Skip to content

Category: Future Of Text

Continuing symposium on the future of text.

RX1, DOUG, Life

Life is exciting, life is good. The RX1 is a marvel and I used with great joy over the weekend. Family Easter (a week early) was quite wonderful and the DOUG project is causing me some serious excitement. Anyway, back to work…

Winter IceCold MountainBy the fire

Leave a Comment


Thoughts from the book:

Before Controlled Fire

Think back to what it must have been like on the African plains before 400,000 years ago. Sometimes when the evening came the heavens wouldn’t always have been as dark as we we city dwellers are used to today, with our cities producing a large amount of light pollution. When there were no clouds the milky way with the stars sprinkled all over the sky and the moon would have been our companions.

Wether or not it was cloudy or clear at night, it would not have been enough light available for us to do much productive work in, and of course moon and star light does not warm us.

Before we could control fire we could stay up late, but there was likely little incentive to do so and in darkness we would soon tire.

Early Use of Fire

We have used fire to burn off unproductive vegetation and encourage new growth which in turn also encourage more small animals to come for longer than records can tell us. You could say that our use of fire was ‘fire-stick’ farming.

Controlled Use of Fire

400,000 years ago we control fire – we can create fire at will, with profound consequences for our further evolution:

Fire reduced the harshness of winter, allowing us to occupy cooler places and thereby become masters of larger parts of our planet.

Fire helped improve toolmaking by allowing us to harden blades. Fire would also help us make functional pottery, heat rocks to free metals and later bake tokens and tablets for the first writing.

Fire changed our diet by allowing us to cook food, making pieces of meat we could previously not eat tender through the heat, making meat last longer after cooking and reducing parasites (which may have had very far reaching consequences beyond reducing illness from hostile parasites, considering that our healthy, functioning bodies today are host to a very large number (by some measures it could be 95%) of bacteria in a commensalistic (non-harmful to the host relationship) relationship).

Fire also became used for signaling using smoke which contributed to inter-tribal communication and collaboration – when you have a longer range means of communication it pays to use it by making allies of those you can reach, to help you prepare for attacks by those further away. There is speculation that this may have been a key to us winning out over the Neanderthals – wider cooperation made possible by fire smoke signaling.

Sociability & The Creative Mindset

Now we not only manage fire for changing large swathes of forest, now  we have fine enough control over fire to bring it home and huddle around it, stay up late in close proximity, socialize, and think different – firelight had pried open the conscious part of the circadian rhythm we had evolved in – we stayed awake longer, with a new mindset.
Our own eyes are not nocturnally optimized so there is not much hunting we can do late in the evening.  We put idle hands to good use working our tools but not to a significant degree (which didn’t evolve much for thousands upon thousands of years).
In the evenings, fire would foster sociability within the tribe as we would huddle up and stay in close proximity for extended periods of time, something there would be little value to do during the day. Henry le Lumley points out in ‘Becoming Human’ that “fire was mainly a factor in inspiring conviviality. Group spirit was surely kindled around the hearth. This was the birth of the first myths. It is at this point that the first regional traditions emerged: the first cultural identities, showing styles and design in the manufacture of some tools”.

We build hearths and start to see the world in a different light, visually as well as metaphorically

The Games People Play

Maybe we create the first ‘games’ on such evenings? Maybe it started with more controlled play? Maybe we added ‘game pieces’ later, in a mirror of how we invented counting and writing?  I would like to suggest that the difference between sports (team or individual) and games (card games through chess etc.) is largely that sports are daylight activities with emphasis on competition but games are evening purists with emphasis on sociability. Can it be that games made us more social, rather than gaming coming from our sociability? Maybe, but it’s clear a different social interaction would take form in such closely huddled, warm and safe settings.

Whatever the stages of social evolution, the animal which spreads out at leisure during the day and goes to sleep when the sun goes down, is a very different animal from the one which huddles closer long into the evening, around a warming, illuminating fire, bringing the individuals closer.

The Rhythm

Over the eons, all life evolved in the pulse of light and dark, lasting a day and a night, with varying lengths depending on the time of year (which is why Circadian Rhythm, derived from the Latin words ‘circa dies’ meaning “approximately a day”.) The timing of the sun moving across the heavens and disappearing was always with us. Our eyes evolved… “… from a simple light sensor for circadian and seasonal rhythms around 600 million years ago to an optically and neurologically sophisticated organ by 500 million years ago.” Trevor D. Lamb.

The Rhythm : The Light

As the circadian rhythm changed with the control of fire, the sunset period would last as long as we had fire wood. The sunset darkens over the horizon and the flames come out, the colour of burning wood have a similar colour to a sunset (6-700nm wavelength or so), so fire indeed draws out the sunset, it does not disrupt it.

With fire, there was reason to stay awake longer, and we did: Humans historically spend about 8 hours a night sleeping, whereas our closest cousins chimps, rhesus monkeys, squirrel monkeys and baboons spend 10 hours in bed ( Gorillas 12 and owl monkeys spend 17 hours sleeping per day. Fire definitively seems to have lengthened our waking time.

As we stay awake longer, most of the predators we fear are kept at bay by the firelight so we can relax more than we can during the day or during the night before the time we  controlled fire.

The Rhythm : The Chemicals

Our bodies change daily in concert with the rhythm of the colors of the light changing from reddish in the morning to whitish blue and back to reddish, changing our state of alertness, body temperature and pressure, metabolism, and reproduction.

Joan Roberts explains that: “Because of these hormonal changes, the circadian dark/light cycle controls and modifies the sleep/wake cycle, blood pressure, metabolism, reproduction, and the immune response.”

Let’s look at Joan Roberts list in more detail: Light exposure in the morning increases Cortisol, the stress hormone, Serotonin which deals with impulse control, Gaba – available to calm us down and Dopamine perking up our alertness levels as well as modifying the synthesis of follicle stimulating hormone (reproduction), gastrin releasing peptide and neuropeptide Y (hunger). As the day progresses we are showered by strong blue-white light, stress and alertness increases and is controlled.

The sunset period allows for the  production of Melatonin which promotes sleep and dreaming. World Of Molecules reports on research by Alan Lewis (Melatonin and the Biological Clock 1999) that some hallucinogenic drugs emulate melatonin activity in the awakened state and that both act on the same areas of the brain.

Controversial as it may be that Melatonin may have hallucinogenic properties, it’s clear that we are chemically different during the morning, noon, evening and night and with fire twilight has been stretched beyond what was available before – we become relaxed, yet there is reason and opportunity to stay awake for longer.  This is a new chemical state of mind, brought about by the new, longer evening light.

The Creative Mindset

Picture the difference between the wide-eyed, clear thinking and discussion you might have when going for a walk during the day vs the deep, perhaps mystical, conjectures discussed over an open flame in the late evening.

Picture further how fire would allow us to shine flickering lights on cave paintings, giving life and ‘animating’ the lines we mark.

Being tired during the day you have the sun’s signals telling you to wake up. Being tired at night you are in synch with your body chemistry and you can think looser, without the stress of reality in the form of stress and alertness hormones shaping the meanderings of your musings.

Dreams are made when we are safe, free, warm and relaxed.

Dreams are realized in the cold glare of reality.

Together we have a harmony of progress.

Leave a Comment

State of Year Of Understanding.

I have a dream of being able to help organise a Year Of Understanding. Here is my pitch document at this early stage, mostly for internal use.




The Year Of Understanding, 2014



If there is one single thing the world needs today it’s increased understanding of the issue facing us in science, finance, culture, technology, medicine, environmental and faith and spirituality. We believe that focus on ‘understanding’, in itself – not just information, can have a marked positive effect.

There is enough selling of positions and beliefs, there is too much of defending of current understanding without the freedom to expand and increase understanding and wash away misunderstanding.

The goal would be to end the year with a measurable increase in the public’s understanding of the world and of each other.

Exactly what would happen and how is very much up for discussion with the partner organizations but here is an outline of suggestions and possibilities.

The inspiration was the Olympics and Paralympics, particularly the opening and closing ceremonies. The celebration of striving and victory was beautiful and inspiring. Why not celebrate understanding the same way? Why not have a full year of understanding with ceremonies, exhibitions, talks and dialog, all based around the goal of increasing our understanding of each other and our world!

We aim to get government to declare 2014 the Year Of Understanding and to institutions all over the world to focus their events and exhibitions with the aim of increasing understanding. 



Themes can include science, technology, nature, health, environment, faith, cultures & art.

Showing off is one thing. Learning dry material in a classroom can be uninspiring. Having a full year where the theme is Understanding can be enlivening.


Seminars & Exhibitions

The program would include a series of seminars from notable, well known individuals each based around a theme. Candidates we will approach include Stephen Fry and Brian Cox.

Events should all be available to the public in person as well as over the internet.

Exhibitions at major institutions will be tuned to support the themes.

Both high and low technology will be employed as appropriate, including innovative use of Augmented Reality and other novel ways to help people see their world in new ways to deepen their understanding.


Technology Enhanced Dialog : Understand

The promise of the internet and the web to deliver large scale dialog systems remains largely untapped. Comment systems break under the weight of dozens of comments and cannot function with hundreds. Commercial services deliver what suits their commercial needs. An open, user co-developed system which supports real dialog will be a powerful force in supporting democratic dialog.

This promise can be realized and it should be realized in an open way and that is a constituent proposal for the Year Of Understanding: To research and compile the issues of large scale collaboration systems in order to build real-world set of requirements, to specify a flexible technical solution, to build and test a system which will continue to be modified with use. We simply call it Understand.

There is nothing designed for Understand at this point. The process of gathering real requirements will be a key part of building this system. Fundamental criteria include, but are not limited to:

User Experience

Basic Tenets

Shallow learning curve for basic use.

Opportunity for further learning for more powerful interaction.

Functional Requirements

Clean and clear reading.

Ability to navigate along many criteria (authors, regions, keywords…)

Multiple threading of dialog.

Annotation, tagging and rating.



Decentralized architecture.

Open Source Components and contributions of all code back to the Open Source community.


Large scale online dialog will either be open or owned by the next Facebook. It’s up to us to decide what we prioritize.



There are no confirmed partners at this early stage, though we plan to start with organizations in London, including The Natural History Museum, The British Library, the Royal Society, The Science Museum and The British Museum, as well as educational institutions.

The hope is for a global initiative with a British origin and heart, continuing from the 2012 olympic spirit. We will also talk to US institutions and TED, the global lecture series.



The initiative was conceived by and is organized by Frode Hegland of the Liquid Information Company, London:  Contact: Frode Hegland :

The structure and direction of The Year Of Understanding is open, transparent and democratic. Neither Frode Hegland nor anyone else associated with the program owns any intellectual property associated with the initiative.

The organizing committee will be non-profit and registered, with no remit beyond bringing partners together to create a wondrous year of understanding.


Leave a Comment