Space isn’t big enough for: Soft Science

You’d think that living in infinite space with only a few other people on the entire surface of the moon meant you could do whatever you wanted, believe whatever you wished, and have no restrictions because there’s nothing around.

The further we look, the more galaxies we find.Here’s the rub.  There’s no room for mistakes, no room for wishy washy, no room for fuzzy and no room for ambiguity.

Am I making myself clear?

So, for all you wannabee spacers, think about what you’re going to take up there in terms of knowledge.  Because you want to be useful, what?

What are the soft sciences?  Anything that has to do behavior.  Economics comes to mind.  Psychology, sociology, even law and religion.  Go ahead, you can name a few.

What? you say.  How can you make such crazy outlandish claim?

I’m not.  I’m repeating something Richard Feynman once said.  He was a truly smart guy who thought about a lot of things.

Here’s what he said about understanding living things.  He came to this conclusion after spending hours watching paramecia under the microscope.  He decided its behavior was far more complicated than anybody recognized.  How then can we ever hope to understand humans if we cant even understand the behavior of such a simple animal.

Here’s a quote from his book, “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman”

So my impression of these animals is that their behavior is much too simplified in the books. It is not so utterly mechanical or one-dimensional as they say.  They should describe the behavior of these simple animals correctly.  Until we see how many dimensions of behavior even a one-celled animal has, we wont be able to fully understand the behavior of more complicated animals.

So, if you plan to head for the great beyond, plan accordingly, pack light, and for heaven’s sake, take only hard science.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

 

Hawking’s Intelligent T-Shirt

Image

My brother-in-law got me a fun T-shirt displaying this text:

1N73LL1G3NC3
15 7H3
4B1L17Y
70 4D4P7 70
CH4NG3
573PH3N H4WK1NG

I’ll let you wrestle through it, as that’s part of the fun.

There’s a little problem, however.

It’s wrong. Now, I don’t know if the late great Hawking said this, I haven’t checked as yet.  However, the definition itself is wrong.

Fundamentally, there are many things that can’t adapt to change.  In fact, I know quite a few people, generally ex-employees, that do their best to resist change.  That’s partly why they are “ex” employees.

Despite their resistance to change, despite their inability to adapt to change, I wouldn’t call them unintelligent.

That’s part of the problem with not having a good definition.

So, with all due (possible) respect to Stephen H., here’s my hat in the ring.

Intelligence is the reflection of the environment within our defined life form.

Let me break this down.  It starts off with “Intelligence is…”  So that part is easy.  Since it doesn’t have to deal with change, it’s directly related to something else.  So measurement should be easier.  Not easy.  Easier.

Next, it’s a reflection.  This makes our job easier, because that means there is going to be a “source” and a “target.”  Every reflection requires some form of mirror, and the mirror reflects light from some object (the source) to a mind, making an impression (the target).

What’s the source?  It’s the environment.  Buckminster Fuller said it best: Environment is everything but me.

Here’s the fun part.  Where’s the target?  It’s going to be “inside” something.

What is that “something?”

That’s OUR defined life form.  This is the trickiest part, because most of the time no one takes the time to define who has the intelligence.  If we all agree we’re evaluating the intelligence of a mouse, then there it is.  If it’s the entire mouse species, that’s different.  If it’s going to be you, that’s one thing.  But if it’s going to be a whole bunch of us, that’s very different.

No single image summarizes our dread of Artificial Intelligence more than this.

Ever heard of group intelligence?  Some feel that groups are not quite as swift as individuals.  Now we can test for that.  What is the reflection of the environment within the group?  The group may have a great reflection, but if they can’t communicate it within themselves very well, then it doesn’t do them much good.  They would still be considered “intelligent” by my definition, but as many people have argued through the years, intelligence doesn’t always mean you’re smart.

There you have it.  This doesn’t quite answer a lot of the tough questions that are still out there.  Check out the post from 6 August 2018.  In the meantime, be careful out there.

Be intelligent.  Be smart!

 

Sex Assault Drill

Image

Fire drill?  Line up and file out!

Or turning the other cheek?

Nuclear war drill?  Duck and cover!

Sexual harassment drill?  Huh?

That’s right.  What happens next?  I don’t know.  So I looked it up.

I got these links, and read all of them.  Guess what?  There’s no right answer.

I was sitting by Alice, a charming young woman.  Bob sat on the other side, a large older married man.  She was scheduling a meeting with Bob at a local pub after work.  It was certainly innocent enough until he started making jokes about making sure they didn’t drink too much on a weekday.  Then he made a “joke” about her sitting in his lap.  And finally there was the “joke” about not staying out too late.

Nothing is clear cut in the real world.  First off, Bob was making bad jokes throughout the meeting.  Alice had been encouraging those jokes by laughing, or at least chuckling.  Trust me, the jokes weren’t that good.  Bob has no work authority over Alice, but as an older man she may have some respect for him.

Here’s my problem, and I’m asking you for help.

What is with Bob?  Why is he effectively hitting on Alice?  Hasn’t he heard of the #MeToo movement?  Hasn’t he ever been introduced to good taste?  At the very least, can’t he learn to tell better jokes?

Alice has a boyfriend, I heard her telling Bob that at least once.  But I can’t be sure she was offended by his “moves.”

I would have liked to confront Bob and ask him if he’d like me to sit in his lap for a change.  (I’m a big enough guy, by the way, I wouldn’t care.)  I have to be careful, he might say yes.

Or maybe I should act all coy and ask him to help me with a hypothetical situation, and then describe him in detail.  With my luck he probably wouldn’t get it.

Maybe I should just file a police report.  Ha.  Good luck with that.  They’re busy enough chasing overdoses and crooked politicians.  Well, overdoses.

Perhaps the best place to start is to ask Alice what she thinks.  I don’t mind telling her how I felt (UNcomfortable!) but if it’s some kind of game she plays with Bob, then who am I to judge?

Why can’t people make it simple?  Perhaps everyone really wishes we lived back in tribal times, where those with the biggest sticks got their way.  Everyone else simply got out of their way.

Oh well.  If you have any advice I’d love to hear it.  The only other suggestion I can think of is that we change society so that we are all far more respectful of each other.

Talk about dreaming!

Unnatural Selection

31 years old and full of fire.

It’s been a while since Darwin published his books about living things. I can’t think of anyone who should hold the title of the world first, and most famous, behavioral scientist.

There is a problem, however. And it’s built into both of his most famous books: Origin and Descent.

He must have known he was doing it.  But as I’ve noted before, taking on GOD did not seem like the best method for influencing the course of human history.  He made the right choice.  But it also means he left us a flawed work.

The flaw is the term “Natural Selection.”

This term appears 247 times in Origin and 155 times in Descent.

Why is it a flaw?

Because it means there are forms of selection that are not natural.

What can be “not natural?”

For one, it was a popular notion that anything people did back in those days was somehow different from what the birds and bees could do.  People can talk to each other and use tools.  Birds and bees couldn’t do those things… or did they?

Of course they could.  Only people didn’t know enough to know that.

People could also choose to cross-breed trees or flowers in ways no one had ever seen before.  These ways were also deemed to be “not natural.”

We had a term for that.  We called it “synthetic.”  So you could have natural selection, and then you could have synthetic selection.

There’s another problem.

People were also considered to be extremely special in the universe.  We had a direct wireless connection to the greatest server of all time, GOD.

So not only was our behavior beyond the natural, it was SUPER-natural.

Here’s where the problem surfaces today.

By limiting his ideas to what is considered natural, Darwin left the door open to those who want to believe that everything people do is somehow above and beyond the rest of nature.

And that’s the real problem.  Because being able to use the established tools of conventional science has been good enough to understand life from bugs to butterflies.

The same tools should be good enough to understand Beyonce and Bulgaria as well.

But we don’t allow it, because we feel that somehow, they are beyond our understanding.

We shouldn’t.  Nothing is beyond our ability to imagine.

Anything less?

Well.  That would simply be, unnatural.

 

 

Where There’s Smoke

They always seem to go together.It’s no coincidence that if you see smoke, there’s fire somewhere inside.

If you live inside a house, you’re taught from an early age to save your life by GETTING OUT.

Drop.  Roll.  Know your escape route to safety.

That’s the easy way to save your life.

What if the smoke you are seeing isn’t from inside your home?

What if the smoke is coming from your society?  What if the news is full of tragic stories?  What if your family and friends are touched by random violence?

What if your planet is being harassed by unthinking newly arrived inhabitants, who litter, obliterate, and violate huge portions of its landscape?  What if the Amazon is cut down?  What if we fill the atmosphere with CO2 and methane?  Why does it matter if we drive so many species to extinction?

These are all variations of seeing the smoke inside your home.  Many people see the smoke, and are crying out as loud as they can: FIRE!

My question is this.  Why can’t more people see the smoke?  How many more cries will it take to move the majority of people?  What will it take to get governments to act?  Even more critically, what will it take to make all governments act in unison?

If you are studying any social discipline, including philosophy, these questions should be at the top of your syllabus.  Your “discipline” should have a methodology, a basis of axioms and reference in which you can answer this question.  Better yet, if your discipline is mature enough, it may even suggest an optimal route of making our world a better place.

If not, then, all I can say is…

Drop.

Roll.

And …

 

 

Multitasking Mythology

Have you ever been complimented for multitasking?

Have you ever been criticized for multitasking?

It is not multitasking - it is fast switching and good self management.

I have.  I’ve heard some people claim that they are great multitaskers.  I’ve also heard there is no such thing; humans can only focus on one thing at a time.  Therefore multitaskers are delusional.

I’m not going to choose sides.  In fact, I’m going to take the high road, and without trying to multitask, look at the arguments and put some pieces together.

First off, working on a task.  Tasks are big things, like writing memos, answering a crazy customer question.  Chewing gum and walking don’t count.

Secondly, doing quality work.  It’s agreed that the best work is done when you focus on that work.

Thirdly, doing more work.  In today’s world, we don’t get a choice to do one thing at a time.  You can be writing your memo when that customer calls.  You have to put down the memo and pick up the customer.  No choice.  You’re doing more work.  More importantly, what you’ve just done is …

Fourthly, task switching.  Stopping one task and focusing on another is switching.  Some people can do it fast.  Some people take time.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve hired people who take their time switching between tasks.  For someone like me (fast switcher) it’s agonizing waiting for them to catch up.  But switching isn’t the only problem they usually have, because there is also …

Fifthly, task choosing.  Yes, you must choose the task you switch to.  If you are “juggling” ten tasks, you have to be able to coordinate all ten so that each is finished on time, you spend as much time as necessary to do them ADEQUATELY, and switching in such a way so that it minimizes the energy you expend on switching.  This process goes by many names, but essentially is managing yourself.  Some can be great switchers, but terrible choosers.  Others might be opposite.

Guess what?  If you can manage yourself well, AND switch between tasks fairly efficiently, then people can call you a multitasker.  You know that you are working on only one task at a time, but to them it looks like you are working on ten.

For someone who switches very slowly, or for someone who can’t manage themselves very well, then multitasking doesn’t exist.  And they probably don’t want to admit it exists in other people as well.

And they are right.  It doesn’t exist.  It’s one of those derivative qualities we like to talk about while ignoring what goes on underneath.  Multitasking doesn’t exist.  Fast switching and good self-management does exist.

So the next time you hear about multitaskers, and you want to take someone to task about the subject, just point them this way.

Or do what I do.

Switch to something else.

It’s more efficient.

 

Silly Songs

and alcohol streams, who could resist?

Everything about behavior should tell us something about ourselves.

This one is silly.  It’s called “Big Rock Candy Mountains

I’m learning to play the piano.  Much more fun than watching TV, for me, and one of the songs is a shortened version of this.  You can find the tune several places online, click on the title below.  Here are the lyrics:

Big Rock Candy Mountains
One evening as the sun went down
And the jungle fire was burning,
Down the track came a hobo hiking,
And he said, “Boys, I’m not turning
I’m headed for a land that’s far away
Besides the crystal fountains
So come with me, we’ll go and see
The Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
There’s a land that’s fair and bright,
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night
Where the boxcars all are empty
And the sun shines every day
On the birds and the bees
And the cigarette trees
The lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
All the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
The farmers’ trees are full of fruit
And the barns are full of hay
Oh I’m bound to go
Where there ain’t no snow
Where the rain don’t fall
The wind don’t blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
You never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol
Come trickling down the rocks
The brakemen have to tip their hats
And the railroad bulls are blind
There’s a lake of stew
And of whiskey, too
You can paddle all around ’em
In a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
The jails are made of tin
And you can walk right out again,
As soon as you are in
There ain’t no short-handled shovels,
No axes, saws or picks,
I’ma goin’ to stay
Where you sleep all day,
Where they hung the Turk
That invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
I’ll see you all this coming Fall
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains”

Songwriters: Harry Mcclintock / Sterling Sherwin

==================

Finally, purely for fun, here are the updated lyrics I’m proposing.  I’d love to hear your ideas.  After all, isn’t it time to update this?

Of all the planets that we know,
The furthest is Pluto,
Around our big ball of fusion,

Astronomers they say,
Would make it go away,
So let’s give them all contusions.

====================

More to come!  Thanks for reading.

 

Goodbye Soft Science

Makes as much sense as most soft science.What’s in a word?

Quite a bit, in fact.

There’s this “news” organization that calls itself “X News.”  Because it says “news” everyone gives it the same credibility as other organizations that deliver true news.

What is news?  We’ll talk about that some other day.

The fact of the matter is that when you are trying to sell something, and that something is not worth much, it’s to your benefit to disguise it.  Ask any fast-talking salesman.

So if your program is a bunch of talking heads talking nonsense, call it “news” so it has more credibility.

What about if your academic discipline is rather “funny” in itself?  What if your discipline has failed to advance our knowledge of its purported subject by any measurable amount during its entire existence?

Simple.  Call it a science.

If you’re a “real” scientist, like in chemistry, or physics, you’re not going to enjoy eating at the same table as an sociologist, or economist.

So you call yourself a “hard” scientist.  Your facts are hard.  Your experiments are hard.  Your conclusions stand the test of time and replication.  They are also hard.

What are the other guys?

So far we’ve been calling them “soft” scientists.

I suggest an improvement.

It’s time to give them a label that gives us a better idea as to what they truly are in the great scheme of things.

Squishy.

They are quite squishy.

You push them, and they move out of the way.

You can pinch, pull, stretch and fold them as much as you want, and they come back exactly the same.

That’s what economics, sociology, and a whole host of other such “sciences” can do.

So it’s time we call an ultra conservative talk show what it is.

And it’s time we call squishy sciences exactly what they are.

Squishy.

Now we need to drop the whole “science” bit from them.  But one step at a time.

 

Space isn’t big enough for: God

Yes, you heard it here first.  As infinite as outer space is, and as powerful and willfully teeny tiny any god can be, there is no room for it.  Or him.  Or her, as the case may be.

The further we look, the more galaxies we find.

Are you shocked?  Are you a true believer who also has dreams of seeing humanity colonize the big bang?

Then, consider this.

 

God, or gods, or powers that be, are fine and dandy when you need to explain the unexplainable to those who can’t handle much explaining.

God is great for kids.  God is great for people who don’t have time or energy for deep thoughts.  God is great for trying to keep families together, especially during times of crisis when everything seems to be going wrong.

On Earth, that works fine.  There is time for those kids to grow up and find their own answers.  On Earth, even if every last possible thing goes wrong for a family, they still have themselves, and at the very least they still have air.

Those don’t come free on the moon, or anywhere else in space.  There is no time for anyone to pray that a solar flare might miss.  The stakes are much much higher than they ever have been for the human species.  Anyone who thinks they can mitigate the risks by taking time out for prayer is fooling themselves.  And by association, increasing the risks for everyone else.

To be clear, if a Moonster (or Lunite?) wants to pray on their own time, and invoke a deity on the sly, that’s their business.  It’s not like god will be outlawed.

But anyone who is hoping that the almighty intervene in lieu of doing actual work to protect the colony, that’s what this is all about.

The colony is going to be filled with the smartest people this planet can collect.  And if they can’t make it on their own, then there isn’t a god on Earth who can make up the difference.

Strike me now if I’m not telling the truth.

Amen

 

Happy Birthday Dr. Frankenstein

Image

The novel Frankenstein was published 200 years ago this year, on January First.  I don’t think google did a doodle on it, but they should have.  Today (30 August) is the anniversary of the birth of the author, Mary Shelley.

Science magazine devoted a whole special section on the impact Frankenstein has had upon popular culture. [1] There’s more Franken-things than you can shake a stick at!  Each of which denotes something scary that has been created by humankind.

Try it out.  Pick any noun, say, tomato.  Stick a “franken” on it – and voila – you have a:

Franken-tomato.  Sounds like something that was genetically modified.  Could be tasty.  But our first reaction is, ugh.  Get it away from me.

That’s the whole point of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein.

It’s not the monster that is the bad guy.  It’s us.

We create things with our knowledge, our technology, our science.  And then we abuse it, we deny it, we argue that it doesn’t exist.  Yet it does exist.

And in our active ignorance, it ends up causing harm.  In the end we may think we have won because we defeat it, but perhaps we are no better off than we were before.

This theme has been used so many times since she rediscovered it that it’s hard to pick the best examples.  Try Colossus, the Forbin Project.  Or Skynet of Terminator, or Adromeda Strain, or; do I need to continue?

The Ancient Greeks created the first rendition of this story.  They talked of Prometheus, who brought forbidden fires to humans.  Without fire we would still be running from the lions, instead of looking at them in the zoo.

What does this have to do with behavior?  Are you kidding?  What doesn’t it have to do with behavior?  This is exactly the kind of stuff we should be talking about, for every new technology: Nuclear power, DNA editing, CO2 sequestration, and more.

Even more importantly, as students of behavior, we should have a framework that allows us to understand and discuss ANY new technology regardless of what that technology may be or how it impacts us.  How’s THAT for a challenge?

Enough for today.  I wanted to make sure SOMEONE said Happy Birthday to Mary.  After all, she did something many activists have been dreaming of doing for years.  I only wish people would read her book and discuss it, intelligently.

Instead of just going, UGH.

 

[1] Science magazine, 12 January 2018, Volume 359, Issue 6372.