To sum up: analysis of events, as conducted by professionals in places like CIA and the news media, has been theoretically confused and, on the evidence, a failure in practice. If we accept the world described by Watts, a new model of analysis must replace the old: one that is at once more modest and more adventurous. Modesty pertains to prediction and probability. We should give up the illusion that human events are like the orbit of Halley’s comet, and accept them as complex, historical, and brimming with group and individual intentions: understandable, if at all, from within their own internal logic, their narratives of themselves, their character. Adventure pertains to the nature of complex systems, which force the analyst to abandon tableaux vivant prophetic productions and become a rider on the open range of improbability, tracking the sources of change.
Analyzing events | the fifth wave.
A fascinating study [PDF] that will no-doubt stimulate discussion at your office’s next brainstorming session:
While people strongly endorse [a] positive view of creativity, scholars have long been puzzled by the finding that organizations, scientific institutions, and decisions-makers routinely reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as an important goal. Similarly, research documents that teachers dislike students who exhibit curiosity and creative thinking even though teachers acknowledge creativity as an important educational goal. …
[In our studies,] on one hand, participants in the baseline and uncertainty tolerance conditions demonstrated positive implicit associations with creativity relative to practicality. Additionally, 95% of participants in the high uncertainty and uncertainty intolerance conditions rated their explicit attitudes towards creativity as positive. … On the other hand, the implicit measure identified that participants in each high uncertainty condition associated words like “vomit,” “poison,” and “agony,” more so with creativity than practicality. Because there is such a strong social norm to endorse creativity and people also feel authentic positive attitudes towards creativity, people may be reluctant to admit that they do not want creativity.
Memory, or more precisely, forced forgetfulness, has been used as a weapon since ancient times. For example, the Pharos obliterated hieroglyphics extolling rival much like the Soviets airbrushed photographs featuring those who fell from favor. The 20th. Century might well have been the high-point of officially-sanctioned forgetting:
For example, think of Germany after Hitler, or Spain after Franco, or Greece after the colonels, or Argentina after the generals, or Chile after Pinochet: in all these cases, there had been a process of coerced forgetting during the dictatorships. And if, on the other hand, you think of some the distinguished writers of the second half of the twentieth century—Primo Levi or Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Nadezhda Mandelstam—the interesting thing about them is that they took up their pens in order to combat this process of coerced forgetting. As a result of this, I think that you could say that at the end of the twentieth century there was such a thing as an ethics of memory. Memory and remembrance had acquired the quality of an ethical value.
The practice of redefining memory is still alive and well in the new millenium, unfortunately. A couple of quote comes to mind: “History begins today,” Richard Armitage intoned on television on September 11. “The world began on 9/11,” Richard Perle later confirmed, as a chorus of neoconservative voices announced with evident relish the resumption of history.
Divine comedy, a truly great article from the UK’s Prospect magazine about Western culture’s preoccupation with the tragic at the expense of the comic. Unlike the ancient Greeks, who recognized that comedy was “the gods’ view of life,” subsequent writers have undervalued comedy’s at the expense of tragedy.
And then something astonishing happened: the invention of the novel privatised myth, because the novel, invented after Aristotle, did not have a holy book. The novelist was on his own. Sometimes he’s even a she. There were no rules. The chaos of carnival had found its form. The fool’s sermon could be published, could live on. All you learned from Rabelais or Cervantes was to mock everything sacred, all that went before. Including them.
The idea that ants are mindless drones just got a bit more complicated:
“Although self-organized systems appear very effective under the assumption that all individuals follow the same simple set of rules, the presence of key, well-informed individuals altering their behavior according to their prior experience might generally enhance performance even further,” wrote biologists from the University of Bristol and the University of Toulouse in an Aug. 24 Journal of Experimental Biology paper.
– Pioneering Ants Challenge Self-Organization Assumptions | Wired Science | Wired.com.
Memory– especially of traumatic events– is a notoriously tricky thing. Sometimes we hear about people suppressing violent or traumatic events, sometimes they relive them incessantly. Here’s a fascinating take from Scientific American on how we remember the horrific incident from a decade ago:
Memories of tragic public events have been of interest to researchers for years. Dubbed as “flashbulb memories” for their extraordinary vividness of detail and photographic recall, these emotionally charged memories are described as being “burned” into one’s mind. Knowing exactly where one was or what one was doing during the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Challenger disaster, or now, the September 11 attacks has become a quintessential phenomenon of the past few generations. In 1977, a pair of Harvard psychologists studied the reported memories of the JFK assassination. Participants had “an almost perceptual clarity” for recalling when they learned about the assassination and during the immediate aftermath, noting even trivial details with impressive accuracy. The researchers concluded that flashbulb memory is more detailed and accurate than memories of ordinary daily events. The defining characteristic of these types of emotionally charged, shared memories is that one’s confidence in their accuracy tends to be unshakable. But does that really make them more accurate?
From BBC News, a fascinating discussion of the dangers and prospects of the pervasive use of algorithms in everyday life:
Behind every smart web service is some even smarter web code. From the web retailers – calculating what books and films we might be interested in, to Facebook’s friend finding and image tagging services, to the search engines that guide us around the net.
Particularly disconcerting is the use of algorithms in financial markets, powering high-speed trading as well as in producing cultural products like movies and music.
An interesting article about the possibility of an abrupt paradigm-shifting change in the US political system. A pollster characterizes US public discontent as “pre-revolutionary:”
When considering Americans’ skepticism about the legitimacy of their government, it is appropriate to question whether a “black swan” political-event (like one of the above) is in the making. Deriving its name from the surprising discovery of the first black version of a swan in Australia (after millenniums of the Old World believing all swans to be white), a black swan event is one that most people consider highly improbable, that is often associated with and catalytic for major paradigm shifts in the course of history, and that people tend to make retrospective explanations for so as to hide (often for the sake of maintaining peace of mind) its outlier status.