Paper review: How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Britta Hölzel has been getting a lot of traction for her work and papers recently on a scientific study of meditation and I contacted her about her recent work. She was kind enough to send me a copy of her latest paper – How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? (Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective Britta K. Hölzel, Sara W. Lazar, Tim Gar, Zev Schuman-Olivier, David R. Vago and Ulrich Ott.)

In this blog, I review their paper and discuss how it relates to my work i.e. how I am considering using their framework in my work. Later this week, I will speak on this topic at The Society for Existential Analysis conference on permeation of technology in everyday life

THE PAPER – HOW DOES MINDFULNESS MEDITATION WORK?

The goal of the paper is to create a scientific debate by proposing a consolidated model for understanding mindfulness. The paper emphasises that mindfulness is not a single skill but that it seems to encompass several mechanisms and that these mechanisms all work in synthesis to produce these beneficial effects.

The paper first describes the components of mindfulness meditation and then discusses how these components are integrated during mindfulness meditation. The paper then discuss the relationship of self-compassion with the components.

The paper proposes that the combination of the following components —some of which have been identified in previous accounts— describe much of the mechanism of action through which mindfulness works:

1. Attention regulation

2. Body awareness

3. Emotion regulation, including

a. Reappraisal

b. Exposure, extinction, and reconsolidation

4. Change in perspective on the self

The paper illustrates the interaction of the four components with an example.

The meditator’s goal is to maintain attention to internal and external experiences in a non-judgemental state manifesting acceptance, curiosity and openness. When an external stimulus triggers an emotional reaction, the attention system detects a conflict. Heightened body awareness helps to detect physiological aspects of the feelings present (e.g. body tension, rapid heartbeat, short shallow breath). This triggers the emotion regulation process to react to the stimulus differently than normal (ex: just noticing it as opposed to reacting to it)

The example shows that rather than being stuck in the habitual reactions to the external and internal environment, the meditator can experience the transitory nature of all related perceptions, emotions, or cognitions in each moment of experience. The awareness of the transitory nature of the self and one’s momentary experience leads to a change in the perspective on the self. In doing so, self-referential processing (i.e., the narrative of the relevance of the stimulus for oneself) becomes diminished, while first person experiencing becomes enhanced.

To this, the paper also considers the concept of self-compassion which provides a non-judgemental framework to the entire experience. Self-compassion itself entails three components: self-kindness (being kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of perceived inadequacy or suffering rather than being harshly self-critical), common humanity (perceiving one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating), and “mindfulness” (in this context defined as “holding one’s painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than over-identifying with them”

This idea of considering mindfulness as a set of components and of experiencing the transitionary nature of these components within a framework of self-compassion is the key contribution of the paper.

The whole process is designed to attain self-regulation which is defined as a process that enables individuals to guide their goal-directed activities by modulation of thought, affect, behaviour, or attention via deliberate or automated use of specific mechanisms. This is the basis of all meditation.

HOW IT RELATES TO MY WORK

In my forthcoming book – Meditation in the Age of Facebook and Twitter: Personal development through social meditation – from shamanism to transhumanism  I am exploring the evolution of meditation.

Meditation conjures up images of a monk-like existence divorced from everyday life. In contrast, I propose a different image, that of an air traffic controller, where your mind receives many inputs, the stakes are high and split second decisions and intuition are a part of the job. While the stakes are less serious for us, we all relate to this situation and if meditation can help us solve the problem, it can have practical use in our increasingly complex lives

In this book, I propose that we are now entering the fourth age of meditation (following the previous ages of Shamanic meditation, Religious meditation and ‘Leaderful/Guru Led’ meditation). In the fourth age of meditation, meditation becomes a technology that will cause an exponential uptake in human intelligence and evolution. The starting point for this exponential uptake of human intelligence is our brain and our mind. More specifically, the exponential uptake of intelligence could be brought about by a connectivity and enhancement of minds through networks and technology. In that sense, meditation is a ‘transhumanist’ technology and networks are the underlying paradigm of the fourth age of meditation.

All networks, including neural networks and social networks, have a common theme. In the fourth age of meditation, we take a network based ‘two-sided view’ of meditation. On one hand, meditation is a disconnection from the emotional attachment to the flow of messages. This is the historical/ conventional understanding of meditation. But we also explore the other side of meditation i.e. the ‘connectivity’ aspect of meditation, with its fascinating possibilities.

The book shows you meditative techniques using brainwave technology.

It addresses questions like:

• How will our brain evolve through transhumanist meditation?

• How can we use technology to enhance our meditative state?

• What are the future implications for society, culture and spirituality?

• If we take the approach of ‘gedankenexperiment’ (thought experiment), how would the world look like as we evolve?

• How would our Identity and relationship with the world change as we continue to change, evolve and enhance our minds through a fusion of meditation, networks and technology?

SOCIAL MEDITATION USING NEURAL TECHNOLOGIES

Now, as part of this book – which took a long time to write – and has taken a life of it’s own – I was exploring the idea of ‘social meditation using neural technologies’.

Bio sensors/brain wave sensors are moving beyond the laboratory and into the home.  Brainwave sensors, like those from Neurosky, are now very affordable. This has fascinating possibilities which could take many directions, one of which is the development of community around brainwave meditation. As Chris Anderson says:  Lower the barriers to entry and the crowd pours in. When that happens, we enter a phase when the technology evolves through social connections and becomes a part of our daily lives.

 

So, I explore the scenario of social meditation augmented by neural technology as an ongoing experiment.  Working with Neurosky headsets  , we are creating a collaborative, technology based meditation concept using the Neurosky APIs. Think of it as a ‘game’ where you can synchronize with each other in a group. The ability to synchronise with individuals globally could be the basis of a social network – just like we have today for genome tree sequences. The system comprises a PC based platform that enables multiple neurosky headsets to connect to a central PC.   The application runs on the PC and the participants try to ‘tune in’ through listening to music. The session records the brain waves and then we are able to determine the degree of ‘sync’ between participants after the session.

For the above, I intend to use the framework / components from the paper How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? I hope this will be an ongoing experiment and I can share the results here over time

Comments welcome

 

The Great Dance – Sense Africa

 

Meditation in the age of Facebook and Twitter is now almost close to the full launch(Oct/Nov). I am getting lots of great feedback for this book even before launch. Writing about the evolution of meditation is a complex undertaking since you have to look at the past and the future(as I said in the subtitle: from shamanism to transhumanism).

I have long been fascinated by anthropology, as the blog has often covered related topics before ex Discovering Ardi, but this book gave me the opportunity to really explore some of these ideas.

In writing this book, I had the opportunity to meet many interesting people beyond the technology sphere and follow their work, which had a wider impact on humanity.

One such online meeting was with the Foster brothers from South africaSense Africa

Brothers craig and damon foster are widely regarded as south Africa’s top documentary filmmakers. With over 16 years of experience shooting and directing, and having received over 50 international awards, the foster brothers have deservedly carved themselves a niche in global film circles.

For more than a decade the foster brothers have been at the forefront of the African renaissance, using media to turn the tide on negative attitudes. They have reached an audience of over 200 million by using Africa’s voice first hand. The brothers’ primary intent lies in telling stories with the voice of Africa herself, and creating film experiences that enable the viewer to gain an intense and deep insight into the natural and cultural dynamics of this ancient continent. They explore the timeless and universal themes of the relationship between man and animal, and the relationship between them and the environments that they share.

I referred to meditation as evolving from ancient Shamanic practices and in that sense, I was already aware of the San people of southern africa. Based on genetic studies, the San have the greatest diversity(hence oldest) genes (in general, greater the genetic mutations in a population, the longer it is established). And that makes the San people possibly the ancestors of all humanity.

And in trying to explore these ideas ie trying to find Shamanic roots for meditation, I stumbled on the Sense Africa site and related to the ethos from their site of: As we become aware of our threat associated with the “conquer by concrete” approach, it seems that we have the potential to awaken to the deep integrity of our original design- a design that accounts for all five kingdoms of nature- a sense of oneness- senseafrica.

Especially the documentary – the Great dance. This documentary is about an ancient practice called the ‘persistence hunt’  practised by the San and other tribesmen. As they say in the documentary, it is a strange and a meditative / trancelike process because : when you track and animal, you must become the animal .. tracking(animals) is like dancing, This is the great dance ..

From the Sense Africa site click on films and then – the great dance

Highly recommended especially if you like documentaries covering this subject

I travel a travel a lot and a visit to SA is long on the cards and this would be a real holiday to look forward to :) combining travel with a study of ancient cultures!

Below a video explaining the ethos behind the documentary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The spirit of London will prevail ..

There is an enchanting exhibit at Madame Taussads in London called ‘The Spirit of London’.

The spirit of London is a ride in a ‘black cab’ that takes you on a journey back in time through the history of London from Sir Francis Drake, Shakespeare, wars, famines, the blitz, the swinging sixties etc.

The point of that brief but magical ride is: The spirit of London prevails despite all that it encounters ...

Since the first time I saw it, many years ago, it has remained unchanged and I have seen it many times when I take visitors to Madame Taussads

Ironically, over the last three months, I happened to see the same ride thrice.

Once with my son, then with my sister when she was here from India and finally with my godson, when he was here from Germany.

After seeing it three times in as many months, I was getting a bit bored of it ..

But today, that ‘spirit of London’ has taken on a new meaning ..

The last week has witnessed unprecedented scenes of riots in London

The riot, as the great Dr Martin Luther King said, is the voice of the unheard ..

But the revered Dr King was referring to human rights and not the ‘right’ of the rioters to help themselves to designer shoes and HD TVs

Being born in India, and having seen real poverty, there is something strange about watching these rioters helping themselves to designer branded goods i.e. they are not helping themselves to ‘food’. (And in a curious twist, the homeless who probably do really lack food, are not rioting!)

In most parts of the world, poverty means ‘no food’.

These riots was not poverty driven

Strangely, in a span of a few weeks, we have gone from Royal weddings to riots.

But the spirit of London is strong in my view

As someone who runs a niche business in London, I am happy to call myselves a ‘capitalist’.

By that I mean, a capitalist is a ‘cathedral builder’ – someone who looks at a block of stone and adds value to it to build a cathedral.

And the strength of London, and its spirit, rests in that basic ‘creator’ ethos over the millennia

By capitalists, I mean the businesses like 150 year old House of Reeves, which was burnt down, but I am sure will rise from its ashes stronger with the support of the community and the small Turklish shopkeepers who defended their businesses

While even the likes of Robert Mugabe has taken it upon themselves to remind us that there are ‘no fires in Zimbabwe’ (but we should remind him that there are no free elections in Zimbabwe either!), this is a time to remind us of the spirit of London.

Finally, I cannot ignore the role of ‘mobile’ and ‘ad hoc networks’ in this riot.

What to make of the malevolent ‘flashmob’ driven by Blackberry messengers?

Mobile devices and technology are tools but they lead to fundamental changes in society (and I have been saying this in my books and blogs for a while – Would you hire a woman who maintained a f**k book in college and The girl named Facebook: The Russians (and the Egyptians and the Libyans and the Tunisians and ..) love their children too ).

Specifically, Internet related technologies are breaking down hierarchies and creating fluid, often ad-hoc networks, for better or for worse.

While our prime minister calls for a ‘fightback’ (and people in the UK will support any such efforts), the reality is: We are living in a new era where politicians are demonstrably less empowered.

What is the solution?

Maybe a decentralization of power and a reduction of hierarchy (aka – a more network oriented governance) – and there is already talk of that idea –  In this crisis, our cities need local leaders with real power and even ultimately to a more Swiss canton like system of government ?

This debate will continue but I believe that the spirit of London will prevail and will see us to a great Olympics in a year’s time

Image – Madame Taussads

The launch event of my next book – Meditation in the Age of Facebook and Twitter : Personal development through social meditation – from shamanism to transhumanism

Meditation in the Age of Facebook and Twitter: Personal development through social meditation – from shamanism to transhumanism is a book about the evolution of meditation. The title, Meditation in the Age of Facebook and Twitter, is limiting and perhaps even a little misleading, because I hope the ideas I discuss in this book will outlive websites like Facebook and Twitter.

The book was announced on June 6, 2011 at the B B King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square, New York as part of The Realtime Report’s Realtime NY 11 conference and the official launch date is Jan 20 2011

The Realtime Report conference is an appropriate place to launch the book! We live in a ‘realtime’, ‘always-on’ world and these networks and connections impact our minds and, as I propose, the very nature of human evolution.

Most people accept that Meditation can bring about a lasting change in your life. At the simplest level, it can help you relax. But meditation, as we describe in this book, could be a lot more i.e. a technology that could lead to an exponential uptake in human intelligence and evolution.

The book draws on both the ancient and the modern taking a secular perspective

A friend who read an early draft of this book called it a ‘platypus of a meditation book’ in reference to the Duck Billed Platypus . The Duck Billed Platypus is an evolutionary ‘missing link’, an interim stage. Like the Platypus, this book is evolutionary bridge between meditation as it is understood today and the evolution of meditation as spirituality, technology and an understanding of our minds converge.

Meditation conjures up images of a monk-like existence divorced from everyday life. In contrast, I propose a different image, that of an air traffic controller, where your mind receives many inputs, the stakes are high and split second decisions and intuition are a part of the job.

While the stakes are less serious for us, we all relate to this situation and if meditation can help us solve the problem, it can have practical use in our increasingly complex lives

In this book, I propose that we are now entering the fourth age of meditation (following the previous ages of Shamanic meditation, Religious meditation and ‘Leaderful/Guru Led’ meditation). In the fourth age of meditation, meditation becomes a technology that will cause an exponential uptake in human intelligence and evolution. The starting point for this exponential uptake of human intelligence is our brain and our mind. More specifically, the exponential uptake of intelligence could be brought about by a connectivity and enhancement of minds through networks and technology. In that sense, meditation is a ‘transhumanist’ technology and networks are the underlying paradigm of the fourth age of meditation.

All networks, including neural networks and social networks, have a common theme. In the fourth age of meditation, we take a network based ‘two-sided view’ of meditation. On one hand, meditation is a disconnection from the emotional attachment to the flow of messages. This is the historical/ conventional understanding of meditation. But we also explore the other side of meditation i.e. the ‘connectivity’ aspect of meditation, with it’s fascinating possibilities.

The book shows you meditative techniques using brainwave technology.

It addresses questions like:

• How will our brain evolve through transhumanist meditation?

• How can we use technology to enhance our meditative state?

• What are the future implications for society, culture and spirituality?

• If we take the approach of ‘gedankenexperiment’(thought experiment), how would the world look like as we evolve?

• How would our Identity and relationship with the world change as we continue to change, evolve and enhance our minds through a fusion of meditation, networks and technology?

The book also studies social meditation augmented by technology as an on going exploration. Working with Neurosky headsets (see the cool technology behind this at Neurosky brainwave technology) we are creating a collaborative, technology based meditation concept using the Neurosky APIs. Think of it as a ‘game’ where you can synchronize with each other in a group

If you want to stay in touch and also receive the first chapter after the launch event, please email me at ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com . The book will be launched in August in Europe and October in North America

The Lost Tribe Of Palau – Is the Singularity nearer than we think?

I am a big fan of documentaries and the Lost Tribe of Palau is indeed one of the most interesting documentaries in recent times.

In a nutshell, Palau is very isolated group of islands in the Pacific ocean some 500 miles (800 km) east of the Philippines and 2,000 miles (3,200 km) south of Tokyo.

The Lost Tribes of Palau are the fossilised remains of a miniature, island dwelling people found on Palau. Initially, it was thought that because the people will miniature, the remains were those of ancient man. However, carbon dating revealed that the fossils were relatively young i.e. between 3000 years old and 1400 years old.

Since the last fossils were 1400 years old, the theory is: people of normal stature arrived on the island 3000 years ago and within around 1600 years, they became miniaturised due to limited resources on the island

Why is this significant?

The rate of evolution is the unique factor here i.e. nowhere do we see such a rapid rate of evolution in human beings from people of normal height to dwarfism within 1600 years (and not over millions of years as we normally see)

Now, let’s co-relate this to the idea of singularity.

The simplest description of Singularity I can find is: The singularity is the point in mankind’s future when we will transcend current intellectual and biological limitations and initiate an intelligence and information explosion beyond imagining.

This is interesting enough, but the concept of the Singularity has gained momentum due to Ray Kurzweil indicating a specific timeline for singularity, much of which within our own lifetime.

When I first read this, I was a bit sceptical since it’s one thing to say that the singularity is near but another to say that its happening in a matter of decades ..

But Palau may change that view ..

If human evolution can be so rapid, unaided, then .. maybe we could achieve super human intelligence augmented by technology and networks ..

That’s an interesting thought .. Is the Singularity nearer than we think?

History is on the side of people of Libya because ideas and networks know no boundaries

I always wanted to do this post ..  It is also a part of a forthcoming book .. Comments welcome

History is on the side of people of Libya because ideas and networks know no boundaries. Which means Gadaffi and others like him can never win no matter how many military gains they make .. Here’s why …

Hierarchies and networks

What exactly is a network? And why are networks so special?

Networks are all around us. But their effects are less well because  in our daily lives, we are used to hierarchies; for example, in the organization of offices and institutions, we still see hierarchical structures. Hierarchies are the opposite of networks. While hierarchies will not be replaced by networks in all cases, but  already, through the Internet, we are seeing networks assert their strength in many aspects of Life. Networks have a subtle but disruptive impact. Global warming is a good example of a network level change. Here, by ‘network level change’, we mean that events leading to global warming are interconnected, but their impact is felt only over a long period of time and is felt separately from the change that triggers it. For instance, you cannot know by how much exactly the ozone layer will change for every plastic bag that you fail to recycle, but most people would agree that the environment is impacted  for every such plastic bag that ends up on the ocean floor.

On first impression, networks are not special in any way. A network is simply a collection of links between units (also called nodes). Networks exist at multiple levels: global, societal (country), group (office), and individual.

Every unit within a network can be seen as a closed system. Closed systems interact in predetermined ways.

When a network connects more than two closed systems, their interaction is no longer predetermined.

This could be seen as ‘opening up’ the system. The system has now gone from a closed system to an open system. Open systems interact in unknown, radical ways. All closed systems have a natural propensity to find new connections which cause them to ‘open up’.

What happens when networks open up and how do networks evolve?

But what happens when systems open up? That is, how do networks evolve? This is a complex question.

You can study the propensity of a system to change in two ways: as a biological system or as a mathematical system. From a biological perspective, a system evolves to survive and to grow. First there is an initial interaction. From that interaction comes variation―the system changes and adapts. Over time, there is selection and retention―the best qualities are adopted and retained. This approach is basically along the lines of Darwin’s natural selection theories.

From a mathematical perspective, networks evolve by creating order out of chaos. How does order appear in a network? Without going into the mathematics, all parts of the system appear to communicate with all other parts purely by local interactions.

In general, a system comprises a set of interacting or independent entities that form an integrated whole.[1] When we speak of a system, we also define a boundary―the external context within which the system exists. Entities within a system interact with one another (within the boundaries of the system) but can also interact with entities from outside the system’s boundaries. An open system[2] continuously interacts with its environment. In doing so, it evolves and grows based on external input. In contrast, a closed system does not get external feedback and does not evolve. Breakdown of hierarchies are related to networks and open systems, which lead to connections, and more connections lead to more social interactions and to a “step change” in the body of knowledge.

Clustering: More than connecting friends – An amplification of ideas

When left to themselves, networks have a tendency to “cluster” because two elements connected to a common third element are more likely to establish links among themselves, leading to clusters. This leads to phenomena like six degrees of separation. “Six degrees of separation…refers to the idea that everyone is [at most] six steps away from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of ‘a friend of a friend’ statements can be made…to connect any two people in six steps or fewer.”[3] Thus, networks can potentially connect friends, and these human factors offer a bigger reason for the success of social networks.

But networks do more than ‘connecting friends’, networks propagate and amplify ideas. Places that lie at the crossroads are a hub of new ideas simply because they ‘connect people’.  Consider the case of the ancient mummies found in the Tarim Basin. The Tarim Basin[4] is located in the far western region of China. Surrounded by inhospitable mountains and deserts, the Tarim basin is a vast, arid micro-continent and may have been one of the last places in Asia to be inhabited because its aridity required that technology for water transport and storage be developed before people could live there. However, ancient DNA from mummies found there suggests that a culturally rich and interrelated population of Western, Eurasian, and Asian people had lived here since the early Bronze Age. If this region was so arid and inhospitable, why did people choose to live there, intermingle and thrive in such a hostile environment? Despite its bleakness, the proximity of the Tarim basin to the ancient Silk Road was the main reason for its cultural development. Thus, living at a crossroads is good for the creation of new ideas no matter how hostile  the surroundings.

With networks, we no longer need geographical hubs – we have social hubs and these social hubs are far more fluid, dynamic, global and disruptive to control by dictators like Gadaffi

So, why are networks important?

Simply because networks lead to Open systems. Open Systems lead to a breakdown of hierarchy and this impacts society broadly.  In a world in which hierarchies break down, we see  a phase of creative destruction which manifests itself in the liberalization of society.

The liberalization of society – The cultural impact of networks and social networks

The rise of networks and the liberalization of society go together. As networks proliferate, society becomes more liberal. Because ideas and networks know no boundaries and they have a tendency to open up closed ecosystems, their effects are global. The flow of information and connections breaks down hierarchies and questions the blind following of authority. As connections are formed globally and contradictory views are shared and discussed, we will question many forms of authority and structure in society that we have taken for granted in the past for instance, governance, religion, Identity(to which groups we affiliate ourselves and the creation of a global identity) and spirituality. Thus, networks have a disruptive effect. They topple existing frameworks most of which are based on existing hierarchies . In many cases, existing frameworks and hierarchies are often a result of an older power struggle that has played out, and the results of which are now  maintained often through force. Networks disrupt that status quo.

In this sense, networks can be good for humanity and we will see networks bring about even more creative destruction in future. The relationship is symbiotic. The more we use networks and grow, the more the network is enriched.

Dictators and guns will go the way of the Dodo ..

Why this matters – The creation of a global Identity

Why this matters? – I would very much urge you to listen to this brief, poignant recording from ‘Sara’ in Libya. Most people in free societies can relate to this young woman …  and that’s why liberalization of societies and evolution of networks matter at a human level. – We’re not living like humans I would even go so far as to say that the empathy and support at individual levels through social networks is far more significant than that from governments and that over time, as we relate to people like Sara and networks connect us, a new global Identity will emerge ..

With no colonels!

Image source: The rebel flag of Libya and also  Step by step: make your own flag to support a free Libya!

The ideas in this post are a part of a forthcoming book. Comments welcome


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/System

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_system_(systems_theory)

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_degrees_of_separation.

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarim_Basin

The girl named Facebook: The Russians (and the Egyptians and the Libyans and the Tunisians and ..) love their children too .

There is a girl born in Egypt in the last few weeks .. named ‘facebook’ ..

Who would have thought that a girl would be named Facebook (in gratitude for Facebook’s capacity to bring about democracy in Egypt) .. and for that matter, who would have forseen the dramatic and historic transformation we are witnessing in the Middle East ..

The principles of how societies could move towards democracy through organic, non-violent techniques were described byGene Sharp a few decades ago in his insightful pamphlet called From dictatorship to democracy: A conceptual framework for liberation (pdf)

Originally published in Bangkok in 1993 by the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Burma in association with Khit Pyaing (The New Era Journal), Gene Sharp’s ‘From dictatorship to democracy’ has since been translated into at least thirty-one other languages and has been published in Serbia, Indonesia, and Thailand, among other countries.

Why is the impact of that document being felt only now after a few decades?

What happened between 1993 and 2011?

Even a school kid would be able to guess that the Internet is the single biggest change in that time. But more importantly, the impact of the Internet is only JUST being felt!

Wikipedia outlines an insightful analysis of Gene Sharp’s thinking:

Sharp’s key theme is that power is not monolithic; that is, it does not derive from some intrinsic quality of those who are in power. For Sharp, political power, the power of any state – regardless of its particular structural organization – ultimately derives from the subjects of the state. His fundamental belief is that any power structure relies upon the subjects’ obedience to the orders of the ruler(s). If subjects do not obey, leaders have no power.


In Sharp’s view all effective power structures have systems by which they encourage or extract obedience from their subjects. States have particularly complex systems for keeping subjects obedient. These systems include specific institutions (police, courts, regulatory bodies) but may also involve cultural dimensions that inspire obedience by implying that power is monolithic (the god cult of the Egyptian pharaohs, the dignity of the office of the President, moral or ethical norms and taboos). Through these systems, subjects are presented with a system of sanctions (imprisonment, fines, ostracism) and rewards (titles, wealth, fame) which influence the extent of their obedience.

Sharp identifies this hidden structure as providing a window of opportunity for a population to cause significant change in a state. Sharp cites the insight of Étienne de La Boétie, that if the subjects of a particular state recognize that they are the source of the state’s power they can refuse their obedience and their leader(s) will be left without power.

The ideas were known for decades but they needed an extra element before the ‘Smart Mobs’ could change regimes by non-violent means. That extra element was the ‘Technologies of co-operation (pdf)’ which acts as a kind of blueprint to identify common elements in social technologies

This report, Technologies of Cooperation (SR-897), maps the key concepts and choices associated with eight technology clusters and concludes with a set of seven strategic guidelines:

• Shift focus from designing systems to providing platforms
• Engage the community in designing rules to match their culture, objectives, and tools; encourage peer contracts in place of coercive sanctions by distant authority when possible
• Learn how to recognize untapped or invisible resources
• Identify key thresholds for achieving “phase shifts” in behaviour or performance
• Track and foster diverse and emergent feedback loops
• Look for ways to convert present knowledge into deep memory
• Support participatory identity

Conceptually, these technologies provide the ‘implementation’ for Gene Sharp’s ideas

And the results have been more interesting than anyone could have imagined.

Victor Hugo said that it is not possible to stop an idea whose time has come ..

-   Gadaffi’s son know that well when he laments  facing a ‘facebook revolution’ – one which is nebulous and hard to control.

-   The BBC has become a second hand reporting medium reporting on tweets and videos which we can all see on YouTube and

-   On one hand the United States applauds the spread of democracy but on the other hand worries about its 100 Billion USD armaments exports to the middle east

Meanwhile, the impact of the Internet and its collaborative technologies is just beginning.

So, I am hoping that more such babies named ‘Facebook’ will be born in other countries in the near future as democracy reaches them too!

One of my favourite songs Is from Sting called the Russians whose lyrics go

How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy
There is no monopoly in common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

i.e. in the cold war, when both sides could easily annihilate each other, the only hope was if the ‘Russians loved their children too’

So the last few weeks have shown us that Egyptians and the Libyans and the Tunisians and ..many more countries love their children too .. and that is a cause of hope and optimism for humanity.

Note: This article was originally posted at Howard Rheingold’s forthcoming Rheingold U for which I was privileged to be invited as an early student/participant. Here is Howard Rheingold’s blog about the experiment

Update:  also see The truth about Twitter, Facebook and the uprisings in the Arab world

Image source: NPR


Open source is anti-capitalism says confused International Intellectual Property Alliance – reminds me of pharma companies suing Nelson Mandela

Another bizarre headline this week .. Open source is anti-capitalism says confused International Intellectual Property Alliance

It turns out that the International Intellectual Property Alliance, an umbrella group for organisations including the MPAA and RIAA, has requested with the US Trade Representative to consider countries like Indonesia, Brazil and India for its “Special 301 watchlist” because they use open source software.

What’s Special 301? It’s a report that examines the “adequacy and effectiveness of intellectual property rights” around the planet – effectively the list of countries that the US government considers enemies of capitalism. It often gets wheeled out as a form of trading pressure – often around pharmaceuticals and counterfeited goods – to try and force governments to change their behaviours.

Being capitalistic and an advocate of Open source but within the wider ecosystem, this article shows the stupidity of bodies who confuse many different things – ex RIAA etc are concerned with protecting content(like music) which is not the same as code .. ex – if I voluntarily decide to make code (or for that matter) content open sourced, this should be fine .. It is not anti-capitalistic

Such stupidity is on par with Phama companies suing Nelson Mandela and South Africa for rights to affordable medicine

In the end, it benefits no one ..