Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Saturday, April 5, 2003day link 

picture Thinking is one subject I'm really interested in. Our ability to think abstractly is one of the key traits that define what a human is. Yet we seem to have little clue how we do it, or how we might do it better. Our future depends, of course, on what choices we arrive at, individually and collectively. And yet, most of us don't have any better strategy than picking the strongest thought that appears in our head, or our stomach, or wherever it appears, and assuming that this is our answer. Without examining where it came from, and without having the faintest clue as to HOW to think.

I got to *think* about that again, as I saw a page about Edward de Bono's latest book "Why So Stupid?" which seems to reflect just that dillemma, and apparently provide some answers. From the foreword:
"Maybe we have neglected thinking. Maybe we have taken it for granted. Maybe we have believed, and still believe, that there is nothing more that can be done about thinking. We have an excellent 'thinking system' and nothing more needs to be done.

That is where I disagree. We do have an excellent thinking system - but it is inadequate. Our thinking system is all directed at the past. We recognize standard situations and provide standard answers. We have never developed the creative thinking needed to design the way forward. Our thinking is excellent for technology and almost useless in human affairs."
I have several of de Bono's books, which are excellent. And yet I'm a bit suspicious about why somebody needs to write 65 books about essentially the same thing - creativity and thinking. But, whether he could really have said it all in one book, de Bono has some fine tools and insights to offer, and is an undisputed authority in that field. Here's another little tidbit from his website:
"The majority of mistakes in ordinary thinking (outside technical matters) are mistakes in perception. Our traditional emphasis on logic does little for perception. If the perception is inadequate no amount of excellence in logic will make up for that deficiency.

Perception is a matter of directing attention. If you are not looking in the right direction it does not matter how clever you are, you will not see what you need to see."
Right on. It doesn't matter if you eloquently and 'logically' can deduct yourself from one point to the next, if you didn't perceive what really is there, or you were looking at only a small part of it, or you were looking at the wrong thing. Most people have a certain innate sense of logic, but if the input is faulty, so is the result.
[ | 2003-04-05 22:01 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Andrius and Xpertweb
Andrius Kulikauskas called me from Lithuania yesterday and we had a good long discussion about him getting involved in Xpertweb, and just brainstorming on things. We already know each other, but after he talked with Mitch and with Britt, it seems that some expanded collaboration is a good idea.

Andrius is a champion of working openly. He's been inquiring into economies that will support that. He is quite a magnetizing force for people who're working on tools for capturing structured thought. We believe in many of the same things. At the same time he draws on mysteriously different sources, and is quite likely to bring up issues that otherwise wouldn't be touched, and that is a good thing.

Look at some of Andrius's thoughts and ideas concerning Xpertweb.
[ | 2003-04-05 22:27 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

picture One of my favorite Alan Watts books is "The Book (On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are)". Here's from the first chapter:
"It is a special kind of enlightenment to have this feeling that the usual, the way things normally are, is odd--uncanny and highly improbable. G. K. Chesterton once said that it is one thing to be amazed at a gorgon or a griffin, creatures which do not exist; but it is quite another and much higher thing to be amazed at a rhinoceros or a giraffe, creatures which do exist and look as if they don't. This feeling of universal oddity includes a basic and intense wondering about the sense of things. Why, of all possible worlds, this colossal and apparently unnecessary multitude of galaxies in a mysteriously curved space-time continuum, these myriads of differing tube-species playing frantic games of one-upmanship, these numberless ways of "doing it" from the elegant architecture of the snow crystal or the diatom to the startling magnificence of the lyrebird or the peacock?

Ludwig Wittgenstein and other modern "logical" philosophers have tried to suppress this question by saying that it has no meaning and ought not to be asked. Most philosophical problems are to be solved by getting rid of them, by coming to the point where you see that such questions as "Why this universe?" are a kind of intellectual neurosis, a misuse of words in that the question sounds sensible but is actually as meaningless as asking "Where is this universe?" when the only things that are anywhere must be somewhere inside the universe. The task of philosophy is to cure people of such nonsense, Wittgenstein, as we shall see, had a point there. Nevertheless wonder is not a disease. Wonder, and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the most important things which seem to distinguish men from other animals and intelligent and sensitive people from morons.

Is there, then, some kind of a lowdown on this astounding scheme of things, something that never really gets out through the usual channels for the Answer--the historic religions and philosophies? There is. It has been said again and again, but in such a fashion that we, today, in this particular civilization do not hear it. We do not realize that it is utterly subversive, not so much in the political and moral sense, as in that it turns our ordinary view of things, our common sense, inside out and upside down. It may of course have political and moral consequences, but as yet we have no clear idea of what they may be. Hitherto this inner revolution of the mind has been confined to rather isolated individuals; it has never, to my knowledge, been widely characteristic of communities or societies. It has often been thought too dangerous for that. Hence the taboo."
Well, really Alan Watts is best to listen to, rather than read. There are many tapes of his talks, from the 60s. But in that book he presents a remarkably lucid explanation of what you are. Another way of putting it is that he takes apart the poorly founded illusion that you are a separate ego, isolated from and in conflict with the rest of the world. What is cool about it is that it is not in the form of mystical beliefs, but in the form of logical deduction, which you'd have a hard time arguing against. Thus it might be a way for compartmentalized western minds to come to terms with something bigger, without having to give up a belief in science and logic. There just really is no proof for the irrational belief that you're separate from the rest of the world. And if you accept the inevitable conclusion, everything is different.
[ | 2003-04-05 23:10 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Altruistic punishment
From an anthropology research paper
"Both laboratory and field data suggest that people punish noncooperators even in one-shot interactions. Although such "altruistic punishment" may explain the high levels of cooperation in human societies, it creates an evolutionary puzzle: existing models suggest that altruistic cooperation among nonrelatives is evolutionarily stable only in small groups. Thus, applying such models to the evolution of altruistic punishment leads to the prediction that people will not incur costs to punish others to provide benefits to large groups of nonrelatives. However, here we show that an important asymmetry between altruistic cooperation and altruistic punishment allows altruistic punishment to evolve in populations engaged in one-time, anonymous interactions. This process allows both altruistic punishment and altruistic cooperation to be maintained even when groups are large and other parameter values approximate conditions that characterize cultural evolution in the small-scale societies in which humans lived for most of our prehistory."
Hm, so if I understand it right, most people will punish non-cooperative anti-social behavior when they have the chance, even if they have nothing directly to gain from it, and even if it doesn't produce visible increases in cooperation. And that people mostly have succeeded in collaborating in small groups, but not so much in large groups. Well, what I get out of that is that people are looking for widespread cooperation, and they're making choices to support it, but the right tools for crystalizing it haven't quite appeared yet.
[ | 2003-04-05 23:59 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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