Art and Science of Creative Change (ASCC)



The question that sparked my research program: how does human culture evolve? Is there some sense in which human knowledge structures and worldviews are evolving? This led me to research creativity: the process that fuels cultural change. It also led me to compare and contrast cultural evolution with another evolutionary process that we know much more about, biological evolution, and to study what enables evolutionary processes to get started in the first place. This research has resulted in a new theory of how culture evolves, referred to as Self-Other Reorganization, or SOR. This theory posits that culture evolves through (1) self-organizing and self-maintaining processes within minds, and (2) communal exchangebetween minds. Unlike the Darwinian natural selection process that drives biological evolution, SOR is highly cooperative; it entails not survival of some at the expense of others, but transformation of all. In other words, our worldviews shift as we share ideas, and creatively mull these ideas over from different perspectives until they find a form that we come to terms with. SOR in turn provides a new conceptual framework for understanding creativity. Through immersion in a creative practise, we restructure our worldviews in ways that can align us with our most genuine and authentic selves.


Students who might like to do research related to any of these topics are welcome to drop me a line at liane [dot] gabora [at] ubc [dot] ca.

Cultural Evolution

Theoretical Framework

Because culture is evolving faster than ever before, there is an unprecedented need to develop a scientific framework for this process. The overarching goal my research is to develop a scientific framework for cultural evolution that is as sound as our scientific framework for biological evolution, and apply it to the tasks of reconstructing our past, exploring possible futures, and furthering human wellbeing. Developing a scientific framework for cultural change will provide us with a stronger understanding of where we came from, where we are now, and where we are headed.

Over time, technology adapts to our needs and art changes in ways that reflect current trends and tastes, leading many to view culture as an evolutionary process. However, it has not been established in what sense culture evolves. Attempts to develop a scientific framework for cultural evolution have generally framed it as a Darwinian process of competitive exclusion and survival of the fittest. A hint that this view was on the wrong track was that it is difficult to reconcile with the highly cooperative nature of human societies. It turns out there are deep theoretical reasons why cultural evolution is not a Darwinian (or 'selectionist') process. In biological evolution, acquired change is not transmitted (e.g., you don’t inherit your mother’s memories or her tattoo), so change over time is attributable to differential replication of variants in response to selection. However, in cultural evolution there is no mechanism for discarding acquired change (e.g., once one cup had a handle, all cups could have handles). Acquired change accumulates orders of magnitude faster than, and overwhelms, change due to differential replication of variants in response to selection (the mechanism Darwin proposed). This prohibits a selectionist but not an evolutionary framework for culture, and suggest that cultural evolution research would benefit from paying attention to the increasing recognition of the role of non-Darwinian, epigenetic processes in evolution. Research on the origin of life suggests that early life consisted of autocatalytic protocells that evolved through a non-Darwinian process that can be modeled using something called an autocatalytic network, and the highly efficient process of natural selection emerged later from this more haphazard, ancestral evolutionary process. Autocatalytic networks are simply a general mathematical framework for studyng phase transitions in networks in which interactions amongst an initial set of elements generates new elements, resulting in new emergent levels of organization.

These networks can be used to model not just the origin of life and the beginnings of biological evolution, but the origin of the kind of cognitive structure that can sustain cultural evolution. I propose that what evolves through culture is peoples’ internal models of the world, including knowledge and how it has is made sense of, as well as ideas, hopes, attitudes, and habitual patterns of thought and behavior. An internal model of the world is referred to as a worldview. The evolution of worldviews is both externally and internally driven. People affect how their worldviews evolve indirectly, by changing their environments, and directly, through abstract thought, fantasy, and so forth. This may be fueled by a sense of fragmentation or dissonance that arises in the course of play and exploration, or in response to life problems, injustices, or a lack of consistency in one’s knowledge and ideas.

A human worldview is able to exert change from the inside, and thereby recover from perturbations that disrupt dynamical equilibrium, because it has the following properties. It is self-organizing in the sense that we constantly use new information to update our understanding of people and things and how they are related. It is self-mending in the sense that just as a body spontaneously heals itself when wounded, if something unexpected happens we can't help but try to figure out why, i.e. to revise our worldview to accommodate this unexpected event. And finally, a worldview is autopoietic; that is, the whole emerges through interactions amongst the parts.

A worldview does not self-replicate 'all at once like modern-day organisms do; it self-regenerates in a manner that is fragmentary and somewhat haphazard. An adult shares ideas, stories, and attitudes with children (and other adults), influencing little by little the formation of other worldviews. Of necessity, a worldview acquires and expresses cultural information in the form of discrete units (e.g. gestures or artifacts). However, between transmission events this information gets restructured as it is thought through in light of the individuals’ ever-changing needs, perspectives, and experience. Different situations expose different facets of a worldview (like cutting a fruit at different angles exposes different parts of its interior). Ideas and artifacts are thus how a mind reveals or manifests its current evolutionary state.  

This view of cultural evolution is supported by analyses conducted using a computational model of cultural evolution (EVOC) and a conceptual network based program for documenting material cultural history (WE), and it is consistent with high levels of human cooperation. More recently, it has been developed more mathematically using Reflexively Autocatalytic Foodset-generated (RAF) networks in a series of papers mostly co-authored with Mike Steel. Probing the similarities and differences between biological and cultural evolution can deepen our understanding of how any sort of evolutionary process could take hold.

To the left is a schematic depiction of how worldviews reorganize themselves through communal interaction, and thereby evolve not through survival of the fittest but through transformation of all. Individuals are represented by spheres, and their worldviews are represented by networks within the spheres. Birth is represented by the appearance of a new sphere, and death is represented by when a sphere turns grey. Worldviews tend to become more complex over time, as represented by the more elaborate networks, and more adapted over time, as represented by the transition from dark green to light green. Some individuals (e.g. the one with a blue network and the one with a red one) are more compelled than others to take what they learn and 'make it their own', i.e. put their own spin on it and connect it to what they know. This may lead them to have a more unique and nuanced internal model of the world. I refer to such individuals as having a self-made worldview. Self-made individuals may be more likely to exert transformative effects on the world such as through the creation of artifacts, which may influence the shape of new worldviews long after they themselves have died.

Natural selection operates by randomly generating lots of possibilities such that by chance at least one of them is bound to be fit, or adaptive. Culture works by generating few possibilities, but biasing their generation such that they are more likely than chance to be adaptive. So I soon realized that in order to develop a comprehensive theory of how culture evolves I had to understand how experience and intuition guide the generation of cultural novelty. I had to understand creativity!


Non-academic Articles


EVOC: A Computer Model of Cultural Evolution

EVOC is a computer model of cultural evolution that enables us to investigate how factors such as barriers to cultural diffusion, the presence and choice of leaders, or changes in the ratio of innovation to imitation affect the diversity and effectiveness of ideas. It consists of neural network based agents that invent ideas for actions, and imitate neighbors’ actions. Runs of EVOC exhibit an increase in mean fitness (or effectiveness) of actions over time, and an increase and then decrease in the diversity of actions (see below).

This is output from a run of EVOC. Each cell of the grid represents an agent (a member of the artificial society). Its colour represents the action the agent is currently implementing. Watch how new actions get invented, and how they spread from neighbor to neighbor when they are fitter than the actions that are currently in vogue. For example, the gray action is overtaken by the purple one, which in turn is overtaken by the blue one, then the green, and finally the gold one.

The upper graph shows the mean fitness or value of their actions. Fitness increases as they creatively build on earlier actions, and imitate neighbors that are implementing fit actions.

The lower graph shows the cultural diversity, i.e. the number of different actions. Diversity increases as the agents find new actions, and decreases as they converge on the fittest of those actions. The diversity never gets very high in this run, and by the end they are all implementing the same action, because (1) the population of agents is small, (2) all but 3 agents are set to be imitators who never invent, and (3) even the 3 creators don't invent all the time. (These settings were chosen for this demonstration because they make it easy to quickly demonstrate the spread of new actions.) When the population is large (e.g. several hundred agents), all agents are creators, and there is no little or no imitation (i.e., the invention to imitation ratio is close to 1:0), action diversity (i.e., the number of different actions) approaches 100 at its peak, and they settle on about a dozen different actions.

Many other things can be explored with EVOC too. We have found that diversity of actions is positively correlated with population size and density, and with barriers between populations. Slowly eroding borders increase fitness without sacrificing diversity by fostering specialization followed by sharing of fit actions. Introducing a leader that broadcasts its actions throughout the population increases the fitness of actions but reduces diversity of actions. Increasing the number of leaders reduces this effect. Efforts are underway to investigate the conditions under which an agent immigrating from one culture to another contributes new ideas without disrupting what is already in place.

Non-academic Articles about EVOC



How did Humans Become Able to Evolve Culture?

Why are we are the only species to have evolved complex cultures, in which one invention leads to and builds on another (the Ratchet effect)? How did the human mind came to have the creative capacity to generate all these gadgets, languages, mannerisms, and so forth? Some suggest that culture arose due to onset of the capacity for a theory of mind (ToM), the capacity to reason about the mental states of others. I have suggested that it was the weaving together of discrete memories and bits of knowledge into an integrated internal model of the world, or worldview (see above). This would facilitate the capacity to reason about anything, not just the mental states of others. Two key steps are (1) the evolution of a finer-grained distributed memory structure, which paved the way for increased frequency of associations, reminding events, and thus conceptual integration, and (2) onset of the capacity to spontaneously shift between analytic and associative modes of thought. Using the fruits of one mode as ingredients for the other, it would be much easier to express oneself in a multitude of ways and come up with solutions to the myriad problems that arise in everyday life.

But herein lies a paradox. Until memories and ideas have been woven into an integrated internal model of the world, or worldview, how can they generate an ongoing stream of thought? And conversely, until one can generate a stream of thought, how does one weave memories and ideas into a worldview? How does a worldview -- an entity composed of complex, mutually transforming parts -- come into existence?

A possible answer comes from graph theory (Gabora, 1998, 2001; Gabora & Aerts, 2009). The idea can be conveyed by a simple metaphor. Spill some buttons on the floor. Tie two randomly chosen buttons together with a thread. Repeat this again and again. The number of connected buttons increases exponentially, but the number of strings increases even faster. Every once in a while, lift a button and see how many buttons get lifted. You soon find that you are lifting clusters of connected buttons. When the ratio of strings to buttons reaches about 2:1, it becomes inevitable that they reach what is called a percolation threshold, at which point the size of the largest cluster increases dramatically. The buttons form a giant cluster containing all the buttons, and no matter at which button you start there exists a means of getting to any other button, not necessarily directly by way of one string, but by way of some sequence of strings and buttons. The buttons-and-strings metaphor is demonstrated. The main window at the bottom shows buttons (red circles) getting connected by strings (yellow lines). The upper left window shows the largest cluster only. The graph on the upper right shows the ratio of edges (strings) to nodes (buttons).

Now imagine the buttons are memories and ideas, and the strings are associations between them -- ways one could remind you or lead you to think of another. Once memories and ideas are connected by way of a web of associations, the mind is more than a simple stimulus-response machine. Each situation encountered is not just stored in memory but merges into this conceptual web, and each response can be modulated and refined by remote elements of the web and how they appear in light of one another. It is suggested that this kind of integrated conceptual web could not come about until human memory encoded situations in enough detail that meaningful associations could reliably be forged bewteen items.The buttons-and-strings metaphor illustrated to the left provides one small piece of the puzzle of how the flexible, creative cognition of modern humans arose. The metaphor was actually first used by Stuart Kauffman to show how graph theory can shed light on the question of how life arose from an ensemble of catalytic molecules on primitive earth (Kauffman, 1993). Here, the buttons are the molecules and the strings are the reactions between them. As the molecules interacted, the number of different molecules increased exponentially, but the number of reactions by which they could interconvert increased faster than their total number. Thus, as their diversity increased, so did the probability that some subset of the total ensemble reached a critical point where they formed an integrated reaction web, the first primitive metabolism. The metaphor has also been used to explain the diversification of goods and services in modern economies; indeed self-organized webs of this sort may play a key role in the earliest stage of any complex, evolutionary process.

A similar buttons-and-strings animation here was provided by Chris Meyer of Monitor Corporation, who applies biological concepts to the growth of organizations.

Non-academic Articles


For tentative implications for consciousness:

Worldview Evolution (WE): A Network-based Computer Program for Reconstructing Cultural Lineages

a computer program I developed for reconstructing human material cultural history, called WE (for Worldview Evolution). WE allows the user to enter attributes of found artifacts, and postulates cultural lineages amongst them (“what led to what”). It uses not just attribute knowledge but also derived conceptual knowledge of how items are related to one another, because it has a (limited) conceptual network with which it can integrate information from different sources. For example, WE knows that artifacts might be related through analogical transfer (e.g., of the concept HANDLE from KNIFE to CUP), or complementarity (e.g., MORTAR and PESTLE). Finally, WE also makes use of cultural knowledge (e.g., trade between different cultural groups). Using as initial data sets collections of (1) early projectile points from the Southeastern United States and (2) Baltic psalteries, WE recovered previously unacknowledged patterns of historical relationship that were more congruent with geographical distribution and temporal data than that obtained with other approaches.

The next evolution of WE is a visual analytics project. With the help of crowdsourcing we will develop an internet-based visualization of the lineage of human technologies that incorporates not just how one invention paves the way for another, but the mental operations involved, and the impact of the new technology on peoples' worldviews. A recurring theme in technological evolution is taking an existing object and applying it in a new context. The new context naturally suggests how the object needs to change; for example, in the context of pouring tea, the pot acquired a spout, and the teapot was born. Thus this project takes advantage of my experience developing a formal model of how concepts interact, and in particular how they shift in meaning when considered from new contexts. Although it is possible to mathematically describe this process, it is not possible to list (or even develop an algorithm that will list) all possible uses or contexts for an item (such as for example, copper or rubber). This has been referred to as the frame problem. In human-machine hybrid systems, human input is particularly useful at junctures that involve defining the relevant contexts (e.g., the possible uses of copper). I aim to (1) distinguish algorithmic from non-algorithmic components of cultural evolution, (2) computationally model the algorithmic components, and amass human solutions to the non-algorithmic (generally, creative) components, and (3) combine them to develop human-machine hybrids with previously unforeseen computational power that can be used to solve real problems. This work sheds light on the important open question of how best to allocate between human and machine processing for given tasks, i.e., what do humans do better than machines and vice versa, and why, and in what contexts.


Two examples of network output of the WE computer program given the same input data: a set of projectile points from the Southeastern United States. Circles represent particular samples. Numbered lines give estimates of relatedness (lower numbers more closely related). The output on the left makes use of superficial attributes only. The output on the right additionally makes use of conceptual meta-data. The fact that they differ demonstrates that it is not possible to organize cultural artifacts into historically correct lineages considering only attribute level without considering the conceptual-level knowledge.

we lineages


Honing Theory

Another focus of my research to date has aimed to understand how the creative process works using empirical studies with human participants, as well as computational and mathematical models. Creativity has given us the artistic masterpieces that inspire us, and the technological achievements that connect us. Research on creativity and insight not only sheds light on what is arguably our most distinctively human attribute, but has practical applications to problem solving, pattern recognition, data transformation, and the general issue of how to adapt solutions to new contexts or circumstances. An understanding of creativity can help us in ways that range from finding outlets for self-expression to finding unexpected uses for materials that are widely available or inexpensive.

I developed a theory of creativity referred to as honing theory. The core tenets of honing theory can be summarized as follows:

  1. The creative process reflects the self-organizing nature of a mind, or rather, a mind as it is experienced from the inside: a worldview (see Cultural Evolution). The worldview attempts to resolve dissonance and seek internal consistency amongst its components, whether they be ideas, attitudes, or bits of knowledge; it mends itself as does a body when it has been injured.

  2. Formal research on concept combination (see below) suggests that we experience a concept or idea only indirectly, by observing how it appears when reflected upon from different perspectives. The generative phase of creativity involves, not generating multiple discrete, separate ideas, but generating multiple 'shadow-like' projections of the underlying problem, task, or idea, by viewing it from different perspectives.

  3. What changes during the creative process is not the number of ideas generated, but the diversity of perspectives the idea is looked at from. As one transitions from shining light on an object from different directions to shining it from almost-identical directions, what was initially multiple non-overlapping shadows coalesce into a single shadow. Similarly, as one transitions from reflect on an idea from different (divergent) perspectives to increasingly similar (convergent) perspectives, it starts to feel less like generating many ideas and more like refining a single idea.

  4. Creative thought proceeds by drawing upon associations that exist due to overlap in the distributed neural cell assemblies that participate in the encoding of experiences in memory. When faced with a creatively demanding task, there is an interaction between the conception of the task and the worldview. Midway through the creative process one may have made associations between the current task and previous experiences, but not yet disambiguated which aspects of those previous experiences are relevant to the current task. Thus, the creative idea may feel 'half-baked'. It can be said to be in a potentiality state, because how it will actualize may depend on the different internally- or externally-generated contexts it interacts with.

  5. The conception of the task changes through interaction with the worldview, and the worldview changes through interaction with the task, sometimes subtly, and sometimes profoundly. This transformation extends beyond the 'problem domain' to affect the global structure of the worldview as a whole, which is is why immersion in a creative task can be therapeutic. It can establish or strengthen the creator's identity and personal style, or 'voice', and be accompanied by a cathartic sense of release.

  6. It is through the transformative restructuring of worldviews that the creative process fuels cultural evolution.



chair beanbag beanbagchair


Non-academic Articles

Studies with Creative People

Honing theory can account for many phenomena that are not readily explained by other theories of creativity. For example, creativity was commonly thought to be fostered by a supportive, nurturing, trustworthy environment conducive to self-actualization. However, research shows that creativity is actually associated with childhood adversity, which would stimulate honing. Honing theory also makes several predictions that differ from what would be predicted by other theories. For example, empirical support has been obtained using analogy problem solving experiments for the proposal that midway through the creative process one's mind is in a potentiality state. Other experiments show that different works by the same creator exhibit a recognizable style or 'voice', and that this same recognizable quality even comes through in different creative outlets. This is not predicted by theories of creativity that emphasize chance processes or the accumulation of expertise, but it is predicted by honing theory, according to which personal style reflects the creator's uniquely structured worldview. Other predictions are currently being tested -- come join us if you have related ideas or would like to get involved!


Non-academic Articles

'Quantum' Theory of Concepts and How they Interact

All creativity has, at its core, an act of seeing a concept from a new context (e.g., in the context PLAYGROUND you might conceive of a TIRE as a SWING), or combining concepts (e.g., combining BEANBAG and CHAIR to invent BEANBAG CHAIR). To understand creativity, we need a formal theory of how concepts interact. However, people use conjunctions and disjunctions of concepts in ways that violate classical logic (e.g., people do not rate GUPPY as a typical exemplar of PET, nor of FISH, but they rate it as a typical exemplar of PET FISH). This makes concepts resistant to mathematical description, a problem that has been called the greatest challenge facing cognitive science, due to its profound implications for language and cognition.

This was the spark that set off a strange and wonderful journey of scientific discovery. Physicists had encountered similar difficulties describing interactions (in their case, interactions amongst particles), and to describe these interactions they devised a new kind of mathematics. One phenomenon they encountered was the observer effect: the act of observing a system unavoidably disturbs it, affecting its state. It seemed that something similar went on with respect to concepts; the context that causes a concept to come to mind unavoidably colours your experience of that concept. Other phenomena that have been found to occur when concepts combine are entanglement and interference. Entanglement is a phenomenon first encountered in particle physics wherein the state of one entity cannot be described independently of the state of another, and any measurement performed on one influences the other. Interference is the annihilation of the crest of one wave by the trough of another when they interact. Thus, my colleagues, students and I model the behavior of concepts using a generalization of the mathematics originally developed for quantum mechanics. The field that studies this has come to be called quantum cognition, and it has successfully modeled many aspects of cognition that eluded conventional approaches.

In the quantum approach to concepts, a concept can exist in different states, and there is a relationship between the strengths, or weights, on the properties of a concept in a particular state, and the concept's susceptibility to change to, or collapse to, any particular new state. For example, if you think about FIRE in terms of only its most typical properties such as 'hot', your next thought may be about something else that is hot, such as a OVEN. However, if you think about FIRE in a way that encompasses not just typical properties such as 'hot' but also atypical properties, and in particular those implied by the current context, your next thought may be about something semantically distant from FIRE; for example, a poet might think of a word that rhymes with FIRE such as HIRE. The state of the concept when you are not thinking about it, so there is no context influencing it, is referred to as its ground state. In its ground state, there are no properties that are definitively included in the concept, but also, no properties definitively excluded from it. This means that, for any concept, there exists some context for which even a seemingly defining property of that concept could be excluded. An example is KITCHEN ISLAND, for which a seemingly defining property of ISLAND, namely 'surrounded by water,'' is (hopefully!) excluded. Likewise, there exists some context that could come along and make any given property become relevant. For example, 'edible' is not usually a property of HOUSE, but it is a property of GINGERBREAD HOUSE. The more exotic the context, the more atypical the properties that are evoked, and thus the more unconventional the subsequent thought. Much creative cultural change involves exploiting the potentiality of concepts to collapse different ways when they appear in different contexts.


Non-academic Articles

The Indra's Net Project

(Formerly called the LIVEIA project.) This SSHRC-funded project is the subject of Abhishek Rakshit's Masters thesis. For a more detailed description with images see here.

Complex information can be understood at a glance when provided in a visual form, and accordingly, software exists for visualizing everything from weather to stock market fluctuations. However, the psychological aspects of life are not only directly connected to wellbeing, but intangible and elusive, and therefore in even greater need of visualization tools.

The metaphor between light and psychological states has been woven into the human psyche since the 'dawn' of civilization. Religious history is replete with accounts of a rarefied light that is felt rather than seen, and seems to burn from within. Inuit shamen called it qaumaneq. Vedanta Hinduists call it Atma. The Tibetan Book of the Dead calls it the clear light of Buddha-nature. According to the Buddhist allegory of Indra's Net (after which this project is named), humanity consists of a web made of threads of light stretching horizontally through space and vertically through time. At every intersection dwells an individual, and in every individual dwells a bead of light. Moreover, the metaphor between psychological states and light permeates our language, as in: ray of hope, creative spark, beam with enthusiasm, moment of illumination, brilliant idea, her face lit up, and show me the light, and a lightbulb is often used to symbolize an idea. Thus, people resonate with this metaphor, and that is what makes it useful for our representational system.

This metaphor lends itself to the creation of an intuitive 'visual language' for representing aspects of our inner lives such as openness, arousal level, meditative states, dishonesty, and repression. In some cases (e.g., focusing attention, reflecting on an idea, flash of insight), the word for the psychological construct has another meaning with respect to the behavior of light, that indicates how it is depicted in this representational system. Capitalizing on the universality of the metaphor between light and insight, we are building an interactive digital platform that will provide a systematic way for people to depict and express their interior life and interactions with others using the 'language of light' metaphor. It will enable people to explore and better understand their inner lives by engaging in a form of playful art therapy that requires no artistic skill. Our innovative approach meaningfully integrates psychological attributes and indicators of wellbeing into a single display that allows users to gain self-awareness and explore avenues for self-change.

The platform will enable people to can explore alternative life paths, or view situations from different perspectives (e.g., from a further removed or more distant perspective, or from the perspective of someone else). By depicting how their lives are unfolding, where their thought patterns originated, and what behavior they lead to, people can make sense of subtle and intangible aspects of their mental lives, and put personal trials in perspective by seeing how they fit into the tapestry of human experience.

The platform will enable people to can explore alternative life paths, or view situations from different perspectives (e.g., from a further removed or more distant perspective, or from the perspective of someone else). By depicting how their lives are unfolding, where their thought patterns originated, and what behavior they lead to, people can make sense of subtle and intangible aspects of their mental lives, and put personal trials in perspective by seeing how they fit into the tapestry of human experience. Visualizer data will be correlated with behavioral outcomes to determine, for example, determine if certain ways of portraying oneself or others are indicative of excess drug use, or predictive of suicide or violence toward others. This will enable clinicians to take preventative measures on the basis of Visual Diary data, or use it as an assessment tool. In the coming years the software will be built, its effectiveness as a therapeutic tool will be assessed, and its social media possibilities will be explored. I will also determine what are the most productive and ethical ways of collecting and analyzing Visualizer data.

The Indra's Net Game

At some point the visualizer may be turnedinto a collaborative game.

The Insight Orb

Introductory Note: Steve DiPaola and I pitched this idea to the city of Vancouver, back in 2012 or 2013. It got some traction, but at that point in time we could see that it would take more energy to carry it through to completion than we had at the time. (Our vision was that it would be on top of the new (at the time) Emily Carr University building, which was at that point still under construction.)

The Insight Orb (IO) will be an art installation that uses visualization to transform input from across the city (collected at bus stops or from mobile devices) into signals that collectively portray how people are feeling and thinking. Visual analytics will be used (in the sense that it is a dialogic process of sense-making between humans and machine intelligence facilitated through visualization) to analyze the relationship between IO sensor data and weather data, economic indicators, and so forth, to better understand why the mood of the City is as it is and what factors effect it, and to detect trends over time. Ideally the IO will be viewable from a distance. It will, in a sense, be the soul of the city, a beautiful structure that symbolically unites and expresses the felt experience of all the city’s inhabitants.


Behind a Sustainable World Lies a Sustainable Worldview

No other species is as creative as humans, and no other species has completely transformed this planet. Climate change, like the Mona Lisa, the roller coaster, and the stock market, is the product of the ingenuity of the human mind. Creativity is not inherently dangerous; its danger may lie when it is applied in a narrowly focused as opposed to holistic frame of mind.

To build a sustainable world requires a sustainable worldview. By sustainable worldview, I mean a way of seeing the world and being in the world that incorporates how things are interconnected and mutually affect one another, an internal model of the world that is ecological in character. It is sometime essential to categorize and compartmentalize in order to accomplish certain tasks. But if we take any sort of compartmentalization to be a faithful representation of what really exists, it can distort how we see the world, which can in turn distort how we act in it.

It is often assumed that climate change is a scientific problem. But is it? Science enabled us to invent things that turned out to be bad for the environment, and it may help us invent new things that are good for the environment. Science also provides statistics that tell us how bad things are. But statistics don't necessarily lead to a cleaner world, and an overly reductionist perspective can interfere with our capacity to think about the multifaceted downstream consequences of our actions, and feel empathy toward those whom we classify as different from ourselves. I propose that the core of the sustainability problem is our outlook on and relationship to the world, and the policies, incentives, and habitual patterns of thought and action that flow from that outlook. People dismiss the arts as irrelevant to climate change. But are they? Studies in art or music can help a child understand how contextual and interdependent the elements of a work are; each newly added element affects the harmony and balance of the whole. Creative writing can help one understand the interconnectedness of past, present, and future; if you change how the story ends, you have to go back and change what led up to that ending to make it believable. The arts enable us to explore 'what if', to play with categories and boundaries and learn not to take them too seriously, and learn as well what a serious matter this capacity to play and explore really is. The development of a clean, safe, and sustainable world depends on individuals who become creatively immersed in tasks that go beyond the self and the everyday life.

Sustainability requires not just understanding and solutions; it requires laying down habitual patterns of thought and action that foster sustainable outcomes, and that over time become second nature. If knowledge is presented in compartmentalized chunks, we end up with a compartmentalized understanding of the world, but if knowledge is presented more holistically, a more integrated kind of understanding may be possible. We are exploring how the potential for a deeply ecological worldview in a modern context can be cultivated using an imaginative new approach to the development of mobile apps.

Non-academic Article:

Un-family-ar Values (Mindbloggling, Jan, 2010).