Archives for category: Chance

In many ways, technology has leaped ahead of leaders and organizations, and the human element needs to catch up.

Erica Volini et al, Introduction: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus

I’m afraid there is nothing new here.

‘Technology” has always been the elephant in the china shop.
Only it is very seldom that elephants enter by themselves. Anywhere, let alone in a china shop. And the mahouts who led them there were not always up to the task.

First things first.
“Technology has leaped ahead…” is an oxymoron.
Technology has always been one step behind the humans.
For no other reason than the fact that technology is a human invention. Each and every technological feat has been initiated and put in practice by a human being.

Hence ‘ ‘technology’, (wink) has leaped ahead of leaders and organizations, and the rest of the human element needs to catch up’!

Secondly, the ‘mahouts’ have a relatively easier job than those who drive the ‘rest of the human element’. Developing a technology is fairly easy but making sure that people do not hurt themselves while using it is fairly impossible.

The physical world is straightforward. It’s reaction is always the same. Once the experimenters learn what happens when they execute a certain action, the ‘response’ elicited from ‘that’ physical system by the experimenters’ consistent actions will never change.

On the other hand, people – conscious people, that is, are not that straightforward.
Being self aware, they constantly evaluate the consequences of their responses. They constantly evaluate what happens after they respond to whatever probes them from ‘outside’.
They constantly re-evaluate the consequences their actions produce upon themselves. They learn.
Only they don’t do it ‘mechanically’. Each of them has preferences and a certain freedom of will. Hence their inconsistency. Each of them learns slightly different things from the same situation. And each of them may choose to react in their own manner.
In spite of their assumptions, people are at best reasonable and never fully rational.

Bluntly put, it is fairly easy to evaluate the consequences of a gun being shot at a man but a lot harder to evaluate the consequences of a man shooting a gun.


The philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision, is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs.”

The systematic study of the nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment, and measurement, and the formulation of laws to describe these facts in general terms.

In these terms, science must be deterministic.
No systematic study of anything might ever be made if not starting from the conviction that a given set of causes will produce the same results, over and over again. No laws attempting to describe any facts in general terms might be formulated unless starting from the same premises.

On the other hand, it was science itself which had taught us that:

It’s impossible to determine, with absolute precision, both the position and momentum of an electron

The same ‘uncertainty principle’ can be extended to other pairs of “complementary variables, such as length of time and energy“.

And there are countless other examples of ‘in-determination’ which have been documented by scientists during their search for the ultimate truth.

Any chance of reconciliation?

To start, I’ll note first that ‘determinism’ is a concept which had started its career in philosophy while ‘science’ has a more ‘complex’ origin. It might have been initiated by Christian theologians trying to ‘guess’ God’s will only they were attempting to fulfill that task by closely watching Nature – which was seen as the very embodiment of God’s intentions.
In this sense, scientific determinism can be understood as the conviction that Nature must make perfect sense – must be completely explainable, simply because God’s creation – which includes Nature, must be perfect.
OK, and since all theologians agree that no human will ever be able/should ever pretend to know God, what’s the problem in accepting that Man – collectively speaking now, will never learn enough to find a complete explanation for everything?

‘And what about the atheists?’

What about them?
Oh, you mean the people who are sure that God doesn’t exist? Who are just as sure that God doesn’t exist as the staunch believers who are perfectly confident that God not only exists but also micro-manages everything? Under the Sun and beyond?
I’ll just leave it there…

On a deeper level, there is no contradiction between ‘determinism’ – philosophically speaking, and scientific thinking. As long as we keep these two ‘apart’, of course…

‘So you are going to accept that science will never ‘know’ everything AND that ‘everything is a consequence of the previous state of affairs’ ‘ ?

Well, again…
The key word here is “inevitable”!
Determinism is ” the philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision, is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs
For a philosopher it is very easy to say ‘inevitable’. Even more so for believing philosopher.
For a scientist… how is a scientist going to say that something is ‘inevitable’? ‘Philosophically’ speaking, of course… as in ‘with absolute precision’?!?

Specially since entertaining a truly ‘scientific attitude’ means, above all, to be prepared, at all moment and without any notice, for all your previously held convictions to be contradicted by new evidence…

‘What are you trying to say here?
That everything revolves around the manner in which each of us relates to the meaning of his own interpretation of each concept?
That truth itself is relative?’

‘That man is the measure for everything?’

AND that man is also responsible for the consequences his own actions! In front of his own children, before everything else.
For no other reason than it will be his own children who will bear the brunt of his own decisions.

Additional reading:
Science as Falsification“, Karl R. Popper.
800 Scientists say it’s time to abandon “Statistical Significance”
“On the Essence of Truth“, Martin Heidegger
“Suicide now leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 14 in Japan

I was arguing yesterday that life, as a biological phenomenon, depends on membranes doing their jobs.
Keeping the inside in, the outside out and managing the transit of substances. Nutrients in and excretions out. For some organisms, their ‘membranes’ also act as a thermo-regulators.

‘Watching’ a membrane in action, one might get the impression that it has been endowed with a certain ‘awareness’. The membrane acts as if it were aware of the differences between its inside and its outside. It recognizes what belongs where and keeps them there. It also recognizes nutrients for what they are – and lets them in, and excretions for what they are – and where they should be.
OK, the membrane does what it does simply because it was ‘pre-programmed’ in a specific way, according to the genetic information each organism has received from its predecessors. There’s nothing supernatural involved here. For what we currently know, anyway…

Watching, as a dispassionate outside observer, the evolutionary process unfolding one might get the impression that life itself has a certain awareness.
‘Rules of life’, read genetic information passed along from one generation to another, are diligently updated to fit the changes in the environment. Nevermind that the whole process is ‘impersonal’, ‘goal-less’ and is fueled by haphazard trial and error, the end result is what we currently consider to be ‘learning’!
That’s what we try to code into our artificially intelligent machines, don’t we?

Further more, recent research points out that individual organisms share information with their brethren.
Bacteria can share antibiotic resistance genes through lateral transfer.
Physarum polycephalum, a unicellular organism, seems to be able to share information already learned when it comes in contact with other members of the species.
Plants “can “talk” in several different ways: via airborne chemicals, soluble compounds exchanged by roots and networks of threadlike fungi“.

Since communication itself is a process which implies the ability to differentiate between a ‘run of the mill’ situation and one special enough to warrant the effort to ‘talk’ about it, I find all these to be compelling arguments for life itself to be considered as implying certain forms of awareness.

According to ‘science’, life is nothing but a process through which (genetic) information is passed, with small alterations, from one generation to another and during which the environment is, however minutely, changed by whatever the living organisms do during their lifespans.

‘Individually’ – organism by organism, life takes place inside a ‘membrane’. Which you might call it ‘skin’, if you like.
That membrane separates the ‘inside’ – the living organism, from the ‘outside’ – otherwise known as the ‘environment’.
Each individual organism continues to be alive for as long as the membrane manages to keep the inside in, the outside out AND to properly regulate the exchanges between the inside and the outside.
This being the moment when we need to remember that each living organism needs to eat, to drink, to breathe and to excrete. Meaning that it needs a more or less continuous flow of certain substances from the outside and to periodically clean itself. And the moment to understand that each organism continuously changes its environment. By incorporating some of it while feeding/breathing and by ‘polluting’ it when ‘throwing out’ the by-products of its metabolism.

For all the activity above to take place, each individual organism needs to follow some ‘rules’. It’s ‘membrane’ needs to ‘know’ which substances to allow in and which to keep out. Which substances to throw out and which to keep it.
To perform all these duties, the membrane itself needs to be organized in a certain manner. For all to happen as it should, the ‘interior’ has to be organized in a certain – and specific, manner.

On the other hand, for any (set of) rule(s) to make sense, it has to be congruent to the situation it ‘attempts’ to manage. For instance, the rule about what substances are to be ‘allowed in’ has to be adapted both to the specific needs of the organism following it AND to what substances are available in the particular environment in which that organism attempts to survive/thrive.
Since the environment in which the living process attempts to take place is subjected to continuous change – both as a consequence of organisms living in it and as happenstance happening, the ‘rules of life’ cannot be ‘set in stone’.
For life to continue in a consistent manner, it has to preserve its rules while for life to survive in an ever-changing environment it has to adapt its rules to fit the changes in the environment.
This being where evolution takes charge.

That’s why the life we’re familiar with, ours, is comprised of successive generations of many individual organisms which somehow pass genetic information (rules of life) from one another. The fundamental ‘trick’ which makes everything possible being that during the ‘passing’ process the genetic information is slightly altered.
Sometimes with beneficial results – those individuals thrive and, eventually, new species appear. Other times, the results are tragic. The individuals which receive bad – read unfit, rules of life do not survive.
Equally tragic is the fate of those species, otherwise ‘successful’ until that moment, which, at some point, are confronted by so momentous changes in their environment that they are no longer able to adapt. Dinosaurs are the first examples which come to my mind but the list is so long that we’ll never learn about all of them.

A pessimist might conclude that life is all about species and that individuals are expandable.
Au contraire, mon cher ami. Since there’s no way in hell – or in heaven, for anybody to know which individual organism has that particular piece of information which will enable their successors to survive the next alteration in the environment it would be rather dense to consider any individual as being expandable. In fact, it was the ‘individualization’ of the living process that made possible the evolutionary process.

Life is about both individuals and species, simultaneously and with equal importance.

– History is the story of what we remember of what had happened, right? Based on our shared individual recollections, the ‘written sources’ we have at our disposal and our interpretation of any other material traces we might have found… and properly preserved…

– Yep!

– Then no history, no matter how diligent and well intended the historian, will ever be the actual representation of what had really happened, back then!

– Well, you seem to be quite familiar with Heidegger’s work.

– I can’t say that. Popper’s injunction that science is more about being prepared to acknowledge your ignorance than about really knowing is enough for me.

– Then we might be soon delivered from History, after all.
When enough people will share your attitude/paradigm – that no matter how hard we’ll ever try we’ll never know anything for sure… it will be impossible for any would be dictator to pretend they have the ‘right’ answer for any problem we might encounter.

“One of Pareto’s most noteworthy and controversial theories is that human beings are not, for the most part, motivated by logic and reason but rather by sentiment.”

Coming from an engineer – Pareto had started as one, this concept becomes even more noteworthy.
Why would a ‘professional using precision measurements and seeking consistently reproducible results’ focus his attention on sentiment rather than reason?

Because this is the reasonable thing to to?

And one of the reasons for which I tend to agree with him – besides being an engineer myself, is that he had started his studies using the most ‘reasonable’ instrument ever devised by man: “Residing in Florence, he studied philosophy and politics and wrote many periodical articles in which he first analyzed economic problems with mathematical tools.”

So, Pareto had reached the conclusion that human beings are driven mostly by sentiment after rationally analyzing the economic (and political) life.

OK. But what lies behind ‘sentiment’?

Pareto had proposed ‘residues’ as ‘motivation’ for sentiment. His theory is interesting only rather complicated. Almost byzantine. A well written summary can be read here.

What I find fascinating about Pareto’s theory is the rather veiled but certain correspondence which exists between his ‘residues’ and Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”.

I’ll try to ‘raise the veil’ at a later date, today I’ll just point you towards a very relevant ‘coincidence’.

The psychologist had traveled the same road as the engineer.

Maslow (1943) initially stated that individuals must satisfy lower level deficit needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. However, he later clarified that satisfaction of a needs is not an “all-or-none” phenomenon, admitting that his earlier statements may have given “the false impression that a need must be satisfied 100 percent before the next need emerges” (1987, p. 69).

Both had started ‘deterministically’, trying evidentiate ‘the’ (ironclad?) link between behavior and conditions – and expecting that link to be of a rational nature, only to reach the conclusion that individual sentiment/evaluation is at least as important – if not more so, as reason in the decision process. In shaping human behavior.

What we currently call ‘science’ is both an activity and an attitude. Something some of us do and the way in which some of us see the world.

In current lingo, those who ‘do science’ are involved in ‘technology’ while those who see the world ‘scientifically’ partake in a certain philosophical tradition.
If we look at things in this way, it becomes obvious that doing science and thinking scientifically might not be the same thing.

Science, as an attitude, had sprung up in Ancient Greece, been kept alive by the early Islamic scholars, rekindled by the Medieval Catholic theologians, come of age during the Renaissance and ‘exploded’ after the Enlightenment.
Technology, on the other hand, is way older. And had been developed mainly elsewhere than the scientific attitude. China and India had been technological powerhouses and thriving civilizations in times when Europe was still learning to wash its hands before dinner.

‘Modern’ science – what we have now, appeared only after technological prowess had been married to the right attitude. 

It is easy to accept that technology, the more widely distributed part of ‘science’, had appeared as a consequence of mere necessity. People needed things in order to survive, then wanted things in order to increase their comfort… things which had to be produced… as efficiently as possible… hence people had put their minds to it and … voila!
But what had driven some of those around the Mediterranean Sea to develop the scientific attitude?

The same thing which drives us?
The attempt to find out the future, one second earlier than it really happens?
Because they thought, like we do, that reality is unique and that man is meant to master it?

Man, the guy who was made by God in His own image and who was told to rule the world?

Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, Occam,  Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Georges Lemaitre… some of them might have been persecuted by the church – personally or had their their ideas ‘challenged’, but they all had been raised in the Christian tradition and had been active members of their religious communities. Even Galileo, the only one among these who had been ‘physically’ affected by the way in which his ideas had been received by his contemporaries, had a more or less ‘functional’ relationship with the heads of the Church… he had died in his own bed, arrested in his own villa, not at the stake …

Christians call it fate while Buddhists call it karma.
Christians’ main goal is called salvation while Buddhists’ is called nirvana.

And no, these are not exactly the same thing.
Not different enough to separate them easily, not similar enough to consider them the same thing.

Fate depends on what God has in mind for you while karma depends exclusively on what you have decided all along your life.

Salvation is even more complicated.
Catholics believe that each individual can obtain it, regardless of what they had done until that moment, by simply acknowledging ones sins and by repenting before God/priest. Protestants, on the other hand, believe that individual salvation is entirely at God’s mercy. Mortal individuals can do nothing more than putting their faith in God’s all encompassing love and waiting for it.
Meanwhile, since Buddhists don’t have a God, they believe that accomplishing nirvana is the responsibility of each individual… All somebody has to do in order to achieve this goal is to transform their inner self. There is no outside, objective (?!?) benchmark to be reached here… no other arbiter to please…

Yet fate and karma are not that different either… Life experience in Asia may be different from that in Europe but the differences aren’t huge enough to consider them two different things. Not to mention the growing number of Buddhists living in the Euro-Atlantic region and the burgeoning number of Christian converts in Asia….

As for salvation versus nirvana… the man made Catholic one is almost similar – even if a lot easier to obtain, to the Buddhist nirvana while the Protestant one is just as dis-similar from it’s Catholic equivalent as it is from the Buddhist nirvana.
Yet, again, is it really possible for peace of mind to be that different on the opposing ends of EurAsia? Peace of mind experienced by very similar human individuals…. The only difference between them being the culture they have grown into….

Which brings us to chance.

Rationally minded people – scientists, economists, etc., are convinced that any decision can be perfect… If  only people were diligent enough to educate themselves properly, to think with their brains instead of allowing their hearts to take over…

‘Rationally minded people…’
But how rational is to expect a human being – an animal, first and foremost, to behave in a perfectly rational manner?
How rational is to expect a human being to overcome all emotion AND all biases? Known and unknown….
How rational is even to expect a human being to ‘diligently’ research all available data before making a decision? How much time would that take? When should someone be satisfied enough with the information gathered about a particular subject?

How much is each of us indebted to Lady Luck about the place we’ve born into?
Christian Europe or Buddhist Asia?
About the time of our birth? Before any of Christ/Buddha had preached or after?
How much is each of us indebted to Lady Luck about the amount of opportunity each of us have had to decide about during our lives?

My last question was a tricky one, indeed.
OK, Lady Luck is responsible for many things. For the place and time of our birth. For the fortunes of the families we’ve been born into and for the mental and physical each of us enjoys. Or lacks…

Only we do share in the final responsibility for our fate/salvation/karma/nirvana!

Our decisions are equally shaped by the circumstances in which we’ve reached those decisions AND by our diligence in making them.
Each of our decisions opens up some new doors and shuts down others. Or, at least, turns our heads towards new openings and away from others.

‘And your point is?’

Don’t blame others for your bad decisions and don’t praise yourself too much for your good ones.
Don’t blame others for their bad decisions. Are you sure they had a real alternative for the situations you found them in? Mind you, not whether there was a real alternative! Did THEY had access to that alternative?
Extend a helping hand. You’re not responsible for saving everybody else but to see somebody in need and not offer your help sets the stage for you needing help and everybody else passing by without noticing you.
Don’t overdo it. When you see someone drowning, get them out to safety. That’s enough. Don’t lecture them about the dangers of getting into water. Firstly, you don’t know how they got in and, secondly, if they are not able to figure this out by themselves you’re wasting your time.
Don’t prevent everybody else from getting in simply because somebody had (nearly) drowned. You’re not God. You don’t know everything. You just happened to be there when somebody was drowning and you was strong and brave enough enough to save them. That’s all there is to it.

I am determined to fly.
Only my actual flying is relative to my ability to ‘negotiate’ the absolute determination with which my body and the rest of the planet pull at each other.


There are three kinds of ‘determination’.
Absolute, relative and teleological.

‘Absolute determination’ is that situation where everything is under the same constriction. For instance, (almost) everything substantial in this Universe is affected by the gravitational field which permeates everywhere and everything.

Relative determination is that situation where either a special characteristic of something or a special circumstance induces a specific relation between that something and an ‘overpowering force’. For instance, any electrically charged particle is under the influence of the electromagnetic field while the ‘neutral’ ones are indifferent to the said field. Also, a dead leaf which happens to fall in a stream is under a double determination. It is simultaneously pulled towards the center of the Earth and helplessly transported by the water. OK, the flow of the water is indeed powered by the same gravity which pulls the leaf but, again, it is relative to the local relief.
Please note that even if the absolute determination might seem insignificant due to the effects of the relative one, the absolute never ceases. An electron which spins happily around a nucleus only seems impervious to the gravitational pull. Simply because the latter is way weaker than the former, at that scale.

Teleological determination is that situation where the determinant has an active role in shaping the influence it exerts over the determined. NB, ‘active’ and not necessarily ‘conscious’. For instance, no two working bees belonging to the same hive  will ever do exactly the same thing in the same (broad) situation, despite both being under the same absolute determination and under almost similar relative determination – they are twin sisters.

Things become way more interesting when we start discussing the influence of ‘intent’.
When the teleological determination becomes intentional.
Where the scope of the active action is influenced by the consciousness of the determinant instead of depending exclusively on ‘rules’ and chance.

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