Friday, July 17, 2009

I think I'm Moving...

Okay, I'm still a newbie blogger, but I've started blogging at:
Why? I'm experimenting with sites. Word Press is a bit more complicated and less
user friendly that this blog service, but I'll see what happens. I'm not closing down any options yet. Speaking of moving, I can now move anything anwhere in any kind of weather in our 1994 Mitsubishi Delica 400 Exceed Spacegear. It's right-hand drive and we ordered it from Japan. We've joined the Delica club and went to our first "meet" last night!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Dream of Collective Intelligence

You've heard the words bandied about: global brain, networked consciousness, hive mind...but what do they really mean? What kind of social structures facilitate collective intelligence and why would such a concept be beneficial if it were to flourish?

According to Pierre Levy, collective intelligence "is a form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills . . . The basis and goal of collective intelligence is the mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals rather than the cult of fetishized or hypostatized communities" (Pierre Levy, Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace, trans. Robert Bononno, Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books, 1997, p. 13).

How do you mobilize the skills of people by putting them together in shifting, temporary formations that value their specialized forms of thought and labour? How do you allow for a kind of nomadic intelligence? These notions are very different from having isolated experts who selectively dole out what they know in a physical locale (such as the university). Academics might squirm at the idea of open access and unfettered sharing of information --- what about all their years of specialized training - will it put them out of work? Actually, it should offer them, as well as many others, new kinds of work, more varied, more dynamic, more global.

In its idealized form, collective intelligence utilizes communications technologies and results in a fluid, mobile database, an evolving hypercortex, that becomes the sum of human knowledge, easily accessible by everyone (eventually through wetware or direct human-technological interface). Is this the ultimate goal of freedom of information, the most optimistic goal for the world wide web? Or, is it all sleight of hand, seductive bait for the gullible or empty hope for the disenfranchised?

Levy notes that "we can't reinvent the instruments of communication and collective thought without reinventing democracy, a distributed, active, molecular democracy." Sounds cool, doesn't it, each person a little vibrating molecule contributing to the overall living breathing organism that is democracy?

Levy's attempt to redefine democracy is appealing. I often ponder what I call "pseudo-democracy." This is the democracy that offers us seemingly limitless choices. Unfortunately they are usually meaningless consumer choices, such as which one of the hundred bottles of shampoo should I purchase or which of the thousand available television channels should I watch? Freedom of speech still gets quashed --- just look at what happens to the anti-Olympic protestors. Obviously genuine empowerment is generally lacking within a pseudo-democracy. So, trying to think about democracy and technology in new, less disappointing, configurations is of interest to me.

My main concern (other than the use of mankind instead of humankind in the book title) is that data and information are not the same as knowledge or wisdom. Those come from thoughtful application and ethical action. How do you ensure that, when access to information invariably involves it being put, by some users, to sinister purposes. Not all molecules are benign...some may be mutant or monstrous.

Levy's book is a complex look at collective intelligence. He delves into power, economics, class, the legacy of modernism, and more. I cannot give justice to his thinking here. But even as I fret or cringe over some passages in his book, I find his perspectives intriguing nonetheless. He is, at least, trying to plot out and envision a more promising future.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Strengths Finder

I recommend the book by Tom Rath Strengths Finder 2.0. Once you purchase the book, you get a code to use on the website and take a survey that is followed up with a detailed report on what makes you unique based on all your answers, not just your top 5 strengths. Mine top 5 were Context, Ideation, Input, Intellection, and Learner. Unsurprising to me, these strengths almost all have to do with reading, thinking, interest in ideas, and sharing of ideas. Walks in nature and glasses of wine were not mentioned, but I suppose a survey is not a crystal ball.

I went to an entire workshop on Strengths Finder at Capilano University; it was led by Patrick Donahoe. It included exercises as well as inspirational video clips featuring Marcus Buckingham. He explained the differences between strengths and weaknesses. Strengths aren't necessarily what you're good at, they are what you are passionate about...those things that make you feel strong. They sustain and restore you. Weaknesses, no matter how much you try to overcome them, are what weaken and deplete you.

Find your strengths, use them as often as you can in your daily life, and make your greatest contribution by using them. Veer away from your weaknesses as much as possible and invest in your strengths. Channel them. First, though, you have to find out what they are and fine-tune them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I like old rusty vehicles, like this one off the Dollarton. It's an abandoned wreck, but that doesn't mean it never had value. Wrecking things is problematic, especially if it involves vandalism or wanton destruction (rather than effectively targeted destruction such as occurs in house renovations). Wrecking things denotes violence. However, wrecking weak ideas should always be encouraged, particularly if you replace them with more robust ones.

When you find weak ideas, attack them, critique them, squash them. Find the flaws and magnify them so that other people can also see the cracks in their foundations. The authors or speakers of the ideas being demolished, if they are true thinkers who believe in intellectual pursuits, will thank you for it, rather than being defensive, resentful, or insulted. They may try, in turn, to take the wrecking ball to your ideas. This should be welcomed and celebrated, since it's what happens when people are engaged and feisty thinkers! If you aren't willing to risk the vulnerability that inevitably comes with putting your thoughts out there in the world for intense scrutiny, then how will you ever improve and develop your own intellectual prowess?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


In Kevin Kelly's book Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World, he writes: "The apparent veil between the organic and the manufactured has crumpled to reveal that the two really are, and have always been, of one being. What should we call that common soul between the organic communities we know of as organisms and ecologies, and their manufactured counterparts of robots, corporations, economies, and computer circuits? I call those examples, both made and born, 'vivisystems' for the lifelikeness each kind of system holds" (3).

The made and the born...will we make this distinction in Kelly's version of the future, where the hive mind rules? Kelly's intimate connection with WIRED is significant here. If any publication has tried to define and plot out the economic-technological future, it is this one. Remember --- there is no such thing as the future; we only have the past and the now. The now just keeps extending. We are creating the "future" every minute. Kelly's book is full of fascinating ideas about complexity and the "neo-biological," but it might give you the shivers. The future is never a done deal. Don't give away your stake in it or disempower yourself by assuming you have no say.

I don't really like the term "vivisystem," it reminds me too much of vivisection, which unsettles me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Idea Generator

Academia is one of those realms in which one finds confident people and insecure people. It bothers me that, while disciplinary boundaries have been becoming more porous for years now, some people still stake out their territory with a persistent defensiveness. While I acknowledge that each discipline has a specialized vocabulary and set of interests and working methods, there is a way to translate these across disciplines. Collaboration cannot happen otherwise. The best thinkers, in my opinion, are tangential ones...those who make unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated things.

This musing of mine goes back to the notion of sharing rather than hording knowledge that I brought up in my very first blog entry. The only reason to be insecure about your own ideas is to think you have a finite number of them which is, of course, absurd. Barring cognitive impairment through injury or genetic factors, there is no limit to the amount one can process information and think.

I find that constant reading, writing, and creative work keeps ideas tumbling --- there are too many to act upon. Regular engagement and discussion of what interests you is the key to not only inspiring others, but making this very point.

In other words, my advice to fledgling academics as well as entrenched professionals is: invigorate those around you; thrive on your own interests (while making them interesting to others, especially those most remote from those interests --- convince them of their appeal). Be an idea generator!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Evolution and Organization (or Merging Again)

We all evolved from the microbial world; our ancestors are bacterial. I'm thinking again of the ideas of symbiosis, planetary integrity, merging with more complex networks, and our incredibly destructive human hubris. In Lynn Margulis' book Symbiotic Planet [A New Look at Evolution], she writes: "There are no 'higher' beings, no 'lower animals,' no angels, and no gods . . . Even the 'higher' primates, the monkeys and apes...are not higher. We Homo sapiens sapiens and our primate relations are not special, just recent: we are newcomers on the evolutionary stage." In other words, we need to reconnect with and respect our origins and understand (at a much deeper cognitive and visceral level) how our short-term actions and self-centred needs impact the environment, all ecostystems, the globe, and life generally. We newcomers are very dangerous children.

Margulis also notes: "The tendency of 'independent' life is to bind together and reemerge in a new wholeness at a higher, larger level of organization. I suspect that the near future of Homo sapiens as a species requires our reorientation toward the fusions and mergers of the planetmates that have preceded us in the microcosm." I'm still waiting for us to show signs of our potential to reach this higher wholeness, since we so frequently seem to be stalled in self-destruct mode. We are painfully slow to wake up to our failures. let alone compensate for them.