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Archive for December 4th, 2008

Well it is official.  Ecclesiastic powers are abdicated at Lourdes.  Its off to Cabo.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081203/ap_on_re_eu/eu_france_lourdes_miracles_2/print

Let me check my watch and see the date.

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Actually this is a provocative title to get parents and teachers to read online crap. Kinda ironical, don’t you think… it is supposed to sound like concerns from worried parents.

One brain scientist at UCLA, Gary Small, a psychiatrist, argues that daily exposure to digital technologies can alter how the brain works. “Brain scientist” does not equate to brainy scientist!

While violent and porn have received a lot of public attention, the current jive goes well beyond concern and elicits fear. Media hawking ‘scientists’ purport that the wired world may be changing the way we read, learn and interact with each other. Dah…

Dr. Small claims that brain circuits involved in face-to-face contact can become weaker due to the time and exposure to digital media. Of course he offers no data and the directionality of the changes is impossible to determine if they empirically exist at all. …did the person select a digital world because of his or her brain or did the digital world change the brain by being less emotive, less rewarded by being around people?

Small says the effect is strongest in so-called digital natives, for now. It is the teenagers and 20s and 30 year olds who have been “digitally hard-wired since toddlerhood.” [Is pop-science the same as junk science?]

More than 2,000 years ago, Socrates warned about a different information revolution. He knew learning was important. Yet, he lectured that the rise of the written word was a more artificial way of learning than the oral tradition. More recently, television sparked concerns, then movies, then video games that would make our precious youth more violent or passive and interfere with their education. It even was rumored that TV watching interfered with their sight, fantasy development and ability to do good in school. YIKES!

There isn’t an open-and-shut case that digital technology is changing brain circuitry in any way different from an athlete’s brain or a student’s brain changes due to plasticity… those things a person does change the neural work paths of the brain so that the person doesn’t have to relearn everything they did yesterday all over again when they do it today.

Not enough scientists and non-scientists are skeptical of digital fear mongering. It appears to be a way for doctors to get copy in online and print media. I got some articles off the web on this…. There is little to disprove or prove the digital fear speculation.

Dr. Robert Kurzban, a University of Pennsylvania scientist states the obvious: he says that neurobiology is complex and incomplete and there is still have a lot to learn about how a person’s experiences affect the way the brain is wired to deal with any interaction including social or digital ones. They are separate issues: neurological wiring AND social interaction.

It appears to many in education and science that social interaction is a reinforcer just like food and water. Deprivation and overload appear to work in a similar fashion as anyone who has ever been in jail or from a large family will attest. Montessori educators have practiced a version of education and development that maintains that each student gets just what they need when they are ready to process it and there is not an absolute course on when, where and if that is going to happen or should happen.

But anything we do changes the brain due to plasticity. Even Googling. Some scientists suggest the brain actually benefits from Internet use which is equally silly as to claim that the brain is harmed by all things digital.

The developing brain builds pathways as learning occurs that gradually allows for more sophisticated processing. This is true of car mechanics and interpretive dance. It is also true for learning scripture whether it is based on Buddha, Mohamed, Christ or Jim Jones. It is all the same to the brain. Early on, “stuff” that isn’t used gets sloughed off in a pairing of dendrites and neural wax that keeps the brain working efficiently. Over time the 100 billion neurons with their 100,000 connections each come to grips with the environment, internal and external.

Children do more reading earlier online rather than Dick and Jane books at school. There is more and greater variability online than even seasoned educators can grasp. All and all, some parents can’t absorb or rationalize it. Yes, games are played to a frenzy. Yes, there is stuff out there that makes a sailor blush. No one knows how it will all turn out. There is also a bit of “Dr. Suez was good enough for me! Why do you have to be online all the time reading about arbitrage and the credit crunch or the net worth of Hollywood’s stars under 21 on Yahoo?”

For my 20 cents we shouldn’t have such a narrow view of children, humans or animals to rely on some aspect causing a great hole or scar in their behavior or man’s treatment of others. That flag is already waved by organized religion. They have a lock on it except for what is being played out digitally in games. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

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‘Thinking’ as a class of potential behavior is hard to study and thus, makes it ripe for speculation and interpretations beyond the data. As things are today, thinking is made more significant because it is presumed that humans are the only ones that do it making is a signature feature on what is human and what isn’t. “Mind”, “consciousness”, thought and all sorts of covert related properties are offered as evidence that humans are different and somehow more substantive than other animals. The past and existing organizations of what is going on inside the ‘vault’ [read: brain, head, mind, neural node, CNS] have been dismal. Answers are as elusive as they were 2000 years ago and are made more mysterious for some by being out of reach.

We have made no progress in regards to our understanding of what goes on there and how those things relate to subjective or empirical states of man or our institutions, including governance and law. They have suffered most while we hack away at deciphering the muddled mess of metaphysics and logically indefensible postulates that are put forth to explain how man behaves and why.

the verbal community has not yet been able to connect with what is going on that the community cannot experience. Any reinforcements that are delivered are not contingent on specific behavior because they can’t be seen in time or space. This comes to create a response class that looks like behavior that is reinforced on a VI schedule independent of a specific response on the part of the target organism. Yes; the prime requisite for development of superstitious behavior is non-contingent VI delivery of a reinforcer.

thinking may occasion in a person a fixed gaze, unblinking or reduced eye blinks, change in gate, or time insensitivity to many external stimuli, changes in galvanic responses and lowered heart and breathing rates. However, these are not thinking per se but may be part of what is inferred to be happening when one is doing any covert behaviors including thinking. All are part of other behaviors as well as behaviors with parameters of their own.

In describing thinking there is a lack of external conformation possible that any observer or the free-floating reinforcements can access. Thus, there is no connection between a specific covert behavior and a potential reinforcer. Thus, there is no way to show an increase in the future probability of occurrence of a target covert behavior occurring when the potential reinforcer was delivered.

Our covert behavior [including thinking] has several problems as a behavior class.

  1. it is not sensed and can’t be verified or falsified
  2. it does not have standard units of measurement
  3. results will depend on the way it is measured
  4. it is experiences through filters that transducer it to something else based on history and context
    1. vocabulary
    2. environment context
    3. culture
    4. in articulation of aspect (what parts are of interest – dreams, impulses, value, etc.)
    5. unknown empirical properties

Ultimately, the products of processes generated from within the ‘vault’ of the listener are routed and locked there. Everyone will continue to investigate how and what is going on there with whatever methods that can be mustered. Today the neurosciences are taking their shot at deciphering the relationships between what is going on inside our head and what we experience. To that end they are using 19th century models of man and behavior mixed with decrepit autonomous man inklings and sophisticated 21st century technology and chemistry. For some there is value in how they postulate the working of man and his mind. Those values are the same as postulated 2000 years ago and haven’t benefited our species as much as science methods have benefited biology, chemistry and anthropology. The value to science will depend more on changes in approach to man than the power of the magnet used in a portable fMRI.

Any set of the things related to what happens when someone is thinking is all just that, related to thinking for that person and not thinking itself. All the covert events can be related to things associated with other behaviors done when a person is not thinking as well as when some are thinking. The set of responses become associated as events related to a state that may be referred to as ‘thinking’ for that person who, when asked, “What are you doing?” or “Why don’t you answer me?” may report, “I was thinking…” and otherwise communicate something the other person will probably relate to as a set of private covert actions (events) that can be arbitrarily called ‘thinking.’

Of course it is very true that if thinking were an operant the people in the examples above would not have to ask, “What are you doing?” or “Why don’t you answer me?” If thinking were doing something overt, the observer could learn from observing or measuring behavior and would know the answers to those questions after learning to discriminate what was/is thinking and what is something other than thinking.

Psychotherapists, bosses, clergy, spouses, friends, parents etc., all have a version of why we do what we do. They have a story about what relationships exist between us and the world around us; the environment. There is a good chance that, after some time experiencing a person, that each could be right. Of course their story is riddled with inaccuracies as well seeing how they only see what they were trained to see. Seems impossible but consider that each of us has a VERY broad and complex behavior repertoire. Our complex behavior allows us to behave differently and distinctly in the different environments and contexts of different people. Sometimes the people we are, how we behave, overlaps. Sometimes they don’t.

SUMMARY

Great thinkers as well as the delusional philosophers, pontiffs, despots and princes and even the man and woman on the street have been reinforced for reporting their internal covert musings in subjective and fantasy terms focusing on the exhaust of the human thinking process – emotions and feelings. These 3 thousand years of focus has outdistanced the empirical study of thinking by overlooking histories of the individuals and the use of the least productive research methods NOT found in 17th century science! In the not-so-grand scale of things, it is more interesting for the lay person and the scientist alike to be enamored by the fantasy than by the environmental contingencies. We pay for that interest every day we live on this earth.

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Data once was a signature, a number on a driver’s license or even a newspaper subscription. Now it is much more but less of what you are used to accounting for. Digital information is today recorded by all manner of sensors you are not aware of and don’t see the consequences of. The new reality is data ‘Reality Mining’.

From phones, GPS units, RFID tags in office ID badges, texting, scans of your car through toll booths, credit card activity at ATMs, stores, gas stations, phone call tower identity, sensors are capturing your behavior in a digital form. Coupled with arguably suspect ‘secure’ anything digital including health information, income statements and Web surfing time, place and duration, the data organization and mining has birthed the emerging field of “collective intelligence”. Welcome.

All that digital information is going to servers and reformatted in data bases are as viral as anything you and a person with a lot of letters after their name can even imagine. And we are adolescents in this development.

A thick web refers to what our ubiquitous use of the web has brought us worldwide; data, tetra-terabytes of it daily. Collective intelligence practitioners acknowledge that their tools will create a sci-fi future on a level Big Brother on cocaine could not have dreamed of. In fact that is, the ‘thing’ about what is going on; we have no idea how we, our families, company, city, nation are going to be impacted as this approach to information finds every nook and cranny of everyone’s life. Stopping it is not an option.

Collective intelligence will make it possible, not probable, for insurance companies, employers, pharmaceutical companies to use data to covertly identify people with an identified gene, profile, affliction, etc., and deny them insurance coverage, employment or bank loans. They can also use it to snuff out an epidemic just as covertly. I wonder where the value of this will be positioned? The government through their budgeting selections can assist law enforcement agencies to identify opposition member’s behavior by tracking scanning, tracing public and private social networks (our old friend the Patriot Act has morphed while we worried about our 401K and “the wars”).

“Pernicious” means exceedingly harmful. Pernicious implies irreparable harm done through evil or insidious corrupting or undermining <the claim is that pornography has a pernicious effect on society>

Now, today, we have and are using the capability to assess a person’s behavior with reality mining of data and then interpret that profile without monitoring him or her directly, talking to him or her, or “knowing’ them. Does Kroger care if you are in a bad mood when you scan your value card? Is the East TX toll reader interested in your reasons for being there mid afternoon? Does Macy’s want you to buy only brand X and not brand Y at the same price? They all care about your behavior, not your feelings and emotions, and intentions and, and, and…

It is a mashup! People and organizations interacting with one another through multimedia digital means will never be less than it is today; it will always be more. Those interactions dynamically leave traces of that ‘behavior’. This allows scientists, the Mafia or over zealous investigative reporters, for example, and anyone with the technology access to the databases to study and learn about the behavior of those traced without the knowledge or consent of the people and groups being scanned. Techniques like that are thought to infringe on the individuals and groups being traced for commercial benefit of those that have that technology over the individuals, groups of individuals and commercial entities that don’t have that technology.

What’s more, if you or your group doesn’t want to be scanned, traced or digitally followed, you have little to say in the matter. Take the instance of “opting out” that’s put forth as a counter measure today for not being a target for spyware, spam and behavioral marketing… “Opting out” is another way some companies validate a cautious web user. For some it means that a different level of secrecy is needed for those that understand counter-control methods. If you want to be removed from lists you have the following troubles (WHICH ARE ALSO TRUE OF REALITY MINING AND COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE EFFORTS);

  1. You don’t know where your data is; multiple servers, entities, in the “cloud”
  2. Once in the web, your data is not a ‘thing’ it is a “byt-pat”, a partial byte sequence and a partial pattern
  3. You don’t know who owns it legally
  4. You can’t catch up to it and kill it
  5. Your intimidation by technology is being used against you
  6. You have no counter-control outside the boarders of your country
  7. Your hope is that it isn’t true of you and your data
  8. Arguments favoring scanning and autonomous tracing are wrapped in virtuous rationales

a. fighting disease: SARS, flu, etc

b. fighting terrorists: real and imagined

c. helping the sick and elderly

d. child safety: fear reduction

The reality of reality mining is that your data collected by all of these methods are like a thought you had last night when watching TV: you can’t get at it now, you can’t know exactly where it is located in your head, and once you get it back after going through some mental gymnastics it is not the same as it was when you first had it.

Every day privacy becomes more of a myth than it was even last weekend during the USC game when the water company could tell – they have the data – when the half time occurred due to a drop in the water levels in an eight minute period. We expect that the water will be there and it was. We expect that no one was watching but what “watching” means is changing. It is changing really fast and in ways no one at MIT, Bureau of the Budget and Management or the Justice Department can predict or control. The steaks for success are high. Kroger is working on it.

Are you ready for a wild ride on a roller coaster in the dark without handrails? That is what’s coming here.

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