Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Book Review: The Ingenuity Gap

The Ingenuity Gap
Can we solve the problems of the future?

By Thomas Homer-Dixon
Knopf Canada (1st edition Sep 2000)


Last year I more or less accidentally bought "The Upside of Down", Thomas Homer-Dixon's most recent book (you find my review here). Wow, I thought, there is somebody who manages to write about politics, sociology, economy and history in a way that my little brain can actually understand something - even though it is challenged with a PhD in physics!

More seriously, I am really picky with books. Given that there are just too many books that I could ever read all of them, it happens frequently that I drop one because it doesn't live up to my expectations (a very bad example of which you find here. I still haven't proceeded one sentence farther than this upsetting paragraph in the preface). "The Upside of Down" wasn't only a great read, it convinced me to also buy Homer-Dixon's previous book "The Ingenuity Gap".

As it turns out, I like "The Ingenuity Gap" better. Mostly because I find the topic more interesting, but also because I find the story better told. It is a very well written narrative that despite several time jumps remains coherent. It uses a number of metaphors that open an area to a closer examination of specific issues, without overusing these metaphors. It tells about a search for understanding, a search by somebody who doesn't stop asking questions, and who tries to fit together pieces of an enormously complex puzzle. 'Complex' is arguably the central word of the book.

Both books, "The Ingenuity Gap" and "The Upside of Down", are on a scientific level equally well founded, and come with a lot of references for further reading. The argumentation is careful and well balanced, points for as well as against a model or a conclusion are mentioned in almost all cases.

The issue under examination in "The Ingenuity Gap" is whether our societies are able to supply the necessary 'ingenuity' to address, in a timely manner, the increasingly complex problems that we are facing.

Homer-Dixon discusses several developments that need to be addressed on global as well as national scales. He covers economical instability, climate change, various other environmental stresses, global politics (terrorism included), info-glut, and 'techno hubris' - changes that are worrisome to varying degrees but have the common feature that they all reflect the human struggle to manage complex systems that have a lot of 'unknown unknowns'. His main argument is that once a problem has been identified, we do not only need the technological knowledge of how to solve it. We also need the appropriate 'social ingenuity' to implement this knowledge. To begin with you have to convince people the problem exists and needs to be solved - a process not without difficulties, the success of which crucially depends on the political and social system and its institutions one has to operate in:

"I soon realized that ingenuity comes in two distinct kinds: the kind used to create new technologies, like irrigation systems that conserve scarce water, or custom-engineered grains that grown in eroded soil, and the more crucial kind used to reform old institution and social arrangements and build new ones, including efficient markets, competent and honest governments, and productive schools and universities. I called these two kinds technical and social ingenuity."

A society that can not provide the sufficient ingenuity of both types to solve its problems, faces an 'Ingenuity Gap'

"If a society develops a serious ingenuity gap - that is, if it loses the race between requirement and supply - prosperity falls falls in the regions already affected by scarcity, and people usually migrate out of those regions in large numbers. Social dissatisfaction rises [...] These changes undermine the government's legitimacy and raise the likelihood of widespread and chronic civil violence. Violence further erodes the society's capacity to supply ingenuity, especially by causing human and financial capital to flee. Such societies risk entering a downward and self-reinforcing spiral of crisis and decay."


Homer-Dixon provides several examples for this, addressing social, political, economical and environmental problems among others in India and China.

The book draws on a large variety of studies, ranging from economy, over complex system's theory, sociology, psychology, neuroscience, biology and even a particle physicist makes an appearance in the plot, 1977 in Strasbourg France:
"[I] earned myself a small wage making kitchen cabinets and cooking meals for a local family. The father was a physicist. He worked at a nearby research laboratory that included a particle accelerator designed to pry open the deepest secrets of the atom. One sunny afternoon in August he took me on a tour of the facilities.
Although tiny by comparison with accelerators elsewhere in the world, the Strasbourg machine seemed mammoth to me, stretching through room upon room filled with computers, wiring, tubing, and heavy magnets. I asked my physics guide about one queer looking component after another, and he tried to explain the machine's operation in simple terms. After an hour or so, however, a larger puzzle came to my mind.
"Is there anybody," I asked, "Who understands this thing in its entirety? [...] Is there anyone who has expertise about all the components and who can put those individual bits of knowledge together into a truly complete understanding of the entire machine?"
"No," the physicist answered, with a look that showed he thought the question a bit peculiar. "No, no one understands this machine completely." I felt some discomfort about his answer at the time, but I didn't know exactly why. "

Admittedly, I too found the question a bit peculiar. Gee, just think about the LHC! However, Homer-Dixon uses this episode to make a point on a much more general level that made me think a lot. As a result of increasingly complex demands, people in our society specialize in certain niches, where they can become experts in their areas. A side-effect of this not necessarily bad development though is a fragmentation of our communities, and a lack of people who have an overview on how the pieces work together. Is there anybody who understands the world's economy in its entirety? The politics? Our societies?

"No matter how much we believe in our institutions and in the regularized procedures of our societies, no matter how just, rational, and durable we think them, they are at the best only loosely grounded on some form of bedrock reality or immutable truths that endure beyond human beings. To a considerable degree, they are sustained by collective belief and consensus, by tacit, unquestioned, and often grossly simplistic assumptions about how the world works, and often by mutual and willful self-delusion. Our societies cohere and function in no small part because most of us want them to cohere and function, and because the alternatives are, for most of us, literally unthinkable.
We all eagerly assume there exist people, somewhere, who unlike ourselves do have a grip on the bedrock reality that underlies our societies, who understand how things work and will take care of us if severe problems arise. We also deeply fear the possibility that it isn't true [...]"


That is to say, the book is determined to make you think about what's going on. Admittedly, I found it a bit scary in parts.

Okay, I feel already odd for all the nice words, it's so not me, so here is the criticism: Despite several attempts the actual definition of 'ingenuity' remains somewhat vague throughout the book. It is also interesting that the subtitle on my paperback version is "Can we solve the problems of the future?", whereas looking at the image above the subtitle on the hardcover is "How can we solve the problems of the future?". The book unfortunately doesn't contain very much on the "How" except the general plea that we need to remedy the "dangerous lag between the natural sciences and the social sciences"
"The natural sciences and the technologies they spawn carry us into the future at bewildering speed, in the process remolding our understanding of ourselves and revolutionizing our relationship with each other and the natural world. The social sciences plod along behind, unable to generate fast enough the knowledge we need to build new institutions for our new world."


Essentially, Homer-Dixon warns we might be running into a global ingenuity gap.

Summary

The most amazing aspect of "The Ingenuity Gap" is that despite the large variety of topics the book covers it remains throughout coherent and provides a consistent though somehow incomplete picture (some points esp. the role of energy scarcity were further examined in the second book "The Upside of Down").

The book is overall recommendable. If this was an Amazon.com review I'd give five stars. I wish more people would listen to what he's saying.



If you want to listen to Homer-Dixon yourself, check our today's colloquium PIRSA 08020001 (mostly about climate change and energy scarcity, so not directly related to the review above)

An End to Reticence? Natural Scientists and the Politics of Global Change
Speaker: Thomas Homer-Dixon - University of Toronto

Abstract: A convergence of climate, resource, technological, and economic stresses gravely threaten the future of humankind. Scientists have a special role in humankind's response, because only rigorous science can help us understand the complexities and potential consequences of these stresses. Diminishing the threat they pose will require profound social, institutional, and technological changes -- changes that will be opposed by powerful status-quo special interests. Do scientists have a responsibility to articulate the dangers of inaction to a broader public beyond simply publishing their findings in scholarly journals? Should they become more actively involved in the politics of global change?



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66 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bee, you quote Homer-Dixon as saying two things:

1 -"... A convergence of climate, resource, technological, and economic stresses gravely threaten the future of humankind. ..."

2 - "... Scientists have a special role in humankind's response, because only rigorous science can help us understand the complexities and potential consequences of these stresses. ...".

The first statement is true, as is your "... feeling that the present organization of our so-called civilized society is an accident waiting to happen ...".

The second is not, because even if political/financial leaders understand the "consequences of ... stresses"
that does NOT imply that they will DO anything to relieve the stresses.

Examples:

Your politicians know that potholes are bad and they know how to fix them, but they will not do so because the current system makes money for them.
(I mean by "them" the system of road contractors and "elected" officials.)

Politicians here in Georgia USA have had studies about droughts and water supply since at least 1969 that showed them how to build reservoirs that would provide water in droughts, but the contractors/builders/politicians could get more quick/easy money by business as usual, and now there are idiotic "water restrictions" such as prohibiting people from washing their cars at home.

Generals told Rumsfeld that, yes, the USA could conquer Iraq with a blitzkreig of 150,000 troops, but to occupy it would take at least 300,000. They were ignored because the higher troop levels would require a politically costly draft.
...

There are very few problems (actually, I don't know any really big serious ones) for which the technical means of solution are not known,
so
lack of "rigorous science" is NOT the problem.

The problem is that the costs of those solutions are also known,
and that the costs usually include decrease in short-term profit for long-term gain,
so that most Harvard-Business-School-Indoctrinated so-called Leaders simply refuse to give up their short-term profit (the nice view on the way down to the sidewalk).
The results are Enron, Hedge-fund collapses, and too many other similar things to mention.

Tony Smith

PS - To really do something that endures short-term costs for long-term benefit requires something like a dictator or emperor.
Examples:
Nuclear Energy came from the Manhattan project and related military programs (nuclear USA Navy etc);
Radar etc came from the Battle of Britain;
Jet aircraft came from German military and was further developed by USA/UK/USSR ... military;
Rockets/Satellites came from German military and USA/USSR further development;
Interstate highways came from USA military copying German autobahn;
Computers/internet came from military coding and weapon simulation work, and from military command/control work;
etc.

Tony Smith said...

Sorry - For my preceding comment I hit the anonymous button instead of the Name/URL button by mistake.

Tony Smith

Bee said...

Hi Tony:

You say

The second is not, because even if political/financial leaders understand the "consequences of ... stresses"
that does NOT imply that they will DO anything to relieve the stresses.


That is exactly the point Homer-Dixon makes with stressing the importance of 'social ingenuity'. His notion of 'scientists' includes the social sciences, also politics. You are right with saying that knowing the consequences of stresses does not imply political leaders do anything to relieve them. The question he is asking is are the 'leaders' the ones that have the sufficient knowledge? Is our world in this way well prepared for the problems we are facing?

I think therefore he is also right with saying scientists have a special role in understanding and dealing with the complexity - that includes those of our political and economical systems - and bringing forward the ingenuity, both technical and social, to solve the problems of our future. I do agree with what he says, that the lag of social sciences behind the natural sciences is problematic (you might have read this opinion of mine out of earlier posts that I had about technological developments etc). And I also think that the developments in understanding complex systems and the structure and (more importantly) dynamics of networks is crucial to to issue. I hope that more studies in this area will manage to kick start badly needed improvements in our political and economical systems.

Best,

B.

Arun said...

With such a strong recommendation, I'll have to read the book. Discussion to follow :)

Bee said...

Dear Arun: Looking forward to the discussion. I will likely ponder one or the other topic of the book later on, will have to do some follow-up reading first. I find the book a bit disturbing on a personal level admittedly. That is to say, I am pretty sure had I read the book when it came out, I wouldn't be sitting in an institute for theoretical physics today, but probably would have continued my studies somewhere in the social sciences (sociology or politics, it was hanging in the air for me at this time). Best,

B.

Arun said...

Till then, another gap.

Bee said...

but conventionalism is so convenient ;-)

Plato said...

Facing lean times.

First can one really deduce the heart of the situation and form a predictive facet of what society in the United states will under go?

Unfunded liabilities in their pension plans and 50 trillion dollars in debt the United States is in trouble. They have gone from a manufacturing society to a service one. They import more then they export.

The baby boomer has lived a good life considering, and without paying the deficit countries like China will need to be paid.

What does this mean in the near future for the new President who shall be elected? Trying times to ask of their citizens to return back to the ideas of sufficiency. Back to manufacturing. No more lying about the inflation. Stop printing an already undervalued dollar.

Lean times will ask that the population bring back some of the values that have since eroded after world war two.

So there will be a "dynamic in the social family" to an adjustment that is necessary?

Making such predictions can be based on what the futures hold for those up and coming retirements.

What do you need to live?

Phil Warnell said...

Bee,

As usual, an excellent post, relating to a very relevant and important topic; I to, (when I can find the time) will have to give this book a look-see. The phenomena he refers to is not something which has been with us for a short time or has its effect only starting to impact us recently. It appears that the author is aware of this and in some sense is appealing not only to the lag of social science yet also more generally of the individuals willingness to expand their own level of general awareness.

For me this in the end is the most important part and the one that is suffering most. My own personal experience is that over the years the average aptitude for what I call general knowledge or awareness has not only been on a steady decline (linear) but rather an accelerated one (exponential). I’m not taking about something that is resultant of being able to just say that process is racing ahead of understanding, yet rather if their were no progress it would still show a marked decline. I would say this is resultant of people only being interested in what they consider to have immediate application for them (utility) and believing to consider much outside of this to be counterproductive. As a result the “Ingenuity Gap” is being compounded by what I’d call the self justified general expansion of ignorance. Therefore the overall threat can not simply be addressed in olny improving social systems and/or networking. One cannot even begin to address the larger collective issues unless the quality of the individual is improved. Albert Einstein recognized the seriousness of this problem many years ago when he said the following:

“Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist's snobbishness.”

Now if one considers that the percentage of people who don’t even read newspapers (or equivalent) along with books of any kind compared with the time Einstein was referring to you can imagine the true depth and magnitude of the problem we face.

Regards,

Phil

Arun said...

Dear Bee,
Convention is convenient, indeed :) A friend was talking about Edsger Dikjkstra ( archive) -- it is definitely worth learning more about his thought; and one of his themes is that statement of mathematical theorems and proofs can be greatly improved. Soon after that I see your Ingenuity Gap post, and it seems to me that if we make things harder than they should be (through conventional means of presentation, for instance) then we make the problem of a gap worse.

Best,
-Arun

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Just as a follow up to what I said about the decline in reading books (of any kind) here is a synoposis of where we sit as cited on Erma Bombeck's web site. It is as follows:

-1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.

-42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.

-80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

-70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

-57 percent of new books are not read to completion.

-70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance.

-70 percent of the books published do not make a profit.
(Source: Jerold Jenkins, www.JenkinsGroupInc.com)


I find this not simply depressing yet worse alarming.


Regards,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

The first 3 points are indeed depressing. Do you know of similar statistics for other countries?

The 4th point doesn't mean all that much given that one can order and browse books online these days. Sure its not the same, but not necessarily a bad sign.

The last 3 points don't surprise me. It doesn't indicate to me a 'decline of reading books' as you put it, but the quality of books getting worse, plus the number of bad books increasing. These three points basically seem to say: more of what gets published is crap.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi again Phil,

About your earlier comment:

For me this in the end is the most important part and the one that is suffering most. My own personal experience is that over the years the average aptitude for what I call general knowledge or awareness has not only been on a steady decline (linear) but rather an accelerated one (exponential). I’m not taking about something that is resultant of being able to just say that process is racing ahead of understanding, yet rather if their were no progress it would still show a marked decline.

I do indeed think you'd find the book interesting. He has several chapters on how the human brain wasn't made to deal with all that information, and what the results are people suffer from: working-memory deficits, disorganization, impulsitivity, difficulties sustaining attention. Another quote:

If it's true that these communication technologies create much more stress in our lives, and if stress degrades our cognitive functions, then these communications revolution may, in a final irony, be sowing the seeds of its own demise. This revolution may be creating a psychological environment that hinders our ability to focus our minds and organize our ideas; in the process, it may actually lower the output of technical ingenuity that the revolution needs to sustain itself. [...] So much information and so many ideas are competing for the limited space in our brains that the day's perplexing public-policy issues and controversies must be condensed into single-sentence declarations an aphorisms. In this competitive cognitive environment, ideas must be crude and unreflective to win. "

Best,

B.

Uncle Al said...

Rather than foster brilliance we allocate for its suppression. Putting hereditary wealth and power in charge proves immortality has no impetus to improve. Demanding fine-grain global control is mathematically lethal,

http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/comprom.htm

Lumped elements! Local control, then grab the bag from the outside when you scale.

California AP exam results: Los Angeles Times, 14 Feb 2008, p. B2. Whites, Browns, and Yellows have equal performance (66.5-68.6%% scored at least one "3") while Blacks met Bell Curve predictions with 32.5%. The Spanish AP exam was taken almost exclusively by Browns. Exclude that single pip and reality is... on the curve.

English AP was the worst performance. We will fully obtain that for which we so desperately wished and paid while the Gifted were righteously expunged for the crime of elitism. (Elitism insists the better is preferable to the worse.)

Plato said...

Genesis Timaeus 27c-34a

First then, in my judgment, we must make a distinction and ask, What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is? That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is. Now everything that becomes or is created must of necessity be created by some cause, for without a cause nothing can be created.

Phil,

Sometimes I think you underestimate the potential within people, that given the right information and tools, "leaps of intuition" move people to another level of consideration. How can that be called "ignorance" if these initiatives had never been considered?

These are are all "paradigmatic changes" that are like revolutions within the sphere of one's influence.

Winding down of a culture? Energy impetus to democratic principles now being challenged, and given the right circumstances what is to suffer under economic reforms?

Art and Science perhaps. There had to be some confidence in the market to allow individual these freedoms, or chances to work that "deep play."

"Deep play doesn't have to do with an activity, like shallow play. It has to do with attitude or an extraordinarily intense state."-Dianne Ackerman

Finding these "moments of creativity" are an important aspect of realizing the potentials people have. Ignorance to me circumvents this, and squashes it?

Arun said...

"80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year."

Square that with this:
book stats

e.g.

"Today there are approximately 80,000 publishers. In 2003, there were about 56,000 publishers; compare that to 12,000 in 1980."

"It is predicted that online book sales will double between 2003 and 2008, going from $2.8 billion in late 2003 to $5.5 billion in 2008. Roughly five million new U.S. households will shop online each of the next five years, growing the e-commerce market to 63 million households by '08."

Arun said...

Some other book reading stats

Lex said...

Hi Bee,

Add this to your book list, if you haven't already: The Undercover Economist by Tim Hartford. Your post about the potholes reminded me of it. It analyses fairly complex economics in terms of farms, coffee shops and car sales that even a physicist (like myself!) can understand.

Bee said...

Hi Lex: Thanks! Sounds interesting, I will keep it in mind.

-B.

stefan said...

Dear Bee,

thank you for the great review and the excerpts - sounds like a very interesting book!

Best, Stefan

Neil' said...

I've been reading lots of Jaron Lanier (pioneer in virtual reality and techno-phil) lately. He has interesting insights about topical issues like info-glut and 'techno hubris'. I wonder if anyone has found interesting things in his writings. Some cybergeeks claim he appropriated lots of inventions etc. from others and didn't give them credit, but he is highly regarded AFAIK in the "wired community."

Jaron Lanier

stefan said...

Hi Neil,

Lanier, that's the guy with the Digital Maoism thesis? Bee had quoted him in The spirits that we called!

Best, Stefan

Kronprinz Rupprecht said...

What I find strange is that there are so many people who believe
[a] that our society is very complex and delicate, hence unable to resist a shock AND
[b] the only way to solve this problem is radical change, ie the administration of a shock.

*Surely* if you are running a supercomputer and something goes wrong, you would not hit it with a large hammer? It *might* work but [following Boltzmann.....] it is clear that the number of ways in which it can make things worse is vastly larger than the number of ways it can improve things. The second law of thermodynamics applies here as everywhere else :-)

*So* one would think it obvious that the way to approach, eg, global warming, is to make gradual changes that harm the economy as little as possible, not to do things that will bring global trade and tourism etc to an abrupt halt. In short: remain calm, don't smash the computer in the hope that it will miraculously reassemble itself closer to your heart's desire.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

“Sometimes I think you underestimate the potential within people, that given the right information and tools, "leaps of intuition" move people to another level of consideration. How can that be called "ignorance" if these initiatives had never been considered?”

Plato, you cut me to the quick! You know full well that as being one influenced and inspired by Plato that I have high regard for the potential of the human species. However, being consistent with this philosophy, it is also clear that the capacity for learning, although it is innate to the species still will not fully emerge unless first this is realized and second acted upon. I am also not saying that most people actually choose ignorance, yet rather are fooled into believing that what they perceive is truth. What I’m referring to is the change in media over the last hundred years or so. This chance brought us first film, then television and now video images on the web. Marshall McLuhan in 1967 made some astute and prophetic observations in this regard which a full discussion can be found in a recent New Yorker article. What he had to say on this can be found beginning near the end page four of the piece called “Twilight of the Books” which is a in-depth discussion of all this. The lynch pin quote (found on page five ) he made is as follows:

“Electronic technology fosters and encourages unification and involvement,”

When you first read this one might imagine that’s good for this is certainly an improvement over reading. The author of the piece expands to clarify this in the following:

“The viewer feels at home with his show, or else he changes the channel. The closeness makes it hard to negotiate differences of opinion. It can be amusing to read a magazine whose principles you despise, but it is almost unbearable to watch such a television show. And so, in a culture of secondary orality, we may be less likely to spend time with ideas we disagree with.”

He then completes the connection when he says:

“Self-doubt, therefore, becomes less likely. In fact, doubt of any kind is rarer. It is easy to notice inconsistencies in two written accounts placed side by side. With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information.”

The kicker of course is that this is not a new concept, yet rather something several millennia old and attributed to your namesake. For the media today equates to be nothing more then Plato’s shadows, which form to be a substitution for reality, while reading lends one the possibility to actually expand ones reality as perhaps to have better understanding of what may be the truth.

Regards,

Phil

Plato said...

Phil:However, being consistent with this philosophy, it is also clear that the capacity for learning, although it is innate to the species still will not fully emerge unless first this is realized and second acted upon.

Innatism is a philosophical doctrine introduced by Plato in the socratic dialogue Meno which holds that the mind is born with ideas/knowledge, and that therefore the mind is not a tabula rasa at birth. It asserts therefore that not all knowledge is obtained from experience and the senses. Innatism is the opposite of empiricism.

Plato claimed that humans are born with ideas/forms in the mind that are in a dormant state. He claimed that we have acquired these ideas prior to our birth when we existed as souls in the world of Forms. To access these, humans need to be reminded of them through proper education and experience.


You are right of course and consistent. "Ignorance then" would die a quick death? "Ignorance" would then be the shadow.

The Real Plato:but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is

I would think then that "lost long enough and disparate," the struggle is always for the light. How repetitive are the lessons we learn before it has made an impression?

Still, there is "the light/fire" and the struggle for truth. It is good that you define the shadow. Now I understand what your point was.

amaragraps said...

Dear Bee:

About your side question to Arun regarding reading habits.

I made an analysis last September of Worldwide reading habits in the process of having a discussion with an Italian scientist about Italians' reading habits, It began when my old IFSI institute gave away hundreds of bookmarks with the IFSI logo, and I asked, probably undiplomatically, "who would be using them?". I think that I was generally correct in my reasoning that Italy lags behind the other EU countries in their reading habits, but we also all know that the US lags behind many more. Below I paste my analysis, but I have no idea how it will appear at the end of your comments.. it needs a monospace font for the columns to line up. If, instead what I write looks like gibberish, and the data is something that you would like, I can email it to you. Just ask.

MEASURE OF READING HABITS IN EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA

In the following UNESCO data,

Book Production
http://www.unece.org/stats/trends/ch11/11.12.xls

I added a column of the population between the ages of 25 and 64 from:

Population data
http://www.unece.org/stats/trends/ch1/1.1.xls

and divided the book production by the number of people who are likely to be reading. No illiteracy rates have been factored in. This number represents a rough measure of the reading habits of readers in that country, reading material published in their own language. Some day in the future I would like to further distinguish the reading material in terms of social sciences, pure and applied sciences, and literature and arts. And I didn't finish filling in (population values) for the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Iceland is high because they are not only prolific book publishers and readers, but their population is also tiny.

The last column is my Rough Measure Of 'Reading Habits' in that Country.

#published
book titles Pop(25-64) #Bks/Pop (*1E3)
(25-64) MEASURE
European Union:
Austria a 8 056 4 559 976 0.00177 1.76668
Denmark 14 455 2 950 310 0.00490 4.89948
Finland 13 173 2 874 152 0.00458 4.58326
France 39 083 30 779 424 0.00127 1.26978
Germany a 71 515 46 445 344 0.00154 1.53977
Greece b 4 067 5 637 830 0.00072 0.72138
Italy 32 365 32 392 640 0.00100 0.99915 <--
Portugal b 8 331 5 499 773 0.00151 1.51479
Spain 59 174 21 984 963 0.00269 2.69157
Sweden c 12 547 4 705 984 0.00267 2.66618
United Kingdom c 110 965 31 849 788 0.00348 3.48401
Other Western Europe:
Cyprus 931 288 507 0.00323 3.22696
Iceland c 1 796 143 120 0.01255 12.54889
Malta c 237 208 842 0.00113 1.13483
Monaco d 70 19 200 0.00365 3.64583
Norway 4 985 2 392 314 0.00208 2.08376
Switzerland 18 273 4 035 791 0.00453 4.52774
Turkey 2 920 31 101 612 0.00009 0.09389
Central and Eastern Europe:
Bulgaria 4 971 4 293 864 0.00116 1.15770
Croatia 2 309 2 365 188 0.00098 0.97624
Czech Republic 12 551 5 503 813 0.00228 2.28042
Estonia 3 265 714 788 0.00457 4.56779
Hungary 10 352 5 501 250 0.00188 1.88175
Latvia 2 178 1 248 150 0.00174 1.74498
Lithuania 4 097 1 811 934 0.00226 2.26112
Poland 19 192 20 131 961 0.00095 0.95331
Romania 7 874 11 809 227 0.00067 0.66677
Serbia and Monta 5 367 5 485 626 0.00098 0.97838
Slovakia 3 153 2 814 102 0.00112 1.12043
Slovenia 3 450 1 111 536 0.00310 3.10381
The former Yugosl 733 1 039 543 0.00071 0.70512
Commonwealth of Independent States:
Armenia 516
Azerbaijan c 444
Belarus c 6 073
Georgia 697
Kazakhstan 1 223
Kyrgyzstan c 420
Republic of Moldo 1 166
Russian Federata 36 237
Tajikistan b 150
Ukraine 6 282
Uzbekistan a 1 003
North America:
Canada 22 94117 126 127 0.00134 1.33953
United States a 68 175149 233 57 0.00046 0.45683 <--
Other member countries:
Israel c 1 969 2792404.8 0.00071 0.70513

a/ Data for 1996 c/ Data for 1998
b/ Data for 1997 d/ Data for 2000

---------------------------------------------------------

amaragraps said...

Yuk.. unreadable results... :-(

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“The first 3 points are indeed depressing. Do you know of similar statistics for other countries?”

As for other countries or regions such as Europe it’s a little more difficult to put you hands on something at least for free. There is one study by Karin Raeymaeckers out of University of Ghent, Belgium entitled “ Young People and Patterns of Time Consumption in Relation to Print ”. However just to look at it for a single day they want $15.00. Perhaps your Perimeter privileges can access this and you could fill us on it. The only things I could draw on is that same New Yorker article called “ Twilight of the Books ” (the one I pointed out to Plato) where they made reference to Dutch studies that have been carried out for some years. They did say for instance:

“The most striking results were generational.”

Followed by:

“The turning point seems to have come with the generation born in the nineteen-forties. By 1995, a Dutch college graduate born after 1969 was likely to spend fewer hours reading each week than a little-educated person born before 1950. “

Although the numbers are not expressed as clearly as the other data for Americans, it seems the trend is consistent and appears to correlate with things like the advent of other media as I pointed out also to Plato. I also believe that it carrys the same consequences and relates to the warnings given by Marshall McLuhan in that the electronic (visual media) has an effect on ones perspective as what this information serves to both be and represent. I believe this whole information overload theory may actually turn out to be what I would call a Pseudo reality overload. This is more then frightening for it suggests that perhaps many of us to one extent or other are already living in a world as depicted in the movie “The Matrix”. The good news is that the solution is simpler then the dilemma they faced for it simply means we need to turn on the television less and open the cover of a book more.

Regards,

Phil

Arun said...

The public library does not have the book; it will be about a week before I get my paws on the Ingenuity Gap.

Anonymous said...

to arun

How many of those 80,000 publishers were either "vanity" type publishers, or just some guys who either self-published and/or ran their own book company out of their own garage?

Plato said...

“Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist's snobbishness.”

Phil,

You have a source for this?

So statistical valuations have been made known here about population and reading habits. Nothing saids anything about "retention" for sure eh?:) Jut one more fact going where?

So there are reasons for this?

Literacy has moved from book decline in reading to internet reading?

70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance.

-70 percent of the books published do not make a profit.


Divide up the sources and interest most people have when they go on the internet. Read email? Look at pictures? Read articles on local/ national news(replaced newspapers).

How many more watch TV, then using the internet? How many are using the internet to watch TV?

Examples of Nova and others, as educational shows on television giving us facts about our world, versus information from sources like PBS and others, on the internet.

Einsteins comparativeness, "And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous," does not direct us to the more substance gained in PIRSA or other archives that speak to a deeper aspect of society, from a scientists perspective.

It would have to have its tribes, with varying skills at disseminating information. Impacting "varying degrees of correlative cognitive human functionality" for retention and impact? The deeper the impression the better remembered.

This reminds of a quote from Scienceblogs,"Shifting Literature by Jennifer L. Jacquet? and Clifford's picture of the libraries.

Ursula Le Guin

In its silence, a book is a challenge: it can't lull you with surging music or deafen you with screeching laugh tracks or fire gunshots in your living room; you have to listen to it in your head. A book won't move your eyes for you the way images on a screen do. It won't move your mind unless you give it your mind, or your heart unless you put your heart in it. It won't do the work for you. To read a story well is to follow it, to act it, to feel it, to become it--everything short of writing it, in fact. Reading is not "interactive" with a set of rules or options, as games are; reading is actual collaboration with the writer's mind. No wonder not everybody is up to it.

Plato said...

A continuing trend perhaps "given an idea" about information dissemination?

Harvard & Open Access?

Christine said...

Below is what I've got from a brief search:

- In 2000, one fourth of the Brazilian population with 15 years or more was "functionally illiterate".

- One out of three literate Brazilian adults has the habit of reading books.

- The literate Brazilian reads less than 1.8 non-academic books per year -- half the value in comparison to the U.S.A. or Europe.

- Brazilians spend in average 5.2 hours per week with a book.

These statements came from a major Brazilian newspaper, but I did not check the sources of those statements. In particular, I find the latter 2 items somewhat incompatible.

Christine

Coyote Today, Crane Tomorrow said...

Literary status quos have not necessarily benefitted cultures. Leonardo Da Vinci did not do well with Latin and is said to have not liked most of the literature that was being read. He had to learn Latin to fit in at the court in Milan. But Da Vinci was fond of Dante's work because Dante wrote in Italian, which was not academic, and not considered a language for successful literature. Another example is the literary culture of China which had a major part in keeping China stagnant for many centuries. Our present era puts image in the forefront, and while I'm a poet, I really can't see that this is detrimental to intellectual development. Things needs to be shaken up and rearranged for intellectual lfe to move on. Poetry makes a better corollary to an image orientied culture than prose does, so I have taken poetry as my written form. A scientist recently used the word "grok" in a sentence directed at me, and I had never heard the word. I searched and found it is in Oxford and first appeared in a prose work, a Robert Heinlein novel, but it remains obsure to most people, just as prose such Heinlein's is being read less and less. I think the verb to grok can carry far more meaning in poetry than in prose.
My guess is there are probably fewer great written works that are going to come out of our time than great works of visual art, but there's a time for everything. It is just that sort of era, I think. Then perhaps there will follow literary scientists comparable to Newton and Leibniz.... Who knows. It's best to roll with what one has at hand, I think.

Bee said...

Hi Kronprinz,

What I find strange is that there are so many people who believe
[a] that our society is very complex and delicate, hence unable to resist a shock AND
[b] the only way to solve this problem is radical change, ie the administration of a shock.


I don't know who 'many people' is, but this is neither what I believe, nor did I read anything in this regard in Homer-Dixon's books.

[a] The whole purpose of my writing about these matters is at least that I do think our society IS able to resist a shock, but it doesn't come for free, one has to think how a society can be organized such that the chances are good. And I don't think this is currently the case. You find similar end remarks in Homer-Dixon's books. What do you think why he's taking the time to write these books?

[b] It's not a question of change or no change. It is a question of which change has less drawbacks, and what is the best way to avoid that potentially many people suffer or die. You should maybe read 'The Upside of Down'.

it is clear that the number of ways in which it can make things worse is vastly larger than the number of ways it can improve things. The second law of thermodynamics applies here as everywhere else :-)

I don't know where you picked that bullshit up, but it sounds suspiciously Sean Carroll. Maybe go and read the comment I left there. You are conveniently forgetting that we're not in an equilibrium situation, so you can forget about that kind of reasoning to begin with. The landscape we're sitting in is time dependent. Not changing anything is also a decision and if we don't change anything that does not imply things stay as they are. Rather, things will be changed for us, whether we like it or not.

*So* one would think it obvious that the way to approach, eg, global warming, is to make gradual changes that harm the economy as little as possible, not to do things that will bring global trade and tourism etc to an abrupt halt. In short: remain calm, don't smash the computer in the hope that it will miraculously reassemble itself closer to your heart's desire.

Nobody wants that. In fact, that's what should be avoided. If we sit around letting our economy become more and more fragile and receptible to small fluctuations that can result in panics, that's where you should tell people to remain calm. If we sit around letting the less fortunate countries alone with increasingly harsh conditions resulting from climate change that's where you should tell people to remain calm. The whole point of having this discussion is to have it now in a 'calm' way because people who have to make decisions in the last minutes when times are rough easily make mistakes. And we can't afford that.

Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

““Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses……………………””

“You have a source for this?”

Yes it’s:

"On Classic Literature" from Ideas and Opinions – Crown Publishing (1954)-Albert Einstein (page 64) originally published in the Jungkaufmann, a monthly publication of the “Schweizerischer Kaufmaennischer Verein, Jugendbund" (Feb, 29, 1954)


My copy is the 1982 Edition, my second. The first one fell apart from wear :-)


“So there are reasons for this?”
“Literacy has moved from book decline in reading to internet reading?”


In part some of the (current) reading has gone there and yet the studies have been following this trend going back almost 90 years. It indicates that it’s been dropping steadily with it really going in a tail spin beginning with the dawn of the television age. No I’m afraid that the decline in reading books for pleasure or enrichment is a true phenomenon. You should read that New Yorker article I pointed to for it talks about”a culture of secondary orality”. Also you should check out Marshall McLuhan and the true nature of what he coined as being “The Global Village”. All this was written in the 50’s and 60’s and for the most part he appears to be right on target. As an example, from "War and Peace in the Global Village" (1968) page 32:

”Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence. [...] Terror is the normal state of any oral society, for in it everything affects everything all the time. [...] In our long striving to recover for the Western world a unity of sensibility and of thought and feeling we have no more been prepared to accept the tribal consequences of such unity than we were ready for the fragmentation of the human psyche by print culture.”

Regards,


Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

Sotty, I just notice I goofed, that last line in my source should read Feb. 29, 1952 not 1954.


Regards,

Phil

Arun said...

G'morning, Bee!

I live within a half mile of the headquarters of the county library headquarters (one reason I live where I do, though I'd prefer to live near a public university library. My commute would kill me though.)

The last few years the HQ library has been celebrating a million+ items circulated per year (just from the HQ, not counting the branch libraries). That seems good, but when you look closer, 60% of the items are DVDs and video tapes. (I don't know what the audio book circulation is, should we count it as "reading" - the information content is pretty much the same.) So not so good news.

Another thought is - is book-reading like being vegetarian? Vegetarians think it is important, but there is little perceptible individual benefit/loss to being otherwise. Maybe people who don't read are correctly not wasting their time.

Plato said...

Thanks Phil

Understanding Media (1964)

McLuhan pointed to the light bulb as a clear demonstration of this concept. A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states that "a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence."

Hmmm... darkness can be a even greater form of ignorance then the shadows?:) To Remain in the dark?

Sort of helps one see where the Light Bulb made it's way into Ingenuity? A light bulb moment?:)

One must in media create "spaces" for people.

Arun said...

Let's take a concrete example - if Americans read more, would it have made any difference to whether the US would have invaded Iraq?

I think not. The reasons are that, firstly, like it or not, Americans were in a frightened and belligerent mood after 9/11, and wanted to kick someone's, anyone's, butt. Second, the US is a republic, and it is the elected representatives that decided to take the US to war; the people really did not have that much immediate input.

No matter what Bush/Cheney/Powell said, the information was there for any Congressman or Senator to evaluate; as (Republican) then-Senator Lincoln Chafee did, even visiting the CIA, or (then-Congressman, now Senator) Bob Menendez did - and voted against the war. Senator Hillary Clinton had access to the same information but she voted for the war, as a matter of political calculation, not one of lack of knowledge.

In general, decisions may be poorly made not because knowledge is lacking, but because of convergence of some set of interests on a particular decision. We live in a very rarified, unreal atmosphere if we think that knowledge can deflect those interests from their purposes. The only way is to organize a counter-interest coalition. I say coalition rather than group, because for this coalition, knowledge is a weapon for its purposes, not an underlying motivator. E.g., mothers may not want their children who enlisted in the army to go to war; and they will seize on knowledge as a rationale to oppose the war.

Bee said...

Dear Arun:

Well, you are raising a whole bunch of different questions there. You seem to assume I said something along the lines 'if all Americans would read more books the world would be a better place' or something. I never said anything in this regard, and I actually don't think so (it was Phil who brought up the topic of people reading less books, not me).

Let me leave aside the question of how much influence the voters actually have in the US in between the elections (that's a very difficult question). As I have said repeatedly, what concerns me is not so much that people know little or don't want to know, but that they believe they know. What concerns me is that people seem to take less and less time to think about what they are doing and why, where their life is going, and whether they want it to go there. Given that our world becomes more complex every day, one should think they'd spend MORE not LESS time on it, no? (And those who take the time end up on Zoloft because they find they don't like their life, such the status of western civilization*.)


Now to come back to the books: this seems to correlate to (as opposed to being the reason) to people reading less books, and also to newspaper articles getting shorter, headlines getting larger, statements being condensed into single sentences etc, because our attention span just gets smaller the more information we have to cope with. This I think is a very, very bad trend, and I do indeed agree on what HD writes that " then these communications revolution may, in a final irony, be sowing the seeds of its own demise." (That was basically the content of the earlier post The Spirits that we Called, who is supposed to be the master who saves us?)

Best,

B.

* Okay, I know it's a very crude exaggeration.

Arun said...

Dear Bee,

Yes, it was Phil who brought up reading.

The counterpoint to your melody is that given that the world is increasingly more complex, and I'm affected by events I have no way of anticipating, why should I spend a lot of time thinking? (To give a simplified example, I knew someone who spent a lot of time mastering a technology - that unexpectedly became obsolete.)

I should shed the illusion that I'm the master of my destiny or even any kind of arbiter of it. I should not drown swimming in the rip tide of "where I want to go". Rather I should be -

Skating away on the thin ice of a new day....

I do resonate a lot with

What concerns me is that people seem to take less and less time to think about what they are doing and why, where their life is going, and whether they want it to go there. Given that our world becomes more complex every day, one should think they'd spend MORE not LESS time on it, no?

It is almost enough to make one religious :) :) And the attempt to think and then move in the direction that thought dictates is really a form of prayer. It requires a certain faith in the nature of reality that this effort is worthwhile. Most people lack this faith, I think.

Bee said...

Dear Arun:

Well, I didn't mean it religiously, I meant it in a self-reflecting way (call it spiritually or psychologically, depending on taste). Most people know intuitively that they are running on a treadmill not getting anywhere, just running faster because their neighbors are running faster. If the capitalist society was a person, it is on speed, in need of withdrawal and a good shrink. The problem is with addictions like this, people don't realize the problem until they have a serious breakdown that threatens their basic functionality. I personally don't think anybody can really be a 'master' of his or her destiny, but most people have much more options than they realize, e.g. nowadays most seem to completely neglect the possibilities they have because they are citizens with voting rights living in what still is a democracy. Others seem to neglect the possibilities they have by just questioning conventional wisdom. Most scientists seem to completely neglect the impact they can have on politics altogether. I very much like HD's title of the colloq 'An End to Reticence' - scientists are, so I hope, still those people who are considered reliable sources of information (a reliability however that gets greatly distorted through bad scientific journalism).
Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Plato,

“”McLuhan pointed to the light bulb as a clear demonstration of this concept.””

I can see you’ve had a look at McLuhan’s thoughts. I was aware of this light bulb analogy and have to say as you seem to suggest it’s a little weak. Although there have been some studies that talk about artificial light, the extended day and how this is unnatural and perhaps not good for our species (not nocturnal). It may turn out that McLuhan’s light bulb is not a benign media after all:-)

However what I do now realize, after reading other’s postings, is that perhaps this philosophical slant I/we have put on things have sort of missed the mark (that is the audience). I’m afraid that in general philosophy of almost any kind is more often associated with religion and thus is pretty much summarily dismissed. This however is not the place for me to wage this debate. It is strange however how the McLuhan reference didn’t draw much fire one way or the other. This is probably since this also may be seen as being to close to philosophy as well.

Then I thought why not try another approach, that being Science Fiction. This of course is the universally accepted format of social commentary. So then even before McLuhan these warnings were put out through this modern expressive process. The book that comes to mind that is most relevant in this regard is Ray Bradbury’s 1953 book “Fahrenheit 451 ”. Many who read this book thought it was simply a comment on the evils of censorship. I must say that I never thought of it in this way and neither might I add did its author. Borrowed from Wikipedia I quote the following:

“Over the years, the novel has been subject to various interpretations, primarily focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. Bradbury has stated that the novel is not about censorship; he states that Fahrenheit 451 is a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which ultimately leads to ignorance of total facts.”

An even more clear and credible insight into all this is to be found in an article in the LA Weekly News that was formed from an interview with Bradbury in relation to what he meant. For those that don’t have the patients to follow the link and read the article I’ll quote in “factoid” format (Bradbury’s term) :

“Now, Bradbury has decided to make news about the writing of his iconographic work and what he really meant. Fahrenheit 451 is not, he says firmly, a story about government censorship.”

“Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.”

“Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was,” Bradbury says, summarizing TV’s content with a single word that he spits out as an epithet: “factoids.”

“His fear in 1953 that television would kill books has, he says, been partially confirmed by television’s effect on substance in the news. The front page of that day’s L.A. Times reported on the weekend box-office receipts for the third in the Spider-Man series of movies, seeming to prove his point.”

“Useless,” Bradbury says. “They stuff you with so much useless information, you feel full.”

“He says the culprit in Fahrenheit 451 is not the state — it is the people. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, in which the government uses television screens to indoctrinate citizens, Bradbury envisioned television as an opiate.”

“Bradbury imagined a democratic society whose diverse population turns against books: Whites reject Uncle Tom’s Cabin and blacks disapprove of Little Black Sambo. He imagined not just political correctness, but a society so diverse that all groups were “minorities.” He wrote that at first they condensed the books, stripping out more and more offending passages until ultimately all that remained were footnotes, which hardly anyone read. Only after people stopped reading did the state employ firemen to burn books.”

It is my hope with this that perhaps some will consider what Ray Bradbury has to say, if not Plato.

Regards,


Phil

Arun said...

Dear Bee,

Let us just say that we need to teach people to lengthen their Buxton index.


Quote:

A very useful measure is —called after its inventor— the "Buxton Index". John N. Buxton discovered that the most important one-dimensional scale along which persons are institutions to be compared, can be placed is the length of the period of time in the future for which a person or institution plans. This period, measured in years, gives the Buxton Index. For the little shopkeeper around the corner the Buxton Index is three-quarter, for a true Christian it is infinite, we marry with one near fifty, most larger companies have one of about five, most scientist have one between two and ten. (For a scientist it is hard to have a larger one: the future then becomes so hazy, that effective planning becomes an illusion.)

The great significance of the Buxton Index is not its depth, but its objectivity. The point is that when people with drastically different Buxton Indices have to cooperate while unaware of the concept of the Buxton Index, they tend to make moral accusations against each other. The man with the shorter Buxton Index accuses the other of neglect of duty, the man with the larger one accuses the other of shortsightedness. The notion of the Buxton Index takes the moral flavour away and enables people to discuss such differences among themselves dispassionately. There is nothing wrong with having different Buxton Indices! It takes many people to make a world. There is clearly no moral value attached to either a long or a short Buxton Index. It is a useful concept for dispassionate discussion.

In my own environment I have suffered from a relatively long Buxton index —complete with accusation to and fro— until the concept of the Buxton Index was brought to our attention. If, in the course of this discussion, I emerge as "very European", I think that among other things I do so on account of my large personal Buxton Index, because, on the average, the European Buxton Index seems to be larger than the American one. As an example I just mention the funding policy of the NSF and similar organizations —and it does not matter whether we should regard this as cause or as symptom— . The NF policy states explicitly —and the need for the statement is significant— that short-term goals at the expense of long-term concerns are not to be sponsored. Fine, but the majority of the research proposals aim at a tangible result within two or three years only. Personally I don't remember ever having seen a proposal for a grant beyond three years. The (to my taste) shortness of these periods has in the past been one of my main considerations for not joining the faculty of an American University, and as some of them have tried hard enough to seduce me, I feel entitled to call the difference significant.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

“A very useful measure is —called after its inventor— the "Buxton Index". John N. Buxton discovered that the most important one-dimensional scale along which persons are institutions to be compared, can be placed is the length of the period of time in the future for which a person or institution plans……………………The (to my taste) shortness of these periods has in the past been one of my main considerations for not joining the faculty of an American University, and as some of them have tried hard enough to seduce me, I feel entitled to call the difference significant.”

This sounds to me like a convoluted way to self justify opinion. In our current culture it is simply what one hears all the time which is:

“That’s only your opinion and although mine is different, I have a right to hold it; therefore it is equality sound. “

In short what I’m saying is that our society has come to the point where they confuse the right to hold an opinion with it being correct. Refer to what I mentioned earlier to Plato of Bradbury seeing this coming more then 60 years ago when he said:

“He imagined not just political correctness, but a society so diverse that all groups were “minorities.”

When you extend this to the limit the groups become the individual. The consequence of this is that every person exists in their own personal reality, rather then a shared one. I find nothing has ever demonstrated this to be beneficial or true.

Regards,

Phil

Arun said...

Phil,

I disagree. First, how would you establish what the "correct" Buxton index ought to be, for a person or for a university?

Let's take a very narrow scope - even among amateur players in the stock market, there are daily traders and there are long-term investors. Which is "correct"? How do you get to a "shared reality" and why is such a shared reality beneficial?

The only opinions that have correct/incorrect attached to the have to do with nature/science, mathematics, and items of fact.

As an example of the last, it is a fact that Senator McCain, after speaking a lot against torture, voted against a bill that would block the CIA from using torture. To have an opinion that he did not so vote would be wrong.

On the other hand, does that vote make him a candidate that "truly has principles he bends or breaks out of desperation and with distaste" and "preferable to politicians who are congenital invertebrates" (Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times) is a matter of opinion, and there is no correct/incorrect about that opinion.

To Kristof, McCain is a noble if flawed politician, and to me McCain cannot take a stand for even his deepest convictions and so is nowhere near noble. We live in our individual realities, and not a shared one and it is extremely beneficial, because it is precisely these difference of opinions, passionately held, that is supposed to keep the power of government in check, as per the design of the American political system.

Phil Warnell said...

Arun,

“The only opinions that have correct/incorrect attached to the have to do with nature/science, mathematics, and items of fact…………. We live in our individual realities, and not a shared one and it is extremely beneficial, because it is precisely these difference of opinions, passionately held, that is supposed to keep the power of government in check, as per the design of the American political system.”

First off, from what I can gather, without further study, is the Buxton’s index is not something that was intended or is widely suggested to apply to sociological issues as those being discussed here. The index serves primary as a means to save time and avoid errors when considering if institutions or individuals can be expected to form good partnerships in being able to complete a task or program. It is self evident that it would prove useful in such an analysis for this stated purpose. It is not however intended or correct in justifying that opinion is beyond truth. Societies by their very nature are a collective. One responsibility of the representatives of that collective is to act on what the consensus of the collective is or what is in its best interest as a whole. In as consensus and as a whole are both aggregates of average, how are these representatives to act where there is no consensus as there is no collective (just individuals)?

I’d like to point out another misconception and that is the difference between ones opinion being tolerated and it being accommodated. It of course important that all opinions that are not self evident to cause others harm to be expected to be tolerated. However, it is totally incorrect to suggest that this extends to it being correctly required to being accommodated. For I would agree that opinion on its own carries no consequence, only its incorporation does. This is where the individual must give way to the best interests of the collective and the truth of logic when such incorporations are required to be universal.

Regards,

Phil

Bee said...

Dear Arun,

The Burton index sounds like an interesting concept, I hadn't heard of it before. However it seems to me rather confused in its definition. I think one has to distinguish between the different timescales people think ahead in a certain project (marriage, their business, buying a car) and the timescale of that person or an institution 'itself' - the latter is something I can't quite make sense of because it seems to be very task and goal dependent. Therefore, sentences like

The man with the shorter Buxton Index accuses the other of neglect of duty, the man with the larger one accuses the other of shortsightedness.

Are totally silly, because accusations without giving any reasons for or against something are never useful. There are usually arguments pro and con both sides, and one has to find a compromise if one wants to life/work together. Just saying, well, I have a different B - index doesn't help in any regard.

However, to come back to the topic, I certainly grant everybody the right to be short-sighted and act on a one year basis. The problem is though that I think to most (adult) people longer timescales also matter for many 'projects' in their life. E.g. because they want their children to grow up under the best circumstances, because they want their name to be remembered in the next century, or because they want to have a pleasant retirement. Those who believe in rebirth or the immortal soul add more interesting aspects. Just that the way our societies are organized now these long time considerations are not very well taken into account, instead, weight is strongly on short time gains (or losses for that matter). Just as much as I grant everybody the right to follow their short-term interests as I think everybody has the right to get drunk if he wants to, the larger picture should be institutionalized as to remind people occasionally to think ahead (don't drink and drive) in their own interest, even if they might lose it out of sight every now and then. That applies specifically for environmental aspects, but also generally to spending of tax money (e.g. cutting back on foundational research is a very obviously very short sighted decision that might very well turn out to be in parts irreversible, good luck with the recession).

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

opinion on its own carries no consequence, only its incorporation does.

Is not true. You can see it everywhere where a majority opinion differs from the 'incorporation' - i.e. institutionalized procedure. People orient themselves primarily on other's opinions. Take e.g. the role of religion in US politics. There seems to be a widespread 'opinion' that the religion of a 'leader' matters for the country, whereas I go eek whenever I hear a politician say he trusts in God. Take the widespread opinion that self-plagiarism is perfectly okay, that cheating on the income tax is okay because 'everybody does it' and "they" just want to rip "us" off, or the widespread habit in certain European countries to ignore red traffic lights. It is simply speaking not feasible to enforce an 'institutionalized' law if everybody ignores it. Opinion on its own does carry a lot of consequence.

Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“”opinion on its own carries no consequence, only its incorporation does.””

“Opinion on its own does carry a lot of consequence.”

I think you misunderstand what I mean, which most likely indicates I was not clear. What I considered incorporation is that it is acted upon. If it is acted upon by an individual, whose acts lay outside the consensus of the collective as expressed by its rules and conventions, that is not the fault of the system, yet rather the individual. When the system ignores such individual action that is the fault of those appointed to serve and administer the system. This can be addressed by the collective and is its responsibility. When the collective opinion formed is acted on by its representatives and as such does (general) harm that is also the fault of the collective and further signals the system is flawed and requires improvement.

This is what I thought the whole discussion is focused on; which is to suggest that the system is flawed and to offer ways to fix it. My contention is that the system must first realize that although it is often contested that total may be greater then the sum of its parts, that if the parts have little and diminishing value there soon will be nothing to sum. That is why I contend we must first improve the parts, else their will be no sum to consider.

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Phil:I was aware of this light bulb analogy and have to say as you seem to suggest it’s a little weak.

On the contrary it is not weak at all. You had to understand it's context, not just to put light in the dark, but providing a space. A space where ingenuity can make itself know.

In regards to philosophy, and whether one falls to one side or another in relation to science, ingenuity is required even in science.

I presented the value of the dollar and no one took a bite on it either, when there is a whole assessment, as to what the future contains and what prediction's mean given the circumstances of what is happening.

Science suffers because they have to be more selective on the directions they go. It's budget thing one has to do when trimming. Gather scientists to actively discuss where they think money should be allocated.

I've seen this go on with Joanne of Cosmic Variance and John Ellis.

If you did not have some kind of assessment, how could any prediction be made.

So it is about ingenuity(light) in the darkness, because one had to realize there is always this solution presentable in one form or another. It will "run out" given a set of circumstance. Other situations bring new light.

That is why I included art and science(Penrose and Escher or Picasso and Einstein) One is trying to push the envelope.

Plato said...

“Superstring theory forms a vast and impressive mathematical framework and makes enormous claims. But where is the experimental evidence? What if your intuition tells you that this elaborate construction, shrouded by the sweet vagueness of quantum mechanics, cannot represent the complete truth? Lee Smolin is keeping his eyes open, asks sharp questions, and offers his delightful insights as a critical insider. Gerard ‘t Hooft, Nobel Laureate, University of Utrecht-INtro to the "Trouble with Physics" by Lee Smolin

Let's look at the evolution of Gerardus T Hooft's opinion. I had to understand why he would support a change in the ways methods will be adopted to direct science. Not just be, somebody who listens to a chorus and repetitive mantra, without understand why ingenuity is called in, even into areas of science. That is why I presented Susskind's moment of realization.

String theory clearly appears to be strikingly coherent. What seems to be missing presently, however, is a clear description of the local nature of its underlying physical laws. In all circumstances encountered until now, it has been imperative that external fields, in- and outgoing strings and D-branes are required to obey their respective field equations, or lie on their respective mass shells. Thus, only effects due to external perturbations can be computed when these external perturbations obey equations of motion. To me, this implies that we do not understand what the independent degrees of freedom are, and there seems to be no indication that these can be identified. String theoreticians are right in not allowing themselves to be disturbed by this drawback.INTRODUCTION TO STRING THEORY by Gerard ’t Hooft

Lets'look at what a good theoretical physicist is or does.

HOW to BECOME a GOOD THEORETICAL PHYSICIST by Gerard 't Hooft


Theoretical Physics is like a sky scraper. It has solid foundations in elementary mathematics and notions of classical (pre-20th century) physics. Don't think that pre-20th century physics is "irrelevant" since now we have so much more. In those days, the solid foundations were laid of the knowledge that we enjoy now. Don't try to construct your sky scraper without first reconstructing these foundations yourself. The first few floors of our skyscraper consist of advanced mathematical formalisms that turn the Classical Physics theories into beauties of their own. They are needed if you want to go higher than that.

So you see, I have generalized an area of disagreement that happens constantly within sciences discussion and it's counter arguments of so and so.

But still it is about ingenuity in science. Philosophical it may be it is necessary to understand this part of sciences development.

Plato said...

Line of shadow, line of light.

It is only by "contrasting light" do we understand the shadow?:)

Bee said...

Plato: Theoretical Physics today isn't a skyscraper. It's the tower of Babel.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Sorry for the misunderstanding, I misinterpreted your word 'incorporation'. However, I can not quite make sense out of distinguishing between opinions people 'act on' and opinions they don't act on. People always act on their opinions. If they say A and do B, they only pretend A is their opinion, possibly without consciously realizing it. If they realize it, pretending turns into lying. Or - more likely - opinion A is only part of their opinion. What I mean with that:

People can have an opinion that does not take into account that of 'the collective' (as you call it), call it the Just-me-opinion. This opinion might differ from the one where they take into account they are not the only ones in the world and they are part of some society with rules and laws, and other people that want to live as well. Humans being what they are, they will also be influenced by listening to others, esp. people with influence or charisma. Taking all this into account can result in them changing their opinion and lead them not to 'act upon' their 'Just-me-opinion'. Nevertheless, I would insist what they finally act upon is their opinion that takes into account all available information. I insist on this because people who tell me things like they agree 'in principle' (Just-me-opinion) with what I say but they also have to think of (...) actually say they don't agree with me - I am not interested in 'in principle'.

That is why I contend we must first improve the parts, else their will be no sum to consider.

Though I am very sympathetic to this, and it might indeed be the way to go, it is just not true. Societies are extremely complex systems, the behavior of the individuals is very much influenced by the possible interactions in the whole system. If you change the rules of a system in equilibrium it can swap into a different equilibrium even though you don't change the behavior of any of the parts. That's the whole reason why governments try to support or hinder certain types of behaviour with incentives or fees. You can go a big step further by changing the political system itself, for neither of these examples you need a bottom-up approach, all you need is to convince the top (I am very much a bottom-up person though).

Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Though I am very sympathetic to this, and it might indeed be the way to go, it is just not true……….You can go a big step further by changing the political system itself, for neither of these examples you need a bottom-up approach, all you need is to convince the top (I am very much a bottom-up person though).

The way I see society there is no bottom up or a top down to consider. That is because it only amounts to a whole as to the function that is common. You could equate this to an organism as opposed to a single cell. In an organism we have different cells for different functions. They all must function properly or the whole organism suffers. Yet this is a strange organism, for unlike a typical one where the parts are in service of the whole, the organism of society is one that exists in the service of its parts. So in contrast to the typical organism, where it is a common (and required) strategy to sacrifice individual cells to maintain the whole; in the case of the social organism this is not seen as the right thing to do. This of course is the dilemma. As an example, in the contemporary context wars are seen as wrong, not so much because they have no chance to benefit the organism, yet rather because they sacrifice the parts (cells). This on its own is why a society is required to be moral rather then a typical organism where such a practice would be considered not only wrong yet ultimately destructive.

It is often proclaimed by many, that the reason for our current plight is that we defy nature and if we were simply to obey her we have no problems; and yet as I have indicated, the whole modern concept held by these same people, as I have shown, is by its very nature required to run counter to the claim. I would ask then what is it to be? Should society be perceived as an organism where the parts are necessarily sacrificed for the good of the whole or must it act for the good of each part at the sacrifice of none? If it is the former we have always had what’s required, if it’s the latter we then stand in defiance of nature. Therefore, it must be first understood that morality is not natural (as commonly perceived) and if we want to hold our ideals we must not only understand this to be true, yet further are required to stand together in this defiance.

Regards,

Phil

Arun said...

Phil,

There is no such thing as a social organism among humans, monkeys or sheep, unless we abuse the meaning of organism. We are not even anthill or bee societies.

Should society be perceived as an organism where the parts are necessarily sacrificed for the good of the whole...

To believe human society is an organism is to be in defiance of reality.

or must it act for the good of each part at the sacrifice of none?

The problem is "the good" nor "sacrifice" is not objective, it can be computed only relative to a context, and the context in which different persons operate is generally different. There is no way to reconcile this without changing human nature itself.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

“To believe human society is an organism is to be in defiance of reality.”

Before continuing I would ask that you not confuse what I said with your own response. Although what is written above is most certainly simply a slip on your part, it could lead to confusion by others who may read it. So first it should be understood that the above is what you said and not I.

“There is no such thing as a social organism among humans, monkeys or sheep, unless we abuse the meaning of organism.”

I will not get into semantics with you, I will simple point out that how I used the word is both an accepted and recognized usage. For example according to the “Free Dictionary” there are two offered definitions which are as follows:

“ or•gan•ism (ôr g -n z m)
n.
1. An individual form of life, such as a plant, animal, bacterium, protist, or fungus; a body made up of organs, organelles, or other parts that work together to carry on the various processes of life.

2. A system regarded as analogous in its structure or functions to a living body: the social organism.”

“The problem is "the good" nor "sacrifice" is not objective, it can be computed only relative to a context, and the context in which different persons operate is generally different. There is no way to reconcile this without changing human nature itself.”

Contrary to what you may expect I will offer no argument, since you have deemed yourself both to the arbitrator of what is subjective and what is objective and the relevance this has in the matter. All I will say is that I offered what I said in the context of an analogy. You choose not to accept it and that is fine as it is for anyone.


Regards,


Phil

Arun said...

Phil,

The dictionary defines "unicorn" too. I've yet to see one. It also defines "aether" and "phlogiston".

Human beings are not cells of an organism, or leaves of a tree, or members of a hive. One cannot describe the death of a human for the good of society as any way analogous to the death of cells for the good of an organism. You don't want to defend that position, that is to the good.

----
-Arun

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

“Human beings are not cells of an organism, or leaves of a tree, or members of a hive. One cannot describe the death of a human for the good of society as any way analogous to the death of cells for the good of an organism. You don't want to defend that position, that is to the good.”

Like I said I wouldn’t discuss semantics. I would point out however that even when the dictionary defines what doesn’t exist, it does so correctly. The deduction you draw from this is that therefore society is also not an organism. I suggest that you examine the validity of your deductive statement and not my correct usage of the word.

I also think you missed the whole point of my analogy for is seems that you feel I am in favour of sacrifice and you probably assume that since I suggested the goal of society as not be being natural then it must then be unnatural. I would also point out that wanting not argue is not equivalent to mean it cannot be defended. If you ask if I hold by what I said, I will say that I do.

“To believe human society is an organism is to be in defiance of reality.”

Two things about this I will now point out about your statement, since you question my logic. First, when it comes to this and most everything I neither believe nor ask others to. I only ask it be judged on the basis of the soundness presented. None of your arguments have actually addressed this. The second thing I would remind is that although I am not a scientist it should be noted that anyone that understands and respects the discipline, knows it is not legitimate to appeal to reality. Even Einstein was dismissed when he resorted to this.

Regards,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

I continue to disagree with you. The human society is similar to an organism in the way that both are complex adaptive systems, but that's about where similarities end. Most notably, in contrast to an organism, the laws our societies are subject to and the way it can evolve can be changed - within the lifetime of the 'organism' and by parts of the 'organism' itself. That is what I was referring to as top-down. I am not talking about 'the whole' contra 'the part' but I am talking about changing the constituents vs. changing the evolution law.

As an example, in the contemporary context wars are seen as wrong, not so much because they have no chance to benefit the organism, yet rather because they sacrifice the parts (cells).

And yet we have wars. If they were seen as just wrong then why do we still sacrifice cells to protect the organism? I think your statement 'in the contemporary context wars are seen as wrong' stems less from the contemporary context than from your own context. I would say that unnecessary suffering should be avoided, how to best achieve that is a very involved question. Esp. because given the complexity of the situation it is next to impossible to tell later whether a different decision would have lead to more or less suffering. Political and social sciences are in a very difficult situation in that they can neither run experiments on the global political system, nor do they have other systems to study at hand. Best,

B.

Plato said...

Here is another review for consideration.

Book Review:“The Upside Of Down” by Thomas Homer-Dixon
Written by keith

Sometimes things can catch up with a person, they find it necessary to take a breather. It's a rejuvenating phase, once we depleted our resources.

In these times, the injection of "new energy" is always necessary. Even when a culture is winding down, there is always a need for developing "new principles and new directions" that society might like to see it self go in?

Who is to lead if we do not provide a vision for these changes. Scientists who understand complex adaptive systems?

Do they understand the psychology of their own natures? Do they understand that underneath the very exchange within ones everyday life, that an understanding associative to bargaining systems would have been define in some form of mathematics? A chance bar scene that had defined a nobel prize for it's writer?

We know weather prediction needs a lot of information impute, and having models makes it much more tenable to say a prediction. What are the building blocks of that society? Robert Laughlin is helpful there.

Who is to say that this cannot run deep within societies too?

Bee said...

Hi Plato,

Who is to lead if we do not provide a vision for these changes. Scientists who understand complex adaptive systems?

Do they understand the psychology of their own natures?


Just briefly: the emphasis is on 'adaptive'. The system just needs to be enabled and its functionality guaranteed (set up, and protected). The point is not that scientists 'lead' anything - in most cases the system will be utterly unpredictable (on the edge of chaos) anyhow - their task is to optimize the working. If you want to argue with psychology: help the patient help himself. More to follow on that topic at some time. Best,

B.

Arun said...

I just picked up my copy of The Ingenuity Gap from Borders, where they had ordered it for me.

Anonymous said...

I would like to bring the discussion back to the book, The Igenuity Gap. I purchased it at a second-hand bookstore and was pleasantly surprised as I read it. Homer-Dixon has taken the time to be a multi-disciplinary man in a uni-dimensional world and his observations are incisive. I was impressed by how fresh his insights were even though it was written prior to 9-11 or the current market volatility or even the war in Iraq which has proven, in many ways, how non-linear most complex systems are and how little real control we have over them. I wish more people would at least take the time to read a book like this, even if they can't take the time to do all the attendant research.