Posts Tagged ‘Socrates’

Thinking About Politics

July 11, 2017

This is the ninth post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. Thinking About Politics is a chapter in this book.

HM remembers when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, a woman was asked what she thought about it. She remarked that she was strongly in favor of it. However, when she was asked about Obamacare, she said that she was strongly against it. Such is the state of politics in the United States. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in April 2013, found that more than 40% of Americans were not even aware that the Affordable Care Act was Law (12% thought it had been repealed by Congress—it hadn’t.)

Drs. Sloman and Fernbach write that public opinion is more extreme than people’s understanding justifies. Americans who most strongly justified military intervention in the Ukraine in 2014 were the ones least able to identify Ukraine’s location on a map. A survey out of Oklahoma State University’s Department of Agricultural Economics asked consumers whether the labeling of foods produced with genetic engineering should be mandatory. 80% of the respondents thought that it should. But 80% also approved of a law stating that there should be mandatory labels on foods containing DNA. They believe that people have the right to know if their food has DNA. So these respondents thought that all meats, vegetables, and grains should be labeled “BEWARE HAS DNA.” But we would all die if we avoided foods that contain DNA.

We all need to appreciate how little we understand. The authors write, “Taken to its extreme, the failure to appreciate how little we understand combined with community support, can ignite really dangerous mechanisms. You don’t have to know much history to know how societies can become caldrons in an attempt to create a uniform ideology, boiling away independent thinking and political opposition through propaganda and terror. Socrates died because of a desire for ancient Athenians to rid themselves of contaminated thinking. So did Jesus at the hands of the Romans. This is why the first crusades were launched to free Jerusalem of the infidel, and why the Spanish Inquisition drove Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity or leave Spain between 1492 and 1501. The twentieth century was shaped by the demons of ideological purity, from Stalin’s purges, executions, and mass killings to Mao’s Great Leap Forward: the herding of millions of people into agricultural communes and industrial working groups, with the result than many starved. And we haven’t even mentioned the incarcerations and death camps of Nazi Germany.”

The authors write, “Proponents of political positions often cast policies that most people see as consequentialist in values-based terms in order to hide their ignorance, prevent moderation of opinion, and block compromise. They note the health care debate as a perfect example of this. Most people just want the best health care for the most people at the most affordable price. This is what the national conversation should be about how to achieve this. But this might be technical and boring. So politicians and interest groups make it about sacred values. One side asks whether the government should be making decisions about our health care, focusing the audience on the importance of limited government. The other side asks whether everybody in the country deserves decent health care, focusing on the value of generosity and preventing harm to others. The authors say that both sides are missing the point. All of us should have similar values: we want to be healthy, we want others to be healthy, and we want doctors and other medical professionals to be compensated, but we don’t want to pay too much. The health care debate should not be about basic values, because in most people’s minds basic values are not the issue. The issue is the best way to achieve the best outcomes.

Ideologies and ideologues are the bane of effective government. They constrain alternatives and blind us to obvious solutions. As mentioned in the second post in this series, other advanced countries have effectively addressed the problem of healthy care with a single payer system in which that single payer is the government. There are already proven examples from which to choose. But in the United States, ideology has deemphasized the role of government, and the single payer system is regarded as a radical solution.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Ask Questions

February 5, 2016

The third element of “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking” by Drs. Burger and Starbird is to ask questions.  The title of this chapter is “Creating Questions Out of Thin Air” with the subtitle, “Be Your Own  Socrates.”  Remember that Socrates was the Ancient Greek Philosopher who developed the Socratic Method of teaching which centered on asking questions.  Creating questions enlivens our curiosity.  It transforms us from being passive into active listeners.  Listening is not enough.  If we are constantly engaged in asking ourselves questions about what we are hearing. we will find that even boring lectures become a bit more interesting because much of the interest will come from what we are generating rather than what the  lecturer is offering.

We need to formulate questions properly and assess whether we are asking the real question.  For example, the question “How can I be successful?” is vague and unanswerable.  First we need to ask what success means to us and then ask questions that lead to action.  Effective questions will lead us to explore and develop core habits, and skills that will make a difference.  Effective questions lead to action and are not vague.  The right questions clarify our understanding and focus our attention on features that matter.

We should not overlook asking meta questions.  Asking questions about an assignment or project before beginning working earnest  should lead to a stronger final project.  These are questions such as “What’s the Goal of this task?” and “What benefits flow from this task?”  Meta questions often save time because they focus our attention on he core issues and allows the clearing up the initial confusion that usually is present at the start of any project or task.

The art of creating questions and active listening are skills that need to be fostered.
Here is the final paragraph of the chapter with some minor changes.  “Constantly thinking of questions is a mind-set with tremendous impact.  We become more alive and curious, because we  are actively engaged while we are listening and living.  We become more open to ideas, because we are constantly discovering places where are assumptions are exposed.  We take more effective action because we clarify what needed too be done.  We should be our own Socrates.

Although I have done my best, I have not done justice to the original.  So I again urge you to read the original document.

One of the Biggest Advances in Neural Enhancement

December 3, 2014

In the introduction to The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin he mentions that one of the biggest advancements in neural enhancement occurred only 5,000 years ago. That was the development of a written language. This development took considerable time. First there were primitive notes taken to record important items that were too important to be forgotten. Then there were likely primitive forms of accounts for transactions. Unfortunately, there are no records that I know of that can trace the development. In spite of writing being one of the biggest advances in neural enhancement, it was not immediately recognized as such, nor was it accepted as being beneficial by one of the foremost Greek philosophers of the time, Socrates. Socrates was worried about what was lost in terms of vocal tone and expression, things that were in speech or conversation, but were lost in written language. Fortunately the resistance of Socrates and others gave way, for written language is certainly a requirement for a civilization to advance.

In the terminology of the healthy memory blog, written language is an example of transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to information that is not recorded in one’s own biological memory, but is accessible from the memories of fellow human beings or from some artifact of technology. In this sense written language is a neural enhancement, and a very important as we are biologically constrained regarding the amount of information we can handle. Technology enables us to overcome evolutionary limitations, evolution being a very slow process.

Levitin writes that two of the most compelling properties of the human brain and its design are richness and associative access. Memory is rich in the sense that a large amount of information is in there. Associative access means that our thoughts can be accessed in a number of different ways by semantic or perceptual associations. So related words, smells, category names, or an old song can bring memories to our awareness. Even what are apparently random neural firings can bring them up to conscioussness. Being able to access memories regardless of where they are located is called random access like we experience on DVDs and hard drives and contrasted to data stored on a videotape.

The healthymemory blog likes to distinguish different types of associative access. Information that we know or know where to find quickly is termed accessible memory. Information that we know, but are not sure where to find it, is termed available associative memory. Some Google searches or more primitive forms of looking for information (old library card catalogs) are examples. Potential memory is all the information currently available in other human beings or in some type of artifact, be it a book, database, or in Wikipedia.

Given all this potential or available information in transactive memory, the problem becomes one of being able to access it quickly. Here the issue involves the organization of this information so that it can be more readily accessed. Levitin refers to this as conscientious organization. Systems are important as are different types of databases and search engines. More specifics will be found in the future chapters of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, some of which will be discussed in future healthymemory blog posts.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Be Human

September 25, 2013

Be human is the first of eight steps to contemplative computing.1 Perhaps, this could be rephrased, remember what it means to be human. It means doing two things.

First, it means appreciating entanglement is a big part of us. Entanglement refers to our being entangled with our technology. This goes back to the first tools and weapons developed by the early humans. There is a misconception that technology refers to something new. The term technology really refers to any systematic application of knowledge to fashion the artifacts, materials, and procedures of our lives. It applies to any artificial tool or method. We use technologies so well that they become invisible. We incorporate them into our body schema, and employ them to extend our mental and physical capabilities, our human potential. Our species has honed this capability for more than a million years. It includes the domestication of plants and animals for food and clothing, the invention of language and writing. Moreover, concerns about our entanglement with technology are not new. Socrates objected to the development of the Greek alphabet. In the 1850’s Thoreau wrote in Walden, “But lo! Men have become tools of their tools.” Nevertheless, all of these have made us more human and more entangled with technology. Information technology is no different. We should insist on devices that serve and deserve us.

Second, it means recognizing how computers affect the way we see ourselves. Information technologies are developing so quickly, vastly increasing in power and sophistication. Computer power has a thousandfold increase every ten years, a millionfold increase every twenty years. They invade every corner of our lives and threaten to not only match, but also exceed our own intelligence. Consequently, we can easily feel stupid and feel a sense of resignation about our approaching cognitive obsolescence as computer overlords surpass human intelligence and memory. We need to realize that human intelligence and memory are biological and different from silicon counterparts. Real time is not human time, but the speed of commercial and financial transactions can continually be ratcheted upward. Although the lag between events and reporting on events can be reduced to virtually zero, we do not have to take less time to read, decide and respond to changes in the world and workplace. Our biological brains complement digital silicon brains. We need to be users, not victims, of technology.

The remaining seven steps to contemplative computing will be addressed in subsequent healthymemory blog posts.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Are Our Memories Becoming Too Dependent on Technology?

June 22, 2011

My recent attendance at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) brought this question to the forefront of my mind. Traveling to the meeting on the metro, many, many people were engrossed with their mobile devices. Although people were meeting, greeting, and conversing at the convention, many were interacting with their mobile devices. Even during presentations at the convention, attendees were still working with their mobile devices. Now in the lingo of the Healthymemory Blog, these mobile devices are examples of technical transactive memory. Concerns with technical transactive memory are not new. Socrates was concerned that the introduction of the Greek alphabet would lead to the decline of civilization. As technology has advanced through the printing press up to today’s cyber technology, people have continued to raise these concerns. Although all these advancements in technology have lead to advances in civilization, I still think it prudent to ask if our memories have become too dependent on technology.

The major risk is that the capabilities of our personal biological memories will decline. This loss would be analogous to the loss in physical fitness and increase in obesity that has resulted from technological advances that have reduced our physical activity. We, or at least some of us, engage in physical activity in an attempt to reduce these losses in our physical fitness. Do we need to engage in similar activities to exercise our biological memories? (See the Healthymemory Blog posts, “Moonwalking with Einstein,” “How the Memory Champs Do It,” “Remembering Poems,” “The Talented Tenth,” and “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Bottom Line”).

There is the view that eventually transactive memory will supplant our biological memories (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “Achieving the Max in Technical Transactive Memory.” Ray Kurzweil maintains that in the future there will occur a singularity in which biology and silicon will become one. This is highly speculative and it might never occur, so don’t give up on your personal biological memory. Carefully consider what it means to you and what you might want to do to maintain and enhance it.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Joy of Theorizing

June 19, 2011

“The Joy of Theorizing’ was the title of Daniel Wegner‘s William James Fellow Award Address, which he presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). Wegner’s forte is developing theories and, as the title implies, he enjoys it. He has developed four theories of note. Action Identification is a theory of what people think they are doing. Ironic Process Theory is a theory about how our minds turn against us to produce unwanted thoughts. Apparent Mental Causation is a theory of how our minds create the feeling of conscious thought. Clearly Wegner’s thinking on this topic is at odds with Michael Gazzaniga‘s (See the Healthymemory Blog Post “We Are the Law: The Human Mind, Free Will, and the Limits of Determinism”). In my view his most valuable is his theory of transactive memory.

It should not be a surprise that transactive memory is my favorite theory as it is one of the healthymemory blog categories. Wegner proposed two types of transactive memory. One type refers to external technical storage (note pads, books, journals, computer files, the internet, etc.) The other type refers to our fellow humans. Now both types of transactive memory are important, and the healthymemory blog discusses both types. But it is only the second type of transactive memory, fellow humans, that he has developed. Moreover, this is the only type of transactive that has received attention from other researchers.

I have taken it upon myself to develop the former concept of transactive memory as I think it is an important concept, particularly in our technological age. Historically, technical transactive memory has undergone several stages. One of the first steps was the development of the alphabet. Few people realize that Socrates  fought against the development and adoption of the Greek alphabet. For Socrates, it was only human transactive memory that mattered, and the reliance upon this external crutch would depreciate human transactive memory. Socrates was wrong about this, as external storage allowed the advancement of the human intellect to new levels. The printing press was another technical development that caused a major leap in transactive memory and the enhancement of the collective human intellect. Today we have the internet which comprises yet another major leap in transactive memory.

I think it worthwhile to distinguish different types of transactive memory. Accessible transactive memory refers to information that we cannot recall, but know how to find quickly. This information can be resident in other humans, in a library, or in cyberspace, but we can access it quickly. Available transactive memory refers to information that we know exists, but cannot find it quickly. So we need to find someone who know the information, or search for it via technical means or on the internet.

Whenever we encounter new information we need to decide is this worth knowing. If it is, then we need to decide whether to commit it to memory or to some form of external storage. Bookmarking, or Favorites, provide a means of making this information accessible if we do not need to remember it. If we don’t take these actions, then we are confronted with the possibility of knowing the information exists, but being unable to find it so we have to search for it.

Potential transactive memory refers to all the information and knowledge resident in other humans or available in some technical storage medium. I term it potential as this information offers the potential for cognitive and social  growth.

I have been disappointed that Wegner never developed his concept of technical transactive memory. I have also wondered why he did not develop what I regard as a valuable concept. Now I think I understand. Wegner’s strength lies in his breadth of theorizing, not in its depth. He prefers moving on to new areas rather than mining further the brilliant concepts he has developed.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.