11 November 2004 | Draft
Dynamically Gated Conceptual Communities
emergent patterns of isolation within knowledge society
- / -
Conventional gated communities
Examples of conceptually gated communities
Gatecrashing conceptual communities
Analyzing the dynamics of conceptually gated communities
Flocking behaviour and the dynamics of gated conceptual communities
Dynamics of transnational civil society
Challenges: dynamics vs statics
Astrophysical metaphor for evolution of gated conceptual communities
Boid behaviour, stellar evolution -- and nightmares
64 Varieties of conceptual gatedness -- as forms of knowledge?
Points for future consideration
Increasingly social groups, typical of the diversity of civil society, might
be usefully understood as forming into psycho-social analogues of the "gated
communities" that are now emerging in affluent suburbs [more].
Whilst in the latter case it is for security reasons to sustain a particular
lifestyle, in the psycho-social case it would appear to be a question of sustaining
a particular belief system or worldview. The process is being reinforced by
the rapid commercialization of the web and the creation of exclusion zones --
in cyberspace -- accessible only to those who can afford access to them
and therefore explored as viable business models [more].
Conventional gated communities
- Residential gated communities: Chris E. McGoey (Gated
Community Access Control Issues, 2004) notes that with respect to
More and more people want to reside in gated residential communities.
Because of this, gated residential communities and garden apartments across
the country are being built at record rates. In the 1970s there were approximately
2000 gated communities nationwide. In the early 2000s there are over 50,000
gated properties with more being built each year. That equates to about
seven million households or 6% of the national total behind walls or fences.
About four million of the total are in communities where access is controlled
by gates, entry codes, key cards or security guards.
The trend is being followed in other countries [more],
notably South Africa [more
Ironically such gated communities might be seen as a "capitalist"
reframing of condemned "socialist" experiments with communes and
kibbutzim. From a historical perspective they might also be seen as a modern
replication of fortified communities characteristic of various troubled times
in the more distant past -- or during the implantation of colonial settlers
in territories inhabited by hostile indigenous populations.
- Business incubators: The world of science and technology has engendered
a strong rationale for "science and technology parks", "technopoles" and "business
incubators" in which government and industry have extensively invested
because of the recognized competitive economic advantage. They may be otherwise
known as: research parks, science centers, business innovation centers, or
centers for advanced technology. [more].
- Nonprofit incubators: Following the success of business incubators,
a nonprofit variant is also under exploration (see Diane Vinokur-Kaplan and
Joseph A. 'Jay' Connor. Nonprofit
Incubators: Comparative Models for Nurturing New Third Sector Organizations).
- Residential intentional communities: These include monasteries, ashrams,
retreat centres, and the like.
Examples of conceptually gated communities
- Worldviews and mindsets:
- Exclusive clubs and groups: In such cases, typically as a result
of high membership fees and the need for nomination by existing members,
the conceptually gated characteristic derive primarily from the reinforcement
of social status and the associated belief systems in relation to outsiders.
- Sects, cults and closed groups: Such groups are frequently criticized
in terms of the invisible dynamics of control and submission. These are
achieved through a form of psychological "courtship" of recruits and the
covert coercive control through which individual identity is dismantled
and the worldview of the groups' leaders introduced. Methods of control
include: fear induction, destruction of autonomy, and breaking of personality.
(see Cultic Studies: Information about Cults
and Psychological Manipulation).
- Scholarly schools of thought: These may readily be understood
as gated communities into which access is gained under particular conditions.
As practitioners of a particular discipline, members of a school of thought
may also be caricatured as "disciples". They have also been
caricatured by J.W. Goethe in the following terms: "Every school
of thought is like a man who has talked to himself for a hundred years
and is delighted with his own mind, however stupid it may be" (Principles
of Natural Science, 1817).
- Religious schools of thought: These may resemble or overlap (especially
in the case of theology) more conventional scholarly schools of thought.
Their distinction becomes most striking in the case of religious fundamentalism
and the deep-seated sense of righteousness to which such perspectives
give rise. It is this righteousness, even self-righteousness, that defines
the boundaries of the school of thought for those who subscribe to it
-- or are alienated by it.
- Invisible colleges: This is a group of peers, typically from
different disciplines and with different viewpoints (but also, and above
all, between specialists attached administratively to different disciplines)
who band together round a shared interest. It. is an eminently interdisciplinary
institution because it ensures communication not only from one university
to another and across all national borders. The networks of cross-disciplinary
influence are such that they are obliterating the old classification of
the social sciences. The term was probably first used by Robert Boyle
(circa 1644) In the 1960's, Derek de Solla Price (Little Science, Big
Science, 1963) reintroduced the term in his work (on scholarly communication)
as small societies of everybody who is anybody in each little particular
specialty. Subsequently Diana Crane (Invisible Colleges, 1972)
showed that participation in an Invisible College bolsters morale, inspires
a sense of purpose, provides criticism, maintains solidarity, and focuses
interest on particular issues. Perhaps most importantly, members of an
invisible college see themselves as part of a complex network, not members
of a special interest group. "Echo chambers" have since been
described as the direct descendants of the invisible college concept plus
"connectivity" that renders visible the hitherto "invisible
colleges", because these are now open access, and because the shared
interest -- the focus around which new invisible colleges are built --
is now no longer just academic, but political too.[More
- Secret societies: As with some cults and sects, secret societies
may additionally be structured in terms of "degrees" of insight
onto each of which a neophyte may eventually be "initiated".
The secrecy ensures the gatedness of the community which is justified
by the nature and quality of the insight that is believed would be denatured
by exposure to outsiders.
- Movements of opinion: More enduring movements of opinion may
relate to religious, political, literary and artistic matters, etc --
and are constantly emerging, whether throughout society or in a more limited
sphere. Of particular interest are new
- Self-referencing research networks:
- Mutual citation networks: A school of thought may also be characterized
by the natural tendency of members to cite each others publications appreciatively
in preference to those of others outside the school of thought. In that
sense they may also be identified as, or through, mutual citation networks.
- Academic citation networks: Mutual citation occurs most obviously
in the case of academic citation networks. Such networks have been most
systematically documented through the work of Eugene Garfield and the
Science Citation Index [more].
Much is made of the peer review process in distinguish the unique quality
of academic insight. From a sociological perspective, "peer reviewers"
are necessarily to be understood as "gatekeepers" (M I Hojat
et al. Impartial
Judgment by the "Gatekeepers" of Science: Fallibility and Accountability
in the Peer Review Process, 2003). As such they provide specific
justification for recognition of "conceptually gated" communities.
- Networks of equivalent security clearances: Much care is devoted
to distinguishing levels of security clearance to control movement of
information variously classified -- most obviously in government security
and intelligence services. Each such level is effectively a gated conceptual
community -- although typically higher levels of security are nested within
lower levels, as in a classic medieval fortress. Corporations and intergovernmental
bodies also cultivate a number of levels of security.
- Financially constrained networks: The business models constraining
academic and other knowledge-oriented publications effectively restrict
access to limited groups with the necessary funds to sustain those modes
of publication. Since this then severely reduces access of others to the
knowledge made available in this way, this effectively engenders conceptually
- Dialogue networks:
Web dialogues and fora: The interactions in these have been
compared with academic citation networks as noted, and usefully analyzed,
by Tom Coates (Discussion
and Citation in the Blogosphere, 2003; On
parallels with academic citation networks, 2003):
In such cases, much may depend on any gatekeeper role performed by moderators.
On an individual scale, there is increasing use of "white lists"
to filter-in e-mail communications amongst a select group of people, filtering
out all other such communications.
The weblog sphere has taken on a great many of the characteristics
of the distributed academic community's citation networks - just at
a much smaller, faster and more amateur level. Consensus can emerge
(briefly or otherwise), reputations are made (deservedly or not),
arguments occur regularly (usefully or otherwise). Nonetheless, discussions
do occur, they do progress and they do reach conclusions. But it's
happening at a granularity of paragraphs rather than articles. It's
happening at a scale of hours rather than months.
- Balkanization of the internet: More general than the previous
example, is the recognition by Karl Auerbach that the internet is balkanizing
with the formation of "communities of trust" in which traffic
is accepted only from known friends. This trend is now recognized:
- at the user level, where bloggers repeat each other in an echo chamber,
reinforcing their views;
- in the middle of the network, with the blocking off of email from
Europe to the USA:
- at the packet level, as a result of the net's background radiation.
- Incestuous conferencing: This is a process identified by Claire
Rasmussen of the Coe Writing Center as a form of dialogue to assist staff
This contrasts with the criticisms of some conferences as inauthentic
dialogues distinguished by the often "incestuous and self-congratulatory
tone" in which a small circle of scholars endlessly cite and praise
- Quality dialogue: "deep" or "high": This
is a relatively rare form of dialogue, amongst a set of individuals distinguished
by their diversity, in which the contributions of each are transformed
and interwoven to engender new levels of unsuspected collective insight.
The process may include or exclude, dynamically, those in the communication
environment in which it takes place. Mutual citation networks may be understood
as an effort at institutionalizing such deep dialogue.
- Political, ideological and business worldviews:
- Self-referential networks: Maria Antonaccio (Picturing
the Human: The Moral Thought of Iris Murdoch, 2000) contrasts
the desirable communautarian worldview with the postmodern view of the
self as the product of discourse and the pawn of self-referential networks
- Strategic gaming: M. J. Gagen (The
analysis of multitasked, contingent and computational networks)
argues that "the models a game player forms of their opponent including
incorporating the model your opponent forms of you.... The ability of
a network of game players to form models of others and of themselves is
a necessary step in modeling self-referential networks".
- Faith-based governance: Complementing the sharia-based
governance strongly promoted in some Islamic countries over recent years,
the Christian Coalition has welcomed the emergence of a faith-based presidency
in the USA -- which they have strongly supported. In the European context,
this may be seen as a development of the tradition promoted over the centuries
by the Roman Catholic Church, and marked by the concerns over the adequate
separation of church and state. Its traces are to be found in the modern
Christian democratic parties. Christian faith-based governance in recent
years in Europe has been exemplified by Tony Blair in the UK, and to some
degree by the role of the Vatican in sustaining the political position
of the Italian and Spanish governments as members of the Christian-inspired
Coalition of the Willing in response to Saddam Hussein's Iraq (see Future
Challenge of Faith-based Governance, 2003).
In response to strong criticism regarding the evidence justifying the
invasion of Iraq, the basis for faith-based presidential decision-making
has been the subject of widespread comment (see Austin Cline. Faith-Based
Presidency, 2004). In a widely cited article on the distinction
now made between "faith-based" and "reality-based"
decision-making at the highest level, Ron Suskind (Without
a Doubt, The New York Times, In The Magazine, 17 October
2004) records an exchange with an aide in the Bush decision-making circle:
This perception offers an interesting insight into emerging understanding
of the nature of a conceptually gated community. The view is confirmed
by Gary Younge (Never
mind the truth. The Guardian, 31 May 2004):
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based
community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions
emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded
and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism.
He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore,''
he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our
own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously,
as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which
you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's
actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what
Politics has, to an extent, always been about the triumph
of symbols over substance and assertion over actuality. But in the case
of Iraq this trend seems to have reached its apogee, as though statements
by themselves can fashion reality by the force of their own will and
judgment. Declaration and proclamation have become everything. The question
of whether they bear any relation to the world we actually live in seems
like an unpleasant and occasionally embarrassing intrusion. The motto
of the day both in Downing Street and the White House seems to be: "To
say it is so is to make it so." These people are rewriting history before
the ink on the first draft is even dry.
- Constraining power of dark vision: A different, but related,
approach to this gatedness is to be found in assessments of the associated
phenomena of a policy-making community "locked-into" promotion
of the threat of terrorism to reinforce, whether consciously or unconsciously,
a power base. Adam
Curtis, in a remarkable three-part BBC series (The
Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear), has documented
the "nightmare" of the current "war on terror" as
being in large part a deliberate fabrication (Andy Beckett. The
making of the terror myth. The Guardian, 15 October 2004).
In a post-ideological age, politicians are seen as increasingly using
fear, rather than vision, to bolster their positions (see Promoting
a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism: Strategy of choice for world governance,
2002). The series documents the elaboration of a "dark vision"
as a focus for governance -- following the failure over the past decades
of various positive political visions and global undertakings. . (see
"Dark Riders" of Social Change, 2002). [more
Such a collective nightmare is another form of conceptual gatedness. The
politics of fear [more],
recognized in relation to the "war on terror", encourages closedmindedness.
- Designed environments: Such environments are designed to reinforce
self-referential processes and to concentrate their outcomes:
- Thinktanks: It could be argued that the whole purpose of many
thinktanks is to reinforce cross-fertilization through mutual citation
processes. Elsewhere (see Tank-thoughts
from Think-tanks: constraining metaphors on developing global governance,
2003) an alternative set of 8 "tank" metaphors for think tanks
is presented to emphasize the closed and internally referential systems
of thinking they propagate: fish tank (aquarium), battle tank, police
holding tank, septic tank, gas tank, sensory deprivation tank, cultivation
tank, or simulation tank. Variety is then achieved through separation
into distinct tanks. In a sense the tank medium becomes the overriding
closed-system message. Whether their occupants or clients desire it or
not, will a "think-tank" then tend to produce "tank thoughts" -- "canned
thoughts" from "canned thinkers" -- that are necessarily very much "in
the box" rather than "out of the box"? Many, perhaps most, such vehicles
of knowledge-making may well be really "rent-a-tanks."
- Networks and centres of excellence: Envisioned as a space where
creativity and innovation are nourished and cherished -- under the "incubator"
metaphor. They are key nodes in "networks of excellence" as conceived,
for example, by the European Commission. They are "property-based initiatives"
-- where the focus is on generating intellectual property for the sponsors
who expect to benefit preferentially, if not exclusively, from them.
- Intentional communities: To the extent that the emphasis is on
intention rather than residence (see above), communes, monasteries, ashrams,
etc may also be understood as conceptually gated communities (see Renaissance
Zones: experimenting with the intentional significance of the Damanhur
community, 2003). Less conventionally, the formulation of a resolution
for collective action by a group in plenary assembly may effectively define
a community of intention. But, as with "New Year's resolutions",
the extent to which the community (even the United Nations) is subsequently
constrained to undertake the action resolved is another matter. The resolution
does indeed bind the collective within a boundary of shared intentionality
into which others can enter by subscribing to the resolution -- effectively
as through a "gate". But, despite its possibly binding legal
status, this boundary is porous and shifting and may indeed not hold the
community for any length of time. Subsequent adherents to the resolution
may even find themselves relatively alone after the initial enthusiasm.
- Cocoons: This is the process whereby an individual, aided by
communication technology, ensures insulation from the normal social environment,
whether it is perceived as distracting, unfriendly, dangerous, or otherwise
unwelcome, at least for the present. Faith Popcorn (The Popcorn Report:
The Future of Your Company, Your World, Your Life, 1992). distinguishes:
the socialized cocoon (retreating into the privacy of one's home); the
armored cocoon (establishing a barrier as a protection from external threats),
and the wandering cocoon (travelling with a technological barrier that
serves to insulate from the immediate environment). [more
- Developmental groups and contexts: Closed environments (including
"retreats") are frequently designed for professional, personal
or spiritual development.
- Media engendered contexts: To the extent that the media make progamming
choices that reinforce market segmentation and a "dumbing down"
process, this may effectively engender gated communities. This is even more
the case when the value system or ideology underlying the pattern of programming
is made evident. Most obvious is the classical case of political propaganda,
whether as characteristic of socialist countries, or religious channels as
characteristic of Bible Belt evangelical Christianity. More subtle is the
use of media programming as a support for "psychological operations"
uner the guidance of national intelligence agencies. Such programming has
been examined in the case of Radio Free Europe and Voice of America broadcasts,
and more recently in the programming of entertainment channels controlled
by the occupation forces in Iraq. The influence of the Pentagon on the choice
and emphasis of Hollywood movies has also been noted [more
| more | more
Hollywood film-makers have frequently changed plot lines, altered history
and amended scripts at the request of the Pentagon [more].
What is not so clear is the quality of thinking that is formed or moulded
in this way, the propensities it reinforces, and the alternative insights
that it inhibits. Dumbing down may not be the most fruitful way to frame he
process. It is more a case of memetic engineering.
- Language-related contexts: Speakers of minority languages constitutes
conceptually gated communities, notably if the language is spoken by few.
The phenomenon is best seen in the case of specialized jargons.
- Contexts determined by physical aspect: In addition to dynamics of
group membership governed by ethnic group, the most obvious form of dynamically
gated community is based, in the case of children, on age. The manner in which
younger siblings are excluded from groups involving their elder brothers and
sisters are familiar to all. Typically the younger person experiences being
"left behind" -- the others have "gone".
- Preference-related contexts: Special or unusual preferences may cause
people to come together in what amounts to conceptually gated communities.
Those who fail to buy into such preferences, which may be labelled as "perverted"
by others, naturally exclude themselves.
- Performance-related contexts: Those who out-perform others in a particular
field effectively define themselves into an elite community. Inclusion results
from "winning"; exclusion results from "losing". This
is most obviously seen in the case of sports. It is also evident in the business
and academic worlds, and in arts world. Inclusion comes about dynamically
as a result of reputation -- exclusion through disrepute.
- Personality-centred contexts: These may often be consciously or unconsciously
designed to ensure that the worldview of the focal (charismatic) person is
reinforced in every situation and not challenged by disruptive external perspectives.
The group of "disciples" around the focal person may then be caricatured
with such terms as "yes-men"and "sycophants":
- Media stars
- Political personality cults:
- Spiritual leaders
- Timing-based contexts: The dynamic aspects of gated communities are
particularly evident in time dependent psycho-social processes, where the
emphasis is on being "in sync", "in step", or "in
- Style and fashion: The dynamics of fashion (whether personal
clothing, art, artefacts or music) entrain people into the new mode in
order to be "in" -- otherwise threatened by exclusion, being
"out" (Elaine Stone. Dynamics of Fashion, 1999). [more]
- Improvised music: Musicians, notably playing jazz, interact
with each others' music -- transforming it to weave a larger degree of
coherence. To work a participant has to relate within the collective time
constraints. Failure in this respect necessarily excludes the player from
the group.(John Kao. Jamming:
The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity)
- Dance: A good dancer is expected to adjust to the rhythm of music
and to other dancers. In professional dance groups, failure to do so ensures
- Service delivery: Service industries define their relationship
to one another dynamically, notably in the form of "just in time"
methods. Failure to adhere to such timing requirements ensures exclusion
from a supply chain.
- "Timeships": Elsewhere (see Embodying
a Timeship vs. Empowering a Spaceship, 2003) the contrasting metaphors
of "space" vs "time" are used in order to raise the question as to whether
mainstream, and especially western, thinking is not locked into a form
of "space-based" thinking. This might be understood as distorting recognition
of any "time-based" thinking that could be vital to meaningful development
of society. Just as "space" provides boundaries and containers,
time may also offer the possibility of other kinds of boundaries and containers;
- Open source contexts
- Open source software development: The group processes through
which Linux software has been developed constitute one of the most cited
forms of conceptually gated community. Their dynamics have been contrasted
to more conventional processes by Eric Raymond (The
Cathedral and the Bazaar, 1997). The issues of "ownership"
of open source software are resolved through a set of customs, such as,
the originator of a programme that is made open source is the owner, for
so long as the person wishes to be, and is prepared to co-ordinate the
programming activity by releasing new versions as bugs are fixed. Tim
Source" Communities, 2000) has suggested "gated source communities"
as a compromise amongst software developers between the "open source"
community and proprietary software. In 1998 Raymond suggested the possibility
of generalizing the open source customary practices under the name the
name Malvern Protocol.
- Open source reference tools: Several reference tools continue
to be developed based upon open source dynamics. Their participants may
be understood as forming a conceptually gated community. One such is the
The Open Directory Project "the
largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. It is constructed
and maintained by a vast, global community of volunteer editors".
Another is Wikipedia,
a free-content encyclopedia in many languages, started in 2001. It is
both an encyclopedia
and a wiki community.
A wiki is a website (or other hypertext document collection) that allows
any user to add content, as on an Internet forum, but also allows that
content to be edited by any other user. The term can also refer to the
collaborative software used to create such a website There are many wiki
The result of their collaboration is a free online encyclopedia which
can be edited by anyone. There is no editor, no army of proof readers
and fact checkers, in fact no full-time staff at all. It is a far from
the traditional idea of an encyclopedia as currently possible. It has
become one of the Internet's success stories [more].
Gatecrashing conceptual communities
The existence of conceptually gated communities may become evident in the light
of any process that is recognized as "gatecrashing" -- as in gatecrashing
a party. In the psycho-social case this is of course not necessarily related
to gaining entry to a physical space. Entrance to a psychic or communication
space is intimately related to the pattern of communications within the community,
and defining it. In fact gatecrashing then becomes an effort to force entrance
into that pattern.
An interesting feature of this is that such gatecrashing is not just a question
of avoiding confrontation with a gatekeeper. In fact the role of gatekeeper
may be denied by people assumed to be performing that function. Effectively
each participant is a gatekeeper and the gatecrasher is excluded by an equivalent
to the traditional process of shunning:
The shunning of an individual is the act of deliberately avoiding association
with him or her. The historical punishments of ostracism and exile, no longer
practiced, were officially sanctioned forms of shunning. Today, shunning in
an official, formalized manner is practiced by only a few religions, although
it continues to be practiced informally in every sort of human grouping or
gathering. Religious shunning is often referred to as excommunication. [more]
Most challenging however is that passage through what is believed to be the
gate may face the gatecrasher with nothing on the other side -- as with passage
through certain ceremonial archways (as in China and Japan). Worse still for
the gatecrasher, there may be no one on the other side of the gate. Having assumed
that entrance has been achieved, it may simply be discovered that those in the
conceptually gated community have simply moved their pattern of communications
"elsewhere" -- leaving the gatecrasher behind.
Analyzing the dynamics of conceptually gated communities
For David. Batten (Simulating
Human Behaviour: the Invisible Choreography of Self-Referential Systems,
2004) some of the collective regularities of self-referential systems are relatively
insensitive to the vagaries of individuals: "Self-referential systems are
intriguing because there is an air of inevitability about them. They seem to
co-evolve in prearranged ways, as if under the spell of an invisible choreographer."
The characteristics of "conceptual gatedness" have been explored
under a variety of headings:
Martine Dodds-Taljaard (The
Challenge of Governance in an Interdependent World: What indigenous governance
can teach us, 2000), through work described post-humously and anonymously
(Politically Incorrect Humanism,
2001), used aerobatics to make a fundamental systems point:
...one can move on to an immersed, participative example such as the airforce
aerobatics team where three jets flying at constant altitude towards their
collision point (they will squeeze by each other) form an imaginary shrinking
triangle which will invert and expand as they pass by the collision point.
A fourth jet flying at a lower altitude beneath the collision point stands
his jet on its tail and flies vertically upwards through the collision point,
"threading the needle" just before the three "triangle jets"
reach the collision point and invert the triangle. The geometry of this exercise
is that of an inverting triangular prismoid... The pilots are the dynamic
geometry they are co-creating; i.e. they reference directly and relativistically
to the system dynamic they are co-creating and they are guided by purely implicit
("imaginary") relational information which is unavailable to the
"voyeur" descriptive views of analytical science. While analytical
science can fully describe the actions of the jets, it does not have the wherewithal
to re-create the "community-constituent-coresonance" wherein the
constituents (systems) act so as to co-create their own enveloping harmonious
and sustainable "opportunity-to-act". If the same aerobatic exercise
were "programmed analytically", based on the observed trajectories
of the jets (i.e. using Euclidian space and absolute, globally synchronous
time as an imposed intermediate reference frame), it would be highly "fault
intolerant" and prone to dissonance because of ever-present external
"noise" (e.g. "wind").
Bird flight: Of particular interest in exploring dynamically gated communities
is the discipline of formation aerobatics. This is recognized as having probably
been inspired by bird flight:
Most aerobatic manoeuvres involve rotation of the aircraft about its fuselage
- rolling - or the following of geometric patterns in the sky (most famously
the loop). Formation aerobatics are usually flown by teams of up to sixteen
aircraft, although economic considerations mean that most teams habitually
fly between four and ten aircraft....The practice of formation flying might
have been inspired by the migration of flocks of birds, swans or geese. Certainly
most aerobatic teams include a V-formation in their routines. Teams fly V-formations
out of practicality - they can't fly directly behind another aircraft, or
they'd get caught in the wake vortices or engine exhaust. Aircraft will always
fly slightly below the aircraft in front, if they have to follow exactly in
There is a wide range of aerobatic maneuvers [examples,
explanations] notably documented by the Australian
Aerobatics Club. A particular notation (Aresti)
has been developed to describe the sequences of such maneuvers [sequences].
The Aresti Sequence Library
is a major archive of over 900 current and historic aerobatic sequences from
contests dating back to the 1980s. Special software developed by Alan Cassidy
(Aerobatic Drawing Software)
is used to describe such sequences.
Aerobatics has also been compared with dancing, notably as explored by David
Robson (Skydancing: aerobatic flight techniques, 2000):
Placing two or more airplanes in close proximity is dangerous enough without
putting those aircraft through whirling maneuvers. In fact, most military
services won't allow their combat pilots to fly complete rolls or loops in
formation....To do what we do is like dancing. We are partners. Every formation
team develops a close relationship. They become brothers, a family. You share
more and you give more than is possible in solo aerobatics, and it can change
you. The level of trust you place in one another is unbelievable. [more]
Gates: Great emphasis is placed on the team relationships with respect
to the leader in formation aerobatics. Given the focus here on dynamically gated
communities, it is interesting to note that each aerobatic sequence is entered
through a "gate":
First and foremost, the lead is responsible for maintaining a safe environment.
Almost all of the responsibility for collision avoidance, positioning, altitude
and airspeed rests firmly on the shoulders of the lead. Each maneuver that
is performed in the show has a "gate". That's a specific airspeed and altitude
that makes it safe to fly through the maneuver and get set for the next one.
The lead must insure that his positioning is precisely right on the ideal
airshow axis and datum. The Lead must fly perfect maneuvers and maintain perfect
speed and altitude "gate" parameters in the right spot on the showline, (compensating
for variable meteorological and safety hazards), while utilizing a reduced
power setting to assist wingman positioning. [more]
Boxes: Not only do the pilots have to perform incredibly difficult
maneuvers, they also have to ensure that they stay within the boundaries established
for an air-show. These boundaries are like invisible walls, a minimum of 500
feet from the spectators. All competition flying is done inside an aerobatic
"box" (a block of air 3 300 feet long and wide and with its
top at 3 500 feet above the ground.) [more
Flocking behaviour and the dynamics of gated conceptual
Whilst respectful of the ability of some to analyze community groups and networks
with powerful new tools, the focus here is on how any insights into such phenomena
-- derived with or without such tools -- can be meaningfully and usefully understood
in a highly diversified and fragmented society. The concern here is therefore
with vehicles for the imaginative insight of many (at all levels of society)
rather than tools that only the few can understand and employ -- and potentially
only to the advantage of their sponsors and against the interests of others.
A usefully comprehensible point of departure is the work initiated in 1986
on "boids" by Craig Reynolds (Flocks,
Herds, and Schools: A Distributed Behavioral Model, 1987; Boids:
Background and Update + dynamic visualization, 2001) -- much-cited and
developed within the field of complexity studies:
Computer simulations reveal that the complex behaviour of a flock of birds
can easily be imitated by following three simple rules:
1. steer to move toward the average position of local flockmates,
2. steer towards the average heading and speed of local flockmates,
3. steer to avoid flockmates and all other objects.
The first two rules produce the cohesion and alignment of the flock, the third
rule ensures the necessary separation.
Curiously the value of such simulations in understanding the dynamics of conceptually
gated communities does not seem to have attracted much attention. It is however
the case that the phenomena of emergent behavior that they illustrate so well
have indeed been a focus of considerable attention, notably in relation to artificial
life and artificial societies (cf Journal
of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation). A valuable review of
the social processes of emergence has been provided by Steven Johnson (Emergence:
the connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software, 2001) [more
This does indeed explore why people cluster in neighbourhoods, or form internet
communities, possibly catalyzed by media frenzies. But it fails to explore the
implications for the emerging organization of knowledge.
Reynolds has himself shown (Interaction
with Groups of Autonomous Characters, 2000) how large flocks can be
simulated in real time, allowing for interactive applications. Work has also
been done by Phil Pocknell on the influence of a predator in such flocking simulations
Into Computational Flocking Techniques, 1999). Ironically this work
has been of most obvious relevance to major design improvements in the realism
of interactive computer gaming (epitomized by the much-remarked level of artificial
intelligence in Republic
marketed by Eidos [more
The argument here is that members of groups, especially those characteristic
of civil society, behave in ways that are usefully understood in terms of flocking
behaviour. The term "flock" has for example long been used to describe
those associated with a church -- and for whom a priest performs a shepherding
function. But whilst this association is comprehensible, recognition of how
people flock together -- especially in terms of held beliefs -- is less evident,
especially when this is not associated with gathering together physically (as
extensively explored in relation to crowd behavior, for example). The focus
here is therefore on greater articulation of the behaviours associated with
"movement of public opinion".
Luisetta Mudie (Concentration
and fragmentation in the media, 2004):
The new breed of information users overlaps in many areas with the new breed
of information providers, to provide news and perspectives which are bottom-up,
rooted in a sense of community (wherever that is found, sometimes on-line),
and interactive. The sense of loose and flexible cohesion in these groupings
of intention is reminiscent of a model of group behaviour of agents, part
of the new sciences of complexity, called Boids. The mode is anarchic, yet
organised. Anarchic in the sense that there is no patriarchal top-down command
structure which regulates behaviour, but with a handful of simple rules about
distance and closeness relative to one's neighbours. A horizontally connected
peer validation system. Journalists in this environment are increasingly aware
that their audience is also their peer group. Unfortunately, while there is
quite properly a large amount of life-force invested in the secondary process,
there is not yet much money. The new breed-let's call them informers, because
they not only provide information, they also in some sense are the information;
they in-form the secondary process-these informers are having instead to bear
the fragmentation in their personal and economic lives, for example by disconnecting
their 'real' job of helping this evolutionary process, from the money that
puts food in their mouths and clothes on their back, and a roof over their
head. Cross-subsidy is a hallmark of their enterprise.
Dynamics of transnational civil society
Although it is not the focus of this exploration, there is a strong case for
examining the behavior of civil society bodies, and their networks of members,
in the light of boid-like behaviour. Such bodies are profiled in the Yearbook
of International Organizations: Guide to global civil society networks,
2004). Specifically Craig Reynolds' rules could be applied to examine the ways
in which bodies behave in what might be termed "meeting space". At
any one time thousands of international face-to-face meetings (each involving
up to tends of thousands) are held or scheduled (see International
Congress Calendar) -- requiring the movement of members from around
the world to specific locations.
Boid dynamics could then be used for simulation of organized response to values
as Strange Attractors: Coevolution of classes of governance principles,
1993), through strategies addressing problems. Greater significance could be
then be given to the role of "flavour of the month" preoccupations
in contrast with longer-term concerns, creating a bridge between allocation
of resources to superficial as opposed to more fundamental issues (see Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential). Such simulations could also
offer better understanding of how group initiatives emerge, mobilize and self-organize.
In fact it might even be suggested that the future will see "whether reports"
of social movements of opinion presented in a manner analogous to the current
"weather reports" that show massive movements of cloud in response
to high and low pressure/temperature conditions.
The main focus of complexity research and emergent behaviour has naturally
been in relation to tangible phenomena of the natural sciences, optimistically
extended to the challenge of economic phenomena as a principal focus governance.
This emphasis has obscured the possible need to focus on social and psychological
phenomena that may determine approaches to governance in other ways. This need
is most evident in the "emergence" of various forms of fundamentalism
and the degree to which they the world is now challenged by the consequences
of faith-based governance.
An interesting exception is the work of Mark
A. Bedau (Emergent
Models of Supple Dynamics in Life and Mind, 1997) who refers to boids
in the following exploration:
The dynamical patterns in mental phenomena have a characteristic suppleness
-- a looseness or softness that persistently resists precise formulation --
which apparently underlies the frame problem of artificial intelligence. This
suppleness also undermines contemporary philosophical functionalist attempts
to define mental capacities. Living systems display an analogous form of supple
dynamics. However, the supple dynamics of living systems have been captured
in recent artificial life models, due to the emergent architecture of those
models. This suggests that analogous emergent models might be able to explain
supple dynamics of mental phenomena. These emergent models of the supple mind,
if successful, would refashion the nature of contemporary functionalism in
the philosophy of mind.
It is in the light of such possibilities that several questions could usefully
be explored in relation to the implications of emergent psycho-social behaviour
associated with boids -- perhaps usefully to be contrasted with the "alignment"
of long lines of starlings perched on "power lines":
- Dynamic identity: Whilst the rules governing the behaviour of individual
boids may be well defined, the emergent behaviour provides them with a frame
for a higher sense of identity. As mentioned earlier, sociology has notably
explored such emergence in relation to crowd behaviour. Potentially more interesting
is the emergence of a more conscious sense of identity -- better recognized
and cultivated in the case of teams. But of particular interest is the degree
to which boid behaviour highlights the relationship of identity with the manner
in which individuals move together and in relationship to one another. This
is notably well-sensed in the case of dance and team acrobatics -- and team
But there is a case for recognizing the extent to which identity sensed in
this way can be understood as a metaphor for a subtler psycho-social identity
whose nature is less readily communicable. The role of metaphor in enabling
such understanding may of course be challenged. But the caution of Kenneth
Boulding (Ecodynamics; a new theory of societal evolution, 1978) then
bears reflection: "Our consciousness of the unity of the self in the middle
of a vast complexity of images or material structures is at least a suitable
metaphor for the unity of a group, organization, department, discipline, or
science. If personification is only a metaphor, let us not despise metaphors
-- we might be one ourselves." It is then useful to reflect on the extent
to which the boundaries of a "conceptually gated community" may
be defined dynamically in relation to a form of identity that is inherently
dynamic. This possibility has been explored elsewhere (Patterning
Archetypal Templates of Emergent Order, 2002):
Another modality calling for reflection is the process reality
contrasted with that of reified objects. The identities sustained by the
dynamics within process reality are then effectively "aliens" -- unrecognizable
from a static perspective to which they are not "linked". It might then
usefully be asked whether people could be distinguished on a continuum depending
on the the degree to which their identity is associated with how they "move",
as opposed to how they are -- their "status".
The work of Henryk Skolimowski (The Participatory Mind: A New Theory of
Knowledge and of the Universe, 1994) and John Heron and Peter Reason (Participative
knowing and an extended epistemology, 1997) raise questions about
the nature of identity in participative cognition. In the case of communities,
this is particularly true of the community effectively defined by community-based
research (cf Marcia Hills and Jennifer Mullett. Community-Based
Research: Creating Evidence-Based Practice for Health and Social Change,
- Dependence on external information: Is life within a conceptually
gated community sustainable? To the extent that the community may be strict
in making this assumption, and reinforcing it, what pressures emerge that
call for "importing" information, insights and innovation from the
psycho-cultural world "beyond the gates"? Aspects of this querstion
have been explored by Orrin Klapp (Opening and Closing: Strategies of Information
Adaptation in Society, 1978). Klapp argues that opening to variety, whether
for learning, progress, evolution, or control, has been over-emphasized to
the point of bias.
"From such things, we see that what we call aliveness - resilience, adaptability
- is not continual intake, nor any constant policy, but sensitive alternation
of openness and closure. The mind listens alertly, then turns off to signals.
The natural pattern is alternation, and the more alive a system is, the more
alertly it opens and closes. In such a view, closing is not, as some suppose,
merely a setback to growth and progress, but evidence that the mechanisms
of life are working, that the society has resiliency... A perpetually open
society would suffer the fate of a perpetually open clam."
This question may in particular be asked of certain forms of religious community
aspiring to a life of perfection (for example the monastery environment of
Mt Athos, the Exclusive
Brethren, etc). But it may also be asked of the leadership community in
those countries where the leadership effectively insulates itself from democratic
input from opposing policy perspectives -- notably when sustained by self-righteous
fundamentalist beliefs. The question may also be asked of (dominant) cultures
that effectively insulate themselves from inputs from other cultures -- whether
through developing a defensive "fortress" mentality or through an
aggressive form of "cultural imperialism" that precludes receipt
of any insight "from the colonies", other than through exploitative
- Replication of historical patterns: The "fortress" metaphor
suggests a reprise (in psycho-social form) of the dynamics associated with
settings where fortified communities were deemed essential to survival. One
interesting dynamic of this kind is the "raid", whereby one fortified
community either raids unfortified settlements or other fortified settlements.
The question in the psycho-social case is what is the purpose of the raid
-- namely what is of value that is sought through such raiding? It might be
argued that the raid again offers scope for developing status within
the gated community, if only by bringing back trophies. Raiding may offer
the advantages traditionally associated with crusading -- namely as a demonstration
and fulfillment of a missionary imperative sacred to the community's value
system, articulated as an obligation to expunge unhealthy influences. This
may include "saving souls" (the counterpart to the "bodybag"
assessment of military operations) or the mission of "spreading democracy"
to liberate those of other cultures (see also Missiles,
Missives, Missions and Memetic Warfare: Navigation of strategic interfaces
in multidimensional knowledge space, 2001). More intriguing is the
perceived need to ensure sustainability by capturing assets (including "intellectual
property"). This raises the question of the nature of the values, essential
to the sustainability of a gated community, corresponding to "women",
"slaves", or "cattle". How do the dynamics of the gated
community frame the need for such values from without? Is raiding and
crusading, looting and pillaging, essential to sustaining the identity of
the conceptually gated community?
- Replication of past thinking patterns: Whether understood as "groupthink",
"incestuous amplification" or thinking "in the box", these
self-referential tendencies defining the dynamic boundaries of the group are
recognized by some as dangerous to group survival. This is notably the case
with regard to companies and countries dependent on innovation to maintain
their competitive advantage. It is such recognition that also results in appeals
by world leaders for "new thinking" and a "paradigm shift".
The boid perspective however extends the challenge by requiring that the "box"
be understood dynamically as a "pattern" that is no longer as viable
as it once was, or is no longer as widely applicable as it once was. Where
the focus is on innovation, the need for "new blood" and "fresh
perspectives" may be expressed. "Cross-fertilization" may be
valued. This echoes curiously the need for inter-tribal raids to renew the
gene pool. Indeed some schools of thought and disciplines may perceive themselves
to have been "raided" by others who "appropriate" and
develop the captured ideas (including "intellectual property") --
presumably to renew their own "meme pool".
- Reframing education: In an environment characterized by increasing
quantities of information and increasing degrees of specialization that may
take a lifetime to master, education must naturally become more specialized.
There is a challenge to strike a balance between sufficient general knowledge
to navigate a knowledge-based society and sufficient specialization to develop
and retain a competitive advantage therein. But it might be asked whether
"sufficient" is then to be defined differently in relation to the
plethora of conceptually gated communities. Minimal "medical" skills
may be much appreciated in a community that has designed its worldview to
avoid any need for higher degrees of "medical" skills -- and is
unable to reward sufficiently those with such skills. In a land of the blind,
a one -eyed man my indeed aspire to be king.
Given that Mark Bedau is editor-in-chief of the journal Artificial
Life and a board member of the International
Society of Artificial Life, it would be interesting to know the degree to
which the arguments for self-reflexiveness have impelled that community to reflect
on their own boid-like emergent behaviour!
Challenges: dynamics vs statics
The emphasis above on boid behaviour is a means of drawing attention to the
psycho-social dynamics of the progressive fragmentation of knowledge society.
Such fragmentation is a long-recognized theme of the static fragmentation
of knowledge [more].
The amazing information tools associated with the web have however tended to
disguise the psycho-social dynamics now associated with fragmentation -- a form
of dynamic fragmentation through which people and groups move out of
phase to a degree that coherent communication no longer passes effectively between
Boid flocking can in this sense be seen as an illustration of the dynamics
of cocooning in knowledge space -- understood in terms of the capacity to exchange
memes. Increasingly psycho-social (or memetic) cocooning is associated with
cultivating (and being nourished by) a particular memetic field. But traditionally,
"fields" of knowledge are understood statically (as analogues to agricultural
fields to be farmed over decades). This is no longer necessarily the case. The
dynamics of knowledge society enable many to function as "travellers"
and "nomads" through knowledge space -- defining themselves in relation
to each other wherever they are, like boids. [more]
This phenomenon contrasts radically with any global project to encourage people
to share a single global framework of some kind. At the same time it does not
preclude enthusiastic, dedicated, and possibly well-funded efforts, by many
groups in seeking each to propagate their own favoured framework or Theory of
Everything. Despite the learnings from history, the consequence is perhaps most
striking in the failure of any particular religion to establish the universal
credibility of its perspective -- however much its adherents believe this to
be the case, and however much non-believers are stigmatized, demonised, and
even slaughtered in the name of a "higher cause". Similarly, and despite
its remarkable successes, this situation is equally evident in the case of science.
People develop other priorities and preferred frames of reference -- possibly
characterized by superstition and ignorance from the perspective of either the
religious and scientists.
In a suggestive exploration, Majid Tehranian (The
End of the University?, 2004) notes:
A look at the origins of modern universities provides a clue to what will
probably happen. The invention of print technology in Europe undermined the
authority of the Church and boosted the nascent secular institutions of learning
at Padua, Bologna, Montpellier, Prague, Vienna, Paris, Oxford, Cambridge,
and Heidelberg. However, the Church did not disappear. It survived, but it
was transformed from a monolithic institution into a diversity of churches
reflecting national ethos, class divisions, and individual preferences....The
university of the future will be a combination of local nodes and global networks.
economic, and educational needs of their own.
Astrophysical metaphor for evolution of gated conceptual
The suggestive use of metaphors -- like the "universe of knowledge",
academic "stars", "luminaries" and "stellar" careers,
"heated" debate, high "visibility", "massive"
support, "weighty" argument -- points to the possible value of exploring
whether astrophysics offers a coherent set of metaphors to explore the life
cycles of conceptually gated communities in knowledge space. An extensive exploration of the metaphor is discussed separately (Psychosocial Implications of Stellar Evolution? Reframing life's cycles through the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, 2013).
The challenge is to explore ways of mapping various organiational types (see
below) onto the different stages of stellar evolution and the varieties of stellar
objects that can be formed. Of paticular interest is the ways that different
groups use the energy resources at their disposal to become "massive",
highly "visible", "attractors" (of greater or less attractivity),
and "active" (as opposed to being characterized as static).
Club of Rome
Order of Druids
Boid behaviour, stellar evolution -- and nightmares
The question is whether the above metaphors are useful in exploring communication
processes in knowledge space. How should these processes be understood? The
concern here is to understand them in terms of knowledge rather than information.
In some sense they are to be understood in terms of exchange of meaning -- patterns
of information rather than information itself. For a single entity (an individual
or group), the processes might then be distinguished as:
- Processes of interaction with external environment: uncertainty /
unconformity; identity through confrontation
- communication input from external groups
- communication output to external groups
- In-group processes : confirmatory / certainty; reinforcing identity
/ affirmation of identity
- communication input from peer group members
- communication output to peer group members
- self-reflexive / self-reframing / spirituality (personal salvation)
- reflections on basic somatic processes (personal health)
Given that the entity necessarily has limited processing capacity, each of
these processes may place demands upon it. Much more interesting however are
the distinct situations that result when more or less capacity is allocated
to any of these seven processes. The various resultant situations could best
be understood through a simulation in which, interactively, the proportion of
capacity allocated to each process could be altered. Another approach to understanding
these processes and their relationship is possibly through the much-analyzed,
traditional 6-fold coding system of the I Ching. This also distinguishes
three pairs of processes. In the absence of a simulation, this 6-fold system
permits 64 decision-making conditions to be distinguished -- and the transitions
between them.(see Psychology
of Sustainability: Embodying cyclic environmental processes, 2002).
This model could be considered limited in that it is based on the assumption
that any of the six distinct processes is either "switched" "on"
or "off" -- or possibly "acknowledged" or "denied".
Such limitations may however be both reasonable and meaningful if the entity
(whether individual or group) has difficulty in engaging in 6-fold multi-tasking
-- namely operating (at least consciously) 6 channels of communication simultaneously
In relation to the six levels above, a distinction can usefully be made between
the three pairs as follows:
- [Macro] Long-term change processes: These evolutionary processes
might be represented by the patterns of stellar evolution. Here the
focus is on a "cosmic" overview -- a universal form of objectivity
that holds all groups and the perspectives they variously embody in such a
knowledge universe over an extended timescale.
- [Meso] Short-term change processes: These might be represented by
the dynamics of boids. Here the focus is one the "dance"
of relationships between proximates -- effectively ignoring those existing
and acting more distantly.
- [Micro] Comprehension processes: These processes, indicative of how
the situation is understood, might be viewed through the dynamic of "dreams"
or "nightmares". A sustainable "dream" or "nightmare"
can lock understanding into a form of time warp. It is through these processes
that the other forms are selectively interpreted.
Of specific interest within this framework, descriptive of knowledge society
processes, are the following conditions and questions:
- Restricted: What happens when the gatedness of a conceptual community
results from exclusive emphasis on:
- Macro processes: This is typical of the case of policy-making (or other
reflection) that ignores, or fails to engage, with shorter-term processes.
Typically it is perceived to be ungrounded. It is characteristic of macrohistoric
reflection, planning for space travel, biological evolution, cosmology,
and the like. Sensitivity to issues such as depletion of non-renewable
resources, and environmental degradation, is not considered meaningful
- Meso processes: This is typical of strategic reflections of governments
and corporations constrained by mandates of but a few years, if not a
few months, or even days. It is the context of media impact and fickle
public opinion. It is ill-equipped to address, other than tokenistically,
the longer-term issues and challenges (such as climate change, rising
population, depletion of energy resources, etc). This level might usefully
be understood as characteristic of a focus on community life irrespective
of content or purpose (whether neighbourhood, parish, sporting team, etc)
- Micro processes: These are the processes relating to the sense of well-being,
self-esteem, or identity of an individual or a group. They may be characterized
as "selfish". They are readily swept along by the meso processes
and the experiences they offer. They may be completely insensitive to
macro processes. This level might usefully be understood as characteristic
of a direct, personal, experiential condition (whether back-to-nature,
health-freak, or monastic).
- Intra-level knowledge communication: Within any level, what situations
of conceptual gatedness result::
- If communication input is constrained or inhibited, possibly to the
point of non-existence? (Emergence -- reciprocal 118-120)
- If communication output effectively exceeds communication input, possibly
to the point of completely inhibiting or obscuring any input?
- How is a fruitful balance between communication input and output to
be achieved and sustained? What forms of feedback are required?
- Inter-level knowledge communication: Between different levels, what
situations of conceptual gatedness result:
- If communication input is constrained or inhibited, possibly to the
point of non-existence?
- If communication output effectively exceeds input, possibly to the point
of completely inhibiting or obscuring any input?
- How is a fruitful balance between communication input and output to
be achieved and sustained? What forms of feedback are required?
64 Varieties of conceptual gatedness -- as forms of knowledge?
The formal properties of this model point to the value of exploring the 64
conditions which are characteristic of its various combinations. Each condition
might then be understood as a distinct form of emergence -- an explicit condition
emerging from implicitness in the sense explored by David Bohm. Although the
coding benefits from that used, and extensively explored, in studies of the
I Ching, interpreting the coding in terms of "on" or "off"
conditions is unusual and more reminiscent of simulation of the functioning
of multi-position switches in complex circuits.
This approach suggests a way of thinking about the ecology of knowledge systems
-- through the manner in which such various forms of knowledge are interrelated
as "switches", "filters" or "valves". Within the
framework of the I Ching, at the simplest level, 384 transformational
relationships are recognized between the 64 conditions (see Patterning
Transformative Change for sustainable dialogue, vision, conference, policy,
network, community and lifestyle, 1983). These might also be understood
as mapping 384 emergent patterns of relationship between forms of knowledge.
Within this context, it is particularly interesting to reflect on the possibility
the characteristics of each of the 64 types of conceptual gatedness. This is
especially the case in light of comparisons of such a binary coding system with
that used for the genetic code and its epistemological significance (see for
example Xavier Sallantin. Genetics:
the digital key to genetic coding, 2001), notably in relation to vitamins.
Points for future consideration
In considering these questions, the probability of the following emerging phenomena
- "Existence" of knowledge: If knowledge is not freely available
(such as on the web, or within a gated conceptual community), to what extent
can it be considered to "exist" -- other than as "incunabula"
-- as rare and fragile items whose nature can only be verified by experts,
and whose distinctions are meaningless to others?
- Memetic transfer: What exchanges can be considered as constituting
meaningful "communication" in a knowledge society? Meaningful to
- Keepers of conceptual gatedness: To what extent do gatekeepers (including
peer reviewers) define conceptually gated communities of lower orders of complexity
-- possibly nested within more open systems characterized by higher orders
- Diversity: It is to be expected that highly contrasted forms of knowledge
will in practice be derived from the same information, as suggested by the
following comment of Gary Younge (The Guardian, 2 November 2004), reporting
on the American election, noted:
But when the nation goes to the polls today they will only have two camps
to choose from and what little common ground there may have been between
them has effectively been torched. Watching the third presidential debate
with about 40 students... They were not just watching the candidates on
a split screen. They were viewing the entire event as though from a split
screen, each side hermetically sealed from the other as though they were
witnessing two completely different events in a parallel universe. On
these rare occasions when people are presented with the same raw data,
the two camps have managed to fashion conclusions that are not just different
but almost entirely contradictory. So rather than partisan arguments adjusting
to take account of reality, reality is altered to suit the argument.
- Irrelevance: By their nature, do conceptually gated communities necessarily
define out what they conceive to be irrelevant as well as engendering potentially
hostile relationships to others? Is it to be expected that people will persist
with their belief patterns, irrespective of (reality-based) information to
- Community as "in the box": Gated conceptually communities
essentially require of their members that they be "in-the-box",
thus making it very difficult to explore patterns of knowledge dependent on
"out-of-the-box" thinking -- going beyond the boundaries of the
community. From a knowledge perspective, does community effectively then mean
- Emergence of nightmares: The documentary by Adam Curtis notes that,
in a society that collectively believes in nothing in particular, any community
sharing an intense belief is itself to be feared. Does this predispose the
society to engender misconceptions and become locked into "nightmares",
as also noted by Giles Foden (The
Fatal Formula, 2003) in reviewing two relevant studies (Jason Burke.
Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror. IB Tauris, 2003; Yosri Fouda
and Nick Fielding. Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating
Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen, 2003):
In the other must-read about the organisation, Jason Burke comes
to the same conclusion, describing how after September 11 he became increasingly
concerned about the misconceptions that were gaining currency. "Foremost
among them was the idea that Bin Laden led a cohesive and structured terrorist
organisation called al-Qaida." In its place Burke first rehearses the idea
of the meta-network - al-Qaida as the UN of terrorism - which other experts
have already evoked. Then comes his analytical master-stroke: the notion
of a number of al-Qaidas, with one or other dominant at different periods.
To this he adds the useful description of a witness in the 1998 embassy
bombings trial, of al-Qaida as a "formula system" for terrorism, an exportable
If the good news is that al-Qaida as we knew it does not exist, writes
Burke, "the bad news is that the threat now facing the world is far more
dangerous than any single terrorist leader with an army, however large,
of loyal cadres". Instead, he argues, "the threat that faces us is new and
different, complex and diverse, dynamic and protean and profoundly difficult
to characterise. There is no vocabulary to describe it."
- Collapse of knowledge society: As explored in the astrophysical metaphor,
will a stage be reached when the communication output of the "stars"
on which knowledge society is dependent, exceeds their capacity for communication
input -- in a galaxy of myriad stars! How does such extreme reduction of receptivity
get "grokked"? Does the cognitive universe of the current global
civilization then start collapsing? Is this a reason why other civilizations
have collapsed? How could the insights of the recent study of Jared Diamond.(Collapse:
How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2004) be interpreted in terms
of the collapse of dynamically gated communities?
- "Irrelevance": The knowledge society is increasing in dimension
(and dimensionality) so rapidly that the perceived relevance of any sector
(or epistemological framework) from any other sector is decreasing exponentially.
Furthermore the knowledge processing capacity of any human is now increasingly
constrained in the face of what might otherwise be considered relevant. This
may call for new forms of order and new modes of transport between sectors
as Transdisciplinary Vehicles of the Future, 1991). Is there a case
for a conceptual analogue to the "worm-hole" transportation technology
envisaged in science fiction?
- "Invisibility": In an exploding knowledge society, it is
understandable that the stage has long been reached in which many conceptually
gated communities are invisible to each other, because of the communication
distance between them -- unless they are transformed into a "supernova
phase" (as with a scandal or a discovery). But even then, although visible
to more, such a "supernova" is essentially a local phenomenon in
the emerging knowledge universe. Information technology, such as the web,
may be used to enhance visibility and the capacity to "resolve"
distant objects -- as in astronomy -- but the greater the distance of such
objects, the longer the scanning of the whole sky can take (as is well illustrated
by the challenge of the SETI project
in scanning over decades for extraterrestrial intelligence). For any particular
conceptually gated community (and according to the community's particular
definition of intelligence), the challenge of locating distant communities
in knowledge space with which communication can be achieved might be considered
- "Theory of Everything": Within such a dynamically evolving
knowledge universe, the emergence in one dynamically gated community of any
all-encompassing Theory of Everything falls victim to the same dynamics of
limited communicability of insights. To be of significance, such a theory
must then address this challenge self-reflexively -- becoming commensurate
in complexity with the diversity that it aspires to encompass. It then acquires
properties analogous to those of models of cosmogenesis in astrophysics --
called upon to address the nature of the consciousness required (or needing)
to comprehend them. Such a theory as conventionally expounded and propagated
may work -- locally -- for those who believe in it from within their community.
It must however engage other dimensions of awareness -- intuited by mystics
and authors of science fiction -- if it is to to function in practice in some
way as an all-unifying framework significant to the emergence and transfer
of meaning (see also Metaphors
as Transdisciplinary Vehicles of the Future, 1991).
- Higher order "twistedness": Is the self-reflexiveness of
higher-orders of understanding (cf Douglas Hofstadter. Gödel,
Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, 1979), as associated with any
Theory of Everything, characterized by a form of twistedness? How are the
bottle" properties requisite for a Theory of Everything to be understood?
As a "theory" can it be considered a viable experiential framework
or vehicle for any sense of well-being?
- Questioning capacity: Within the above framework, to what extent
are "input" and "output" to be understood as the capacity
to "ask" and "answer" questions -- especially of a "higher
order" (see Engaging
with Questions of Higher Order: cognitive vigilance required for higher degrees
of twistedness, 2004) ? Should any understanding of the variety of
forms of conceptual gatedness take account of extended or diminished capacity
to ask questions or to answer them -- and unbalanced tendencies to:
- supply traditional (standard) answers and avoid new questions (as in
- ask new questions ignoring insights from traditional answers (as in
- Redemptive truth: Given a Theory of Everything and its potential
effectis on questioning capacity, how are these to be understood in relation
to what has been called "redemptive truth" by Richard Rorty (The
Decline of Redemptive Truth and the Rise of Literary Culture, 2000)?
For Rorty this would be:
...a set of beliefs which would end, once and for all, the process
of reflection on what to do with ourselves. Redemptive truth would not consist
in theories about how things interact causally, but instead would fulfill
the need that religion and philosophy have attempted to satisfy. This is
the need to fit everything--every thing, person, event, idea and poem --into
a single context, a context which will somehow reveal itself as natural,
destined, and unique. It would be the only context that would matter for
purposes of shaping our lives, because it would be the only one in which
those lives appear as they truly are. To believe in redemptive truth is
to believe that there is something that stands to human life as elementary
physical particles stand to the four elements--something that is the reality
behind the appearance, the one true description of what is going on, the
- Value of communication: In highly constrained situations of conceptual
- With whom is it worth seeking to communicate?
- About what is it worth communicating?
- Why, or to what end, is it worth communicating? What forms of feedback
are to be sought?
- Kairos: Following the various explorations of enactivism
(cf Francisco J. Varela, et al. The
Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, 1991), in what
ways is the explicit, organized expression of an infinite universe embedded
(or embodied) in the implicit, self-organizing potentiality of the present
moment? (cf Presenting
the Future, 2001). The work of Thomas
Integral Sphere: A Mathematical Mandala of Reality, 2004) at the Center
for Integral Science is indicative of the challenge, notably in relation
to the work of Franklin
Spiritual Function of Mathematics, 1995).
Whilst "spiritual" can be readily demeaned as gullible, the reframing
of existential reality may prove to bear significant resemblance to the "distortions"
and "curvature" of space-time -- as extensively explored and described
in certain forms of mathematics, as well as in speculation regarding the nature
of consciousness (cf Marcus Schmieke. A
vedic model of the multidimensional universe based on consciousness,1997;
Saul-Paul Sirag, Hyperspace
Reality; Lama Anagarika Govinda. The
Mystery of Time, 1980; Louise Cowan, The
Noosphere: Our Call to Globalization of the Spirit, 2000; Resources
for Developing the Intellectual-Knowledge Aspect of Deep Understanding,
2004). Also relevant is the debate on singularity (Brief
History of Intellectual Discussion of the Singularity: Accelerating Universal
Phases of Physical-Computational Change, 2004).
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