If you had a chance to glance at the About article of this blog, then you’ll know that it’s conceived as a riddle. I challenged you to connect the dots, to comprehend the lager story these stories are part of. What’s really going on here?
And I gave you these two clues: That I am talking about a creative project whose value I’ve appraised so highly, that the usual concerns about money and career naturally faded away. And that the bus with candle headlights, which you see in this blog’s banner, is the key to understanding why.
I shall now withdraw that challenge.
The reason is the website knowledgefederation.org, which has recently been thoroughly redesigned by Knowledge Federation’s expert design team and completely rewritten. This website provides the solution. You can now simply read the answer.
The nature of this blog will from here on be different.
My friend Alexander rightly objected that this wasn’t really a blog at all; that some of my blog posts were like mini novels. There was a reason for that. To make sense of literally anything, one had to have at least some understanding of the whole thing. And so I had to constantly drag around this large context. Keep filling it in.
Not any more. Now that the website provides the context, I can just point my finger.
From this moment on, this blog will be what a blog is supposed to be – a timeline. A personal report of real-life events.
I completed the website (sufficiently, for now) on last Christmas Eve, just before I would fly to the Suan Mokkh forest monastery for my yearly meditation retreat. I am also doing field work there: Ven Ajahn Buddhadasa, the enlightened monk and reformer of Buddhism who created the monastery, is the main protagonist of the first book of Knowledge Federation Trilogy. Now that I’m back in Oslo, my focus is on finishing that book. Its title is “Liberation”; the subtitle is “Religion for the Third Millennium”.
The day before the Christmas Eve I worked around the clock, and around 3:30 A.M. I realized I was done. The results of my 24 years–long crazy adventure have finally been put together. The whole thing has been made public! I can now sit back and rest.
On Christmas Eve I shared the link to the website with some of my VIP academic contacts and friends.
What do you think were their reactions?
There simply weren’t any!
I won’t say this aloud, but I wonder if anyone really “got it”! (I am alluding to Doug Engelbart who, as you may have seen on the website, foresaw and undertook to develop what we are calling knowledge federation already before I was born. He created the personal, interactive and networked computing as we know it today as a step toward that much larger vision. Doug was notorious for telling people “you just don’t get it”. His story will be told as part of the second book of Knowledge Federation Trilogy, titled “Systemic Innovation” and subtitled “Democracy for the Third Millennium”.)
At Suan Mokkh I showed the website to Ben, my new friend. Ben used to work in a communication design research lab. “Some interesting ideas you’ve got here,” he commented. “But I believe you should begin by giving an explanation and a summary. You cannot expect that the people will be able to see through to them on their own.” Ben didn’t get it either.
“I explained what the project is about in the first two paragraphs”, I thought. “In any case I believed I did. I then explained that four more times, in four different ways, on that same front page.” But I didn’t say this to Ben, of course.
“This whole thing is like a joke,” I told him instead. “When you get it, you will laugh. But one shouldn’t spoil a good joke by explaining it upfront.”
So you can see now why this is a good moment for you to begin following this story: The stage has just been set; and the show has not yet begun.
The fact that as far as I am aware “nobody really gets it” will make the show all the more interesting for you to watch. And if you “get it” – then you’ve already got your show and your front-row seat, at no cost at all!
You might appreciate the irony: Isn’t knowledge federation’s very reason for existence to enable the communication of big pictures and purposes? Shouldn’t it be able to explain at the very least its own meaning and purpose?
But just wait. We are still warming up. Of course we’ll use knowledge federation to explain knowledge federation. And of course we’ll be strategic about bursting the bubble! Those three books, the Knowledge Federation Trilogy, are being prepared to put the ball in play. And those conversations…
No, wait! Let’s not talk about that yet. I got an idea.
Today is my birthday. I’ve decided to interrupt the work on the book, and give myself, and you, this blog post as a present. I realized that before I can sit back and relax, before I can comfortably focus on the book, I owe you, and everyone else, an explanation. The work that’s been done on Knowledge Federation dot Org isn not complete without it.
Then this morning I remembered that Kurt Vonnegut wrote Breakfast of Champions as a birthday present to himself. And how he appeared in the book in person, and conversed with his characters. Do you know, by the way, that Kilgore Trout, his main character, considered mirrors to be “leaks into another reality”? Make a note of this; it will be significant.
So it just occurred to me – why don’t you and I improvise something similar? While we wait for those books to be written, and for those dialogs to begin, why don’t you and I have a dialog right here and now?
Would you like to give this a try?
Well of course – you don’t have a voice here yet! We’ll take care of that as soon as the real dialogs begin. But for now – would you mind if I just fill in your part? I could then literally guide your thoughts. I could directly help you understand. And you and I could then help everyone else.
What do you say?
– I say okay, let’s do it. I’ll play along. But under one condition: I want you to be completely straight and honest. I want you to tell me your deepest thoughts, without holding anything back. I want the kind of things you couldn’t write on the website. You realize why this is important? To make the ideas credible and real, we need the rapport. We need the reality touch.
— Why do I imagine you as a woman?
— Stop that. I might be a woman or a man. You’ll never know. And anyhow, what difference does that make? Just answer my question.
— OK, I promise. I will tell the truth as well as I know it; and I won’t hold back.
– So tell me then: What is it that the academic people “don’t get”?
— That information must inform us. That knowledge must provide us what we above all need to know.
— What? Can you repeat that?
— I believe you heard me right. You just don’t believe it’s so simple.
— Can’t you for once be serious? You must realize that what you’ve just said is not serving your purpose at all! That’s not the kind of news people expect from you after 24 years of work. You’re just being arrogant! Of course people stop listening. So really now – where’s the beef?
— I am a vegetarian… But OK – to get to the meat of it: What’s shown on the website is a complete model or prototype of “a new approach to knowledge”. Technically, the website is a paradigm proposal. The goal is to give the contemporary people and society exactly the kind of knowledge they or we need. The knowledge we the people must have, but don’t have yet.
— The knowledge of “know-what”? Of purposes and directions?
— That above all. But more generally and more accurately, knowledge federation is a prototype of a knowledge work that is responsive to, or tailored to, the contemporary needs of people and society. Whatever those needs may turn out to be.
— Is that what the bus with candle headlights is meant to mean? Are you saying that you people have just invented the lightbulb?!
— One might say, metaphorically, that what is shown on the website is a complete prototype of a socio-technical lightbulb. It includes the principle of operation, the details of design, examples of application, and even a proof of concept and a deployment strategy.
Of course we created this prototype by combining published ideas, “by standing on the shoulders of giants”. And by adding pieces here and there as needed.
— So here you have it! Haven’t you just said it yourself? It’s not that the academic people “don’t get” what you guys did. They simply don’t care. And rightly so! What you are proposing might be useful, but it’s not academic work! The problem you are solving is not an academic one.
Even Edison didn’t get academic credit for his invention!
— Look – the lightbulb is only a metaphor.
What we are describing and proposing in an academic sense is a paradigm. And when we say that this paradigm follows by “standing on the shoulders of giants”, what this means is that it follows as a natural and necessary consequence of what we already know, academically. We are talking about an emerging paradigm or the next paradigm. Something that follows, academically and ethically and logically, as the next step in an evolutionary process. And as a step in academic evolution.
— But you begin by talking about something else. You talk about Newton and Galilei, and the Enlightenment and the next cultural and societal paradigm shift?
— When introducing itself, knowledge federation is walking its talk. It motivates itself by a big-picture insight, by a piece of “know-what”.
Our motivating vision is, as you’ve just noticed, an uncommonly positive view of our contemporary condition. The message that Knowledge Federation dot Org shares in its opening paragraphs is that we don’t really need to – that we even shouldn’t – worry about “solving our problems” within the conventional order of things. There is an incomparably better – more fun, and more effective – way to invest our efforts. Or more accurately said – there’s something we can do, which will make all our earnest and necessary efforts to improve our condition so much more likely to succeed!
We are also saying that this new academic paradigm is something we, academic people, need to develop also for fundamental or intrinsic or academic reason. The need for it, even the necessity for it, follows from what we already know.
— Why? In what way does it follow?
— Thomas Kuhn defined a paradigm as
- a new way to conceive a domain of interest, which
- resolves the reported anomalies and
- opens up a new frontier to research
That’s exactly what Knowledge Federation dot Org presents. And in exactly that order.
Federation through Images describes the fundamental, methodological and epistemological shift. It shows how this shift follows naturally from available fundamental insights – which have been reached in science and philosophy during the past century. And how the scientific approach to knowledge can be extended to enable the production of big picture insights, of Norbert Wiener’s “know-what”.
Federation through Stories points to basic anomalies, and to vast opportunities for improvement, in four domains. This is done by telling the stories of four giants who saw and reported those anomalies. And who even (in the latter three cases) undertook to create what was needed to resolve the anomalies. To create the paradigm we are talking about.
Federation through Applications is a description of the emerging creative frontier. It’s a portfolio of examples or applications or prototypes which
- cover the frontier, and at the same time outline its structure, in terms of its main building blocks such as the transdiscipline and the prototypes
- are not just ideas on paper but real-life applications, already implemented and embedded in practice
Federation through Conversations presents a single proof-of-oncept application, to the key question, to our core know-what challenge: How should we understand, and handle, our contemporary condition? In what way might our efforts be most effectively invested?
This last part also describes and sets into motion our deployment strategy, the dialogs.
— You are not proposing to replace physics, mathematics and chemistry with a “transdiscipline”?
— No, of course not. Thomas Kuhn gave us another useful keyword, “incommensurable”. The paradigm we are proposing is incommensurable with the conventional academic or scientific one. Incommensurable paradigms organize the world differently and serve different purposes.
One of the strong points of our proposal is that the paradigm we are proposing must be in place if the conventional academic results, and paradigm, should benefit the society as they can and must.
What we call knowledge federation must be in place if we should take due advantage of the knowledge we already own.
— I see that you’ve thought through these matters quite carefully.
But then you must have also realized that your “paradigm proposal” is not an academic result in the conventional paradigm! It’s not physics, it’s not biology…
So naturally, the academic people don’t know where to put it. Your new order of things has no place in their order of things.
— We are not proposing a way to improve the ‘candle’.
The paradigm proposal is a new kind of result. We are not going to make excuses…
As we suggested in the two opening paragraphs, and explained in the opening of Federation through Conversations – the core purpose of our initiative is to foster the ability to change paradigms. If that involves doing something unconventional – then so be it!
— You realize that I’m just trying to help, as you asked me to? My simple point is that the “emerging paradigm” might be your reality, but it’s not yet everyone else’s.
Physics, biology, chemistry… – that’s the academic world the rest of us are living in. It is on that terrain that you must prove your point.
— I understand that, of course.
So here is what I can offer.
What I perhaps all too casually called “the show” – which I am inviting you, the readers of this blog, to follow – might be more accurately called “the drama”. The much larger story these stories are part of is indeed a very old and much longer one: It’s the story of the homo sapiens striving to live up to his biological potential, and to his self-image. It’s the story of humanity’s quest for knowledge. And for making knowledge count.
What motivates our initiative is that this very old quest is in our time having a sharp turn. It’s acquiring a dramatic character. Our Danish prince has just found something out that will change his life. At this very moment he’s looking at his father’s excavated scull. And he’s wondering how to be (an academic); and even whether to be…
Will the knowledge federation transdiscipline – this small and informal group of academic guerrilla warriors – be able to move the impressively gigantic academic standing army out of its disciplinary tranches?
If you should understand and enjoy the “reality show” that this blog post is about to present, you’ll need to do that in the context of this much larger drama.
So why don’t I just share it with you?
I don’t of course mean to tell you the whole long story. The story is all too familiar. What I am proposing is to turn the familiar story into a modern play. I’ll render it as just a handful of snapshots, as a handful of vignettes. I’ll give you just enough detail to vividly display the meaning of the long story. Show you that the story can be seen in a completely new light.
True, this academia quo vadis will make this blog post a touch longer. But that will be well-warranted, if that’s what you’ll need, to be able to understand the significance, and follow the conclusion, of the knowledge federation drama that is here being staged. I could of course just tell you that ‘Hamlet drew his dagger and pierced his uncle’. But that would not at all have the same effect, it would not give you the same catharsis, without the first two acts.
I’ll provide them as a separate piece. This explanation of Knowledge Federation dot Org will then be in three parts. In the last part I’ll elaborate a bit more, in this clearer context, on what exactly we’ve done. And what we’re about to do.
This break will then also give you a chance to take a break and reflect. A moment to catch breath.
And who today – in this hectic, chaotic, mad old paradigm of ours – has the luxury to do that?
So just give it to yourself!
I have almost completed the remaining two parts.
I’ll rejoin you here in just a short while.