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Gaza symmetries and asymmetries

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- "hatred of the other" viewed as a cognitive matter, and Richard Landes on the capacity for self-criticism ]
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Credit: Amir Schiby

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Nicholas Kristof has a post today for the NYT Sunday Review, Who’s Right and Wrong in the Middle East? — in which he explores the symmetries and asymmetries playing out in Gaza. He concludes with the following paragraph:

Here we have a conflict between right and right that has been hijacked by hard-liners on each side who feed each other. It’s not that they are the same, and what I see isn’t equivalence. Yet there is, in some ways, a painful symmetry — and one element is that each side vigorously denies that there is any symmetry at all.

Let that stand as the epigraph of this post, while we turn to EO Wilson for a theoretical basis:

Reification is the quick and easy mental algorithm that creates order in a world otherwise overwhelming in flux and detail. One of its manifestations is the dyadic instinct, the proneness to set up two part classifications in treating socially important arrays. Societies everywhere break people into in-group versus out-group, child versus adult, kin versus non kin, married versus single, and activities into sacred and profane, good and evil. They fortify the boundaries of each division with taboo and ritual. To change from one division to the other requires initiation ceremonies, weddings, blessings, ordinations and other rites of passage that mark every culture.

Rush Dozier in Why We Hate picks up the thread:

Us-them stereotyping emerges directly from the primitive neural system’s basic survival response. It is a form of categorical thinking in which the categories are mutually exclusive. To the primitive areas of the brain, one is either “us” or “them.One cannot be both.

Jesus is reported as saying both “he that is not against us is for us” [Mark 9.40] and “He that is not with me is against me” [Luke 11.23], whereas GW Bush offers less ambiguity: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Dozier again:

It appears that this kind of either-or analysis results from the pre-conscious alerting system’s need for extremely rapid processing, which requires that phenomena be simplified as much as possible and placed in unambiguous categories.

The alert with its binaries, and the analytic, with (hopefully) its nuance — which would we be better advised to entrust with such major matters as war and peace?

Jesus again, overriding the binary opposition [Luke 6.27-28]:

I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

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Let’s move to one specific distinction — one that provide us with a binary, while arguably transcending binary thinking.

Richard Landes makes a strong point in his post titled Self-criticism and cultural development, when he asserts:

Self-criticism stands at the heart of any experiment in civil society.

He continues:

Only when we can acknowledge errors and commit to avoiding making them again, can we have a learning curve. Only when scholars can express their criticism of academic colleagues, and those criticized are able to acknowledge error, can scientific and social thinking develop. Only when religious believers can entertain the possibility that they may not have a monopoly on truth (no matter how convinced they might be of their “Truth”), can various religions live in peace and express their beliefs without fear of violence. Only when political elites are willing to accept negative feedback from people who do not have their power, only when the press can oppose those who control public decision-making, can a government reasonably claim to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The distinction, the asymmetry I’m interested in exploring today is that between those who self-criticize and can accept criticism, and those who neither self-criticize nor accept criticism.

In my reading of the two quotes from Netanyahu and Diskin that I paired at the tail end of my post Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts, Netanyahu seems to me averse to Israeli self-criticism, while Diskin clearly welcomes and practices it.

Here’s an individual, unofficial example. In an “eyewitness account of how the synagogue of Rue de la Roquette [in Paris] was attacked by a mob, and fought back” titled ‘Yesterday, a Part of My Love for France Left Me’, Aurélie A. wrote:

I can already see myself jumping at the throat of one of the keffiyeh wearers shouting “Death to the Yids!” He wants to kill Jews???!!! I want to leave him for dead! I do not recognize my own hatred!

There’s the binary at work, generating hatred to meet hatred — and the reflective mind that sees the binary as simplistic, and moves self-critically beyond it.

Landes again:

Nothing contrasts more with Israel’s culture of self-criticism than its belligerent neighbors, especially the Palestinians. Here we find one of the most aggressive zero-sum political cultures on record. They accept no responsibility for the war they wage, and justify all their behavior — including how they treat their own people — as a response to the Zionists. They demonize the Zionists with conspiracy theories and blood libels drawn from the most delirious of European anti-Semitic fears to inspire their victimized people to take arms against this malevolent enemy. Who could self-criticize when being assaulted by such merciless and powerful forces? Self-criticism under such conditions is unthinkable, and dissent is treachery. The exceptional number of Palestinians killed by Palestinians suggests a culture in which intimidating dissenters and eliminating traitors is the norm.

Those who say all who criticize Israeli actions are “Anti-Semitic” are overreaching: there is certainly a strong current of anti-Semitism alive and at large in the world, but the capacities to self-criticize and to accept criticism imply that one may critique what one loves as an expression of that love.

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The image of the four Bakr boys no longer playing soccer on the beach which heads this post is the work of the Israeli artist Amir Schiby. You can read it as a pro-Palestinian work of propaganda — or as an artistic criticism by an Israeli of the current Israeli operation in Gaza. You can also read it as a simple, beautiful expression of grief.

Its beauty argues for one of the latter two interpretations, and Schiby’s own statement on his FaceBook page that he intended it “as a tribute to all children living in war zones” clearly suggests the third.

Not a binary, partisan statement, then, and not even the raising of a “provocative question” — but an arrow to the heart, a wordless pang of grief.

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Three DoubleQuotes via Paradoxes of War MOOC

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there's actionable intel, and then there's the chewable kind -- guess where my own interest is focused ]
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There’s a cognitive style that’s embedded in the concept of actionable intelligence, and in the software and trainings that serve it, Palantir being among the most notable. And there’s a cognitive style that’s embedded in the concept of “inactionable” intelligence, and in any software and trainings that serve it, the HipBone/Sembl/DoubleQuotes combo fitting into the way of things under that “uncomfortable” rubric.

So let’s give those cognitive modes other names, and call them, for simplicity: act-on mode and chew-on mode. Some people need to act on the intelligence they receive, some need to chew on it.

The three DoubleQuotes that follow are the byproduct of today’s discussions on Princeton’s Paradoxes of War MOOC, and to mmy mind they’re worth chewing on.

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Brilliant! These two quotes are juxtaposed as epigraphs to James Der Derian‘s paper, War as Game. Given my interest in both war and games, that was a natural DoubleQuote to borrow..

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The thing about Thomas Friedman‘s quote — which became a semi-tongue-in-cheek theory after he wove it into his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, under the name “The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention” — is that it traces back so directly to Immanuel Kant, thus demonstrating the theorem, applicable to both waterways and spiritual utterances, that matters whose beginnings are pure tend to accrue contaminants as they move away from source — an effect for whose religious variant Max Weber coined the phrase, “the routinization of charisma”.

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Lastly, here’s one for the Zenmaster, knowing his appreciation both for ancient history as it relates to military matters, and for the art and science of education:

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Sources:

  • Der Derian, Epigraphs from War as Game

  • Friedman, Big Mac
  • Kant, Perpetual Peace

  • Mead, Military Recruiters
  • Deligiannis, The Spartan ‘Agoge’
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    BOOK REVIEW: Adaptive Leadership Handbook by Leland & Vandergriff

    Monday, June 16th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    Adaptive Leadership Handbook: :Law Enforcement & Security by Fred Leland & Don Vandergriff 

    The Adaptive Leadership Handbook is an unusual book. It is a work about thinking for men and women of action. It is an argument about learning for people whose professional life is governed by their training. Finally, it is a call for dynamic reflection for those accustomed to following proper procedure.  The authors have written a guide to reinventing an organization’s institutional epistemology, the “cognitive culture” in which high stakes decisions are made, how challenges are met and the standards by which outcomes are judged.  They are well qualified to make their case:

    Fred Leland, a police lieutenant, former sheriff’s deputy and Marine “….is the Founder and Principal Trainer of LESC: Law Enforcement & Security Consulting and a certified instructor. He specializes in homeland security exercise and evaluation programs (HSEEP), red teaming, ongoing deadly action (active shootings), handling dynamic and violent encounters, recognizing the signs and signals of danger(body language), police operational art, use of force, and decision making under pressure. He develops leaders with the adaptive leadership methodology. His focus is translating theory to practice and facilitating training workshops to law enforcement, military, public and private, campus and university security professionals, in an effort to continually improve officer safety and effectiveness.”

    Don Vandergriff is a retired Army major, military consultant, a nationally regarded trainer on leadership development and adaptive decision game methodology, well-regarded author on military affairs whose works include Raising the Bar (required reading at West Point), The Path to Victory and Manning the Future Legions of the United States. For much of the past year Don has been working in Afghanistan, teaching some of what the book is preaching.

    I have also had the pleasure of seeing both authors presenting and conducting exercises at Boyd & Beyond conferences and can recommend them strongly. On to the review….

    First of all, who is the intended audience for Adaptive Leadership Handbook? Who would benefit from reading it?

    1. Any law enforcement personnel at any level – Federal, State, county or municipal. The book has been written with the perspective and problems of their field in mind.

    2.  Security professionals, private or public, who provide supplementary or complementary services to law enforcement, public safety, government agencies, corporations or individuals

    3.  First responders other than law enforcement

    4.  Military personnel who will be engaged in humanitarian relief deployments or constabulary duties among foreign civilian populations in conflict zones or National Guardsmen who might be assigned to disaster relief or civil disorder operations at home.

    5.  Academics and journalists who study law enforcement and security issues or MOOTW, FID and COIN

    6.  Anyone struggling to reconcile ongoing development of a genuinely professional culture within a bureaucratic-political context

    As a reviewer, I fall primarily into categories 6 and 5, so in terms of details, as an outsider, reading the book for me was also a window into the world of professional policing and procedure, especially in terms of making good tactical decisions in real life situations. While for a police officer the authors are discussing familiar scenarios that go to the heart of the law enforcement profession’s work on the street, for me these were illuminating vignettes.  Police facing uncooperative or indecisive or mentally ill suspects, active shooter scenarios, the traffic stop gone bad, possible suicidal individuals and intoxicated parties to a domestic dispute are among the examples used to illustrate how officers can adapt tactically or suffer the consequences if they fail to do so. Each scenario is analyzed with a view not just to alternative tactics but alternative ways to think differently to respond more effectively.

    Drawing on  thinkers as diverse as Gary Klein, John Boyd, Clausewitz, John Poole, Sid Heal , Hans  von Seeckt, Paul Van Riper, Sun Tzu and Heraclitus, the thrust of Adaptive Leadership Handbook is the authors attempt to bring police officers beyond the culture of ingrained procedure and rote training methods who react to situations into oriented, intuitive decision-makers and learning, thinking, reflective professionals. A shift of tactical mentality from “Go get him” to “Set him up to get him with an adaptive response”  A variety of methods are advocated to be used regularly in order to cultivate adaptive leaders – After Action Reviews (AAR), Tactical Decision Games (TDG),  Decision Making Critique (DMC) free play exercises, fingerspitzengefuhl, reading body language and pattern recognition. Some examples:

    …..A flood of questions will come to mind in the heat of a violent encounter. My point is, the questions will be there but the answers will come in a form of judgment – implicit and intuitive decisions based on your experience and training.

    Attention to detail is not the sole answer in the non-linear world of violence. Instead, it’s paying attention to detail that has meaning in the heat of the moment. [p.143]

    and

    ….Can those of us involved in extreme situations where life and death are at stake actually make decisions without thinking, without analyzing options, intuitively?

    The answer is clearly yes.

    Dr. Gary Klein in his research of cognitive development talks about making decisions under pressure in what he describes as “Recognition-Primed Decision Making”. What Klein found working with the united States marine Corps, Emergency workers and Businesses across the country was, “It was not that commanders were refusing to compare options. I had become so fixated on what they were not doing that I had missed the real finding: that the commanders could come up with a good course of action from the start. That is what the stories were telling us. Even when faced with a complex situation, the commanders could see it as familiar and know how to react. [....] the commanders secret was that their experience let them see a situation, even a non-routine one, as an example of a prototype, so they knew the typical course of action right away. Their experience let them identify a reasonable reaction as the first one they considered, so they did not bother thinking of others. They were not being perverse. They were being skillful.” [p. 89]

    and

    With an adversary who says NO and takes action to thwart our efforts we will always have to be prepared to use our awareness, insight imagination and initiative applying the science and art of tactics, operationally, while striving ouselves to overcome the effects of friction, while interacting with an adversary. We must attempt at the same time to raise our adversary’s friction to a level that weakens his ability to fight. This interplay is necessary in an effort to shape and reshape the climate of a situation and win without fighting if possible.

    Leland and Vandergriff are aiming at reshaping police organizations cognitive culture to permit decentralized decision-making as close to the problem on the street as possible, with officers confident and capable of taking the initiative and exercising good judgment in the context of circumstances. This entails a reframing of procedures from rules to tools, from being directions to being a map or template for independent decision making. A shift on the spectrum from training toward learning to make each officer more effective and more adaptive.

    Strongly recommended.

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    Commentary on Politics and Strategy

    Thursday, April 17th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    Infinity Journal has a good article by eminent Clausewitzian strategist Colin Gray on the interrelationship of politics and strategy (free registration required):

    Politics, Strategy and the Stream of Time

    ….Second, many scholars appear to be resistant to the conceptually, perhaps even morally, necessary recognition of the implications of the fact that all ‘policy’ is made by political process, and that that process, everywhere and in all periods, is run and dominated by the people who succeed in being influential over others. The substantive content of policy is made in a process of political negotiation among the people and organizations who contend for power, as they must. Decisions on national defence are taken politically, usually with input from subject-specific experts and interests. But, in all systems of governance politics ultimately rules. Prudent assessment concerning the maintenance of their preeminent popular influence flags to political leaders where the limits of the politically tolerable most probably lie. This is not to be critical, it is simply to recognize that we humans run our affairs, including our security affairs, by the means of a political process that is geared to generate power as influence, not prudent policy. Policy does not emerge, pristine and unsullied by unduly subjective emotions, as the ever dynamic product of objective expert analysis.[xviii] This is not to claim that political process will be indifferent to arguments that are armed with evidence of apparent national danger. But it is to say that strategic theorists and defence analysts (like this author) need to appreciate the humbling professional truth that their contribution to debate on public policy can always be trumped by politics.

    Third, civil-military relations may well be said to lie at the heart of strategy, as Eliot Cohen claims, but it would probably be more correct to argue that public political tolerance is as, if not even more, vital.[xix] As a very general rule, people will go only whither they are content to be led. Great leaders always require willing, even if somewhat politically passive, followers. Civil-military relations vary in detail, of course, given the breadth of unique historical circumstance that is their particular foundation in every polity. However, this critically important subject does allow authority to an elementary golden rule: the military power of the state must always be subject to authority that is accepted very widely as politically legitimate. The substantive reason for this is that the well-being of society and state cannot prudently be entrusted, or surrendered, even to their coercive instruments. It is only common sense to deny those coercive instruments the opportunity to be more than they should be, given the temptations to organizational mission creep that can come opportunistically to soldiers. Military culture often differs from public and private political culture(s), and it would be imprudent to have one’s national security policy and strategy decided by professional military experts (or their civilian defence analytical associates and frequent functional allies). The price one pays for insisting upon civilian political authority over defence matters is, naturally, necessarily an acceptance ultimately of the sovereignty of a public political will that is ever likely to be inadequately understanding of security problems. It is worth noting that the danger of undue military influence over the policy realm is understandably enhanced when the polity is committed to war (even only to ‘armed politics’ or ‘politics with arms’). However, the peril to civilian (political) supremacy in war lies not only in the scope and weight of the burdens of actual armed conflict, but also in the nature of war itself. By this I mean that the balance of relative influence between the civilian and the soldier is likely to alter simply because of the dynamic and ever unpredictable course of a (necessarily unique) particular war. Whatever the constitutional niceties and formalities in relations, in wartime the state can find itself serving the present and near-term future apparent necessities of a conflict that has evolved beyond expectation, let alone confident anticipation. There is in effect a natural and inevitable tendency for the needs of an on-going conflict to subordinate and even subvert civilian society so that national priorities are reordered more and more in practice in favour of the plausible necessities of war. Not infrequently in strategic history, this re-prioritization in favour of the military security interest has occurred with good enough reason. My point is that even when military leaders are not seeking to reduce or subvert civilian political authority, a context of armed conflict may itself achieve that end.

    I think in the second paragraph Gray is correct in the broad historical sense of major wars and existential conflicts. As violence escalates, the war tends to become a Darwinian (or Clausewitzian) ratchet turning in the direction toward “absolute war“. We can see examples of this tendency in historical conflicts as diverse as the Peloponnesian War, the Punic Wars, the Thirty Year’s War and of course, the Second World War, which culminated in nuclear fire.

    Curiously,the United States since the end of WWII has had the exact opposite tendency than the one described by Gray: the politicization of war as a mere prop for or tool of civilian domestic politics -and strategy being subordinated to (increasingly trivial) political matters- without regard to combat effectiveness, the external strategic effects or the ultimate outcome of victory or defeat. There are, in my view, many reasons for this. Most of them are particular to the sad state of American culture and our current generation of “leaders”, but some are intrinsic to the epistemological natures of strategy and politics themselves.

    Strategy, if it is to be done well, requires a clarity of vision that is willing to strip away cherished illusions, unfounded assumptions and more intentional forms of intellectual dishonesty. This is because making effective strategic decisions depend upon having a realistic calculus of actual and potential power, situational probabilities, material resources, psychological frameworks and other variables with which to work. In a trite and overused phrase, strategy has to be “reality-based” in the sense of being empirical, to the greatest extent feasible, even as it tries to shape future outcomes. As strategy is an iterative process and in warfare something done by tactics, the feedback provided by combat (“lessons learned”) and intelligence about the enemy needs to be understood in context as accurately as possible. This means that enforcing party-lines, shooting the messenger, “not-invented-here” syndrome, putting turf battles over real ones and bowing to ideological fantasies (“the Slavs are subhumans”, “they will greet us with flowers”, “they are only agrarian reformers”) in making strategic assessments is inherently a form of self-defeating intellectual derangement, a willful blindness likely to bring loss or even ruin.

    By contrast, Politics is not harmed by expressions of fabulism, mythmaking, self-delusion or the construction of elaborate, closed systems of thought predicated upon ideological fantasies. Arguably, such visions are empowering and inspiring by helping to craft an attractive narrative that men find compelling, unifying and motivating to action, including the will to power or a call to arms to stand, fight and die in a “higher” cause.  That political ideas may only bear a passing resemblance to reality or may be entirely composed of ahistorical nonsense, irrational hatreds and conspiracy theories is not always relevant to their memetic success or failure. To a degree, the process of political radicalization itself, as ideas become more extreme and demanding, tend to attract the kind of true believer personalities given to turning the ideas into violent or even apocalyptic action. Furthermore the intensity of belief or the closed system nature of the ideology tends to make the followers anti-empirical – highly resistant to information (or even the outcomes of physical reality) that run contrary to deeply held beliefs, as seen in the historical examples of die-hard Communists, Imperial Japanese ultranationalists and fanatical Nazis.

    If politics trumps strategy then strategy can only prosper if the political mind is rationally sound.

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    Recap: on HipBone / Sembl Thinking

    Monday, March 10th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- briefly picking up a strand from an earlier post & running with it ]
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    Some of the fish in the pool HipBone / Sembl swims in - slide credit Cath Styles, & h/t Derek Robinson

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    I just wanted to reiterate an Einstein quote that I slipped into the middle of a post on the Black Madonna and iconography recently, where some readers more interested in the Sembl / HipBone games and their applicability to analytic work and creative thinking may have missed it:

    The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be “voluntarily” reproduced and combined. There is, of course, a certain connection between those elements and relevant logical concepts. It is also clear that the desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of this rather vague play with the above mentioned elements. But taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought – before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of sign, which can be communicated to others.

    The above mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of muscular type. Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the mentioned associative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will.

    According to what has been said, the play with the mentioned elements is aimed to be analogous to certain logical connections one is searching for.

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    Combinatory playessential feature in productive thoughtanalogous to certain logical connections one is searching for — these three phrases sum up pretty exactly the congitive training function of the HipBone / Sembl games.

    As I said earlier, I have to wonder how many of our analysts are deeply versed in this “combinatory play” of images and kinesthetic experiences, way below the threshold of conscious thought.

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