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11 November 2004 | Draft

Dynamically Gated Conceptual Communities

emergent patterns of isolation within knowledge society

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Conventional gated communities
Examples of conceptually gated communities
Gatecrashing conceptual communities
Analyzing the dynamics of conceptually gated communities
Formation aerobatics
Flocking behaviour and the dynamics of gated conceptual communities
Dynamics of transnational civil society
Boid psychology
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 -- gated communities in cyberspace -- accessible only to those who can afford access to them and therefore explored as viable business models [more].

Conventional gated communities

Examples of conceptually gated communities

  1. 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 | 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 religious movements.

  2. 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 gated communities.

  3. 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):

      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.

      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.

    • 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. [more]

    • Incestuous conferencing: This is a process identified by Claire Rasmussen of the Coe Writing Center as a form of dialogue to assist staff development [more]. 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 one another.

    • 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.

  4. 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 of power.

    • 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:

      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 we do."

      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):
      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 also The "Dark Riders" of Social Change, 2002). [more | more | 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.

  5. 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 | more]

    • Developmental groups and contexts: Closed environments (including "retreats") are frequently designed for professional, personal or spiritual development.

  6. 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 | 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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".

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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 phase"::
    • 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 exclusion.
    • 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;

  13. 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 O'Reilly ("Gated 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 communities [more]. 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:

Formation aerobatics

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: 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 line. [more]

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 | more].

Flocking behaviour and the dynamics of gated conceptual communities

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, and
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 | 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 (An Investigation 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 | 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 (Human 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.

Boid psychology

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":

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 them.

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 communities

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).

Promise Keepers
Club of Rome
Trade union
Professional association
Youth movement
Fan club
Criminal network
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:

  1. Processes of interaction with external environment: uncertainty / unconformity; identity through confrontation
    1. communication input from external groups
    2. communication output to external groups
  2. In-group processes : confirmatory / certainty; reinforcing identity / affirmation of identity
    1. communication input from peer group members
    2. communication output to peer group members
  3. Internal
    1. self-reflexive / self-reframing / spirituality (personal salvation) processes
    2. 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:

  1. [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.
  2. [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.
  3. [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:

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 bears consideration:


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