TomSpeak Glossary


Tom Munnecke

Visiting Scholar

Digital Visions Program

Stanford University



Amplification. 10

Appreciative Inquiry  10

Associative Avalanche  10

Autocatalysis. 10

Autocatalytic Space  10

Benegnosis. 10

Benegnostic Ontology  10

Binding. 10

Broaden-and-Build. 10

Cascades of effects  10

Characteristic scale  10

Constraint 10

Continuum of Scale. 10

Deficit Discourse. 10

Descaling. 10

Diachronic. 10

Dimensional Crunch  10

Discourse. 10

Domain of Discourse  10

Economics of Plentitude  10

Economics of Scarcity  10

Emergent Properties  10

Ensemble. 10

Entropic Space. 10

Epidemic of Health. 10

False Precision. 10

Fitness Function. 10

Flipping. 10

Flipping. 10

Generative Space. 10

Global Transformation  10

Granularity (of a transformational opportunity) 10

Humpty-Dumpty Syndrome  10

Increasing Returns, Law of 10

Integration Crunch. 10

Internal Norm.. 10

Intrinsic. 10

Inverted perspective  10

Jubilation Deficiency Disorder 10

Jubilation of the Commons  10

Law of Uplift 10

Linguistic Shell 10

Malgnosis. 10

Malgnostic Ontology  10

Meaning. 10

Mutuality. 10

Negative Discourse  10

Network Effect 10


Order for Free. 10

Organic Threshold. 10

Orgware. 10

Path of least resistance, creating  10

Pathological Extreme, Fear of 10

Pattern (of transformation) 10

Perverse Incentive. 10

Positive Discourse. 10

Preferential Attachment 10

Primordium.. 10

Progressive Infirmity Loop  10

Projection. 10

Recursion. 10

Reduced Properties  10

Referral Rating. 10

Replication of Success  10

Role. 10

Scale. 10

Scale Slicing. 10

Scaled Thought 10

Scale-Free Network  10

Semantic Web. 10

Shrink-to-fit causality  10

Specificity (of a Transformational Opportunity) 10

Strong Reciprocity. 10

Synchronic. 10

Terrorist-Media Complex  10

Touchy-feely Happy Talk  10

Tragedy of the Commons  10

Transaction. 10

Transactional Fallacy  10

Transactional Fallacy  10

Transformation. 10

Transformational Energy  10

Transformational Ensemble  10

Transformational Opportunity  10

Transformative Discourse  10

Trust Rating. 10

Trustee. 10

Victimgenesis. 10

Viral Transformation  10

Zero Sumness. 10



A network property in which a transformational effect is increased by the interaction of the participants.  For example, the health of a community is amplified by the increased health of any of its members.  The system thus may exhibit “order for free,” the network effect, and be subject to the law of increasing returns.

Appreciative Inquiry


Associative Avalanche




Autocatalytic Space



(new term) A way of understanding based on looking at strengths and positive interaction. (contrast with the more frequently used malgnosis. (see Appreciative Inquiry)

Benegnostic Ontology

A way of structuring and categorizing based on benegnosis, discussing what can be done to create positive outcomes. GivingSpace focuses on creating a benegnostic ontology for global transformation.


The era in which meaning is attached to a name.  A computer language that binds the characteristics of a variable name at the time the program is compiled (created for future operation) is called early binding.  A language which associates the characteristics of a name at the time the program executes is called late binding.  In diachronic systems, an approach which allows future eras to associate meaning to a name is called future binding.


Positive emotions have a durable effect, broadening a person’s thought-action repertoire, in other contexts and emotional states.

Cascades of effects

Interaction at many different scales simultaneously triggering a an effect which cannot be predicted from understanding a single characteristic scale.  For example, a school shooting may be caused by a cascade of effects from national, community, family, and personal scales.  This could be called the intrinsics of violence. This is in contrast to “causal” thinking which seeks to ascribe an action to a single causal agent at a specific characteristic scale.  See Intrinsics, Descaling,

Characteristic scale

A narrow range of “yardstick” which a given perspective limits itself in order to understand a complex phenomenon.  For example, a cellular biologist applies the scientific method to determine causality at a level of health measured at the cellular scale.


The boundaries within which an organic system must stay.  For example, a constraint of the World Wide Web is that all web sites and browsers must use the Internet Protocol (IP).  Constraints can be both liberating and confining.  For example, the choice of IP for the Web liberated the web from any proprietary protocol.  See Primordium, Fitness Function.

Continuum of Scale

A way of examining and linking a phenomenon from a variety  of scales simultaneously.  For example, health may be examined from scales ranging from the gene, cell, organ, body, family, community, nation, and species.  See Intrinsics, Characteristic Scale, Cascade.

Deficit Discourse

Deficit discourse focuses on what is wrong.  This leads to self-perpetuating problem solving activities.  For example,  don’t litter” signs on roadways were found to increase the litter deposited by travelers.  The act of describing a problem and what not to do increased the problem of doing it.  (“Don’t think of pink elephants.) This creates a malgnostic ontology of an ever-expanding set of problems to be solved.  (see progressive infirmity loop)


A process of discovering scale-free intrinsics based on observations at a variety of individual characteristic scales.  For example, we may descale positive emotions at the personal level, appreciative inquiry at the organizational level, and humanitarian assistance at the community or national level into a scale-free notion of “uplift.”  Once descaled, these may be understood as a contributors to cascades.



Dimensional Crunch



A form of interactive communication.  It may be deficit discourse – talking about problems and how to solve them – or it may be positive discourse – talking about strengths and how to amplify them.  Discourse, regardless whether it is positive or negative, tends to create the thing that it talks about.  For example, “Don’t think of pink elephants” creates thought about pink elephants.

Domain of Discourse

A space within which participants communicate.

Economics of Plentitude

Understanding systems from the perspective of the law of increasing returns.  Systems are not based on zero-sum thinking.  Viral transformations may thrive in this perspective.

Economics of Scarcity

Understanding systems from the perspective that there is a scarce resource that must be allocated according to some objective, such as supply and demand or regulatory function. This approach is based on the measuring interaction according to transactions.  Activities that are not transactionalized are rarely considered in the economics of scarcity.  For example, since Alcoholics Anonymous generates no transactions, it is not visible to the economics models of scarcity.  See Zero Sumness, Economics of Plentitude.

Emergent Properties

Properties which are evident only when components interact.  See Reduced Properties.


The set of participants who are participating in a given transformation

Entropic Space

Our familiar notion of physical space, which “fills up” as content is added. For example, when a bookstore moves into a shopping center, it “uses up” some of the space, which cannot be used by others.  If a web-based bookstore opens on the network, it increases the size of the web. See Generative Space.

Epidemic of Health

A term used by Jonas Salk which describes an ever-spreading phenomenon of increased health:  “Only a few are needed to visualize and to initiate a process that would become self-organizing, self-propelling, and self-propagating, as is characteristic of evolutionary processes.”

False Precision

The presumption that knowing a value with greater precision will lead to greater understanding.  For example, college graduates are given a grade point average calculated to one part in one thousand, even though the grades themselves are only given to one part in ten. 

Fitness Function

A way of defining “survival of the fittest” in an organic system.  For example, the fitness function for a successful web site is consumer attention.  Sites which people click on thrive; those which are ignored tend to die off.  See Primordium, Constraints.


Changing the mode of discourse from malgnostic to benegnostic.  For example, “epidemic of health” flips the discussion from disease to health.


The act of reframing a malgnostic process into a benegnostic.  For example, flipping our understanding of “cascading failures” on scale free networks to “cascades of uplift”

Generative Space

A space that has the property that allows it to expand as it gathers more content.  For example, the World Wide Web does not “fill up” as more web sites are added.  The space itself expands.  See Entropic Space.

Global Transformation


Granularity (of a transformational opportunity)

Opportunities may be very fine-grained (A sewing machine for specific woman in a specific village), or they may be coarse grained (contribute the UN initiative to fight HIV/AIDS). 

Humpty-Dumpty Syndrome

Systems which have been broken into pieces are often impossible to put back together again, no matter how much effort is expended.

Increasing Returns, Law of

An economic process in which a little triggers more. For example, it is possible for everyone in a community to get healthier, and in so doing, allow everyone else to get even healthier.  See Economics of Plentitude.

Integration Crunch


Internal Norm

A pattern of behavior enforced by internal sanctions.


Properties of a system which are evident at multiple scales.  For example, health may be looked at many different characteristic scales, such as genes, cells, systems, organs, the body and spirit, family, community, nation or species.  An intrinsic, such as vitality, is evident at many different levels.  We can speak of the vitality of a cell, an immune system, a person, family, community, or nation.  Dealing with intrinsics allows us to deal with a cascade as a whole, rather than just specific causes which are limited to a single characteristic scale.

Inverted perspective

Looking at a system from the perspective of the object being acted upon, rather than the organization doing the action.  For example, Jonas Salk imagined himself a polio virus, Einstein imagined himself riding a beam of light.

Jubilation Deficiency Disorder


Jubilation of the Commons

A benegnostic flip of Tragedy of the Commons.

Law of Uplift

The world is a better place than you think, even after applying the law of Uplift.  See Recursion.

Linguistic Shell



(new term) A way of understanding based on looking at problems by what is wrong and in need of repair.  (Contrast with benegnosis)  For example, the US health care system is based on a malgnostic ontology (there are over 1 million terms describing illness in automated nomenclature databases)

Malgnostic Ontology

A categorization of a domain of discourse which is based on problems and deficit discourse. 


Opportunities which are meaningful for donors provided by trusted ensembles will attract the most donations.  This meaning will change over time as world conditions change and GivingSpace grows with more participants and more experience.  The way we categorize this meaning – the ontology by which we structure the ways that we discover, organize, and develop patterns for meaning, itself will evolve.


A property within a transformational process that allows all members of the ensemble to benefit.  See Increasing Returns

Negative Discourse

Communication based on Malgnosis.  See Positive Discourse.

Network Effect

The benefit of a network increases with the square of the number of nodes on the network.  For example, the value of having an email address increases with every new address added to the network. (see Metcalf’s law)


Only in My Back Yard – a tendency for people wanting to give only in their own localized area.  A benegnostic response to this tendency is to give people a larger backyard via the global connectivity of the internet.

Order for Free

A network of autonomous agents each acting according to simple instructions may spontaneously order themselves, creating “order for free.”  For example, birds will order themselves into a Vee formation according to simple rules – each bird does what is simplest for it.  The efficiency of the flock is amplified by this behavior.  Systems which exhibit increasing returns have this notion of amplification.  If a system is too loosely coupled, it becomes random.  If a system is too tightly coupled, it locks up.  When the system is free to operate at the appropriate “sweet spot” of connectivity, it may exhibit order for free. (see Kauffman)

Organic Threshold

If we examine a system as a continuum of levels of abstraction, the lower levels will often be mechanistic and subject to simple laws of behavior.  As we progress up the ladder of abstraction, they will cross over the organic threshold and must then be considered a complex adaptive system.  Our management approaches often deal with the lower level “mechanical” levels of abstraction, but the effects occur at higher levels of “organic” behavior.


A combination of software, hardware, and organizational structure and culture, in which all co-evolve.

Path of least resistance, creating

A means of managing complex systems by making the desired goal the simplest path in the organization.

Pathological Extreme, Fear of

A phenomenon in which public attention is focused on fearing rare but media driven attention.  For example, drunk driving causes about 85 times more deaths than “road rage,” yet it gets scant attention relative to the media enthusiasm for the road rage theme.

Pattern (of transformation)

As the system processes more transformations, patterns of success may be noticed.  New ways of catalyzing transformation may emerge, and old ways may be updated with new knowledge.  For example, a pattern of giving may be uncovered that wells pumps delivered to less developed countries require ongoing support arrangements in order to successfully keep them running. A pattern may be created by those who have been active in the field over the years, or it may be discerned by other means, by editors or automatic discernment programs.  Eventually, the system will evolve a Pattern Language for Transformation, which will reflect the accumulated knowledge of successful transformations in the past. (See Christopher Alexander)

Perverse Incentive

A situation in which an organization’s vision and its incentives are at cross purposes.  Government managers may be pressured to work more efficiently, but if they reduce their staffs, they will find their salaries reduced.  Doctors may lose money if they cure their patients.

Positive Discourse

Recognizing that discourse tends to create what is discussed, positive discourse focuses on strength and transformation.  “Adopt a highway” programs are based on positive discourse (and reduce litter).  See Deficit Discourse

Preferential Attachment

A determining factor in how scale-free networks are built.


The simplest set of initial conditions capable of triggering viral or organic growth.  For example, the primordium of the World Wide Web was the definition of URL, HTTP, and HTML.  A question for health is, what are the simplest initial conditions which could trigger off an epidemic of health?  See Constraints, Fitness Function

Progressive Infirmity Loop

The dynamics of a malgnostic ontology coupled with deficit discourse creates a feedback loop.  Giving a name to a disease to the health care system triggers this loop, for example.  As it is publicized, it attracts providers to look for it and people to wonder if they have it.  It becomes a billable code for the provider to use, which in turn creates addition reasons for it to be used.  (See Kenneth Gergen)  For example, the Gulf War Syndrome only appeared in the US after it appeared in the US Media; and spread to the UK only after it was noticed in the press.  It has not spread to non-English speaking countries, even though their soldiers were exposed to the same conditions.  The Berkeley campus during the era of Viet Nam War protests was quiet on days when there were no press cameras.  When the press appeared, protests emerged.  Similarly, Jerusalem today is quiet when TV cameras are absent. (See catalog of the world’s problems)


(as way of reducing dimensionality)


See Recursion

Reduced Properties

Properties which are evident by examining a specific component.  Contrast with Emergent Properties.

Referral Rating

A numerical rating maintained by the Trust Management System which is based on referrals from other Trustees. 

Replication of Success

A means of communicating successful activities across groups in other contexts.  See patterns


Each Player in an opportunity has a defined role, such as donor, discoverer, referrer, intermediary, provider, discussant, sponsor or recipient. Roles may be created specifically to a given opportunity



Scale Slicing

Looking at only a small portion of the continuum of scale

Scaled Thought

A means of restricting the characteristic scale of a domain of discourse to that which allows the determination of single-scale causality.  In other words, academic disciplines have settled into specific characteristic scales based on their ability to determine causality.  Nature, however, freely roams across scales, and frequently delivers cascades of effects at many different scales simultaneously.

Scale-Free Network

A network in which the connectivity of the nodes is characterized by a power law.  There are a few very highly connected nodes, and many nodes with little connectivity. 

Semantic Web

A way of understanding the information on the web based on tagged information.  See Tim Berners-Lee

Shrink-to-fit causality

A tendency to shrink the characteristic scale of discourse to that within which causality can be proven.  For example, physicists understand the behavior of billiard balls with F=MA, but are unable to replace the billiard balls with mice and achieve the same level of predictability.

Specificity (of a Transformational Opportunity)

Transformational Opportunities may be specific (a specified well for a specific village) or they may be general (improved drinking water access in Central America)

Strong Reciprocity

A determining factor in the evolution of cooperative processes (see Bowles, et. Al) “The Origins of Human Cooperation”


(see Diachronic)

Terrorist-Media Complex

The interaction between media, terror, and crime.  For example, Los Angeles television stations carry live coverage of automobile chases is an incentive for some to instigate a chase, just to become notorious on television

Touchy-feely Happy Talk

A frequent reaction to those first exposed to the notion of positive emotions.  This is based on a cynical perspective that positive and negative thinking are merely complements of each other.  Unable to appreciate the broadening and building which is generated by benegnostic activities, they are examples of the narrowing and shrinking characteristic of negative, cynical thought.

Tragedy of the Commons



A way of measuring interaction based a point in time, evaluated according to predefined categories, such as transaction codes, Dignostic Related Groups, and general ledger categories.  Transactions are typically categorized from the point of view of an organization’s point of view

Transactional Fallacy


Transactional Fallacy

Fallacious conclusions created by aggregating transactions of a complex system according to simple, linear categorizations of transactions.  For example, concluding that we should maximize the GDP by selling more cigarettes and treating more lung cancer.


Purposeful interaction within an ensemble based on a flow of activities and information based on the context of the individual or group being acted upon.  Transformations may take very long intervals of time, or happen quickly.  Their meaning is determined by the participants themselves, and may frequently exhibit novel results unanticipated at the outset. (See Hazel Henderson)

Transformational Energy

An energy born of a mutually enhancing process by which a group or ensemble is lifted up.  This is the energy which drives Alcoholics Anonymous, Habitat for Humanity, Breast Cancer Support groups, and innumerable smaller groups acting on health, humanitarian, and other transformational activities.

Transformational Ensemble

A group of arbitrary size of people, resources, and other ensembles that focus on a purposeful transformation.  Alcoholics Anonymous, The Grameen Bank, and Habitat for Humanity are examples of organizations which employ transformational ensembles.

Transformational Opportunity

An opportunity for transformation is a description of a way in which an ensemble may catalyze a transformation.  Each opportunity has a permanent globally unique identifier by which all transformational activity can be tracked.  They have a set of properties, such as name, sponsor’s name, location (if any), ensemble (set of trustees participating in the opportunity), granularity, specificity, discussions, transaction history, feedback, goals, etc.  Each opportunity is unique, and may evolve its own tools. 

Transformative Discourse

Communication in which participants are mutually transformed; that which happens in a transformational ensemble.

Trust Rating

A numerical rating maintained by the Trust Management System which is based on the feedback of other participants who have put their trust in a trustee in the past.  This rating consists of the trustee’s length of service, number of transformations/roles in which the trustee participated, etc.  It also reflects the trustworthiness of the trustees they have referred.


A Participant (person or organization) which participates in a Transformational Opportunity in one or more Roles.


(alternatively, victimocracy) This word describes the process of creating a victim in order to improve the operating status of a system.  For example,  Situational Narcissism Disorder is a term created by a New York psychiatrist to describe the negative effects of celebrity.  Prior to this scientific term, this behavior was simply called “acting like a jerk.”  With a formal psychiatric name for the behavior, the celebrity can now claim victimhood and seek “cure” from the psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist, in turn has a new line of business.  (See progressive infirmity loop)


Viral Transformation

A transformation which, as part of the transformation, spreads itself to others. (see Tipping Point, Idea Virus)

Zero Sumness

An assumed property of a system in which for each “winner” there must be a corresponding set of “losers” of equal value.  This balance is struck by defining interaction in terms of transactions.  The economics of scarcity is based on the notion of zero summness.