Cosmos Café: How do we ask worthy questions of one another? [1/16] [Cosmos Development]

This might be the coffee speaking, but I feel this need be required reading and a required discussion here and in the world. I hope to have a detailed response come next week.


4 posts were split to a new topic: Managing Cross-disciplinary Collaboration among Scientists and Artists

This looks really interesting. I will check it out. Thanks.


So, I finally got around to listening to the whole conversation, including the first hour that I missed, which was a great exchange, actually, focussing primarily on what is working with the current platform and arrangement, all of which I agree with. Here are a few additional comments.

First off, for Doug (@Douggins), Clerking at Quaker Monthly Meeting is a great training ground, and something we share. I’ve never been officially a Quaker, but I’ve associated with Quakers since my early twenties, and I have clerked at different times. You’ll see a flavour of Quaker Meeting in my post on collaboration (e.g. call for silence when things get rough!).

I love this idea, Caroline (@care_save), that we model behaviours to each other. Which reminds me, I’ve been wondering if there shouldn’t be some kind of profile page, maybe not the way this is usually done, but maybe things like favorite quotes, identities (multiple, and just listed, explanations might come up in conversations), top ten books, where you live and why you live there (280 chars?), not much more. So just a short, structured set of info that presents an eclectic view of people. Just an idea.

Hey, Marco (@madrush), did you say « There is an epistemological rabbit hole around every technology » ? I’ve put it down as one of my favorite quotes.

Johnny (@johnnydavis54), I am retaining this idea of a Sonata-Allegro form, with a Coda at the end, as a summary structure (although I have hardly followed it here!). Also, procedures in performances as related to algorithms, at least in a parallel way (reminds me of Whitehead’s processes, « concretion » to use one of his terms, the creation of novel events via processes that are connected to the whole universe). Also, regarding the Vagal Nerve and synchronicity, when I first looked at this I was really skeptical, but there is a really interesting, still emerging science on this. Basically we are talking about a sympathetic response to other people that appears to be rooted in genetic programmes and expresses itself in autonomic processes (that is, completely unconscious behaviours), and as Johnny said, finds its ground in the voice. Related work focusses on how within groups that like each other, people copy each other - body stance, tone of voice, sometimes expressions, etc. - in fact, this copying further enhances the sense there is a group. In a curious way, a kind of asynchronous virtual way, the whole Infinite Conversations site reflects such mimicry, that model building process Caroline talked about, the co-writing endeavours that are emerging, even the fact that in conversations in which I am absent, my ideas are raised by other members, naming me(!).

Marco, concerning your comments on the gift economy. I may be wrong, but I think this is the economy that is beginning to emerge. Right now, the profit economy is, literally, the bottom line - everything reduces to it. But already there is a shift towards what is called the social economy, which is often « monetized » and reduced to a profit value, but at some time I think, and I could be really misguided about this, I think it will flip. Why do I think that? Because in a self-limiting, finite world, what you throw away comes around and bites you in the ass. And the profit economy is built on waste, so you are constantly throwing things away. Whereas the gift economy is built on a waste reduction principle, because being generous with gifts means recycling, renewing relationships. My fiction is rooted in precisely this idea - I call it utopian literature, but I explore the underside of such utopian societies. In my story, it is scaled to millions of habitats across many solar systems, so a playing with the such ideas, a la Ursula Leguin or Samuel Delany.


Thank you, Geoffrey, for highlighting this bonding capacity, which is, of course, quite ancient. Groups and families and civilizations arise out of our face to face exchanges. We absorb vast amounts of information from tone of voice, and gesture. We can tell if someone is trust worthy or not by these affective, unconscious, subtle coordinations of affect via the breathing body.

This happens between people, out of awareness, but we can if we intend it, bring this into awareness. And there is a field of research, around the vagus that is emerging, especially noteworthy, is Steven Porges work. The breath is voluntary and involuntary.

We can change mood with our breathing, tone of voice, touch. I would go so far as to say that we can alter our own states and that of other directly with tone of voice and language, which is what prosody is all about. Our voice can touch another. So our words and the way we say them can activate changes of state in ourselves and in others. Poetry and prose are internalized and can do much to us, in a silent reading. We become the voices of the authors we love, we remember the voice of a deceased parent or teacher,when they were proud of us, the voice or fragrance of a lover long gone, can haunt us. The presence of the absence.

The good news is attentional skills can be relearned, and can evolve. Our group ( as evidenced here) can begin to develop a meta-attention. I can step into another’s tempo-rhythmic stream while staying attentive to the group. This is a lot like what a good musician does in a good performance. Metaphor, especially, self-generated metaphor, is the key that unlocks these deep secrets of mind and nature. I am gratified that so many of us here are so mindful of our metaphors.

My interest, here, which has unfolded in a few modeling experiments, is an attempt to make these somatic resonances, more conscious. I believe, as Porges does, that an evolutionary autonomic system, what he calls, the " social engagement system", is emerging out of our ancient “fight, flight or freeze” biology, which was adaptive for reptiles, but doesn’t work for humans. If a human, plays dead, as reptiles do, when facing a predator, the human can actually, unlike a reptile, die. Humans, unlike reptiles, can die of fright!

As more of us, become skilled at modeling our own behaviors, in relationship with others, we are more likely to engage this new social engagement system, that we are starting to have greater access to.

Jane Roberts, the great ecologist of city life, said that what holds civilization together is the side walk. As strangers pass each other, raise a hat, smile, nod, we are communicating safety and trust. She pointed out that when cities fail to make space for these humble and ordinary meet and greet exchanges, ( as traffic increases and pedestrians start to vanish) we are in big trouble.

I wonder what all of this means as we enter into intentional communities on line? It seems that we have unprecedented opportunities, for exploring these emerging capacities for social engagement. But we also, if we dont pay attention to the other, create unprecedented fight or flight responses.

I am open to the idea that our genetics are much more like musical communication than they are like a message from a top down command center. There is much discussion about how these delicate communications between cell and organism and environment are ‘orchestrated’. We are each of us perhaps a motif within a giant orchestra, coming up with new arrangements, never heard before.

I think the great tragedy of late stage capitalism is that it interrupts the sharing of knowledge, by trying to operationalize and control, with pseudo-competitions. Innovation demands knowledge sharing and so the Spin-Meisters and their lust for the ultimate algorithm, divorced from these delicate mind-nature dynamics, can unleash havoc.

I confess to being a total romantic!


I might have said ontology, not technology, but take whichever one you prefer!

Regarding the gift economy concept, the more I think about post-scarcity (yes, a far way off at scale, but already happening, as you point out, in the shadow of the ouroboros of capitalism biting itself in the ass) the more I realize that the locus of value is shifting to the interiors—i.e., to realms of consciousness and culture. This is where future wealth can be infinitely mined.

Paul Mason paints a compelling (dare I say hopeful) picture of the shift taking place:

I have much to learn, but I am inspired by the potentials, insofar as we can take it upon ourselves to rewrite the rules of the game, in whatever small and practical—or visionary and epic—ways we can.

I would love to hear more about your fiction, @Geoffreyjen_Edwards. Le Guin and Delany are two of my favorite writers.


Picked up Postcapitalism by Mason at the library last year multiple times and could not quite grasp the relatively short, straightforward book (economics is beyond this brain). I was examining alternatives to the welfare state in tandem with UBI. This article sums up much of the book, though I might examine it again and get back on how it connects to y(our) project.


I heard Mason talk about his ideas on the radio (CBC “Ideas” programme - and then bought his book. While I was enthralled with what I heard, I was disappointed by the book, which brought up all those Marxist ideas again. It’s not that I don’t appreciate Marxism, but I find the analysis is very strongly directed “all in one way” with no alternatives discussed, and this turns me off.

As for my. fiction, yeah, my sources of inspiration are, let’s see, LeGuin, Delany, Herbert, Asimov, Cordwainer Smith and Olaf Stapledon. although I have some doubts I write as well as any of them. Still, one has to dream. I’m happy to talk about my work, the problem is more how to shut me up once I get started! It is a massive project… In the original concept it was 15 books, but it has gone up to 19 now, with more on the fire. Maybe seven trilogies. None published yet, this is my next priority. I have been writing on this project for six years now. The problem is that the 15 form what I call a “braided quintet”, that is, five trilogies that each tell the same story from five distinct perspectives. So I can’t publish any of them until all have been written, because events in each trilogy show up in the others as well. This makes the whole writing effort a huge challenge - each book has to stand on its own, and yet advance the greater story arc as well. Sort of like an episodic TV series, but even more complex. I have completed manuscripts for 8 of the 15 books, plus 4 additional novels in the same universe (prequels for the most part).

As for the story, it is in large part an exploration of religion and spiritual issues, although not only that by any means. It all takes place in about two thousand years human time (although, because there is a technology for manipulating - i.e. slowing - time, this corresponds to half a million real time years). It intersects with the Cosmos/Infinite Conversations project in numerous ways - as I have said, it projects forward in time a technological utopia based on a combination of biotech and nanotech along with societal changes that result in people not having to work to survive, because the technology takes care of repairing the body and, eventually, managing intake and outtake (oxygen, food, carbon dioxide, urine, feces, sweat, dirt and heat). The economy that emerges after the initial collapse is a gift economy. The social frame including governance becomes an oracle/game environment, and credit, where it is present, is based on contributions to the social good. The braided quintet deals with a crisis thousands of years into the operation of this society, which has spread to many other habitats throughout the galaxy (but not via faster than light travel - I am a physicist and am not convinced that faster than light travel will ever be possible - hence the importance of time manipulation to manage travel in such a universe). There are five main human factions that organise around different visions of the social good - the technologists, the artists, the ecologists, the mystics/religious and a management group structured around the concept of paradox. Each of the five trilogies is told through the eyes of a representative of one of these factions. Oh, and did I mention there are seven sexes (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti) that reconfigure four forms of genitalia? Several of the books deal with gender issues more directly.

In addition to the novels, along with colleagues and collaborators, we have completed a 30 minute mixed reality opera based on one of the novels, and are currently completing an online gaming environment that complements the opera. I have a wiki that outlines the series, if you can access it - some people have had trouble doing so - The wiki includes sample chapters. There is also a Facebook page - Redirecting..., I do try to keep it up to date.

Nuff said!


Thank you Geoffrey. As a non-intellectual in addition to general ignorance, your critical perspective is often missing from what I gather from the reading. I looked back on my notes for Postcapitalism and, though not turned off, I felt the concluding chapter was limited…one can only hope for his final remarks though.

Maybe I shall read your universe of writing to answer my question of “What is the ultimate human potential?”!! Sounds grand! You say six years of writing…this sounds like a combination of two of you 20 year projects :hourglass_flowing_sand:


[NB: I tried to post this yesterday (early morning for most of you folks), but the system was down and wouldn’t let me. I’m only posting it now for reference purposes: take it or leave it for what it’s worth: it’s backstory to the thread.]

Economics is not beyond any brain, especially a thinking one. What’s passed of as economics these days – a sort of over-mathematized shell game sleight of hand – is, and should be for the only thing we need to know about it is that it must go, and thankfully it is, but not fast enough, but maybe we can’t handle a faster transition.

Should you want to back-fill or establish some kind of foundation in your economic thinking (for we all think economically at times), I would suggest Heilbronner’s The Worldly Philosophers, but you should also be warned that economics wasn’t dubbed “the dismal science” for nothing.

Both Adam Smith and Marx are worthy reads (but only if you have plenty of free time). Smith’s Wealth of Nations is not really understandable if you haven’t read his Theory of Moral Sentiments first (he was, after all a moral philosopher and thinks of “economics” in terms of interaction with others against the backdrop of merchant capitalism (not industrial or post-industrial (“cognitive”) economics mentioned in Mason’s article). (Fun fact: the most-quoted Smith phrase, “the invisible hand”, appears once in the 1000±page tome WoN, and, yes, he says it in passing … hardly something to base an economic school of thought on). Marx is interesting not for what the Leninists and Stalinists tried to make out of him, but – and this was pointed out in the Mason article as well – but for his lesser-known works. Both Smith and Marx are on my list of most-misquoted writers.

For a thoughtful and prescient view of why industrial capitalism will implode, I’d recommend Kerenyi’s The Great Transformation. It also makes clear how utterly insane our current flavor of capitalism, which can only be called “predatory”, is. A good look at the later phases of this can be found in Graeber’s (menitioned in the article) Debt: The First 5000 Years", (another tome – almost 400 pages, not counting the 60 double-columned pages of notes that are also worth reading). I think Graeber clearly exposes post-capitalism for what it is: a sham.

There are on the so-called “other side” a number of worthwhile reads as well. Shumacher’s Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, springs to mind (he worked closely with Gandhi for a long time), but also Breton & Largent’s (I would suspect widely unknown) The Soul of Economies which proposes an alternative approach based on the six days of creation (Genesis), the 10 Commandments, (and my favorite addition) the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer. (Sounds weird or flaky perhaps, but I spent an hour-and-a-half on the phone with Largent shortly after publication, and he made a very sane and serious impression.) Moving into the current millennium, you could also try Handy’s The Hungry Spirit: Beyond Capitalism – A Quest for Purpose in the Modern World. And on the more practical side of things, just about anything by Gar Aperowitz, who is very readable and doesn’t require a pseudo-degree in economics to understand what he’s saying.

We’re all touched and influenced by “economics” and we all get a much better and faster grip on it when we realize that this is a discipline that (allegedly) thinks about human interaction, how we choose to deal with and engage “an Other”. When you’ve got that in the back of your mind, it becomes very, very clear just how contrived most “economic thinking” is. It is something we simply made up, it is our most pervasive human brainchild. It is anything but a science, and it is, I believe, changeable with a lot less pain than many “in the field” would have us believe. I think Mason is saying something very similar.

Just my nickel’s worth.


Fictional Doug finds Eco-Ed’s nickel on the ground; proceeds to place the “misquoted,” mostly copper coin into quantum vending machine.

Machine coughs up the coin. “Haven’t you heard of quantum economics!!!? Get this outta hea!”

Fictional Doug just wanted coffee…


(Edit: Since this fictional account could be easily misinterpreted, I think a thanks is in order; I do greatly appreciate such in depth guidance that flows effortlessly from your fountain of knowledge. I am perpetually wading the fountain’s waters as a child in a park might, picking up nickels and dimes along the way.

As mentioned to @patanswer about Yuval Noah Harari as covering the extent of my historical understanding, Harari also explains economics (in Sapiens and Homo Deus ) in a manner that is easily digestible (whether it is the right food to consume is another story)…basically, economics is the story we have told ourselves that keeps our fabrications spinning in the world…the religion of algorithmic thinking is spinning us out of control.


You are free to do whatever you want with whatever nickels you may find lying around, even just get coffee, if you can find a machine that will dispense it. :yum:

Which is certainly not a bad way to put it.

Most things are not that complicated … complex, yes, but complicated, well, that takes a lot of human involvement to my mind.

There’s no reason to sell yourself short. If what you’re reading doesn’t make sense, there’s still a 1 in 2 chance (50%) that it’s the writer, not the reader.


Bauwens makes some good points in this brief video. It’s not easy, he admits, but a meta-system is emerging.


If you want to learn about economics dont talk to economists. I have known a few socially and over a beer they will admit they are bullshitting an ‘expertise’ that they dont have. They are, as a group, just as prone to bankruptcy, as physicians are to poor health. How else could none of them have predicted the last recession? If you want to know what is going on economically, ask shop keepers, taxi drivers, skip Paul Krugman and anything put out by the New Times.

Good selections, Ed, especially The Worldly Philosophers.


Agreed. And when I reflect back over my nickel-list, only Shumacher and Aperowitz had formal training, but it was old-school and I don’t think either of them drank the kool-aid. Smith and Marx were acclaimed-by-consensus to be economists after-the-fact.

We have two “economists” here in Germany who did predict the 2008 fiasco, but I don’t find them overly convincing overall. Since they were a couple of the few in the business who saw it coming, they sort of let it go to their heads; they’re not quite as keen-eyed as they once were.

I’m with you though … anybody in a business who has to deal directly with the public are much better candidates as advice-givers.


Excellent little video, John, thanks for this.

I found it ironically fascinating that the clip was produced by the Stiftungsverband für die deutsche Wirtschaft, a kind of independent think-tank for new ideas that is funded heavily by some of the very heavy-weights who are being undermined by the developments that Michel is talking about.

His take on the roots and rise of capitalism are quite interesting as well, and I think he really hit the nail on the head that we don’t get any media coverage on all the good things that are going on because no one is getting killed and it challenges the currently accepted model of human nature.

I am glad that there is so much happening in so many places, but the subtext to much of what he’s saying is that we’d better not wait for governments or industries or corporations or whomever to get on board. The time has come to use the resources we have available (and the internet is a good one here) to find out what else is going on and get on board.

For as curmudgeony as I normally am, I haven’t completely given up hope, but as the Germans say, “hope is the last to die.”


Me three on Heilbroner. Clearly and engagingly written introduction. And then, if and only if one has the inclination or time for a nice historical overview, I would suggest A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William J Bernstein. He somewhat succeeds in presenting the pros and cons of every major economic theory - as in the actual harm and benefit of each in past and present.


I quite agree, Ed, and my experience in grass roots movements, persuades me, that we should not depend upon the kindness of multi-national conglomerates. I stopped reading the New York Times, after decades, of daily immersion in the front page and editorials. Last year, during the meltdown of elections, I saw how deadly that kind of journalism has become. I think the trend I am exploring here is less about waiting for some experts to do something and more about developing resources together and moving forward with transparent agendas.


[Another self-referential post in honor of our recent discussions …]

Michel Bauwens – the speaker in the video – is, for me at least, the prototypical Belge: I’ve found them to be as laid back as the Dutch, ambitious as the Luxembourgers, emotional as the French, and in-your-face as the Germans, when they need to be, yet – and this has been my experience on numerous cooperative educational projects with them – they quietly, persistently, and passionately go about their business without letting themselves be sidetracked by the inconsequential. I learned a lot from them.

And, if you’re a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy (which I am, I’ll admit), there’s nothing like a beef carbonnade with Belgian fries (they’ll tell you, they invented them, even though the French are given the credit (it’s that low-key thing) … real potatoes and double deep-fried), and washed down with the same Trappist ale that was used to make the sauce for the carbonnade. OK, Pete & Arthur debating is one kind of heaven, but dinner in Brussels can definitely be another.


In my book, the only “real” expert is the one who can do it.

The next best go-to-person: the one who’s giving it a go, as my British son-in-law says.