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From Business Science-Practice Synthesis to Social Science-Practice Synthesis


·         Knowledge fragmentation is an increasingly salient problem concerning professional schools, due to pressures for academic specialization (often imitating reductionist positivist-scientific disciplines) and lack of incentives for cross-specialization cooperation. The reason to start the extension with professional schools is because professional practice always carries a meta-theoretical/multi-disciplinary nature, whereas a positivist-scientific discipline is often (by its nature) supposed to hold a reduced knowledge scope to ensure its coherence. Professional subjects such as education, public administration, public policy, development, and law may all be formulated into a generalized social science-practice ecosystem. As shown in Figure 2 above, in the proposed knowledge navigation system map, we can replace “Business Literature” in Figure 1 with “Subject Area Literature” of a professional school that has reached the volume ready for knowledge synthesis. Similarly, the “Peaks” business performance can be replaced with a social performance matrix relevant to any of these professional subjects.


·         Below is a research example I am proposing that can only be solved through a large-scale social science-practice synthesis (see Working paper 2):

o   The world peace puzzle: Humans draw multiple biological, social, and historical factors to define their social boundaries between the “Us” group and the “Them” group. We need to identify and synthesize these factors and their interactions into a holistic meta-framework to predict a person’s predisposed friendly/hostile tendency towards another person or a group of people, tested using neurobiological approaches such as amygdala activation. Then we need to shortlist these factors and their interactions from this holistic framework that are highly resistant, that is, hard to self-discipline and thus require external interventions (e.g., education) to change their levels so that the treated person can draw a broader social boundary dividing “Us” and “Them” and thus hold a friendlier predisposed tendency to more people. After that, we need to design a series of randomized experiments (e.g., institutional diversity policy trials in universities) or quasi-experiments based on observational studies (e.g., social media) to identify the most effective external interventions, as well as their context boundaries. Lastly, pilot programs at various levels of institutions such as firms, schools, governments, intergovernmental organizations, and so on, should be put into place as meta-tests to inform new legislations, laws, and constitutional amendments around the world.


From a Prescriptive Teleology to a Descriptive Teleology


·         Knowledge fragmentation within and between disciplines is a widespread problem in academia. For instance, many positivist-scientific disciplines (by their nature) try to hold a reduced knowledge scope and to defend themselves against conflicting assumptions from other disciplines to ensure coherence. As a result, advances in theory, discoveries, and technology made in one discipline often take a long delay for corresponding synchronized updates in other disciplines, even though such updates can be highly valuable. This fragmentation is worsened by the resistant organizational structure of discipline-based segmentation in universities, insufficient support for “grand challenges” by major funding agencies, and peer-reviews by a small cohort of specialists in scientific publications. Financially, segmented budgeting among disciplines turns many knowledge domains (e.g., basic vs. applied science, science vs. engineering, knowledge creation vs. translation, etc.) into unhealthy competition, whereas these domains are supposed to complement each other to scale the knowledge consumer economy.


·         Knowledge fragmentation is an unintended consequence of a long history of freedom from “distractions” that lies at the heart of the liberal arts ideal. Among such distractions are constraints or conflicts from outside knowledge domains, including expectations for clear social impacts from the society. While many original funding models (e.g., churches and patronages) of the academia were not directly connected to any social impact expectations, few academic organization (universities, cultural industries, etc.) nowadays could survive without financial contributions that expect a clear plan of social impacts (e.g., tax payers, student tuitions, or conscientious philanthropists, etc.). New generations of researchers (especially millennials) also have a very high demand for a sense of meaning in their jobs, of which social impact is a key measure. In principle, the liberal arts ideal and social impacts should have no conflicts. Those who can trace the big-picture structure of knowledge understand that any knowledge domain, even the purest and most basic (or “liberated”) research, makes a significant contribution somewhere along a chain linking different knowledge branches together to the knowledge consumers in the society. Knowledge fragmentation, however, would make this chain fading, broken, and even disappear, making it increasingly difficult to convince stakeholders and socially active young talents to see such social impact. No quality research can be done under difficult financial situations or shortage of new generations of talents, and basic research (the frontier along the chain) often suffers the most.


·         Thus, a further extension is needed from a prescriptive (performance-enhancing) teleology concerning professional schools to a descriptive (positivist-scientific) teleology concerning a broader range of disciplines in academia. As shown in Figure 3 above, we can replace “Business Literature” in Figure 1 with the literature of any academic disciplines (e.g., economics, psychology, sociology, political science, etc.) or interdisciplinary academic subjects (e.g., organization science, sustainability) that faces the same problem of high volume and high fragmentation of knowledge, which requires knowledge synthesis to solve grand challenges and complex problems. We also need to replace the “Peaks” business performance measure to a consolidated matrix of dependent variables (e.g., human behavior, environmental sustainability) relevant in these disciplines/areas.


·         Below is a research question I am hoping to take on that can only be answered through a large-scale natural/social science synthesis:

o   The “free will” puzzle: Humans draw multiple biological, social, and historical factors to define their decision process. We need to identify and synthesize these factors and their interactions into a holistic meta-framework to predict a person’s predisposed decision tendency as close as to the point when the decision is actually announced, tested using neurobiological approaches such as amygdala and dopamine activation, and prefrontal cortex fMRI. Then we need to identify the extent to which an actual decision can differ from the predisposed tendency predicted by this meta-framework, and the extent to which the difference is consistent with a person’s own rationalization (that is, self-reported conscious choice). The significance of these two extents is a measure of how “free” our will is.


From Information Democracy to Knowledge Democracy


·         Knowledge fragmentation is a general problem concerning human wisdom. It has to do with the natural cognitive limits of the human brain. We are all blind (wo)men trying to sense the big elephant – the whole of the world. We rely on reduced approximations to make sense of the world – and different people rely on different such approximations. On top of our cognitive limits is our innate complacency that often stops us from expanding our approximations –our neurobiological tendency is to think our own approximations as more superior than other peoples’. “No human being is constituted to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and even the best of men must be content with fragments, with partial glimpses, never the full fruition” –said Sir William Osler.


·         Integrating machines into knowledge synthesis, the ultimate goal of GoPeaks (and its various extensions) is to create an artificial “shared” brain to access the whole of truth and to make sense of the whole of the world. It seeks to consolidate fragmented knowledge silos into synthesized knowledge and then further connect synthesized knowledge from multiple disciplines/areas together in a unified web, on which updates in one synthesized discipline/area will drive synchronized updates in all connected disciplines/areas, in both practice and research. If each knowledge silo is a neuron, then GoPeaks is to connect them all into a shared “brain” to enact holistic wisdom.


·         A challenge facing all democracies, as Plato long ago raised in Republic, is the danger of equality in power under inequality in wisdom. This challenge is becoming increasingly salient around the world, because of the increasing democracy of information, subject to the misuse of democracy of political power under a slow progress in the democracy of reason and knowledge. It is difficult to verify fake news, neutralize biased opinions, and prevent misguided populism. While higher education has traditionally been the primary source for reason and knowledge, it has three persistent limitations. First, access to quality higher education is not equal and, in many parts of the world, not fair to all. Second, the outcome of learning in higher education is constrained by students’ uneven learning capacities. Third, highly educated people are still biased or parochialized by their own training specialties, with very few exceptions who managed to breakout the knowledge silos into holistic thinkers.


·         GoPeaks offers an alternative access to the whole (not only the parts) of knowledge. By connecting all knowledge silos together and making the whole accessible to all, GoPeaks aims to broaden the scope of people’s perspectives, neutralize biased opinions, and counter misguided populism in a society. In short, it creates a “shared” brain of holistic wisdom accessible to all in the world, independent of any parochial interests.


Please also see the Boundary Conditions for limtiations and a Timeline for initiating these extensions.


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