Sunday 8 July 2007

The reasons against Otoom

A previous post presented a sweep of vistas open to someone who employed the conceptual tool set of the Otoom mind model.

Yet like any analysis that probes into hitherto hidden areas the findings can be decidedly uncomfortable. What could prevent a person from looking in this particular direction?

Otoom allows two general approaches, from the top down and from the bottom up. Let's take the latter first.

The subject under focus can be identified as a system, and its active constituents as elements that behave in a certain manner. As such these are functional elements, that is to say the things they do relate to their inherent properties, their potential for 'doing a certain thing'. For example, a particular collective of neurons processes visual information, and nothing else. It does so because its configuration allows it and the neurons do nothing else because they are exposed to one certain set of data and no more.

Yet clearly that bunch of neurons is also part of a larger system, similar in terms of functionality but different in scale and in terms of the information they receive and process, and therefore in terms of the result. That result, which higher cognitive processes represent in the form of meaning to us, transpose what is initially some bundle of light frequencies into an image that moves us.

Or take the activities of an organisation. Again there are sections dedicated to one particular type of work, but they also belong together and all those processes reflect the part as well as the greater whole. Since Otoom is scalable it makes sense to talk about a focus on neurons as 'from the bottom up' and it makes equally sense to refer to our view of an organisation along these lines.

The sheer relativity of this approach does not sit well with somebody's need to keep the world and its parts in neat little boxes. It prevents them from separating one phenomenon, one characteristic even, from its neighbours and so responding as if one element exists in isolation from any other. Reality of course teaches otherwise, but for the purpose of maintaining a perspective that prefers simplistic answers to complex situations - and acting accordingly - anything that opens unwanted windows would be anathema.

Now take the top-down approach. Since the act of labeling a particular contingent 'a system' is only ever a relative one, the result of an observation coming from the top and moving downwards could also have been achieved by having arrived there while proceeding from some lower focus to that higher one. What will have changed are the associations observed along the way, but the characteristics pertaining to that focus and now having become visible are no different.

Again, that can be problematic for someone who prefers to be selective. Suppose the idea is to reconfigure an organisation. A plan is developed that concentrates on the wider view but does not involve the sections, the subsystems. Without considering the functionalities of those sections the plan may prove unworkable. Add the personal agenda, surrounding politics plus the need to 'save face', and the iconoclast who points to discrepancies between the grand vision and the practicality on ground level may well be disposed of.

All this would seem straightforward to most, but how often are such considerations disregarded? How many times has a system intruded upon another to impose its ideal, with no thought given to the contingencies present at the target and proceeding blindly no matter what the cost - think of Iraq, of missionaries, of arrogant governments.

Otoom also addresses the processes themselves in terms of their situatedness within the conglomerate of functional elements. Just as in the brain a visual processing area (let's say, V1, V2, etc) deals with data according to such neurons' capacity, a different set of neurons produces other results depending on their situatedness within the brain overall. On a different scale a similar functional relationship holds, although the outcome will have changed.

A human activity system that is dedicated to creating and maintaining a database will behave functionally similar regardless where it is employed, only the content differs (let's say it works for a police department, or an employment agency, or for the biology section of a cancer research institute).

Not only that, but the result also reflects what the data have been subjected to along the way, in other words their history. The history is a function of whatever associations have been evoked and the processes they gave rise to.

To remain with our examples from above, an employment agency will be able to profile an individual according to their work history, but may not include any criminal convictions. The potential difference between the set of present associations and what will not be covered depends on the respective situatedness of the processing domains. While it is less difficult to enable a connection between a potential employee and court cases, when it comes to cell structures the research institute could well have pertinent information but how associative will that type of information be for the employment agency?

Therefore, under a certain focus (a relative exercise in itself) the representation of something that happens in a given situation can easily be omitted because the processing system does not contain the necessary associations to encompass such detail. There is a saying, "To a hammer everything looks like a nail".

The effects can be profound. A Christian will see the world - interpret the world, to be exact - in terms of what that mindset will allow to be covered; not more, not less. For Muslims the filter will be a different one. Adjust that lens to any set of contingencies our world offers and one gets some idea how variable our perceptions can be.

There was a time when we in the West categorised people by their 'obvious' differences. Because they were obvious they also were superficial, and over the years to come the presumptuous nature of that view was duly recognised. Unfortunately, today we fail on the other side of the spectrum: everyone is considered to be the same, with no thought given to their specific mindsets.

Not only can someone interpret a certain scenario differently from someone else, even what is quite literally seen and not seen can disagree with reality.

For someone - whether child or adult, male or female - the experience of joy and happiness, of pleasure and pain, of honour and dishonour, of what is desirable and objectionable, can differ to such an extent that for an observer the effect can be anything from consternation to horror. And yet, especially in today's climate, we act as if everyone has exactly the same mind.

Consider how we evaluate a display of emotion, or religious intensity, or sexual behaviour. Nor can we necessarily rely on the articulations from the individual concerned, since they are made on the basis of their own perspective.

Under Otoom the functionality of subjective assessment can be just as arrogant and overbearing whether we judge someone to be different based on skin colour and nothing more, or whether we presume them to be the same by dismissing the difference in cognitive processes. The former drives unwarranted exclusion, the other promotes blind inclusivity; both can be dangerous.

In a very real sense, our mind is at once a prison and our home. Otoom can be a friend who guides us out of our prison, but becomes the enemy if it dissolves the other.

... and society pays.

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