Chronofiles: Data Mining Your Life for Comprehensive Thinking

06 October 2021 in Resource Center.

Many of Bucky’s essays (“Bucky” is the affectionate name for Buckminster Fuller) provide a window through which we may further glimpse his approach to comprehensive thinking. To iterate more deeply into his comprehensive thinking this resource examines Bucky’s short 5-page essay “Man With A Chronofile” published on 1 April 1967 in “Saturday Review”. We recommend you read that essay for context before continuing.

A Chronofile to Document Your Life as a Case History

Buckminster Fuller’s essay “Man With A Chronofile” tells the story of his realizations gained from his childhood art of collecting things. This childhood collection grew throughout his nearly 88 years to more than 1,400 linear feet of material which are now housed as “The R. Buckminster Fuller Collection” at Stanford University. The essay tells a story about what he learned from his collection. In his 1981 book “Critical Path”, he described his Chronofile:

[I]n 1907 I started a chronological record of my life and in 1917 named it the “Chronofile.” In 1917, at the age of twenty-two—fortified with the already-thick Chronofile—I determined to make myself “the special case guinea pig study” in a lifelong research project—i.e., documenting the life of an individual born in the “Gay Nineties”—1895, the year automobiles were introduced, the wireless telegraph and the automatic screw machine were invented, and X rays were discovered….

R. Buckminster Fuller, “Critical Path”, pp. 128-9

It might be interesting to note how this 1981 passage takes most of its words directly from the 1967 essay. But, what I find most interesting about the idea of the Chronofile in this Saturday Review essay is how Bucky suggests that it was through consulting his archive with all its newspaper and magazine clippings, notes and letters, and miscellaneous bills that he was able to glimpse the planetary patterns emerging during his lifetime. Between the lines, I read Bucky saying that compiling a Chronofile of your life provides the observational data needed to see how the world works. Could your understanding of the world be facilitated by curating a Chronofile of your life history?

Is Dante’s expression “the Book of Memory” in the first sentence of La Vita Nuova a rudimentary form of Chronofile? Is supplementing our Book of Memory with curated records and artifacts an important tool for determining how the world works?

Whether we document our lives in an archive, a diary, a collection of posts or videos on a blog or vlog, in the “52 Living Ideas” video archives, in the collections of your e-mail, computer files, and social media timelines, or strictly in your Book of Memory, each of us constructs or designs the case history of our life in relation to our world. We choose what to remember, what to forget, what to collect, how to organize it, and what to make of it all.

We can think of our Chronofile as our Book of Memory enhanced with documents and artifacts however it is built and maintained. By conscientiously curating our archives and preserving them for future review and study, our Chronofile records can help us evaluate hypotheses, imagine new ones, and inform our explorations into how the world works. For Bucky, the result was Guinea Pig B, one of the most thoroughly documented lives in history. For you, the result can be a new way to practice comprehensive thinking: Guinea Pig You.

Bucky’s essay suggests that his visionary insights may have been significantly empowered by his record-keeping and record-reviewing. Was his perspicacity for understanding the world the result of his carefully curated enhancement to his Book of Memory, to his Chronofile?

A Chronofile is a tool for understanding our lives because the planning and judgment that goes into building, maintaining, and reviewing it gives us a new view of our life to help us better see how we intersect with the world. We might learn how we repeatedly make the same mistakes. We might learn the patterns that drive our successes. We might remember all the alternative paths that might have been. We might glean the design approach we have been using to shape our lives. We might imagine how we can improve the design of our life and how we can track our progress achieving these objectives through future Chronofile records.

A Chronofile is also a tool for understanding the world. Each of us needs to understand the world we are thrown into by birth. Is this the era of sticks and stones, megaliths rolled into place by human labor, swords and war chariots, horse drawn carriages, steam engines, wired to wireless, aeronautics, digital technologies, or the electric bicycle? What kind of human being will you and I need to be in order to be successful in this era of human history?

As we gather intelligence about the traditions that are available in today’s world we might choose to invest more or less time learning the art of knapping quartz, flint, or other fine stone cores to make tools; by the way, the stone tool tradition is still producing products for the global market. Even if you only maintain your Chronofile in an ad hoc fashion and entirely in your head, you are recording the cultural accoutrements and traditions that shape your life as it intersects your world.

Some might object to collecting materials for a Chronofile because most things are best lost or forgotten. Sometimes we hear the advice “live in the moment” to be free of your life history. In an exquisite 2007 article in The New Yorker on the Pirahã people in the Amazon (pronounced pee-da-HAN), we learn of a culture that disdains history and lives in the moment. But, even the Pirahã carefully curate their Book of Memory: they talk about current events. But their curatorial values are on the opposite end of the spectrum from Bucky who collected vast amounts of materials over decades to document his whole life and its intersection with world history.

Each person can decide how to curate their Chronofile to better organize their comprehensive learning. You might model your Chronofile on the Pirahã. Being oblivious to history might have its advantages. Everyone gets to design their own approach to comprehensive learning. The evidence of Buckminster Fuller’s case history suggests that Chronofiles with extensively collected materials can be a powerful tool to better understand your life and your world. It may be that our complex civilization needs citizens who can more broadly learn from their archive enhanced case histories than ad hoc living in the moment can muster.

What value might supplementing your Book of Memory with a thoughtfully curated Chronofile bring to your understanding of the world and how it works? What documents and artifacts if added to your Chronofile might help you to better mine your life history for comprehensive learning?

The Omni-Integrity of Universe

What more can we learn from Bucky’s “Chronofile” essay? Near the end, he reminds us of his definition for Universe “the cumulative aggregate of all humanity’s nonsimultaneous experiences” which we explored in the resource on The Comprehensive Thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller. It places everyone’s experiences, broadly considered, as the concrete reality of Universe, as the basis for all thinking. He goes on to assert,

[T]he omni-interacting, weightless, generalized principles apparently governing universe—discovered only experimentally and progressively by human-intellect-directed science—disclose an a priori, anticipatory, amorphous, and only intellectually conceivable, omni-integrity of universe.

Bucky’s essay “Man With A Chronofile”, 1 April 1967

Can we make sense of this? What does it say about our efforts for comprehensive inquiry and action to better understand and participate in the world?

In the resource Redressing The Crises of Ignorance, we learned that the generalized principles are patterns that govern many different special cases. They can be identified by reviewing vast inventories of experience, of Universe, to find patterns that might have broad applicability. We saw the failure to conscientiously and comprehensively review Humanity’s vast inventories of experiences to distill out the most effective generalized principles as a crisis of ignorance. Because our Chronofiles confront us with records of our experiences, they can help us redress this crisis. In reviewing our Chronofiles we may identify new generalized principles. In studying our Chronofiles, we can look for experiences that support or contradict hypothesized generalized principles.

To make further sense of Bucky’s quote, let’s start with the object at the end of it, namely, “omni-integrity of universe”. What could this mean? The prefix “omni” means all. Creatively interpreting Wiktionary’s entry for “integrity” we find it means “adherence”, “wholeness”, and “completeness”. In the resource on Shifting Perspectives and Representing The Truth, we defined truth as the coherence of a perspective or hypothesis with the experiences and beliefs that justify it. With some creative inspiration, we might see Bucky’s omni-integrity as an adherence to all the truths of all the generalized principles in all Humanity’s experiences considered from all perspectives as a complete whole.

Instead, there may be a fundamental incoherence in all our experiences. If there were then everything would be unpredictable, there would be no patterns, no principles, no truths. Maybe we live in such a world and delude ourselves that learning is possible? But the principles of the reflection and refraction of light disclosed by Ibn al-Haytham, gravitation, and many others suggest overwhelming evidence in support of reliable generalized principles. So there seems to be a coherence, an integrity, if not an omni-integrity operative in Universe.

Our civilization is so complex that we all sometimes experience feelings of fragmentation, incoherence, and incomprehensibility. Again, we wonder if the integrity of Universe is illusory? A previous resource The Value of Multiple Working Hypotheses, suggests that we ought to organize several hypotheses to better assess our questions. Our question is at the root of any science, of any knowing: is there any integrity at all to our minds, to our intellectual efforts? Is the Universe knowable or not?

Here are three hypotheses: 1) the world may have complete omni-integrity so that the Universe is an immaculate design organized by always reliable generalized principles (this is Bucky’s hypothesis, it is also the assumption of most academic science, and some theology), 2) the integrity of the world may only be partial where principles have limited applicability and may change whimsically perhaps due to some God or gods or a principle like fundamental randomness or chaos (this hypothesis gives us a world of miracles, the occult world of magic, or a god playing dice like in some popular interpretations of quantum mechanics; it is favored by some academic scientists and some theology), and 3) the world may have no integrity at all and is therefore fundamentally incomprehensible and so all learning is delusion as nothing meaningful exists (the various variations on this hypothesis are called nihilism).

Each of these, and the many variations on them, forms a basic assumption about the nature of our world which may influence our approach to learning. To assess whether the world is fully, partially, or negligibly governed by generalized principles, we could consult our Chronofiles. Which of these hypotheses best agrees with your life history? How often and how reliably are generalized principles applicable in your Chronofile? What assessment does your Book of Memory render?

To evaluate these hypotheses, we need to first identify proposed generalized principles and then assess their reliability. This assessment is also important for identifying the limits to our current knowing. We called this minding the gap with our mistake mystique which was the first crisis of ignorance examined in the resource Redressing The Crises of Ignorance. Ultimately, these analyses may indicate the degree to which there may be limits on the integrity operative in Universe.

Now, to finish interpreting the Bucky quote above. Let’s consider how Bucky’s adjectives clarify his thinking about the nature of the generalized principles which he says are “omni-interacting, weightless”. Principles are always conceptual and therefore weightless. Moreover, they all interact with each other. In Synergetics 220.05, Bucky called them “omni-interaccommodative” suggesting that they coordinate cooperatively so that all contribute. That suggests they are non-contradictory. One exception disqualifies a generalized principle, though in most cases one can simply add a caveat to make it, again, an omni-interaccommodative generalized principle.

Bucky uses more adjectives to clarify his thinking about omni-integrity: “a priori, anticipatory, amorphous, and only intellectually conceivable”. The Latin phrase “a priori” means “presumed without analysis” or “presumed by hypothesis”. To avoid a logical regress, every system of thinking must begin with metaphysical assumptions which some writers designate “a priori”. Bucky side-stepped our multiple hypotheses analysis by simply asserting an a priori omni-integrity. “Anticipatory” suggests that the omni-integrity operates with full awareness of the effects of all the generalized principles. “Amorphous” suggests that as the generalized principles are progressively accumulating they never form a fixed structure. Finally, “intellectually conceivable” observes that the omni-integrity like the generalized principles is conceptual and so not physical.

Even if Bucky’s hypothesized omni-integrity of Universe falls short and the knowability of our world is fundamentally limited by randomness, occult magic, intervening gods, or inherent chaos, the idea of an integrity in Universe provides the comprehensive explorer with an epistemic virtue, a criteria for good learning, with which to assess our inventory of hypothesized generalized principles with your Chronofile. This suggests that one of the objectives for comprehensive exploration is to negotiate the nature of the integrity of Universe: is it fully, partially, or negligibly governed by generalized principles?

Chronofiles and Integrity in Comprehensive Exploration

The epistemic virtue of integrity suggests that comprehensive practice ought to strive toward the wholistic integration of all our experiences and all our hypothesized principles in our private thinking and in our thinking with others. As we review and study our Chronofiles alone and with others new gestalt insights might form creating meanings that may integrate some or all of our experiences and principles.

Integrity as our value for integrating all experiences and principles may be seen as the guide driving our meaning making process forming the wholes of new gestalt insights. It may also be seen as the guide to forming a whole as the output of our comprehensive explorations. The wholeness in the process and outputs of comprehensive practice was further described in the resource The Whole Shebang.

It may not be possible to integrate all our experiences and principles with all the other others that we may encounter, but setting integrity as a core epistemic virtue aims our explorations toward a comprehensive understanding of the world and how you and me and everyone else participates in the world. That is the objective for our comprehensive inquiry and action. Putting your Chronofile, your document and artifact enhanced Book of Memory, in order can now be seen as a prerequisite for this goal.

This essay was written to provide ideas in support of the 13 October 2021 session of “Comprehensivist Wednesdays” at 52 Living Ideas (crossposted at The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society).

Addendum: 2h 1m video from the 13 October 2021 event:

Read Other Resource Center Essays

Posted by CJ Fearnley

Explorer in Universe.

1 comment

Lora J Shaprio

Curious about your choice of definition of integrity, Can you explain this one above the others, i.e., the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness: “he is known to be a man of integrity”
honesty uprightness probity rectitude
2. the state of being whole and undivided:
“upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty”
unity unification wholeness coherence
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Integrity Definition of Integrity by Merriam-Webster
Full Definition of integrity. 1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility. 2 : an unimpaired condition : soundness. 3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness.

Integrity Definition & Meaning |
Integrity definition, adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. See more.

Integrity – definition of integrity by The Free Dictionary
Noun. 1. integrity- an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting; “the integrity of the nervous system is required for normal development”; “he took measures to insure the territorial unity of Croatia”. unity, wholeness.

Integrity – Chicago State University
Integrity Definition. Behaves in an honest, fair, and ethical manner. Shows consistency in words and actions. Models high standards of ethics. Key Words: Trustworthiness, Ethical, Honesty . Behavioral Indicators: 1. Treats others fairly and with respect 2. Takes responsibility for own work, including problems and issues

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