Have we misunderstood and mishandled creativity? What would it mean to federate a research article? These seemingly unrelated questions are here answered together, by discussing the way in which an unordinary research article about the nature of creativity has been federated. An unordinary way to handle academic creativity is thereby also proposed.
If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often.
— Leonard Cohen
Dr Lutz: May I ask you something? Why do you insist on referring to yourself in the third person? It is intensely irritating!
Hercule Poirot: Because, Doctor Lutz, it helps Poirot achieve a healthy distance from his genius.
— Agatha Christie
Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Vibeke Jensen for spirited conversations about this material, and valuable improvements of this text.
— Dino! Diiiiiii-noooooo!
Yes, who’s there?
— It’s me again. Your anonymous reader.
What is it? What can I do for you?
— We got it all wrong, Dino! We got to do it all over again!
What did we do wrong?
— Our introduction to knowledge federation, in Knowledge Federation dot Org. You know the motto of Stanford University’s d.school, “Show Don’t Tell”? That’s what we need to do! Show an example! The only way anyone can understand a new approach to knowledge is by first seeing an example.
I thought about that. The problem is that knowledge federation has so many sides, that the only real example is our knowledge federation prototype itself. Anything less than that would be misleading. It would make it seem that knowledge federation is only that, only what’s been shown.
— That doesn’t matter. We must give your readers an open door into the complex material. Once they are inside, they can explore on their own and find out about all the rest.
OK, let’s show an example.
— There is also something else I wanted to tell you. I read your recent blog post, the one about your childhood memory. And it made me laugh. Not because I found your private joke particularly funny; but because of the irony in your situation. As a kid, you had the guts and the good sense to say what had to be said, straight and simple. But you are not that kid any more! The themes you have undertaken to represent are the important ones. The material you have in your hands is downright sensational. And what do you do with it? My goodness – you tell private jokes!
What do you propose that I do?
— Say what you really mean! Say that knowledge is no longer used, that it has no power, that it makes no difference. Say that the entire system by which our society handles knowledge is misconceived – both in structure, and in foundations. Say that it indeed has no structure, that it has no foundations. Say what all of us can see, if we allow ourselves to see what we see – that the king is completely naked! Say that you are offering him something decent to wear. You promised to be direct the first time we talked, in Knowledge Federation dot Org. Only then will I be able to help you, as I promised.
I cannot say such things.
I promised to be as direct as I am able. Which means as direct as my role allows.
It takes all kinds of people to make up a paradigm. And we all have our roles in it. My role, if you’ll permit me another private joke, is to be an academic fundamentalist. To help set the foundations right. And to develop a dialog, on a suitable new foundation, in which even strong opinions like yours will have a chance to be heard and considered and acted on. If I bring to that dialog strong opinions of my own – then I won’t be able to fulfill my own role in it.
Besides I am saying what I mean. I don’t believe in conflict and drama. We may perceive our situation as a crisis; or we may see it as just evolution, which brings new challenges to every human generation. To each of us, the evolution extends a personal challenge – to present ourselves to it as well as we can. My personal solution to that challenge is the dialog.
— But can’t you see – you too are caught up in a paradox! Unless you do speak up, there won’t be any dialog! If your theories about the state of our collective mind are correct, then you too will be collectively ignored. Just as Vannevar Bush, Douglas Engelbart, Werner Heisenberg, Erich Jantsch, Werner Kollath, Aurelio Peccei, Norbert Wiener and all your other heroes or giants were ignored.
Four centuries ago, the academic tradition demonstrated that it was able to reconfigure itself, and lift the humanity up from an evolutionary pitfall. I feel privileged to be able to serve it in times like these.
But I do, of course, see your point. Someone may need to speak out. Perhaps even ring an alarm bell. But that someone will have to be someone else.
— I saw it coming!
Don’t worry. I’ll help you out.
What we are talking about, the knowledge federation prototype, is after all a prototype – which means that it’s, among other things, also an academic experiment. If you ask me a direct question, I’ll be obliged to give you an honest answer.
— All right then, let’s proceed. I propose that we focus this conversation on the Tesla and the Nature of Creativity project. And on the TNC2015 prototype.
The one I’ve already described, in this looong blog post?
— That doesn’t matter! That will only give me a chance to show you how much tastier this blog would be, if you only gave it a bit of spice.
— Let’s put the ball in play by saying what everyone knows: Genuine creativity – understood as the capability to think outside the box, to comprehend complex things and situations in simple yet correct ways, to begin new directions, to imagine and create what does not yet exist – has never been more needed. The very continuation of our civilization may now depend on that capability. Are we ignoring the very nature of creativity? Are we living in an academic and general culture that inhibits creativity? Can knowledge federation help us understand and handle creativity radically better than we do? Can we introduce the Tesla and the Nature of Creativity project as a way to federate answers to those questions?
— How did that project come about?
Dejan Raković wrote an article about the nature of creativity, where he turned the common understanding of creativity inside out. He joined us at Knowledge Federation’s second workshop in Dubrovnik, in 2010, and proposed that we federate his ideas.
— That was the workshop where you began to self-organize as a transdiscipline; to become able to federate knowledge?
Yes, that’s the one. Raković brought us a federation challenge, which was in more than one way exactly what we needed.
I’ll never forget the long conversation he and I had in the garden of Villa Doda, on that Tuesday evening after everyone else had gone to bed. We discovered that we were working on the same theme, in two complementary ways. We ended up talking until three o’clock in the morning!
— What was that theme that you both were so excited about?
It was what we now call the narrow frame.
— The issue pointed out by Werner Heisenberg in 1958 – that the way of looking at the world (or perhaps you’d prefer to call it “the foundation for truth and meaning”) that our general culture adopted from 19th century’s science was too rigid and narrow? That it had disastrous effects on culture?
Yes, that one.
— Who is Dejan Raković?
At the time of our collaboration he was a Professor of Materials Science at the University of Belgrade. Now he’s an active emeritus.
According to what I’ve heard, Raković was the star student in his generation. He had two PhD advisors, one in Belgrade and one in Moscow. His Serbian advisor later moved to the US and “almost got the Nobel Prize”. He invited Raković to join him, but Raković declined. “Had I moved to the US, my career would have been completely different”, I heard him comment. “But then I wouldn’t have been able to do this.”
— Raković considers the ideas that were federated in Tesla and the Nature of Creativity project to be his gift to the mankind?
— What is Raković’s approach to the narrow frame issue?
Classical science developed as a way to find causal explanations of observable phenomena. Quantum physicists found out that small quanta of matter exhibit behavior and relationships that could not be explained in the “classical” way, and sanctioned new kinds of interaction. Raković’s approach is to extend the classical paradigm, or to broaden the narrow frame, by including the concepts, insights and kinds of interdependence that were discovered or created in quantum physics. And to then see what new phenomena could be modeled and comprehended in that broader frame.
— A goal of your collaboration with Raković was to combine his approach with knowledge federation?
To see what such a combination could achieve, think about the electricity. It was only when we managed to model how electricity works or might work, that we became able to develop all the electro-mechanical machinery, which is now common. Imagine if we could model creativity in a similar way! Imagine if we could harness creativity by developing our education, our academic culture and our lifestyle in a way that would make us radically more creative! And also collectively creative!
— The interest that Raković and you share is a fundamental one. It’s what you call epistemology, isn’t it? Why did you choose to focus your collaboration on Tesla’s creativity?
We both knew that Tesla’s creativity was only an example application, which would allow us to develop and show a new way in which any culturally relevant phenomenon could be handled. Tesla’s creativity was a natural ‘Trojan horse’, suitable for bringing the narrow frame issue to public awareness. And to begin developing solutions, in real-life practice.
The fruits of Tesla’s creativity are everywhere; you’ll witness several of them by just turning on the light. Tesla’s creative process was documented by Tesla himself. And finally, other people who have been recognized as creative described their own creative processes in similar terms.
— What was Tesla’s creativity like?
We called it direct creativity.
Indirect creativity is the more familiar kind, where one develops solutions gradually. You painstakingly try this and try that, until you find a combination that works.
Direct creativity is manifested when the whole solution emerges gradually or at once, as if someone else created it.
— How did Tesla describe direct creativity?
In My Inventions, Tesla told an anecdote where he was walking in a park with a friend, reciting lines from Goethe’s Faust. The solution to a complex design problem he’d been working on for months suddenly came to his mind in a flash. So he stopped to draw it on the ground with his walking stick.
— Can we say that direct creativity is the disruptive kind? Can we use your favorite metaphor, the bus with candle headlights, and say that direct creativity is what makes it possible to ‘create the lightbulb’? And that indirect creativity can only ‘improve the candle’?
Yes, that is the point exactly.
— You say that direct creativity is described by a number of creative people. Would you like to give an example?
Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. (Albert Einstein)
— Tesla and Edison coexisted in the same realm of creative challenges. For awhile, they also worked together. It is Edison, and not Tesla, that for most people epitomizes the creative genius. Edison, after all, invented the lightbulb – the very symbol of a creative breakthrough! Why didn’t you study his creativity?
Edison used indirect creativity – which was the only kind that the 20th century was able to comprehend and appreciate. He did not really invent the lightbulb; he only perfected it. He made it suitable for commercial production and use. Edison was a quintessential lab manager. He would hire a number of skilled people, give each of them a possible solution to explore, and use the solution that worked best.
Edison electrifying an elephant in public to “prove” that the alternating current was dangerous (and protect his investments) is also epigrammatic. This comparison of Tesla and Edison, which I found on smithsonian.org, may just hit the mark:
“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack,” Tesla once wrote, “he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. I was a sorry witness of such doing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety percent of his labor.” But what his contemporaries may have been lacking in scientific talent (by Tesla’s estimation), men like Edison and George Westinghouse clearly possessed the one trait that Tesla did not—a mind for business.
— Tesla ignored business interests?
Tesla chose his projects by looking at the humanity’s condition and needs. So he focused on energy and communication. Free energy for everyone; and collective mind communication – a century before the Web!
— His project ran out of funding?
It did. And that was the end of the story of Tesla. J.P. Morgan, who was funding his project, found it difficult to see how to put a meter on free energy. It was, on the other hand, easy to see how money could be lost...
Anyhow, there is more than enough factual and anecdotal evidence to promote Tesla to the role of an icon – of the kind of creativity that the 21st century will require of us.
— Let us now put knowledge federation into this picture. Let us talk about knowledge federation as the extraction of important messages, and their communication. You used knowledge federation to turn Raković’s article into a multimedia object. Let us look at that very act in the context of our theme. Invite your readers to think about the best ideas of our best minds drowsing on academic bookshelves. And about all the fancy media technology that now serves no better purpose than keeping kids away from schoolwork. Introduce knowledge federation as a way to use the new technology to make knowledge comprehensible and useful. A way to use the power of technology to restore knowledge to power.
We were, of course, only doing the obvious. But even a journey of one thousand miles must begin with a single step.
— Turning the article into a multimedia object was the first phase of your federation of Raković’s ideas?
That’s right. The federation had two phases, where we
- extracted the main ideas from the vernacular of quantum physics and the article
- made them public by creating a public dialog
— Your technical keyword for the outcome of that sort of process is information holon. You turned Raković’s article into an information holon by transforming it into a multimedia object?
That is also right.
— What did that multimedia object look like?
We added intuitive explanatory diagrams to the article. We translated the quantum physics concepts and ideas into metaphorical images, which everyone can understand. Things like radio antennas and station selection knobs.
We then equipped those visual models with two kinds of hyperlinks. When you click on a loudspeaker icon, you hear a recorded conversation with the author, which provides an accessible, first-hand explanation of the part of the diagram where the icon is located. The circles with numbers will take you to the sections in the article where the corresponding themes are discussed. You’ll need to download the multimedia object to experiment with it; the audio recordings won’t work in a browser.
— And the direct creativity – how does it work? What do we need to know about it, to be able to develop it and practice it ourselves?
The answer, Raković’s answer, is explained in the first diagram, which we called “phenomenological model”.
You may explore its details on your own. I propose that we here only highlight one of its consequences.
— Which one?
Direct creativity requires a combination of intense concentration and deep relaxation. It requires a different way of working than indirect creativity – for which focused, hard work is enough.
According to the model, for direct creativity to take effect, intense concentration on a theme must be followed by deep relaxation. Relaxation alone will, of course, not lead one to Tesla-style inventions. The point here is that intense concentration and hard work alone won’t either.
— How did that manifest itself in Tesla’s creative process?
In the story of Tesla, this is dramatized by an event that preceded the epiphany in the park. After being such an ardent student that his work schedule and dedication made his professors in Graz write worried letters to his father in Gospić, Tesla dropped out. He then focused on making a breakthrough discovery with an even greater zeal – and broke down completely. At the point when the mentioned event in the park took place, Tesla was recovering from a breakdown. He was living in a hotel room in Budapest, unable to work or even to face the world.
But less dramatic instances of what we are talking about are common knowledge. We once asked a group of twenty students to name the situations where they were most creative. Each of them named some relaxing situation, like taking a shower.
— Newton’s apple is a famous example of a creative idea coming when one is relaxed, isn’t it?
It is. And it is easy to find others:
The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. (Jackson Pollock)
I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me. (William Blake)
— You called the second diagram “ideological model”. Its purpose was to extract from Raković’s article the main idea – and make it available, as an idea, for further federation?
That’s correct. The ideological model is the circle in the information holon. It is what needs to be exported from the article – and imported into other, higher-level projects and ideas.
Once this main point has been communicated, the technical details can be seen and studied, if needed, by opening up and examining the square (the detailed part of the holon – represented by the other models, and the article).
— The extracted main idea is that there are two kinds of creativity?
That’s right. And also that there are two corresponding “modes of consciousness” or ways of working or of being. The point here is that those two ways of being creative, or aspiring to be creative, are so different from each other, that when we use one of them – we tend to inhibit the other.
— So Raković is really pointing to a pitfall: We may have identified indirect creativity as the creativity. We may have ignored the possibility to develop and use direct creativity?
Yes, that’s the main practical insight here.
— Why was the direct creativity the one that got ignored?
At least part of the reason was that it didn’t make sense in the worldview we had. There is more than enough phenomenological evidence of its existence. But since we used the narrow frame to look at that evidence, we ended up ignoring it.
— The third and last model was called the Biophysical model. What purpose did the Biophysical model serve?
Its purpose was to highlight the main elements of the scientific underpinnings of Raković’s direct creativity model.
— What are they?
The main one is that quantum physics allows for interaction types that are beyond mechanistic causality. That is an insight I’ve often referred to by talking about Werner Heisenberg, and about the narrow frame issue – as for example here. As I mentioned, an aim of Raković’s work is to extend the classical paradigm by accounting for those new ways in which phenomena can be related.
The second one is to include the acupuncture system into the model of the human cognitive system, or of the human “mind”.
— But the acupuncture system is not a scientific concept! Or is it?
You are asking an interesting question. And since that question has to do with several larger themes we are talking about, I’ll answer it by sharing a vignette.
The notion that underlies the acupuncture system is what’s been called “qi” or “chi” or “prana” or “aiki” in varius Oriental medical traditions. There, qi (yes, we do have it as a keyword) has been considered the very essence of life. So qi is a natural candidate for the kind of ‘electricity’ that might help us understand and develop not only direct creativity, but also our other latent abilities. Even the ‘circuitry’ is there – the acupuncture system!
How exactly that concept, and the range of phenomena it is pointing to, remained ignored in our culture – that is an interesting story you and I may tell and converse about on another occasion. Suffice it to say (in the manner of rendering the essence of a long story as a parable), that the scientists looked at the places in the human anatomy where the acupuncture points and meridians were supposed to reside, and found nothing. Naturally (we are now witnessing the narrow frame in action), they concluded that there was nothing there. When subsequently our medical theory, and the corresponding therapeutic practices and industry, focused on surgical and biochemical interventions, qi became in effect a taboo in the scientific community (here we are witnessing the power structure in action). It ended up on a cultural margin called “alternative culture”.
But not on the other side of the Iron Curtain! The Russian and Ukrainian scientists found out that qi could be understood and treated as a quantum phenomenon. They modeled the acupuncture system, which handles qi in the human organism, as “a macroscopic quantum system”.
— That’s how “quantum-informational medicine” came about, isn’t it?
A year after we met in Dubrovnik, and just a couple of months after our 2011 Stanford University workshop where the knowledge federation transdiscipline was announced, Raković co-organized a symposium in Belgrade called “Quantum-Informational Medicine, QIM 2011”. And he invited me to include a knowledge federation workshop in the program.
So there I was, in a workshop with a couple of dozen of Russian and Ukrainian scientists. The first thing I could notice about them was that they were not a single bit “alternative”; no baggy clothes, no flowers in their hairs. They were ordinary scientists, who talked about the theory behind their approach, the therapeutic instruments and the results of clinical application.
— This still doesn’t mean that the acupuncture system can think?
The third and last point in the biophysical model I showed a moment ago was the mathematical isomorphism between a mathematical equation that describes the quantum system, and an equation that describes the neural network. The neural network is a model of the human nervous system, and of the human mind. Its properties have been studied in a variety of ways. Neural networks have been used, for instance, in artificial intelligence, where it was shown that they can “learn” to solve certain types of problems. And also serve as a memory.
— So we can now look at the known properties of those two systems, the quantum system and the neural network, and see how they might help us understand creativity? And detect and harness other latent human abilities? In a similar way as the understanding of electricity enabled our scientific and technological forefathers to anticipate and create electrical gadgets?
Yes, that’s exactly the general idea here.
— You don’t need to waste any breath convincing your readers that school kills creativity; Sir Ken Robinson merited the status of a TED celebrity, and even a nobility title, by successfully representing that view. The question is whether that sad state of affairs could be reversed. Can direct creativity be learned?
Judging from a very limited sample, the experience of a single person, I am tempted to conclude that it can indeed be learned.
— You learned direct creativity from you PhD advisor in California, János Komlós?
I did – but in an indirect way. Komlós and his friends manifested direct creativity in action. I later learned it by studying and experimenting on my own.
— What is it like, to use direct creativity?
When I wake up in the morning, I see an intuitive 3D-like image of what I’m working on. That is – provided I did everything right the day before.
— How did Komlós learn direct creativity?
Komlós came from the good Hungarian school of discrete mathematics, which produced a number of star mathematicians. One of them was Paul Erdős, the prodigious legend whose 1500 articles and landmark results in several branches of mathematics remain unsurpassed. “[A]lthough an agnostic atheist, [Erdős] spoke of ‘The Book’, a visualization of a book in which God had written down the best and most elegant proofs for mathematical theorems”, reports Wikipedia.
Komlós and his two friends and colleagues, Miklós Ajtai and Endre Szemerédi, rose to prominence in algorithm theory by solving some long-standing fundamental open problems. A curious thing I could notice was that they worked by taking long walks.
Hearing Komlós say “Szemerédi doesn’t do mathematics; God dictates it to him” was a formative experience. I knew that neither of them was religious. And that what I was hearing was not theology, but phenomenology.
— Endre Szemerédi later got the Abel Prize, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in mathematics?
He did. In 2012.
— So you became interested in the phenomenon of creativity?
I began to study creativity.
I remember watching a documentary where Picasso paints and describes his creative process. After five minutes, there was a complete painting on his canvas. But he continued to paint, and after another five minutes the painting on his canvas was entirely different. It was obvious that Picasso was not following a rational plan. On the contrary, he was following an intuitive process, wherever it would take him. I knew that Komlós and his friends worked in a similar way. And that all of them had an ability which I didn’t seem to share.
— You began to practice that way or working?
I did. I practiced finding the way without a map.
— You mean metaphorically, of course?
Both-and. I remember taking a long walk in Paris. If I would begin to recognize where I was, I would turn in a direction I didn’t know. The day ended up being full of serendipitous occurrences and discoveries. The city I thought I knew well began to make sense in a completely new way.
My solo mountain trip in the Wrangell – St Elias National Park in Alaska was another formative experience.
— A vision quest? Why exactly there?
I stopped by the national parks office in Anchorage, and asked their agent to recommend the most solitary place I could reach without renting an airplane.
My ‘graduation’ solo tour was in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain. This was right after the Einstein Meets Magritte conference, where I published the first articles about polyscopy – the research that was my beginning in knowledge federation. From a travel agency in Guadalajara I got three maps, which formed an L. But while talking to the people on the bus, I realized that I would be going to the fourth region, for which I didn’t have a map. The reason was the same as the reason why the travel agency didn’t give me that map: there was nothing there! So I ended up spending a few days alone in a Moon-like atmosphere of a volcanic grotto. To return ‘to the map’ (I didn’t want to take the same way back), I got up with sunrise and climbed the volcanic wall. Then I spent an unforgettable day walking along the volcanic ridge, in infernal heat. To reach the place that had water, where I could pitch my tent, I had to climb over a summit more than 3000 meters high. Every few steps I had to stop to catch my breath.
— Wasn’t that dangerous?
I didn’t think about danger. The reason why I mention this here is to highlight a point – that some existential fears may need to die in us before a new awareness can be born. It’s what Goethe called “die and become” (and I commented here).
— You later developed a corresponding approach to research?
I did. At the University of Oslo that turned out to be possible.
A year after I moved from the US to Norway, my institute went on a two-day retreat, to discuss how to catch up with the world in “academic productivity”. As you might expect, the discussion was focused on various kinds of carrots and sticks.
I sketched a projector slide with a two-by-two matrix, whose entries were the carrot and the stick in the US and in Norway. The Norwegian carrot was only smaller in size. But the Norwegian stick was just a twig with a few leaves, obviously harmless. The American stick was a baseball bat.
I showed that slide to my new colleagues, and commented that we would never catch up with the world by resorting to carrots and sticks. But that, happily, we had our own inherent advantages to work with. I then shared how, when I saw how tolerant and supportive the academic culture was in Norway, I realized that I could finally stop publishing articles. And begin doing research.
I don’t believe that anyone took me seriously.
— But you followed your own advice?
I did, of course.
— After you published those first, statement-of-purpose articles, in 1995, it took you four years before you could begin publishing the details of polyscopy?
That’s right. I needed to do systematic reading in areas where I lacked background, such as philosophy of science, cognitive science and sociology. And I had to do an even larger amount of reflecting and sketching – until I had a coherent system of ideas, which I could commit to publication.
— What difference did direct creativity make in that period?
It made all the difference. When one is following a learned recipe, how to create and publish a research article, indirect creativity will do just fine. But I didn’t have a recipe. I was creating one. The direct creativity made the difference between staring at a blank piece of paper – and knowing what to do.
Most importantly, however, the direct creativity made it possible to even begin this work. The “intuitive 3D-like image” was there from the very start. But it was, of course, lacking all the details.
— How do you work? What is your typical workday like?
When I wake up, I stay awhile in bed contemplating the 3D-like image I mentioned. Then I get up and spend about an hour sketching what I saw with pen on paper. Those are the ideas I would be developing the rest of the day. After that I meditate and do yoga, and have my breakfast.
— How much time do you spend writing on the computer?
If I am editing a nearly completed text, I can work long hours. But while I’m developing ideas, I cannot do more than three or four.
— Only so little?
I use simple metaphors to explain these things to myself. Here the metaphor is short-distance vs. long-distance running. Imagine that your life purpose is to run 100 meters under 10 seconds. Or to set a new world record for that distance. You wouldn’t be just running as fast as you can all the time!
Athletes have all kinds of practices to get in shape. What do we, academic researchers, do? The question is how should we practice and live and work, if we should ever be able to reach the peak of our creative potential from which our personal ‘E=mc2‘ is visible – however small or large it may be.
— You work with extreme focus?
I do. And I use up lots of energy. This does indeed feel like short-distance running.
I didn’t use Raković’s model to develop this way of working; I read and observed and experimented on my own. But my experiences seem to verify the model quite well. Raković talks about an energy threshold one needs to overcome, if creative ideas should come from the acupuncture system to the nervous system and to the frontal lobe, where step-by-step rational thinking is performed.
— What do you do when you are no longer writing?
I turn off the engine completely. I may go on a bike ride, or kayak or do cross-country skiing for an hour or two. After some time, as I relax and my energy comes back, the ideas begin to emerge again. But I just let them be. I prioritize coming back to my peak power as quickly as I am able.
— You use exercise instead of walking?
I do. My experience is that exercise in nature has similar effects, and also some additional advantages.
I don’t ever seem to forget the ideas that come to me along the way. I also rarely look at my early morning scribblings. This does indeed feel as if something other than myself is thinking and creating. When my energy level is down, I no longer have access to it. But when my energy level is restored, whatever was there still is there – and also a bit more.
The price I have to pay, to be able to work in that way, is a life without distractions. Here the metaphor is peripheral vision, which does allow us to see the big picture – but only when our eyes are not focused on anything in particular. So after I’m done working on the computer, I keep everything else out of my mind. In the periods when I work most intensely, I hardly even read email.
Over the years I developed a lifestyle that suits this way of working. I live without personal concerns, career goals or bank loans, in a money-free economy. Once a month I log onto my bank account to check that my bills have been paid. And that’s it.
— You also have other forms of practice, beside meditation and yoga?
I end my day with Sheng Zhen Gong and meditation.
— I imagine you have simple metaphors for those parts of your routine as well?
Sheng Zhen Gong is a particular form of qigong. Every qigong is a specific way to work with qi; with our body’s ‘electricity’.
Meditation seems to soften the mind’s rigid structures.
— Let us now talk about knowledge federation as cross-pollination of ideas. One of the points in your proposal that might attract your readers’ interest is your claim that when we begin to federate knowledge on a sufficiently large scale, the ways in which we perceive and handle life’s most basic issues will change beyond recognition. The other side the same coin is that we now don’t federate knowledge. That the way in which we understand and handle issues is vastly out of sync with the knowledge we own. Let us continue what we’ve been talking about by illustrating that point! Let us look at some of the issues we might understand differently, or very differently, by federating Raković’s ideas. Creativity, to begin with. I am intrigued by the prospect of understanding creativity in a similar way as we now understand electricity. And developing creativity-enhancing education, and a far more creative academic and general culture as well. What insights, or whose insights, should we combine with Raković’s model, to become capable of doing that?
I would begin by combining Raković’s ideas with an insight by Antonio Damasio – which he deftly coded into the very title of his book, “Descartes’ Error”. Damasio’s insight is so central to our theme, that I won’t hesitate to introduce it here by a vignette, copied straight from my “Information Must Be Designed” book manuscript.
Antonio Damasio showed that, contrary to what Descartes made us believe, also our normal, calm reasoning, our common sense, is controlled by our emotions and our body. To illustrate this crucial point, I will now tell you an anecdote, which Damasio describes in his book Descartes’ Error.
You may imagine Damasio and his colleagues, a room-full of researchers in white coats, sitting and listening and taking notes, while a patient is thinking aloud, trying to decide when to schedule his next appointment. Tuesday has its advantages, but so does also Thursday. For about half of an hour, until he is finally interrupted, this patient is going through a thorough rational analysis of pros and cons of Tuesday vs. Thursday, while it is obvious to everyone else in the room that he doesn’t have much to do anyway, and that both Tuesday and Thursday are equally fine. Why is then everyone listening so attentively to that nonsense?
Because they are witnessing a clear demonstration of Descartes’ error.
The patient they are listening to had a part of his brain removed in an operation, which had the effect that his conscious mind was disconnected from the emotional imprints stored in the body. The consequence is that this patient is able to exhibit perfect Cartesian rationality, while he lacks the ability to separate that which is relevant from that which is not. The body, concluded Damasio, performs this function for us, acting as a sort of a filter. Out of a myriad of possible ideas, whims and impulses, our body eliminates a vast majority and presents to our conscious mind only those which are ‘reasonable’ or ‘appropriate.’ From the point of view of the body, of course.
It is not difficult to see why the evolution needed to provide us this sort of filter. Our sensory organs receive far more information than our conscious mind is able to process. Most of this information has to be digested, filtered and presented to our conscious mind through subliminal, embodied processing.
Being embodied and subconscious, this centrally important filter can be programmed, through sensations, feelings and subliminal messages. But this means that our seemingly rational choices too can be programmed in the same way!
— “Descartes’ error” means that Descartes got it all wrong? And the rest of us as well, of course! It means that we don’t make our choices in a rational way, by sorting through options! That we have a pre-conscious, embodied filter, which largely decides what our preferences will be. And what options we’ll even consider!
That’s what Damasio’s title is intended to suggest.
— Damasio’s research is completely Western-orthodox, isn’t it?
It is. It is a result in cognitive neurology. Damasio showed that whenever a certain nerve that connects the brain with the body is severed, the result is the loss of a certain key cognitive function.
— So we think with our bodies? And that’s a scientific fact?
It is. The body determines how we perceive the relevance of ideas. And what ideas will at all present themselves to our conscious mind.
Writing under the subtitle “How Cognitive Science Reopens Central Philosophical Questions”, in the opening lines of a book titled “Philosophy in the Flesh”, Lakoff and Johnson summarized the consequences of cognitive science research (which Lakoff pursued as a cognitive linguist, and Johnson as a philosopher) as follows:
The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.
These are three major findings of cognitive science. More than two millennia of a priori philosophical speculation about these aspects of reason are over. Because of these discoveries, philosophy can never be the same again.
— We can now use Raković’s model as a model of our “inherently embodied” mind?
Yes, we can, of course.
— And we can model the mind of a genius in that way?
And even the very notion of a genius. “Genius” is etymologically related to “genie” – the kind of thing that Aladdin had in his lamp. So we may imagine that each of us has a genie in the body. A little person who performs certain essential parts of our data processing, and creative thinking.
— By using Raković’s model, by applying what is known about the neural networks and the quantum systems, we can model the functioning of our embodied genius? Just as we modeled electricity…
A neural network is a network of interconnected cells, each of which contains a piece of information. Some of those cells have pre-set, fixed values. That’s what we (that is, our bodies) consider as facts; the things we take for granted. In the neural networks terminology, those are called “boundary conditions”. The rest of the cells can change their values freely. A neural network “learns” gradually, through an annealing-like process, by which the uncommitted cells change their values, and the ways in which they are connected with other cells, until the whole network has become coherent. An important point here is that coherence is achieved gradually, through the operation of the network as a whole.
— So a role of our “embodied mind” is to achieve coherence? And to then serve as a reference system based on which the relevance and the meaning of new ideas are determined? Isn’t that, quite accurately, what you call knowledge federation? I mean on the personal level, of course?
It is, indeed.
— What we call “genius”, and what Raković called direct creativity, are more or less the same thing, aren’t they?
That seems like a plausible explanation, doesn’t it? It gives us a way to explain the experience shared by so many creative people – that something or someone, other than their conscious and willing self, does the thinking and the creating. That they only receive the results thereof. That they only “read God’s book”, as Paul Erdős phrased it.
— And then there is also our “ordinary” ability to comprehend issues and situations, and the world we live in. And to use that comprehension to determine, intuitively and automatically (with the help of our body), the relevance of things and ideas. To choose what to think about, what to be concerned with. I am imagining my great-grandfather, a century ago, plowing. Walking behind his horse, day in, day out. Perhaps a butterfly lands on his shoulder… How incredibly different our life has become – within just a few generations! What if the “annealing-like process” you described a moment ago requires a certain amount of time of peaceful reflection to be completed? What if we, all of us, no longer have that time? This would mean that not only Tesla-style creativity, but even “ordinary” comprehension of situations and things might no longer be possible!
That would be a dangerous state of affairs, wouldn’t it? We would be perfectly capable of seeing the trees, but incapable of seeing the forest. We would be perfectly skilled in making small turns – and flagrantly incapable of choosing directions!
— What other insights would you federate? What other phenomena could this model help us understand?
I would definitely federate Pierre Bourdieu’s important work. His “theory of practice”.
— You’ve talked about Bourdieu’s ideas in quite a few places. Perhaps you may here only give the main point? By sharing an example?
Think about the social order of things in Galilei’s time. The people who had “royal blood” or “blue blood” were destined to rule over others. The kings were crowned by the Church, so they drew the legitimacy of their absolute power directly from God. Today we may laugh at such nonsense. But to the people back then, that was the reality they lived in.
— You are suggesting that we too may be living is such “realities” – without being aware of that?
I am, of course. Isn’t it just obvious that every human society had or has its own “reality”, which its members consider as the reality. Why should we be an exception? Bourdieu, and the giants on whose shoulders he stood, called this phenomenon (that the people in a society consider their reality picture as the only one possible) doxa.
Bourdieu explained with exemplary thoroughness the phenomenology of social reality construction. How our socialized “realities” are transmitted from body to body directly, in ways that bypass the conscious mind. Bourdieu also explained how the power relationships in a society are created and maintained in that way. The king enters the room, and everyone bows. Naturally, you bow too. And even if you may not feel like bowing, something in you knows that if you don’t bow your head, you may lose it.
The king has his own habitus (embodied and socially sanctioned patterns of behavior); and you have yours. Socialization is to a large degree the way in which human societies and cultures function and evolve. It is how everyone gets “put into his place” (his habitus).
— We may now see such ritualized modes of acting and feeling as ways to ‘program’ our embodied cognitive filters? We may model socialization as setting up the boundary conditions in our embodied ‘neural networks’? We may use Raković’s model as a biophysical model of our socialized reality and its construction?
We may. Indeed we may.
— But doesn’t that change literally everything? I mean – isn’t our understanding of justice and power, our legal and ethical norms, isn’t the reason why we allow advertising to create our preferences and our values, isn’t our understanding and handling of information, and our very democracy – configured based on the idea that we the people make rational and conscious choices…?
You are right, of course. There’s been a sweeping error in our understanding of themes that matter, which now needs to be corrected. In our knowledge federation prototype we modeled the intuitive notions “power holder” and “political enemy” as the power structure, to make a step toward that goal.
— I remember from our last conversation that quite a few insights were woven together to create the power structure concept. You called that “a bit of a showoff”. Perhaps you might here still describe at least one of them – and make this abstract idea concrete?
There is a vignette I have not yet told anywhere, which may be exactly right for our purpose. It’s about Sergei Chakhotin, who first collaborated with Ivan Palov in his laboratory; and then with German Social Democrats, in their campaign against Hitler. Chakhotin observed that Hitler was doing to the German people what Pavlov was doing to his dogs – that he was conditioning them. Or to use the word we’ve been using here – that he was socializing them.
— Yes, I think I’ve heard about Chakhotin. Didn’t he later write a book about his insights? A book called “The rape of the masses; the psychology of totalitarian political propaganda”?
The English title of that book is an unfortunate translation of the French original, “Le viol des foules par la propagande politique”. The French word “viol” means not only “rape”, but also more generally the kind of relationship (disempowerment, humiliation…) that rape as a physical act stands for. I wold also add that “political propaganda” may not do justice to Chakhotin’s original insight, that he wrote his book before the sociology of socialization was developed by Bourdieu and his colleagues. Replace “political propaganda” by the more general concept socialization – and you’ll have the message we need to receive from Chakhotin.
— What I hear you say is that throughout history, disempowerment and humiliation of masses of people, with all various atrocious consequences that the word “viol” might suggest, were legitimized through socialization – without anyone being aware of that! And that this is still the case, in our time! And indeed – if we consider the pervasive presence of the money, the advertising and the communication media as instruments of socialization – the power of socialization may now be stronger than it was before!
We must emphasize, however, that the important point behind the power structure definition is to see how what we perceive as “the enemy” may not be persons, or powerful cliques, or indeed any identifiable entities whatsoever. Our most vicious and most dangerous enemies might be just amorphous patterns, in an order of things we’ve been socialized to accept as “normal”. Our enemy doesn’t need to be them; he can also be – us.
— The message of the power structure model is that “the enemy is us”. And that what makes us become the enemy is renegade socialization – which both organizes us together in pathological and destructive ways, and keeps us from seeing that!
That possibility needs to be carefully considered.
— We are now back in front of that metaphorical mirror of yours, aren’t we?
We are, indeed we are!
— We can now see the world we live in in a completely different light! We can see, for example, why school kills creativity: Education has not evolved as a way to develop creative and inspired people, but as an instrument of socialization. You have written about that in this blog post, haven’t you, in these three vignettes, where you used mathematics education as a metaphor. But enough talking about problems! We have seen ourselves in that mirror. We have seen how our perception may distort our “reality”. And how that distortion may turn us into soldiers in wars where we have nothing to win, and have everything to lose. What shall we do about that? Is there a remedy?
Yes, there is. We call it the dialog. We need to practice, and embody, the attitude of the dialog. As so many of our keywords, the dialog is the solution to this issue by definition. That keyword is the end point of a continued search, for the right practice, attitude and values. You will easily notice how different that attitude is from the one that permeates education and the academic culture today.
— So we have just federated a principle, haven’t we? A new rule of thumb!
And we must at once acknowledge that we have only “rediscovered the wheel”. We must give credit to Socrates, David Bohm, and so many other giants on whose shoulders we must stand, if we should talk about the dialog in an academic way.
— Instead of imagining that what we see is reality – we are now able to see and examine the mechanisms of our reality construction. Both the inner or biophysical – and the outer or socio-technical ones.
Indeed we are.
— I have been wondering, can the damages of socialization be undone? Can our embodied cognitive filters be erased?
Isn’t that a wonderful question to explore!
I avoid the word “enlightenment”, because it mystifies something that should better be de-mystified. Ven. Ajahn Buddhadasa didn’t use that word at all. He called the Buddha’s practice “liberation”; and he called its result “seeing the world as it is”!
— And the method? How can our conditioning be reversed?
I discussed it briefly in The Garden of Liberation. And I’ll describe it more thoroughly in the book Liberation.
So let us here focus on its single element: values. Let us examine the relationship between values and socialization. And between values and creativity.
— Are creativity and values related?
You have certainly noticed, when we compared Tesla with Edison, that those two men had entirely different values. The question is whether this was accidental?
— And? The answer?
There seems to be a correlation between people’s creativity, awareness and values. Consider Douglas Engelbart. We have seen, in Federation through Stories, that 25 years old Engelbart decided to direct his career as it would maximize its benefits to the mankind. Could this somehow be a reason why he was able to think outside the box? And why the people around him couldn’t understand him?
Or think about Aurelio Peccei. He was a successful business leader. Why did he have such a passionate interest in the humanity’s future? And why didn’t other business leaders of his time share his interest? You’ll recall the story told in Federation through Stories, how Peccei was tortured by the Gestapo without revealing the names of his contacts. Peccei was certainly not someone who would sell himself for money.
— I see where this is leading us to. We might model also our values – that is, our real or embodied values – as “boundary conditions” in our embodied mind.
We might. Indeed we might.
— Wait, I have an idea! Could we say that we can use our ’embodied neural network’ or our “genius” in two very different ways: Either we let its “boundary conditions” be set by socialization, and then use it to help us stay tuned to the social realities around us. To help us be successful in the society, by accommodating other people’s interests so that they may accommodate ours. Or we may use it to see and comprehend and create new realities. The ones that lie outside our socialized reality. Could this choice, of the way in which we use our embodied mind, be determined – without us being aware of that – by the values we embody? And could our embodied values be different from the values we cherish consciously?
That seems to follow from experience, doesn’t it? And also from Raković’s model.
That is also in line with the experience and the teachings of the spiritual traditions.
In a book titled “Suffering and No Suffering”, Buddhadasa’s student Varasak Varadhammo tirelessly repeats a formula he obviously considers as the key to the Buddha’s method:
The original Mind is luminous; it is tarnished by the presence of visiting defilements. The Original Mind is luminous; it is untarnished by the absence of visiting defilements.”
— What are “defilements”?
We may imagine them as imperfections in our embodied cognitive filters. We may also consider them as roughly equivalent to what the Western traditions call “sins”.
— What about modeling our embodied mind as a quantum system? Would that give us any new insights?
That opens up the possibility that may be the boldest: That creativity, and more generally our mind or cognition, could have a transpersonal dimension.
People across traditions and ages, who worked deeply with meditation, talked about “being one with all” as an experience. Researchers such as Carl Jung and Rupert Sheldrake talked about “collective consciousness”, “collective unconscious” and “morphological field”.
— How is that related with Raković’s model?
A quantum system is both local and global. David Bohm pointed to that by his keyword “implicate order”; and he used the hologram as a metaphor to explain it. A hologram has the property that the whole picture can be reproduced from any of its parts – because the whole is coded and hence present in its parts. Just imagine if (in some way, or to some degree) or minds might indeed form a hologram! Imagine if we might be connected into a collective mind not only by technology, but also directly, through biophysical means!
— Could the universe be creative? Could it be creating through us – if we allow it to? Wouldn’t that be an interesting alternative to the official narrative? I’ve often wondered if we, humans, are only inanimate matter, which somehow got infected by the desire to survive…
Do you know about the Potsdam Manifesto? It was co-initiated and co-written in 2005 by Hans-Peter Dürr, who was considered Werner Heisenberg’s scientific “heir”. The manifesto combined quantum physics and epistemological insights with our contemporary global condition. It’s message was its title, “We have to learn to think in a new way”.
— Technology! And technological innovation! To say that technology transformed both the human and the natural world beyond recognition would be so banal! And yet I’ve just said it – to set the stage for the question that just couldn’t be more innovative and opportune: Could there be a major misdirection in the way we innovate with technology? Could there be, here too, a principle or a rule of thumb, which we’ve been ignoring and flagrantly violating?
I take it you are not asking that as a question. You already know the answer.
— I do, of course I do. It’s just a way to continue our conversation. So far we’ve talked only about one side of a coin – about our individual creativity. And about our individual capability to comprehend situations and issues. The other side is, of course, the way we operate collectively. Those two are inextricably related: If our collective mind is well-structured and well-organized, so that our personal minds get only a manageable amount of data to process – then our personal creativity has a chance to blossom. And vice versa – it is only when our personal capability to comprehend our situation is in place, that we have a chance to do that also collectively, and take suitable action. We may now go back to Raković’s model, and ask – Are we inundated in so much data, activity, impressions… that our embodied minds simply have no chance to do their all-important work? Are we at all still capable of making sense of what goes on?
Yes indeed – we must federate an answer to that question most conscientiously.
— You have already done that, in An Intuitive Introduction to Systemic thinking. Much of what you wrote there is commonplace. Everyone knows that not only information, but also our attention has been turned into a commodity, divided into small chunks and sold to commercial interests. That’s obviously not an ecology where direct creativity can blossom! So if we are indeed living in a cognitive and emotional spasm, as Nietzsche claimed (imagine – already a century ago!), if we have by now more than lost the capability to see what goes on and act – would we be able to see that? Would we do what must be done to correct that problem?
Are you now making jokes?
— And yet by some miracle, creativity does seem to survive – in some people, and to some degree. The question then is – what do we do with their insights? Is our collective mind a creative mind? Does it have the capability to take new ideas into consideration, and weave them together into new insights and new courses of action? Or is its very structure such that only what is old and familiar has a chance to be seen and heard?
The answer is once again obvious. And you know it.
-— The polarity here is between knowledge federation and broadcasting. Two entirely different principles, two opposite ways in which the social life of information can be conceived of and organized. As different as the electricity and the fire are from each other, as ways to create light. So how do we tell this to the people, if they might no longer have the capability to change their gestalt? If they may no longer have the habit of using knowledge to decide what to do?
I don’t know how to answer that question. But I do know that that’s the key challenge that knowledge federation is facing.
— I wonder how Engelbart handled it? Here we have the Silicon Valley’s “giant in residence”, who saw the light already before you and I were born. Who created the technology that enables us to substitute the ‘lightbulb’ for the ‘candle’. Engelbart spent a long and productive career trying to convince the Silicon Valley’s businesses and developers to do that re-evolutionary and all-important feat. How did he do that? What was his strategy? What was his call to action?
Engelbart’s call to action was bootstrapping. There can be no doubt about that.
Around 1990, Doug and his daughter Christina created the Bootstrap Institute, to make bootstrapping alive and well in the Silicon Valley and beyond. Doug would begin his weekend Bootstrap Seminar, which he taught at Stanford University, by pointing to the difficulty to perceive an emerging paradigm. He would do that by telling historical anecdotes (where people were unable to see some big change coming), and then asking the participants to form small groups and dialog about that theme.
One of Engelbart’s non-historical vignettes was to ask his attendees to imagine that they grew ten times larger in size; that they became ten times taller than they were – while preserving the same bodily proportions and the same relationships between their bodies and their environment. He would then ask them whether they would notice any difference. What do you think? Imagine that one day you woke up ten times taller, but that also your bed and your room were ten times larger. Would you notice that something changed?
— Well, if everything around me was proportionally larger – then I would say no, I wouldn’t notice the difference.
Engelbart’s rationale was that one’s weight is proportional to the volume of one’s body; and hence that one would weigh thousand times more. And that the strength of one’s muscles is proportional to the area of their cross-section; and hence that it would increase only one hundred times. So the net effect of being ten times taller would be the same as being ten times heavier – with everything else remaining the same.
— Wow! I wouldn’t even be able to lift myself up from the ground! So what Engelbart was really saying was that we are, cognitively, flat on the ground under the weight of all the information we have. The amount of which grew not only ten times – but many orders of magnitude! To respond to this new challenge, to ‘lift ourselves up from the ground’, we need a whole new ‘anatomy’! We need a whole new social organization of knowledge work!
Doug didn’t need to be a genius to see that only writing about this challenge and its solution would not be the solution. So his call to action was to initiate different self-organization. Which is, of course, what bootstrapping is about. Doug and Christina later renamed their institute to “Bootstrap Alliance” – because an institution suitable for carrying out that task cannot be an institute. It has to be a…
— A federation! A transdiscipline! Isn’t that’s why you called your 2010 workshop “A Self-Organizing Collective Mind”? Knowledge Federation was conceived in its present form, as a transdiscipline, by an act of bootstrapping, to be able to perform bootstrapping. To become capable of spearheading the transformation of our collective mind. And in 2015, in Belgrade, everyone could witness how beautifully this new collective mind had evolved. Everyone could see it evolve still further, and make a practical difference.
Yes, in Belgrade we were evolving a collective mind, hands on.
— Here we only need to echo the words of the commentator on Serbian TV: “So you can create a collective genius!” That alone is enough to show that you succeeded to put that centrally important meme into the public mind! That the media appreciated it, and found it worth spreading. Or in a word – that the federation worked!
The blog report about that TV show begins here.
— In the blog post you described, in quite a bit of detail, how the federation of Raković’s ideas was done in Belgrade. And also online, after the event, by using Debategraph. Since the functioning of the new collective mind has already been described, it remains to just highlight the main point: The core capability that we can no longer claim individually (the capability to sort through massive amounts of documents, distill the ideas that may be relevant to an issue, and organize those ideas together to create new insights and reach conclusions) we can now restore collectively. We can think and create together!
Indeed! We must make it clear at once that the revolution that Engelbart foresaw, and worked for with exemplary diligence, is now taking off worldwide. An example is the work that David Price and Peter Baldwin are doing through Debategraph. The many successful interventions of Debategraph into our collective mind show that we can be collectively intelligent! And so our collective mind is being transformed. What we showed in Belgrade was how the same idea, the collective mind principle or paradigm, can be applied in the federation of a research result. We showed what might be the next-generation alternative to the traditional peer reviews.
— So let us here focus on a theme you didn’t talk about – namely the federation of the federation process itself! If your challenge is to make knowledge federation an academic activity, you need to show that the structure of the TNC prototype itself is knowledge-based.
Yes, the importance of that particular side of knowledge federation cannot be overrated.
— Your method, which makes this possible, is to create a systemic prototype, and to organize a transdisciplinary community around it to update it continuously. So let us here focus on the way in which the functioning of that community was showcased in Belgrade.
Very well. The functioning of knowledge federation as a transdiscipline is perhaps the key point of our academic proposal.
— There are quite a few streams of thought and work that need to be woven together, if the structure of a collective mind should reflect the important insights and ideas that have been developed historically. Douglas Engelbart’s ideas to begin with. You made sure, very early on, to make close ties with Douglas, Karen and Christina Engelbart, and with Bill and Roberta English. And also with Mei Lin Fung and the Program for the Future project and community that she initiated to continue and complete the unfinished parts of Engelbart’s revolution.
That’s right. Jack Park, who was a core member of the Program for the Future community, was also one of the original founders of Knowledge Federation. I like to mention that Park was an AI researcher at Stanford Research Institute, until he met Engelbart – who promptly convinced him that the collective rather than the artificial intelligence was the key to changing our contemporary condition.
Samuel Hahn, who led the technical developments in PFTF, is also a core member of Knowledge Federation. In 2013, the year when Engelbart passed away, on the 45th anniversary of Engelbart’s demo, Sam and I co-organized The Program for the Future Challenge event at Google. If you click here you’ll hear Sam’s five-minute talk at a July 2013 commemoration for Engelbart, where he shared several most interesting details about Engelbart’s views on IT innovation (you’ll see how beautifully coherent they are with what you and I have been saying here). You will also hear Sam announce our event at Google. And you’ll get a brief violin solo as a bonus. Over the years, our two initiatives have practically merged together.
— At the University of Oslo you teach a graduate course about Engelbart’s work and ideas?
I do. That has given me an opportunity to research them thoroughly.
My students tend to believe that the global issues are of interest only to those who do “climate research”; and that the goal of IT innovation is to make systems that make money. The Engelbart seminar shows IT innovation in an entirely different light – as perhaps the key to a deep societal transformation that needs to take place, if our society’s problems are to be solved.
— There are quite a few other streams of thoughts that we could talk about here. So I propose that we focus on a single one – the dialog. In that way we can continue our conversation about Tesla’s creativity, by showing how the “rule of thumb” we have federated has been woven together with other, more technical ideas – to compose a concrete system. Does the dialog have a theory? Is there a method?
Socrates, famously, initiated the tradition of the dialog; Plato’s “Dialogues” are the source of that tradition.
David Bohm brought that tradition a significant step further. What made Bohm do that was seeing Einstein and Bohr, who were originally friends and collaborators, part ways at Princeton. Somebody made a party to bring them and their circles together; but they ended up each in their own corner of the room. So right there, at the Princeton University’s Institute of Advanced Studies, Bohm could witness two contemporary tribes take shape, and turn against one other. But Bohm, of course, also federated his ideas from a variety of sources. Including the Oriental traditions, through his many dialogs with J. Krishnamurti.
— You built on Bohm’s ideas further?
We did, of course. We experimented quite a bit.
Bohm’s dialogue is a slow-moving affair. People sit in a circle, once a week and perhaps for two – three years, without having any theme or agenda whatsoever. The idea is to only exercise the basic principles – listening without judging; and “proprioception” (observing one’s own prejudices and reactions inwardly, without acting them out). Bohm’s basic insight, which I’ll interpret here in terms of the cognitive model we’ve just talked about, is that when the people become sufficiently free of their embodied “programming” – something quite wonderful happens in the group: coherence! People begin to genuinely understand each other. They begin to co-create.
— The group becomes collectively creative? And directly creative?
In our Key Point Dialog Zagreb 2009, we experimented with turning Bohm’s dialogue circle into a high-energy device for collective worldview change. And in 2015 in Belgrade, we used a variant of the same idea too. The principle of operation of the key point dialog prototype we experimented with in Zagreb was very simple: Its inner dialog circle consisted of selected community’s opinion leaders. They were instructed to practice the core elements of Bohm’s procedure, including “proprioception”. To place the dialog circle into the context of the 21st century, we surrounded it by a square, physically implemented by four chairs. Each chair had a large photo of a 20th century giant, and a couple of giant‘s books. Werner Heisenberg and Aurelio Peccei were two of the four giants.
Into the middle of the circle we then placed an idea or an insight that in a radical way challenges our conventional worldview. Which challenges the “official narrative”. In Zagreb, this idea was physically represented by Qigong Master Li Jun Feng, and his daughter Jing.
The idea was that if and when the circle begins to “resonate” with the disruptive idea – its waves get transmitted through Internet and various other media into the public sphere. The dialog spreads, and becomes truly public.
In Belgrade, the process was similar as in Zagreb. There, however, the inner circle included creativity experts and Tesla historians, some of which were participating in the larger Tesla – The History of the Future seminar our workshop was part of. The idea that was placed into its middle was, of course, Raković’s creativity model.
— You also had international experts in that dialog circle, who participated online?
We did. Some of the Knowledge Federation’s international experts were present online. Alexander Laszlo, for instance.
Alexander’s father, Ervin Laszlo, is one of the progenitors of the evolutionary systems science. Alexander’s PhD advisor at the University of Pennsylvania was Hasan Özbekhan, who was the main author, with Erich Jantsch, of The Club of Rome’s statement of purpose, “The Predicament of Mankind”. Özbekhan also wrote, as part of Erich Jantsch’s 1968 creative team, a 150-page article that was to serve as theoretical foundation for systemic innovation. Alexander later collaborated in the circle of Bela H. Banathy, a leading systems scientist who focused specifically on systemic innovation and on dialogue. Alexander contributed to both volumes of papers about the dialog, which Banathy co-edited with Patrick Jenlink.
— Now you must quickly explain why you are listing the academic credentials of your collaborators. If you don’t, your readers will think that you are name dropping.
This too is a matter of principle. I am doing that because of the main point that underlies our conversation.
The reason why we don’t offer university courses in “street crossing”, however important it might be to do it right, is that people don’t need to go to the university to learn that. So our main point here is that knowledge federation does need to be studied and developed academically. That there’s a large body of ideas that need to be brought together, learned and developed further.
Here I am also showing that our knowledge federation prototype was developed in a properly academic manner. That we did our own federation right.
— You also had young inventors and entrepreneurs in the circle?
One of the core principles in Engelbart’s opus was that “the human system” and “the tool system” must co-evolve. You might need a moment of reflection to see why this principle leads to a true revolution in IT innovation. The systems in which we live and work are no longer emerging as “side effects” of what the proverbial “two hackers in a garage” are doing. They evolve to better serve their various functions. But isn’t that what giving a direction to the ‘bus with candle headlights’ is really all about?
— The co-evolution of social systems and tool systems opens up quite wonderful opportunities for entrepreneurship, doesn’t it?
Rudan brothers were representing the tool system – human system co-evolution in our prototype. It suited well their role in our prototype that they are twins. Saša is an academic researcher, and Siniša is an entrepreneur; but they work closely together. They were creating, hands-on, a system called CollaboFramework. You may imagine it as a collection of Lego blocks – which a community of people could use to self-organize in completely new ways. And to configure their collaboration in any chosen new way.
To enable human systems and tool systems to co-evolve, research and entrepreneurship must work hand-in-hand, just as this pair of twin brothers might work together.
— The federation that began in the circle continued online, on Debategraph?
And there I liked to say that we were guided to develop an online dialog “by David Price himself”.
— David Price is a co-founder and co-leader of Debategraph?
That’s right. As a FRSA with a doctorate from Cambridge University, David too has excellent academic credentials. Yet he spends his time and energy creating a collective mind, hands-on. By developing Debategraph, and by facilitating its dialogs.
— Debategraph itself is a knowledge-based development, isn’t it?
Debategraph is rooted in a body of work called “issue-based information system” or IBIS, which was initiated at the IUC Berkeley by Werner Kunz and Horst Rittel in the 1960s. The IBIS was envisioned as a systemic response to “wicked problems” – which include the typical “contemporary issues”.
— Price is also a co-founder and the de-facto leader of an online community of leading researchers in that domain, called “Global Sensemaking”? What is the purpose of that community?
Global Sensemaking is a community of about 300 researchers and developers of “tool and human systems” for collective creation of meaning, or “collective intelligence” or “collective creativity”. This community is an embryo of a new academic field. It is also, needless to say, part of our proposal to institutionalize knowledge federation.
— Anyone in particular you’d like to mention?
I have Jeff Conklin in mind. Not because he is more important than others, but because I would like to highlight a message he shared in his book “Dialog Mapping”.
In the book Conklin showed how any tool like Debategraph may be instrumental in turning conventional opinion battles into co-creative dialogs. Once a personal point of view is stated – it’s there, on the map. From that point on, a skilled facilitator guides everyone toward considering the map as their creation, not just their original opinion, which they brought to the map.
But isn’t that exactly the core challenge we need to face – if we want to organize the contemporary knowledge workers to shift the paradigm? And begin to federate knowledge.
— Next on our agenda is the reason why ‘the king’ is completely naked. And why he is, strictly speaking, not a real and legitimate… But let’s not rush ahead. Our theme here is the method. And science, or “the scientific method”, in the role of “the Grand Revelator of modern Western culture”.
If people and society should have the knowledge they need, then we must have a method by which such knowledge can be created.
— In Return to Reason, and in several other places, you talked about a sequence of historical accidents that led to the situation we are in. You talked about an “understandable error” we made, when we adopted from the traditional culture a myth incomparably more important than the myth of creation – that the purpose of knowledge is to tell us how “the reality really is”. In Return to Reason, you commented on Stephen Toulmin’s book where it was explained how the successes of science in explaining the natural phenomena naturally made it seem that the traditional “scientific method”, as embodied by the traditional scientific disciplines, was the way in which “the reality” was to be explored. And how it happened that the mores of the tradition, the myths of old, the religious practices, the daily life rituals, the traditional values… – or in a word how our culture lost its foundations! How it lost its bearings!
Many people might disagree with what you’ve just said.
— Many of your giants wrote about that. Heisenberg, to begin with. But we don’t need to quote them. We can just look around. And take a moment to reflect – as you suggested in An Intuitive Introduction to Systemic Thinking. All we need is what we can see ourselves – if we allow ourselves to see what we see: It is not only that the king is completely naked; he shouldn’t even be the king. The method we are using to create truth and meaning is not suitable for its purpose. It has never been conceived for that purpose. The reproduction of culture has been outsourced to commercial interests because the official culture is no longer qualified for that job. It lacks suitable knowledge. It lacks the method. It lacks the awareness that it now has that all-important role; and hence it lacks even the interest.
Our goal is not to criticize, but to offer solutions. What solution to this issue are we offering, as part of the knowledge federation prototype?
— You offered a way to federate a suitable method, by using truth by convention and developing a general-purpose methodology. Instead of once again going into technical details, let’s summarize them by pointing to the holoscope.
Science gave us new ways to look at the world, and our vision expanded beyond bounds. The telescope and the microscope enabled us to see the things that were too distant or too small to be seen by the naked eye. At the same time, science had the tendency to keep us focused on things that were either too distant or too small to be relevant – compared to all those big and important things that now demand our attention. Holoscope is conceived as way to look at the world that helps us see the whole – from all sides, and in correct proportions.
How is knowledge federation to achieve that? In what way does the above image point to a more suitable new method?
— The goal is, metaphorically speaking, to see ‘the cup’ (an issue or thing under consideration) from all sides, and form a gestalt: Is it whole? Or is it broken? To look in only one way, from only one angle, will not be enough.
How is that reflected in the example we have been studying here, our Tesla and the Nature of Creativity project and the TNC2015 prototype?
— That is obvious, isn’t it? Instead of simply ignoring the Oriental medicine, the Buddha and the Russian-Ukrainian school of microwave resonance therapy, we federated them. We combined their insights with one another, and also with insights from contemporary physics, cognitive science and sociology. In that way we made a case for an uncommon way of perceiving a common core issue – creativity. The epistemology we’ve talked about a moment ago allows us to do that in an academically rigorous way. We were not saying that creativity “really works” as claimed. Such claims could not even be made within the prototype methodology that Knowledge Federation is showing. What is being offered is, rather, a legitimate way to look at creativity as a core issue. Instantly, we were able to see how not only creativity – but indeed how our entire society might be cracked or broken without us perceiving that. How our gestalt, our “reality picture”, might separate us from the awareness we need.
— We have now come to the purpose of knowledge federation. The purpose that has served as its very definition. You defined knowledge federation as a means to an end. As the pursuit of a purpose. The chosen purpose was to give our society the vision it requires.
Yes, we should not forget to talk about the purpose of knowledge federation.
— You’ve been using The Club of Rome’s diagnosis of our society’s condition as a benchmark. Concretely Aurelio Peccei’s assessment, that “it is absolutely essential to find a way to change course”. Can knowledge federation in the role of the ‘headlights’, as the new source of vision, make that sort of a difference. And if it can – how?
Yes, that has indeed been our benchmark. In our prototype, Aurelio Peccei and The Club of Rome symbolize the results of federation of what is known about our civilization’s course. And what exactly it may take to change it.
— We may now also supplement Peccei’s conclusion, which you quoted in the above card, with the following explanation, which I found in an online review of Peccei’s book “Human Quality”:
How can the human species survive the crisis of its own extraordinary techno-scientific success? In this truly unique book Aurelio Peccei shows us that the solution cannot be found in external factors. It must lie in re-establishing a sound cultural balance within man himself so that he becomes capable of living in harmony with the new human condition and changed world environment. Only by a cultural revolution which changes the human quality can we control and orient the material revolutions.
— And isn’t the human quality what you and I have just been talking about? What could be more relevant to human quality than the qualities we’ve been discussing: creativity, awareness, values…
Yes indeed – without awareness it will be difficult to “change course”. And with the kind of values we are being socialized to embrace…
— So isn’t it most wonderful to see that all those human qualities fit so snuggly together? To have any one of them – we need to have them all! And isn’t it equally wonderful to see just how consistently our everyday reality, the socio-cultural ecology we are immersed in, is pulling us away from those qualities! The advertising, that enormous and ubiquitous global industry, constantly claiming our attention. Relentlessly making us egoistic!
We should not forget that our focus is not on solutions.
— And here, knowledge federation has indeed a uniquely attractive value proposition: the holotopia! A vision of a future that is at once compellingly attractive – and practically realizable!
Our point here is to aim at a comprehensive change. And to engage in that change strategically – by first liberating, and then changing, our collective mind. Do you have a good way to explain why this is a good strategy?
— Because all various facets of both our problems and of their solutions are so closely related. They are tightly knit together into an order of things, into a paradigm. You’ve pointed to that in Federation through Stories, and in Knowledge Federation in a Nutshell, by talking about the possibility of
- a revolution in communication, analogous to the advent of the printing press
- a revolution in innovation, analogous to the Industrial Revolution
- a revolution in knowledge, analogous to the Scientific Revolution
- a revolution in culture, analogous to the Renaissance
and by pointing out how closely all those revolutions depend on one another. Now, in this conversation, we’ve seen yet another facet of this impending re-evolution – which is a quantum leap in creativity. And in awareness, and values. And it is so empowering to see just how much the creativity, the awareness and the values that this revolution will bring, will also make those earlier mentioned revolutions more likely to succeed! And vice versa.
I like to see all this from the point of view that Doug Engelbart left us, the way to use our creativity, especially in innovation, by identifying the capabilities we are lacking, as people and as society. And then making changes in our “human system” and our “tools system”, which would augment that capability. I would say we’ve just demonstrated how this may be done with creativity – by first federating what we know about it; and then using that knowledge to recreate a key critical socio-technical system, so that direct creativity may be effectively augmented.
Is there anything else you would like to add before we conclude this theme?
— I once read in one of your blog posts an interesting note, that our next challenge is to harness the power of our own socialization. Would you like to repeat it here?
During the past century we harnessed the power of the wind, the Sun, the rivers, the fossil fuels and the atom. What remains is to harness the power that is now the greatest of them all – the power of our own socialization. This power is the greatest, because it will decide how all those other powers will be used.
— Now I’ll give you a chance to go on your academic fundamentalist rant. To tell your sermon. I imagined you itching to do that all along. On the Knowledge Federation website you began introducing knowledge federation by talking about it – even though you must surely know that epistemology is not something your readers care about. Or your academic colleagues, for that matter – to whom your proposal is addressed. These days we cannot bend our minds to agree why the climate is changing; and what we must do to leave our children a planet they can live on. And what is Dino talking about? Epistemology!
Perhaps you might wish to explain why I care so much about epistemology?
— Of course, of course! I was only teasing you. And the answer is anyhow obvious: The reason why we don’t know the answers to even the basic questions is that we don’t have the right knowledge. And the reason why we don’t have the right knowledge is that we don’t have even an inkling of knowledge of knowledge – which would tell us what knowledge needs to be like. And how knowledge needs to be created and used, if it is to be useful.
What epistemology are we proposing? What difference will it make?
— I’ll be glad to answer that question. But not yet. I’ve done a bit of federation myself, and compiled from your writings – for your use and benefit – a whole list of reasons why epistemology is important. Perhaps I could share just a couple of them here?
Oh yes, of course. Please go ahead.
— If our society should become knowledge-based, if we should have a society that uses knowledge to understand the world and choose its future – that society will need knowledge-based insights, principles, rules of thumb. We have seen just a moment ago that this is the core purpose of knowledge federation. And how that knowledge can be created, and has been created. Epistemology is that single insight, principle, or rule of thumb, on which that whole new structure, comprising knowledge and knowledge-based society, must be founded. It’s the beginning of it all! And it is also the core role the academia has in our society! It is the core theme of the academic tradition! Wasn’t that what the dialogues of Socrates were about – challenging his contemporaries to re-examine the foundations of their beliefs, helping them develop some knowledge of knowledge, so that more solid knowledge may replace unfounded beliefs? And wasn’t challenging the epistemology of the day – and the power structure that depended on it – the reason why Galilei was in house arrest?
Yes, there can be no doubt that knowledge of knowledge has always been the pivotal point of change. And that the academia is the custodian of knowledge of knowledge in our society today.
— We have now come to your main point – that epistemology is once again ripe for a major change, in our present time. That the knowledge of knowledge we own demands such a change. And haven’t we seen just a moment ago, when we were federating Raković’s model and looking at the consequences that such federation might have, yet another reason for that – in addition to all those various other reasons you’ve listed on Federation through Images, and in the Knowledge Federation dot Org blog post? “Reality” – which traditionally served as the foundation for social creation of truth and meaning – turned out to be just a product of our psyche; molded by socialization. That very “aha” experience, when we grasp the data in a certain way – which we are socialized to consider as the sign that we have seen “the reality” – can now be understood as just a product of our cognitive machinery. Yes, now finally, we are ready to see ourselves! Instead of being kept in shackles by some socialized “reality picture” or other – and remain slaves, or serfs, or mercenaries, or ignorant consumer driving our civilization toward a bitter end – we can see that “reality” for what it is! We can see it as a spasm in our cognitive system – which inhibits our mind from learning further, from seeing new realities when they emerge, from finding new ways to handle them. We are now ready to put an end to cognitive-political “rape of the masses”, once and for all! It is the academia‘s prerogative and duty to do that! So isn’t your knowledge federation proposal an invitation, to the academia, to guide us through the mirror – and into a new cultural and social reality? Just as Moses guided the oppressed across the Red Sea…
Except that here no divine intervention is needed. The knowledge of knowledge we own will be amply enough.
— This brings us to your technical point – how truth by convention can be used to federate knowledge of knowledge in an academically rigorous way. To ‘step through the mirror’ by making a convention – that (on the other side of the mirror) information is not “the reflection of reality”, but something we the people create consciously, to fulfill certain core functions in our lives, and our society. And to create on the other side a new human world, free of ignorance and oppression. You shared the details as the Polyscopic Modeling prototype in Federation through Applications. And I have also found a couple of dialogs – this one and this one – which you had with Isis Frisch (who was, I guessed, one of your Knowledge Federation collaborators) where you pointed to design epistemology as a new “Archimedean point”, which can once again empower the knowledge to make a difference. And where you described the details of the ‘fulcrum’ and the ‘lever’, and the kind of change that can be made.
We were looking at these improvised slides while conversing about the “Archimedean point”.
— Another reason why you are so passionate about epistemology is that you want to save the young scientist who believe in science and in the academic cause – just as you did as a young scientist. (I see that you still haven’t lost your faith – in spite of all the counter-evidence!) You want to free the next-generation academics from a dogma, that science is “culture-trammelled understanding”. That “plagiarizing the past” is the only way to be a scientist. You want to empower the young scientists to create the future science. And our and their own future! Haven’t you begun this blog by describing an event where you reached out to a student excellence organization in Croatia, and invited their members to step through the mirror?
What can I say – you are right, of course. I keep repeating myself.
— Finally, your epistemology point is necessary for understanding knowledge federation. Understanding the nature of your proposal, and of any of your prototypes. Including the one we’ve just been talking about. A moment ago, for example, when you and I were talking about Raković’s model, we were not saying “here is how Tesla’s creativity really worked”. We were not even saying “here is how Tesla’s creativity might have worked”. Those are the kind of things one might say on this side of the mirror, where the academia is today. What you and I were describing, or I should say what we were creating, was a rigorous academic reality – on the other side. It is rigorous because there we are creators, not spectators! While federating Raković’s ideas in 2015 in Belgrade, the Knowledge Federation was evolving a collective mind capable of fostering new insights. And of making the people, all of us, collectively creative. You were not creating a “reality picture” and claiming that it’s faithful to the original. You were creating a process! And a process of process! By doing that you were making a step forward – no, let’s not be unduly modest, you were taking a quantum leap ahead, relative to what we have.
How would you describe the epistemology the knowledge federation proposal is based on?
— Oh, you’ve already done that, in more than enough detail and on many occasions – whenever you talked about truth by convention as the way to ‘step through the mirror‘ in an academically rigorous way. And about using truth by convention to define a methodology – and spell out the rules. To state the fundamental assumptions and criteria, based on which the methods and the social processes are to be developed. The design epistemology is what being on the other side of the mirror is all about – that information is not a “reflection of reality”, but a human-made thing, adapted to human purposes. What you forgot to mention, however, is the main point.
What main point?
— That this whole structure is based consistently on one single idea. Look: (1) your epistemology follows from knowledge federation; (2) your prototype transdiscipline performs knowledge federation; (3) that prototype is continuously updated through knowledge federation (by the knowledge federation transdiscipline) – and hence kept in sync with the available knowledge of knowledge. So the whole thing follows from just a single, obvious axiom: Knowledge must be federated! And isn’t that exactly the principle the academia stands for? Or better said – should stand for!
Is there anything else you would like to say about this theme?
— Oh yes – there is another simplification. There is a much simpler way to make your epistemology point.
What way? Please go ahead.
— You’ve mentioned somewhere that your father was a lawyer. I thought when you and I were talking that growing up with a lawyer might have led to your fundamentalist ideas, even if you were not aware of that.
— I’ve come to understand knowledge federation as simply constitutional democracy – in the work with knowledge. Today we give even a most hated criminal the benefits of a fair trial. And yet we routinely ignore and eliminate ideas – when they fail to suit our worldview. When they challenge our socialized reality. When they go against the grain of the social class or profession that provides us our self-identity.
— I think we can be reasonably happy with what we’ve done so far – as a problem description. But we still need a call to action. What good is a diagnosis, if we don’t also offer a remedy?
We did issue a call to action, didn’t we? The entire knowledge federation proposal, as it’s been described on KnowledgeFederation.org, is a call to action – to institutionalize and develop knowledge federation as an academic field, and as a real-life praxis. Also a number of our specific prototypes were conceived as invitations to our academic colleagues – to specific communities, in concrete situations – to self-organize toward becoming capable of federating knowledge. So all our calls to action are instances of the call to action that Doug Engelbart issued long before Knowledge Federation was conceived – to initiate, or to bootstrap, self-organization in knowledge work. We are, however, now backing that proposal with a complete prototype. And with an academically thorough case…
— Oh, come on now! You don’t really believe that such calls to action can have any effect? If there is any truth in your theory about the state of our collective mind… But no, I won’t repeat that. Just tell me – how many of your bootstrapping attempts have resulted in any real action? You don’t need to say anything, just nod your head. I can see very well what’s going on out there.
— I thought so! No effect whatsoever! Here you described how your very first bootstrapping attempt failed, twenty years ago. You were received as a first-time guest in a house, who suddenly stood up and began to rearrange the furniture. The advantages of your rearrangement were never discussed. They were beside the point. What mattered was that you were in their house, tempering with their furniture. And now we found out that all your bootstraping attempts were received in that same way! But listen my good man – why don’t you give up? Throw in the towel! By now you must have surely seen that your bootstrapping calls to action are falling on deaf ears!
— You remain silent. You want me to connect the dots myself? You want me to step into your shoes, into your role of Knowledge Federation’s “evangelist”? Let us see…
— I think I would begin with the BIG question. And with the BIG vision. Yes, I think I would begin by showing this video, which you called “Engelbart’s Last Wish”:
— The BIG question was there skillfully framed by Christina Engelbart. It’s about the way – or the ‘program’, or the ‘algorithm’, or the ‘system’ – which we use to create, integrate and apply knowledge. Engelbart saw a better way to do that – which could be “plugged into” any issue we the people may need to understand, or resolve. So suppose we began to explore and pursue his vision. Suppose we developed the capability to see and update the systems that we use to handle knowledge. What difference would that make? How large improvements would be possible? I’ve seen this video quite a few times. I especially liked the moment when Engelbart says:
It’s just the effect of getting 5% better. And how much better to aim for. What’s the potential? I’ve always felt that the potential was large. And it’s been hard for me… that’s intuitive and… what I’d call “an intuitive certainty”.
— Engelbart puts his hand on his forehead. We see direct creativity in action. Engelbart saw a larger than life possibility, and made it the purpose of his career. How large is what he saw? What is its possible impact? Can we federate an answer to this question? Can we federate Engelbart’s vision – as you promised him you would?
— The answer is the knowledge federation prototype, and its various specific prototypes. Or in any case one part of the answer. In The Game-Changing Game presentation you invited the people present to imagine the largest contribution to human knowledge they might think about. I found this 2009 video, where you evangelized knowledge federation by first talking about the possibility of a 5% improvement. You asked your audience to think about this as a contribution to human knowledge. How large would this contribution be? Then you presented an argument why a large, “1000%” improvement might be possible. And now, a decade later, the complete prototype shows that not only a “1000%” improvement of the “algorithm” can be achieved – but that its very principle of operation is obsolete and must be replaced. That knowledge federation, and not broadcasting, must be used. The evangelizing prototypes in juxtaposition with the systemic prototypes show that the difference to be made is the difference between collective intelligence – and collective insanity! With that, the BIG theorem, about the potential improvement that bootstrapping could bring along, has been proven. QED!
— But there is still this other question: Who will make this improvement? Who will do the bootstrapping?
“I used to think I would go to the universities and… He he he!”
— Engelbart laughed, selfdefiantly. Of course he thought he would go to the universities. Only the academia has the knowledge, and the power, to change our collective mind. To create, and to also to be, our society’s ‘headlights’.
— But is bootstrapping systemic change in knowledge work a task that the university should consider its own? One might say that it’s obviously not. This task does not belong to physics, or to biology… But with a bit of polyscopy, and with some touches of knowledge federation, you created a way to look at this matter that leads to a very different conclusion.
— First you defined academia as “institutionalized academic tradition”. Then you showed that using knowledge of knowledge to improve our handling of knowledge is what the academic tradition is really all about. That task was easy: Socrates used the only way to knowledge of knowledge that was available in his age – self-reflection. Two thousand years later, Galilei and others added the experiment and the mathematical theory. By describing his contribution as a result of “standing on the shoulders of giants”, Newton made it clear that his achievements too were a result of federating knowledge.
— You then showed that if we would federate the knowledge of knowledge that’s available to us today – the result would be knowledge federation. That’s what you and I have been talking about a moment ago, isn’t it?
— And so we have a way to address the next BIG question. Here is how you phrased it in My Career as an Experiment. :
I want to make a case for changing the way in which the selected, trained and publicly sponsored minds are organized in the production and sharing of knowledge globally.
— Is the contemporary academia institutionalizing the academic tradition? Or have the universities self-organized as a way to pursue symbolic power – just as that school committee of yours did, in Childhood Memory? The theory says that both answers are possible. And that if this latter is the correct one, that the academic people wouldn’t know that. So our question must be answered by an experiment.
— And there was an experiment! Wasn’t that the reason why you called your bootstrapping attempts Quixote stunts? Another private joke of yours! Everyone thought that you were making assaults on windmills, in the name of some outdated ideals such as the pursuit of knowledge, and the purpose of knowledge. While in fact you were showing, again and again, just how much our academic communities have become insensitive to such concerns!
— I can see now that you are not as naive as I thought. Your experiment is not a failure. It is a shining success! You have an experimental confirmation of the theoretical possibility elaborated on The Paradigm Strategy poster – that not only our society, but that also the academia slipped from what you called there the homo sapiens evolutionary track. That the academia is operating and evolving in the homo ludens way; and guiding our society accordingly.
— So you have a genuine result! You have an answer to the main research question in front of the mirror. Only don’t take it too far and celebrate. The success of your experiment means that your whole initiative will be futile. That knowledge federation will be just another idea ignored. Unless you do something different.
What? Would you like to propose a call to action?
— As a matter of fact, yes. It’s “Occupy the university!”
You don’t mean…
— Of course I do mean it! What’s the use of occupying Wall Street? Those “financial innovators” out there are creatively updating their system – to make it better suit its role, making the rich richer. So isn’t it good news, isn’t it really good news, that our future is not in their hands, but in the hands of publicly sponsored intellectuals? You academics are so comfortable believing that you are the good guys in the contemporary drama. That Donald Trump, and “the 1%”, are the bad guys. If only they listened to you! But it is you who are now keeping Galilei in house arrest. And only you have the power to release him.
We are back to where we started, aren’t we?
Except that now I can explain why I insist on avoiding conflicts, and having dialogs. In this new academic reality, on the other side of the mirror, the medium truly is the message.
Exceedingly many changes will need to be made, before the academic and cultural order of things we’ve been talking about will become reality. But the natural first is the change of the dynamic – from competition to collaboration; from turf strife to self-organization.
Knowledge federation is not our project. It is a cause as old as the mankind – which is in our time taking a new turn, and acquiring a new form. If we try to fit it into the conventional order of things, if we treat it as “our project for which we are soliciting support”, we’ll remain on the wrong side of the mirror. We’ll still be using, and hence reinforcing, the paradigm we have undertaken to change.
Knowledge federation depends on genuine co-ownership, engagement, sharing, collaboration, self-organization. The self-reflective dialog in front of the mirror is only the first step. But if we present ourselves in that re-evolutionary space, in that dialog in front of the mirror, wearing boxing gloves – we’ll have taken the very first step in a wrong direction.
— All right, all right. I see your point. But I still think that “Occupy the university!” must be your battle cry. Only – wait, I see how we can reconcile it with your wish to have a dialog.
— No, just listen: Your appeal is to your academic colleagues, isn’t it? Being in academic occupation, they already occupy the university. I mean – they occupy the university physically, or outwardly. So just ask them to occupy it also inwardly.
What would that mean, to occupy the university inwardly?
— It would mean to embody the values that the founding fathers of science, and of academia, manifested so clearly.