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Posts Tagged ‘conditioning’

I wonder if I can break from the flow in this blog to posit a response on the CNN article

When any argument used results in the personification of the brain as an entity that ‘does’ things, the value of your verbal behavior to others gets minimalized. Brains are cellular matter that behave according to cellular chemistry and physics without any agency toward purpose, function, or order.”

Please don’t follow the crowd and use words as if they don’t matter. Furthermore, avoid the crowd’s focus on monocausality, absolutes and Newtonian cause and effect chain-link logic. You are involved with an organ that has roughly 100 billion neural cells with 10 million attachments to each one. Noodle that if you will! The number of permutations for what is going on in the brain as a billion fibers fire in and out of synchrony with other patterns is difficult to deal with. Using simplistic metaphors is what the crowd does. Metaphors may sound succinct but they reduce the reader’s ability to grasp the enormity of the problems involved in every aspect. Behavior::neural activity::genetics::the environment and their reciprocities are complex. The subject matter has a “wow” factor but it also has a history littered with charlatans, elixir salesman and worse. Don’t follow the crowd but instead, select the empirical path rather than the path of myth, magic and dualism.

No, these observations reported by CNN don’t abstract well.  They don’t do much but imply that a correlation is as good as a ‘cause.’ Pity. Correlations are the basis of fMRIs.

The brain doesn’t show that people fear being different. The brain shows patterns of firings that people with letters and research project numbers after their name interpret one way or another. You still have to listen and read and evaluate what they say, write and interpret.

  • How did the brain come to fire the way it did (in that area, at that amplitude, and pattern)?
  • What impact did neural plasticity have on the firings?
  • What do the fMRI readings represent?
  • Is the same firing pattern seen in Budapest or Pogo to that stimuli?
  • Is it true of Paraná tribe members and Malaysian sea nomads?

We are like others in groups or organizations because we are both reinforced and punished over time for our behavior in relation to their behavior. We recognize similarities (selectively) and as long as they don’t conflict with our other (selected) valued belief systems, we “relate” to that group. We diverge from social group convention for the same reasons. What is constant are the changes in the flow of what we value or what we relate to in those and other groups we attend to…which is also conditioned.

To show the degree that things are controlled by consequences, invite a Shiite to speak at your church mission group or invite a goyim to participate in the next Hasidic  law review. Watch the group behavior.  Of course these are extremes to show an effect.  But there are subtle abstractions as well… Bring your close friends, the ones who love you for who you are… to a Monster Truck Rally.   Social contingencies are powerful!  

That is one way to explain why some people are Green Bay Packer fans and some are Oakland Raider fans. Each sees things they value in their group and don’t value in the other’s group. Those ‘things’ are also conditioned by the contingencies the different fans were exposed to in the past.

How else does one explain being a Raider fan?

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I was going to title this “Not found @ 2009 Consumer Electronics Show…” but I’d get punished.

People invest in training for their education, work, entertainment and even lifestyles. The society as a whole invests billions in training and education for all its children and encourages more of it after high school. Collectively, corporations spend hundreds of billions of dollars on training of all levels; from simple tasks (MS Office) to the ultra complex (Billings fMRI certification). Training can be hands-on, case studies, role-play, webcasts, podcasts, virtual, instructor led, eLearning, Learning communities and even blog solutions groups. Then there is mentoring for individuals to complement sales training, technical training, service training, partner training and vendor training.

Professional athletic organizations spend billions of dollars globally each year to train not only the muscles of their athletes but the way they think about themselves, their competitors, and how to handle work-life balance issues that can be anything but normal. The ‘natural’ athletic ability of athletes like Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Paton Manning, Dana Torres, and Mario Williams comes at the price of eight+ hours of practice a day for years in order to be an over-night success. People watch super athletes perform a bevy of athletic feats and too frequently ascribe their behavior to a “natural ability” rather than to intense training in multiple areas that is required to do what they do. The US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, has classes for athletes on handling the media, food, injuries and anger. Organizations also spend millions more to learn new methods of training world class athletes for elite competition in every sport imaginable from both forms of football, baseball and basketball to lesser but intensely played X-games, tennis and ping pong.

All this time, all this money and all these people invest daily in what they can learn today that will take them to the next level tomorrow. They are all committed to acquiring whatever will improve performance, profit, presentation or information that will serve them in the pursuit of what each of them is organized to value.

However when any of these individuals, groups or organizations are presented with the learning and conditioning rules that apply to their training there is push back and denunciation conditioning. While even a grade school track coach knows how the Krebs cycle affects a ‘kick’ at the end of a 440, they know next to nothing of the methods of reinforcement and avoidance, chaining and fading, discrimination training or schedules effect those they train. Even the arguments against the use of conditioning and learning techniques as being relevant are learned using the very contingency management they deny is involved.

So, am I missing something? Did we all learn to read blogs by reflex? Was divination involved in finding the right partner to marry? Was it always their ‘motivation’ or was it due to a ‘calling’ he turned that MBA from University of Colorado into a creative design position for www.getgreen.com?

The value for us is that learning and conditioning is everywhere. It is harder to find a behavior that didn’t come about due to past consequences than it is to keep up with pop logic that eating chocolate is good for me or that purging is a disease. Please! The effects of learning and conditioning are everywhere; drug cartels, congressman, Joel Osteen, Rev. Wright, moms, brothers sisters and you too.

Maybe we ought to take the rules of learning seriously in order to understand the big stuff about what the heck is going on in the world. Then we can start on the tough stuff.

Find me a behavior that was acquired without conditioning and I’ll pay you money.

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Interesting:

I was recently asked why I used the term “emergent” in a statement on development in the central nervous system. I thought it the right word in fit, form and function but preceded to look it up in several references works to hone in on it best use. What I found was something a bit different.

I had hoped that it would be an idea or strategy that was being tested or tried to see if explained behavior of things unexplained but, not so.

An emergent concept is a slight variation on consensus reality. That is, something that has become commonly used or accepted as plausible. It is thus, something relatively new to the user or audience that has come to be increasingly accepted as truth or plausible. Consensus realities have worked so well for the species, haven’t they? Their continued use throughout society is everywhere:

Ford vs. Chevy

Democrat vs. Republican

Absolute vs. relative knowledge

Texas vs. Texas A&M

PC vs. Mac

East vs. West

Black vs. White

Christians vs. everyone

Muslims vs. everyone

…you get the idea…

Clearly, it may or may not have anything to do with data at all if the concept is absorbed for common use. Furthermore, if the emerged idea is not found to be useful [read: true], its continual use will be established and difficult to remove from the lexicon of use, e.g., ego, phrenology, inheritance of sports skills, etc.

All this makes emergent ideas and concepts the bare bones basis of mores or morals in that there is a ‘revealed’ component to what has emerged based upon some empirical evidence or, more commonly, anecdotal example for the believer or society as a whole. All those examples in the short list above have this in them.

Like analogies, they work because on some level – superficially at least, they explain how one small segment of the world works. Ultimately, using these concepts lead to what I refer to as ‘pooling’ where people come to hang out literally or intellectually with those with similar views – some the emergent view, some not. Ethologists also refer to this as ‘flocking’ or herding. On occasion, friends find it important to ‘help’ you see the light and reveal their clarity for you so as assist you in your understanding. You do it too. We all do. Now you know. Go back to work.

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On any given day in the US in 2008 an average of about 148,000 people will die. Yawn. As the population swells it will grow larger. Yawn. As the population struggles with food, water, disease, contamination and war, those numbers will fluctuate higher and higher. Yawn. For many of us the numbers are so staggering that they don’t matter: 1+ million dead this week. Hummmm

 

There are the wars. Yawn. The US Government stopped totaling the body count on each side toward the end of the Vietnam War. Bad press for politicians, I guess. For Afghanistan and Iraq – and wars to come – Iran, North Korea, etc., that policy is continued. Good thing too. It continues to get harder to tell who the ‘other side’ is.

 

There is the US auto accident problem (3500/mo). Yawn. The US smoking problem: (42000/mo). Yawn. The US cardiovascular disease problem: (120,000/mo). Yawn.

 

But wait! There is an unsafe rollercoaster in Orlando! An alligator eats a cocker spaniel near a receding swamp in Mississippi and, heavens forbid, say it isn’t so!…an asteroid will hit Earth in the next 24.4 thousand years! YIKES!

 

Did you hear that airplanes are not being inspected? Bridges are unsafe. Baby bottles are contaminated by the plastic being used and don’t even mention the Chinese-made ingredients in heparin, toys, air conditioning parts and auto break pads.

 

The examples above represent that paradox according to the statistical probabilities that have been kept for the last 52 years. Clearly many of the things that will kill us we don’t value as dangerous. Other things we fear have a miniscule chance of harming us.

 

You are 109 X more likely to be injured in a car wreck on the way to the airport than to be injured in the airplane if you don’t get bumped.

A few things lead to this distorted view of what we value as good and what isn’t good that we fear.

 

Fear is conditioned just like eating habits are conditioned. Fear is based on losing what we value. Fear is the ‘other’ half of ‘magical thinking’ that comes from not knowing how to evaluate relationships between what is real and what is not real.

 

There is a hierarchy to fear. Not everyone’s hierarchy is the same but a hierarchy exists both for what we value and what we fear. They are related.

 

Our set of fears reflects our values; we engage or focus on what we value. We value what we were trained to value in our home, country, school, street corner or office. We value children… Children trump adults, having resources trumps resource dependency, helplessness trumps risky business and things close to home trump an Austrian engineer’s bazaar behavior. Circumstances around losing those things that we have learned or been trained to value is part of [conditioned] fear.

 

As big as the numbers are above they represent someone else’s world. They are nothing new; they lack ‘spectacle’. That is also conditioned. You can hardly be focused on car accidents if that is the only way to get to a job that makes you the money that affords you the luxuries of life, family, etc. In time, you learn to adjust, accomidate, to level what you have to do to get what you want to get.

 

Many dangerous things get conditioned to ignore: cholesterol, nicotine, sugar, over-medication, cell phones on the freeway and drugs that take the ability away to attend to consequences. That list is only 0.00000000002 % of the total list you might have.

 

Here is what is known. You are human. Your were born and you will die. You are more complex than any other organism on Earth and you are conditioned to be who you are with the material you brought to the table when you were born. Actuarial numbers don’t matter to those alive or to those that are dead. They won’t protect you nor comfort those at your funeral.

 

You will live to be an average of 76 (male) or so years if you are white and 72 (male) or so years if you are black living in the US. Your numbers are smaller if you fit in any of the categories and are in denial. You live longer if you plan to live longer and don’t get hit by one of those driving while eating an ice cream cone while text messaging, etc.

 

Real time you can use this rule of thumb:

  1. figure out what you value
  2. question what you fear
  3. figure out the consequences for all your behavior
  4. determine who benefits from you doing or not doing something

 

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Well, are we all amused…? You know, things going your way, life better than it was a decade ago or at least a couple of birthdays ago…?

 

Today it’s…

  • The Pope
  • The Supremes (Court that is…)
  • Playoffs – pick your sport…
  • Market(s)
  • War(s)
  • Civil law changes
  • Constitutional law changes
  • Pollution outlook
  • Gangstatainment
  • Food shortages in developed countries
  • Creation of diseases to use pharma’s research results
  • Barrel of pain @ $115
  • Oh, and that political thing going on…makes a person bitter just watching

 

Nothing’s perfect of course so there are some things going well and others in or headed toward the big porcelain bowl.

 

Check out a February, 2008, U.S. government statistic that estimates that 77 million workers will leave the workforce in the next few years.   Most are members of the baby-boom generation.  I guess that makes them “Gen B” in modern marketing parlance.

 

Look to the left, look to the right, we’ll lose 6 to 10 % of the workforce by the time you all notice changes in your environment…as opposed to a written prediction that you find here.

 

The up-“and thinking about it” generations of workers will not be nearly large or skilled enough to replace those Gen B workers, figuratively or literally.  Technologies promise is being fulfilled but the billion days of experience encased in those that leave the workforce can’t fulfill the needs to use the technology that exists.  It’s impossible. 

 

So what we have here is a great potential for those that have a work ethic that they are able to promote to the highest bidder.  We also have a bunch of Peanut-like cartoon characters who want what they want which is not inline with what the workforce needs, the world needs or the mall needs.

 

Already we have a shortage of talented workers.  That means that there are skills gaps all over every industry, every sector of commerce and every level of employment.  Again, it is contextual.  If you have the juice to do the stuff that is needed, it is a VERY good thing for you as an individual contributor.  If you have a skateboard in the living room next to your direct connect Facebook profile or your iPod tree of accessories, you may find the coming years a challenge…assuming of course that you recognize challenges when you trip over them.

 

Amidst the impending shortage of workers and looming skills ‘black holes’, there is an increasing demand for results and continued pressure to improve the ‘bottom line’.  Now, there is not a big difference between the shareholder’s bottom line, the employer’s bottom line and your bottom line. As we are all finding out, we are all interconnected.  Not by some fuzzy, energy-laced icon, or a pillar of metaphorical musings or soft and romantic notions of nationality or piety but by relatedness in the absolute sense.  Screw up the aspirin formula in a lab in Malaysia and those in Germany and Mozambique get sicker, not better.

 

We are all related in numerous ways that we don’t attend to.  We do things and others do things and together we interact and do other things.  We are related by the context of what is around us.  What is around us is that which is going on in Bosnia and Boston, Denver and Dubai.  THAT context is the context that will never grow smaller, never become diluted and never disappear.

 

Today is always different than yesterday or tomorrow…[I know, heavy!]   But now, in this time period, we are more aware of things going on all around the world. With our greater access to everything we have greater potential for confusion when competing values must be confronted.

 

With workforce changes exerting their effects and economic complexities exerting theirs, it all leads to increased pressures on whatever we are doing.  The rapid pace of business, the demands of families and the need to have some ‘stakes’ in the ground in different areas of our life… all make for a world more competitively primitive like that from which we evolved millions of years ago than a world provided by a John Grisham or some contemporary historical romance author.    

 

So, here is the warning bell.  Take note… to overcome the losses from Gen B leaving and increase the probability of a single employee will be able to perform the work several employees have done in the past, there is going to be a wholesale changes in business performance software. Everything gets measured.  People are the ‘Business.’  Commerce uses what commerce needs.  Skill gaps identify contribution to cost.  Skills equate to value. 

 

All this will be confounded by little attention for “casual Fridays” or a need for a window office.  Gen-NEXT will be hired based on performance at every measureable level, get evaluated seamlessly, will perform where needed, get tracked to available tasks and get paid only for results rather than ‘work’. 

 

It’s already started.  There is less need to build robotics if you can get maximum production out of employees that need to feed their kin or code content.  There is a mushrooming interest in empirical learning and training that will come to dwarf philosophical and quasi-political niceties.  Get ready. 

 

Oh, and then we’ll need to figure out the other parts…those family relationship changes, social community interactions and the individual identity agony that is sure to follow. 

 

Hang on.

 

 

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Edge.com

Douglas Rushkoff
“Social Networks Are Like the Eye”
A Talk with Nicholas Christakis

I read with great interest – as usual – the Edge article by DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: “Social Networks are like the Eye” – A Talk with Nicholas Christakis.

Certainly no shortage of the point and counterpoint logic on anyone’s part. Rushkoff and Alda both working as part of several social networks themselves show a dismissive stance to marketing but are published in a most pristine record of ideas on the Internet where, despite their claims, they market their approaches. Good stuff for many but wait, what are they saying with all those not-so-grand illusions (‘living systems’ or subsystems of brain numbing metaphor piled on metaphor…) or mentalistic and romantic ideas of a ‘vis viva’ forces to establish value of their agendas over ‘others’ agendas.

YIKES! What’s going on?

Two things come out of all of this:

  1. Social networks are treated as a separate uber-case of behavior apart from other forms of behavior. It reminds me of how in the late 40’s and much of the 50’s the railroads treated themselves as an ‘industry’ rather than part of transportation.
  2. The metaphor is the medium. As such, they are contributing to the slow dilution of the very communication that they are so proud to expound on. Much of the article’s context is spent validating selected metaphors and not explaining how social networks work empirically.

Incased in the strategy being presented it was like I was being induced to look for a communication homunculus but instead was provided a drumming of the numbing anti-parsimonious meme concept of Dawkins. Raise you hand if ‘ideological components’ does wonders here in explaining social networks. Using a metaphor to support an analogy… to support another metaphor is hardly what Edge has built its reputation on.

“It’s the media shell that allows a media virus to spread through the mediaspace undetected, while it’s the memes inside that interpolate into our confused cultural code, forcing their replication.”

Doesn’t this sound a little like ‘vapor’ explanations that resurfaced in the 1850s from Aristotle’s ‘vapors’ theories as what was responsible for behavior? Aristotle and others that followed posited that there were ‘airs,’ just as there were different liquids and different solids that caused behavior. How are vapors that different than memes and metaphors that have nothing to do with people doing stuff?

To interrupt these authors, consider that social networks are based on interaction / access. No one cares about the brand of the camera, phone, or graininess of the content. For social networks to grow there needs to be content to access and the viewer needs to be able to respond. End of story. It defies predetermined categories of demographic gurus. Content gets acted on and in so doing lets the provider know what is of value. Hits and sends to others = important. No action = not important. Move on. Where are the virus – memes – biological systems metaphor required?

The question that begs to be answered is why are these metaphors necessary or used? Do they may provide some communication value leap-froging a more parsimonic or empirical resolution about social network etiology? For Edge it may come down to what was the objective of airing this set of monologues. While interesting, they are diversionary to understanding the subject matter in the title.

The world has more media options and combinations that move a message than ever before. Like reality TV it seems that every TV media exec has the secret and that one more reality show will be better than one less. As if each media exec has blinders on, they don’t get it that the form of media and the content carried live until the predictability and the exposure create habituation. This, along with competition for a viewer’s time, and things changing, variability occurs and gets selected and is the next big (valued) thing. Everyone gets to take credit for the next big thing because no one can show how to do it again. It is as old as game shows, westerns, crime soaps and variety shows.

Mr. Rushkoff asks “What is the cultural immune response related to MySpace or YouTube?” No one knows – which makes the talking heads cranky. But is there any question that there will be another episode change? Of course not. To use the idiom of the article, “if something has value, the code is picked up and carried, converted and re-sent via other shells elsewhere until its value has run its course to the end user.”

As content without a polarity, the media material exists in a vacuum and only becomes viral [and thus of ‘value] if it is attended to on the network… it was not ‘design specificity’ but the lack of specificity in the media channel that gives it value to network members.

Moving on, I was surprised at the vitriolic or at least pejorative tense of some of the assessment.

“Thus “viral marketing” was born. Meanwhile, visionaries interested in the possibilities for organismic awareness offered by mediated interconnectedness were lumped in with the fascists of earlier eras. Anything smacking of “meta-organism” reminded the intelligentsia of Hegel or, worse, Jung. Instead of looking — like scientists — at the incipient reorganization of civilization on a new dimensional level, they cringe like early readers of Le Bon’s The Crowd, incapable of seeing in collective organism anything but the tyranny of the masses.”

The nice thing about Edge.com is that it has an abundance of ‘intelligentsia’ all with identities that with little coxing evolve into priestly pontifications like that above scolding us for questioning the latest epoch of truth. In my experience, ‘scientists’ don’t need to yell. There data is what matters.

One last note on Ruchkoff’s primer on social networks; like artificial intelligence, Boolean logic and internet language code, there is a point where social networks will get absorbed into the fabric of life and the next generation of life without fanfare. We are observing an important yet fleeting data point that has meaning only if the data involved lead to other dynamic social activities. Ultimately none of this will be understood unless a less romantic strategy of study is applied to that behavior.

John H. Bryant

The Woodlands, TX USA

jbryant@CrossroadsAccess.com

4/4/08

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