Category Archives: Featured Essays

PyCon speech text version: Real life learning and design of Knowledge Engine

We have been calling for the coming of Knowledge Based Economy for years. But in my view, Knowledge Based Economy hasn’t really come yet. Among many reasons, one key reason is that we need a technology breakthrough here. The current way knowledge is represented, such as books, blogs, wikis, or other knowledge management systems, are all fundamentally document-based. With document-based representation of knowledge, it is hard to achieve continuous learning and knowledge management.

In the industrialization age, we invented engine to transform energy from gas into mechanical power, thus we can build airplanes, boats, cars or other products of the industrial age. In the Knowledge Based Economy age, we also need an engine, which I call Knowledge Engine, to transform people’s daily experiences and gathered important infos into well-structured knowledge, so we can build various products in the Knowledge Based Economy age, to help us better learn or do project management.

Talking about learning, the current mainstream learning is school learning. School learning is isolated from real life. One isolation is its learning “content”. The textbook in school is too outdated and cannot meet the rich needs of real life, which is in various aspects and on various levels. With Knowledge Engine, however, everyone becomes a knowledge explorer, and knowledge can be shared more timely. We will have more varieties of knowledge to be shared and they will be shared on a much more massive scale. Sharing by book publishing, blogs and so on is still too slow for knowledge propagation. Knowledge Engine will greatly lower the threshold of knowledge sharing. Through learning in a domain, the learner can accumulate his experiences in various aspects of this domain, important infos or facts, together with rich learning materials. He can work on his collections, form a good structure of knowledge and share with others while he is making progress in his learning. Actually, this is what we do in our real life learning. When we ask someone for his learning experiences in a domain, usually the knowledge sharer will list 1,2,3,4,5… key points quickly and give a brief explanation for each. In Knowledge Engine, we want to make that summarizing work happening on the go and can be done very quickly.

The second isolation of school learning from real life is that people who teach in the school have no learning experiences and thus true knowledge of the domain that they are teaching. With Knowledge Engine, however, learners collect and form a good structure of knowledge while they are learning and doing knowledge exploration. When the accumulation of knowledge is rich, complete and mature enough, the learner can try teaching it as a subject. So this way, excellent professionals in all walks can start teaching in their spare time, and become a high quality of resource of teachers. This will change the profession of teaching. Furthermore, students’ learning states can be well reflected by the Knowledge Engine, so the teachers can offer very effective instructions to the students. The teachers can build knowledge frames very timely according to the students’ learning needs.

The school learning mostly fills students with dry knowledge. People staying in school for more than 10 or 20 years still haven’t learned how to learn. With Knowledge Engine, however, the future learning will be chiefly learning by oneself. The teachers (or the early learners) have built up knowledge with good structure and accumulated rich learning material(books, blogs, videos, examples, projects, questions, and so on) through their own learning. So the students (or the future learners) can use these as their rich learning resources. With a good overview of all the knowledge to learn and with rich learning resources, the learner can decide for himself how to learn in the fastest and best way, as Knowledge Engine also helps the learner knows clearly his current knowledge structure. The essence of learning is self-learning. In the future, learners will learn mostly by themselves or through peer learning. The teacher only gives guidance to help learners learn, besides providing a good knowledge structure and learning materials.

Because of school, people have very misled concepts of learning and knowledge. But through Knowledge Engine, people will get to know quickly what is learning and what is knowledge. Only by editing operations and through some predefined workflows, the learners can learn quickly how to learn effectively. I think this is where the power of software is.

Last but not the least, students’ knowledge is visible in their exploration of knowledge. Also when they build up open space knowledge with their teachers together, they are participating in very meaningful social works, and their contribution is visible to the public. These will be an important part of their portfolios. (Just like what happened in open source software) Future employers will use these to pick competent candidates instead of relying too much on test scores, which can not really evaluate how much the person really understand the knowledge. Furthermore, through Knowledge Engine, the learner’s capability to learn and to explore knowledge can be demonstrated. Especially if the learner is able to open a course and teach others what he has learned, it certainly reflects that he has mastered the knowledge pretty well.

So the real life learning is not very difficult. We don’t need to be locked away from real life for more than 10 or 20 years to learn. Life is the primary. Learning is only secondary. Learning is to make out life better, instead of replacing it. Otherwise, there would be no learning, just like our current schools.

I hope the work of Knowledge Engine, can help make real life learning the mainstream learning of the future, and really start the Knowledge Based Economy.

This is a conference of Python. Starting from 2002, Python has been my favorite programming language. But I only got chances to write Python scrips for years. Finally in my job, my boss allowed me to prototype in Python, but required me to translating into Java after each iteration. That was a very painful experience. Finally in the research work on Knowledge Engine, I am able to do this exploratory work with Python. When Guido was designing Python, there was a clear goal in his mind: to make everyone being able to program, to express their ideas through programming and to do exploratory works. I cannot imagine how I can do the mast work on Knowledge Engine without Python. It would be hard to imagine with Java. So this is the first huge contribution that Python makes to this project.

The second comes from the idea of Pythonic. For me, it can be simplified as Principle of Playing. The design of Python has greatly inspired me in software design and my understanding of learning. This is the second huge contribution of Python to this project.

This experimental work of Knowledge Engine has passed two stages of experimentation. The first stage is me using the software to help myself learn, to see if it can be really helpful for my own learning. It turns out an incredible tool for my daily learning, and I need to use it daily for my learning. The second stage of experiment is to have a few other people use it to see if it can help other people as well. The result of this has been quite satisfactory to me. People who have no skills of reflection earlier can learn how to reflect quickly and thus open up the space of real life learning. The result proved my hypothesis when starting this project, and made me more confident on this project. Now I want to expand the experiment to a broader group of people, but still focus on people who already are strong self-learners, and are already using various internet tools for their learning. I hope to explore and find a mature practice of learning with this Knowledge Engine. Thus we can demonstrate to the world the possibilities and the power of real life learning.

For projects similar to this internationally, I found the following: wisdomclouds. The founder of wisdomclouds shares similar or exactly the same understanding of this kind of things. He didn’t use the word Knowledge Engine. But he used this phrase “All problems, one solution”. His software is used for project management only.

Trello, Joel claims that it will be able to manage all human consciousness. This means he already sees the potential of this kind of things. Trello is also used for project management currently.

Bagtheweb, is mainly for content curation.

This is a quite new field. I hope more people can join the work.

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Filed under Elearning, Essay, Featured Essays, John Taylor Gatto, Learning, Natural Learning, unschooling

Social consciousness, software, and our future society

Note: a newer version is available.

Note: Based on my review of 2008 posts, I added more posts, and some introduction for the parts and chapters. I am thinking of publishing this as a book. I haven’t thought a good name yet. “Social consciousness, software, and our future society” is a temporary name for now. To be honest, it is very exciting to be with Americans. Americans are very ambitious. They dare to predict and plan the future. So here is my piece.

The outline of the book:

Part 0: The revolution/evolution in America

Part 1: Individual Consciousness:
Individuals are the natural centers of human society. Everything starts from the right understand of our individual self. Buddhism teaches that we know our individual self directly. They are not like the physical world, which is external to us and we have to rely on science to explore. Through meditation, activity and reflection, we can know the self. So let’s study our individual consciousness.
ch 1: brain, mind, consciousness, growth of consciousness, and how they are tangled with community
How is consciousness formed? Where is it coming from? What is its material basis in the brain? What is the material basis of the self? How is the distance created? What is its relation to language? What is the health of the brain?
ch 2: memory, expectation/imagination vs. dwelling in the past and fascination about the future (both are thinking)
When there is no self, there are only two types of “legitimate” brain activities: accessing the past (stored as memory in the brain), and jump to the future moment (the expectation or the imagination). What is driving the brain to do these two activities is the present moment or your encountering with the environment at the present moment. When you have a self, however, accessing the past becomes dwelling in the past (e.g. you are lost in the memory). Jumping to the future becomes fascination with the future (I am referring to illusionary fascination of the self). Both are thinking.
ch 3: learning, playing
ch 4: feeling, love

When you feel without thinking, you are experiencing love and interacting with love. That is playing. What is love?
ch 5: knowledge, brain, knowing, learning, not-knowing
What is knowledge and what is the wisdom that is beyond knowledge.
ch 6: peaceful forces
The peaceful forces in human history.
ch7: how to get to know your individual consciousness
Silence, sitting meditation, self-reflection, going back to the nature, going back to your childhood,  walking carefully in your life and doing no harm.

Part 2: Collective Consciousness:
After we know the self, how millions or billions of people can live and play together can be a challenge. The collective of consciousness can be a quite new topic on top of individual consciousness. The history of human being is a history of how people organize together.
ch 1: collectively
ch 2: society and community as external memory, space
ch 3: forces in history, peaceful forces, barriers
ch 4: social space, unlimited resource
ch 5: enriching each other, playing together (has nothing to do with money?)

ch 6: how to explore collective consciousness with software


Part 3: Life Science:
Computer Science is a science about life. Software is a bridge between the human science and the physical science.
ch 1: science, and the historical perspective, subjectivity/objectivity, the evolution of math and physics (just more transformation of plus and minus)
Traditionally, science has excluded subjectivity from its study. Christopher Alexander advocates bringing subjectivity back to science because subjectivity is objective. After all, we know ourselves directly. I argue that software is the tool to bring subjectivity back to objectivity. Software is a brand new way to explore social science and is a very effective tool.
ch 2: software and the principle of playing
We expand the concept of software to the social programming. With principle of playing, we can refactor the society and build a better playground.
ch 3: degree of life
Christopher Alexander says everything has life. They have different degrees of life. How do we understand life? How do we measure the degree of life?
ch 4: what is computer science
ch 5: diversity and equality, limitation and perfection, life

The phenomena of life: equality is manifested as diversity, perfection is manifested as limitation, absolute is manifested as relative.
ch 6: space
Everything is about space.

Part 4: Global Peace
ch 1: cultural communication
How the two great things of human civilization can meet and melt into each other? How the west and east can communicate the values of individual and collective?
ch 2: how to bring out democracy
The explosion of the self-organized production of social product is going to transform the society and change the social structure.  By engaging in these self-organizing activities of producing social product, we are enriching our lives and pursuing our happiness.
ch 3: we need pioneers to open up each individual field
Each individual field is going to be opened up one by one by the individual professionals in the field. They are going to use open source software and open organizations to empower themselves. Each professional field is going to be transformed. Individuals can pursue their interests in these fields freely and  independently. Ways of cooperating and organizing are going
to be brought to a more granular and ad hoc level.
ch 4: build a better playground
With every progress of society, we have a better playground. That is how I look at history.
ch 5: the future of learning: how to engage with the space, true teachers…
How this individual field is going to be opened up? How learning/education is going to be transformed?


Part 5: Global Humanity
ch 1: the east, the thread of Chinese culture and how it is going to evolve
ch 2: the west,  the thread of western culture and how it is going to evolve

—————————————————————————————————————————

Outline with blog posts associated with each chapter

Part 0: The revolution/evolution in America
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/the-revolution-in-america/

Part 1: Individual Consciousness:
Individuals are the natural centers of human society. Everything starts from the right understand of our individual self. Buddhism teaches that we know our individual self directly. They are not like the physical world, which is external to us and we have to rely on science to explore. Through meditation, activity and reflection, we can know the self. So let’s study our individual consciousness.

ch 1: brain, mind, consciousness, growth of consciousness, and how they are tangled with community, language and culture:
How is consciousness formed? Where is it coming from? What is its material basis in the brain? What is the material basis of the self? How is the distance created? What is its relation to language? What is the health of the brain?
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/01/05/language-culture-human-brain-and-consciousness/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/02/17/exercise-your-consciousness/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/02/27/on-self-help-books-and-regrowing-consciousness/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/16/see-with-your-whole-body/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/12/14/consciousnessexperiences-cannot-be-transfered/

ch 2: memory, expectation/imagination vs. dwelling in the past and fascination (both are thinking):
When there is no self, there are only two types of “legitimate” brain activities: accessing the past (stored as memory in the brain), and jump to the future moment (the expectation or the imagination). What is driving the brain to do these two activities is the present moment or your encountering with the environment at the present moment. When you have a self, however, the accessing the past becomes dwelling in the past (e.g. you are lost in the memory). The jumping to the future becomes fascination with the future (I am referring to illusionary fascination of the self). Both are thinking.

ch 3: learning, playing
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/18/play/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/02/25/do-you-believe-that-you-are-complete-and-have-the-potential-to-fully-develop-yourself/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2006/12/08/a-summary-of-learning/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/01/30/comments-on-the-summary-of-learning/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/04/06/no-chinese-food-anymore-continuous-exploration-of-space/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/02/14/thinking-feeling-and-playing/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/06/01/doing-things-learning-and-playing/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/06/12/reflect-on-my-schooling/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/05/08/the-art-of-my-life/

ch 4: feeling, love
When you feel without thinking, you are experiencing love and interacting with love. That is playing.

ch 5: knowledge, brain, knowing, learning, not-knowing:
what is knowledge and what is the wisdom that is beyond.
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/30/knowing-and-thinking/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/10/22/no-self-no-problem/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/12/08/when-you-walk/

ch 6: peaceful forces
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/16/peace-what-is-peace-and-how-to-build-peace/

Part 2: Collective Consciousness:

ch 1: collectively:
After we know the self, how millions or billions of people can live and play together can be a challenge. The collective of consciousness can be a quite new topic on top of individual consciousness. The history of human being is a history of how people organize together.
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/managing-common-property-is-a-challenge/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/collective-vs-individual/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/14/my-standard-to-evaluate-a-societyculture/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/16/my-fundamental-belief-and-why-i-am-doing-what-i-am-doing/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/10/11/buddhism-and-social-consciousness/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/desire-and-future-society/

ch 2: society and community as external memory, space
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/11/09/community-vs-networking-part-2/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/12/08/material-culture-as-an-extension-of-human-cognition/

ch 3: forces in history, peaceful forces, barriers

ch 4: social space, unlimited resource
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/john-locke-has-a-second-thought-on-private-property/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/10/18/software-programming-for-everybody/
ch 5: enriching each other, playing together (has nothing to do with money?)

Part 3: life science:
Computer Science is a science about life. Software is a bridge between the human science and the physical science.
ch 1: science, and the historical perspective, subjectivity/objectivity, the evolution of math and physics (just more transformation of plus and minus)
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/10/14/the-subject-and-object/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/10/18/the-subject-and-object-part-2/

ch 2: software and principle of playing
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2009/01/14/a-better-way-to-understand-web20/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/08/17/software-like-buildings/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/01/03/web-brain/

ch 3: degree of life
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/one-billion-times-more/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/05/where-is-life-coming-from/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2006/11/23/only-losers-complain-about-too-many-choices/

ch 4: what is computer science
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/computer-science-is-life-science/

ch 5: diversity and equality, limitation and perfection, life
The phenomena of life: equality is manifested as diversity, perfection is manifested as limitation, absolute is manifested as relative.

ch 6: space
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/16/it-is-all-about-space/

Part 4: global peace
ch 1: cultural communication
How the two great things of human civilization can meet and melt into each other? How the west and east can communicate the values of individual and collective?
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/10/18/two-great-things-of-human-civilization/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/two-different-philosophies-of-life-and-society/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/07/23/news-of-china/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/06/inside-biosphere-2/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/the-myth-of-chinese-population/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/collective-vs-individual/

ch 2: how to bring out democracy
The explosion of the self-organized production of social product is going to transform the society and change the social structure. By engaging in these self-organizing activities of producing social product, we are enriching our lives and pursuing our happiness.
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/22/how-to-take-back-our-democracy-part-2-democracy-money-social-products-local-services-the-power-of-consciousness/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/20/how-to-take-back-our-democracy/

ch 3: we need pioneers to open up each individual field
Individual professionals are going to cooperate in new forms of organizations.

ch 4: build a better playground
We are going to build up a better playground in the social transformation.
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/build-a-better-playground/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/05/18/open-organizations/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/05/20/open-cooperation-within-an-organization/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/07/30/national-initiative-and-law-20/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/grassroots-web/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/10/18/software-programming-for-everybody/

ch 5: the future of learning: how to engage with the space, true teachers…
The true face of learning will be brought out.

Part 5: global humanity
ch 1: the east, the thread of Chinese culture and how it is going to evolve
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/06/a-brief-rundown-of-chinese-recent-history/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/06/development-and-environment/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/05/13/china-capitalism-communism/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/05/18/china-and-environment/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/06/olympics-and-china/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/10/watching-olympics-opening/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/the-chinese-renaissance/
https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/two-ways-to-help-china/

ch 2: the west,  the thread of western culture and how it is going to evolve

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Filed under About Software, Chan/Zen, Computer Software, Essay, Featured Essays, Learning, life, Python, Social Software

Computer Science is Life Science

Computer Science (CS) is not a science of computers. CS is a science of life. It is a bridge to connect the physical science with human science.

Here I take the word life as what is meant by C.A. (Christopher Alexander) in his book The Nature of Order. And I use his concept Degree of Life as the measure of life.

So what is CS studying? The essential part of CS is software programming, which is about how to create life. It is commonly known that OOP (Object Oriented Programming) is about agents and interfaces (e.g. the contracts between agents) (so is economy). Here we can summarize it with the Principle of Play (as in the post about Python).

Briefly, the Principle of Play is about how other life entities (I will start using this word throughout this essay to describe anything that we consider having a degree of life, probably a degree of life that is higher enough to interact with other entities) can easily interact/play with.

So for a life entity, if we want to measure its degree of life, we can look at the following aspects: how many different entities are able to interact with this entity in different ways; how much time those entities need to learn to figure out how to use this one.

For a system, on average, how much degree of life within a system of many life entities? We can look at these from the following:
how generative the system is, how the system is able to come up with new ways to deal with new problems (kind of like human body);
how adaptive the system is to the outside;
how adaptive the system is to its own growth/evolution, whether the system is able to carry out the evolution in a more peaceful way;
how much time the life entities in the system spend in figuring out how to work with each other;

A better system is more able to be life-generating. It is more efficient at converting energy from lower forms to higher forms, such as converting energy into life entities. Take music for example. When a musician create the music, he consume a lot of energy (he has to eat a lot of food and use the energy that is from the food) in creating that music and put that music down in some kind of physical format (for example, a mp3 file on a computer). When that mp3 file is listened to by another person, the music causes some life-generating events in that person. If we say it causes some new material being generated in that person’s brain or causes restructuring of his brain, then the energy is transformed into the material (new life entity) in that person’s brain. So good music, just by being played over and over again for different people, simply consume some physical energy (electricity, for example) and push a higher energy being generated and stored. (The real situation, of course, can be way more complicated. Here we just simplify it temporally for the convenience of introducing the idea.)

So a system with more life means that more energy are taken from the physical world and stored at a higher level.

So what kind of brain has more life? Possible answers below:
A brain that has real knowledge, the brain structure is shaped very well that it can recall knowledge and engage with the world in a very efficient and creative way;
A brain having a higher degree of life is better at creating life.

More questions for our consideration:
Why human being is a higher form of life? (Is the language giving us the potential to have more life?)
Why creatures have more life than furniture?
Which society is more able to adapt to change? For example, with the new frontier in the info age, which country is more able to adapt and imagine a new future?
What kind of life creating process is it in human body? How does DNA create life for human? How does human being take physical energy from outside and convert that to its own energy?

There are definitely endless fields that we can go into to examine how the life generating process is carried out there.

So when we go to the macro level, we look at the whole human society, we want to see if our society as a whole has a higher degree of life than societies 2000 years ago, which means if our society is more able to adapt to change, more responsive to outside, more able to carry out the evolution in a peaceful way.

To give an example of how we can measure the degree of life, maybe we can try to see how we measure the degree of life of different programming languages (for example, Java VS. Python). I am thinking the method can be as below: we look at how people in different professions or different age groups are able to pick up the programming language quickly and how diverse are the software/apps that are built by this programming language, how the language itself is more able to adapt to change… Surely, sometimes whether a programming language is used more often has a lot to do with marketing. That is why we need a better playground so the better ones can be played by more people.

Every life center (entity) has billions of plus and billions of minus. Thus it is math on a higher level. (Any math is just an extended transformation of plus and minus). So what is this form of transformation of plus and minus in life centers (entities)? One clue is that this is computation of plus and minus on the scales of billions (http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/16-07/pb_theory). Another clue is as  CA has pointed out in his book Nature of Order, it is expressed through geometry forms. Certainly any geometry forms (if not a dot) contain billions of plus and minus. Thus visualization of huge amount of data might be part of the big picture of solutions.

Google’s search engine is a way to compute the billions of plus and minus, if we treat a link as a vote (a form of plus and minus). In words of O’Reilly, Google “built real-time information systems to capture and respond to that vote”.

Above are just some early hypothesis. Any new science starts with great hypothesis, then countless proving and figuring out the details. I hope these hypothesis can be a good start.

The ideas here are still very rough. I put it out early for the purpose of getting some early feedback. So if you know someone doing similar work on this, please let me know.

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Filed under About Software, Chan/Zen, Computer Software, Essay, Featured Essays, Programming, Python, Social Software

Play

Play

When the world is still, the whole world is just one. When it starts moving, forces are applied to its body and split out many small parts.  Under the forces, the small part has to make itself stronger correspondingly in order to follow the flow of the whole. Thus there is more life. This is the same in the human world. Each individual is a separation out of the whole. Each individual is under the forces caused by the movement of the whole. Under the (social) forces, each individual has to make himself/herself stronger so the whole can move together. Thus we have more life. So under the force of the movement of the whole, separation happened. Each separated individual has to absorb that force and make himself/herself stronger and connect back to the whole so the whole can move together. (This understanding of life is the same as how life is interpreted in the book Nature of Order.) When the world moves faster and faster, greater and greater forces are generated and smaller and smaller parts are split out, and they have to be stronger in order to follow the movement of the whole. Take sports for example, when the game becomes faster, you rely on components of your body that are the primary organs of that sport to be stronger and more skillful in order to follow the flow. So when you really enjoy the sports, or we can go more specific, for example in the sport of soccer, if your legs really enjoy the ball, you can play better and be better at following the flow. Thus play and enjoying fun are the essential part of life. Life is about playing.

So play is space interacting with the space. On the individual level, it is the individual’s inner space interacting with the outer space. On the level of society, it is how individuals interact with each other, or on a larger scale how organizations of individuals interact with each other. So we can see in the future sophisticated and ever-changing society, we rely on the individuals to be stronger players.

To play with other players, you need to make yourself easy to understand and other people know how to play with you. So play is space communicating to space.

As the universe becomes faster and has more life, we can say the universe is playing.

When I was a kid, I heard adults saying that when you get older you are not afraid of death anymore. As a kid, I reflected on it. I had a lot of fun in my childhood. I thought the adults were not afraid of death probably because there were nothing fun in their lives anymore. As I was looking at many adults’ lives, it was certainly true. Then I figured that they forgot to play because they could not keep growing their knowledge and ability as their bodies grew. So naturally after you have played with dragonfly for so many times, you will get bored. So what I saw was that adults got bored with life, or overwhelmed by responsibilities or little things of life, and thus forgot how to play. So I thought it was a challenge to be able to keep improving yourself as you grow up, and I swore to myself that I would keep improving myself and expanding my world so I can keep playing with the same kind of fun I was playing in my childhood.

In the recent years, I realized that one thing that contributed to those adults forgetting how to play is the compulsory schooling system. When children become teenagers, they need to naturally expand their world in the human world. However, the compulsory schooling system occupied all their time, and they have no time to continuously expand their space, and later become very passive in this new space of human world. When they are kids, it is easy for them to get excited when they first see the snow, or play with the insects. Everything is new, and it is easy to learn of new things. So we see kids always have a lot of curiosity. Kids are not interested in the adult world, however. To them, the adult world is too complex and they cannot understand. So they prefer watching the more simplistic version of it, the cartoon. Cartoon is very simplified, and the kids enjoy the stories in it. But as the kids grow older and become teenagers, they will get bored with what they have been playing before. At this stage, it is natural for them to be curious of the adult world. They want to know how the professionals work. They are interested in knowing about society. It is an adventure for them. But since the kids have to go to school, and in the middle school, the schoolwork becomes more intensive. Even when kids go back home, they have to work on “homework”. Together with TV, the compulsory schooling occupied the teenagers’ time. For the teenagers to understand the adult world and society, they need big blocks of time to try things out in the real world, read a lot of literatures, novels, and history. Not being able to expand into that space for many years (more than 10 years), they become passive about that space. They have been living in that space of adult world for many years without being able to understand it, they don’t seek to understand it anymore. They become very passive. The doors to many worlds closed down on them. They cannot comprehend their world anymore. They become powerless. They will just be satisfied if they can find a job after school that can pay them well. They forget how to play. You can imagine what kind of problem you will have if a civilization forget how to play.

Thus to solve the problems we have today we need to restore the fun of playing, which certainly cannot do without dismantling the compulsory schooling system and return the true learning to the hands of the individuals.

Since playing is space interacting with space, it will certainly lead to appreciating the beauty of the emptiness of the space. Thus playing in its highest form is to pursue art. Because everyone of us is unique and the life of this world relies on our diversity, every individual needs to identify and pursue his/her art of life. Thus every profession is art. To encourage individuals pursuing their art of life is to empower individual professionals to  bring out the true value of their professions. Yes, we need to empower the individual professionals.

The problem of our world is that individual professionals are dictated by the capitalists, and thus they cannot pursue their arts. Musicians cannot be true musicians and journalists cannot be true journalists. To address this problem, we need to build a better playground, which provides equal access to every individual. The web and social software, by connecting people’s consciousness together, makes it much more difficult for a group of minorities in power to set up barriers to deny the majority of the people the access to the playground. The web and social software themselves build up the infrastructure of the playground in the human world.

So this is why I dedicated myself to bringing out the true face of learning and ways for individual professionals to cooperate with each other through various forms of organizations.

Thus I said, don’t tell me any big ideas, as long as what you say is fun, it is the biggest idea.

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Peace: What is peace? How do we build peace in our world?

We human beings, like everything else, are just like simple objects, which have both inside and outside. Deep inside of us is an inner core. On our outside, we have an outer layer that is in touch with the outside world. Various forces are acting upon us through the outside layer and are transformed into various signals and passed through to the inner core. The matter of the outer layer, according to my personal experience, is like fluid. It flows naturally and responds to the outside like a mirror in a very spontaneous way. The inner core, however, seems to be of a matter that when overworked becomes very sticky and it sticks itself to whatever it touches. When you see a table, the concept of table will arise in your mind, which traps you and drags your mind preventing it from following the flow of the outside world.

The inner core is shaped by the signals and forces passed through the outer layer. Though the inner core carries out certain functions based on the signals from the outside world and is important to us as human being, the inner core by itself is never able to figure out the truth. Many problems of our world can be attributed to people’s tendency to acknowledge the inner core unconditionally, and attempting to figure out the truth by the inner core itself. Every concept has two sides. So they will start fighting with each other. One concept leads to another concept. They begin fighting among themselves. This drives the person crazy. He becomes mad. That is why we have wars. Cultures that are obsessed with this inner core, acknowledging it unconditionally, have caused conflicts and great harms around the world.

Understanding this root of violence, we should realize that violence can never be overcome by the force of violence. Only the force of peace can dissolve force of violence.

Thus it is important to go back to the nature, realizing we are part of the nature, that is where we come from, and that is our source. By fully in touch with the outside world with all our senses (which compose our outside layer), we can get out of the grip of the inner core, and our mind can start flowing and reflecting like a mirror again. Realizing the inner core, which we often culturally mistake as our identified self, is by every means connected and shaped by the outside world, is the base of love. Without love, we probably cannot live even for one single day. The fact that we are still living in this world means that we are in love with this world.

The whole universe never changes and never moves.  Just as in our sitting meditation, we are able to feel the absolute stillness. As the world goes faster, it has to split into small parts. There are greater forces applied to those small parts, and it relies on the response of those small parts to follow the flow. When those small parts can follow the move of the whole, there is no time and there is peace. For  example, when playing sports, you need to put greater emphasis on the parts of the body that are involved in that sports, such as legs in soccer. As the game becomes faster, you need to make your legs stronger and more skillful in its following and interacting with the space.  When you can follow the flow, you feel of no time. When activity is very slow, you can feel total harmony with the bigger environment, and the consciousness can reach very far. When the activity gets faster, because of our limitedness, we have to focus on the specific parts that are involved, and thus we are not able to pay attention to things far away. For example, in martial arts, if it gets faster and more people attack you, you will have greater difficulty to focus on things far away, and dodging the arrows that enemy shoot at you. 🙂  Thus playing and fun are essential for us to be able to follow the flow of the moving world.

Our world manifests both absolute and relative. Absolute is the absolute stillness. It is the thing that never changes. Relative is the relative dynamic evolving process. This process is the activity of living. Thus this is what life is about. It is the thing that never fixates and is always evolving. To obtain the peace in our world, it is not enough to just understand the absolute. It is also important to understand the changing and evolving aspect of our world. I guess this is a lesson the east can learn from the west.

To understand the relative evolving process, we need to understand the peaceful forces that cause the evolving process. To understand this is the same as to understand what life is about. These forces are the same forces that acted upon our outer layer and shaped the inner beauty of our core.

So what are the outside forces that shape our inner core? I would say briefly that they are beauty, fun, and love.

We are often awed by the beauty of the outside world, and we strive hard to create beauty in our lives and in our minds. The beauty of the nature is such a powerful force that drive people for their whole life. We perceive the beauty of the outside world through various senses in our outer layer. The emptiness manifests itself as various senses of beauties that we can perceive with our senses. It is beautiful because it contains both absolute and relative within itself. It has the absolute stillness which never changes. It has the dynamic flow, which never fixates and is always evolving. Through our ears, we perceive the emptiness and beauty of sound. Through our eyes, we perceive the emptiness and beauty of light. All these senses of beauties shape how our inner core perceives as beauty of emptiness. And it shapes how the inner core considers as beauty in the human world. The inner core manifests its understanding of beauty through literature, music, arts, and so on. That is the beauty of the human world.

Fun is our body being able to interact with the outside space, and being together with the outside world. By being able to follow outside world, we can have peace. To be able to follow the outside world, the related part of the body has to truly enjoy its interaction with the space. Having a very good sense of humor is a manifestation of understanding of emptiness. Thus to have a good sense of humor requires a deep understanding of emptiness. That is why humor can dissolve anything and connect people together, making them realize their common humanity even if they had been on ill terms in the past.

Love is realizing the inner core, which we often identify as our self, is actually shaped by the outside world, and thus we are one with the outside world. Manifesting this oneness with outside world, with other people is interpreted as love in every culture. Thus as we are interacting with the outside world every day, we are receiving love every day.

Thus to build the peace in our world, we need to build a society in which every individual can do what s/he likes to do, e.g. pursue her/his art of life. Everyone is unique. Everyone must have something in the world that s/he is the best at. Diversity is the relative thing. It is the nature of life. Equality is the absolute. Equality manifests itself as diversity in the relative thing of life. To achieve equality, we have to encourage our individuals to greatly develop themselves, which is itself the activity of life. The activity of life, is to perceive the force of beauty, to play with this beauty of emptiness and interact with the outside space, and thus to receive love and manifest love. Thus life is to pursue art. Life activities are to learn/grow, to play, and to create.

To create is to grow as life demands enriching itself and creating new lives.

This essay is a general description of what is peace and how to build peace. As to more specifically what we can do to build peace, for me it is my efforts in changing the way people learn and the way how people organize and cooperate with each other. But I will not cover these in this essay.

One extra note on the function of our inner core. One important function of the inner core of our human being is memory. Because of memory, we are able to hold the past and the future together. As life is an dynamic evolving process, we need to grow and figure out the relative of things, which is to tell the difference. To tell the difference is also one important function of our inner core. This is the importance of learning. So learning is an essential part of life. Thus in this relative dynamic evolving living process, we will have confusion. But we need to remember in the absolute there is neither the past nor the future. There is only the present. The necessity of knowing the relative of the past and future is to enable us to be able to better follow the flow. Since we are in a living process, we have no choice but to follow the flow. To follow the flow we need to understand the relative of the dynamic evolving process, which in the human world translates to understanding our history, our current conditioning in our current society and culture, and how we go to the future. If we can be at now, our mind can follow our body instead of being somewhere else. Then you can have peace. In peace, the power of inner core will allow us to follow and creatively engage in the flow of the world.

So the function of the inner core for the purpose of learning is legitimate, and is an essential part of living as a human being. But as said above, when the brain is overworked, it becomes very sticky and attaches itself to whatever it is in touch with, and thus slows you down, exhausts you or drives you crazy. We also need to keep in mind that the relative, no matter how rich it is, is very limited compared to the absolute. Thus it is always important to have access to the unlimited absolute and have it as the source. That will be your base of peace. Indeed, the relative is just the manifestation of the absolute.

I feel the eastern cultures traditionally have played down this relative part of reality. It might because they fear of losing clarity of the understanding of the absolute. As the east meets the west, it is time for us to learn how to sort out the relative of life and build the richness of life, at the same time not to forget the absoluteness of our still and never changing source. Indeed, the absolute and the relative are inextricably bound to each other and they should serve each other.

Now let me bring this a little into our current context of war and peace. It is my understanding and a shared understanding with many people in other countries that the greatest strength of America lies in the relative lack of wars in the continent of America. The long time peace that Americans have enjoyed have built up a strong force of peace within people’s hearts. Even people here may not realize this themselves, it is easy to tell if you compare people here to people in other countries. There are many subtle differences. The few wars that did happen in this continent or wars that America was involved actually did have a traumatic effect on American psychology, as you can find that in the literature and films. The two wars (Civil War and WWII) actually transformed America from scattered, more individual states centered country to a country that has a stronger national identity, from which the corporate and the capitalists are able to have a tighter control of the nation, and thus America loses its essence to the war. 911 further drags America away from who she is. No matter what rhetorics people have for going to war and no matter what noble causes they are trying to serve, they didn’t have the deep experience of the forces of peace. It is because of realizing this power of peace, MLK came to the understanding that non-violence includes not using violence in self-defense. Violence can never be overcome by the force of violence. Only the force of peace can dissolve force of violence.

Whatever people say of the big success and transformation of China, to me that success mostly can be attributed to the peace that we are lucky enough to enjoy for the past 30 years. As I grew up in China, I could feel the functioning of peaceful forces in people’s hearts which gradually settle down the social order from chaos and make people’s hearts warm to each other again. So for me I feel the most important thing for my country (and thus for the world) is to enlarge those peaceful forces, making them functioning more smoothly. One way to do that is to open up more, and engage with the diversity of the outside world. That is the peaceful force that will cause the greater diversity in China (the greatest diversity is that each individual can pursue her/his art of life according to her/his uniqueness.)  and enrich life. That is why I think the culture communication among people at the bottom level is the most important thing among people of different countries.

A little commercial for myself. This essay is just one way I can use to present my understanding of peace. There are many aspects of peace that will be too big to be covered in one essay. You will  have to read my other articles to get to know more the complete picture of how I understand what is peace and how to build peace. 🙂

Note: this essay is more about the big picture of peace. For fine tuned techniques to deal with peace in various situations on a daily basis, I will cover them in other posts.

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Build a better playground

Where are we going? How do we understand human history? How do we understand our current trend, especially changes brought out by software and web?

There are a lot of economic theories. There are a lot of ideologies, religions based on whether human nature is selfish or altruistic. In China, in the recent decades, people realize the importance of self and the need to develop individuals. In the west, especially in the grassroots and non-profit communities, a lot of opinions are that the society should be built based on altruism. There are a lot of judgment on good and evil here.

What I am going to say can be summarized as: No good or evil. Just build a better playground.

When I look at human history, my understanding of the change of human society is towards building a better playground. In different historical time, different forces are at play, and in each period of time, one will become the dominate force.

In the post Major forces of human society and our time, I talked about how I see different forces in shaping human society. In my view, capital/money is only one of the forces, and economy alone doesn’t explain the way we organize ourselves in society, and it is less and less the dominant force as we progress along.

Two factors that motivate people to do things: doing things interesting and rewarding; making money.

If it is easier to survive pursuing your interest, if it is easier to pursue what you like, if it is easier to make money by actually doing best at what you like, it will change the rule of the game. The balancing will change. More and more people will choose to work for fun and fulfillment .

Also it is better to align forces and resources according to fun/play than to market. Free market align everything using money, arguing it is the best way to distribute resources. I would argue that maybe the best way is to align with playing, and the tech of our time already allows us to do so. At least, one tentative argument I think I can use is that if we align with fun/play, we don’t over produce a lot of things we don’t need.

In this view, historically speaking, capitalism might be a better playground compared with previous societies when it pushed the capital to the dominant position and play down the importance of the power of violence and privilege by birth. But as the capital became too powerful, it started suppressing the deeper values of human being such as playing, and started setting up barriers to block ordinary people from accessing the playground. In our time, the same (probably more important) as how the invention of printing technology transformed our civilization, the connectedness of people’s consciousness on the web and by software is going to break the barrier and build up a better playground. We can already see this in Silicon Valley. The current start-up culture is different from the 90s. At that time it is more the investors telling the entrepreneurs what they should do. Now it is more the investors listening to the entrepreneurs what they want to do. So we see the capital plays a lesser role now. We also see in the musical industry that the musicians powered by the web is more able to break the barrier set up by the record company and be able to PLAY the musics that they enjoy and do it the way they like. The same kind of things are also happening with citizen journalism, for example, ohmynews.

In the post Against-compulsory-schooling: from mass production to empowering individuals, I pointed out our age is the age of empowering individual professionals. In another post, I pointed out

“Coarse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_H._Coase), in his paper The Nature of the Firm , pointed out that the allocation of resource and labor in a firm are not free market based, but dictated by the boss (Note: mostly finance and business people). Coarse pointed out that the reason for the existence of the firm is to lower the cost of transaction in the market. Because of this dictatorship in the firm, individual professionals have to sacrifice their individual freedom and quite often their professionalism to the demand of finance/business people. Basically individual professionals are just employed by the finance/business people’s money machine (the business model).

In the post the python principle, I mentioned the python principle is the principle of playing, and how python built a good playground for software programming.

The key of the principle of playing is to build things that people can play with. Keeping this in mind, I can feel better how to build the playground.

For example, this article about google’s app engine, and this article about open ID, in my view, both are talking about reshuffling the fields towards a better playground. In the next few years, we should see a lot of reshuffling of the field (essentially this is the same as refactoring in software programming), and we should expect to see a better playground as the result.

With all the understanding above, now the issue is how do we build a better playground socially? More specifically, how do we apply python principle to society so we can have a better “programming” platform and it is easier for people to accomplish themselves? To me, software programming is not just programming with the computer. Instead, I view software programming a social thing, which means software, as well as various organizations play the same role of social components in a functioning society.

Like python, we need a flat learning curve. To achieve that, we need make things easily accessible, have layered complexity so people can play with it in each layer.

So when we are building something, we must be clear what we are building. Is it a tool, that can be used by all kinds of users? Or is it a platform, which serves a specific domain, but uses many existing tools?

(to be continued)

Note:

Below are some points regarding how to make it easy to play with (I will continuously make it more complete later):

Simple interface, people can get the brief info very quickly, and able to expand to more info quickly, people can browse, search, interact with it very easily, flat learning curve, layered complexity (people can always play on a higher level without knowing a great detail of lower level. People can also choose to play only on the lower level without too much concern with the upper level. So they can quickly figure out the lower level, and start to play on the upper level which is built on top of the lower level.).

Here is how we can apply it to community/organization (I will continuously make it more complete later):

Each member can equally contribute/participate, a flexible mechanism to browse and search for info, expressive representation of each member and his work, statistic and voting to reflect the real value of contribution.

Note: this essay needs to be continuously worked on. A lot of comments are very welcome.

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the Python Principle is the Principle of Playing

The Python Principle is a principle of playing. Python makes it easy to play with programming.

Recently when I was refactoring my software project, I realized I want to make it easy to play, the same as Python did. So I am thinking about providing a web based python interactive console (possibly with good features similar to ipython console) so other members of the project including non-programmers can play with the code, supplemented with a very concise tutorial as python tutorial provided, some examples, good API reference, and so on, similar to python itself. By thinking this way, it helps me refactoring the code a lot and easily see how I should change the code to make it easy to play with. I guess eventually if the code is easy to play with then it must be very KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), readable, well tested, robust and functionally complete.

So I then have a sudden realization about why Python is designed so well. I guess in the design and implementation of Python, Guido (the author of Python), probably followed the principle of playing, treating being able to play with Python as the top priority (for example, it was explicitly stated by Guido Python is made easy to learn and program with — as a programming language for everyone). After meeting that top priority, other concerns such as performance are then considered.

Thus my thoughts went to my understanding of human society, I thought what this Principle of Play implies for the human society. When we are kids, we all like to play. Everything is new to us. We are curious about everything. Everything we see and touch is new to us, and easily accessible (we just need to open our eyes, walk around, and touch things). It is so easy to expand our space, and we definitely enjoy keeping learning of new things. So it is always fun. Nature is at our finger tip. So we can see that play and learning are intrinsically connected, just like in Python.

But as we grow older, it becomes harder and harder to expand our space and feel the space, to be exposed to new things. The space becomes more and more invisible and inaccessible to us (For example, it takes a lot of learning to explore human society, know and understand history and various cultures.). So this difficulty is natural and intrinsic.

Of course, in human history, people at the top of the hierarchy take advantage of this difficulty, and intentionally designed a system to make it harder for people to explore the space. So various approaches were developed to dump people down, such as compulsory schooling.

The significance of Internet and web is that they make the space more easily accessible. The information around the globe and through history can be at your finger tip. Exposed to this space (especially when it is beautifully structured), people want to learn and play again.

By applying the Python Principle to the human world, what we can do is to make the human world easy to play. To make it easy to play, we need to make things handy, easily accessible and visible so people can play with it (just like Python did). We need to build the hierarchy of space so people can learn layer by layer.

The primary projects of my life are: 1., natural learning: how people can learn naturally in real life; 2., open project: how independent artists/professionals can take control of their work/arts/creativity and build their business by cooperating with their peer professionals and professionals in other professions (This is essentially about Playing). To do these two well, on either a smaller scale (such as within an organization) or a larger scale (such as the whole society) we need to apply the Python Principle, by which I mean that by making things easily available and thus easy for people to expand their space. This is essentially social programming, e.g. doing programming not just with computer, but with the whole human society (online and offline) (in which software running on computer and Internet is inextricable part of it).

Note: below are some extras if you are interested in reading more

The experience of the Python programming language helps us gain the concrete experience of the best practices of how to program to make it easy to play with.

The open source movement these years also developed a lot of similar best practices, which I think can be summarized as making things easy to play with. Open source, by making the source code available, is to make it transparent and thus people (at least good programmers) can play with it. The appearance of many mash up webapps in the recent years means more and more people can play with programming now.

To dissect a little bit of the Python Principle, what makes Python easy to play with:

  • transparent (visible instead of invisible/hidden) (Java is a hidden box. But in Python, you are playing inside the box);
  • component, every component is made easy to play with
  • easy to try, ground up and layered;
  • easily accessible (at your finger tip);
  • overall, fun and you can play with.

Above is just a very rough attempt trying to understand the Python Principle.

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