reboot 9.0 – Ah! Theoretical Man – Archetype II

Let me make this clear: I am in love, in love with Theoretical Man. After listening to a few good talks, drowning in a few great conversations, soaking up some of that Copenhagen sun, and crashing at Henriette and Thomas‘ place, on June 1 I was ready to give it a go.

Warning: > 2’000 words follow…

Just today under the shower I recalled what got all of this going. It was the talk on “Knowledge Ownership” at Lift and something that keeps on coming back to me after Thomas’ talk at SHIFT. Or was it the long essay that I wrote on leadership for Nada Kakabadse upcoming book after that talk? Something has been having me and what I could think of today under the shower was that moment on stage back in February in Geneva when I totally disappeared and all there was was public. During reboot9.0, my presentation changed as the conversations took place and I was given new impulses and discovering some new and old ideas. I had the framework, I had the slides, but what and how I was going to deliver it, was still open. I thought that I had some of the answers, and as the discussions progressed, I got more and more sure of having just the questions. Theoretical Man is about the questions, not about the answers.

 

When just minutes before my presentation André asked me what I would talk about, I answered that I was going to talk about sex. We laughed, we always do when the mention is of sex and the conversation is in public. A few minutes into the talk I asked you to get comfortable and ready for 40 minutes of intimacy. It was a precious moment, it was confronting to some of you.

Initially I thought that I would start as follows:

English is the language that I have colonized. German is the language that I continually rape grammatically. French is my alter ego’s language. Portuguese is my fist love. Japanese is my infatuation, and I can order coffee or say thank you in Arabic. In Danish, I am blissfully lost, but not for long. Sheer necessity – also known as thirst – made me learn the word for water in Turkish. However the truth is that we were all born with attention deficit disorder or some other affliction, and from day one we do scream for attention, and sometimes we are very loud!

But it all came out different, and it is Tommy Oshima’s Archetype II photo that introduces Theoretical Man before the formal title is shown on the second slide. This photo needs to be looked at and reflected upon, to me it is one expression of that beast and animal whom I have chosen to call Theoretical Man.

Who am I to think that I have anything to say about the future of humanity? If we are indeed born naked and screaming, what is it that makes us so very human?

If we die spent, what is it that happens in between?

We call it life. Some live, some vegetate. Life, the expression of a few atoms not so randomly organized, but self-organized in molecular and macromolecule arrangements, cells, organs, whole organisms, is chemically regulated. Organic!

What kind of expression does our organic chemically regulated void find?

I looked around and I discovered my very own digital culture. Digital? Yes, digital, but we will burrow down on that one another time, not now. Culture is the cohesive expression of human behaviour. I took zattoo for a spin and I watched a few hours of programming from around the world. I found two expressions of this human behaviour that made me wonder.

I observed and saw the news and series full of reports or stories about war, rape, greed, incest, murder, betrayal and violence. In between, there were displays of brands from Gucci to Prada, from Wired to Patek Phillipe, right along with those of Shell, Aston Martin, boingboing and Chanel.

Who am I not to create the future of humanity? Let me make the case that this is all about relationships and that Theoretical Man is relationship. I relate to those with whom I talk, converse, discuss, argue, lecture to, or otherwise interact with, from a stand point of ying-yang, that is, in respect and freedom. I want the absolute freedom to interact with you, and I respect that you are different and may think differently from me. How do you relate to me? Can we be in a place where respect and freedom are on the order of the day?

Man’s nature What makes man a different beast from other animals and living organisms is its ability to abstract. Its ability is indeed what I mean to write. Man has no gender at the level of abstraction that I like to deal with man.

So, what is it that we are doing when we humans are measuring our own? Is there a quantum level to the human? If there is such a level, where is it and what does it look like? If we could answer any of these questions and generate any insight, what conjectures would it permit? Am I insane in advancing such ideas?

Allow me a few quantum leaps in logic, and do bear with me. However Tor asked the very same question (in slide 2) in his opening talk with other words by asking if human beings can simulate human beings. His question is equivalent to my human quantum limit question. One of his possible answers is that the head is governed by meaning and value and that emotions are more efficient than intelligence. Now, in my view, this is precious wisdom. Later it will appear that I disagree with Tor, but that is just the appearance of it. In the quantum limit, we are talking about the same thing, the human.

 

Man’s abstraction ability allows us to create theories. We have theories for just about everything. Theory formulation is one way of giving meaning and creating value. If meaning and value have any raison d’être, it is that they allow us to learn, expand and evolve. Sometimes, some forget that theories are models, not truths and then dogma and doctrine start percolating through and soon men stop thinking and start fanatically believing in words void of content, value or even reason. Man, in its very nature is a theoretical man (homo theoreticus). We wander from theory to theory testing its assumptions, refining the models, overthrowing worn out ideas, creating new ones, experimenting, exploring, playing. In reality, it is all theory. There is preciously little that we know, actually we do not know much, but we keep on guessing and creating theories in search for meaning and value. We abstract, we learn, and we evolve.

The key to dealing with our nascent and ever evolving theoretical nature lies in our ingenuity and creativity in exercising to balance paradoxes. At reboot I touched on two of these without going into much depth. One is the paradox of private and public and the other is that of human and technology.

Dualism and Ubification One of the keys in deciphering the nature of atomic particles – electron, proton, neutron – was the discovery that these have both corpuscular and wave behaviours. This is often referred to as the dual nature of matter. This so called duality was a fact that the so called classical mechanics – Newtonian and electromagnetic theories – could not reconcile. To resolve this (apparent) paradox, quantum mechanics was created.

We are at this stage of an unresolved paradox when it comes to humans and things. The twentieth century was magnificent in its flurry of theories that either mechanized the human and made it a functionality in an economic machine, anthromorphized our beloved mac computers or laundry machines giving them human attributes, or in general treating abstractions as real things in the process called reification.

What if? If we reconcile the dual nature of animal and things through a process that I call ubification, then the nature of the relationship between these two entities – animal and things – changes. It is no longer an either or of mechanization or reification, rather it is a rich manifold of both linear and nonlinear relations that can be envisioned. If we allow this abstraction to draw analogies from topology, then the whole not only increases in complexity, but also becomes a lot easier to understand. It is then as though both humans and things would be represented by either fields, rings or domains and that these could share dimensions and specific relations could be formulated between them to describe the interactions.

Interaction needs Relationship

And if all that there is, is relationship, then it is perhaps time that we spend some time looking at both the entities that interact through these relationships and the relationships themselves.

How is it that we relate to sexuality? Looking around be it in the media, be it in our immediate communities and families, there is much yet to be learned and integrated into life before this very private-public aspect of our existence rests in its noble nature. There are three fundamental aspects to sexuality that form the whole of what it is: reproduction, pleasure and liberation. At one time or another we all relate to sexuality through one of these aspects or fields. Let’s face it, we are here as a result of some form of reproductive activity and for all intents and purposes it is totally irrelevant that you are a test-tube baby, the accidental product of passionate copulation, or the result of some animal drive. Still, how much of sexuality drives us and at what level?

Drivers

We all know it, sex sells. What are the impulses behind it? Necessity is what I am fond of claiming as the main driver in all that we do. Perhaps this only reflects my own experience, and then again, it could be that I am human after all, and my own experience an attribute of that state of being human. What if the impulses for our needs come from three apparently different loci?

These need loci, or drivers are experience, intellect and consciousness. The need for food is at the experience locus and it is the body that claims this need. That often annoying feature of being human and curious reflects the intellect’s need for knowledge and meaning. But we have a third locus of need, the need spirituality resides in consciousness, and we constantly seek. This is a model that I can live with and which I have experienced on my own as giving some order to my own consciousness and perception.

Action

It was on the tatami of our Aikido dojo that I have learned much about this experience of integrating body, mind, and spirit. With my body I experience, the body can only be. With my mind and intellect I learn. The intellect i pleasure for pleasure as an interpretation of what the experience is. With my spirit I transcend and approach consciousness. Intuition and emotion are part of the various relationships that allow the de-fragmentation of body, mind and spirit. When I can bring all of the three together, then I can experience the serenity and naivety of being human and at peace.

Evolution and Necessity Save the world and get sex” could be how Tor Nørretranders expresses the same idea. I am not into saving the world, and that is only because the Sun will in a few billion years turn into a red giant thus causing the ultimate singularity for which no trans-humanist of any colouring or shading can really come up with a counter measure other than intergalactic exploration or time travel. However those two last hypothesis do land us right smack in the middle of science-fiction and that is a genre to which I do not easily subscribe.

Not bent on saving the world nor on a mission, I view this thing called life to be one grand experiment and I am happy to be an actor in this story creating meaning and value from a place of respect and freedom. I am aware that we live in a world of inequality and abundance, and that in itself is just an observation at this point.

When I look at what the great technological advances have been ever since humans keep records or can dig for them, there are only two that I can identify as evolutionary in a quantum or nonlinear way. The first evolutionary technological breakthrough came with agriculture. In creating the technology that allowed a greater number of humans to be fed and to survive by taking into account one of the primary necessities of the animal – food – the way was open to move from the locus of the body to that of the mind.

When the body is nourished, then the mind can think. So it was, and eventually the printing press was invented after much thinking and a few adventuresome struggles along the way. The printing press facilitated the sharing of knowledge and allowed an accelerated trans-generational sharing of information thus creating an increased capacity for knowledge among the humans. Eventually we put a man on the Moon, but from my vantage point, that was just kaizen.

Now that we have satiated the body, and perhaps satisfied the intellect’s thirst for learning, are we ready to create the next technology that is going to liberate our mortal beings, not from death, but from the fragmentation of our essence?

What is the next evolutionary technology breakthrough? Has it happened yet? Or is it about to happen? Could it be that we are still quite far from it and still rather steadily doing our kaizen bit like we have done for centuries?

What is the next step in evolution? This short installment – but longish post – about Theoretical Man asks more questions that it answers. That is how I like it. Stay tuned.

While in Copenhagen I took my a few pictures that are related to the mood of this.

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LIFT07 to reboot9: Floccinaucinihilipilification

I have been in a ranting mood these past weeks. It could just be that having put myself on a weekly diet of 10’000 words of newly written fresh words of storytelling never-told is doing strange things to my mind, or it is doing strange things to the revelation of lack of mind!

 

The notes that follow have a complex structure, if you get lost, do so at your own risk.

Yes, I do like self-referential contradiction, and self-referential contradiction is not oxymoronic, it is more a ying-yang duality characteristic. I like to think that to translate ying-yang to terms that our culture can better relate to, is to translate it to the conjugate pair of freedom and respect. Conjugation is appropriate here to designate the relationship between these two ideas of respect and freedom. In our society I would conjecture that we do value these two very much, or at least claim to value them. We, and I do mean we the whole of society, value these so much that we start wars to defend these values. In case that you have not yet noticed it, in the XXI century there are wars going on while some of us indulge in the debate of what digital technology is bringing society in the form of challenges and opportunities.

 

The conference called Lift, and happening in Geneva now for two years in a row, has changed my life, twice. It is a welcome change, and it is uncomfortable change. Although the realm of personal reflection is one that I prefer to indulge in the next, when it comes to action research, I would like to think that this blog is more the place for it since it can be filed under the categories development and intellectual. But are the following reflections on communication, an issue that I return to again and again, to be considered as action research? One can consider them as such, or one can also consider them exploration and reflection on what has been said, and how that impacts my own life. Impact is a good word to think about.

After LIFT07 I did get my chance to go air out my mind in the tepid temperatures of the eternal city, be pampered by caring friends, while for some irritating reason keeping Calvin’s city present in the background. What would Steinbeck have done in my place? My supercilious old ego, arrogant in nature, has no idea.

Communication has always been a challenge for me, however the circumstances surrounding this challenge have very peculiar singularities and I have lived most of my life in the false belief that it was so for everybody. It is not, and I am surprised that in the process I have learned more about communication than I had ever hoped for. The study and exploration of the nature and practice of communication is an intrinsic aspect of my own life. But why am I even surprised?

A writer, be it novelist or non-fiction scribe, spends a lot of time either reading, or starving and then writing. In the time interstitials of these solitary activities one gets to brush one’s teeth, sleep and perhaps on a good day, there is time for family and friends. An observation is that we are all so busy with productivity, or making our dreams reality, or just dealing with fate’s generosity or indulging our own very healthy egoism, so that most of the time friends and family do get the short end of the deal. We are hedonistic, solitary and we barely know how to reach out and ask for help.

I know that I am an hedonist. I can not understand what anybody as a self-sacrificing self-declared or otherwise, not an hedonist, has to offer to those around them other than to induce guilt, pity or righteousness depending on how the others are inclined. But it simply is not that simple, not really. I am the kind of hedonist that engages in the ascetic practices of fasting and meditation, submits to demanding hierarchies, and has not quite given up on meritocracy. Is an hedonist a simple pleasure seeker, and if so, what is pleasure then?

For those reading between the lines, you have by now figured out that indeed, my insistence – in spite of many self generated distractions and foreign inducements – in doing what I want to do, has caused a few serious breakdowns along the way.

I have been thinking about the saving grace that ambiguities in communication provide us in social situations, and the ever so benefactive white lie, or why complete knowledge of another – that is total transparency – is an obstacle to satisfaction at any level, regardless of what consists satisfaction, or how you define it. There is however a fallacy intrinsic to the expression of complete knowledge, and that is that complete knowledge is at best a chimera, but certainly not anything attainable. When would you know that you have complete knowledge of anything? Here lies the first, if not the fundamental problem with what is often called transparency and the ungodly beast of identity.

My intimate experience of the the arab world taught me the value of that precious stratagem, the white lie or shaving the truth, or just allowing the other and yourself to both keep face. Indeed, in the face-to-face world, keeping face is the name of the game. It is the social game, the only game that we ever endeavour to master is keeping face. Game theorist here or there, humans are gamers, and some players are just better than others. So when will we face the fact that it is all a game anyhow, and that some are better with the rules, the roles, the strategies or just the invention of the games?

Another way of looking at it is to consider the possibility that to keep face, is just another expression for respect and that it includes self-respect.

Ah… these are just a few loose thoughts left out in the wild of my machinations, or expectorating fantasies. I think that the present day geeky social web applications are way far off the mark and at the same time right on track in terms of empowering the world of relationship technology that allows for social evolution. While checking out how the reboot wiki site is evolving I stumbled on the idea of ambient intimacy. This is interesting, and it is part of the story. I also like to think that one psychological ingredient that makes Twitter so popular is the considerable amount of insensitivity space that it allows. I can at any time decide to respond or not respond to something that somebody whom I may know or not know shares within the twitter timeline. In short an interaction is not expected, and it is at the same time possible to interact. These options are the equivalent of giving me my personal space and privacy, and I am the one in control. I can consume twitters, or I can turn it off. Nobody in their right mind expects me to stay glued and attentive to the chatter on twitter or twittervision. I may have an interest in following the noise, and then I may not. My hedonist needs this much space, your mileage may differ.

I also happen to think that there are a few fundamental flaws in the thinking around science and how to use it, but then… how many of us have a really deep insight on how human beings function and interact?

Yes, I think that values are important, but I also think that the name of the game is called power. If that is so, tell me, what is power?

 

Tomorrow: BarCampSwitzerland

Why is it that blogging is not about blogging? I am really quite curious about this event, and if I was reasonable, I would not be going because there is all that other stuff that I ought, should or want to be doing, and this just does not quite fit in the plan, and then it does. I am holding a workshop next month on blogging and I have been having a lot of conversations on the topic with a variety of people from theatre directors, linguists, editors, journalists, book authors, and school teachers.

Blogging in my view is today’s alchemist’s panacea. The thing is that today’s alchemists call themselves something else, but I am not quite sure what it is that they call themselves. I am having a difficult time these days taking a lot of very serious sounding people too seriously. This may all just be related to the fact that recently I had to do background checks and get claimed facts to be confirmed, and as is often the case, it is hard work that involves going offline and doing some hard cross-checking of facts, talking to people, seeing documents, assessing validity and authenticity of documents… etc, etc. These days for me, if there is something difficult to find, it is a real fact.

When in one of these blogging conversations very intelligent people tell me that blogging is just diary keeping in public, I wonder what it is that has not yet communicated and why it is that they arrive at this conclusion.

I like to turn blogging around on its head, and then look at the process of finding information on the web, including blogs. So, you have a real interest in Neurospora crassa, how are you going to find any reliable information on it on the web?

Ok, N. crassa does not turn you on, you are interested in something more real like Cuban cigars, or how to treat athlete’s foot. When do you know that you have found information that is reliable, accurate and useful?

How do you evaluate the quality of the information that you are being presented with in a website? What does that have to do with a blog?

Fact is, and this one is a fact, that blogging applications have made it possible for anybody with an internet connection and personal computer to put anything from text to video on the internet. How to make use of all of that which gets regurgitated, agitated and thrown on the web is the challenge.

Blogging is a piece of cake. Blogging is accessibility and communication technology, and it is a tool of the affluent cultures that can afford personal computers and internet connections. Its instantaneous and global character do give it a powerful reach, and those fearful of the spread of information have all the reason to be fearful. What if the facts get out there in the public? What if the best of strategic planning and agendas get to be known ahead of time?

After all, secrecy is still the currency of power. What are the power gate-keepers to do when secrecy ceases to be a valid currency because what was secret has become common knowledge?

But we are not there yet. Secrecy still rules, even in the age of information and the knowledge worker.

So, what is blogging all about anyhow?

Join me tomorrow, and we will give it a go!