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Simulating a Global Brain: using networks of international organizations, world problems, strategies, and values (Part #4)

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Mathematical limitations: Because of its institutional and financial setting, the UIA has been unable to bring to bear on the knowledgebase the quality of mathematical expertise which the data structure could be said to merit. Although it should be borne in mind that priority has been given to an integrated solution that resulted in user access to results generated with particular generic software rather than laboratory analysis of data sets using tailored software. So, for example, the following are primitive and more akin to proof of concept:

  • analysis of loops
  • identification of meaningful network properties and sources of potential error (redundancy, etc)
  • algorithms to generate virtual reality frameworks to interrelate entities

See elsewhere for a discussion of some relevant mathematical challenges for systems scientists (Judge, 1999). A related concern arises from the fundamental conceptual challenge faced by the international community concerning territorial conflicts (Kashmir, Northern Ireland, Middle East, etc), namely dilemmas over the division of bounded space between two or more claimants -- which effectively sustain dangerous rifts in global society. It might be argued that responding in new ways to these challenges would be fundamental to any assessment of the value of a global brain -- and its 'global' attributes. It has been argued that the kinds of integration required can only be based on application of more complex mathematical techniques (Judge, 2000) -- following the principle of Ashby's Law.

Provision of meaningful integrative tools: There is a major issue about how to present knowledgebase complexity to a user. This increasingly stimulates investment in knowledge visualization techniques. Many of the more interesting packages are targeted to high-budget organizations. However it is unclear to what degree some of the more interesting questions and possibilities are being addressed. It is for this reason that the UIA is exploring use of sound in relation to visualizations (as noted earlier).

Given the current interest in memes as a semantic equivalent of genes (eg Blackmore, 1999), there is a strong case for exploring the relevance of arguments made for 'genetic music' as they might apply to 'memetic music' as a means of comprehending knowledge complexes within a global brain. This suggests a 'memetic reading' of the points made in M A Clark's review of genetic music sources ( which he introduces as follows:

In his landmark book Godel, Escher, Bach (1980), Douglas Hofstadter comments on similarities between genes and music. The analogy is explicit in the following quote:

Imagine the mRNA to be like a long piece of magnetic recording tape, and the ribosome to be like a tape recorder. As the tape passes through the playing head of the recorder, it is "read" and converted into music, or other sounds...When a "tape" of mRNA passes through the "playing head" of a ribosome, the "notes" produced are amino acids and the pieces of music they make up are proteins. ( p. 519).

Hofstadter also discusses how meaning is constructed in protein and in music:

Music is not a mere linear sequence of notes. Our minds perceive pieces of music on a level far higher than that. We chunk notes into phrases, phrases into melodies, melodies into movements, and movements into full pieces. similarly proteins only make sense when they act as chunked units. Although a primary structure carries all the information for the tertiary structure to be created, it still "feels" like less, for its potential is only realized when the tertiary structure is actually physically created. (p. 525)

As Hofstadter first suggested, music is a natural medium for expressing the complex patterns of proteins and their encoding DNAs. Both consist of a linear sequence of elements whose real meaning lies in their combinations.

Later Clark suggests possibilities which are again of great potential interest to comprehension of the high order conceptual complexes that might usefully be a characteristic of a global brain:

Musical renditions of DNA and proteins are not only interesting as music, but as an alternative mode of studying genetic sequences. It might be argued that the folding patterns (tertiary structure) of proteins are the most conserved elements of living organisms. The genes and the primary protein structure (amino acid sequence) that underlie the protein folds and the diversity of the species that house them seem to be free to vary, so long as the protein continues to fold in a way that allows it to serve its function. Protein folding depends on the interaction among the amino acids and between the protein and its immediate environment. With a few exceptions, the specific identity of the amino acids seems less important than the preservation of the correct relationship. I believe that music is a way of representing those relationships in a type of informational string to which the human ear is keenly attuned.

Maybe the traditional notion of the 'music of the spheres' is of significance to discussion of the design of any global brain. Certainly David Rosenboom's (2000) arguments as a musician are relevant to many of the epistemological challenges and traps. The bibliographical and other references of the International Community of Auditory Display ( provide a strong rationale for this approach.

Integrating multimedia tools into the hyperlink editing process: It is increasingly clear that what amounts to synapse editing calls for software and visualization tools to enhance the conceptual capacity of the editor -- somewhat along the lines of the tools now being envisaged for brain surgeons. The question is what kinds of tools would facilitate the task of a researcher constructing useful links in a knowledge structure in the light of paterns of information supplied from other sources.

One experimental approach envisaged would make use of 3D virtual reality representations, based on a gardening metaphor, to allow knowledge structures to be cultivated and gardened with the aid of musical cues (Judge, 2000). The elastic interval geometry software technology under continuing development by Gerald de Jong and the Struck Community has already been adapted by him to 3D dynamic displays, notably in relationship to construction of virtual worlds. There are interesting further possibilities using elastic angle geometry. The question is what design metaphors might be envisaged to increase the cognitive dimensions of such habitats so as to emphasize highlight meaningful integration. This is necessarily some stages beyond Douglas Englebart's early vision (1962). UIA data has been parsed into XML as a basis for populating such constructs.

Role of metaphor: Appropriate metaphor is increasingly and explicitly appreciated as fundamental to design advances in software. As noted above some of the design constraints for knowledge structure representation are associated with geometric metaphors. However it is also clear that there is vast scope for use of design metaphors to this end based on other aesthetics -- whether colour, sound, shape, dynamics, or any combination (Judge, 1995).

It can be readily argued that the brain uses metaphor to provide coherent patterns of associations as a framework for knowledge. It might well be supposed that this would also be true of any global brain. The question is what metaphors might be useful to what end, and how might users be offered facilities enhanced by such options. Would such use of metaphor be an attribute of the right-hemisphere of the global brain?

Quality intelli-work and enabling fruitful input from external parties: As with work on expert systems, maintaining and extending a knowledgebase requires a level of continuing professional attention to detail which is usually associated only with the setup phases of knowledgebase development. Institutionally the continuity of attention required calls for distributed editorial research work and facilities to manage the relationship between the interventions of contributors with differeing skills and priorities. Specifically there is a challenge of ensuring that careful work on systems of hyperlinks is not inadvertently wrecked by careless new contributions.

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