Beyond civilisation, towards collective intelligence

collective-intelligence2

The era of human civilisations is coming to an end. The anthropocentric era of civilisation only lasted around 10,000 years, and has led the living planet into the sixth mass extinction – an ecological and geological transformation that is as profound as the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, currently on track to result in a planet without humans.

People talk about a global ecological crisis, a climate crisis, an economic crisis, an institutional crisis, and a mental health crisis. These crises are not isolated but highly interconnected.

To date human civilisations have always been built on stories and on the social popularity of specific individuals. This era of human gene-culture co-evolution has come to an end. Today everyone:

  1. is able to observe ecological destruction first hand
  2. is experiencing the effects of climate breakdown to some degree
  3. is confronted with the disconnect between economic dogma and the reality of severe social inequality
  4. is noticing the inability of institutions to meet human needs
  5. is affected by mental health problems, either personally or within their immediate social environment

People no longer trust institutions and the old story of civilisation. Instead people are comparing notes and are learning from those whose experiences reflect their own, via collaborative networks of tacit knowledge that are breaking out of the constraints imposed by the established institutions of our current civilisation such as corporations and nation states.

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Energy intensive and sometimes deadly competition (wars, trade embargos etc.) between social groups are being replaced by sharing and (in)validation of knowledge in the public domain, and by creative collaborative exploration of new ideas at human scale – both in the digital realm and at a local level.

Human behaviour is less and less determined exclusively by institutions and authorities, and more and more by the flows of knowledge and ideas in a rapidly growing number of interconnected human scale competency networks. Trusted relationships between specific people are becoming more valuable than the technological platforms used for communication.

The overlapping crises of civilisation are impossible to address via technocratic solutions delivered within the framework of financial economics. No wonder that the institutions of our “civilisation” are becoming increasingly desperate in their attempts to capture and retain people’s attention.

The movements listed below are examples of globally networked collaborative efforts to share and validate knowledge, and to translate insights and ideas into creative collaborations at human scale.

Ecology

International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems

Established in 2015, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) works to shape debates on food system reform through policy-oriented research and direct engagement with policy processes around the world. The panel brings together environmental scientists, development economists, nutritionists, agronomists, and sociologists, as well as experienced practitioners from civil society and social movements.

The panel is co-chaired by Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and Olivia Yambi, nutritionist and former UNICEF representative to Kenya. IPES-Food employs a holistic food systems lens and focuses on the political economy of food systems, i.e., the differential power of actors to influence priority-setting and decision-making.

Related CIIC articles and results:


Worldwatch Institute


Through research and outreach that inspire action, the Worldwatch Institute works to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world that meets human needs. The Institute’s top mission objectives are universal access to renewable energy and nutritious food, expansion of environmentally sound jobs and development, transformation of cultures from consumerism to sustainability, and an early end to population growth through healthy and intentional childbearing.

Founded in 1974 by Lester Brown as an independent research institute devoted to global environmental concerns, Worldwatch was quickly recognized by opinion leaders around the world for its foresight and accessible, fact-based analysis. Worldwatch develops innovative solutions to intractable problems, emphasizing a blend of government leadership, private sector enterprise, and citizen action that can make a sustainable future a reality.

Related CIIC articles and results:


Extinction rebellion


We need to take action in the world and we need to look after ourselves. This rebellion is fuelled by our love, which is growing because we are willing to face the grief of these times. Grieving is part of our work. We hold the following to be true:

This is our darkest hour.Humanity finds itself embroiled in an event unprecedented in its history. One which, unless immediately addressed, will catapult us further into the destruction of all we hold dear: this nation, its peoples, our ecosystems and the future of generations to come.

The science is clear:- we are in the sixth mass extinction event and we will face catastrophe if we do not act swiftly and robustly.

Biodiversity is being annihilated around the world. Our seas are poisoned, acidic and rising. Flooding and desertification will render vast tracts of land uninhabitable and lead to mass migration.

Our air is so toxic that the United Kingdom is breaking the law. It harms the unborn whilst causing tens of thousands to die. The breakdown of our climate has begun. There will be more wildfires, unpredictable super storms, increasing famine and untold drought as food supplies and fresh water disappear.

The ecological crises that are impacting upon this nation, and indeed this planet and its wildlife can no longer be ignored, denied nor go unanswered by any beings of sound rational thought, ethical conscience, moral concern, or spiritual belief.

In accordance with these values, the virtues of truth and the weight of scientific evidence, we declare it our duty to act on behalf of the security and well-being of our children, our communities and the future of the planet itself.

We, in alignment with our consciences and our reasoning, declare ourselves in rebellion against our Government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future.

The wilful complicity displayed by our government has shattered meaningful democracy and cast aside the common interest in favour of short-term gain and private profits.

When Government and the law fail to provide any assurance of adequate protection, as well as security for its people’s well-being and the nation’s future, it becomes the right of its citizens to seek redress in order to restore dutiful democracy and to secure the solutions needed to avert catastrophe and protect the future. It becomes not only our right, it becomes our sacred duty to rebel.We hereby declare the bonds of the social contract to be null and void, which the government has rendered invalid by its continuing failure to act appropriately. We call upon every principled and peaceful citizen to rise with us.

We demand to be heard, to apply informed solutions to these ecological crises and to create a national assembly by which to initiate those solutions needed to change our present cataclysmic course.

We refuse to bequeath a dying planet to future generations by failing to act now.

We act in peace, with ferocious love of these lands in our hearts. We act on behalf of life.

Related CIIC articles and results:

Climate

We Don’t Have Time


Power to the people. And lots of it too. That’s the goal of the international climate initiative #WeDontHaveTime. The method: Building the world’s biggest social media network. “We’re aiming for at least one hundred million users”, says founder and CEO Ingmar Rentzhog.

Ingmar Rentzhog is a multi-award winning Swedish entrepreneur who changed course after starting to read about the climate crisis. In 2017 he founded WeDon’tHaveTime, which has already organised the world’s first fossil-free international climate conference and co-hosted the Climate Emergency Plan seminar, which took place in Stockholm on 24 November.

The main focus of WeDontHaveTime.org, however, is to create the world’s biggest social media network to put pressure on world leaders and encourage them to do the right thing. “What we are trying to achieve is giving power to the people. If people get together and cooperate I am sure that we can solve the climate crisis, and the perfect way to get together is with modern technology”, says Ingmar Rentzhog.

The goal, one hundred million users, is founded on basic mathematics. Surveys show that 54 percent of the world’s population are worried about the climate. One-third of the same population have a social media account. “If you take away countries without access to free internet, we are talking roughly 800 million social media users. We aim to mobilise one-eighth of those. And once we reach a hundred million, the number is just going to continue to rise”, says Ingmar Rentzhog.

Related CIIC articles and results:


Fridays for Future


We’ve had 30 years of pep talking and selling positive ideas and I’m sorry but it doesn’t work. Because if it would have, the emissions would have gone down by now. They haven’t.

And yes, we do need hope, of course we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then hope will come. Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So we can’t save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed.

Everything needs to change. And it has to start today.

Related CIIC articles and results:

Economics

Schumacher Center for a new economics


Our mission is to envision a just and sustainable global economy; apply the concepts locally; then share the results for broad replication.

The essay “Buddhist Economics” was first published in Asia: A Handbook, edited by Guy Wint, published by Anthony Blond Ltd., London, 1966. In 1973 it was collected with other essays by Ernest Friedrich Schumacher in Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. The book went on to be translated into 27 different languages and in 1995 was named by the London Times Literary Supplement as one of the hundred most influential books written after World War II.

Following the events of September 11, 2001, the Schumacher Center for a New Economics received requests from around the world to reprint “Buddhist Economics,” Fritz Schumacher’s classic essay, which is widely understood as a call for an economics of peace. Mrs. Vreni Schumacher, who holds the copyright to her late husband’s works, kindly extended permission to the Schumacher Center to make the essay available electronically along with its multiple translations.

Related CIIC articles and results:

Institutions

The Cultural Evolution Society


The Cultural Evolution Society is a professional scientific society that advances the theory and practice of cultural evolutionary studies. Our goal is to build capacity for researchers, educators, and practitioners to coordinate efforts.

Why a new society?

Our capacity for culture stems from our ability to receive, process, integrate, and transmit information across generations. The study of human culture and cultural change has made great strides during the last few decades in fields such as anthropology, computer science, evolutionary biology, neurobiology, psychology, and sociology. A great deal of progress has been made in parallel with the study of animal behavior in primate studies, ethology more broadly, and the various ecological sciences. Yet, the study of cultural change as an evolutionary process, similar to genetic evolution but with its own inheritance mechanisms, is only now becoming a central area of scientific inquiry that spans these disciplines and holds much potential for academic integration.

Outside the Ivory Tower, all public policies attempt to accomplish cultural change in a practical sense to reach their various objectives, yet they rarely draw upon an explicit scientific theory of cultural change. A new society is needed to catalyze the study of cultural change from a modern evolutionary perspective, both inside and outside the Ivory Tower.

The Cultural Evolution Society supports evolutionary approaches to culture in humans and other animals. The society welcomes all who share this fundamental interest, including in the pursuit of basic research, teaching, or applied work. We are committed to fostering an integrative interdisciplinary community spanning traditional academic boundaries from across the social, psychological, and biological sciences, and including archaeology, computer science, economics, history, linguistics, mathematics, philosophy and religious studies. We also welcome practitioners from applied fields such as medicine and public health, psychiatry, community development, international relations, the agricultural sciences, and the sciences of past and present environmental change.

Related CIIC articles and results:


Prosocial World – The science of working better together


PROSOCIAL is informed by three areas of science. The idea that groups require core design principles to function well is inspired by the work of Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012), a political scientist who studied groups that attempt to manage resources such as fields, forests, fisheries, and water for irrigation.

Related CIIC articles and results:

Mental health

Autistic Collaboration


Members of the autism rights movement adopt a position of neurodiversity that recognises autistic traits as natural variations of cognition, motivations, and patterns of behaviour within the human species, and a liberation from the socially constructed pathology paradigm.

Our culture is sick. We don’t even have a good language to talk about diseases of society. Instead our society cultivates a language for describing ways in which individuals are “deficient” and “deserve to be rejected”. “Treating” individuals is only addressing symptoms and not any of the root causes.

Autistic Collaboration is a community that welcomes all individuals and groups who fully appreciate the value of neurodiversity. Our website acts as a hub for mutual support, and encourages neurodivergent individuals and ventures to connect and establish long-term collaborations.

One of the persistent negative stereotypes is that we are poor at collaboration. The Autistic Collaboration community demonstrates the opposite. Collaboration can take many forms, and different people have different needs and preferences. Autistic people learn and play differently, and only have a limited if any interest in competitive social games. We communicate and enjoy ourselves by sharing information and knowledge, and not by negotiating social status.

Related CIIC articles and results:

The future

The transformation of the living planet that lies ahead will significantly alter the way we live and organise our lives. It is up to all of us to use this opportunity to collaborate on the development of human scale niches that fit our abilities and that meet the needs of future generations.

Replacing busyness with human agency

The rate of technological change has outpaced the rate at which human cultures can evolve. Being able to design, build, and use technology does not equate to understanding all the implications.

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In the meantime deeply flawed economic assumptions continue to be baked into new technologies, corporations treat climate breakdown as a bu$yness / profit opportunity, and politicians are joining the bandwagon by putting simplistic notions of “job creation” (another form of busyness instead of a focus on genuine problem solving) ahead of  addressing the existential crisis that lurks behind the concept known as the Anthropocene.

Humans have to ask themselves whether they want to continue to be useful parts of the ecosystem of the planet or whether they prefer to take on the role of a genetic experiment that the planet switched on and off for a brief period in its development. (The big human battle of this century)

In the words of climate activist Greta Thunberg:

We do need hope. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act hope is everywhere.
(School strike for climate – save the world by changing the rules)

This observation is correct – if and only if we take care not to confuse goal directed actions with the bu$yness as usual advocated by corporations and governments.

Autism and human agency

It is no accident that Greta Thunberg is autistic. Autistic people tend to gravitate to human endeavours that require perseverance, specialised skills and deep domain-specific knowledge. There is a strong correlation between autistic traits and creativity. Furthermore autistic people have a perspective on the purpose of social interaction that differs fundamentally from the social motivation of non-autistic people:

The autistic understanding of “social”

  1. Naive assumption: “social” refers to 
interaction to learn from each other
  2. Naive assumption: “social” refers to 
collaborating with others towards a shared goal
  3. An autistic individual may take decades to decode the typical meaning of “social”

The prevalent neurotypical understanding of “social”

  1. Unspoken assumption: “social” refers to negotiating social status and power gradients
  2. Unspoken assumption: “social” refers to competing against each other using culturally defined rules
  3. A typical individual may take decades to appreciate non-social interests

(Social – The big misunderstanding)

The following delightful interview of Greta and her father illustrates another characteristic social dynamic in families with autistic children and (sometimes more and sometimes less) autistic parents.

The interactions between autistic children and their parents often reverse the typical roles in learning.

Autistic collaboration involves sharing of knowledge and working towards a shared goal of generating new levels of knowledge and understanding. The individual innate moral compass mediates the tension between the desire to assist others vs the desire learn about the world.

  • These inclinations are reflected in the cultural transmission of new discoveries from children to parents
  • Education of parents by the children focuses on teaching about the focus and boundaries of individual areas of interest
  • Sharing of knowledge and asking probing questions is seen as a “natural” human behaviour
  • Adolescence is a period of intensive knowledge acquisition, where individual areas of interests are explored in great depth, and where in the absence of autistic peers with compatible interests new knowledge is often shared with parents

In contrast neurotypical collaboration involves competition at all levels of scale according to culturally defined rules, which mediate the tension between the desire to assist others vs the desire to gain or maintain social status symbols.

  • These inclinations are reflected in the cultural transmission of boundaries of acceptable behaviour from parents to children
  • Education of children by the parents focuses on teaching the cultural rules and acceptable boundaries
  • Ego and self-promotion is seen as a “natural” human behaviour
  • Adolescence is a period of socialisation, where the cultural rules transmitted by parents are incrementally replaced by the cultural rules encountered in peer groups

(Taking ownership of the label)

The role of autism in human evolution

Autistic traits are natural variations of cognition, motivations, and patterns of behaviour within the human species that are essential for the survival of our species. The autistic minority within human societies provides a critically important counterforce to anthropocentric competitive social games by reducing the risks associated with typical social learning that contribute to spurious cultural complexity.

Technically speaking, in the language of evolutionary biology, human traits are the manifestation of multi-level group selection in human societies, resulting in a form of gene-cultural co-evolution where culture plays a very significant role.

Depending on the specific culture an individual grows up in, the competitive aspect of “collaboration” may either be significantly reinforced (capitalism, older money based societies, some religions) or weakened (hunter gatherer societies, some religions).

Autistic human traits are the glue that enables new knowledge acquisition to be scaled to the level of groups and groups of groups, providing cultures with the ability to adapt in times of rapid environmental changes.

During times when the environment is experienced as highly stable, autistic traits are likely to be suppressed by the surrounding culture; whereas when the environment is experienced as highly dynamic, autistic traits will be appreciated as a source of essential new knowledge.

(Taking ownership of the label)

Autistic agency contains the seed from which hope may emerge. Human societies would do well to nurture the seeds.

We have made a small start at the workshop on workplace culture in the healthcare sector at the HiNZ conference in Wellington last month and at the CIIC workshop in Auckland earlier this month. Social progress is overdue.

Getting serious about diversity and inclusion

Join us for the next CIIC workshop on 2 March 2019 (Auckland) and 9 March 2019 (Melbourne)! CIIC provides a great opportunity for all participants to outline wicked problems they are wrestling with, and to obtain access to the perspectives and questions from others with complementary expertise and interests.


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A theory of cultural evolution

In 2017 my colleague Xaver Wiemann and I presented our perspective on cultural evolution in a poster on filtering, collaboration, thinking, and learning tools for the next 200 years at the inaugural cultural evolution conference in Jena (Germany). Given the fast transmission and amplification of opinions that went hand in hand with the commercialisation of the internet over the last 20 years, we compared the perceived benefits of storytelling with the known dangers and limits of storytelling.

evolution

In view of the need to reinvent the foundations of civilisation for life in the Anthropocene (the theme of the CIIC workshop in September 2018), it is worthwhile to dive a bit deeper into current scientific understanding and historical evidence related to the mechanisms that drive human cultural evolution.

Computer based simulations of transmissions of beliefs in social networks confirm that once 10% of a population is committed to an idea, it’s inevitable that it will eventually become the prevailing opinion of the entire group. The key is to remain committed.

To prime the simulation, scientists “sprinkled” in true believers of new beliefs into different types of networks.

These people were completely set in their views and unflappable in modifying those beliefs. As those true believers began to converse with those who held the traditional belief system, the tides gradually and then very abruptly began to shift.

“In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models,” said SCNARC Research Associate and corresponding paper author Sameet Sreenivasan. To accomplish this, each of the individuals in the models “talked” to each other about their opinion. If the listener held the same opinions as the speaker, it reinforced the listener’s belief. If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief.

An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.

To understand how human societies operate and how culture evolves, it is important to differentiate two fundamentally different categories of beliefs:

  1. Opinions: Beliefs that are adopted via a rapid social transmission process, without any deeper levels of understanding of supporting evidence, related domain expertise, or the origins of the belief. The process of social belief propagation can be described as as influencing or as cultural education. People engaging in such activities are often referred to as influencers. People holding opinions are unable to answer “why?” questions over multiple levels with respect to their beliefs or are unable to point to concrete evidence that can be independently verified.
  2. Evidence based facts: Beliefs that are adopted and updated slowly and incrementally, based on first hand experiences and experiments with the physical world and with other living agents. Evidence based facts are generated via creative play or via more or less rigorous application of the scientific method, by examining, (in)validating, and by refining the scientific results produced by others. The process of propagating facts and related evidence and levels of uncertainty is often referred to as scientific education. People engaging in such activities are often referred to as scientific educators. A deeper level of understanding of specific domains of interest allows educators to develop scientific theories and predictive models, and also allows them to answer “why?” questions over multiple levels.

When beliefs that represent evidence based facts are propagated via the rapid and superficial process of cultural education, the resulting level of understanding is limited to opinions, and thus the recipients remain open to further influencing from those with different opinions.

In contrast, when beliefs that represent evidence based facts are propagated via a critical self-reflective process of scientific education that is at least one order of magnitude slower than the process of cultural education,  recipients – to a certain degree – are immunised against influence from those with opinions that contradict evidence based understanding.

Belief systems and their limits

Both opinions and evidence based facts are not propagated in isolation, but as part of conceptual frames and metaphors involving a set of related concepts and beliefs.

Within complex societies the frames that are associated with opinions are aggregated into dogmatic belief systems (sometimes referred to as group identities or isms). Over time individuals adopt a multitude of dogmatic belief systems, some of which may relate to large groups and others of which may relate to small groups of believers.

The frames that are associated with evidence based facts are aggregated into belief systems referred to as scientific paradigms. A single individual may over time become proficient in the use of a variety of paradigms relating to one or more domains of empirical knowledge.

The boundaries between dogmatic belief systems and scientific paradigms are not always clear cut. In particular in the age of “big data”, the reliance on “second hand” and “derived” data is making it increasingly difficult and time consuming to verify scientific theories and associated evidence.

The potential of scientific education lies in its ability to act as an immunisation against dogmatic belief systems that may inflict serious damage on the planetary ecosystem and its ability to sustain larger mammals including humans.

The main danger of traditional forms of scientific education lies in the potential for the creation of narrow silos of knowledge. In this context transdisciplinary meta paradigms such as MODA + MODE can be assist to establish bridges and essential levels of shared understanding between knowledge silos and paradigms.

Learning vs manipulation

Both cultural education and scientific education results in learned beliefs that are of value for collaboration and co-ordination within social groups. However cultural education (and scientific education to a lesser degree, only when contaminated with tampered evidence) can also be used for social manipulation and for the perpetuation of social power gradients within stratified groups and societies, which leads to potentially dangerous levels of cultural inertia and limits the ability of a group or society to learn and adapt to changes in the environment.

The vast majority of online social communication tools have been designed to support and promote the propagation of beliefs via the rapid process of influence rather than via the much slower process of evidence based learning and education.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the role of influence within the dogmatic belief system of financial capitalism that underpins our current society.

Financial capitalism turns human life into a popularity contest where money is the most effective tool for gaining influence and social status in a primate dominance hierarchy. Instead of celebrating the innate human collaborative tendencies, financial capitalism (similar to earlier forms of human “civilisations”) systematically exploits the psychological weaknesses that humans share with other primates, and discards valuable cultural insights from earlier small scale (human scale) hunter gather societies that originally allowed humans to become more successful than other primates.

If collectively we are interested in creating a more equitable society, and in developing cultural practices and tools that improve our ability to adapt and learn to live on a finite planet, together with a rich diversity of other species within a dynamically evolving planetary ecosystem, then we can’t afford to close our eyes and ignore the abuse of influence for the purpose of  perpetuating beliefs and behavioural patterns that are systematically destroying our only life support system in the universe.

Preventing the abuse of influence for personal gain

The challenge: Where in society are we likely to find groups where 10% of the people within the group are committed to

  1. the slow and gradual process of knowledge validation and scientific education
  2. and to the prevention of the abuse of influence?

The following video clip illustrates the dominant role of influence and the negligible role of evidence based understanding in the power dynamics within modern “civilised” societies, even amongst the more honest politicians.

For corporate and government politicians who are drunk on the drug of social power, life is a popularity contest. The need for learning and deeper levels of understanding is minimised, and the lives of others become secondary considerations that rank below the objective of maintaining and strengthening established power structures.

Perhaps we should look to neurodivergent people, who are committed to learning as much as possible from first hand experience, who have above average levels of perseverance, and who are less subject to being influenced by popular opinion. Creative neurodivergent people are essential as catalysts for cultural change.

In particular autistic people tend to:

  1. apply the precautionary principle when assessing risks and making important decisions
  2. have a deeper than average levels of understanding of specific domains of interest, and as a result are able to answer “why?” questions over multiple levels, and are able pass on their first hand domain experience and knowledge to others – they act as experimenters and scientific educators
  3. be committed to updating their knowledge based on new evidence, and are not easily persuaded by popular opinions that are not backed up by evidence / local first-hand experience

Non-neurodivergent people tend to:

  1. ignore the precautionary principle as needed to maintain or increase their popularity
  2. have average levels of scientific understanding of their social and physical environment, and as a result are unable to answer “why?” questions over multiple levels – they act mainly as influencers and amplifiers of opinions and cultural practices
  3. be concerned about their level of popularity, and may swiftly adapt their beliefs to shifts in popular opinions

Judy Singer, an autistic activist who coined the term neurodiversity in 1998, frames the essence into one simple observation:

“I always used to say: There are two types of people in the world. Those who would never let the pursuit of social acceptance get in the way of the pursuit of Truth. And those who would never let the pursuit of Truth get in the way of the pursuit of social acceptance.”

From what anthropologists and archaeologists can deduce from small scale prehistoric “uncivilised” societies, the most important social norms in all such societies apparently were norms that prevented individuals from gaining social power over others.

It is time to depathologise neurodiversity and reintegrate this old wisdom into the fabric of our societies.

Collectively our preferences for either trusting influencers or evidence based learning  constitute a choice between the madness of crowds and the wisdom of crowds.

Successful cultural transformation relies on the existence of easily accessible psychologically safe and neurodiversity friendly environments in time and space (physical and virtual) as crystallisation points for knowledge sharing.

The local social environment around neurodivergent people allows the 10% threshold for the propagation of new insights and deep innovation to be reached mainly via a continuous process of creative exploration and evidence based understanding, and much less so via the easily corruptible process of social influence.

The result is a healthy form of cultural evolution that leaves adequate room for knowledge validation and the precautionary principle, and that offers less opportunities for manipulative social power games.

Releasing the handbrake on learning and collaboration

The easiest path for improving organisational learning involves reducing the influence of hierarchical power structures and bureaucracy by implementing a simple advice process. Before making a major decision that affects others in the organisation:

  1. A person has to seek advice from at least one trusted colleague with potentially relevant or complementary knowledge or expertise.
  2. Giving advice is optional. It is okay to admit lack of expertise. This enables the requestor to proceed on the basis of the available evidence.
  3. Following advice is optional. The requestor may ignore advice if she/he believes that all things considered there is a better approach or solution. Not receiving advice in a timely manner is deemed equivalent to no relevant advice being available within the organisation. This allows everyone to balance available wisdom with first hand learning and risk taking.
  4. A few simple prosocial design principles provide guidance for dealing with people who regularly ignore relevant advice (or consistently refuse to seek or give advice) and therefore regularly cause downstream problems for others as a result. Such situations are obvious for all involved. A persistent breakdown of collaboration either results in a significant change in behaviour once the downstream problems are recognised, or in the non-cooperative person leaving the organisation.

Onwards towards trusted collaboration at human scale

Join us for the next CIIC workshop on 8 December (Auckland) and 15 December (Melbourne)! CIIC provides a great opportunity for all participants to outline wicked problems they are wrestling with, and to obtain access to the perspectives and questions from others with complementary expertise and interests.


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Creating an inclusive culture of innovation and collaboration

Psychological safety is a fundamental prerequisite for creating a learning organisation and for reducing the organisational and individual bias against creativity. Yes, you read correctly, humans have a bias against creativity at both a collective and at an individual level. Overcoming that bias is only possible in a safe environment that includes people with neurodivergent cognitive lenses. Neurodiversity is the at the core of creativity.

A genuinely safe environment allows people to be themselves, take risks, make mistakes, raise problems, ask questions, and disagree.

Does your organisation offer safety?

Creating collaborative learning organisations / ecosystems is as much about unlearning traditional management techniques from the industrial era, as it is about reacquainting ourselves with our innate collaborative tendencies and relearning how to be curious and how to think critically.

The limits of industrial era thinking have been recognised for many decades as illustrated in this classic dialogue between Russell Ackoff and W Edwards Deming.

Note the comments on idealised redesign, institutionalised dysfunctionality, and the interconnections between learning and teaching.

Many organisations today are still stuck in the information age – trying to “monetise” information, ignorant of how to transition to the knowledge age – which benefits from creativity, trusted collaboration, niche construction and knowledge flows, rather than from simplistic information flows.

Learning is catalysed by providing safe open spaces

The value of open spaces is obvious to regular CIIC attendees, but it is not widely understood by most organisations, usually as a result of never having experienced genuinely safe open spaces in a world dominated by busyness as usual and delusional conceptions of success and performance.

law-of-2-feet.jpg

S23M is facilitating a CIIC-style Open Space workshop in relation to the healthcare sector in New Zealand on the topic of this blog post (trust building, thinking, and learning tools to create an inclusive culture) at the upcoming HiNZ conference on 21 November in Wellington.

This workshop brings together a broad range of professionals working in the healthcare sector, academic researchers, and creative innovators to jointly tackle wicked problems that don’t have an obvious solution. In most cases deep innovation and breakthrough improvements in performance are the result of an interdisciplinary effort, drawing on insights from disciplines that lie beyond the focus and capabilities of any single organisation. Whilst the level of automation is rising in many domains, human tacit knowledge, situational awareness, and the ability to develop trusted relationships amongst peers and with patients are critical elements of optimal service delivery. 

The organisers encourage participants to submit concrete problem statements in advance and to bring along their culture and collaboration challenges for discussion with peers in Open Space. 

If your work relates to the healthcare sector, you are invited to register and attend.

Note, 26 November 2018: The results have been published on this page. If you work in the healthcare sector and would like to get involved, please email Jorn Bettin.

Learning how to ask good questions

The questions one is able to ask depend on one’s entire prior life experience, and the same constraint applies to one’s interpretation of the answers received and the resulting interactive flow of further questions and answers.

Similarly, the mental models one is able to draw on white boards and represent in other media, as part of answering questions and sharing of knowledge depend on one’s entire prior life experience.

These constraints hint at the value of cognitive and experiential diversity within teams and organisations.

In a world that is dominated by the linear format of spoken and written language, it may not be obvious that the human ability to ask valuable questions and to develop explicit abstract representations of advanced forms of deep knowledge is not dependent on linear representations.

It is no accident that all useful meeting rooms are equipped with a white board.

Knowledge recorded in artefacts such as stick charts from the Marshall Islands illustrates that written language is not a prerequisite for inventing powerful non-linear representations of knowledge that capture details that are impossible to convey efficiently and reliably in a linear stream of spoken or written words.

Such compact representations of knowledge also illustrate that humans have been aware of the limitations of linear representations for a long time. Otherwise we would have had no need to invent stick charts or any of the other non-linear representations that we make use of in our mental worlds, which find their way into works of art and artistic performance, into widely used visual iconography, into the visual notations used in various mathematical theories, and into the ever growing pool of digitised versions of all of the above.

The MODA + MODE meta paradigm builds on these insights and offers a powerful set of transdisciplinary thinking tools that assist organisations in avoiding the trappings of single paradigm approaches.

Creating safe open spaces within your organisation

By attending the quarterly CIIC workshops you can observe and contribute to open space in the public domain, share experiences with creative and neurodivergent people, and learn about critical thinking tools that can assist your organisation to imagine and realise ideas that are incompatible with busyness as usual.


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Towards human scale societies

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In the September CIIC workshop in Auckland we discussed the effects of anthropocentrism, and we concluded by compiling a set of assumptions that may assist in reducing anthropocentric bias and in developing approaches for re-framing ecological collapse and climate breakdown into an opportunity for reinventing the foundations of civilisation:

  1. People are empathetic
  2. Given the level of automation of manual labour and given our technological capabilities, we have the time to implement good ideas
  3. Knowledge and scientific understanding is valuable and worthwhile preserving
  4. Humans have individual agency
  5. Exerting power over others is not acceptable
  6. Non-hierarchical competency networks learn faster than hierarchical organisations
  7. In a competency network human efforts can be coordinated via an advice process
  8. Human economies are best conceived as closed-loop zero-waste systems, and human progress can be measured in terms of improvements in waste metrics
  9. The value of knowledge is maximised by making it freely available for validation and use
  10. Most people try to do the best possible thing given their circumstances

Perhaps even the word civilisation is counter-productive when attempting to reduce anthropocentric bias. Perhaps it is more appropriate to define the goal as (re)discovering the foundations for human scale societies.

Exploring new cultural terrain

Whilst the latest IPCC report has made a few waves in the mainstream media, the cultural inertia maintained via the hierarchical structure of most human organisations / institutions stands in the way of any timely process of organisational learning.

However, in a world of more than 7 billion people it is easy to underestimate the number of individuals and emerging organisations on the fringes of mainstream society that have already embarked on entirely new trajectories, leaving behind obsolete ideologies and simplistic economic dogma.

The discussions, interviews, and talks below illustrate a number of individual and collective trajectories that explore new terrain and that generate learning resources that are available to all of us. Each one of these trajectories covers a complementary aspect of the current “version” of the Anthropocene, and only in combination do they allow a listener who is not an expert in all the aspects of  the Anthropocene (no one can possibly be) to grasp the essence of the current dynamics unfolding in the biosphere:

Joe Brewer and Daniel Thorson : State of the Collapse

Joe Brewer was one of the organisers of the inaugural Cultural Evolution Conference in 2017. The interview above covers a lot of ground:

  • Shifting from an anthropocentric lens to a living systems lens
  • Recognising the various time and spatial scales of the process of collapse around us
  • Learning to value diversity via learning to grieve for the loss of diversity
  • Creating human-scale learning organisations that are capable of reinventing the foundations of civilisation

The questions that this interview does not cover relate to languages and techniques for sharing and preserving valuable knowledge. These questions become important over the longer term (decades, centuries and longer) to prevent the re-emergence of pop cultures, personality cults and other social diseases that have led to the current state of the planetary ecosystem and to learning disabled human societies.

Brad Katsuyama : The Stock Market had become an Illusion

This short talk will be useful to those who are unfamiliar with the myopic lens of financial economics – and also to those who are still convinced that whilst capitalism may not be perfect, that it still is the best way for coordinating human economic endeavours.

The talk illustrates the logic of capital, which I like to refer to as busyness as usual.

It is interesting to note that the presenter recognises the absurdity of some of the recent technological developments, but remains completely stuck in the box of competitive economic dogma, and in his work is completely detached from the life generating and life sustaining processes that operate on our planet.

Julian Assange : The generation being born now is the last to be free

This interview with Julian Assange covers further aspects of the hyper-competitive logic that has spread through all societies reliant on financial capitalism. The interview covers:

  • The level of competition for control at all levels of scale
  • The role of corporations and nations as core institutions in the competitive game

The bleak outlook of someone in the position of Julian Assange is perfectly understandable. As a result his reasoning does not consider the innate (even if suppressed by cultural beliefs and norms) collaborative tendencies of humans. Julian’s analysis assumes a perpetuation of super-human scale (“civilisation scale”) institutions as the dominant form of human organisation, and it ignores the possibilities of organising collaboratively at human scale, within an emerging global network of open source knowledge.

Michael Buerk and panellists : Moral Maze : Climate Change

This panel discussion provides insight into the current levels of awareness within the population about ecosystem collapse and climate breakdown. It is also interesting to hear George Monbiot articulate the need for non-fungible metrics from the physical world (for example to limit the amount of air travel as an essential part of reducing carbon emissions) and highlight the danger of misleading imaginary financial metrics.

Chris Hedges: Corporate Totalitarianism: The End Game

This is a longer talk. The link above cuts straight to the end, which offers a great commentary on the logic of capital and “investment”. Chris Hedges reminds the audience of  the innate collaborative tendencies of humans and through his work illustrates how to develop trusted relationships.

One important aspect that Chris Hedges does not cover is the topic of human scale, and the option to organise collaboratively at human scale. The risks and consequences of all super human scale forms of human organisation are perhaps best described in Joseph Tainter’s analysis of patterns of civilisation collapse.

Onwards towards trusted collaboration at human scale

Join us for the next CIIC workshop on 8 December (Auckland) and 15 December (Melbourne)! CIIC provides a great opportunity for all participants to outline wicked problems they are wrestling with, and to obtain access to the perspectives and questions from others with complementary expertise and interests.


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Setting the [anthropo|s]cene

This 2-minute video clip provides a good visual introduction to the anthropocene and this 5-minute introduction by Noam Chomsky provides the corresponding historical and political backdrop.

The human capacity for self-delusion

This documentary on inequality provides an excellent illustration of the level of self-delusion in contemporary capitalistic societies. An economic dogma predicated on perpetual growth provides an environment that nurtures instead of curbs the latent human tendency to develop an arbitrary socially constructed sense of entitlement and to construct deep social power hierarchies. The social norms that operated in small stateless societies and in hunter gatherer societies prior to the advent of large scale civilisations and empires did exactly the opposite and curbed any attempts to gain power over others, and such norms allowed human primates to become much more successful than all other primates. The documentary above compares the lives of

  1. a successful capitalistic entrepreneur
  2. a wealth manager and investor who has inherited a family fortune
  3. an engineer employed by a modern corporation

The entrepreneur relies on his work ethic and the abstract logic of capital as a justification for his sense of entitlement. In this context capitalistic economic dogma serves as the mental anaesthetic that numbs the human capacity for empathy, and long working hours provide a quasi-rational explanation for the entitlement to the profits generated by the team. The entrepreneur reasons that workers only need to be compensated to the extent that they can survive comfortably, and that any further compensation would be unjustified. This logic implicitly justifies arbitrarily high profit payouts to the entrepreneur. It becomes obvious that power acts as a powerful neurochemical drug that induces a delusional justification for a stratified society.

The wealth manager is unfamiliar with any notion of work that is related to creativity and production in the physical world. His entire world is constructed in terms of abstract notions of capital and return generating investments. In this world success is measured exclusively by the ability to multiply capital via abstract investment vehicles. In his professional life the wealth manager does not interact with people who depend on a salary. As a result, even if he understands that the construction of money as interest bearing debt provides him with a quasi-foolproof mechanism for generating returns, he is completely unable to relate to the lives of people who are not endowed with captial.

The engineer realistically grasps his situation on the perpetual treadmill of work in the social hierarchy, and the inability to ever accumulate any significant amount of capital. He has no option but to continue to work as an employee and perceives himself as being comparatively fortunate relative to less skilled workers who have to raise families on even smaller budgets. The only way to break out of the treadmill would be by embarking on a similar path to the entrepreneur, by neglecting family and other social relations, and by fully internalising the capitalist dogma and developing a sense of entitlement to more than mere employees – who may work less, but not anywhere close to the difference in compensation between the capitalist and employees.

In absolute terms all three candidates featured in the documentary are able to live comfortable lives, but there are huge differences in the level of individual agency afforded to each one by the social system. Ultimately the wealth manager wields the most power, by a significant margin. As shown in the documentary, in order to further grow his company, the entrepreneur is dependent on external investors, and this turns him into a tool of abstract finance.

Thus, in our civilisation, and in all money based civilisations to date, human agency accumulates in the hands of those who focus exclusively on their role as investors – that is in the hands of those who are completely disconnected from the lives of 99.9% of people and from the creative and productive processes that ultimately sustain the anthropocene and life on this planet.

The ultimate danger of inequality manifests in two interdependent delusions:

  1. the level of self-delusion and disconnectedness from the biological world of those who live exclusively in the stratosphere of finance, as it has the capacity to induce entire civilisations to commit collective suicide
  2. the ubiquitous belief in the universal utility of money and markets as an effective vehicle for intelligent collective decision making

The fatal myth of economic fungibility

In this article and corresponding talk George Monbiot explains in very accessible language why the notion of capitalism, which powers all modern economies, is fatally flawed.

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Once we look beyond the simplistic and culturally biased lens of money, we can focus on domain specific non-fungible metrics from the physical and living biological world to quantify various forms of waste and inequality in terms of access to food, knowledge, resources, and energy.

Human life as perpetual busyness

The essence is that most innovation in bigger organisations is just Apes**t:

it is not about getting good new stuff into the market, but it is all about looking good and ticking the box during annual reports and annual events. It’s marketing, and that is fine, as long as you know it and don’t deceit [sic] yourself that you are doing the real thing.

In this Apes**t world, innovation is a Brand Of Smiling Young Successful Energetic Good Looking People reflecting sentiments of cool, hip, young, dynamic, agile, fast moving, energetic, smiling, fun, and rule breakers.

The future anthropocene is human scale

Our society devalues tacit knowledge and understanding, in the belief that once automated systems are in place we no longer need to understand and help each other. We have forgotten about the notion of human scale and we are wondering why we end up with #BullshitJobs.

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Human Scale : 1980

 

The concept of human scale is not new:

Greek architecture was related to human scale, and expressive of its essential structural elements, yet was perfected in the temples, the greatest achievements of Greek architects, as habitations for the deities.

We have “just” ignored human scale for the last few hundred years, including the cognitive strengths and limits that define human scale.

If we have any desire to make the anthropocene inhabitable for future generations of humans, we are well advised to re-orient everything we do and the ways in which we live toward the goal of human scale rather than the tired goal of perpetual growth, which never was anything else but a nicer word for social cancer.

Join us for the next CIIC workshop on 22 September (Auckland) and 29 September (Melbourne) to discuss the challenges of  the Anthropocene and of reinventing the foundations of civilisation.


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Reinventing the foundations of civilisation for life in the Anthropocene

Modern global civilisation has triggered the Anthropocene, a new geological era characterised by the traces of human generated patterns of activities within the biosphere.

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In 2017, as part of the CIIC unconference series, we have explored the essential ingredients of what humans refer to as civilisation, and how these ingredients have repeatedly and consistently led to the rise and collapse of complex societies. A growing number of researchers now conclude that global civilisation has put the planet on a rapid trajectory towards a “Hothouse Earth”:

Even if a Stabilized Earth pathway is achieved, humanity will face a turbulent road of rapid and profound changes and uncertainties on route to it—politically, socially, and environmentally—that challenge the resilience of human societies. Stabilized Earth will likely be warmer than any other time over the last 800,000 years at least (that is, warmer than at any other time in which fully modern humans have existed).

…the contemporary way of guiding development founded on theories, tools, and beliefs of gradual or incremental change, with a focus on economy efficiency, will likely not be adequate to cope with this trajectory. Thus, in addition to adaptation, increasing resilience will become a key strategy for navigating the future.

… Generic resilience-building strategies include developing insurance, buffers, redundancy, diversity, and other features of resilience that are critical for transforming human systems in the face of warming and possible surprise associated with tipping points. Features of such a strategy include

  1. maintenance of diversity, modularity, and redundancy;
  2. management of connectivity, openness, slow variables, and feedbacks;
  3. understanding social–ecological systems as complex adaptive systems, especially at the level of the Earth System as a whole;
  4. encouraging learning and experimentation; and
  5. broadening of participation and building of trust to promote polycentric governance systems.

… The Stabilized Earth trajectory requires deliberate management of humanity’s relationship with the rest of the Earth System if the world is to avoid crossing a planetary threshold. We suggest that a deep transformation based on a fundamental reorientation of human values, equity, behaviour, institutions, economies, and technologies is required. Even so, the pathway toward Stabilized Earth will involve considerable changes to the structure and functioning of the Earth System, suggesting that resilience-building strategies be given much higher priority than at present in decision making. Some signs are emerging that societies are initiating some of the necessary transformations. However, these transformations are still in initial stages, and the social/political tipping points that definitively move the current trajectory away from Hothouse Earth have not yet been crossed, while the door to the Stabilized Earth pathway may be rapidly closing.

Collapse, transformation and reframing

The deep transformations of human societies that are required to shift the trajectory of the Anthropocene towards a Stabilized Earth state will only be possible by widespread adoption of a non-linear language system like the MODA + MODE human lens and the MODA + MODE backbone principles to reason about resilience-building strategies from multiple perspectives, and by using the human lens to address the foundational flaw shared by all human civilisations to date: the proliferation of incomprehensible (super-human scale) systems, i.e. systems that are far too complex to be understandable by any human individual or even by any group of humans.

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Specifically, all human civilisations so far have featured super-human scale institutions (cities, empires, corporations, etc.), super-human scale use of metrics (money in the form of national and global currencies), and super-human scale use of linear language (languages used by millions and billions of people, including super-human scale software systems encoded in linear languages).

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Ignorance of the importance of human-scale and understandability is the common thread within the patterns of growth and collapse of all civilisations. This observation holds the key for constraining the search space for transformations that may allow us to shift the trajectory from a fatal addiction to economic “growth” towards a Stabilized Earth state.

If we can design human-scale institutions (being mindful of Dunbar’s number), human-scale metrics (local and domain specific currencies), and human-scale languages (including human-scale supporting technologies), we may be able to transform our civilisation into a distributed network of locally understandable and adaptable and globally resilient subsystems.

In a recent article on deep adaptation Jem Bendell talks about “the inevitability of societal collapse”, which leaves open a whole range of outcomes. Near term extinction is at one end of the spectrum, and the other end is described as follows:

… a collapse of this economic and social system, which does not necessarily mean a complete collapse of law, order, identity and values. Some regard that kind of collapse as offering a potential upside in bringing humanity to a post-consumerist way of life that would be more conscious of relationships between people and nature. Some even argue that this reconnection with nature will generate hitherto unimaginable solutions to our predicament.

Jem Bendell closes with a very pragmatic conclusion:

… societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent nations. This situation makes redundant the reformist approach to sustainable development and related fields of corporate sustainability that has underpinned the approach of many professionals. Instead, a new approach which explores how to reduce harm and not make matters worse is important to develop. In support of that challenging, and ultimately personal process, understanding a deep adaptation agenda may be useful.

In some parts of the world what is described above is already the day to day reality. Based on all we know today, we can expect more of these effects in more and more places over the coming years, and perhaps that should inform our thinking and our actions.

In my cautious optimism I am all for reframing “collapse” into “transformation”, but at a fundamental level, to enable human scale collaboration at eye level.

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For the next CIIC workshop in September we are encouraging submissions related to the Anthropocene and to the challenge of reinventing the foundations of civilisation.


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