Saturday, October 24, 2009

Post No. 137g: A Funny Thing Happened to Us on the Way to the Forum (Part 7)


This is a continuation of our daily excerpts taken from “New World New Mind.” This is the seventh excerpt in the series. For an introductory explanation of why we have chosen this book to share with you, click here.

[Please keep in mind that this book was published in 1989. All of this is copyrighted material, and we are simply sharing portions of it with you.]

Chapter 1 – The Threat within the Triumph (Continued)


“• The human mental ‘hardware’ – our senses and brains – is effectively fixed. That hardware equips us with what we call the old mind. Although we are evolving, our mental machinery will not change biologically in time to help us solve our problems. The same mental routines that originally signaled abrupt physical changes in the old world are now pressed into service to perceive and decide about unprecedented dangers in the new.

“In saying this we don’t mean to downgrade our accomplishments; indeed it is human inventiveness that causes our major dilemma. Our minds now conquer challenges and tasks that appear to have no parallels in our evolutionary past; we read and write, learn more than one spoken language, use word processors, and design and fly aircraft. But none of these tasks represents a break with the standard animal pattern of planning to reach short-term goals. Many of our highest achievements represent, then, a refinement of the old mind, not a new kind of perception. They cause significant changes in our environment decade by decade, but they are generally responses to perceived immediate needs, not to changes happening over decades. We cleverly develop more fuel-efficient cars when gasoline prices suddenly rise. When they drop, we relax fuel-efficiency standards, even though careful analysis indicates that much higher gasoline prices are a near certainty in coming decades.

“Like those of other animals, our brains evolved to understand only a small portion of the world, the portion that most affects our capacity to survive and reproduce. Each animal, whether a bee, butterfly, frog, chimp, or human being, lives within its own ‘small world,’ which is a mere caricature of the outside world. This simple caricature of the environment, as we shall see, sufficed for most organisms in most environments, for most people throughout history; and it still works for many people. But it is fatally obsolete in a world where much more explosive power can now be carried in one nuclear submarine than has been detonated in all wars so far.

“To retrain ourselves requires a radical shift in our normal way of perceiving ourselves and our environment: we have to look at ourselves in the long view and understand an evolutionary history of millions of years rather than the fleeting ‘history’ that is taught. We need to be ‘literate’ in entirely new disciplines, such as probability theory and the structure of thought, rather than just learning more about the sequences of English monarchs.

“The time has come to take our own evolution into our hands and create a new evolutionary process, a process of conscious evolution. The human predicament requires a different kind of education and training to predict threats that materialize not in instants but in years or decades – we need to develop ‘slow reflexes’ to supplement the quick ones. We need to replace our old minds with new ones.

“It will not be nearly as exciting as fighting a bear or running away, not a simple speedy solution that can be summed up in a slogan. The remedy will demand a sustained, persistent, and complex effort. We need to learn to perceive and respond to slow changes in the size of the human populations, the increasing extinction of other species, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These and other such gradual alterations of our world are threats much more dangerous than hostages, mass murderers, lightning bolts, and drunken drivers.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Post No. 137f: A Funny Thing Happened to Us on the Way to the Forum (Part 6)


This is a continuation of our daily excerpts taken from “New World New Mind.” This is the sixth excerpt in the series. For an introductory explanation of why we have chosen this book to share with you, click here.

[Please keep in mind that this book was published in 1989. All of this is copyrighted material, and we are simply sharing portions of it with you.]

Chapter 1 – The Threat within the Triumph (Continued)

“Next month, the world population will increase by more than the number of human beings that lived on the planet 100,000 years ago, a time when evolution had already produced a human brain almost indistinguishable from today’s model. In the next 4 years alone more people will be added to the Earth than made up the entire population living at the time of Christ. It is difficult to comprehend this kind of world, and most people, too many, have been unable to do so. Human inventiveness has created problems because human judgment and humanity’s ability to deal with the consequences of its creations lags behind its ability to create.

“• There is now a mismatch between the human mind and the world people inhabit. This mismatch interferes with the relationships of human beings with each other and with their environments. Our species did not evolve to comprehend the problems associated with gigantic numbers of people – yet 5 billion humans now occupy the Earth.

“Human beings, like all other organisms, have to adapt to the environments in which they live. For most of the history of life our ancestors evolved biologically, as do all living things. (Biological evolution consists of changes in the information encoded in our genes. It typically operates over thousands of generations.) Then, for the relatively brief period of human prehistory and history – a few million years – adaptation took place primarily by means of cultural change: the development of language and tools; the invention of agriculture, cities, industry, and high technology.

“Cultural evolution can be much more rapid than biological, for it involves alterations of information stored in minds or books, tools, art, and other artifacts of societies. Cultural evolution can make significant changes in a matter of decades or less. But the rapid changes human beings are making in the world now have made the pace of most cultural evolution far too slow.

“As a result we are losing control of our future. The serious and dangerous mismatch is this: civilization is threatened by changes taking place over years and decades, but changes over a few years or decades are too slow for us to perceive readily. That is a time scale too leisurely for a nervous system attuned to bears, branches, burglars, and downpours. At the same time, the changes are much too rapid to allow biological or cultural evolutionary processes to adapt people to them. We are out of joint with the times, our times.

“• The rate of change in the world around us is increasing. Humanity is refashioning the world so quickly now that each decade’s environment differs dramatically from that of the last. Each triumph of technology contains new kinds of threats. With the advent of television and other modern communications, we can even feel threatened by events, such as terrorist acts, occurring thousands of miles away.

“The psychological tendency is to respond to them immediately, as if they were local emergencies, while at the same time we ignore some occurrences such as the gradual increase in homeless people or thinning of the ozone layer, that really are serious threats to us or our neighbors. Thus our old mental system struggles and often fails to distinguish the relevant from the trivial, the local from the distant, just as the ability to make such distinctions is becoming increasingly crucial.

“• The human mental ‘hardware’ – our senses and brains – is effectively fixed. That hardware equips us with what we call the old mind. Although we are evolving, our mental machinery will not change biologically in time to help us solve our problems. The same mental routines that originally signaled abrupt physical changes in the old world are now pressed into service to perceive and decide about unprecedented dangers in the new.

“In saying this we don’t mean to downgrade our accomplishments; indeed it is human inventiveness that causes our major dilemma. Our minds now conquer challenges and tasks that appear to have no parallels in our evolutionary past; we read and write, learn more than one spoken language, use word processors, and design and fly aircraft. But none of these tasks represents a break with the standard animal pattern of planning to reach short-term goals.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Post No. 138a: Re-Posting of "The Facts Don't Really Matter"



Last week, the world watched as a balloon traveled over Colorado, and as it descended, held it breath to see whether the 6 year old son of Richard and Mayumi Heene was still safely inside. It was later revealed that the kid was never in the balloon, and suspicions were raised about whether the family concocted this story for publicity purposes.

Throughout the blogosphere, and in mainstream media, every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Jane had something to say about this incident, this family, and their motivations, long before the law enforcement agencies completed their investigations. This reminded us of the "rush to judgment" on few facts mentality revealed during the Harvard professor arrest incident. That prompted us to take a break from our examination of the book "New World New Mind," and re-visit our piece written in response to the prior Harvard professor incident entitled, "The Facts Don't Really Matter."



© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Being solution-oriented, we’re going to suggest a way to view the public’s response to the arrest of Harvard Professor Gates - without addressing one single fact involved.

That’s because in this day and time, objective facts rarely matter. What people feel and think matter. What really matters is “the facts” as we each see them.

What’s right depends on your view of the world, and how events fit into the world you understand, know, appreciate, or want.

None of us was not present at Gates’ home (and thus have no first hand knowledge). Even though, at least initially, there was no transcript reflecting what was said, or video of the events, many quickly supplied their own assumptions, and formed conclusions about who did what.

Tocqueville, over 150 years ago, warned us this day would come. America must begin to approach our most serious issues innovatively, and stop wishing that they will disappear.

Simply relying on and retrieving our personal worldviews and experiences from our organic hard disks will not serve us well in this far more competitive environment. We’ll get our butts kicked by other nations, particularly totalitarian regimes not playing by our “rules,” if we keep this up, without achieving some resolution.

We read probably over 750 articles and comments on this event. Gates was variously described as arrogant, elitist, bi-polar, degenerate, a fraud, a clown, and proof that affirmative action does not work. Crowley, the arresting officer, did not fare any better. He was described as a thug, Nazi, Neanderthal, racist, and the same list of expletives used to describe Gates. (Maybe some progress was achieved since the expletive spewing crowd used the exact same expletives.)

If we are to gain anything constructive from this “thing,” we should appreciate there are some unresolved issues “in fact” that prompted this reaction.

Everyone’s position is legit.

During our 16 months navigating the blogosphere, there has been no topic about which more people have chosen to express themselves and definitely not this passionately.

Race, class, entitlement, and fairness remain America’s most prominent issues. In a way, this was the “O.J. incident” of our decade, in terms of everyone having an opinion. The economic collapse and the decline of life as we once knew it probably stoked the fire.

It has been suggested that everyone should learn at least one lesson in life from a friend. One of our Fellows speaks of a buddy of over 30 years, from whom he learned two. Once, when he suggested that his buddy did not deserve something, the friend quickly replied, “It’s not about what I deserve; it’s about what I want.”

That friend, a psychiatrist by profession, provided another lesson by relating a pattern observed during marital counseling sessions. The doctor observed how one spouse could bring up factual details of an event 20 or 30 years prior, and then describe, in detail, his or her anger. The other spouse would be shocked, and dispute the factual account. The session would then degenerate into a debate of “the facts,” and who was right or accurate.

He concluded that factual arguments rarely advance resolution objectives.

The Logistician was previously a trial attorney. He once represented employees of a fast food chain who identified an armed robber. The robber forced all but one employee into the freezer. He took the manager into her office, raped her, and then took the money.

One of the employees thought he recognized the robber, and the others bought into it. The accused had a twin brother, and… no more need be said. Charges were dropped, and the accused sued the employees for malicious prosecution.

The jury bought the accused’s argument, and awarded him damages. (Fortunately, the judge set the verdict aside.) The jury felt that the employees made their identification, and choose to pin the crime on just anyone handy.

Solving complex problems going forward (and competing) will require collaboration, appreciation of the views of all citizens, and a search for all facts and contributing factors. All of us have something to say of value, and none of us are just “fringe elements” to be summarily dismissed.

Whether you think someone should be arrested on their property while questioning the motivations of a responding law enforcement officer very much depends on the perspective from which you are watching the play unfold. This seemingly insignificant event is simply symptomatic of some very serious problems festering beneath the surface.

When the 1st O.J. verdict was rendered, the Logistician was in Chicago visiting a corporate client. He later returned to make a presentation before that client, and reps of another company. At the end of the day, a dinner was held. Since it was not a formal dinner, no speaker was scheduled.

However, being a trial attorney and having a personal connection to many of the players involved, he was asked to provide his thoughts as to how people could see “the facts” so differently. That he was even asked speaks volumes about where we are as a nation.

You see, “the facts” don’t really matter. The lens through which you interpret or view them does.

The only way to get beyond that is to borrow the glasses which others wear.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Post No. 137e: A Funny Thing Happened to Us on the Way to the Forum (Part 5)


This is a continuation of our daily excerpts taken from “New World New Mind.” This is the fifth excerpt in the series. For an introductory explanation of why we have chosen this book to share with you, click here.

[Please keep in mind that this book was published in 1989. All of this is copyrighted material, and we are simply sharing portions of it with you.]

Chapter 1 – The Threat within the Triumph (Continued)

“In this book we’ll say a great deal about threats – the dangers to us, to our civilization, to the very capacity of the Earth to support human life – that exist because we have changed the world so completely. We’ll concentrate on the difficulties our minds have in interpreting and even perceiving the new kinds of threats and responding appropriately to them.”

“In our view, there are several parts to the human quandary:

“The world that made us is now gone, and the world we made is a new world, one that we have developed little capacity to comprehend.

“The old world for which our perceptual systems were ‘designed’ was one where the overall environment was a relatively stable, limited one in which threats were signaled by short-term changes and action was usually required immediately. Consider the branch-flood-bear kinds of threats that our human progenitors faced over millions of years of evolutionary history. Apes, australopithecines (our first upright ancestors), early human hunters and gatherers, and the inhabitants of early civilizations, like other animals, had evolved quick reflexes to deal adequately with such threats.

“The benefits of having evolved ‘quick reflexes’ also accrue today; in modern life we also must often react quickly. On hearing a cracking sound from our chair, we are instantaneously apprehensive and ready to act. If a child lurches into the street ahead of our car, we hit the brakes even before thinking about it. If we’re not half-witted, thunderclaps over the golf course tell us to put the clubs away quickly and retreat to the clubhouse for a drink. An unexpected intruder in our house arouses an automatic series of responses that we interpret as fear and a physical necessity to fight or flee. These are all reactions that would serve us well against bear, burglar, breaking branch, or downpour.

“All nonhuman species evolved to fit into their physical habitats, and people originally evolved to do this as well. Human beings, however, have changed the world more in the last ten thousand years than their ancestors did in the preceding 4 million. Much more than any other species, we have turned the tables on the physical environment and made it change to fit us. Clothing, fire, dwellings, and agriculture all enable people to live where none could before. Modern human beings have left their evolutionary home in subtropical Africa to live all over the earth, in the freezing winters of Alaska as well in the scorching deserts of the Middle East. More importantly, human beings have built entirely new environments: farms, villages, towns, crowded cities, ocean liners, even underwater dwellings, and more. Human beings can even live for brief periods away from earth itself.

“The human experience has been one of expanding creations and adaptations. This cyclic pattern spooled us, in an evolutionary instant, from small groups of hunters and gatherers into a complex civilization. Agriculture led to the construction of cities and the population explosion. Cities led to epidemics of the diseases of crowding and to large-scale warfare. Public health measures led to further increases in population and then, by permitting people to live longer, to an increase in cancer and heart diseases. Cities also led to universities and the uncovering of many secrets of the universe. And uncovering secrets of the universe led to Hiroshima and Chernobyl.

“And the pace of change itself becomes even faster. Next month, the world population will increase by more than the number of human beings that lived on the planet 100,000 years ago, a time when evolution had already produced a human brain almost indistinguishable from today’s model. In the next 4 years alone more people will be added to the Earth than made up the entire population living at the time of Christ. It is difficult to comprehend this kind of world, and most people, too many, have been unable to do so. Human inventiveness has created problems because human judgment and humanity’s ability to deal with the consequences of its creations lags behind its ability to create.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Post No. 137d: A Funny Thing Happened to Us on the Way to the Forum (Part 4)


This is a continuation of our daily excerpts taken from “New World New Mind.” This is the fourth excerpt in the series. For an introductory explanation of why we have chosen this book to share with you, click here.

[All of this is copyrighted material, and we are simply sharing some of it with you.]

Chapter 1 – The Threat within the Triumph (Continued)

“The human nervous system, well matched to a world in which small, sharp changes were important but large gradual ones were not, is inadequate to keep attention focused on this most ominous nuclear trend. Our nervous system and our world are mismatched now. The original image of a single nuclear detonation signaled an awesome threat. Graphs and tables describing the sizes of arsenals fail to produce a comparably realistic understanding; occasional news events have only temporary effects on most people. Our response to nuclear armaments has followed the Reagan caricature. The big opening was Hiroshima; now we’re coasting; with lots of luck, we may avoid the big finish.

“A set of hydrogen bombs joined to an intercontinental ballistic missile is one of the ultimate triumphs of biological and cultural evolution. Think of it: humanity, whose own origins were as a few relatively large molecules in a tiny droplet in a primitive sea, has now itself developed the power to annihilate much of life on Earth.

“But why? Why have we done it? Why, on a planet that has an exploding population, a deteriorating environment, and massive social problems, has the only genuinely creative species invested so much time, energy, and genius in building arsenals that can only be used to destroy itself?

”Why has humanity not redirected its efforts instead into seeking ways for people to live together without conflict and to limiting the size of its population so that everyone can lead a meaningful life? Why hasn’t humanity tried vigorously to preserve the Earth that people and all living species depend upon?

“The answers to these kinds of questions are not simple. The dilemmas will not be ‘solved’ by the next political campaign, government program, educational critique, or international conference. They are to no small degree problems of how we perceive our environment and ourselves.

“The problem has much deeper roots than most people envision. To trace its history will take us into the world in which our species evolved, into the world that made us. That world has produced in us certain ways of interpreting our surroundings, ways that once enhanced our survival. But these ‘old ways’ are not necessarily adaptive in a world that is utterly different from the one in which our ancestors lived.

“Some scientists recognized our evolutionary mismatch decades ago, but their insight has had as yet little effect. On May 23, 1946, Albert Einstein sent a telegram to President Roosevelt on behalf of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists saying, in reference to nuclear explosions, ‘The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.’ The power of human destructiveness is far greater forty years after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions that prompted Einstein’s statement, yet human thoughts processes still remain largely unchanged.

“The weapons in the United States and Soviet strategic arsenals now contain enough explosive power that, if packaged as Hiroshima-sized bombs, they could blow up one Hiroshima each hour for more than a lifetime (seventy-eight years)!

* * *

“Hundreds of thousands or millions of years ago, our ancestors’ survival depended in large part on the ability to respond quickly to threats that were immediate, personal, and palpable: threats like the sudden crack of a branch as it is about to give way or the roar of a flash flood racing down a narrow valley. Threats like the darkening of the entrance to the cavern as a giant cave bear enters. Threats like lightning, threats like a thrown spear.

“Those are not threats generated by complex technological devices accumulated over decades by unknown people half a world away. Those are not threats like the slow atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide from auto exhausts, power plants and deforestation; not threats like the gradual depletion of the ozone layer; not threats like the growing number of AIDS victims.

“In this book we’ll say a great deal about threats – the dangers to us, to our civilization, to the very capacity of the Earth to support human life – that exist because we have changed the world so completely. We’ll concentrate on the difficulties our minds have in interpreting and even perceiving the new kinds of threats and responding appropriately to them.”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Post No. 137c: A Funny Thing Happened to Us on the Way to the Forum (Part 3)


This is a continuation of our daily excerpts taken from “New World New Mind.” This is the third excerpt in the series. For an introductory explanation of why we have chosen this book to share with you, click here.

[All of this is copyrighted material, and we are simply sharing some of it with you.]

Chapter 1 – The Threat within the Triumph (Continued)

“We don’t perceive the world as it is, because our nervous system evolved to select only a small extract of reality and to ignore the rest. We never experience exactly the same situation twice, so it would be uneconomical to take in every occurrence. Instead of conveying everything about the world, our nervous system is “impressed” only by dramatic changes. This internal spotlight makes us sensitive to the beginnings and endings of almost every event more than the changes, whether gigantic or tiny, or in the middle.

“The perception of dramatic changes begins deep with the nervous system, amid simple sensing such as seeing light. Put a three-way bulb (50 -100 -150 watts) in a lamp in a dark room. Turn on the lamp: the difference between darkness and the 50 – watt illumination is seen as great; but the increase from 50 to 100 and from 100 to 150 seems almost like nothing. Although the change in the physical stimulus is exactly the same, you notice it less and less as each 50 watts are added. Turn off the lamp, even from the 50 - watt setting, however, and you feel it immediately! We notice the beginning and the end and overlook the greater changes in the middle.

“You might be thinking that this analysis of lamps and sensing light is very far removed from the major dilemmas of our current world. But our point is that many of the predicaments of our society come about from the way people respond to, simplify, and ultimately, ‘caricature’ reality in their minds. Our caricature emphasizes the dramatic and distinctive features of events, in the same way as a cartoon caricature of a politician might exaggerate Lyndon Johnson’s outsize ears, Richard Nixon’s ski-jump nose, [and] Mikhail Gorbachev’s forehead birthmark.

“This simplified focus on the dramatic is now out of date in complex modern life; the same routines of internal analysis that originally developed to signal abrupt physical changes in the old world are now pressed into service to perceive and decide about unprecedented dangers in the new. Scarce and unusual items, be they a headline news event, a one-day dress sale, or a chance for peace, come into mind through the same old avenues and are filtered and judged in the same old way.

“This mismatched judgment happens in the most basic as well as the most momentous situations. In psychology experiments, a word at the beginning of a list heard once is recalled 70 percent of the time, words in the middle less than 20 percent, and words at the end almost 100 percent. In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan illustrated these principles. He said: ‘Politics is just like show business. You need a big opening. Then you coast for a while. Then you need a big finish.’ Reagan is renowned for his political savvy.

“The same sensitivity to sharp changes gets called into play in judging the most important, life-or-death essentials. Consider this: the first atomic bombs were kept secret and then unveiled suddenly. The mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the sudden vast destruction they cause signaled a sharp change in the world. The new threat was readily noticed and properly feared.

“But two responses indicate that humanity did not perceive this important change in the world correctly. First, that atomic explosion on Hiroshima made a far greater impression than the much greater destruction and death visited upon Tokyo by conventional incendiary bombs, since burning cities seen from the air (in newsreels) had by then become routine and so were ignored.

“And, second, since the first frightening explosions, nuclear weapons have accumulated gradually until they now number in the tens of thousands, and most of them are ten to a hundred times more powerful than those that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our minds are inhibited in noticing the threat; the continuing accumulation of gigantic arsenals doesn’t get the same attention as the first weapons. Only public relations events, new ‘beginnings’ like the nuclear winter announcement, or the showing of the TV film The Day After, can reattract old minds – and then only temporarily until habituation sets in again.

“The human nervous system, well matched to a world in which small, sharp changes were important but large gradual ones were not, is inadequate to keep attention focused on this most ominous nuclear trend. Our nervous system and our world are mismatched now."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Post No. 137b: A Funny Thing Happened to Us on the Way to the Forum (Part 2)


This is a continuation of our daily excerpts taken from “New World New Mind.” This is the second excerpt in the series. For an introductory explanation of why we have chosen this book to share with you, click here.

[All of this is copyrighted material, and we are simply sharing some of it with you.]

Chapter 1 – The Threat within the Triumph (Continued)

“Why does the growing budget deficit attract relatively little attention while the comparatively meaningless stock market ‘crash’ makes headlines? Why do many popular writers yearn for a return to an education suitable for Oxford men before World War I, when the world has changed in critical ways to a greater extent since World War II than it changed between the birth of Christ and that war? Why do the numbers of nuclear weapons expand astronomically but largely unheralded, while a small girl trapped in a well commands the front pages? Why do we collectively spend billions on medical care while neglecting the simple preventative actions that, if we took them, would save many times the lives?

“We believe it is no accident.

“All these things are happening now, and are happening all at once, in part because the human mental system is failing to comprehend the modern world. So events will, in our opinion, continue to be out of control until people realize how selectively the environment impresses the human mind and how our comprehension is determined by the biological and cultural history of humanity. These unnoticed yet fundamental connections to our past, and how we can retrain ourselves for a “new world” of the future, one filled with unprecedented threats, are what this book is about.

“We are writing this book in an effort to help decision makers, educators, physicians, businessmen, and concerned citizens to change their ‘minds’ – not in the conventional sense, but rather to change the way they make decisions. We don’t think there is any panacea for all the problems of society; nothing simple that we can do right now is guaranteed to prevent a nuclear war or avoid the next plague. Everything, unfortunately, cannot be solved by one book! But we do think that if people understood the fundamental root of many of our problems, they might begin to change in a direction that could secure the human future.

“Today’s situation is unprecedented, but the human situation has often been unprecedented. In part, successfully facing the unprecedented has distinguished human beings from other forms of life. Since they spread out of Africa, people have always created new environments for themselves; they have always had to adapt to new and unexplored territory.

“There is a difference now, though. At no previous time have people had the capacity to destroy their civilization in a few hours and to ruin much of the planet’s life-support systems in the process. And never before has a species been engaged, as are we, in the process of destroying those systems wholesale in a ‘gradual’ manner that could complete the job in less than a century.

“But fortunately there is still time to change. Scientific evidence developed over the past three decades illuminates many aspects of the nature of both the human mind and the human predicament, and points the way to the changes needed. This evidence is drawn from many disciplines, including evolutionary biology, neuroscience, cognitive science, climatology, and geochemistry.

“We believe that the only permanent means of resolving the paradox that our minds are both our curse and our potential salvation is through conscious change. Our biological evolution, including the physical evolution of our brains, is much, much too slow to help. And the undirected evolution of our culture, in view of the demands being placed on it, is still too sluggish and often inappropriate. Both biological and cultural evolution are inadequate to adapt us to the environments we are creating.

“We don’t perceive the world as it is, because our nervous system evolved to select only a small extract of reality and to ignore the rest. We never experience exactly the same situation twice, so it would be uneconomical to take in every occurrence. Instead of conveying everything about the world, our nervous system is “impressed” only by dramatic changes. This internal spotlight makes us sensitive to the beginnings and endings of almost every event more than the changes, whether gigantic or tiny, or in the middle.

“The perception of dramatic changes begins deep with the nervous system, amid simple sensing such as seeing light. Put a three-way bulb (50 -100 -150 watts) in a lamp in a dark room. Turn on the lamp: the difference between darkness and the 50 – watt illumination is seen as great; but the increase from 50 to 100 and from 100 to 150 seems almost like nothing. Although the change in the physical stimulus is exactly the same, you notice it less and less as each 50 watts are added. Turn off the lamp, even from the 50 - watt setting, however, and you feel it immediately! We notice the beginning and the end and overlook the greater changes in the middle.”

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Post No. 137a: A Funny Thing Happened to Us on the Way to the Forum



Those of you who have spent time with us in our forum know that this site is not even remotely as entertaining as the musical comedy film and stage musical whose name we have co-opted above.

Although we hope that you are occasionally entertained, our real goal is to suggest that we look at issues (both personal and societal) in a different way, out of the hope that we will be able to generate innovative solutions to problems in an increasingly complex world. Most recently, we focused our message on College Students, since it is their generation which will take over what the Baby Boomers have left, and it is their turn to assume a leadership role going forward.

Little did we realize that, while navigating a used book store a couple of months ago, we would come across a book, “New World New Mind,” published in 1989, which provides solid biological, historical and social science research to support many of the positions we took for the past couple of years.

The subtitle of the book is “A Brilliantly Original Guide to Changing the Way We Think about the Future.” Back in 1989, the authors proposed, as reflected on the back cover, “…revolutionary new ways to close the dangerous gap between our current mind set and the high-tech world we’ve created.” Many of the things that they predicted have occurred in the intervening 20 year period.

If our leaders had paid more attention to the evolving world as described by authors Dr. Robert Ornstein (co-author of “The Healing Brain”) and Dr. Paul Ehrlich (author of “The Population Bomb”), we might have been well on our way to solving some of the world’s current problems. We as humans also need to have a much better appreciation of the difference between individual logic and group logic. Recognizing that the evolutionary development of the human brain is an important factor in how we view the world and function in it should assist us in improving it.

Starting today, we will provide you with daily excerpts taken from “New World New Mind.” Our original pieces will take a back seat for the time being, unless something in the news or something we observe prompts us to share our personal thoughts. Each day you will gain some better insight into evolutionary human development, and how we might use that information to make better decisions about our current world and how we plan for the future.

It is only Common Sense that in trying to address problems, we examine all possible causes for behavior and conditions, particularly those scientific in nature, and that we utilize all possible resources available to us. That's what Ornstein and Ehrlich have done in their book.

What will undoubtedly surprise you is how all of this applies to our everyday issues and problems, both personal and societal. We know that you will be as fascinated by this innovative approach to life as we are. [All of this is copyrighted material, and we are simply sharing some of it with you.]

Chapter 1 – The Threat within the Triumph

“IT ALL SEEMS to be happening at once. A small group of terrorists murder a few Americans far away - and fear of getting murdered changes the traveling habits of millions. But Americans continue to slaughter more people each day with handguns than all the people the terrorists have killed up to the writing of this book. No one does anything about it.

“People swamp AIDS testing centers, desperate and anxious to know if they are carrying the virus. If they have it, it will likely kill them. Can society even care for AIDS victims?

“Meanwhile, populations explode, stockpiles of nuclear weapons grow, budget deficits mount, our education becomes more and more obsolete, and the environment – on which our very existence depends – deteriorates. But most people’s attention is fixed upon eye-catching “images,” such as the taking of the Iran hostages, horrible murders, airplane crashes, changes in stock prices, and football scores. Cancer terrifies us, yet we keep on smoking. Oliver North testifies that he lied – yet his good looks and smooth talk lead many people to propose that he run for President.

“And the President operates the same way. Ronald Reagan, by his own admission, perverted an important U.S. global policy because his mind was similarly fixed on another set of hostages. He said, ’I let my preoccupation with the hostages intrude into areas where it didn’t belong. The image, the reality of Americans in chains, deprived of their freedom and families so far from home, burdened my thoughts. And this was a mistake.’

“Why does the growing budget deficit attract relatively little attention while the comparatively meaningless stock market ‘crash” makes headlines? Why do many popular writers yearn for a return to an education suitable for Oxford men before World War I, when the world has changed in critical ways to a greater extent since World War II than it changed between the birth of Christ and that war? Why do the numbers of nuclear weapons expand astronomically but largely unheralded, while a small girl trapped in a well commands the front pages? Why do we collectively spend billions on medical care while neglecting the simple preventative actions that, if we took them, would save many times the lives?

“We believe it is no accident.

“All these things are happening now, and are happening all at once, in part because the human mental system is failing to comprehend the modern world….”

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Post No. 136b: Black - White Conflict Is Not Society's Largest


The Public Assesses Social Divisions

By Rich Morin, Pew Research Center

September 24, 2009

"It may surprise anyone following the charges of racism that have flared up during the debate over President Obama's health care proposals, but a survey taken this summer found that fewer people perceived there are strong conflicts between blacks and whites than saw strong conflicts between immigrants and the native born, or between rich people and poor people.

"A majority (55%) of adults said there are "very strong" or "strong" conflicts between immigrants and people born in the United States. Nearly as many -- 47% -- said the same about conflicts between rich people and poor people, according to a nationally representative survey by the Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends project."

To review the remainder of the survey, click here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Post No. 136a: Article of Interest from the New York Times: Where Did "We" Go ?


Many thought that when President Obama was elected he would become the "Great Unifier." Instead, we have witnessed the full panoply of factions which are dissatisfied with some aspect of his governance and policies thus far. Furthermore, they are not afraid to express their dissatisfaction in very personal, and colorful forms.

Thomas Friedman has some concerns about what is taking place in our country, and expresses them in the following piece. He eloquently articulates something which we have felt for the past few months, but have had difficulty putting into words.


September 30, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist

Where Did ‘We’ Go?

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

"I hate to write about this, but I have actually been to this play before and it is really disturbing.

"I was in Israel interviewing Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin just before he was assassinated in 1995. We had a beer in his office. He needed one. I remember the ugly mood in Israel then — a mood in which extreme right-wing settlers and politicians were doing all they could to delegitimize Rabin, who was committed to trading land for peace as part of the Oslo accords. They questioned his authority. They accused him of treason. They created pictures depicting him as a Nazi SS officer, and they shouted death threats at rallies. His political opponents winked at it all.

"And in so doing they created a poisonous political environment that was interpreted by one right-wing Jewish nationalist as a license to kill Rabin — he must have heard, 'God will be on your side' — and so he did.

"Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening."

To view the remainder of the article, click here.

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Opportunity to Serve as "Guest Author"

This forum was designed to be YOUR forum for the civil exchange of ideas by people with all points of views. We welcome the submission of articles by all of our readers, as long as they are in compliance with our Guidelines contained in Post No. 34. We look forward to receiving your submissions.