An activity of the Primer Group


A Special Integration Group (SIG) of the
International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS)
originally SGSR, Society for General Systems Research.






Part 2

Towards a Panorama of Understanding

Nature as a Blackbox;
Towards a Panorama of Understanding
A Broader Spectrum for Floating Between and Beyond
What we Know and Miss

By Heiner Benking




The Panorama design uses three reference frames, related to SUBJECT, OBJECT and their relationship or CONTEXT. What is also important, however, is that SPACES left between them. In fact, what we do NOT know or understand may be far more important than what we DO know and understand. The spaces represent the questions for addressing the challenge of how to know, connect, and transcend.

The scaffolding or framework provides a top-down perspective. There seems to be agreement that no single model can suffice to organise all our knowledge. However, the Panorama three-fold design (3xspace/time) matches many other perspectives and can be recast in their terms, so that we can translate fairly easily from one micro-paradigm to the other. For example:


As other models exist as well and there is agreement that no single model can match the need for global explanation, the test is the co-existence, compatibility, and coherence with approaches, concepts, building blocks or metaphors like:

A conceptual superstructure, or mapping for knowledge and ignorance was proposed (see: Design Considerations for Spatial Metaphors, reflection on the evolution of viewpoint transportation systems, co-authors, A.J.N.Judge and P.F.Uhlir).

The subject-box enables us to map out how we are looking at the objects in the object-box and the context-box enables us to map the metaphors of understanding the kind of reality in which this is taking place. Cognitive images provide means of transport between the different elements of the display, representing movements of thought. By having such an extended space-representation of our concepts, it is possible to discover patterns of thinking that are dynamic and integrative. The Panorama design uncouples the rigid connections that usually operate in our thinking, giving the elements space to breathe and produce new life.

The centrepiece of the proposed Panorama of Knowledge and meta-knowledge is called Blackbox Nature and can be understood as a mirror or translator between objects and subjects (see Jung/Pauli). The proposed architectonic of open real or abstract spaces links entities (real and abstract objects) and concepts into a common context or layout (PANORAMA).

Mobility in a physical and cognitive sense, using also vehicles like images and metaphors, allows to transcend situations and carry meaning between conceptual and mental models by cultivating the mind s eye. It is hoped that such a mental locomotion will allow to see a bigger picture and ease understanding.


Each of the three domains of the Panorama design is a depiction in three-dimensional space, so each has three axes which, again, can be correlated and translated into other versions. This makes it possible for different world-views to be mapped and compared and also for us to navigate amongst them. Similarities and differences can be made clear to all parties and a concentrated attention can be given to gaps and unknowns.

Fig 1: 3xSpace/Time links objects and subjects in open spaces - The objective is to transcend and transform by thinking within, between an beyond, not inside boxes or domains.


A unifying overview towards a Natural Philosophy of Wholeness ?

A remedy for the problems given above may be to provide orientation within a Panorama of Understanding . Designed in the following three modules it allows integral thinking and coalescence of different aspects, facets, and views:

1. The definition and concept of Ecology to visually and conceptually integrate and interact along and across hierarchical scales (like the subjects axis, and magnitude and time scales), to present proportions and consequences and allow indication and communication about the interconnectedness of Nature. This building block is called: Black Box Nature or Rubik's Cube of Ecology and was developed 1990 for the German Chancellery to exhibit GLOBAL CHANGE - Challenges to Science and Politics (presently up-dated). The Cube combines high resolution art work and scientific visualisations to show selected windows or frames into the precious scale-transcending germ we call Nature. With many windows left blank or black we are to realise our limited understanding, our only intuitive approach to beauty and harmony we find in Nature, and why decency and cautioning any action is recommended.

As black-box is a term which typically used in engineering to approach a subject as a whole, taking as a first preliminary step the details not into question, we feel it is indicated to not only say that the box could also be called a 'white open space'. But as the box is physically a black box exponat and does not allow to look inside, with the intention to make us curious, widen our attention and make us humble the more we gaze and as the term blackox was used in the intended sense of an INNOVATIVE SOCIETAL LEARNING tool and concept in an early Club of Rome report as follows: "Innovative societal learning seeks to restore active learning to those in society conventionally confined to a passive role of assimilation. Key to this goal is participation that goes beyond mere invitations to accept given products. To encourage innovative societal learning, true participation must enable people to open and inspect the "black-boxes" of knowledge, to question their relevance and meaning, and to re-design, re-combine, and re-order them where necessary. Effective participation therefore does not mean paying lip service to those who in the past have been deemed to count less than others, but rather ensuring a real contribution of the entire society". ("A Report to the Club of Rome") Mo Limits to Learning; bridging the human gap, James W Botkin, Mahdi Elmandjra, Mircea Malitza, (pp 80-81) Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1979

Fig. 2: The Blackbox Nature or Rubik's Cube of Ecology. Bridging and composing subjects, magnitudes, and time frames is the challenge of ecology and will ease understanding and caution us by making us aware about how little we know. The open box, bridging beyond boxes and domains, presents an implicate higher order which allows us to map patterns, processes and dynamics by providing a pointer or global index by a top-down approach. The Box and Panorama display wholeness and interconnectedness and allow us to point at and store relations, scales, proportions and consequences in a repeatable format. Bridging disciplines and other hierarchical scales and interacting along and across scales is required for people studying the multi-disciplinary field of ecology. This is necessary as day-to-day, scientific and political discourses are mixed up. This general concept not only applies to ecology, but also to the exchange of  information between different disciplines.

2. Integrate what we know and focus on what we do not know in one framework or picture. As this framework needs to be deeply structured within a higher order, (similar to implicate orders), we propose the following set of three connected nested scaffoldings, which form one conceptual superstructure and leave time as a dimension ruling all master reference schemes.

2.1 The land-scape as the native and basic space for human experience and understanding, for panning and zooming, using telescopic approaches to scapes (deep structured spaces). As optics and ethics are etymologically grounded we see approaches from varying distance in any environment as a way to clarify and enlighten structures and patterns. (The resulting understanding and transparence through means like lenses, the characterisrica universalis by Leibniz, or computing in modern times was always exciting and considered mystic as long as people could not see and follow what was going on). - Scape is a term we use to indicate deep structured spaces.

Fig 3: The different forms of imaginary Black boxes show conceptual theme-scape or issue-scape. The original subject axis of the Cube was based on the Ekistic grid, as conceived by Doxiadis in the field of planning sciences. Ekistics is also derived from term oikos (greek base for ecology). We can search not only for words, but for areas or bodies of data and knowledge if we consider word as fields as Jan Smuts, the founder of the concepts of Holism, proposed. So if we embody concepts, we can the an overlying of of concepts, meanings located in different domains and as spheres broader and narrower reach of word in certain disciplines. There is a highly debated concept in the filed of linguistics which proposes to put words into space. In such a way we can imagine space between words, as Aldous Huxley wrote... After agreement on location and content of words, like core or peripheral meaning, genuine capabilities of man can come into play which allow fast visual access and assimilation of very large volumes of data.

It should be noted that children accept the concept easily and are ready for new conceptual or abstract understanding at about ten years of age. They then can focus conceptually beyond the immediate environment into abstract or virtual contexts. Before the age of ten, their thing is to experience space, motion and time physically and conceptually. After ten years of age they can float in abstract realms (fantasia) and sometimes have good command of imagination (eidetic). Children liked the framework as a way to explain teachers and parents what is going on and that the 'View-of-Life' they learn at schools is 'too flat'. Children have reported and written that at a Childen Communication Camp, where tehy were introduce to the concept of the blackbox model after interviewing all futrists of the world about what the elder have in store for the futures of the younger generations. As the concept of models is very central in this article, a citation from a scholary book on models will follow to support the experience with children and some conmclusions the author has drawn in his work over the last years. Excerpt from: Models in Science Education, George Marx and Esther Tóth, In: Models of Reality - Shaping Thoughts and Action, Lomond Books in cooperation with UNESCO 1984 (eds: Jacques Richardson) After the first chapter Man and his Models starting with Man is a model making animal. .. His outstanding predictive power gives him selective advantages over his physically stronger rivals... starts the second chapter: Models in Schools with: According to Piaget, the school-aged children think in  a concrete operational way. If the teacher refutes one of two alternatives, his pupils will not accept the other until they can visualise it much as a motion picture. What they imagine, they would also like to catch , to build and to take apart. Abstract logic matures in them only at the end of the secondary school.

Fig. 4: The scale-platforms to harmonise environmental information and find logical 'meeting places' between scales were produced by tthe author for UNEP, the United Nations Environmental Programme HEM - Harmonisation of  Environemtal Measurement office. The 'flying' magnifying glass- Environmental Protection with the Eagles Eye in the German 'Scientific American' magazine: (Bild der Wissenschaft - Fliegende Lupe - Umweltschutz mit Adlerblick are further exhibition pieces of the GLOBAL CHANGE exhibition and were developed by the author to show epochal change and how we can map ecological dynamics. As the human apparatus has no 'ecological feeling for time scales (Gregory Bateson) (hight-dimension of the cube) and no 'antenna' for scale-platforms (depth dimension of the cube) and how these scales interaction, it was indicated to embody this dimensions in an artificial situation or issue space, a space-scape with a nested higher order. The key benefit is the possibility to move around the 'box' and share views and relations and even point at such abstract and complex situations which can typically not be outlined and combined. The background of the approach for selective exploration with high resolution cameras and sensors (flying magnifying glass) was called by the author TOPOGRAMM, a chain of methods to combine data aquisition and management. The picture is taken from an article in GEO-ÖKÖ-DYNAMIC X,2/3- 1989, an article presented at the first International Geoecololigal/Geomorphological Congress with the title: Large Scale Biomonitoring for Renaturation. More details and publications are available on request.

Fig 5: Any subject can be explored in a a holistic design with varying depth and flexible theme compositions. The flexible and nested crystal cell framework for understanding and orientation presents locations and relations and can display life-cycles and enfolded episodic and epochal change. In this new realm we can jointly discuss proportions and consequences with 'new eyes' and more importantly have a combination of three holarchies, or three hierachical scales in one picture, as SPACE three dimension whcih help us to overcome hirachical (one-dimensional) tree structures or for the human mind hard to follow and understand complex network structures.

2.2 The word-scape or term- /theme-scape (semantic space) based on samples used in universal library organisation systems. One such scheme or global index is based on the square lambdoma, which is more suitable than spherical representations for this purpose, and is called the Information Coding and Classification (ICCa) by Ingetraut Dahlberg from the International Society for Knowledge Organisation (ISKO). The matrix of global subjects and general form concepts, and a depth dimension (specific facets or categories) is a semantic exploratory navigation space, based on harmonic principles, enabling storage without redundancies as well as access and permutations within underlying structures and patterns.

3. Navigation and Orientation in the three realms or conceptual spaces, including cut and paste operations allow overarching retrieval, correlations and configurations beyond narrow category definitions, semantic hurdles, and cultural stipulations.

Synthesis and Synopsis

Making use of the creative and integrative conceptualisation powers of humankind by using the visual and cognitive discrimination powers and imagine and construct relations in real and abstract ThinkScapes. As cognitive psychology and terminological and semantic studies prove to be deeply rooted perception and experience, and space is mathematically not reducible, it makes sense to integrate the genuine visual and senso-motorical powers of humankind for conceptual analysis and synthesis.

The Panorama invites thinking within, between and beyond boxes, words, knowledge, categories, and cultures. Thus it can trigger lateral and diagonal thinking within a unifying broader picture. It opens windows and doors and builds bridges between interest, items and issues, between a physical and virtual terra incognita. It is a simplistic, superficial configuration of Real-Cyberspace modules. The self-generating mental mobility increases continually, as we experience that real and abstract worlds can be crossed by metaphoric s. Thus we can we map complex realities and avoid getting too perplexed.

Viewpoint generation and transportation are the native and cheapest form of therapy and healing. This broader concept of virtual mobility and mental locomotion is critical for the recent trend towards dematerialisation and sustainability. Using the eidetic and creative powers of humankind to plot mental maps and cognitive models might help chart our course in conceptual worlds, rationalise alternative paths of development , and help searching for wisdom and sensible, responsible action. We find in orientation, cognitive metaphoric concepts known to many traditions and teachings, a true treasure of humankind - why not get more conscious about the way our ideas move?

Fig 6 Providing a Topos for Topics or Issues, and engendering space, place and situation will bring more transparency, clarify positions and bring proportions and horizons of issues into sight . It can be done with the visual powers of the eye and the mind s eye and it is worth a try, any effort to fight resignation, and a mandate the futurist Robert Jungk urged to work with children when developing such concepts.

We can take the cross-category approach we need in ecology for harmonization and apply it for even wider complex and dynamic object-subject-time consciousness realms, but we should not forget that the scaffolding must not be confused with Nature itself. As Korbyski warned: the map is not the territory . As we create and perceive the world, we revolutionise consciousness, this telescopic and poly-sopic approach will make as more aware about what we see where and help us pan,zoom, cut,paste, focus, and oscillate between or sphere of interest, a floating process known from cognitive research.

Some critical questions remain: Can humankind accept and apply our common powers of visualising and conceptualising, and look for nested orientation which can be easily communicated? ? afford walls of segregation, reductionism, and sectarianism? ? avoid looking for broader visions, ? neglect fields such as eidetics ? accept co-existence of models, perspectives and metaphors? ? create enough time to learn to be more aware about hard and soft imaginative reasoning?


The Panorama is not meant to be an oversimplistic approach, it needs to be seen as a pragmatic and workable orthogonal design with the benefit of designing common grounds for developing common eyes. It can be understood as a configuartion of nested modules/models, as we are used to in our non-linear experience, language, and reasoning. The design is open as it allows to explore freely and individually to the necessary depth and detail but not in the sense of the hologram of Nature containing all possible interconnections and self-similarities. It is contrast to a single view fish-eye, a combination of bird s eye views, which help to maintain overview by looking at the whole or bigger picture . By providing global orientation we avoid getting lost in details or fixed in one aspect only. The PANORAMA can be seen as a layout for meaning and discourse mapping by providing optics for concepts and context, for physical and mental models.

The trick is to use modular open spaces which can be analytically and visually explored, referenced and remembered - they bring more transparency for informed decision, but it also has drawbacks, and can be misused as picures are more easily considered correct and real. The proposal might help to navigate, explore and filter also immaterial objects and focus on the quality and context of information.

Steps towards common, broader and integral views:

Fig 7: A top-down global index linking physical, thematic and semantic spaces - in-scape, reference-scape and out-scape - 3xSpace/Time. This reference and representation paradigm is a high stand or bird s eye - an OPEN SPACE and map of what we know and do not know - a trick to avoid getting lost in details but seeing context by developing the mind s eye, fostering imaginism and developing conceptual realms.


Let us take the design or map as a way to find be curious, play and try to find out what might be there and in that way change ourselves by generating viewpoints and training mental mobility. The next step is to look for the quality of what is there. It helps to float between and find again and again context, neighbourhood, the origin, and the level and scope. It is just one layout to store whatever we know or search for, accommodating coherence and chaos - complexity and perplexity - and allowing us to keep our store of knowledge in order.

There is strength always in and between both: diversity and isolation, analysis and synthesis, local and global, mythos and logos, chaos and coherence. As we sometimes need to exchange ideas and agree on objects, and subjects, terms, and issues, we are well advised to agree on what we are talking about, common platforms, references, and co-ordinates for understanding, the location and neighbourhood also within real or virtual scenes, material and conceptual worlds.

The proposal exploits the potential of concepts like: space and place, concept and context, and metaphors like: orientation, picture, and vision. We find such analogies and metaphoric expressions in many figurative contagious and poetic language, but in this case we want to go another step further, help to not only talk about common objects, but about common subjects and issues - The focus is on integrating different views and aspects, not to develop filters or brokers, to invite the idea of poly- or pan-scopic perception, to get used to look for factual, literal and metaphorical meaning, to look for similarities and differences and oscillate between positions, thereby establishing depth (to apply the stereo-scopic model or picture here). By mapping the Known, Unknown, and Unknowable we might find new ways, see with different eyes, and develop new kinds of composed consensual views and perspectives.

SHARING FUTURES times, spaces, voices, views, values,... in shared perspective Voice: +49 731 501 -910 FAX -929 Heiner BENKING, PoBox 2060, D- 89010 Ulm, GERMANY



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