledge federation techniques are applied and showcased. The giants here are the leading thinkers in sociology, cognitive science, philosophy... But not only.
Long story made short – by federating Chomsky as linguist, Harari as historian, Graeber as anthropologist, Nietzsche as philosopher, Bourdieu and Giddens as sociologists, Damasio as cognitive scientist... we arrive at a radically fresh view of the nature of our societal evolution. And of our socialization. Without going into details (which will be shared in Federation through Conversations and of course in the conversations) let's just highlight a single paradigm-shifting detail: Our shared single worldview, which in the earlier paradigm tended to be considered as "the objective truth about the nature reality" (even if we could never really agree what exactly this thing might be...) – now becomes an instrument of our socialization! The liberation from clinging on to this "reality picture" is then seen as our evolutionary step forward. So we have made a full circle and came back to – epistemology, which is of course the mother of any paradigm.
Let us here also share an insight, a high-level view that follows from this conversation – how we've been evolving socially and culturally as the homo ludens (man the (game) player). This expression has been used as the title of an old book, but we've polished it and redefined it, so that it has a much more precise and agile meaning what good old Johan Huizinga intended. The point is that the homo ludens is not the homo sapiens; he does not really seek knowledge or use knowledge. He's become adapted to the complex reality combined with the lack of suitable information – by simply learning his different social roles, and in particular his profession, as one would learn the rules of a game; and by playing competitively, aiming to increase what he (or better said the game) considers as his gains or interests. The homo ludens learns by seeing what works in practice, and adapting. In the shadow of this evolutionary condition, needless to say, one finds spectacular opportunities for insight and improvement – which should give zest and zeal to this conversation.
An interesting subtlety is that the homo ludens and the homo sapiens are not only two different cultural species and ways of evolving; they are also signature themes of two incommensurable paradigms (ways of creating truth and meaning). Each of them – by looking in his own characteristic way – sees the other as going extinct, and himself as the paragon of evolution: The homo ludens just looks around, see that it's the homo ludens specimen who are succeeding in life, and that the homo sapiens specimen are becoming scarce, and draws the obvious conclusion. The cultural homo sapiens looks at the data, sees the global trends, and the values and behaviors that are causing them, and draws the opposite conclusion.
However timely the paradigm strategy may be as a theme, it is probably too abstract and esoteric for most people. To engage the general public in a conversation, we have prepared a whole other one – which brings in much of the same insights and content, but through a back door, so to speak. The title theme of this dialog, however, is religion, and its nature and future. Here too we have a document that can strike the conversation; it's the book (presently a manuscript) titled "Liberation" and subtitled "Religion for the third millennium". It's the first book in the intended Knowledge Federation trilogy, by which knowledge federation will be introduced to general audiences.
In traditional cultures, religion has served as the ethical and hence also evolutionary guidance; it's provided the moral code and the sense of identity that held the people together in a community.
Religion is also a theme on which the opinions are most strongly held – both when they are pro religion, or a certain specific religion, and when they are against it. So this theme has the potential to truly engage the people. This potential is vastly augmented by the fact that, as it turns out, we have a way of looking at this theme that is likely to upset both the pro and the con side! How is this possible?
You must have noticed that religion has been associated with believing in something, even against evidence. Those beliefs were, furthermore, so strong, that people have been prone to go into armed disputes even over small differences – flagrantly violating the Almighty's explicit command not to kill (delivered by Moses, who's been recognized as a prophet in major Western religions). So the question is – what's really going on here? And – can we understand the issue of religion in a completely new way – which will help us reconfigure our values and our priorities, and bind us together in a society in a completely new way?
Early in the 20th century a young monk in Thailand spent a couple of years in a monastery in Bangkok and thought "This just cannot be it!" So he decided to do as the Buddha did – he went alone into a forest and experimented. He also had the original Pali scriptures with him, to help him find the original way. And reportedly he did!
What Buddhadasa ("the slave of the Buddha", as this giant of religion called himself) found out was that the essence of the Buddha's teaching was different, and in a way opposite from how Buddhism is usually understood and taught. And not only that – the practice he rediscovered is in its essential elements opposite from what's evolved as "the pursuit of happiness" in most of the modern world. Buddhadasa saw the Buddha's discovery, which he rediscovered, as a kind of a natural law, the discoveries of which have marked the inception of all major religions. Or more simply, what Buddhadasa discovered, and undertook to give to the world, was "the essence of religion".
You may of course be tempted to disqualify the Buddha's or Buddhadasa's approach to happiness as a product of some rigidly held religious belief. But the epistemological essence of Buddhadasa's teaching is that it's not only purely evidence-based or experience-based – but also that the liberation from any sort of clinging, and to clinging to beliefs in particular, is the essential part of the practice.
In the Liberation book we federate Buddhadasa's teaching about religion by (1) moving it from the domain of religion as belief to the domain of the pursuit of happiness; (2) linking this with a variety of other sources, thus producing a kind of a roadmap to happiness puzzle, and then showing how this piece snuggly fits in and completes the puzzle; (3) showing how religions – once this meme was discovered – tended to become instruments of negative socialization; and how we may now do better, and need to do better.
Knowledge federation dialog
Finally, we need to talk about our prototype, about knowledge federation. While this conversation will complete the prototype (by creating a feedback loop with the help of which it will evolve further), the real theme and interest of this conversation is of course well beyond what our little model might suggest.
In the midst of all our various evolutionary mishaps and misdirections, there's at least this one thing that has been done right – the academic tenure. And the ethos of academic freedom it institutionalized. What we now have amounts to a global army, of people who've been selected and trained and publicly sponsored to think freely. If our core task is a fresh new evolutionary start – beyond "the survival of the fittest" and the power structures it has shackled us with – then it's hard to even imagine how this could be done without engaging in some suitable way this crucially important resource.
How are we using it?