Dr. Peter Ellyard – The Proliferation of Relevant Knowledge

Dr. Peter Ellyard is Australia’s foremost futurist, and the author of Designing 2050: Pathways to Sustainable Prosperity on Spaceship Earth. His experience ranges from running companies involved in the environment, 30 years as a senior advisor for the United Nations, as well as experience as the executive director of the Australian Commission for the Future. Familiar with some of Dr. Ellyard’s writings on technology and innovation in the future, we were able to catch up for about an hour on topics ranging from martial arts to nanotechnology. Interview below:

What is “Tropical Knowledge”?

One of the concepts that I found most interesting in my conversation with Dr. Ellyard was his idea about how relevant information needs to be culled and distilled to specific groups or regions. The goal here is not just to spread knowledge or information and make it accessible, but to actually spread “best practices” and tailor the knowledge to the situation of the recipient.

Dr. Ellyard mentions a hospital in the tropical, northern end of Australia (Darwin) which is built with a snow roof. Why? Because the structure was modelled from a completely separate climate – and now the hospital itself must expend tremendous energy costs in order to keep the building cool in the already boiling tropical environment.

I told Dr. Ellyard about my own travels in Rio de Janeiro last summer, where I saw much the same “plug and play” approach to a variety of technologies, and he went on to explain in more depth his idea of “Tropical Knowledge.” The idea is that knowledge needs to be distilled in a way that is most applicable for the domain in which it is being applied. General best-practices in architecture – as we’ve seen – don’t necessarily translate – and new considerations must be made in the application of technologies and methods (“ways and wares”) when applied in the tropics.

I brought up the idea of the same concept being applied not just in geographical regions (“tropical knowledge,” “arctic knowledge,” etc…), but in other distinct spectrums that differentiate our circumstances. For example, there might be different ways of implementing democratic systems in a collectivist culture than in an individualistic culture. This might – if it proved useful – result in a kind of “collectivist knowledge,” which would in essence serve simply as a method of distinguishing certain kinds of ways and wares for their application in certain cultural domains – allowing for new “lenses” for the application of these tools / methods in certain areas.

Dr. Ellyard hopes that the continued connectedness of our planet will yield this kind of regularly accessible and tailored system of “best practices,” but also believes – as I do – that certain groups will need to spearhead the proliferation of these tailored best-practices in order to have them successfully applied in other relevant areas (IE: having northern Australia establish important distinctions for tropical knowledge which could then be spread to Brazil, Mexico, or other third-world countries or communities which could use them).

You can learn more about Dr. Ellyard himself on Wikipedia, and I’m looking forward to catching up with him soon with regards to his coming philanthropic projects.

All the best,

-Daniel Faggella