How Do I See What You See?


Friday, 9.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality. – Nikos Kazantzakis

Once upon a time things like chaos theory and complexity theory seemed very interesting.

They seemed to show so much promise at explaining the world around us.

Chaos, after all, is like the weather – made up of so many unpredictable interactions that it’s incredibly hard to predict what’s going to happen next.

But then, on the edge of chaos, you have complexity.

The space where complex behaviour emerges, like the Mandelbrot set, or like flocking behaviour from the application of simple rules.

But then you realise that such theories only explain some of the physical world around us.

They don’t explain the downright weird behaviour of people…

Or the perfectly normal behaviour of people, seen from a different point of view.

For example, when climate activists shut down London demanding the UK get rid of all carbon emissions by 2025 some people thought that was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Others thought it selfish and short-sighted.

Others thought the sentiment right but disagreed with the timescales.

Who is right?

What happens is that people always see things from a point of view, through a lens tinted a particular colour.

And it’s not easy to look at things from a different point of view, especially if you have emotions and identity and belief embedded in a particular one.

The only way to resolve this is through dialogue – once you have realised that you don’t think the same way and regretfully have given up on the idea of simply carting everyone who disagrees with you to a re-education camp.

We probably spend less time on learning how to better conduct dialogue than we should.

A paper by Rousseau, Billingham and Calvo-Amodio sums up the problem.

They say that if you use a term it invokes a concept in your mind – a set of related ideas.

The concept models something in the real world.

And the term refers to something in the real world.

A simple model – and according to some points of view really very wrong.

Take a term like Collaborative Conceptual Modelling (CCM), something that Barry Newell and Katrina Proust have written about.

If you read their material CCM is a way of creating models.

The real world has people stood together creating models – collaboratively conceptualising a model.

Bear with me…

The term CCM could invoke a concept of a model, as shown in the picture.

The conceptual model, however, is not a model of real life because real life is about a group of people standing together creating the conceptual model.

There is a difference.

Okay, this is pedantic, and why does it matter anyway?

It matters because the other thing that Newell came up with was the concept of a ‘Powerful Idea’.

Now, that’s a nice term.

A Powerful Idea is one that can be shared – one that brings together different viewpoint and reconciles them, creating a new, common one.

But it’s wickedly hard to do.

And really easy to get wrong.

But that shouldn’t stop us from trying – because there are a lot of areas in the world now where we’ll only make real progress through dialogue.

And so we’re going to have to try and do it better.


Karthik Suresh

References Rousseau, D.; Billingham, J.; Calvo-Amodio, J. Systemic Semantics: A Systems Approach to Building Ontologies and Concept Maps. Systems 2018, 6, 32.

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