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Towards an Astrophysics of the Knowledge Universe

From astronautics to noonautics? (Part #1)


Introduction
Thematic intersections
Diversity of understandings of any universe of information
Evocative questions
Astrophysical metaphors
Physical universe as a mnemonic device -- a "memory palace"
General systems and holonomy
Comprehension
Basic challenge
Variety of conceptual objects
Dynamics and singularities in the knowledge universe
Cognitive engagement
Governance and spin
Noonautics: four modes of travelling and navigating the "universe"?
Conclusion
References

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Introduction

Just as physicists and astronomers continue to discover new ways of understanding the physical universe and its possible multi-dimensional context, it is appropriate to seek new ways of understanding the universe of knowledge -- given its significance for the emergence of any "knowledge society" (UNESCO. Towards Knowledge Societies (World Report), 2005) as a development beyond the notion of an "information society". The origins and distinctions are variouly discussed (cf Rhonda Breit, et al, Information Society or Knowledge Societies? Unesco in the Smart State, 2004; Sally Burch (The Information Society/ the Knowledge Society, 2005).

Engaging in this exploration uncovers a whole array of approaches to this challenge -- as highlighted below. Of particular relevance to any understanding of the knowledge universe is the diversity of these approaches. As with the array of religions or the array of disciplines, the status and degree of relationship of these understandings to one another is often problematic to a high degree.

The purpose of this exploration is to treat these different approaches as typical phenomena of the universe of knowledge as it might be more generally understood. This self-reflexivity must necessarily also call into question this exploration itself -- as but another phenomenon in the universe of knowledge. It is therefore not considered sufficient to opt for a single mode that understanding universe. Alternatively, if a unimodal approach is considered appropriate, the status of any such preference calls for greater clarification.

The intention here, given the extensive literature on these matters, is to be neither systematic nor exhaustive, but to approach the exploration with a "light touch", highlighting pointers for further investigation. In fact the constraints of quantity, time, complexity, competence -- whether in the investigator or the audience -- are also factors to be considered in an understanding of the universe of knowledge.

The impetus for this exploration has been increasing frustration with the disparate elements and processes in the knowledge universe -- notably the plethora of "models" generated in the creative process of the advancement of knowledge and in expanding the frontiers of the universe of knowledge. The disparate nature of these constructs, their questionable relationship or relevance to each other, and the often chaotic psychosocial dynamics of their advocates, seemed to call for an approach which did not simply engender yet another model with claims to universal significance.

A strong distinction can be made between factual documentation of phenomena, organization and instrumental use of that information, and any cognitive engagement with what is recognized -- beyond the observer-observed duality.

Such a distinction is increasingly necessary with the emphasis now placed on "values" and "wisdom" in relation to global governance, whether "faith-based" or "evidence-based", and on elaboration of more appropriate strategies. If the sets of insights effectively functioned, or were used, as what would now be termed "global models" or "world models", then the adequacy of their predictive capacity should be distinguished from the adequacy of their descriptive/explanatory capacity -- especially given the requirements of them by their culture. The most comprehensive of these present day models of the world system face a particular challenge in that the "predictions" they offer fail to engage the individual as coherent and credible -- and therefore fail to engender political support for appropriate concerted action (cf Donnella Meadows, et al. Limits to Growth: the 30-year update, 2004).

These concerns also follow from an earlier exploration of the possibility of higher orders of cognitive engagement in strategic issues (Governance through Patterning Language: creative cognitive engagement contrasted with abdication of responsibility, 2006; Creative Cognitive Engagement: beyond the limitations of descriptive patterning, 2006). This was occasioned by the recognition that it is becoming increasingly clear that society is not "getting its act together" :

  • in the practice of governance (appropriate and timely response to emerging problems or to "due protest" about denied problems)
  • in conceptualizing the possibilities (given the "failure of intelligence" and "imagination", notably on the part of "think tanks")
  • in engaging with those in frustrated need (as evidenced by the major societal role of drugs, terrorism, crime, and violence)
(as evidenced by the major societal role of drugs, terrorism, crime, and violence)

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