7 July 2001
Simulating a Global Brain
Using networks of international organizations, world problems, strategies, and values
- / -
Paper for the First Global Brain Workshop: From Intelligent
Networks to the Global Brain
(3-5 July 2001, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium ) [slide presentation as PDF] produced by Anthony Judge, Nadia McLaren, Joel Fischer and Tomas Fulopp
Abstract: The paper reports briefly on the ongoing process of systematic
information collection and web presentation by the UIA of networks of over
30,000 international organizations, 56,000 perceived world problems, 32,000
advocated action strategies, and some 3,000 values -- resulting in a total
of 800,000 hyperlinks. These different entities constitute an interesting
focal sub-system of whatever is to be understood by an emerging global brain
- for which the "problems" might be understood as "neuroses", if not "tumours".
This is followed by a description of implemented features to improve the way
in which organizations can use this facility to articulate the collaborative
networks within which they collectively develop strategic responses to subsets
of the network of problems (perceived in the light of networks of partially
shared values). The concrete challenge is the manner in which this network
of features can become self-aware via its web representation, at least to
a degree that is less dysfunctional in partially coordinating world system
responses. Steps taken towards facilitating cognitive coherence include dynamic
self-organizing visualizations (and sound equivalents) of these network features.
The approach is being designed to maximize the degree to which providers of
information become users of the resulting knowledge patterns with which they
can interact, notably as a means of evoking richer patterning of the complexity
reflected in "synaptic" hyperlinks. The conceptual challenge of developing
improved hyperlink editing tools and supportive knowledge management methods
is addressed, as well as associated tools through which coalitions of users
can derive more coherent patterns of meaning from what they access in the
light of often significantly incompatible perspectives. The more fundamental
concern of the paper is to highlight the conceptual difficulties of providing
information in a form that needs to be variously ordered according to user
"bias" whilst providing a non-intrusive, facilitative cognitive framework
that can maintain some degree of coherence, or allow for its emergence. A
particular concern is the dynamic between the necessary diversity of (often
strongly held) preferences for meaningful knowledge representation and the
need for (often overly simplistic) coherence within coalitions whose consensus
is fundamental to any concrete global response. These challenges raise questions
about integrating intelligent sub-systems into a global brain, especially
if some of the networks might be understood as sub- intelligent from a global
perspective. The paper also reports on steps to shift the level of analysis,
and representation, from isolated entities to the multitude of feedback loops
buried within such patterns of information.
Relevant interlinked knowledgebases: http://www.un-intelligible.org/docs/overview.php#orga
Relevant papers on knowledge organization: https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/themes/aadocnd4.php
Project introduction page: http://www.un-intelligible.org/projects/homeency.php
with links to commentaries
Historians of hypertext such as Boyd Rayward (1994)
have recently identified one of the founders of the Union of International Associations
(UIA), Paul Otlet (1868-1944), as being one of the key figures in envisaging
what has subsequently become known as hypertext. His pre-computer efforts at
the beginning of the 20th century were designed to give form to his vision of
a 'collective brain' (Otlet, 1934) -- through the organization of
some 15 million filecards. These efforts were partly undertaken institutionally
through the UIA (founded in 1910). A separate paper (Judge and Fischer, 2001)
even explores the possibility that the 'Union of International Associations'
was originally, whether enigmatically or unconsciously, envisaged as a virtual
organization that could be understood as a practical experiment in global brain
The focus of the UIA since the 1950s has been on profiling international nonprofit
organizations in every field of human activity. Associated profiles have been
maintained on their meetings, the problems of concern to them (from 1972), the
strategies envisaged in response (from 1986), as well as associated concepts
of human development, values, and bibliographic references. This work was computerized
from the mid-1970s. A major pre-web concern was to provide links between entites
in any of these databases, as well as between entities in different databases.
From 1996, increasing portions of this material have been made freely available
on the web (http://www.un-intelligible.org/docs/overview.php#orga)
in a manner which ensured that all links became hyperlinks. Most entities are
held in such a way as to engender search queries to external web resources.
As a historical footnote in relation to the 'global brain' theme,
and H G Wells' early pointers to it (1937, 1938), it is appropriate to note
that Peter Hunot, the first post-World War II editor of the UIA's Yearbook
of International Organizations (http://www.un-intelligible.org/docs/overview.php#orga),
was the former personal secretary of H G Wells. In the case of the UIA, Otlet's
initiative (more ambitiously articulated in Monde: essaie d'universalisme
in 1935) subsequently provided a framework for its Encyclopedia of World
Problems and Human Potential (http://www.un-intelligible.org/projects/homeency.php)
now accessible on the web.
1.0 Current status and methodology
The core activity is based on maintenance of profiles of international nonprofit
organizations, whether governmental or nongovernmental -- in every field
of human activity (some 800 subject classifications). Links between profiles,
of different types, are also maintained as well as links to profiles in other
knowledgebases -- since these organizations are usually associated with strategies
on problems, articulated in meetings, in the light of values
and in pursuit of some understanding of human development. The table
below provides an overview -- and links to further information. Information
is collected from international organizations (or the web) on a regular basis.
The work is funded by sale of information services as indicated below, or through
occasional projects (eg 1997-2000 through EU Info2000, DG-XIII).
A general commentary
on this project is available. Specific commentaries on issues arising from aspects
of this work are also available, as noted above where appropriate.
For a statistical overview of the
development of the Encyclopedia databases, see:
2.0 Particular features relevant to the global brain theme
Comprehensiveness and the meanings of 'global': It might be
said that there are no biases regarding the areas of human activity on which
information is collected for these knowledgebases -- or, better still, that
the profiles produced each reflect the strong biases held by particular constituencies.
However a significant bias is towards information that is of more than local
or national significance. Other kinds of bias might be identified regarding
the adequacy of representation of information from non-English, non-western,
non-literal cultures -- even though such concerns are assiduously reflected
in the preoccupations of many international organizations and the information
they provide. Interesting questions might also be raised regarding the bias
implict in the notion of 'node' and the kinds of relationship possible.
Currently ternary relationships (on which there is an extensive literature)
are excluded. [for more on
With respect to 'global' brain however, there are important questions
as to the degree to which of the following is the prime emphasis:
- global in the sense of 'world': Here the focus is on the
geo-political dimension, namely a brain encompassing preoccupations from around
the world -- worldwide. It is this sense that gives rise to 'globalization'
and 'global traveller'. Any global ordering here primarily emphasizes
the multiplicity of bilateral connections around the geographical world as
a set, without any other explicit sense of their meaningful organization.
This may include understandings which specifically refer to global 'networks'
where these are essentially understood as a pattern of bilateral links, with
some significant hubs.
- global in the sense of 'unitary': Here the focus is on
the unity of the world (often symbolized by a photograph of Earth from space,
or the notion of Gaia). This focus tends to lack any ability to deal specifically
with the complexity and diversity from which that unity is understood to emerge.
The unity is taken as a given posing no conceptual challenges. This focus
is a basis for reflection and campaigns about Earth as a whole. The phrase
'think globally, act locally' is associated with it, as are notions
of 'planetary consciousness' and Teilhard de Chardin's 'noosphere'.
- global in the sense of 'integrative': This relatively obscured
sense emphasizes the degree of integration of the brain, in the mathematical
or systemic sense of a global, rather than a local, solution. Such a connotation
is characteristic of higher degrees of order whether embodied in cybernetics,
theories of complexity, complex organizations, or the levels of understanding
that are purportedly an attribute of wise (mature, well-integrated) people.
It raises fundamental issues about how any higher orders of integration are
achieved, function and may be understood.
In relation to these distinctions, the UIA has produced a database of some
600 integrative, transdisciplinary and unitary concepts (http://www.un-intelligible.org/projects/homekno.php).
The web however provides an interesting bridge between all three of the above
understandings of 'global' (Judge, 1996).
The UIA information collection focus relates primarily to entities that are
integrative in the first sense, namely interrelating perspectives from different
parts of the world. But the concern is to build into the access facilities features
responding to the challenges of the third -- especially the challenge of coherence
as suggested by the need for interdisciplinarity and comprehension of complexity
(**). However a more radical question might also be raised as to whether a global
brain should, at some stage, also reflect non-human intelligence.
Interrelating different kinds of conceptual entity: To avoid the challenges
of information overload, the focus of this work has been on a range of quite
distinct, and specifically defined, conceptual entities that are handled in
separate databases. Entities within each database may be extensively hyperlinked
together in addition to hyperlinks between entities in different databases.
For the puposes of the global brain perspective of this paper, these entities
may be viewed as follows
||Global brain relevance
or nongovernmental organizations
||globally connected distributive
||identified as preoccupations
by international organizations and other constituencies. Care is given to
distinguish such entitiers from topics of study, and there is a requirement
that they be well-named with negative-value descriptors (eg literacy
is not a problem, illiteracy is)
||collective phobias, neuroses,
||advocated by international organizations
or other constituencies in response to world problems. Care is given to
ensure that these are named with action-oriented descriptors to avoid confusion
with topics of study or interest.
||collective procedure, best practices
||values implicit in recognition
of world problems, in strategies in response to them, or exemplified by
||collective attractors / repulsors
||organized by international organizations
in response to problems, to articulate strategies or to celebrate values
||binding moments within global
||concepts of human development
and modes of awareness as an important objective of many strategies and
embodiment of values
||goals and processesd to be
facilitated by global brain?
||understandings of transdisciplinary,
integrative, unitary and globality
||articulations of coherence potenjtially
associated with a global brain
||whether the products of international
organizations, about them, or about the issues with which they are concerned
||on key executives of intrnational
Interaction with information sources: The knowledgebases are maintained
through various degrees of interaction with providers of information, especially
international organizations having issue and strategic preoccupations. International
organization information is obtained annually via (email) questionnaires (as
well as via the web) as a basis for the Yearbook of International Organizations
and its electronic variants.
To the extent that the universe of international bodies may be said to reflect
deliberately organized responses to the complete range of human preoccupations,
it can be said that they constitute focal nodes in a form of global brain through
which facets of human social reality are perceived, defined, and given relative
significance. Whether this is to be understood, as with any encyclopedic undertaking,
as one precursor or a subset of some larger understanding of a global brain
is clearly a matter of discussion.
The web facility is being designed to facilitate and encourage continual amendments
to profiles and links by interested parties, notably international organizations,
whether through a comment facility or through online distance intelli-work.
Hyperlink context and generated links: The knowledgebase is not designed
as an isolated system. Every entity is named with titles rich in keywords that
are used to enable query links to web search engines offering access to relevant
resources. Experimentally such keywords are also used to pull into the profile
visible to the user generated hyperlinks to entities in other parts of the knowledgebase.
This technique is used where resources have not been allocated to providing
hard links to selected entities in other databases.
With respect to the global brain, this raises interesting issues about the
values of associative links which may or may not be relevant.
Hypertext editing: The databases are very much understood as knowledgebases.
A major challenge is to provide links between entities whose relationship may
often be neglected or represented only in secondary literature. Clearly when
such links are explicit in accessible texts they can be incorporated. However
many problems arise where link information is crudely given in the literature.
An example would be if Entity A is described as directly linked to Entity D
in one source when other sources make it clear that this link is only via Entity
B and Entity C.
Resolution of the class of challenges of this kind requires a combination of
software and knowledge skills that will probably be the basis for a future profession
through which the quality of a global brain will be maintained and enhanced.
Effectively this is a process of synapse editing!
Use of multi-media for conceptual integration: The quantities of information
involved, and the manner in which the system is normally used in text mode,
raise concerns about simply reinforcing user tunnel vision -- a concern fundamental
to any discussion of a 'global' brain.Whilst hyperlinks are usually
present to points outside the user's immediate domain of preoccupation, there
is a need to provide useful contextual frameworks to facilitate any desire for
a broader overview. Several experimental approaches have been taken to this
and made available to users:
- Virtual reality: A number of approaches have been investigated for
the projection of complex networks onto different kinds of structure that
could be explored using readily available virtual reality browser plug-ins.
The key here has been decisions on the integrative design metaphor of the
surface onto which nodes and relationships are projected. The intention has
been to offer to the user choices of geometric design metaphor (sphere, spiral,
etc). The structures are generated over the web on request.
- Spring maps: This approach, pioneered by Gerald
de Jong, takes advantages of properties of elastic interval geometry to
resolve the basic problem of how usefully to distribute elements of a topological
network over a restricted plane surface (what might be called the 'automated
subway map design problem'). Essentially links are defined mathematically
as springs allowing any network to self-organize over a given surface. Various
tools may then be offered to the user to explore such networks (zooming, panning,
etc), to drag and freeze parts into meaningful positions, or to redisplay
the map with other colour codes. Currently software permits spring maps with
up to 2300 nodes to be explored.
In both these cases the features of the display are active in that users could
either choose to obtain text profiles corresponding to nodes or generate a new
structure centred on the selected node.
Data sets have also been ported into proprietary packages:
- Decision Explorer: This enables
more detailed analysis of networks from a decision-making perspective. It
has its own display and modelling approach. This facility is directly available
as an option to web users. [*** sample]
- Netmap: This sophisticated
tool allows millions of entities to be positioned around the circumference
of a cricle, with links between them displayed as coloured lines across the
circle. In this way the single circle provides an overview of the complete
data set (one experiment with UIA data used 150,000 entities; see more).
Zooming facilities allow display of individual entities. Analytical features
allow subsets of the data to be clustered in a variety of ways meaningful
to investigative decision-making. [**** ppt]
Currently developments are focusing on the association of tones and music with
spring maps in order to use sound effects to provide the user with a soundscape
matching the visualization. The emphasis is on how users can themselves associate
sound effects with complex structures in order to sustain integrative understandings
Such an approach has been justified for similar reasons in efforts (under the
term 'protein music' or 'genetic music') to associate tones
with features of DNA structures, notable by computational biologists. Web resources
A useful discussion of such approach is given in http://www.whozoo.org/mac/Music/Sources.htm;
These efforts have given rise to a Nucleic Acid Database Musical Atlas
Feedback loops: The major emphasis on hyperlinking conceptual entities
means that these semantic networks can be analyzed to detect various characteristics,
notably the presence of loops. Such loops may be an indication of possible errors
but may more interestingly be a basis for shifting the level of analysis and
understanding beyond the common focus on individual entities in isolation or
simply as part of an unordered set. [see discussion]
The notion of "loops", and its relevance, requires some further
explanation. As defined by Colin Eden and Fran Ackermann (Making Strategy,
1998) in describing the value of Decision Explorer : a loop represents
a description of a chain of consequences that produces a dynamic outcome by
feeding off itself (positive feedback = "vicious" or "virtuous"
loops), or by controlling itself (negative feedback). Typically a feedback loop
will be an important strategic issue in its own right. The purpose of detecting
feedback loops is to raise the level of analysis of individual issues to a higher,
systematic level. It is a technique which has the potential to add extra meaning
to basic data, particularly relevant for policy makers (one significant user
group for this product) and others concerned with understanding the interrelationships
and root causes of environmental problems, notably those relevant to biological
A self-reinforcing ("vicious") problem loop, then, is a chain of
Problems, each aggravating the next, and with the last looping back to aggravate
the first in the chain. An example is:
Man-made disasters > Vulnerability of ecosystem
niches > Natural environment degradation >
Shortage of natural resources > Unbridled
competition for scarce resources > Man-made disasters.
Such cycles are "vicious" because they are self-sustaining problem
cycles. organisational strategies and programmes that focus on only one problem
in a chain may fail because the cycle has the capacity to regenerate itself.
Individual "vicious problem cycles" also tend to interlock, forming
tangled skeins of interlinked global Problems which implicate single environmental
problems in chains and complexes of multi-sectoral issues. Without the means
to untangle the relationships, the response to a conservation challenge may
be ineffective, self-defeating or, even, harmful.
It is important to recognise that it is precisely through the detection of
such loops that attention can be drawn to defects in the pattern of relationships
in the data. It is possible for some loops to be the result of incorrect relationships
rather than being representative of genuine feedback, and so "accidental"
loops appear. Detection of loops is therefore in the first place an editorial
tool for hyperlinkage within a relational database. It raises questions as to
the appropriateness of certain links which otherwise may go unquestioned. It
also sharpens the discussion on how distinctions are made, using verbal categories
and definitions, and how system boundaries are drawn grouping what is represented
in this way. The results indicate this is a very interesting area for further
An indication of the numbers of loops detectable (of different size) is given
below for the case of problem entities linked by the 'aggravating'
relationship (namely Problem A aggravates Problem B):
|Progressive Refinements of
Prior to Project
EU INFO2000 Project
Reflection of real-world preoccupations: By using international organizations
as a prime source, the resulting web knowledgebase endeavours to hold the widest
possible spectrum of perspectives on matters and dimensions of concern to the
world. It can at any time be 'confronted' with new entities in knowledge
space for inclusion within whatever hyperlink framework is appropriate. The
result is relatively compact and internally ordered in a way that is to some
With respect to a global brain, this raises interesting questions about the
way any global brain mirrors reality. Clearly the knowledgebase is both a limited
map and a distorted one. Clearly it is itself not the brain but a reflection
of entities in knowledge space that perform brain-like functions through their
interaction with one another. It might perhaps be likened to an ECG readout
or a cat-scan.
Perceptions vs Facts: With respect to several kinds of entity included
(notably world problems), the emphasis is much more on perceptions of reality
rather than on verified assumptions about reality. Briefly, for example, 'invasion
by extraterrestrials' will be the subject of a problem profile if there
is a constituency acting as though this was an important dimension of its members
psycho-social reality. Briefly again, equivalent attention will be given to
'rust', 'refugees' and 'wrinkles', notably because
of the economic significance of the first and the last.
With respect to a global brain, it might well be asked to what degree it might
be designed only around 'facts' if major constituencies have significant
doubts about those facts and articulate their concerns as though 'non-facts'
were effectively 'facts'. The major challenges around this matter
have recently been evident in the dubious articulation of 'facts'
by political and scientific communities regarding BSE, foot-and-mouth disease,
GM products, hormones-in-meat, etc. Perceptions have proven to be as significant
as facts to the dynamics of the international community. At this point it is
impossible to distinguish between perceptions and facts on the web.
Exaggerated claims and contradictory statements: Again, with respect
to several kinds of entity included (notably world problems), an effort is also
made to include (in a separate field) claims in language that reflects the dominant
significance that particular perceptions may hold in the minds or emotions of
some constituencies (for example with respect to issues of sexism or abortion).
Equal effort is however also made to include counter-claims denying the significance
of such claims or of the issue profiled -- or possibly of the misrepresentation
to which such claims are typically subject.
The system is designed to handle statements that may be considered highly biased
and inaccurate from another perspective. The purpose of such information is
to give some feel for the dynamics of the perceptions around particular issues
-- and the radically opposed opinions that may be active in society. Clearly
some of these perceptions, and perhaps mutually reinforcing clusters of them,
may be usefully understood as indicators of collective neuroses, phobias, denial-mechanisms,
and the like. However judgements to this effect are as significant in practice
as are those with respect to individual obsessions.
With respect to a global brain, it might be asked how such exaggerated perceptions
-- clearly identified as misleading from other perceptions (possibly otherwise
biased) -- are to be handled so as to reflect the dynamics and dilemmas to which
a global brain might aspîre to provide a coherent response.
Non-closure and incompleteness: The knowledgebase is necessarily designed
to avoid closure. Because of constraints on resources, many entities in it are
sparsely populated with text, especially where priority is given to hyperlinks
to other entities. No profile is considered complete. Profiles continue to be
modified in response to clearer articulations or recognition of errors. Entities
may at any time be split or combined. Their hyperlink context may be significantly
amended at any time. Incompleteness may be significantly determined by lack
of resources to include or amend texts. Priorities may be given to relatively
insignificant entities where these help to enlarge the scope and range of the
knowledgebase, as opposed to further amending entities covered by many websites
(to which links are provided) on which libraries of information may already
With respect to a global brain, this raises issues about incompleteness, ignorance,
learning and erosion of collective memory. It is strikingly exemplified by the
challenge of modern libraries with respect to archival material and the degradation
Global modelling and simulation: The 1970s and 1980s saw much enthusiasm
for global modelling of a particular kind. The value of such models has now
been played down and their success is now acknowledged only where they are applied
to rather specific domains (trade, climate, etc). Such models are in almost
all cases equation driven. In contrast, the UIA knowledgebase is essentially
topological in nature and calls for the use of techniques from that discipline
[see comparison with conventional
global modelling]. Its visible outputs are not graphs in the statistical
sense but cognitive representations in which design elements to facilitate comprehension
of complexity are a significant factor.
With respect to the global brain, this raises interesting questions about the
contrast between an equation driven brain (following the style of chess programs)
and one based on structures of semantic associations. To what extent is the
debate about the bicameral nature of mind relevant to discussion of a global
brain? (see below). Can right and left-hemisphere functions be identified and
how are they to be integrated?
Subject matrix: In an effort to provide an integrative emphasis to subject
organization, the knowledge base items are classified in terms of a matrix of
rather than a nested hierarchical structure as is typical of much knowledge
organization. This sets the stage for exploration of interdisciplinarity and
transdisciplinarity as patterns of links between cells across the matrix. [see
Humour: A humour database
is associated with particular entries in several of the UIA knowledgebases.
The rationale is that humour appears to be intimately related to the deprived
or stressed social circumstances documented -- and often seems to be engendered
by them. The vital role of humour has been recognized for people in oppressive
regimes, conditions of social deprivation, prisons, ill-health and monotonous
occupations, namely diminished quality of life. By introducing humour as a dimension
this may therefore provide integrative insights and patterns of associaztion
otherwise unobtainable. This raises the question as to how humour might be associated
with a global brain (a topic occasionally explored in science fiction).
Mathematical limitations: Because of its institutional and financial
setting, the UIA has been unable to bring to bear on the knowledgebase the quality
of mathematical expertise which the data structure could be said to merit. Although
it should be borne in mind that priority has been given to an integrated solution
that resulted in user access to results generated with particular generic software
rather than laboratory analysis of data sets using tailored software. So, for
example, the following are primitive and more akin to proof of concept:
- analysis of loops
- identification of meaningful network properties and sources of potential
error (redundancy, etc)
- algorithms to generate virtual reality frameworks to interrelate entities
See elsewhere for a discussion of some relevant mathematical challenges for
systems scientists (Judge, 1999).
A related concern arises from the fundamental conceptual challenge faced by
the international community concerning territorial conflicts (Kashmir, Northern
Ireland, Middle East, etc), namely dilemmas over the division of bounded space
between two or more claimants -- which effectively sustain dangerous rifts in
global society. It might be argued that responding in new ways to these challenges
would be fundamental to any assessment of the value of a global brain -- and
its 'global' attributes. It has been argued that the kinds of integration
required can only be based on application of more complex mathematical techniques
(Judge, 2000) -- following
the principle of Ashby's Law.
Provision of meaningful integrative tools: There is a major issue about
how to present knowledgebase complexity to a user. This increasingly stimulates
investment in knowledge visualization techniques. Many of the more interesting
packages are targeted to high-budget organizations. However it is unclear to
what degree some of the more interesting questions and possibilities are being
addressed. It is for this reason that the UIA is exploring use of sound in relation
to visualizations (as noted earlier).
Given the current interest in memes as a semantic equivalent of genes (eg Blackmore,
1999), there is a strong case for exploring the relevance of arguments made
for 'genetic music' as they might apply to 'memetic music'
as a means of comprehending knowledge complexes within a global brain. This
suggests a 'memetic reading' of the points made in M A Clark's review
of genetic music sources (http://www.whozoo.org/mac/Music/Sources.htm)
which he introduces as follows:
In his landmark book Godel, Escher, Bach (1980), Douglas Hofstadter
comments on similarities between genes and music. The analogy is explicit
in the following quote:
Imagine the mRNA to be like a long piece of magnetic recording tape, and
the ribosome to be like a tape recorder. As the tape passes through the
playing head of the recorder, it is "read" and converted into music, or
other sounds...When a "tape" of mRNA passes through the "playing head" of
a ribosome, the "notes" produced are amino acids and the pieces of music
they make up are proteins. ( p. 519).
Hofstadter also discusses how meaning is constructed in protein and in music:
Music is not a mere linear sequence of notes. Our minds perceive pieces
of music on a level far higher than that. We chunk notes into phrases, phrases
into melodies, melodies into movements, and movements into full pieces.
similarly proteins only make sense when they act as chunked units. Although
a primary structure carries all the information for the tertiary structure
to be created, it still "feels" like less, for its potential is only realized
when the tertiary structure is actually physically created. (p. 525)
As Hofstadter first suggested, music is a natural medium for expressing the
complex patterns of proteins and their encoding DNAs. Both consist of a linear
sequence of elements whose real meaning lies in their combinations.
Later Clark suggests possibilities which are again of great potential interest
to comprehension of the high order conceptual complexes that might usefully
be a characteristic of a global brain:
Musical renditions of DNA and proteins are not only interesting as music,
but as an alternative mode of studying genetic sequences. It might be argued
that the folding patterns (tertiary structure) of proteins are the most conserved
elements of living organisms. The genes and the primary protein structure
(amino acid sequence) that underlie the protein folds and the diversity of
the species that house them seem to be free to vary, so long as the protein
continues to fold in a way that allows it to serve its function. Protein folding
depends on the interaction among the amino acids and between the protein and
its immediate environment. With a few exceptions, the specific identity of
the amino acids seems less important than the preservation of the correct
relationship. I believe that music is a way of representing those relationships
in a type of informational string to which the human ear is keenly attuned.
Maybe the traditional notion of the 'music of the spheres' is of
significance to discussion of the design of any global brain. Certainly David
Rosenboom's (2000) arguments as a musician are relevant to many of the epistemological
challenges and traps. The bibliographical and other references of the International
Community of Auditory Display (http://www.icad.org/)
provide a strong rationale for this approach.
Integrating multimedia tools into the hyperlink editing process: It
is increasingly clear that what amounts to synapse editing calls for software
and visualization tools to enhance the conceptual capacity of the editor --
somewhat along the lines of the tools now being envisaged for brain surgeons.
The question is what kinds of tools would facilitate the task of a researcher
constructing useful links in a knowledge structure in the light of paterns of
information supplied from other sources.
One experimental approach envisaged would make use of 3D virtual reality representations,
based on a gardening metaphor, to allow knowledge structures to be cultivated
and gardened with the aid of musical cues (Judge, 2000).
The elastic interval geometry software technology under continuing development
by Gerald de Jong and the Struck
Community has already been adapted by him to 3D dynamic displays, notably
in relationship to construction of virtual worlds. There are interesting further
possibilities using elastic angle geometry. The question is what design metaphors
might be envisaged to increase the cognitive dimensions of such habitats so
as to emphasize highlight meaningful integration. This is necessarily some stages
beyond Douglas Englebart's early vision (1962). UIA data has been parsed into
XML as a basis for populating such constructs.
Role of metaphor: Appropriate metaphor is increasingly and explicitly
appreciated as fundamental to design advances in software. As noted above some
of the design constraints for knowledge structure representation are associated
with geometric metaphors. However it is also clear that there is vast scope
for use of design metaphors to this end based on other aesthetics -- whether
colour, sound, shape, dynamics, or any combination (Judge, 1995).
It can be readily argued that the brain uses metaphor to provide coherent patterns
of associations as a framework for knowledge. It might well be supposed that
this would also be true of any global brain. The question is what metaphors
might be useful to what end, and how might users be offered facilities enhanced
by such options. Would such use of metaphor be an attribute of the right-hemisphere
of the global brain?
Quality intelli-work and enabling fruitful input from external parties:
As with work on expert systems, maintaining and extending a knowledgebase
requires a level of continuing professional attention to detail which is usually
associated only with the setup phases of knowledgebase development. Institutionally
the continuity of attention required calls for distributed editorial research
work and facilities to manage the relationship between the interventions of
contributors with differeing skills and priorities. Specifically there is a
challenge of ensuring that careful work on systems of hyperlinks is not inadvertently
wrecked by careless new contributions.
Cultural assumptions: There is an extensive literature indicating the
particularity of western cultural styles of thought (Posey, 1999). Because of
its apparent dominance in science and the media, it is easy to neglect the existence
of other styles of thought -- which may also in fact be operational as sub-cultures
within western societies. This literature touches on assumptions about the nature
of intelligence and the possibily of quite different kinds of intelligence (see
summary of some contrasting
For example, Magoroh Maruyama (1980) distinguishes 4 contrasting mindscapes
each of which might suggest a different kind of global brain:
- H-mindscape (homogenistic, hierarchical, classificational): Parts
are subordinated to the whole, with subcategories neatly grouped into supercategories.
The strongest, or the majority, dominate at the expense of the weak values,
policies, problems, priorities, etc). Logic is deductive and axiomatic demanding
sequential reasoning. Cause-effect relations may be deterministic or probabilistic.
- I-mindscape (heterogenistic, individualistic, random): Only individuals
are real, even when aggregated into society. Emphasis on self-sufficiency,
independence and individual values. Design favours the random, the capricious
and the unexpected. Scheduling and planning are to be avoided. Non-random
events are improbable. Each question has its own answer; there are no universal
- S-mindscape (heterogenistic, interactive, homeostatic): Society
consists of heterogeneous individuals who interact non-hierarchically to mutual
advantages. Mutual dependency. Differences are desirable and contribute to
the harmony of the whole. Maintenance of the natural equilibrium. Values are
interrelated and cannot be rank-ordered. Avoidance of repetition. Causal loops.
Categories not mutually exclusive. Objectivity is less useful than "cross-subjectivity"
or multiple viewpoints. Meaning is context dependent.
- G-mindscape (heterogenistic, interactive, morphogenetic): Heterogeneous
individuals interact non-hierarchically fur mutual benefit, generating new
patterns and harmony. Nature in continually changing requiring allowance for
change. Values interact to generate new values and meanings. Values of deliberate
(anticipatory) incompleteness. Causal loops. Multiple evolving meanings.
To what extent are such dimensions ignored in considering the nature of a global
brain? Is the debate effectively skewed in favour of design criteria for a western-style
global brain (H-mindscape)? How might a global brain be understood through other
cultural and epistemological lenses? How are such divergent perspectives to
be integrated within a genuinely global brain? How might the nature of such
integration be articulated without falling into the traps of particular understandings
of integration? (see more
on the epistemological challenges of East-West integration).
A particular example in the UIA initiative is the reconciliation of the Western
and Eastern systems of health -- and the hyperlinks to which they give rise
in a knowledgebase.
Intriguingly one author has indicated how some of the fundamental epistemological
issues in relationship to cross-cultural music may clarify new ways of thinking
about the nature of emergent order (Rosenbloom, 2000).
Styles of global brain: It is useful to clarify the qualities sought
in a global brain by different constituencies and to compare such goals with
existing operating initiatives, or their fictional analogues, that reflect these
in part. A point of departure is the work of Gareth Morgan (1998) on Images
of Organization, who identifies 7 metaphors describing contrasting styles
of organization which might be adapted to understandings of a global brain (GB):
- GB as machine: "Mechanistic approaches to organization work well under conditions
when machines work well." A machine can be 'built' -- and engenders
a need for maintenance.
- GB as organism: "The image of an organism seeking to adapt and survive in
a changing environment offers a powerful perspective for managers who want
to help their organizations flow with change." An organism needs to be 'grown'
or 'cultivated' -- and engenders a need for care.
- GB as brain: "What if we think about organizations as brains?" A brain needs
to be 'educated' -- and engenders a need for testing, new challenges
- GB as culture: "When we view organizations as cultures, we see them as minisocieties
with their own distinctive values, rituals, ideologies, and beliefs." A culture
needs to be 'enriched', 'enhanced' or even 'sung'
-- and engenders a need for recreation.
- GB as political systems: "When we see organizations through the lens of
politics, patterns of competing interests, conflicts, and power plays dominate
the scene." A political system requires some form of 'indoctrination'
-- and engenders a need for 'commisars.'
- GB as psychic prisons: "What if we view organizations as systems that get
trapped in their own thoughts and actions?" A prison requires imposition of
rules, regulations and correctional measures -- and engenders a need for security
- GB as instruments of domination: "The negative impact that organizations
often have on their employees or their environment or that multinationals
have on patterns of inequality and world economic development is not necessarily
an intended one." This is the Big Brother archetype.
Each style effectively implies a different design, construction and maintenance
challenge. Each also implies a very different style of relationship of an individual
to it through any interface. It might be argued that it could be all these --
preferably to be understood as complementary images -- which might each be undertood
positively or negatively. Clearly other metaphors might also be explored. Especially
interesting are those implicitly suggested by the above list. For example, why
the focus on a 'brain' when other organs of the body might carry other
valuable insights for some. A 'global heart' would appeal to a quite
different range of people as evidenced by the number of websites for 'global
heart' initiatives. What does a 'brain' lack that is carried
by the 'heart' metaphor? What might be the vital systemic relationship
between a global brain and a global heart -- and other organs (such as a 'global
stomach') implicitly omitted for reasons that could be usefully explored?
Is this a useful warning indicator?
How might such archetypal forms be compared to some operating examples:
- information systems / web search engine / intelligent agents
- corporate 'situation room' or military 'war room' (with
- expert system
- belief system
- traditional knowledge system (Jataka tales of the Hindu culture,
- think tank / brains trust / councils of the wise
- interlocking patterns of dialogue
- knowledge ecosystem
An interesting line of investigation into styles of brain design is the range
of centro-symmetric geometric structures. These are helpful in focusing attention
on whether the brain 'centre' is occupied or whether the design is
based on an 'empty centre' -- namely where there are a range of peripheral
centres configured around it. Parallels may be seen in clustering computers
and in the design of supercomputers based on a hypercube. The cybernetician
Stafford Beer, known for his early work on the Brain of the Firm (1981),
subsequently (1994) focused on the use of icosahedral structures in seeking
'syntegration' of perspectives and issues. An interesting question
is whether some structures are inherently more comprehensible or resonant with
an individual interacting with them -- as suggested by meditational mandala
Another line of investigation is suggested by Howard Gardner's Multiple
Intelligences (1983).He has suggested eight types of intelligence
and learning style that merit consideration in relation to a global brain and
how it might learn (or fail to learn): musical, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical,
linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal (see also David Lazear,
1999). Also of interest is the relevance of emotional
intelligence, as popularized by Daniel Goleman (1995) and the consequences
of any lack of attention to this dimension in envisaging a global brain. There
is now a research consortium on this matter (http://www.eiconsortium.org/).
Discourse about any 'global brain' can usefully be mapped onto dimensions
such as the following to avoid fruitless disagreement from narrow perspectives.
Other dimensions, such as those reflected by the gaian and noosphere discourse
communities, could also be included -- as well as those preoccupied with issues
of social control (or freedom from control). It is indeed possible that (as
with the complementary wave/particle theories of light), a set of complementary
perspectives on any global brain may be vital to prevent premature closure on
any definition from an overly simplistic perspective that fails to recognize
the necessary higher orders of knowledge organization vital to the operation
of a 'brain' that can perform genuinely global integrative knowledge
Volatility and coherence within a global brain: A prime characteristic
of the international community and world opinion is the manner in which issues
are briefly taken up and rapidly set aside in favour of others -- although contrasting
issues may compete for public attention. Recent fashions include: development,
sustainability, civil society. Political debate bounces around amongst a range
of such fashionable themes. Series of meetings touch on particular topics and
have other fashionable topics projected onto them. Schools of meditation have
disparaging remarks to make about equivalent incoherent processes in their practioners
awareness. In historical terms, many collective issues effectively have a lifecycle
duration equivalent to that of a butterfly -- fluttering into and out of collective
At issue is whether this really is an issue and a matter of concern. For some
the fragmentation and incoherence of world society knowledge processes is a
deep concern. For others it is merely a reflection of the rich dynamics of human
society. Nevertheless it is useful to ask what level of coherence should be
sought from a global brain -- and whether it is precisely such coherence that
would distinguish it from the degree of organization currently characteristic
of the web or the networks of organizations and disciplines. Just as religions
remain in continuing dispute about the nature of 'God', it is important
to recognize the variety of understandings of any form of coherence or integration
that might be considered basic to the mergence of any global brain. Of relevance
also are the dynamics associated with any effort towards such synthesis (see
If greater coherence is a matter of concern, how are higher degrees of order
to be introduced -- or better how is their emergence to be facilitated? This
raises other issues, successfully explored by Ron Atkin (1977, 1981), concerning
how people favouring different degrees of order perceive and understand those
favouring other degrees and qualities of order. A special challenge derives
from assumptions about the universality of relatively simplistic principles
of order -- especially across cultures. Some of there problems are evident in
the history of classification systems.
Perhaps the most interesting question is to what kinds of coherence might a
global brain aspire and how would that be comprehensible from various forms
of coherence of lower order? Alternatively, if such a hierarchical understanding
of order is itself simplistic, how might alternative forms of high order coherence
be mutually comprehensible or held within a larger framework with characteristics
as yet to be understood -- especially where 'definition' is itself
part of the problem of oversimplification?
Expanding knowledge universe: Much has been made of the explosion of
information and knowledge. There is increasing recognition that individuals
or groups able to afford it will each have their own websites (as will their
pets). It has been claimed that there are 16,000 health sites on the web. It
has long been accepted that few have time to read or absorb more than a fraction
of the information generated -- even in relatively narrows areas of specialization.
This emerging situation can usefully be described by several metaphors -- for
- Wild flowers: in which the number of such websites will be competing for
attention like flowers in the countryside.
- Galaxies: in which the number of knowledge clusters might usefully be compared
to galaxies in a rapidly expanding universe
- Graveyards: in which the rapid accumulation of obsolete sites (whether focused
on deceased groups or authors, or on historic concerns) will effectively fill
cyberspace with tombstones requiring graveyards (and dutiful maintenance of
their links, possibly with spiritual responsibilities)
In this context interesting questions are raised concerning the meaning and
value of knowledge:
- In the case of the flower metaphor, is it a matter of perserving ecosystems
within which competition is necessarily savage; how might such ecosystems
evolve to exemplify higher qualities of 'global' knowledge? How
are the myriad re-discoveries and re-articulations of knowledge through learning
processes to be positioned within a global brain?
- In the case of the expanding universe metaphor, how might the relativity
effects of communication lags in knowledge space be usefully framed? Might
the speed of light be usefully recognized as a clue to the constraints on
speed of understanding or learning in such a knowledge universe?
- In the case of the graveyard metaphor, what will become the status of the
disproportionate amounts of knowledge from the past, and to what extent will
web preservation of past cultural initiatives and their initiators become
an overriding preoccupation in global brain operations (recalling that of
Is there a case for combining the processes implicit in these metaphors into
what amounts to an understanding of conceptual evolution in knowledge space?
This might be mapped by some equivalent to the astrophysicists Hertzsprung-Russell
diagram -- which indicates the evolutionary pathway of stars in terms of changing
mass and luminosity. What is required is a sense of the evolution of conceptual
attractors in knowledge space in terms of the attraction they exert and their
visibility. It is this process that a global brain would presumably encompass.
Of special concern are the implications for creativity and learning in such
a space in which the relativity effects of learning and communication delays
may isolate, or overexpose, people and groups within knowledge space. This raises
the question of the advantages and disadvantages of such isolation to any fulfillment
-- that may be undermined by the transparency and speed implicit in assumptions
about a global brain. In this respect the work of Orrin Klapp (1978, 1986),
on the need for both opening and closing in response to information, is most
insightful. James Glanz has written a description of the preoccupations of the
annual Seven Pines Symposium with the heading Turn down that Web, these scientists
plead, so we can think (IHT, 20
June 2001) -- concerned that promising lines of research are abandoned in
favour of conceptual bandwagons. How much closure is required in relating creatively
to a global brain?
Globality of the person and possible 'resonance' with a global
brain: As noted earlier, there is a fundamental challenge in understanding
the relationship between a global brain and the qualities of a person capable
of understanding the nature of its globality. Briefly, to what extent does the
kind of tunnel vision associated with the high-order specialization required
to survive in modern society enable any comprehension of what might be hypothesized
about the characteristics of a global brain -- or the challenge of designing
one? Such a brain would supposedly be characterized by forms of transdisciplinarity
at least requiring higher degrees of ordering that are anyway a struggle to
comprehend -- even if such comprehension is possible.
Metaphorically is it necessarily the case that any individual is effectively
obliged to function with a 'flatland' epistemology in a situation
in which an emergent global brain must necessarily ensure 'curvature'
of many such conceptual territories to form them into a sphere with global functions?
Under what conditions will an individual be able to experience this curvature
or the globality that results? Ron Atkin (1977, 1981) has perhaps come closest
to articulating in mathematical terms the cognitive challenge of exposure to
multidimensional geometry whose curvature can only be implicitly sensed (see
It is also of interest that through multi-media representations the mirroring
function may allow the user to enter into some kind of cognitive resonance with
the map -- as do meditators with a mandala. How can such representations be
organized to enhance comprehension and what effect do such maps have on the
observer -- and especially on a hyperlink editor endeavouring to introduce linkages
to enhance the quality of the global brain? This raises the question of the
nature of the existence of a global brain in the absence of a human observer.
More problematically there is the question of what degree of order the observer
is able to comprehend to identify the quality of existence -- and globality
-- of such a collective brain. Is a global brain necessarily unknowable (cf
Kurt Gödel, etc)? How might experienced meditators choose to define, design
or explain a global brain?
More concretely these questions focus attention on the design of any set of
interfaces through which to interact with a global brain.
'Bicameral' and 'hemispheric' organization of the global
brain: Following the work of Julian Jaynes (1976), the bicameral mind (two-chamber
mind) of the individual is one that functions as an unconscious, two-step process.
Automatic reactions and thoughts originate in the right hemisphere of the brain
and are transmitted to the left hemisphere as instructions to be acted upon.
The bicameral functioning is nature's automatic, learned mode of response without
regard to conscious thinking. By contrast, following the 'breakdown of
the bicameral mind' on which Jaynes has focused, man-made consciousness
functions through a deliberate, volitional thought process that is independent
of nature's bicameral thought process. A parallel to this might be sought in
relation to the awakening of the global brain.
As noted earlier, is there any sense in which the 'globality' or
integration of such a global brain may be characterized by equivalents to the
functionality widely associated with the right and left-hemisphere? How are
they to be integrated? There will clearly be approaches to global brain design
that will focus on 'left-brain' understandings of logical order, whereas
others will choose to focus on 'right-brain' patterns of association
(cf Gregory Bateson's 'pattern that connects'). The larger challenge
faced by the individual is how to integrate these two contrasting epistemological
frameworks within a larger framework that is defined by neither of them in isolation.
Magoroh Maruyama refers to this epistemological challenge as poly-ocular vision
Higher order brain functions and self-awareness of a global brain: Animals
have brains. Very few animal species are considered to be even remotely self-aware.
Is it to be expected that a global brain will however undergo a process of ontogenesis
or phylogenesis reminiscent of that of the human brain? Might the globality
of the brain of the international community at this point be compared to the
brain of one of the mammalian species?
In contrast to the view of Peter Russell (1995), has the global brain awakened
yet? Or, if awake, to what degree of brain evolution or growth does this awakening
currently correspond? Cynically it might be easily argued that, if indeed awakened,
it might well be compared to a 'reptilian' (flight-or-fight) brain,
or perhaps a 'bird' brain! But what indicators would suggest that
it was indeed self-aware -- given the investment of many in clearly distinguishing
the quality of human awareness from that of even the most 'intelligent'
There is a curious irony to the fact that one of the principal academic indicators
of self-awareness and introspection is the ability of individuals to recognize
themselves in a mirror -- usually achieved in humans between 18 and 24 months.
A major breakthrough in 2001 has been the demonstration that dolphins also have
mirror recognition ability. It might be wondered whether extraterrestrials have
analogous indicators of self-awareness for any global planetary brain -- based
on ability of a species to recognize itself as mirrored in its environment.
Modern civilization's failure of this test may have resulted in humanity's classification
as a pre-intelligent species, just as humans have classified animals as lacking
in the kind of self-awareness by which humanity characterizes itself.
In distinguishing functions of a global brain, there is a challenge in articulating
a range of levels from the more data oriented to the more wisdom oriented. It
is the latter which are most problematic because they raise major issues of
comprehension ( see).
It is not clear on what basis such higher levels might be identified -- let
alone given some operational form or recognized as a potential emergent form
The challenge is exemplified in the case of individuals who purportedly are
familiar with such higher order functions and articulate a range of levels relating
them to those which are more readily comprehended. Most spiritual and psychotherapeutic
disciplines describe the emergence of such higher order functions. The UIA has
endeavoured to document and interrelate this variety in one of its knowledgebases
which covers some 3,000 understandings of human development. Clearly their proponents
would have quite particular views about the potential and operation of a global
brain. What is the value of the less comprehensible higher order functions --
and what does this suggest for possible analogues in the case of a global brain?
Why are meditators cultivating such functions very attentive to the systemic
relationship of the functions of the brain with those of other organs?
Classes of knowledge: In any discussion of augmented intelligence emerging
from artificial intelligent systems (AI), enhanced human communities, or enhanced
individuals, a useful focus can be placed on distinct classes of knowledge and
their characteristics -- for which a table such as the following might provide
an initial framework:
Enhanced human commun-
Law and Order
The value of such a framework is to distinguish relatively trivial forms of
novelty in knowledge generation from those forms which serve to reframe and
integrate whole disciplines and systems of disciplines. Some forms of knowledge
may be valued simply for the degree of social control and predictability they
offer ('global' in the world-wide sense) as opposed to those which
offer new patterns of understanding ('global' in the sense of integrative
paradigms) that need to be distinguished because of their significance for future
There is some initial value in distinguishing classes of knowledge by the Greek
letter sequence because of the cautionary implications (see http://www.huxley.net/)
from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) that used such a sequence
to distinguish human social classes -- that might be engendered by some advocated
forms of global brain. Whilst qualities of knowledge need initially to be distinguished
by some such classification, these need to be set within a much more complex
cross-cultural ontological framework to counteract the simplistic hierarchical
implications with their well-known undesirable consequences. Such a periodic
table has been advocated by Susantha Goonatilake (Toward a Global Science,
1999). Clearly some forms of knowledge can usefully be distinguished as associated
with an equivalent to society's autonomic nervous system.
Knowledge 'corruption' and possible 'diseases' of the
global brain: An alternative to the self-awareness approach is to view the
global brain as indeed already constituted -- but suffering from one or more
forms of 'disease' that result in varying degrees of dysfunctionality.
Given the various behaviours of the international community -- the fragmentation
of disciplines, cultures and faiths -- it is worth debating whether the global
brain has come into being with 'congenital malformations'. Such discussions
might be guided by a systematic review of the range of diseases as they might
apply to networks (see, for example, Judge, 1978).
Another approach could review the range of individual memory disorders as they
might affect collective memory (see Judge, 1982)
and specifically a global brain. This would certainly be helpful in looking
at the manifold challenges of coordination within the international ciommunity
which readily lends itself to diagnosis as seriously spastic -- in contrast
to views promoted by the Club of Rome (see Judge, 1982).
Individuals are faced with the challenge of striking a balance between remembering
and forgetting. Is it to be assumed that a global bain will remain functional
if it never forgets? How is a global brain to handle the amount of information
that will have been accumulated by the year 3000 given the kinds of problems
faced by individuals with eidetic memory? Clearly there is the question of emergent
higher orderings of such a brain that would leave what is now considered to
be information to be handled by the equivalent of some kind of autonomic system.
How might the knowledge system held by a global brain be 'corrupted'?
One threat is most obviously given by the extent of virus attacks on computer
systems in recent years. What safeguards against such attacks could be guaranteed
-- and by whom? How would a global brain be cleared of viruses? But of greater
interest is the potential for what might be termed memetic infection of a global
brain -- possibly through new kinds of memetic viruses. It is science fiction
that has extensively explored problematic use of artificial intelligence.
However at a more mundane level, there are other forms of corruption of the
knowledge process. These are best exemplified by the more vicious patterns of
interaction amongst academic institutions and schools of thought vying for resources
and status. Their extent and implications are often heavily disguised beneath
self-serving rationalizations. It is interesting that global models seldom endeavour
to take account of the forms of corruption that are characteristic of non-laboratory
reality -- for example the contrast between formal descriptions of governance
and the implications of scandals at the highest level (even internationally
in governments representated on the UN Security Council). How will it be possible
to avoid replication of features or consequences of such patterns within a global
Funding development of a global brain: This issue is very interesting
because of its relationship to the challenges of intellectual property and copyright,
sponsorship, and commercialization of knowledge in a knowledge economy.
Limits to collaboration in global brain development: The history of
global modelling is very suggestive of the future challenges of inter-institutional
collaborative work on any global knowledgebase. Briefly it may be argued that
collaborative exercises may work well when teams are working together on the
basis of imposed tasks carefully defined (as in multinational aerospace projects).
However the challenges of collective work by networks that are unconstrained
in this way, as is increasingly typical of many coalitions of knowledge generators
in society, is another matter -- especially when the topics are not as unambiguously
material as aerospace part design. Challenges become especially acute as inter-
and transdisciplinarity increases -- and when multi-cultural epistemologies
are involved and basic assumptions must be viewed as relative. Operationally
such issues have been made painfully real in some multinational corporations,
notably when efforts are made to merge contrasting corporate cuoltures. The
issues are also apparent to some degree in the erosion in the quality of listserver
dialogue over time. One approach to the articulation of possibilities of cooperation
is through metaphor (see).
It is fruitful to look at the challenges of distributed 'knowledge-working
networks' in the light of such issues as: inter-institutional competition,
personal career ambitions, and case studies of issues engendering sub-optimally
collaborating global coalitions (peace, environment, governance, inter-faith,
etc) or coordinating forums of various kinds (and notably in relation to intergovernmental
organizations). The history of competing approaches to knowledge classification
is perhaps even more relevant. Many of these initiatives purportedly aim to
articulate global frameworks or perform coordinating functions -- analogous
in some ways to some envisaged operations of a global brain. Curiously the dynamics
engendered by such intiatives, and which undermine them, are seldom considered
as relevant to the design process. However it is possible that, counter-intuitively,
some degree of 'inefficiency' may, as in nature, be more efficient
than more highly ordered designs would suggest. In which case it would be useful
to review the relationship between loose networks, implicit in a 'knowledge
ecology' metaphor, and the more integrated design suggested by a 'global
Global brain: what for? It is worth asking why any initiative should
be undertaken to construct a global brain. Motivations for doing so might include
any of the following:
'Because it is possible': The justification being that humans can
conceive of it, therefore it is a challenge worth responding to. Unfortunately
this justification is of the same kind as highly controversial initiatives
such as human cloning, genetically modified foods, nuclear power stations,
etc -- on which it is absolutely unclear to many whether those responsible
are acting responsibly in the light of unforeseen consequences. It is quite
unclear whether the design of a 'brain' needs to be accompanied
by equyivalent progress on the design of other 'organs' to sustain
not only the brain but also the system as a whole.
'Because it is needed': Management of the global system being so
problematic, and faced with so many foreseeable challenges, that resources
should be devoted to any initiative that could improve decision-making. This
ignores the track record of global modelling and its effective irrelevance
to the major intiatives faced by the international community and by local
populations. It is unclear whether such systems could handle all the non-rational
dilemmas -- especially when they are at the edge of our cultural learning
and no acceptable methodologies have been developed (cf the case of territorial
disputes). It also ignores the perception of the role of major systems created
by segments of the intelligence community (eg Echelon) and the interests which
such systems are perceived to serve. The Big Brother issue has been endlessly
'Because it is a powerful symbol': Humanity needs a strong symbol
of integrated intelligence, or even wisdom, to give focus to thinking about
the future of society. This ignores the socio-political dynamics which are
typically associated with such initiatives and that tend to favour the few
rather than benefit the many -- at least in the eyes of the many. There is
also the unasked question of whether this would amount to a transdfer of responsibility
to a figure of authority (a Mummy, a Daddy, or some equivalent) -- a perspective
that psychoanlysts could explore at length.
'Because it would engernder new learnings': As a major intellectual
challenge, it would stimulate new thinking that might be of great benefit
to humanity. This argument needs to be seen in the light of the resources
devoted to big science projects (particle acceler, space telescopes and planetary
missions, etc) and the value of the spin-offs to the non-academic comunity.
'Because it is effectively emerging': The explosion of information
systems and the associated development of intelligent agents can be perceived
as the emergence of a global brain. In which case it is important to consider
ways in which to augment its brain-like functions. This raises issues of how
much integration is appropriate given humanity's ability to corrupt such systems
the more integrated that they become.
If metaphors other than 'construction' are used to envisage facilitating
the emergence of a global brain, other justifications might becpome apparent.
How, for example, might a global brain contribute to the arts and to music?
Would such an entity then undermine much creative activity? What if it became
the prime source of all the best humour?
Global brain discourse: Insight capture? As with the global modelling
discourse, it is probable that the global brain discourse -- under whatevr disguise
-- will be challenged by how to integrate the variety of perspectives and concerns
that are articulated. This situation effectively models that of international
meetings in general -- of which some 7,000 are envisaged into the years ahead.
As 'binding moments' in Gottfried Mayer-Kress excellent terms, the
question is how effectively can they function. The multi-media techniques presented
in association with this paper suggest means of real-time concept-mapping of
such discourses (and papers prepared to feed them) -- to counter the wastage
of intellectual effort they normally represent. However the time scale issues
approprioately stressed by Mayer-Kress need to be complemented by the configurative
possibilities that are potentially associated with integrative concept mapping.
The key issue beyond eliciting patterns (through maps, morphs and melodies)
is that of facilitating cognitive resonance with those patterns to sustain new
action -- an exercise in time binding to counter the temptations of the ever-rolling
present prilmarily characteristic of electronic discourse.
The merit of the Encyclopedia initiative described lies in its effort to provide
a framework to hold the variety of extant perspectives at a global level and
to provide means for exploring their relationships. Its future value will lie
in its ability to render this complexity comprehensible in useful ways to those
refreshing the information. In some measure it may be understand as simulating
the global brain constituted by the vast network of international organizations
responding to the preoccupations of different segments of humanity -- perhaps
like the 'lobes' and 'sites' of a global brain.
Much remains to be done to highlight the major pathways through such a global
brain in terms of its integrative globality. This may be based on the existence
of major 'pathways' formed by elements of different feedback loops.
Such pathways can be envisaged as being like rivers from which local loops break
off (as whorls). A number of such pathways may intersect. It would then be the
interlocking of these pathways which ensured the integrity of the knowledge
system of problems as a whole. The interesting possibilities for the development
of more sophisticated displays of feedback loops depend on the identification
and implementation of algorithms capable of positioning a multiplicity of loops
(hundreds, if not thousands) over the surface of a sphere. To be useful, this
has to be organised so the more detailed loops are positioned "locally"
whereas the intersectoral loops exploit the global properties of the sphere.
This approach becomes especially interesting if it is hypothesised that such
pathways are themselves necessarily circular. The question can then be formulated
in terms of the nature of the surface onto which the pattern of loops can be
usefully projected or mapped so as best to bring out the systemic integrity.
It might be argued that this approach to the analysis of the data is more complex
than other more conventional forms available from graph theory. The assumption
made here is that the constraint of representation on a surface comprehensible
to the human mind is of immediate relevance to the ability to make informed
decisions on such matters at a policy level. The existing ability to provide
specialised analysis of what amounts to local loops in isolation has been well
demonstrated, as has the inability to act on the larger loops to which these
may contribute. A more comprehensive approach is required to 'thinking
globally and acting locally', whether in the geographical or the systemic
sense (as suggested here).
In terms of higher order knowledge operations, what will be the relationship
of a global brain to memetic warfare between sectors and belief systems? Will
competing cultures have competing global brains?
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