Collaborative Exploration

Mike Caulfield writes, My belief is that humans have a couple modes of working with truth. Some are adversarial and propagative, and some are exploratory and collaborative. The adversarial mode is killing us. post

By embracing new exploratory modes of technology use we can create a culture of exploration, just as by adopting the tools of rhetorical dominance we created an adversarial culture focused on rhetorical dominance.

These tools include wiki, Jupyter notebooks, OneNote, and similar tools, but also require that tool makers rethink their own existing tools in radical ways.


Mike's post has me wondering, how do I think?

My method, listen for the speaker's internal state, anticipate what will be said next, enjoy surprise when it is different, and then articulate that revised state into my words. This is a small variation on 'active listening'.

I perfected this habit as a student of electrical engineering. The professor would step through a proof of circuit behavior. The circuit would be a 'community' of interacting elements, some with memory, often nonlinear with feedback.

The calculus was hard. I could follow the proofs but not do them myself. So I followed carefully, guessed the next step, and then perked up when I was wrong. Being wrong meant that there was something I wanted to understand right in front of me. Right there.

I've made a habit of hanging around smart people and listening carefully to what they say. They often surprise me. Sometimes they make casual slips that I recognize as such and let slide. Other times they say something amazing, said with conviction. I ask immediately, why do you say that?

Sometimes people tell me things that they think I would want to hear. Mostly this confirms something I already know. I asked them, when you learned this, what surprised you? Then they go into interesting territory.

I launched the first ever wiki as a site for programmers to talk about programming. I instructed users, don't tell us what we should do, tell us what you did and how it turned out. Of that they are expert.

I steered the conversation by editing to emphasize startling discovery. I removed paragraphs that stated the obvious. I rearranged the remainder so that it built in an interesting way. Eventually authors mimicked what they read so my workload lightened.

Wikipedia has slightly different rules. They keep better records so this normalization of style is more obvious and has become a trademark of the site.

Wiki's simple model may not stand up to intense disinformation we see today. But tool builders wield power over their communities and should reason carefully as they push conversation one way or another.