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 Panoptic - A word of yesterday and tomorrow ?
picture picture 23 Jul 2007 @ 08:37, by Heiner Benking

Panoptic was the Word of Yesterday. Is it possible to have a comprehensive, coherent "all-seeing" from a high stand to see the context and have overview? As our society believes in specialisation and ignores the potentials of being both, specialist and generalist ways or constructions are shown to share positions, issues, and perspectives and their combination. The essay reviews the possibility of not only having single, a caleidoscop of images, but to agree upon a coherent unifying generalisation in order to find orientation and see and share contexts, overlaps, and common patterns, and proposes to study the combination of elements or signs forming the "whole" of "all" of panoptic endeavour.

A friend called me last night informing my that my "favorite" word: "panoptic" was proclaimed by Merriam-Webster the Word of the Day: [LINK] and [MP3]
panoptic \pan-OP-tik\ adjective: being or presenting a comprehensive or panoramic view

DRAFT - still not complete and final Monday 18:00 hrs

This nomination comes to me as fortunate surprise as I see this civilization is avoiding or even fearing? any kind of overview or orientation. The use of the word "panoptic" is therefore very rare and special in English in everyday language. The occasion of to revisit this "Word of the Day" is therefore very much appreciated and very welcome.

All to often anything having to do with overview and orientation [LINK] is considered impossible, not our business, and as you are an individual, you have to consider yourself small, and so you can never raise to the real understanding. In some cultures it seems even to be used like a commandments are used: you shalt not look "outside of the box", and you should not raise your head to find orientation yourself, just put your head into the sand .

So let us see see what Merriam-Webster gives us as an example for panoptic, what it means and where the word comes from and was used:

At the top of the mountain is a sightseeing point that provides climbers with a panoptic view of the surrounding valleys

The establishment of "panoptic" in the English language can be attributed to two inventions known as panopticons. The more well-known panopticon was conceived by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1787. Bentham's panopticon was a circular prison with cells arranged around a central tower from which guards could see the inmates at all times. The other panopticon, also created in the 18th century, was a device containing pictures of attractions, such as European capitals, that people viewed through an opening. Considering the views that both inventions gave, it is not hard to see why "panoptic" (a word derived from Greek "panoptēs," meaning "all-seeing") was being used by the early 19th century.

We got two very different inventions here. First a device which allows us look into and "control" all "cells" of prisoners. This resembeles the Orwellian total control of "big brother", a very discouraging implementtion of "seeing all". The Second invention is the collage of pictures to form a new comprehensive and meaningful picture, call it (virtual) panorama. The question is, is the second invention helpful, can it bring new insights and realisations, or is it just a toy, full of colors, maybe harmonic and pleasing the eye, or is it also pragmatic and meaningful, helping towards positive ends like deeper insights and understanding?

One approch towards bigger, comprehensive pictures, can definitely to close our eyes, allowing multi-media and globalisation to "dumb us down" and in the post-modern apathy avoid confronation with anythin alien or strange, anything we are not used to. This was definitely a tactic in the ancient time, when every valley, every island, every tribe tried to cultivate and celebrate the sweet solitude of being alone and special, and all others are barbarian. The problem, when confronted with something different all too often fight and wining over the others was seen as the ultimate an only solution. But times are different, we co-exist with other cultures and cross broundaries and scales all the time. Should we fight? or try to find a lonly island? or should we like in the first "solution" wait that a technical golem or big brother, takes over the "overview" and gives directions? We are already much on the way towards this end. Philosophers and Teachers tell us, what Preachers told the people aeons ago and systems like GOOGLE - if we are not aware what is going on and counteract and set limits - tell us what we can and should know according to our "profile".

Such an "all-seeing" seems to make people and philosophers afraid, and so such a comprehensive seeing is turned down as impossible in modern times or is left to automats. In the past it was exciting to climb a mountain, and even discover the perspective like Petrarca did in the 14th century, but stepping back, or finding a "higher stand", or even considering the Earth as a Whole when seeing it as one form orbit, is somehow neglected as a way to see bigger pictures in perspective. People seem to confuse "all" with ALL or higher echelons "not given", confuse something coherent and complete with something ultimate and beyond our direct "touch", like the supreme.

Overview seems to be considered impossible to have, specially in times of ourt modern Cyberculture and Globlisation, where post-modern abstract thinking neglects and ignores any context and the consideration of structures, sectors and levels, as this would imply that there is a common or agreed frame of reference. This is what grown-ups and decision makers already learn in school, it is like a dogma often repeated, not to be questioned, and we are unaware that we inhale and resonante with it like a mantra.

Already in school our Children learn that it is impossible to have overview, that you can not be a generalist, and there is no order or systematic in global affairs and a globalising world. In a nutshel we and our youth are condemned to specialise and overspecialize, knowing more and more about less and less, that we can not develop an idea what we can know, where to find what we search, and how it relates to other pieces of knowledge or wisdom.

My work with the cognitive panorama [LINK] or call it cognitive panoptic panorama is exactly about that, the possibility to step back, or reach a high position to see a bigger picture. This picture should be of something simple, coherent, and complete, so you know the frame and where the elements have their place. It is of a smaller scale, with a coarser granularity, so you can see the outline and the context, well aware of loosing the detail. We wrote about survey knowledge, which might be "panoptic" if you go the metaphor of just seeing, as there are other forms of expereincing, senses, and ingelligences you might want to include in the "overall" knowing and seeing. Please see: "Granularity and Context of Knowledge" in this Know-Map article [LINK]

Open Questions:

This leads to the challenge of post-materialism. Can we find and share orientation?, May we use metaphors of seeing, eye, perspective, or models like house, garden, ocean to befriend us and make us feel "at home" with something out of reach, something we can physically trouch or not directly "see" ? Can we make use of models to make such other dimensions concrete and real us, and so help us share, negotiate, discuss, change issues on on other scale-platforms or beyond our direct reach? Can we learn from concepts like Truthing and Fideltity, to compare our constructions or models with "reality" and so learn about pragmatics and sensemaking, and comming to grips with issues the public or we tapically ignore and neglect?

Possible Answers / Directions to explore:

If you consider the above not too strange or alien, maybe you want to see what cultural philosophers like Jean Gebser wrote about the Integral, and the need to make issues concrete. He even used the word a-perspective as a new and advanced level of seeing. He explicitely said this is not ""not-perspective", so maybe we can understsand it as "extra-pespective", which includes al the other forms moves on onto higher levels of human development. For more read "Concreteness": and "Show or Schau?":

Proposing new models, schemas, grids, or designs to explore and negotiate something "panoptic" can only be the second step. First we need to cultivate our ways to have true dialog, in short to participate and share and go eyond the need to be "right" or having "to agree": On this way I propose to read:,, and:

As an aside:

The work of the author has focussed on international data repositories and information management or knowledge organisation. It had to do with what is where, in which language or discispline, and from which time. The concepts developed 15-20 years ago did not make it as there was little awareness of the issue of new media and modern computer technologies in our international policy bodies - so funds and admistrative turfs were a unsurmountable problem. Besides, as with all futures and global look-out studies, the technology was not there (yet) and so long-views are considered alienating or endangering, so - the author moved on to fields like environment and education. Today the information technology is there - knowbots can help us find and filter - but also hide as what they do is intransparent and invisible, and so we humans have little ideas, ways , and means to find something which is not stored in a certain "facon". Besides, everything in different languages, sign systems, or spelling is lost totally or in translation. The question is: do we just go for full-text research and "eat what is served" or do we want to visit and know the ontologies. This is a question not just for science and policy, but also for any kind of epistemiology and learning.


post-materialism,.. not-given, comprehensive, .. coherent - complete?? panoopticon, metaphorics, just words, just images, just symbols, amnalogies and metaphors?? - signs systems !

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