Toward a New Science of Discovery: Our Continuing Conversation

Julian Gresser

A. Overview

There seems a general sense that we can profitably proceed on several fronts, drawing strong momentum from a pilot project. I have received much encouragement from our group and others, whose opinion I value, that a strong candidate for a pilot would be the development/ replication/regeneration (rejuvenation) of nerve cells. At the same time I am encouraged to proceed with the general inquiry: to identify 100 breakthroughs that could significantly and measurably reduce human misery, to formulate the initial discovery puzzles and the principal bottlenecks (conceptual and otherwise) impeding their solution, to locate the major individuals, groups, and organizations, which are making headway on these issues, to raise endowments, and other essential tasks. Finally, some members point out that the meta-process -the building of a general scientific and technological platform-may be as important as the contributions to any single issue.

B. Pilot Project

1. Neurological Diseases and Disorders

If the reduction of misery is the important criterion of selection, then the development, replication, regeneration of nerve cells seems a very strong candidate. Steve Kornguth estimates that at least 1 per cent of the world population is affected by these diseases. This category includes Tay Sachs, Huntington’s, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer, spinal meningitis, and many others (possibly also schizophrenia). If to this we add stroke and spinal cord injuries, the number of destroyed lives is huge.

2. Initial “Discovery Puzzle”

The process of discovery engineering begins with a vigorous inquiry into defining what precisely is the critical ” discovery puzzle” -the essential perceived barrier, which if once surmounted, might lead to a critical breakthrough. I have found that often the process of formulating and expressing this fundamental breakthrough proposition in itself begins the process of closing the “gap” between where we are now and a solution to the puzzle. A fundamental premise of the inquiry is that the answer already exists! It sleeps, inchoate, in our own minds. Like Michaelangelo, our task as discoverers is to cut away the noise. The form will reveal itself. (The word ” discover” gives us a clue-we ” uncover.”)

In my brief telephone conversations with Steve Kornguth and Creed Abel, I asked them how in 20 seconds they might formulate the first discovery puzzle. (Please note that during the discovery engineering process the puzzles are continuously revised, transformed, and refined. In fact, one might say that the process of discovery is simply the transformation and refinement of these essential questions!)

My layman’s summary of what they said is: ” Nerve cell division is an essential part of life; cell division also leads to death. (In the early stages of nerve cell development 50% of cells die, a process which enable new cells to grow.)

What differentiates these two processes? (Apparently, certain essential enzymes turn on and turn off the process. But which enzymes?; and how do they operate? Where and how can we optimally intervene? Can patients learn to extend consciousness over (and thereby control) these processes voluntarily?

Are these the critical questions? Supposing they are, which diseases and/or injuries might be most amenable to a “cure?”

C. What Value Does the NSDP Add?

Steve Kornguth points out that neuro-regneration is one of the very “hot” topics of current scientific, governmental, and (perhaps) business interest. There are major initiatives underway at the National Institutes of Health and at the National Science Foundation in the U.S. and most likely at universities, think tanks, and academies throughout the world. What possible value can the NSDP add to this advanced work of the leading experts?

There are several domains where the NSDP may make an important contribution.

Discovery Engine

The project’s Discovery Engine will integrate the most advanced techniques of discovery, invention, creativity, and innovation (See August 6, 2000 memo). Why will this be helpful? Because we can approach scientific questions in a fresh and novel way. We bring a systematic approach to the processes of discovery, invention, and creativity. Just because someone is a brilliant neuro- scientist doesn’t mean that he or she is a master of discovery. Further, for the curious, we have a way of boosting their powers of observation and insight, because it can shown that discovery, invention, and creativity are learnable skills.

Translation Engine

We have a way of capturing the creative energies of people all over the world and focusing their energy on the barriers to breakthrough. The benefit to the inner core of discoverers ( for example, the NSDP team or an allied NIH team ) is that the creative thrust of the enterprise is augmented by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of new minds, searching in thousands of new or untried ways. How can this be possible? We will build a Translation Engine.

Translation Engine Explained

We know that in the history of science often critical insights or breakthroughs come from far off areas of inquiry, at times even by non-scientists. (See Robert Scott Root-Bernstein, Discovering ( 1989) In the neuro-sciences this has been true. For example, during the 15th century many important discoveries derived by adapting the solutions of lead users in diverse fields. What we will do is find a way to express the most complex and technical problems in simple (at times abstract ) terms, so that not only other scientists can offer solutions, but informed lay persons, even children, can grasp and make a contribution. Using the Translation Engine we will then translate these insights back in terms that the discovery teams will be able immediately and usefully to apply them. In his course, ” Demystifying the Human Brain” Steve Kornguth has begun this process with a class of University of Texas undergraduates. The core idea is even more radically supported by the work of the National Inventive Thinkers Association, which for the past ten years has trained grade school children to become inventors. (The U.S. Patent Office’s Project XL helped to support the effort.) ( See also, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovator’s Alliance -www.nciia.org) Some of these kids became so skilled that major companies put them on the payroll! The most radical support of the basic proposition is the work some years ago by Herman Maynard at Dupont . As project manager, Maynard made optimum use of a group of “creative intuitives ” to whom his chemists would present their most difficult technical challenges. The intuitives would ” download” answers in the form of images, which Maynard and his team would then translate into solutions for the company.

Translation Engine-Next Steps

Steve Kornguth points out three basic challenges in building the Translation Engine:

  1. Educate an interested population of ” naïve” lay persons to become ” informed” laymen/women. (Dr. Kornguth opines that the ” informed lay person ” may contribute most effectively with “global questions”)
  2. Excite and motivate (reward) their interest in participating
  3. Focus their creative energies on the critical discovery puzzles.

He envisions a series of live and online seminars, discussion groups, and public fora for grade school levels K1-12, university undergraduates and graduate students, and also for the creative elderly (+ 65!), who may have a special interested in breakthroughs in neuro-regeneration. The development of a Translation Engine will have manifold and diverse applications for education, but its other indirect, longer term, legacy may be to democritize science.

D. New Science of Discovery Web Site

Roger Malina and others ask: Is it possible to use the Internet today to build new social organizations that could not otherwise be possible, toward the goal of vastly improving the human condition? They point out the modern university grew as a response in the Middle Ages to a specific set of (misery) factors, but that today many of the experiments with distance education are simply extensions in cyberspace of the old model. My recent discussion with Michael Miller, one of the pioneers of virtual reality and the development of 3-D applications on the Internet, jumped the discussion of the NSDP’s contribution to the neuro-sciences– indeed to all domains of discovery– to an even more interesting level. I summarize the key elements of our conversation below.

Miller Conversation

Michael Miller suggests that the NSD web site might be a “killer application” for many of the most sophisticated techniques of Internet design. (For example, he conceives of a multi-media web site, adaptable and functionally scalable to all band widths, with interesting human interfaces, such as voice recognition capability, powerful spider search engines, advanced chat capability, which will permit thousands of people to participate in seminars and discussion groups, using 3-D storage and illustrative capacities –all to the central purpose of identifying and then motivating as many creative people of good will in the search for solutions. Our conversation touched on many fascinating questions: For example, using 3-D capabilities, might it be possible for discoverers to enter, in virtual reality over the web site, into a single neuron and to gain and inside-out view of its structure and function? What contribution can music make in entrancing visitors to the site? More specifically, might music also play a therapeutic role in nerve cell regeneration, and how might the site serve as a locus for the exploration of music’s healing potentialities?

Tree of Knowledge

How do we build a Tree of Knowledge, so that the insights from one Corps of Discoverers can quickly be connected to the work of another? For example, Barry Forman points out the work of the ” Cell Systems Initiative ” at the University of Washington, a 50 company consortium, which is exploring the mysteries of cell communication. (The CSI is headed by Professor Bob Franza; see: www.csi.washington.edu) What is the relationship between neuro-regeneration and neuro-cell communication? How might the NSDP and CSI expeditions best contribute to each other?

E. The Study of Consciousness

Good feedback loops do not just give you reliable feedback on the subject of exploration. They also deepen the explorer’s understanding of the world view from which he or she has embarked. Therefore I see the study of consciousness as an integral part of our inquiry. The discoverers-those who participate in the NSDP– will have the opportunity to go more deeply, to discover themselves, and thereby to rewrite, at least in part, the heroic story of their own lives. For as this Internet community of discoverers begins to take shape-this Universe-City-what curious synchronicities will unfold? ( See the fascinating work of David Peat, Synchronicity-The Bridge Between Matter and Mind , 1987) Will it be possible to build (influence) a ” Field of Mind,” and what are its implications for breakthroughs in the neuro-sciences and many other fields? How can the NSDP help to reinforce ” The Second Renaissance,” which Roger Malina and others now see is developing in the dialogue of scientists and artists around the world?

The study of consciousness seems especially relevant to international collaboration in the neuro-sciences, because it naturally invites an inquiry into the contribution of the emerging fields of mind-body (energy) medicine, particularly the practical experience of indigenous medicine around the world. (For example, based on my own practice of the Chinese healing and martial art of qigong, it seems to me that the masters of this art may have a lot to teach us about how nerve cells die or rejuvenate, and how to influence these processes. What role might biofeedback play, or guided imagery, or music, and the other arts? (Did not Pythagoras see beauty and healing as intimately entwined?)What are the implications of personal and voluntary control, as complementary or preventative modalities for the health care system?) ( See generally, Elmer and Alyce Green, Beyond Biofeedback (1977), and Dr. Green’s forthcoming book, The Ozawkie Book of the Dead-Alzheimer’s Is Not What You Think It Is ( tentative title as of July 2000).

F. The Alliance Charter

What is the optimal structure for an undertaking of this scope and ambition? What are the best rules of engagement? What new and complex legal challenges does it pose? What shall be the process for rolling it out into the world? What precedents can we draw upon?

1. Alliance Architecture/Best Practices

There is an emerging body of knowledge on how to build stable, breakthrough alliances in the business world, some of enormous complexity, involving hundreds of competitors. ( See the work of The Association of Alliance Professionals -ASAP, www.strategic-alliances.org. Some basic principles are immediately applicable to the NSDP:

  • First understand the drivers that help to create value in an alliance
  • Make explicit the criteria for partnership selection
  • Nourish the champions who place their careers on the line, to help the alliance succeed
  • Aim for the “triple win”-every partners wins, but so must their alliance
  • Seek a “4-Dimensional Fit”-at the level of strategy, operations, chemistry, and within the legal structure
  • Let the legal structure and rules follow the preferred business architecture
  • Keep the legal structure simple and flexible
  • Articulate a powerful mission and Breakthrough Value Proposition (BVP)
  • Specify the metrics of success to include not only financial parameters, but also benefits of the alliance in terms of organization, marketing, innovation, and competition
  • Develop an Alliance Charter, containing explicit Principles of Effective Collaboration
  • Establish protocols and procedures of strategic alliance mediation in order to anticipate conflict and to create value from difference and discord.

2. An International Advisory Board

Glenn Olds urges, and I believe quite rightly, that the project must not be conceived, presented, or implemented solely as an American undertaking. As discovery is a truly international and transcultural phenomenon, he advises the formation of an international advisory board. My own work has involved principally East Asia (Japan, China, and Korea) and in Western Europe, England, France, Italy, and Sweden ( where I worked some years ago with the Royal Inventors Council-a think tank of some of Sweden’s inventors and business leaders.) I would be most interested in your suggestions for candidates for the International Advisory Board.

3. Rules of Engagement

It may be useful to develop some simple rules of engagement to guide the enterprise. Most basically, how do we design a process which makes it extremely easy for everyone engaged to win, and extremely difficult to lose? (Perhaps Rule # 1) Some other important considerations, pertinent to the rules of engagement, might be:

  • The principle of integrity, especially pay forward ( See J.Gresser, Piloting Through Chaos), can serve as an excellent baseline protocol
  • How to build in maximum flexibility in order to permit partial buy-in? People will have different interests and inclinations. Some aspects of the NSDP will appeal to some persons, but not to others. We will want to encourage diversity and maximum freedom of expression and exploration.
  • How best to design a mosaic approach to funding, which will allow the broadest possibilities for many people to participate in the financial rewards of the undertaking?
  • How to implement an open-source model, which encourages maximum inclusion, while maintaining its integral structure? (The Linux model is an excellent point of departure. See Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar (1999).
  • How to reward fairly the contribution of large numbers of people without creating chaos?

A spirit of lightness of being, of dance and celebration, and a continuing sense of wonder, curiosity and fun can carry us most of the way.

The natural development of a rhizome may be the right metaphor.

4. Legal Challenges

The NSDP stands at the frontier of the emerging and robust new field of Internet Law, but with a host of uncharted issues. ( See generally, Yochai Benkler, Shifting the Deeper Structures of Regulation: Toward Sustainable Commons and User Access, 52 Fed. Comm.L.J.561 (2000). For example,

  • How can we assure protection of existing know how and intellectual property rights?
  • Who will own the intellectual property to new inventions as well as to the Discovery Engine and Translation Engines?
  • How does one create, in legal terms, a public resource, open to all on the Internet– the common intellectual heritage of mankind — generated by the contributions of people in every legal jurisdiction ?
  • How do we build stable and reliable incentives, financial and otherwise, to motivate people to participate, as active members of discovery expeditions, or through live or online seminars, or in other ways?
  • What is the best governance model?
  • What are the principles of personal compensation for those who will be most actively involved?
  • How do we most effectively anticipate and resolve legal disputes?
  • How do we create value from difference, rivalry, and discord?

G. Summary

We are now in the stage of creative incubation-an uncertain point in our journey. We are fortunate, because we don’t have to decide anything at this point-rather, simply to enjoy and to rest in the grand mystery of the undertaking, without, as Keats wrote, any irritable reaching after fact and certainty.

January 20, 2001