Archives for category: Frames of mind

– 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.

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The worst thing about your parents passing away is the fact that from that moment on, every time you’ll turn to anybody for help that somebody will first pass judgement on you.

“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. 

OK.
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 …



And no, this is no joke! Alas…

Populism is scientific because its ‘adepts’ have a very rational behavior and use scientific tools to increase the appeal of their public messages.
And, on the other hand, populism is scientific because its advent is perfectly explainable given what we currently know. About our society, about our brains, about our psychology….

Let me start from the beginning.
In Thomas Kuhn’s terms, the last 60 or so years have witnessed a tremendous paradigm shift.
Science has replaced religion as the main paradigm and ‘religion’ has been demoted to  ‘religions’.

Science becoming the main paradigm means that we have grown confident about our knowledge. We might be aware that we don’t know everything yet but we continue to believe that we’re able to learn everything. That if we are diligent enough we’ll sometimes be able to look under every rock that is.
This attitude has led us to search for ‘perfection’. ‘Efficiency’ has displaced ‘redemption’. We have ceased our quest for salvation and are now obsessed with ‘buy low, sell high’. In other words, ‘make the most of it but strain yourself as little as possible’.

Which makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

A lot of sense… mainly when you no longer perceive the guy next to you as being a full-fledged member of your community. Your religious community, that is. Of your church.

You see, ever since Emil Durkheim, the sociologists have been aware that religion was not so much a story about the making of the world as a ‘common ground’. The ‘common core’ shared by the members of a given community. Which ‘common core’ makes it possible for those who share it to have respect. For themselves and for the other faithful members of the community. By sharing that common core, the individuals find their bearings in the ‘wide, wide world’ and, thus, know how to behave relative to their ‘neighbors’. With enough mutual respect among the individual members that the community is able to function. To survive, that is.

We no longer have that kind of community.
Our primary allegiance is no longer towards ‘church’. Most of us consider themselves primarily as members of a nation – something governed more by formal laws than by public sentiment, and only secondarily – if at all, as members of a ‘religious’ community.

Now, putting two and two together, it’s very simple to understand that in the given circumstances ‘populism’ was inevitable, right?

Too many of the would be leaders have no qualms about how they get what they want.
Power.
‘Buy low, sell high’ is the current mantra, remember? Accepted by all of us. Buyers, sellers, by-standards…
Too many members of the general public are willing to accept promises which are in line with their own expectations, even if those promises being put in practice means a lot of misery for OTHERS. Who cares about those others, anyway? They are not members of OUR ‘church’!

I’ll let you decide how sustainable is such a situation. I was going to use ‘community’ instead of ‘situation’ but it would have been horribly wrong. We no longer live in communities. We only happen to live in the same place.

For how long?

According to Humberto Maturana, what we call consciousness – our ability to ‘observe ourselves observing‘, is the result of what sociologists would call a ‘cultural process’.
Meaning that consciousness has been developed in time – as is millennia, and is constantly shaped through daily interactions between us.

I don’t intend to discuss its genesis now, I’m just gonna point to one of its many consequences. Our need to explain everything.

We’ve developed our consciousness by talking to each-other. If we are to accept Maturana’s theory – of course, which I do.
At some point in time, during this process, there must have been an ‘aha’ moment.
Or, more precisely, a ‘what if’ moment.

Until then, everything was ‘natural’. Sun up, sun down, birth, death… and everything in between.
While learning to ‘observe ourselves observing’ one of our ancestors must have noticed that we make a lot of decisions. Unconsciously – until that moment, of course, but, nevertheless, still momentous. To ‘flee or fight’, which fig tree to climb, which cave to use tonight, which pelt to skin, which flint to flake…

The very next moment our ancestor must have asked their-self:

What if the Sun doesn’t get up next morning? Will I wake up from sleep tomorrow?
Who decides these things?
Are there only rules – like ‘every time you touch a flame you get burned’ and ‘ice is always cold’ or on top of the rules there is somebody who calls the shots? As in ‘decides whether this time the lion will attack on sight or it will let this one go’?

And we’ve tried to explain away our fears ever since…
By determining which are the pertinent ‘natural rules’, by placing the responsibility on somebody else’s shoulder – read ‘God’, or both at the same time. Again, I’m not going to develop this subject either, I’ll just remember you that Buddhism – for example, doesn’t reject older creeds. The Japanese, for instance, follow both Buddhist precepts and Shintoist traditions. Also, many Christians entertain a lot of local and not so local superstitions. Like never start walking with the left foot or having a very strong ‘respect’ for the third number after 10.

Let me make a short recap.
We taught ourselves to speak, we talked to each other until we developed something called consciousness to such a level that we’ve started to ask ourselves existential questions and then we came up with more or less credible scenarios meant to allay our fears.

‘OK, … and your point is?’

Don’t be so ‘surprised’ when somebody ‘irrationally’ defends their own ‘story’. ‘Their story’ encompasses their world. That’s where they had been living, together with everybody they used to know/consider their kin.
Don’t attempt to force your story upon them. Let aside that you might be wrong yourself… any attempt to forcefully impose a narrative upon somebody else is nothing but “rape”. Don’t do it unless you are prepared to get raped yourself.
And keep in mind that it’s not ‘their story’ that harms you but ‘their actions’.

No story has ever harmed anyone. For any story to have consequences, people must act upon it. According to how they have chosen to relate to the it.  That’s where we can see eye to eye, regardless of the stories each of us keep dear.
Are we ready to accept that we might be wrong? That our story might be incomplete? That our explanation of the world might need some adjustments?

Are we ready to understand that enlarging our explanation to encompass others will actually increase our own ability to survive?
Or are we going to defend ‘our’ version, no matter what?

Are we going to keep looking for explanations or to become the subject of yet another one?

Really?

Am I the first to understand that once you’ve eaten it, nobody will ever again be able to part YOUR cake from you?

It stops being a cake as you chew on it?

Well… yeah. Actually it does. But… it remains a cake in your memory! That’s what you’ll remember having eaten: A cake!

And now, that we’ve settled the ‘eaten cake’ problem, let me ask you another question.

How strange is it that so many conservatives consider taxes as an infringement upon their right to freely dispose of their property yet they have no qualms to impose their beliefs upon other people – women, to be more precise, denying them the right to freely  dispose of their own bodies?

Because all life is sacred!

Hence, in their view, all abortion is murder. Regardless of the age of the fetus. Regardless of the consequences of having an unwanted child. Too early, too many, not enough money, health problems, sexual assault… nothing counts except for the right of the fetus to be born.

Some go even further. They consider that contraception is murder too. Because it denies the right of the egg-cell to become an embryo…

As I said before.
It is not only possible but very normal to have your cake and eat it too.
Same goes for convictions.
Once embedded in our heads they become ours and nobody can part them from us, no matter what logical arguments might be involved. Invoked?

Except for us. We are the ones who can leave behind some of our old convictions and reach new ones.
Conversion is the name of the game.

A game we’ve been playing since the dawn of time.

We pride ourselves for our ability to choose. Rationally!
We call that ‘liberty’ and we consider it an ‘undeniable human right’.

Yet everything, including our understanding of things, exists because of ‘chance’.
While neither chance nor choice can manifest itself/be exerted outside what we’ve learned to call ‘hard reality’.

“First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

Attributed to Richard Feynman by
Florentin Smarandache, V. Christianto,
in Multi-Valued Logic, Neutrosophy, and Schrodinger Equation? (2006), 73

For anything to become a resource, somebody has to:

a. notice it and
b. figure out that, and how, it can be used towards what that particular individual has in mind.

Until both these conditions had been met, it remains – at most, just something that is there.

The first thing any of us does when becoming conscious is to notice differences. That’s how we learn about the world.
We notice the difference between Mother and everybody else, then between Mother, Father and everybody else, between soft and hard, cold and warm, … etc. etc….

The next step is to notice the difference between ourselves and the rest of the world.

The third stage is no longer about noticing but about understanding. About putting two and two together.

Some people understand that by being different, people may complement each other. That by learning different trades, according to their talents, they may cooperate towards improving their chances of survival and their quality of life.

Other people understand that by being different, people may be made to hate and despise each-other. By concentrating the popular focus on the differences between ‘they’ and ‘the others’, the spin-doctors build up the pressure until the made-up inevitable happens.

After the ‘explosion’, the survivors have the opportunity to understand that they are not so different, after all.
That their friends and relatives have died simply because they had allowed for the differences between them to be used improperly.

More than 30 years ago, a very good friend of mine had emigrated from then communist Romania to the US. Ten years later he landed  a job with a huge Japanese corporation, his previous position having been that of COO for a way, way smaller corporation. One where the owners were not only involved in running the business but also ‘close’ enough to the ‘daily hustle’.
After a few weeks he phoned me. He was utterly dejected. ‘It’s as if I’m back in Romania, working for a state owned enterprise. Nobody cares for anything but the hide on their own backs. And they act very narrow-mindedly. They lie to their bosses, don’t share work related knowledge with their co-workers and so on, without realizing that by behaving in this manner they actually weaken the structure which ‘feeds’ them. Furthermore, those in charge don’t care about anything else but their fat ‘compensation packages’, not realizing that, on the longer run, their behavior is leading to ruin. Meanwhile, the shareholders  – from ‘far-away’, don’t realize what’s going on. Until too late, of course.’

Some 25 years ago, another good friend of mine had emigrated to Canada. He currently works, as a contractor, for a huge Canadian corporation. A few weeks ago he was here for a short vacation and we had a chat. ‘Nobody cares for anything anymore. The contracting agencies don’t give a damn whether the people they send over are actually able to do the work, the bosses don’t understand, or care, very much… it’s as if we, the ex-communists, have came back from their future…’

Even the ‘family run’ businesses have lost their edge. Their owners are no longer ‘close’ to their employees and the businesses are very quickly sold to the highest bidder. And incorporated into ever-growing entities…

The two friends I already mentioned said that ‘whenever a corporation grows big enough, it starts to resemble a state’. My own experience concurs.

Only I’d take a step further.

‘Whenever an organization grows big enough, those who ‘inhabit’ it start behaving as if employed by a state/state-owned entity’. As if their job/position is theirs to be had/defended by birth-right. A feudalism of sorts.

And these people end up passionately defending the organizations which give meaning to their lives.
As they are! Simply because any change in the organization would imply a change, for the worse, in the fate of the individuals defending the current status.

And why would any individual behave in such a short-sighted manner?

“Every position in a given hierarchy will eventually be filled by employees who are incompetent to fulfill the job duties of their respective positions.”

Peter

BTW, when was the last time you came across the concept of ‘company culture’?

 

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