Empathetic Ladders and What People Can Understand — Matching Knowledge Structures for Messaging (Part II)


The Intermediate Corollary is a powerful construct — in the pathway of Social Structure -> Knowledge Structure -> Design Structure, it implies that certain social systems will create knowledge in particular ways, depending on the level of empathetic development.

Why does this matter?  We’re used to thinking of knowledge, for the most part, as a 2-dimensional construct, based on a plane of ‘objective’ knowledge vs. ‘subjective’ knowledge.  Scientists claim the high ground through objectivity.  Religion claims the high ground through channeling the Word of God.

This view of knowledge is a mental model, and not surprisingly, lacks a fair amount of detail or nuance.  Tearing it apart on either side is not particularly productive, either — especially in a blog post.  Every competent scientist knows that objective data is always constrained by the context of the experiment that generated it — the researcher decides what factors to vary, which ones to study and so forth.  Religious experts argue from historic texts and long tradition.  While we’ve grown to accept the debate, when you back up from it, it really is a mess.

There is a better way in understanding knowledge that’s produced.  It’s by understanding Conway’s Law, and the Intermediate Corollary, and then linking this through the emergent social structures given by Spiral Dynamics.  By understanding how people trade information (that is able to be validated or not) we can start creating more of a multi-dimensional knowledge landscape that gives a better perspective on how people structure knowledge neurally — inside their own head.

Understanding that humans operate with three primary variables that govern their social evolution is the basis.  Humans have a temporal (time-based) calibration (this has been discussed before with regards to empathy) , a set of spatial scales (3-D, x, y, z) and some level of energetics — the ability to get from one place to another, in a certain amount of time.

So what’s a summary of these knowledge structures look like, starting from the bottom of the Spiral?  When reading these, it’s important to remember that v-Memes higher up the Spiral include new modes of thinking, as well as all the ones beneath them — like Russian nested (matryoshka) dolls.

Survival v-Meme — knowledge is temporally short-term, spatially small (where do I find food/water), and exists in fragments.

Tribal v-Meme — knowledge is shared inside the tribal band, either temporally long-term (creation myths, coded survival information) or short-term, in stories that reference long-term memory.

Authoritarian v-Meme — knowledge exists primarily in fragments, where the truth/veracity of the given fragment is decided by the authority/boss.  If you are below someone in the power structure, it is expected that you will accept your authority’s definition of reality and truth, unless some cultural sidebar of appeal is offered.

Legalistic v-Meme — knowledge exists in rule sets that apply across a group of people.  Knowledge can be fed into these rule sets and transformed into other information (if THIS is true, then when a given rule is applied, THAT is true.)  Note that this kind of knowledge representation implies a high level of determinism and no tolerance for ambiguity.  There are no multiple solutions possible, nor implicit recognition of unknown factors.

Performance/Goal-based v-Meme — knowledge exists in heuristics (rules of thumb) that allow the individual to pick and choose various pieces of knowledge and rule sets to reach a conclusion.  Goal-based knowledge is the first that recognizes metacognition — knowing that there are unknowns that you can’t predict nor understand in any given decision-making process.  Most contemporary design processes fit inside this v-Meme — a given set of specifications can yield multiple designs, all more or less optimal dependent on a given interpretation of the customer.

Communitarian v-Meme — knowledge exists in combined heuristics of individuals in the community, that may be more or less valid dependent on the aggregate opinion of the community.  In an initial land use determination, where there is no code or body of law to apply, a community may get together and jointly share opinions, based on a variety of arguments, on how a piece of land might be used.  Later on, after a series of decisions are made, these may then be codified in a more legalistic v-Meme set that removes larger ambiguity.

Global Systemic v-Meme — the first of the Tier II v-Memes, there is an explicit self-awareness of the picking and choosing of knowledge structures from the lower Tier I v-Memes.  The primary differentiator in this knowledge structure is an awareness of the individual of personal bias — “I’m trying to reach this goal because of my own past experience, thought process, and feelings regarding this issue.”

Global Holistic v-Meme — fundamental guiding principles.  Guiding principles are very different from simple rule sets in that when applying them, they can generate complex structures of knowledge themselves.  When combined, they can produce a potentially large, or infinite and complex set of behaviors and knowledge, with complex interactions and synergies.  Temporal scales are long (we can understand how the universe started) and prediction can be large (we can guess how planets around other stars revolve) with some accuracy.

A simple example of a guiding principle might be the Law of Gravity.  We don’t have to go run an experiment across town to convince ourselves that if we jump off a building across town, we’ll end up on the pavement.  True guiding principles are hard to come by.

Takeaways:  Knowledge, synergies, spatial and temporal scales increase as we move up the Spiral.  The more empathy in the system, the more complex the synergies available, and the greater number of time and spatial scales.  At the top of our current understanding are Guiding Principles, that are capable of spinning out complex patterns and multiple solutions.

Further reading:  Fractals, a class of geometry present in nature, are a great example of how a given rule, with some simple input, can generate extremely complex behavior.  The Mandelbrot set is a great example, and you can vary simple pictures of your own by going to this NOVA website.

For those that want more, you can start here and keep exploring.

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