Sunday, March 10, 2019

A New narrative for a Flourishing-Creative World and a Generative Future

There must be no barriers for freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. —
J. Robert Oppenheimer, The Open Mind, p. 114 (1955)

Adaptation to change is the secret of life; without it, life will become extinct. The marvellous way life adapts, evolves and continues is the result of an elaborate and painful process.
THE HUMAN QUALITY by Aurelio Peccei

‘Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.’

Albert Einstein 1926

Everything nowadays is ultra, everything is being transcended continually in thought as well as in action. No one knows himself any longer; no one can grasp the element in which he lives and works or the material that he handles. Pure simplicity is out of the question; of simplifiers we have enough. Young people are stirred up much too early in life and then carried away in the whirl of the times. Wealth and rapidity are what the world admires…. Railways, quick mails, steamships and every possible kind of rapid communication are what the educated world seeks but it only over-educates itself and thereby persists in its mediocrity. It is moreover, the result of universalization that a mediocre culture become common [culture]....

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - 1825, Goethe’s Letters to Zelter.

For everyone who is concerned about the planet as our birthplace and future home, the narrative of sustainability has served to awaken and educate people to our responsibility to care for the planet.

But is a narrative of sustainability adequate for the complex challenges that face us in the 21st Century?

For many people this question will seem to be nonsense. How could sustainability be inadequate? Certainly it provides a positive frame for assessing human action. It is a frame that has taken a long time to become established in the popular mind. One that many also feel is a positive counterforce to traditional narrative of dominance and to the neo-liberal imperative of continual growth.

I want to suggest however, that the narrative of sustainability is inadequate for a number of reasons. I suggest that it cannot motivate people toward a more unified effort, a coherent collective mind, nor can it adequately guide us to create conditions for life to flourish in an evolving future.

I will offer a brief exploration of why we we need to consider an better narrative - a better meme to catalyse a more inclusive, diverse, deeper, positive and more coherent effort to address not only the current challenges we face - such as climate change, but also the inevitable known and unknown other challenges that will arise in our future on earth and maybe even elsewhere.

A key insight this discussion build on is
there is no solution for the challenges that face us (every solution inevitably enact a new field of problems) - thus there must always be a continual solutioning. Each step we make, changes the conditions of/for the next step - each solution inevitably creates new challenges.

As Stuart Kauffman notes - life and the biosphere creates the conditions of its own becoming. Life literally constructs itself.

It’s impossible to look at positive, productive visions of the future without seeing the context of despair out of which they arise or into which they sink.
Nick Montfort - The Future - p.149
Wikipedia offers this definition of sustainability:
The name sustainability is derived from the Latin sustinere (tenere, to hold; sub, under). Sustain can mean "maintain", "support", or "endure".
...the most widely quoted definition of sustainability as a part of the concept sustainable development, that of the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations on March 20, 1987: "sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".
….The organizing principle for sustainability is sustainable development, which includes the four interconnected domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture.

A key concept in the Wikipedia definition is maintain and endure. The qualification of endurance, appeals to surviving. But there’s a nuance that arises as of consequence of its common usage that pertain to keeping the same system going - which seems to refer to ongoing survival.
But also key is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs - which doesn’t have to imply that future needs won’t change or have to be met in the way we meet our needs today. In this way survival, may not necessarily mean sustaining the same systems, but rather requires an ongoing integration of adaptive change.
Applying the concept to human action, sustainable development is generally seen as being built on three interdependent and overlapping pillars of economic and social development and environmental protection. These pillars have served as the fundamental touchstones for developing many types of standards. A fourth pillar involves the longer term thinking necessary to ensure our future on the planet. Other considerations include the need to balance local and global efforts and concerns.
Fundamental in the concept of sustainability, is a focus to not destroy or degrade the natural environment. But a questions remains challenging - perhaps impossible to know in any short term (in a human generation) - how do we grasp inevitable change?

A key metric guiding some efforts to quantify concepts of sustainability is the ‘carrying capacity of our eco-systems’. Beyond respect for nature, other metrics also beg to be integrated into the concept, including: measures related to human rights, economic-social justice, and stewarding cultures of peace.
Concepts of sustainability are applicable to every human domain including agriculture, architecture, economics, and social systems among others.
The substantive aims of sustainability concepts are unquestionably positive - why can I even begin to question the concept as inadequate?
Although almost everyone acknowledges the profound evolutionary changes of the past - there is a sense that if it weren’t for human intervention, the state of the earth would remain relatively static for millions of years in the future. Within the frame of sustainability are logical entailments that include the sense of conserving the past as a heritage for the future.
Of course, from a human perspective, this seems eminently reasonable. In many ways, the concept evokes an image of an equilibrium of conditions that maintains a sort of ongoing status quo - by keeping fundamental change at bay.
Our first step toward making the possible real is to imagine it. The causal power of imagination “is nowhere in physics,”

Sustainability as Economics
Sustainability is a robust concept in the realm of business and other human endeavors related to the balance of expenses and profits - all businesses ultimately seek to sustain a margin of profit over their expenses over the longest time possible. While many business can incur occasional loses. This economic model is applicable to the family as well.
The rise of neoliberal economics and globalization has entailed that national economies now must operate ‘within’ the economy. Previously the ‘state’ contained the economy - but as the metaphor of the state as family became conventional wisdom - the state became simply an actor contained/constrained by the global economy. The entailing metaphorical reasoning meant that nations now had to ‘balance’ their budgets, eliminate deficits pursue cost efficiencies - or become ‘unsustainable’.
In this way, one of the most common sense meanings of sustainability has blended both an economic and ecological concept. Such that sustainability evokes a frame - to keep things as they are - to have things endure as they are, maybe forever.
But evolution - by definition is a state of continual change.
The anthropological evidence suggests that humans emerged within an evolutionary condition of climate change and survived during a prehistory that was overwhelmingly glacial. The pressures of harsh and changing environments were part of the conditions that favored or supported selection of capacities to adapt quickly - a key human feature.
It is also a fact that Climate Change is not the only challenge we face, and it will certainly not be our last great challenge-threat. It has been argued that human induced climate change is a symptom of a deeper problem of population growth and cultural pathologies.
In the 20th Century alone, the challenges humanity has faced include: the War to end all wars, a global pandemic, a Great Depression. Another World War, then a cold war that brought us to the edge of Nuclear Armageddon, a looming Population Bomb & potential Ice Age, global acid rain, an expanding atmospheric ozone hole, and finally topped off with a deeply uncertain Y2K.
The challenges are far from over - as the 21st century nears the end of its second decade - we have what may be a ‘Moore’s Law acceleration of ever more disruptive technology (with benefits and harms) - requiring fundamentally new social economic theories to handle accelerating change and near zero-marginal cost goods and services including a massive disruptive shift of a new energy geopolitics arising from a potentially ubiquitous cheap energy from renewables. Massive urbanization, historically unprecedented reversal of the age pyramid in many developed economies, massive economic inequality, and massive population dislocations.
Other uncertainties (of when but not if)- include inevitable surprises such as potential cataclysms of coronal mass ejections (CME) and large asteroids impacting the earth. There are more known challenges - but even more importantly are the challenges looming that are unknowable…. Until they strike. Not one of these challenges involve sustainability some sort of previous stability. Surviving and evolving is surely the key to ‘enduring’ through continual change.

Complexity, Evolution, Flourishing
The 21st Century has been called the century of complexity. Our collective minds are finally beginning to grasp some deeper implications of evolution, ecology, relativity, quantum reality, chaos. We begin to grapple with the profound uncertainty of a future that can’t be predicted and the nature of limits of what can be known or modeled. Science is expanding beyond the reductionism of a Newtonian worldview - let me quote Stuart Kauffman’s “Humanity in a Creative Universe”:
...with Newton we have come to believe we live in a world that is knowable, hence ‘solvable’. We can optimize, find the best solution, but typically do so only to prestated problems and opportunities. …. This not real life for the evolution of the biosphere, our economy, culture and history, where we often cannot know and cannot even prestate the opportunities and harms for becoming that will arise. Not only do we not know what will happen, we often do not even know what can happen. If we cannot prestate what can happen, we cannot know what can happen and thus cannot reason about it. But we must live forward anyway, and reason….
Kauffman goes on to state:
The becoming of the biosphere is beyond law, … reductive materialism as a whole must fail, for the biosphere, lawless, is part of the universe and cannot be governed by a final theory, Furthermore, the becoming of the biosphere is more mysterious than we have thought, for it demonstrably creates the very possibilities into which it becomes, and it does so without selection’s ‘acting’ to achieve those possibilities. … Not everything that is real, can be predicted or known ahead of time.
Kauffman paraphrases Hericlitus in noting that the biosphere creates the conditions of it own becoming. Each step made not only changes the conditions for the next step but enables new unpredictable possibilities, affordances and/or potential exaptations.
Another quote from the scientist who ‘changed the tree of life’ Carl Woese.
It is difficult to imagine that the discipline which defined biology in the last century—that taught us so much and provided such benefit to the ambient society—is fundamentally flawed. But that is the case. Molecular biology expressly established itself within the (classical) Newtonian worldview. As such, its perspective was fundamentally reductionist. In other words, all things were explainable, completely and solely, as the sum of their various parts—which also meant that they could (in principle) be predicted a priori.
In this Newtonian world, the study of biology becomes a highly derived sub-discipline of the basic science of physics—in effect, an engineering enterprise; there is nothing “fundamental” about it. Biology becomes a study of machines made of assemblages of parts and the interactions among them, an exercise in describing, but not explaining, things as they are.
However, it is intuitively obvious that the essence of biology lies not in things as they are, but in things coming into existence. Biology is a study, not in being, but in becoming. …. A discipline whose perspective is that of classical 19th century physics is inherently incapable of dealings with the problems of a nonlinear world, which is non-reductionist, non-deterministic (acausal), and works in terms of fields and emergent properties, not a static world of particles with linear relationships among them.
From the science of Chaos, we have learned about the ‘sensitivity to initial conditions’ - the butterfly effect - where the flapping of a butterfly in Singapore initiates perturbations that compound (like interest) to become instrumental in forming a tornado in Texas. Just based on this knowledge of chaos science (other domains such as complexity and emergence add to uncertainty and unpredictability) we understand that we cannot predict the future because we can never know how small a difference will make a difference - nor how large a difference won’t make a difference at all. Thus - the power of modeling is not in the predictive capabilities - but rather in helping us understand interdependencies within frameworks of efficient causality.
But a more radical insight from Chaos science is that just as we can’t predict the future - neither can we predict the past -since we can never know the complete initial conditions nor all the butterflies that contributed to an initial condition.
Ways of Reasoning
Humans excel at pattern recognition - we connect dots to create pictures and narratives - use these as metaphors to help ourselves make sense of the world - to make it seem more intelligible. In constructing a causal chain of events - we can never know the ‘sensitivities of the past’s initial conditions’. The cascading dominoes of efficient causation is often a robust metaphor that gives us ‘good enough’ narratives to make sense of the past - to give us ways of making our world and experience intelligible - and to learn how to do things. Science is full of contested ideas of ‘why things happen as they do’. The chief strength of science is it capacity to test our knowledge in way that enable us to ‘do’ things - regardless of whether we know why.  
Metaphors are not simply a way to decorate knowledge - they fundamentally shape how we reason (e.g. see anything by George Lakoff - frames, metaphors, narratives). Metaphors enable the cross-domain mapping of knowledge - without which we could not encounter anything new and grasp it in some way - we must lever something we are familiar with in order to shift it into ‘knowability’ (Wow it tastes like orange and looks like an apple).
Once a metaphors seizes a collective hold on culture they become unconscious shaping how we see the world. If make two identical copies of a list of data about crime and label one copy “Crime is a Beast” and the other copy “Crime is a Disease” and give each list to a different group of people asking them to consider what to do about crime - each group will tend to reason differently.
The ‘crime-as-a-beast’ group will tend to consider capturing, gaging, killing the criminal, etc. The ‘crime-as-a-disease’ group will tend to consider how to prevent crime, inoculate society against the spread of crime, etc.
Once a metaphor has taken hold of the way we reason it can’t be unseated just with facts. Only another metaphor (or frame) can unseat it. Therefore we must be mindful of the metaphors we use, of how we use them and of increasing our repertoire of metaphors (and frames) in order to make how we reason about the world and our experiences more robust, more useful.
As Kauffman and others are pointing out - the metaphors of efficient causation are approaching their limits in the 21st Century. We now must develop frames and metaphors to enable complementary ways of reasoning more consistent with aspects such patterns of interconnectedness, entanglement, inclusivity, unpredictability, uncertainty, impermanence, hope, optimism, creativity and science as honest accounts of evidence - rather than as sources of uncontested truth.
A key metaphor that is imbued in many accounts of the world is growth. Economists present unlimited growth and ecologist talk about a finite world. Both accounts are flawed.
The key idea in evolution is survival; yet living organisms, by definition, are dying all the time; they live by dying, which is metabolism.
Biological "survival" is a grand, breathtaking, and accurate metaphor, but only a metaphor. Nothing of a gene is surviving in material reality when it reproduces; what "survives" is a piece of abstract information, the sequence [pattern] of nucleotides on the DNA chain [none of the same atoms or molecules]. My liver dies and resurrects itself every few days. It is no more "surviving" than a flame.
A billion-year-old chunk of granite would, if it could, laugh at the lunatic claims of an organism to be "surviving" by hatching eggs, or by eating and excreting. …Yet... there is as much limestone, built from the corpses of living organisms, as there is granite.
A mere phantom – a pattern of information – can move mountains.
And if so abstract, so spiritual a thing as that pattern can masterfully determine the structure of large chunks of matter and the whole surface of our planet, why should not the even more abstract and metaphysical entities of goodness, freedom, spirit, soul, divinity and beauty? And has not the success of the epic-composing societies borne out this strange fact in the realm of human history?
- Frederick Turner - Epic: Form, Content, and History - paraphrased
Quoted by David Brin in his Book – Existence
The earth is not a closed system - the earth is an open system receiving vast amounts of energy for as long as it and our sun exist. What this means if that the earth is not as finite as most think. We understand now that matter is a form of energy and vice versa - living systems create matter from energy and can also derive energy from matter. Thus there is more matter on earth than there was 3 billion years ago. If a living system stops growing - then it is dying.
In fact death is a measure of metabolism and metabolism is harnessed not so much to preserve a past as it is to creatively generate novel futures in response-ability to environmental-context change.
What Turner insightfully points out is that there is no life without metabolism - without death - and death is transformation. Does the caterpillar die in the cocoon? In the Galapagos did the original species of finch die?
Ecologies grow in niche density and diversity but also transform as ever larger contexts of change. And Moore becomes different (pun intended). Without metabolism-as-death there is no life and there is no evolution - no possibilities of transformation and novelty.

Metabolism enables living systems to have the capabilities of adaptation and exaptation - to reveal and seize affordances, adjacent possibles  - to creatively generate novelty. Evolving life is an eternal process of niche construction that in turn changes the conditions of the ecological context - where every output is an input to an existing niche or opportunity for a new niche - enabling the growth of the living systems. In the same way a human can grow their whole lifetime until the moment of death and metabolic transformation.  
There is no point at which evolution would stop ‘growing’, unless it was no longer ‘alive’. Evolution is the process of not simply adapting - but creatively generating new complexities - levels of complexity and the possibilities of emergence of life forms. This is growth - with no end in sight. Even if we reduce the problem to economic growth - in order to successfully meet the challenges of climate change - we will have to continue to ‘grow’ many capacities - human, social, political, and technological (in fact the technologies to ‘grow’ matter will become increasingly vital).
Marshall McLuhan offered made many brilliant probes about the advent of the electronic age. I’ve assembled a few of that were made at various time but on the same theme.
When Sputnik went around the planet in 1957 the earth became enclosed in a man-made environment and became thereby an “art” form. The globe became a theatre enclosed in a proscenium arch of satellites. From that time the “audience” or the population of the planet became actors in a new sort of theatre. Mallarmé had thought that “the world exists to end in a book.” It turned out otherwise. It has taken on the character of theatre or playhouse. Since Sputnik the entire world has become a single sound-light show. Even the business world has now taken over the concept of “performance” as a salient criterion.
“Roles, Masks and Performances” New Literary History 2:3 1971
When we put satellites around the planet Darwinian nature ended. The earth became an art form subject to the same programming as media networks and their environments. The entire evolutionary process shifted, at the moment of Sputnik, from biology to technology. Evolution became not an involuntary response of organisms to new conditions, but part of the consensus of human consciousness. Such a revolution is enormously greater and more confusing to past attitudes than anything that can confront a mere culture or civilization.

The planet is now the content of the new spaces created by the new technology. Instead of being an environment in time, the earth itself has become a probe in space. That is, the planet has become an anti-environment, an art form, an extension of consciousness, yielding new perception of the new man-made environment.
Marshall McLuhan Unbound, p.10. 2005

McLuhan challenged us with probes to re-imagine the impact of the electric and the digital environment and our future. They signal a primal change in the conditions of change - in human’s changing relationship with themselves, their planet, their galaxy.  

The Earth is an Art Project
Art is primarily a human domain of aesthetics - although most would also agree no single aesthetic framework plays a defining role. For earth to become an art project - we must confront an ecology of aesthetic values that will guide human action in shaping the future of our world and our existence.
But in an honest account we must also accept that all domains of human effort and knowledge are shaped by aesthetics frameworks - of one sort or another. Even hard science is guided by various frameworks of aesthetic values - such as Occam’s Razor, rules of logic, standards of evidence, etc.
Science and art are co-creators in the endeavors of human knowledge - each is necessary to the other.
Science is the exploration of the world and our experience to gain knowledge of ourselves and our world. Science can’t provide the answers of why, but does expand our knowledge as ‘know-how’. We don’t know why gravity exists,  but we have theories that describe how it arises and how it works - these theories give us know-how to deal with gravity to expand human capability.
The Arts (liberal and creative) reflect human searching of creative possibilities and meanings - in order to pose the questions of why - to reveal the light and its shadows - elaborating implications inherent in our applications of our knowledge of ourselves and our world. McLuhan proposed that the fundamental role the artist played was to create ‘anti-environments’ that would reveal the invisible ground of the environment we take for granted. The artist’s role is to create an ‘anti-water’ environment that enables the fish to understand its taken for granted world of water.
The arts require know-how as much as science does - the frontiers of both the arts and the science inevitably involve the tinkering with new instruments, new measures, new tools (conceptual and material). Both embody their knowledge in these instruments and tools. Both fundamentally rely on the type of knowledge referred to by the Greeks as Techne - a form of embodied - tacit knowledge - which is also the root of our word Technology. Thus Techne = embodied knowledge = technology.
Once we grasp that technology is embodied knowledge, we can now grasp that language and culture are also forms of technology. To abstract humans as separate from technology is to engage in a form of psychological denial of our own knowledge. As McLuhan noted, “Technology is the most human thing about us”.
Both science and art seek to provide us with knowledge of our world and use a sort of  conscious understanding of the aesthetics of our assumptions.
McLuhan’s probe, is a challenge not just to re-imagine the aesthetic framework but to bring to light - to bring to a new consciousness what values will inform our framework of understanding and more importantly to ask how we will value our values?
What does it mean for the earth to now be now contained within a human-made container and to be transformed into a co-creator of it's own becoming?
The next posting will explore this idea as an emerging narrative of our future.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Emerging Constraints of the Digital Environment and the Future of Identity.

The sciences of complexity offer a powerful framework for understanding change in the conditions of change. This paper, explores in broad strokes, essentially providing only hints, a complexity concept of ‘attractor of efficiency’ as a paradigm for understanding mutually shaping constraints related to the work of shaping social fabric, social structures and individual identity. Three basic attractors are important to this discussion. The attractors: Shaping hunter-gatherer experiences (where anarchy is the most efficient); Shaping civilizations up to the emergence of post-industrial society (where hierarchy is most efficient); and Shaping the emerging digital environment (where programmable self-organization, networked individualism and responsible autonomy is most efficient). Another key concept explored is the relationship of constraints derived from accounting and accountability to shaping identity and social fabric.


Complex systems often configure 'attractors'. Attractors are non-linear, non-repeating paths of changes, contained in recognizable patterns. The ‘field’ (phase space) of an attractor is a basin constituted by a number of key variables. When the variables remain within related variances they form the attractor’s boundary conditions.

Economic attractors are constituted by boundary conditions such as: transaction-opportunity costs, population size/density, conditions of governance. Changing boundary conditions can nudge an attractor toward another basin or field. Attractors of efficiency play a key role in explaining evolving constraints of identity related to the work of creating social fabric.

Extensive and Intensive Change

The measurable world involves extensive and intensive properties. Extensive properties include measures of such as length, width, breadth, volume, mass, etc. Change of extensive properties creates predictable change in quantity or shape.

Intensive properties are measures related to populations – such as temperature, pressure, density, etc. For example, a single molecule of water does not have temperature or ‘wetness’.

Phenomena measured by intensive properties are subject to Phase Transitions. These are dramatic and fundamental changes within narrow band of difference, such as when water turns to ice.

Phase transitions can also initiate proliferating divisions (bifurcation). A bifurcation graph is a metaphorical illustration of the increases in divisions of labor, specialization or exchange-communication flows that arise when human populations increase in size, densities and/or connection.

Finally, complex, living systems require constraints that enable a release and harnessing of energy, resource or information flows to perform the work of sustaining the system.

The first surprise is that it takes constraints on the release of energy to perform work, but it takes work to create constraints. The second surprise is that constraints are information and information is constraint.
Stuart Kauffman –in Deacon (2012).

Social Attractors of Efficiency

Increased population density enables new divisions of labour, and specialist occupations that become domains of knowledge. New roles arise shaping new forms of exchange. New institutions also emerge. All of which influence the construction of identity.

Dunbar (2014) argues group size is determined by cognitive constraint determining the stable close ties an individual can maintain – the Dunbar number of 150 to 250. This is a direct function of the relative size of the brain’s processing capacity for relationships and also constrains possible divisions of labor, for example: elder, adult, child; man, woman; hunter, gatherer; shaman, healer. Larger numbers of ‘close ties’ require other constraining rules, laws and norms.

Graeber (2014) established that debt and credit (including the flow of favors) has been the heart of social fabric forming a social accounting of ongoing obligation and moral conscience. In fact, exact reciprocity of exchange tends to signal a desire for no relationship.

In early gatherer societies identity was constrained in statuses and roles of a ‘pecking order’ social structure. The idiosyncrasy of individual character –temperament, talents and skills was constrained to fit within social status and roles. The constraint of the Dunbar number means there can be no ‘private’ person, no experience of anonymity.

Coase (1990) established transaction costs as an economic constraint. Transaction costs are frictions related to patterns and rates of interaction, including: time, effort, resources, missed opportunities and conditions constraining efforts to search, negotiate, enforce, coordinate and communicate. The assumption is that systems adopt structures and processes that are as efficient as possible. Other conditions such as population size and density; environmental niches, providences and rhythms; levels of technology; also shape the boundaries of efficiency.

Accounting and Exchange

The technologies of language and culture externalized human memory. Learning no longer had to be ‘encoded’ into DNA and experienced as instinct. Learning could be encoded in ‘memes’ enabling rapid transmittal, modification, replacement for adaptive acceleration in a wider variety of changing environmental conditions. Language, culture and meme provided a learning-exchange platform and better ‘insurance’ against loss of group knowledge or an individual’s genetic endowment. Social-learning favored cooperative behaviors for regulating intra-group fitness. Language enabled capacity to explore infinite forms of reasoning.

Human nature is less defined by selfishness or cooperation than it is by a capacity for social accounting – dynamic bookkeeping of relationships, constraining identity within a (moral) social fabric.

Maintaining a pecking order (social structure) is cognitively complex and demanding. Each individual assesses their relation with every other individual in a largely unconscious parallel process of social computing. The pecking order is a dynamic homeostatic process of moral accounting maintaining group cohesion. For example, when a hunter brings in a large animal to the group –the division of the animal is predetermined by the social structure. All know who gets what portions and parts and order of eating. Moral bookkeeping (Lakoff; 1995, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008) is a fundamental conceptual metaphor inherent in concepts of reciprocation, retribution, restitution, revenge, altruism and fairness. Even grooming among primates is a process of moral bookkeeping (establishing credit – paying debt) that maintains social structure and fabric.

Boehm (1999) helped establish evolutionary selection also operates on group levels. In competition between individuals, selfishness will trump. But if competition is between groups –then cooperative groups trump aggregations of selfish individuals. Primate and early human social structures were shaped by practical egalitarianism – a reverse hierarchy where the weak combine to control the strong.

Similarly, Graeber (2004) argues gatherers were anarchistic, enacting practices enacting cohesion and constraining relative autonomy by avoiding authoritarian methods of imposed decisioning. Decisioning emphasized concrete action, where all had real voice with minimum loss of ‘face’. “What is seen as an elaborate and difficult process of finding consensus is, in fact, a long process of making sure no one walks away feeling that their views have been totally ignored”, Graeber (2004, p. 89).

The attractor of efficiency in gatherer groups constrained identity into a relatively rigid public self, and a form of anarchy (Graeber, 2004; Dunbar, 2014) in order to do the work of creating and maintaining social fabric.

The Transition to Agricultural Civilizations

Tudge (1999) argues humans were proto-farmers for about 30,000 years (having knowledge of how to protect and plant food sources). What kept early humans from making the shift to agricultural societies sooner? Plausibly a constraint of memory – a capacity for sophisticated accounting.

Writing originated from accounting (Schmandt-Besserat, 2010). Simple systems of accounting externalized memory for managing greater diversity of divisions of labor and the complex exchanges of surpluses, products, expertise of a more complex social economy.

Written accounting changed the boundary condition of human memory, enabling a shift to larger, denser, agricultural societies. Anarchy could not scale to new population and density levels. A new attractor emerged favoring hierarchy (Coase, 1990). Hierarchy retained status structures and framing the efficiency of larger collective efforts and instituted new constraints on identity. Other emergent conditions included: bifurcation of occupations and new institutions; formal religious processes; forms of local markets; commons and collective infrastructures.

Identity was constrained in a larger range of roles, status and class structures, occupational and kinship networks. Encounters with strangers were mediated through trust established by extended personalized networks and through local governance (North, 1981, 2005).

In the Axial age, large scale warfare and currency emerged (Graeber 2012) needing impersonal forms of exchange. Invading forces obtained supplies with coin currency without depending on accounting of local social fabric. Currency was a concrete system of circulating trustworthy (enough) IOU’s. A paradox of externalized memory and an early mechanism mediating anonymity.

The Transition to Industrial Society

The emergence with cities and higher population densities created new constraints of impersonal diversified exchange, and mobility, engendering anonymity. Eventually, shaping new narratives of the self eventually formulating the individual as isolated, atomistic and selfish. Wider networks of loose ties and encounters with unknown (perhaps unknowable) strangers (moments of potential new behaviors enacting mirror neurons) created conditions for an emerging public and private self.

New institutions emerged for verification and validation of identity to provide certificates, licenses, credentials, verifications, ‘papers’, etc. It became possible to ‘steal an identity’. Psychological independence, a private self, and institutions of authentication, were new constraint on identity to enact the work required to sustain an economy of increasingly impartial exchange arising from political-economic concepts of markets, equality and a freedom to self-actualize. The faceless (anonymous) worker is also a currency for the work constituting industrial society.

The industrial age shifted the attractor of efficiency – favouring paradoxical constraints of hierarchy and a freedom through anonymity and property rights.

Constraints Emerging in the Digital Environment

Rifkin (2014) suggests capitalism will be displaced by collaborative commons, not erased, but contained in a larger economic ecology of new modes of production relevant to near-zero marginal costs. The digital environment exponentially increases social fluidity and change – obsolescing the primacy of scaling efficiency and highlighting the marginal value of network effects. Marginal value of networks being determined by ‘Metcalf’s Law’ (value is the number of nodes squared = n2) and ‘Reed’s Law’ (group forming networks where value is the possible number of sub-groups = 2n).

The concept of exponentially increasing marginal value, in the digital environment, is key to grasping how to govern, manage and account for the non-rival nature of knowledge, information, data and potentially any near-zero marginal cost goods or services. The digital environment is essentially a vast copying and connection platform (an intensive medium – acting as a global nervous system) enabling algorithmic intelligence to function as an external neocortex (pattern making-learning brain system).

Wellman and Rainie (2012), establish ‘networked individualism’ as an emerging social operating system in the digital environment. Identity is now beyond being shaped by close and loose ties and now involves having audience(s). The rise of personal brand (by definition needs audience) retrieves (McLuhan, 1989, 2001, 2011) a tribal constraint on identity. Paradoxically, digital platforms enable near costless transaction-coordination, enacting new constraints such as: search and findability (transparency) and distributed production.

Fuller (2014) proposes a shift in fundamental rights – from property rights (owning our information) to liability (recourse when harm is perpetrated). Security is not what others may know, but recourse when information is used to cause harm. Insurance as security of our personal identity – a de facto price for potentially unlimited personal freedom – A ‘Proactionary Imperative’.
The price of greater freedom is that others are free to access you, which means that you need to ensure that you benefit – or at least are not harmed – by that newfound freedom that others have over you. But in any case, privacy in its classical sense is effectively dead.
Kelly (2016) notes how convenience continually trumps privacy. Owning one’s personal data as private property can more often impede 'wealth/value' creation. For example, a conversation with a friend - each recording it. Each is part of the other's experience. Who owns the conversation?

To own our part of the conversation requires an 'appropriation' of the other’s personal experience and vice-versa. The value of the conversation is more than the sum of each contribution, not to mention the creative and spill-over network effects. A new narrative of dynamic social, co-creation is emerging as a new constraint (Kelly 2016).

Hutchins (2008) among others, argues human cognition is an entangled, embodied and inclusive system of objects, patterns, events, ecologies and other beings. A counter-narrative of the ‘social self’ arises in this context of entangled, mycelial-like ecology.

"Perhaps I didn't live just in myself, perhaps I lived the lives of others … My life is a life put together from all those lives: the lives of the poet."
Pablo Neruda – Memoirs, p1

The Age of Entanglement

The digital environment is a phase transition in the entanglement of things, people, data-information, algorithmic intelligence and embodied knowledge thinking systems. The attractor of efficiency is shaped by boundary conditions of real-time transparency and real-time data. Our digital trails are on a trajectory of visible, queryable histories.

It promises unimaginable visualization of information, forms of analysis, personalized service-products, emergent opportunities –of dynamic, convenient customization.

The boundaries between, history, relationships, reputation, information, currency and accounting of value and choice – all dissolve identity. The challenge is a deep re-imagining of ‘value’ – especially non-rival, non scarce, subject to increasing returns and intangible value. 

We are at the dawn of the Age of Entanglement. In the Age of Enlightenment, we learned that nature followed laws. … understanding these laws, we could predict and manipulate. ... We granted ourselves god-like powers: to fly, communicate across vast distances, hold frozen moments of sight and sound, transmute elements, create new plants and animals. … we orchestrated fantastic chains of causes and effect in our political, legal, and economic systems as well as in our machines. Our philosophies neatly separated man and nature, mind and matter, cause and effect. We learned to control.
we constructed digital computers, the very embodiments of cause and effect. Computers are the cathedrals of the Enlightenment, the ultimate expression of logical deterministic control. … we learned to manipulate knowledge, … beyond the capacity of our own minds. … We began to build systems with emergent behaviors that were beyond our own understanding, creating the first crack in the foundation. 
So what is this brave new world that we are creating, governed neither by the mysteries of nature or the logic of science, but by the magic of their entanglement? It is governed by the mathematics of strange attractors. Its geometry is fractal. Its music is improvisational and generative rather than composed… progress in the Age of Entanglement is synthetic and comes from putting things together

In the age of Digital Entanglement the Bitcoin is a currency technology, built on a deeply disruptive technology, called the Blockchain.

[Blockchain] is to Bitcoin, what the internet is to email. A big electronic system, on top of which you can build applications. Currency is just one.
Sally Davies, FT Technology Reporter
The blockchain is a distributed ledger. For example, every Bitcoin account holder has a copy of ‘the ledger’ of all Bitcoin transactions. There is no central administrator.

Transactions are synchronized via complex encrypted algorithms ensuring all copies correctly record transactions – ensuring ‘no dollar is spent twice’. Transactions take 10 minutes to ‘clear’, are grouped in a ‘block’ distributed across the network. A validated block is added to previous blocks in a chain = ‘blockchain’.
This ledger is open to any form of record – property deeds, insurance, academic, real estate, legal, health care, bio-data. The Blockchain emerges as a digital institution of accounting – enabling more efficient trade, exchange, and record of any form of value creation.
The technology likely to have the greatest impact on the next few decades has arrived. And it’s not social media. It’s not big data. It’s not robotics. It’s not even AI. … It’s called the blockchain. 
Don Tapscott
The most significant factors of Blockchain applications and platforms have not yet been invented, yet when we recount that last fundamental innovation in accounting – we get hints of how profoundly accounting innovation can impact societies.

Double-entry bookkeeping was deployed … in the 1300s. … this fundamental atomic unit of tracking and managing value–is still based on this 700-year-old invention. … we have the opportunity to create a system of accounting of the 21st century–a system beyond numbers in ledgers and utilizes machine learning, multiparty computation, and algorithmic representation to redefine “value.” 
the technology of the financial system is built on top of a way of thinking about money and value … designed when all we had were pen and paper ... we reduce complexity [by using] a common method of pricing, put elements into categories, and add them up. … trying to make the system “better” … without addressing the underlying problem of a lossy and oversimplified view of the world.

The Blockchain signals an emergence of a new attractor of efficiency for economics, work and institutions. A creator releases a creation on the Blockchain. All can access it and are recorded on the Blockchain when they do – crediting the creator. Anyone can add to or recombine it with other creations and release ‘mash-up’. Others using the new combination give credit to original creator and to the ‘added value’ creator. All access, use and value-added are recorded, accredited and accounted for via the Blockchain.

This sort of accounting system increases social trust, resilience and agility (Pentland, 2014). It reduces transactions costs and by establishing trusted networks enables an exponential increase in idea and knowledge flow. In the world of accelerating change, we now live in a ‘beta-world’ and will always be ‘newbies’ (Kelly, 2016). A ‘beta world’ of eternal ‘newbies’ needs to steward intrinsic motivation to enable rapid scaling of learning to adapt to new technology, systems, processes as well as deeper engagement, participation, trust-based social fabric for collaboration and self-organization.
Learners do not receive or even construct abstract, “objective,” individual knowledge; rather, they learn to function in a community. They acquire that particular community’s subjective viewpoint and learn to speak its language. Learners are acquiring not explicit, formal “expert knowledge,” but the embodied ability to behave as community members.
Brown and Duguid, 1991, p. 48


The constraint that the radically transparent, globally networked, non-rival and near zero-marginal cost economy of the emerging digital environment places on the construction of identity implies that the ‘individual’ is no longer the smallest unit which society can be reduced to. The individual is no longer a whole self-contained unit – but now become divisible among unpredictable varieties of networks, interests, projects and groups.

As McLuhan noted the printing press enabled the emergence of the mass individual – the digital environment creates constraints for the emergence of ‘Dividuals’ (Deleuze, 1992). Dividuals are like fractal mosaics of data, networks, samples, markets, communities and ‘banks’ as vehicles of value storage, exchange, transformation and recombination. Knowledge is the currency of digital societies measured via transparent behavioral action and creation. The Individual Dividual is a mosaic identity-as-index of continual networking – surfing the digital waves of change.

The digital environment is becoming one general purpose platform of costless coordination. This new boundary condition shapes the attractor of efficiency to favour self-organized processes of social computing – assembling knowledge networks as and when needed. Enabling a move from a hierarchical attractor of efficiency based on principal-agent accountability towards a new attractor based methods of agent-forum accountability. Wikipedia demonstrates a platform enabling a capacity to develop shared mental models, common rules, languages and purpose (e.g. see North, 1981, 1990, 2005; Ostrom, 1990, 2002, 2005).

The Job is Dead – Long live Net-Work.

Personal Brand can likely become more salient retrieving (in a McLuhan sense) a tribal type identity. However, we will likely become comfortable having multiple complex ‘Brand Personas’ suitable to a fractal-like mosaic of self-organizing networks, interests and groups. Rather than a rigid unique character of the tribal gatherer group the digital environment enables an adaptive ‘Individuated Character’ corresponding to bifurcating social contexts – also held accountable through agent-forum mechanisms (Bovens, 2010) and forms of reciprocal accountability (Brin, 1999).


What is not included in this bibliography is are all the citations from an environmental scan weekly newsletter that has been undertaken since 2010. However, only the newsletters produced since the fall of 2014 are available for viewing at: 

Aaltonen, Mika. 2010. Robustness: Anticipatory and Adaptive Human Systems. ISCE Publishing.

Ahonen, Tomi T., Moore, Alan. 2005. Communities Dominate Brands: Business and Marketing Challenges for the 21st Century. Futuretext.

Alberts, David S. 2002. Information Age Transformation: Getting to a 21st Century Military. Command and Control Research Program.

Alberts, David S., Hayes, Richard E. 2003. Power to the Edge: Command and Control in the Information Age. Command and Control Research Program.

Alberts, D.S. (2007) Agility, Focus, and Convergence: The Future of Command and Control. The International C2 Journal, Vol 1, No 1: 1-30

Aldhous, Peter. 2009. Genome sequencing falls to $5000. New Scientist.

Allen, Douglas, W. 2011. The Institutional Revolution: Measurement and the Economic Emergence of the Modern World. University of Chicago Press.

Anderson, Chris. 2008. The Long Tail: The Future of Business is Selling More of Less. Hyperion: New York.

Anderson, Chris. 2010. In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits.

Arthur, W. Brian. (2009) The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. London: Free Press.

Arquilla, John, Ronfeldt, David. 1997. In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age. Prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  National Defense Research Institute. Washington, D.C.: RAND.

Atkinson, Simon Reay; Moffat, James. 2005. The Agile Organization: From Informal Networks To Complex Effects and Agility. CCRP.

Bar-Yam, Y. 2006. Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization. New England Complex Systems Institute, Cambridge, MA. Presented at DRDC Complexity Workshop, Nov 2006, Valcartier.

Beinhocker, Eric D. 2006. The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics. Harvard Business School Press: Boston.

Benkler, Yochai. 2006. Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press.

Benkler, Yochai. Coase’s Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm. 2002. Yale Law Journal. Vol. 112 v.04.3 August

Boehm, Christopher. 2001. Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Harvard University Press.

Bovens, Mark. 2007. Analysing and Assessing Accountability: A Conceptual Framework. European Law Journal, Vol. 13, No. 4, July 2007, pp. 447–468

Bousquet, Antoine. 2009. The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity. Hurst & Company. London.

Brafman, Ori.; Beckstrom, Rod, A. 2006. The Starfish and The Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. Portfolio, Penguin Books: London.

Brin, David. 1998. The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley.

Brown, John Seely; Duguid, Paul. 2000. The Social Life of Information. MaGraw-Hill.

Brown, John Seely; Adler, Richard P. 2008. Minds on Fire: Open Education, The Long Tail, and Learning 2.0. EDUCAUSEreview, Jan/Feb 2008.

Brown, John Seely; III John, Hagel; Davidson, Lang. 2010. The Power Of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. New York: Basic Books.

Brown, John Seely; Thomas, Douglas. 2011. A New Culture of Learning. Createspace

Brynjolfsson, Erik; Saunders, Adam. 2009. Wired for Innovation: How Information Technology is Reshaping the Economy. The MIT Press.

Burt, R.; Cook, K.; Lin, N. 2001. Social Capital: Theory and Research. Aldine Transaction.

Cascio, J. (2005) The Rise of the Participatory Panopticon. Posted 4 May 2005. Accessed 28 August 2010.

Castells, Manuel. 1997. The Power of Identity : The Information Age - Economy, Society and Culture. Blackwell Publishers.

Castells, Manuel. 2000. End of Millenium. Blackwell Publishers.

Castells, Manuel. 2000. The Rise of the Network Society. Blackwell Publishers.

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Castronova, Edward. 2002. On Virtual Economies. CESifo Working Paper No. 752, Category 9: Industrial Org. 

Chia, R., & Holt, R. 2009. Strategy Without Design: The Silent Efficacy of Indirect Action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Uni. Press

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