Better Society Through Science

In today's world, the

Do you agree with me on the following?
.Science can solve anything.
..Social problems are not getting easier to understand.
…Our understanding of people is not improving.
….Transcending Boundaries means challenging assumptions.
If you agree, let’s talk.


 

Anything can be examined, logically.

Science can solve anything.  As a young doctoral student, I believed that through Science, we could better understand ANY problem and take steps towards a completely efficient and effective solution. And why not?  We tamed the atom and we peered into the furthest reaches of the universe.  How hard could understanding world hunger or oppressive dictatorships be?  All we needed was good scientific principles, quality data, rigorous methods, and an intellectual environment that nurtured quality research.  How hard could this be?  [1]

 

Technology has not been a panacea for problems.

Social problems are not getting easier to understand.  In many ways the world has not improved since 1980.  Sure, we have flying cars and can read our genetic code.  But there’s many ways in which things are worse.  We thought the end of the Cold War would “free” up the oppressed soviet states and reinvent a forward thinking Russia.  Instead we have Putin.  We also have an oppressive and aggressive China.  There’s Syria, Turkey, Venezuela, The Philippines, Myanmar, and Egypt.  There’s religious extremism, non-localized religious-based violence, and escalating intolerance of culture as well as xenophobia throughout.  There’s a good chance NATO and the European Union were effectively destabilized by “bad actors” as well, using the latest technology in combination with old-fashioned subversion tactics in order to implement strategies that spans decades.  Finally, what about the doomsday clock, statements from the doctors without borders, reporters under attack, and notices from human rights watch?

 

Even with all the violence, we don't truly understand ourselves.

Our understanding of people is not improving.  There are no fundamental scientific advances as far as understanding people or social behaviors that we’ve discovered.  If I’m in error, I’m eager to accept any scientific findings to the contrary.  [2]

 

Transcending Boundaries means challenging assumptions. 

Assumptions like:

1) Encouraging scientific rigor and accountability within disciplines.  We can institutionalize (and reward) replication within our educational system and require it of academia.

2) We currently allow for the validation of scientific integrity within disciplines through peer review and specialized societies.  Perhaps it’s time for us to do the same BETWEEN disciplines.

... so why let any constraint remain unchallenged?

3)  Associating an individual’s ethical integrity in any aspect of their life to their scientific life.  #MeToo has been a watershed for recognizing long standing biases against half the population.  But are we confident that someone who is willing to compromise their ethics in one area of life can exclude it from their professional lives?  Ethics in all areas should also be an aspiration and never assumed.  [3]

4) Last, but far from least, true progress can’t be made unless we adhere to tried and true scientific principles in every aspect, bar none.  Definitions, logical rigor, standardized, calibrated, and validated methods of measurement, and rigorous methodologies that use p-values properly would be a start.  [4]

 

I'll treat in exchange for a good conversation.

If you agree, let’s talk.  I’m Steven, a retired businessman and inventor.  In the 1980s I was an idealistic doctoral student.  I earned a master’s and continued my studies in order to keep track of the progress made in understanding our humanity.  Forty years later, I’m hoping to meet like-minded individuals at the AAAS 2019 convention to see if my experience can make a contribution, no matter how small.  I look forward to meeting you and lending you a sympathetic ear, at the very least.  You can mail me at Zebra Skimmers (no spaces) at Gmail.

Thank you.

 

Notes:

[1] For the record, I still believe Science can help us understand our problems, but the solving part is problematic.  Understanding problems also means understanding the forces working against solutions, and that, unfortunately, is a whole other problem.

[2] The works of E O Wilson and early work of R Dawkins could be considered fundamental, but so far applying them to humans has been unsatisfactory.

[3] “Plagiarism at Integrity Meeting” brief in Science, page 209, 18 January 2019.

[4] “Misinformation Machine” in Science, page 348, 25 January 2019. Particularly the 3rd and 4th paragraphs regarding disparate definitions of “fake news.”

 

END

FUN Science time

Did you know science could be fun?  Yes, science.

Fun for everyone!

Archimedes did it.  Einstein did it.  Now we can do it, too.

I’m talking about doing a thought experiment.

In fact, not only a thought experiment, but a thought present for YOU.

Let’s make you rich.  Really really rich.

No, not as rich as Gates, or Buffet.  Richer.

Not as rich as Bezos or Zuckerberg.  Richer.

Not even as rich as the entire USA.  Richer.

This is a thought experiment.  We can go where it’s impossible to go.  We can go to the very extremes of possibilities.

YOU

OWN

EVERYTHING.

As of this moment, there is no income, no particle of wealth, absolutely nothing of value that you don’t own.  The queen’s jewels?  Yours.  The queens toilet and toilet paper?  Yours.

That donkey raised from a pup by that Himalayan monk no one has seen for several decades?

Yours.

The question for us behavioral scientists is this.  What happens next?

If economists were any good at what they did, they could answer this.  But they can’t.

In reality, you’re going to spread the wealth.  After all, you’re going to want to eat.  You might even want a companion.  All of that costs something.

People who have “your stuff” might feel that you are far enough away that they don’t have to pay you for it.  That Himalayan monk?  Chances are you’re never going to meet him.  Good luck getting that donkey back.

Of course, the incentive for anyone else to work will be diminished.  But they have to eat as well, so there’s a chance that a shadow economy will emerge, based on bartering and some other items considered valuable.  Your items of course, but how will you know?

Slowly, surely, your own wealth will be spread around, so that some kind of work will begin again.  But how quickly?

The problem is that you also own everyone’s assets.  So even if someone works in a restaurant to feed you and others, you will receive the profits.  Which means, ultimately, you get even richer.

Enough fun.  How about comparing our experiment to today?

Today’s world does have a Gates, Buffet, Bezos and Zuckerberg.  These people do have incredible levels of wealth and income compared to select individuals of the past.

How does this impact the rest of society?  Is it a good thing?

There are those who tell me that rich people are good for the rest of us.  But in the beginning there were no “rich” people.  What does that mean?

It means we need to think about this, more, better, and deeper.  And it means we need to do more thought experiments.

Careful though.  They can be too much fun!

 

FUN Science, Art Gallery Time Machine

Did you know science could be fun?  Yes, science.

Seems a bit spotty, doesn't it?

Archimedes did it.  Einstein did it.  Now it’s our turn.  Lets do a thought experiment.

In this experiment, we’re going to transport one of the best paintings from the impressionist era back a hundred years (give or take) so that it lands smack dab in the middle of one of the best art galleries of the romantic era.

 

See what we’re doing there?  We’re sticking a little bit of the future into the past, and then figuring out what would happen.

What do YOU think will happen?  Go ahead, write down your answer.  I’ll wait.

(Insert girl from Ipanema here.)

Finished?  Great.  Now, here’s my take.

It won’t sell.  No one’s going to buy it.  Everyone will think a deranged teenager did it, and will tell the dealer to throw it away.  Since it appeared mysteriously from the future, he won’t know who to give it to.  Being a profit-minded guy, he’ll probably paint it over with gesso and sell the canvas to some poor artist who will put a proper painting over it.

Crazy?  Not really.  Consider going to an art gallery today.  What do you see?  Are there crazy pieces in there that drive you bonkers?  Could it be that one of those will sell for millions of dollars in a hundred years?

How can we know?

Right now, we can’t.  There’s this whole thing about fads and fashions that seems to be beyond anything reason will fathom, ever.  Why do women prefer certain hairstyles through the ages.  What about men and their beards, or hats?  What about architecture, writing styles, music, and just about anything else you can imagine.

Until the day comes when we can at least start to describe a fashion and do it in an organized, scientific manner, there will be no hope of understanding, let alone predicting.

Until the day comes when we have a theory of behavior that contains fads and fashions within it, then even with the best descriptions in the world, we still aren’t going to make any progress.

Until then, hang onto that ridiculous object of art your Aunt Sally got you from that yard sale.  It could be worth something.  Someday.

 

Invisible Tools: Society

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This series has been all about invisible tools that our species uses to make life better for itself.

Notice I said, itself.  I’m talking about the species here.  Not you, not me.  Not our government, not even the world government.

Species.

Some of the tools our species uses were invented long before primates climbed down from the trees.  So things like using machines, sex, childhood, pair bonding and childhood are used by many other species.  Maybe they invented those on their own.  Maybe not.

However, some of the other tools we covered are pretty much unique to humans: Marriage, Relatives, Dynasties, and perhaps the biggest one of all, society.

Yes, we have a society.  If you talk to some biologists, they’ll argue some insects have a society as well.  But there’s a big difference, besides the fact that they are bugs.

We invent the society, we join the society, and we can leave the society.  The society isn’t baked into our DNA.  It’s in our heads.

 

Last post I asked if a family dynasty, like the Samsung Corporation, is good or bad?

There’s no way to tell without looking at the dynasty in context.  And the best context is within society.

If society is Korea, then the closer the purpose of Samsung is to the purpose of Korea will answer how “good” they are.

But if their purpose is at odds with the rest of their country, then we could argue that they are “bad.”

The primary purpose of any family, any dynasty, any government, and any society is to survive.  In fact, it’s the basic purpose of any living unit, like the species.  After all, if they don’t survive, they disappear.

We tend to forget this simple fact.  Heck, let’s call it the first axiom of life.

If something helps Korea survive, but impacts Samsung negatively, then Samsung will fight back.  They will resist.  They will undermine.  They will be “bad” for Korea.

In general, there will always be something that satisfies the above condition.  So, in general, a family dynasty is “bad” for society.

The same logic applies to the society and our species.  If a society wants to do something that is not good for the species, what happens?  You get pollution.  You get toxic waste.  You get human forced climate change.

That’s it for talking about tools.  We have them, we use them, usually without thinking about them.  Maybe we should start thinking, talking, and using them more effectively.

Then again, only if we want to survive.

Thanks for reading.

 

Invisible Tools: Dynasty

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Sex, childhood, marriage, family.  These are some invisible behavioral tools our species uses to thrive.  We should understand them as tools, and make them better.  The more we think of them as tools, the better we use them, making our own lives easier.

Every tool can vary in quality.  Take any one of the items mentioned up front.  I’m sure you can think of both good and bad examples.  Please don’t dwell on the first one.

The family is most important here, because humans have gone far beyond the original tool.  In fact, this set of families are so different that they may need their own category.  It’s easiest to think of them as a “super-family.”

Your average, run-of-the-mill family has parents and kids.  A bigger family has grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.  An even bigger family may have some “greats” scattered here and there.  And some of the biggest families may have a celebration of relatives including hundreds of people.

Then there is the super-family.  The dynasty.  This is family taken to the highest level.  For not only can this family get large, it extends far back in time.  The dynasty becomes history unto itself.

The most famous dynasties are those that are connected to great wealth.  And that’s another feature of a successful dynasty, they are very good at passing wealth from one generation to another.  But that’s only the part we see.

The part we don’t see is that they also pass on secrets; teaching the next generation about keeping the dynasty together, growing its leadership, and increasing its wealth.

We don’t do a good job of tracking dynasties today.  Most are interested in conspicuous individuals.  Too bad, because it’s like only looking at the tip of an iceberg.

Most of the dynasty is hidden, just as interesting, and very powerful.  It will have branches embedded in government, commerce, and finance.  It will transcend nationalities, and can think on time scales most of us can’t conceive.

Japan and Korea have some famous dynasties you already know about.  China certainly has a few, and so does Europe.

Are family dynasties bad or good?  Not our job, not today.  The advantages are great power.  The disadvantage is the same.  The only question is this:

Does a dynasty want the same thing that is good for society in general?

Let’s tackle that next.