Social Presencing Theater and Shadow Puppet Plays

Wayang Kulit - Shadow Puppets

A year ago I blogged Social Presencing Theater, as described by Otto Scharmer:

A new social art form I called Social Presencing Theater that stages media events and productions to connect different communities and their transformational stories by blending action research, theater, contemplative practices, intentional silence, generative dialogue, and open space.

The closest thing I can think of to this is the Indonesian shadow puppet play (Wayang Kulit). In the early 1970’s I was fortunate to be able to participate in such an all-night performance at the World Music College in Oakland, California. Behind the screen was the puppeteer, casting shadows with the puppets, singing and voicing stories from the Ramayana, interspersed with jokes and comments about current politics. The gamelan held a space of short and long-cycle rhythms, bursts of action within the long now. The participants – men, women, children – wandered around both sides of the screen, as well as through a food court for drinks, tasties, and Krakatoa Kretek smokes. The mythical intersected the present, the one illuminating the other.

In our world TV and computer screens also project colored shadows, but usually with little interplay of the news with the mythic. Bill Moyers is an exception, though still in the realm of talking heads.

Zero Emissions Day, Sept 21 But this is what the world needs. For example, Zero Emissions Day is coming September 21st – basically, turn off the energy consumption, and go analog. What if people took the opportunity to meet each other, in local groups, eat, talk, and perhaps celebrate in various ways, including theater – and then fed that back to the web, the global play?

Spread the meme!

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Friend Connect Enables Inter-Site Wormholes and Creates Life!

The OpenSocial blog has a good summary of  Google’s recently announced Friend Connect in the context of OpenSocial:

… up until now, becoming a container – adding new social applications for your users – has meant having to provide your own source of personal and social information. By using securely authenticated APIs from existing social sites, Friend Connect means any website can host OpenSocial apps. 

In the future, Friend Connect will call the RESTful API for containers that support OpenSocial v0.8, helping their users share their web-wide experiences with each other on their favorite social site.

Friend Connect uses three open standards to connect to other websites. It uses OpenID for identity and logging in, it uses OAuth to authorize access to friend and profile data on existing sites that host it, and it uses OpenSocial to embed the applications within your site.

Abstractioneer puts it like this: 

In a nutshell, the OpenSocial RESTful API is a catalyst that enables participation in a much larger and more complex ecosystem.

What are the implications of this?

I think it punches wormholes to connect previously isolated sites into a network. That network is highly mediated by social identities and by contracts and permissions for social graph nodes, independent of the silos hosting such nodes. And it allows embedding of socially created artifacts into arbitrary hosts. 

Such embedded social graph node representations can be said to be transcluded, so that their distributions across the network give it some sense of life.

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Albert Hofmann in the Clearing of Being

Albert Hofmann, who in 1938 synthesized the LSD molecule and in 1943 discovered its psychedelic (manifesting the psyche within/out) properties, died yesterday at the age of 102.

He was struck by the coincidence of mankind having encountered LSD at the same time as the atomic bomb was developed, and felt that it could serve as a spiritual antidote to the tendencies the bomb represented. After several decades of research into psychotherapy and states of consciousness, LSD use started becoming widespread, affecting a generation of arts, science, politics, and religion. Hofmann wrote a book, LSD, My Problem Child (online version), and commented “I believe that if people would learn to use LSD’s vision-inducing capability more wisely, under suitable conditions, in medical practice and in conjunction with meditation, then in the future this problem child could become a wonderchild.

Albert Hofmann’s career, and even his road to discovering LSD, was guided by some remarkable experiences of wonder he had as a child. He recounts:

There are experiences that most of us are hesitant to speak about, because they do not conform to everyday reality and defy rational explanation. These are not particular external occurrences, but rather events of our inner lives, which are generally dismissed as figments of the imagination and barred from our memory. Suddenly, the familiar view of our surroundings is transformed in a strange, delightful, or alarming way: it appears to us in a new light, takes on a special meaning. Such an experience can be as light and fleeting as a breath of air, or it can imprint itself deeply upon our minds.

One enchantment of that kind, which I experienced in childhood, has remained remarkably vivid in my memory ever since. It happened on a May morning—I have forgotten the year—but I can still point to the exact spot where it occurred, on a forest path on Martinsberg above Baden, Switzerland. As I strolled through the freshly greened woods filled with bird song and lit up by the morning sun, all at once everything appeared in an uncommonly clear light. Was this something I had simply failed to notice before? Was I suddenly discovering the spring forest as it actually looked? It shone with the most beautiful radiance, speaking to the heart, as though it wanted to encompass me in its majesty. I was filled with an indescribable sensation of joy, oneness, and blissful security.

I have no idea how long I stood there spellbound. But I recall the anxious concern I felt as the radiance slowly dissolved and I hiked on: how could a vision that was so real and convincing, so directly and deeply felt—how could it end so soon? And how could I tell anyone about it, as my overflowing joy compelled me to do, since I knew there were no words to describe what I had seen? It seemed strange that I, as a child, had seen something so marvelous, something that adults obviously did not perceive – for I had never heard them mention it.

While still a child, I experienced several more of these deeply euphoric moments on my rambles through forest and meadow. It was these experiences that shaped the main outlines of my world view and convinced me of the existence of a miraculous, powerful, unfathomable reality that was hidden from everyday sight.

Unexpectedly—though scarcely by chance—much later, in middle age, a link was established between my profession and these visionary experiences from childhood. Because I wanted to gain insight into the structure and essence of matter, I became a research chemist. Intrigued by the plant world since early childhood, I chose to specialize in research on the constituents of medicinal plants. In the course of this career I was led to the psychoactive, hallucination-causing substances, which under certain conditions can evoke visionary states similar to the spontaneous experiences just described. The most important of these hallucinogenic substances has come to be known as LSD.

The scarcely by chance link came about in 1943 when a “peculiar presentiment” led him to re-investigate the molecule he had first synthesized five years earlier. Somehow he accidentally absorbed a small quantity of it, experienced an altered state of consciousness, and, “immediately, I recognized it as the same experience I had had as a child”. A few days later, on April 19th (now known as Bicycle Day), he deliberately ingested what he thought would be a tiny dose, 250 micrograms, but which turned out to have a profound, even life-changing, effect.

The forest clearing experience Hofmann describes is a familiar theme in European culture, stories, and myth, and has correspondences with Eastern notions of kami and drala. The German phenomenologist Martin Heidegger describes language itself as the Clearing of Being. Many people have been led to tangible insight into the roots of both Eastern and Western experiences and practices of the sacred and of the mind/self/world mutuality through this molecule.

Deep bow in the direction of Albert Hofmann and of that forest clearing.

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Money, Scarcity, Interest, and the Web of Wealth

Bernard Lietaer and Stephen Belgin have a fascinating article, In Whose Interest? in the latest issue of Fieldnotes. They examine the nature of interest:

According to Stephen Zarlenga, Director of the American Monetary Institute, “Loans were made in seed grains, animals, and tools to farmers. Since one grain of seed could generate a plant with over 100 new grain seeds, after the harvest farmers could easily repay the grain with ‘interest’ in grain.” However, what will an ounce of silver give rise to? Once interest was applied to money, debate and confusion arose that has continued to this very day. One of the central issues of this debate was how much interest should be applied.

Two observations arise from this. First, the conventional interest meme values scarcity: when money enters the system, there is only so much of it, and the interest due on repayment of the money needs to come from the existing money pool, which means that it becomes scarcer in one part so that it can be more plentiful in another. A graph of distribution of net interest transfers across ten income categories in Germany makes this visible.

There’s a net transfer of interest from the poor and middle classes to the wealthiest income brackets, and “This transfer of wealth occurs independently of the cleverness or industriousness of the participants—a classical argument presented to justify differences in income.”

Elsewhere Lietaer has noted that money is not value neutral – it has profound effects on society. The flip side of that is that money has enormous leverage for social change – but this is rarely understood or taken advantage of.

The second observation is that on the web, giving or sharing information does not remove it from the giver. Tina Turner once said that she did not like computer music tools because all computers are good at is copying. How profoundly true! So an item on the web is like that seed that can give rise to more seeds, and not just not disappear but, to the extent that it stays connected to its children, be enriched by the info ecosystem, web mycelium, that is generated. This is close to Buckminster Fuller‘s definition of wealth as forward days of survival. I don’t fully grok this, but re-visioning and re-implementing money’s mediation of wealth seems to be part of our exploration of web society.

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Night-Shining White

Night-Shining White




唐 韓幹 照夜白圖 卷

Han Gan (act. 742–56)
Night-Shining White
Handscroll; ink on paper; 12 1/8 x 13 3/8 in. (30.8 x 34 cm)


My favorite horse of all time… The NY Metropolitan Museum of Art is showing this painting as part of Anatomy of a Masterpiece: How to Read Chinese Paintings, May 1 – August 10, 2008:

Han Gan, a leading horse painter of the Tang dynasty (618–907), was known for portraying not only the physical likeness of a horse but also its spirit. This painting, the most famous of the works attributed to the artist, is a portrait of Night-Shining White, a favorite charger of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–56). The fiery-tempered steed, with its burning eye, flaring nostrils, and dancing hooves, epitomizes Chinese myths about imported “celestial steeds” that “sweated blood” and were actually dragons in disguise.

Han Gan is also said to have preferred to live in the stables rather than in the Emperor’s household.

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Food Riots All Over the World – Map

The Guardian Unlimited offers a map of food riots, caused by steep rises in prices of staple items such as rice, in countries all over the globe.

View Larger Map

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Facebook App Spam

Facebook app spam

This is gonna devalue the Facebook, and particularly the Facebook apps, experience.

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adapting to an environment in which some kind of wrong is the norm

The current (May 2008) issue of the Shambhala Sun has a very provocative Q&A with Robert Jay Lifton, titled Finding Light in the Darkness.

Q: “After studying Nazi doctors, you said that socializing people to do evil is relatively easy. But I feel I’d never do what those Nazi doctors, for example, did. Am I wrong?”

A: “You may be right. Socialization to killing is a grave danger, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to resist. It means that resistance takes an exceptional moral imagination, and here and there I’ve encountered that. In the case of the Nazis, much of the dirty work was done by people who weren’t fanatical ideologues. They were people who were brought into and adapted to an environment in which some kind of wrong was the norm. The ability to resist often had to do with understanding in advance what the Nazis were about, and therefore anticipating what an adaptation to them would entail.”

Robert Lifton was kind in his answer. Nevertheless it goes very deep, and speaks to the extraordinary effort it takes to jump out of the bath of societal consensus reality, whether that is about Iraq (since 2001 at least), Israel/Palestine (since 1967 at least), global warming (I shudder to think how our grandchildren will see us), or about whatever it is I’m still actively ignorant.

A well-known related study is Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment.

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Thoughts on Twitter

With Twitter, the starting point is that you can write. Posting is as short and simple as it can possibly get.

After that you read (follow), and after that, with sufficient density of your twittersphere, you interact, and eventually experience interacting twitterspheres. This is the reverse of how the web has actually evolved. Tim Berners-Lee’s intention was that it be a two-way, or multi-way, medium, but in fact it quickly devolved to a publishing medium, and is only now returning to becoming truly two-way (and so it’s being called Web 2.0).

With Twitter every thought is a node, an addressable information resource capable of being richly annotated. This has the highest potential yet to create true web-mycelium – not just presence but enriching presence. Because each tweet is a node, harvesting is possible, which is what we’re seeing with the growth of Twitter utilities of all kinds.

Very exciting – these are the good old days!

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Weblogging as well as twittering

This is my fourth weblog. Its predecessors, in chron order, are

Part of the experiment is to see how twitters co-exist with blog entries. I can also post items to Facebook, but that’s still a walled garden. Ditto for Twine (although it may make its public twines world-public this summer!) which with its semantic smarts has very interesting potential. Note once, be available everywhere.

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