Tag Archives: critical thinking

PSA: Bias


For my own purposes I make the following differentiations netween operational modalities of ordinary language argument.

Fallacies 18x12

(1) OBJECTIVE arguments based in facts and positive propositions and deduction
(2) ABDUCTIVE arguments based in explanation drawn from repeated experiences and inductions from these experiences
(3) IDEOLOGICAL arguments based in alignment or misalignment with first principles
(4) PERFORMATIVE arguments based in attracting and persuading support, without reference to objectivity or explanatory abductions

Explanation, or description may be substituted for argument. There can be formal or informal mixtures of the four modalities.

Cognitive Bias Codex 2016


None of the above help with a Performative Argument. A Performative Argument is insulated from the deconstructive power posed by an evaluation of its biases, deficits of logic, and its loose couplings to the ideological/abductive/objective.

From this, it follows that a lie is best rendered in a performative argument because this setting gives the lie the best chance to be optimally convincing. The hallmark of performative argument is its implicit perception management.

All conspiracy theories which propose, and are contingent on, successful hidden structures, secret coordination, and occulted intent, are always performative theories. I don’t know of any exceptions.

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Reduced Bateson Set: III. Set Up; Actuality Matters

(I continue musings which exemplify what I’m musing about. This is the set up to my presenting a schema, the Reduced Bateson Set, I can use to interpret my experience of other person’s presentation of information. Caveat: I am entertaining here an informal perspective. My eventual goal is to connect this perspective with further musings on adult learning.)

Although it may count as one of my most abstruse attempts at communicating complex, ‘softly’ phenomenological discoveries about the exchange of knowledge between persons, between human systems of awareness, the previous post in this series nevertheless entertains several main points. Its first point was that seemingly simple systems of human action do not yield answers to simple questions. The second point was these unanswerables are apparently due to incapacities in both formal and heuristic means for deriving answers and making accurate predictions. The third point was that in a discussion among persons who bring into the discussion differing perspectives and approaches, this discussion productively can happen irrespective of pertinent differences found or implicit in individual perspectives and/or approaches.

Here’s a mundane example. Your car needs a repair. You take it to the mechanic and discuss its ill symptoms. The mechanic sketches some possible causes. You don’t know much about how cars work. The mechanic does know how cars work. Yet, you have a discussion about what’s possibly wrong with your car. In this example, you and the mechanic share the assumption you the car owner do not need to know how a car works, as a condition for having the discussion. However, if you say to yourself, “I really don’t know what he’s talking about since I don’t know how a car works,” then it would be the case that you hold a different assumption. In fact, this different assumption could prove to be decisive. Still, you and the mechanic can have a discussion.

I’m not qualifying, in setting out this example, whether this kind of a discussion is a good or bad kind of discussion. The suggestion is: these kinds of discussions are common.

Another example. A friend once shared a description of their spirituality. The key element of the description was their belief in a single God. I asked my friend if he understood this God to be the God of All. We clarified that I was asking whether this singular God could be defined as being behind or above ‘everything’. He put it that his definition of God could be reduced to a complex proposition:

“God is first, God is last, God is in relation to all phenomena.”

I asked my friend,

“Then your God is also the God the other Abrahamic faiths believe in?”

He had never pondered this. We talked it over, with me suggesting the following implication of the proposition.

“If there is a God of All, then this God is also in relation to those who do not believe in this God.”

On one hand, in this example I’m striving to understand a very fundamental feature of his proposition, while, on the other hand, there’s no reason we could not have discussed his spirituality without attending to the proposition in this particular way. I don’t have to know how his God works to engage in a discussion about his God.

Another example. If I remember correctly, Ludwig Wittgenstein sharply criticizes the method of Freudian analysis by pointing out that the psychoanalyst chooses the element in the analysand’s chain of association that is of psychoanalytic, and potentially curative, interest. Well, by what right understanding of how the psyche works is this a fruitful intervention? The analysand, in this example, is taking symptoms to a different kind of mechanic.

In the same vein, I can discuss Jung’s analytic psychology without entering into this discussion the very basic assumption that holds that there is no substantial empirical evidence able to demonstrate the implicit understanding that each and every human psyche in actuality reflects the structural model given by Analytic Psychology. On one hand, this is a big problem at the level of foundational assumptions, on the other hand it doesn’t have to subvert a fruitful discussion.

I’m sensitive to foundational assumptions. Often hidden, nonetheless these basic assumptions are related to the content of most common kinds of discussions. (‘Discussion’ here is used also as shorthand for many other kinds of communicative acts.) It was fascinating in 2008 as the financial crisis unfolded to read and discuss what different people thought were its causes. That discussants had no substantial idea about how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are actually operationalized in the system of finance does not prevent peoples’ productive discussion about possible causes.

For example, at times in my work life I’ve been told what a marketing plan is to be. I often choose to overlook the plan’s mistaken (to me) assumptions about what are the facts (of mechanics, or operations, or contingencies in the market,) so I can proceed to my role in the plan. The plan doesn’t really make sense, yet this does not prevent discussing it. This doesn’t mean my view is correct. This only means I believe it to be correct given unexamined, or presumptive, or, missing, or, poorly formed, assumptions, suppositions, assertions of factitude, etc..

Obviously, the following point is not profound. Discussions may implicate assumptions which could be part of the discussion, but are not brought into the discussion. Some assumptions could disrupt the discussion, yet these same assumptions are not entertained in the discussion.

Discussions, etc., have consequences. The auto mechanic goes fishing. The inept marketing plan unfolds. Deadly force is unleashed on Iraq even though the assumption that there are WMD is mistaken. The rationales for the Iraq war constitute a series of mistaken assumptions which yielded mountains of productive discussion, even given that assumptions implicit within these discussion were abject.

The Reduced Bateson Set provides, among its six factors, a factor for analysis of whether or not a presentation of knowledge or understanding both depends on, and is informed by, an accurate estimation of what is actually materially, (or positively,) true as a matter of spoken or unspoken knowledge or understanding.

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The Acid Test

Click for the large version and please come back…

Rummaging through old computer files, I came upon a series of slides about the Fundamental Attribution Error. Here’s the definition from the The Psychology Wiki.

In attribution theory, the fundamental attribution error (sometimes referred to as the actor-observer bias, correspondence bias or overattribution effect) is the tendency for people to over-emphasize dispositional, or personality-based, explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior.

When I created the slides a decade or so ago, my aim was to roll into a presentation of experiential learning theory some takings from cognitive psychology’s conceptions about cognitive bias. Whereas today I’m just going to fry the ‘FAT’ fish a bit.

My opinion is the Fundamental Attribution Error is an error so common as to suggest we’re wired to make it. It may even be advantageous to sometimes make it. Certainly, and much to my quiet amusement, I’ve observed its being made in ‘professional’ contexts over and over again. This is why I term it the acid test, especially as a validation of how much that social psychology 101 class sank in! I’m no longer amazed to observe the error being made, or even intentionally deployed, or otherwise witnessing various attributive terms being decontextualized and misused.

This happens whenever a description about a person, for example about a personality style or type, is assumed to portray an unqualified assessment of their disposition. Many times these kinds of attributions ‘globalize’ situational, or modular, behaviors. All sorts of attributions are errantly globalized and attached to stereotypes. Global attributions attached to, for example, some person identifying as a liberal or conservative, are not usually traits. Closer-to-home, I’ve identified something like qualities of my own situational dispositions using several assessment tools, yet, I’m not always being intuitive; learning via my primary ‘audiostyle;’ trying to influence others using my sociableness; or always being a cheery optimist.

At the same time, as I view human phenomena on a broader scale, (oh, and dig into the literature,) the FAT is itself a heuristic, thus is a short cut means to attribute a feature to another’s personality, and seems to work then as firstly a generalization subject to later refinement. This refinement would narrow the appropriate circumstance for making a correct attribution. In suggesting this, I am also mindful of the complexity of procedures for attribution and construal in the domain of ‘applied’ folk psychology. With respect to attribution–making attributions–those procedures don’t strike me as fitting very comfortably under the rubrics given by either simulation or theory-theory. …for what it’s worth.

My other abiding position on all this has to do with how attribution errors mix in with sensemaking of one’s own life-world. This is a complicated subject, so the matrix serves to prime a way of looking at this problem. To get at this, you can ask your self what assumptions do you make about everybody, what do you attribute to everybody?.

Although I haven’t beta tested the tool yet, it seems this would be a good question to fund an experiential exercise via which the learner comes to experience–reflect upon–their own process for answering this question. In any really determined effort to address the question, it turns out to be a very probing inquiry.

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Fodor, Nagel, and Philosophy-In-Decline

Philosophers Rip Darwin
By Michael Ruse
The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Doubters Rip Darwin — Badly” would have been better. In his article, Michael Ruse adds Thomas Nagel to the fold of philosophers seeming to enter a late, demented phase in otherwise illustrious careers. (He discusses Alvin Plantinga too, but he’s been a card carrying creationist for a very long time.)

As always, it’s enough to state the fact: there is not yet an iota of successful science done in the pseudo-scientific field of Intelligent Design. However, on the philosophical side of things, the controversies are different. But, as I’ve maintained previously, scientific research is not utterly contingent on a completely developed philosophy of science, so it’s not likely that any substantial challenge to biological research and demonstration will break free of the usual circularity found in such philosophy.


For 150 years, since the Origin, critics have feared that we humans might become part of the evolutionary picture—not just our bodies, but our minds, our very souls. What makes us distinctively and uniquely human? This worry is still alive and well in today’s philosophical community. Plantinga is open in his fear that Darwinism makes impossible the guaranteed existence of our species. More, for years he has argued that Darwinism is bound up with the metaphysical belief that everything is natural (as opposed to supernatural), and that this leads to a collapse of rational belief and knowledge. The chance elements in Darwinism are simply not compatible with Plantinga’s Christian faith.

This alludes to real problems because there are versions of philosophical naturalism that collide. Are nature’s mechanics run by a strictly determined code that necessarily voids free will? (Etc..) It seems a stretch to imply that if nature is all there is, then some set of singular philosophical assumptions are necessary and inevitable.

But, from the other side, there isn’t any real philosophy upon which to hang the various suppositions of ID.

After all, it is the nexus of designer and materiality, and the mechanics of supernatural intervention that are the only fruitful fields for a science, rather than a superstition, of intelligent design. So, what philosophizing might aid (or underpin,) research into the designer/nature interface? No such coherent and cogent philosophy yet exists. (This noted, Del Ratszch and Bradley Monton are possibly the only mildly worthwhile thinkers on ID.) The problem obviously is research into the interface would tend to be subsumed into the normative philosophy of ‘applied’ science; such as it is.

from a comment to the article:

Thomas Aquinas used logics, reasoning and other qualities that none of the philosophers after him will ever have.

Darwinism is a complete nonsense in the eyes of a contemporary science. The center of Darwinism in London has admitted that, but you won’t! All you do is quoting what this and that guy said!

Open your eyes and think about what it really is! A piece of non-organic matter becomes a human being and yet we relatively know almost nothing about it! Exuse me, but when science tell you that one the sea shrimps has the most sophisticated vision in color (!) than any organizm known on the planet, I have no choice, but to think about the super intelligence behind it! When I know that human optical nerve(relatively thin) is composed of over 6 million cables, each of which is isolated (!) I have no choice, but to think about super intelligence behind it. When I think of the total length of human blood vessels being 2,5 times longer than size of our planet around equator, I am thrilled about intelligence behind it. And knowing that complete blood exchange across the entire human body takes just about 2 minutes, all I can say that all of you “smart” Darwinists either deliberately don’t want to admit the facts of science, or you are just a bunch of complete idiots.

So far, nothing good has ever come out of Darwinism except of a lot of wasted time! Not to mention Hitler who got inspired by it and came with the idea of a holocaust! And no, he was not sick, he just based his ideas an a false science!

This raw comment encapsulates many of the anti-Darwin arguments and their wrongheadedness. As far as the laity goes–and I’m a member–I have discovered over and over again folk proponents of ID invariably have no grasp on biology, biological research, and very rarely can tell you much about either the paperwork of ID or the responses to this paperwork. You know, the responses which have obliterated complexity-based arguments.

Still, I appreciate the irony behind having no choice but to believe in the super intelligence and his or her’s brutal, so-called, creation. Hey, and the Thomist reference–as in, one version, the universe being wholly a Catholic one in which almost everybody is going to roast in hell?

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Gray Swans?

One way to while-away the time during my short commute, and, errands, is to listen to unabridged audiobooks. If the experience proves worthwhile as a moment of learning, I’m next compelled to work against my learning style (aural-kinesthetic) and read the verbal-visual edition, so-to-speak.

Now I’m driving through Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s The Black Swan. It provides a gripping journey for a Jamesian fallibilist such as myself. Also, Taleb’s so-called skeptical empiricism circles around my own current central concern that is also strongly skeptical about, as Taleb terms it, narrativity.  The interesting difference is I’m looking at ubiquitous hidden chance events, (in ordinary human development,) whereas Taleb deals with rare hidden chance eventsin large-scale domains. I too am similarly fascinated by how linear narratives clothe non-linear events as a matter of post-hoc rationalization, but, again the domain I’m interested in is different than those of Taleb.

There is a funny moment in the book where Taleb blows off a causal assertion about this domain I’m interested in. I’ll return to this after I finish the book.

As a collector of dichotomies, the following is of great interest. Via Nassim Nicholas Taleb, purloined from his notes page at the web site for his book Fooled By Randomness. (Excellent review of The Black Swan by Dan Hill @cityofsound)

116- Fooled by Rationalism; Lecturing Birds How to Fly [From Tinkering]

The greatest problem in knowledge is the “lecturing birds how to fly” effect.

Let us call it the error of rationalism. In Fat Tony’s language, it would be what makes us the suckers of all suckers. Consider two types of knowledge. The first type is not exactly “knowledge”; its ambiguous character prevents us from calling it exactly knowledge. It a way of doing thing that we cannot really express in clear language, but that we do nevertheless, and do well. The second type is more like what we call “knowledge”; it is what you acquire in school, can get grades for, can codify, what can be explainable, academizable, rationalizable, formalizable, theoretizable, codifiable, Sovietizable, bureaucratizable, Harvardifiable, provable, etc.

To make things simple, just look at the second type of knowledge as something so stripped of ambiguity that an autistic person (a high functioning autistic person, that is) can easily understand it.

The error of rationalism is, simply, overestimating the role and necessity of the second type, the academic knowledge, in human affairs. It is a severe error because not only much of our knowledge is not explainable, academizable, rationalizable, formalizable, theoretizable, codifiable, Sovietizable, bureaucratizable, Harvardifiable, etc., but, further, that such knowledge plays such a minor life that it is not even funny.
We are very likely to believe that skills and ideas that we actually acquired by doing, or that came naturally to us (as we already knew by our innate biological instinct) came from books, ideas, and reasoning. We get blinded by it; there may even be something in our brains that makes us suckers for the point. Let us see how.





Know how

Know what

Fat Tony wisdom, Aristotelian phronesis

Aristotelian logic

Implicit , Tacit


Nondemonstrative knowledge

Demonstrative knowledge



Experiential knowledge

Epistemic base


Propositional knowledge




Directed research


Targeted activity







Tinkering, stochastic tinkering

Directed search

Epilogism (Menodotus of Nicomedia and the school of empirical medicine)

Inductive knowledge

Historia a sensate cognitio

Causative historiography



Austrian economics

Neoclassical economics

Bottom up libertarianism

Central Planner

Spirit of the Law

Letter of the Law



Brooklyn, Amioun

Cambridge, MA, and UK

Accident, trial and error






Ecological uncertainty, not tractable in textbook

Ludic probability, statistics textbooks



Parallel processing

Serial processing


On-model, model based

Side effect of a drug

National Institute of Health




My intentionally idiosyncratic interpretation of Taleb’s usage of the term ludic, is: it names the error found when people believe that their management of known simple fixed probabilities is identical to management of complex dynamic uncertainty. The latter is, of course, impossible to actually manage.

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The Health of Money

The God In the Machine, Lewis H. Lapham, Lapham’s Quarterly, V.II,No.3

President Barack Obama during his first months in office seldom has missed a chance to liken the country’s healthcare system to an unburied corpse, which, if left lying around in the sun by the 111th Congress, threatens to foul the sweet summer air of the American dream. The prognosis doesn’t admit of a second or third opinion. Whether on call to the Democratic left or the Republican right, the attending politicians and consulting economists concur in their assessment of the risk posed by the morbid emissions. The country now pays an annual fee of $2.4 trillion for its medical treatments (16 percent of GDP); the costs continue to lead nowhere but up. Fail to embalm or entomb the putrefying debt, and it’s only a matter of time—ten years, maybe twenty—before the pulse disappears from the monitors tracking the heartbeat on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

So say the clinicians in Washington, and I don’t quarrel with the consensus. If I can’t make sense of some of the diagnoses or most of the prescriptions, at least I can understand that what is being discussed is the health of America’s money, not the well-being of its people. The symptoms present as vividly as the manifestations of plague listed in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, but they show up as an infection of the body politic caused by the referral of the country’s medical care to the empathy of accountants and the wisdom of drug dealers.

If I can’t make sense of some of the diagnoses or most of the prescriptions, at least I can understand that what is being discussed is the health of America’s money, not the well-being of its people.

This is the most cogent comment about the current debate over reform of the health care system I’ve encountered.

Thank goodness for Lewis Lapham. More:

The medieval church marketed its healthcare product as the forgiveness of sin, in the form of Papal indulgences intended to preserve the vitality of the immortal soul. In an age that places a higher value on the flesh than it does on the spirit, the guarantees on the label promise to restore the blooms of eternal youth. To the extent that we construe physical well-being as the most cherished commodity sold in the supermarkets of human happiness, we stand willing to spend more money on the warrants of longevity than we spend on lottery tickets and cocaine. Our consumption of medical goods and services constitutes the performance of what Thorstein Veblen in The Theory of the Leisure Class characterized as a devout observance—the futility and superfluous expense of the exercise testifying to its value as an act of worship. The more health product that we conspicuously consume, the more of us feel conspicuously ill. To express our devotion we magnify every “riddling distemper” the flesh is heir to, deprive ourselves of food and blood, discover diseases where none exist, incise ourselves with liposuction and the angiogram. The pharmaceutical companies step up the dosages of terror in their print and television advertising; volunteer committees of vigilance gather in city parks to keep a sharp watch for obese wastrels who neglect their aerobic exercises, smoke cigarettes, fail to ingest their antioxidants, refuse to drink their pomegranate juice. We learn to think, as do the characters in a Woody Allen movie, that we become commendable, or at least interesting, by virtue of the stigmata verifying our status as victims and attesting to our worth as patients.

My only gripe with the Medicine issue is that for whatever reason, Ivan Illich, (author of the classic Medical Nemesis,) wasn’t included.

The Lapham Quarterly is the single most edifying and provocative publication now being produced in the sphere of the ‘public intellect.’ Of course, Lapham himself is a terrific essayist. As it turns out he’s also a visionary assembler of ideas, given the brilliant collections organized around themes he’s issued in the form of his journal. Above all, The Lapham Quarterly honors the intellect of the reader by juxtaposing classical and modern thinking around the themes, and then allowing the reader to reason through a robust clash of historical and contemporary perspectives. It’s not all words. Each edition includes graphic evidence and images aimed to do what 1,000 words cannot.

The web site for The Lapham Quarterly has evolved to offer content not in the journal. Highly recommended. At the web site are Lapham’s introductions for each issue and its centering theme. Right now, Lapham is second-to-none as a commentator on current events.

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The Greatest Conspiracy That Never Was

This video compilation, courtesy of TPM Media and Blip.tv, takes the cake. It’s fascinating, but not for its argument. Several things jump out. One, is the lawyer’s name, Gary Kreep two, is the golden hair of the moderator; three, is the pitch for $30.

More seriously, there is the crazed wish for an inversion of our country’s legal process. The idea is that the lack of evidence of law breaking nevertheless makes it incumbent on the President to prove his innocence of a crime–for which there is zero evidence of its having been committed.

Obviously, our legal system doesn’t work this way.

Still, the birther accusation is fit to the basic structure of a conspiracy theory. Advocates of the theory are sure they possess the truth. They’re also sure that most of those not in possession of it are complicit by way of apathy, ignorance, or willful participation. And, both the lack of evidence and falsification of (their) purported evidence are negated because those aspects are part of the conspiracy. These are the stock-in-trade elements of any conspiracy theory.

It’s interesting to ponder whether or not there has ever come about in history a conspiracy uncovered by a vocal minority in possession of truth, and truths about all those who deny the material facts of the conspiracy. Waging a good fight, this conspiratorial truth is eventually demonstrated by verification of the offered evidence, falsification of the counter evidence, falsification of the falsification. The dim evidence evolves to be dispositive and evolves to certify the original claim beyond any reasonable doubt, based in a preponderance of evidence.

Finally, there came to be the uncovering of the willfully complicit. Concerning the last feature, this means discovery of the organization and mechanics behind the willful complicity. This massive industrial complicity is implied in the birther theory, is paramount to the truthers, comes to a magical and esoteric turn in the long-standing ‘illuminatiarian’ global banking conspiracy theories.

Hmmm. No. There is no such historical example. Perhaps, the greatest conspiracies throughout world history nobody knows about, and they have not aroused any suspicion whatsoever.

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A Programming Problem

In today’s New York Times, in the magazine, Paul Krugman asks, How Did Economists Get It So Wrong? In the article he recounts how it happened that the world’s finest experts in macroeconomics were unable to adapt their models and, in doing so, develop better models able to predict the housing market implosion.

In my earlier post, the Second Order position vis a vis belief was explored. There are many ways to describe a Second Order belief. One way says: such a belief is a knee jerk reaction. Another option says: such a belief automatically follows from a specific predisposition. Enter an internalized model of any kind into the fundamentals of a predisposition, then where there is Second Order belief derived from the model, it follows inevitably from the model.

In other words, the model, in effect, programs the belief. Idealized programs very often generate idealized, absolute beliefs about the model.


But the self-described New Keynesian economists weren’t immune to the charms of rational individuals and perfect markets. They tried to keep their deviations from neoclassical orthodoxy as limited as possible.
But there was something else going on: a general belief that bubbles just don’t happen. What’s striking, when you reread Greenspan’s assurances, is that they weren’t based on evidence — they were based on the a priori assertion that there simply can’t be a bubble in housing.
In short, the belief in efficient financial markets blinded many if not most economists to the emergence of the biggest financial bubble in history.

What would you say about a model purported to model macroeconomic actuality, where total belief in the model itself causes the model user to be blinded to particular actualities? What would you say about the nature of total belief in any blinded model. Apparently, best and brightest economic experts can come to be irrationally exhuberant about their own models.

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Indelicate Perturbations

As it turns out–a delightful surprise–many of philosopher Joseph Agassi’s short essays are linked to his Wikipedia entry.

Agassi, provided one of my most cherished reading forays many years ago, with his ironically (and also subtly,) titled collection The Gentle Art of Philosophical Polemics. There, in a chapter, Popper’s Hopeful Monsters, Agassi wrote:

The modern scientific tradition is permeated with inductivism. And inductivism is the admonition to avoid jumping to conclusions, i.e., to avoid the invention of bold conjectures.

This is a set-up, for Agassi is driving home a point about Popper’s ideational boldness in relationship to ‘inductivist’ provisionality. Like Wittgenstein, Agassi is a keen debunker of: leaping to conclusions; unwarranted presumptions to clarity; incoherent propositions, concepts, operations; illogical synthesis.

I’m working through the essays. For example, The Theory and Practice of the Welfare State (1996) contains:

The present discussion already includes a bias, and one that practical people should oppose. It is one characteristic of many discussions of matters of principle. It rests on the assumption that the principles in question, whatever it happens to be, must guide action, that practical activities are (or perhaps should be) the outcome of a choice between alternative principles and its application. This very bias makes practical people shun discussions on basics, and with much justice. For, practical activity need not be guided by principle, especially when basic matters of principles are controversial or unclear and practical matters are pressing. Also, action may be more judiciously guided by eclectic deliberations that take the best from each basic option without thereby crystallizing into a new one. Moreover, one may recommend not the application of a basic doctrine but the effort to come closer to its teachings, especially in times of crisis. For example, one may preach innovations yet fall back on tradition in times of crisis. For another example, one may stick to the welfare state but from time to time attempt at the reduction of waste and of government involvement by privatization and budget cuts.

Ahhh, another set-up. The author proceeds to inspect the basics. Closely.

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Save the Planet

Dinosaur Musing

Dinosaur Musing

It doesn’t need saving. Earth will be here long after Homo Sapiens Sapiens has departed. Most likely it will teem with life for sometime–as in billions of years–after it no longer teems with us. This will be the case not matter what our last chapter is about.

…just my opinion, but all efforts to transform and develop the human situation in the biosphere, might better be oriented by a much more refined and grounded regard of what actually may come to be saved and needs to be saved.

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The anti-evolution movie Expelled has garnered a lot of attention in the aftermath of its release to the nation’s cinemas. I haven’t seen it. The mainstream reviews all point out that it’s a deceptive piece of propaganda. I have no doubt that it is after reading about the various canards it rolls out gleefully.

Of more interest to me is the reactions Expelled promotes in the neighborhoods of the blogosphere where the defense of evolutionary biology has long been a central commitment. This is interesting to me because after making the unexceptional and strong arguments against evolution’s non-scientific competitors and the rotting pseudo-philosophy underpinning those competitors, pro-evolution forces’ approach to persuasion unravel when the subjects are either ones of social psychology or scientific literacy.

Partly this is simply because the logical focus of scientific persuasion is different than the logical focus of generic rhetoric and persuasion. But the reasons so many people adapt so many unscientific stances are researchable. And those reasons defeat the commonsense arguments of the defenders of science, and atheism, not because they are more correct reasons but because they are more believable.

In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true is true or becomes true, within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the mind, there are no limits. (John Lilly, Programming and Meta-programing in the Human Biocomputer; 1972).

Thus people do tend to be ‘experientialists,’ limited to the best belief a person is capable of. The questions which can fruitfully be addressed by the public intellectual cum scientist leverage the problem posed by Lilly. This is a problem of learning rather than it being a problem of persuasive propaganda.

Pragmatically this problem is about whether or not the given current limit, as it were, can be transcended. The least likely population to learn differently is the population most fixated on the believed truth they happen to be, in effect, fused to. This goes for the scientifically-minded too!

The most likely population to learn is the population for whom the believed truth is most fragile and most likely to be changed.

The comments of the science progress blog are much more interesting than Chris Mooney’s review of Expelled. I contributed the following:

“Smart tactics might be optimally supported by an understanding about the cognitive and social psychological features that tend to reinforce the truth claims of belief against other kinds of truth claims.

Probably the most cost effective approaches, accounting for both resource and cognitive costs, will aim to convince those whose beliefs are the most subject to being changed to a ‘better’ (more correct) belief.

This requires much better listening, analysis and targeting. This seems to me to be much more about teaching and teachability than it is about mastery of the ‘science’ of propaganda.

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If both natural law and ceaseless creativity partially beyond natural law are necessary for understanding our world, and if we as whole human beings live in this real world of law and unknowable creativity, these two ancient strands of Western civilization can reunite in ways we cannot foresee. Out of this union can arise a healing of the long split between science and the humanities, and the schism between pure reason and practical life, both subjects of interest to Immanuel Kant. Science is not, as Galileo claimed, the only pathway to truth. History, the situated richness of the humanities, and the law are true as well. This potential union invites a fuller understanding of ourselves creating our histories and our sacred, as we create our lives.

By Stuart A. Kauffman


The false dichotomizing between absolutely positivist science and, in the the case of this interesting essay, ‘ceaseless creativity,’ reprises a generic argument against the most vaunted possible claim a certain brand of doctrinaire philosopher of science can make. This claim fuses epistemic positivism with ontic positivism to state that the only positive existing truth about a phenomena is that which understands completely the phenomena’s causation and workings. I mention this is a claim a philosopher could hold because an actual scientist is very likely to report that whatever truth they might lay claim too, such truth is always tentative and subject to revision should new data and/or instrumental tools change.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere on Explorations, (for me) the pragmatics of scientific knowledge-making do not rely on any operational philosophical assumptions whatsoever. Those pragmatics are rooted in proto-empiricism, a cognitive capability traceable to primitive ancestors who happened to discover that what was observed yesterday could be manipulated to advantage today. Utility came to reign thereafter.

This utility is relevant to truth claims in the domains of practical, natural, and meta-physical phenomena. If you added up the total truth derived and claimed each day on the planet, almost all of it exists in the practical realm. Science itself is so lacking practical capacity and thus utility in the necessarily large daily scheme, that it seems ridiculous to pose an argument against scientism–in Hampshire’s present terms–in light of this ‘sociological’ truth about the TRUE.

Still, Hampshire doesn’t seem struck by the very reduction he deploys to boil away many strands so as to elevate the (his) two ancient strands. Oh well, twas ever thus. About the pragmatics of claiming something to be true, it seems obvious most such (non-analytic) claims are conditioned by incomplete: knowledge, methods, cognition, experience, bandwidth, etc., and etc.. If it were a totally ‘billiard ball’ universe, we already can assume we won’t ever know of starting positions, super-positions, the wave functions’ implications, on and on; and furthermore, it’s completely unimaginable how the magnitude of data required to perfectly know start-conditions-process–of the all–could be managed by a sub-system under constraints.

In fact it seems silly to whack scientism for this inflation of its capacity, a capacity it cannot aspire to. (I’ve always thought the whacks supplied by James and Peirce were sufficient!)

So I don’t feel the generative creative capacity as a fact of human life (and nature too–viewed very broadly,) needs anyone to come to their defense at all. Flows of neurochemicals issued as a response to hearing the last movement of Mahler’s 8th Symphony don’t explain what’s true about the experience to any interesting point. Even something as basic as why tomato A seems a likely candidate for purchase is a creative act of truth-making and it is unlikely to be explained veraciously except as a matter of pragmatic enactment.

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City Poem

community poetry

Having intended to get a clear shot unencumbered by glare or rain, I still missed out clearly capturing this sign in the window of the library annex in Cleveland Heights.

Could a community be an art form?

I believe it it could be. Even better, with the deployment of intention, chops, communal creativity and spontaneous poetics fused to curiosity and critical consciousness, and vitalized by intrepid community ‘street researchers,’ a city could begin the adventure of knowing itself anew.

Lo and behold: the example of Lakewood, Ohio presents itself three years down this path. There the Visionary Alignment informs the Lakewood Observer project. I’ve written here on occasion about this; see the topic entries for civic intelligence.

Lo and behold redux, in the land of my family, Cleveland Heights, from which I bounce and bounce back, the observer aesthetic has been planted. How interesting, “how worth observing” says the transformative anthropologist to himself.

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Hillary Clinton: “Experience not only counts, it is all that counts.”

Mrs. Clinton’s rhetoric here makes no account of an interesting division among Democrats. Barack Obama enjoys a substantial edge in that better educated, more affluent Democrats support him over Mrs. Clinton. How to account for this edge among people who are much more likely to understand what are the actual features of experience? After all, the term ‘experience’ points in the direction of a rubric, in the direction of a means for assessing what counts as experience. Obviously, experience itself is constituted by other features. Experience matters and it’s how to count it up that matters much more than any store of experience.

Reflect on what is meant when someone is characterized as having experience. This characterization is against the notion of inexperience. First, experience means that someone has been through various situations. Second, it means they have been through those situations with awareness. Third, it means this awareness has engendered learning. Learning about: what to do; what information is needed; which resources are possibly worthwhile; what are possible options for responding–in effect what are the possible solutions to a problem posed by a situation.

Taking experience as being the central aspect of developing awareness and problem-solving capability in going through problem-posing situations we come to the idea that the ability to analyze, interpret, hypothesize, synthesize, respond supports experience rather than an amorphous ‘experience’ being the support of arrays of capability.

Far from representing a kind of gas tank full of just situations, Experience is the praxis via which awareness and capability is deployed. It is a term of process rather than a mere term of storage!

Looked at this way, (looked at as the term for how situations are cognized,) then it becomes clear how it comes about that greatly experienced persons screw up. Sometimes the word stupid describes the screw up neatly. It was stupid of the Nazi General Staff to invade Russia without anticipating an adequate support infrastructure. History offers a legion of examples of the purportedly wise and experienced tending to repeat mistakes made in previous situations, or, tending to use old operations to resolve new problems. (*comment on Hillary Clinton’s Iraq judgment inside the fold.)

Unfortunately, the appeal to experience doesn’t break apart until you consider what are the details of the structure of experience. We don’t need to know what is the foundation of our airliner’s pilots’ experience to understand that we wish those pilots to be experienced. This said, we also don’t want to know of any difference whatsoever between a pilot with decades of experience and the rookie pilot who is commanding the 767 for the first time. Yet this is just another way of exemplifying the idea that it is the capabilities evoked via experience which make all the difference.

It cannot be, then, that, experience is ‘all.’


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An indelicate metaphor, albeit on the target, courtesy of Xosrow Jamsheidi and Jamsheid Jamsheidi, writing in a somewhat inscrutable article, Time for Dipstick Examination of our Assumptions.

We feel our underwear only the first few minutes we put them on. Then we don’t see them, we don’t feel them, we don’t think about them, and we don’t want to be made to think about them either. But we do know they play an important role and we routinely take them out and clean them. Our assumptions are our mental underwear that need a periodical cleaning too. And obviously the longer we miss tending to them the less appealing it will become to do so.

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The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.

Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Unfortunately, Brownback obviously doesn’t recognize, perhaps is unable to recognize, the simple logical flaws in his string of suppositions. On the face of his editorial, there is a measured reasonableness. Yet, even the slightest scratch of the surface reveals a collision not of fact so much as of propositions.

Biologists would tomorrow gather to study the phenomena of divine or intelligent design if there were phenomena to actually study. The mechanisms of design are only excluded because they haven’t materialized. Such phenomena aren’t prevented from materializing at a future point should they exist and should they be found.


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For the past two years I have been researching with a colleague the following mouthful: informal, self-managed problem solving in dyadic interpersonal contexts. Okay? The research is informal and is driven by loosely coupled folk psychological theorizing about potentially productive heuristics. This means the theorizing is pragmatic but not formally disciplined. Although it could elaborate formal theorizing based in rational-emotive psychology, this isn’t its focus. Self-managed refers to intentional self-regulation. Obviously problem solving in a dyadic context simply means between two people. However, the experimental implementation is that of one of the pair of persons.

The foundational premise takes the form of a question: what kinds of intentional acts can be utilized to interrupt reactive cascades which normally result in a habitual response, and, due to this possible outcome, can be utilized to generate more, rather than fewer, options for problem navigation, negotiation, and, resolution.

Here are two schematic representations that integrate the pragmatic results of experiential experimentation on several vectors of self-management. One result is that the heuristics we’ve employed are apparently productive in the right circumstances.

control panel

A typical ‘high velocity’ cascade might lead to: heightened anxiety/heightened reactivity/habituated, non-productive response.

MDFI Matrix

Note that the (so-called) MDFI Matrix cannot schematize habitual flexibility.

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After borrowing Ken Wilber’s latest book,Integral Spirituality from the library, I was moved to purchase it because I had dipped into it and read the following on page 176:

The myth of the given or monological consciousness is essentially another name for phenomenology and mere empiricism in any of a hundred guises–whether regular empiricism, radical empiricism, interior empiricism, transpersonal empiricism, empirical phenomenology, transcendental phenomenology, radical phenomenology, and so forth. As important as they might be, what they all have in common is the myth of the given, which includes:

the belief that reality is simply given to me, [etc.].

My jaw dropped. If all those empiricisms and phenomenologies are equivalent, (ummm, ‘guised,’?) are they really a matter of the subject’s belief? Belief hangs over Wilber’s argument like a piano suspended from a crane over a tent. One supposes the tent is full of academic phenomenologists and empiricists!

Belief is an odd psychologizing turn. Why does Wilber choose belief to be the critical verb? Do we believe in givenness of reality? Leave aside the strange and flattening conflation of, for example, James and Husserl around the construct ‘monological’ consciousness, and consider why Wilber is unwilling to state that for these cases reality itself is given to the subjective consciousness regardless of intentionality of any kind. This includes belief.

Some of the many problems of his theory are here in this excerpt.

This is aside from the controversies which have to do with the institutionalisation of the Integral and Wilber’s own stature as king of his own hermetic kingdom. There’s a connection however. Wilber wants very much to privilege his own consciousness and build a system from it. (This is why Integral Theory hasn’t found rigorous  analytic and scritical venue outside of its originator’s own opus and his groups.) Wilber doesn’t seem to grok the givenness of his reality is no less a worthy subject for his own criticism, criticism waged against all those old school philosophical phenomenologists. Wilber’s theory has yet to obtain a privileged “meta-frame” for simple technical reasons.

Wilber, is not a convincing conceptual, propositional, and operational thinker. He manages to conflate, for example, the empiricism of James with the phenomenology of, for example, Merleau-Ponty. In his flattening move, he implies they are equivalent because they are oriented around around the belief that reality is given. Then, disregarding the longstanding alternative view, (one view among many,) that reality is a suchness, and, completely turning this on its head, he reduces all the ways various phenomenological viewpoints are, in fact, different from one another to a singular, (weakly) psychologized posit with intentional belief at the center of his implicit criticism. (Is belief necessary to a radical empiricism?) In the prototypical Wilberian turn, he develops his argument as if his idiosyncratic interpretation is per force authoritative, correct, and, even, in a purportedly better ‘Wilberian’ future, normative.

Belief can’t be the catch-all for phenomenological reflexivity unless one implements a monological meta-perspective with a definitive (ie. well defined) version of belief at its core! There exist alternatives different than this possibility, and different than another whipping boy of Wilber’s, pluralistic relativism. Even so, this monological view would be not much more than a notion of Wilber’s. There are lots of alternatives, among them are: mysterium, incompleteness, various monisms and realisms, and idealisms. etc. We might admit too ways in which these and other facets of experience are entangled, and are entangled at different orders, and within dynamic arrays of psychological contingencies. We might, too, entertain belief as a problematic of subjectivity, psychologize it as a problematic of reflexivity, or even play with novel views, one such being that belief is a measure of suspicion of that which isn’t seemingly (to the subject) true.

By virtue of my own prejudices, I suspect a truly integral psychology would invert Wilber’s concerns. Rather than psychologize philosophical dispositions, it would philosophize psychological dispositions. This would require Wilber to investigate cognitive psychology and also research folk psychology because commonsense theories of mind, (alternately: everyday practical phenomenology,) are not constructed out of experience and knowledge of august philosophers!

Then there are the folk theories of mind in their infinite subjective varieties. Those count for a great deal since the flux of subjective perspectives is incredibly diverse. (Keep in mind most people don’t construct their perspectives because they’ve evaluated the options given by the ‘history of ideas’. Wilber’s foundational quasi-constructivist supposition strikes me as a strawman with respect to the extant plurality of actual instantiated intentionalities, including those classifiable under the rubric, ‘belief.’ Those possibilities aren’t required to lend themselves to reduction. Wilber’s never groked this although it remains a commonsense objection to his weird integral flatland where the disparate get mixed to grey like finger paints do when subject to overactive artistry!

Is Wilber arguing against belief in givenness (in his own terms,) because he’d like his Integral perspective to supplant the flattened ‘phenomenological’ he decries? Taken specifically, there’s no reason a phenomenology can’t also take as a given experience while making no appeal to intentionality. (It would be paradoxical like Strawson is paradoxical.)

Anyway, he has yet to develop any warrants for this turn he makes. I’m left to ponder why his own subjectivism has become so limited and incapable of self-criticism. Taken generally the phenomenological is hardly monological. As a catch-all, and taken as a term for the richness of subjectivity, it seems strikingly to be the antithesis of monological. Yet, clearly to argue against this, Wilber requires it to be reified. Thus, once again, Wilber’s orienting of generalities concretizes a map about only his own interpretation. Moreover, this map, evidently, is of a territory surrounded by a big protective wall!

This is all unfortunate. If I may suggest: a meta-sociology of knowledge, perspectivism, and consciousness is a worthwhile project. But, in buffering out dialectical, cooperative research with authoritative, likeminded thinkers across the spectrum of interdisciplinarity, Wilber has implemented a hierarchical defense against just about any and all contestation of his work. That this defense rotates around a fallacious appeal to his own authority, and has, over the past decade or so, caused Wilber to rationalize his superiority in the most self-serving, loony terms, has polluted the otherwise worthwhile integral project.

In fact he’s polluted the Integral with his own consciousness cum personality. (Integral Spirituality is full of snippy asides and reflexive dodges.) This is ironic. Nowadays one notes the project includes an admission fee if the polloi want to get close to the pandit; has popped up a consulting cottage industry, and suckered insiders to obtain, well, mere belief. When the lack of warrants and intersubjective contests are pointed out, Wilber lashes out, effecting a refuge of scoundrels: that his critics misunderstand him because they haven’t read his work. Loony.

I have no idea why he can’t step outside himself and his hermetic prejudices enough to see how odd this all is. At the end of this day, Wilber can’t carry much integral water simply because he’s not very integral himself. (Pro-certainty; anti-critical inquiry.) He’s, strangely enough, a warped kind of traditionalist, kind of a post post-modern (Fritjof) Schuon for our times, at the head of a spiritual food chain he’s constructed for himself, with all roads leading to nis own mind. He wrote it and he understands it best. (Incidentally, once you unbolt all the jargon and junk away, and cut wilber a bunch of slack for his being at least a king of category errors, the whole edifice of the Integral isn’t difficult or hard to understand.

His appeal to (his conjured) injunctive verification and its fallacious appeal to authority and non-falsifiability; overlays the mere assertion that “he knows because he knows,” and underpins the necessary master mentality asserted to defend against criticism, says more about Wilber than it can possibly say about how a renegade intelligence might forge an important new outlook–meta-perspective–on the entanglement of subjective and objective and hybrid perspectives.

Or: he knows because his consciousness is so vaunted and valorized. Not only does he read his own clippings but he certifies many of his own reviewers! This harkens back to a psychology about self-inflation. Pathos comes to mind too.

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(I’m data hopping.} From a December 20 post at Matt Murrah’s Leadership blog.

We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires. – Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict, XVI)

Later, Murrah admits,

If relativism is to be ‘enforced’, then it is not true relativism. If society wishes to impugn relativism on ‘fundamentalists’, are they any better than a true fundamentalist?

Sure. Still later his argument becomes sillier still.

It amazes me that “relativism” is defined badly and then this definition is whipped repeatedly. This anything goes definition is very much a Straw Man.

I would counter this with an inquiry into what varieties of positional relativism might be articulated propositionally. For example, one might, at a minimum, note domain dependencies and their contingent relations. Curiously, the appeal of the reduction of relativism to this bare “anything goes” formulation elevates uncertainty over one factor above all: relationship. Hello!

A perspective I’m fond of inhabiting emerges from my own, novel Jamesian phenomonological prejudices. It’s fundamental supposition is that ways of being and reasoning co-exist. These ways exist, and simply by virtue of their existing, an account can be made. Furthermore, we would find those ways of being/reasoning to be evocative and to be related to a clear utility.

Note this is far from “anything goes”. In actuality, if something exists, even imaginally, it goes but if it doesn’t exist it can’t go. …so-to-speak.

For example, a certain foundational morality exists. That there isn’t an existing certain foundational morality is the case too. They co-exist; albeit fitfully if you’re the Pope or are similarly disposed.

Murrah wants it both ways in his essay but doesn’t seem to get that the first things of a certain morality yield relative positions just as the first things of a relativism yield absolutist positions. This does constitute a ‘problematic’ but it’s not very interesting to me because it’s more interesting to account for moral reasoning and moral agency and moral acting as matters of consensus and informal intersubjective “working out,” and, those aspects are related to the domain of necessary utility. “Worked out” moralities are pragmatic.

The main thing is none of those ad hoc moralities are going to get back in the box they came from, a box per force ‘opened’ 25,000-200,000 years ago. The longitudinally anthropological argument is rarely brought to the fore. Admittedly, evolutionary psychology/anthropology gets the monological theists’ goat too. But, even a salutary foundationalism came into existence at some point. …in the past.

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Jeezum… from the blog about stuff Integral (aka Ken Wilber et al) Mystery of Existence,

Dangers of models
In writing the aqal review of local organizations, and also talking with a friend yesterday who’s very much into integral things, I am reminded of the dangers of Spiral Dynamics, and of any map, framework or model.

As with any map, or sets of ideas, it can be taken as a relative or an absolute truth, it can be used in service of shadow projections, and it can be used with more or less heart and empathy.

Relative and absolute truths

The clearest danger is in taking it as an absolute truth, to mistake the map for the terrain, to put more faith in and emphasis on what the model says rather than what the terrain is doing.

Seeing any map as a relative truth, it becomes a tool of temporary and practical value, an aid for navigating and functioning in the world. There is nothing absolute about it. Just a tool that works more or less well in any situation. A tool with no inherent value, which can be modified and discarded as needed. It remains secondary to the terrain, to life itself.

“Just a tool that works more or less well in any situation.” No, a model works for exacting reasons in only situations for which those reasons hold. Always the question begged by a model has to do with how these reasons are commensurate with a precise situation where the utility of the model is demonstrable.

The model is not the thing modeled. A model describes and may depict operations. If you could start up a model of an internal combustion engine it would not be a model.

The description is not the thing described. The danger implicit in any model comes about from their reification. This turn immediatly causes a category error. It does so even if the utility of a model lends itself to the description of predictable consequences of the operations of the thing modeled.

Models may be more or less accurate but they cannot be absolutely true. Their accuracy refers to the accuracy of their description, and given predictive utility, their predictions. But, models are by their categorical (or domain) nature are always, by definition,always reductive.

Every model’s utility is constrained for many reasons but one of the primary reasons is that for every model the implicate description is not complete, nor can it be completely accurate. It is okay to qualify the truthfulness of the description compilation and the model itself, but absurd to say a model is itself and otherwise relatively or absolutely true. A model is true relative to a qualified frame of reference. If you can think of a universal model unhinged from a relation to a frame of reference, please let me know!

And, now I must go on at length about a very pet peeve.


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