Knowledge federation might be the simplest and most natural idea ever proposed to academia. By acknowledging that knowledge and information are human creations and the very lifeblood of society, we propose a transdiscipline that continually reorganizes and recombines them. Knowledge federation treats knowledge and information as we treat other creations – matching them with the purposes that need to be served, making sure that information informs us, and that our knowledge includes what we need to know.
We call that proposal knowledge federation to point to what distinguishes it from traditional practices, and makes it fit for that goal.
As our logo might suggest, knowledge federation means ‘connecting the dots’. Political federation combines smaller geopolitical units to give them higher visibility and impact. Knowledge federation does that to information. To federate knowledge means to combine and put to use disparate pieces, which are now separated by cultural traditions, academic disciplines and domains of interests. How should we “pursue happiness” or whatever might be worth pursuing? What will really resolve the contemporary issues? What should knowledge and knowledge work be like so that the democracy may function in a complex world? How may education need to change, to suit our society in rapid change? Knowledge federation‘s mission is to work toward an order of things where the way we understand and handle issues reflects the best available knowledge. And where knowledge is created, organized and applied as it may best suit that goal.
A signature achievement of knowledge federation is to combine together the basic insights from multiple disciplines and cultural traditions – and topple down a popular myth.
We are proposing to institutionalize and develop knowledge federation as an academic field, and as a real-life praxis – which will serve as the academia’s and the society’s evolutionary organ; and ensure that knowledge has agency.
It is not difficult to see why knowledge work might need an update. Sociologists have diagnosed that we are now living in a “post-traditional culture”, “reflexive modernity” and “risk society”. While the choices of our ancestors were determined by the mores of their tradition, we make our choices by reflecting about them. This reflection is made precarious by existential risks, which we are culturally unprepared to understand and handle. We need suitable knowledge, and new kinds of knowledge. And yet the recent evolution of knowledge has conspicuously given us only more of the same.
Four centuries ago a new approach to knowledge emerged at the dawn of the Enlightenment, and brought solutions to persisting problems and a sweeping wave of change. In the opening paragraphs of Knowledge Federation’s new website we bring up that association and ask: “Could a similar advent be in store for us today?” Honoring the importance of that question, we endeavored to develop an academically thorough answer. We showed that now as then, a disruptively novel approach to knowledge is ready to emerge as soon as we begin to ‘connect the dots’, or “stand on the shoulders of giants” to see further, as Newton reportedly did. We showed how knowledge can be given the power to impact daily-life habits, public opinion and policy, institutional processes and structures, and further production of knowledge. Our answer is rendered as a complete prototype of the knowledge federation transdiscipline, and a carefully argued case for adopting knowledge federation as a new field – and the transdiscipline as a new institutional template.
The knowledge federation proposal having been detailed on our freshly redesigned Knowledge Federation website, and commented and explained in the book-style and book-size blog post Knowledge Federation dot Org, it remains to add a teaser trailer. In what follows I’ll let knowledge federation introduce itself, in its own manner of speaking. By doing that I will both highlight the core ideas, and show what information that ‘connects the dots’ might be like.
This metaphorical image called Modernity ideogram, where our civilization is depicted as a bus with candle headlights, renders the gist of our proposal in a nutshell: In our hitherto modernization, we have forgotten to modernize something essential. Before we can continue our evolutionary course meaningfully and safely, we must complete modernization.
There is of course a touch of irony in the fact that, in the “Age of Information”, it is information that remains to be modernized!
This Information ideogram depicts the kind of information that answers to the mentioned challenge. The “i”, which stands for “information”, is composed as a circle on top of a square. The square represents the detailed and technical information, as it might be produced in the sciences. Its edges symbolize distinct ways of looking at a theme, which might emanate from academic disciplines or cultural traditions. The circle is “the dot on the i”, or the point of it all.
What is presented here is an example of such information. The circle you have just seen – it is the Modernity ideogram and its message. The rest of this blog post will sketch the four side of the square, and draw a conclusion.
The specific four ways of looking are chosen to complete the analogy between our contemporary situation and the conditions at the dawn of the Enlightenment. I will show that disruptive changes in
- creation of truth and meaning
are ready to take place – which are analogous to the advent of the printing press, industrialization, science and the Renaissance.
We shall see why the modernization of knowledge work – as detailed in our proposal – is the key to realizing those changes.
“What is the largest contribution to human knowledge you can imagine?”
We gave this challenge to our audience in an evangelizing talk titled “What is Knowledge Federation”, and offered the following answer. Imagine our entire planetary “development, integration and application of knowledge” (as Douglas Engelbart called it) or knowledge work (as we do) as a machine. Consider the effects of even a tiny, 5% improvement in the efficiency or effectiveness of that ‘machine’ – and you will easily see why the contributions to the handling of knowledge are likely to be orders of magnitude larger than specific contributions.
Imagine now the effects of a radical improvement of that ‘machine’. Could its very principle of operation be ill-conceived, and needing an update?
That this truly is the case, that was Douglas Engelbart’s intended message to the world – suggested in the above presentation slide, which was his own.
To understand Engelbart’s vision, observe that the printing press is a broadcasting technology. That it enabled only an increase, however large, of the volume and speed of document production. And that otherwise it could only do what the scribes were already doing. When, however, each of us is connected to a digital computer through an interactive interface, and when those computers are linked into a network – we are in effect connected together in a similar way as the cells in an organism are connected by a nervous system.
Imagine if your cells would be using your nervous system to only broadcast data to each other and to your brain – and you’ll have no difficulty understanding why the new technology calls for different thinking!
Has the new technology been augmenting our collective insanity – and not our “collective intelligence” (capability to cope with problems that are at once complex and urgent), as Engelbart envisioned?
To use the new technology to our true advantage, a new division, specialization and organization of knowledge work is needed, which resembles the way in which the cells in a healthy human mind cooperate.
Our civilization is like an organism that has rapidly grown in size, and got out of sync with its environment. This creature has newly developed a nervous system – but has not yet learned how to use it to orient itself in the world, and coordinate its actions.
Knowledge federation emerges from this line of reasoning as our next evolutionary task. And as the principle of operation according to which the knowledge work must self-organize.
- Do we really need knowledge federation? Explore our knowledge federation evangelizing prototypes.
- Is it indeed true that the new information technology not only enables, but also requires knowledge federation; and that it was even conceived with that goal in mind? Browse through this brief summary of knowledge federation‘s historical roots, and this outline of Doug Engelbart’s core ideas. Read our own brief history and see how we’ve self-organized to be able to continue this evolutionary stream.
- In what ways might scientific communication that federates knowledge be different? How could scientists and journalists collaborate on providing the knowledge we need? What technologies, and what processes, may enable a re-evolution of our collective mind? You’ll find answers to those questions by examining the knowledge federation systemic prototypes and the technology prototypes in our portfolio.
There is of course nothing special about the IT innovation. It is our approach to innovation that needs an upgrade.
To see why innovation needs to scale up to systemic innovation, imagine any of the systems in which we live and work (to turn Bela H. Banathy’s expression into a keyword) as a gigantic machine, comprising people and technology. Imagine yourself and all of us others as parts in that ‘machine’.
A function of a socio-technical system is to take everyone’s work as input, and turn it into socially useful effects. If in spite of the prowess of technology we are just as busy as ever – should we not take a closer look at those systems, and see if they might be wasting our time?
And if our best efforts result in problems rather than solutions – should we not check whether they might be dysfunctional?
Erich Jantsch did exactly that. Having just given the opening keynote at the inaugural meeting of The Club of Rome, in 1968, Jantsch saw that our civilization’s evolutionary path could not become “sustainable” (to use a contemporary phrase), unless we developed the ability to update our socio-technical systems, and our institutions in particular. Jantsch convened and coordinated a team of experts, to develop a suitable methodology.
Regarding the question that logically followed – What institution might be capable of spearheading systemic innovation? – Jantsch concluded that the university would have to be the answer. And that to perform that vitally important new role, the university would need to upgrade its own system.
We echo Jantsch’s call to action. And we append a complete prototype of a suitable upgrade.
Our prototype is conceived so that knowledge work may not only produce new knowledge, but also inscribe it directly into the systems in which we live and work.
- Will systemic innovation really make such a large difference, as the image of the bus with candle headlights is suggesting? Explore our systemic innovation evangelizing prototypes. Among them, the Wiener‘s paradox will point to a compendium of issues, and illustrate in a fractal-like manner knowledge federation as a whole. Here begins a summary.
- What would our core socio-technical systems be like, if we would conceive them as it may best serve the wholeness of people and society? How might systemic innovation take advantage of new information technology? Explore our systemic prototypes. This outline of the Collaborology educational prototype in the blog post Knowledge Federation dot Org may alone be sufficient to illustrate systemic innovation‘s intrinsic character, and the differences it will make.
- We have created a complex and dangerous world, without giving our next generation any means to change it. The Game-Changing Game prototype shows how this error may be corrected. The Game-Changing Game is a real-life ‘game’, where the elder “Z-players” (professors, investors…) ‘play’ by empowering the “A-players” (students, entrepreneurs…) to ‘play’ their life and career ‘games’ by changing the systems in which we live and work. The Club of Zagreb (see this invitation letter) is our prototype redesign of The Club of Rome, based on this idea. A point made is that even an accurate understanding of contemporary issues will be futile, unless a system for changing systems is also in place.
We are proposing knowledge federation to academia – whose reason for existence has not been to create practical knowledge. Anyone else can do that. The academia‘s time-honored role is to give our society the foundation for good knowledge; to provide us a correct understanding of language, truth and reality (to turn Benjamin Lee Whorf’s title into a keyword), based on which all knowledge will be created, evaluated and used.
Could the developments on this frontier too be stalled by some misapprehended principle?
How exactly we ended up believing that the ‘candle’ is the answer, and ignoring the possibility to evolve knowledge work further, that is a most interesting theme to explore and reflect on. But to put it in a nutshell, we’ve made an understandable error: From the traditional culture we’ve adopted the myth that the purpose of knowledge is to tell us how the reality “really is”.
The successes of science in explaining the natural phenomena then naturally made our ancestors conclude that the traditions got it all wrong; and that science is the answer.
The giants of 20th century science and philosophy detected and diagnosed this error. They realized that “the correspondence with reality” is not something anyone can rationally claim or verify. They saw science as no more than “the attempt to make the chaotic diversity of our sense experience correspond to a logically uniform system of thought”. And they saw “the scientific method” as something that was created by the scientists.
This question must be asked: If the academia is giving our society a created way to truth (and not something that existed objectively, and was only discovered) – then how good is it?
The 20th century giants diagnosed that it is a narrow frame – namely something that served well for certain purposes (such as developing science and technology), and poorly for others (notably for preserving and developing culture).
Experiments in modern physics confirmed that the narrow frame (the way of looking at the world with which the 19th century science imbued general culture) was too narrow even for understanding the physical phenomena!
We pointed to the academic situation that resulted by the metaphor of the mirror; and by the keyword academic accountability.
Our prototype shows:
- A new Archimedean point (a sturdy foundation for rebuilding knowledge), independent of the reality myth, can be found in truth by convention
- On this new foundation, a methodology specification can be developed by federating knowledge – so that it both reflects the state of the art of knowledge of knowledge, and evolves to remain in sync with it
- The narrow frame issue can be remedied by a methodology which allows for federating insights about any chosen theme, and on any level of generality
Our methodology prototype shows not only how tansdisciplinary research and specifically knowledge federation can be rigorously founded – but also why transdisciplinarity may be necessary for founding knowledge.
This so-called Holoscope ideogram will allow us to highlight the way in which this approach to knowledge, which serves as foundation to knowledge federation, complements the traditional sciences, which have of course already given us a variety of new ways to look at the world. The telescope and the microscope enabled us to see what was either too distant or too small to be seen by the naked eye; our horizons expanded. At the same time, science kept us focused on things that were either too distant or too small to be truly relevant, compared to those larger and closer ones that now demand attention. What we are proposing may be understood as the holoscope – an ‘instrument’ whose purpose is to correct this deformation of our vision. Holoscope lets us create new ways to look at things; and see their correct shapes and proportions.
We appeal to the academia to include the holoscope in the repertoire of the ways of looking at the world it is giving to our society.
- “It takes but half an eye”, as Benjamin Lee Whorf observed already in 1940, to see that the way in which we create truth and meaning is ripe for an update. To a researcher, or anyone else who is ready to follow complex contemporary issues to their root causes, seeing that is a life-changing experience. To me that has been the motivating force for developing knowledge federation. A complete story will be told in the third book of the Knowledge Federation Trilogy. Meanwhile, you may reconstruct it by beginning with with this historical account, and then exploring the methodology prototype in the book manuscript Information Must Be Designed (the password for opening the chapters is “Dubrovnik”).
- “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” McLuhan’s well-known observations acquire a new meaning when academic accountability has been acknowledged. To define concepts by convention is to create new ways to see the worldd. A brief summary in Knowledge Federation dot Org blog post begins here.
- Why take the traditional book and article for granted? Being the bricks with which our entire knowledge pyramid is constructed, their structure, or the lack of it, determines how usable, and hence how useful, everyone’s creative work will be! In our prototype, the information holon is proposed as an alternative, created by federating techniques from computer science with Arthur Koestler’s ideas. An outline begins here.
What would it take to make an end to war – once and for all?
Now that we have the holoscope, we can point it to any question that might interest us. What question would you choose?
Here is one of my favorites.
Based on a decade of The Club of Rome’s research, which confirmed the intuition that made him initiate this 100-member international think tank in 1968, Aurelio Peccei issued the above call to action. Can knowledge federation help us “find a way to change course”? And if so – what questions would it need to illuminate?
Peccei gave us also this hint: “A great cultural revival” will be the way to change course; “improving human quality” will be the key.
Which brings us to the pivotal question of values. Could our values too go against the grain of some very basic principle?
I am asking this with tongue in cheek, because the answer is obvious. The narrow frame has left us with the “values” that require no culture and no knowledge; the “values” that are based on naïve experience alone. We uphold only those values that seem attractive. That spells convenience in our personal pursuits, and egocentricity in inter-personal ones. (By convenience I mean favoring whatever feels attractive; and by egocentricity I mean prioritizing “our own interests”.)
Convenience and egocentricity simplify the complex reality. Why seek knowledge and wisdom, when we can simply feel what is to be desired? And why try to understand the world, when we can be successful by simply learning a profession as one would learn the rules of a game, and performing in it competitively?
Furthermore, convenience and egocentricity seem so scientific! Convenience because it resembles the experiment; and egocentricity because it is rooted in a scientific theory. If the nature creates and harmonizes through “the survival of the fittest” – why should we do it differently?
And so we witness a curious inversion: Information is not used to correct our naïve perception and help us make better choices; our naïve perception now determines even our choice of – information! Are you impatient to see our contemporary condition in a similar light as we now tend to see the world at the brink of change that Galilei was inhabiting? An Intuitive Introduction to Systemic Thinking is a brief vignette that illustrates how this inversion is reflected in our everyday reality.
And what consequences it may have.
The convenience paradox has been developed as an antidote to convenience. By federating insights from a variety of cultural, therapeutic and academic traditions, we showed that all too often, the pursuit of a convenient direction leads us to a less convenient condition, by affecting our very ability to feel. We pointed to a range of happiness “between one and plus infinity”, which lies beyond what we have seen around us or experienced ourself.
But let us here focus on egocentricity. That naïve value is challenged by a suitably designed way of looking, which we called power structure.
The Power Structure ideogram depicts the power structure pattern, which models our intuitive notion of the “enemy” or the “power holder”. The power structure is to a society as cancer is to an organism. The most vicious power structures will tend to grow spontaneously and beyond bounds, by winning in competition with others – while being perceived and treated by our society’s ‘immune system’ as its normal and healthy tissues and organs.
The key to this insight is to perceive distinct entities (power interests, our ideas about the world, and health or wholeness on all levels of granularity) as co-dependent and evolving together – by illuminating subtle connections between them with suitable information. We combined Zygmunt Bauman’s insights into the impersonal nature of modernity’s evil with Pierre Bourdieu’s “theory of practice”, and Antonio Damasio’s results in cognitive neurology. Basic ideas from stochastic optimization, artificial intelligence and artificial life allowed us to confirm that diffuse structures of this kind can indeed evolve coherently together and behave as if they had intelligence and purpose. And hence that it is legitimate to consider them as “the enemy”. (Yes, the power structure model is a bit of a showoff; but it works!)
The consequences of perceiving our perennial human pursuit of freedom and justice in this new way could be sweeping:
- We cannot rely on egocentricity or “free competition” to guide us. When we do that, we yield to the power structure‘s “field” or “game” (to quote Pierre Bourdieu’s keywords); we become parts in the power structure. We become “the enemy”. As Erich Jantsch (see our summary here) and Alexander Laszlo (see this article) observed before us, new values will emerge from a correct understanding of evolution – and provide us “evolutionary guidance”.
- It is the prerogative of the power structure to shape our values and make us act against wholeness, and contrary to our humanness. Re-claiming our socialization from the power structure is our next evolutionary task. The end to war will come as a bonus. (Do I really mean that? Consider this hint.)
- Bourdieu used the keyword “doxa” to point to the illusion, from which the power structure derives its power, that the “reality picture” we’ve been socialized in is the only possible one. How fortunate we are that overcoming this illusion is now due also for fundamental reasons! (That is the fundamental side of the knowledge federation proposal, which we’ve pointed to by the parabolic image of the mirror; we are inviting the academia to self-reflect, and guide our society through the mirror – to a new reality. See Federation through Images.)
- The traditional debate or discussion keeps the doxa and the power structure in place; the dialog transforms them. Knowledge federation may be understand as a dialogical approach to knowledge.
- We can now profoundly change the nature of the traditional political game, from “us against them”, to “all of us against the power structure“.
- We can now also understand our inability to see and update the systems in which we live and work: Those systems are the power structure! In our still traditional cognitive and cultural makeup they have the same status as “taking off our pajamas and running into the street naked”.
- Seeing the existential risks grow worse, and our action being confined to what’s “allowed”, we act out our responsibilities and concerns in a symbolic way: We organize a conference; we meticulously perform small personal acts that make us feel holy, but don’t really add up to the wholeness of it all.
- Knowledge federation is a necessary part of our ‘societal immune system’.
- When we look at the Middle Ages from our contemporary point of view, the power structure is easily visible: The worldly power of the kings conspired with the clergy’s control of ideas, and made people relinquish happiness to the hereafter. Our challenge, however, is to recognize the same basic structure today – even thought its manifestation is different. And to see our own and the academia‘s role in it. It has been a private joke to call our case for knowledge federation the “Animal Farm argument”.
- These summaries of the convenience paradox pattern and the power structure pattern.
- The Paradigm Strategy poster, discussed at length on the Federation through Images page of the Knowledge Federation website, presents some of the main insights of the power structure model, in a simplified form and adapted for an academic audience, see the summary that begins here. Has our present approach to knowledge sidetracked our cultural evolution from the homo sapiens to the homo ludens track? See a summary of this theme here.
- In traditional cultures religion connected each person to a purpose, and the persons to a society. Can we rediscover religion in a new way, and have it reconnect us in a new way? Can we conclude the “science vs. religion” strife by allowing both to evolve further? This federation challenge is taken up in the first book of the Knowledge Federation Trilogy. While the book is being written, you may connect the dots yourself by considering the keyword dukkha, and the blog posts Science and Religion and The Garden of Liberation.
You can now see what’s going on here: We have proposed knowledge federation as a way to good knowledge; and we have seen it in action. We applied it to four themes of pivotal interest; and we saw that in each case the “conventional wisdom” violates some basic principle.
We can now combine those four principles into one – the one the bus with candle headlights is pointing to. We need to see the world as one whole; and we need to make the wholeness of that whole our concern.
We cannot do that by looking at the world ‘in the light of a candle’.
Neither can we comprehend the best ideas of our best minds by fitting them into an outdated worldview. And indeed we have seen that four such ideas remained ignored – for a half-century!
A new order of things is ready to emerge. We are about to find a new course. An elephant is in the room, waiting to be seen.
We offer knowledge federation as a way to connect the dots. We propose to institutionalize dot connection.
What difference will that make?
At the turn of the millennium The Economist issued a challenge called World in 2050, to write a short essay describing the world in fifty years. In an essay titled “World in the year 2000”, I observed that while nobody can predict the future, the answer will crucially depend on how we see the world today.
The order of things in which we live has been diagnosed as “unsustainable”. Its demise will either play itself out as an orderly construction of a new order – or it won’t. The difference will be made by our ability to create an embryo of a new order today. It doesn’t need to be large; but it does need to be solid.
We have seen how knowledge federation can be used to develop a solid foundation, and a construction plan. Our next focus will be to orchestrate the construction, by developing the Holotopia prototype.
The holotopia presents a more positive vision of the future than most utopias (their authors lacked the data to see what is really possible). At the same time, that vision is perfectly realizable. It is indeed the trust that our current order of things will last that must be considered utopian.
And we don’t need to wait for the world to change. The holotopia will manifest its main benefit immediately – by turning our concern about existential risks into creative engagement and enthusiasm.