Nadia Asparouhova has a new essay on “Idea machines”:
An Idea Machine is a self-sustaining organism that contains all the parts needed to turn ideas into outcomes:
- It starts with a distinct ideology, which becomes a memetic engine that drives the formation of a community
- The community’s members start generating ideas amongst themselves
- Eventually, they form an agenda, which articulates how the ideology will be brought into the world. (Communities need agendas to become idea machines; otherwise, they’re just a group of likeminded people, without a directed purpose.)
- The agenda is capitalized by one or several major funders, whose presence ensures that the community’s ideas can move from theory to practice – both in terms of financing, as well as lending operational skills to the effort. (Without funding, an idea machine is just that: an inert system that needs fuel to turn the crank and get it moving.)
As community members move from ideas to action, they might become scene builders, who help sustain the community, develop the agenda, and attract new members; or operators, who drive the operating initiatives that lead to outcomes – the ultimate purpose of the entire machine. Both types might also lend a hand to create support organizations, whose purpose is to strengthen the values and best practices of the idea machine.
A bit later, she assesses progress studies in this framework:
We can use our previous framework to better understand which stages of development these machines are in, and how they could become more effective. For example:
Progress studies is a philosophy and community that’s just starting to build its first support organizations (ex. Roots of Progress, Works in Progress), but hasn’t yet developed an agenda or operating initiatives to cross over from the ideas -> action pipeline (an exception is The Institute For Progress).
Here (lightly edited) is what I originally told Nadia a few weeks ago when she asked me whether progress studies had an agenda or set of cause areas:
I don't know if there will be an agenda around specific technologies that should be pushed forward. Maybe? The Foresight Institute does basically that, and I think it is interesting.
I wrote about some of the cultural/philosophical agenda here: https://rootsofprogress.org/a-thriving-progress-movement
Metascience orgs might develop their own agenda too. E.g., Ben Reinhardt's PARPA will have a set of projects they are sponsoring; ditto for Convergent Research's FROs.
I'm less interested in there being a top-down science/technology agenda for the progress movement, because I'd be afraid that if it became too institutionalized it would constrain creativity.
That said, I could see it happening. Nuclear, longevity, nanotech, etc. There would be a lot of overlap with Foresight.
Since then I've been thinking about this, and I've come around to the idea that it would help to have an agenda (as long as we make it clear that the agenda is meant to be inspiring and not constraining). I'd like to do some explicit cause identification & prioritization / agenda-building soon. I'll start a thread on this forum soon to kick off some brainstorming.