University of Earth
Projects Overview
Encyclopedia Project (Explanations)

Assessment: Future possibilities

Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


1. Further research possibilities

The information in this publication is maintained in computer files as summarized in Section TZ. The project to date has been, and should continue to be, a data-collection and presentation exercise. The existence of an updated data base of this kind should also facilitate some types of research which have hitherto been almost impossible.

The data collected will not, for example, contribute directly to research using quantitative models, although it may suggest some problems and relationships for inclusion in such models. A precondition for conventional model building is a minimum of quantitative information on the dynamics of the relationship between two or more selected levels or quantities in the system. The "problems" become evident by interpretation of the results of the quantitative analysis. In the absence of quantitative information, or where the latter is vulnerable to criticism, no other systematic analysis has been possible.

One use of the data collected in this project will be to test whether results can emerge from analyzing the networks of relationships as networks in which qualitative rather than quantitative values are attached to the links between the nodes. The readily available tools of graph theory and topology, for example, have not yet been applied with computer assistance to such data (see Section TZ).

For example, it should prove useful to conduct computer comparisons of the degree of isomorphism of a network of interrelated problems and the corresponding network of agencies (or treaties, or disciplines) which purport to focus upon them. If the functional interlinkages, particularly communication channels, of the latter do not correspond to the linkages (or degree of structural complexity) of the problems, then it is probable that problem complex is uncontained, and uncontainable, by the programmes of the agencies as they are currently implemented. It would seem that in a world system characterised by a number of relatively complex networks on which information is largely unavailable or inadequate for numerical analysis, such techniques could be used to identify and analyze clusters and critical points for action.

2. Improved relationship to international organizations

Since this volume is integrated with the Yearbook of International Organizations, any improvements will be closely related to improvements to that publication and could comprise:

3. Display possibilities

This project will succeed to the degree that it can render transparent the complexity it attempts to map. This poses the problem of developing a satisfactory form of display. Although the hardware exists and some software has been developed to handle network structures in three dimensions and colour, this work has hitherto been confined to engineering design, architecture and chemistry, and its potential for handling the great complexity of social structures is poorly recognised.

An advantage of holding the relationships in computer files as components of directed graphs is that such graphs can be plotted (in colour) by computer with appropriate labelling and choice of projection. As a descriptive device for highly complex structures, apart from permitting relatively sophisticated analyses, a graph representation can be transformed into much more iconic forms than those conventionally used to describe psychosocial structures, and is thus more comprehensible. Detailed problem "maps" can therefore be produced, printed and bound into "atlases" - the argument being that people (whether students, executives, researchers or policy makers) have at least as much need for such visual devices to orient themselves in the social system as they have for road and other maps (see Section TZ).

Comprehension will be made easier by on-line computer graphics devices (discussed in Section TZ) with display screens to permit the user to interact with that part of the network he chooses progressively to explore, at the level of display complexity which he is prepared to tolerate, and with the ability to call up textual explanation, use computational power, or activate a parallel slide display whenever required.Such exploration can be recorded on videotape for wider use (eg in a decision-making environment) or sectionalised for production as a series of printed maps.

Just as the structural analysis advocated above falls between the popular extremes of quantitative analysis and (case-oriented) "qualitative" studies, so the structural display falls between the extremes of tabular output (or the graph equivalent), text output (resulting from conventional information retrieval), and purely aesthetic displays (resulting from the increasing use of computers by artists).

Harold Lasswell's point with regard to policy makers could be made for all those not numerate, within and outside the research community: "Why do we put so much emphasis on audio-visual means of portraying goal, trend, condition, projection, and alternative? Partly because so many valuable participants in decision-making have dramatizing imaginations... They are not enamoured of numbers or of analytic abstractions. They are at their best in deliberations that encourage contextuality by a varied repertory of means, and where an immediate sense of time, space, and figure is retained".

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