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26 December 2016 | Draft

Global Challenge of the Global Challenge

¿ In-quest of a decision-making framework appropriate to a world in crisis ?

- / -

Inadequacy of global decision-making?
Starting afresh in envisioning new possibilities?
Deriving insights and learnings from past and complementary initiatives
Dimensions and processes to be encompassed self-reflexively?
Interweaving disparate modalities
Polyhedral transformation in support of global decision-making
Configurative mapping of Global Challenges Prize submissions
Engendering shape under threat of global catastrophe
Cyclic dynamic of emergent order versus States of emergency ordered spasmodically
Engaging with any Global Challenge


This is a response to the announcement of the surprising Global Challenges Prize for a New Shape Remodelling Global Cooperation (2017). As articulated in a letter to potential participants, it has been instigated by László Szombatfalvy, founder and chairman of the Global Challenges Foundation, created in 2012 with the aim of deepening understanding of the greatest risks to humanity -- and catalyzing ideas around how these global risks can be minimized or eliminated.

Acclaimed as one of Sweden’s most successful investors of all time, László Szombatfalvy is urging the younger generation to rethink global governance. The Global Challenges Prize takes the form of $5 million USD in prizes for the best ideas that re-envision global governance for the 21st century (Tom Turula, This Swedish billionaire has issued a $5 million award for anyone who invents a UN 2.0, Nordic Business Insider, 25 Nov 2016). The founder is inspired by the belief that radical measures are required to tackle inequality, and that the world's rich need to take more responsibility. Proposals are to be submitted before 27th May 2017, with results to be announced in November 2017 after evaluation by a panel of academic experts followed by a high-level international jury of respected global figures. The jury will choose the final winners based on how well they meet a set of criteria.

The following is a reflection on the global challenge of any such delightfully provocative global challenge. How best to apprehend the possibility it represents and the nature of the response it is expected to engender? The new challenge is of course unique and original but it also emerges within a context of invocations to creative new thinking over decades past -- all evoking hopes for their fruitful outcome.

There is clearly a case for learning from the past, given the oft-cited warning of George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. There are of course the other oft-cited learnings of Albert Einstein (Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results and We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them). There is also the precautionary insight of H. L. Mencken: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

None of these may be significant if the primary purpose is to evoke a process of engagement on the part of those making submissions -- to evoke hope, if "hope-mongering" is not to be called into question. There is however a concern with how best to benefit collectively from this process, whatever its effect with regard to elaborating a more effective decision-making framework.

For those who have long been concerned about the evident problems of global civilization, and the frustrated potential in that regard, there is a further concern. How have past responses been so ineffectual, despite the commitment variously applied at different stages by the best and the brightest -- with whatever level of funding? Given the focus on decision-making of the new Global Challenges Prize, is there then a case for implicating its own decision-making process in envisioning possibilities for the future and how these are to be selected? From the self-referential perspective of cybernetics, this suggests the need to recognize that: unless a proposal takes account of how it is itself part of the problem, it is unlikely to comprehend or encompass the nature of the solution required.

Such a consideration applies equally to the following commentary. To indicate a necessary break from potentially outmoded conventional patterns in the English language, the subtitle is a question. It is prefigured by the inverted question mark ¿ to recall the need for the unusual -- possibly even an inversion of perspective of which the emergence of populism is perhaps only one indicator. The subtitle also exploits a play on "in quest", variously understood as "in quest" and "inquest", as well as offering some sense of "questing within". "Inquest" is a reminder of the relevance of any probable future perspective in evaluating the current response to crisis.

In that spirit, given the hopes engendered by past initiatives -- and their track record -- it is questionable how seriously any new proposal should now be taken. In taking it seriously however, there is a case for doing so somewhat playfully as suggested by the following account (Enacting Transformative Integral Thinking through Playful Elegance: a Symposium at the End of the Universe? 2010). What should a Global Challenges Prize evoke in anticipation of a collapse of global civilization -- as variously imagined?

Inadequacy of global decision-making?

As noted by Aseem Prakash and Matthew Potoski (Dysfunctional institutions? Toward a New Agenda in Governance Studies, Regulation and Governance, 10, 2016, 2):

There is a wide-spread perception among academics and commentators that institutional dysfunction has become increasingly common in important social, political, and economics arenas. Opinion polls show a decline in trust and confidence in major actors and institutions, including inter-governmental organizations, governments, firms, NGOs, and religious organizations. For some, the core of the problem is that the hitherto well-functioning states have become less effective in aggregating and acting upon citizens' preferences. Many policy initiatives of the 1990s -- deregulation, privatization, new public management, private regulation, regional integration, civil society, and so on -- seemed to have failed to meet expectations.

In the quest of the Global Challenges Prize for "A New Shape", one commentary specifically focuses on the possibility of a "UN 2.0" -- exploiting internet jargon with respect to upgrades. Unfortunately any UN-focus naturally frames the quest in terms of the decades of debate on UN reform and the frustration to which this has given rise. There is a case for exploring the challenge more generally given that track record.

It would be good to benefit from some kind of checklist of what does not work, with some indication of why. More systemic insight into why complex systems governance do not "get off the ground" (or fail) merit recognition, as separately argued (Variety of System Failures Engendered by Negligent Distinctions, 2016). Of particular interest is the systems engineering compendium by John Gall, successively titled as Systemantics: how systems really work and how they fail (1986) and The Systems Bible: the beginner's guide to systems large and small (2002) -- and separately reviewed as Why Systems Fail and Problems Sprout Anew (1980). Also relevant are obviously the arguments of Jared Diamond (Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005).

Issues of concern include:

  • delays
  • dominance
  • influence peddling
  • tokenism/traction
  • appearance
  • visibility
  • misleadership
  • representativity
  • oversimplification
  • short-termism
  • status
  • information overload
  • tunnel/funnel/blinkered vision
  • blind spots
  • risk aversion
  • panic avoidance
  • secrecy
  • indifference
  • procedural preoccupations
  • deciding to meet and deciding to resolve
  • media preoccupations with appearance and image
  • blame-game
  • status preoccupation
  • fake news / post-truth
  • disarray -- "headless chicken" dynamics

Given the track record of UN reform, there is the possibility that the much sought "new thinking" may be more fruitfully triggered by calling into question the methodology through which it is sought. As noted by the Global Policy Forum (UN Reform):

UN reform is endlessly discussed, but there is sharp disagreement on what kind of reform is needed and for what purpose. Foundations, think tanks and blue ribbon commissions regularly call for institutional renovation. Secretary Generals trumpet their reform initiatives. NGOs make earnest proposals. And from Washington come somber warnings that the UN must "reform or die". UN reform is not a politically neutral, technocratic exercise. Bids for power and privilege lurk in every proposal. Many experts would like to see a stronger and more effective multilateral organization, but the mightiest governments are usually opposed to a robust institution, and they often use their power to block change.

Despite Einstein's above mentioned insight (We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them), to what extent can a problematic methodology be detected in the Global Challenges process itself?

Given the exploitation of the internet metaphor -- towards UN 2.0 -- such a possibility was explored with respect to the 1st International Conference on Internet Science (2013), held under the aegis of the EU (Internyet Nescience? Self-referential upgrading of obsolete Internet conference processes inhibiting emergence of integrative knowledge, 2013).

Or maybe there is an unstated dependence on failure to evoke fundamental reform and more appropriate patterns. There may then be an "art" to inaction (The Art of Non-Decision-Making -- and the manipulation of categories, 1997). Awaiting disaster may even be the most effective mode of decision-making in enabling necessary change.

Starting afresh in envisioning new possibilities?

Much as there is a need to evoke new creativity, the tendency to "start afresh" endangers the viability of what is envisioned. There is a strong case for recognizing what proved to be less than successful in the past, especially given the tendency to disguise the extent of failure through upbeat reporting and selective forgetfulness. So many imaginative initiatives have sunk without a trace and with little effort to learn from them. Enthusiasm is evoked for the new in defiance of the above-mentioned warning of George Santayana.

One point of departure is to recognize the variety of ways in which new systemic processes tend to fail, as separately argued (Variety of System Failures Engendered by Negligent Distinctions, 2016). Another is to recognize the extent of misplaced focus on the more obvious challenges (Vigorous Application of Derivative Thinking to Derivative Problems, 2013). Paradoxically, in the spirit of this argument, both are necessarily problematic and merit being called into question. How indeed to transcend enthusiasm for thinking "positively" in contrast with the questionable focus on "negative" feedback?

A different approach is merely to recall some of the heroic attempts of the past as providing the context for any new response. How are they best considered as memorials to forms of inadequacy which need to be overcome -- or even as memorials to problems mistakenly upheld as critical by the past? Do they individually or collectively offer guidance for new imagination? Especially intriguing is why the uptake of their insights proved to be so limited.

Examples, variously involving authorities, the eminent, the wise, and activists, might include the following(partially derived from (Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the future? 2007):

Deriving insights and learnings from past and complementary initiatives

In addition to the conferences and other dialogue processes these may have engendered, some of these initiatives have given rise to writings and compilations reflective of their learnings and recommendations. These include:

Curiously the current Global Challenges Prize is itself indicative of an important aspect of the problem it endeavours to address. Any web search (for "global challenges" or "global challenge") gives numerous results indicating the existence of a wide range of local, national and international initiatives with that preoccupation. These include, for example: The Global Challenge (universities), Global Challenges (Worldwide University Network), Global Challenges Research Fund (UK Research Councils). The very multiplicity of responses highlights the issue of assumptions regarding the possibility of a coherent global approach to global issues. Hence the title of this commentary.

The global challenge of providing a singular framework is further highlighted by the many hundreds of international Catholic orders and religious institutes variously beholden to the Catholic Church. Their number poses the question as to their lack of integration (despite the unquestionable coherence of their belief system) and to the nature of the distinctions between them. Such questions are relevant to the wider issue of the number and variety of responses to global challenges.

Given the current crisis of global decision-making, a key question is then: so what? How is any new proposal to engage with the evident lack of uptake of past proposals and insights? The possibility of factors remaining to be more effectively addressed is discussed separately (Recognizing the Psychosocial Boundaries of Remedial Action: constraints on ensuring a safe operating space for humanity, 2009).

Why is it that only new manifestations of crisis and inadequacy provide a focus for collective attention? Ironically the emergence of Donald Trump suggests that for many "not-Trump" is seen as framing a desirable strategy (as with "non-Jihadism") -- but unfortunately without any appropriately articulated content in either case, especially subsequent to success in the shorter term (Eradication as the Strategic Final Solution of the 21st Century? 2014).

The web site of the Global Challenges Prize offers some materials to guide reflection by participants in articulating their submissions. These notably focus specifically on the current hopes for internet-enabled governance. The challenges of the latter have already become evident in various arenas, despite the great enthusiasm of its advocates.

Dimensions and processes to be encompassed self-reflexively?

This exercise is a further articulation of points previously made more extensively in response to the Urgent Appeal to Change the Mindset, launched by the Civil Society Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives and elaborated separately (Embodiment of Change: Comprehension, Traction and Impact? Discovering enabling questions for the future, 2011). The latter noted:

Dimensions meriting consideration as to how they are best to be integrated include the following -- recognizing the dynamics engendered by their possible exclusion:

Any explicit consideration of these dimensions tends to obscure the need for their constraints to be ignored -- because their recognition may well inhibit and discourage creative thinking and innovation. Hence the enthusiasm for "starting afresh" and ignoring any lessons from failures of the past. Such consideration suggests the need for a "meta-perspective", especially in the light of the world leadership to be offered by the presidency of Donald Trump (Requisite Meta-reflection on Engagement in Systemic Change? Fiat, fatwa and world-making in a period of existential radicalisation, 2015). The latter frames the challenge in terms of:

Towards a more self-reflexive focus
Agencies of systemic change
Science and nescience
Systemic neglect by science
Mutual embedding of disparate cognitive modalities
Systemic change by authoritative fiat
Fiat and world-making as an individual opportunity
Self-reflexive discourse as catalyst for change
Mnemonic catalysts enabling self-reflexive discourse
Achieving traction through embodiment

Interweaving disparate modalities

The following are modalities which respond in part to the above constraints:

The above possibilities are necessarily a reflection of the biases of the author of this document. Many aspects reflect the motivation for originally instigating the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, now online with its participatory and visualization possibilities. This was approved for funding by the European Commission and the World Bank (see respectively Ecolynx: Information Context for Biodiversity Conservation and Intercept: Interactive Contextual Environment planning Tool for Developing Countries).

Polyhedral transformation in support of global decision-making

New shape? The Global Challenge web site is remarkably characterized by a somewhat unusual video of a polyhedron variously transformed dynamically. It explicitly calls into question the relevance of one such polyhedron as symbolic of an (in)adequate mode of organization.

Video introducing the 2017 Global Challenges Prize:
A New Shape ?

Variable geometry? The video is consistent with occasional references to the possibility of "variable geometry" for international institutions. This has been most notably considered with respect to governance of Europe (Carla Cattaneo and Dario Velo, Variable Geometry Europe: an interpretation of the European integration development, Archive of European Integration, 1995; Charles Grant, Variable Geometry, Centre for European Reform, 1 July 2005; Patrick Joachim Dunphy, Variable Geometry Europe, Institute for Trade and Commercial Law, February 2007; Paola Subacchi, The Variable Geometry of National Sovereignty, EUObserver, 18 December 2013; Brexit Brief: the charms of variable geometry, The Economist, 11 June 2016).

The approach has also been envisaged for the UN system (Alternation between Variable Geometries: a brokership style for the United Nations as a guarantee of its requisite variety, 1985) and within the UN system. As reviewed by C. Patel (Single Undertaking: a straitjacket or variable geometry? 2003) and discussed with respect to aspects of the United Nations system by Andrew Cornford (Variable Geometry for the WTO: concept and precedents, 2004).

A more general approach to the possibility was discussed with respect to Possibilities of "variable geometry" in psycho-social organization within the context of a possible Polyhedral Pattern Language (2008). This considered issues of software facilitation of emergence, representation and transformation of psycho-social organization.

Unexplored polyhedral possibilities: As noted there, use of such a polyhedral form as a new mode of organization originated with the work of Buckminster Fuller. His extensive analysis of such geometry was framed as offering a new mode of thinking (Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking (1975, 1979). He gave concrete form to his reflection in the design of geodesic domes. It was also adapted to the innovative design of a global map -- the Dymaxion Map. This figured notably in his consideration of global decision-making as developed by the World Game, sometimes called the World Peace Game.

There has been relatively little uptake of his non-architectural insights, as argued separately in a submission (by the author of this commentary) to The Buckminster Fuller Challenge 2010, organized by The Buckminster Fuller Institute (Geometry of Thinking for Sustainable Global Governance: cognitive implication of synergetics, 2009). This pointed to the possibility of deriving an array of insights from the dynamic reconfiguration of polyhedra -- as is implicit to a degree in the Global Challenges video. As with the current Global Challenges Prize, that earlier challenge was conceived in support of the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity's most pressing problems.

The question, as yet inadequately explored, is whether polyhedral forms can be used as mapping devices to enable discovery of new forms of decision-making -- suitably interrelating a diversity of perspectives, issues and actors. Some possibilities have been presented, with illustrations and animations, in:

Of particular interest is the remarkable range of polyhedra and the variety of transformations between them -- as indicative of a highly desirable flexibility in imaginatively interrelating a diversity of perspectives. This possibility has been rendered highly accessible through the Stella Polyhedron Navigator (developed by Robert Webb) and the manner in which 3D imagery and videos can be generated from it -- in anticipation of the expected breakthrough into virtual reality anticipated in 2017.

As one illustration, use was made of this approach to suggest the dynamics between participants and issues at a conference of the International Peace Research Association (Polyhedral Conference Representation as a Catalyst for Innovation: polyhedral animation of IPRA, 2008). Clearly the relation between the different actors, perspectives and proposals in any Global Challenge could be similarly configured -- suggesting a multiplicity of related possibilities.

Of particular relevance to decision-making framed by the Global Challenges Prize, is the adaptation of aspects of Buckminister Fuller's insights through the work of management cybernetician Stafford Beer (Beyond Dispute: The Invention of Team Syntegrity, 1994).

Beyond "one plan" thinking: Given the multiplicity of proposals "on the table" (or "designed off it"), maybe "table" is indeed the wrong metaphor. Such an argument could be used to call into question the widespread tendency to focus on a "global plan". Such a 2D metaphor may be similarly inappropriate, as argued with respect to papal framings (Adhering to God's Plan in a Global Society: serious problems framed by the Pope from a transfinite perspective, 2014).

It is indeed possible that "one plan" thinking may be as inappropriate to the challenge of a complex society as some of the more simplistic understandings of the globe, the solar system and the universe (Irresponsible Dependence on a Flat Earth Mentality -- in response to global governance challenges, 2008). The challenge of the times may be explored otherwise through metaphor, notably the remarkably degree to which international institutions of governance house themselves in rectangular and cubic structures as a context for their deliberations -- consistent with the convenience of spreadsheet organization of their strategic "planning". It might even be said that, metaphorically speaking, the architecture of the UN Secretariat in New York is a 3D spreadsheet.

Spherical implications of global strategies? Little thought is given to the possible relevance of the spherical, with its cognitive implications for engaging with the global -- as speculatively argued separately (Spherical Accounting: using geometry to embody developmental integrity, 2004). Curiously curves are typically only evident in the design of plenary conference rooms -- but only to a degree. A striking exception is seemingly offered by the recently opened spherical building -- colloquially named the Space Egg, designed to be the HQ of the Council of the EU and the European Council (Meet the "Space Egg", the EU's €321 million headquarters, Euronews, 8 December 2016).

A key question, ignored in the announcement of the Space Egg, is the nature of the strategic and cognitive implications of this "new shape". Should it be recognized as a new "echo chamber" for groupthink -- a challenging metaphor used by a reviewer in The Economist:

The Western intelligentsia, snug in its echo-chamber, has done a dismal job of understanding what is going on, either dismissing populists as cranks or demonising them as racists. (A perfectly timed book on populism, 3 December 2016)

With the unforeseen rise of a deprecated populism protesting at being "unheard", it is unlikely that the "shape" of the new debating chamber will be characterized by a higher order of "acoustics" -- in the sense required.

Spherically symmetrical polyhedra offer one comprise to a "new shape", as explored in the documents cited above, especially with respect to the transformations possible between them (Changing Patterns using Transformation Pathways, 2015). These are important to any process of transformation from an "old shape" to a "new shape". Curvature and its symbolic implications can be more extensively explored through spirals.

Toroidal requirement for a "global" strategy? As exemplified by the Nautilus Institute for Peace and Security, spirals reinforce a non-linear understanding of complex development (Visualization in 3D of Dynamics of Toroidal Helical Coils: in quest of optimum designs for a Concordian Mandala, 2016). To the extent that any "new shape" should be other than "heartless", the latter includes its implications in 3D (Cognitive heart dynamics framed by two tori in 3D).

It could be considered curious that the "New Shape" for the EU is "egg shaped" (another approximation to a sphere), when the EU countries are primary supporters of the ITER reactor (requiring a torus design) from which fusion energy is expected in response to the global energy challenge of the future. Is it not faintly possible, as suggested above, that any "new shape" should take account of the design implications of a torus (rather than a sphere) in order to be of relevance to the psychosocial systemic challenges of a global society? Has the EU engendered a shape of relevance to yesterday's strategic insights?

Dynamic rather than static shape? There is a strong case for recognizing that the quest for a "new shape" may require recognition of the "shape of a dynamic", rather than a shape in static geometric terms. Any transformation may need to be understood as being to a dynamic rather than to another static shape, as indicated elsewhere (Dynamic Transformation of Static Reporting of Global Processes: suggestions for process-oriented titles of global issue reports, 2013; From Statics to Dynamics in Sustainable Community, 1998).

Is it possible that the long-standing unresolved issues of the Middle East, centered on the Israel-Palestine situation, require resolution in dynamic rather than static terms, as argued separately (Middle East Peace Potential through Dynamics in Spherical Geometry: engendering connectivity from incommensurable 5-fold and 6-fold conceptual frameworks, 2012). Tragically, as currently exemplified by the vision offered by the outgoing US Secretary of State, John Kerry, this is framed as a two-state solution (Remarks on Middle East Peace, 28 December 2016). This vision was immediately criticized by the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, as a failure to recognize the absolute historical necessity of a one-state solution (Israel-Palestinians: Netanyahu condemns John Kerry speech, BBC News, 29 December 2016).

Despite the unquestionable mathematical sophistication of both cultures, there is seemingly no motivation whatsoever to explore non-binary possibilities -- beyond the cognitive limitations of binary and unitary "shapes", as argued separately (And When the Bombing Stops? Territorial conflict as a challenge to mathematicians, 2000). Despite initiatives via the United Nations over decades, further constraints on engendering a new shape are evident with the assertion by the US President-elect that the UN was itself only a "club" -- a situation he intends to change in ways likely to prove problematic ("Just a club for people to get together": Trump slams UN after Israel vote, RT, 27 December 2016). There is a degree of irony to reference to "club" given its Stone Age connotation -- potentially of some relevance to other "clubs" claiming a strategic focus.

Such dysfunctional oversimplification is in ironic contrast to the widespread familiarity in practice with alternation of "possession" as in timeshare housing and car sharing, and in the more complex forms of time-sharing of computer respources (through multiprogramming and multi-tasking). It is especially ironic that the familiarity is evident in cultures practicing polygamy and polyandry -- and in forms of shared parenting of children, notably following divorce.

Configurative mapping of Global Challenges Prize submissions

If the response to the Global Challenge Prize is as successful as hoped, many creative proposals will be elaborated. Unfortunately, "many will be called, but few will be chosen". The pattern is familiar with many other calls for proposals. It is also evident in the multiplicity of reports variously produced under the aegis of international bodies -- especially including the United Nations and its agencies. A particularly interesting example is provided by the set of reports engendered by the Club of Rome over decades (Club of Rome Reports and Bifurcations: a 40-year overview, 2012).

The key question is why the content of such reports is not integrated into an appropriate data set enabling the relationships among its insights to be mapped as a framework for integrative overview -- rather than decaying into "lost knowledge" as at present. The appropriate text analysis and mapping software has existed for a number of years, exemplified by the Leximancer application -- under the slogan: text in, insight out. One indication of possibilities is offered separately (Complementary Knowledge Analysis / Mapping Process, 2006). The argument also applies to serial (or parallel) presentations in a conference environment (Concept Analysis of Climate Change Agreements, 2009). One aspect of the concern is a focus of the Global Sensemaking network.

Reasons for avoiding such possibilities seem to include:

It is extraordinary to note that those producing bound compilations of integrative insights and remedial proposals see no need to interrelate more fruitfully what is assembled in this way -- nor are their contributors especially motivated to articulate any emergent perspective. The pattern is reinforced by the constraints of conventional journal publishing with its focus on text and avoidance of colour. The resulting "synthesis" can be described by the ironical German term: Buchbindersynthese.

Despite a most insightful editorial, a recent example is provided by the remarkable compilation for the Spanda Foundation by Helene Finidori (Systemic Change, Spanda Journal, 6, 2015). Appropriate to this argument, the same could be said of an earlier compilation, edited by the founder of the Spanda Foundation, Sahlan Momo (Collective Intelligence, Spanda Journal, 2, 2014). Contrary to most journals, however, Spanda offers a multiplicity of colourful aesthetic images -- but only of allusively symbolic relevance to the text, in contrast to any requirement for systemic insights. One can but fantasize about the insights to be drawn from a collective mapping of the texts assembled in the many special issues of that journal, and in others of relevance to this theme.

The fundamental commitment would seem to be a belief in the emergence of a singular, readily comprehensible, remedy to a complex crisis of civilization -- accompanied by assumptions about how widely acceptable it can be made to be. This of course ignores the warning of Mencken cited above: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

Engendering shape under threat of global catastrophe

Container for multiple shapes: Given the dynamic nature of the strategic response appropriate to any "crisis of crises", there is a strong case for recognizing that it is not one particular shape that is required. It is a question of strategic nimbleness calling for a variety of shapes. The issue is then the nature of the "container" for a variety of shapes. From a security perspective, there is however some irony to the fact that SHAPE, as the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, is the central command of NATO military forces.

A more general understanding of container has resulted from work on the container metaphor by cognitive psychology (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, 1980). One practical implication has been further developed by Alexander Klose (The Container Principle: how a box changes the way we think, 2015). The above-mentiond approach to polyhedra by Buckminster Fuller (Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 1975/1979), and the management cybernetic implications explored by Stafford Beer (Beyond Dispute: The Invention of Team Syntegrity, 1994), can also be recognized as offering new insight into containers.

Cognitive role of containers is further discussed separately (Cognitive significance of a con-tainer, 2016; Containing embodiment dynamically: conceptual boxes versus cognitive waves? 2016).

Clues from biomimicry: One approach to the thinking required for a variety of shapes is through biomimicry, specifically the life cycle of a butterfly -- fruitfully consistent with the naming of the new EU debating chamber as a "Space Egg". The life cycle insight was explored in a separate discussion (Animating the Representation of Europe: visualizing the coherence of international institutions using dynamic animal-like structures, 2004). This noted the argument of John Elkington (The Chrysalis Economy, 2001) regarding the necessary institutional metamorphosis for the 21st century from the insect chrysalis. For Elkington, the transformation is not achieved without radical shifts in the nature of the animal that involves "self-digestion" before metamorphosis is possible. He uses insights from this metaphor to illuminate many aspects of corporate transformation.

Caterpillar to Butterfly Transformation -- a Renaissance




Cater-pillar Pupa/Chrysalis Butterfly

For Edgar Morin (Vers l'abime, Le Monde, 1er janvier 2003):

La métamorphose de la chenille en papillon nous offre une métaphore intéressante : quand la chenille est entrée dans le cocon, elle opère l'autodestruction de son organisme de chenille, et ce processus est en même temps celui de formation de l'organisme de papillon, lequel sera à la fois le même et autre que la chenille. Cela est la métamorphose. La métamorphose du papillon est préorganisée. La métamorphose des sociétés humaines en une société monde est aléatoire, incertaine, et elle est soumise aux dangers mortels qui lui sont pourtant nécessaires. Aussi l'humanité risque-t-elle de chavirer au moment d'accoucher de son avenir.

It is tempting to recognize the segmentation of the caterpillar as indicative of the partial (simpler) coordination that often prevails between divisions of a complex institution -- quite different from the degree of coordination required by a butterfly. In this sense the pupal phase might be understood as that in which the static pillar-based value organization is transformed through a "renaissance" into the radial organization typical of a rotating wheel.

Modelling structural dynamics: By modelling existing "cumbersome" structures and exploring their possible transformation, imaginative approaches (anchored in practical budget-line options), could be explored to ensure that an institutional system is transformed from cumbersome to elegant (from "Beast" to "Beauty"). It is such structures which would be expected to "fly" (as with a butterfly) -- to employ a common metaphor for a successful project -- in contrast to one that does not "get off the ground" (as when a project described as a "turkey" is contrasted pejoratively with one described as an "eagle").

There is a unique opportunity to render such institutional structures more meaningful and appealing by using dynamic representation techniques that have the recognized communication strengths of animation. The success of Soda Constructor in attracting millions of users at all levels of society is an indication of the creative potential of such tools. The earlier discussion developed this possibility in relation to a Proposal for dynamic representation of institutional budget lines (2004).

Examples of multi-legged animated Soda Constructor models
(click on image for dynamic form; site currently disabled)

Multi-legged animated Soda models
Multi-legged animated Soda models Multi-legged animated Soda models
Multi-legged animated Soda models Multi-legged animated Soda models
Multi-legged animated Soda models

Cyclic dynamic of emergent order versus States of emergency ordered spasmodically

Cycles of inter-transforming polyhedra? Following Stafford Beer, an interesting assumption with respect to polyhedra could be that the edges are indicative of transactions, lines of communication, or systemic conceptual relationships. Rather than assuming an institutional need to move from a primitive early stage (egg or chrysalis) to a final desirable later stage (butterfly), each stage may be valued for its particular strategic advantages in a continuing cycle.

The question is then how to understand the phase transitions between the stages -- as helpfully rendered comprehensible in the case of sets of polyhedral shapes. The cycle of shapes may then be understood in terms of a dynamic toroidal container for the succession of phases. The number of such phases to be distinguished is a matter for future exploration. In the examples below the focus is on the "regular" Platonic polyhedra and the "semi-regular" Archimedean polyhedra -- each constituting a particular approximation to spherical, understood as "global".

Cycling of polyhedra between phases contained by a torus
(indicative animations)
5 Platonic polyhedral phases
13 Archimedean polyhedral phases

Dynamic justaposition of tori: The argument may be taken further by interrelating the separate cycles above, each contained there within a separate torus. In the animation below (far left), the 5-fold cycle is positioned within a smaller torus above a larger torus holding the 13-fold pattern -- viewed in cross-section showing the different polyhedral forms emerging periodically. Some provisional degree of complementarity between the dynamics of the Platonic and Archimedean variants derives from a table by Keith Critchlow (Order in Space, 1969).

The juxtaposition of the tori frames a 3D heart pattern variously evident in the two central animations, as discussed separately (Cognitive heart dynamics framed by two tori in 3D). The animation on the far right presents the two tori in an interlocking dynamic, also discussed separately (Comprehension of Requisite Variety for Sustainable Psychosocial Dynamics: transforming a matrix classification onto intertwined tori, 2006).

Animations indicative of possibilities of packing global complexity comprehensibly
Superposition of 2 tori
with circulating polyhedra
(outlining a 3D heart pattern)
Possible complex dynamics
between superpositioned

Possible multi-level "stacking"
of counter-rotating tori
(multiple 3D heart patterns)

interlocking dynamics
of two tori
Combination of separate animations above (viewed in cross-section) Adaptation, with permission, of animation
by Wolfgang Daeumler (Horn Torus)
Adaptation of X3D and VRML models (kindly prepared by Sergey Bederov of Cortona3D X3D and VRML models (kindly developed by Sergey Bederov of Cortona3D).

As indicated below, further possibilities of this nature are considered separately (Psychosocial Implication in Polyhedral Animations in 3D: patterns of change suggested by nesting, packing, and transforming symmetrical polyhedra, 2015; Memetic Analogue to the 20 Amino Acids as vital to Psychosocial Life? 2015).

Configuration in three dimensions of Platonic and Archimedean polyhedra
(indicative animations)
4 Platonic polyhedra configured
around tetrahedron
12 Archimedean polyhedra
configured around truncated tetrahedron
Animation of  4 Platonic polyhedra configured around tetrahedron Animation of 12 Archimedean polyhedra configured around truncated tetrahedron
Animations prepared using Stella Polyhedron Navigator

Periodic emergence versus Periodic emergency: Understood otherwise, in dynamic terms, the animations above suggestive ways of thinking about contrasting shapes and modes of organization emerging periodically from a more fundamental pattern. The "new shape" is then to be found in the periodic pattern rather than in any particular shape emerging for a period over time. Such potential emergence recalls the argument for a potential configuration (Wanted: New Types of Social Entity: the role of the "potential association", 1971).

There is a curious relation to be explored between an "emergency" and the process of emergent response, most notably through "emergency plans" elaborated in terms of "emergency prepardeness" in an effort to anticipate surprises calling for emergency management. In a period of unrelenting crises, the argument here effectively focuses on the capacity to respond to the challenges of governance through emergent reordering of structures and communication channels -- readily enabled (in principle) by information systems.

Rather than the focus on spasmodically ordering a state of emergency, the focus is then on the cyclic pattern within which order emerges as appropriate. The question is the number and variety of the plans considered appropriate to an emergency, and the conditions under which they are variously activated and deactivated. Of particular interest in a period of continuing crisis is the duration of any state of emergency, as well as the number and variety of such states that have been declared.

The current situation is further complicated by recognition of a degree of "threat level" requiring a "readiness condition" which may endure for some time -- if not permanently. For example, five graduated levels of readiness (or states of alert) are specified for the U.S. military within the DEFCON system: from 5 (least severe) to 1 (most severe). Similar systems exist in other countries. Curiously their determination is primarily influence by the immediacy of the threat rather than any catastrophic eventiality in the longer term. In this sense the eventual disaster of climate change or resource exhaustion are treated as comparable to detection of an asteroid calculated to strike the planet decades in the future. These do not register as "threats" calling for emergency response.

Morphogenesis: The toroidal animation of forms presented above is consistent with the depiction (below left) of the distinction of only four phases of emergency management. This can be usefully contrasted with familar understanding of the life cycle of a "butterfly" and its implications for the complex subtlety of psychosocial morphogenesis (Enabling morphogenesis and transformation through catastrophic questioning, 2013; René Thom, Structural Stability and Morphogenesis, 1972).

Contrasting understendings of "emergency" and "emergent"
Cycle of phases in emergency management What is the "shape" of a "butterfly"?
Reproduced from Wikipedia Cyclic combination of images above

Given increasing recognition of the insights from biomimetics, what might be learned from a butterfly about the governance of morphogenesis?

Could this be fruitfully informed by reflection on the famous Chinese tale of the butterfly dream of Chuang Tzu -- wondering if he was a man who dreamed of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of being a man? Many dramas highlighting the theme of transformation have been written about the tale (Kuang-Ming Wu, The Butterfly as Companion: meditations on the first three chapters of the Chuang Tzu, SUNY, 1990).

With respect to governance of morphogeneiss, an appropriate contrast can be made with respect to many transformations in geometry (as an "explicate order") -- possibly to be recognized as "tinkering" -- and the dynamic of underlying holomovement characteristic of an "implicate order", as articulated by David Bohm (Wholeness and the Implicate Order, 1980; Explicate and implicate order). As noted in the former (p. 202):

In the interests of clarity, we shall therefore reserve the word transformation to describe a simple geometric change within a given explicate order. What happens in the broader context of implicate order we shall then call a metamorphosis. This word indicates that the change is much more radical than the change of position of orientation of a rigid body, and that it is in certain ways more like the changes from caterpillar to butterfly (in which everything alters in a thorough going manner while some subtle and highly implicit features remain invariant).

Nesting alternative shapes approximating to "global": Rather than understanding alternative shapes to be cycling "through" a torus, or configured "around" a "seminal" or "foundational" shape (as above), they can be understood as nested in relation to one another -- as with the potential forms of a "butterfly" in process of metamorphosis. As an animation in virtual reality, that on the left (below) offers a suggestive "pumping" dynamic, usefully compared with the original inspiration of Johannes Kepler on the right. The latter is perhaps to be more fruitfully understood as a "global" understanding of the solar system..

Nesting 5 Platonic polyhedra
octahedron, icosahedron, dodecahedron, tetrahedron, cube
(Version as video animation of "pumping" action (.mov); access to X3D variant)
Rhombic triacontahedron as a nesting framework
(virtual reality variants static: VRML or X3D;
mutual rotation: VRML or X3D; "pumping": VRML or X3D)
Polyhedral model of solar system of Johannes Kepler
in Mysterium Cosmographicum (1596)
Kepler solar systemnested polyhedra
Developed with X3D Edit and Stella Polyhedron Navigator Reproduced from Wikipedia entry

The animation on the left is discussed separately in more detail (Nesting polyhedra to enable comparison of patterns of discourse, 2015; Relative movement of nested Platonic polyhedra: pumping and rotation, 2015). The latter introduces more complex animations of significance to global comprehension (Rotation and pumping of nested Chinese "puzzle balls" as symbolizing "worlds-within-worlds", 2015)

Cognitive embodiment of globality? The "pumping" dynamic in the nesting animation on the left (above) suggests an understanding of the emergence of different patterns of order -- their "explication" or unfoldment -- from an inner implicate order. This process can be related to understandings of the embodiment of mind, as articulated by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Philosophy In The Flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought, 1999), and other authors, as discussed separately (Embodiment of Change: Comprehension, Traction and Impact? 2011; Inplanation: multiversal embodiment through the Ouroboros, 2012; Embodying topological succinctness beyond questions, 2014; ¿ Embodying a Way Round Pointlessness ? 2012).

As with the insights into transformation derived from the butterfly dream of Chuang Tzu, both the nesting and the pumping dynamic are indicative of understandings of globality as both "outside" (namely explicate) and "inside" (namely implicate) -- a paradox fundamental to its comprehension (World Introversion through Paracycling: global potential for living sustainably "outside-inside", 2013). As a 4-dimensional process (at least), the 3D depictions in terms of a torus, and the nested variant, are better recognized as cognitively conflated.

The challenge of comprehension can be explored in relation to the "doughnut" of Oxfam (Exploring the Hidden Mysteries of Oxfam's Doughnut: recognizing the systemic negligence of an Earth Summit, 2012). The following animation of Hathor in the Egyptian then offers a provocative representation of the requisite cognitive dynamic. This suggests a strategic "third eye" of sustainability through a mythological complement to the Eye of Horus in that tradition, especially in the light of its symbolic importance in that era (Recognition of the Oxfam doughnut as a strategic "eye" for the "vision" of governance, 2012). The Oxfam doughnut has been incorporated there into a cycle, previously presented and discussed in simpler form (Embodiment of Identity in Conscious Creativity: challenge of encompassing "con", 2011). The subtitle of that document emphasizes the necessary cognitive vigilance to transcend the confidence games so typical of conventional approaches to strategic governance.

In quest of mnemonic catalysts using animations
Eye of Horus as suggestive of
left-wing strategic oversight?
Hathor as suggestive of
transcendent insight?
Eye of Horus as suggestive of
right-wing strategic oversight?
Animations using the Oxfam doughnut as the iris surrounding a central pupil animations using the Oxfam doughnut as the iris surrounding a central pupil

Antifragility and Resilience? It is of course the case that there is a basic strategic preference for a particular shape as framework for regular (habitual) processes. It is this preference that is being called into question by the current period and its "surprises", as noted above in the description by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007).

Of further relevance however is the sense in which a cycle of phase transitions may be understood as a shift from one mode of order to another -- and as such may be understood as "disorderly", or dependent on a disorderly transition. It is in this sense that "antifragility" of any particular shape is relevant, as recognized in the subsequent argument of Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, 2012).

As suggested by the animations above, order is to be found at a higher level -- through the cycle framed by the implied torus -- rather than with respect to the requisite instability of the order of any particular phase. The principle of cybernetics relating to requisite variety of particular forms could merit generalization to include recognition of their requisite instability in dynamic systems terms.

This understanding is consistent with arguments for resilience and the adaptive cycle (Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization, 2006; Judith Rodin, The Resilience Dividend: managing disruption, avoiding diaster, and growing stronger in an unpredictable world, 2015).

Designing "on the fly": A further consideration lies in recognition that in time of crisis a singular shape cannot be fruitfully designed in abstraction. In a sense it is partly engendered by the dynamics of the crisis and the responses to it. Mixing metaphors, the challenge is to enable the new by designing "on the fly". A remarkable example of this is provided by the science fiction account of engendering a space-time ship whose stability required that it be piloted during the process, with the aid of advanced game-playing techniques (M. A. Foster, The Gameplayers of Zan, 1977).

Global challenge of dynamics toroidally framed: The interaction between global and toroidal forms is remarkably illustrated by the following animation. An innovative response to the "global" challenge can then be seen as severely inhibited by preoccupation with a particular spherical phase in that cycle -- typically understood in static terms.

Torus-Sphere Transformation
Reproduced from Wikipedia; made by User:Kieff

Engaging with any Global Challenge

A major difficulty for the selection process is that everyone who has thought about the matter has insights on how to "fix the world". All claim that they are not appropriately heard and that their proposals are blocked in a variety of ways -- a systemic condition worth studying in its own right. More provocative is the paradoxical sense in which all problems would supposedly be resolved if everyone were to accept the value of everyone else's proposal. Really?

As implied by the above-mentioned reluctance to assess the many efforts to articulate and respond to global challenges, this factor merits being borne in mind with respect to the Global Challenges Prize in quest of "A New Shape". But who would bother to do so, and why? For many the focus could simply be on producing a credible response for those selecting the prize winner.

Focus was given to the climate change issue through the documentary film by Al Gore titled An Inconvenient Truth (2006). The more fundamental question with respect to the global challenge (of the global challenge) is whether there are other inconvenient truths to which collective groupthink avoids according attention, as argued separately (An Inconvenient Truth -- about any inconvenient truth, 2008; Possibility of other shocking challenges to groupthink? 2016).

Cynicism aside, there are additional learnings from the manner in which winners of any "design" competition are selected, as illustrated by the dynamics associated with:

Some of these could be understood as a quest for a "new shape" -- understood as a new look, a new sound, or a new trend, replacing those of the past perceived as "outmoded". Entrants are encouraged to focus on: designing a decision-making structure or framework that could galvanize effective international action to tackle these risks.  The proposed model may encompass an entirely new global framework or a proposed reform for existing systems

With respect to the Global Challenges Prize 2017, such considerations give focus to questions such as:


Stafford Beer:

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Yehzkel Dror:

Barbara Ehrenreich:

John Elkington. The Chrysalis Economy: How citizen CEOs and corporations can fuse values and value creation. John Wiley and Sons, 2001 [contents]

R. Buckminster Fuller (in collaboration with E. J. Applewhite):

Johan Galtung:

Charles Handy:

Thomas Homer-Dixon. The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization. Island Press, 2006

Alexander Klose. The Container Principle: how a box changes the way we think. MIT Press, 2015

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson:

Donald N. Michael. Learning to Plan and Planning to Learn. Miles River Press, 1997

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Merchants of Doubt: how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. Bloomsbury Press, 2010

Paul Ormerod. Why Most Things Fail: evolution, extinction and economics. Wiley, 2005 [extracts].

Geoffrey Allen Pigman. The World Economic Forum: a multi-stakeholder approach to global governance. Routledge, 2007

Joshua Cooper Ramo. The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It. Little, Brown and Company, 2009

Jorgen Randers. 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. Chelsea Green, 2012 [review]

Johan Rockström, et al. Big World, Small Planet: Abundance within Planetary Boundaries. Yale University Press, 2015

Johan Rockström, et al. Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Ecology and Society, 14, 2009, 2

Judith Rodin. The Resilience Dividend: managing disruption, avoiding diaster, and growing stronger in an unpredictable world. Profile, 2015

David J. Rothkopf. Superclass: the global power elite and the world they are making. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008

John Ralston Saul. The Unconscious Civilization. Free Press, 1995

Jai Sen and Peter Waterman (Eds.). World Social Forum: Challenging Empires. Black Rose Books, 2007 [summary]

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

René Thom:

Geoffrey Vickers. Freedom in a Rocking Boat: changing values in an unstable society. 1972

Peter Waterman. World Social Forum: the secret of fire. 2003 [text]

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