steven johnson – adjacent possible

steven johnson bw

The potential (and serendipity) created when you notice and connect the unlikely.

Incremental potential solutions to help people caught in conflict or looking for change to keep moving.

adjacent possible

adjacent possibiities from glossary deck


where good ideas come from  – rsa

what spaces do they hatch in:
1) hunch state – slow
ie: tim berners lee – 10 yrs for www
create a space where ideas can mingle and swap

the great driver of scientific and techno  innovation
has been the historic increase of connectivity – over the last 600-700 yrs
so yes – we’re distracted.. but we have so many new ways to connect.
chance favors the connected mind.

fitting with Kelley’s below – the more drippings we leave, the more potential for others to connect them, whether we do it or not..

min our selection of tech
but max the global choices of tech

1650 english coffee house was crucial to the birth of the enlightenment
1) before that – people drank alcohol all day long
2) architecture of the space –

what are the environments that lead to unusual levels of creativity
coffee house
bio environments – rain forrests

shared patterns?
flash, eureka, lightbulb – all share that an idea is a single thing
when really – it’s a network that has never formed before
how do you get your brain into these environments where these networks will form

a design that matters
spend money getting aid and advanced electronics, but then when it breaks down, can’t fix, so waste
these places can keep cars working.. so built a neonatal incubator from toyota parts

if we are trying to spaces for innovation.. we need messy looking spaces.
most people aren’t good at telling/remembering where great ideas happened
kevin dunbar – went around and videoed and asked
almost all the important break through ideas happened at the conference table at the weekly lab meeting, often when they shared their mistakes (not individually by the microsope)
the liquid network, lots of different ideas playing off each other
aslo – a lot of great ideas linger for decades, not a lightbulb flash on moment
darwin tells the story of coming up with the idea for natural selection, says it’s a light bulb moment in his auto bio
howard groover looked back at darwin’s notebooks – he found that darwin had the full theory months and months before he had the lightbulb moment
he had the concept, but unable to fully think it yet

how do you create environments for ideas to have this long half-life?

google has hunch cultivating environments
and if you share that space, grows faster

used to be we locked them up – to make them more valuable
we should spend even more time valuing the sharing and connecting of ideas.

oct 1957 – sputnik – johns hopkins – nerd heaven
2 having an informal convo, “has anyone tried to listen to this thing?” so they try – and they pick up the signal
before long – they think they might be the first to do it, so they record it.
then they start thinking, we’re noticing small frequency rates, we could probably calculate the speed using the doplar effect
we could look at the slope of the doplar effect to figure out how close it is to us
after 3-4 weeks, they have mapped the exact trajectory of this satellite going around the earth – from this little sounds
figured out an unknown location of satellite from known location on the ground
could you figure out the other way?
and they say yes
so they work on submarines with satellites
that’s how gps was born,
30 yrs later – anyone could do it, and

great case study in the unplanned power of open innovative systems and spaces

listening, plotting, cold war, cup of coffee

chance favors the connected mind

how do i miss all this. this is from sept by steven – tinkering – and  
adjacent possibilities
really what headed to steven in the first place yesterday when i read this by stephen hurley at the coop


even later still to the game – on reading this book. but once again – seeing a goodness in the timing. (nov 2014)

where good ideas come from










book links to amazon

– – –

where good ideas kindle notes


The ocean throwing its waters over the broad reef appears an invincible, all-powerful enemy; yet we see it resisted, and even conquered, by means which at first seem most weak and inefficient.

as in reefs, cities, web

metabolic rates.. # of heartbeats per lifetime tends to be stable from species to species. bigger animals just take longer to use up their quota… as life gets bigger it slows down.. negative quarter power scaling

as cities get bigger.. they generate ideas at a faster clip… superlinear scaling.. positive quarter power scaling..

“Great cities are not like towns only larger,” Jane Jacobs wrote nearly fifty years ago. West’s positive quarter-power law gave that insight a mathematical foundation. Something about the environment of a big city was making its residents significantly more innovative than residents of smaller towns.

10-10 rule: a decade to build the new platform, and a decade for it to find a mass audience.

1-1 rule: via hurley, chen, karim and youtube.

In the language of complexity theory, these patterns of innovation and creativity are fractal: they reappear in recognizable form as you zoom in and out, from molecule to neuron to pixel to sidewalk. Whether you’re looking at the original innovations of carbon-based life, or the explosion of new software tools on the Web, the same shapes keep turning up. When life gets creative, it has a tendency to gravitate toward certain recurring patterns, whether those patterns are emergent and self-organizing, or whether they are deliberately crafted by human agents.

What we lack is a unified theory that describes the common attributes shared by all those innovation systems.

The long-zoom approach lets us see that openness and connectivity may, in the end, be more valuable to innovation than purely competitive mechanisms.

zoom dance ness

.. we are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them.

see this with us and people. trying to save people (in ed et al) rather than letting them go.. follow their whimsy.. connecting them.. if they wish…

Because incubators focus exclusively on the beginning of life, their benefit to public health—measured by the sheer number of extra years they provide—rivals any medical advance of the twentieth century. Radiation therapy or a double bypass might give you another decade or two, but an incubator gives you an entire lifetime.

resonating with echo chamber ness

the scientist stuart kauffman has a suggestive name for the set of all those first-order combinations – the adjacent possible.

.. the coral reef is supremely gifted at recycling and reinventing the spare parts of its ecosystem.

Part of coming up with a good idea is discovering what those spare parts are, and ensuring that you’re not just recycling the same old ingredients.

We have a natural tendency to romanticize breakthrough innovations, imagining momentous ideas transcending their surroundings, a gifted mind somehow seeing over the detritus of old ideas and ossified tradition. But ideas are works of bricolage; they’re built out of that detritus.

bricolage: construction or creation from a diverse range of available things.

detritus: waste or debris of any kind

upcycling ness

.. an idea is not a single thing. It is more like a swarm.

The connections are the key to wisdom, which is why the whole notion of losing neurons after we hit adult-hood is a red herring. What matters in your mind is not just the number of neurons, but the myriad connections that have formed between them.

.. not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.

Jaron Lanier – large collectives are rarely capable of true creativity or innovation.

.. the structure’s temporary origins—it was originally built with the expectation that it would be torn down after five years—meant that those structures could be reconfigured with little bureaucratic fuss, as new ideas created new purposes for the space.

.. most great ideas first take shape in a partial, incomplete form. They have the seeds of something profound, but they lack a key element that can turn the hunch into something truly powerful. And more often than not, that missing element is somewhere else, living as another hunch in another person’s head. Liquid networks create an environment where those partial ideas can connect; they provide a kind of dating service for promising hunches. They make it easier to disseminate good ideas, of course, but they also do something more sublime: they help complete ideas.

spaces of permission ness – c app ness

Most hunches that turn into important innovations unfold over much longer time frames. They start with a vague, hard-to-describe sense that there’s an interesting solution to a problem that hasn’t yet been proposed, and they linger in the shadows of the mind, sometimes for decades, assembling new connections and gaining strength. And then one day they are transformed into something more substantial: sometimes jolted out by some newly discovered trove of information, or by another hunch lingering in another mind, or by an internal association that finally completes the thought. Because these slow hunches need so much time to develop, they are fragile creatures, easily lost to the more pressing needs of day-to-day issues. But that long incubation period is also their strength, because true insights require you to think something that no one has thought before in quite the same way.

getting it down to simple enough ness..

..a recognition of a new opportunity that has gone unexplored to date.

yes that. something not yet trieda people experiment (short).

tech grounding the chaos of 7 billion people following their whimsy. be\cause of questioning our allegiance to the science of people in schools (with money.. etc)

Most slow hunches never last long enough to turn into something useful, because they pass in and out of our memory too quickly, precisely because they possess a certain murkiness.

lag ness. time/ing/ness.

.. the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing,” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. There is a distinct self-help quality to the early descriptions of commonplacing’s virtues: maintaining the books enabled one to “lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.”

the brain ness.

.. indexing method, a system which not only made it easier to find passages, but also served the higher purpose of “facilitat[ing] reflexive thought.”

site as prototype. wikipedia style..

The tradition of the commonplace book contains a central tension between order and chaos, between the desire for methodical arrangement, and the desire for surprising new links of association. For some Enlightenment-era advocates, the systematic indexing of the commonplace book became an aspirational metaphor for one’s own mental life.

oh. the dance.

Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.

so imagining this account.. fuller/deeper than ever.. yet less time consuming to document. [slideshares appear. no?]








…without missing a beat of your life.

The beauty of Locke’s scheme was that it provided just enough order to find snippets when you were looking for them, but at the same time it allowed the main body of the commonplace book to have its own unruly, unplanned meanderings. Imposing too much order runs the risk of orphaning a promising hunch in a larger project that has died, and it makes it difficult for those ideas to mingle and breed when you revisit them. You need a system for capturing hunches, but not necessarily categorizing them, because categories can build barriers between disparate ideas.

commonplace book

Inventing the World Wide Web involved my growing realization that there was a power in arranging ideas in an unconstrained, weblike way. And that awareness came to me through precisely that kind of process.

.. during REM sleep acetylcholine-releasing cells in the brain stem fire indiscriminately, sending surges of electricity billowing out across the brain. Memories and associations are triggered in a chaotic, semirandom fashion, creating the hallucinatory quality of dreams. Most of those new neuronal connections are meaningless, but every now and then the dreaming brain stumbles across a valuable link that has escaped waking consciousness. In this sense, Freud had it backward with his notion of dreamwork: the dream is not somehow unveiling a repressed truth. Instead, it is exploring, trying to find new truths by experimenting with novel combinations of neurons.

mind wandering ness

When nature finds itself in need of new ideas, it strives to connect, not protect.

John Barth describes it in nautical terms: “You don’t reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously.”

embrace uncertainty..

In normal situations, the atoms remain in place, locked into a stable configuration. But when the mind wanders (and, in Poincaré’s case, when the physical body wanders), the atoms become untethered.

The problem with assimilating new ideas at the fringes of your daily routine is that the potential combinations are limited by the reach of your memory.

as the day ness. to reduce lag time. to help us believe in us.. rather than in money/et al.

so – we could do a pace-maker type jumpstart to the heart.. a placebo-like injection – for 6 mos to a year –  model this potential.. for 100% luxury for all of us. if the sync is in place..

.. the fuzziness of the results is part of what makes the software so powerful. The serendipity of the system emerges out of two distinct forces. First, there is the connective power of the semantic algorithm, which is smart but also slightly unpredictable, thus creating a small amount of randomizing noise that makes the results more surprising. But that randomizing force is held in check by the fact that I have curated all these passages myself, which makes each individual connection far more likely to be useful to me in some way

2 conversations – app – ness. groundhog day ness.

DEVONthink takes the strange but generative combinations of the dream state and turns them into software. 

Looking for something and being surprised by what you find—even if it’s not what you set out looking for—is one of life’s great pleasures, and so far no software exists that can duplicate that experience.

.. irony of the serendipity debate: the thing that is being mourned has actually gone from a fringe experience to the mainstream of the culture.

.. filters are a second-generation addition to the architecture of the Web. They are not native to it. What is native to the Web’s architecture are two key features that have been great supporters of serendipity: a global, distributed medium in which anyone can be a publisher, and a hypertext document structure in which it is trivial to jump from a newspaper article to an academic essay to an encyclopedia entry in a matter of seconds.

If the commonplace book tradition tells us that the best way to nurture hunches is to write everything down, the serendipity engine of the Web suggests a parallel directive: look everything up.

Ironically, those walls have been erected with the explicit aim of encouraging innovation. They go by many names: patents, digital rights management, intellectual property, trade secrets, proprietary technology. But they share a founding assumption: that in the long run, innovation will increase if you put restrictions on the spread of new ideas, because those restrictions will allow the creators to collect large financial rewards from their inventions.

ownership ness

Ironically, R&D labs have historically functioned as a kind of idea lockbox;

Protecting ideas from copycats and competitors also protects them from other ideas that might improve them, might transform them from hints and hunches to true innovations.

security ness

.. device that could restore the faulty signal of an irregular heart, by shocking it back into sync at precise intervals. Within two years, Greatbatch and a Buffalo surgeon named William Chardack deployed the first implantable cardiac pacemaker on the heart of a dog. By 1960, the Greatbatch-Chardack pacemaker was pulsing steadily in the chests of ten human beings.

yeah.. restart the heartbeat.. with temporary fix.

pay attention to world clive

.. generative mistakes that were generative precisely because they connected to slow hunches in the minds of their creators.

.. error is not simply a phase you have to suffer through on the way to genius. Error often creates a path that leads you out of your comfortable assumptions.

fall in love with the questions.. question everything..

The groups that had been deliberately contaminated with erroneous information ended up making more original connections than the groups that had only been given pure information.

.. noise makes the rest of us smarter, more innovative, precisely because we’re forced to rethink our biases, to contemplate an alternate model..

another way

An important part of Gutenberg’s genius, then, lay not in conceiving an entirely new technology from scratch, but instead from borrowing a mature technology from an entirely different field, and putting it to work to solve an unrelated problem.

Evolutionary biologists have a word for this kind of borrowing, first proposed in an influential 1971 essay by Stephen Jay Gould and Elisabeth Vrba: exaptation. An organism develops a trait optimized for a specific use, but then the trait gets hijacked for a completely different function.

All flight feathers, for instance, have pronounced asymmetry to them: the vane on one side of the central shaft is larger than the vane on the opposite side. This lets the feather act as a kind of airfoil, providing lift during the flapping of wings. Birds that fly at unusually high velocities, like hawks, have more extreme asymmetries than slower birds. Yet down feathers that simply provide insulation are perfectly symmetrical. When your feathers are there just to keep you warm, there’s no advantage to building slightly off-kilter feathers.

Lifestyles or interests that deviate from the mainstream need critical mass to survive; they atrophy in smaller communities not because those communities are more repressive, but rather because the odds of finding like-minded people are much lower with a smaller pool of individuals.

perhaps that’s more like all of us. need to work on (bet on) sync..

Cities, then, are environments that are ripe for exaptation, because they cultivate specialized skills and interests, and they create a liquid network where information can leak out of those subcultures, and influence their neighbors in surprising ways.

what ecosystem ness

As Ogle puts it, “Once key ideas from idea-spaces that otherwise had little contact with one another were connected, they began, quasi-autonomously, to make new sense in terms of one another, leading to the emergence of a whole that was more than the sum of its parts.” It is a fitting footnote to the story that Watson and Crick were notorious for taking long, rambling coffee breaks, where they tossed around ideas in a more playful setting outside the lab—a practice that was generally scorned by their more fastidious colleagues.

.. in a slow multitasking mode, one project takes center stage for a series of hours or days, yet the other projects linger in the margins of consciousness throughout. That cognitive overlap is what makes this mode so innovative. The current project can exapt ideas from the projects at the margins, make new connections. It is not so much a question of thinking outside the box, as it is allowing the mind to move through multiple boxes. That movement from box to box forces the mind to approach intellectual roadblocks from new angles, or to borrow tools from one discipline to solve problems in another.

fractal thinking

Chance favors the connected mind.

.. from The Voyage of The Beagle: “We feel surprise when travelers tell us of the vast dimensions of the Pyramids and other great ruins, but how utterly insignificant are the greatest of these, when compared to these mountains of stone accumulated by the agency of various minute and tender animals. This is a wonder which does not at first strike the eye of the body, but, after reflection, the eye of reason.”

invisible to the eye.. self-organizing ness

.. the kind that actually creates the habitat itself. Jones called these organisms “ecosystem engineers.”

Platform building is, by definition, a kind of exercise in emergent behavior.

stacking ness – platform in each head/person

the platform builders and ecosystem engineers do not just open a door in the adjacent possible. they build an entire new floor.

aka: model another way. two-loop theory ness.

sputnik (guier and weiffenbach) revelation credited to applied physics lab.. where curiosity is facilitated in spaces of permission

.. ability to build on top of these existing platform explains why 3 guys could build youtube in 6 months, while an army of expert committees and electronics companies took 20 yrs to make hdtv a reality.

twitter – building api first, then they build on top of the api…. complete openness… the burden of coming up w/good ideas … can come from anywhere.

Davis could afford to explore the adjacent possible of jazz, to help invent a whole new genre that others would build upon, in part because he didn’t have to invent the D Dorian or the valved trumpet.

..a pattern Jane Jacobs detected years ago in urban development:

innovation thrives in discarded spaces.

It is not competition that drives that process, but rather the inventive collaborations of density.

The slow hunch he had been nurturing for twenty-five years had finally found the right connection. He took his vision of a “green” cement to one of Silicon Valley’s legendary venture capitalists, Vinod Khosla, who agreed to fund the company (which Constantz named Calera) without seeing so much as a business plan or PowerPoint deck.

.. when you don’t have to ask for permission, innovation thrives.

spaces of permission

Coral reefs created cement-like structures without polluting the environment, ..

Two things we have in abundance on this planet right now are pollution and seawater.

Google detects the link to the restaurant’s website and registers the link as a “vote” endorsing the quality..

new ways of voting… entire political system.. rather a 24/7 conversation

The information is not simply flowing in this system; it’s being recycled and put to new uses, transformed by a diverse network of other species in the ecosystem, each with its own distinct function.

.. the real benefit of stacked platforms lies in the knowledge you no longer need to have.

.. the generative power of open platforms.

Had those platforms been more proprietary ones—say, by charging licensing fees for the privilege of developing on top of them—it’s entirely possible that Berners-Lee wouldn’t have bothered creating the Web in the first place, ..

so – imagine all the tim berners lee ideas out there that are blocked by charges et al.. ie: public library access – not always so public; unis that have moneys for experimental labs/resources with low acceptance rates… and paywalls on research.. internet’s own boy, too much, et al..

The promise of an immense payday encourages people to come up with useful innovations, but at the same time it forces people to protect those innovations.

what if money

Efficiency is generally held to be a universal goal for any economy—unless the economy happens to traffic in ideas. If ideas were fully liberated, then entrepreneurs wouldn’t be able to profit from their innovations, because their competitors would immediately adopt them. And so where innovation is concerned, we have deliberately built inefficient markets: environments that protect copyrights and patents and trade secrets and a thousand other barricades we’ve erected to keep promising ideas out of the minds of others.

efficiency, ownership ness

most academic research today is 4th quad in its approach: new ideas are published with the deliberate goal of allowing other participants to frefine and build upon them, with no restrictions on their ciruclation beyond proper acknowledgment of their origin.

what am i missing here? this seems opposite of truth/reality? billion dollar business of paywall ness? no? not to mention the loopholes to get into those spaces of research. what are you missing in the every inch ness of a city..

again –

..a pattern Jane Jacobs detected years ago in urban development: innovation thrives in discarded spaces.

and then –

If you look at it all the spots in the city, there are places that are pretty much in good view but no one pays much attention to it because it’s just like a city left over.   Stéphane Malka

no doubt ideas/inventions/innovations we have today are amazing. but what might they be if we noticed more.. from unlikely places… listened more. it seems we should/could be well beyond the means we are… ie: poverty/oppression/health/et al

Neither the great political and financial power structures of the world, nor the specialization-blinded professionals, nor the population in general realize that…it is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on earth at a “higher standard of living than any have ever known”It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary and henceforth unrationalizable as mandated by survival. War is obsolete.                            -R. Buckminster Fuller

 it is not pure anarchy, to be sure. you can’t simply steal a colleague’s idea without proper citations, but there is a fundamental difference between suing for patent infringement and asking for a footnote.

2014 – seems we could/should be beyond thinking any one person could own any idea. we’re proper citationing ourselves to death. leaving a trail is great. no doubt. but ego too often gets in the way of what is described above. we’re missing us.. because of our obsession/addiction to proof/citation ness. no?

universities have a reputation for ivory-tower isolation from the real world, but it is an undeniable fact that most of the paradigmatic ideas in science and technology that arose during the past century have roots in academic research.


what if we are where we are because of this ongoing mindset that unis/academics/et-al are the places ideas happen. what if that is keeping us from listening to the ideas in our neighborhoods… and coffee shops.. and homeless shelters.. and streets… and youth. again. i think we could be a much healthier world.. if we questioned these undeniable facts. ie: so say the facts are true.. how close is that truth to our potential..? zoom out past the 4 quadrants.. what might be.. if we tapped into all the hidden spaces/minds…

i just think we’re missing so much.. no?

.. but most of the critical research that led to its development happened in the intellectual commons of university labs at harvard, princeton, and stanford. in the language of the last chapter, open networks of academic researchers often create emergent platforms where commercial development becomes possible.

intellectual commons and open networks of academic research – doesn’t explain aaron ness or jack ness or jack et al ness.

but the internet has effectively reduced the transmission costs of sharing good ideas to zero.

except when there are things like paywalls… no?

Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. – Jefferson

does this mean we have to do away with intellectual property law? of course not.

why not?

seems to all be based on market/profit.. what reasonable reason do we need intellectual property laws..? (assuming we model another way.. where money hasn’t obsessed us)

As Lawrence Lessig has so persuasively argued over the years, there is nothing “natural” about the artificial scarcity of intellectual property law. Those laws are deliberate interventions crafted by human intelligence and are enforced almost entirely by non-market powers. Jefferson’s point, in his letter to McPherson, is that if you really want to get into a debate about which system is more “natural,” then the free flow of ideas is always going to trump the artificial scarcity of patents. Ideas are intrinsically copyable in the way that food and fuel are not. You have to build dams to keep ideas from flowing.

.. the generative platform of the internet (and the web) has created a space where countless fortunes have been made over the past thirty years, but the platform itself was created by the loose affiliation of information scientists around the world, funded, in large part, by the federal government of the united states. there are good ideas, and then there are good ideas that make it easier to have other good ideas.

whoa. the fed govt that was inventing for war. which might/might not explain why there is so much inequity with the web today. no?

more important, however, the commons metaphor doesn’t suggest the patterns of recycling and exaptation and recombination that define so many innovation spaces. when you think of a commons, you think of a cleared filed dominated by a single resource for grazing. you don’t think of an ecosystem. the commons is a monocrap grassland, not a tangle bank.

what? wow.

commons ness.

i prefer another metaphor drawn from nature: the reef. you need only survey a coral reef (or a rain forest) for a few minutes to see that competition for resources abounds in this space, as darwin rightly observed. but that is not the source of its marvelous biodiversity. the struggle for existence is universal in nature. the few residents of a desert ecosystem are every bit as competitive as their equivalents on a coral reef. what makes the reef so inventive is not the struggle between the organisms but the way they have learned to collaborate – the coral and the zooxanthellae and the parrotfish borrowing and reinventing each other’s work. this is the ultimate explanation of darwin’s paradox: the reef has unlocked so many doors of the adjacent possible because of the way it shares.

what if it’s a paradox.. because the competition part is just noise.

the reef, as (what i think of as) commons – models the natural interconnectedness.. i am ness. that only has a need for competition/money/et-al when blurred/blinded/oppressed by construct upon construct of ego/control/insecurity

.. but the city itself belongs to everyone.

if it did we’d be fine now.

Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent. Build a tangled bank.

love this.

so this brilliant man.. master of ideas.. imagine him set loose in a realm that didn’t assume ie: schools, money, ..

– – – –

from list of inventions/innovations at end of book:

1560 pencil – another 200 years to eraser…

First presented in a letter in 1927, German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle stated that the more precisely the position of a subatomic particle position was known, the less precisely one could know the particle’s momentum. Interpreted in a number of ways, the most influential notion has been the idea that the act of observation changes the very object being observed.

British physicist James Chadwick discovered the neutron—a subatomic particle with no electrical charge—in 1932, putting in place some of the first steps toward the development of the atomic bomb.

First coined in 1935, “ecosystem” came to be fully defined in 1935 by British chemist Arthur Tansley as a natural system in which all physical and organic elements coexist and function as a more or less complete unit.

1989 www – Tim Berners-Lee designed the program for the w almost completely independently while working at cern (european lab for particle physics), in an attempt to create a “hypertext notebook” which was inspired by the memory of a childhood encyclopedia.

further reading:

intro: reef, city, web:

for a compelling overview of the web’s generative powers see Jonathan Zittrain’s the future of the internet – and how to stop it. for more on the evolution of software interfaces, see Howard Rheingold’s tools for thought and my interface culture. the notion of patterns of innovation is loosely based on the concept of patterns and metapatterns developed by Gregory Bateson in mind and nature. the long zoom apprach ins discusses in more detail in the apendices of my earlier books everything bad is good for you and the invention of air….. Stewart Brand’s how buildings learn.

ch 2: liquid networks:

James Gleick’s chaos and Kevin Kelly’s out of control. … wikipedia’s timeline of innovations… on power of collective decision-making, see James Surowieki’s wisdom of crowds, howard’s smart movs, shirky’s here comes.. and kelly’s out of control. jaron lanier’s critique of the hive mind appears in his book you are not a gadget, and in shorter form in the essay digital maoism. …. malcom gladwell’s take on the jane jacobsian future of workspace design appeared in the new yorker in the essay designs for working. … tim berners lee’s weaving the web tells the story of his invention of the web, along with his ideas for improving the current platform.

ch 4: serendipity:

ullrich wagner’s experiment is documented in the nature essay sleep inspires insight. robert thatcher’s study of different phase states can be found in intelligence and eeg phase reset from the journal neuroimage. for more on neurological serendipity, see david robson’s new scientist essay  disorderly genius. william james’s quote on the chaotic nature of higher mind appears in great men, great thoughts, and the environment.

ch 7: platforms:

clive jones’s organisms and ecosystem engineers….. ti o’reilly discusses the idea of govt as platform in a forbes column titled gov 2.0: the promise of innovation. an account of the redbird artificial reef can be found in ian urbina’s new york times article growing pains for a deep-sea home built of subway cars.

for more on the jacobs vision of neighborhoods as emergent platform, see my emergence.


lawrence lessig’s future of ideas. that book, along with his books code and remix, is essential reading for anyone interested in the notion of an information commons.

knowledge as a common




oct 15 2014 – debuting on pbs – how we got to now..

we make our ideas and they make us in return..

also – how we get to next

– – – –

how we got to now:

episode 1: clean

chicago lifted by jackscrews (formerly used to lift rail cars) – 1860 – an entire block – by over 6000 jacksrews


1831-1860 – cholera killed more than 140000 people in britain (still kills 100000 worldwide every yr) – cholera not in the air – but in the water – snow – to prove theory has to take a huge gamble w/own life – most influential maps ever produced.. data of deaths

john snow

made break through without knowing what it was in water that kills us –

water parks – bacterial breeding ground – 72 degree water – chlorine – lethal to microscopic bacteria – use too much and lethal to humans – so very hard to sell this idea

new tech often overwhelms old infrastructures – 19th cent – it was toilets – rather than today’s iphones – result – huge influx of dirty water – solution came from a seemingly unremarkable guy – never became rich or famous – but his work transformed america –


1908 – nj water company – leal gets the opportunity to test out chlorine – in total secrecy – leal doses the drinking water supply with potentially lethal chlorine – 200000 people – 3 months after experiment – called into court – and judge is shocked – w/in a few years – chlorination of drinking water in us is rolled out – infant mortality in america is almost halved – so saving lives but also transforming how we have fun –  a whole generation learns how to swim – private pools in 1960s.. – then w/drought – become skateboard spaces – one of 20th centuries most unlikely heroes.

annie murray – bleach for home – invented new industry – no longer just health – but clean becomes big business – whoa. then came soap opera – sponsored by soap – today cleaning industry worth 80 billion

some are saying cleaner world relating to explosion of asthma and allergies

cleanest place on planet – texas instrument microchip fabrication plant – to enter – soap is too dirty – many have fragrance et al –

dust can be so damaging – because the chips are less than a tenth of a single micron. a speck of household dust would be comparable to mt everest landing on street of manhattan

so digital revolution can only happen because we’re able to think about cleanliness…

mastering clean at the smallest scale. – from almost 200 yrs ago – wanting to keep our streets clean of dirt.

bringing clean water to every one on earth – one of the great challenges of the 21st cent

snow’s time – little more than 2% lived in cities, today more than half do. urbanization of planet would have never happened.. w/o these unlikely people.. inventors of the modern world.

nicely done Steven Johnson. grazie

taking notes for rest here: how we got to now

– – – –

how Steven got to now:


on Jon:

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how we got to here











book links to amazon

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how we got to now kindle






The predominance of simultaneous, multiple invention in the historical record has interesting implications for the philosophy of history and science: To what extent is the sequence of invention set in stone by the basic laws of physics or information or the biological and chemical constraints of the earth’s environment? We take it for granted that microwaves have to be invented after the mastery of fire, but how inevitable is it that, say, telescopes and microscopes quickly followed the invention of spectacles? (Could one imagine, for instance, spectacles being widely adopted, but then a pause of five hundred years before someone thinks of rejiggering them into a telescope? It seems unlikely, but I suppose it’s not impossible.)

Most important innovations—in modern times at least—arrive in clusters of simultaneous discovery.

They’re worth exploring because we are living through comparable revolutions today, set by the boundaries and opportunities of our own adjacent possible.

BUT IF SIMULTANEOUS INVENTION is the rule, what about the exceptions? What about Babbage and Lovelace, who were effectively a century ahead of just about every other human being on the planet? Most innovation happens in the present tense of the adjacent possible, working with the tools and concepts that are available in that time. But every now and then, some individual or group makes a leap that seems almost like time traveling. How do they do it? What allows them to see past the boundaries of the adjacent possible when their contemporaries fail to do so? That may be the greatest mystery of all.

If there is a common thread to the time travelers, beyond the nonexplanation of genius, it is this: they worked at the margins of their official fields, or at the intersection point between very different disciplines.

Ada Lovelace could see the aesthetic possibilities of Babbage’s Analytical Engine because her life had been lived at a unique collision point between advanced math and Romantic poetry. The “peculiarities” of her “nervous system”—that Romantic instinct to see beyond the surface appearances of things—allowed her to imagine a machine capable of manipulating symbols or composing music, in a way that even Babbage himself had failed to do.

.. the time travelers remind us that working within an established field is both empowering and restricting at the same time.

Progress depends on incremental improvements.) But those disciplinary boundaries can also serve as blinders, keeping you from the bigger idea that becomes visible only when you cross those borders.

That’s the beauty of the hobbyist: it’s generally easier to mix different intellectual fields when you have a whole array of them littering your study or your garage. One of the reasons garages have become such an emblem of the innovator’s workspace is precisely because they exist outside the traditional spaces of work or research.

The garage is not defined by a single field or industry; instead, it is defined by the eclectic interests of its inhabitants. It is a space where intellectual networks converge.

“The heaviness of being successful,” Jobs explained, “was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

yet there is a strange irony at the end of Jobs’s speech. after documenting the ways that unlikely collisions and explorations can liberate the mind, he ended with a more sentimental appeal to be “true to yourself”:

don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

if there’s anything we know from the history of innovation – and particularly from the history of the time travelers – it is that being true to yourself is not enough. certainly, you don’t want to be trapped by orthodoxy and conventional wisdom. certainly, the innovators profiled in this book had the tenacity to stick with their hunches for long periods of time. but there is comparable risk in being true to your own sense of identity, your own roots better to challenge those intuitions, explore uncharted terrain both literal and figurative. better to make new connections than remain comfortably situated in the same routine.

what if this thinking comes form us only knowing people as people who have been in schools et al. what if we trusted authentic, whimsy-following people. what if being true to yourself is enough.. and that’s why we’re missing it. because we aren’t trusting in that enough.. to let whimsy fill our garages with plenty of adjacent possible. what if 7 billion whimsical selves is what we need. more than enough. no?

.. if you want to have an “intuitive perception of hidden things”—well, in that case, you need to get a little lost.

– – –

back to beginning of book:

ch 1: glass

It may be more intuitive to keep historical narratives on the scale of individuals or nations, but on some fundamental level, it is not accurate to remain between those boundaries.

zoom dance ness

But the fall of Constantinople also triggered a seemingly minor event, lost in the midst of that vast reorganization of religious and geopolitical dominance and ignored by most historians of the time. A small community of glassmakers from Turkey sailed westward across the Mediterranean and settled in Venice, where they began practicing their trade in the prosperous new city growing out of the marshes on the shores of the Adriatic Sea.

ch 2: cold

..for most of his early adulthood he was an abject failure, albeit one with remarkable tenacity.

..that knowledge would plant the seed of an idea in his mind, an idea that would ultimately cost him his sanity, his fortune, and his freedom—before it made him an immensely wealthy man. can hear the voice of a young man in the full fever of conviction, closing the cognitive blinds against doubt and counterargument. However deluded Frederic might have seemed, he had one thing in his favor: he had the means to put the broad strokes of his plan in motion.

redefine nclbluxury ness

.. sometimes the sheer novelty of an object can make its utility hard to discern.

and/or sheer simplicity

Tudor’s frugal genius: he took three things that the market had effectively priced at zero – ice, sawdust, and an empty vessel –

Tudor didn’t understand the molecular chemistry of it, … for ice to melt, it needs to pull heat from the surrounding environment to break the tetrahedral bonding of hydrogen atoms that gives ice its crystalline structure.. what cools us down.

as a thermal conductor, air is about 2000 times less efficient that metal, and more than 20 times less efficient that glass…. sawdust… ensured … countless pockets of air between wood shavings…. ice reversed pattern of global commerce … value in low-energy state.. (rather than hot/high energy)… less than a century, ice had gone from a curiosity to a luxury to a necessity.

.. ideas are fundamentally networks of other ideas.

..if you don’t have the right building blocks, you can’t make the breakthrough, however brilliant you might be.

we get lost in determining/mandating the right building blocks.. rather than trusting learning/curiosity/serendipity/whimsy.. (which is one reaffirmation i love about this book/series), ie: Robert Boyle had placed a bird in a jar and sucked out the air with a vacuum pump. the bird died, as Boyle suspected it might, but curiously enough, it also froze. not wishing for killing birds.. just was the very next example in the book.. of how we can’t mandate these curiosity driven experiments.. and expect breakthroughs… et al.  – Birdseye et al

ch 3: sound

Instead of a human writing down words, a machine could write sound waves. – Edouard-Leon Scott inventor of the phoautograph – had been a student of shorthand writing.

1956. In the first configuration, the system allowed twenty-four simultaneous calls. That was the total bandwidth for a voice conversation between the two continents just fifty years ago: out of several hundred million voices, only two dozen conversations at a time.

.. for seventy years, AT&T managed to keep the regulators at bay by convincing them that the phone network was a “natural monopoly” and a necessary one.

Effectively, the government said to AT&T that it could keep its profits, but it would have to give away its ideas in return.

americans had to pay a tithe to at&t for their phone service, but the new innovations at&t generated belonged to everyone.

commons ness

(De Forest – morse code) – would later write, with typical grandiosity: “i discovered an invisible empire of the air, intangible, yet solid as granite.”

Forest first broadcast… disaster.. .. even sued by us attorney for fraud.. overselling the value of the audion in wireless technology, and briefly incarcerated.  needing cash to pay his legal bills, De Forest sold the audion patent at a bargain price to at&t.

bell labs began investigating the audion.. discover.. Forest had been flat-out wrong about most of what he was inventing. the increase in the gas flame had nothing to do with electromagnetic radiation.. gas actually made devise worse… but somehow, lurking behind all of De Forest’s accumulation of errors, a beautiful idea was waiting to emerge… the vacuum tube. (tv, radar, sound recording, guitar amplifiers, x-rays, microwave ovens, secret telephony…)

1920’s Louis Armstrong.. first african-american to host his own national radio show….not Forest’s idea of opera in your living room. .. jazz.. for the first time, white america welcomed african-american culture into its living room, albeit through the speakers of an am radio.

Radio signals had a kind of freedom to them that proved to be liberating in the real world. Those radio waves ignored the way in which society was segmented at that time: between black and white worlds, between different economic classes. The radio signals were color-blind. Like the Internet, they didn’t break down barriers as much as live in a world separate from them.

We were no longer dependent on the reverberations of caves or cathedrals or opera houses to make our voices louder. Now electricity could do the work of echoes, but a thousand times more powerfully. Amplification created an entirely new kind of political event: mass rallies..

No one recognized—and exploited—this new power more quickly than Adolf Hitler, whose Nuremberg rallies addressed more than a hundred thousand followers, all fixated on the amplified sound of the Führer’s voice.

Tube amplification enabled the musical equivalent of political rallies as well: the Beatles playing Shea Stadium, Woodstock, Live Aid. But the idiosyncrasies of vacuum-tube technology also had a more subtle effect on twentieth-century music—making it not just loud but also making it noisy.

In a real sense, Hendrix was not just playing the guitar on those feedback-soaked recordings in the late 1960s, he was creating a new sound that drew upon the vibration of the guitar strings, the microphone-like pickups on the guitar itself, and the speakers, building on the complex and unpredictable interactions between those three technologies. Sometimes cultural innovations come from using new technologies in unexpected ways.

Every genuinely new technology has a genuinely new way of breaking—and every now and then, those malfunctions open a new door in the adjacent possible. In the case of the vacuum tube, it trained our ears to enjoy a sound that would no doubt have made Lee De Forest recoil in horror. Sometimes the way a new technology breaks is almost as interesting as the way it works.

..sound waves turn out to have an intriguing physical property: under water, they travel four times faster than they do through the air, and they are largely undisturbed by the sonic chaos above sea level.

When news of the Titanic broke, just four days after his visit to the SSC, Fessenden was as shocked as the rest of the world, but unlike the rest of the world, he had an idea about how to prevent these tragedies in the future.

history needed Fessenden’s contraption.. ww1.. but those in charge were dubious of this miracle invention.

Fessenden ultimately traveled on his own dollar all the way to Portsmouth, England, to try to persuade the Royal Navy to invest in his oscillator, but they too were dubious of this miracle invention. Fessenden would later write: “I pleaded with them to just let us open the box and show them what the apparatus was like.” But his pleas were ultimately ignored. Sonar would not become a standard component of naval warfare until World War II. By the armistice in 1918, upward of ten thousand lives had been lost to the U-boats. The British and, eventually, the Americans had experimented with countless offensive and defensive measures to ward off these submarine predators. But, ironically, the most valuable defensive weapon would have been a simple 540hz sound wave, bouncing off the hull of the attacker.

Fessenden had hoped his idea—using sound to see—might save lives; while he couldn’t persuade the authorities to put it to use in detecting U-boats, the oscillator did end up saving millions of lives, both at sea and in a place Fessenden would never have expected: the hospital. – ultrasound..

The march of technology has its own internal logic, but the moral application of that technology is up to us.

aaron quote from too much quickly our ingenuity is able to leap boundaries of conventional influence.

..t’s hard to imagine anyone studying the physics of sound two hundred years ago predicting that those echoes would be used to track undersea weapons or determine the sex of an unborn child. What began with the most moving and intuitive sound to the human ear—the sound of our voices in song, in laughter, sharing news or gossip—has been transformed into the tools of both war and peace, death and life.

ch 4: clean

60 people died a day during outbreak of cholera in summer of 1854.

building by building, chicago was lifted by an army of men with jackscrews. … raising the entire city almost 10 ft on average. (landfill over pipes in street et al) – Ellis Chesbrough

In 1860, engineers raised half a city block: almost an acre of five-story buildings weighing an estimated thirty-five thousand tons was lifted by more than six thousand jackscrews.

These massive underground engineering projects created a template that would come to define the twentieth-century metropolis: the idea of a city as a system supported by an invisible network of subterranean services.

web ness

we think of cities intuitively in terms of skylines,,… today, entire parallel worlds exist underground, powering and supporting the cities that rise above them.

When we think of the defining killers of nineteenth-century urbanism, our minds naturally turn to Jack the Ripper haunting the streets of London. But the real killers of the Victorian city were the diseases bred by contaminated water supplies.

..the initial reaction from the medical community to the germ theory, the response seems beyond comical; it simply doesn’t compute. It is a well-known story that the Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis was roundly mocked and criticized by the medical establishment when he first proposed, in 1847, that doctors and surgeons wash their hands before attending to their patients. (It took almost half a century for basic antiseptic behaviors to take hold among the medical community, well after Semmelweis himself lost his job and died in an insane asylum.)

based his studies on puerperal (or childbed) fever, where new mothers died shortly after childbirth… 2 wards, one well-to-do, the other working class. … deaths from fever were much lower in the working-class ward….. elite physicians and students (in rich ward) were switching back and forth between delivering babies and doing research with cadavers in the morgue.

in almost complete secrecy, without any permission from government authorities (and no notice to the general public), Leal decided to add chlorine to the jersey city reservoirs.

drinking a few glasses of calcium hypochlorite could kill you, after all, but Leal had done enough experiments to know that very small quantities of the compound were harmless to humans but lethal to many forms of bacteria.

Leal in court – great exchange. ie: first one used to prove good or bad? no first to profit from it.. experiment is over. i believe it is the safest water in the world.

Unlike others, Leal made no attempt to patent the chlorination technique that he had pioneered at the Boonton Reservoir. His idea was free to be adopted by any water company that wished to provide its customers with “pure and wholesome” water. Unencumbered by patent restrictions and licensing fees, municipalities quickly adopted chlorination as a standard practice, across the United States and eventually around the world.

property ness

.. clean drinking water led to a 43 percent reduction in total mortality in the average American city. Even more impressive, chlorine and filtration systems reduced infant mortality by 74 percent, and child mortality by almost as much.

The people behind that revolution didn’t become rich, and very few of them became famous. But they left an imprint on our lives that is in many ways more profound than the legacy of Edison or Rockefeller or Ford.

As of 1800, no society had successfully built and sustained a city of more than two million people. The first cities to challenge that barrier (London and Paris, followed shortly by New York) had suffered mightily from the diseases that erupted when that many people shared such a small amount of real estate.

clean leads to soap, leads to soap opera, with soap advertisements.. leads to advertising..

.. today there are more than three billion people around the world who lack access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation systems. In absolute numbers, we have gone backward as a species. (There were only a billion people alive in 1850.)

The pathways and transistors through which electricity flows on a microchip—carrying those signals that represent the zeroes and ones of binary code—can be as small as one-tenth of a single micron. Manufacturing at this scale requires extraordinary robotics and laser tools; there’s no such thing as a hand-crafted microprocessor. But chip factories also require another kind of technology, one we don’t normally associate with the high-tech world: they need to be preposterously clean.

This is the full circle of clean: some of the most brilliant ideas in science and engineering in the nineteenth century helped us purify water that was too dirty to drink. And now, a hundred and fifty years later, we’ve created water that’s too clean to drink.

ch 5: time

(The lovely double entendre of “punching the clock” would have been meaningless to anyone born before 1700.) The whole idea of an “hourly wage”—now practically universal in the modern world—came out of the time regimen of the industrial age. In such a system, Thompson writes, “the employer must use the time of his labour, and see it is not wasted. . . . Time is now currency: it is not passed but spent.

(Sit in on your average kindergarten classroom and you’ll see the extensive focus on explaining and reinforcing the day’s schedule.) The natural rhythms of tasks and leisure had to be forcibly replaced with an abstract grid. When you spend your whole life inside that grid, it seems like second nature, but when you are experiencing it for the first time, as the laborers of industrial England did in the second half of the eighteenth century, it arrives as a shock to the system. Timepieces were not just tools to help you coordinate the day’s events, but something more ominous: the “deadly statistical clock,” in Dickens’s Hard Times, “which measured every second with a beat like a rap upon a coffin lid.”

The time discipline of the pendulum clock took the informal flow of experience and nailed it to a mathematical grid. If time is a river, the pendulum clock turned it into a canal of evenly spaced locks, engineered for the rhythms of industry. Once again, an increase in our ability to measure things turned out to be as important as our ability to make them.

Dennison had a vision of machines mass-producing identical tiny screws that could then be put into any watch of the same model, and machines that would engrave cases at precision speed. His vision took him through a bankruptcy or two, and earned him the nickname “the Lunatic of Boston” in the local press. But eventually, in the early 1860s,..

But there were literally thousands of distinct local times. Clock time had been democratized, but it had not yet been standardized.

(to this day, clocks in every air traffic control center and cockpit around the world report greewich time; gmt is the single time zone of the sky.)

New ways of measuring create new possibilities for making. With quartz time, that new possibility was computation. A microprocessor is an extraordinary technological achievement on many levels, but few are as essential as this: computer chips are masters of time discipline. Think of the coordination needs of the industrial factory: thousands of short, repetitive tasks performed in proper sequence by hundreds of individuals. A microprocessor requires the same kind of time discipline, only the units being coordinated are bits of information instead of the hands and bodies of millworkers. (When Charles Babbage first invented a programmable computer in the middle of the Victorian Age, he called the CPU “the mill” for a reason.) And instead of thousands of operations per minute, the microprocessor is executing billions of calculations per second, ..

not only was the earth not the center of the universe, but its rotation wasn’t even consistent enough to define a day accurately. a block of vibrating sand could do the job much better.

the discovery of the atom … led by scientists such as.. Werner Heisenberg – set in motion a series of spectacular and deadly innovations in energy and weaponry…

.. international conference of weights and measures in 1967 to declare that ti was time to reinvent time… a day was no longer the time it took the earth to complete one rotation. a day became 86,400 atomic seconds, ticked off on 270 synchronized atomic clocks around the world…. and the atomic clocks are reset every year based on the chaotic drift of the earth’s orbit.,.. like the naval navigators of the 18th cent, gps determines your location by comparing clocks. .. each  new advance in timekeeping enables a corresponding advance in our mastery of geography…

.. measuring time turns out to be key to measuring space.

..the more we build up these vast repositories of scientific and technological understanding, the more we conceal them. Your mind is silently assisted by all that knowledge each time you check your phone to see what time it is, but the knowledge itself is hidden from view.

..carbon dating not perfected till lat 1940s… determining age of earth.. (beyond biblical 6000 yrs)… oldest living things on planet.. more than 5000 yrs old.. small pines in nevada

.. the clock of the long now.. ticks once a year.. hand advances every 100 years, cuckoo comes out on the millennium.. (Kevin Kelly, Stewart Brand, ..)

ch 6: light

Today’s night sky now shines six thousand times brighter than it did just 150 years ago. Artificial light has transformed the way we work and sleep, helped create global networks of communication, and may soon enable radical breakthroughs in energy production. The lightbulb is so bound up in the popular sense of innovation that it has become a metaphor for new ideas themselves: the “lightbulb” moment has replaced Archimedes’s eureka as the expression most likely to be invoked to celebrate a sudden conceptual leap. One of the odd things about artificial light is how stagnant it was as a technology for centuries.

It would be pushing things to claim that the lightbulb was crowdsourced, but it is even more of a distortion to claim that a single man named Thomas Edison invented it.

Because the Edison lightbulb was not so much a single invention as a bricolage of small improvements, the diversity of the team turned out to be an essential advantage for Edison.

Menlo Park marked the beginning of an organizational form that would come to prominence in the twentieth century: the cross-disciplinary research-and-development lab. In this sense, the transformative ideas and technologies that came out of places such as Bell Labs and Xerox-PARC have their roots in Edison’s workshop. Edison didn’t just invent technology; he invented an entire system for inventing, a system that would come to dominate twentieth-century industry.

Edison famously said. “I am quite correctly described as ‘more of a sponge than an inventor.

A lightbulb on its own is a curiosity piece, something to dazzle reporters with. What Edison and the muckers created was much bigger than that: a network of multiple innovations, all linked together to make the magic of electric light safe and affordable.

..ultimately a problem of imagination. Unless you walked through the streets of Five Points after midnight, or descended into the dark recesses of interior apartments populated by multiple families at a time, you simply couldn’t imagine the conditions; they were too far removed from the day-to-day experience of most Americans, or at least most voting Americans. And so the political mandate to clean up the cities never quite amassed enough support to overcome the barriers of remote indifference.

This was Riis’s great stumbling block: as far as photography was concerned, the most important environments in the city—in fact, some of the most important new living quarters in the world—were literally invisible. They couldn’t be seen.

(stories of firing the flash from a al.. so getting pictures w/o permission and unexpected and instilling fear.. in order to help)

Riis’s books and lectures—and the riveting images they contained—helped create a massive shift in public opinion, and set the stage for one of the great periods of social reform in American history. Within a decade of their publication, Riis’s images built support for the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901,

We like to organize the world into neat categories: photography goes here, politics there. But the history of Blitzlicht reminds us that ideas always travel in networks.

The march of technology expands the space of possibility around us, but how we explore that space is up to us.

1968. Brown and Venturi had sensed that there was a new visual language emerging in that glittering desert oasis, one that didn’t fit well with the existing languages of modernist design.

vegas – neon – all around us – we breathe it in – turned to visual language et al..

“When something as closely related to signaling and communication as this comes along,” Pierce explained at the time, “and something is new and little understood, and you have the people who can do something about it, you’d just better do it, and worry later just about the details of why you went into it.”

like the chlorine guy.. the persistence to not let them put you away.. or put yourself away.. ness. because it’s heart ache to not do the thing.. you can’t not do.

.. at NIF (national ignition facility), they are taking light full circle, using lasers to create a new source of energy based on nuclear fusion, re-creating the process that occurs naturally in the dense core of the sun, our original source of natural light. (192 lasers fire on a tiny bead of hydrogen in the ignition chamber.. multi-billion dollar complex..

The lasers have to be positioned with a breathtaking accuracy, the equivalent of standing on the pitcher’s mound at AT&T Park in San Francisco and throwing a strike at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, some 350 miles away. Each microsecond pulse of light has, for its brief existence, a thousand times the amount of energy in America’s entire national grid.

For that fleeting moment, as the lasers compress the hydrogen, that fuel pellet is the hottest place in the solar system—hotter, even, than the core of the sun. The goal of the NIF is not to create a death ray—or the ultimate bar-code scanner. The goal is to create a sustainable source of clean energy.

conclusion (again):






find/follow Steven:

link twitter


wikipedia small







via Jason Silva:

adjacent possible jason

shrinking the lag time..


interview with Brian Eno


History is on Zuckerberg’s side – beautifully considered piece by Steven Johnson on social media and civic discourse

Original Tweet:




idea sharing sites..


got to meet Steven at contactcon


june 2016 – Jon Husband – will confo ing with Vinay – highly recommends Steven’s


<emergence-connected life of brains/ants/cities> excellent book, read yrs ago. Yes re: 2 – 3 simple rules

can’t find in library or on pdf.. still looking.. reading summaries and partials..

wikipedia small

Emergence refers to the ability of low-level components of a system or community to self-organize into a higher-level system of sophistication and awareness. Johnson notes that this self reorganizing stems from the bottom up rather than directed by an external control factor. Johnson gives examples of feedback, self-organization and adaptive learning. He presents 5 fundamental principles to support his hypothesis:

  • More is different.
  • Ignorance is useful.
  • Encourage random encounters.
  • Look for patterns
  • Pay attention to your neighbors.

from what i can grab..

p 13

the slime mold oscillates between being a single creature and a swarm..

zoom dance.. ni ness.. re wire.. via hosting-life-bits.. a nother way

p 14

one of Turing’s last published papers, .. studied the riddle of ‘morphogenesis’ – the capacity of all life-forms to develop ever more baroque bodies out of impossibly simple beginnings…. it (his paper) demo’d using mathematical tools how a complex organism could assemble itself without any master planner calling the shots..


Evelyn Fox Keller

the huge ness of non-prescription

thinking of this ted: grow a forest –

pacemaker ness –

until Keller began her investigations, the conventional belief had been that slime mold swarms formed at the command of ‘pacemaker’ cells that ordered the other cells to begin aggregating. in 62, harvard’s b.m. shafer showed how the pacemakers could use cyclic amp as a signal of sorts to rally the troops; the slim mold generals would release the compounds at the appropriate moments, triggering waves of cyclic amp that washed through the entire community, as each isolated cell relayed the signal to its neighbors. slime mold aggregation, in effect, was a giant fame of telephone – but only a few elite cells place the original call..

so much Ed ness here… even Dave‘s campfire.. here..

it seemed like a perfectly reasonable explanation. we’re naturally predisposed to think in terms of pacemakers, whether we’re talking about fungi, political systems, or our own bodies.

our actions seem governed for the most part by the pacemaker cells in our brains, and for millennia we’ve built elaborate pacemakers cells into our social orgs, whether they come in the form of kings, dictators, or city councilmen. much of the world around us can be explained in terms of command systems, and hierarchies – why should it be any diff for the slime molds..?

but shafer’s theory had one small problem:

no one could find the pacemakers….

all cells in community were effectively interchangeable.. none of them possessed any distinguishing characteristics that might elevate them to pacemaker status.. shafer’s theory had presumed the existence of a cellular monarchy commanding the masses, but as it turned out, all slime mold cells were created equal.

for 20 yrs that followed publication… mycologist assumed that the missing pacemaker cells were a sign of insufficient data, or poorly designed experiments.…. the generals were there somewhere in the mix, the scholars assumed – they just didn’t know what their uniforms looked like.. but keller and segel took another , more radical approach.

Turing’s work on morphogenesis had sketched out a mathematical model wherein simple agents following simple rules could generate amazingly complex structures;

perhaps the aggregations of slime mold cells were a real-world example of that behavior. Turing had focused primarily on the interactions between cells in a single organism, but ti was perfectly resonable to assume that the math would work for aggregations of free-floating cells. and so … keller started to think…. what if shafer had it wrong… what if the community of slime mold cells were organizing themselves…

what if there were no pacemakers..?

keler and segel’shunch paid off dramatically. while they lacke dthe advance visualization tools.. they scratched out a series of equations..

p 16

.. that demo’d how slime cells could trigger aggregation w/o following a leader, simply by altering the amount of cyclic amp they released individually, then following trails of the pheromone that they encountered as they wandered through their environment.

whoa.. total app/chip idea… hosted life bits idea… trail rather than proof/prescription…
just huge

story in my head…
don’t need mtgs/assemblies/consensus… as we know them…
just need.. each unit/cell/person… listening/consensus ing/ deciding/assessing …. w self……. (self-talk as data) ……and then…. leaving a trail … (hosted-life-bits)… that can io dance…. w others…

as the day… no other orders…
from para…. importance of random wandering.. in that city/trail/forest/….

if the slime cells pumped out enough cyclic amp, clusters of cells would start to form..

ie: enough cyclic amp.. via enough people free and playing

cells would begin following trails created by other cells, creating a positive feedback loop that encourage more cells to join the cluster.

here.. i think best to zoom back to individual.. and individual consensus w/in one body/cell.. if.. my whimsy .. as the day ness.. groundhog day ness… everyone getting a go everyday ness.. creates positive feedback loop to eudaimonia.. the joining of clusters isn’t from following other people’s trails… it’s from following your own.. and tech helping us find the others.. that would be a more natural cluster.. a less prescribed/peer-pressured/credentialed-campfire/course-like… cluster..

h u g e

if each solo cell was simply releasing cyclic amp based on its own local assessment of the general conditions, Keller and Segel argued in a paper published in 1969, then the larger slime mold community might well be able to aggregate based on global changes in the environment – all w/o a pacemaker cell calling the shots.

ginormous.. as this is where ongoing/re-generating/authentic/ginormously-small energy comes from as well..


h   u   g   e

the response was very interesting, keller says now.. for anyone who understood applied mathematics, or had any experience in fluid dynamics, this was old hat tot hem. but to biologists, it didn’t make any sense. i would give seminars to biologists, and they’d say, ‘so” where’s the founder cell” where’s the pacemaker?’ it didn’t provide any satisfaction to he whatsoever.. indeed the pacemaker hypothesis would continue as the reugning model for another decade, util a series of experiments convincingly proved that the slime mold cells were organizing from below..

it amazes me how difficult it is for people to think int terms of collective phenomenon, keller says today

… keller’s colleague at mit – mitch resnick.. developed a computer simulation of slime mold cells aggregating, allowing students to explore the eerie, invisible hand of self-org by altering the number of cells in the environment, and levels of cyclic amp distributed…….. some of today’s most popular computer games resemble slime mold cells because they are loosely based on equation that keller and segel formulated by hand in late sixties

p 19

the movement from low-level rules to higher – level sophistication is what we call emergence….. .. it wouldn’t truly be considered emergent until those local interactions resulted in some kind of discernible macrobehavior

p 20

emergent complexity w/o adaptation is like the intricate crystals formed by a snowflake: it’s a beautiful pattern, but it has no function..the forms of emergent behavior that we’ll examine in this book show the distinctive quality of growing smarter over time, and of responding to the specific and changing needs of their environment

p 21

for as long as complex organisms have been alive, they have lived under the laws of self-organization, but in recent years our day-to-day life has become overrun with artificial emergence: systems built with a conscious understanding of what emergence is, systems designed to exploit those laws …up to now, the philosophers of emergence have struggle to interpret the world. but now they are stating to change it.

pdf i’m reading from now skips from p 23 to p 73

2 – street level

p 74

call is swarm logic: ten thousand ants – each limited to a meager vocab of pheromones and minimal cognitive skills – collectively engage in nuanced and improvisational problem solving.

it’s this connection between micro and mcaro organizaiotn that got Deborah Gordon in to ants in teh first place.. ‘i was interested in systems where individuals who are unable to assesss the global situatoin still work together in a coordinated way.. and they manage to do it using only local info’

Deborah Godon

local turns out to be the key term in understanding the power of swarm logic.

swarm ness

huge – self-talk as data for hosting-life-bits

we see emergent behavior in systems like ant colonies when the individual agents in the system pay attention to their immediate neighbors rather than wait for orders from above. they think/act locally, but their collective action produces global behavior.

p 75

the perceptual world of an ant.. is limited to the street level. there are no bird’s eye views .. no ways to perceive the overall system….. seeing the whole is both a perceptual and conceptual impossibility ..

p 77

this local feedback may well prove to be the secret to the ant world’s decentralized planning.

huge – self-talk as data for hosting-life-bits

2 deep/simple/open enough convos
as the day

rest of notes here : emergence


how play leads to great inventions – tedstudio – oct 2016

on inventing flute out of bones

flute to organ to keyboard… bid 19th.. use keyboard to trigger letters… fist typewriter called the writing harpsichord..

instructions encoded in music box.. programmable.. whole idea of hard/software becomes thinkable.. not as instrument of war/conquest/necessity.. but from strange delight of watching machine play music..

automated flute player… to program machine to make cloth.. threads..

babbage first analytical engine.. punch cards

what really made the modern computer possible..  yes military important.. but inventing also required other things.. flute playing..weaving.. et al

necessity isn’t always the mother of invention.. playful state of mind is fundamentally exploratory.. and that seeking.. led us to profound breakthroughs..

rev of everyday life

seemed not useful in any serious way.. you’ll find the future wherever people are having the most fun

as the day..aka: not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake