Interactive Polyhedral Configuration of Preoccupations

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 26 Jun 2023

Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens - TRANSCEND Media Service

Use of Force-directed Layout to Explore Coherence of Contrasting Memorability

Introduction

26 Jun 2023 – Frequent reference is made to complexity as it is increasingly perceived to be characteristic of challenges of governance. A primary indicator is the explosion of information variously deemed to be relevant to any issue — and the degree of connectivity with other issues. This is reflected in the increasingly multiplicity of organs of governance, whether official or of a nongovernmental nature. A major consequence is how people and institutions are required to cluster preoccupations, prioritising some and reframing others as irrelevant to immediate concerns — or simply negligible and to be ignored. The tendencies are further reflected in the clustering of issues deemed worthy of media coverage — on the assumption that audiences have little tolerance for the confusion inherent in the inability to comprehend higher orders of complexity.

The approach explored here is the use of force-directed layout to enable exploration of configurations of different orders of complexity. The emphasis is placed on the use of polyhedra of different degrees of complexity to order sets of preoccupations. The approach offers the possibility to users of shifting between such polyhedral clusters to provide a coherent focus on varying degrees of complexity and connectivity. With the current efforts of search engines and browsers to offer AI enhanced interfaces, the approach explored here is an indication of possibilities that may be readily implemented. This would offer an alternative to the presentation of search results in list form.

The approach follows from an experiment with the 64 psychosocial conditions of relevance to governance, as identified by the much-studied Chinese Yi Jing, otherwise known as The Book of Changes (Polyhedral Configuration of 384 Governance-relevant Yi Jing Transformations, 2023). That exercise is an experimental interactive mapping of 64 6-linked hexagrams using force-directed layout. It provides access to an array of separate documents commenting on those conditions — variously presented in relation to the challenges of sustainable dialogue, vision, conferencing, policy, network, community and lifestyle. As noted in the description of that experiment, focus was finally given to a singular polyhedral form able to present the full array of 64 conditions with a pattern of 192 reversible transformations between those conditions. The possibility of other polyhedral forms in 4 and 5 dimensions was also discussed — given the importance of time to the dynamics of governance (Strategic Embodiment of Time Configuring questions fundamental to change, 2010)

The approach was further developed to enable users to switch between polyhedral clusters ranging from the simplest tetrahedral form (4 “preoccupations”) to the truncated icosidodecahedron (120 “preoccupations”). The approach was tested with documents presented on this website, as variously preoccupied with “population”. Arguably there are many situations in which 4-fold, 6-fold or 8-fold configurations are as much as can be “handled” in any policy process, as clarified by the much-cited study of George Miller (The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: some limits on our capacity for processing information, Psychological Review, 63, 1956, 2)

Provision must necessarily be made, however, for configurations of greater complexity, as indicated by the unexplained proclivity of governance for 12-fold articulations, further challenged by the UN’s 17-fold set of Sustainable Development Goals (Checklist of 12-fold Principles, Plans, Symbols and Concepts, 2011). There is also the challenging articulation of the more complex treaties and human rights charters — with their questionable implications for comprehensibility and memorability, whether individual or collective (***).

In developing this approach with respect to strategic preoccupations, of particular insight have been the possibilities and constraints associated with use of the force-directed graph layout methodology. It became apparent that the factors rendering a particular configuration coherent and meaningful to the user were dependent on parameters which could be simply adjusted according to the complexity of the polyhedron. Although defined in the technical terms by which such displays are controlled, these parameters can be recognized as suggesting (through their metaphorical interpretation) valuable insights into the manner in which coherence and memorability can be refined. Of further relevance is the degree to which users are called upon to “play” interactively with the array of possibilities to elicit configurations they themselves find meaningful — in contrast to those favoured by others .

Given the flexibility offered by force-directed layout, of further interest are other features which could be added to the displays and the manner by which they are controlled. Some of these are tentatively noted here, in anticipation of their consideration by those with higher expertise.

In order to clarify the wider relevance of the approach (beyond that of population), it has been applied to an array of other issues of potentially “global” significance. Ironically these can be understood as an array of “constellations” through which coherence is elicited from a plethora of concerns — the “stars” of the universe of knowledge. This can be seen as consistent with the Global Sense-making agenda (Victoria Wibeck and Björn-Ola Linnér, Sense-making Analysis: a framework for multi-strategy and cross-country research, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 20, 2021).

Whilst use of polyhedra as a means of eliciting memorable order can be considered questionable from some perspectives, arguably this is no more questionable than the widespread use of lists. More intriguing however is the degree to which spherical symmetrical polyhedra feature in culture symbols and aesthetic design — where they offer an appreciated sense of coherence.

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