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Polytopia
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    Rewriting the equation Individual - Collective; Part I
    Project: Polytopia


    We behold an increase of attention to two very interesting concepts: plasticity and collective.
    Plasticity is becoming one of the main describers of how our brains may work as a substratum to our conscious abilities: neuroscience tell us that our synapses are plastic, our overall wiring is plastic, our perception of ourselves is plastic, and our description of our human nature itself seems on the way to acquire plasticity.

    The second term, Collective, is being found more and more in conjunction to the description of intelligence, as a living organism ability to contemplate and solve riddles, problems and paradoxes. So from cognitive studies we learn that the long process of achieving our current level of human intelligence and technological aptitude is a collective endeavor, we learn that carefully aggregated groups are more intelligent than the individuals that compose them, and more then anything else we sense that the ‘collective’ is becoming as never before a reliable interactive resource in our quest for evolution.

    Yet if to call this raised attention a line of change, which are the orders currently being disrupted?

    Since the first drawings of nations, constitutions and rights, we the citizens, got used to live as individuals among individuals, and when coming to confront any serious decisions pertaining collective consensus, citizens would turn to institutions (nations, courts, banks, organizations, cultural main streams) as the competent authorities. Institutions are the critical aspect of what allowed our civilization to grow and flourish and take care of its multiple facets. Yet on a different level their existence became across the years also a kind of mind habit (and habitat) and a ‘mediated’ attitude towards our personal engagement and influence upon how our worlds look and are being managed.

    More than few major factors are in the course of profoundly changing the picture upheld during the last centuries of national governance and citizenship:

    • the exponential growth of scientific and technological development and numbers of venues being made possible and actual,


  • the exploding human crisis and the critical pressures it exerts on our societies and worldviews,


    • the uncontrolled impact of our progress upon the planet we live in and upon our own bodies, and the resulting edge of catastrophe we stand at,


  • the exponential increase in connectivity and complexity of global events around the world



    • the speed that all the above situations require in response and action,


    The increasing level of complexity of the problems we are facing and the scope and scale of collaboration that they require from us are unprecedented, we witness a critical coming to the limit of capacity of our institutional systems.
    Our most urgent negotiations currently sit in a stall situation; climate change, peace, health, common goods, scientific and technological development, financial systems, education.

    Stalemate is the description of an obsolete equation responding for us in front of rapid change (exponential factors) in a complex environment (global world).

    Individuals and Collective - from obsolete to realization

    Describing the relation Individual-Collective, as we knew it till here, with Institution being the mediator between individuals and a Collective, we may grossly describe the difficulties contributed by each of the current actors when confronted with rapid changes in a complex environment:

    Individual: I would summarize the main difficulty by Confirmation-bias - “seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand” (great article to be read about it )
    It is one of the most studied biases in psychology. The natural tendency in human reasoning to look for arguments that support one’s point of view and sidestepping all others. In individuals or group of individuals upholding the same point of view this tendency produces overconfidence and lock-up into one hypothesis if not exposed to a situation of vivid dialogue, evaluation and criticism.

    Institutions : main difficulty - Sustaining existing Status-quo (see path-dependence ) - The tendency of any big organization to normalize any input to its existing format of work flow and decision-making process. Unwilling to support nor yield to any change that demands re-structuring and comport thus an expensive process.

    Collective: few difficulties - hardly visible / accessible, having no particular protocol for interaction, more an idea than a pragmatic existence, a “lottery” to be won by Celebrities in our civilization more than a conscious resource, demands grounds to be made visible, accessible and interactive. Mediated to the individual, as if, by the different kinds of institutions, representing the process of collective consensus (in a quite poor approximation)


    On a very bottom line we could say that concerning introduction and/or confrontation of change:
    Individuals will be very fast and single minded – yet carrying the danger of overconfidence and blind spots.
    Institutions, the way we still hold them, will be over-cautious and irrevocably biased to the existing status quo.
    The Collective as is, will show critical sensitivity to the grounds that are at any given time translating/triggering it into action: if a wave of public opinion, panic or rage in a mass, inspiration in an audience, dialogue and intelligent interaction..etc. In spite of its richness it is still largely considered unreliable for most pragmatic implication.
    Yet its status is very rapidly changing.

    A further critical factor

    This said, my intention is to focus upon the critical trend that we observe right now, the set of phenomena arising upon the substrata of growing connectivity and networks in our civilization, and the way they find manifest through our inter-net of personal computers, communication devices and restlessly firing synapses.

    I believe the two concepts mentioned at the beginning, Plasticity and Collective, and their interaction, are describing the way this last trend is opening a universe of new possibilities for rewriting long standing equations.

    A full family of new interfaces is arising between individuals and the potential of the collective, and vice versa in between a collective endeavor and the potential of individuals. Will mention here just a few examples to open the point:

    • open-source as the interface making it possible for individuals to participate in a collective endeavor no matter how grand, being it new computer language, new technological features, new forms of education, textbooks and more



    • wikis the ‘as if’ surprisingly simple interface allowing an unprecedented level of negotiation and live iteration upon the information and knowledge a group (no matter how numerous) of humans wish to share as common (common ground and common value)



    • crowd-funding as the possibility to expose through addresses on the web a personal project and get funding from the temporary group of individuals that find it interesting – relevant – worth



    • micro-financing – the possibility to use small amounts of money from numerous contributors to provide small loans to individuals that wish to open local businesses, independently from the banking system.



    • Peer to peer protocols and currency as the ability for individuals to share their “wealth” and generate value independently from a priori set institutional systems of measurement of value.



    Much there is to say on how the emerging interfaces irrevocably change the cultural habit towards how our worlds look and are managed. I will continue the exploration further, for now this is a first focused reflection upon them.

    Will end this first proposition with one observation:


    The correlation between two complex entities - individual and collective, conscious mind and a set of realities, human race and a planet, two good friends - when mediated by rigid systems (rules and institutions, fixed beliefs, un-questioned assumptions, reductive generalizations and in general any objectified unit of order which is separated from the dynamics at play) hardly ever work well enough to be trusted.

    Correlation and communication between complex entities demands plurality, redundancy, ambiguity, resiliency thus Plasticity; can never be locked into one specific shape for more than a moment, thus it always entails an aspect of multiplicity; and once it is ignited it is very difficult, if not impossible, to identify where does one entity begin and the other end, thus wherever relevant complex communication is on, a collective layer ignites and becomes available.

    One of the characteristic of the time we live in is that the equation Individual - Collective is being officially rewritten, and if this observation is right, than we will have to rethink our human hopes and fears across a different conceptual rim than the one we used till here, for the architecture we exist in has changed, fundamentally so.


    your thoughts..?






    Image 1 - Credit Ludovic Collin, Neurons in culture
    A cluster of cerebellar granule cells, growing in culture, start sending out long projections as they would in the developing brain.

    Image 2 - Credit Yirui Sun, Transplanted neural stem cells giving rise to neurons
    Mouse neural stem cells that have been transplanted into a mouse brain are developing into neurons.

    Image 3 - Credit @gavinkeech check the polytopia map post in the comments.

    Mon, Nov 22, 2010  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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