December 30, 2008

The Ascent of Man - Jacob Bronowski

The Ascent of Man - Jacob Bronowski.

A very insightful book - highly recommend.

Chapter 1 - Lower than the Angels.

It is almost certain that man first evolved in Africa near the equator (stretches from Northern Kenya and south West Ethiopia near Lake Rudolf).

2 million years ago, the first certain ancestor of man walked with a foot, which is almost indistinguishable from the foot of modern man. Same mentioned in Darwin's 'Descent of man' published in 1871.

For human head is foramen magnum is upright.- the hole is in the skull that the spinal chord comes up through to the brain. For monkeys and apes, the head hangs forward from the spine and does not upright on top of it.

2 million years ago, Australopithecus made rudimentary stone tools where a simple blow has put an edge on the pebble, and for the next one million years, man in his further evolution did not change the tool.

The master invention - fire - was used back in 400,000 years. Man survived the Ice age, by invention of all - Fire.

Change in diet - from vegetarian to omnivorous - is important in a changing species over a time as long as 50million years. The consequence for the evolution of man was far reaching; he had more time free and could spend it more indirect ways to get food from sources (large animal).

Art and science are both uniquely human actions, outside the range of anything that an animal can do. There are many gifts that are unique to man; but at the centre of them all, the root from which all knowledge grows, lies the ability to draw conclusions from what we see to what we do not see, to move our minds through space and time and to recognize ourselves in the past on the steps to present. All over these caves the print of the hand says: " This is my mark. This is man.'

Chapter 2 - The harvest of the Seasons.

It is extraordinary to think that only in the last 12K years has civilization, as we understand it, taken off. It was the end of Ice age. That moved to agricultural revolution. (The beginning of agriculture world started in Middle East - Tigris and Euphrates - a famous city is Jericho - By BC 6000, Jericho was a large agricultural settlement- as mentioned in the Bible).

With that there comes an equally powerful social revolution - From nomad to villager.

J.B (author) believes civilization rest on that decision. During the nomad life, there is no room for innovation because there is not time on the move, between evening and morning, coming and going all their lives to develop a new device or a new thought - not even a new tune. The only habits that survive are the old habits. The only ambition of the son is to be like the father. The Bible was not written down until perhaps 700 BC; that is the account is about 2600 years old as a written record.

Bible is a curious history, part folklore and part record. History is , of course written by victors and Israelis, when they burst through here, became carriers of history. The Bible is their story: the history of a people who had to stop being nomad and pastoral and had to become an agricultural tribe.

The richness comes from the interplay of inventions; a culture is a multiplier of ideas, in which each new device quickness and enlarges the power of the rest.

The most powerful invention in all agriculture is, of course the plough. Archimedes explained the theory of level to the Greeks: 'Give me a lever and I will feed the earth".

Then comes the wheel, which becomes a model for all motions of rotation, a norm of explanation and a heavenly symbol of more than human powering science and in art like.

J.B says, the importance of horses in European history has always been underrated. The Greeks when they saw the Scythian riders believed the horse and the rider to be one; that is how they invented the legend of centaur. Mounting the horse was a more than human gesture, the symbolic act of dominance over the total creation. We know that this is so from the awe and fear that the horse created again in historical times, when the mounted Spaniards overwhelmed the armies of Peru in 1532.

The power of horses is comparable with the arrival of tanks in Poland in 1939, sweeping all before them. In a sense horse, as a nomad activity, created warfare. That is what Huns brought, that is what the Phrygians brought, that is what finally the Mongols brought and brought to climax under Genghis Khan much later.

It was the horse that gave the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan the power and the organization to conquer China and Muslim states and to reach the gates of central Europe.

War is not a human instinct. It is a highly planned and co-operative form of theft. And that form of theft began 10,000 years ago when the harvesters of wheat accumulated a surplus, and nomads rose out of the desert to rob them of what they themselves could not provide. That is the beginning of war.

Genghis Khan and his Mongol dynasty brought that thieving way of life into our own millennium. From AD1200 to AD 1300, they made almost the last attempt to establish the supremacy of the robber who produces nothing and who in his feckless way, comes to take from the peasant (who has nowhere to flee) the surplus that agriculture accumulates.

In the end there was nothing for the Mongols to do except themselves to adopt the way of life of the people they had conquered and they became settlers. The fact is that agriculture and the settled way of life were established steps now in the ascent of man and had to set a new level for form of human harmony which was to bear fruit into the far future; the organization of the city.

Chapter 3 - The Grain in the stone.

The earth has existed for more than 4million years; through all this time it has been shaped and changed by 3 factors - the hidden forces within the earth and on the surface, the erosion of snow and rain and storm, of stream and ocean of sun and wind have carves out a natural architecture.

Man came to America from Asia to America not later than 10K years ago and not earlier than 30K years ago. There is blood group anywhere in America as there is in most part fo the world.

Romans always made the arch as a semicircle. The circle remained the basis of the arch still when it went into mass-production in Arab countries. A structural innovation to break the limitation of the Roman arch did come, probably from outside Europe and arrived almost by stealth at first. The invention is a new form of the arch based not on circle, but on the oval, Its effect on the architecture is spectacular. This Gothic arch makes it possible to hold the space in a new way. The load taken off from the walls, which can therefore be pierced with glass and the total effect5, is to hang the building like a cage from the arched roof. The inside of the building is open because Skelton is outside.

A popular cliché in philosophy says that science is pure analysis or reductionism, like taking the rainbow to pieces and art is pure synthesis, putting the rainbow together.

The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and having done it well; he loves to do it better.

Chapter 4 - The Hidden Structure

Sculpted gold salt-cellar, Bevenuto Cellini, 16th-century figures, made for King Francis I. Cellini recalled what his French patron said of it: "This is a 100 times more heavenly than I would ever have thought! What a marvel the man is!"

The ability of gold to resist what was called decay was singular and hence valuable. No acid or alkali known to those times would attack it.

Syphilis raged round Europe in 1500 and had not been known before, the new scourge syphilis. To this day, we do not know where syphilis came from. It may come from Columbus's ship or from the east with the Mongol conquests or it may simply not have been recognized before as a separate disease.

The cure for it turned out to depends on the use of the most powerful alchemical metal mercury. Paracelsus who made that cure work is a landmark in the change from the old alchemy to the new on the way towards modern chemistry.

A great change was blowing up in Europe, greater perhaps. Even than the religious and political upheaval that martin Luther had set going. In 1543, 3 books were published that changed the mind of Europe. The anatomical drawings of Andreas Vesalius, the first translation of the Greek mathematics and physics of Archimedes, and the book by Nicolaus Copernicus (distinguished churchman and a humanist intellectual from Poland born in 1473), The revolution of the heavenly orbs which put the sun at the center of the haven and the created what is now called the scientific revolution.

Joseph Priestly explained the nature of fire and took chemistry forward out of middle ages. Thomas Jefferson became president, he told Joseph Priestly," yours is one of the few lives precious to mankind'.

Ascent of man is not made by lovable people. It is made by people who have two qualities; an immense integrity and at least a little genius.

Chapter 5 - The music of the Spheres.

The first genius and founder of Greek mathematics is Pythagoras lived in about BC 580. Pythagoras provided that the world of music and vision are governed by exact numbers.

Babylonians (hanging garden) knew many perhaps 100s of formula for this by 2000 BC. Indians and Egyptians knew some. These cultures already knew in a practical sense that there is a builder's set square in which the numerical relations dictate and make the right angle.

To this day, the theorem of Pythagoras remains the most important single theorem in the whole of mathematics. That seems a bold and extraordinary thing to say, yet it is not extravagant; because what Pythagoras established is a fundamental characterization of the space in which we move and it is the first time that it is translated into numbers.

We tend to think of Greece part of the west; but Samos (where Pythagoras lived), the edge of classical Greece stands one mile from the coast of Asia Minor. From they're much of the thought that inspired Greece first flowed and unexpectedly, it flowed back to Asia in the centuries after, before ever it reached Western Europe.

The place where the Pythagoras theorem formed into an orderly system was the Nile City, Egypt and Euclid who belonged to the Pythagoras tradition did it.

When a listener asked him what was the practical use of some theorem, Euclid is responded to have said contemptuously to his slave" He wants to profit from learning - give him a penny. The reproof was probably adapted from the motto of the Pythagorean brotherhood, which translates as "a diagram and a step, not a diagram and a penny - a step being a step in knowledge or the Ascent of Man.

Euclid's book Elements of geometry was translated more than any other book except Bible right into modern times.

Islam started as a local event, uncertain in its outcome, but when Mahomet conquered Mecca in AD 630, it took southern world by storm. In 100 years, Islam captured Alexandria and by AD 730 the Moslem empire reached Spain and southern France to borders of China and India while Europe lapse din Dark Ages. The most important single innovation that the eager, inquisitive and tolerant Arab scholars brought from Afar was in writing numbers. Arabs brought the decimal system from India about AD 750, but it did not take hold in Europe for another 500 years after that.

Alhambra is the last and most exquisite monument of Arab civilization in Europe and the last Moorish king reigned here until 1492 when Queen Isabella of Spain was already backing the adventure of Columbus.

Christianity began surge back in northern Spain about AD 1000. When Christian came to win back Spain, the excitement of the struggle was on the frontier. Here Moors, Christians and Jews too mingled and made an extra ordinary culture of different faiths. In 1085, the centre of this mixed culture was fixed for a time in the city of Toledo. Toledo was the intellectual port of entry into Christian Europe of all classics that the Arabs has brought together from Greece, from Middle East, from Asia.

Mathematics of instantaneous motion was invented by 2 superb minds of the late 17th century - Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. It was they who brought in the idea of a tangent, the idea of acceleration, the idea of slope, the idea of infinitesimal, of differential calculus.

The laws of nature had always been made of numbers since Pythagoras said that was the language of nature. The laws of nature become law of motion and nature herself becomes not a series of static frames, but a moving process.

Chapter 6 - The Starry Messenger.

The first science in the modern sense that grew in the Mediterranean civilization was astronomy. An example is the civilization of the Mayans that flourished before AD 1000 in the isthmus of America between Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.

2 great men born in 1564 - William Shakespeare in England and Galileo Galilee in Italy.

Galileo is the creator of the modern scientific method. He stepped up the magnification of the telescope; build the apparatus, do the experiment, publish results. His telescope and new planets was quite sensational. And yet it was not altogether welcome, because what Galileo saw in the sky and revealed to everyone who was willing to look, was that the Ptolemaic heaven simply would not work. Galileo thought that all he and to do was to show that Copernicus was right and everyone would listen. That was a big mistake.

The success of the Protestant Reformation in 16th century had caused Roman Catholic to mount a fierce Counter_Reformation. The reaction against Martin Luther was in full cry and the struggle in Europe for authority. In 1618, 30-year war began. In 1622, Rome created institution for the propagation of the faith from which word 'propaganda' derived. Cold war embattled between Roman Catholic and Protestants., in which judgment was very simple on both sides; whoever is not for us is a heretic.

Roman Catholic council confined Galileo for the rest of his life in his villa and his forbidden doctrine was not to be discussed and Galileo was nto even to talk to Protestants. While in his house arrest, he wrote another book on the New Science and some Protestants in Netherland printed it after 2 years of writing.

The effect of the trial and of the imprisonment was to put a total stop tp the scientific tradition in Mediterranean. From now on the Scientific Revolution moved to Northern Europe. Galileo died in 1624 and in the same year Isaac Newton born in England.

Chapter 7 - The majestic Clockwork.

By the year 1650, the centre of the gravity of the civilized world had shifted from Italy to Northern Europe. The obvious reason is that trade routes to the world were different since the discovery and exploitation of America. No longer the Mediterranean what it name implies the middle of the world.

Newton had conceived the idea of universal gravitation in the Plague year 1666 and had used it very successfully to describe the motion of the moon round the earth.

Time is the other absolute in Newton's system. Time is crucial to mapping the heavens. Mariner's world called for perfection of 2 sets of instruments: telescope and clocks.

The first was telescope, which was now centered in the new Royal Observatory at Greenwich. The sailor trying to fix his position - longitude and latitude- off a remote shore from now on would compare his readings of the stars with those at Greenwich. The meridian of Greenwich became the fixed mark in every sailor's storm-tossed world: the meridian and the Greenwich Mean Time.

Second as an essential aid to fixing a position was the improvement of the clock. The clock became the symbol and the central problem of age. As per Newton principle is simple enough - since the sun rounds the earth in 24 hours, each of the 360 degrees of longitude occupies 4 min of time. Gov offered a prize of Ł20,000 "FOR A TIME KEEPER THAT WOULD PROVIE ITSELF ACCURATE TO HALF A DEGREE ON A VOYAGE OF 6 WEEKS". In those days the early clock-makers wanted, not to know the time of the day, but to reproduce the motions of the starry heavens.

Newton wrote-out the proof in Principia in 1687. When Newton was challenged on such questions as " You have not explained why gravity acts, "You have not explained why rays of light behave the way they do", He always answered in the same terms " I do not make hypothesis' I lay down a law and derive the phenomena from it'.

The universe of Newton ticked without a hitch for about 200 years. Till in the early 1900s before Einstein's Principle of Relativity, there was no universal time. The core of Principle of Relativity: the passage of light: light is the carrier of information that binds us. Evidently that is an altogether different picture of the world from that which Newton had. For Newton, time and space formed an absolute framework within which the material events of the world ran their course in imperturbable order. His is a God's eye view of the world. By contrast, Einstein's is a man's eye in which what you see and what I see is relative to each of us, that is, to our place and speed. And this relativity cannot be removed.

The hardest part if not to answer, but to conceive the question. The genius of men like Newton & Einstein lies in that: they ask transparent innocent questions which turns out to have catastrophic answers.

In a lifetime Einstein joined light to time, and time to space, energy to matter, matter to space and space to gravitation. And that is the crux of all his papers, this unfolding of the heart of knowledge, almost petal by petal. Einstein died in 1955, 50 years after the great 1905 paper. By then one could measure time to a 1000 millionth of a sec. He did not look at nature like a God but like a pathfinder " The World as I see it".

It is almost impertinent to talk of the ascent of man in the presence of two men, Newton & Einstein who stride like gods. Of the two, Newton is the Old Testament god; it is Einstein who is the New Testament figure. Einstein was a man who could ask immensely simple questions and what his life showed, and his work is that when the answers are simple too, and then you hear God thinking.

Chapter 8 - The drive for power.

Revolutions are not made by fate by men. Industrial revolution is a long train of changes starting about 1760. It is not alone: it forms one of a triad of revolutions of which the other two were the American revolution that started in 1775 and the French revolution that started in 1789.

What makes the industrial revolution so peculiarly is that it is rooted in the countryside The men who make it are craftsmen, the millwright, the watchmaker, the canal builder, and the blacksmith.

Freemasonry was the rising and secret society whose undertone was anti-establishment and anti-clerical and because Mozart was known to be a member it was difficult to get a priest to come to his deathbed in 1791. Greatest Freemason of them all in that age, the printer Benjamin Franklin who was American emissary in France at the court of Louis XVI. He more than anyone else represents those forward looking, forceful, confident, thrusting, marching men who made the new age. Men like Franklin had a passion for rational knowledge. He and his friends lived science: it was constantly in their thoughts and just as constantly in their hands. The understanding of nature to them was an intensely practical pleasure.

The men who made industrial revolution are usually pictured as hard faced businessmen with no other motive than self-interest. That is certainly wrong. Majority of them were not members of Church of England but belonged to a puritan tradition in the Unitarian and similar movements.

It is comic to think that cotton underwear and soap could work as a transformation in the lives of the poor. Yet these simple things - cal in the iron range, glass in the windows, a choice of food - were wonderful rise in the standard of life and health.

Power is a new preoccupation, in a sense a new idea, in science. The industrial revolution turned out to be the great discoverer of power. Sources of energy were sought in nature: wind, sun, water, and coal.

Joule said: " the grand agents of nature are indestructible".

Chapter 9 - The ladder of Creation.

The theory of evolution by natural selection was put forward in the 1850s independently by 2 men. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.

As per Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors through the process he called natural selection.

The fact is that there are two traditions of explanations that march side by side in the ascent of man. One is the analysis of the physical structure of the world and the other is the study of the process of life; their delicacy, their diversity, the wavering cycles from life to death in the individual and in the species.

The creation is not static but changes in time in a way that physical processes do not. Unlike physics, every generalization about biology is a slice in time and it is evolution that is the real creator of originality and novelty in the universe.

When the theory of evolution implied that some animal species came into being more recently than others, critics most often replied by quoting Bible.

We have to ask a historical question. Four thousand million years ago, before the life began, when the earth was young, what was the surface of the earth and what was the atmosphere like? We know rough answer that atmosphere was expelled from the interior of earth and was therefore somewhat like volcanic neighborhood anywhere - a cauldron of steam, nitrogen, methane, ammonia and other reducing gases as well as carbon dioxide. One gas was absent - Oxygen - That is crucial because oxygen is produced by the plants and did not exist in a free state before life existed.

These gases and their products dissolved weakly in oceans formed a reducing atmosphere. How would they react next under the action of lightening eclectic charges and [particularly under the action of ultra-violet light? Which is very important in every theory of life. When Stanley Miller in American experimented in 1950 - he put the atmosphere in a flask (these gases) and for day after day, and boiled and bubbled them up and put an electric discharge through them to simulate lightening and other violent forces. Because of the testing it was found that amino acid had been formed init and that is a crucial step forward since amino acid are the building blocks of life. From them proteins mare made and proteins are the constituents of all living things.

Biology has been fortunate in discovering 2 great and seminal ideas with the span of one 100 years. One was Darwin and Wallace's theory of evolution by natural selection. The other was the discovery of how to express the cycles of life in a chemical form that links them with nature as a whole.

Chapter 10 - World within the world.

Salt was essential to life and like the roman soldiers we still say salary for what we pay a man through it means salt money. Young Russian called Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev created the elements table. His table and forecast for new elements famous everywhere - except in Russia. Tsar did not like his liberal politics and he did not elected to Russian academy of science but in the rest of the world, his name was magic.

Niel Bohr's paper 'On the Constitution of Atoms and Molecules became a classic at once. The structure of the atom was now as mathematical as Newton's universe. But it contained the additional principle of quantum. Bohr had built a world inside the atom by going beyond the laws of physics as they had stood for two centauries after Newton.

In 1850 Rudolf Clauses put that thought into basic principle. He said that there is energy, which is available, and there is also a residue of energy, which is not accessible. It was James Chadwick who broke with that deeply rooted idea and proved in 1932 that nucleus consists of 2 kinds of particles electron and neutron.

The atoms form molecules, the molecules form bases, the bases direct the formation of amino acids, the amino acids form proteins, and proteins work in cell. The cells make up first of all the simple animals and then sophisticated ones, climbing step by step. Evolution is the climbing of a ladder from simple to complex by steps, each of which is stable in itself.

Chapter 11 - Knowledge of Certainty.

Leo Szilard was a Hungarian whose university life was spent in Germany. In 1929 he published an important and pioneer paper on what would now be called Information Theory; the relation between knowledge, nature and man. But by then he was certain that Hitler would come to power and that war was inevitable and he packed his bag and left for England in 1933.

It happened in Sept. of 1933 and he was walking to work and he was stopped by a red traffic light. However before the light turned green, he had realized that if you hit an atom with one neutron and it happens to break up and release two, then you would have a chain reaction. He wrote a specification for a patent which contains the word 'chain reaction which was filed in 1934.

In August 1939, Szilard wrote to Einstein that Einstein signed and send to President Roosevelt saying, " Nuclear energy is here. War is inevitable. It is for the president to decide what scientist should do about it."

But Szilard did not stop. When in 1945 the European war had been won, and he realized that the bomb was now about to be made and used on Japanese, Szilard marshaled protest everywhere he could. He wrote memorandum after memorandum. One memorandum to President Roosevelt only failed because Roosevelt died during the very days that Szilard was transmitting to him. Always Szilard wanted the bomb to be tested openly before the Japanese and an international audience so that Japanese should know its power and should surrender before people died.

When the tragedy happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he replied, " it is the tragedy of mankind. He gave up physics and turned to biology.

Chapter 12 - Generation Upon Generation

Emperors go but empires remain.

In the nineteenth century the city of Vienna was the capital of an Empire that held together a multitude of nations and languages. As the old university of Vienna the founder of Genetics and therefore of all the modern life science, Gregor Mendel got such little university education as he had. He had guessed that a simple character is regulated by two particles (we now call them genes).

Life on earth has been going on for 3 thousand million years or more. For two third of that time organisms reproduced themselves by cell division. Division produces identical offspring as a rule and new forms appear only rarely. For all that time, therefore evolution was very slow. The first organisms to reproduce sexually were it now seems, a kind of blue-green algae. That was less than a 1000 million years ago. Sexual reproduction begins there, first in plants then in animals. Since then its success has made it the biological norm, so that for instance, we define 2 species as different if their members cannot breed with one another.

Sex produces diversity and diversity is the propeller of evolution. The acceleration in evolution is responsible for the existence now if the dazzling variety of shape color, and behaviors in species.

Most of the world's literature, most of the world's art is preoccupied with the theme of boy meets girl. We tend to think of this as being sexual preoccupation that needs no explanation. But I think, that is a mistake. On the contrary it express the deeper fact that we are uncommonly careful in the choice, not of whom we take to bed, but by whom we are to beget children. Sex was invented as a biological instrument by the blue-green algae. But as an instrument, in the ascent of man that is basic to his cultural evolution, it was invented by man himself.

Spiritual and carnal love are inseparable.

Chapter 13 - the Long Childhood.

Consider the hand first. The recent evolution of man certainly begins with advancing development of the hand and the selection for a brain that is particularly adept at manipulating the hand. We feel the pleasure of that in our actions so that for the artist the hand remains a major symbol.

Theory of games : the finger game called Morra.

Our actions as adults as decision makers, as human beings, are mediated by values that I interpret as general strategies in which we balance opposing impulses. The problems of life are insoluble in this sense. Instead we shape our conduct by finding principle to guide it. We decide ethical strategies or systems of values to ensure that what is attractive in the short term are weighed in the balance of the ultimate, long-term satisfactions.

We are a scientific civilization: that means a civilization in which knowledge and its integrity are crucial. Science is only a Latin word for knowledge. If we do not take the next step in the ascent of man, it will be taken by people elsewhere, in Africa, in China. Should I feel that to be sad? No, not in itself. Humanity has a right to change its color.

History is the pilot's instant act of decision that crystallizes all the knowledge, all science, all that has been learned since man began. We are all afraid- for our confidence, for the future, for the world. That is the nature of the human imagination. Yet every man, every civilization has gone forward because of its engagement with what it has set itself to do. The personal commitment of a man to his skill, the intellectual commitment and the emotional commitment working together as one, has made the Ascent of Man.

Tx n Rd

December 23, 2008

The Wisdom of Crowds

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations by James Surowiecki

Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent and are often smarter than the smartest people in them. Groups do not need to be dominated by exceptionally intelligent people in order to be smart. Even if most of the people within the group are not esp. well informed or rational. It can still reach a collectively wise decision.

Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise (contradiction is the best way of communication?)

Characteristics of wise crowds:

* Diversity of opinion - Each person should have private information even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.

* Independence - People's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them.

* Decentralization - People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.

* Aggregation - Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

If a group satisfy those above conditions, its judgment is likely to be accurate.

Example – Google search results (pagerank and popular sites), audience poll during “Who wants to be a millionaire” picked right answer 91% of the time, Gallup poll, IEM,HSX, etc.

As per Mackay, in his book – Extraordinary Popular delusions and the madness of crowds - says “crowds are never wise and they were never reasonable; they think in herds.

Surowiecki book concentrates on three kinds of problems.


Questions to which there may not be a single right answer, but to which some answers are certainly better than others (e.g. what is the best place to build new swimming pool)


This is to figure it out how to coordinate their behavior with each other, knowing that everyone else is trying to do the same (e.g. how can you drive safely in heavy traffic?) Coordination problem explained by “El Farol problem”


Involve challenges of getting self-interested, distrustful people to work together, even when narrow self-interest would seem to dictate that no individuals should take part.(e.g. dealing with pollution)

After 21minutes of Challenger crash in 01/28/86, one of the major contractor’s share values went down by 12% and there was no explanation why this contractor’s share value went down compared to others who suffered only 3%. “While markets appear to work in practice, we are not sure how they work in theory”. Later US commission found fault with this contractor’s product that caused the crash; but share market (crowds) already acted minutes after the crash.

With most things, the average is mediocrity (average speed of 100 people running 100 meter will not be same as fastest person’s speed in that 100 people group). With decision-making, it’s often excellence.

Jeff Bezos’s comparison of Cambrian explosion to Internet boom. What makes a system successful is its ability to recognize losers and kill them quickly. Or, rather what makes a system successful is its ability to generate lots of losers and then to recognize them as such and kill them off.

Diversity helps because it actually adds perspectives that would otherwise be absent and because it takes away or at least weakens some of the characteristics of group decision-making.

Armstrong’s seer-sucking theory “No matter how much evidence exists that seers do not exist, suckers will play for the existence of seers”. Experts and accuracy are unrelated. Experts beyond a minimal level are of little value in forecasting change.

Independence is important decision making for 2 reasons. First, it keeps the mistakes that people make from becoming correlated (Errors in individual judgment won’t wreck the group’s collective judgment). Secondly independent individuals are mote likely to have new information rather than the same old data everyone is already familiar with.

John Maynard Keynes says in his book – The general theory of employment, interest and, money – says, “ Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally”. However there is the fact that the crowd is right much of the time, which means that paying attention to what others do should make you smarter, not dumber.

Information cascade could be another issue to this as well. This problem starts when people’s decision are not made all at ones, but rather in sequence. So, if the initial decision-makers are making wrong judgment, then the rest will blindly follow it.(e.g. share market rise ). So after a certain point, it becomes rational for people to stop paying attention to their own knowledge and to start looking instead at the actions of others and imitate them. Regarding why people bought at prices they had to know were crazy, people would say “ Sure I knew that prices were way too high, but I saw other people buying and selling at high prices. I figured I could buy, collect dividends or two and then sell at the same price to some other idiot”. Everyone was convinced the greater fool was out there.

In short, collective decisions are only wise, when they incorporate lots of different information).

Decentralization – the idea of the wisdom of crowds also takes decentralization as a given and a good, since it implies that if you set a crowd of self-interested, independent people to work in a decentralized way on the same problem, instead of trying to direct their efforts from the top down, their collective solution is likely to be better than any other solution you could come up with (e.g. bay of pigs invasion, Challenger project, PAM, etc..)(Ant colonies and beehives – even without a center, proved robust and adaptable)

Decentralization is also crucial (as Fredrich Hayek described) , tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge can’t be easily summarized or conveyed to others because it is specific to a particular place or job or experience.

The virtues of decentralization are twofold. On the one hand, the more responsibility people have for their own environments the more engaged they would be. The second advantage is it makes easier to coordination (e.g. Toyota TPS )

Trust – In 18th and early 19th century in Britain, nation’s economy was run by members of religious sect known as the Quakers (Barclays, Lloyds were Quaker institutions). Quakers were well knows for their personal emphasis on absolute honestly. And as Quaker prosperity grew, people drew a connection between that prosperity and the sect’s reputation for reliability and trustworthiness. For a economy to prosper, what’s needed is basic confidence in the promises and commitments that people make about their products and services. As the economist Thomas Schelling has put it” One has only to consider the enormous frustration of conducting foreign aid in an underdeveloped country, or getting a business established there, to realize what an extraordinary economic asset is a population of honest conscientious people”.

Establishing confidence has been a central part of history of capitalism.

Guardian bank & Trust company in Cayman for money laundering where decent people tried to use that system from paying hefty taxes to IRS. This is a classic example of cooperation problem. Everyone reaps benefits from the services that taxes fund. The problem is that you can reap the benefits of all these things whether or not you actually pay the taxes.

Tx n Rd

December 22, 2008

System thinking - John Boardman & Brian Sauser

System thinking - John Boardman & Brian Sauser

This philosophy points to a fifth element: if you want to get rich, you have to focus on money. What is more, rich dads make money work for them, poor dads work for money.

A pilgrim is making his way on life's journey to heaven. He reaches a fork in the road knowing that one way leads to heaven and the other to hell. At the fork live identical twins, one of whom always lies and the other who always tells the truth. The pilgrim knows this but cannot tell which is which. Both twins know which road leads to hell and which to heaven. The pilgrim can ask a single question in order, then, to be certain which road to take thereafter. What is it? What usefulness, if any, did the or, and, not, and paradox perspectives have in formulating a suitable question?

The Towers of Hanoi puzzle has many facets to it. The form of the puzzle is that there are three poles (or towers) and several discs of different diameter, each with the same sized hole in its center, a hole that enables the disc to be placed on any pole. The function of the puzzle is to transfer neat pile of discs from one pole to another, one at a time, ensuring that at no time a disc is placed on top of a smaller one. The figuring of the puzzle is to create an elegant solution, one in which no mistakes are ever made and the discs transfer is achieved in the minimum number of moves. If possible, this elegance should be captured mathematically or algorithmically.

Freedom is not doing what you want, freedom is wanting to do what you have to do … this kind of freedom is always rooted in practiced habit.

Words not only convey our intent and stir our hearts, they change our thinking, indeed our very lives. They define our journey and nourish us through it; they set a course and a destination; they can both arrest us and propel us.

In Pretty Woman, the delectable Vivian (played by the rousing Julia Roberts) replies to a primitive question from her adopted escort Edward (played by the urbane Richard Gere) with another question. "What's your name?" he asks. "What do you want it to be?" she responds. It is context that tells us her response is not suggesting arbitrariness. It is simply suggestive. He is her client. She wants to delight him. Provide value. Be useful. She already has form and function. Now she integrates them. Model play.

Lyndon B. Johnson once said of Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, "It's probably better to have him inside the tent peeing out, than outside the tent peeing in."

Scientific method is based on repeatability, refutation, and reductionism.Peer review has been essential to good science, and as long as peers practice community as we argued for above, review works well. Hypotheses survive for as long as they resist refutation, by logic or observation. But the direction of science is always along the lines of reducing complexity to its constituent parts and insisting that phenomena are explicable in terms of the behaviors of simpler parts until those parts become irreducible.

Even the eye of an individual has intelligence—or a form of processing power that gives the eye smartness. So intelligence exists in society, in persons, and in parts of the human body.

But as Steve Johnson wonderfully points out in his book Emergence,23 the colony of ants has no commander, only variously gifted (or designated) ants each following built-in rules of conduct that invoke relationships with neighboring ants. As a consequence, the colony, as a whole, develops patterns of behavior that protect the queen (the sole source of new ants), garner food, and bury the dead. This phenomenon and others like it, which Johnson beautifully portrays with examples of cities and software, are a challenge to the military style of command, one that leaders are taking most seriously, and to other complex systems in which there is no evident prescient commander to look to for direction and orders.

An old farmer dies, leaving his herd of cattle, seventeen cows, to his three sons. The will states that his firstborn should get half of the herd, the middle son is to receive exactly one third, and his youngest boy is left with one-ninth of the cows. The sons, who wanted to avoid fractional cows, could not figure a way out

"Keep It Simple, Stupid!" The principle roughly corresponds to Occam's razor and Albert Einstein's maxim that "everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." Stephen, H., Wharton on Making Decisions, Wiley, New York, 2004, p. 137.

Einstein's remark that "in the brain, thinking is doing" is helpful.

Sir Winston Churchill once said, "I am sorry to write you such a long letter; I did not have time to write a short one." He eludes to the complexity of abstraction and encapsulation. And so he should. Nor should we think that traveling in the opposite direction is easier. The business of amplification, enlargement, and expansion—in the semantic sense.

The woman tortures herself with vivid imaginings of her husband's secret infidelity and evident indulgences. The man contemplates mild satisfaction of his wife's surrogate fantasies.

Engineers are natural problem solvers, par excellence. They love to solve problems and nobody is better than them at inventing or conceiving solutions. But what stymies them is the lack of a problem. Clearly, if they do not know what the problem is, they cannot start work.

  • It relates powerfully and compellingly to what people do.
  • It yields a business process architecture (BPA) of the enterprise.
  • It can accommodate an extended enterprise perspective, integrating the component BPAs into a system of systems view.
  • It can provide a unique baseline from which to launch development projects.
  • It animates an otherwise sterile library of processes into an active and adaptive portfolio of competence.
  • It provides a benchmark for demonstrating and maturing competence of the enterprise.
  • It affords a unique profile by which human skills, knowledge, and aptitudes can be successfully aligned with tasks.

In their book The Starfish and the Spider,26 Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom compare and contrast two distinct organizational forms. They point out that if you cut off a limb of a starfish, two things happen: first the starfish grows another limb, and second, the limb itself can become a new starfish.

A dictionary definition of paradox is "a statement that contradicts itself."

The paradoxes we have observed from our own studies and experiences

of complexity include the following:

1. Complexity is much simpler than it first appears.

2. Simple things exhibit very complex behavior.

3. Little things mean a lot.

4. Myriad things are closer than we think.

5. Significant things are both vital and obscure.

6. Weak relationships bring strength and security.

7. To those who have, yet more shall be given, and yet to those who have little, even this will mean less.

8. A complex is both a one and a many, simultaneously (perhaps the ultimate paradox).

Tx n Rd

Five minds for the future

A good insightful book - I recommend this book.

Initial cases of the importance of 5 minds are:
  1. Individuals without one or more discipline will not be able to succeed at any demanding workplace and will be restricted to menial tasks.

  2. Individuals without synthesizing capabilities will be overwhelmed by information and unable to make judicious decisions about personal or professional matters.

  3. Individuals without creating capacities will be replaced by computers and will drive away those who do have the creative spark.

  4. Individuals without respect will not be worthy of respect by others and will poison the workplace and commons

  5. Individuals without ethics will yield a world devoid of decent workers and responsible citizens; none of us will want to live on that desolate planet.
In a typical paradigm, college students is asked to elucidate a discovery or phenomenon with which she/he is not familiar but which lends itself to explanation in terms of a concept or theory that has been already studied. The results are surprising, consistent and disheartening. Most students (from best schools also), are not able to explain the theory about which they are being questioned. Even more alarmingly many give precisely the same answer as those who have never taken the relevant courses and have presumably never encountered the concepts relevant to a proper explanation.

The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking - a distinctive mode of cognition that characterizes a specific scholarly discipline, craft or profession.

Synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources understands and evaluates that information objectively. and puts it together in ways that makes sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons.

Building on discipline and synthesis, the creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, and arrives at unexpected answer.

Respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these 'others' and seeks to work effectively with them.

Ethical mind ponders the nature of one's work and needs and desires of the society in which one lives. This mind conceptualizes how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all.

Five minds make use of our several intelligence.

Major creative breakthroughs are relatively rare in accounting, engineering, medical or law. Increasingly however, rewards accrue to those who fashion small but significant changes in professional practice.

Before the invention of printing press, when books were scarce, it was vital for individuals to cultivate a faithful and capacious verbal memory. Now, ability to survey huge bodies of information – print & electronic – and to organize that information is useful ways looms more important than ever.

Winston Churchill – The empires of the future will be empires of the mind.

Current globalization trend –

The movement of capital and other market instruments around the globe; with huge amounts circulating virtually instantaneously each day.

The movement of human beings across borders, 100 million immigrants at any one time around the world

The movement of info through cyberspace

The movement of popular culture (clothing, Food) across borders; even seamlessly across borders so that teenagers the world over look increasingly similar, even as the tastes, beliefs, and values of their elders may also converge.

Unlike science, technology did not have to wait on the specific discoveries, concepts, and mathematical equations of the past 500 years. Indeed that is precisely why in many respects the China of 1500 seemed more advanced than its European or Middle Eastern counterparts. Those societies that lack science must either remain deprived of technological innovations or simply copy them from societies that have developed them.

Niels Bohr – There are two kinds of truth, deep truth and shallow truth and the function of Science is to eliminate the deep truth.

Subject matter expert and discipline.

Most students in schools are studying subject matter. By & large hey are examined on this information (Alan Bennett's play – the history boys').

Discipline constitutes a distinctive way of thinking about the world.

4 steps needed

  1. Identify truly important topics or concepts within the discipline.
  2. Spend significant time on this topics (if it is worth studying, it is worth studying deeply, over a significant period of time, using a variety of examples and modes of analysis.
  3. Approach the topic in a number of ways.
  4. Most important, set up 'performances of understanding' and give students ample opportunities to perform their understandings under a variety of conditions.
Rubinstein – When I don't practice for a day, I know. When I don't practice for two days, the orchestra knows it. And when I don't practice for three days, the world knows."

The amount of accumulated knowledge is reportedly doubling every two or three years (wisdom presumably accrues more slowly!)

  1. Narratives – The synthesizer puts material together into a coherent narrative.
  2. Taxonomies – Materials are ordered in terms of salient characteristics
  3. Complex concepts – A newly stipulated concept can tie together or blend a range of phenomena
  4. Rules and aphorisms – Much of folks wisdom is captured and conveyed by short phrases, designed to be memorable and widely applicable. (Think first and act second)
  5. Powerful metaphors, images and themes – Individuals may bring concepts to life by invoking metaphors. Metaphors may be presented graphically or verbally
  6. Embodiments without words – Powerful syntheses can also be embodied in works of art.
  7. Theories – Concepts can be amalgamated into a theory.
  8. Metatheory – It is possible to propose an overall framework for knowledge, as well as 'theory of theories'.
Synthesis needs the following steps.

  1. Goal - a statement or conception of what the synthesizer is trying to achieve
  2. A starting –point – an idea image or indeed any previous work on which to build.
  3. Selection of strategy, method and approach
  4. Draft and feedback.
Book is highly recommended.

1. Synthesis – HBR by the same author

2. A short history of nearly everything – Bill Bryson (500 pages of richly documented on what science has discovered about the physical and human worlds)

3. Ken Wilber – A brief history of everything (high caliber book from a most synthesizer at work in English language)

Synthesize giants – Aristotle & Leonardo who has at least a rough grasp of the full panorama of knowledge. (the 19th century English educator, scholar & poet Matthew Arnold has been nominated as the last individual who could be said to have mastered all exact knowledge – to have known everything worth knowing)

In most human societies, throughout most human history, creativity was neither sought after nor rewarded. We are stunned by the achievements of ancient Egyptian society but conveniently forget that the society evolved at a glacial pace. We honor innovation scientist like Galilee Galileo, but need to be reminded that Galileo was denounced and imprisoned and that Giordano Bruno, his scientific forefather, was burned at the stake. Neither Johann Sebastian Bach, nor Vincent van Gogh nor George Mendel received much appreciation during their lifetimes.

I create ; therefore I am.

Creativity is the occasional emergent from the interaction of three autonomous elements

  1. The individual who has mastered some discipline or domain of practice and is steadily issuing variations in that domain
  2. The cultural domain in which an individual is working with its models, prescriptions, and proscriptions.
  3. The social field – those individuals and institutions tat provide access to relevant educational experience as well as opportunities to perform.
When a person consistently acts disrespectfully toward others, that person should be called to account. And should disrespect persist and deteriorate into frankly antisocial behaviors, that person should be ostracized from society.

Mahatma Gandhi kept reaching out to Hitler; the Indian leader wrote a letter to Hitler, addressed "Dear friend", calling on him to change his tactics and promising him forgiveness in return:. In turn, Hitler remarked" Shoot, Gandhi and if that does not suffice to reduce them to submission, shoot a dozen leading members of congress (Gandhi's political party)"

4 x M as signposts towards the achievements of good work

  1. Mission
  2. Models
  3. Mirror test – individual version
  4. Mirror test – professional responsibility
Disciplined Mind
  • Formal education – mastering of history, math, science, and other key subjective;completing professional training.
  • Place of work – continuing mastery of one's profession
  • Period of development. Begins before adolescence
  • Pseudo forms – Asserting of mastery without a decade or so of practice.

Synthesizing Mind

  • Formal education – preparing for assignments and tests in school by organizing material sin ways that are helpful to self and ഒതെര്സ്.
  • Place of work – Recognizing new info/skills that are important and then incorporating them into one's knowledge base.
  • Period of development – Starts in childhood, under the best of circumstances
  • Pseudo forms – Selecting materials in a haphazard way.

Creating Mind

  • Formal education – Going beyond class requirements to pose new questions
  • Place of work – Thinking outside the box
  • Period of development – robust personality begins to develop early
  • Pseudo forms – Offering apparent innovations that are either superficial variations of long-existing knowledge.

Respectful Mind

  • Formal education – Seeking to understand and work effectively with peers, teachers., and staff
  • Place of work – Working effectively with peers supervisors and employees, irrespective of their backgrounds
  • Period of development – Supportive eng. Should be present from birth
  • Pseudo form – Exhibiting mere tolerance, without any effort to understand or work smoothly with others.
Ethical Mind

  • Formal education – Reflecting on one's role as a student or as a future professional and attempting to fulfill that role appropriately and responsibly.
  • Place of work – Knowing the core values of on'e profession and seeking to maintain them and pass them on.
  • Period of development – Awaits the time where an individual can think conceptually
  • Pseudo form – Expounding a good responsible line but failing to embody that course in one's own actions.

Here are 4 comments about timing.

  1. Respect – From the beginning one must begin by creating a respectful atmosphere toward ഒതെര്സ്.
  2. Discipline – Once one has become literate, by the end of the elementary years, the time is at hand for the acquisition of the major scholarly ways of thinking
  3. Synthesis – Equipped with major disciplinary ways of thinking, the student is poised to make judicious kinds of syntheses and as appropriate to engage in interdisciplinary thinking
  4. Ethics – During the years of secondary school and college, one becomes capable of abstract, distanced thinking. One can now conceptualize the world of work and responsibilities of the citizen and acts on those conceptualizations.

Tx n Rd