Developing an approach to writing for the development of this FMC wiki site

From Anthroposophy

Initial thoughts

This to share some thoughts on intentions and motivation for the development of this site.

Over the last seven years I developed a of systematic study system of structured repository files. As well as some 'trial' writings, essays in which I tried to cover a topic and convey - via some storyline - some insights and things I had found. .

The amount of materials produced, the breadth and depth of the work over these years has created a huge gap. This gap represents a challenge towards communication. Because the ultimate purpose is that this site is useful for others. And the problem was that I had gone a long journey, but had no way to convey it to others, I was facing this huge gap.

And I also contemplated my fellow students and predecessors who had used .. the essay format (eg Rebholz, Vreede), the small booklets (Kurten, Selg), or the rigourous study volumes (Hagemann, Grether), to share the fruits of their study.

Furthermore, being in 2020, I am aware the world has changed a lot in the last decades, not just with the advent of computing and internet, but especially the impact these have on society and the new generation(s).

If I wanted to make something useful, it should be innovative and have some appeal, talk today's language, be tuned in to the zeitgeist. One can end up in 'analysis paralysis', but after a while one just has to try and do something, and that 'do something practical' was the idea for this site and an experiment to do some prototyping.

Now the question is: how do you bring the essence, the pyramidion, the key message?

Maybe the Feynman technique can inspire. It's a simple technique to study complex subject matter, retrain knowledge, gain insight, study more efficiently. The principle: "you must not fool yourself (and you are the easiest person to fool)". So it has to do with intellectual honesty and objectivity. The technique consists in, when you think you understand something, to rephrase and explain it and see where you doubt or miss out, go back to look into these points, and re-iterate the process by always trying to bring the essence more simply. One can view it as a PDCA (plan do check act) cyle: try to explain it as simply as if it was too a child, then review - including the gaps in knowledge, then organize and simplify in another iteration, and so on. Optionally try and convey this 'for real' to a test person and learn from that.

And why? why all this? Because it doesn't exist in the world! Let there be fire, liveliness of the soul about these topics, flowing through the contents, not to forget our childhood 'awe'. Deeply personal for me.

2020-04-13 - Reflection after about 100 pages

The process of developing this site interestingly brought the following realization:

For years my personal study and work process consisted ao in researching lectures for the relevant extracts. First getting the lectures in english digital version in my own repository files, then parsing the lectures (in depth reading/study and creating outline structure and annotations). Then also collating the extracts and trying to summarize, to get to a synthesis of aspects and perspectives on a topic. The schemas, both tabular as drawings, are illustrations and also fruits of this process.

The reality is that, although the system is well structured, the output grew over the years .. making smooth useage more difficult and complex as the number of files and the sheer volume grew. I used large documents but still used a file system and no database or content management system. So one really needed to know where things were, and how all topics that are so interrelated are coupled across thematic topics and files.

So what were consequences of this approach using traditional sequential means and digital files.

First: the volumes, sheer number of files and schemas in the FMC repository system. The Excel trackers for overview of the various aspects on topics such as 'reincarnation or 'the Christ' have over 300 lines, and this is just the structured outline. The Word file for both these topics are about 2300 pages each, supplemented with slide decks over 300 slides each. The slide deck for 'evolution' is over 1250 slides. These repository files constitute a structured knowledge base foundation built over the last seven years.

Secondly, the complete set of materials is one whole, as a consistent and integrated system it is very rich, but it is also personal. I was the only person who had captured and catalogued everything in the many files and therefore knows where to find everything and use this system. From the start I reflected on this: "how to make this useable for others?" Hence, I had consciously felt the gap growing between the journey I had travelled, and people around me with whom I wished to enter in dialogue. The water became ever deeper, or the river became wider, with no bridge in sight.

A few more words about the process. Consider 5000 lectures available with say 5 or 10 topics covered in each, that's say 25.000 to 50.000 'items' across say approx. 100.000 pages. One feels like someone searching for gold in the river with a sift, digging for small pieces of stone, an archeologer with a brush. It can be compared to first having to find the puzzle pieces before even being able to try and lay the puzzle, this mosaic consisting of the many small stones, and get rewarded by the process to see a picture emerge. The imaginative pictures appearing in our soul.

However now followed a new realization from quite practical experience. It was not new in that I knew it from previous test exercises, but still.

The point is that actually, once one has done all that, things can be represented a whole lot simpler. It is possible to rephrase the essential lines much more comprehensively and condensed. This was indeed always the intention, but it came as a surprise again to me in the real practical experience. The goal of this site is not to prove something or try to convince anyone, nor to be an encyclopedia of quotes by Rudolf Steiner and/or others. The volume of text required becomes immense, and that experience I have had before (with the repository files). Therefore, as this can not be the 'design choice' or 'intention' for this site, I had to step aside from the habit of trying to paint a picture built from the snippets of info and quotes I had gathered, because they had the status of 'a literal quote by Rudolf Steiner'. The respect for the original literal quote is a not unimportant hurdle we all face.

At a certain point one has to trust one's understanding and do the 'shortened without content change' (SWCC) editing, and also and especially the rephrasing in one's own words. Of course I had also studied about this particular point, including what Steiner said about it, (add separate page), but it still remains an important and difficult step to take personally. Just like Rittelmeyer I have always been quite skeptical when reading and studying, to check the tone how someone makes a statement or claim, on what it is founded, etc. Is this not personal interpretation, just a thought form but without any clairvoyant backing or double checking? This also relates to the importance of 'conscientiousness' as one can reads with W.J. Stein.

And so now I have come to the realization that in 2020, a newly phrased and modern packaged version or presentation of this knowledge of spiritual science is probably desired or required. See the 'philosophy' section on the 'About this site' page. The wiki format makes things navigate-able so much more effectively than the GA volumes with scattered topics and lectures, and the whole idea is to lower the threshold, to make this knowledge more approacheable. And, to not require every individual person to go through the searches to find or not find the relevant pieces of info. So many anthroposophists have done this before, why should we not build on that? The GA remains the base source of knowledge and in-depth study, but purely didactically the first entry and study support system, the front end, can be quite different.

Note I am quite aware of the value of searching, the soul work involved, living with questions, developing one's own understanding, etc. See Notes on the study process. But I do not believe that we should keep things difficult, if they can be facilitated and supported.

So what I wanted to capture here is, that in the repository files, things are available in an integrated way, but it is huge and monolithic, still quite complex with lots of materials to weed through to get fully into a subject matter. The wiki gives the ability, or forces one, to keep things granular and simple, and reduce the complexity into linked topic pages. Not that things become simple, or oversimplified, that is a very different matter.

My personal fun part, versus doing this for years before. Every table or illustration that I upload as a schema (see FMC study schemas and FMC schemas) is immediately accessible worldwide, and I will be able to use it anywhere with anyone to the rest of my life. It is no longer hidden in my private file system, because whatever worthwhile links or treasures it may contain, it was not useable .. and now it will be. The contents still needs to be written, but we are confident here given enough time. One challenge or point 'to watch' is the choice of RSL references and quotes to use. They should not make up the contents of this site, and though we could be doing this, the goal is not to be complete and exhaustive in providing all relevant quotes. The quotes should be the most succint and essential points .. phrases instead of long sections of text. For anything long we will refer via the RSL reference to the lecture itself. [Note: whilst developing pages therefore longer extracts are still copied from the repository files, in order to be cut down to the essential sections]

Bottom line: enthusiasm and hope. Indeed,

  • this is a lot of work, one invests tremendous amounts of time and ..
  • it will probably take many years to build something (that has sufficient breadth and depth coverage, is clean and proofread). Yes ..
  • today the pages are not rich with contents as they could be, looking at all that is available in my 'structured repository system', neither is any page anywhere near complete or even proofread (I know there are typos but don't proofread currently, as I'm just creating pages and links)

However, the great thing is that

  • one can link anything with anything, and that is a huge advantage over sequential media.
    • It makes me happy to be able to make topic pages for spirtual scientific key concepts that require a base understanding, but are linked with some many other aspects. I have not yet seen this anywhere else, and it seems to me that this is a good approach that could work to support a didactic study process.
    • And finally: this also allows to 'step over' and 'get over with' .. the struggle of the dispersion of the thousands of lectures over hundreds of GA volumes. The RSL references should just be that: references, in support of an integrated knowledge system .. this is a front end with ideally, one day, 'click-through' to the lecture extracts or secondary literature. And the fact ..
  • it is web-enabled, is another advantage over printed books. Every page is available everywhere across the world from the moment I save it. Not that a soul is watching today :) but even for myself it is handy because I use the search and navigate power of the wiki.

In conclusion, as I do not know of any other web-enabled database-based Content Management System (CMS) for spiritual science, I sincerely hope that the choice for Mediawiki will turn out to be a good decision, and that this site will develop into something of value and be used by earnest students. .

2020-04 - Scoping choices on balancing contents and nature of site

One quickly gets confronted with the choice where to put the cursor in the use of original source texts to support but also construct the main contents and storylines of the site. The idea is not that the site becomes an alternative 'integrated GA' (though the FMC repository can be thought of in this way), rather it is a support tool for students.

One leading thought is: no spoon feeding, soul work is key. Therefore the ingoing position was and is to limit lecture extracts to the most relevant key phrases in support, and not the way around .. have pages full of long lecture extracts. That balance is however a difficult one certainly in the early stages when initializing pages and collating fragments from the FMC repository files. The goal is to edit the quotes and shorten them without contents changes (SWCC) and trim them to the essentials to support the topic page and its contents, and entice towards or trigger further research.

Furthermore: the position taken is that the student can use this site for pointers, as a support tool, but has to do own research. The assumption is that if there is any point of interest, the interested person can google and get more info from what is available on the internet and in libraries.

A second related point is scoping and the design choice 'when to make a page topic'. For example: no page was made for eg Skythianos because there is actually little or no information of relevance available, other than some excerpts from Rudolf Steiner lectures. But that does not contribute to more or a better understanding. The focus of our site should be to develop insights and imaginations, and the contents focused on supporting that.

2020-05

Sharing considerations on two points

1/ The schemas are reference pointers, setting up a sort of logical picket, also a sigil to condense and represent certain meaning that can be contemplated and that way referenced. The schemas come from spreadsheet tables, digital drawings combined with imagery, and also pencil drawings. The goal was and is not to make fancy illustrations, focus is on the contents. The schemas need to be 'fit for purpose' and clean, but not a piece of art. An important benefit is that they can be iteratively updated and enriched (or if errors would have slipped in). Each schema has its FMC00.000 index number that corresponds to a certain logical scope. The variants and supplements have the same index number, supplemented with a suffix character A, B, C. It is my hope that the system that is build up this way can live and be improved over time also through contributions of others.

2/ Once more about the point already touched on before. The scope of spiritual science is so vast that one can make many thousands of pages. The German anthrowiki site has over 13.000 pages developed over some 14 years (with a group of contributors). One can make a page for a GA volume, for example, or for the main personalities that appear in the GA or Karmic Relationship lectures. Or make topic pages for the sake of completeness, because the topic belongs in the content scope, even though the topic may not necessarily be important. So much information already exists that a bit of searching allows to copy or create enough content for such topic page. All that is most definitely not the purpose of this site.The goal is to develop a logical structure with rich content, guided study pathways, references to insights, to elucidate dependencies. As opposed to being 'a lot of "flat" information'. This implies making choices on not making topic pages for many things we would well be able to.

2020-12

As year end is a point to reflect on the past year, the site that I started in the 'corona break' between mid March to mid May now has some 330 content pages and as many images. With allmost 5000 edits the database size is now some 172 MB. As was to be expected, the close interrelation between topics caused the creation of many required pages for the base concepts of spiritual science. But so much remains not covered yet, and to bring all the breadth and depth of what is available in the repository files to the wiki site will take many, many years. As a disclaimer: the current topic pages are only to be seen as a first step, an initialization, as many hardly contain anything of the available info or insights. The first step is to create the page with the headers, to integrate it into the site so it can be used for reference, and maybe add a key schema. To work each topic page to full completion would be a huge work, time that is currently not available to me. The idea is that the contents will be improved iteratively and gradually over time, like building a wall brick per brick.

2021-04

This site initiative is now one year old.

People typically leave the fruits of the study in the form of books. See schemas O'Neill, or essays by Rebholz.

After many years of study I now post online into a structured framework with a certain systematic approach. This will develop over time.

This just should exist on the web internet: a decent readable english reference page on spiritual scientific topics. At least as a start.

I publish, for people to be able to use and connect to: web and wiki are the language of the youthful generation(s) and current times, with much shortened attention spans.