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Archive for the ‘social science’ Category

When, in 1991, a list was drawn up by an assortment of heavy weight problem solvers to focus on important social and scientific topics receiving prominent play in media over the prior years.   Behavior, psychology nor its related sub fields were mentioned.

Other areas were listed… molecular biology, artificial intelligence, chaos theory, massive parallelism, neural nets, fractals, complex adaptive systems, superstrings, biodiversity, nanotechnology, the human genome, expert systems, punctuated equilibrium, cellular automata, fuzzy logic, space biospheres, the Gaia hypothesis, virtual reality, and cyberspace, to mention a significant few, but no psychology…  Other important disciplines besides psychology were also absent: 3D printed body parts, immunology, pluripotent stem cells, chemistry, epigenetics, climate change, internet of everything, etc.

Things have changed since 1991…

The world is rocking in a way not envisioned by Led Zeppelin or Van Halen.  The “rocking” I am referring to core changes that involve every aspect of our existence.  Over the last twenty-five years or so, all the rules, ideals, principles, and codes, etc., have been changing faster and faster and we now are experiencing the collective impact of those changes.

For many, that is a very good thing.

For the world, because all those rules, mores, traditions, ideals, values are ALL changing AND, all at the same time, it is more than an unsettling variation.  No, no one has acceptable ways to understand, predict, or control the changes, their paths, consequences or implications.

More than metaphorically, we have a world out of balance that is worse off that it might otherwise be if we collectively understood it was, indeed, out of whack. Most in the world doesn’t understand or they double down so they don’t have to deal with it.  Of course, they are clueless about how to deal with it.  Thus, entities keep digging in deeper to keep the old rules ’cause that has mostly how it worked in the past in times of uncertainty.  Hard to give up on making buggy whips when the horse carriages have gone away.

You can observe it everywhere. People, groups and agencies hanging on to the last vestiges of the past by their mental fingernails in efforts to hold on to what was once comforting. The carcasses of ideals, dichotomies, castes, simplistic explanations are hard to ignore.  But many keep trying to do just that. No one wants to say out loud in front of the lords of celebrity and the kings of political unions that the jobs of 1990 aren’t coming back (different ones are emerging but…), equality is available if one values it, aristocracy over citizens is weak, and Jacksonian statements from “The Lottery,” “we’ve always done it that way” are more impotent than ever.

Today, 2016, we want to understand ISIS, rulers of in Iran, North Korea, Washington, DC, teachers, parents, babies and ourselves.

A more objective objective is needed. An objective that is liberated enough to abandon the almost endless marginal disputes of quarrelsome mundane dogmas in order to affect the survival of everybody on the planet, all on the way to figuring out what the heck is going on. We might want to study behavior. We might be ready.

Unlike some smokestack disciplines still protecting ancient edifices or intellectual self-indulgence, the empirical study of behavior viewed as a horizontal set of endeavors has solutions rather than the regurgitations of irrelevant quackery.  This proposal is based on very pragmatic understanding that there is no time left to dally and psychology’s past has run out of runway to contribute to even the simplest solutions necessary to be of value to Earth.

Some think another and perhaps bigger gun, Lightsaber, a deity with new super powers, yoga schools, another pill, repression of the weird ones, stricter laws, election of a benevolent bully, or the return to fundamental values from another era would bring back order, old forms of rule, hierarchies and such.

Haven’t we heard all that before?  Hello…!

Who knows how to change behavior?

JHBryant – Lone Star College – Conroe, Texas

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 John H. Bryant – Lone Star College, Conroe, TX

“Is it time yet?” “Are we there yet?”

No, these are not questions of children eagerly waiting to leave on vacation or arrive at a valued destination. These are the questions for those who are wondering if we’ve spent enough time, effort, and money with pre-scientific jargon, agency, myth, and cha-cha to refocus on worn pseudo-science approaches.

So, “Is it time yet?”

When it comes to the mixed bag of psychology approaches, our current practices evolved more from philosophy and theology rather than chemistry and physics. Academic psychology (re: the study of behavior and mental processes) is not in isolation when it comes problems raised here, similar arguments hold for most of the social science disciplines. Yet if psychology is to be better understood and useful, more has to be done to communicate what is scientific about psychology rather than folk lore.

Now, according to some, psychology as a discipline has a “replication crisis” (The New York Times and elsewhere) that must be dealt with for the salvation of us all.

Perhaps it is time to examine some factors that make for a “replication crisis”. It’s likely that what sounds alarming is part of a continual reassessment that takes place regularly in sciences. However, now outside sources are asking for an accounting of why replications are so difficult in psychology.

There once was a time when things were based on dogma rather than data. When data came to be preferred over opinion and dogma, some thought that psychology would go in that direction. But, as it turns out, that position was a bit optimistic.

Some of the required changes to psychology’s approaches including math, chemistry, and cross-platform information methods that mirror established scientific approaches haven’t found much traction. And, rather than get immersed in more scientific pursuits, psychology’s focus remained non-science oriented contexts and continued to depend on private narratives, mental models and ‘thought experiments’ from non-scientific pursuits that were the genesis of much of psychology.

George E. P. Box

“Since all models are wrong, the scientist cannot obtain a “correct” model by excessive elaboration. On the contrary, following William of Occam, he should seek an economical description of natural phenomena. Just as the ability to devise simple but evocative models is the signature of the great scientist, so over-elaboration and over-parameterization is often the mark of mediocrity.”

• Science and Statistics (1976) p. 792

Three major issues are relevant to the large historical comfort zone that promoted speculation, storytelling, and philosophizing not readily amenable to the disciplines of science.

Agency

Rather than measure behavior at all levels (social to biochemistry, for example) to discover what was going on in contextual sets, psychologists continued to continue to hypothesize an array of internal entities which cause behavior. Collectively, these are called “agency” and make up, self, personality, possession, mind, needs, drives, motives, and so on. Because each agent eventually fell short of the requirements to explain behavior, the notion of agency required additional theories and hypothesized more intervening variables, hypothetical constructs and new sets of agents. These processes came to create subfields within psychology which frequently submerged the original question that started the conversation of why organisms do what they do.

Reification

Reification generally refers to making something real, bringing something into being, or making something concrete when it is a concept or idea. Concepts and agency terms filled a void over the ignorance about behavior. Thus, if the populace repeatedly used a concept to explain or describe behavior, right or wrong, the concept frequently morphed into subsequent communication at the level of reification.

Psychologists came to lead the way in doing what scientific disciplines (mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology and genetics) discontinued doing a century ago; using inference to assign causes. The evolution of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has provided a mushrooming array of mentalism geography, and agile agent gymnastics in internal workings of Homo sapiens in an effort to assign, align, and categorize “casual” attributes of behavior. As the size and scope of the DMS has grown, one might conclude that everyone has a ‘mental’ disorder. While this helps maintain a level of path dependency within psychology to its past, lack of correspondence just as often conflates any utility those terms, metaphors, and simalies provide.

Measurement Scales

Doing science is hard, agnostic, and unapologetic. As disciplines, social sciences treat information from the different scales (below) as if they were all the same. They are not.  For some, technology has offered opportunity to empirically measure more and assess the results more accurately rather than assign labels arbitrarily. With methods based on science rather than received wisdom from anthologies and vignettes, it can be argued that psychology could move in a more scientific direction. Changes don’t come easy. Changes in the direction toward a scientific understanding for psychology won’t come easy as long as nominal labeling and ordinal counting grows faster than the experimental work required can yield reliable results. A “good story” with pseudo-scientific terms will win almost every time. Creating a larger lexicon of untestable hypothesis and jargon in the absence of solutions has had a good run.

Are we there yet?

There have been a few excursions to move toward empirical assessments and away from naming conventions in psychology, yet teleological and ontological explanations and “extrapolation beyond the data” remain as the currency of much of psychology and its proliferation of subfields.

These are substantial issues. Changes are processional. Some will take the challenge and entertain changes. Others will not. Each will have to show value if it is to reach the formal analysis that typically accompanies a ‘scientific’ endeavor. Each option includes steps that must be added to the discipline if embracing the standards of science is their objective. An equally daunting set of steps must be expunged from current practices if scientific research produced is to be reproducible, reliable, and relevant to the substantial number of issues that psychology is framed to address

For psychology and similar disciplines, every time the going gets tough requiring genetics, mathematics, neurochemistry, and the knowledge of the methods those disciplines use, psychology and the other social sciences crawl back to philosophical narratives and mental gymnastics.

It may appear to show understanding when someone posits that such and such are the ‘causes’ of such and such. However, when the “causes” are encased in made-up abstractions, non-observable internal body states, inside the neuron, inside the chemistry, etc., (you get the idea) the scaffolding of abstraction grow out of control rapidly. It all is really not ‘understanding’ or ‘explanation’. It is dogma.

Psychology has taken these strategies of the untestable to explain the unobservable as its very domain of expertise. Such talk, writings, lectures, that cannot be tested, monitored or independently verified come in as welcome guests but never leave. They have no anchors to anything and thusly the value of the information morphs when the data is interpreted with empirical tools. It’s easy, especially when whatever modulates the dependent variables is unknown to the lecturer, writer, observer or psychobiologist.

Only when the methods used in psychology begins to depend more on measurable content rather than pre-scientific or hypothetical concepts, agency, or reification, they will find greater amounts of correspondence with what is actually happening in nature. Of course, that isn’t the entire solution, but will have benefited their disciplines on the way to understanding current problems on the way to solutions as well as foundations for more complex behavioral properties like emergence, convergence.

There are no shortcuts. As a discipline, psychology can’t wear the science badge if it doesn’t self-correct when there is no link between what is hypothesized and what is actually going on in the world. Making conjectures without testable options is still philosophy.

“A new scientific ‘truth’ does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Max Planck, a Nobel laureate physicist

Yes, it is time consuming and a very inefficient set of contingencies. Yet, as long as those who are doing “psychological” research mix hypothetical internal agencies with hypothetical attributes and then interpret mixtures of data from different scales as equal, there will be a systemic lack of replication, accuracy and relevance to what psychology has to offer.

So now the initial questions remain to be answered:         “Is it time yet?”           “Are we there yet?

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The idea of control is absurd, guns or not.   The world is far too complicated to predict events, system behaviors, or whether even your email will send when you hit the send button.  Prediction is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of control.  And when we say “gun control” we believe we can predict who would be a responsible user of a gun and who wouldn’t.   We believe with the proper equipment features we can control what happens when a user pulls the trigger or that it’s actually the user who owns the gun… and so on.  It’s literally all based on an absurd premise.

Guns in the Game of Life

Guns in the Game of Life

And yet, control is exactly the fallacy of our political and social systems.  Guns and other tools of destruction provide the operator the illusion of control.  Lightweight, homage regulating laws provide the population the illusion of control.  These illusions really just mask the chaos of a contingent world.  Any distressed person operates under highly conflicting contingencies or has lost the ability to recognize contingencies (of behavior and consequence).   In fact, this happens to all of us all of the time.  We live under near constant confirmation and related behavioral (cognitive biases) as a result of our limited perceptive systems and neural componentry (and often sick and broken bodies).   Our system constantly pattern recognizes incorrectly (we think God helps us score touchdowns….).  These incomplete interpretations of the contingencies of the world become especially problematic in a stressed and distressed situation.   (I’ll skip a deep discussion of behavioral, physical and chemical science and just lump all of it in an idea that we are all systems ecologically looking for homeostasis/equilibrium.)

When contingencies conflict or get very confused and the environment is primed properly disaster is more likely to occur.  Priming includes a cultural dimension, accessibility of destructive tools, lack of obstacles to act, etc.   Combined with stress, illness, and chemicals (drugs/booze/etc) in a person and a more combustible situation emerges – this is the nature of probability and complexity.

Proponents of guns and various “let’s all pack heat” strategies suffer from the same delusions of control as perpetrators of mass killings and gun murders.  The world is not fundamentally controllable – in situations with guns and situations without guns.  Every person and system is a collection of contingencies – the collective probabilities of circumstance and events.   For instance, at Christmas time if you have hot colored lights plugged in, faulty electric outlets and dead, dry pine trees in your living room you have increased the chance of burning your house down.   I assure you there are lower probability of raging fire decorations you can display in your home.

The key to dealing with our uncontrollable world isn’t pretending control exists.   We either increase or reduce probabilities of events by changing ourselves and/or the environment.   Changing the contingencies is non-trivial and multifaceted.   One key is to not put too many degrees of freedom between an act and the experience of the consequences of that act.  This is a subtle but very important point.   Many studies show humans are not good at anticipating delayed consequences – delay in time and in-directness (associations) of consequences.  This truth is at the heart of addition formation, financial debt, wars, education and literacy, and so on.  You can do your own study on this truth by reminding yourself of your last Vegas trip, checking your alerts for all those idiot Candy Crush notifications from your “friends,” looking at your credit car bills or reviewing your local church (and bible!) for policies on tithing and confession and promises of heaven and hell.

Guns are so easy (very few contingencies) to obtain and use (poorly) that there is almost NO PERCEIVABLE IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCE to gun ownership relative to THE DELAYED ULTIMATE CONSEQUENCE of gun usage.  Pulling a trigger is such a simple act…. even gun makers and the NRA know this.  It’s why they attempt to stratify guns into level of effort to use: manual, semi-automatic, automatic and so on.   The delay in round expulsion is built on the idea that if you add more work for the user the less they can kill and the more time it takes to load and fire rounds the more the prey and other contingent circumstances can adjust in response.  This is all highly consistent logic and observable phenomena.

Most systems, including individual people, operate on a strategy of efficiency AKA the path of least resistance.   We resolve our stresses efficiently (according to our own weird histories/abilities).   When guns are easy to get then that’s an outlet we go with (replace guns with drugs, TV, gambling, sex, food, yoga, etc).   We know this truth.   We’ve used it forever… Grocery stores get ya every time with this.   And so does the government.  Some things it makes hard to do or get (more contingent): health care, food stamps, driver’s licenses, info on NSA programs.   Somethings it makes easy (less contingent): paying your taxes (do it online!  send cash!), getting parking tickets, buying lottery tickets, campaign donating!

Never underestimate the power of laziness! (capitalism and governments/kings and religion don’t!)

If people generally didn’t operate this way voter turn out would be 100%, education rates would be off the charts and no one would ever buy a lottery ticket or use a slot machine again (well at least they might pull the handle instead of auto spinning).

I firmly believe in the complete disarmament and aggressive buy back and destruction of all arms – civilian and otherwise. For this country and all of them.   I believe in trying to get the probability of widespread carnage and unintended consequences as low as possible.   While compromise is inevitable my position is not one of compromise.

If you’re for guns or even a gun apologist you really just don’t trust the world and believe in control and want to maintain what you perceive as a competitive advantage to the unarmed or the less well armed.   Perhaps it is a competitive advantage, local to you.   System wide you’re increasing the chance of unintended disasters and you’re partially complicit more or less in the continuing violence against kids and students.   You are also probably ok with it or don’t believe it because the consequences of your slight increase in probability of someone else’s disaster don’t register in your pattern recognizer.

p.s.

As I said earlier… lowering the probability of gun violence takes more than gun laws.  It takes education, first and foremost.  And it takes economic opportunity, better health care, jobs, love, and everything in between.  I chose to be complicit in increasing those things at the expense of my right to bear arms.   We’re all just a small piece of a contingent and uncontrollable world and I’d rather stand in perspective and connection with people rather than behind armor, triple locked doors and concealed weaponry.

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I found the third essay in IMPASSES to be a ramble of mashed up of cited works that largely relies on hyperbolic semantics to make a point.  What the point really is I’m unable to decipher other than some vague notion of not being controlled by “society.”   Some passages that illustrate what I’m referring to above:

“One of the unifying factors between us all is that we have been socialized into capitalism, by capital. Our minds have been colonized in a way where all all of our social relations are imbued with the nature of capital.” page 51

“The world we inhabit prizes the future in such a way that one’s present self is always going to be subjected to its ability to create the future-child and the future-capital.” page 52

“The Shoah was only able to occur because people were classed as Jewish. We must reject these identities if we are to make the leap towards now-time, the revolutionary process of transformation.” page 64

Some of the more basic problems I’m having with this essay is that it fails to lay out operating definitions of the considerable amount of terminology is uses.   And from there the essay goes on to make grandiose claims like the first statement above.   There’s no falsifiable evidence offer that all of us have been “socialized” into capitalism.   I don’t know what it means to have my mind colonized or what “the nature of capital” actually is.

One central idea of the essay is that of “identity” and that often the “identities” labeled on any of us can be restrictive or oppressive.  While this point certainly can be said much more directly than the essay puts it I can agree with the basic premise.  We, on the whole, do categorize and label the world to create efficient ways to communicate.  We group people by their ethnicity or group like objects into a category so we can reference them without having to spell out in gross detail all that we might reference.   This likely springs from the very way in which our nervous system pattern recognizes.   It can be very efficient for managing our experience of the world i.e. makes it faster to decide what’s a threat and what isn’t.   In it’s efficiency it can also be fatally wrong i.e. all red berries are yummy! can often lead to eating a poisoned berry.

The violence referenced isn’t that of military resistance or physical force.  The violence discussed I would more simply just call awareness and learning.   I agree that the best sort of resistance against inaccurate and potentially threatening “identities” (aka labels) is through helping people be more aware of the considerable nuance to life, starting with oneself.   I completely disagree with one strategy cited in the essay that one way to deal with not wanting to be labeled is simply refusing to have a future (don’t have kids, etc).   No, I’m not making a case to have kids, what I’m saying is that there’s no need to resort to a fatalistic solution to eliminate labels and have a more nuanced identity.   Reading, paying attention, engaging others generally gets the job done.

By the end of the essay we get to a sentence of the concluding paragraph:

“But anarchist violence renders theory, navel-gazing and reasoned conversation obsolete.”

WAT?!   what does this even mean?   and no where is actually given any evidence of truth.  In the preceding paragraphs of that statement there’s discussion of “a transformative force of experience through action”  and all “that remains is the experience of resisting.”  To which I guess simply the act of resisting anything is the point?  the way towards not having an identity forced upon oneself?

Beyond the nonsense, literally nonsensical, statements one will never escape some amount of label making.  The author of the essay starts by labeling the world as Us and Capitalist, etc.   I cannot take the point of eliminating labels too seriously by an author that uses too many “ism” words.

Like previous essays there are questions presented at the end of which i can only respond to the question I understand, that is question 2:

One critique of the language you, like Camatte, use, is that it tends to substantialize capital.  Marx worked hard to define capital as a social relation, but we end up talking about it as though it were a thing, or some kind of subject.  Do you agree that some of your language substantializes capital? Do you think this might be a component of the absoluteness with which you describe it, and thus of the extremity of your response to a world so described?

I think the question asker is correct in that the author of the essay treats capitalism as a thing unto itself.  My point above is basically that! for an author that’s trying hard to reject inaccurate labels the use of “capital” conceptually the way the author does violates that idea.  We all know the word “capital” has strong connotations.  So it would be much preferred for clarity for the author to spell out exactly what behaviors we’re attempting to change instead of simply rejecting “capitalism.”

I myself do not think it’s a sound strategy for a society that wishes to sustain itself to deplete important resources simply in pursuit of financial gain.  Sustainable living is a very nuanced activity that indeed does require much deeper awareness and exploratory strategies than I think our society at large is engaged in.   We are far too focused on amassing money – the hoarding of future potential –  instead of not destroying natural resources, providing each other essential health care, participating in education and so on.   That is, we amass money at the expense of doing life giving things that do not require it!

I would LOVE for the author to get into the discussion of actual strategies instead of ranting with extreme language against vague notions of oppression.

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As learners, Skinner said, “we are automatically reinforced when we successfully control the physical world (ibid:75).” Teaching implies the identification of desired outcomes and precise planning of strategies for facilitating “the arrangement of contingencies of reinforcement which expedite learning (Skinner,1959:15).” The educator prepares the students for situations not yet risen by bringing discriminant operants under the control of stimuli expected to occur in those situations. The child is forewarned and forearmed with powerful tools for controlling nature, the very exercise of which provides reinforcement. Because of this, the natural payoffs inherent in the subject matter are the teacher’s chief allies (Hutcheon,1996:413). Skinner maintained that educators who recommend external means of motivating learning have got it all wrong, noting that “the sheer control of nature itself is reinforcing (Skinner, 1959:102).” As he reminded us, “The motives in education are the motives of all human behavior … We appeal to that drive to control the environment that makes a baby continue to crumple a noisy paper and the scientist to continue to press forward with his predictive analysis of nature (Skinner, 1948:124).”

from a very nice paper on Piaget and Skinner.

All living things learn in response to their environments.   And living things are part of the environment.  All living things relate to their environments, even when in the same environments as other living things, uniquely.   All living things have enough genetic difference, even when in the same species and born in the same “family”, to have unique responses (developmental and learning) to the world around them.

This is a very simple set up and yet has enough power to cover the bulk of how we all learn.     When thinking about what approaches to educating children are more or less effective I evaluate how seriously an approach considers these basic principles.  Every environment is a learning environment – it’s a matter of figuring out, and this is complicated, what is learnable in that environment.   Each person, even a young child, is a complex mix of genetics, epigenetics and environmental history.   Some environments build on this concept and others resist it.

So what is an ideal environment?   What is the best “classroom” for a child to learn?

First, it’s important to figure out what it is we want a child to learn.   And, of course, this is no easy question.   Broadly the goal of any “education” (in the formal school sense) is to provide strategies for survival (and thriving).*   Effective strategies for survival is by no means a fixed target.   As long as the world changes so will the strategies that best ensure survival.  So in some sense what we want a child to learn isn’t one particular strategy but a way to derive strategies in response to a changing environment.   We could call that critical thinking, synthesis, and problem solving.   In short, we want children to learn how to learn – to be more aware of the world around them, to be able to process information efficiently and effectively and to manipulate the environment as needed.

Is anything else needed to be taught?   No, not strictly.  There’s no need to preach a particular curriculum as fundamental.  Yes for certain paths in life and in our culture knowing a particular skill or piece of information could be beneficial.   If mathematicians make more money than other professions and making more money provides better means for survival then it is likely a child taught mathematics should survive and thrive.   That is, as long as the child finds mathematics interesting and so forth enough to actually pursue it and develop enough skill.   Even in that example one can get to the point of survival without assuming a priori that there’s intrinsic, universal value to mathematics.   Everything worth knowing is in relation to the person knowing it and their relation to their changing environment.   The essential learning necessary for a person s being able to evaluate quickly enough to matter whether a strategy is effective or not.  The strategies themselves should be viewed as experiments – behavior-response experiences to see what is worth doing and knowing.

Based on this the ideal environment is not a singular environment.  it’s not a classroom, it’s not a gym, it’s not lecture hall, it’s not a playroom.   The ideal environmentare different for everyone.   Some children do very well in a traditional classroom, others do not.  Some prefer being alone, others in nature  and so on and on.   Just as discussed in the what is worth learning, environment staging should be viewed as an experiment – contexts to see what reinforces successful strategies for survival.

Combine strategy testing and environment building and exploration and you get the whole equation of education.   For certain children maintaining a steady environment that induces effective exploration of strategies might be best.   For other children varying environments may be the key to the building up of strategies.

The goal of education can be refined from above as: increase the repertoire of behavior** in order to identify and execute strategies to survive and thrive. 

This probably sounds horribly inefficient.  Is possible to educate a family, village, country, and world of children on a completely individual basis?   Yes!  That’s exactly what happens anyway.   It is LESS efficient to make the assumption that this isn’t what is actually happening and so to be unaware how everyone responds differently.   To use the same textbooks, same computer programs, same schedule for everyone makes an assumption that it’s “optimal enough” for any given child.   Who knows what potentially incredible strategies are going unexplored.

The world has now developed a sufficiently robust set of tools to uniquely educate, without compromise, every child.   Tablets and laptops can be obtained for less than $100, be connected to a free wifi at libraries and other community zones, and provided access to millions of free books, free websites, free Ivy League virtual classrooms.  Obviously, there is more to it than a computer and the Internet.   More and more networks of volunteer organizations, sports, after school programs, book clubs, excited artists, professional musicians are available for almost anyone (in the US) to join/connect with/create.   With the social network inter-connectivity of the world with more than a billion people connected, likely by less than 6 degrees of separation, identifying communities to join, people to talk to, and new environments to join has become much more possible.

I’m not suggesting that everything is perfect and that education has been solved!  Quite the contrary.  The space of possibilities is now MUCH greater than it ever has been.   It’s not even more vital to explore this space of educational possibilities in search of better and better strategies.   There’s no right or wrong way to go about this.   There’s more or less effective strategies for you and your children.  And there’s an infinite number of strategies possible and we all have finite energy/resources/means.

I suppose if I had to conclude or provide some closure on my point here it’s that the ideal education is really whatever works for you.  And what “works” is a complicated mix of means and goals and values.   There are so many options available and yet to be created and that seems to me to be a great thing. Ideal really.

*It’s relatively straight forward to assume that’s the goal of almost any education, formal or not.  Though would could say in certain situations we are trying to teach someone to suffer and die, such as in the case of prison

**repertoire of behavior doesn’t imply a broad set of behaviors, it could be the case that become a master in a particular skill set becomes a necessary strategy.  That is, experts often demonstrate a very wide and deep set of strategies/abilities within a given discipline.

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In Defense of The Question Is The Thing

I’ve oft been accused of being all vision with little to no practical finishing capability. That is, people see me as a philosopher not a doer. Perhaps a defense of myself and philosophy/approach isn’t necessary and the world is fine to have tacticians and philosophers and no one is very much put off by this.

I am not satisfied. The usual notion of doing and what is done and what constitutes application is misguided and misunderstood.

The universe is determined yet unpredictable (see complexity theory, cellular automota). Everything that happens and is has anticedents (see behaviorism, computation, physics). Initiatial conditions have dramatic effect on system behavior over time (see chaos theory). These three statements are roughly equivalent or at least very tightly related. And they form the basis of my defense of what it means to do.

“Now I’m not antiperformance, but I find it very precarious for a culture only to be able to measure performance and never be able to credit the questions themselves.” – Robert Irwin, page 90, seeing is forgetting the name of thing one sees

The Question Is The Thing! And by The Question that means the context or the situation or the environment or the purpose. and I don’t mean The Question or purpose as assigned by some absolute authority agent. It is the sense of a particular or relevative instance we consider a question. What is the question at hand?

Identifying and really asking the question at hand drives the activity to and fro. To do is to ask. The very act of seriously asking a question delivers the do, the completion. So what people mistake in me as “vision” is really an insatiable curiousity and need to ask the right question. To do without the question is nothing, it’s directionless motion and random walk. To seriously ask a question every detail of the context is important. To begin answering the question requires the environment to be staged and the materials provided for answers to emerge.

There is no real completion without a constant re-asking of the question. Does this answer the question? Did that answer the question?

So bring it to something a lot of people associate me with: web and software development. In the traditional sense I haven’t written a tremendous amount of code myself. Sure I’ve shipped lots of pet projects, chunks of enterprise systems, scripts here and there, and the occassional well crafted app and large scale system. There’s a view though that unless you wrote every line of code or contributed some brilliant algorithm line for line, you haven’t done anything. The fact is there’s a ton of code written every day on this planet and very little of it would i consider “doing something”. Most of it lacks a question, it’s not asking a question, a real, big, juicy, ambitious question.

Asking the question in software development requires setting the entire environment up to answer it. Literally the configuration of programmer desks, designer tools, lighting, communication cadence, resources, mixing styles and on and on. I do by asking the question and configuring the environment. The act of shipping software takes care of itself if the right question is seriously asked within an environment that let’s answers emerge.

Great questions tend to take the shape of How Does This Really Change the World for the User? What new capability does this give the world? How does this extend the ability of a user to X? What is the user trying to do in the world?

Great environments to birth answers are varied and don’t stay static. The tools, the materials all need to change per the unique nature of the question.

Often the question begs us to create less. Write less code. Tear code out. Leave things alone. Let time pass. Write documentation. Do anything but add more stuff that stuffs the answers further back.

The question and emergent answers aren’t timeless or stuck in time. The context changes the question or shape of the question may change.

Is this to say I’m anti shipping (or anti performance as Irwin put it)? No. Lets put it this way we move too much and ask too little and actual don’t change the world that much. Do the least amount to affect the most is more of what I think is the approach.

The question is The Thing much more than thing that results from work. The question has all the power. It starts and ends there.

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I got into the car with Justin Bieber pouring is saccharine platitudes out of my speakers. It made me wonder are we some freakish society that bears children, trains them to train themselves to be pop stars and then sucks on that til it’s not so sweet and then spits it out. Rinse. Repeat.

Or have there always been such societies where the popular ideas are so easy to ride to fame and fortune? And the popular ideas so unfulfilling the only thing we can do is take more hits?

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