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  • Writer's pictureSara@MāoriLAB

An 'Immense World', The Metaverse, Te Ao Māori.

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

I have been reading the amazing book by Ed Yong, An Immense World. It is essentially about how each living creature has its way of sensing, perceiving the world. For example the snake uses infrared, a heat seeking sense, bees 'see' ultraviolet, the 'invisible' sun rays to direct them, bats use echolocation, elephants use low frequency, dogs know the world greatly through smell, humans rely a lot on daylight sight. Essentially the book is about the diversity of how nature, including humans, (obviously) experience the world differently, even amongst humans, one culture uses the sense of smell so profusely they have a rich aroma vocabulary in their everyday language. People who are blind or visually impaired speak of their other senses dominating, to inform them of the world. And what of the 6th sense, so accepted and understood by many but seems, well, controversial to western science? But it is stating that the human experience is not the highest or only experience of this world and the galaxy. Yet turn the lights out and those of us with sight, are literally in the dark, take away our sense of taste or smell and can we trust what we should be eating etc. We only perceive one version of the world!

The world, nature, life is so vast that each species only sees it in parts. One day we may share the same language as trees, plankton, whenua, etc, and glimpse the whole of life, but until then...

This book got me thinking about the Metaverse - virtual platforms of XR, Xtended Reality, VR, Virtual Reality, MR, Mixed Reality. "Management consultancy McKinsey and Company predicted the metaverse economy could, in aggregate, "generate up to $5 trillion in impact by 2030 -- equivalent to the size of the third-largest economy today, Japan!" 12 top metaverse predictions for 2030 | TechTarget

I had initially, and ignorantly seen it as just another market place for consumerism, or a place where people, unhappy with who they are create new persona. I am reminded of the 2nd Life platform. But recently I have learned a lot about the benefits of learning in the Metaverse and how it is disrupting traditional education. Dr Muhsinah Morris spoke at the Gatherverse S.H.E Summit spoke about neural divergent children who, through the Metaverse, are learning social skills or even traffic safety before having to be put into real life experiences. Or molecular biology students able to learn through seeing and hearing molecules in an immersive new way. Or the way putting a headset on, with your avatar can hyper focus and increase engagement with children and adults who normally find focussing difficult. Wow!

This led me to thinking about something one of our elders wrote about learning in the traditional Māori wānanga/ place of education. It involved selected people being placed into various natural elements for periods of time, the sea, forest, mountains, etc, governed by the spiritual powers and laws of the environments. Those that were 'successful' were those who came back from their experiences involving observation, listening, tasting, touching, smell, sensing and spiritually connecting, with 'original knowledge' that had not been known before. It was knowledge judged as spiritually, naturally and humanly inspired, therefore needed for the good of the collective, including the planet itself.

Again I pondered on this and am asking many questions.

How could this traditional learning from the physical, natural and spiritual world, essentially a 5D world, (we have 3D, 4D-time, 5D would include smell, taste, touch and 'senses'/intuition/gut responses, those vibes you get when you meet someone or walk into a room where you sense safety or danger) be recreated in the metaverse, a virtual world created by data that is, from the moment it is laid in algorithms and becomes AI, data from the past? Especially if evolution has taken millions of years for us to get to where we are now?

How can it make trustworthy or insightful predictions for the present and future when it is run on data, which is obviously collected from the 'past', and is known to be biased and incomplete?

How can AI, or robots or these new technologies be truly sentient or compete with the complex and beautiful systems of human and nature? Look at how the environment and humanity is at this moment, as a result of our past and present actions and knowledge.

I love the opportunities technology is providing but if the same thinking, values, worldviews are involved in its creation, why will it be any different to the analogue world we live in, in fact it will be exponentially worse?

And then I realised I was thinking in the binary this OR that, my way OR your way. This new, digital, virtual technology OR spiritual/natural/other cultural ways. And I remembered Māori thinking is in practice inclusive, AND/AND, WIN/WIN. A saying from another kaumatua was, 'We embrace (the new that works), we do not replace (our essential selves)!

So the question becomes HOW to create an AND/AND, WIN/WIN, inclusive technology? By having AND/AND, WIN/WIN processes and practices, from ideation to deployment and beyond.

I would love there to be a real acknowledgement of, collaboration with and even leadership of how other cultures have learned, how nature teaches, and see what technology can be created if created by and with these experts, long ignored as uncivilised at worst, superstitious at best.

Our, Māori values, and many other cultures and communities share similar worldviews of tātou/mātou - collective wellbeing of people and planet, rangatiratanga - the recognition of the individual's uniqueness and autonomy, mana motuhake - authority in our diversity, kotahitangi - agreement of purpose recognising people and planet's diversity, kaitiakitanga - the responsibility of being a custodian for the future's well-being, the idea that resources be distributed to the collective, as opposed to individual ownership, amassing and consuming, seem to be great values to be incorporated into the creation and care of any new system, process, technology.

Creators or businesses wanting to be part of the curve of the Metaverse, Web 3, XR, in any digital technology, want to be impactful and make truly insightful decisions, think about the real benefits of seeking diverse thinking, worldviews, values, insights, processes, (don't forget nature as a teacher), as co-creators in your decision making team, as business partners, in your eco-system of partners, providers, even funders. The net result? To create meaningful, fully functioning, truly sentient technology, products and services, that reflects us all and our beautiful planet, and finds real solutions to some really difficult problems.

Don't get me wrong, collaboration or inclusion of diversity is not easy and can feel uncomfortable. It's not a kumbya, holding of hands in a peace circle. It is messy, a lot of mistakes will be made, just like with any relationship. Māori LAB is one of a few organisations in Aotearoa and the globe that work locally and globally, to be a bridge between communities and worlds, to help build trust, to explain WHY, to help each 'speak' to the other, to share knowledge and skills, to develop real relationships that will restore and ensure the dignity of all people and the planet.

Part 2 will look at HOW to lean in to the discomfort of change and innovation that can turn into rewarding and successful personal, community, business and global relationships, products and services.

I believe profit drives the purpose, to serve people and the planet.

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