IFIP - International Federation for Information Processing
Klaus Brunnstein, E. Raubold (Eds.): Applications and Impacts, Information Processing '94, Proceedings of the IFIP 13th World Computer Congress,
Hamburg, Germany, 28 August - 2 September, 1994. North-Holland, 1994, ISBN 0-444-81987-8

The Hyperlink ECO-CUBE

A Central Piece of a Knowledge Panorama

for Clearinghouse Organisation and (Environmental) Education

Heiner Benking

1. Introduction

Environmental problems at all levels, from local to global, are increasingly complex and multidimensional. Effective solutions to such problems, particularly education, must be transdisciplinary and intersectorial. When learning about any subject or addressing any issue we have to localise and identify the subject scope, context and relevance in relation to other items or issues. A mapping or representation framework is therefore mandatory, a universal scale-independent lattice on which observations and available knowledge are integrated. A workable representation of Nature needs the "design of a complete picture on which all knowledge and all observation are integrated" (Objective Knowledge by Popper). The author reviews an image or imagination void and proposes "Views of Life" to be filled with nested images and imagination. Knowledge and expertise transfer or intuitive playing with objects and subjects is needed in order to make positive sense of Cyberspace, like children need a ball to play soccer. Hyperlinks and hyper- communication form the links, elastic bands or webs representing and linking objects, and locations, structures and functions.

As we learn from cognitive science, in particular the work of (Piaget 1992, 1993) and the recent work of (Churchland 1979, 1985, 1992) we use internally a topographical organisation scheme to overlay and combine two dimensional observations into n-dimensional models. This abstraction, composition and decomposition process needs further attention. We need to learn how in early childhood observations are formed to models which are real and have enough plasticity to navigate and operate inside, and in this way forming the mind's eye.

We realise that our present world models are poor in regard to incorporating real and imaginary scenes and map not directly observable dimensions. Our (representation) picture of the real or physical world lacks missing width and depth and needs extendibility for better plotting and understanding scales, proportions, and consequences and mapping broader issues and discourse.

The design of the CUBE allows a coarse but unobstructed and continuous view, a comprehensive representation of the domains of the real world, in which areas of expertise, bodies of knowledge and observations can be integrated. This paper presents embryonic approaches which ease access to, and allow navigation in a knowledge map (multi-dimensional knowledge chart), or better knowledge panorama. Such a unifying vision of a scale-independent imaginary continuum, can becompared to panning and zooming, combining the functionality of microscope and telescope in the real world.

To stratify knowledge in a small-scale three-dimensional knowledge-map, the form of an organisation scheme or multidimensional networked layout is advisable. The link to geographical co-ordinates (the real-world) and other order systems and repositories for finer detail is necessary.

Advanced visual information system technology features, archiving and documentation issues, interface design theory and discussions on mental models and cognitive viewpoints are central elements of this proposal. Practical considerations range from education to knowledge organisation and management. The environment is seen as a good test field to check the practicability and check links to possible other reference systems. The critical test for such a new representation scheme is a simple, consistent, and comprehensive design, allowing detailing with variable foci and theme compositions.

The objective is to counteract the missing perception and ability to communicate about time and magnitudes and address terminological bias by increasing awareness about size, proportion, and consequence through conceptualisation and imagination. Applications in education, harmonisation, and object or resource management are especially suited to detail and improve the concept and test its acceptance and usefulness.

Of particular foresight and of great help to the design of the ECO-CUBE polyscopic reference paradigm, or knowledge panorama were the definitions of the challenges to mankind as described by di Castri and Hadley (1985,86,88). Both authors explained very early the new paradigms needed and ways of merging optical and digital concepts and technologies.

2. Problem Areas:


·Data overload, under-use and misuse (intentionally or unintentionally)

·Critical or unknown source or quality of information in combination with imagined or dubious original intention, purpose or value


·Limitations of the human sensory domain to match Nature

·Apathy due to lack of orientation, order, and values

·New horizons and perspectives require new consensus on spaces or scenes to plot and communicate about location, function, and direction

Communication and Integration:

·Educational systems over specialisation and lack of system thinking

·Lack of communication across cultures and languages


·Transitional phase to higher order

Prospect: Software systems presently experiencing a quantum leap in processing power can assist genuine human capabilities by providing the following support: ·organisation, navigation, documentation, and visualisation

·fast recognition, storage and retrieval

·data fusion and superimposition

·evaluation and assimilation assistance

·channelling and igniting creativity

Emphasis should be laid on reinforcing human capabilities to check the increasing power of systems by overseeing results and their dimensions. The training to ease orientation and thinking in scales and issues can possibly balance the credibility crisis caused by unreal or unchallenged results of number- and "image-crunching".
  Why is environmental education and management a challenging application?

·Need for a transdisciplinary approach along & across diverse scales

(qualitative & quantitative, linear & non-linear, concrete & abstract)

·Need for a framework to cover a daily widening sphere of attention

(focus from local to global, from the village to the world)

·information glut/inflation in the multi-media and cyberspace age is a new

phenomenon (missing relations, no physical and explainable impressions)

3. Introduction to the first stage of the design concept

This paper reviews and proposes scaffoldings and maps objects in landscapes and mindscapes. Such an organisation can help to draw new (mind) maps thereby opening new doors to areas or bodies of data or knowledge. The design concept can therefore be compared with a warehouse or clearinghouse for data and knowledge, comprising of slots in the form of transparent "crystal" cells. We no longer have only a scaffolding of "pigeon holes" or slots and an address with or without content as offered for mailbox news services, but logic in the design inviting and demanding a transdisciplinary concept in the first place. In such a way neighbourhood and context come into view. Such a design seems slowly becoming possible due to a quantum leap in the field visualisation and of quantitative and qualitative processing. Prerequisite is some thought about the generally missing common terms of reference and ordering systems. They form the foundation of any possible design in the field of research and teaching, areas where we do not know the question and answer in the first place!

The goal of the first stage is to design a knowledge store. We need system and software architects to design such an optimal "store". The proper maintenance of such an "expertise and experience store" is a challenging task and critically depending on a logical and practical layout. The following critical step is making use of the "knowledge goods and goodies" in place/at hand. A possible catalytic fusion of its content, primarily containing quality checked core-knowledge (Jaenecke 1994), will provide the engendering requested at many places in times of transition. Not to reinvent nature, but to listen and learn better and possibly identify sustainable design which is in harmony with nature, inviting approaches similar to the way nature optimised functions (Brown 1994). Looking again, perhaps with more awareness and curiosity makes sense when assuming real and artificial viewpoints for making sense from observations in highly complex and differentiated domains.

"(Hu)man(kind) sees further than it can think" is an idiom which can be found in many languages. This paper therefore intends to harness these visual powers by depicting items in a hierarchical framework. It will focus on how to identify structures in volumes of heterogeneous and inconsistent information. The combination of structures and patterns catalyses and brings about new qualities and insights if the design matches the object which in case of nature can be portrayed only very crudely and top down as a preselection approach. Later we need to design and learn to maintain and continuously adapt pathfinders (terms already in use for data management) to better navigate in the universe of observable things (cosmos - see Fig. 5). How we view and use space is thus an approach of critical, theoretical and practical, importance. Consistently designed frameworks can help us to check the magnitude and locality of our observations and train our perception and imagination. Learning to map ways and chart courses in the unknown terrain of findings and observations is fun, identifying similarities at various platforms and levels is reassuring and in accordance with nature's design.

We are talking in this paper only about a framework and how to find reference points and search for common patterns. Possible applications are in the field of knowledge organisation, to make use of data and knowledge in a positive way, by pleasing the thinker, and supporting mankind at the same time (Doppler). This is done best on an individual basis, with an open mind('s eye).

The second stage of the design, focusing on the field of knowledge management and awareness issues, will be presented at another place (Benking, Grossmann 1994).

3.1 The first part of the knowledge panorama design proposal

We can learn to move objects in this imaginary "universal" warehouse organised in shelves which we can approach by identifying visual, tactile, and motor spaces. This is slowly becoming possible due to the quantum leap in symbolic and sub-symbolic processing.

Learning to make better use of sensory- audio-motoric perception of space is the necessary to relate observations of the eye and the mind's eye. This is necessary not only to master new sphere, scales and domains, but prominently to enhance human capabilities to better match with the soaring capabilities of number and image crunching.

The first stage proposals separated into three steps:

1. Definition of the ECO-CUBE as the basic reference space for thematic data and information with the axis definition: discipline/subject, time and scale (magnitude/size). The intention is to plot specified data or knowledge in a normalised, orthogonal, repeatable and simple form - (See 3.1.1).

2. Visual support to assess and explore complex interwoven issues. (The Latin word videre= to see and recognise is the basis for the German words for knowledge and wisdom (Wissen and Weisheit) To "oversee" and orient/accustom oneself in the specific domains and train the mind's eye. This overrides problems with discipline definitions, language ambiguities, specific jargon and cultural bias and prestructures access of catalogues and thesauri - (3.1.2).

3. To link a topographic reference with a thematic reference. Links are necessary to match and classify objects in the real world more appropriately, congruently, consistently and predictively and to address more universally objects, subjects, and issues concerning Man & Nature in reliable and repeatable way- (3.1.3).

With the advent of Hyperlinks and Hyperknowledge the field of linking subjects and clarifying the relationships among taxonomies and semantics is evolving rapidly. The term gr. "chora" has the meaning of "space/location" and also "content" and that is what this proposal is all about. The capabilities register and to navigate in spaces can also be applied to mental models - to an imaginary terra incognita which makes sense! - or cyberspaces with real-world implication and application.

3.1.1 Matrix-cell combinations and flexible categories

Our eye can easily identify information and structures. The use of a grid to structure information helps to organise information according to the dimensions and scales selected. Using a grid is actually a trick to better utilise human capabilities. Later processing can be made much easier by properly structuring and positioning the information in spacial scaffoldings.

Due to the fact that we can only visualise three dimensions in a single picture, it was necessary to select three arbitrary axis descriptions. The definition of Ecology, which requires "interaction along and across hierarchical scales", was selected as being the most comprehensive and meaningful. The first box below is called "Rubik's Cube of Ecology" and consists therefore of just three categories for each side: Diversity/Discipline: inanimate-, animated nature, and culture; micro-, Magnitude/Size: meso-, macro-scale; TIME: past, present, and future.

Fig 1: Cells, boxes or slots containing (data, observations, areas of expertise, bodies of data or knowledge) for visual inspection, exploration, and catalytic combination.

In the second box, with 5x5x5 cells, we can already structure and detail very complex situations and see "at a glance" areas of concern or interest. The 5 cell cube shows for example a working area of towns and regions in the natural and social context studying settlements before Christ and the disciplines involved in the research. This image can show where a colleague is working, and might be the search key for an indexing and graphical retrieval system.

Ekistics, as the science of the human settlements, has defined 5 basic categories: Nature, Man, Society, Infrastructure, Structure (Shell), see box 2 and 3 below. The physical "Blackbox Nature" design of the GLOBAL CHANGE touring exhibition (Benking 1987, 1990) uses 7 categories: Theoretical Natural Sciences, Applied Natural Sciences, Geo-, Life-, Economic-, Social- and Cultural- Sciences or makes tentative use of the International Coding and Classification System (ICC) to prestructure bodies of knowledge.

Reminder: To organise bodies of knowledge practical cell combinations should not exceed 12 cells to not overload and frustrate human endeavour.

Each Category has many sub-categories; they are structured in a hierarchical way, called a thesaurus in technical or linguistic applications. In each science we have general thesauri to differentiate fields or topics down to the fine detail.

Specialisation gives the advantage of precision but with this comes a disadvantage of loss of overview and inability to address neighbouring field adequately. To compare the advantages of integration and of segregation see Benking, Kampffmeyer (1992). Therefore, a growing demand is developing to reinvent unbiased and innocent "Views of Life", the child's eye. Such a transdisciplinarity is mandatory for the requested holistic "interacting along and across scales", for fusion and engendering, doing the way nature does. This need is vividly experienced in the field of Ecology, but applies also to other areas, to the exchange between experts and laymen and communication in general. We increasingly observe that the more domain experts specialise, the more they are unable to describe their field, the methods they use, and the knowledge they use to solve problems. We need to bring the local factors or experts to calibrate and verify statements, making sure that intuitive overview and fine detail match.

3.1.2 Visual Access and Assimilation

Another critical part of this concept is the combination of linear and non-linear scales. Through inspection and visual intuitive approaches, missing data or bodies of knowledge can be identified easily.

It is easy to highlight transdisciplinary subjects in one reference frame if each body of knowledge can be represented in the crystal cell framework. Visual inspection, alongside a computer-based visualisation, can help to illuminate issues and their scope. In this way a three-dimensional badge was proposed, like an expertise ISBN numbers. This is the next logical step for portraying coded and non-coded data in its context with proper origin label.

We can describe subjects by just locating "crystal" cells in the Cube instead of sketching with a few lines and symbols a complex situation and having others guess what it means. . Consequently, effects of neighbourhood or directions then come "automatically" or more associatively into view . We have a much more complex multi-dimensional "scene" with the focus on time and change in many sciences and applications, not only in Economy and Ecology. . But how do we see, understand, and "envision" it? - Why not create a scene, as a composer creates a mental picture of his piece of music before he goes to the piano, or the architect sees his design and understands the spaces and rooms and functions, even before the building is erected?

Examples of representations: Not only paintings or pictures, but also cross-cultural information, jokes, idioms, and metaphors can in a few lines describe an overall, or governing idea. The concept of the "Ecological View-of-Life" refers to training of the brain to "compute" in pictures, to compare structures more often, and to think in pictures and metaphors (as a very high form of abstraction which can be more easily communicated across language or cultural barriers, and which has various creative and catalytic positive side-effects.

Perception of space and navigating in spaces, cells or "rooms", or quarters (see the townscape discussion in the field of knowledge organisation), has a very basic cognitive dimension and training is required to get used to combining perceptions in stereoscopic models and navigate in these real or artificial environments. Research efforts in the field of perception, cultural context, differentiation and navigation have been going on for some time. But only with the development of advanced graphics and hyperlink technology can some new developments be envisioned. - To our knowledge, this has not been done anywhere systematically in a structured form and dialogue and was called linking and exploring hyper-frames (Benking 1990, 1992) (nested representations in hierarchical order).

Fig 2: Interaction and play along and across scales - Reviewing proportions and relations with the mind's eye. Visual Arts may help to plot polyscopic issues, a combination of scenes ranging from real, to abstract, to imaginary. The emphasis is on communicating complex situations, covering also change and possibly different cultural aspects, in a simple and repeatable way.

3.1.3 The twin panorama master reference and representation system

A comprehensive picture of the world is necessary to map, structure and combine available information. This section argues that there is no general unifying vision accepted which also incorporates not directly observable or harmo-nised/standardised dimensions like space, time, magnitude, and terms. But this is considered a prerequisite and represents and addresses issues at stake.

Fig 3: A combination of scenes taken from eye and mind's eye (real, abstract, and imaginary) can form a Master Reference Scheme or Conceptual Superstructure.

Fig 4: Dimension and status (linearity, quality and quantity)

Fig 5: Global Recherché Paradigm - Navigation in Bodies of Knowledge. Thinking between and within the boxes or frames of references eases orientation and facilitates diagonal thinking. Such thinking "inside and outside any box or predefined frame" configures best "Core Knowledge" (Jaeneke 1994). With the "Spirit of Play", assembled new scenes or "-scapes" act as a vision generator triggering ideas. The kaleidoscope may be either a system based or imaginary.


In this approach common structures between separate fields of knowledge can be accessed and combined, even in view or in spite of the present canyons between cultures and terms. A new "Picture of the World" (Krushanow 1993) with reviewed and revisited categories (Lakoff 1987) can form a Gestalt, a complete and organic picture. The hyperlink ECO-CUBE is one of the new, maybe embryonic, paradigms in progress to train and follow up on T-personalities assuming mental viewpoints and the realms they are operating in. The alternating perspectives is a specific form of mobility. Maybe we call it mental locomotion, as the cheapest and most effective form of therapy. It can be trained and is creating very much fun.

Plotting proportions and consequences eases orientation in today's complex issues and conflicts of "similar" magnitudes. The combined "Box-Worlds" provide possible common frames of references inside and outside of conventional line of thought. Nested hyperframes (Benking 1990) are the basis for "contagious" communication which relate points and subjects under discussion. This allows us to look for connectedness in differentiated and complex domains.

The basic objective of the proposal is to invite the spirit of play and to train intuitive observation of issues, assuming "other eyes" or "other positions". Communication about ecological dynamics and policy challenges might provide orientation in the plethora of messages and information and trigger new thinking in other forms of representation. Visual information systems can provide essential assistance, but the main concern is work on paradigms and tools which help to fundamentally change the way we think and find orientation, not only new curricula, in an expanding world of information and messages.



·Proposing an additional framework for indexing in conjunction with real world co-ordinates. Mapping and referencing relates to the land-scape and to an artificial problem- or issue- scape. Change of perspectives and position are thereby encouraged

·Triggering human powers of imagination by extending, linking, and overlaying domains and challenging segmentation, compartmentalisation, and over- specialisation

·New approach by adding a third dimension (time) to conventional matrix organisation schemes (Ekistics) and utilising visual (optical) discrimination and recognition potentials

·The "Blackbox Nature" features a logical development, based on electronic archiving, hyperlink and computer graphics / multi media technology

·Facilitating and inviting switching of scales to better understand processes, patterns, and constraints

·Proposing an universal classification and coding system

·A framework to orient entries in existing data collections, such as the "Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential", "The Book of Visions", or other conventional collections from private or public institutions


·Interconnected "digestible" box thinking relating to adjoining spaces instead of simplistic "inside the box" or "outside the box" discrimination

·Framework which provides an internal hierarchical order like the Chinese Feng Shui and forms a scale-independent web required for the new dialogue with nature (Ilya Prigogine) - the crystal cells may be considered the meeting and anchor points

·A framework of crystal cells, representing the position of objects, issues or entities (in contrast to the unstructured free association of issued in Hesse's "Glass Bead Game"). The obvious context and linkages help in exploiting intuitive and analytical powers and invite diagonal thinking with variable scales and foci

·Extended panorama to provide common frames of references providing better focus on the point or on the issue


·For children to visualise context, complexity, and completeness by providing a common foundation by pulling together all fields of study into a more understandable unity

·For research and administration to link subjects and invite transdisciplinarity

·By zooming along and across hierarchical scales increasing scaling perceptions and thereby allowing better understanding and decision-makingor research and administration to link subjects and invite transdisciplinarity

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