When the Quantified Self became a movement
The Quantified Self (QS) movement has a long and storied history that dates back to the fervor of Web 2.0 and the emergence of supercomputers in our pockets that could help us track personal context, challenges, actions and consequences. Or a wise technological archeologist/historian would point out that the mad collages and collaborations of Nam June Paik’s Fluxus community, or their inspiration the dadaists and surrealists of the early 20th century sent us the first weak signals for QS. We may even be able to draw a line further back in our attempts to somehow understand and count our own personal table of activities, actions and consequences. Consider when a citizen scientist discovered and visualized a Ghost Map to save an early mega city from animicules that were sweeping through neighborhoods leaving death and despair in their wake. Or we might wind back further along our societal origins to the community of cave men and women capturing their lives, their ways of finding and balancing their diets—there insights into actions they can take—to live a little longer in the wilds of what we now call France and the region of Lascaux.
Today QS is a thriving movement with the advent of wearable devices on our wrists, bellies, or in the pills we swallow.
It seems we have finally arrived and the movement has reached its inevitable fit in the pace layer of our society.
Yet we are not convinced we’ve really seen any more than the opening act.
We haven’t considered the rise of Deep Tech nor how the recombinant neocabrian explosion of atoms, bits, minds, and joules might shift QS into an entirely new phase. Will our descendants even call it Quantified Self in three generations? Will we be good ancestors and steward Earth’s society towards the promise of equitable universal lifelong personal health, wellbeing and power dynamic management? Will we shape the QS movement away from the elite .001% that has access today to its technologies so that our children make it through the first few decades of the twenty first century?
We believe our children’s children won’t think of QS as Quantified Self but rather Quantum-ized Self.
Let us consider two contemporary examples as of the publishing of this book.
1 – Adam Gazzaley is a friend and sometimes casual collaborator of the authors. He’s the instigator of this FDA approved game—that replaces pharmaceutical shotgun shells—with quantified game mechanics that build desirable difficulties—which in the process of playing the game forge new neuron connection in teens suffering from ADHD and septuagenarians struggling with focused attention/declining working memory. The game is based on Adam’s profound work at the University of California San Francisco’s Neuroscape lab collaging game mechanic designers, neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and algorithms into jazz quartets.
In the 20th century Neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists didn’t typically get along. One discipline started bottom up from neurons to the emergence of consciousness; the other took a top down approach from social science studies on people down into theories of mind, biases/shortcuts, and the implications for behaviors at the rock face of neurons.
What if QS as we knew it at the beginning of the roaring twenties in the 21st century was just the opening act?
Adam’s work hints at an incredible interstitial period towards an inevitable phase change.
Our second example comes from the author’s and their collaborators own research as noted in Chapter 12.
2 – The Which Watch was partly inspired by early collaborations with Adam, Margaret Levi—who leads the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral & Social Sciences (akin to and started in a contemporary time period as the Center for Advanced Studies at Princeton that Einstein spent time at battling to fit Quantum Mechanics into theories of Relativity), & our own work, at MAYA, on Trillions.
The initial work for the Which Watch was co-funded by MAYA (now part of BCG), our personal Department of Strategic Surprise (T-1) & Autodesk’s Office of the CTO.
The Which Watch?
The Which Watch—how might you broadcast which new cognitive capacity you have an intention/goal to build, when—is part of a broader initiative being pioneered by our co-author Neta Tamir from Cornell, who prior to her first PhD was a former Israeli Commander of Air Force boot camps. She learned intimately thru that experience how to listen to subtle personal signals emanating from the raw draftees culled, at times, from the least among Israel’s society. She also learned how to help hundreds of them at a time forge a new identity, discover their potential, and strive to thrive.
Our work is around quantified cognitive load/capacity management. Think time management but for cognitive capacity & regeneration.
We ask how you would personally, detect and baseline what depletes your mental capacity, what regenerates it, and what contributes to your ability to “add new batteries” to your brain over your life from K-thru-Gray.
The phase change is inevitable
At the limits of this research is a category defining phase change from “flat file” models of cognition named after this or that scientist who pioneered a given theory—Dunning-Kruger effect, Kahneman-Tzversky’s fast/slow thesis, etc—to an era akin to what we went through with Computer Aided Drafting (CAD)—when paper elevation views, plan views, and section views—glorified drafting tables in your computer—flipped to Computer Aided Design via parametric Building Information Models (BIMs) that helped cross disciplinary professions cope with the complexity of Gehry-Bilbao level, or Shanghai Tower level, geometric/computational challenges.
Yet this flip from flat file models of cognition to parametric Cognitive Information Models (CIMs?) is far more complex than building Delhis or Dreamliners, or Starships. It will require a vastly larger dimensionality that we believe necessitates the use of quantum mechanics. Something life has had evolutionary access to since the primordial ooze got its first frankensteinian blast of lightening.
Hence Quantified Self will inevitably give way to Quantumized Self.
When the flip will happen, and whether we have prepared for the change are open questions. But we don’t believe it’s If but rather it’s When.
Or at least that’s our current conjecture.
Next up? The epilogue to Primordial and a list of actions you can take with your self, your family, your community, your enterprise, & your duties as a crew member of space ship Earth.