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Published in part in Computer-Mediated Communications
Magazine (March 1997)
(Special issue on spiritual implications of cyberspace)
I have long been amused by the thought that rotating disks (whether floppy, hard or CD) had an intriguing resemblance to high tech versions of traditional Tibetan prayer wheels. The problem with this is the materialistic data on most disks and the 'hands-off' status of the user. There are packages which periodically 'interrupt' any ongoing user application --like a spiritual virus -- to present insights and imagery, including consciousness-focusing mandalas. But what is my cognitive involvement in any such pre-packaged presentation, especially when designed as a form of spiritual propaganda? A friend has produced a sophisticated mandala-generating package, based on number theory and sacred geometry, allowing the user to explore a very large and beautiful range of mandalas by changing parameters (http://www.alegria.fr/~chryz/). But how can I attach cognitive significance to the elements of what is displayed? Mandalas need to become clickable images. Icons need to be configured into mandalas.
Like many, I believe that the combination of Web technology and multi-media approaches have an awesome potential in reframing contemporary challenges as well as personal and group integration in response to them. But despite what has been achieved, the significant breakthroughs are still to come -- but they need to come soon.
The key for me lies in the potential of available computer technology to configure seemingly unrelated, or opposing, perspectives and understandings. This is vital in an increasingly fragmented and alienated society. Hyperlinking together documents on disparate topics is a necessary start, but it is not sufficient. There is a major distinction between wandering the highways and byways of the Web and acquiring a sense of pattern -- a platform for new types of initiative, and a receptor for new kinds of insight. How do new levels of significance emerge through the Web for users bent on learning, but with quite different learning styles? The design of Web menus, as crude lists of hyperlinks, illustrates the problem. Into what sort of insight-enhancing patterns can hyperlinks be more fruitfully woven?
Elsewhere I have contrasted the 'information highway' metaphor with 'songlines of the noosphere' -- combining the traditional Dreaming insights of the Australian aborigines with Teilhard de Chardin's futuristic spiritual perspective. The journeys a user makes through the Web then become like spiritual pilgrimages ofdiscovery between sacred 'sites'. But for this to be of deep personal or social significance, such journeys would have to be genuine learning journeys of transformation. Journeying would then both sustain and transform patterns of insight. But paradigm shifts, like spiritual initiations, only become possible for the user when a rich variety of contrasting learning trajectories are somehow woven together.
Any competent webmaster can design journeys through a pattern of sites today -- like colour-coded walking tours through natural parks (eg the 'red 6-hour tour'). But what encounters would make them challenging learning journeys -- modern versions of cultural 'Grand Tours' -- rather than simple trips? I suspect that creating such patterns will emerge as the art-form of the near future. Will principles of geomantics and feng shui turn out to have relevance to the quality of 'positioning' of a website with respect to other sites -- notably in virtual worlds? Reacting to information overload, users will seek guidance towards meaningful pattern formation in their explorations of hyperlinked documents. It is only the subtlest patterns which will be able to carry the most profound spiritual insights of the future -- and those most relevant to structured response to agonizing issues like Jerusalem, Bosnia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, and Tibet.
More intriguing is the possibility that such patterned journeys may interweave to form structures that can only be fully understood in 3D or 4D, rather than as 2D subway-style maps. These will be the leylines of the noosphere. I suspect that the most significant structures will have symmetry features like those in sacred geometry, and for good reason. It is the mnemonic resonance around the pattern that will be able to hold higher degrees of difference in order to sustain a higher, or subtler, order of consensus. Cathedral, mosque and temple architecture was the vehicle for major structural breakthroughs centuries ago --both physically and through their social analogues. These have been thought by some to be the templates for modern corporate organization. Similarly, the multidimensional architecture of more fundamental patterning between Web documents will create the space for a new kind of understanding, whether individual or collective.
What would we experience if exposed to hyperlinks patterned as a 4D hypercube -- now essential to the wiring of super-computers? What will the future Mozarts and Beethovens of hyperlink pattern design do for planetary civilization, for knowledge and social organization, and for dialogue? Such structures will offer templates for new ways of being.
The geodesic structures of Buckminster Fuller offer vital pointers to future Web architects of the spirit. The tensegrity principles which underlie such spherical structures suggest how 'associative' and 'incompatible' relationships between documents can be fruitfully interwoven. It is these principles, based on the fundamentals of sacred geometry, which illustrate how patterns can be transformed -- offering zoom facilities between levels of cognitive complexity, from the most spiritual to the most material.
All of this is imminently practical as discussed elsewhere (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/hypconf.php). We ourselves are currently exploring patterns in the 260,000 hyperlinks in relation to 12,000 world problems, to 29,000 action strategies, to 4,400 modes of spiritual awareness, and to 3,000 human values -- as profiled in our Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. This is presented on the Web .
We have generated hyperlinked 'problem home pages', 'strategy home pages', etc. We are identifying 'vicious cycles of problems' and 'serendipitous cycles of strategies'. Such cycles are defined by specific patterns of hyperlinks -- feedback loops linking up to 7 problems, for example, whose nature is a real challenge to comprehension. These cyclic patterns also interlock with each other to create 'spherical' structures. It is these structures that we believe identify the 'great circle' routes of insight traffic. These 'songlines' will enable adventurers to circumnavigate planetary consciousness and anchor understanding of its globality. How otherwise will we be able to comprehend that we have been 'around' the civilization of the spirit?
With their value and human development equivalents, these structures may be of vital significance to framing and understanding the new challenges and opportunities of humanity. The level of perception is shifted from isolated issues to 'holding patterns' of increasing complexity -- effectively the cultural keystones of our civilization. In our work we urgently need software to be able to generate 3D visual structures from such unstructured hyperlink information, as a clickable entry to parts of the pattern -- clickable 3D mandalas (check out our 3D experiments). No visualization, no comprehension! No comprehension, no meaningful dialogue!
It is ironic that some of the more complex possibilities are best illustrated by the Chinese taoist classic, the Book of Changes, dating back several thousand years. As an experiment, we have created Web pages for each of its 64 binary-coded hexagrams (see accompanying figure ) and then hyperlinked them together on the basis of 7 transformations out of each document. Users can in fact click through some 3,136 relationships in the demo (see https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/chingndx.php), since we have juxtaposed 7 parallel interpretations of the hexagram texts, applied to: dialogue, vision, conferencing, policy-making, networking, community and lifestyle.
The taoist philosophy and pattern of the I Ching hexagrams echoes the work of Buckminster Fuller. Like the Platonic and other symmetric polyhedra, the key patterns may all be based on structures which are 'empty at the centre'. Cathedrals and mosques created new kinds of spaces to sustain a new quality of interaction between people. As information architects, Web designers may be the 'cathedral builders' of our era. By configuring hyperlink patterns around an unoccupied virtual reference point, they can now explore their spiritual and practical significance for transformation. These patterns will be the containers of collective consciousness in the emerging information society -- the 'magnetic bottles' for spiritual 'plasma', to employ metaphors from nuclear fusion research in its quest for ways to sustain plasma creation and avoid its'quenching'.
The classic quote from Lao Tzu offers a potent guideline: The names that can be named are not definitive names. Naming engenders ten thousand things... Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub. It is the centre hole that makes it useful... Therefore profit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there.
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