The usual approaches to contemporary issues, where we undertake to solve problems or avoid disasters within the prevailing order of things or paradigm, have a viable alternative in a thorough recreation of that paradigm.
This was a message of the abstract that Fredrik and I submitted a few weeks ago to the Relating Systems Thinking and Design 6 (RSD6) Symposium, which will be organized by the systemic design community later this year here in Oslo (Fredrik Eive Refsli is the communication designer on the polyscopy design team). Having perceived our global condition as an emergency, the organizers of RSD6 invited contributions that approach it systemically, so that ecology, economy and democracy are treated together.
In addition to proposing The Paradigm Strategy, our intention was to invite the members of the systemic design community to co-design with us certain specific parts of polyscopy. As suggested by the bus with candle headlights visual metaphor in this blog’s banner, polyscopy has been conceived as a way to provide a suitable source of vision and orientation (represented by the headlights) to our technologically advanced and fast-moving civilization (represented by the bus).
It was on the one hand the maturing of Knowledge Federation and our close collaboration with the systemic innovation initiatives led by Alexander Laszlo, and on the other hand the growing disillusionment with the business as usual spurred by the awareness of the global issues and realization that quick fixes won’t work – that have brought us into a number of promising conversations, of which the mentioned conversation with the systemic design community is an example. Another example is our conversation with Google and Stanford University’s mediaX and H-STAR – which is a tactical move to secure The Paradigm Strategy the best human and other resources (see our proposal).
In each of those conversations, the first thing I would like to point to is The Paradigm Strategy – because it is in that context that both Knowledge Federation and systemic innovation acquire their true meaning and impact.
But as we we shall see here, Knowledge Federation is only one part of the larger and more comprehensive polyscopy prototype – and it is indeed polyscopy that makes The Paradigm Strategy truly natural and feasible.
In our abstract Fredrik and I introduced polyscopy and The Paradigm Strategy as follows:
What should information be like, how exactly should we create it and use it, so that it may best help us overcome the difficulties that our present way of evolving as society has led us to, and begin to evolve in a radically better way? Polyscopy points to the pivotal role of a community-wide shared gestalt (high-level view of a situation or issue, which shows how that situation or issue may need to be handled). The motivation is to allow for the kind of difference that is suggested by the comparison of people carrying buckets of water from their own flooded basements, with everyone teaming up and building a dam to regulate the flow of the river that is causing the flooding. We offer to the systemic design community what we are calling The Paradigm Strategy as a way to make a similar difference in impact, with respect to the common efforts focusing on specifc problems or issues. The Paradigm Strategy is to focus our efforts on instigating a sweeping and fundamental cultural and societal paradigm change – instead of trying to solve problems and avoid disasters within the existing paradigm.
The Paradigm Strategy has certain obvious advantages compared to the more common problem-oriented approaches:
- It does lead to solutions. A reason why the less comprehensive alternatives may not is that the living systems, of which our society is an examples, have the capacity to spring back and eliminate the changes that don’t harmonize with their “order of things”, however reasonable and useful those changes might be. So perhaps paradoxically, while even a most reasonable and useful smaller change may prove impossible, changing the whole might still be easy.
- In addition to this capacity to transform our situation in the long run, The Paradigm Strategy changes our situation also instantaneously, by changing our manner and mood of responding to it. The frustration of trying to wrestle a gigantic and irresponsive system into producing solutions to the problems it itself has created is transformed into the enthusiasm of discovery. The Paradigm Strategy engages us in a co-creative play where we first discover pieces in a vibrantly new ‘puzzle’ – in an emerging world order – and then help each other put them together. Even the environmental and other contemporary issues acquire a positive aspect, because they first demand, and then energize, the kind of changes that we might otherwise only wish to experience.
We shall, however, in this brief sequence of essays focus on a less known advantage of The Paradigm Strategy, which may make this strategy surprisingly easy to practice and bring to fulfilment:
- When the insights we already own are combined together, what naturally follows is a radically different understanding and handling of core issues such as innovation, democracy, science, religion, values, public informing, pursuit of happiness… Those changes amount to a societal paradigm change similar in nature and scope to the transformation of the world order of the Late Middle Ages by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.
It is because of this peculiarity of our situation that those new pieces in the puzzle, which The Paradigm Strategy invites us to seek and put together, surprisingly often have the character of real sensations, ready to compete for public attention with those terrorist attacks, scandals, and other familiar sensations that our informing media inundate us in. Imagine that you were living five centuries ago, and that someone had placed the Sun into the centre of the Solar system without you having a clue; or imagine that you lived at the turn of the last century, and that the Wright brothers had just flown the first airplane. As we shall see, undiscovered sensations exist in abundance in practically all core areas, and we will not need to work hard to find them. Significant part of the development of polyscopy has been to collect them and organize them together.
All those sensations put together amount to an even larger sensation (or perhaps a scandal?): In the Age of Information we have all but lost the ability to communicate about the things that matter! Have we used our wondrous information technology to make things worse?
A consequence of this peculiarity of our situation is that there is a single key missing piece, needed to provide or augment or bootstrap the key capability that we the people now urgently need – the capability to put together the insights we already own to create new meaning. (Not surprisingly – isn’t that what Vannevar Bush told us already in 1945, see the beginning of A Collective Mind – Part One. And yet – and also not surprisingly – hasn’t his insight or call to action too been largely ignored?)
Polyscopy is conceived as a prototype of that missing piece – which includes a strategy, already in implementation, to bring this new approach to knowledge into common use.
Polyscopy has recently matured as a prototype (prototypes are systemic solutions that are already embedded in practice aiming to transform it, and which at the same time serve as real-life experiments). This blog post is intended to mark the transition to the next phase – communication – and then further to large-scale implementation and real-world impact.
To share polyscopy publicly, I am now preparing a trilogy – three books where polyscopy will be illustrated by applying it to three pivotal themes related to The Paradigm Strategy: “Liberation” with subtitle “Religion for the Third Millennium”, “Thrivability Strategy” with subtitle “Innovation for the Third Millennium”, and “Polyscopy” with subtitle “Communication for the Third Millennium”. In what follows I will summarize briefly those three books, and then explain how we intend to implement The Paradigm Strategy – and thereby seed those various conversations that are now beginning – by focusing on our mentioned conversation with the systemic design community and our proposal to the RSD6 symposium as example.
The book trilogy is intended to lead to a concerted public dialog, through which the proposed ideas will be disseminated and digested – and which will also provide a natural way to develop in practice the collective thinking that has been proposed by Bush and Engelbart as the key strategic goal.
Polyscopy is a coherent set of ideas, or better said of prototypes. In its core, it has the structure of a simple and elegant mathematical theory. Being by training and by mindset a theoretical scientist or a mathematician, I have quite passionately wanted to turn this blog post into a brief and comprehensible presentation of this simple core, but I don’t think I have succeeded. So what I am offering here instead is snapshots. I hope that they cover enough space, and point to enough detail, to give you a sufficiently concrete idea that a simple and elegant understanding of it all does exist – and then invite you to discover it together in a conversation.
Thrivability Strategy – Innovation for the Third Millennium
This book will illustrate the basic approach of polyscopy by applying it to the question that Aurelio Peccei identified as our core challenge: How to “change course” (Peccei was the initiator and the creative force behind The Club of Rome, see my article How to Begin the Next Renaissance – Preliminary Version).
Alternatively, and independently of any interest in contemporary issues, you may approach Thrivability Strategy through the question “What might be the next large trend in innovation, which will make a world of difference?
A way to anticipate the specific angle of looking, and answer, which the Thrivability Strategy book has to offer, is to see the contemporary issues as a warning signal that something must have surely gone wrong with the way in which our civilization has been using its overgrown “muscles” of technology. And more generally, that something must have gone wrong with our very capacity to create and induce change (which is what I am calling innovation). So let systemic innovation be a better way to innovate by definition! Let us use systemic innovation as a placeholder and a banner, inviting us to evolve and continue evolving this better way as a praxis!
The Thrivability Strategy book will highlight some of the historical and contemporary developments, and thereby provide the necessary background and context for such an undertaking. The book will begin with some of the most basic insights that emanated from the systems sciences (in our usage this term includes cybernetics and complexity) and from the systems movement. Here are some highlights.
A careful reading of the concluding chapter (of the first edition) of Norbert Wiener’s seminal “Cybernetics”, which was published in 1948 (i.e. close to the point of inception of the systems sciences and the systems movement), will show that Wiener in essence claimed what Naomi Klein later wrote in more dramatic terms in “This Changes Everything” – namely that the free competition-based economy would not lead to a stable or controllable (or as we might say today “sustainable”) order of things (see this copy of the most relevant part of Wiener’s chapter). Wiener’s intention was to make a case for an alternative – where the structure and the functioning of our systems, and of our core institutions to begin with, are informed by suitable understanding of how the structure of a system drives the system’s behavior. Cybernetics emerged as an academic discipline to provide that knowledge. The first and best known insight that cybernetics offered us was that a system must have functioning feedback (or information) and control (way to use that information to correct its behavior, and if needed also its structure).
Currently we do not have a suitable feedback – Wiener observed, and credited Vannevar Bush for that observation (as I too did at the beginning of A Collective Mind – Part One). Wiener then pointed out that the widely held belief that the free competition was “a homeostatic” (i.e. stabilizing or correcting) mechanism contradicted the most basic insights that had been reached through game theory by von Neumann and Morgenstern. And he pointed to our tenacious belief in free competition as evidence that we truly did not communicate.
The developments related to The Club of Rome two decades later allow us to put also the control part, as well as democracy and innovation, into this very basic cybernetic view of our condition.
The Club of Rome was initiated in 1968 as a global think tank, to look into “the future prospects of mankind”. On The Club’s first meeting in Rome it was Erich Jantsch that gave the opening keynote. Jantsch subsequently proceeded to do what obviously needed to be done. Later that year, with Peccei’s help and support, he gathered a solid representation of the systems sciences elite in Bellagio, Italy, to devise what might constitute a suitable feedback and control, and a way to develop them in practice. It was from Jantsch that we adopted the expression systemic innovation. Jantsch framed systemic innovation as what distinguished “rational creative action” from creating havoc through technologically advanced wishful thinking.
Several other important pieces in the same puzzle were contributed by Douglas Engelbart, and serendipitously the 1968 was an important year in this development as well. Doug not only showed us an original method for systemic innovation – and more specifically how digital computer technology could be suitably developed to enable us to create a radically better feedback and control (or the collective mind, as we prefer to frame feedback and control) – but he also pointed to a missing piece that needed to be in place to put systemic innovation into practice. He called it bootstrapping. The idea is that instead of merely observing the world and telling what should be done, we engage in systemic change ourselves. Instead of merely saying ( for ex. in a research article) what our systems need be like, we undertake to recreate them our own bodies, and by acting differently.
Even though he and his laboratory practiced bootstrapping, Doug’s many attempts to see the praxis of bootstrapping systemic innovation scale proved futile. Doug was famously frustrated by his contemporaries’ inability “to get” what he was talking about.
The key questions that Jantsch and Engelbart and other pioneers of systemic innovation have left us was Who will develop and do systemic innovation? Jantsch believed that this would be the key role of the university in the future, and after Bellagio he made plans and lobbied at the MIT that they initiate the suitable bootstrapping (see his 1969 MIT report about the future of the university ). Doug too was entertaining the hope that the universities would take up this timely challenge. But the universities turned a deaf ear to their calls to action.
As you might recall (from A Collective Mind – Part One), at our 2010 workshop called Self-Organizing Collective Mind, Knowledge Federation self-organized to become a prototype of the kind of institution that wold be capable of performing this core task (see this event’s web page on Knowledge Federation wiki). In 2011 we pointed (at our thematic workshop organized within the Triple Helix IX international conference at the Stanford University; see the description, listed as number 7 on this program page) to systemic innovation as a necessary and emerging trend, and to (the organizational structure prototyped by) Knowledge Federation as an institutional enabler (see the brief overview and follow the article link provided in Knowledge Federation – an Enabler of Systemic Innovation). And we did subsequently follow through by creating a series of systemic prototypes in core areas of knowledge work – beginning with journalism, as we hinted at Stanford – in Barcelona, just a couple of months later. We also created a prototype systemic solution to continuously update the journalism prototype – by federating knowledge from relevant fields (see An Innovation Ecosystem for Good Journalism). We even developed a generic prototype system for real-life systemic change called The Game-Changing Game and presented it at the Bay Area Future Salon (see The Game-Changing Game page on Knowledge Federation wiki). And we even created (a re-design of The Club of Rome called) The Club of Zagreb, as a prototype institution that can turn global challenges into systemic innovation opportunities (see The Club of Zagreb page on Knowledge Federation wiki). And yet there were good reason why we did not choose to call ourselves “the transdiscipline for systemic innovation” but remained “the transdiscipline for knowledge federation” instead: Systemic innovation belongs to the domain of the systems sciences! It is their (namely systemic) way of seeing and thinking that now needs to be integrated in our society’s feedback loops and collective minds! And it is their knowledge that needs to be applied or federated in the design or evolution of our systems! Knowledge Federation’s role in this centrally important development is to secure that their knowledge is federated correctly.
It was therefore most fortunate – and it also provided a nice serendipitous turn of events to spice up the “Thrivability Strategy” story – that less than two weeks after Doug Engelbart passed away, in July 2013, Alexander Laszlo as the President of the International Society for the Systems Sciences initiated systemic self-organization in the systems community. This was an exemplary act of bootstrapping – exactly as Doug had envisioned it! And as we shall see in the second blog post, it was taking place in arguably the point of our global knowledge work system from which it may most easily and powerfully scale and achieve impact! At the yearly ISSS conference that Alexander organized as president in Haiphong, Vietnam, where this bootstrapping was taking place, Doug’s name was often heard.
Serendipitously, also the motto Alexander chose for his conference, and his call to action, “Be the systems you want to see in the world”, corresponded quite precisely to bootstrapping!
I began my talk in Haiphong by saying “I came here to build a bridge – between two interests, and communities: the systems sciences, and the knowledge media R&D.” And in my contributed article (Bootstrapping Social-Systemic Evolution), I already anticipated what was to become my leitmotif in the systems community – namely that systemic innovation is a paradigm within the systems sciences, which needs to be developed in order to resolve the impact-related anomalies, and which will also open up a new frontier to creative action and progress. The key ideas were pointed to already in the abstract – and you will easily recognize in them The Paradigm Strategy, and its key element, bootstrapping :
An anomaly that underlies sustainability-related and other contemporary issues is that remedial information is created but not heeded, and not turned into action. We point to a paradigm within which this anomaly can be remedied, and submit it as a natural and up-to- date continuation of the meta-scientific impulse that was the origin of the ISSS. A call to action that follows is to render results and insights not only as printed text, but also as systemic prototypes, and most importantly—as changes to real-world systems. We propose bootstrapping social-systemic evolution as a suitable method and strategy, and illustrate it by a collection of design prototypes and patterns, already in implementation. The Appendix is an anecdotal rendering of our call to action, which weaves together the life histories and visionary ideas of Erich Jantsch and Douglas Engelbart.
Alexander and I subsequently developed a good rapport both as researchers and as friends. Certain most desirable developments on the frontier where The Paradigm Strategy and the systemic innovation are being developed followed:
- A buddying international network of systemic innovation labs
- The Leadership and Systemic Innovation Ph.D. program at the Buenos Aires Institute of Technology of which Alexander is the creator and the director (and where I will in just a week be giving my introductory course to the second-generation students)
- The Leadership and Systemic Innovation SIG in the International Society for the Systems Sciences (which Alexander invited me to co-chair)
- A social entrepreneurship network called Protopia Labs
But you might still be wondering – what is really systemic innovation, as we presently understand it?
I see at least two characteristics that need to be pointed to.
One of them is that we must learn to innovate in a systemic way – that is, that innovation must be informed and directed by systemic thinking. This is necessary if we should avoid using our advanced technology to “shoot ourselves in the foot” so to speak, i.e. to create unwanted “side effects” – and you may now well notice that what we are calling “global issues” is really just that, just “side effects”. They constitute a vivid proofs that we haven’t really received what Norbert Wiener and Erich Jantsch and more generally the systems sciences had to offer, we haven’t really learned to innovate systemically. The flip side is, of course, that innovation can be incomparably more useful to us, if we just learn how to do it right. Research to support this direction is on the rise, see this recent survey by Gerald Midgley and Erik Lindhult.
The other way in which systemic innovation may make a difference is by making innovation scale to the level of basic institutions, or more generally of societal systems. To see the potential benefits, it may be useful to try to perceive those systems as gigantic mechanisms whose role is to take our daily work as input, and produce socially useful effects as output (see Toward a Scientific Understanding and Treatment of Problems.
I once challenged Fredrik to create an ideogram that may make people aware of the systems they are part of. The above ideogram, which resulted, is intended to be a prototype – and hence a placeholder – for a key communication design challenge.
Once the communication work has been successfully completed, we will see “the systems in which we live and work” (as Bela Banathy framed them) as what to a large degree determines (1) the effectiveness and efficiency of our work; (2) the power relationships and (3) our own state of wellbeing.
In sum, the factual explanation in Toward a Scientific Understanding and Treatment of Problems, and the fictional one in Ode to Self-Organization – Part One will suffice to draw the following conclusion (I am echoing what I wrote at the end of A Collective Mind – Part One):
The innovations or inventions that will mark this century’s greatest improvements of the human condition will be on the socio-technical scale – we will ‘discover’ new ways of doing education, public informing, science, finance, governance, religion… Just as during the last century we discovered that we could fly, talk at a distance, automate computation, and have our clothes washed by a machine.
From this insight, a core advantage of The Paradigm Strategy readily follows. We see that even the most necessary systemic changes depend on other systemic changes being in place. Take, for example, education: We are now educated into a profession. And on a deeper and more subtle level, it will turn out that our education is conceived as socialization into a certain worldview, and a certain systemic and institutional order of things. So if systemic innovation should become common, if The Paradigm Strategy is to succeed, then education too will need to change. Collaborology (currently under development as Knowledge Federation prototype, see this description) has been evolving as a suitable educational prototype within polyscopy since the year 2000, when it was called Information Design (see Fredrik’s poster and this online description where a link to our research article describing the initial course model is provided).
The same may of course be said about our other key systems, not the least about our public informing or journalism. And there too you may see how the prototype we created in 2011 in Barcelona is pointing to the deep and sweeping structural changes that are now required in that profession or system (explore its presentation on Debategraph).
Liberation – Religion for the Third Millennium
For strategic reasons, I have chosen to make Liberation he first book in the polyscopy trilogy. Let me begin here by talking about the genesis of some of the key insights that are woven into this book – and then tell you about the book itself.
Earlier, Thrivability Strategy was to be the first – and illustrate polyscopy by applying it to what I have been calling The Key Point – the insight that may make enough of a difference to help us “change course”, and reorient our evolution toward human and universal thriving. But while working on Thrivability Strategy, I noticed again and again that The Key Point that I was about to offer as conclusion had been repeatedly discovered and published by leading creative thinkers – and then ignored. I realized that we the people have an astonishing ability to ignore the themes and insights that might challenge our paradigm.
And so I also understood that there must be another key point, something we needed to understand about ourselves and take care of, before we could take care of the world. And it turned out that “liberation” was a suitable word to point to it.
The first book in the trilogy will not only explain this, but it will also do that in a way that will be difficult to ignore – namely by challenging some of our most widely and strongly held beliefs, about religion, science, happiness or wellbeing, democracy and rationality. The idea is to initiate a public dialog about those themes, which will then continue through the media and not only bring public attention to The Paradigm Strategy, but also already begin to evolve the kind of communication infrastructure, or a collective mid as we like to call it, which will enable us to think together and reach collectively shared key insights or gestalts.
There is, however, yet another strategic point that led to Liberation. You will easily understand it if you consider for a moment the following challenge: If it is indeed true that our basic institutions or societal structures or systems will need to change, as so many contemporary thinkers claim – then how can this sort of change realistically happen? I mean, if we take into account that pretty much all the world’s power depends on keeping those systems as they are!
“Liberation” points to a natural solution – to turn the apparent conflict into a co-creative effort.
The first book of the polyscopy trilogy will show how this can be done by developing a solid and thorough and consequently thoroughly different understanding of two pivotal themes: happiness and power.
Long story short, a roadmap for an “informed pursuit of happiness” (although wholeness will turn out to be a better word) can be put together by combining available basic insights from relevant areas of expertise or experience. A general or high-level insight that follows (spectacular, conceivably even scandalous) is that we, contemporary civilized people, are living in a kind of a spasm – which limits not only what we are able to feel and think and create, but even our physical motility! There is a true “prison within” that we may illuminate with suitable information. Here is, for illustration, what Edward Maisel (who was then the Director of the American Physical Fitness Research Institute and a consultant to The President’s Council on Physical fitness) had to say about the insights reached by F.M. Alexander (the founder of the Alexander Technique and corresponding therapeutical school and community): “The process of civilization, according to Alexander, has contaminated man’s biological and sensory equipment, with a resultant crippling in the responses of the whole organism. Tension and conflict are more and more substituted for coordination.”
Regarding power, since democracy is of so central interest, both to The Paradigm Strategy and to RSD6, let me approach power from that angle.
Already in the 1960s the researchers knew – because they made field studies and found out – that the conventional mechanisms of democracy such as elections have little to do with the distribution of power (because the voters don’t understand the issues; because what’s been promised in the campaign has little to do with the policy decisions of the incumbent etc.). Political scientist Murray Edelman carried this insight a significant step further – and showed that elections do in fact have a systemic role, but that this role is not what is commonly believed. Their role is (as he called it) symbolic – namely to make the voters feel included, having real power, etc. So Edelman found out about the elections what Herman and Chomsky later found out about the mass media informing – that their systemic role is “manufacturing consent”.
Does this mean that there is a powerful elite ruling the world, which we’ll have to confront if we should make real progress?
While there are of course powerful elites and cliques (didn’t Wiener already warn, in that chapter whose copy I shared, that their emergence is expected in our present systemic ecology) – we have – and also they have – a far more powerful and far more dangerous enemy. Those of us who have understood this, independent of now common political beliefs and power positions and divisions, will unite against this common enemy. In polyscopy this most dangerous yet invisible enemy is modeled as power structure (see my article Information for Conscious Choice, or the second part of Holoscope for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge; In Informing Must Be Designed the power structure is the theme of the fourth, concluding chapter – where it completes the argument that the paradigm pointed to by polyscopy has become necessary, by showing that it is a necessary element of the “societal immune system”).
The insight that results is that it is the structure (or “the system”) that really has power; and that our values and ideas, including the ones about power, as well as our state of wellbeing and our very ideas about wellbeing – can and do evolve within the power structure as its integral parts. And that it is legitimate to consider them as being created by power structure – that is, by ‘the enemy’.
The power structure model was a bit of a showoff – because in addition to some of the most basic insights from the humanities, the most basic insights from combinatorial optimization, artificial life and artificial intelligence were combined to give the power structures the prerogatives of intelligence and life, and hence to make it meaningful to considered them as a real entity or enemy. But just combining the main insights of two leading researchers from two distinct domains – Pierre Bourdieu in sociology and Antonio Damasio in cognitive science – will suffice to radically change our ideas about democracy and power, from where the “rational choice theory” has taken them. Bourdieu’s statement that “symbolic power is that invisible power which can be exercised only with the complicity of those who do not want to know that they are subject to it or even that they themselves exercise it” already tells the whole story. And Damasio’s “Descartes’ Error” tells the whole story already in its title.
The simple and main point (another potential sensation in the store of polyscopy?) is that the “rational choice theory”, which has served as the foundation for our democratic and political institutions, has proven to be a very shaky foundation indeed!
Now we are about to do something that polyscopy is really all about: Put basic insights together into an even more basic insight, or a gestalt or metaphorically “a mountain top view” – from which our situation can be understood in a completely new way. And from which a completely new and better direction for us to follow can be clearly seen.
By putting what’s been told about wellbeing and about power together, we may see that our civilization has treated ourselves in a similar way as it has treated our biophysical environment – and for the very same reasons!
Most importantly, however, we also see that there is an entire realm of personal and communal wellbeing, or you may call it “happiness”, ready for us to explore and expand to.
And that to be able to do that, we need to liberate ourselves from the role play and values that have been created for us by the power structure (or by the evolution of our awareness and our systems through “the survival of the fittest”).
Our pursuit of wholeness – which, I anticipate, will replace the flimsy “pursuit of happiness” – will require a good “map”. We will need real information. The convenience paradox – which was the very first prototype result in polyscopy – shows how “the pursuit of happiness” may be thoroughly redirected by suitable information (this result was explained in Information for Conscious Choice, and initially stated in one of the first two research articles on polyscopy, “A Polyscopic Study of a Basic Cultural Pattern”).
(Yes, this was a long digression; but necessary if we should begin to see how The Paradigm Strategy “puzzle” may be put together.)
And now back to the “Liberation” book.
In the book those strategic and transformative themes are introduced gently and indirectly, by weaving them together into a story.
In “Liberation”, polyscopy is applied to just one single insight or meme – yet another one of those that have been misunderstood or ignored because they did not fit into our paradigm: The Buddha’s main insight or discovery, as rediscovered and explained by Thailand’s enlightened monk Buddhadasa (see The Garden of Liberation).
To make the abstract ideas concrete and palpable to readers, the “Liberation” book doesn’t shy from being a touch autobiographic. After I wrote The Garden of Liberation blog post in 2015, I sent four copies of the blog post and a letter with the University of Oslo letterhead to the Suan Mokkh forest monastery leaders, proposing a project. My initiative was well received. A result has been that during my subsequent yearly visits or retreats, I have become an insider in the Suan Mokkh International Dhamma Hermitage – both practicing, and developing a communication project. So what I am describing in the “Liberation” book is a real project, and a living and evolving prototype.
The stage for a dramatization of the recovery of the essence of religion is set by talking about Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy – where he explained how the 19th century science created a narrow frame of concepts, which created not only the science but also the general outlook of the masses of people; and how fortunate we were that the modern physics disproved this narrow frame and liberated us from it (see this excerpt from his centrally important text). The “Liberation”, and polyscopy, appear on this stage as parts of an experiment: Can we create a broader frame, and use it to recover the essence of religion, and to make it available to modern people – and also allow religion to evolve further, and in an entirely new way?
A key to recovering “the essence of religion”, or the Buddha’s main insight, is found by placing this insight in an entirely differnt context: Not into our “rigid and narrow frame of concepts” (as Heisenberg framed what we still tend to consider “the scientific worldview”), but as an integral element in a “roadmap for an informed pursuit of happiness” – where, as it has turned out, it fits most snuggly.
In the first half of “Liberation”, an ad-hoc different idea of what an informed “pursuit of happiness” might be like is created by combining main insights from heterogeneous sources (such as the writings of F.M. Alexander) and where also some now common practices we have adopted from the Oriental traditions, such as qigong and yoga, begin to make perfect sense.
When the Buddha’s main insight is placed into this “roadmap”, it turns out that it not only fits in, but that it also completes it – that it is indeed a key missing piece in the puzzle.
The second half of the book develops the cognitive and social consequences. It is shown that also our liberation in the most conventional sense – from oppressive power, and from our ignorance of it – depends crucially upon the praxis that the Buddha’s insight leads to and prescribes.
I have already given you a hint how all this might work, when I talked about the Alexander technique and about the insight, reached by Alexander and so many others, about the crampiness of our civilized condition.
If you for a moment consider “Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya”, or “Nothing whatsoever should be clung to” (which as I elaborated on in The Garden of Liberation is, according to Buddhadasa, the essence of the Buddha’s teaching) then you will quite easily perceive “clinging” as a form of tension or cramping. The view advanced in the book is that the Buddha’s key discovery – how to reach complete enlightenment – was in fact the discovery of the importance of a complete release of clinging to one’s identity and possessions, and of a way or a praxis by which this may be achieved.
I don’t need to tell you that in our contemporary culture it is our possessions and our interests that our “pursuit of happiness” is really all about! How could we relinquish them as a matter of praxis? What we are talking about here is a thorough change of worldview and values.
In “Liberation” I tell a vignette about Odin the horse to illustrate and explain Pierre Bourdieu’s “theory of practice”, and how we the people tend to engage in destructive and self-destructive “turf wars” in so many subtle ways without knowing that. The Buddha’s insight – about the key role of the praxis of “not clinging” or “selflessness” or “spiritual poverty” turns out to be both a missing piece in our roadmap for “the pursuit of happiness”, and the core element of “the religion for the third millennium”, which can liberate us from the “religion of selfishness”, and then reconnect us with more worthwhile causes, and with each other into incomparably more worthwhile societal or institutional structures.
As a salient aside, the book tells how Buddhism changed from being an instrument of liberation, to become a “universal theory” (see Science and Religion) and hence an instrument of power structure (the story is originally told by Buddhadasa himself, so all it takes is to quote him.) A pattern in social-systemic evolution is exemplified, which has been followed not only by our religions, but also by our other institutions! You will easily notice that a closely similar story could have been told about Christianity – where St. Francis made a similar rediscovery of the original teaching; and that recently the present Catholic Pope Francis rediscovered it again…
So imagine if it indeed turns out that what we are now calling “religions” are really just power structure – induced deformations of a centrally important “natural law” (as Buddhadasa framed it) or phenomenology… Imagine if it turns out that what we’ve been calling “religion” has been really just that – just largely identities and worldviews, and people clinging to them as their identities and worldviews. Imagine what it could mean for the evolution of religion (just think of all the religion-inspired conflicts, and terrorism) if the praxis of religion for the 21st century will become the praxis of liberation from that sort of clinging that leads to conflicts, and to power structure, as the Buddha, and Buddhadasa, and so many other inspired or enlightened teachers of mankind have taught!
Furthermore and most interestingly for us, liberation – understood as “not clinging to anything” and not considering anything as our own – may be most naturally applied to our clinging to – worldviews. Here we may see that our “scientific worldview” and our contemporary worldview more generally have been really just that – something we cling on to, and something that has prevented us from becoming aware of the key findings of our best thinkers, and from evolving further!
Religion has always been the “glue” that holds the community or society together – by providing a shared identity and worldview, and by orienting people’s striving. The Liberation book shows how religion may be recreated to bind us to one another, and to our purpose or ethos, in a radically new and better way.
I don’t need to tell you that selfishness has in the Modernity become our religion!
By understanding the liberation from selfishness as not only a key societal good, but also as a part of our own personal pursuit of happiness, a key step is taken toward the wholeness of the emerging paradigm – which will be of a completely different kind than the “order of things” we are presently socialized into.
Polyscopy – Communication for the Third Millennium
This will be the last book in the trilogy.
Part of the reason why I wanted to tell you about The Paradigm Strategy was to motivate polyscopy. When we talk about “the climate” as problem we tend to think in terms of the CO2 emissions and quotas, temperature degrees etc. We can then hardly consider the possibility to do something with information or with the way in which we communicate. But when we consider the possibility of changing the whole paradigm, then of course the way we create information or knowledge (or the way we create “truth and meaning” as I like to frame the issue that polyscopy is a response to) is likely to be the core issue. Isn’t that what the concept of a paradigm is really all about!
But if we look systemically, and in the light of what’s been told here, then we may easily see why communication (or more precisely the lack of it) might be the mother of all our issues. And why recreating communication might be the key to all solutions.
I have been evangelizing this approach to problems for quite awhile. If you have time, looking at some of my old talks and papers might be like looking at old photos – after awhile they acquire a new life and meaning. You may for example look at this transcript of my 2003 presentation at the Visions of Possible Worlds conference that was organized by the Faculty of Design of the Politecnico di Milano and the Triennale di Milano; or at this brief talk introducing The Key Point Dialog prototype in Sigdal, Norway in 2008; browse through the article How to Begin the Next Renaissance – Preliminary Version contributed to ALPIS seminar in Carisolo in 2007; or read this transcript of my Knowledge = Mountain five-minute talk at TMRA Leipzig in 2007.
But hasn’t a change of “social creation of truth and meaning” always been the key to a sweeping cultural and societal change:
It is enough to just briefly revisit the world that Copernicus and Descartes were inhabiting to see how the change began. Copernicus was neither addressing the typical intellectual problems of the day (which tended to be of the “How many angels can dance on the tip of a needle?” variety), nor the pervasive and alarming social ones (such as the plague, the famine and the religious wars). What he was really saying (according to Thomas Kuhn’s “The Copernican Revolution”, for whom this study was a warmup for his more famous “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”) was a mere technicality: “Look how simpler this all becomes when we just put the Sun into the center!” But when Newton added a mathematical theory that enabled both a precise explanation and the prediction of the movement of the planets, we began to understand the world in simple and clear terms, just as one might understand the workings of a clockwork. And this did change everything! The resulting powerful way of exploring reality led to scientific medicine, the Industrial Revolution, the democracy – which were the real i.e. systemic solutions to the problems that had no solutions within the order of things of the Middle Ages.
It has turned out that this powerful new way of thinking also had its blind spots and limitations – which led to our contemporary issues.
It is therefore most significant that the classical-scientific way of thinking led to a de facto disproof of the assumptions on which it developed:
This is not the place to tell you how further development led us to a problem-laden world, and to an epistemological entanglement, closely similar to those that marked the era that Copernicus and Descartes were inhabiting. And how both were seen and described by our leading thinkers. Let me only give you this hint: In a lecture introducing polyscopy I once made a slide saying “and then the atom split, and the models again became intractable”. The atom was not supposed to split – in the intellectual tradition where it originated it was considered indivisible by definition (atomos means “indivisible”). The atom was supposed to be the bottom-level smallest particle of our material reality, in terms of which we were expected to be able to understand and model the behavior of all those larger things. But the atom not only did split, but it broke down into more than one hundred “subatomic particles” – which, as it turned out, behave in ways that are contrary to reason, being different from anything we have had in our experience (as Robert Oppenheimer explained in “Uncommon Sense”). The bottom-line mechanistic reality thus kept retreating from us just as we became more and more adept in zooming into its details – until it, like Humpty Dumpty, broke down into a myriad pieces, which nobody can put together!
A result has been a backlash, a downturn in the prospects of the Enlightenment, where even our very reason is being challenged (see Return to Reason).
What might be a remedy? What might our next social creation of truth and meaning be like?
Polyscopy is offered as a prototype answer.
Polyscopy enables information to once again “grow upwards” – toward basic, empowering insights – by providing all that’s required (criteria, methods, media tools, results… and even social organization and institutionalization). Polyscopy is a comprehensive prototype of a “communication for the 21st century”. To the technologist, the polyscopy provides a blueprint of “the light bulb” – and hence a way to avoid using the powerful new technical tools to only recreate fancy “candles” (see Information Age Coming of Age). To the systems theorist or a systemic innovator polyscopy provides a prototype of a suitable feedback – and a social process to co-create this feedback, and to extend it to suitable control. All things considered (and then put into a nutshell), polyscopy is simply a way to satisfy the broad variety of “boundary conditions” or requirements that our communication will have to satisfy in this century (see the introduction to my book manuscript Informing Must Be Designed; when the manuscript was written I was still using the ambiguous expression information design rather than polyscopy to point to the paradigm).
Polyscopy also shows how to resolve the fundamental anomalies.
That is how polyscopy really began. Polyscopy started as an intervention into the very foundations of knowledge work or “social creation of truth and meaning”. When I first met Doug Engelbart here in Oslo, in 2004, and we shared a half-hour conversation, after which he gave me his Bootstrap Alliance business card and wrote on it his private email address with a ball pen (I keep it pinned to my office wall for inspiration), I was still immersed in this fundamental work. I saw Doug and myself as working on two opposite ends of the same frontier. And so I did not follow up on his invitation until 2009, when the development of Knowledge Federation brought me to his side of this frontier (see Doug Engelbart and the Information Age).
Underlying this fundamental side of polyscopy is a simple principle of operation, which you may imagine as roughly analogous to the principle of operation of the steam engine, which powers all the specific prototypes and details. The principle is quite old – it was discovered and formulated by W.V. Quine already in 1936. Quine called it “truth by convention”. We practice truth by convention when we define concepts by making a convention (“when I say x I mean y“), instead of making a reality claim (that “x really is y“). Quine observed that “truth by convention” had been the result and the sign of maturing of any field of interest, whereby “what was once regarded as a theory about the world becomes reconstrued as a convention of language. Thus it is that some flow from the theoretical to the conventional is an adjunct of progress in the logical foundations of any science .”
All that was still needed to turn truth by convention into a powerful “principle of operation” or “Archimedean point” that can give knowledge and information back their power, even on the high-level, was to make truth by convention consistent, by applying it to – itself!
Do you want me to say this one more time?
Here’s a brief hint that may help you understand what resulted: When we create a high-level view by convention, its “truth” becomes mathematical. The power structure, for instance, is what it is by definition! We can then use the concepts defined in this way to communicate precisely. You may create a scope (way of looking at an issue or a phenomenon) by convention, and give it to me. My task is to do my best to leave my habitual way of looking aside, and to look through the scope you provided. Do I see what you see, and what you claim? If I ultimately do, then the communication may be considered successful.
Created in this way, the high-level views can be used as solid “bricks” for reconstructing our knowledge higher and higher up, towards simple and clear insights about basic and most significant themes.
In polyscopy different views of the same issue are encouraged, and allowed to coexist. The shared and trusted view or “truth and meaning” is negotiated through a public dialog, and thereby allowed to continuously evolve! The creative tension between the individual and possibly contradictory views and the corresponding high-level view or views is resolved by the tools and practices that constitute knowledge federation – which are themselves, of course, also federated.
The dialog is to this emerging way of communicating as the debate is to the old one. The dialog as a paradigm in communication has a rich and interesting history already. Our usage of the dialog is as it was developed and publicized by physicist David Bohm, among others (see his own explanation in On Dialogue).
Lastly – and perhaps most importantly – truth by convention is used to formulate the epistemology or polyscopy, which is called design epistemology (see Design Epistemology). All of polyscopy may be considered as just consequences, carefully developed, of this single fundamental idea.
Our proposal to RSD6. As I mentioned, I will use our conversation with the systemic design community as an example, to illustrate how I wold like to proceed in various other conversations that are now beginning.
What I have just begun to demonstrate about our present academic and larger social-systemic communication – namely that we as a rule do not communicate, and that some of the key findings in key fields such as sociology, political science, cognitive science, philosophy of science… have failed to become assimilated into our shared worldview – has a tantalizing corollary: Whatever we may figure out and tell to each other in a research article, or at a conference, is likely to remain without effect!
This of course also applies also to the RSD6 symposium, to which Fredrik and I have submitted our abstract about The Paradigm Strategy.
This of course also applies to this blog post!
Even if we might by a lucky flash of insight find “the solution to global problems” (whatever this might mean) – even that “solution” will be likely to just remain among us, and not have any real effect whatsoever – and hence never really become a solution!
But this means that the solutions, whatever they might be concretely, will have to include, and will depend on, bootstrapping our capability to change systems! In knowledge work to begin with, and then also in general.
“As long as a paradox is treated as a problem, it can never be dissolved”, observed David Bohm. And therein lies the key subtle advantage of The Paradigm Strategy – it dissolves the paradox! The idea is simple – we engage in re-creating communication – which then becomes (the key part of) the solution – instead of using the existing old dysfunctional communication (the “candles” in the bus metaphor) to search for “solutions”.
You will now not be surprised if I tell you that the substance of our proposals to the systemic design community has been exactly that – to join us in re-creating communication. To bootstrap systemic change in knowledge work together with us.
Last year Fredrik traveled to the RSD5 symposium in Toronto with our proposal to co-create together the Holoscope platform (see our article Enabling Systemic Transformations with Polyscopy). Holoscope is envisioned as a dialog, in both physical spaces and online, that enables a community, and at the limit the global community, to see the emerging paradigm, and devise ways to facilitate its emergence and development.
Holoscope is envisioned also as a prototype of polyscopy – where a variety of specific polyscopy techniques are used to develop high-level or big-picture insights.
The idea behind sharing this work with the systemic design community was to federate the expertise and experience that exist in this community – and in particular the expertise of Peter Jones, who organized RSD5 in Toronto and with whom we have been in conversation for several years now – related to design dialog, where stakeholders are involved with designers to co-create design solutions.
We have two design dialogs in mind:
- A dialog to co-create the view and the understanding of the emerging paradigm
- A dialog to co-create the above dialog – and hence complete Holoscope as a prototype of polyscopy (the point here is that prototypes are designed to evolve continuously, by federating relevant knowledge)
But we did not succeed in overcoming the main obstacle – Fredrik gave a presentation, we wrote and published an article, and our whole interaction and collaboration remained within the confines of the conventional paradigm.
So this year we are approaching the systemic design community and the RSD6 with the proposal to address the main obstacle directly – by creating a plenary event that will punctuate the business as usual and where we would look at The Paradigm Strategy and engage in a dialog about it (see our abstract The Paradigm Strategy).
Our hope is that this will be a step toward engaging in the kind of co-creative action that we proposed at RSD5 – while being an act of systemic innovation in its own right.
A salient aside is that the design epistemology opens up a new paradigm specifically in (academic) design. And that design epistemology has already been shared with – and was well received by – the academic design community (see An Academic Foundation for Design and Design as an Academic Foundation).
In addition to the mentioned conversations that are now beginning, there are conversations I would have welcomed, but which never happened – with some of my friends who are working on global issues. They are so busy saving the world in their own way that there is really no time for The Paradigm Strategy. We are friends, yet they have little or no clue about what I have been with such extreme dedication during all these years.
To someone who is immersed in global issues, our situation bears the stamp of urgency. Then this slow evolutionary process I am talking about – developing communication, and education, and systemic innovation… – might easily appear as the kind of luxury we cannot and should not afford.
There are three reasons why this is not the case:
- Watching Lester Brown‘s talk in 2012 at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., World on the Edge, will confirm that our situation indeed is an emergency (Brown explains why our global system may at any time tip over its range of stability or homeostasis, and degenerate through a domino effect of systemic collapse). But his talk will also show that the very nature of our emergency is systemic; that the systems we have inherited from the past are obviously incapable of handling it, and that systemic thinking is required to even see that there is an emergency.
- Based on the first decade of The Club of Rome’s research, Aurelio Peccei wrote that “the future will either be an inspired product of a great cultural revival, or there will be no future”. What I have just shown you is a realistic scenario – how “a great cultural revival” may happen if we just do what we should have done a half-century ago – namely update our communication (see A Collective Mind – Part One).
- What I wrote in 1999, in the article titled “The World in the Year 2000” (which was my entry in the competition to create a vision for “The World in the Year 2050” organized by The Economist) still holds. One thing I would now do differently – I would avoid being categorical about exhausting the resources etc. by 2050, which is a theme I haven’t studied enough to have an opinion about, and which is anyhow a relatively unimportant detail. My point was that as the inadequacy of our systems becomes an obvious part of our daily experience, two different scenarios will become available for their dissolution – the disintegration into chaos, and the construction of a new order. The difference will be made by how we see the world today, and how we act.
What I consider to be the really urgent task today is that we begin to create an embryo of the new order. It doesn’t matter how small it is. What matters is that it exists – because its very existence will determine whether the disintegration into chaos dynamic will result, or the construction of a new order. Once the signs of crisis become too obvious, it will be too late for such work. The time for it is now.
Polyscopy contributes to this agenda a carefully developed system of prototypes. They pave the way from obvious questions to natural answers and solutions.
The Paradigm Strategy is not a single bit unrealistic. In fact, it may well be the only realistic way to a desirable future.
The creation of a completely new “order of things” or paradigm is rather like the human colony on Mars project that Larry Page and Elon Musk have been championing. More down on Earth, though.
If The Paradigm Strategy might seem too complex to comprehend, here is a simple rule of thumb, which will answer the main question: What can we do to be part of the emerging paradigm, and avoid being caught up in the old one?
It really takes just one simple step to change sides. Here it is, in this photo.
The above photo was taken at the European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research conference in Vienna in 2014. I noticed the serendipity in the T-shirts Alexander and I were wearing; Valeria was there with a camera, and we improvised a photo session. Only perhaps the T-shirt we were wearing should have been exchanged. The message I was wearing was really Alexander’s – “Be the systems you want to see in the world” was the motto he chose for the conference he organized in Haiphong when he was the ISSS President. The slogan stuck, and it was chosen for EMCSR 2014 again. In it, you will easily recognize the core of Doug Engelbart’s “unfinished revolution” – bootstrapping. You will recognize in it also the key challenge of “conscious evolution” that Bela Banathy was championing, and so many other contemporary thinkers. And you will recognize in it the design epistemology. It is truly an idea whose time has come!
To apply this idea, this rule of thumb in practice, when you want to act so as to contribute positively to The Paradigm Strategy or to global recovery or to be part of “the solution” – just ask yourself “Is this really going to contribute to systemic change? Or am I only seeking solutions within the existing paradigm or system – and by conforming to the it, adding to it my own power?”
And when you see yourself recreating “the systems in which we live and work” with your own mind and body, by being part of them – then you have joined the emerging paradigm already!
As outer and inner pressures increase, one of the two possible scenarios will materialize: systemic transformation, or collapse.
It is how flexible or pliable we are as parts in those systems that will make a difference that makes a difference!