Nature can be described as organized in hierarchical systems layers - but that doesn’t mean humans must organize themselves in static hierarchies. There are examples of different ways of organizing people to perform work together.

...continue reading "Is the norm of hierarchic organization just another failed normative logic?"

Mr Sarkozy has now taken the battle of the Internet to the next level of open conflict between governments and the Internet by initiating the e-G8 meeting where he argued:

"The universe you represent is not a parallel universe. Nobody should forget that governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies. To forget this is to risk democratic chaos and anarchy."

“We need to hear your aspirations, your needs,” but that “You need to hear our limits, our red lines.”

(quote from Don Tapscott - G8 and the Internet - Sarkozy Messes With a Good Thing - you can read even more about this in Alex Howard's article: At the eG8, 20th century ideas clashed with the 21st century economy)

What Sarkozy miss completely is that the current form of democratic government system, the current ideas and laws around Intellectual Properties, well the whole concept of the nation state and even of our current civilizational form is in fact a result of, and is completely built on the previous major communication revolution: the printing press.

How revolutionary we might regard the printing press, we must understand that it provided just a gradual change of human organization. It was a innovation that only increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the old model of one-to-many communication. We are now facing a much bigger and more profound change in human organization than ever. The global diffusion of Internet is the birth of something completely new and unprecedented, a fundamental change of the inner wiring of human society and organization: many-to-many communication between already hundreds of millions and soon billions of people and artifacts on this planet.

Fundamentally new communicational and computing capabilities is on it's way to  completely redefine almost everything and in particular how humanity is organized in larger groups as e g cities and countries. To use Sarkozy's words and seeing the world from his or many other traditional democratic governments perspective: this will without doubt result in democratic chaos and anarchy. The change will not take the form of something to fight with or decide about but will rather emerge from the inside of ourselves and take the form of old concepts, systems and structures that suddenly and curiously become irrelevant or at times even dangerous and counter productive.

The challenge for all of us now (including governments) is to put ourselves into a state to avoid repelling everything new but continuously learn about the new logic as it emerges in order to 1) dismount the current systems which in the current situation might cause more harm than good and 2) in their place develop new interim systems that will result in temporary islands of order where we can thrive in waiting for the next wave of deep change. Always knowing that the current structure, the current idea or the current system soon will be irrelevant again and need to be rebuilt .

It is becoming increasingly clear that the knowledge and systems that have taken us this far NOT will take us into the future.

And in times of fundamental transformation any firm and unadaptive construction will most likely turn out to be the things that keep you immobile and stuck to the bottom when the water rises and the tsunami is rolling in.

Is the Wikileaks conflict leading us towards a better and more open future or can it result in the opposite?

The Wikileaks phenomenon in itself is nothing but the natural consequence of Moore's Law and the emergence of omnipresent and ubiquitous communication and data gathering technologies. It is an effect that is one interpretation of the concept of radical transparency , a situation when there doesn't exist any barriers for information anymore and where everything is potentially known by everyone.

What Wikileaks really is doing is showing the world a small and relatively isolated (!) glimpse of what radical transparency might mean for governments.

One thing to note is that in the not too distant future we can expect that radical transparency will spread to companies, corporations and basically all other organizations as well.

The bigger picture - towards a completely new society

But what does this mean in the long run?

To understand the bigger picture and where this might lead we also need to add another underlying driving force to the puzzle. The driving force is the result of two distinct human capabilities: our ability to communicate and our capacity to innovate and create tools and structures. When looking back in history with these glasses we can identify this key driving force behind almost all major reorganizations of human society.

With the innovation of many-to-many communication on an individual level it is very likely that we are at a stage of radically transforming human societies once more. If this is the case we are actually part of a shift that will transform our society in a much more fundamental way than the relatively recent change from a farming society into an industrial society. Maybe the shift from an oral society to a text based society will be a more adequate comparison. If we are going to judge from previous reorganizations of humanity we can conclude that the majority of today's institutions will become obsolete or at least altered in a fundamental way. Including the corporations, nation states and even our cherished model of democracy.

Wikileaks, together with other P2P-related effects, are then just the weak signals lightening the murky path towards a very different future.

How do we get to the future?

The reason for a fundamental shift lies in the conflict of three seemingly incompatible concepts

  • Static hierarchic structures
  • Democratic models of power organization
  • Radical transparency

Democracy and static hierarchies have been working together for the reason that communication have been organized according to a broadcasting model where you have a few dominant broadcasters and accordingly can contain the discussions and the perspectives to a certain degree within a community. If you add radical transparency this isn't possible anymore and a conflict between these three takes place. The core of the conflict has not so much to do with democracy as has with the other two because the nature of the conflict lies in the fundamental incompatibility between radical transparency and static hierarchic structures and it is quite possible that democracy will be the victim in this conflict (placing nuanced comments by e g Clay Shirky in the naïve and idealistic corner).

A couple of years ago I wrote a quick post about how this upcoming conflict between new ways of organizing driven by the Internet and many-to-many communications on one side, and the traditional static and mechanically based institutions (e g governments) built on a broadcasting communications model on the other.

This conflict could be played out in one of four scenarios describing the different structures of conflict this could result in.

The scenarios were:

  1. A smooth sail - governments will just fade away with very little conflict in order for new governing structures built on new communications technologies to take their place
  2. Back in line - governments around the world will see and understand the coming dangers and will together succeed in restricting the Internet so that all threats to the traditional institutions are controlled and contained - resulting in a drastically more restricted Internet than we have today
  3. Full scale war - the world will be divided between countries who have too much to lose from letting the power move down to the Internet grassroots and others who actually have become reliant on the existence of a free and open Internet - since communication is now as crucial for survival as food and water an armed conflict of gigantic scale will follow
  4. Many small wars in different areas at different times - the conflict will be prolonged and played out in arena by arena, and not fuel a full scale global conflict, but will result in slow but steady changes in area by area

Which scenario do Wikileaks indicate?

The scale of the current conflict around Wikileaks suggest that scenario 1 is already out of the question. Then we have the other three left.

The rapid escalation of the conflict and the direct involvement of so many actors due to the choice of diplomatic arena, could suggest that Wikileaks is the first step in the chain of events that will lead to scenario 3 - Full scale war.

The force and fury by which mainly the US Government is acting might suggest that we are heading towards scenario 2 - Back in line. Will the other governments across the globe also realize who the real enemy to their position of power is and close their ranks in order to succeed in defending the current power structures – regardless of the consequences for the Internet and sacrificing the fundamental constitutional rights on which the modern democracies are built?

Or maybe this current conflict will be contained and slowly fade out? It could the then lead us towards scenario 4 - Many small wars in different areas at different times...

Any comments on this?

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In an article in the Guardian the other day Georg Monbiot wonders why climate change denial is spreading in spite of what the scientific community states:

A survey last month by the Pew Research Centre suggests that the proportion of Americans who believe there’s solid evidence that the world has been warming over the past few decades has fallen from 71% to 57% in just 18 months(1). Another survey, conducted in January by Rasmussen Reports, suggests that, due to a sharp rise since 2006, US voters who believe that global warming is the result of natural causes (44%) now outnumber those who believe it is caused by human action (41%)(2).

A study by the website Desmogblog shows that the number of internet pages proposing that manmade global warming is a hoax or a lie more than doubled in 2008(3). The Science Museum’s Prove it! exhibition asks online readers to endorse or reject a statement that they’ve seen the evidence and want governments to take action. As of yesterday afternoon, 1006 people had endorsed it and 6110 had rejected it(4). On Amazon.co.uk, books championing climate change denial are currently ranked at 1,2,4,5,7 and 8 in the global warming category(5). Never mind that they’ve been torn to shreds by scientists and reviewers, they are beating the scientific books by miles. What is going on?

[From Monbiot.com » Death Denial]

He notes e g that there is a group of 65+ who seems to be more likely than other to deny that humans are causing climate change. Do their long life experience of technological optimism make them more likely to deny the threat? Or could it be that the accelerated discussion about climate change during the last couple of years have triggered some psychological defense mechanism working against negative stories so we boost our self image and behave like we were immortals?

There is however (at least) one other explanation that Monbiot don't cover. What if we are less and less inclined to believe in what scientists say?

Do we really believe in science anymore?

To me it is evident that people are less and less likely to believe in a scientific truth anymore. There seems to be a megatrend signalling that the emergence of the modern connected man is accompanied by a decreasing belief in truths which is instead replaced by the more pragmatic and quick concept of truthiness - the kind of truths you don't look up in books but search your guts to know if they are true!

Why does this happen? Here are a list of candidates for explaining the phenomenon, which by the way, will not go away any time soon.

  • the modern man (believe he) is more educated, connected and informed which make him or her believe he/she are in a better position to judge for him- or herself thus consequently more critical to truths that comes from authorities
  • increased transparency makes it much more easy to shoot down e g statements from authorities - and we do that constantly by critically swarming everything
  • the speed by which we produce new knowledge is constantly decreasing the half life of knowledge and truths - knowledge and truths becomes obsolete much faster
  • we are leading our daily lives in a fast and complex world with constant contradictions which we have to manage anyway - we have to be pragmatic and focus on what works here and now
  • every one of us is picking our own sources of information and thus perspectives, which causes us to spontaneous flock in clusters where local truths emerges
  • we also see the emergence of post secular insights - that many and the most import questions are not answered by the secular scientific methods

The period when scientific truths were highly celebrated by the many seems to have come to an end. Instead we are entering an age where truths are local, socially constructed, relative and consistency based like they most likely were in e g the middle ages and before.

What about the climate change issue?

It might just be that a certain group of people have come to change their perspective on the issue. If truths are fundamentally socially constructed it might be the explanation to why so many people started to worry about climate change at the same time - it was the tipping point - a state which also might change again when the hivemind is starting to worry about something else.

It is as usual the scientists who believe that their facts have changed the opinion of the people, a belief that might be completely wrong. What really happened was that a large enough group of people having a certain social status (consisting of e g a person named Stern) was starting to state something about climate change when at the same time occurs some dramatic natural disasters.

But the scientists believe that people at last listened to their truths...

Maybe it is on it's place to quote Robert Heinlein: "Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal"

It is a bit weird that it is much more easy to write things in the unstructured and undemanding link stream i e my Tumblr feed, than to write things here. I will try to change that...

For some time I have been thinking about the role of destruction in change processes. That lead me e g to reread Asimov's Foundation, which I referred to some time ago in this blog.

One of the "natural laws" of civilizational collapse is that there seems to be a causal relation between a civilizational collapse and knowledge destruction. For example when Rome or the Mayan civilization fell, the whole people (which of course didn't die off and disappear) rather quickly also lost much of their knowledge and skills. Everything from mathematical, engineering and astronomical knowledge to a long row of artistic skills and more advanced farming skills seems to have quickly deteriorated and disappeared as a direct consequence of the fall a common organization.

It is obvious that there is a causal explanation that knowledge destruction could lead to societal collapse, but I am not asking that. My question concern the opposite direction of that causal link: why knowledge destruction follows societal collapse.

Maybe it is obvious to you, but to me this is really a riddle. Why does this happen and what mechanisms are in play here? Why can't e g a small group of people harbor key pieces of the knowledge and continue to develop it?

When watching a video of a recent and very interesting and insightful talk by Dr Anders Sandberg about Cloud Superintelligence, one possible piece of that puzzle suddenly fell into place. He showed in a clear way why many average people, connected to each other, can create extraordinary results even if there is quite a lot of noise in the system. He basically states that there is a direct relation between the number of individuals communicating to each other and collective group intelligence.

The purpose of his talk is to explain why the cloud is actually creating superintelligence, which we can see in e g wikipedia, but by going that path he also explains how and why communicating groups is achieving better results. And that there is a knee on the curve when the communicating groups are too small and don't achieve the same level of result.

To me this suggests that the major, and perhaps only, important factor for explaining the loss of knowledge due to societal collapse is that larger groups of people is being scattered into many smaller communicating groups, which, just because they consists of a smaller number of communicating individuals, is losing a lot of their collaborative group intelligence. As a consequence they probably take much worse collaborative decisions when it e g comes to electing leaders, who to collaborate with or how to use the available resources in the best way.

Watch Anders' talk for yourself and listen to his explanation:

Another consequence of this concerns, if it is true, not the past, but the future and not just that we are on our way to create a Collaborative Superintelligence: modern communication technology (read "the Internet") might for the first time in history provide us with a capacity to, even if our societies are structurally collapsing, continue communication in sufficiently large groups, which in turn most likely will let us maintain our knowledge and collaborative IQ.

I e IF we succeed in protecting our global communication infrastructure from the defenders of national security (which most often mean their own position of power)...

If anyone is interested in the theories why civilizations fall I can recommend the book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond and of course the important book about group intelligence: Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.

Sometimes a single word can spark a whole new set of thoughts. That is what the term neoteny did to me in the beginning of the summer.

So, you don't know what neoteny is? Neither did I until an acquaintance explained the term to me when talking about dogs and how they have evolved in relation to humans.

En Wikipedia you can read this:

Neoteny (pronounced /niːˈɒtɨniː/), also called juvenilization, is the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles (a kind of pedomorphosis), and is a subject studied in the field ofdevelopmental biology. In neoteny, the physiological (or somatic) development of an animal or organism is slowed or delayed (alternatively, seen as a dilation of biological time). Ultimately this process results in the retention, in the adults of a species, of juvenile physical characteristics well into maturity. The Englishword neoteny is borrowed from the German Neotenie, the latter constructed from the Greek νέος (young) and τείνειν (tend to). The standard adjectival form is "neotenous"[2], although "neotenic" is often used.

In short: Neoteny is an evolutionary phenomenon describing when adults are showing juvenile properties, usually physical changes due to natural selection, where juvenile properties is showing up in adults and seems to give an evolutionary advantage of some kind. Traditional examples are hairlessness, cuteness and some other pedomorphic properties which seems to be regarded as attractive and either increase sexual reproduction or reduce risk to be killed.

200909072259.jpg

Domesticated dogs, and especially small lapdogs, are the standard examples of this phenomenon. Probably because it is obvious that many lapdogs more resembles eternal puppies, but also because their behavioral development seems to be stopped in a juvenile state by us humans who act as their eternal parents.

Humans show these kind of changes as well and biologists use to refer to our hairlessness and the now almost general lactose intolerance neotenous changes.

In recent years it is also suggested that behavioral and other psychological changes, like e g delayed maturity, might basically be aspects of the same phenomenon. This is called psychological neoteny and is discussed by Bruce Charlton, a british psychologist. He argues that the phenomenon of delayed maturity (psychological neoteny) is helping people with maintaining the childish naiveté and creativity longer in a world that keeps changing and defies planning. This is however a teleological explanation which if it is right (if he succeed in getting his causal chain right...) just explain things at a micro level. An argument against Bruce Charlton is of course, that this can't be a evolutionary phenomenon since it doesn't follow as a consequence of natural selection.

Why does this strange phenomenon of neoteny occur here and there in nature? Some theories suggests that it is a way for nature to back about of a evolutionary path. Maybe it is some kind of backtracking in order to try to fix some design flaws with this particular branch, assuming it to have the general properties right? Just some kind of minor adjustment - a scrambling some of the minor properties. Maybe it is one of evolutions economic principles, which is tried first, before some more brutal fitness test is forced to cut off the whole branch as failed?

Regardless it seems to be signaling a mismatch between a species and it's environment.

What is so interesting about this phenomenon of neoteny when we talk about the future of humanity?

Basically two things:

  1. Neoteny might be interpreted as a way for nature to back out of an evolutionary path
  2. Humans is showing clear signs of an accelerating neoteny when it comes to psychological behavior - if we grow up at all, we do it much later than we did just 50 years ago

Could it be the case that the general psychological behavioral trend of resistance to leave adolescence we see in the Western world, and which is rapidly spreading across the globe, is a neotenous phenomenon with far reaching evolutionary consequences?

200909072300.jpg

If it really is a deeply rooted and evolution based reaction, which is triggered by the situation we experience around us, it will most likely continue for some time and will have consequences. What is even more interesting for me as a futurist is that it might also be a prodrome for some other larger evolutionary effects which awaits around the corner.

Is the delayed maturity of humans telling us something really important about the evolutionary status of humanity?

When searching for others who have written about neoteny I of course found a blog post by David Brin, who seemed to have been interested in the concept some time in 1995, maybe as research for a book...

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Today FuturePundit reports about the decline in healthy life style in the US. chips-in-bowl.jpg

Investigators from the Department of Family Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston compared the results of two large-scale studies of the US population in 1988-1994 and in 2001-2006. In the intervening 18 years, the percentage of adults aged 40-74 years with a body mass index greater than 30 has increased from 28% to 36%; physical activity 12 times a month or more has decreased from 53% to 43%; smoking rates have not changed (26.9% to 26.1%); eating 5 or more fruits and vegetables a day has decreased from 42% to 26%; and moderate alcohol use has increased from 40% to 51%. The number of people adhering to all 5 healthy habits has decreased from 15% to 8%.

[From FuturePundit: Healthy Lifestyles On Decline In United States quoting the June 2009 issue of The American Journal of Medicine]

(In the light of new research one can of course wonder about the validity of the recommendations when i e fructose seems to be bad to your health rather than good.)

The important question for me as a futurist is to understand which are the major factors making this happen and what could potentially make it change?

Part of the explanation can be that we are more collectively adaptive beings than rational individuals. This is suggested by the experience of the vast majority of us share: most of us don't change our behavior even if our doctor tell us we will die early if we continue to live the way we do. To quote the book "Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life" (Alan Deutschman) we need both to reframe our conceptualization of our situation and move to a different social context which support the new behavior to actually change.

Another part of the explanation has most likely something to do with our resistance to change based on advices or recommendations because of our declining faith in authorities. A trend which is boosted by the exploding amount of new knowledge which increasingly is experienced as perspective changing and even contradictory. This is causing us to diminish the area of reference to one which we can understand i e to a more myopic and consistancy based view of truth which I usually refer to as truthiness - a truth which we feel in your stomach rather than looking up in a book (or on the net). The result is that our close environment (or even yourself) is the only frame of reference that you use to evaluate if a statement is true or not.

Both of these factors are suggesting that the key to behavioral change lies in the complex group logic - at a spiritual level - rather than at a rational psychological level.

In my head this refers me to what Axelrod wrote in his important book "The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition" where he used the concept of shadow of the future to explain why cooperation changed during different collective perspectives of the future. Some time ago I referred to that concept in order to blog about why we are becoming more violent, more careless and more likely to cheat (in Swedish). The basic idea about this is that if we are likely to have a future together, we are cooperating. But if we don't have a future together and are not likely to meet again, we tend to cheat on each other more.

Could it be, that if our collective view of the future - the shadow of the future - is playing a major role in explaining how we behave socially, it also has some explanatory power for how well we take care of ourselves? This would imply that this change towards unhealthy behavior is a social macro-group behavior which might continue until we change our view of the future, which to many citizens seems rather gloomy today.