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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?

    Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus

    Thursday, December 11th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — proposing a simple tweak for Twitter as a “difference that might make a difference” ]
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    Marc Andreessen gave us the first web browser, NCSA Mosaic. Without it, we’d be in an alternate universe. Much gratitude.

    **

    A few days back, Andreessen tweeted:

    Behold, two ideas, each one commonly voiced and easily taken or granted, which move in opposite directions.

    Andreessen has a nose for these things. Sometimes he uses two tweets to point up this kind of paradox, sometimes just the one. But he’s intrigued, presumably, by the fact that two such contradictory attitudes can both persist in the same cloud of discussion without drawing much attention to their discord — and that when they are isolated and juxtaposed in this way, the discord jumps out at us, and with any luck we begin to question assumptions and actually think our way to a more nuanced understanding of the topic in question.

    He’s using form to sharpen insight.

    **

    More than that, conceptual juxtaposition is the form he’s using, and that’s a form I’ve been exploring myself here on Zenpundit and elsewhere under the name DoubleQuotes for a while.

    I use conceptual juxtaposition myself for a variety of purposes, not least because it’s the seed form of creative activity — the intersection between different ideas is the “seam” where Koestler finds the origins of humor, tragedy and discovery:

    koestler-model

    **

    My own DoubleQuotes format is a means of capturing those intersections, whether they be verbal, visual, aural or even numerical, as shown in these two examples:

    SPEC Baghdad 450

    and:

    SPEC Karman Gogh 450

    **

    A while back, Adam Elkus took note of what Andreessen was up to with his juxtapositions, and thought they merited comment in their own right:

    Adam also noted the similarity between our respective thought processes, and followed up by tweeting, “In fact, one wonders if @pmarca and @hipbonegamer could team up for a double quote post.” I invited @pmarca to play a round or two of DoubleQuotes with me, there was a hiatus of a couple of weeks..

    ..and then Adam retweeted an inquiry along similar lines:

    and responded:

    to which I replied, “Let me think on it.”

    **

    I have been thinking..

    Twitter already features a line connecting two tweets when one is a direct response to the other:

    DoubleTweet

    That’s a minimalist version of what I’d like to see — but I’d like to be able to lock two tweets, or retweets, together at the time of posting. I don’t know if this is app territory or something Twitter might want to create itself, but I ran across the two tweets that follow…

    within a few minutes of one another on my feed, but with fifteen or so intervening tweets…

    and I wanted to RT them together as a pair — not one followed by the other, with who knows how many tweets from other people in between them as they appear in my tweeps’ feeds.

    In those two n\tweets together, eccentric mechanical beauty meets eccentric natural beauty, I like both, but more than that, I like the contrast, and the underlying similarity — in this case, a similarity that is found in the eye of this beholder, and which I hope might catch the eye of like-minded others.

    **

    So: what I’d like to see is an affordance for posting two tweets or RTs as a connected whole.

    This might be for the purpose of an Andreessen paradox, or a HipBone DoubleQuote, for raising a question or pointing up an irony, for illustrating parallelisms or oppositions in the editing of a film … the possibilities are endless.

    That single minimalist line tying the two tweets together would be a starting point, but very simple graphics could be devised for signaling identity (the line features a small equals sign at its mid-point), inequality (“does not equal”), parallelism (double line), directionality or causality (an arrow), paradox (two arrows in opposite directions), question (a question mark), or recursion (an arrow chasing its tail), etc..

    Lines with ah! oy! hu! and eureka! at their midpoints would also be neat:

    double tweet links

    **

    Whether with or without these graphical niceties, the capacity to DoubleTweet would put us in play mode, insight mode, aha! mode.

    We could use more exercise in that mode of being and thinking, no?

    Theory and Practice:

    Friday, November 29th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — how theory works out in practice, and vice versa ]
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    Here’s the first of a pair of “patterns” of interest…

    Theory contradicts practice:

    — with thanks to my friend Peter van der Werff!

    **

    And here’s the second, a delicious serpent-bites-tail tweet re Egypt:

    Practice contradicts theory:

    **

    Okay, there are two more items for the “pattern recognition” / “pattern language” archives…

    And here’s wishing you all a Happy Black Friday — if that’s even concedivable!

    One person’s this is another person’s that

    Saturday, October 12th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameronunder the same black flag ]
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    In this case, one neighborhood’s supplier of food relief (upper panel)…

    is another soldier’s execution squad (lower panel).

    Food for a Sunni neighborhood, in other words, death for the Alawite soldier.

    **

    Both images from Aaron Zelin‘s 46 Scenes From The Islamic State In Syria on BuzzFeed today — recommended.

    Serpent logics: KarlreMarks and LizzyPearson

    Monday, October 7th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — yet another quick dip into the dizzying world of patterns enfolded in tweets ]
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    My collection of “Serpent logics” or “patterns of thinking” in the miniature format provided by the Twitter-stream got a noble boost today — you can blame my insomnia for my noticing this — from Karl Sharro and Elizabeth Pearson:

    Sbarro unwittingly triggered things off by tweeting:

    Pearson picked upon the “nested” quality of this tweet, and tweeted back:

    and to clarify:

    **

    That was neat enough indeed, what with three instances in a row of self-referential tweets, each of which enfolds a previous tweet within it — the pattern I’m always on the look out for, and call “Matrioshka” after those nested Russian dolls — but there was more to come. I turned back — how could I help it — to the first tweet from Sharro:

    and searched for the tweet embedded therein:

    A little deeper into the conversation, I came across this rejoinder, which sent me off on a further journey:

    and lo, the embedded link here led me to a page that contained not one but dozens of tweets, all based on the formula of the three characters went into a bar joke, many of the examples turning Sharro’s mind to matters of philosophy and the Middle East…

    **

    They’re all examples of the kind of “collision thinking” that Arthur Koestler specifies as the source of creative insight (aha!), comedy (ha!) and tragedy (aiyyeee!) — but I’ve selected three which represent three of the different patterns I’m intrigued by:

    That’s a serpent biting its tail joke, if ever I saw one, a conspiracist take on conspiracism.

    Now that, I aver, is a extaordinary example of enantiodromia, or direct reversal.

    And for the pattern I call nominal, one can hardly better this play between the word minimalist and its context…

    **

    It’s time for me to get minimal, too. I have a quite a long line of “Serpent logics” more or less lined up and ready to go, but putting too many of them in one post gets tedious for the readership, so I’ve cut these examples out of the herd to give you a taste, and will follow up with two mmore selections in a day or two.


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