Ridley and Pinker: SysAdmining Options and More

After finally getting accustomed with David Buller’s writing style, it’s hard to go back to Ridley and Pinker. Imagine reading Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, and then… something not quite so good but more accessible.

Anyway, from today’s reading (Chapter 3, “The Last Wall to Fall,” from Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” and Chapter 2, “A Plethora of Instincts,” from Ridley’s “Nature via Nurture”) I started picking out bits and pieces to use in a final topic.

In response to a similar thought of mine on another post, Phil Jones of Synaesmedia asked

Erm, how many generations of controlled breeding were you thinking of, exactly?

While such an A-Z Ruleset would not necessarily be bad, the readings seem to present more boring options…

Topic: SysAdmin
“The megalomania of the genes does not mean that benevolence and cooperation cannot evolve, any more than the law of gravity proves that flight cannot evolve. It means only that benevolence, like flight, is a special state of affairs in need of an explanation, not something that just happens.” (Pinker 53)
“Worse still, if our minds were truly malleable they would be easily manipulated by our rivals, who could mold or condition us into serving their needs rather than our own. A malleable mind would quickly be selected out.” (Pinker 54-55)
“Margaret Mead’s description of peace-loving New Guideans and sexually nonchalant Samoans were based on perfunctory research and turned out to be almost perversely wrong. As the anthropologist Derek Freemen later documented, Samoans may beat or kill their daughters if they are not virgins on their wedding night, a young man who cannot woo a virgin may rape one to extort her into eloping, and the family of a cuckolded husband may attack and kill the adulterer.” (Pinker 56)
“Counting societies instead of bodies leads t equally grim figures. In 1978 the anthropologist Carol Ember calcuated that 90 ercent of hunter-gatherer societies are known to engage in warfare, and 64 percent wag war at least once every two years.” (Pinker 57)
“I doubt even then I could make [a woman] love a donkey [with oxytocin]. but I might stand a fair chance of making her feel attracted to the first man she sees up making… Blindly, automatically, and untaught, we bond with whoever is standing nearest when the oxytocin receptors in the medial amygdala get tingled.’ (Ridley 47-48) (SysAdmin applications?)
“An instinct is designed to be triggered by an external object or event… [Benson Ginsberg] was soon able to breed a new strain [of mice] that had the coat color but not the aggression streak: proof enough that aggression was somewhere in the genes. His colleague Paul Scott also developed aggressive strains of mice; but, bizarrely, Ginsburg’s most aggressive strain was Scott’s most pacific.” (Ridley 49-50)
“All attempts to design society by reference to one narrow conception of human nature, whether on paper or in the streets, end in producing something much worse.” (Ridley 67) (also good on the limitation of modernism)

Topic: Timeline
“But beginning int he 1950s with the cognitive revolution [it became] possible to make sense of mental processes and even to study them in the lab.” (Pinker 31)
“William’s Principles of Psychology, must of which was first published as a series of articles in the 1880s, contained a manifesto for nativism — the idea that the mind cannot learn unless it has the rudiments of innate knowledge.” (Ridley 39 (see also talk of East-West pole common ground below)
“In the 1920s the very empiricist ideas that James ha attacked, embodied in the notion of the blank slate, swept back not just into psychology (with John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner) but in anthropology (Franz Boas), psychiatry (Freud), and sociology (Durkehim). Nativism was almost totally eclipsed until 1958, when [East Poler] Noam Chomsky once again pinned its charter to the door of science…. Chomsky argued that it was impossible for a child to learn the rules of language from examples the child must have innate rules to which the vocabulary of the language was fitted.” (Pinker 40)
“In the early 1980s … scientists suddenly realized that vospressin and oxytocin had a job to do inside the brain as well as being secreted from the pituitary gland in the bloodstream. So they tried injecting oxytocin and vasopressin into the brains of rats to see what the effect would be. Bizarrely, a male rat injected with intracerebral oxytocin immediately begins yawning and simultaneously gets an erection… On the other hand, without oxytocin, mice cannot form social memories, so perhaps they simply keep forgetting what their spouses look like” (Ridley 42-46)
“… scientists use viruses to turn up the volumes of genes in one part of the brain of a rodent. Even 10 years ago such an experiment was unimaginable.” (Ridley 44)
Sometime before the year 1900 a retired schoolteacher in Granby, Massachusetts, by the name of Abbie, took up the “mouse fancying” hobby…. She also noticed that some strains got cancer more often than others; this hint was picked up by Yale Universities and became the basis of early studies of cancer.” (Ridley 50)
“Such a modular view of the mind was first enunciated by the philosopher Jerry Fodor in the early 1980s and later developed by the anthropologist John Tooby and the psychologist Leda Cosmides in the 1990s (Ridley 63)
“Noam Chomsky in the 1950s… argued that the universal features o f human language, invariant throughout the world, plus the logical impossibility of a child deducing the rules of a language as quickly as it does merely from the scanty examples available to it, must imply that there was something innate about language.” (Ridley 63-64)

Topic: Universal Man
“The common kinds of [grammatical] heads and complements can be ordered in 128 logically possible ways, but 95 percent of the world’s languages use of two: either the English ordering [as in, “from the bottle”] or its mirror image the Japanese origin [as in, “the bottle from”].” (Pinker 37-38)
“The moral, then is that familiar categories of behavior — marriage customs, food taboos, folk superstitions, and so on — certainly do vary across cultures and have to be learned, but the deeper mechanisms of mental computation that generate them may be universal and innate.” (Pinker 39)
“Behavioral geneticists estimate only half of the variation in most psychological traits within a given environment correlate with the genes.” (Pinker 48)

Topic: Particular Man
“Identical twins think and feel in such similar ways that they sometimes suspect they are linked by telepathy. When separated at birth and reunited as adults, they say they feel they have known each other all their lives. Testing confirms that identical twins, whether separated at birth or not, are eerily alike (though far from identical) in just about any trait one can measure… Many of these conclusions came from massive studies in Scandinavian countries where governments keep huge databases on their citizens, and they employ the best-validated measuring instruments known to psychology… “Virtual twins” are the mirror image of identical twins raised apart: they are unrelated siblings, one or both adopted, who are raised together from infancy. Though they are the same age and are growing up int he same family, the psychology Nancy Segal found that their IQ scores are barely correlated.” (Pinker 47)
“Most boys reassigned as girls declare themselves boys at adolescence. And a recent study of people born with ambiguous genitalia found that hose who escaped the surgeon’s knife had fewer psychological problems than those who had been operated on in childhood.” (Ridley 58)
“[Jennifer Connellan] gave 102 24-hour-old babies two things to look at: her own face, or a physical mechanical mobile of approximately the same size and shape as a face. The baby boys slightly preferred to look at the mobile; the baby girls preferred the face.” (Ridley 59-60)
“If Asperger’s people are good systemizers and bad empathizers, with extremely-male brains, the thought arises that there are probably people who are good empathizers and poor systemizers, with extreme female brains.” (Ridley 62)

Topic: Modularity
“Descartes was thus wrong when he said that “the mind is entirely indivisible”… (Pinker 42)
“Besides, even a language module is hardly likely to be isolated from other functions. It needs fine discrimination of hearing; finer control of movement in the tongue,, lips, and chest; greater memory, and so on… Almost nothing is known about the mechanisms that are not modular.” (Ridley 66) (also a good point on the limitation of knowledge)

Topic: Horizontal thinking
“[Evolutionary Psychology] can give the phenomena of culture their due without segregating them into a parallel universe.” (Pinker 31)

Topic: Brain Anatomy
“The brain does have supervisory systems in the prefrontal lobs and anterior cingulate cortext… but those systems are gadgets with specific quirks and limitations; they are not implementations of the rational free agent traditionally identified with the soul or the self.” (Pinker 43)
“[When] surgeons cut the corpus callosum joining the cerebral hemispheres, they literally cut the self in two, and each hemisphere can exercise free will without the other one’s advice or consent. Even more disconcertingly, the left hemisphere constatnly weaves a coherent but false account of the behavior chosen without its knowledge by the right.” (Pinker 43) (Lovecraftian!)
“… differences in the amount of gray matter in the frontal lobes are not only genetically influenced, but are significantly correlated with differences in intelligence [but] becoming stronger in math or motor coordination or visual discrimination does not bulk up the brain the way becoming stronger at weightlifting bulks up the muscles… And convicted murderers and other violent, antisocial people are likely to have smaller and less active prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that governs decision making and inhibits impulses..” (Pinker 44-45)

Topic: Definitions
“Here are five ideas from the cognitive revolution.. : the mental world can be grounded in the physical world by the concepts of information, computation, and feedback … the mind cannot be a blank slate, because blank slates don’t do anything … an infinite range of behavior can be generated by finite combinatorial programs in the mind… universal mental mechanisms can underlie superficial variation across culture… the mind is a complex system composed of many interacting parts.” (Pinker 31-39) (this talk of complex adaptive systems also mentions sub-modules again)
“The computational theory of mind … explains how processes can be intelligent [because if] a sequence of transformations of information stored in a hunk of matter … mirrors a sequence of deductions that obey the laws of logic, probability, or cause and effect in the world, they will generate correct predictions about the world.” (Pink 32-33)
“Fans located [Jerry Fodor and Noam Chomsky], which originated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at the East Pole [and] locate … connectionists, including Rumelhart, McClelland, Jeffrey Elman, and Elizabeth Bates, who build relatively simply computer models and train the living daylights out of them … which originated at the Universality of California, San Diego, at the West Pole … But here is why the East Pole – West Pole debate is different from the ones that preoccupied philosophers for millennia: neither side believes in the Blank Slate… Cognitive scientists at the East Pole suspect that the content-based modules are differeniated largely by genes; those at the West Pole suspect they begin as small innate biases in attention adn then coagulate out of statistical patterns in the sensory input” (Pinker 35,40)
Behavior … comes from an internal struggle among mental modules with differing agendas and goals.” (Pinker 40)
“Or, as Ginsburg said, the road from the “encoded genotype the mouse inherits to the “effective genotype it expresses passes through the process of social development.” (Ridley 50),compare to:

“The operational adaption consists of the anatomical structures, physiological processes, and psychologicla processes that develop because of interactions with the environment… the innate adaptions is the information encoded int he genes that mediates the development of the operational adaption.” (Buller 78)

Network Politics, a tdaxp Series

This series, Network Politics, follows in the footsteps of Jesusism-Paulism and Quality. Like those two other blog features, this series is actually a combination of older, separate posts into one coherent whole. The theme of these posts is networked politics, or attempts to compel others to act in certain ways within the context of society.

Image courtesy of Immeon

Network Politics contains this prologue, and introduction, and five other sections. With the exception of this prologue, every post in this series dates from May 2005.

Network Politics, a tdaxp series
Introduction: Net-Attacks and Counter-Attacks
Part 1, 0GW / 4GW: Iraqi Sunnis
Part 2, 0GW / 4GW: Christian Conservatives
Part 3, 1GW / 4GW: George Soros
Part 4, 2GW / 4GW: Social Security
Part 5, 4GW / 4GW: John Kerry

Two generations of warfare, two styles of meaningful struggle, are conspicuously missing from this series. I have written very little on 3GW, or blitzkrieg, and this is something I need to correct. On the other hand I have written a lot on 5GW, or SecretWar. For 5GW, see especially Go Deep and Dreaming 5th Generation Warfare. Curtis Gale Weeks and Purpleslog have also discussed that phenomenon in some detail.


Dashboard Confessional

Digital dashboard,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 June 2006, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Digital_dashboard&oldid=56635922.

Why Regulatory Compliance Remains Important,” by Stephen DeAngelis, Enterprise Resilience Management Blog, 13 June 2006, http://enterpriseresilienceblog.typepad.com/enterprise_resilience_man/2006/06/why_regulatory_.html.

Globalization and Resilient Enterprises,” by Stephen DeAngelis, Enterprise Resilience Management Blog, 14 June 2006, http://enterpriseresilienceblog.typepad.com/enterprise_resilience_man/2006/06/globalization_a.html.

A post from Stephen F. DeAngelis yesterday brought back something from my days at USD:

Rasmussen is going to lead a teleconference discussion on “Monitoring Risk with Enterprise Risk Dashboards.” While I agree that dashboards are a great idea, Rasmussen doesn’t go far enough in fostering their use. Resilient Enterprises are going to have to monitor all critical business processes using dashboards, not just compliance. That’s why I’m such a great proponent of service-oriented architectures and business process layers that can be used to embed rule sets that drive business processes right in a company’s corporate DNA. In fact, that’s a subject I’m addressing today at the DC Area Service-Oriented Architecture Users Group.

As someone who has written a dashboard


I have some comments on this…

A dashboard is

a business management tool used by managers to get a “bird’s eye view” of business health. It is a simple, yet powerful device to visually ascertain the status of a business enterprise. Used to monitor the status of key business indicators, Digital Dashboards use visual, at-a-glance displays of critical data pulled in from disparate business systems to provide warnings, action notices, next steps, and summaries of business conditions.

Digital Dashboards can be laid out to track the flows inherent in the business processes that they monitor. Graphically, users can see the high-level processes and then drill down into low level data. This level of detail is often buried deep within the corporate enterprise and otherwise unavailable to the senior executives.

While my dashboard (part of my graduate computer science thesis, A Computer Model of National Behavior) gave an easy-to-understand visualization of the health of nations, and a corporate one would give a similar representation of company health, the concepts are the same.

The big benefit of dashboards is they let you quickly understand quantified data. The huge drawback is they let you pretend that all quantified data is important, and all important data is quantified.

You can see this same division in a later post by DeAngelis:

What [IBM CEO Samuel] Palmisano calls “the globally integrated enterprise,” is what I have been calling the “Resilient Enterprise.” Whether you call it a globally integrated or a resilient enterprise, isn’t as important as the fact that what we are describing is a momentous shift in the global business paradigm — it’s not just a name change. Palmisano continues:

The key to this paradigm is the ability to “pull apart” business processes and “put them back together” as needs dictate. Of course, this kind of talk excites me because Enterra Solutions is in the business of enabling globally integrated corporations and turning them into Resilient Enterprises. Tom Barnett and I spend a great deal of our time addressing multinational corporations about this subject. We talk about the need for the next generation Enterprise Architecture, which pulls apart business processes and turns them into automated rules sets that can be recombined as required in the corporate DNA. Because it utilizes a service-oriented architecture and a standards-based business process layer, the next generation Enterprise Architecture enables integration across departments and, as Palmisano notes, across the globe..

Dashboards are a great help in building modularity — on the measurable side. It helps one combine core competencies and rule-sets together, rapidly respond to problems, and even measure employee performance. But one must always remember that dashboards are a partial picture of the world. Failure to do might led to a less-resilient enterprise, tearing apart what works because one believes an alternative would be better.

A similar partial picture, in a military context, was the satellite and computer imagery that allowed General Tommy Franks to see individual soldiers during the early stages of the Iraq War. History will tell if he did enough to remain skeptical of the power of dashboards.

Coming Anarchy 10, The Gap

Note: This is a selection from Coming Anarchy, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06






Finding a Gap

“You cannot transform a domain unless you first thoroughly understand how it works (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).”
As stated in the section above, in order to continue the important work of a particular domain one must be able to find the areas which need attention and further exploration. However as we learned in class, in order to do this you must first know everything you can about the current domain in which you hope to make a contribution. This is probably why it takes so long to become recognized as an expert in a field, as well as the general applicability of the 10-year rule of thumb. Once you have mastered the domain, you are then ready to make the necessary changes to it. However, you need to be able to see where those changes need to be made, and how you can contribute to your domain. As it was put so eloquently by someone in class, “you must first master the domain, and then set it aside.”

Relevant Quotes From Interviews (Select):

Without being asked a direct question about how they find a gap in the domain to fill, the following answers were given within the context of answering other, unrelated questions:
Chirol: “Any blogger can read an activist site or CNN on the West Bank, but when I visited there for example and provided not only unique pictures but also on the ground input, that’s quality…”
Curzon: “We’d like to add someone else who can cover every corner of the globe from a non-partisan realistic point of view, but have a focus of expertise in a particular region, either India, Africa, or Latin America. In addition, we’d like this person be a native English speaker, but also speak at least one foreign language; have extensive travel experience; time lived overbroad; at [a] minimum a mild appreciation of Robert D. Kaplan’s work; and several months of blogging experience. We have yet to find that person, but we’re still looking.”
Younghusband: “Try making a website in the 21st century that is supposed to communicate Victorian era colonialism.”

Organizing The Information From The Quotes (Organize):

Each subject emphasized a personal accomplishment as leading to something that improves the domain with minimal prompting. Such statements require knowledge of the domain and areas where the domain is lacking. Specifics ranged from travel (Chirol), to philosophy (Curzon), to communication design (Younghusband).

Association With Our Course Readings (Associate):

“A musician must learn the musical tradition, the notation system, the way instruments are played before she can think of writing a new song; before an inventor can improve on airplane design he has to learn physics, aerodynamics, and why birds don’t fall out of the sky (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).”
“[Individuals must decide] whether to invest in the perfection of domain practices or attempt to overthrow them (Gardner, 1997).”

Nagging Questions (Regulate):

Where is the boundary between mimicking the experts in a field and determining where they are lacking and then moving into those uncharted territories? Might creative people develop an “explicit theory of the domain” before one of themselves? Therefore, should future researchers look there first?

Coming Anarchy, a tdaxp series:
Coming Anarchy 1: Introduction
Coming Anarchy 2: Methods and Analysis
Coming Anarchy 3: Identity
Coming Anarchy 4: Failure
Coming Anarchy 5: Obsession
Coming Anarchy 6: Sacrifices
Coming Anarchy 7: Humility
Coming Anarchy 8: Geography
Coming Anarchy 9: Recognition
Coming Anarchy 10: The Gap
Coming Anarchy 11: Conclusion