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Creating a web-based format for debate and deliberation: discuss?

Friday, December 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — Talmud, hypertext, spider webs, Indra’s net, noosphere, rosaries, renga, the bead game, Xanadu, hooks-and-eyes, onward! ]

Let me firmly anchor this post and its comments, which will no doubt shift and turn as the wind wishes, in discussion of the possibility of improving on current affordances for online deliberation.

Let’s begin here:


There are a variety of precursor streams to this discussion: I have listed a few that appeal to me in the sub-head of this post and believe we will reach each and all of them in some form and forum if this discussion takes off. And I would like to offer the immediate hospitality of this Zenpundit post and comment section to make a beginning.

Greg’s tweet shows us a page of the Talmud, which is interesting to me for two reasons:

  • it presents many voices debating a central topic
  • it does so using an intricate graphical format
  • The script of a play or movie also records multiple voices in discourse, as does an orchestral score — but the format of the Talmudic score is more intricate, allowing the notation of counterpoint that extends across centuries, and provoking in turn centuries of further commentary and debate.

    What can we devise by way of a format, given the constraints of screen space and the affordances of software and interface design, that maximizes the possibility of debate with respect, on the highly charged topics of the day.

    We know from the Talmud that such an arrangement is possible in retrospect (when emotion can be recollected in tranquility): I am asking how we can come closest to it in real time. The topics are typically hotly contested, patience and tolerance may not always be in sufficient supply, and moderation by humans with powers of summary and editing should probably not be ruled out of our consdierations. But how do we create a platform that is truly polyphonic, that sustains the voices of all participants without one shouting down or crowding out another, that indeed may embody a practic of listening..?

    Carl Rogers has shown us that the ability to express one’s interlocutor’s ideas clearly enough that they acknowledge one has understood them is a significant skill in navigating conversational rapids.

    The Talmud should be an inspiration but not a constraint for us. The question is not how to build a Talmud, but how to build a format that can host civil discussion which refines itself as it grows — so that, to use a gardening metaphor, it is neither overgrown nor too harshly manicured, but manages a carefully curated profusion of insights and —

    actual interactions between the emotions and ideas in participating or observing individuals’ minds and hearts


    Because polyphony is not many voices talking past one another, but together — sometimes discordant, but attempting to resolve those discords as they arrive, and with a figured bass of our common humanity underwriting the lot of them.

    And I have said it before: here JS Bach is the master. What he manages with a multitude of musical voices in counterpoint is, in my opinion, what we need in terms of verbal voices in debate.

    I am particularly hoping to hear from some of those who participated in tweeted comments arising from my previous post here titled Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus, including also Greg Loyd, Callum Flack, Belinda Barnet, Ken (chumulu) — Jon Lebkowsky if he’s around — and friends, and friends of friends.

    What say you?

    DoubleQuote: Genocide Memorial Church before and after

    Saturday, September 27th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — a quick note on the DQ format used to illustrate church “before and after” attack, montage in Pudovkin / Eisenstein, and cognition ]


    Pondering these images, I see that while they do clearly represent “before and after” when juxtaposed, they do not represent “cause and effect” as such. The cause of the visible changes is not itself present, although implied. Even so, the viewer is liable to jump from a non-causal double image via the implied causal connection to an emotional response — “the bastards!” or something of that sort.

    I’ve been interested in the intellectual and emotional responses generated by juxtapositions at least since I first read about montage, Pudovkin and Eisenstein in a class on film directing at UCLA some decades back. It is one of the great issues in film — Eisenstein wrote:

    to determine the nature of montage is to solve the specific problem of cinema

    It’s more than that, though — it’s one of the great issues in cognition and metacognition.

    We’d do well to put some bright minds on the task of understanding it.

    Happy New “Creative Leap” Year

    Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — wondering whether a von Kármán vortex street might be a good place to take a Paul Lévy walk one of these days — when I’m out and about, foraging for new ideas ]

    "Named after French mathematician Paul Lévy, a Lévy walk is characterized by many small moves combined with a few longer trajectories."


    M’friend Bill Benzon of the New Savanna blog posted two paras out of an NYT blog piece, Navigating Our World Like Birds and Bees, today:

    What they have found is that when moving with a purpose such as foraging for food, many creatures follow a particular and shared pattern. They walk (or wing or lope) for a short time in one direction, scouring the ground for edibles, then turn and start moving in another direction for a short while, before turning and strolling or flying in another direction yet again. This is a useful strategy for finding tubers and such, but if maintained indefinitely brings creatures back to the same starting point over and over; they essentially move in circles.

    So most foragers and predators occasionally throw in a longer-distance walk (or flight), which researchers refer to as a “long step,” bringing them into new territory, where they then return to short walks and frequent turns as they explore the new place.

    I can’t help but think that this may give us a closer approximation to the way minds can think than our usual terms, linear and lateral, or on a wider scale, disciplinary and interdisciplinary thinking, with the short walks involving thoughts that require investigation but not analogy, and the long steps being leaps by analogy into new territory — the familiar hop, skip and jumps we also call creative leaps.

    From my POV, seeing both linear and leaping thoughts this way allows for the fact that what we’ve been calling linear thoughts aren’t so much linear as local, while analogical thoughts by their very nature take us from one thought domain to another — via parallelism or opposition — leaping conceptual distances.

    Which is why I can wish you a Happy New “Creative Leap” Year! — even though 2014 isn’t divisible by 4 and there will still only be 28 days this February.

    Bashar the Vampire-Slayer

    Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — pop messianism, Syria, 2013 ]

    The caption for the Bashar al-Assad image reads:

    Bashar the Wahhabi Slayer [ image ] Has killed more than 40,000 Wahhabi terrorists who came from all over the world to destroy Syria

    and Phillip Smyth, who tweeted it, commented:

    This photo has been uploaded onto many pro-#Assad & pro-Shia (in #Syria) militia pages. Note how dead are characterized


    How the dead are characterized?

    Why, as Wahhabi terrorists, explicitly — and implicitly as vampires.

    FWIW, I’d argue (broad strokes) that “Wahhabi terrorists” is directed at the conscious mind, and “vampires” at the emotions.

    Egypt and the spider’s web

    Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a short course in my own ignorance, plain, simple — and having to do with Egypt ]


    Nathan Brown writes with humility (“I do not know what Egyptians should do”), and a lucidity that Lewis Carroll himself might admire in What’s Next in Egypt? A roadmap for backseat drivers:

    Egyptian legal disputes could only have been diagrammed by M.C. Escher

    And that, I’d say, is just the beginning of a very tangled web.


    Spiders and dewdrops

    Spiders and dewdrops do a pretty convincing job of portraying a certain level of complexity in this node-and-edge diagram of the global situation.


    When, say, Castro hands over power to his brother, or Musharraf has to give up control of the Pakistani army, it’s like snipping a couple of threads in that spiders web — and the droplets fall this way and that, carom into one another, the fine threads they’re on swing down and around until a new equilibrium is reached…

    That’s something I wrote a while back, as you can see — but drop in a few different names and places, and it’s still good to go today.


    I mean — can you imagine? Let’s use me for a guinea pig — or you can try it for yourself.

    Mentally assign as many factors in the present situation as you can find to the various dewdrops on the spiders web — in such a way that cutting a given thread would nudge and budge, tear relationships apart and form new partnerships, until the whole thing settles into that new equilibrium — or even skip the Egyptian part, just imagine one of those threads snapping in the spider’s web itself, or a gust of wind shaking it, and the systemic shifts that would result…

    Here, in full, are my own lab notes from that experiment:


    Well, how about those better informed than I?

    Morsi was living in Egypt, I’m not. Morsi speaks Arabic, I don’t. In addition to what anyone on the Cairene street might know, Morsi had access to whatever secrets could be derived from the Brotherhood apparatus, and from the Mukhabarat and sister services. He had a powerful position as President, and presumably preferred to keep it rather than going back to his old professorship at Cal State Northridge or languishing in Mubarak-like confinement.

    He made his decisions with a view to aligning events in his favor. And voilà, he got what he not wanted.

    I, of course, was not blinded by his particular lust for power, nor endowed with the perspective that researching and writing a dissertation on High-Temperature Electrical Conductivity and Defect Structure of Donor-Doped Al2O3 would give one… I just got dizzy at some point, wandered off and listened to Grimaud play Bach instead — but surely Morsi should have been able to figure out the future of Egypt, eh? Or Mubarak, perhaps? You’d have thought Mubarak at least must have had his finger on the pulse..

    And Hilary Clinton? What with NSA hoovering, or better, dysoning up all the world’s communications, secret and otherwise, she must have seen both Mubarak’s fall and Morsi’s a mile off, eh? — and switched out Anne Patterson months ago, right? So we’d be well-placed for the turmoil that now ensues?


    My sources for the DoubleQuote:

  • Steven Metz
  • Leah Farrall
  • And here, finally, for your consideration, is another tweet I liked:

    G’day, all.

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