Outline of concepts

Key concepts in Freedom Without Words:

+   Cosmos is a Greek word meaning natural order. It refers to the underlying order of the universe. We perceive the cosmos to be mathematical. The patterns of events and the relationships among principles and structures in the physical world can be expressed precisely by using the language of mathematics.

+  Information is form emerging out of the cosmos. Information is an essential aspect of the universe itself, and doesn't necessarily have to do with messages. The clearest example is biological evolution.

+  Life and biological evolution are equivalent. Life is highly informed matter.

+  Any highly complex, cumulative, selective system is mind.

+  Mind and matter are not opposing substances -- matter is spiritual and spirit is material.

+  Society and culture -- which is the society's total toolkit, technological and intellectual -- make up a single informational system. Tools affect the people who make and use them. Distinctions between humans ("spirit") and their tools ("matter") are artificial.

+  Cultural knowledge exerts an enormous influence on human nature. Societies and individuals are hugely affected by culture. As with any physical system, human beings follow the path of least effort. Cultural knowledge determines the perceived path of least effort.

+  Cultural knowledge, when adequately distributed, causes new forms of intelligent management and coordination to emerge spontaneously. This spontaneous emergence of new structure is nearly always more effective than any centrally planned structure.

+  Humanity presently faces a grave crisis of management because tools for modifying matter/energy are improving very rapidly, while tools for expanding the collective intelligence of the human race barely exist yet at all. This has caused many serious problems, such as a disastrous increase in population, which threaten the world's survival and well-being.

+  The most pressing problem facing humanity today is finding a way to make the entire wealth of cultural knowledge available to everyone when, where, and how they need it. Knowledge has to be adequately collected and selected to be useful. Unprocessed knowledge is noise, and damages emerging mental and social structures.

+  Language imposes certain barriers to the flow of knowledge which have to do with symbols themselves and can't be overcome with digital computers, no matter how powerful.

+  A global communication system is beginning to be built which will someday store and distribute cultural knowledge non-symbolically.

+  That communication system will bring about immense changes in societies everywhere. Transliterate societies will be much more creative and inquisitive, and will be noted for having much more freedom and diversity than any previous societies.


Information is a fundamental feature of the universe itself. It isn't necessarily tied to minds or messages. In this sense, information refers to the emergence of new patterns and designs out of the underlying mathematical order of the universe.

One of the clearest examples of information is biological evolution. Information works at each level of complexity in living things, from molecules to cells to whole ecosystems, creating new order and design out of chaos.

Information also works in human societies by creating new order through culture. Culture is a society's entire collection of tools -- that is, not only its technologies, but also its languages and traditions.

Tools profoundly affect the people who use them, because a society and its culture make up a single informational system. That system guides the way a society behaves.

Since information is part of the physical world, mind and matter are indistinguishable -- mind comes from matter, while matter is also alive in a certain sense.

Many philosophical traditions regard mind and matter as being distinct and opposing substances. After rejecting the traditional mind/matter duality, we see how artificial it is to think of societies as being distinct from their tools.

Modern societies have access to impressive technologies for modifying their environment, but no tools have yet been invented that give people wisdom for using those technologies.

The gap between know-how for building tools and wisdom for using them is growing wider and more dangerous. Modern societies desperately need tools that provide enlightenment.

Human cultural knowledge is rich enough to enlighten people so that they can make wise decisions. However, cultural knowledge isn't fully available to people when, where, and how they need it.

Language and writing have a limited capacity for distributing cultural knowledge, and we're rapidly running up against that barrier. This problem has to do with symbols themselves and can't be solved by using digital computers, no matter how fast or powerful.

We'll eventually be forced to create tools that will link individuals to our accumulative cultural heritage more thoroughly than would ever be possible using language or writing.

Those tools will profoundly change the way people live and think. Transliterate societies will differ from today's literate ones at least as much as literate societies differ from pre-literate ones.

Michael Webb, 1992

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