If you can walk past a newsstand, look at the headlines and think “Nothing new yet!”— then the theme of this blog might be what you’ve been waiting for.
There is a way to work with knowledge, or technically a paradigm, which is as different from academic publishing, journalism and other common approaches to knowledge as science was different from the work of the scholastics, in the age of Galilei. This new paradigm has been conceived to radically improve the use and usefulness of knowledge, by taking advantage of fundamental insights reached in science and philosophy, and the intrinsic character of new information technology.
These were the opening lines of my report about this blog, for my university’s database of academic contributions, which I submitted yesterday. If the notion of a new “paradigm” might seem academic and distant, allow me to reassure you that the underlying idea couldn’t be more down on earth and obvious than it is.
From the traditional culture we’ve inherited a myth incomparably more subversive than the myth of creation – that the purpose of information, and of knowledge, is to show us “the reality” objectively, “as it truly is”.
The alternative, pointed to by the Modernity ideogram, is to consider information and knowledge as human-made things; and as essential elements in a broad variety of human-made things, of which our society and our culture are examples. The moment we make this groundbreaking and liberating shift of perception, we see that the knowledge work traditions we’ve inherited from the past are now just as unsuitable for the vital new roles that must be served, as a pair of candles are in the role of the headlights.
We then become empowered – and indeed also obliged – to craft the ways in which we handle knowledge; to tailor them to their purposes, instead of inheriting them blindly.
An academically thorough and complete prototype of a new ‘pair of headlights’ – which we called knowledge federation – has recently been completed, and described on KnowledgeFederation.org. Holoscope is knowledge federation‘s colloquial nickname. This blog is conceived as a trail of breadcrumbs, showing the holoscope from different angles. And reporting its emergence.
In 1980, Aurelio Peccei summed up his hundred page summary of the insights resulting from The Club of Rome’s research into the future prospects of mankind as follows (the boldface emphasis of the concluding sentence is mine):
The arguments posed in the preceding pages […] point out several things, of which one of the most important is that our generations seem to have lost the sense of the whole. From all points of view, this loss represents a backward step, an unfortunate involution—especially since it has occurred at the very moment when many systems, old and new, are expanding and intertwining, thus deepening the complexity of the great metasystem of the world which gives humanity, willy-nilly, a substantial unity. A sense of the global and universal harmony, which is characteristic to philosophical and religious thought and is the eternal quest of science, has also become an indispensable basis for informed political action. That sense must be restored to present-day society.
In other words, we should consider it obvious that, in order to approach fundamental questions — such as [Peccei names a whole list of conflicts and issues that filled up the headlines of his day; you may here fill in the contemporary ones, or represent them all by the climate change, or any other issue of your choice] — we must see them in the dynamic context of the socio-political evolution of the world. And, in order to combat the causes of famine, or the more recent phenomena of civil violence, terrorism, high-jacking and drug proliferation, we must see their roots deep within the disorder and malfunction of contemporary global and national societies; we must consider them as individual parts of a broader problematique; and we must conceive their solutions as one aspect of restoring general order. All the more reason, therefore, if we are to perceive the complexity of the human predicament itself and grasp its true significance, for us to examine the human condition as a whole today, and its likely future development. […]
The Club of Rome realized that a sense of the global whole must be restored to our minds if we are to make a reliable diagnosis of the ills of humanity and find appropriate remedies. It is in some measure thanks to its efforts that progress has recently been made in this direction. The nature of certain difficulties is now better understood. We are beginning to connect the economy with ecology, security problems with social problems, the energy crisis with past political errors, and a given event in one corner of the globe with what is happening in another.
The Club of Rome also realized that our generations, swollen with pride in our technological triumphs, must regain the sense of human responsibilities that I have already mentioned. On this point, let me digress briefly.
For some time now, the perception of these responsibilities has motivated a number of organizations and small voluntary groups of concerned citizens which have mushroomed all over to respond to the demands of new situations or to change whatever is not going right in society. These groups and now legion. They arose sporadically on the most varied fronts and with different aims. They comprise peace movements, supporters of national liberation, and advocates of women’s rights and population control; defenders of minorities, human rights, and civil liberties; apostles of “technology with a human face” and the humanization of work; social workers and activists for social change; ecologists, friends of the Earth or of animals; defenders of consumer rights; non-violent protesters; conscientious objectors, and many others. These groups are usually small but, should the occasion arise, they can mobilize a host of men and women, young and old, inspired by a profound sense of the common good and by moral obligations which, in their eyes, are more important than all others.
They form a kind of popular army, actual or potential, with a function comparable to that of the antibodies generated to restore normal conditions in a biological organism that is diseased or attacked by pathogenic agents. The existence of so many spontaneous organizations and groups testifies to the vitality of our societies, even in the midst of the crisis they are undergoing. Means will have to be found one day to consolidate their scattered efforts in order to direct them towards strategic objectives.
We did find a way to restore “the sense of the whole”. We made good use of our overabundant knowledge, and saw through to the requisite “strategic objectives”. Our goal now is to share this vision; and to facilitate its fulfillment. So let me give this a try.
A huge, exotic animal is ready to emerge in the light of day – as soon as we begin to connect the dots!
Before we saw the elephant, we could hear our visionary thinkers talk about “the fan”, the “hose” and the “rope”. But they didn’t make sense, and we ignored them. Now that we’ve caught a glimpse of this spectacularly large development, their insights got a whole new meaning. They begin to make a difference.
A view of a realm of opportunities results, which we have called holotopia.
As a vision of a possible new societal order of things, the holotopia differs from the common utopias by being more felicitous—and at the same time readily realizable! The reason is that we already own all the knowledge needed for holotopia‘s fulfillment.
What makes the holotopia a strategic objective of choice is a paradox:
Comprehensive change can be easy – even when smaller and obviously necessary changes might be impossible.
The reason is that in every complex system, of which our civilization or society is an example, everything depends on everything else.
To realize the holotopia, it’s enough to ‘connect the dots’ that are already there. When we look through the holoscope, we see the holotopia as the reality worth aiming for.
Also the emergence of the holoscope can be effortless and natural. The holoscope too follows when we ‘connect the dots’; when we make good use of the fundamental knowledge we own. And when we use the new media technology as it was meant to be used.
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 too distant or too small to be relevant – relative to all those big things nearby, which now demand our attention. Holoscope is conceived as a way to look at the world that helps us see any theme or issue as a whole – from all sides; and in correct proportions.