Recently I created a mind map to make sense of all my writing and thoughts. I have many pages of electronic thoughts, ideas and happenings that I wished to collect those together into a single navigable overview. I have tried mind maps before but found them to be too restrictive. So it was not until I found a tool that was more flexible and not designed for mind maps that I decided to create a mind map using that tool. I will not describe details concerning the tool, rather I will describe my discoveries creating my mind map.
It begins with the idea of information bubbles which are related to filter bubbles which can then lead to echo chambers. These are all similar and related concepts, for me though the information bubble is simply the limit of our personal knowledge and information base, beyond it lies blissful ignorance. Our information bubble surrounds us and represents our current knowledge and assumptions of our surroundings.
Everyone has their informational bubbles be they reinforced by social media or search engines or just by the people around us - being human forces us to live in information bubbles. For me, the question becomes how do I discover the boundaries of that information bubble and how do I discover the lands outside that bubble? I am going to concern myself with mapping information bubbles using mind maps and the fruitless attempts to escape information bubbles. Mind maps are not street maps, making them an imperfect tool for escaping information bubbles. But what if there was another solution, another way out?
Technology is not to be blamed.
Technology is not to be blamed for our information bubbles, technology only reinforces what we, as humans naturally do. Being humans means living in an information bubble, else reality and our surroundings would overwhelm us.
Human information bubbles stem from our mental draws - our minds can be pictured as large cupboards with many draws. Each draw represents a simplification we create concerning our surroundings and our reality. Each drawer has a label and we are continually putting in and taking out of these draws. Our mental concepts for the basis of life - “water”, “fire”, “earth”, and so on - represent the basic draws of our cupboards. Collectively these draws influence our construction of our informational bubbles.
Thus technology is not creating information bubbles, rather technology is reinforcement. Technology also makes use of information bubbles and assumptions based on those bubbles. However it is not the technology that is enslaving us, humans creating the technology are in control of the technology and could just as well make it differently if information bubbles were seen to be bad.
Can information bubbles be good?
For many information bubbles provide a safe space where nothing bad can happen. These are the spaces where we surround ourselves with like-minded others who we know won’t confront us. These spaces are wonderful but fragile. They can easily be disturbed by external forces. They are a type of labile space. A labile state is a stable state that once disturbed, will not return to the original state. On the other hand, a stable state is one that will return to its original state if disturbed.
Imagine a bowl with a marble in the bottom. Pushing the marble will move it around the bowl but eventually the marble will come to rest at its original position. That is a stable state. A labile state is turning the bowl around and placing the marble at the peak of the bowl. The marble perfectly balanced steady state but when disturbed, the marble will roll down never to return to its original steady state - to the peak of the bowl.
For us in our bubbles all is well until something disturbs this bubble. Once it has been disturbed, it will never be the same as before because of all the effort required to create the bubble in the first place.
Information bubbles are entropy free zones.
Entropy is a measure of randomness, order goes against entropy. The higher the entropy of a system, the more chaotic it is. Imagine pouring hot water into a tub of cold water, the entropy increases as the hot water spreads throughout the tub giving the water an even temperature throughout, at the same the water molecules are more chaotic and dispersed. Systems left on their own, without any external interference, tend to a state with the highest possible entropy.
Informational bubbles pretend that entropy does not happen, that disorder and chaos are outside of the bubble and will not affect the bubble. The bubble is stable and ordered and will remain that way - ideally - forever. As the Earth within the Universe - ordered, stable and protected by a thin layer of gases called the atmosphere. Except for the occasional meteor or astroid, we are all safe and contented on spaceship Earth. The universe is unfortunately not stable and has ever increasing entropy. It is everything other than we pretend it to be.
In the long term an information bubble will burst. That is a natural part of living, the external forces will one day break in. As children our parents protected us from things we were not meant to know. We have sex education in school and finally we became parents ourselves. This is the cycle of human existence - without children, without information bubbles we won’t be here. Information bubbles have their place, without them we would not be able to cope with the complexities of existence.
The information bubbles that I would like to escape from are not the basic concepts we have builtin from our natural surroundings. I would like to address the information bubbles that technology unknowingly creates around us. Protecting us from the controversial opinions that, ironically though could bring us to new wisdoms and lead us to question the old wisdoms, expanding our intellectual horizons.
How to escape the bubble?
Recognition is the first step to cure. Realising and accepting that there is knowledge beyond our boundaries is a step. How to we break through those boundaries? Our information bubbles do not have signposts: don’t go there. Or doors marked with do not enter here, or in case of unknowingness, break glass. In short, the boundaries of our information bubbles are transparent, not signposted and we can only make a guess where those boundaries are.
To escape something, maps can very useful, so perhaps one approach would be to create a map of our information bubble, a cartographic representation. We implicitly do this everyday by giving our opinions and talking to others but we do not do this in a structured manner. Mind maps are for me one possible structured attempt to map out my information bubble.
Wikipedia describes mind maps as:
A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information into a hierarchy, showing relationships among pieces of the whole. It is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the center of a blank page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are added. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those major ideas.
Expanding this idea, imagine creating a mind map with all your thoughts, fears, ideas, worries, intentions and beliefs as circles and connections as lines. Imagine that the lines have no meaning other than there is a connection between two concepts, be it a dependency or an influence or a feeling. Connections only have vague meaning for the creator. Imagine being able to connect anything with anything else. Classic mind maps have an enforced direction on connections, going out from a central concept.
When I think of mind maps, I imagine such an ad-hoc chaotic representation of my mind. Meaning that anything is allowed and everything can be connected. Connections have no meaning other than that they lead me to somewhere else in my mind. For me it is similar to doodling on a piece of paper, random doodles are created, expanded and replaced. Order and organisation comes later, meaning comes later, and interpretation is the final step.
Creating my own mind map.
I found the tool, I partly adapted it to my needs and created the mind map I had imagined. Having gone through the exercise, I can only say that it is a lot of work and discipline. It remains an ongoing project, it will most certainly never be completed. I have to admit I had a lot of source material. I meticulously write down all my thoughts and ideas, I keep a diary of these ideas and the events that lead up to them. Thankfully all of it was in electronic form. And it was this source material that actually led me to do this. I was faced with a one-dimensional world of writings, I no longer knew what was there. I needed a new representation, a two-dimensional representation.
The mind map I created was a bi-directional, multi-connectional chaotic collection of nodes, each with their own concept (the colour) and own specifics (the text). Each line represents a relationship between nodes, the meaning of which remains mine to define. My mind map became a two-dimensional representations of my mind and writings, my reality is the three dimensional manifestation of that mind map.
Can a mind map decompose an information bubble?
I came realise that the mind map I had created was a representation of my information bubble, of my biases and of my blind spots. I had created an honest and truthful map of my ideas, thoughts and beliefs, a graphical representation of my information bubble had been born. It was a cartographic representation of my information bubble. The mind map had decomposed my information bubble into its elementary components in form of concepts of my choosing.
Unfortunately a mind map is not a street map or a map of a city. A street map shows us all the other streets of a city, a personal mind map has unvisited areas however these are just blank. In that sense the mind map does not make it easy for us to escape our information bubbles, it only decomposes it into fundamental components.
A mind map shows only what we put into it, a mind map does not show what is missing. Our information bubble tells us nothing about what else is out there, our mind maps are a mirrors into our minds, not the plan of escape we seek.
I faced this frustrating situation especially having spent a lifetime creating this amazingly complex information bubble in my head, having mapped it into a complex mind map, how can I now find those unmapped streets, avenues or parks? How can I move outside of the known areas of my mind.
Enter analogical thinking!
Taking the analogy with street maps a step further. We have global street maps, Open Street Map is a societally built and maintained map of the world. We have a societally built and maintained one-dimensional source of knowledge - Wikipedia. Would it not be a benefit to all to have an open collection of mind maps? Allowing us all to escape our own bubbles?
Take the map, share and explore the unknown lands.
I imagine a site where you begin from your mind map and move along new connections to other mind maps from fellow astronauts on spaceship Earth. Because you begin in places you know - your own mind map - moving around from that knowledge space is a gentle confrontation with other thoughts and views.
As I move along my mind map paths, I will always encounter other paths that other people have taken, it is up to me to take those new paths, unexplored for me regions represent those places other have already been. Combining mind maps from many will be represent a global atlas of knowledge, such as Wikipedia does in one-dimension, openmindmap.org would build those street maps of human knowledge.
The irony of any such application would be that the underlying algorithms would implicitly create, if even somewhat larger, further information bubbles. This irony is not lost on the author!