“Relate to the Proximity of a Situation” is a shorthand abstraction (SHA) that may improve your cognitive toolkit.

In 2011, edge.org asked: What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit? Then 164 different contributors answered it. They were basically asking the contributors for what are known as shorthand abstractions. Here’s how they explained it:

James Flynn has defined shorthand abstractions (or SHA’s) as concepts drawn from science that have become part of the language and make people smarter by providing widely applicable templates (market, placebo, random sample, naturalistic fallacy, are a few of his examples). His idea is that the abstraction is available as a single cognitive chunk which can be used as an element in thinking and debate.

Recently I attended a meetup.com philosophy meetup, where we discussed a slight tweak to this question: What one, scientific or philosophical concept would improve everyone’s cognitive toolkit and worldview? This got me thinking and resulted in the following short piece related to the proximity thinking framework. I’d like to introduce you to this shorthand abstraction: Relate to the proximity of a situation. Here’s the essay …


Relate to the Proximity of a Situation

You can also relate to the proximity of a situation, as opposed to just relating to elements within it like people, things, ideas, feelings, etc. A situation is whatever you are dealing with or considering. But what is the proximity?

Informally, good examples of larger scale proximities are contexts, environments, regions, communities, and neighborhoods. A lot of our toughest problems and challenges these days have to do with these kinds of proximities, so I hope that motivates you to read on.

Good examples of smaller scale proximities are a multi-person shared office; the people, ideas and things related to a project; and the location, people and feeling of a party or conversation.

But how to define the proximity in a useful way? One of the dictionary definitions of proximity includes nearness in relationship. Which leads to the question, relationship to what? And also, what are being related? So in the proximity thinking framework, I’ve had to be more specific. More formally, the proximity consists of elements related or potentially related to a situation, in physical, mental and other ways. What are elements? An element is something you’re relating to other things, such as a person, place, object, idea, feeling, time, group, relationship, situation, proximity, etc. (Yes, a proximity can be an element in a different proximity.)

So while we often relate to proximities more indirectly by relating to elements within them, you can also often relate to a proximity more consciously and directly. Although you may do this sometimes, you may not be used to thinking this way, because our current systems of organization and thought often tend to focus on elements rather than proximities. But it’s possible to change. And here’s more motivation to read on: our networked world is sometimes making it harder to separate elements from what they’re connected to, but also making it easier to relate to proximities.

Of course it’s been possible since the dawn of human coordination to do things which relate to a proximity, and people have done so. The key idea is that you do things with the proximity in mind, that have a chance of keeping the proximity alive, vital, interesting, invigorating and growing. These can be things you do on your own, as well as things you do in some coordinated way with other people, which benefit, for example, the context, environment, region, community, neighborhood, office, project, party or conversation. “Do them on your own” kinds of things might range from doing something that boosts the vibe of the party, to something that affects the environment, to something that helps the atmosphere at the office, to something that improves the neighborhood, to a change that affects the direction and progress of a project. Things you do with other people in some coordinated way might include meeting, planning, coordinating, celebrating, innovating, collaborating, creating shared systems, etc.

Now, think about the times we live in. We have many physical tools, such as computers, mobile phones, sensors and networks, to help more of us relate to proximities, and relate more directly to proximities. These can affect both things people do on their own to relate to a proximity, and things people do in coordinated ways.

And how do we best use these new tools? I think the biggest opportunity lies in certain conceptual tools that can help us leverage those physical tools even better. There are two conceptual tools I’d like to point out.

One of those conceptual tools for relating to proximities is the idea of a proximity itself. You’ll notice this one concept was just applied to contexts, environments, regions, communities, neighborhoods, offices, projects, parties and conversations. Any situation you are considering has an associated proximity, so the concept of proximity can be used at any scale. But what about when a number of people share a proximity? That’s where the other conceptual tool comes into play.

The other conceptual tool for relating to proximities is a model for coordinating and collaborating that I call the ProxThink Growth Model. It has four processes that are not too difficult to explain, and they make the proximity easier to relate to, especially when a number of people share a proximity. The four processes are RelatePoints, ProxMonitors, Vadi Agreements and ProxRewards (or the shorter version of ProxReward, which is proxri). The four processes and the growth model are in turn part of the proximity thinking framework. The framework is built on the concept that being is about relating, and the notion that you can think in a very general way with just four terms, which are: situation, element, relationship and proximity. The framework also has ProxPatterns for relating to proximities with more creativity and innovation. But back to the processes of the growth model. I’ll define the four processes and then provide examples.

RelatePoints are points or places for coordinating relationships in the proximity.

A Proximity Monitor, or ProxMonitor, increases awareness of the proximity, and provides information about the proximity.

The term Vadi (pronounced vah’dee) is short for valuable differences. A Vadi Agreement acknowledges that differences are a part of relationships and some differences have value. Vadi Agreements provide relationships and agreements which can help valuable differences persist, adapt and change as needed.

Proxri (pronounced prox’ree) is short for one or more ProxRewards, which are rewards made with the proximity in mind. Proxri may include money, things, services, relationships, actions, and so on, as well as a combination of these. More formally, a ProxReward, or proxri, is a reward which relates elements in the proximity.

Of course you can use the ProxThink Growth Model informally without high technology. Here are examples: In a shared office, a RelatePoint could be the water cooler or a bulletin board in the break room. The ProxMonitor process could occur in the notes on the bulletin board or the discussion around the water cooler. The Vadi Agreement might be agreements or understandings about the use of the shared refrigerator in the break room, or that the company survives and thrives thanks to certain valuable differences between people, materials and processes. And proxri can include a wide variety of actions, from cleaning out the refrigerator once in a while, to financial dealings, to saying things to people in the office which help keep the atmosphere professional but also lively, interesting, and growing.

But now consider the technological possibilities. I think we could be doing a better job of using networks and technologies to relate to proximities, by using the ProxThink Growth Model with technology in networked applications. I think RelatePoints could be accessed via computers and mobiles, that have ProxMonitors showing both human- and sensor-generated monitoring of proximities, allowing shared Vadi Agreements on the network to be viewed, discussed and updated, and in terms of Proxri, there could be suggestions for proxri as well as places to share and discuss proxri that were made or received. You’ll notice the four processes, when combined with technologies, have the effect of transforming the proximity of a situation, or even multiple situations, into more of a tangible element you can relate to. I think such networked applications which use the growth model can be deployed at various scales, from homes and team projects to regions and global proximities.

In addition to the benefits of keeping a proximity alive, vital, interesting, invigorating and growing, I think relating to the proximity of a situation has other benefits. I think relating to proximities is a way to make proximities more sustainable, and also helps us with the challenge of climate change. (I’ve used the ProxThink Growth Model in what I’m calling a sustainable proximities approach.) I think relating to proximities can help people within them be healthier and happier. And, since proximities often overlap, relating to a proximity often helps other proximities.

I think one other interesting thing happens when the focus shifts to relating to proximities. It’s about variety. I think variety and relating to proximities help each other, grow each other, and reinforce each other, at many levels. But perhaps the most interesting level is that of individual people. When individuals relate to proximities, they often need and develop a variety of skills, viewpoints, and efforts, which is invigorating, challenging and rewarding and partly why they may become healthier and happier. The proximity also becomes a kind of living thing, and generates variety for the individuals within it. So relating to the proximity is partly it’s own reward, and becomes self-reinforcing. This is also related to my project VarietyPeople.org.

I hope this essay has helped convince you that you can also relate to the proximity of a situation. You may have picked up a few other shorthand abstractions as well! These include: proximitiesRelatePointsProxMonitorsVadi Agreements and ProxRewards (or the shorter version of ProxReward, which is proxri). For more about the growth model, please see this link: Brief Intro to the ProxThink Growth Model. I’m also trying to spread this approach via a project and site called Proxri.org. For more about the proximity thinking framework, please see proxthink.com or the new mobile site proxthink.wordpress.com.

Here are some ways you might want to explore the ProxThink Growth Model. I’m working to deploy the model in some basic ways with two arts projectsArtsdown and Artsflex. If you would like to somehow deploy this model in your business or organization, in any way, low-tech or high-tech, please get in touch. If you would like to adopt or adapt the growth model for your proximity or situation, here’s more about that. If you would like to explore tools that can be used or adapted to implement the growth model for a proximity that people share, please see this page. If you would like to find other individuals, websites, groups of people, proximities or situations using proxri and the growth model, please see this page.

I’d like to collaborate with developers to create networked applications that use the ProxThink Growth Model with technology in more extensive ways, to boost the sustainability and variety of proximities. If you are a developer interested in collaborating, or know of developers who might be, please get in touch with me and/or them. We could start small, and perhaps the process of building it and using it could be so much fun that it grows. I think people should get involved at first mainly for the challenge and the variety, and only work on it part-time. Also, we should have a place where people involved could post their own ProxMonitors and proxri wishes, so others could proxri them for their efforts in building this.

I’m also seeking a group of individuals who might like to collaborate with me, even part-time, on my projects as a collection (ProxThink, sustainable proximities, Proxri.orgVarietyPeople.org, Artsdown and Artsflex), as I think there is potential to grow them faster and better with a team of people and with each project helping the other projects.

Finally, I’m available for services such as webinars, flexible collaboration, idea sessions, speaking and consulting, each of which uses and demonstrates the proximity thinking framework, so please contact me for more information or scheduling.

Four Points for a Different Way

(r] proxthink.com

A four point argument:

1. We have to focus more on proximities, such as contexts, environments and the myriad elements surrounding and connected to our tough challenges.

2. Our existing social structure (markets, governments, democracy) doesn’t support that very well.

3. Networks are part of the answer, in terms of physical structure.

4. The ProxThink framework provides a new conceptual structure, to complement networks.


Expansion of Point 1

The following issues and areas point towards a greater need for paying attention to, relating to, and even taking care of, proximities: globalization, the environment, climate change, pollution, energy transitions, economic turmoil, externalities, species extinction, population growth, health degradation, etc.

Proxri Deal: As you find our relationship rewarding, proxri with the proximity in mind.

Three Paragraphs on ProxThink

(r] proxthink.com

[Note: This is a new short form press release I’m working on. – David]

Thanks to scientists and philosophers, we know that “it’s all relative” and that “being is about relating.” However, we don’t have a useful, shared framework for thinking and talking about, and making use of, these insights. “I’ve tried to develop something with that potential,” says David Loughry, creator of ProxThink. The developments include some new language, concepts, systems, models and tools that form a framework. The new language and concepts are designed to be general and simple enough for conversation, yet also present diverse possibilities. The perhaps surprising upshot is that this framework for relating helps us relate to and with contexts, networks and proximities. This is timely since social and technological networks, which are growing more common, shift some of the emphasis to contexts and proximities. Further, rather than only being theoretical, this framework can engender enjoyment and the arts; support science, engineering and design; promote sustainability; acknowledge and work with complexity; as well as be highly useful and practical in situations ranging from everyday life to business and markets. Loughry says, “I call this framework ProxThink, short for proximity thinking and relating.”

ProxThink, with a focus on proximities, consists of the following three elements: 1) a new structure for thinking and relating, paired with 2) a creativity and innovation system. These were then used as building blocks for 3) a new kind of growth model. The new thinking structure consists of two foundational elements, four terms and two tools. The creativity and innovation system consists of 16 related proximity patterns, and tools which leverage them. The growth model consists of four related processes that are suggested as new standards. The growth model can be combined with some existing technologies, networks, and emerging participatory aspects of the Internet to create a new sustainable proximities approach. This sustainable proximities approach creates a wide variety of possibilities. Some of these include: 1) new ways to collaborate to deal with climate change, 2) alternatives to markets, 3) new ways to solve the intellectual property challenges of a networked world, and 4) sustainable proximity approaches which can complement markets, governments and democracies.

“It’s impossible to convey how these ideas and practices work with each other in a few paragraphs. It took a website and a blog to explain them, and provide tools based on them. I believe the framework and the sustainable proximities approach have potential, and should be explored, tested, and grown,” says Loughry. For a more thorough introduction to ProxThink, see this longer press release. For some practical takeaways and some proposed new standards in each related area, see the following links: 1) Boost innovation and creativity at http://proxthink.com. 2) Use and learn about a different model for downloadable digital content at http://artdown.com. 3) Become part of a new way to approach climate change which leverages social media at http://proxearth.com. 4) Discover more about the sustainable proximities approach at http://proxthink.com/ways/sustainable-proximities.php. 5) Explore the ProxThink growth model, and consider how you might adapt or adopt it for some of your proximities here: http://proxthink.com/brief/intro-growth-model.php.

Proxri Deal: As you find our relationship rewarding, proxri with the proximity in mind.

Letter of Introduction for ProxThink


Consider climate change, conflict, innovation, creativity, problem-solving, financial turmoil, the recession and other challenges. Further, consider the challenges of coordinating, collaborating, managing resources and dealing with change.

For the above challenges, on personal to global scales, more breakthrough solutions, innovations and creations are possible.

They can and do spring from ProxThink.

They can even be more fun.

We’re not missing some solutions, innovations and creations because we don’t want them. But we may be missing them because of our conceptual frameworks. Different concepts can lead to different outcomes.

For years, I’ve focused on the hardest problem I could tackle: to develop new ideas and processes for these and other tough challenges, ranging from the personal to the global. The result is some integrated approaches that make sense from conceptual soundness to practical feasibility. It turns out these general ideas and processes apply to a wide range of situations, from climate change to financial turmoil to business to conversations to parties. Further, I believe some of the approaches are real breakthroughs, and potential paradigm shifts.

Together, the new ideas, tools, models and standards are called ProxThink, short for proximity thinking. They boost thinking, creativity, growth and sustainability in the proximity of situations. You can start using ProxThink quickly and advance as you go. The three primary ProxThink innovations include: 1) a new thinking structure, 2) new patterns and tools for innovation and creativity, and 3) a new sustainable growth model.

The thinking structure provides new conceptual frameworks for dealing with challenges, situations and opportunities. The patterns and tools for innovation and creativity use the new thinking structure, and are actually a huge and useful part of the ProxThink website. Taken together, the patterns and tools provide ways of generating and evaluating ideas for very diverse proximities and situations. Areas to apply the patterns and tools range from ordinary to social, to business, to community, to creative, to theoretical and to physical situations. ProxThink Hints are a group of interactive tools which leverage the patterns and work with words and phrases you enter to generate hint questions that can generate ideas, possibilities, options, consideration and action. The growth model, built with a focus on the proximity, has the potential to be sustainable, flexible, healthy, fun and efficient. “Sustainable,” in addition to the green meaning, includes the idea that diversity and complexity can persist, adapt and change as needed, and in this sense, sustainable also means lively. The growth model has four proximity-focused processes for connecting people, proximity awareness, sustainable agreements, and rewards called “proxri” which relate elements in the proximity.

Why a proximity focus? The proximity is a useful concept since the meaning of proximity includes nearness in relationship, allowing consideration of any elements related to a situation. So the proximity may include people and other elements related to a situation in physical, mental, emotional, temporal, intuitive, technological, historical, social and many other ways.

Our new reality is that we live in an increasingly networked, participatory and transparent world, and that presents both positive and negative possibilities. ProxThink provides ways to think about, relate to, and make more of this new reality. The ProxThink growth model in particular, and the open standards it proposes, provides opportunities to solve, in an evolutionary way, some of the problems that can trip us in this historical transition. Networks shift the focus from elements, such as objects, people, businesses and governments, to proximities. The ProxThink growth model was designed with networks and proximities in mind. The growth model presents opportunities for greater stability as well as greater variety and vitality, leading at the same time to greater sustainability. The growth model allows for the growth of proximities and people by allowing more direct relationships between individuals and proximities, a strategy used successfully by democracy, markets, and other processes. In essence, the idea is that proximities become things people can have relationships with by means of democracy and markets. The growth model provides new more sustainable and integrated, yet flexible, processes by which proximities become things people can have relationships with, and these processes are greatly enhanced by networks. The next two paragraphs go further into this line of thinking, and provide several examples.

The biggest breakthrough ProxThink makes possible is the creation of more sustainable proximities, by combining the Internet (and related technologies) with the ProxThink growth model. Specifically, this combination provides new ways to deal with climate change and evolve democracies, legal systems and market economies. More generally, it can help us coordinate, collaborate, create, innovate, solve problems and manage resources at many different scales. It leverages fundamental opportunities the Internet presents which we are largely failing to exploit. It is well known that we have trouble recognizing large, slow-changing patterns, and our failure to recognize these opportunities is a case in point. Creating sustainable proximities is a key to decreasing conflict, dealing with change, boosting variety and enjoying life. The approach is similar to the give and take of a neighborhood, relationship, friendship or perhaps being a considerate traveler — you want the neighborhood, relationship, friendship or location you’re visiting to survive, thrive, and take care of you as you take care of it. I believe we need to aggressively move in this direction to create many more sustainable proximities, and specifically to deal with climate change. Competition and markets work for many situations, but for big challenges we face together, such as climate change, and other challenges such as those brought about by our greater connections due to networks, we need some better ways to coordinate and collaborate. Fortunately, networks are part of the solution as well, and the ProxThink growth model can help us leverage the opportunities presented by networks.

I’ve started several sustainable proximities projects which combine the growth model and the Internet. I’m encouraging other people to adopt and adapt the open standards of this approach. The projects I’ve begun include: 1) new proxri-based growth models for websites and blogs; 2) the artdown downloadable content proposal for digital content such as music, movies, video, art, books and software; 3) consideration of how this approach relates to financial turmoil and markets and how for some proximities financial turmoil is avoidable; and 4) the proxEarth climate change project, which includes a general proposal and also things you can do right now if you have a website, blog, or use social software sites, allowing us to collaborate globally across different sites and services via some global collaboration standards related to climate change. Each of these four are potential game-changers. I want to keep growing each of them, and have many other projects for sustainable proximities in mind. Next up, we should: 1) start some sustainable proximities related to renewable energy, and 2) continue development of the legal and technological infrastructure needed for growth model processes. Not every proximity may be appropriate for this approach. But for those which are, I believe it can be a win/win strategy for people involved, allowing a fuller range of voluntary and enjoyable engagement, while meeting needs at the same time. If you would like to be involved in some projects and trials which use the sustainable proximities approach, join ProxThink, as we will be updating members on opportunities and progress.

With the links after the end of this letter, you can discover ways to use and explore ProxThink, many examples, different perspectives on ProxThink, and the potential of ProxThink. Join ProxThink and try it out. With our proxri-based membership, it is free to sign-up.

I want as many people as possible to take advantage of ProxThink, which is designed to be a sustainable resource. I’m raising funds for marketing and outreach, to pay off some startup debt, and to continue building more sustainable proximities. My fundraising goal is $250,000, and I have ongoing needs of about $5,000 a month on average. I need $4,500 by late December to cover January expenses, from some combination of fundraising, services and the ProxThink website. See our service offerings here, and please let others know about them as appropriate. I may also be eligible for some grants, but those will take time, and I have some immediate needs now. Over the course of more than 30 years, I’ve invested over $2 million in terms of foregone opportunities, and currently have over $71,000 in startup debt because of ProxThink. To develop practical new approaches to tough global problems, these numbers are trivial, but to continue I need partners, collaborators, funders and contributors.

If you are asking why did I build up that much startup debt, consider that future generations will be asking why did we wait so long to do anything serious about climate change? My passionate, urgent priority has been to develop integrated new approaches for challenges like climate change and other major problems.

I’d like you to consider and then make a contribution which relates elements in our combined proximity (yours, mine, the world at large and the future). Non-financial contributions, rewards, resources, services, connections, referrals, opportunities, links, telling others and so on can also make a big difference. In the ProxThink growth model, a “proxri” is a reward which relates elements in the proximity, so you will be rewarding with a proxri. In a sense, you are not making a donation or an investment, but rather helping grow, in a neighborly way, the proximity of a sustainable resource. Let’s build many more sustainable proximities together. It could even be a lot of fun. The ProxThink site has Proxri Now links for online contributions via PayPal. Although I need some large proxri to survive and thrive, if you’re unsure what to do, reward with the suggested minimum proxri for your anticipated use and benefits, plus some bonus for what I’ve already done so far. Consider the many challenging global situations we face. The ProxThink ideas, tools, models and standards can move mountains, but only if they become more widely used. The next critical steps are marketing, outreach and getting the word out. These are going to take more proxri than I have now. If you think ProxThink has potential, whatever you can do to keep it alive and thriving would be great. You can proxri here now. Thanks!

If you know someone who might be interested in ProxThink, please let them know. Tell them about this page with the bookmark button below. Here’s a list of people we want to reach. According to an old African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I’m open to your comments or questions. You might find some answers in the links below. Otherwise, please contact me.

Thank you very much,
David Loughry

Key Links for Exploration

Proxri Deal: As you find our relationship rewarding, proxri with the proximity in mind.