I had a massive conversation with Jeff Lindsey yesterday. Eight hours of non-stop education talk. Our conversation ranged from computer games, learning, history, to religion. However, we always focused on one major theme, Design. Jeff is the first Design Scientist I have met.

Most people think of design in a purely aesthetic framework. Computer graphics, art, and the shapes of consumer items, are classic examples of the popular conception of design. But design, at its most fundamental, is analysing and synthesizing systems. Design is about the understanding of interaction. This is Jeff’s and my domain.

As Design Scientist, both Jeff and I are enamored by Systems. We learned Systems Theory through different iconoclasts. Jeff learned it from Russell Ackoff, who approaches systems from an organizational management point of view, though Ackoff does discuss systems in the abstract. I found systems through Buckminster Fuller, who approaches systems from a geometric/structural approach, but again talks about systems explicitly.

This article really has no purpose other than to celebrate having met a fellow Design Scientist. And I suppose it is kind of an introduction to some useful iconoclasts. Thinking of it that way, here are a few links that discuss Systems Theory at the essence level.



  • Synergetics, a online book illustrating a system of geometry that is triangular/tetrahedrally based (stable structure), not square/cube based (unstable structure). Describes the basic interaction of systems.
  • Image Index for Synergetics, check out some of the different indices, some amazing shapes and interactions all based on the closest packing of spheres.

I drew this learning ecosystem yesterday. I’ve defined learning in this particular example as a device of information transfer.

learning ecosystem

I would have written a list, but a list has a way of undermining a grouping’s connectedness. Feel free to use this graphic at your own discretion.

Debate 2.0

April 23, 2007

I recently had an idea for an informed-debate website. Plenty of debate goes on in the world, but many of the arguments proposed are based on faith or are engineered to create an emotional effect. This would be fine as long as a place (better: many places) existed for informed discussion where people sited their sources and the validity of those sources were questioned. The academic scientific community is one such avenue, but it has insulated itself from the general public in the form of journals whose advantage is peer-review and disadvantage is a fee for casual observation. So assuming that a public forum does not currently exist that incites both fervor and reason, here is my blueprint for a debate site.

My image of the user experience begins with arriving at the site and seeing multiple discussion headings displayed on the front-page. Perhaps there is a featured discussion, highlighted as symbolic of the ideal. I click on the most interesting subject, Global Warming. I see a list of several points. Besides each point are a minimum of three sources. The first point is that global warming is man-made phenomenon. The counterpoint is that it is a natural phenomena. In counterpoint to both is the idea that it is a combination of the two. Next to the claim that global warming is a natural phenomena are three sources. Two of the studies are sponsored by the petroleum industry and have been tagged under “conflict of interest.” A new point has been raised in defense of one of the studies, and more sources have been cited in the new points defense. Admins do not move points into the central discussion unless the person gives three unique sources in their point’s defense.

This could give rise to admin abuse. To combat this, a reputation model allows a person to place a critique against the admin, but this also opens the judge to attack over the fairness of their statements. For example, in my hypothetical user experience I see the admin has a fairly good overall appraisal. There is one rather biting commentary, but the person who said it is rated as being very unfair.

Undoubtedly there are many holes in this system. How do you define a unique source? What if the community is temporarily or permanently homogeneous, skewing debate? What if people or organizations started paying admins for favors?

No matter what form it eventually evolves into it would have to keep these basic necessities in mind.

  • Multiple points of view
  • A tendency to resist (better: transform) spamesque flame wars
  • Sited Sources
  • Discussions of validity
  • Conducive to progression

Hopefully I’ll be able to get to this project one day. It would be easy to create in Ruby on Rails.

To begin, I’ve just dropped out of school to start a company that I hope will revolutionize the way people learn. (It began as an idea for revolutionizing how people form businesses, but I will save that for the next post.) I think that we can create a system where education follows desire.

In current institutional education we use curricula to guide education instead of following people’s whims. Having people do things they don’t want to do causes a lot of unhappiness and makes for a very poor form of knowledge. Often enough, the knowledge that comes out of it is of very low resolution. After an initial drop in knowledge after the course ends, they then rebuild and add to the set of knowledge when they reach the next complimentary course. Whereas when someone’s passion is heavily married to the subject of their recent study, their knowledge has a very high resolution, and the specifics of a subject are instantly accessible.

You might say that one has to get through the unpleasant parts to get to the interesting stuff, but that is a fallacy dependent on the old educational paradigm. The system should follow your desires. Let’s say you want to learn how to engineer on the nanoscale. Your path will lead to physics and math, but the way you get to those stepping stones should not create a disconnect between each of the subjects. A curricula is a static mechanism that enforces that disconnect, through the form of time and content gaps. The solution that follows the interest of the adventurer creates no such gaps because the quest itself is a cohesive system.