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Multi-dimensional heuristic work space


Polyhedral Pattern Language: Software facilitation of emergence, representation and transformation of psycho-social organization (Part #13)


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A focus to the confluence envisaged here may be given in terms of the kind of "work space" envisaged in a classical paper by Douglas Engelbart (Augmenting Human Intellect: a conceptual framework, 1962), notably:

Schroeder appears to offer the most significant synthesis, in relation to the above argument, especially given his extensive reference to tensegrity (as the "defining figure" in the workplace he proposes) and his association of it with the pattern language of Christopher Alexander. His study focused on:

... three innovations that suggest an alternative approach to structuring information systems: a multidimensional heuristic workspace, a resonance metaphor for information, and a question-centered approach to structuring information relations. Motivated by the need for space to establish a question-centered learning environment, a heuristic workspace has been designed. Both the question-centered approach to information system design and the workspace have been conceived with the resonance metaphor in mind....

This revised view of the metaphors of space was accompanied by a critical evaluation of the prevailing metaphors for information processes, the conduit and pathway metaphors, which led to the emergence of an alternative, resonance metaphor. Whereas the dominant metaphors emphasized information as object and the movement of objects and people through networks and other limitless information spaces, the resonance metaphor suggests the existence of multiple centers in dynamic proximity relationships...

The federation of multiple autonomous problem-solving spaces, toward goals such as establishing communities of questioners, has become an objective of this work. Future work will aim at accomplishing this federation, most likely by means of the IS0 Topic Maps standard or similar semantic networking strategies.

Schroeder made extensive use of the Axon Idea Processor: a visualization tool for thinkers, as developed by Chan Bok, in elaborating his proposed workspace and illustrating its operation. It allowed total network views and management of relations in the form of clusters as well as explicit links. It also allowed the workspace to be organized in terms of concentric polyhedra -- a feature suggested earlier. Uunlike Stella, Axon does not have a virtual reality mode. Despite that, Schroeder argues that the workspace so enabled is an autonomous, stand-alone environment that affords the possibility of being federated with similar spaces through use of emerging facilities such the IS0 Topic Maps standard.

In his primary focus on the tensegrity in a virtual environment (but not in the virtual reality characteristic of Stella), Schroeder appropriately notes:

It should be noted here that the tensegrity figure in this workspace is only an image, and does not have the capacity to behave in the digital environment as a physical tensegrity would. The figure included here was created based on observation of an existing physical model. The great advantage of the physical tensegrity structures is that the relationships among the forces that determine the structure and the physical stability that results creates an immediate understanding of the whole system. Realizing these characteristics in the digital environment, rather than just representing them, is suggested as an objective of future work.

Schroeder also provides a very helpful detailed summary (pp 199-207) of the advantages of the tensegrity-based workspace, notably in terms of :

  • "cognitive plausibility"
  • a central point of cognitive reference: "as locus of accepted assumptions, or negatively, as the place of ultimate unknown, the nave about which the wheel of knowledge turns"
  • provision for "undefined as well as definable spaces"
  • highlighting the role of context in terms of a "context sphere"
  • suggesting an arrangement for the structured display of certainty and uncertainty relationships
  • consistent display of multiple frames of reference
  • possibility of displaying objects "as single entities, or they can be formally linked as networks, arrayed in clusters suggesting fields, or arranged along vectors suggesting the directions of operation of forces within the space. The meanings of the symbolic objects that are managed in this space can be represented in several ways: explicitly, by embedding definitional text within the objects, or by assigning values to links across objects; or implicitly, through relational arrays, with significance of the array determined through analysis of the object clusters".
  • representation of networks "by the chords that connect the vertices of the polyhedra. A graph representing 'small world' phenomena can be seen in the tensegrity, with the tendons representing local 'strong ties' and the cross structure compression elements representing the long-distance 'weak ties'."
  • manipulability and multiple location of objects / tokens making it a workplace for cognitive learning and discovery.
  • ready representation of containment and inside / outside relationships
  • ability to infer structural dynamism
  • placement or representation of concepts that involve dynamic change and periodic events in time
  • representation of relationships implying opposition and bi-polarity
  • possibility of groupings in several different numeric patterns
  • potential for simultaneous display of cognitive and geographical maps
  • capacity to represent relationships characterized by discontinuity
  • metaphorical use of "gravity effects" understood as accounting for stable proximity relationships when physical connections are not in place -- as in the clustering of concepts around categorical prototypes
  • user control of the workplace environment, notably enabling different cognitive learning styles

Clearly such explorations need to be related to the multi-actor situation of organization emergence and self-organization. Of particular interest is the author's approach to:

  • representation of relationships implying opposition, bi-polarity, uncertainty and discontinuity, usefully to be understood as appropriate separation -- rather than a "unification", as tends to be the inappropriate conventional aspiration
  • the "central point of cognitive reference", which in the case of a symmetrical tensegrity is quite empty and effectively "virtual". From a philosophical perspective, even a spiritual one, this is especially significant, in contrast to the conventional approach in which any such central position is necessarily occupied by some organizational or conceptual entity, or even a central value.
  • polyhedral organization of the geographical globe which includes research into "geodesic discrete global grid systems" (K. Sahr, et al., 2003) and "planetary polyhedral tesselation" (G. H. Dutton, 1991; 1999), namely the use of global coordinate systems based on regular polyhedra, as a complement to those based on traditional latitude and longitude. Notable is the author's idea that global geographic polyhedral projections could easily be incorporated into the proposed heuristic workspace.
  • the challenge of cognitive embodiment associated with any workspace, as extensively argued by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, 1999).

Implicitly, combining the above points, is the sense in which the emptiness around which globality is centred brings a special and necessary form of integrative order to "global" networks that are otherwise unconstrained (cf Varieties of nothingness and emptiness, 2008). Arguably it is this centrally referenced emptiness that creates a space, that is potentially isomorphic with that of the proposed workplace of the mind. The approach creates a "context" within which "global" discourse takes place effectively (Future Generation through Global Conversation: in quest of collective well-being through conversation in the present moment, 1997).


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