Melbourne Human Origins, Cognitive Technologies, and Futures


This page is the record of an experimental Meetup presentation of draft content for a hypertext book, Application Holy Wars or a New Reformation - A Fugue on the Theory of Knowledge, I am working to finalize. This covers the development and co-evolution of technology and human cognition. See Melbourne Human Origins, Cognitive Technologies, and Futures for the live site. The following pages provide background on the Meetup project and the book.

About Us - describes the Meetup series.

About the Book - explains the book's title and provides an abstract of content


Schedule of presentations

The following schedule provides an overview of the content for the entire series.

Each entry in this schedule links to an introductory page for that day's meetup, and - where these are available - there will also be a link to a PowerPoint or PDF presentation used to provide the basis for the discussion.

Note: Where feasible the meeting sessions will be recorded and made available as transcripts and sound files attached to relevant slides. Click the PPTX link to open the PowerPoint. Slides with recorded sound tracks will be marked with a loudspeaker icon in the upper right corner. In PPT edit mode, double click the icon or video box to play the conntents. In presentation mode, except for the introductory video the sound will play as soon as the slide is opened. Play the video by clicking the video box once.

Session 1.  (5 Feb 2015):  Introducing a new way to explore evolution of human knowledge & technology

This session introduces and outlines my project to explore the interactions of technology and cognition in the evolutionary history of humans. (PDF Presentation, PPTX Presentation with sound track, PPTX Presentation / PPSX Show with video introduction and sound track.)

Session 2.  (19 Feb 2015):  Preface - Application Holy Wars theme and why it was written

In this second introductory session, I'll discuss how evolutionary biology (PhD Harvard 1973) and 17+ years managing engineering knowledge led to this new kind of "book". In the process I'll introduce some key ideas from my life history that resonate throughout the book. (PDF Presentation; PPTX Presentation with sound track)

Session 3.  (5 Mar 2015):  Reading, writing, and publishing a massive online hypertext
Session 3 covers three things about the hypertext: (1) how it reflects scholarly/scientific understanding, (2) how this is implemented and may be published, and (3) my apps toolkit. (PDF Presentation; PPTX Presentation with sound track)
Session 4.  (19 Mar 2015):  Epistemology, technology and knowledge growth
Here I get into the Subject or meat of the book, building on Karl Popper's evolutionary epistemology and Thomas Kuhn's scientific revolutions. (Presentation)
Session 5.  (2 Apr 2015):  Understanding the adaptive value of knowledge
Issues raised in the book's Counter Subject are explored:
(1) Relating data, information, knowledge, wisdom.
(2) Understanding the transformation of data, information and knowledge into strategic power over external circumstances.
(3) Understanding evolutionary and revolutionary adaptations to life's problems.
Session 6.  (16 Apr 2015):  Episode 1 - Early technologies for making living memory explicit
Explores the emergence of technologies for transcribing ephemeral thought onto semi-permanent physical objects and some human impacts of these technologies. (Presentation)
Session 7.  (7 May 2015):  Episode 2(1) - Mechanical automation and calculating
Considers how mechanical computation and automation in the ancient Greek world contributed to the rise of mechanical computation in the first half of the 20th Century. (Presentation)
Session 8.  (21 May 2015):  Episode 2(2) - Electronic automation & computation
The addition of electrons to the automation equation in the 1940's fueled the hyperexponential evolution of technology that during my lifetime has radically changed and today and tomorrow continues to change the nature of humans and humanity. (Presentation)
Session 9.  (4 June 2015):  Episode 3(1) - Cognitive tools for the individual
Personal computers give individuals cognitive tools to convert thoughts into explicit electronically realized objects that can be independently stored, copied, communicated, retrieved, shared and even processed semantically. (Presentation)
Session 10.  (18 June 2015):  Episode 3(2) - Automating storage, management & retrieval of knowledge
The external preservation of knowledge extends cognitive processes beyond the single individual to social and automated systems. Information science covers the dissemination, indexing, management and retrieval of scholarly, scientific and technical knowledge. (Presentation)
Session 11.  (2 July 2015):  Episode 3(3) - Birth & explosion of the World Wide Web
A universally accessible library for the body of human knowledge emerged from what started as a defense project to harden digital communications against nuclear warfare. (Presentation)
Session 12.  (16 July 2015):  Episode 3(4) - Emerging cognition in the Web itself
As knowledge in the Web grows exponentially and processing tools become more sophisticated the web is developing its own kinds of cognitive capacities to help manage and retrieve relevant content. (Presentation)
Session 13.  (6 August 2015):  Interlude (1) - Autopoiesis & physics of life, cognition & knowledge
The remainder of the book requires a deep and unified understanding of the interrelated theories of life and knowledge as presented in the next two sessions. (Presentation)
Session 14.  (20 August 2015):  Interlude (2) - Life and knowledge at higher levels of organization
The theory of life and knowledge presented here accounts for the emergence of living systems at levels of organization above living cells. "Social" interactions of cells eventually led to the emergence of multicellular entities that have their own properties of life, cognition, knowledge and evolutionary histories. Similarly, similarly, social interactions of multicellular organisms like people eventually led to the emergence of knowledge-based social entities like corporations, sports clubs, churches and a variety of other kinds of discrete organizations. (Presentation)
Session 15.  (3 September 2015):  Episode 4 - 21st Century global brains and humano-technical cyborgs
Since this book was started, new revolutions in human technology and cognition have emerged that have profound implications for humanity as consequences of the continuing hyper-exponential growth of cognitive technologies that are so fundamentally changing our biological nature. (Presentation)
Session 16.  (17 September 2015):  Episode 5(1) - Our evolution, social cognition & socio-tech organization
This begins the last, largest and most complex episode in my fugue, where I explore from a biological rather than a technological point of view the emergence and evolution of humanity from a family of tool-using apes.(Presentation)
Session 17.  (1 October 2015):  Episode 5(2) - Primate genomics, our African genesis & family tree
The growing fossil record and detailed genomic evidence provides an increasingly detailed understanding of our ancestry and geneology. (Presentation)
Session 18.  (15 October 2015):  Episode 5(3) - Where and how we started our path to now
Our ancestors were the unfortunate apes who were stranded on the African savanna when climate change destroyed the primeval forests of their Garden of Eden like our monkey cousins have been more recently. (Presentation)
Session 19.  (29 October 2015):  Episode 5(4) - Apes become human with fire and language
The mastery of fire greatly expanded the ecological niche that could be occupied by the carnivorous apes that became us. This also meant that proto-humans had to remember and share larger and more detailed volumes of knowledge about technologies and natural history than had ever been required previously - establishing selection pressures for the cultural construction, sharing and transmission of knowledge. (Presentation)
Session 20.  (5 November 2015):  Episode 5(5) - Mnemonics & the rise of social complexity
It is probable that the rise of social complexity in the development of agricultural and industrial economies required a major revolution in the social capacity to accumulate and manage the transmission of "working" (i.e., technical) knowledge. (Presentation)
Session 21.  (19 November 2015):  Episode 5(6) - Rise of socio-technical organizations & cyborgs
Episode 5 concludes by considering some key technologies underlying and supporting modern socioeconomic organizations and raises questions about what it all means. What does it mean to be human? Are we still human or are we becoming something quite different even within our own lifetimes? (Presentation)
Session 22.  (3 December 2015):  22: Episode 5(7) - Printing, freedom & knowledge-based autopoietic organizations
Tonight, in lieu of presenting my Cadenza, I will finish Episode 5 by considering how the printing revolution again fundamentally changed the structure of society from a largely autocratic system to freer and more egalitarian systems. Mass printing and near universal literacy removed many controls over access to technical knowledge, enabling the Reformation and the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. It also provided the basis for the emergence of individual entrepreneurs and knowledge based corporations as autopoietic systems. (Presentation)
Session 23.  (17 December 2015): Coda - the sting in the tail
Tonight's session, Coda, is the last one in the series. A coda is a generally short and more or less independent passage added to the end of a composition so as to reinforce the sense of conclusion. Here I consider the question raised in the title of this Meetup series - what does the understanding of the roles of cognitive technologies developed in this book tell us about the future of humanity? I see three possible scenarios, only one of which is moderately benign. (Presentation)


When humans began to control the environment.  (Thursday, July 21):  Ian Hodder's work on the rise of Çatalhöyük, one of the oldest urban settlements.

Ian Hodder's work on the transition from semi-nomadic hunting and gathering to agriculture and urban living based on his magisterial studies of the growth of Çatalhöyük - one of the earliest towns. Hodder summarizes his ideas in a new essay published 9 March to the web: Studies in Human-Thing Entanglement This deals with the core issue of my book and last year's series of presentations how humans came to make things (i.e., technology) and how things have made humans into something entirely new in the evolution of Earth's biosphere. For more background see Episode 5(5) - Mnemonics & the rise of social complexity (5 November 2015).. (Presentation)

The end of exponential growth. (Thursday, August 18): Final Meeting: The End of Exponential Growth - Our Species' Existential Risk.

In the 21 July Meetup, I announced that this meeting will be the last one I will be conducting in the Melbourne Human Origins, Cognitive Technologies, and Futures series. This is because I think I have reached the end of the story of how humans have exponentially evolved their dominance of the Earth's ecosphere. Until this year I thought our history of exponentially growing knowledge and technology would be ended by some kind of technological revolution changing humans through a process of "Sublimation" or transformation of biological humans into/replacement by something no longer recognizably human, e.g., upload to a strong solid state AI.

However, my involvement in Greens campaigning for the Federal Election led me to update my understanding of global warming by referring to a variety of current measures of greenhouse gases and climate change, and I now think that we don't have enough time to escape the mess we are making of our birth planet. This is because our exponential growth in population and energy intensive technologies has so abused the planetary biosphere that we face a near-term climate "emergency" that will likely result in ecosystem collapse before we have time to either engineer corrections or leave the planet.. (Presentation)