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!

 

Funny Gods

In the pantheon of behavior, there is one thing that primates in general, but humans in particular, like doing…

Being Funny.

Yes, apes do it, chimps do it, even dogs and pussy cats do it.

But no one does it better than a human.

So, given that we are so darn funny, why don’t our gods make more jokes?

You might argue that being a god is serious business and they don’t have time for such nonsense.  But I’d argue that it’s exactly WHY a god should be funny, to help relax from all that seriousness.

There are cultural considerations.  I came across two examples on the interweb where famous people tried telling English jokes to the Dalai Lama… and failed.  The punch line of ordering a pizza as “one with everything” means nothing when it’s translated.  Ordering food in Xining is probably a very different set of words from seeking unity between mind, body, and universe.

The greatest obstacle by far is going to be a combination of intellect and perspective.  Gods are supposed to be way ahead of us humans.  Perhaps even super-human.  This goes beyond culture, because it’s intrinsic to the nature of the beast.  They don’t think on the same level.

That’s why so much of our highest humor is rather incomprehensible to a great ape.  In all fairness, they’d probably understand the Three Stooges.

Consider the art that is George Carlin, or Will Rogers, and Mark Twain.  In many cases insightful, thought provoking, timeless, and funny.  Carlin elevated his into high art.

Now that I write this, I realize that many people today don’t comprehend this level of humor either.  Perhaps that says more about modern society than we realize.

At any rate, our gods would be operating at a much higher level.  Chances are that if they told a joke us normal mortals wouldn’t even get it.  In fact, I’m willing to bet that jokes abound in god-world.  Things like mosquitoes, or walking on water, or letting yourself be shown with a big round belly when you were as thin as a stick your entire life.

The point is that if we start looking, perhaps we can find humor in our gods where we least expect.  Who knows?  Maybe we’ll learn something along the way.

Pray we do.  Laughter is good for the soul.

 

Space isn’t big enough for Philosophers

The easiest academic job is in mathematics.  If you’re lucky enough to land a tenured job in that ivory tower in math, your life will be filled with joy.  At that point you’re required to be creative, and the work you do is measured by an absolute standard that everyone in your discipline understands.  There is no ambiguity, there is no room for personality or psychology.  If your work is published, then you can contributed.  Congratulations.

The further we look, the more galaxies we find.Not so for other types of academics.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are supposed disciplines of Philosophy and Economics.  In these, almost nothing that is published can be considered as improving the human condition.  It’s rare enough that a small group of them agree with definitions or methods, but impossible for the entire community to agree on anything.

Example: Go to any symposium filled with some large number of economists or philosophers, and see if they can even agree as to when coffee hour should be called, or where the next meeting is held.  And then hold your breath.

The implications for space colonization should be clear.  If there is ever going to be a virtual ivory tower built on the moon, the first line of academics must be in mathematics and the HARD sciences.  Results count, at every stage.  Slackers are NOT welcome.

Philosophy and Economics, on the other hand, must STAY OUT.  Until those academics learn how to communicate using common language, simple concepts, and consistent definitions, there’s no need for the confusion they would sow.

Ask a philosopher what his discipline means for the world, and prepare to sleep.  The correct answer is that they “think about thinking.”

Don’t even bother asking the economist, even for fun.  It can get ugly.

So the next time you watch a space show, be on the lookout for any academics in the cast.  If they teach philosophy or economics, you’ll know you’re watching a fantasy show that’s light on science.

 

 

Human Behavior Insights?

Science magazine is the US of A’s top tier journal for disseminating human knowledge.

From some Australians, this article claims insights into human behavior that can “help conservation.”  It would certainly be good if it were true.  But I’m not even sure these insights are solid.  One of my concerns is that these insights can help big brother manipulate us more easily.

In order of appearance in the article, they are:

  1. People have a strong tendency to avoid making difficult decisions, and as a result, they are prone to accepting whatever default option they are presented with—even when this option is not in their own, or society’s, best interest.
  2. People also have a cognitive bias that causes them to disproportionately weight initial information when making decisions.
  3. … there is a cognitive bias that causes people to perceive that losses hurt about twice as much as gains feel good, often referred to as loss aversion or prospect theory.
  4. The decoy effect is the phenomenon that people tend to change their preference between two options when presented with a third option that is meant to be inferior in some regard (a decoy).
  5. [We have an] … innate desire for prestige, reputation, conformity, and reciprocity … [so that our] … decisions and actions are shaped by perceptions (whether accurate or not) of what other people do and what they approve.  For instance, some utilities reduced consumption by reporting comparisons between the usage rates of the customer, their neighbors, and the most efficient users.
  6. People also behave differently when they think they are being observed.
  7. [Finally,] … we are also influenced by the source of our information … [like] popular actors, athletes, or public figures.

(article – not paywalled: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/362/6417/889.full)