Photo

Photography has captured our imagination for years already. It is now a daily activity of many people to “capture their experience”, if not even their existence in some photographed way. Susan Sontag (1977) coined the phrase that photography “feels like knowledge – and, therefore, like power”. You are in a relation to the world. Taking the photograph in my view is the Mephistopheles moment. You are in control of the object taken by the camera. Arranging the scenery, waiting for the perfect moment, expression, light or colours is like mastering a situation, an atmosphere, an emotion. Photographs have the power to work as document. Editing has become easy and pervasive with digital tools. However, it was always present in the traditional technical parts of shooting and developing subsequently in the dark room. Being taken on a photograph is more like the Faustian moment of realising that you are manipulated, or at risk of being made use of for some purpose unknown to you at that moment. Beware, a photograph is always just an image of an image. The photographer is the intermediate person using a specific technology to transform his perception or vision of reality into another image of it, creating a some form of virtual reality. In addition to this twofold transformation, the third transformation is historically the technical development of the negative into the print (see below). Nowadays, this is the compression and editing into a specific format. Despite these transformations, a photograph is admitted in court cases as providing evidence of guilt or to identify an illicit act (excess of speed limit). Infringements on privacy are the rule rather than the exception. Who is that person sitting next to you and at what time of the day?
I apply photographs like note-taking for my research to capture spontaneous ideas or associations which await further interpretation or serve as inspiration. Painting has been an elitist artistic practice for many years. Taking photographs has democratised the image-taking art forms. Instead of originals we have collections of photos from museums around the world. We take photos of photos to reveal the world around us and reflect on values. The social construction of the world is directly visible through the process of taking, collecting and curating photographs. Construct your own world or the world will construct or deconstruct you instead. Politicians (e.g. Angela Merkel), John F. Kennedy or historical figures, all had their defining moment condensed into one or several photographs, paintings before. Susan Sontag wrote 50 years ago: “… a photograph can be treated as a narrowly selective transparency”. The third transformation of developing and/editing shown in the images below explain what she might be understand from this citation in a technical sense. Just as courts have to evaluate whether a proof is admittable and contributing to finding the truth. Viewing photographs is a balancing act between art and truth. “Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience.” (Sonntag, p.6). Photographs document sequences of consumption, CO2 footprints we should frame this in the 21st century. Restricting print to a few “best of” was necessary to reduce the dirty footprint of photography, particularly since photos have become a mass media as much as the preferred media of masses. With photos we certify our own certificates for job applications or passports even. The “cosmopolitans accumulating photograph-trophies” we encounter in all instagram-able locations. Taking photos is like a “friendly imitation of work” (p.9), you do something useful in documenting the images of a world in danger of being lost. We can give importance to otherwise forgotten realities, attach importance even immortality to something or someone of our choice. We make history through it or try to make it at least. “When we are afraid, we shoot. But when we are nostalgic, we take pictures.” (p.9) Sontag defines photographs as part of the repertoire of surrealism (p.77 ff), “to finding beautiful what other people found ugly or without interest and relevance …”). We at risk to mistake photographs as reality and experience the original as “letdown” (p.147). The return to polaroid instant photography brings us back to the authenticity of the orginal, unique moment with supposingly unfiltered not-edited images. The true moment of having had fun or joint experience without photoshopping the missing member. I take photos, therefore I am, has become the mantra of modern societies. We tend to ignore that we are taken on photos a million more times than we take some ourselves. A question of power in the end. Edit yourself or you become edited.  (Prix du Tirage photographique BnF 2022 Laurent Lafolie, photo below).

Linguistics

The urge to program human language originates for some in the quest for better explanation or understanding, for others in the improvement of communication. Both approaches have witnessed rapid evolution in recent years. Based on linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics or neuroscientific advances, the potential of knowledge creation and communication has risen due to computational models and applications to linguistics. ChatGPT3 and Neuroflash allow us to play around with the commonly available AI-applications. Construction of a linguistically informed Glossary of political and social ideas is a specific application case. In addition to the subject/object list we may add predicates or verbs to link subjects and objects. For this purpose, we construct a basic alphabetical list below which draws mainly on action verbs and is embedded in the socio-cultural environment of the sciences in general. A categorised list of verbs, like the one from Purdue University, is helpful to draw on several relatively distinct fields. With perspective on labour market or societal relevance the list focuses on verbs related to skill sets: administrative/managerial; communication; creative, information/data; caring/helping; efficiency; research; teaching/learning; technical. The categories are not mutually exclusive and may well be supplemented by additional categories like relational skills and transformational skills. Computational psycholinguistics (Crocker, 2006 pdf-file) differentiate the “principle of incremental comprehension” (add one word at a time) from the “concentric theory of complexity” (start from complexity to specificity or vice-versa) and the “deductive sentence processor”. ChatGPT is built on the incremental approach, supposed to be the fastest and probably a more reliable computational approach. We could just attempt to use the other approaches in the simple ABC glossary of subjects, objects and predicates to test for the possibility to build no-nonsense short sentences using random choices as starting points. The Oxford handbook of psycholinguistics highlights in the final chapter the theoretical alternative of connectionism (p.811). Symbolic computation construes cognition as mental states that are symbolically represented. The sequence of operations then runs from one representation to the next one. However, the connectionist model operates more like a neural network and proceeds with the parallel processing of notions, relations or patterns. A list of predicates or verbs might do the trick: Chose a subject, chose a predicate and an object to start playing around: Subjects: action balance  corruption democracy enterprise freedom god health imagination joy knowledge law memory nature optimism policy question repairing society time union value war xeno yinyang zero.
Predicates: applies broadens creates directs establishes forms generates helps induces jeopardises  keeps likes moderates needs opposes prioritises qualifies represents strengthens tests uses varies weighs x-outs yields zigzags.
Objects:  freedom god health imagination joy knowledge law memory nature optimism policy question repairing society time union value war xeno yinyang zero action balance  corruption democracy enterprise.

Syntax

Syntax is just one of the categories of linguistics. Carl Lee Baker (1989) wrote a whole book 500 pages on just English syntax, can you imagine. I like his modesty in the introduction stating that English syntax is just a subfield of linguistics (p.12). Other languages have different structures, some might be very different from our ways to communicate even. The ways how animals or plants communicate is an exciting subfield of linguistics, psychology and biology (Carrie Fidgor, Pieces of Mind). The SPO structure of sentences is only one simple way of constructing sentences. Syntax is much more complex. The sociological aspect of linguistics and syntax lies in the “acceptability judgements”, which are present once we establish rules and sort phrases into correct or incorrect sentence structures. Norms and standardisation as well as authority to decide on correctness becomes an issue. Countries used to many dialects or multilingual populations are confronted with these issues on a daily basis. Linguistics as basis of communication is continuously present even in the mental structure. Bilingualism, tri-lingualism and their effects on minds, competences, behaviour, culture and societies are own thriving research fields. Building a sentence or a phrase, following Baker, is built around a head and their complements. Such minimal phrases are comparable to what we coin in a simplified manner the subject-predicate-object structure of a sentence. The definition of the nucleus of the structure of a sentence is also about conventions and acceptability. Staccato speech and rap-music are examples of forms of speech, which are often considered beyond the normal. Computer voices are becoming more normal as we are faced with chat bots all around us now. The image below reflects the simplified “representation of syntactic structure” (p.48 The Cambridge grammar of the English language 2002 review here). To play around with “Clause”, let us analyse the clause: I bought a shirt; I wonder what I bought. You know what I mean Klaus, it is a clause, or is it Dady gone gaga = DADA?

Hypertext

Linking information, explanation and entertainment is the power of the world wide web. The tool used for this is the hypertext format of texts and media in general. Wittgenstein was already dissatisfied not to be able to show the steps of his thinking more explicitly. In the “Tractatus logico- philisophicus (Link to pdf-file de/engl” he uses the a cube (5.5423) to explain that we see to different facts depending on our point of departure of our vision. Try it with the logo of www.schoemann.org you should realize how our vision swops from one way of viewing the cube to another. The white corner is once in the front of the cube and appears to be in the back, when you move your vision further up. In general this leads us to be careful with the choice of our point of departure, not only for our vision. Context, some say background, is important to determine starting points. Adding the hypertext markup language to a document, like in a blog entry, allows readers (+algorithms) to see the cognitive structure surrounding a text as well. Potentially as a reader you enter into a multidimensional space with each blog entry. Any encyclopedia, glossary or index has an apparent alphabetical order to entries, but the links between the multiple entries remain hidden at first sight. With use of hypertext this has changed and each entry is turned into a 3-dimensional space, for example. Additionally, all entries have different numbers of links to other entries including dead-end entries. With the structure of links it is interesting to learn about the self-referencing just as much as about the disciplinary locus of a text, chapters, a book or a library. This helps to still see the forest despite all those trees in front of us ,or we see the geological structure of the mountain while in the middle of the forest. Happy travelling in our new knowledge space!

Deconstruction

Deconstruction is a powerful tool or even method. Beyond imagineering, deconstruction in the literal sense means take to pieces. In most cases a physical object consists of several objects or parts. By deconstruction we attempt to understand the whole object as the sum of its parts. Before a new product or design is created, many scientists, engineers and artists start to deconstruct existing artefacts. Understanding how the object is assembled, for example, allows you to play around with pieces and maybe come up with an alternative way of constructing the object. The architecture of “deconstructivsm” has left us fantastic buildings. In furniture design there are also nice examples of deconstruction. Paris is a good place to study deconstruction (Explained), perhaps many still read Derrida there. It is a fruitful method beyond its engineering sense for example in law, literature or many other social science disciplines. If you are not mad yet, visit the MAD in Paris to see examples of deconstruction or construct your own deconstruction. Both have a dialectic relationship to each other anyway.

 

Action Verbs

Action words are in other words called action verbs. Each complete sentence has one. Hence, they are part and parcel of the basic construction of sentences.
“The purpose of an active verb is to create a clear, concise sentence. By using an active verb, you can eliminate unnecessary words and make your writing more direct. In addition to making your writing more concise, active verbs also add punch and clarity. They can make your writing more interesting and persuasive. Additionally, active verbs can create a sense of immediacy which is often useful in persuasive writing.  When it comes to writing, there is nothing more important than using strong, active verbs. Not only do they make your writing more interesting and engaging, but they also convey a sense of confidence and authority. In addition to being more descriptive, active verbs also add a sense of movement and action to your writing. Rather than simply stating that something exists, you can use active verbs to show how it exists. For example, rather than saying “there is a chair in the room,” you could say “the chair sits in the corner of the room.” This may seem like a small change, but it can make a big difference in how your writing comes across. Finally, active verbs can also help to set the tone of your writing. If you want to convey a sense of wit and humour, then using playful, lighthearted verbs is a great way to do so. On the other hand, if you’re aiming for a more serious tone, then using powerful, authoritative verbs will help you achieve that.”
After the 3rd sentence this blog entry (Link) has been written by the artificial intelligence app “Neuroflash”. They promise that it is not just copy and paste, but rather written following some instructions I gave like title, table of content, style and then selected among several choices. It makes sense to me, although it is just like many other textbook entries I have found on the web. It may well serve as an introduction. Lazy journalists, priests or lawyers in case they do little research will be replaced soon by AI, who else, who is next? Big brother drafts the brave new world for us already.

B for Balance

To reach a balance, to keep the balance or one’s balance, this highlights the process nature of balancing. Even the old tool of a balance (scale for weights) very much reflects the evening-out of the balancing process. It seems like a temporary balance most of the time. We might evolve from one level to another one. Especially imagining ourselves on a (body weight) balance in the morning and then throughout the year or years, this appears like a dynamic trajectory. The nature and/or nurture connection is evident. Beware to search for synonyms of “balance” on the internet. You get more than 3000 synonym (Link) meanings and 30 suggestions for definitions (Link) to contemplate on. I like the nice physical experience of balance and the simple (a bit nerdy) explanation of it. Economist get very excited about balance of payments and the ways to achieve equilibrium or equilibria. Balancing personal accounts can be a bit painful at times, but balancing in the arts gets our imagination going. Dancing is about balance most of the time. Playing with your own balance, the balance when 2 or more persons are in action, how not to be absorbed by such experiences. In music, the balance is a primary issue since Bach’s “wohltemperiertes Klavier” and balance and tension are the origin of much jazz. An image or photo might be balanced, certainly architecture is playing with or restricted by balancing acts. Herta Müller’s “Atemschaukel” has thrown us off balance for a while. History we study often with a concern for a balance of power. In peace and war times, the balance of power within and between countries or superpowers are a long-lasting research issue. At times when this balance is at risk or completely out-of-balance we are deeply concerned about the return of a balanced situation. Babies and children draw comfort from being balanced. Adults as well. Let’s try again (chanson). (balance22-venice -video).

A for Action

The A is everywhere. A is the beginning of the Alphabet, Google is our new Alphabet, we just have not realised it. A simple A-rating in investment is not good enough, AA or AAA is the goal. All this calls for ACTION. Do not be stopped in your action by reading on “Action theory” by Parsons, Rational action is the basis of most economic reasoning before the behavioural turn of economics. It is commonly acknowledged now, that rational action might not always be as rational as we want to believe it is. “Frame selection” as theory to explain our choice of action is fashionable in the social sciences. Transforming values and intentions into actions is a big challenge. Many jokes turn around this issue, like intentions to get up early in the morning. Find out whether you are an actionable leader. You should have at least a few “actionable items” on your to-do-list. Of course, Microsoft recommends actionable items to improve our productivity while spending hours on emails.
Well, early philosophers already distinguished between “vita contemplativa” and “vita activa“. A lot is about finding the right balance here and Hannah Arendt’s differentiation of active life in labor, work and action. She puts emphasis on action as a way to distinguish ourselves from others. The same thought might lead to very different actions. Hence, acting on one’s belief or values could lead to very different policies for just 2 persons. Action Artists perform even in inaction. We are back to basic questions of democratic  procedures as a form to moderate between different opinions or possible actions. Lots of other A-words come up now: ambiguity, anxiety, alienation, affirmation, affect, affection. In Greek, A might be associated with Apollo, In German with the famous “Angst”, but French is overriding all this with “Amour”.

X for Xeno

Xeno is the root of the much more commonly used words of xenophobia or xenophilia. Xenos, in its Greek original, just means guest, strangeness or coming from another place. With the awareness of coming from another place or dreaming of another place we create the link Xeno-link to migration. Everybody knows about migration experiences, be they just from one village to the neighbouring one, rural- urban migration or beyond language or legal boundaries. Interesting new perspectives on the issue are rare. To view migration from an optimism or pessimism angle is a bit like a Picasso-like view on the century-old topic. Beyond out-migration and in-migration there is the population left behind in the villages, regions, countries or nations. Optimism seems to guide the outmigrants. Realizing to become viewed and stigmatised as an immigrant might reduce optimism considerably. Pessimism might spread among the persons who do not succeed locally or to migrate in those sending regions or countries. Migration is a selection process of multiple forms. The western view of in-migration has for most parts focused on labour market related preferences. Skill shortages urge us to accept the “being somehow different” more easily. Learning to cope with this is called “intercultural competence”. In Berlin this is accessible through learning-by-doing or going to cultural events. Even there, 2 further steps are needed:
First step ahead, have more diversity everywhere, including so-called high art or centers of excellence (video xeno video22). Second step, consider it strange, if diversity is not the standard or part of day-to-day or normal life.
The performance of Mozart’s opera “Mitridate” at the Deutsche Staatsoper with performers and creators (booklet!) from all continents might be a good start to nourish xenophilia instead of xenophobia.

W for War

In Europe many people were lucky to live without the existential threat of war for a long time now. Putin has stopped this with his land-grabbing in Ukraine. We wonder why, what, when and where? War is back in our minds again. Members of the birth cohorts of the 1920s, 30s or early 40s have direct experience our traumatic memories related to war times. Some later born cohorts suffered from various forms of deprivation . Economic reconstruction or even so-called miracles may follow and can soften the traumatic experience, often by way of focusing attention on repair and new investments.
The work by James HillmanA terrible love of war” has been a difficult read. To acknowledge that “war is normal” and our mindsets should take this into account, is hard to accept. Hillman cites Susan Sontag to state that “we cannot imagine how terrible war is – and how normal war can become”. We need a leap of imagination (p. 9) to grasp the mythical element about war which seems to be beyond the rational understanding of it. Greek tragedies told us, all along for more than 2000 years. The Romans exceled in it and German perfectionism and cold-bloodedness added the most horrible recent experience of war for millions of people. Memory and historical knowledge are important to activate recall for older and learning for younger generations. (short Video clip on war and UKR)

V for Value

 

Value in its singular form refers for most people to the value of things. Since Karl Marx we have been fighting about the surplus value of a worker’s work. Nowadays, we have to deal with speculation bubbles on the value of property or even basic elements of nutrition (Water, wheat, energy). Max Weber introduced us to the rigorous analysis of value judgements. In political science the plural “values” refers to basic human rights as fundamental values of humanity. Many other associations with the letter V pop up and arouse emotions: victory, video, view(s), vision, visit, voice, vote, vulnerability.
Creating lasting value seems to transform itself into part of our system of values later on. The longitudinal dimension of value is often neglected, particularly in the short-term focus of much of economic reasoning. Value over time, in addition to the distribution question, or as part of distribution over time, excites researchers of inequality and policy design for generations. Approaching the end of the alphabet increases the stakes of the “endgame”, it seems. Value for me, might not be of value for others. I hope you have found a person that values much of the same as you do yourself.
Interpersonal value, value exchange and intertemporal value are  own fields of research. Since the Scottish enlightenment and Adam Smith’s work on “The theory of moral sentiments (TMS)”, reciprocity in value exchange has been an issue, well before the utilitarian turn in his own writings on “The wealth of nations”. Even Adam Smith refers to happiness and interest as a kind of value and “very laudable principles of actions” (part VII.ii.3.15 in TMS).
Children learn and experience value as natural part of growing up. Material things which you valued highly as toddler, you are ready to trash or exchange a couple of years later at much lower prices. Above which monetary value are you ready to trade in your humanitarian values? Never? History and bargaining theory is full of experiments and experiences that teach us otherwise. Corruption is the prominent example of exchanging or trading material value against immaterial values. Reading Kwame Anthony Appiah on “Experiments in ethics” is highly instructive. This bring me back to the economist joke I used to tell in lectures: You know that you’re an economist, if you ask your child, whether s/he prefers 20 Euros in cash, a trip to an adventure park later, a basket ball set or a pizza party for the next birthday. Economists do all this to find out about the value of each item, the preferences, the time frame of delayed reward or discounting of value also called the net-present value. Reading up to here is equal to the value of, maybe, an online bachelor in economics or social science. In your very own life review of learnings you then can estimate the value of your readings to you, your community or humanity. Alternatively, enjoy the joy of just living in peace with optimism.

U for Union

Union, understanding, undo, unknown, uncertainty, universe, urbanization, use, u-turn. All those u-words spark imagination. Additionally, the short forms of u as abbreviation for you, ur = your, youth and smartphone typing are creating for us abbreviations to communicate even faster and shorter via social media. Union is my favourite of this list for several reasons: (1) Marital union, passionate topic not only for family sociologists, (2) trade unions, as collective form to organize solidarity in and across societies, (3) European Union, the formidable tool to create, conserve and ensure peaceful developments in Europe. We have to prolong this list with the union jack, the united states, the united nations and …, please continue the list.
For me, in union I see a whole film running, a process proceeding, or persons uniting. Unionization, just like two persons deciding to pass more time together, has some magic in it. Match making is the modern term for it. No Union without reunion,  dissolving a union might be part of the process as well, as painful it can turn out to be. Most of the times we grow throughout the process. Forming a union, in all senses of the word and of all sorts of forms, is a kind of teleological urge of us as a species. We share this with many animals but have also developed strategies and weapons to force others into union. Unfortunately, no u-word without its potential to be used in the sense of abuse. Unite to defend the union of fans of unions. (Evolution of Union of Tweets own Video 12-2022). IMG_4611

Digital Technology

Im Februar 2018 hatte ich auf dieser Webseite eine kleine Veröffentlichung mit dem kurzen folgenden Text angekündigt.
“A new research paper dealing with digital technologies is now published in the Open Journal of Social Sciences. The major impetus of the small scale project was to identify the potential of digital technologies to foster democratic procedures and decision-making. The paper investigates the role of new technologies to support employees and the trade union movement.”

The pdf-download free of charge is here.

Fast 5 Jahre später bräuchte das Paper eine Ergänzung, denn es gibt wohl eine interessierte Community dafür (1000+ Downloads, 3500+ online views-reads). Insbesondere sind neben die sozialen Netzwerke diverse mediale Platformen dazu gekommen, wie TiKTok, Mastodon, Twitch, Instagram und fast schon wieder vorbei  Twitter. Ergänzen würde ich wohl auch die Notwendigkeit, digitale Technologie einzusetzen  in der Bekämpfung von Korruption. So ließe sich automatisch in einer großen Menge an Zahlungen Auffälligkeiten wie hohe Bargeldsummen leicht identifizieren und Alarmsignale senden. Ebenso (Gruppen-) Reiseaktivitäten und zweifelhafte Abrechnungen könnten leichter zu Aufmerksamkeit führen.
Eigentlich freue ich mich bereits, dass dieser Artikel in eine damals recht unbekannten, aber eben “open access publication” doch eine so große Reichweite von aktiv Suchenden und Lesenden gefunden hat. Gut, gleich im Internet zu veröffentlichen und nicht in einem überteuerten Sammelband oder wissenschaftlicher Fachzeitschrift mit Bezahlschranke versteckt zu bleiben.

S for Society

At least since the “Greek Polis” became a subject of science, the study of society has filled libraries around the world. To catch up with the social sciences view on society, we may start with foundations based on Max Weber, Niklas Luhmann, Jürgen Habermas, Ulrich Beck to then move on to my predilection with micro-level foundation of social theory based on work from James Coleman. The history of sociological ideas runs from the protestant work ethic, autopoiesis in systems theory, ethics of discourse and communicative action, risk management to “1 to 1 relationships” as pillars of theorising about society. 10.000 pages later on, you might still ask yourself the question: what practical knowledge have I gained from this. Well let’s see. Imagine you want to learn about a friend and whether s/he is really a friend. Nowadays we would start with an online-search to find profiles of a person (facebook, Instagram, linked-in, twitter, twitch, mastodon). When the first entries pop-up, we start to learn about interests, looks, friends and preferences of the person. In which social media the person is (or not) participating tells a lot. We start to build an image of the person and her/his networks and communities. Soon we start comparing the person’s world reference framework with our set of values and characteristics. Welcome to thinking about society in small, and interactions within society or between groups of society. Adding some solid knowledge about statistics and you’re ready to start the science of society.
Yet, so many still open questions. When talking about society, we have to think about the trend of individualisation and ways to keep society together despite increasing plurality of life courses. “Solitude versus loneliness” is as much a social as it is an individual based issue. Community-building with inclusion, staying-on and exclusion processes have to be studied in detail. The whole process of civilisation or the study of suicide has been a sociological topic since its inception by Emile Durkheim. Imagineering is an additional tool to speculate in a systematic way about the past and future of society. That’s where all the arts come into the picture as well. The history of art is full of perspectives on society, its splendour, the misery of individuals, communities and societies. An emotional starting point is a very valid starting point, the science of society then moves on to abstraction and generalisations as well. The challenge is, to capture audiences emotionally, with short reflections on society.

R for Repairing

Without noticing for many people, we have shifted into the repair mode. Our planet needs repair work. Well beyond the less plastic, CO2, less oil, gaz and pollution in general, we have to actively repair what we have damaged, certainly since the industrial revolution. With nuclear waste we have entered into a phase, in which repairing is not really feasible. Areas around Tschernobyl and Fukushima speak for itself. However, we seem to leave the repairing to future generations. Whereas for us currently it is an option, later on it will be an obligation.
The bionic interest has already turned to the Axolotl and Polycarpa mytiligera. Both species can repair themselves after the loss or a malfunctioning part of their body. Rather than producing externally, growing the spare part is a promising healing device. Nature provides many fabulous insights, if we were able to preserve the biodiversity. Repairing biodiversity is difficult, impossible for lost species which we do not even really know. Start to repair and build awareness that repairing can be fun. Beyond the gender stereotypes, men repair cars, women repair clothes, we have to learn from each other how to use our repair knowledge for many other things and devises. This applies even to our social, legal or economic systems. In addition to reimagining, we need repairing everywhere. I have lots of stuff to repair at home. When do you start repairing? Welcome to the next trend: the joy to repair, repairs even joy.

Q for Question

Quality and quantity or queer and query could have made valuable entries here as well. Common to all is the underlying process of questions. Questions put to oneself, to others, society or supra natural or supra national instances. Can quantity turn into quality? Is a queer perspective a new one? Is a query in a programming language the beginning of each algorithm? Questioning is a child’s “natural” approach to understanding the world. This does not stop soon after childhood, but it is occupying, if not haunting, us until the end of our life. When is this exactly happening – the end thing? Are we free to chose this? Just try to answer one of these questions and you’ll find out how one question leads to the next. We are all the same in this behaviour. However, we all find different stopping rules to the query algorithm. Religion is a fast shortcut to stop further questions. Sciences are the never, ever, ending type of questioning. Mathematics solved part of the problem. For a lot of series we are able to calculated the limit value towards which the series evolves circumventing the lack of a stopping rule. Fundamental human rights are such a far-reaching stopping rule. Just like after the French revolution, the question was, how to quickly spread the message of human rights. Didactic and paedagogics evolved in parallel. From “cogito ergo sum” to “rogatio ergo sum”.

P for Policy

Politics and policy are key elements of democracy. Agreeing that we might strongly disagree, is a virtue of democracy, particularly in order to avoid a confrontation using force. Dialectic thinking builds on the confrontation of opposite opinions originating even of the same factual knowledge. Based on different theories the same evidence will be interpreted differently. Hence, in the field of politics, where disagreement is part and parcel of the game to build majorities, policies will change. This then leads to the belief that we need a policy in each and every subject of the alphabetical list we are about to create.  There is a high risk, if you are not having a digital security policy, you will be at high risks that crucial infrastructure might not work in case of a major internal or external conflict. Candide in his small garden might run out of water to water the plants or climate change is threatening the species growing until recently. Young startups, just like ageing enterprises, persons or societies need a policy  to take care of survival, not only of the fittest. As the challenges and stakes of humanity rise fast, a revival of the policy sciences is dearly needed before the pervasive skill shortages creap into the fields of social sciences as well.

O for Optimism

Looking back at the end of every year to what happened in the last 12 months gives mixed feelings in annual repetition. Developments of nature and biodiversity are sometimes troublesome (variants of viruses like omicron). Despite wars and man-made disasters most people have a capacity to bolster with optimism. To view a glass as half-full rather than half-empty is a common description of two different perspectives on the same fact. Additionally from a longitudinal perspective it matters, whether you started from a full glass beforehand or from the empty glass. In experiments we would need to clarify the role of the starting point and evolution before the statement on the 50-50 state of affairs.
In the French enlightenment, represented by Voltaire‘s “Candide ou l’optimisme“, a critical view on the optimism of Leibniz is expressed. The optimistic claim of Leibniz, “we live in the best of possible worlds” is questioned by Candide who believes taking care of his own little garden is probably the best he can do to preserve nature and the world. These two apparently opposite perspectives and conclusions on the potential of human action we find reflected still nowadays in politics and world affairs. Do we stand up to defend human rights or do we believe the fight is futile? The optimism embedded in Ukranian culture, for example, demonstrates the power that might come out of optimism. It would even go as far as stating that optimism is a precondition for democracy, always striving for the improvement and spread of democratic procedures. Creating opportunities to more freedom to do something is the driving force besides ensuring to curb infringements on one’s freedom. Optimism is a close ally of imagination, imagination of all people living in peace. A nice sunset gives hope for a nice sunrise as well.

M for Memory

Besides the English term memory, which refers to a huge scientific literature starting with cognitive psychology, I like the French version of “mémoire”, because it is more comprehensive with additional meanings, nicely represented by Wikipedia.org. On the German Wikipedia-page you find first the reference to the children’s game memory, turning around images and memorising where the counterpart is/was (play pairs). This diversity hints towards a cultural element in memory. There is a person’s memory or mental capacity to recall and ways to remember. The latter term refers a lot more to collective memories and becomes a more debated issue. Danny Trom uses the term “split memory” in a chapter on France and the “myths of nations” (p.129-151). In David Brook’s reader on “the social animal” he states that grandmasters in chess (p.88) were long believed to have superior memory. This is actually not true as memory experiments showed, but they rather saw formations and “internal connections forming networked chunks of information”.
“Mémoire”, on the contrary, refers also to the writing of a person’s own biography. Nowadays, book shops contain whole sections of autobiographies, the most sold appears to be the one by Michele Obama recently, if I recall correctly. Among the most scandalous is the publication of the “Journal pour Anne (Pingeot) 1964-1970” by Francois Mitterand. All the autobiographical documents make explicit major parts of what might form collective memory later on.
Memory has found its way into engineering and computing. The memory effect in batteries or being “out of memory” frightens users in computing or programming. In short, I wish you the best of memories reading this page and stimulation by visiting memorials (image: Jewish Museum in Berlin 2022, Ullmann exhibition).

L for Law

Contrary to a popular misunderstanding. Law is not boring. The history of ideas is full of exiting projects based on laws. Starting with the foundation of empiricism, i.e. the comparison of laws governing the different Greek city states pioneered by Aristotle. Considering law from the perspective of legislation gives it an actionable touch and makes it more exciting to many persons. Contrary to a static perception of law, laws can be changed and are subject to interpretation continuously by courts and judges. The fascination with law might start with the philosophers of the French enlightenment like Montesquieu. “De l’esprit des lois” – explains already the need to look behind the literal text of law. What is the spirit of law, becomes the driving question. Not only the categories of countries like republic, monarchy and despotism were argued by him, but also the separation of powers into an executive, legislative and judicial power is his original contribution. These principles govern the German “Grundgesetz” and are a common understanding of the founding states of the European Union as well as a potential breaking point.
A sociological perspective on law is formulated by Niklas Luhmann (short intro in D) and highlights the danger of laws as a self-referential system. This dominated by experts who develop the system further independent of the concerns and understandings of wider society. In order to understand this concern, it is probably useful to think of climate change as an urgent problem. Bio-diversity has for much too long not been of much relevance for legal founding principles of our constitutions. In the same vein, women judges or diversity in the legal profession is a point of concern. Majorities versus minority rights create intrinsic tensions in law, legislation, execution and interpretation. Analysing the half-life of laws is interesting, i.e. how fast do they really change or get abandoned altogether. Equality in front of the law remains a thorny issue. It is a huge issue when moving from law to justice as primary concern. The most interesting point is the view of law as a changing matter, hopefully for the better, but this is another question altogether. Reveillons-nous l’esprit des lois ! (pas seulement au Reveillon).

K for Knowledge

Readers of the sociology and/or the philosophy of science or knowledge have a hard time. Each discipline is evolving at such a high speed that is terribly hard for humans to follow more than 1 or 2 fields. Perhaps the choice of Karma instead of knowledge would have made it easier here. Alternatively, in German it is easy to find many nouns starting with a capital K. Kapital, Krieg, Kritik or Käsekuchen would have been popular, I guess. Soon I shall open the comments for suggestions for additional nouns, as part of the empirical “swarm knowledge strategy” rather than the theory-driven deductive method applied in knowledge generation on my side so far.
But wait, we are already in the middle of the unsatiable quest for knowledge. On a meta-level we would deal with the multiple ways to acquire knowledge and create new knowledge. Artifical intelligence is certainly one of the hypes at the moment. New data and new combinations of data drive us forward in the expanding universe and knowledge space. We have witnessed the disappearance of the thick printed encyclopedia in most households, replaced by specilised digital dictionaries or the network society’s shared knowledge base of “wikipedia“. Knowledge is linked to the history of ideas and Peter Burke is a prominent figure to rely on as a reference in this field. 20 years after “A social history of knowledge: From Gutenberg to Diderot” he published the much acclaimed: “The Polymath. A cultural history from Leonardo da Vinci to Susan Sontag” in 2020. To synthesise across the many “monsters of knowledge” over centuries is a daunting task. I like quotes like the one from Leibniz (p.77) “the horrible heap of books that is constantly increasing” and then his own continuation: “Printing, once viewed as a solution to the problem, had become a problem itself”. The whole section is devoted to information overload. Fragmentation of knowledge into disciplines and, much worse, the manufacturing of false knowledge create new challenges to knowledge. Maybe transforming the term to “knowledges” rather than knowledge is likely to capture better the differences between artificial knowledge, created by artificial intelligence and specialised algorithms, and human based knowledge. In knowledge storage we have lost the race with computers, but in deciding what are promising combinations between different fields of knowledge, we are still a wee bit ahead of the machines. Klara tell me, where is the exit, or your synthesis of the whole lot. Meanwhile I continue to read – what? books and the like.

I for Imagination

We are all full of imagination. The human brain hardly can do without it. It could be understood as if thinking of oneself is a continuous process of imagining and reimagining oneself. We just developed or were forced to suppress imagination at various instances throughout our lives. Day dreams are rarely tolerated, starting at school, then on the job and probably for a long time also about the way we imagine our own ending or life after death. Just trying not to think, like in meditation, seems to be a very hard exercise and it demands long practice to arrive at longer durations. Abstraction is one of the ways of art to allow imagination to rule the process of creation. In view of the anniversary of Pablo Picasso in 2023, the Brussels Royal museum of fine arts is presenting a paedagogic reflection and demonstration how Picasso emerged on his way towards abstraction as his preferred way of imagination and reimagination as part of the realisation process of his art work. As part of the Cubist revolution Picasso is quoted in this exhibition on how he paints: “Je ne peins pas ce que je vois, je peins ce que je pense.” and “Chez moi, un tableau est une somme de destructions.” Nice imagination, reimagination and de-construction I would say. Like the imagination depicted above from Paul Klee reflects the accomplishment of a new form of pictural language. Try imagination, it isn’t hard to do, “John Lennon” sang once. In Brussels you can try seeing the cubist way in the Picasso exhibition, a good way to prepare yourself for the next visits of fabulous exhibitions in honor of Picasso in 2023.

H for Health

Health is not just a personal issue. Of course, in modern times most people are primarily concerned with their very own health. Particularly, if pain is involved, we tend to put ourselves first. Only various religions and ideologies put God or some other bigger thing, for example identity, in front of personal pain. This bigger thing is believed to decide wars, like Russia trying to anihilate Ukraine. Russia’s military agression stands against the fight for freedom, democracy and perpetuates corruption.
At the beginning of the Corona-Crisis most persons and societies still believed health and infections are only a very personal issue. Researchers with knowledge about “public health” knew already, viruses have accompanied humanity since its beginnings and maybe continue to do so even beyond our disappearance. Hence, addressing the topic of society and health from a public health perspective has become much more popular as prevention is key to fight pandemics as early as possible. However, for prevention to work you have to involve and rely on individual behaviour. As soon as we leave the personal issue of health, we have to address a whole set of other topics like patient – carer relationships, cooperation, interdisciplinarity, public expenditure, public-private partnerships, corruption or behaviour of large crowds.  We have developed antidotes against most difficulties, probably the strongest one is solidarity. Social systems that address inequality of provision (e.g. between regions) or inequality in access to and quality of medical services (e.g. doctors, care or pharmaceuticals) have a strong role to play. Structural, financial and political issues play a powerful role in health. As we think more about prevention and costs we start to understand that we have to start with nutrition, mobility, mortality and our western style of life in more general terms, particularly if we think about health on a global scale. There is no planet B where we could travel to, once it has become impossible to lead a healthy life on our planet. Topics of health over the life course or ageing will need a lot more attention. Findings on the risk of suicide after onset of physical health problems (Link to study) asks for fast responses. Access to digital tools might be part of the solution like “Sympatient” as well as being part of the problem like data leakage.

G for God

God is dead, wrote Nietzsche about 140 years ago. So, is he, is she, are they? The discussion is ongoing. As science has debunked the myths surrounding birth, the jury is out as humanity is claiming freedom of choice also towards the end of life. Our cathedrals of Modernity, i.e. libraries , or Tempel of knowledge, i.e. universities, offer lots of instruction and Musea artefacts or Anschauungsmaterial to answer these existential questions. Perhaps this is just a lot of noise about “rien”, “nichts” or “Much ado about nothing“.
We might have to rethink society from scratch, starting with the definition of social backround and identity , but there are plenty of good sources to build upon, starting with basic human rights and the Schuman declaration for the construction of  Europe, rising out of the ashes. Lots of hard thinking to do, Rodin thought so, too. The thinker above the “porte de l’enfer” ready for meditation in the Musée Rodin Paris 7eme arrondisement.

F for Freedom

This choice is no surprise, or is it? Who is longing the most for freedom? People in the so-called Western world are reported to score highest in the rankings of achieved levels of freedom. However, the longing for freedom often seems the strongest in countries, or regions within a country, where elements of freedom are restricted. Then fighting for freedom becomes an intense struggle, sometimes leading to outright war or fighting back like in Ukraine. Beyond the negative freedom (free from capital punishment) there is the positive freedom to express yourself freely. Both perspectives on freedom are crucial. Being free from prosecution is often only a first step towards the goal of being free to live your way of life as you feel it. It has always been a political struggle and will remain one today as well as in future. Less consensus reigns on the topic to what extent economic freedom is a constituent part of the term freedom. Far-reaching economic inequality within societies frequently limit persons at the bottom of the distribution to fully participate in society and excercise many components of freedom like decent food, housing, health and health care. All this remains the biggest challenge for humanity for years to come. We shall need a lot more heros in the name of freedom like the famous Nobel prize winners. Fighting for freedom in a peaceful way is probably the biggest challenge for humanity also in the 21 century.