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Show or Schau

Maintainer: heiner benking, Version 1, 15.06.2001
Projekt-Typ: halboffen
Status: Archiv

Show or Schau?

(1) Lynton Caldwell (1999) allows us a look behind the facades or under the surface of the dangers threatening humankind. I subscribe to his analysis and synthesis of the threads and dilemmas, including his four lines of action. Given this unique chance to comment on such a fundamental and basic article, I will not lament over words, dates, or issues left out in his piece, as this would be the typical trick of people avoiding the big picture and the urgencies and immediacies at hand. Instead, I will try to go with him on a higher plateau of pondering where humankind is going and what the issues and challenges are in my view after reading his article.

Shared Images and Models

(2) I definitely agree with Caldwell that we are in danger of losing our shared rationality. This danger is real, as we are not equipped by evolution for such fundamental and rapid change. Subject to this glut of new ways, means, and messages, we are out of touch and subject to confusion about the basics of our existence, like the "loss of distance" and the questioning of our feelings, positions, and perspectives in this new, strange environment. Being and feeling "lost in space" (slide 6), we try to avoid confronting our outdated world-models and views; instead, we invent "spaces of flow" or "a second flood" as part of a post-modern cyberculture. There are alternative and non-dualistic models that we can structure, merge, and morph (more about this later), but we are afraid of leaving the mold, afraid of leaving the shores and sailing into new lands. I will return to alternative models and views, even on very central terms like "net" or "space" later; at this point, I just want to give an example of how we use language metaphorically. I invite you, for example, to see "space" as an extensional potential that allows us to make issues real, and solid, and allows us to make issues and contexts real instead of making us feel "lost in space." So please take our terms for real, not as empty in a void of nothingness. We focus here on terms, as the modern technologies have usurped central terms like "space" or the "net." (slide 6) In a series at the Humboldt University in Berlin at the end of the millennium, which we called "Zeiten-Wende" or "Zeiten-Welten-Wende," (slide 4) I focussed on the modern media impact, on pictures and icons we use to paint and communicate possible futures. Examples from thinkers and writers through the ages included "show" (Illich), "varieté" (Huxley), "sweet mash" (in German, "brei" or pastry) according to the Grimm’s fairy tales. These pictures or analogies describe our modern world of edutainment, politainment, lawtainment, or bread and games as we know from Roman times, as in the following examples: images describing loss of control or freedom include "prison" (Orwell), "(second/final) flood" (Bible, Ascott, Lévy) "bomb" (Einstein for telecommunications impact). Lynton Caldwell is obviously not alone when pondering about our destiny, but he does more—he invites us take a "middle road."

Making Concepts Real and Adding Context

(3) And that is exactly what I am working on and want to outline here: real alternatives. We have three alternatives: we can either immerse ourselves in the issues, or take on an observer status that makes us a little more immune to the details, or as the middle path, oscillate between the different perspectives, but in a way that we know where we are and what we are looking at, and in which context. Our exercise is one of physical and of mental mobility at the same time, bridging objects and subjects, re-establishing of creativity and fantasy in combination with questioning identities, values, levels, proportions, and consequences along and across scales, cultures, languages, and times. In this physical and deep immersive model, called "House of Eyes", children have tested alternative positions and perspectives for years. Our middle route here is trying to leave dualistic traps of being right or wrong. It is not an easy perspective, especially if we only can use words instead of concurrently feeling and showing what we do. So just consider one moment not being right or wrong, or only in one place or one model, at any one time, but instead being able to see their relativity, the various aspects, and be able to be concrete or solid in an artificial terrain or model. If we follow this thread just one further moment, we can imagine embodying issues in extensive spaces as peace rooms, situation rooms, or order spaces, instead of "playing" in war rooms or with models like architects and designers. By considering the difference of abstract "spa-t-ial" and embodied "spa-c-ial" conceptions, we might be more prepared for modern times of media and tele-technologies, and use the new "space-scapes" to combine concepts and their context. Caldwell has urged us to try something new, especially when we are confronted with high risks and have no safe and clear direction to take. He has encouraged us not only to share and care, but to dare! We have done so over the years with children, and also tried to open the eyes and ears of "elders" with varying results. So the way forward may be a way back, by eliminating too much abstraction and coming back by drawing on many senses/intelligences (Gardner), or poly-aesthetics in the sense of Kueckelhaus, Menuhin, Mozart. In our "House of Eyes" we invite such a concert of perspectives and senses in order to not get lost in the one and only right view. Immanuel Kant warned us that "concepts without percepts are empty, percepts without concepts are blind." So what I propose here is to look into other ways and means, to study how, for example, the Japanese bio-holistic "baa" concept might allow us to appreciate other forms of space, nested spaces, and space-scapes.

INSERTED CHAPTER - if this sounds too abstract:

(4) On the WWW we are able to include picures and links, giving you and idea and structure which allows you to go deeper. I have added an arbitrary collection of presentation folios to help you get where and how I want to explore issues like I learned to explore with models pleases we can not go to, like in the deepers regions or levels of Planet Earth or some Outer Stars. I will reference in the article to the figures but can not "develop" the whole story in this very short comment. Please also note the later added "epiloge" which provides some entries into the context and background. so go for some visualizations to: http://www.benking.de/show-schau.htm

Observer or Trustee and Stakeholder?

(5) I met Lynton Caldwell at a roundtable at the EMEC'93 conference in Baltimore. There the panel "experts" from policy, science, and engineering met with activists and housewives, playing the typical confrontation that they experience in environmental dialogue and mediation. However, this time they changed hats and positions, assuming different views. In this way—through the rotation of viewpoints—agendas, tactics, and strategies became not only visible but obvious. The idea is to solve problems by taking on the partners’ position—and to reflect upon it—just as the Sufi say: "If you want to solve a problem, take your own viewpoint out." This is exactly what we do with the House of Eyes—we create a cognitive panorama in which there are three spaces and time on a continuum.

Overview (slide 7) or Overclaims and Oversimplifications?

(6) I see a trap in our dichotomous thinking and a way out in accepting different levels of thought. Eho tells us that knowledge is only in the detail and with the specialists? Who tells us that there is no overview and orientation possible and that the last generalist died 200 years ago? In knowledge organization, for example, we differentiate between detail, route, and survey knowledge. Why must we feed our children details and noise, cultivating a strange myth or dogma, and avoid giving them coherent and complete alternative "overviews"? Coherence models are not only possible, but feasible.

Is There a Meta-paradigm?

(7) According to Kühlewind, we are in search of the only new paradigm, a paradigm in which all other paradigms originate. Thomas Kuhn started his "paradigm" thinking with the baseline of the physical sciences. In his book Consilience, E. O. Wilson uses the bio- or life sciences as the yardstick and schema for lines of thought. Maybe, as one alternative, we could come up with a meta-paradigm as proposed at a 1996 Council of Europe conference for "new ideas in science and arts, new spaces for culture and society." The "meta" maps the context, the origin, the background, and so we suddenly have a map to localize ways and forms of reasoning. The painter Franz Marc wrote that pictures can help us to "arrive at another place," help us to "see with new eyes." In this way we can realize, as some children do, that there is not just one or ruling hierarchy when we think deep or lateral/diagonal (spacially); instead, we have to assume that there are multiple hierarchies, meshing and forming a new fabric, depending on where we are and what our angle of focus is.

Applications for Another Pattern Language? (slide 12)

(8) This language based on spacial metaphors and embodyment evolved when we were thinking about patterns and fields as real. Are there applications, and can the findings be shared, or are we talking here about just another creative, artistic outcry? First, we can share levels, proportions, horizons, and also "feelings." Second, we can consider new forms of multi-modal, multiple access search machines for the world wide web. And last but not least, we can engage in "culture navigation," which allows us to access and assimilate content from libraries and museums around the world, making multi-media, multi-lingual, multi-cultural connections, caring for a 'humane' multi-lingual (information) society. Another possible field is social systems design, and that might be close to what Caldwell is looking for.We must find ways to reach people. Let us start with the traditions of story telling. In one story, Mamun, the son of Harun al Rashid, saved his just-inherited, fast-deteriorating empire for decades by having artists design a positive, aesthetic, shared model/vision/picture—in this case, a model of a beautiful city and rich community. By jointly constructing positive futures, we can create realities that can become "true" if we share the dream and work on it! (late note: see the "Ethics Summit" presentation which covers the story from 1001 night in greater detail and how we can create new stories like this one, and develop the art of story-telling and dialogue.)

Space as Potential or Forbidden Land

(9) Caldwell's article urges us to look for a way out so we are not destined to whatever real or imagined fate. The main stumbling block seems to be in thinking dualisitically, hierarchically, and analytically. We avoid lumping when we can split everything, and we avoid anything that is not tangible (even when some of us can agree upon it, at least for a certain end or purpose). Last but not least, and maybe the central issue here, might be our concept of order, and even more deeply rooted, our concept of space. One basic is that space, like a container, can be emptied or filled—for example, with air or water. Goethe said we need both: analysis and synthesis. It is like breathing in and breathing out. We may forfeit our futures and put an end to science if we just do one, as when we just specialize without generalizing. Such misconceptions are deeply rooted. We could learn a great deal from native communities, who consider "space" as potential full of depth and surprise. Space has potential and depth; we are not by nature flatlanders.There are such things as spacial cognition and spacial mental models, and we should review the work of the founder of "cybernetics," the late Norbert Wiener. Wiener saw a social mission in his work and coined the term "cyber," from the greek word "cybernetes," so that we have a "steering-man," who need not be a captain. We can all be sailors, and so we need maps (stars), a gyro, and a vehicle/boat. And suddenly we are close to the central questions of society: orientation and frameworks, common frames of reference.

True Visions Make Worlds

(10) What we have covered so far is the question of identity and how we can share. This has to do with our modern mental isolation. Werner Kollath has said that "much is known, unfortunately in different heads." We must invite everybody to design real images and models, models that can bring us together and help to develop an antenna (Gregory Bateson) for what is not at hand, but has levels, proportions, and consequences. Nelson Goodman has put it aptly by noting that visions can be tangible and real: "People make visions; true visions make worlds."

The Difference: Show versus Schau

(11) We covered above the metaphors of varieté and show, which see humanity as passive—as spectators or observers, remote and detached in an age of "entertainment." The word in German, "schau," has an extra dimension to it, the dimension of depth, which allows us to be part of the picture. "Schau," as in weltanschauung, is more than a certain belief system or school of thought. It is much more than seeing; it requires engaged, active communication and concern, being part of and moving "hands-on" in the field, scene, or drama. Goethe put it aptly in the foreword to his Farbenlehre: The mere gaze of an object cannot engage us (completely). Each look flows into a careful examination, each examination into a meditation and each meditation takes us into a connection. With each attentive look into the world we already begin to theorize about it. If the abstractions we fear is to be harmless and the experience we hope for is to be real and useful, we need to engage skillfully with consciousness, self-reflection, a sense of freedom, and—to use a daring word—a sense of irony. Thanks, Lynton Caldwell, for outlining or setting up the stage and putting some conditions and historical contexts straight, so that we cannot avoid looking for a more complete picture. Thanks for challenging us to go beyond the gridlock into new borderlands, and for helping us to get rid of too many, final and fixed "knowns" and introducing us to a world of unknowns. These are worlds where we develop "awe the more we gaze" (Santanya).


(12) 1 For additional information concerning my views, please visit http/:www.benking.de/pls-caldwell/info.html and http://www.benking.de/pls-caldwell.html

(12.1) Re: Notes, 22.06.2001, 19:37, heiner benking: I think the earlier comment of CALDWELL regarding my work was more to the point. He had received some material and visualizations and so othe ideas could "evolve" or be seen: He wrote in 1996 or so: "I was pleased to receive the draft of the Philosophy of Wholeness. Your approach to the integration of knowledge is certainly the one which ought to be followed. There are two obstructive problems. First, is to persuade the academics, especially the scientist that more than reductionist analyses and specialisation is necessary to guide mankind's future..... Resistance to the concept of the integration of knowledge remains strong. Seconds we need to learn how to discover and define this wholeness approach. Your proposals appear to contribute to this objective......I believe your contribution to be important and wish it well.". For me the point of how we comunicate, do we use images and metaphors and models is a way "out" of the dilemma. Not to go with the "final" solution now "everywhere", but leaving the deadlock of POST-MODERN THINK (see: GIBSON vs. WIENER discussed here with the systems and cybernetics people: http://benking.de/IFSRnov98pp.htm and how if we think more "freely", how new idees and terms like psychollages can pop up. For more about these contribution we received before thsi list was started, please see: http://benking.de/caldwell-mail-june2001.html

[Author Profile]

(13) Heiner Benking is a facilitator who has worked as a technician and engineer since the early 1970s in construction and infrastructure projects. He has studied geophysics, business, and other exact and fine arts and sciences, and began working as a town- and state-planning consultant in 1977 (including five years in Saudi Arabia). In the early 1980s, he joined the leaders in the field of computing and computer graphics in international applications, sales, and marketing positions. He has been part of the Automation Group San Diego since 1981, and was on early advisory boards of Computer Graphics World. He helped design the Global Change exhibition for the German Chancellery in 1990, and has worked since that time with children and decision-makers to make better use of our human potentials in order to secure common and positive futures. He worked with the President of the Alfred Wegener Foundation, working on image and outreach, establishing fairs like the Geotechnica’91 and the Local and Global Change exhibition. He served from 1993 to 1999 as an international associate for a technology and computing think-tank (FAW), and has worked on projects for the International Society of Panetics, The Club of Budapest 1995-99, and the Millennium Project (AC/UNU). Correspondence should be addressed to POB 410926, 12119 Berlin, Germany (E-mail: heiner@benking.de).

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