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[Music] hello out there thinkers linkers and mappers we are really happy to host a series of conversations around the topic of tools for thinking our longer term goal is to spark a diverse connected
shared memory that will help us make important decisions together our near-term goal with these podcasts is to blow more oxygen on the growing tools for thinking sector addressing key issues and talking with the people who are doing the work this podcast is
created by Beta Works a New York city-based startup Studio I'm Jerry mcculski your interlocutor and obsessive mind mapper our topic today is thinking from the bottom up our guests are soon Aarons and
Gordon brander the founder of subconscious and we're going to dive into note-taking and protocols in a series of topics that have a lot of juice for for all of us here but first
I'll ask each of our guests to introduce themselves lightly uh zunke can you say like how did you get to the the place you are now with note taking and settled custom and things like that yeah thank you for the invite
um I'm the author of how to take smart notes a book that came out of procrastinating on my doctoral thesis and also
um out of frustration of not having a good guide for students um to write papers and deal with more complex projects
love that and um you just happened to start improving your note-taking or did you hit some work that that suddenly opened this up for you or how did you trip across the what became your your sort of
methods while Nicholas Lumen um the brain behind the turtle cursing system was the author I read most I'm was very much interested in systems
theory um so it's a sociological uh Theory and in systems theory it's all about how to reduce external complexity allowing
internally complexity to build up and it took me a while to understand that his practical way of writing is very much mirroring
um the theoretical framework because in that settled question it is reducing about reducing complexity from the outside to be able to build up
complexity internally and um it took me a while to understand that this is more than just a quirky way of taking and organizing nodes
but it is much more interesting when you get into it and the reasons why it works and the connections with new ideas in learning theory and
learning research um so it kind of took on and became an interest for a while and it seemed worth writing it
down and let the world know that it kind of makes sense to think about it a little bit more deeply thank you and it's it's a rich and deep vein of ideas and practices as we'll see uh sort of through this call
um thank you Gordon uh a little bit about your path here and and also maybe your your Bridges your connections to note-taking and on some of zernka's work Gordon brander I'm a CEO of subconscious
so at subconscious we're building a worldwide web 3 font graph so you can think of this as something kind of like uh obsidian graph or roam graph uh networked thought but distributed over a
peer-to-peer open protocol um you know I I actually I spent most of my career working on the web platform and on browsers I I couldn't shake the feeling that uh we were kind of trapping
our our thoughts in little app boxes and that one of the magical things about the the early web is that it it built on top of this open protocol called http um that ended up sort of blossoming into
an enormous ecosystem so I started wondering uh what might we be able to do with a shared protocol for Thought um and actually I I uh zunka I have a copy of your book here
um this was really influential in the early stages of thinking through this the idea means of this problem space you can sort of see um maybe in this camera we've got a bunch of bookmarks here this is sort of my
heat map of insights and um one more little thing here I don't know if you can see those uh shoe boxes up on my top shelf there but that was my zetel casting that I used to develop the ideas
for for subconscious protocol so I have to say your thinking has been very influential on my own thought process love that and then then uh Luman left
behind I don't know a hundred thousand uh notes is that some large number of his sort of Life work in boxes like that I've seen seventy thousand seventy thousand sounds
right yeah published manuscripts um still in the making yeah uh Cynthia could you introduce the like subtle custom uh slip box what how do we think about it
sure um I mean it's not a technique uh Luman invented himself it's a very old technique um which is basically just collecting
standard night standardized notes in one place and um what was unique about his system is
that it was not sorted by topics but by having a fixed place within the system so he just numbered
um the notes individually usually with only one idea per note and um by changing between numbers and
letters he was able to Branch out um internally when he added later notes to an existing notes and what is special
about this system is that is very much emphasizes the development of ideas so the richness comes from being able to
add to existing ideas expanding on them and developing thoughts that can then later be turned into manuscripts articles books Etc and being able to use
information you encounter along the way when you research one paper you cannot help but encounter interesting ideas that are not
um particularly fitting into the project you're currently working on but maybe interesting for future projects and for him knowing that he will spend the
rest of his life and his whole career on writing and thinking it just kind of made sense to use all these accidental insights accidental findings to add them
to possible future projects and therefore building up a huge resource he could later draw from and that solves a lot of problems people who write often
encounter the fear of the blank page the question what to write on because you can just look up where things have kind of accumulated and especially when
you're a student getting familiar with a topic you don't know in the beginning where rich material is you don't know if there are good articles and books about the question you're interested in but
you need that you can't invent everything on your own so did it kind of makes sense to turn it around and start collecting and what you encounter doing the things you do anyway and then make
the decision on what to write what to turn into manuscript and I think that's what Gordon mentioned that it's it turns it usually top-down
process around and enables you to develop something bottom up it's it's really interesting many years ago I was a big fan of hypercard as our many people kind of in our in our little
in our field here um and I realized hyper card was stacks of cards isn't that funny and I was using hypercard in a way that I think was my own I had never heard of settle costan until much much later but I was I
created my poor man's version of that by creating little short uh unique strings that I would attach to cards so if I had new contact that I put into the contact zone of my hyper card deck I would put
nnets for neural Nets because I knew that that person was interested in neural networks and then if I searched through my stack for nnets that's not a string that occurs naturally in English and then I created a bunch of those
little strings and it's sort of a tiny bit flavored like like settle custom and I'm wondering Gordon how did you like how did doing subtle custom kind of work affect your coming up with subconscious
and how these things maybe fit yeah you know um zuka's book was great for me to find because it helped solidify a number of intuitions that I had been forming
through through my own sort of hacking on note-taking systems I hadn't been aware of Luman at the time um there's this theme throughout your your book zuka of thinking as an ambient
process uh like if I I think you mentioned like this process of sitting down in front of a blank page and having blank page anxiety uh I think we've all experienced that but it's a sort of indicator of a broken process
uh that if you have a system like settle cast and when you sit down a lot of the thinking is already done and and I had this experience actually um uh while practicing settle casting
the old-fashioned way it was sort of a personal experiment I got a bunch of index cards I I played around with luman's numbering style uh there's this very interesting kind of process by
which you file a card away uh I'm trying to remember the phrases but I think it's uh filing it where you'd like to find it again in the future something like that did I get that right yeah it's very much
like when you look for your keys it kind of makes sense to put them where you will look for them when you go out of the door um yes it's a very intuitive process like you're sort of feeling it out and I
found that it did two things for me that really um changed my creative process one was over time these little clusters would build up of related Bots and they were
themes that I I felt like I hadn't thought them before but evidently I had because they were there um the other thing that it did is as I was going through this intuitive process trying to figure out where to put the card in the shoe box
uh it was it was like I would stumble upon ideas that I had completely forgotten about and then that would spark new ideas so I'd end up in these creative flurries of like writing new cards and trying to file them it was
like a Snowball Effect it was like both very stressful and very generative um and and uh quite unique I don't feel that way when I use you know your average note-taking app the average note taking app feels
much more like uh you're sort of taking a note and throwing it into a void there's no step too right that that was a really uh kind of profound shift um and I have to say a lot of the ideas
that ended up making their way into into the protocol that we're building into the app that we're building we're very influenced by this notion of trying to close a feedback loop trying to bump
back into things that you've thought about in the past and provocative and creative ways can you say a little bit more about that Loop just about the that feedback how it worked for you can or if you can remember an example
yes I actually I would love to hear zunka's thoughts on this but I tend to interpret a lot of things through the lens of um this Theory the cybernetics theory
which is sort of the theory of feedback loops so this is looking at systems and understanding them as sort of uh recursive conversations you keep returning to the same state in the
system over and over in a loop and zettel cast in for me did this in a very clever way you would take a note and the act of having to file it and then having to think about where to
file it was sort of closing a loop between your past self and your present self because your past self took a bunch of notes um on these topics right and most of the most of the things that your
past self had done you'd already forgotten about it but the act of having to go back and find the right place to put it was actually like it closed the loop in a really interesting way one of the
insights that I've gleaned from cybernetics is that um sort of non-linear energy in systems always comes from feedback so my takeaway from this is that if my note-taking practice felt like a slog it
meant that there was a broken feedback loop somewhere um I see Jerry giving the jazz hands and uh I I noticed too sunka that use this concept of a feedback loop all over your
book and I'm wondering if any of that Rings true to you and if if that was part of your thinking or the monsie it's really interesting that he mentioned that and cybernetics is where
systems theory comes from so it draws a lot from the early cybernetics ideas so um the concept of feedback loops and
having processes of iteration um so change that is not genuinely new in itself but um in iteration from something old newly
assembled that that's all part of lumens um toolbox of thinking so it's suddenly no coincidence that it resonates with you on that level the other thing I find
really interesting is what you said earlier about the difference between how people think they think and process and how they actually do that so this
discovery of well there's a cluster building up of ideas I wasn't aware I was thinking about that and often we don't see thinking as kind
of procedural task in itself that has a lot of automatic components to it it's so easy to think about thinking as everything that's conscious but that's not true even highly abstract
scientific theoretical thinking has a lot of intuitive components and writing them down and putting them into a system helps with ex making them explicit and
only having them explicit in front of your eyes allows you to Tinker with them and realize that your thinking process is actually a little bit different to what you think it is and for me it was interesting because I
was working on um History of Science and how people describe how they came to their insights and what you can gather from the records how
different it is so it does resonate with my own experience including discovering that you had thoughts before when you write them down and tried to integrate them into the system and see oh oh it's
it's already there and often my experiences it wasn't even thought by myself it was someone else and I kind of absorbed it and turned it into my own idea it's really interesting how this
landscape of ideas emerges and evolves and I'm I'm wondering because subtle custom is a slip box and it's very much about boxes but I'm wondering if either of you ends up wishing that it wasn't a box that it was something else like a
murder board you know how they have crime shows where there's photographs with pins and lot you know yarn that connects all the ideas like or or a space a 3D space in which you could sort of wander and stare up at the things do
you do you ever find yourself wishing for those things or are you happy that these things these these nuggets of notes are sort of contained within a simple thing like like boxes of slips I
find that that's an open question and I'm curious about um people who work on mind map software and visualizing software and
because I often find myself visualizing uh connections separately and using a whiteboard and I like the physical space of the Whiteboard
um to look for connections and I can't do that um just looking at the screen at my settle cursing itself um so there is an interplay
um between these tools and I sometimes wonder if there is a possibility of connecting them in a smarter way than I do it um but but that's where
um technology comes into play and the other thing I sometimes wonder is about these boundaries um between the individual
subtle custom and what Gordon is working on um because in systems theory you need a clear boundary between outside complexity and inside complexity but it
doesn't have to be connected to an individual um one subject it can also be a system which contains out of a group of people
or a culture and um so so my interest in what Gordon is doing is how do you create boundaries do you think about creating boundaries
um within a fairly open space um of social notes what are your thoughts this is the open question I guess we're
exploring isn't it I've I've wanted to understand how to adapt some of the insights from the subtle casting method which um as I read it anyway was largely
developed for sort of single player context and to understand how we might adapt those ideas to a multiplayer context even potentially a massively multiplayer context like very large
crowds though I think will probably start with the smaller problem of teams um I I share your intuition here about um systems in in nature and in other
sort of complex adaptive systems they they have semi-permeable boundaries um one of the ways that that has influenced the design of the protocol we're building is we've we've created
these sort of um zones of thought semi-permeable boundary spaces that we call spheres the the protocol is called New sphere which is a bit of an in-joke means planetary
thought or planetary consciousness um and and it's really those it's sort of tapestry of little spheres each which which are owned and signed
cryptographically by uh at this point in individual in future maybe teams but the sphere is semi-permeable in the sense that um everything shares the same
peer-to-peer substrate um so I could be working on a sphere of thought Jerry could be working on a sphere of thought we could actually look at sort of the overlap between these things we could also you know you know cherry pick ideas back and forth that
would retain authorship history um I I think this is a Greenfield space I don't think anyone's really nailed it yet um but for me it felt important to start with the assumption that there ought to
be these these zones um and this is reflected all the way up at the at the highest levels of the protocol there's no um namespace that is global everything is subjective or
intersubjective there's no quote-unquote objective namespace that was sort of a deliberate choice we felt that it made sense to allow consensus to emerge from the bottom up rather than
trying to impose it from the top down but I will say we have a long road ahead of us I think to uh to figure out what works uh in sort of bringing these ideas
into a multiplayer context I'm curious It's okay if you've seen anyone else any other researchers exploring this notion of zettel Gaston in a multiplayer space well it is being discussed certainly
um and there are some experiments Rome book club for example tries to put a lot of people into modern graph and they quickly discovered that they need
some kind of standardization in notation I feel I'm not that familiar and not that immersed in it but I feel it's more
moderated so there are certain people who make them decisions on standardization while what you described feels more organically developing
um that you have the chance of a culture or a threat of in certain topic emerging and then kind of closing up
and developing their own standards and ideas which is then not bound to particular persons so that
people can enter the space learn the particular culture of it and develop it further and you need to find the balance between okay a tradition
that is still lively enough to allow new content new ideas new people to come in um but not being that open that it kind of falls apart let me take a step a little bit backwards uh maybe back to
single player how does software change the experience of subtle custom and because there you could use different kinds of software to implement it and and you know software has its things and I I use read wise and I I'm signed up on
hypothesis but I don't really use it but with either those I could highlight a piece of text and in principle that could become a note in my title custom although I I've not tried to use either
of those apps to to do subtle custom but and and then and then there's a second question lurking right behind that what happens when eight people highlight exactly the same page which you see in several you know different apps right now if you're if you're reading on
medium it'll show you which of your friends highlighted you know which paragraph in the article you're reading right now right there which is kind of cool because it's a step toward multiplayer but how does how does software change the experience you know now I
um I feel I don't have a good answer here but I will lead by saying I'm very lazy and the reason that I'm not a settle casting Pro is that the act of filing a physical card for me was both
very generative and very taxing you have to be sort of committed to it almost as a job uh as well it is it's your it's your work right it's your live with it it's your creative practice
um so part of my I think start beginning to pull the thread on what software could do in the space it's not only this question of multiplayer uh but also in what ways might we cause that kind of
bottom-up emergence in in an ambient way without uh so much user intervention now something is lost in that translation process I I freely admit but I wanted to see if I could create the zettle
experience for the lazy person like me I think lazy Mouse is really important here laziness matters because not that not that everybody's lazy but that the effort that you have to expend to create
some order out of chaos can't be you know huge can't be you can't have to climb a mountain to go get some benefits for it it's got to be pretty easy to do and aligned with how your neurons are
busy firing every day I did settle cast in our heart [Music] I wanted to experience um um the the sort of the the the the the
most basic level and understand it as a system uh but I do know there are a number of of software tools these days that make some parts of this process easier I perhaps zenke could speak more to them
but I experienced with both physical paper pen uh Turtle custom and different tools I feel it's still a trade-off there are certain aspects of writing by
hand which is distract distraction free which is just a physical way of working I I very much like
um that gets lost when I look at the screen there's also the physical arrangement of the notes you don't need to know exactly where they are I mean
you kind of know okay on the top right there is the interesting cluster and that is also lost with software at least I haven't seen
a representation of that physical experience it came to my mind again um reading Annie Murphy Paul's book on the extended mind which I find I can
highly recommend because it stresses the importance of thinking within physical surroundings and the subtle casting takes it a little bit
more metaphorically uh Thinking Inside the set of custom box but that seems to me the trade-off on the other hand you have all the advantages of being able to
do a full text search of being quicker with moving things around was having connections suggested and not having to carry around 70 000 uh notes
accessibility is big yes yeah you're not always near your your boxes exactly it is a life style decision yeah exactly exactly
but I sometimes look for kind of additions to the software experience by for example going to the Whiteboard or having a printout very early of a
manuscript draft and rearranging papers on my desk and I feel I need that but it it can be combined it works in a way we
had Alice Albrecht done an early podcast and she has a an app called recollect where you could think of Snippets that she has helped that she is building a system to help you create documents to
basically write things and you could think of each of the clips or each of the sections or each of the nuggets as a subtle custom element that's being queued up in a sequence that then makes logical sense as a paragraph as a sentence as a chapter right and and
going forward but this whole idea of atomicity like what is the what is the right chunk size the right nugget size and then Serendipity which Gordon was referring to earlier and I just want to share my screen for a second
um because um I've been using this brain thing for a really long time and it has some of these kind of aspects in a really interesting way uh tell me if you can
see my brain uh on the screen yes I see myself in the brain yeah so so this is um so here's uh ozunka and
this is my and I've got uh under settled custom fans I should also connect you here because so let's go back to uh you here you are Gordon oh great I'm on
the new version of the brain which is freezing every now and then so I need to stop sharing and crash my brain and come back uh part of what I want to show is that there's there's like a neighborhood there's a there's a like one of the one of the interesting things one of the
things that I find compelling about it is that when I'm looking at one thing I'm looking at everything around around it immediately always because that's just the way this thing presents information and that's different from I'm looking at a note or a card or a
piece and then I have to go look up and see other notes next to each other so um Gordon when you're talking about the Serendipity of when you're looking for a card you find other cards I'm I'm picturing myself in the days of your when I would use libraries and go to the
card catalog and I would leave through or go stand in in the shelves and actually oh this isn't you know here's the book I'm looking for or where's the book I'm looking for oh my gosh look at these things and we you know I think
that was a way that we all increased our Serendipity early in life but we we sort of we don't have enough of that now in our lives sorry so here's my brain back up
and I just wanted to point out a couple things here these are my notes from this call so you'll notice below this this thought uh thinking from the bottom up is where I'm putting everything related to this podcast episode including later
when we publish it I will put the video link on top of this thought Etc and you'll notice down here these are notes that I took during the conversation so this is a greensfield space nobody's nailed it yet and then I've connected it
up to Lumen who was influenced by Talcott Parsons who was an early sociologist and systems thinker who influenced a whole bunch of other people like Alfred Chandler and Robert Neely Bella and unfortunately all white men
back in the day but there's there's this whole philosophical kind of tradition that's interesting and kind of at hand I also connected it to the professor in the Mad Men because our conversation got me thinking about when Simon when uh
when the OED was developed uh basically uh there was a guy who was interned in an asylum who William minor who contributed sort of the most um the most entries to the the
dictionary and I'm wondering what was the format of the slips where everybody contributed to the dictionary because there they had set out a call basically they crowdsourced the OED and that's interesting so I'll stop with the screen
share but but the notion of adjacency and nugget size is really really interesting to me in the design of these systems and it feels to me like like there's a bunch of different ways of conquering this and we're right now in
this funny little exploratory phase where there's a bunch of different kinds of software that don't play nicely together um Gordon one of the things I love about your mission is you're trying to figure out like what rules do we need on the playground so that all these different
things might play nicely together and I'm wondering if you'd say a little bit more about that and we can wander into the multiplayer Converse yeah although I don't want to oversell it because what I'm trying to find is the minimum set of enabling roles rather
than a sort of maximal set that would force everyone in line the protocol we're building is very open-ended it's basically an envelope format that allows you to add some key
value metadata to define aversion history which ends up being quite important for sayability but also for some table six things like sync
and it adds a security layer it's quite it's quite inspired actually by by SMTP by HTTP by the packet switching very classic protocols
um and uh part of my motivation here is I have I have a friend who was part of meta web which was this knowledge graph project in the early 2000s ended up
being acquired by Google integrated into those knowledge cards that you see this is one of the largest efforts historically to build a kind of semantic web and I think often the Temptation and
trying to get these things to play together is to sort of create a universal language like a perfect language a scientific language right uh these efforts often seem not to pan out
um these these sort of top-down efforts to to codify what what um the folks at meta web did instead was they kind of ingested a very large amount of mostly coherent information and spend a
lot of time getting it to cohere in a sort of second pass um for my money I think that's the way to approach this problem as well if we can have a substrate that the apps all share
then you get what in computer science we might call um adversarial interoperability basically standards emerge in retrospect so you have a popular tool like Photoshop that
has a proprietary format called PSD then all the other competitors are like hey I'd like to steal some of those users so they enter they interoperate with PSD right they implement the the protocol and pretty soon you get to this it's not
utopian outcome but it's a better outcome where everything kind of works together pretty well um and and I think that that's kind of the pragmatic world that that I'm aiming for you know
I think there are a couple things that I do see in common with a lot of these tools so I expect we might find some interop at higher levels too to your point um a sort of unit of thought I think zinca you call them like shipping
containers for thought in the book which I thought was a beautiful metaphor it's kind of a notion that you have a single idea and you box it up um that is something that we're leaning into in the app that we're building like
the idea is to have like little small atomic units of thought I think of them as like little little genes right like and by sort of tumbling them together you you might evolve larger Thoughts
From The Bottom up and and uh that was that was actually very influenced by by zunka's book I think um this is something that zetelcaston does very well particularly because when you do it with
cards you can't write long it's not an option you have to break it down into little little chunks [Laughter] it's one of these restrictions which
actually produce a lot of freedom looking forward really to what's being developed uh in in this space and my way of dealing with it as someone
who's not actively involved in developing software is I'm trying to keep everything I do in my subtle custom as simple as possible and trying not to
ex implore all the possibilities that individual apps offer but to restrict myself very to something very closely
resembling the um original pen and paper set of cousin because my hope is that with developments like yours there will
be a standard somewhere soon that then enables you to um be more relaxed about the future developments and without locking
yourself into some kind of system I can't help but wonder how much Lumen would have loved search just a computer and its search capacity is just that might have blown his mind but but but
that simple feature that we take for granted very often is just so powerful for the kind the kind of work we're thinking about and he there were uh students of him he
um introduced them to very early um settled cousin adaptations with very simple hyper text and he was very clear about not being interested in that so
interesting right and so many thinkers original thinkers about this space uh whether it's Ted Nelson or or others or Doug engelbart you know Doug Engelbert gave us the mother of all demos which
which is the interface that we're using right this minute with each other with overlapping windows and I've got a mouse-like cursor on the screen that's all mother mother of all demos and then spent the rest of his life trying to replicate that particular exact thing on
different machines with more power instead of riffing on it in different ways with communities of other people doing stuff and so other people founded the bootstrap Institute and sort of took his ideas in different directions but
but he in some sense couldn't didn't and I'm real I'm just really interested in in the kind of mental flexibility that it takes to invent these new paradigms because as we hinted early in this conversation it feels like we're on the
threshold of somebody coming up with better ways of representing nuggets of Concepts and weaving them together into some tapestry for all of us to use together
and and my own amateur thesis on this is that we are a stupider civilization than we normally would be because we don't have a shared memory like this I think this is civilizational urgency around this topic I don't think this is a gosh
wouldn't it be cool if we took notes better kind of question I think this is a hey we could probably stop Trump from lying all the time if we had if journalists had a method of sharing what they know and agreeing to something and
feeding it into a shared memory that Steve Bannon was also feeding because he would be in the space as well with his ideas and I am just like playing out what is that what does the space look like that allows permits
contains players with extremely different goals opinions and methods to coexist and play nicely or at least if even if
some of them are not trying to play nicely so that the space doesn't doesn't fall apart and uh and dissolve into chaos because I think all of us have tried multiplayer tools that that rapidly sort of dissolve into the kind
of chaos that we're busy trying to avoid here right so what is the minimum set of protocols and rules that help us build spaces like that I think these are really important questions right now
I feel there is something on a very very low level missing um where incentives for Quality Etc are being implemented and not on a
such a high level where it's becoming clunky and about censorship and all that kind of questions but just having basic incentives to
um popularize the quality content and having that on a such low level implemented that a dynamic can emerge so
peer review um procedures and signs are so enormously clunky when you look at it and looking for something to scale it
down to to a tweet level that that is something I I'm really looking forward to um that would shift the incentives profoundly
I see tweets out there and I'm like each tweet is kind of like a subtle and it's subtle custom right you could think of the Tweet stream you could think of the Tweet stream as just an endless set of slips
floating by in a queue but then it gets really interesting because what if any one of us and when we retweet her when we pin something or you know do some other software gesture that says I'd like to either remember this or connect
it to other ideas what is that gesture like and how does that work because now it's no longer just a Tweet now it's something else and that's really interesting because because Gordon you're trying to think of each of these little nuggets or objects as just floating in some space so that
they're reusable I think in lots of different ways in Rich ways and I I love that that's a I think that's an equally important concept is the the sort of composability modularity reusability of
each of these little uh shiny nuggets of of information I I share your intuition here about the Twitter um in particular I think the interest graph is uh is a rather important tool
for Thought um that was sort of created accidentally and Twitter I think doesn't see itself as a tool for thought and actively resists it in many ways and yet you do see a little subculture of people using
it in this way almost an insettle casting like way um you know quote tweets are basically transclusions uh threads are essentially like nice little clusters of related Bots although there are some limitations
um when I look at it though I think about uh if if each of these little tweets is sort of like a a meme like a little a little idea Gene what is the evolutionary selection pressure that's
being applied to the system and and what kinds of creatures might we expect to emerge out of the primordial ooze like uh it doesn't seem to me to be really um applying a selection pressure that we
would expect to to generate sort of coherent thought it's it's often um he who dunks the most sort of gets the post Twitter points uh rather adversarial kind of in tone
um very motive like it's all about the likes you know it's all about the the retweets and boosting so retweets is a kind of um viral mechanism I think reward
uh very aggressive content because you can you can get reach by saying something Everyone likes you can also get reached by saying something everyone dislikes but you can really get reach if you say something that's like poised on
the knife's edge so that a large number of people like it and another large number of people dislike it and they'll fight over it endlessly and that's that's really what gets you the big you know sort of viral
hits um so I wonder in what ways we might be able to borrow some of these mechanisms but perhaps set up a different kind of environment that rewards um other kinds
of behavior I don't want to make too much of a normative statement here but like uh it does seem like if we want to evolve complex ideas we might be able to borrow some techniques from systems that have worked
to evolve complex ideas like subtle gas in or or like peer review in what ways might that be adapted to a sort of multiplayer context can it be made easy I think there has been actually some successful experimentation here recently
Twitter rolled out this sort of fact checking a tool where you can essentially crowdsource uh context for a viral tweet this seems to work much
better than I would expect um I feel that the space of mechanisms like this has barely been explored yet um but it does feel crucial that we figure out how to think together over
the network we sort of have whole planet challenges ahead of us like climate change right um like biodiversity loss like how are we going to tackle those if we can't think at a similar scale
absolutely uh I I totally agree I think that that is the the big um task we have in front of us because everything else is kind of dependent on
that if we want to find new big solutions for Global problems we need um spaces to explore Solutions and um you need the right incentives to do
that so thinking about these questions seems absolutely crucial to me as well and on top of um incentives of quality and fact
checking Etc it's also about not losing side of things that already work because it's still incentivized for news for new ideas
and what you mentioned earlier about that person is having old ideas resurface and having new ideas checked back with things already working
um even in science you don't have the incentives of repeating old ideas even though they are much more likely better than a new idea because they've
already proven to work and it gives you also a better idea about the state of the world when you're not only focus on things that are currently discussed
that but also taking into account solutions that already work so we don't pay attention to them anymore we seem to have this fascination with the new and this deprecation of the old and so it
seems like a lot of people are busy Reinventing stuff that's already been there before because we are all building on the shoulders of giants etc etc one of the interesting things is to understand sort of the lineage of an idea and the many different kind of
attributions that are worth thinking about as you use the idea and go implement it not that everybody needs like to be credited in the footnotes you know each time but rather that these are assemblages of insights from different
places I I when I was young I watched the the connection series on PBS that James Burke did and and that had the motivational sort of uh Force for me that Carl Sagan or Star Trek or you know
other other things had for other people and then I met tons of people who like oh my God once I read X or watched the movie you know watch Star Wars for the first time I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life
um but for me it was this threat of connections of adjacencies and conjunctions and accidents and insights that took hey I'm going to borrow from this and connect it to that and the medium doesn't let us do that we're sort
of in this as you were saying Gordon earlier we've trapped information in little app boxes right where once once they're in apps they're in that app and not in another app
and that's that's holding us back in some really interesting way um so I'm wondering um what do you both seeing the road going forward just generally like what do you wish for or what do you see emerging anything like
that what is the road ahead look for in what is the optimistic road ahead look for you I'll offer a couple thoughts and then I'd love to turn it over to zenke
um you know when I started this journey it felt like a of building an open protocol for that I felt like a real uphill battle um but I think there's a funny inflection point happening now this is
just maybe a high level observation um on the technical level there have been a number of developments around uh what um Jay Graber over at Twitter Blue Sky
called self-certifying protocols this is a little in the weeds but it used to be the case uh that to securely do something with a computer you had to essentially have some proof of authority
um now ordinarily that's fine I think um what it means though in practice is that users don't really own their data or their experience if they're interacting with the network somebody else does somebody who's running that
cloud computer but there's a new sort of uh range of cryptographic protocols one of which we're using ipfs super peer-to-peer protocol that allow you to make sort of certain security
attestations without any root Authority they use math basically they use cryptography to kind of make security guarantees now this is really low level stuff but what it does do it kind of lets us construct
protocols like new sphere protocol we're building that are kind of uh outside the reach of any particular app or player like we're building new sphere we're
building an app on top but if you want to build something on top of new sphere I can't tell you no it's just it's out there it's an open protocol um likewise if you're a user and you're putting your data into the app it's
getting persisted onto new sphere you can get it out again you can get it out again through any ipfs node there's a bunch of them out there cloudflare runs a bunch people who uh you know I don't control uh and so your
stuff kind of belongs to you in a way that it didn't in the past it's also possible to link across apps uh through this shared space in a way that wasn't possible in the past I feel this is kind of hopeful and it's
sort of um happening at this funny moment where a lot of these large web platforms uh there's a lot of drama on Twitter today uh with the Elon Musk takeover many
people are unhappy and they find themselves in the unfortunate position of suddenly realizing there's no exit right like you can't take it with you it belongs to Elon um this is you know that's fine it's a
business but it doesn't really seem like a good way to be constructing a um shared repository of knowledge for Humanity like I would much more ideally
like that to belong to everybody so you know and absolutely speaking as a technologist this is tractable in a way that it wasn't even six or seven years ago
um so I you know there's a long road ahead and a lot to do uh but I feel quite hopeful and I'm pretty excited about the people we see showing up you know on our open source project contributing um feels like perhaps there are some
marginally brighter days ahead I hope so and as Suzuka before you head into like the future um ipfs is the interplanetary file system are you wandering into that those areas is that familiar territory for you
is or is that part of like where the tech world is heading uh off off your radar right now well I kind of follow developments but very broadly and as a lay person who doesn't
really understand what's going on um but what I'm interested in Gordon um whether you see the role of Institutions
so because what you described is very much private Enterprise and I share your optimism how much still is possible and
how much of a breakthrough it would be to have a more interconnected shared information space um that is not locked in individual labs and controlled by individual companies
but what is about institutions like science like governmental institutions or existing non-governmental institutions who also develop ideas
about approaching information in a more shared thing I I'm thinking about Belling cat or forensic architecture it's an open source organizations so
is there a way of collaboration looking out for solutions they already came up with um offering technology
um so what are your thoughts on that excellent question think a social technology in Tech is is a process of institution building if you look at the bones of most of the systems
we use today uh the sort of the web 1.0 if you will um it was it it still today runs on top of shared institutions the ietf icann
w3c um I think there was a brief period between sort of that era of tech and maybe the Web 2.0 era of tech we could call it web 1.5 where we we still have that social
technology we had the Wikimedia Foundation the Apache Foundation um all of these systems these institutionalized kind of systems seem to have a lot more longevity
uh than than much of the rest of tech like who remembers Myspace uh but you know what like w3c is still trucking and so is the ITF and they're they're just quietly humming away writing these
shared standards that keep everything else running um I think it'll be a a a good challenge for us to do some institution building in the future we're already beginning a little bit of this process there are
other people in the ipfs worlds who are you know sort of contributing shared infrastructure peers to the network uh we're not the only ones there are a lot of people who do it for a lot of reasons we've been talking about sort of building an institution uh maybe call it
something like the content addressing Alliance so you could think of it as something like icann an open body that anyone can join um there's a long road ahead and we're at a very very early stage here but for
my my perspective on the matter is that this is the way you build things that last um and I I think there's a story here in which uh these institutions coexist
rather nicely with um you know sort of shorter-lived commercial uh things too like if you're thinking on the decades time scale using sort of this Stuart brandian framework of pace layers you could you
could think of the apps as being perhaps on a high level fast paced layer and and these institutions building infrastructure on a much lower sort of Bedrock level uh Pace layer and we need
both it's let me insert a little chain of thinking here because I think it's it might be useful and it's fascinating to me there's a book I read a while ago called the institutional Revolution measurement and economic emergence of the modern world
uh written by Doug Allen I think at UCLA and it was really cool it focused on the pre-modern British aristocracy and it said why do these people hunt foxes with hounds and have expensive Estates out in
the middle of nowhere why did they have inherited positions when primogenitor why did they like why did they offer their daughters to court there's a whole bunch of really weird behaviors in the aristocracy and he says this was all a
way of creating trust at a distance and he he coins the term hostage capital and he says the the crown basically had Aristocrats hostages because they were all in on being Aristocrats and short of
being executed or imprisoned they could be cut if they were cut away for having done something unfaithful to the crown they they did not get good educations the the young the young men women weren't educated at all but the young
men were busy like learning Greek and Latin and doing the grand tour of Europe they were not given practical educations and what now we would think of as management because then you might be actually full right it's very very
interesting and so I say all of that because there's a series of things we can look back on and think of as very dysfunctional that led to Rule Britannia for like 150 years and the British Empire and so now I find myself
fascinated in institutional design and I'll add a second thread in which is most of our institutions today are designed for mistrust of the average person so we build coercive systems so the compulsory education system is one
of my sort of happy targets here or maybe unhappy targets because it's it's so coercive and it creates scarcity to return and the internet and the institutions you just put in you know in the conversation Gordon are designed
from trust is what I call it the internet like the cool thing is that the ietf isn't busy inventing protocols they're busy accepting proposals for protocols that got crowdsourced and like like the threshold is hey do you have a
working protocol do you have running code and do you have a bunch of people who'll say yes this works and it works like as advertising here's what we're doing with it in which case cool what we're going to do is we're going to bless it as one of the protocols that we think is safe and useful and part of our
the suite that that composes the internet and the internet's future and that's really cool because it's different from saying hey we're going to have an institution that's going to tell us what to do in the future it's this
emergent bottom-up kind of thinking that leads to new platforms new ways of being and all of that and and the web Wikipedia the internet are all what I think of as designed from trust and sorry insert a whole bunch of things
there but but I think these things play into the future we would like in interesting ways because because there there is so much here that's about this boring sounding topic of institutional design and yet it's cool it's completely
hot like gets me all excited anyway yeah it's remarkable what a small community of practice can do given long enough time scales I think a lot of people in this sort of very utopian
movement that some people call web3 are rediscovering a lot of these things the hard way like this institutional design um uh social practice has just been lost um and we're recovering it in many ways
um but yeah I I guess I'll I'll leave it there I think we've we've got our work cut out for us but in general the things that last are things with communities of
practice and institutions around them is there anything you'd like to add or other things about the the future of the space that that matter to you yeah I was thinking about what you said about trust
and I'm wondering what is um do we think enough about um what we need in institution to be able to build them on trust so to have
self-correcting mechanisms to come back to Gordon's reference to cybernetics um it doesn't work with um fixed designs but it it you you need
Dynamic systems that are self-correcting um to build them on trust um and I'm yeah I'm I'm kind of optimistic that
um they will Outlast other experiments that won't work out that well it's it's it we're sort of pressure testing all these things right now because communities that are high trust that use
trust uh and learn what it means to do that that is not a natural gosh instinctive thing this is hard one knowledge so uh Lynn Ostrom won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2006 or
2008 for her work on governance uh governance principles for governing Commons and and around the world if you go pop the hood on indigenous ways of knowing there's a whole bunch of of peoples around the world uh who
understood how to manage Commons together and make them fruitful so that everybody could live off the commons and then we went and squished all of this and are living under a set of regimes that are are given assumptions for how
life must be you know one of the us one of the sdgs from the United Nations is poverty we we can't have people being poor and and I'm like I would love it if people didn't need money so much and
they still had shelter and food and were happy like could we could we go back to that because because that's what life was like before the Industrial Revolution is like the idea that one family would would fall off because they
didn't have money wasn't a thing now if they violated the Norms of the truck of a village they might be ostracized and pushed to go to some other Village that was a really bad punishment back in the day but right now we're busy pressure testing all these institutions and ideas
because when a bad actor shows up in a community that has these good practices they're often overwhelming uh they often have weapons that that the communities can't resist and and one of the questions is in the world of software and ideas what
are the defensive techniques that don't mute participation and generosity and contribution but instead promote uh sort of the you know the generative use of of these new ideas
that are resilient to or resistant to intentional assaults uh or what I call sometimes denial of discourse attacks right how do I flood the Zone with with so much that that you can't even
have a fruitful conversation anymore it's a legitimate strategy so I think we're we're in that world in the realm of ideas right now and I'm really interested in the connection between boxes of slip notes and those
conversations because I think that's really really important and how we clip out ideas and put them in our slips and share them with each other is a piece of how we solve this problem together yeah
and a lot is already in the title of thinking from the bottom up I think that's kind of the um common Topic in designing institutions protocols Etc
you can't do that top down um so it might be a self-reinforcing uh feedback loop that you have places to think in about how to improve the
systems we think in bottom up instead of um top down I love that um we're getting near the end of our our sort of time Gordon uh do you want to add something to that it feels like you've been thinking in that area for
a whole while I'll just offer uh going back to Eleanor Ostrom um a key condition for being able to make sense together uh and to sort of avoid that sociopathic free ride or
problem you're talking about is for communities to have semi-permeable boundaries and self-determination that basically means the community needs to own the commons not someone you know
in uh far away in Cupertino or or elsewhere it has to be something that belongs to the people participating in it um so I'm I'm rather excited for a
future where that's actually becoming more and more possible and and ironically and I need I need either of you to think of something brighter to say than what I'm about to say um but ironically uh between Mark
Zuckerberg and Elon Musk for example uh two of the wealthiest people on the planet owned two of the most popular properties where all these ideas are being disseminated shared super conducted sort of a hyper accelerated and so forth
um still even as Facebook maybe is losing some users the average monthly users uh total more than the populations of India and China combined so Facebook is the largest country on the planet and
it has a benevolent dictator named Mark Zuckerberg and I'm I'm I'm unclear on the word benevolent necessarily um but but that's the world that we're sort of facing right and all these
decentralized Protocols are a little crankier and quirkier to use and yet they offer the future that we're painting here and they care really a lot about the commons um you know and I don't know how much of
a Commons everything I've ever everybody's pouring into Facebook actually is yeah you know having an emperor might be great up until you get a bad Emperor and then it's not so great and then it's not
so great yeah that's the Romans in in politics that's called the bad Emperor problem I think you know um there are returns to scale and centralization but over long enough time
scales I think you know nature shows decentralized systems are more resilient um so I think we're we're seeing some of the uh some of the sort of web to
centralized approach to things maybe falter a little bit right now I won't prematurely call um you know call time on it uh but I think that it's pretty clear that uh one
era has sort of saturated and that something new is on the horizon unclear exactly what it is just yet um but uh it'll be different we're busy looking zunk any any closing
thoughts for this call no I really like what Gordon said earlier about um the comments and um this optimistic view about the development of a new face in technology
so um I I am really curious following what's coming up and I feel um we are
at a crossbow something new so I'm happy to be able to get a glimpse into what you guys are thinking in this area thank you so much thank you for being
being our guest here both of you um I'm excited about this whole tools for thinking space because I keep running into what I think of as bonfires on the horizon that there's there's a group of people who are The Cult of Rome
right and and busy exploring Rome and sharing stuff with each other and making it better and then there's a bunch of people who are doing subtle custom and really into it there's a you know Thiago Forte has built a second brain in his community is that there's these are sort
of bonfires and they're not really they haven't walked across like at Burning Man to the to this to the to the man to sit and meet and share their art and talk uh over a good cocktail but we're
heading right there I think that's the place that we're going and I'm very hopeful that those conversations and interactions lead us into the world we've been kind of painting on this call thank you all for listening to tools for
thinking a new podcast that might just help you with your thinking if you're part of a startup in the sector please knock on our door at betaworks.com foreign
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