21st December 2006 | Draft
Governance and Spin in the Knowledge Universe
Implications for governance, sustainability and alternatives
- / -
Annex 3 of Towards
an Astrophysics of the Knowledge Universe: from astronautics to noonautics?
The following sections are adapted from and earlier paper (Psychology
of Sustainability: embodying cyclic environmental processes, 2002) to clarify the role of spin in a knowledge universe.
Sustainability and spin
In the past decade "spin" has become recognized as the distinguishing
feature of contemporary politics and governance and of how business is
done by those of any competence (supported by "creative accounting").
The mediatisation of politics and commerce has encouraged the competitive
use of spin to ensure that a positive light is cast upon any proposed initiative
to minimize recognition of its negative consequences. In fact, presentations
in support of new projects essentially require that a "positive spin"
be placed upon a proposal in comparison with "negative spins" that
may be deliberately or inadvertently associated with competing proposals. When
initiatives subsequently fail in any way, suggesting incompetence on the part
of those who undertook them, then damage limitation again calls extensively
upon such spin techniques -- again possibly through placing some form of "negative
spin" on those making such suggestions.
In this sense it might be said that the perception of sustainability is intimately
related to spin -- whether in accusations of unsustainability or in claims
in favour of it. In both cases, claims have been made in such a way as to be
deliberately misleading in order to make political points. It is of course
correct that buried beneath such spun facts are those which validate arguments.
The challenge of modern society is that adequate resources can always be deployed
to conceal or devalue such facts through spin. Ultimately it is only situations
such as when houses are flooded that might be said to escape the use of presentational
spin -- although even then it is immediately deployed to cast blame elsewhere.
Given the preponderance of spin, it may be useful to explore the extent to
which all sustainable collective initiatives are necessarily characterized
by spin. In this sense spin ensures forms of stability and coherence that are
prime characteristics of sustainability. This recalls the use of "spin"
as a property of fundamental particles or of planetary rotation. In the case
of particles, it is defined in the terms such as the following:
Spin is the name for the angular momentum carried by a particle. For composite
particles, the spin is made up from the combination of the spins of the constituents
plus the angular momentum of their motion around one-another. For fundamental
particles spin is an intrinsic and inherently quantum property, it cannot
be understood in terms of motions internal to the object. The intrinsic spin
must be included in applications of conservation of angular momentum. Spin
is given in units of h-bar, which is the quantum unit of angular momentum,
typically giving rise to spins of 0, 1/2, 1, 3/2.
In the case of astronomy, two forms of "spin" are distinguished:
- Orbital revolution, ranging from 1 year in the case of the Earth to 230
million years for the Sun around the galaxy, associated with the notion of
- Axial rotation (confusingly described in mechanics by rpm), ranging from
24 hours in the case of Earth, through 0.5-10 days for young stars, to some
108 years in the case of the galaxy, with pulsars having a rotation
period of 0.001 to 10 seconds; axial rotation contributes significantly to
planetary stability, notably in compensating for the gravitational forces
associated with orbiting a powerful attractor
The concerns of particle physics and astronomy for spin are linked in the
focus of mathematics and physics on "spinors". Spinors have played
a crucial role in both throughout the past. Spinors are used extensively in
physics, but they may offer a means of understanding relationships between
social groups identifying with alternative realities. It is widely accepted
that they are more fundamental than tensors (of which they are the "square
root"), and the easy way to see this is through the results obtained in
general relativity theory by using spinors -- results that could not have
been obtained by using tensor methods only [more].
The foundation of the concept of spinors is groups; spinors appear as representations
of groups. Spinors and groups are both widely used in the theory of elementary
Discovered in 1913 by Cartan in his investigations of the representation
theory of the orthogonal groups, spinors first appeared in physics in the
1920's in the guise of Pauli's spin matrices and in Dirac's relativistic
theory of electron spin. Since that time, spinors, spin structures and their
attendant Dirac operators have remained of fundamental importance in quantum
physics and in many areas of mathematics, especially those dealing with the
relation between geometry, topology and analysis. In mathematics they provide
key insights into many questions, including index theorems for elliptic operators,
the integrality of characteristic numbers, existence of metrics of positive
scalar curvature, twistor spaces, and (most recently) Seiberg-Witten theory.
There may well be a case for exploring insights into the pattern of distinctions
between fundamental particles as a source of clues to why conceptual models
(and their social manifestations) are "charged" positively or negatively
with respect to their perceptions of each other -- and so determining their
interactions. Might it be possible that there are parallels deriving from constraints
on human thinking (cf Lakoff and Núñez, 2000, on the cognitive
science of mathematics) with properties of quarks such as strangeness, charm,
topness, bottomness, and flavour [more]
It is curious that the degree of complexity and sophistication considered
necessary and admissible to handle the phenomena of astronomy and fundamental
particles is several orders greater than that considered appropriate to the
challenge of sustainable development and its governance. And yet in the case
of fundamental physics its results are sufficiently concrete to produce nuclear
weapons and power stations. But in the case of the far less sophisticated models
considered adequate for sustainable development and conflict resolution, the
results have proven more than inadequate to a challenge of ever-increasing
magnitude. In the case of physics success is of course achieved by extreme
reduction in the focus to conditions under which all parameters can be effectively
controlled. Sustainable development, on the other hand, has to deal with open
systems -- which would surely argue for conceptual models of greater complexity
than are required for the "simpler" systems of nuclear physics. Perhaps
those concerned with sustainable development could learn from the multidimensional
tools with which physics is obliged to work -- rather than assuming that the
tasks can be handled with the tools with which they feel comfortable.
What is humanity trying to achieve through global frameworks, programmes,
and strategic intiatives?
Spinning an alternative
It is curious that the industrial civilization that is such a challenge to
sustainable development was initiated by an industrial "revolution" -- and
long-heralded by the invention of the "wheel". It is equally curious that radical
socio-political transformations have long been described as "revolutions" --
just as advances in knowledge are described as conceptual "revolutions".
What is it that "revolves" and with respect to what? How might this help to
understand a sustainable development "revolution" -- or has "sustainable" been
implicitly defined in that context as having no "revolutionary" characteristics?
Is any alternative to unsustainable development possible without some form
Space colonies are seen by some as an alternative to the challenges of an
over-crowded planet -- although with remarkably little effort to determine
how to overcome the psychosocial dynamics that have created the problems on
Earth. It is curious that astronautics has made it clear that construction
of habitable space colonies will in all probability require that they be "spun" to
create a sense of gravity to make them viable for humans. In physical terms
it becomes clear that such spin is required with respect to the surrounding
environment. Access to such environments will then typically be via the axis
of spin -- although, ironically again, the docking manoeuvers and terminology
recall the challenges of consummating a courtship relationship.
In psychosocial terms in interpersonal relationships, "spinning" also has
a long history. This starts with the process of "spinning a tale" to young
children. It is however a characteristic of the role of any good storyteller.
The process draws the listener into the framework of an alternative reality
-- to make it "real". The importance of this process in modern finance is described
with the phrase "talking up" -- typically used to boost confidence in a failing
currency or corporation, to make "real" a condition which may otherwise appear
contrary to the facts available to those who are otherwise informed. The problems
of spinning by corporations have been strongly highlighted during 2002 through
the use of "creative accounting" -- and the dramatic loss of confidence in
the financial reporting of even the most reputable companies and the failure
to sustain share prices in the stock market. Sustaining confidence is fundamental
to the capitalist system -- and to any sustainable reality.
The notion of "spinning a line" to present an alternative reality was perhaps
at the origin of the term "spin". Corporations in particular have used it to
keep out of trouble. Consultants are now arguing that it does not work in the
long term. For example, Reputation Qest specialises in risk communication,
teaching organizations how to be pro-active in managing issues in order to
deliver a "sustainable reputation" .
Spinning a line is also described in terms such as "doing a number" on someone
to entrap them in an alternative framework, possibly as part of a courtship
process governed by the criteria that "all is fair in love and war". It is
most often used by commercial representatives in the selling process. Various
forms of entrapment may be considered [more].
The process by which coalitions emerge, through an increasing degree of self-reference
and self-citation, can be understood as a form of spinning -- associated with
the process of "talking it up" and "psyching up" the participants. As with
space colonies, individuals and groups may also be understood to be "spinning
a habitat" for themselves -- the psychosocial form of "cocooning". It is
a way to to protect oneself sustainably from the harsh, unpredictable realities
of the outside world [more].
Gated communities can be considered as armoured cocoons -- currently providing
a form of psychological sustainability for 4 million Americans. The nomenklatura
constituted by the Communist elite was effectively a form of politico-administrative
gated community offering immense economic privileges -- now echoed to a considerable
degree by the eurocracy of the European Union [more; game].
Psychosocial cocooning is considered most problematic in the case of certain
forms of sect.
The concept of cocooning points to other lessons from its metaphorical roots
-- the cocoons spun by silkworms, other insects and spiders. The features juxtaposed
to create a psychosocial cocoon, and the resultant web of mnemonic associations,
recall the mnemo-technical role of structures such as "memory theatres" (see
Frances Yates, The Art of Memory). Such devices compensate for attention-deficiency
disorders, erosion of collective memory [Judge,
1980] and the inability to comprehend the longer-term cycles fundamental
to sustainability. The traditional mnemonic role of beaded circlets in this
respect merits wider recognition with respect to the challenges of sustainability
Language itself may be understood as an intimate (deep structural) equivalent
to such mnemo-technical structures -- a web by which an alternative reality
can be sustained [more]. In this
light it would be interesting to compare natural languages in terms of their
capacity to sustain sustainability. Given the more than 290 artificial (non-computer)
languages identified on the web [more],
it might even be possible to craft such a language to have significant advantages
in this respect -- as a secular "wholly" language for reasons analogous to
the need for "holy" languages [more].
Alternatively much might be accomplished by envisaging its characteristics,
notably in contrast to one impregnated with military metaphors. Given the call
for a compensating feminine influence, it would be intriguing to discover whether
explicit use of gender, as in languages such as French, remedied to any degree
the tendencies to pseudo-neutrality evident in policy English -- criticized
by ecofeminists as "manstream" and based on problematic assumptions relating
to environmental ethics and the dialogue between ecofeminism and deep ecology
(see Greta Gaard, Ecofeminism. 1993) [more].
Alternative realities can perhaps be usefully understood as "strange attractors" engendered
by particular sets or structurings of human values [Judge,
1993]. Such attractors give rise to spin-type psychosocial activity in
their neighbourhoods --- as with moths around a candle flame. The future may
see interesting explorations of the relationship between attractors and spinors
in the light of the multidimensional spaces explored in astronomy [more; more].
A form of spin or hype may be used to "talk up" realities that do not exist
-- or which might exist with a different way of seeing. Ambitious conferences
of modest success, focusing on vital issues relating to alternative psychosocial
realities, can be transformed in this way to provide role models for the future
[cf experiments with psycommunities, transdisciplinarity,
How could this be most creatively done for the UN World Summit on Sustainable
Development (Johannesburg, 2002)?
Reality, relativity and relativism
If alternative realities have to be adequately "spun" to acquire integrity
as attractors, how are "local" and "regional" alternatives to be reconciled
with "global" frameworks? Put differently, how is adequate spin to be given
to "local" initiatives to act as an attractor for local people and to give
them an attractive identity distinct from any "global" framework?
In a highly turbulent evolving knowledge society, who would want a a single
dominant view to constrain the multiplicity of extant perspectives? Is tolerance
of the apparent confusion of multiple realities to be rejected as unrealistic
relativism? Such questions become increasingly pertinent in a web environment
in which millions of sites advocate particular perspectives to users -- perspectives
that may well be totally incompatible with those advocated on other sites.
The number of sites is predicted to increase exponentially over the coming
years. Each site, like a flower, is endeavouring to entice visitors as a means
of reproducing its memetic structure. Aside from attention deficiency disorders,
how is anyone to gain more than a "local" understanding of this universe of
Not only is there a proliferation in contrasting perspectives, there is also
a proliferation in quantity on a particular topic -- to the point of being
the focus of whole libraries and information systems. As one concrete example,
of a specialized sector, consider the number of sites concerned with "global
governance", or the number of reports on the matter for consideration in relation
to the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002). Who
will choose to read such documents attentively and how will their insights
be processed together as an exemplification of the conceptual and policy challenges
of the governance of sustainable development? What insights submitted will
be deliberately or inadvertently marginalized by this process and what insights
will not be fed into that context because of the predictably problematic nature
of the process? How will the insights at that event be related to those at
preceding and following events on global governance? How will any coherent
sense of a desirable alternative reality emerge from such a global process?
How will it acquire local significance -- especially if local significance
is not adequately reflected in global frameworks?
How will the spin given to the final declarations and outcomes of conferences
on global governance and sustainable development relate to the reality of the
alternatives advocated? What has been learnt over the past decade, if not since
the UN Conference
on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972), with respect to the credibility
given to alternatives, as opposed to "business as usual"?
Astronomy suggests a way of thinking about a society with a multiplicity of
alternative frameworks -- and shows how communication between them might be
understood. Perhaps the most significant feature of space in an astronomical
sense, as with space at the atomic level, is the infrequency of "matter". The
emptiness of space is its prime feature. This way well be the case for socio-cognitive
knowledge space -- within which there may be very little that "matters".
Zones of alternative reality may be tiny exceptional anomalies is that vast
space -- widely separated, however locally they may be clustered. This would
notably clarify the years of experience required to transit from one distant
reality framework to another.
Within the immensity of this space, an alternative reality may emerge as a "distortion" of
the more general framework. The principles which structure this reality and
constitute its framework must necessarily be spun in relation to the surrounding
emptiness and nearby alternatives -- in order to develop a distinct identity
through a form of gyroscopic stability. Such spin responds to the challenge
of ensuring that one alternative can be sustained independently in relation
to another. This spin creates a form of gravity -- and gives seriousness and gravitas to
that alternative for those associated with it. This combination of spin and
gravity then overrides the tendency to be drawn inexorably towards larger attractors
at greater distance. As a reference framework, it may also give them a real
sense that the cosmos revolves around them -- that their framework is at the
centre of the universe.
The astronomical metaphor facilitates understanding of the dynamics of the
co-existence of different forms of truth within the vastness of communication
space. At the simplest metaphoric level, it may be declared that "the sun rises" --
from a particular location in what amounts to a "planetary" reality framework.
Such a declaration has a totally different significance at another point on
that planet (at the same time), or from another planetary framework within
the same "solar system". Its significance is different again from another stellar
framework elsewhere in the local galaxy, or from another galaxy. The galactic
truths may appear more universal than those of the planet -- and yet still "the
sun rises" however irrelevant this may be claimed to be from elsewhere. The
astronomical metaphor articulates the complex relationship between a multiplicity
of frameworks as a counter to accusations of simplistic relativism. These tend
to undermine efforts to comprehend how multiple truths can co-exist in practice.
The sun may indeed not rise for you -- when it is rising for me, if you are
Such a metaphor indicates how different kinds and levels of truth can co-exist
sustainably. The universal truths may indeed be all-encompassing, but the cycles
with which they are associated may be far beyond the ken of those who identity
with "planetary" and "local" truths with shorter cycles. Such local truths
may be understood as conceptual cocoons through which local habits sustain