Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
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20th February 2010 | Draft

Interweaving Thematic Threads and Learning Pathways

Noonautics, Magic carpets and Wizdomes

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Introduction
Challenge of the semantic web
Levels of thematic organization (linear)
-- Level  1: Single bullet point
-- Level  2: Set of bullet points
-- Level  3: Single thematic thread
-- Level  4: Extended thematic thread
-- Level  5: Parallel discussion threads in a menu
Levels of thematic organization (woven)
-- Level  6: Twisted-strand discussion thread
-- Level  7: Braided discussion threads
-- Level  8: Threads interwoven in a matrix weave
-- Level  9: Modern, non-linear weaves
-- Level 10: Lace and carpet weaves
-- Level 11: Three-dimensional weaves: basket weaves and fishing traps
-- Level 12: Paradoxical weaves: Mobius strip, Klein bottle, etc
Noonautics: enabling 'vehicle movement' through cognitive entanglement
Magic carpets as psychoactive system diagrams (Annex)
Cognitive globalization through wrap-around cages
Conclusion
References

An abridged version of this article appeared as Interweaving Thematic Threads and Learning Pathways: Noonautics and Wizdomes,
Futures, 44, 2012, pp. 81-90 (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2011.08.010)


Introduction

Much is made of the ongoing explosion of communication intrinsic to sustaining a global society. Much less evident is whether this communication is in fact adequate to the challenges highlighted by Jared M. Diamond (Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005), Paul Ormerod (Why Most Things Fail: evolution, extinction and economics, 2005) or Thomas Homer-Dixon (The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization, 2006). The argument of the latter with regard to the energy needs of (imperial) society might well be extended to include the movement of information in a (global) knowledge society.

Related concerns are indicated by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007) and Karen A. Cerulo (Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning the worst, 2006) with respect to the uptake of that knowledge in relation to potential crises. Other authors have expressed concerns about the capacity to take account of such issues (Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason, 1990; John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization, 1995). More problematic is the possibility that society's increasing incapacity to process information in response to governance needs signals a looming 'singularity', as might suggest the proposed adaptation of Homer-Dixon's argument (Emerging Memetic Singularity in the Global Knowledge Society, 2009).

The concern here is to address the challenge of how information is organized -- together with knowledge and wisdom -- especially in a web environment and beyond the declared ambitions of the Semantic Web. The approach takes account of the metaphors used, notably the 'bullet points' of presentations and the 'threads' of discourse on the web. Thread as a metaphor is of significance beyond the web and this informs discussion about the use of thread on the web. It is notably of significance in literature and psychotherapy in the understanding of connective 'threads of meaning' and how they may be interwoven in a semantic structure.

In a period in which humanity is much challenged by a labyrinthine 'crisis of crises', it is also appropriate to recall the legendary guiding Thread of Ariadne -- whilst asking whether it is how multiple threads are now to be employed rather than a single thread (Uncritical Strategic Dependence on Little-known Metrics, 2009). The continuing importance of myth, as stressed by many authors (Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth, 2005). Given the many myths associated with weaving, it is appropriate to recognize the extent to which skills in weaving together threads of meaning may continue to borrow from cultural traditions and collective memory. Gandhi is noteworthy for cultivating this myth in practice.

The basic question is how disparate 'threads' themselves are organized together -- beyond the use of 'menus', however deeply they are 'nested'. Using the 'thread' metaphor, the particular concern is with how colour-coded threads might be 'woven' together -- beyond their presentation in matrix form. Using the 'weaving' metaphor, the question is whether threads may be woven into designs -- as is done with cloth, tapestry and carpets. In considering design possibilities, the concern is then with weaves that allow for nonlinear elements to the design, notably as in lace and in contemporary weaves. Networks may be understood as examples of interwoven threads. Systems diagrams might be described as planar weaves.

The above exploration opens the possibility of considering non-planar weaves -- typically essential for certain forms of clothing -- and their potential cognitive significance as protection from the 'elements'. This is notably evident in the creation of containers through basket weaving. The 'basket' metaphor has, for example, been fundamental to some intergovernmental negotiations -- as with the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Accords, 1975) which revolved around four 'baskets' of issues. Basket weaves are also vital in trap construction.

The ultimate concern here is associated with the cognitive and mnemonic significance that may be attached to woven designs -- especially as is evident in the traditional designs of carpets in the Middle East. The question is how the design as a whole constitutes an enabling 'vehicle' and what kinds of 'transportation' are thereby enabled -- as with traditional allusions to a 'magic carpet'. What is the transformative 'magic' of such a carpet? This is explored in an extensive Annex on Magic Carpets as Psychoactive System Diagrams.

Beyond the carpet metaphor, what other kinds of cognitive container can be constructed by appropriately weaving threads -- as do members of various species in constructing cocoons or nests (as with silk worms, spiders, and birds)? These are of particular relevance in the light of contemporary use of cocooning, nest and web as metaphors of increasing significance to individual and collective lifestyles. What might spiders or birds be said to 'know' in engaging in such behavior? To what extent do humans tend to content themselves with thread organization of lower dimensionality in their discourse -- inappropriate to the challenges of the times? This might be especially ironic given that the 'World Wide Web' could be said to be based on a weaving metaphor.

Individuals engage in an ever increasing multiplicity of thematic threads of discourse and preoccupation. In a context of information overload, the question is whether these can be more meaningfully interwoven to carry higher orders of significance. Are there implicit patterns to be detected or elicited?

The context for this exploration is partially evident from various earlier endeavours (The Future of Comprehension: conceptual birdcages and functional basket-weaving, 1980; Functional Classification in an Integrative Matrix of Human Preoccupations, 1982; Spherical Configuration of Categories to Reflect Systemic Patterns of Environmental Checks and Balances, 1994; From Information Highways to Songlines of the Noosphere Global: configuration of hypertext pathways as a prerequisite for meaningful collective transformation, 1996; Towards a Web Framework for Synthesis in Dialogue: insight capture from the flow of conference interventions, 1996; Global Self-Organization: the systemic structural challenge of the exchange of meaning, 1997; Geometry of Thinking for Sustainable Global Governance, 2009). Other documents are mentioned below where they are specifically relevant.

Challenge of the semantic web

Threaded discussion groups, and designing an appropriate context for them, are central to preoccupations regarding the emerging Semantic Web. An enabling family of meta-data specifications has been developed for the latter by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), namely the Resource Description Framework (RDF). This includes SIOC (Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities), designed to describe online communities and to create connections between Internet-based discussions from message boards, weblogs and mailing lists.

The concern explored here is however appropriately introduced by a MIT Media Lab description of its Media Fabrics Experiment:

Human society is thoroughly immersed in a vast network of communicated information, consisting of media artifacts and procedural structures. Our technologies have become mobile, our story-making fragmentary, our impressions of meaning dynamic. How can we benefit from these changes, while navigating and engaging with these novel aspects of the modern life? Media Fabrics research focuses on a new paradigm: a semi-intelligent organism where lines of communication, threads of meaning, chains of causality, and streams of consciousness converge and intertwine to form a rich tapestry of creative story potentials, meaningful real-time dialogues, social interactions, and personal or communal art and story-making. The media fabric paradigm shapes how we see media construction, exchange, performance, and reflection. It is characterized by six critical attributes: it is connected, integral to our everyday lives, improvisational, mindful, synergistic, and open to self-reflection. As information manipulation becomes something more complex and more personal - as if in 'conversation with an audience' - participants dynamically transcend their roles as creators, editors, and audience, continuously weaving and navigating original paths within the media fabric. [emphasis added]

Glorianna Davenport, et al. (Media Fabric: a process-oriented approach to media creation and exchange, BT Technology Journal, 2004) provide further information.

Weaving together threads of meaning -- as implicit in the challenging possibilities of the Semantic Web -- might be fruitfully informed by the possibilities relating to hair care and hair styling. Hair plaiting (or braiding) may offer the most archetypal weaving patterns and is deeply imbued with meaning in many cultures. It is a primary form of social communication.

Ironically the web, especially the blogosphere and social networking, is recognized as an environment in which people can 'let their hair down'. Whilst admirable, the metaphor does highlight the question of 'hair care' and 'styling' under other circumstances and for other purposes. Inspired by that metaphor and its mythical associations, might threads of meaning be 'braided', 'dyed', 'decorated', 'cut', 'styled', 'extended' or 'removed'? Would that require 'hair stylists', possibly taking the form of intelligent agents in a Semantic Web context? And what care is required for the 'roots' of a threaded discussion -- and what to do about 'frayed ends'?

Perhaps of greatest implication, given the resources devoted to hair care, is the 'styling' of interwoven threads of meaning as an expression of identity. A 'hair style' is a unit of meaning of a far higher order than that of the individual hairs that compose it. On the other hand, the extent to which 'hair' is 'let down' on the web is suggestive of increasingly 'hirsute' cybernauts. What does that imply for the threads of meaning they engender? What of cognitive 'hair loss' and the 'bald'? Are current proposals to constrain or censor the blogosphere to be understood as a form of 'depilation'? For those 'hair challenged' in any way, is 'spin' to be understood as a process of providing them with a cognitive 'hair piece' or 'wig' -- pre-imbued with meaning?

In this vein the potentials of the Semantic Web -- as explored here in terms of 'noonautics', 'magic carpets' and 'wizdomes' -- are necessarily 'hair raising'.

Levels of thematic organization (Linear)

The 'levels' which follow endeavour to distinguish the manner in which meaning is organized, is carried by threads, and may then be woven into more complex patterns:

Levels of thematic organization (Woven)

The set of 'bullet points' above, as a Level 2 presentation, have each been partially extended into a 'thread' (Levels 3 and 4). These threads could be presented in tabular form (Level 5) or interwoven as a matrix (Level 7). Presumably the interweaving themes could be mapped (Level 8). An effort might be made to represent higher degrees of order (Levels 9-11).

It might be fruitful to reframe such a succession of 'levels' of threaded discourse(s) of increasing complexity -- reminiscent of a Jacob's Ladder -- with a pattern recognizing their complementarity as modes of dialogue, as presented previously (Typology of 12 complementary dialogue modes essential to sustainable dialogue, 1998). This points to the possibility of elaborating a topological theory of threaded discourse from which the above levels would emerge as instances -- with many others possibly to be distinguished. For example, the All Fiber Arts website provides Information and links about the relationship between mathematical theory, patterns, design, computers, textiles and weaving, notably linking to a number of applets.

Clearly the quiestion is how to enable any mode, given the constraints of group processes and the problematic consequnces of efforts to 'run' dialogue of any kind. In the case of braided discourse, for example, one approach (perhaps within the Media Fabrics Experiment) would be to use algorithms and intelligent agents to 'braid' (or 'weave') distinct threaded discourses together -- perhaps subsequently.

Of related interest is how (collective) identity might then be variously associated with the levels or modes. Recent work of Christopher Alexander also offers indications (Harmony-Seeking Computations: a science of non-classical dynamics based on the progressive evolution of the larger whole. IJUC for Publication). Such a context might prove vital for determing the appropriate 'level' at which more sustainable forms of agreement could be reached -- possibly isomorphic with the systemic organization of the content and the communication pathways required for sustainable institutionalization (as in the case of climate change).

Noonautics: enabling 'vehicle movement' through cognitive entanglement

Most of the levels identified above are primarily concerned with description and depiction. It is only in the later levels that the possibility of a higher degree of functionality becomes evident. Since the focus of much discussion, notably in the form of threaded discussion, is on change and how to enable it, the question is what enables psychosocial 'movement'. A 'movement of opinion' might indeed be well contained in a single threaded discussion, but the challenge is the nature of the 'traction' that a threaded discussion enables. The argument here is that such traction minimally requires the interweaving of several distinct threaded discussions -- respecting the cybernetics of requisite variety. Arguably, following R. Buckminster Fuller (Synergetics: explorations in the geometry of thinking, 1975), a minimum of three such threads -- interlocking as great circle pathways -- is required to constitute a sustainable system in a third dimension (Spherical Configuration of Interlocking Roundtables: internet enhancement of global self-organization through patterns of dialogue, 1998; Geometry of Thinking for Sustainable Global Governance: cognitive Implication of synergetics, 2009).

Much may indeed be achieved by 'embodiment' as argued by various authors (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh : the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought, 1999; Francisco Varela, F. E. Thompson, and E. Rosch, The Embodied Mind: cognitive science and human experience, 1991). The question is how a configuration of threaded discussions can be embodied into a 'vehicle', and how the emergent significance of such embodiment is to be understood and communicated. It might be argued that many of the 'models' for psychosocial change, as promoted by a variety of authors, are in effect proto-vehicles -- perhaps the cognitive equivalent to horse-and-cart technology and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965) -- much as they are to be admired.

More however is required for such an embodied 'cognitive vehicle' to be empowered and to engender movement. This additional factor may well be associated with the paradoxes and cognitive entanglement to which reference is made at Level 8 (above). The nature of such cognitive entanglement is discussed more extensively elsewhere with respect to the relation between lifestyle diseases of the individual and planetary ills (Cognitive Implications of Lifestyle Diseases of Rich and Poor: transforming personal entanglement with the natural environment, 2010). This highlights the participatory nature of cognition in the environment, as noted by a range of authors including (Henryk Skolimowski, The Participatory Mind: a new theory of knowledge and of the universe. 1995; Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature; a necessary unity, 1979). Access to this engtangled participation, it is argued, is primarily available through metaphor (Metaphors as Transdisciplinary Vehicles of the Future, 1991).

As previously argued (Noonautics: Four modes of travelling and navigating the knowledge 'universe'? 2006):

Understanding metaphors as cognitive devices offering a means of travel across the vastness of the knowledge universe stresses the different nature of the logic experienced in the moment of creating or being exposed to a metaphor. The distortion of knowledge space by such a devices has similarities to the bending of the space of astrophysicists as seen to be necessary for any form of hyperdimensional travel. Metaphor combines the technology of cognitive 'vehicle' and a 'wormhole' in a manner that justifies the term 'songline'.

The different logic of a metaphor enables 'easy travel for all' in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the London Transport advertising invitation to 'Hop on a Bus'. Curiously the travel association is echoed in the more traditional theory of 'correspondences'. This term is of considerable significance to travel between the well-mapped pathways of the Paris Metro system. It may be related to the middle eastern travel metaphor of 'magic carpets' -- in which the map of the knowledge universe is effectively woven into the carpet design. Within this metaphor the challenge of empowering the carpet is dependent on (the user) weaving the pattern appropriately to constitute a vehicle.

Magic carpets as psychoactive system diagrams (Annex)

The Annex contrasts conventional system diagrams with what might be associated with 'magic carpets' and the challenging of weaving 'magic' into a carpet in order to move 'hearts and minds' -- in ways strategic plans seem unable to do. The sections of the Annex are:

Reference is notably made to the work on pattern language of Christopher Alexander as subsequently expressed with respect to carpets (A Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art: the color and geometry of very early Turkish carpets, 1993) and through the explicit incorporation of aesthetics into appreciation of order (The Nature of Order, 2003-4). The commitment to aesthetics is contrasted with the use of system diagrams by the military -- despite their remarkable exploitation of Alexander's methodology.

Cognitive globalization through wrap-around cages

The Annex on magic carpets explores cognitive access to high dimensionality through a 2-dimensional frame of reference -- and the traces thereafter imprinted in the 'carpet' as a guide to future travel. The symmetry of such higher dimensionality is best understood as 'global' in various respects. Curiously some myths relating to any such travel concern return with a golden cage, presumably reflecting that symmetry to some degree. This provided an early inspiration for consideration of the possible cognitive implications of 'cages' and their construction (The Future of Comprehension: conceptual birdcages and functional basket-weaving, 1980).

The concern here is with how any such globality can be woven into tangible and virtual structures -- presumably aided by future evolution of the Semantic Web. An early example, emphasizing mnemotechnics, is that of the memory theatre (or memory palace). Religious temples, notably mosques, may be constructed to serve a related purpose, as with a planetarium. The latter now offer many facilities variously to 'connect the dots' such as to form identifiable constellations. at different times in the history of the solar system. An impressive new variant is the AlloSphere -- a research facility in a theatre-like pavilion in a spherical shape, of opaque material, used to project computer-generated imagery and sounds.

Following R. Buckminster Fuller, there is the possibility of constructing spherical domes, associating cognitive significance associated with its elements. Such spherical construction can also be achieved virtually with far greater flexibility, enabling a new 'polyhedral' approach to the organization of values, strategies and institutions (Towards Polyhedral Global Governance: complexifying oversimplistic strategic metaphors, 2008; Polyhedral Pattern Language: software facilitation of emergence, representation and transformation of psycho-social organization, 2008; In Quest of a Strategic Pattern Language: a new architecture of values, 2008). Of special relevance is the robustness of networks achieved by ensuring higher degrees of symmetry -- worthy of consideration with regard to the interweaving of threaded discourses (Polyhedral Empowerment of Networks through Symmetry: psycho-social implications for organization and global governance, 2008).

An effort was made to apply this approach to the configuration of the strategic issues of the 1992 Earth Summit (Configuring Strategic Dilemmas in Intersectoral Dialogue, 1992) using tensegrity structures of the kind indicated below -- effectively a weave in three dimensions..

Indication of threaded discussions interwoven as a tensegrity
in a spherical configuration with tension ensured by polarizing elements
Threaded discussions interwoven as a spherical tensegrity

The configuration of such cognitive 'golden cages' of threaded discourse raises the question of how access to wisdom is to be facilitated and enhanced in a Semantic Web environment. Some possibilities were explored in Transforming Static Websites into Mobile 'Wizdomes': enabling change through intertwining dynamic and configurative metaphors (2007), organized into the following sections:

Conclusion

What does this argument imply for "education about futures" ("futures education") and the "future of education"? Applying the structure of the argument to themes which might be variously developed about these matters, it suggests ways of exploring emergence of comprehension of that question within society, but specifically for any individual. This is especially relevant to the extent that it is recognized that society will be much constrained in the future to "deliver" education corresponding to the exploding universe of knowledge -- particularly given the constraints on attention span, memorability and the integration of a diversity of insight. This is of importance if the need is increasingly for cognitive toolkits for survival and thrival -- whether for the young, the elderly, or the planet.

The adequacy to these challenges of the simplest level of "bullet points" is readily brought into question, especially if the points reflect alternative perspectives calling for integration. It has become extraordinary the extent to which access to knowledge is now effectively ordered by playlists and nested menus.

What then is "integration" and how does it inform education, given its Latins origin in "e-ducere" means to "pull out" or "to lead forth"? The structure of levels offers progressively richer ways of comprehending both "what" is pulled out, "who" is doing the pulling and "by whom" this process is lead. As a process in time this implies an emerging comprehension of the meaning of "future" for the individual and the manner in which the future is engendered -- "laying down a path in walking". It is in this sense that it is the configuration of such learning pathways that maps the future thereby engendered. It is the poly-sensorial nature of the latter process which challenges the currently widespread tendency to "envision" the future solely in a uni-sensorial mode -- a challenge reflected in multimedia engagement currently "leading" education and framing the future.

Commentary on information overload and the internet from a historical perspective,
with reference to knitting and darning
A clear thread has to be teased from the mass of available evidence, to focus, direct and ultimately give meaning to what has been assembled for analysis. Daring to discard is as crucial as safe-guarding, for effective knowledge management and transmission today. (Lisa Jardine, BBC News, 6 January 2012)

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