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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! ]
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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:

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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?

    The virtual museum is not simply a museum in virtual space

    Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from Sembl — on the infinite possibilities of juxtaposition in gallery & museum, catalog & library — creativity & the Sembl game ]
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    Van Gogh's Sunflowers: the Amsterdam and National Gallery Sunflowers side by side, Jan 2014. Photo credit: Julian Simmonds, Telegraph UK

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    Please note that what I term here the “virtual museum” is intended to cover both a physical museum or gallery space with available or built in digital affordances and the museum as a completely portable function of the digital network and its devices alone.

    I originally wrote this set of notes on February 10, 1997, and have made only tiny changes in the text as presented here — removing one paragraph that was left incomplete, switching the last two bullet points, and placing one “spare” sentence in a suitable context.

    As I look back to those days of the Magister Ludi list, and forward to Cath Styles‘s progress with Sembl, I have a sense that this document was prescient, the seed of much that is coming into being now, as we speak. Like all such visions, the manifestation has developed over time, but the idea of the ready, multiple comparison of museum or gallery objects, together with supporting documentation, is still fresh: over time the invisible becomes cutting-edge.

    To set the scene, here is a quote from Sven Birkerts that had long inspired me:

    There are tremendous opportunities, and we are probably on the brink of the birth of whole new genres of art which will work through electronic systems. These genres will likely be multi-media in ways we can’t imagine. Digitalization, the idea that the same string of digits can bring image, music, or text, is a huge revolution in and of itself. When artists begin to grasp the creative possibilities of works that are neither literary, visual, or musical, but exist using all three forms in a synthetic collage fashion, an enormous artistic boom will occur.

    With that insight in mind, here’s a glimpse of my early thoughts about the glass bead game and the museum:

    ———————————————————————————

    That’s right — the virtual museum is not simply a museum in virtual space

    I

    What’s going on here is that we’re dealing with a multidimensional space rather than the flat space of a wall or the three dimensional space of a room.

    • Walk-through “real-life” museums necessarily organize their collections in such a way that one work of art is sequentially related to the next. The visitor walks up a corridor, or through a room, and takes in each work in sequence, carrying a little of the previous work trailing in memory — and on occasion stepping back to view two works placed next to one another in a comparative way.
    • In her hand or in his ear, a textual commentary is available: the catalogue. And this is typically consulted in a one-to-one relation, such that picture 63 is viewed and the text for picture 63 heard or read.

    The museum is a collection of physical objects with stories which explain them: virtual space is a space of virtual objects with linkages between them.

    • It follows that the virtual museum is a collection of virtual objects and the linkages between them.
    • But what are those objects?
    • We cannot assume the objects in the virtual museum are limited to the objects in the physical museum: if nothing else, the stories which explain those objects will themselves be objects in the virtual museum.
    • Both “collection objects” and “catalogue entries” are represented in the same digital fashion. The catalogue entries, in other words, are objects in the virtual museum.
    • We do not carry a catalog as we browse the virtual museum… “collection” and “catalog” merge.

    The virtual museum is its own virtual catalog.

    • And this is because the digital democratization of information which obtains on the web renders the “art object” and the “art-historical text” functionally equal.
    • In fact, “digital democratization” allows for the expansion of presentable content to include not only visual and art historical materials on an equal footing, but also all manner of other texts, the world of literature and drama, architectural renderings, mathematical analogs and explanations, sounds and musical items…
    • Thus the virtual museum need not and should not limit itself to physical objects [eg pictures, sculptures] and associated texts, but can and should contain linkages to other arts and modes of representation [eg musical, literary, historical, scientific and mathematical expressions].
    • Furthermore, the virtual museum need not limit itself to the objects in its sponsor museum’s holdings, but may also contain linkages to the holdings of other museums: indeed — and importantly — web-based “frames” make this possible without the viewer leaving the originating web site.
    • Not just the museum catalogue and reference library, but also the world’s other museums, private collections, text libraries, record libraries and databases are all available as reference points for the items in the collection.
    • Linkage, in other words, is the “new” in our context, while objects and their stories are the given.
    • We do not move from room to room but from link to link as we browse the virtual museum.

    The virtual museum can be conceived as an ellipse with one focus in the originating collection and the other in world cultural history…

    • The “virtual proximity” of other bodies of knowledge on the net and web invites the inclusion of multiple reference points outside the collection: effectively, the museum as we know it transforms into a repository of world culture whose special focus is the collection:
    • The virtual museum is thus no longer archeologically or artistically based: it encompasses all forms of expression.
    • The museum becomes an expression of cultural totality.

    The floorplan of the virtual museum is an n-dimensional graph of nodes and links.

    • The essence of the difference between the museum and the virtual museum is this: objects in the virtual museum are “next to” a far larger number of other objects than objects in the physical museum.
    • The system of linkages inherent in the structure of the Internet and the World Wide Web expands our concept of the museum by making possible a bewildering variety of new “throughways” between and among the items displayed, and “outside” the museum: thus raising new problems and possibilities in sequencing the experience of the “visitor”.
    • What happens as a result is that linkage itself blossoms from a narrow and largely sequential business into a multiplex affair.
    • The juxtaposition of one artefact with another explodes in an unimaginable freedom, and a system of constraints must therefore be imagined to limit and lead the viewer — through a “garden of forking paths” — to a desired and appropriate outcome.

    To understand this is to make a virtue of the virtual … and a cathedral of the museum.

    II

    The virtual museum is not simply a museum in virtual space, but the virtual presentation of whatever the museum-as-archetype has been or will be in the labyrinth of human vision.

    • The sequencing the visitor’s experience in virtual space will thus inevitably reflect the topology not only of the collection, but also of the catalog and of the web itself.
    • And this topography brings a new feature to the foreground: linkage. The links between items themselves begin to assume considerable esthetic importance.
    • The museum and the library can no longer be separated, since their contents are intermingled: and the result is that the virtual museum, like the cathedral before it, becomes a speculum mundi or”mirror of the world”.

    We live in secular times, and the museum is our cathedral.

    • This could mean, minimally, that the museum has replaced the cathedral as the central space where people congregate in a culturally rich environment. Maximally, and thus potentially, it means that whatever the cathedral was for us — master artwork of combined artworks in many media, ritual space, hub of the city, mirror of worlds — the museum can be.
    • The secular does not lack for a sacred dimension, but offers access to it in a manner that does not demand a specific, local belief or practice.
    • The virtual museum as secular cathedral is the place where all the world’s imaginal trasures come together as offerings, and from which all the world departs imaginally enriched.
    • The museum is thus heir to the phenomenology of shamans, saints and mystics, as well as of artists and their patrons, teachers and students — for it is visited by crowds in which each individual carries a different cultural inheritance, now Italian, now Congolese, now Navaho, now Santeria…

    The test of the museum is its cathedral-effectiveness: its capacity to invoke wonder.

    • The virtual museum is thus a special case of the “art form” described by Hermann Hesse in his novel The Glass Bead Game:
    • The elevation of the virtual museum is a sacramental elevation.

    Lotus board for a HipBone / Sembl type game

    Saturday, January 4th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — simply blown away ]
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    Cath Styles and her team have worked even more magic with the latest (at least to my knowledge) board for the Museum Game at the National Museum of Australia

    Beautiful. Huzzah!!

    The White House, Games, and HipBone/Sembl — today

    Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — a project of keen interest to me, and a request for your support ]
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    Something is going on in one corner of the White House that has me agog in a pleasant way.


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    Mark DeLoura, Senior Advisor for Digital Media at the WH Office of Science and Technology Policy is soliciting ideas about Games that Can Change the World. I’ve jumped in, and so have some old friends, one auld acquaintance and one new…

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    The home page for this project is hosted on its own Games for Impact site, and I’d invite you to take a look, and note in particular…

  • Games where ideas collide (& create new ideas)
  • This is my own page, for the HipBone / Sembl games and DoubleQuotes — and if you have found my style of analysis valuable, you may want to go there, (take the trouble to) log in, and upvote my idea — making a comment too, should you so wish.

  • Positive Impact and Game Evangelism
  • Similarly, you can log in and upvote the whole idea by supporting this proposal, the current “leading” concept…

    Part of what makes this entry so interesting is the fact that Chris Crawford, game designer and thinker non pareil, is discussing his own long-hoped-for paradigm shift in game design in this thread. Chris is the “auld acquaintance” I mentioned, and I met him via the good services of my old friend Mike Sellers late in the last century. It is good to read him again in the new millennium.

  • Games to increase understanding about emergent social systems
  • Mike’s own offering is this one, which I also highly recommend. Mike is one of the founding fathers of multiplayer games with graphical architecture, and has more recently been working to bring human psychology into gameplay with increasing subtlety. By all means give him a vote up if that sounds good.

  • Knecht/Connect – a playable version of the Glass Bead Game
  • As you know, my own games attempt to bring the game concept embedded in Hermann Hesse’s great novel, The Glass Bead Game / Magister Ludi into playable form, and my friend Paul Pilkington has been doing the same in a series of books [1, 2, 3] and a Twitter stream. Let’s help him get some recognition, too…

  • Try the Poietic Generator
  • This one’s a game concept I like, too — it’s based on Conway‘s Game of Life… and brings it alive!

    It was submitted by Olivier Auber, whom I hadn’t previously met — so he’s my new acquaintance, and I’m hoping his game ideas will flourish and that acquaintance will grow into friendship in as things unfold…

    **

    So that’s the overall project, along with a sampling of specific ideas that I admire and would invite you to support. I hope you’ll find (and support) some other game concepts of interest, too.

    In a follow up post honoring Chris Crawford — which may still take a while to write and post — I’ll be looking at some of the historical background of “serious games” — and of the HipBone / Sembl style of thinking in particular.

    Gaming the Connections: from Sherlock H to Nada B

    Sunday, December 29th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — the game of Connect the Dots in play and practice ]
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    CIA's (now ret'd) Nada Bakos examines the Al Qaida board in the HBO docu, Manhunt

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    Manhunt, the HBO documentary, does what (not having been there and seen that at the time) appears to be a decent job of recreating some of the cognitive stratregies employed by CIA officers in the OBL hunt. The one I’m interested in here is the building of a “link chart” or cognitive map — law enforcement “evidence board” — the idea being (a) to note known connections visibly, and (b) to encourage the mind to make intuitive leaps that reveal previously unknown connections between nodes… or “dots”.

    Sophisticated software does this sort of thing algorithmically with regard to (eg) network connections via phone-calls, but the human mind is still better than AI at some forms of pattern recognition, and that’s the aspect that interests me here.

    Aside:

    For more on the cognitive significance of the link chart in Manhunt, see my post Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles.

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    Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Sherlock lays out the way it works —

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    Okay, so one way to visualize connections is to make a fairly random collage of relevant photos, names, dates and places, and tie it together with links of string or ribbon. That’s the equivalent of what in HipBone games terms we’d call a “free-form” game, and it works well for the “divergent”, initial brainstorming phase of thought. But it does little to bottle its own energy, to focus down, to force the mind — in the no less powerful “convergent” phase — into perceiving even more links than occur spontaneously in building the link chart in question.

    HipBone‘s preformatted boards take the cognitive process to that second stage. They work on one of the most powerful ingredients in creativity: constraint. Business writer Dave Gray of Communication Nation puts it like this:

    Creativity is driven by constraints. When we have limited resources — even when the limits are artificial — creative thinking is enhanced. That’s because the fewer resources you have, the more you are forced to rely on your ingenuity.

    But that premise doesn’t just hold true for business problem-solving — it’s at the heart of creative thinking at the Nobel level, too, in both arts and sciences. Consider mathematician Stanley Ulam, writing in his Adventures of a Mathematician:

    When I was a boy I felt that the role of rhyme in poetry was to compel one to find the unobvious because of the necessity of finding a word which rhymes. This forces novel associations and almost guarantees deviations from routine chains or trains of thought. It becomes paradoxically a sort of automatic mechanism of originality…

    Here’s how the poet TS Eliot puts it:

    When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas.

    A Hipbone Gameboard such as the Waterbird, Dartboard, or Said Symphony board is chosen precisely to challenge the mind with third, fourth and fifth rounds of “creative leaps” — thus adding both divergent and convergent cognitive styles to this form of graphical analysis.

    That’s my point here — and a plug for HipBone-Sembl style thinking.

    **

    I can’t resist adding a couple of instances in which the meme of “connecting the dots” via a link chart or evidence board has crept from TV series that I enjoyed into the world of games — this first one based on the terrific French detective series, Engrenages, retitled Spirals for British consumption:

    — and this one for fans of the US TV series, Breaking Bad:


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