Problems of Cognitive Load in the Cybernetic Age
Once Western culture was primarily concerned with objects (or even persons) as resources, and in the Industrial Age, we became further concerned with energy and processes which, once they were deemed as being "well-understood", could be put to use for any of a wide variety of intentions. These intentions seemed self-evident, in as far as any singular person could justify their use for a particular personal end. Then, as public institutions began to apply these same processes to broader public intentions, a dilemma arose: who shall decide, from among all the intentions which could be pursued with public resources, ought to be so pursued for the best possible public investments and public outcomes.
Famously, Horst W. J. Rittel, Professor of the Science of Design, University of California, Berkeley, and Melvin M. Webber, Professor of City Planning, University of California, Berkeley, produced an extraordinarily seminal work concerning this very concept, regardless that it was almost exclusively written in the terms of a much earlier Industrial Age. The very tip of the iceberg which is my real concern here was already in evidence a mere handful of years after my birth: the more powerful, efficient, adaptable, and effective the methods we have at our disposal, the more that the metaphysical framework in which any such decision is made is at issue. These metaphysical frameworks consist of many familiar terms, but these terms are used in completely unfamiliar ways; are either crowded into a tiny space, with each term seemingly on top of the other, or are exploded into a vast emptiness in which each term seems to become a universe all its own. Either side of our most contentious disagreements can be argued with an exquisite poignancy, and it seems the greatest shame of all that we cannot have our cake, and eat it also.
Worse, not only can we not agree on the terms of our intentions, we cannot come to any agreement on the real nature of those few terms that we use in common in any discussion of them. Any honest third party to these debates is left to wonder if the parties arguing are truly even speaking the same language; the grammar and symbols are all the same, the processes, phenomena, and even the qualia seem to be familiar, and yet the content, meanings, or intentions could not be any more divergent or confusing. Do the debaters themselves have any clear vision of the purely conceptual relations of their terms? The rest of us are left to wonder, and some exceptional few of us reflect upon our own seemingly precise use of language.
We are at last confronted, not with Comte's "Man in Society", in which some purportedly objective standard can be applied to any and all persons, but with a wholly unfamiliar and utterly metaphysical perspective, in which each individual must decide their intentions toward Society, and to formulate these intentions in such a way as to not only be understood, but so as to have these intentions endorsed, approved, or at the very least, remain relatively unopposed. Still, we should know in advance that each individual we should hope to so appease has an agenda all of their own, and is equally burdened with the Sisyphean labor of being understood and approved, but has formulated their appeals in an equally idiosyncratic way. Is there any likelihood that our conceptualizations and theirs will meet with any greater success than the tumult of conflicts that seem to be the modern spectacle of disaster?
Is there any hope of solution? We can give names to this problem, identify its most salient parts, and perhaps even begin a discussion which recognizes this one problem as the root of our inability to coordinate our efforts in the solving of far more pressing problems, but these terms themselves must overcome the problem itself: can we even agree that this problem exists, much less come to any agreement as to its nature? I'm convinced that the problem must become so obvious in its bearing on all other affairs that it will not allow us to ignore it, but that requires the utmost patience from those of us who are already firmly convinced. Authentic Legitimacy simply cannot be bought off a store shelf, prepared for us by others as a meal, produced on an assembly line, or sewn as seed upon a field of materially dependent believers, but must be forged by the exercise of an individual's character alone. There is indeed no "Plan B", but exactly who among us is it that has a cogent "Plan A"?
In a very much longer journey toward a confrontation with, and understanding of, our own Human Nature collectively, an understanding of intentions, we have passed some historic milestones which allow us to pursue our intentions more powerfully. We do not really pretend to know the ontology of matter, but we have scientific theories; we do not know the ontology of energy, time, or change, but we have technologies which serve us well; but now, we are faced with questions of simplicity, emergence, complexity, and entropy, and their impact in subjects which previously had been considered utterly remote from them.
The valuation of the labor applied to meaning, intention, and complexity, as if it were to be valued merely as the physical labor involved in its production, is the primary cause of the failure of many systems of cybernetic content and documentation, including the ongoing failure of the Wikia platform, its content, and its documentation as well. This is the milestone against which all current and future platforms will be measured. Any platform or employer at large in the world will face the choice of paying only for "warm bodies" and only receiving warm bodies, or paying for Intention, and having a NATURAL MONOPOLY on all that Intention produces. Propaganda and Legitimacy are both the most abjectly poor substitutes for Intention.
THIS IS THE LIMIT OF UNPAID AND UNREWARDING LABOR. IF YOU INTEND TO READ MORE, I'M AFRAID I MUST INSIST THAT YOU INTEND ON PAYMENT AS WELL.