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February 1976

World Problems and Human Potential

Significance and preliminary results of the World Problems Project

- / -


Published in International Associations, 28, 1976, 2, pp. 102-108. An earlier report appearwed as World Problems and Human Potential a data interlinkage and display process (1975). (For the current situation with regard to this project, and the status of tbe Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, see: http://www.un-intelligible.org/projects/homeency.php).

Intent

Recognizing the considerable difficulties at this time of :

The objectives of this project are :

  1. Identify information items and series which help to clari- fy the nature of
    1. all perceived world problems, both individually and as a complex of interlinked networks,
    2. the different kinds of intellectual, organizational and other resources which can be brought to bear on such problems, both individually and as a totality,
    3. the values in the light of which the problems are perceived and any action is initiated, and
    4. the concepts and processes of human development considered to be the ultimate justification of any human action and which, as such, both generate world problems and are frustrated by them.
  2. Establish a framework for such items of information concerning the world social system (particularly those conventionally perceived as being incommensurable or essentialy unrelated), in such a way as to permit new items to be registered, if or when they are recognized, together with any relationships between such items.
  3. Demonstrate the consequences of tolerating a larger number of information items in a series than is con- ventionally favoured without regrouping (e.g. 100 to 5,000 items rather than 1 to 50). (See also Appendix 3).
  4. Collect and process sufficient information in each of the different information series to demonstrate the na- ture of this approach and to determine its viability.
  5. Initiate a process to obtain further information and update the collected information by periodically providing a product which can be widely distributed to those prov- iding and using such information, constructively criti- cized, and used to improve the organized response to world problems. The design and utility of the product, as a vehicle for the information contained, should be such as to ensure that by its sale it could ensure the financial viability and independence of the project as a continuing exercise.
  6. Experiment with different forms of collaboration between organizations interested in developing particular features of the project or in improving the process by which new perceptions are identified and incorporated.
  7. Demonstrate the extent of the interrelatedness of the items of information included and the importance of the possibility of analyzing such information as inter- linked networks rather than as isolated items.
  8. Experiment with different methods of processing and displaying the information on complex interlinked net- works in order to facilitate their comprehension and an understanding of their mutual significance.
  9. Experiment with different methods of classifying and regrouping the items registered, whilst at the same time ensuring a relationship to existing systems of classification, where such exist.
  10. Establish a flexible computer-based system to facilitate the achievement of the above objectives (including the periodic preparation of a saleable product).
  11. Determine the nature and quality
    1. of the product which can be produced in fulfillment of these objectives and in the light of the above-mentioned constraints on any such project at this time, and
    2. of the process which can be initiated to eliminate defects progressivily, despite such constraints.
  12. Determine the extent to which such a process could help to constitute a stabilizing element in the shifting world of images concerning world problems, resources of various kinds, and their interrelationships.

Significance

The significance of the Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential as a whole can best be briefly illustrated by the following quotations which, taken together, indicate the importance of exploring the kind of approach attempted here.

U. Thant, Secretary-General of the United Nations on the occasion of United Nations Day, 1970

It is unforgivable that so many problems from the past are still with us, absorbing vast energies and resources desperately needed for nobler purposes : a horrid and futile armaments race instead of world development; remnants of colonialism, racism and violations of human rights instead of freedom and brotherhood; dreams of power and domination instead of fraternal coexistence; exclusion of great human communities from world co-operation instead of universality; extension of ideological domains instead of mu- tual enrichment in the art of governing men to make the world safe for diversity; local conflicts instead of neighbourly co-operation.

While these antiquated concepts and attitudes persist, the rapid pace of change around us breeds new problems which cry for the world's collective attention and care : the increasing discrepancy between rich and poor nations; the scientific and technological gap; the population explosion; the deterioration of the environment; the urban proliferation : the drug problem; the alienation of youth; the excessive consumption of resources by insatiable societies and institutions. The survival of a civilized and humane society seems to be at stake.

The world is bursting out of its narrow political vestments. The behaviour of many nations is certainly inadequate to meet the new challenges of our small and rapidly changing planet. International co-operation is lagging considerably.

Bellagio Declaration on Planning, 1968

Many of the most serious conflicts facing mankind result from the interaction of social, economic, technological, political and psychological forces and can no longer be solved by fractional approaches from individual disciplines. Complexity and the large scale of problems are forcing decisions to be made at levels where individual participa- tion of those affected is increasingly remote, producing a crisis in political and social development which threatens our whole future.

John R. Platt. What we must do. Science, 1969

What finally makes all of our crises still more dangerous is that they are now coming on top of each other. Most administrations... are not prepared to deal with... multiple crises, a crisis of crises all at one time... Every problem may escalate because those involved no longer have time to think straight.

Arnold Toynbee, Aspects of Psycho-history. Main Currents in Modem Thought, 1972

Society is not a crowd or cluster or clump of human beings; it is a set of networks of relations between human beings. Every human being is linked with others in a num- ber of networks which are not mutually exclusive and are also not coextensive with each other.

Donald Schon. What can we know about social change ? BBC Listener, 1970

The map of organizations or agencies that make up the society is, as it were, a sort of clear overlay against a page underneath it which represents the reality of the society. And the overlay is always out of phase in relation to what's underneath : at any given time there's always a mis-match between the organisational map and the reality of problems that people think are worth solving... There's basically no social problem such that one can identify and control within a single system all the elements required in order to attack that problem. The result is that one is thrown back on the knitting together of elements in networks which are not controlled and where the network functions and the net- work roles become critical.

J. Krishnamurti. The Urgency of Change. 1971

When anything becomes a problem we are caught in the so lution of it. and then the problem becomes a cage, a barrier to further exploration and understanding.

R.L. Ackoff. Systems, organizations, and interdisciplinary research. General Systems, 1960

... how is a practitioner of any one discipline to know in a particular case if another discipline is better equipped to handle the problem than is his ? It would be rare indeed if a representative of any one of these disciplines did not feel that his approach to a particular organizational problem would be very fruitful, if not the most fruitful....

Editorial, Fortune, 1970

Because our strength is derived from the fragmented mode of our knowledge and our action, we are relatively helpless when we try to deal intelligently with such unities as a city, an estuary's ecology, or the "quality of life".

Helmut Arntz, President, international Federation for Documentation, 1975

Today, as we have seen, information is not primarily the triumphant standard of progress. It is the only means of maintaining sufficient control of evolution in order that humanity, strengthened by its knowledge and experiences and making appropriate use of all available information, can always maintain itself ahead of any threat which may lead to catastrophe.

McGeorge Bundy. Managing Knowledge to Save the En- vironment, US House of Representatives, 1970

The problem is that in most, if not all spheres of inquiry and choice, quantities of raw information overwhelm in magnitude the few comprehensive and trusted bodies or systems of knowledge that have been perceived and elaborated by man... Where, for example, does the novice urban mayor turn to comprehend the dynamic inter-relationships between transportation, employment, technology, pollution, private investment, and the public budget; between housing, nutrition, health, and individual motivation and drive ? Where does the concerned citizen or Congressman interested in educational change go for the best available understanding of the relationship between communi- cations, including new technology, and learning ?

P.F. Drucker. The Age of Discontinuity; guidelines to our changing society. 1968

The most probable assumption is that every single one of the old demarcations, disciplines, and faculties is going to become obsolete and a barrier to learning as well as to understanding. The fact that we are shifting from a Cartesian view of the universe, in which the accent has been on parts and elements, to a configuration view, with the emphasis on wholes and patterns, challenges every single dividing line between areas of study and knowledge.

Lewis Mumford. The Transformations of Man. 1956

The development of a world culture concerns mankind at large and each individual human-being. Every community and society, every association and organization, has a part to play in this transformation; and no domain of life will be unaffected by it. This effort grows naturally out of the crisis of our time : the need to redress the dangerous overdevelopment of technical organization and physical energies by social and moral agencies equally far-reaching and even more commanding. In that sense, the rise of world culture comes as a measure to secure human survival. But the process would lose no small part of its meaning were it not also an effort to bring forth a more complete kind of man than history has yet disclosed. That we need leadership and participation by unified personalities is clear; but the human transformation would remain desirable and valid, even if the need were not so imperative. The kind of person called for by the present situation is one capable of breaking through the boundaries of culture and history, which have so far limited human growth. A person not indelibly marked by the tattooings of his tribe or restricted by the taboos of his totem : not sewed up for life in the stiff clothes of his caste and calling or encased in vocational armor he cannot remove even when it endangers his life. A person not kept by his religious dietary restrictions from sharing spiritual food that other men have found nourishing; and finally, not prevented by his ideological spectacles from ever getting more than a glimpse of the world as it shows itself to men with other ideological spec- tacles, or as it discloses itself to those who may, with increasing fe frequency, be able without glasses to achieve normal vision.

The immediate object of world culture is to break through the premature closures, the corrosive conflicts, and the cyclical frustrations of history. This breakthrough would enable modern man to take advantage, of the peculiar cir- cumstances today that favor a universalism that earlier periods could only dream about.

Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

...that since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed... a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sin- cere support of the peoples of the world....

Lewis Mumford. The Transformations of Man. 1956

The relations between world culture and the unified self are reciprocal. The very possibility of achieving a world order by other means than totalitarian enslavement and automatism rests on the plentiful creation of unified personalities, at home with every part of themselves, and so equally at home with the whole family of man, in all its magnificent diversity... Without fostering such self-knowledge, balance, and creativity, a world culture might easily become a compulsive nightmare.

Lancelot Law Whyte. The Next Development in Man. 1950

...the penalty for any principle which fails to express the whole is the necessity to co-exist with its opposite.

René Maheu, former Director-General of Unesco. Address to a symposium on science and synthesis, 1967

...in face of the growing specialization of thought and action brought about by diversification in research and the division of labour, Unesco has a duty to promote interdisciplinary activities and contacts and to encourage broad views, in short, to emphasize the vital importance of the spirit of synthesis for the health of our civilization. I say vital advisedly since man -- and I mean his essence, which is to say his judgement and his freedom of choice -- is just as likely to be smothered by his knowledge as paralysed by the lack of it. Similarly, he is quite as likely to lose his identity in the confusion of competing social pres- sures as to atrophy in the condition known as under-developed.

Georges Gusdorf. Interdisciplinaire (connaissance). In: Encyclopedia Universalis

Interdisciplinary knowledge can only develop through interdisciplinary education; it is a question of facilitating the emergence of a new form of knowledge... Whilst opera- ting according to the norms of his specific dimension, the researcher must be able to encompass a mental space vaster than the epistemological cell within which his rese- arch runs the risk of confining him... The new understan- ding must be based on an affirmation of the functional unity of the human being as a focal point for all research intentions in the different domains of knowledge... This new understanding must be embodied in a new pedagogy, oriented to compensating for the deficiencies of speciali- zation by stressing the solidary unity of all domains of knowledge

Lawrence S. Kubie. The nature of psychological change and its relation to cultural change. In: Ben Rothblatt (Ed.), Changing perspectives on Man. 1968

The fact which confronts us is that cultural change is limited by the restrictions imposed on change in individual human nature by concealed neurotic processes. At the same time there is continuous cybernetic interplay between culture and the individual, i.e. between the intra-psychic processes which make for fluidity or rigidity within the in- dividual and the external processes which make for fluidity or rigidity in a culture. It would be naive to expect political and ideological liberty to give internal liberty to the indivi- dual citizen unless he had already won freedom from the internal tyranny of his own neurotic mechanisms... There- fore, insofar as man himself is neurotogenically restricted, he will restrict the freedom to change of the society in which he lives. This interplay is sometimes clearly evident, sometimes subtly concealed; but it is the heart of the solution of the problem of human progress .

Lewis Mumford. The Transformations of Man. 1956

Post-historic man, the wholly subservient creature of the machine, dismally adapted to the pseudo-life of its mecha- nical collectives, is a theoretic possibility, not a historic probability. For the conflicts between the overrational and the irrational, between the mechanized institutions and atavistic men, are too great to promise more than an in- creasingly erratic oscillation, ending in a final breakdown... An apocalyptic termination of all human development has become possible in our day... Man's principal task today is to create a new self, adequate to command the forces that now operate so aimlessly and yet so compulsi- vely. This self will necessarily take as its province the entire world, known and knowable, and will seek, not to impose a mechanical uniformity, but to bring about an or- ganic unity, based upon the fullest utilization of all the varied resources that both nature and history have revealed to modern man. Such a culture must be nourished, not only; by a new vision of the whole, but a new vision of a self. capable of understanding and co-operating with the whole. In short, the moment for another great historic transforma- tion has come. If we shrink from that effort we tacitly elect the post-historic substitute.

The political unification of mankind cannot be realistically conceived except as part of this effort at self-transformation -- without that aim we might produce uneasy balances of power with a temporary easing of tensions, but no fullness of development.

Center for the Study at Social Policy of the Stanford Research Institute. Changing Images of Man. 1974

We can either involve ourselves in the recreative self and societal discovery of an image of humankind appropriate for our future, with attendant societal and personal consequences, or we can choose not to make any choice and, instead, adapt to whatever fate, and the choices of others, bring along.

Summary

In summary, it seems appropriate to attempt to bring together and interrelate within one framework information on : the problems with which humanity perceives itself to be faced; the organizational, human, and intellectual resources it believes it has at its disposal; the values by which it is believed any change should be guided; and the concepts of human development considered to be either the means or the end of any such social transformation. Problems, organizations, concepts and human development are usually considered as though they were unrelated. But it is necessary to have a progressively more integrated conceptual structure in society before the interrelationships between the newer problems can be perceived. Both are needed before an attempt can be made to interrelate organizational units to handle the interlinked problems. Individual ability to tolerate and comprehend the complexity and dynamism of these interrelationships is directly related to the individuals' own degree of personal development. Furthermore, a general increased integration in any of these four domains will tend to increase integration in the other three. Equally, progressive fragmentation in any of the domains will provoke disintegrative tendencies in the others.

Even if the constraints make it impossible to achieve a satisfactory result through this particular exercise, it is to be hoped that through the process outlined here it will be possible to learn more about how information from very diverse sources can be concentrated and structured to the critical level required to provide the kind of integrative overview necessary for all to develop a sufficiently complex and strategically sound response to the world problems complex as it is now emerging.

Preliminary results

Further comments on the results will emerge from discussion with interested bodies and individuals. The Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential is designed, in part, as a working document to facilitate this process. Fu- ture editions may incorporate more detailed comments on the results as well as appropriate modifications in response to constructive criticism.

Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential: Databases and Items Profiled
Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential: Databases and Items Profiled
Quantitative Summary of Information in Yearbook of world Problems and Human Potential
(Totals are for relationship pairs, not for cross-references)
. A C D E H J K M P Q S T V Total

ENTRIES

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

-- incorporated

3300 241 1845 132 228 428 421 606 2653 77 1197 931 704 12763

-- cross-referenced only

--

--

--

--

--

311

--

--

4791

698

--

--

--

5800

TOTAL

3300 241 1845 132 228 739 421 606 7444 775 1197 931 704 18563

INTRA-SERIES RELATIONSHIPS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Hierarchical

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

-- contextual

625

235

1417

157

.

243

. .

5013

--

. . . .

-- component

752

235

1417

157

.

535

. .

6612

698

. . . .

-- associated

790

--

983

--

.

--

. .

554

--

. . . .

Functional

881

_

_

_

.

_

. .

6408

_

. . . .

TOTAL INTRA-SERIES (*):

(2423)

(235)

(2400)

(157)

.

(535)

. .

(13574)

(698)

. . .

(20022)

INTER-SERIES RELATIONSHIPS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A International agencies and associations

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

C Traded products and commodities

203

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

D Intellectual disciplines and sciences

478

--

. . . . . . . . . . . .

E Economic and industrial sectors

109

516

--

. . . . . . . . . . .

H Human development concepts

22

--

22

--

. . . . . . . . . .

J Occupations and jobs

1284

--

572

89

--

. . . . . . . . .

K Integrative and transdisciplinary concepts

48

--

54

--

7

--

. . . . . . . .

M Multinational corporations

--

480

--

--

--

--

--

. . . . . . .

P World problems

1036

122

1282

39

--

--

--

--

. . . . . .

Q Human diseases

91

_

--

--

--

--

--

--

197

. . . . .

S International periodicals and serials

193

--

1440

--

--

--

--

--

151.

--

. . . .

T Multilateral treaties and agreements

536

27

--

13

--

46

--

--

227

--

--

. . .

V Human values

614

_

_

_

37

_

47

_

353

--

--

83

. .

TOTAL INTER-SERIES C) :

4614

1348

3848

766

88

1991

156

480

3407

288

1784

932

1134

(10433)

TOTAL RELATIONSHIPS C) :

(7037)

(1583]

(6248)

(923)

88

(2526)

156

480

(16981)

(986)

1784

932

1134

(30455)

Interesting questions

Interesting questions that emerged during the course of work on this project include :

  1. How can networks of relationships be analyzed systematically as networks to determine what are the most important focal points for action, and what different meanings could then be attached to "importance" ?

  2. How can comprehension of complexity be improved without artificially forcing relationships into (definitive) hierarchical groupings, thus doing violence to any inter-hierarchical linkages ?

  3. Might it not be useful to investigate the result of using the mathematical technique to convert relationships between points into points in a network ? Useful insights may then emerge from being able to switch between the perception of problems as linked in a nework of relationships and the perception of problems as relationships which intersect at certain points.

  4. Given that the number, variety and relationships of human diseases, and the nature of their effects on the individual are now well understood, do they not suggest ways for organizing thought about the range and variety of psycho- social problems and their impact on the psycho-social system ?

  5. Is it as ecologically inappropriate to ask the question: "What are the five most important problems (organizations, etc) in the social system" as it is to ask the question "What are the five most important animals (plants, etc.) in the natural environment"?

  6. Can the relationships between problems for between organizations) be usefully conceived as analogous to the food chains and trophic levels within which animals are embedded ? Does this help to suggest why different kinds of problems emerge as being of major importance at different times ? How might the evolution of problems and problem systems be conceived in this light ?

  7. From what is the stability of a "problem ecosystem" (as it might emerge from the previous point) derived ? Is it useful to distinguish between degrees of (negative) maturity of problem ecosystems and to attempt to determine the amount of energy required to maintain them ? Is anything suggested for better understanding of problem systems by the (act that a highly diversified ecosystem has the capacity for carrying a high amount of organization and information and requires relatively little energy to maintain it, whereas, conver- sely, the lower the maturity of the system, the less the energy required to disrupt it (as emphasized by R. Margalef) ? Thus anything that keeps an ecosystem oscillating (or"spastic"), retains it in a state of low maturity, whence the possible danger of simplis- tic reorganization of organizational, conceptual or value systems. Is the problem of understanding and organizing the maturation of natural ecosystems of a similar form to that of understanding and organizing the disruption of problem ecosystems?

  8. Given the absence of sufficient comparable information to produce sensitive, widely acceptable, quantitative world models covering all aspects of the psycho-social system, to what ex- tent can increasing the number and variety of non-quantitative relationships and entities documented lead to valuable insights of greater acceptability ? In other words, to what extent can knowing less about more (and organizing that knowledge) compensate for not being able to know more about less ? Can any relationships be established between the amount of information, the type (quantitative, structured or unstructured, qualitative), the manner of representation, and its degree of acceptability ?

  9. To what extent is the complexity of the problem system with which humanity is faced greater than that which its organizational and intellectual resour- ces are capable of handling ? Worse, is there a widespread unacknowledged preference for simplifying the representation of complex problem (and other) systems down to less than 10 elements so that they lend themselves to easy debate In public and in a policy-making environment (as might be suggested by some of the work of communication psychologist George Miller) ? Are organizational and conceptual resources then marshalled and structured to match the problem system as simplified rather than to handle it in its more dangerous complexity, thus running the (unacknowledged) risk of leaving the problems uncontained and uncontainable by the resources available ? Does this suggest a corollary to Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety which might read : That any attempt to control a psycho-social system with a control system of less complexity (i.e. of less variety) than that of the psycho-social system itself can only be made to succeed by suppressing or ignoring the variety (i.e. reducing the diversity) in the psycho-social system so that it is less than the relative simplicity of the control system ? Such attempts tend to breed violence, however.
Crisis and Opportunity
Crisis and Opportunity

The Chinese symbol opposite represents"crisis"or a"critical turning point". It is composed of an upper character representing"danger"and a lower character associated with the notions of"organic complexity","intricate systems","hidden opportunity"and"and evolutionary change".

It is reproduced here because this Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential also attempts to embody these seemingly incompatible dimensions in an equally positive manner. It therefore identifies the multiplicity of dangers to society, but it also highlights the interlocking complexity of the existing organizational, intellectual and personal resources. This contains the concealed opportunity for creative change and the opportunity for appropriate response to the crisis of crises.

creative commons license
this work is licenced under a creative commons licence.