The Orchard of Thoughts: An Alternative Culture of Growing in Not Knowing
Post-Truth makes sense in a culture which focuses on what we know. An alternative is to focus on what we don't know. I will describe such an alternative culture which arose in the online laboratory, Minciu Sodas, from 1998 to 2010.
Minciu Sodas means "The Orchard of Thoughts" in Lithuanian. It is the name of a business which I registered in Lithuania. My goal was to make my living by working part-time on the Internet, serving and organizing independent thinkers around the world. My business ultimately failed, but unexpectedly, Minciu Sodas came to be known by its participants as having a distinct and, in many ways, positive culture. In reflecting on this culture, I will propose that it was defined especially by my personal efforts that we ever focus on what we don't know rather than what we know.
I will thus start by telling you about my own integrity, my own origins as an independent thinker. Then I will describe four challenges of not knowing our own selves, not knowing the variety of other selves, not knowing the unfolding reality that we all find ourselves in, and not knowing God who is beyond each of us, in other words, not knowing Not Knowing itself.
I was born in California in 1964 but my parents and my grandparents had come from Lithuania as refugees from World War II. I grew up explaining to those around me that I was Lithuanian and my country was occupied by the Soviet Union. We spoke Lithuanian at home, at Saturday school, at church, at scout camps and at folk dance festivals. Of course, this was very difficult in an English speaking environment. As a nine year old, I realized that it was up to me to choose my culture, and if I was to be Lithuanian, I would have to make every effort to not just speak but to think in Lithuanian. As a 34-year old, I came to live in Lithuania because it was the place that required the least effort to be Lithuanian, and also offered the greatest hope for finding my true love with whom to raise a Lithuanian family.
As an independent thinker, my own deepest yearning is my quest, since childhood, to know everything and apply that usefully. As a six-year old, I understood that my ambition could be spiritually dangerous, and so I offered to God a covenant: Give me the freedom to think whatever I need to do - maybe you exist or not, maybe you are good or bad - and I will always believe in you, no matter what I think. I wondered if I should ask for a sign but then I realized that any sign would be suspect and so I told God, my sign will be that you didn't give me a sign.
As a freshman at the University of Chicago, my quest for absolute truth clashed head on with the dogma that all truth is relative. We were encouraged to read great books and ask big questions, but we were discouraged from aspiring to any true answers. But when our teacher asked us, "What is happiness?", I noticed that students gave three kinds of answers: Some said that happiness was the joy in an activity such as eating ice cream; others said that it was the contentment in reflecting on one's joy; and yet others said that it was the assurance that this was a valid delight, not an illusion nor a misdeed. I took these three kinds of answers as evidence of a cognitive framework which, pragmatically, functioned as an absolute truth, a division of everything into three perspectives - doing, thinking and being - which were defined in terms of each other. Similarly, I saw that many unnecessary philosophical debates could be circumvented by recognizing a division of everything into two perspectives - one in which opposites coexist, as with free will, and another where all is the same, as with fate. And knowledge depended on four perspectives - whether, what, how and why - which are, in fact, relevant for explaining the disagreements between cultures based on knowing or not knowing. Materialists consider these levels of knowledge to be answers about things, emphasizing whether! what! how! and disregarding why!, but idealists consider them to be questions by observers, emphasizing why? how? what? and disregarding whether? Over the years, as an independent thinker, I developed a private language of dozens of such structures and hundreds of concepts which others would never care about unless I could discover various practical applications.
I understood that philosophy was an unsuccessful discipline in that there is nothing philosophers have ever agreed upon. Instead, I got a Bachelor's degree in physics and a Ph.D. in mathematics. A university is a sheltered environment. I could learn more about life by living in a distraught neighborhood, amongst the marginalized. In a wealthy country like the US, I could work part-time as a tutor or programmer and devote myself to my research. But if I was to do this in Lithuania, a poor country, I would need to start a business. So I decided to serve independent thinkers like myself through the Internet. But the hardest part of any business is finding paying customers and many independent thinkers don't have money or don't want to spend it.
Gradually, I realized that I could offer various free services to independent thinkers if they worked openly, in the Public Domain, in an online community that paying customers might value. I thus invested myself in organizing independent thinkers. At business conferences and other events, I spoke with some three thousand people who I signed up for some thirty Yahoo! discussion groups which I organized. I would ask people what they cared about, and whether they cared about thinking. If they weren't interested in independent thinking, then that would be clear within five minutes, but otherwise we could talk endlessly. Based on these conversations, I can sketch out a general path by which we grow to think ever more independently.
Everybody thinks, but independent thinking starts when we have a thought that we would like to come back to, and so we start to choose what we wish to think. If we have a few such thoughts every day, then within a few years we have thousands of our own thoughts. We then need to organize and prioritize our thoughts, and so we develop values and take up projects. As our values clash, we learn to integrate them, and ultimately we discover our own deepest value, which includes all of our other values. We become aware of that value and learn to express it. It does not change but grows ever more clear like a star which sees the whole sky from its particular vantage point. We then know ourselves, as the Greeks urged, and we are born again, as Jesus taught, for this deepest value is our soul, the essence of our personality. And then, knowing ourselves, we take up questions that we don't know the answer to, but wish to answer. We find it helpful that people have many other vantage points, and we would like to investigate our questions alongside each other. However, we have to be sensitive if that is what they truly want, and what is best for our culture. Thus we have the need for a higher vantage point, such as God's, by which we could tell if we are being selfish in challenging others to grow. As God grows relevant and real, it becomes important how to include God as an independent thinker, recognize and support his questions, and foster a truth that is authentic, verifiable, universal and thus, pragmatically, absolute.
The independent thinker thus grows
Related to learning - can think of learning in terms of what we know (accomodating others) or what we don't know (accomodating individuals) - the latter is fruitful. Not knowing (as an adjustment of one's deepest value) as a focus on personal growth by living through questions and by appreciating other perspectives.
Growth in learning, not knowing
Learning to think out loud. Learning about oneself by doing projects. Integrating oneself, being well rounded, resolving one's tensions, "knowing oneself" by clarifying one's own deepest value. Leading a working group. Linking of social and individual. Leading by what we don't know rather than what we know. Investigating. Wishing for others to challenge us to grow. ...learning to grow and live forever...
We grow bigger because of spirit because it is bigger than the self. To consciously support one's growth we must consider our potential which is greater than our self. Spirit is relevant as a projection onto our potential. Layers of culture are what we're projecting: What you believe is what happens.
Not Knowing of All Selves: Investing in a network for a culture - supportive of growth
A supportive culture that coexists with the mainstream - pattern language - Not knowing (as an ever richer world of deepest values) - as a network with a growing capacity to adapt to any circumstances.
Dynamics of independent thinkers - generalizing my case.
Those who accommodate end up in the center, independent thinkers are slow to agree, and want to agree deeply. Thus they are dense everywhere in the periphery. Focus on the independent thinkers, thus foster a network. They have their own perspective, but the concept of "independent thinker" helps them to consider other perspectives as well, to distinguish authentic perspectives, to hold themselves and others accountable for their personal growth.
Benefits (and services)
Moral support More minds - variety of points of view - and fleshing out different parts Social framework for making one's dreams real - including an inclusive society Developing shared resources for one's investigations Discovering resources for making a living and one's projects Personal growth Friendships and contacts - opportunities
Investing in outreach, the growth of the independent thinker, and their leadership.
Want to support people even if they don't have money
The business model of Minciu Sodas was to encourage independent thinkers to think out loud, to work openly on their own projects, and to help others, all in the Public Domain, and thereby be ready to work as teams for paid work as it arose.
Practical Rules for the sake of inclusiveness (not knowing what wisdom people will bring)
Venues are Public Domain by default. Money can bring people together, but you can't pay people to care. We want all individuals to succeed. Groups are not substitute for individuals.
Need to make a living
Be compatible with mainstream culture. Challenge of why private interests might support a public commons. Working for free and for pay Meeting each other halfway Being careful with the poor
Discourage debate Encourage investigations, projects Encourage interests and outreach based on that Almost no staff (Sasha...)
Focus on serving the leaders - the most mature independent thinkers (for free) - and also those who pay.
Leadership was organized around personal growth. Twenty working groups were organized around the most active participants' deepest values in life. They were encouraged to lead their groups by investigating questions they didn't know the answer to, but wished to answer. Investing myself in their projects - recruiting participants Distributed leadership - leadership of working groups based on deepest values. Grow by empathizing more broadly. We allow that everyone is the same, and that everyone grows, so it's natural that we are at various levels of maturity.People may think that things happen on their own, but as we mature we become more aware of the leadership involved. We accept each person growing by their own will at their own pace. We grow along with each person who grows. Everybody has a capacity for independent thinking, but not everbody has to exercise that, and we all have the same rights as human beings regardless. Everybody thinks, but not everybody cares about thinking. We support people by fostering their leadership at the stage of growth they identify with.
Summarize the elements of the culture.
Outreach mirrored the growth of the independent thinker. A pattern language in the form of 12 Questions which document the growth of the independent thinker. The levels of civilization in the Worknets Charter.
Not knowing of Reality beyond Selves: a growing collaboration with reality.
History and successes
Opportunistic business model - based on the people we have, the opportunities that arise, the people who pay
Import/export standard - technologists Wider discussion - women - interface for online communities Franz Nahrada - deepest values Africa "real" - Includer $100 projects My Food Story - Kenya, Palestine - half of money went to team - but typical "vanity project" problems Pyramid of Peace - and metaphysical success Mornflake Barcamp unconference movement - economic ideas success
The resulting culture of integrity made it possible for participants in the West to sponsor small research projects in Africa of typically 100 euros, and ultimately, for Minciu Sodas's global team to create the My Food Story wiki for a Silicon Valley client.
Most spectacularly, Minciu Sodas organized the Pyramid of Peace to avert genocide in Kenya in 2008. 100 online assistants helped 100 on-the-ground peacemakers to constructively engage hostile youth by "looking at everything from their point of view". Seven practical principles (such as "be vulnerable") leveraged not-knowing by way of theoretical counterquestions (such as "Would it make any difference?") Such empathetic principles would be effective with Putin or Trump.
Sketch of the characteristics and potential of the culture
Principle of not knowing:
Socrates Divine not knowing vs. human knowing - behavior. Jesus? counterquestions
Kingdom of heaven - principles
What you believe is what happens - poverty of human imagination Scepticism - have as little faith as possible - "poor-in-spirit" Persecuted for the sake of righteousness - God doesn't have to be good, life doesn't have to be fair
Limits to a culture of independent thinkers:
Formula 1/3 of people who work for free. a healthy organization has a wider movement
A culture of about 100,000 active and 1,000,000 supportive. Like movements such as the Scouts, AlcoholicsAnonymous, Sarvodaya... An ethos of about 100,000,000 active and 1,000,000,000 supportive like Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Science, etc.
Expansion of culture: Levels of unity for "we".
God who is alone as an independent thinker. Accepting that our universe is supportive of independent thinking. Independent thinkers Global village centers Selflearner thematic paths Festivals Interest groups Concords
Distinctiveness of culture
Remake our lives and the world - foster an alternative culture Each person can serve as the center - because there is the same basic path of growth We want everybody to use their own best judgment. Kicked out of many places: "Freedom to organize" (rather than "self-organized") - can have all people equal but of different maturity
Failure and Adjustment
Facts that would Convince
Could make a living Personal growth, personal soundness - problematic in a dysfunctional world based on psychological weakness Reality - "being real" - "real personal growth" - "real brotherhood" - is not fashionable, people want easy, nonobligating technological solutions - Ushahidi, Munnecke The truth made tangible - problematic in a world that doesn't want the truth
Not willing to work superficially - get it right and God will scale Culture was too weak Understanding money in terms of phase transitions People didn't share work opportunities People expected "competence" - not principle of who the job would be best challenge for their growth Counter to the mindset of the European Union. Alternate: Facebook Alternate: Creative Commons Cultures, organizations don't want to merge, overlap Lack of "reality" (poseurs) Blacklisted - obstacles of Self-organized vs. freedom-to-organize
Not Knowing of God beyond self: Growing collaboration with God
the Not Knowing which deepest values seek to model.
Context: Ambiguities: Personal Challenge and Business Model: Learning from and with others. Living Ambiguously in Conflict of Values.
Personal origin of Minciu Sodas - resolving personal
Not knowing needs: how to make a living Not knowing an alternative to the world. My need to make a living. Honest work. My wish to work part-time and focus on my philosophy. In a rich country, could work part-time, but in a poor country, need to start a business. Not knowing doubts: having a basis for truth, not knowing the absolute truth - wanting to learn My willingness to relate work on my philosophy to absolutely everything. Not knowing expectations: why to be attached Wanting to apply my emotions to make me a dedicated person. My wish to live in Lithuania - easier to be Lithuanian, have a chance to raise a family. Not knowing values: what others experience Seeking deep agreement with others Aspiration that we are fundamentally the same, deep inside. Reaching out to include, champion and celebrate the marginalized. Lithuania became a wealthier country
Engaging God Caring about thinking - controlling my mind to think in Lithuanian Everything - absolute concept
Relevance of God
We are open to where God is relevant, both as a concept and as a participant. God is ultimately relevant as a shared reference point for all of the potential of all for conscious growth. Caring about God is ok Loving one's enemy Checking one's self Reaching out to the hard to reach the hope that God is everyone God wants us to live forever
Need to focus on the culture Need to write up a shared conceptual language Need to focus on questions, investigations, ways of figuring things out Need to focus on families and children Need to work intensely with God Need to build on faith in God
Individuals in mainstream culture can thus invest themselves in an alternative, distributed culture by investigating their own questions, working with friends to foster a shared culture of not knowing, and engaging enemies by imagining their point of view.