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On form and beauty

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — capable photographers capture “form” in their viewfinders, not just “content” ]

A toothy sea
A toothy sea


I have just been browsing someone’s choice of the “100 best photographs ever taken without photoshop”, and was struck by the ways in which form in general, and contrasts in juxtaposition more specifically — two of my recurring interests, form and the DoubleQuotes respectively — kept cropping up. I’ll get to them, and offer some stepped-down images from the series —

but first, take a look at the whole series as posted at The 100 best photographs ever taken without photoshop. Even the reduction to 60% of published size necessitated by the ZP column width loses much of the beauty — and imagine how they’d be as actual framed prints, in their original full sizes!

Someone’s choices? Yes, and by no means necessarily the best choices — this selection no doubt answers to a selection bias in the individual who put the series together — so the patterns I’m seeing here may belong either to that individual, or to the general human delight in contrasts, parallelisms and oppositions.


Earth and Sky, Heaven and Earth:

Waterspout on Lake Victoria, Uganda
Waterspout on Lake Victoria, Uganda

Fickle moods
Fickle moods

Volcanic eruption in IcelandVolcanic eruption in Iceland


The seasons: time as change

An autumn forest. 50 percent Downloaded
An autumn forest. 50 percent Downloaded

Autumn and winter meet in Colorado, USA
Autumn and winter meet in Colorado, USA

Autumn and winter meet in Miklukhin, Rostov region, Russia
Autumn and winter meet in Miklukhin, Rostov region, Russia


Human impact observed:

Two worlds divided, New York, USA
Two worlds divided, New York, USA

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder

An Italian beach
An Italian beach


On reflection, sheer, simple symmetries:

The aftermath of a flood in Ljubljana, Slovenia
The aftermath of a flood in Ljubljana, Slovenia

An eagle soaring over a lake in Canada
An eagle soaring over a lake in Canada


And that’s only a fraction of what the whole series of a hundred photos offers us. Each of these, I’d submit, is what I’d term a DoubleQuote in the Wild.

One final shot, color against grey — perhaps the loveliest of all:

A temple covered in ash from the Ontake volcanic eruption, Japan
A temple covered in ash from the Ontake volcanic eruption, Japan

So much humanity, so much pathos there.


Brilliant minds in both the arts and sciences focus as much on form as on content — on patterns, repetitions, symmetries for their own sakes, as much as on the particulars of the fields they study and in which they find them. At heart, this is a matter of aesthetic cognition.

We would do well to cultivate this kind of double vision — the awareness of form as well as content — across the board, from education and the arts to the sciences and strategy.

The moment we become polarized, however, in terms of a political or other form of partisanship, content becomes all we see (and agree or disagree with), and form effectively evaporates. In terms of the images above, we see earth or sky, summer or autumn, town or country — left or right — but not — but no longer — the whole.

Patricia, the gathering storm

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — spiral storming in the atmosphere, spiral vertiginous in the mind, inbound ]

Visual and verbal expressions of computational cognition:

SPEC Patricia visual verbal

Which conveys the most, which is most easily grasped, and how much do the models know?


  • Slatest, Patricia, Strongest Hurricane in History, Nears Mexico Landfall
  • Tribune, Forecasters: Patricia is strongest hurricane ever recorded in Western hemisphere
  • **

    Need to know, and why?

    SPEC Patricia need to know

    The zoom in, from need to know to why, exactly?


  • New York Times, Hurricane Patricia: What You Need to Know
  • New Scientist, Did climate change set the scene for hurricanes like Patricia?
  • **

    Cognitive dissonance:

    SPEC Patricia cog diss

    Cognitive dissonance, the human condition — or counterpoint, as understood by Bach and Glenn Gould?


  • NPR, Why Hurricane Patricia Can’t Be Blamed On Climate Change
  • Wired, Thank El Niño and Climate Change for Huge Hurricane Patricia
  • Military Reform through Education

    Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]
    Photo of Don Vandergriff instructing with a map

    Don Vandergriff facilitating Adaptive Soldier/Leader exercises at Fort Benning

    Fred Leland at LESC Blog recently had a guest post up by Dan Grazier from the Project on Government Oversight regarding the important work Don Vandergriff is doing to reform professional military education and training:

    Military Reform Through Education: From The Straus Military Reform Project, Something We In Policing Can Learn From

    ….I had the privilege of experiencing this process with a group of 30 soldiers and Department of Defense (DoD) civilians learning about adaptive leadership and mission command. All were teachers from various courses at Fort Benning sent by their senior leaders seeking to infuse new ideas into their organizations. They spent a week learning how to incorporate adaptability into their courses during a seminar taught by CDI military advisor Don Vandergriff and his colleagues with Yorktown Systems Group.

    The Adaptive Soldier/Leader Training & Education (ASLTE) seminar aims to move the Army away from outdated assembly-line training methods that teach soldiers to mindlessly execute checklists. Instead, the seminar shows soldiers how to incorporate creative and interactive methods that challenge both students and teachers. This results in empowered soldiers at all levels able to adapt to any situation. [….]

    ….Don Vandergriff, a retired Army major, has been on the front lines of personnel reform for many years. While he is most noted for his work at the service level, these seminars seek to transform the Army from the bottom up.

    Approximately 20 soldiers and 10 civilian educators spent the week learning various teaching methods through experiential learning, which flips the traditional method military students are used to. Most training today follows the “crawl, walk, run” theory all service members are familiar with. Students are generally expected to complete reading assignments, sit through a PowerPoint lecture, and then finally conduct field training to reinforce what they have learned.

    The seminar exposed students to new methods by putting the practical exercises first. For example, the seminar uses several Tactical Decision Games (TDGs) to encourage students to rapidly develop a plan for a military problem presented by the facilitators. TDGs can be created for nearly any kind of a situation, but this course mostly used actual battlefield problems like how to capture a bridge or defeat an enemy force entrenched on a hilltop. While working through these problems, the students are exposed to such concepts as Mission Command and the Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act decision cycle, commonly called the OODA Loop or Boyd Cycle.
    It is only after the practical exercises that they receive reading assignments about those concepts. Because they’ve encountered them during the exercises, the concepts become more tangible. The OODA Loop, for instance, explains an individual’s or an organization’s decision-making process. It is a difficult concept to truly understand, but it becomes easier when one first sees how it works and then reads about it. The idea is to give them a moment of discovery, that “Ah ha!” moment. Success using such methods is to have a student say, “So, that’s what you call that,” while reading.

    Don is making use of several powerful learning methodologies in his Adaptive Leadership philosophy – and I saying “learning” and not “teaching” because Don has properly put the emphasis on the student actively thinking and doing rather than on passively listening to a lecture or discussion. Lecture has a place in education, to explain or to set the student up for new learning experiences, but it should be used sparingly and in short bursts of time when the instructor has carefully set up a “teachable moment”. By having the students doing active problem solving first, they come to Vandergriff armed with their own questions, eager to have feedback.

    The use of games are also a very powerful learning tool, perhaps one of the most effective because the situational learning. tends to be transferrable rather than be compartmentalized and isolated information. The right kind of decision games are serious practice for life. This was noted by RAND social scientists way back during the early days of the Cold War:

    “The gamers argued that insights arose from immersion in play. In 1956 Joseph Goldstein noted that the war game demonstrated ‘ the organic nature of complex relationships’ that daily transactions obscured.War-gaming gripped its participants, whipping up the convulsions of diplomacy ‘ more forcefully…than could be experienced through lectures or books’.”

    ” A team from the Social Science Division [ at RAND ] posed a number of questions which they hoped the unfoldig month of gaming would resolve. Chief among them was whether gaming could be used as a forecasting technique ‘ for sharpening our estimates of the probable consequences of policies pursued by various governments’. Would gaming spark “political inventiveness“, and more importantly, how did it compare to conventional policy analysis? Did gaming uncover problems that might otherwise be neglected? And invoking the emerging touchstone of intuition, did the experience impart to policy analysts and researchers “ a heightened sensitivity to problems of political strategy and policy consequences?”

      Sharon Ghamari- Tabrizi, The Worlds of Herman Kahn

    Back to the article:

    ….Vandergriff’s teaching method incorporates recent research into adult learning, designed “to engage students in direct experiences which are tied to real world problems and situations in which the instructor facilitates rather than directs student progress.” This creates a situation where the students learn from one another. Unlike most other military classes, the ASLTE teachers use very few PowerPoint presentations. They also end up speaking far less than the students themselves.

    Vandergriff ran the class through the first TDG and led the discussion afterward. From that point forward, students took turns leading the class through After Action Reviews. Students gained confidence in leading such an exercise while the rest of the class bounced ideas off each other. The interactive nature of this kept the entire class engaged and gave all of them ownership of their own learning.

    The concept of ownership was a consistent theme throughout the seminar. According to Vandergriff, a good teacher “works to make his students better than himself and encourages them to take ownership of their development, to make them life-long learners.”

    Here Don is making use of the social pressure and reinforcement of a Peer to Peer (P2P) dynamic to maintain maximum student engagement while having them practice critical intellectual reflection, something that is a vital constituent of a professional culture of learning. A true professional embraces an honest discussion of ideas and both accepts and gives critical feedback on performance in hopes of learning and improving.

    Read more regarding Don Vandergriff’s adaptive leadership methods here and here.

    Cognitive Tools for Creative Thinking

    Friday, May 15th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen“]

    It has been some time since I have touched upon this topic. Recently though, I initiated a discussion at work on ways to enhance and stimulate creativity and  creative thinking and presented a suite of methods for generating and refining ideas. I didn’t get into the insight-based aspects of creativity, nor the high-level kinds of synthesis you see with people who have genuine mastery over a field or domain. My focus was more on developing people’s ability to think divergently, generate or recognize novel ideas and then refine or develop them.

    Therefore, many of these are active, intentional exercises or strategies. They tend to be productive but their creativity is not quite the same as what is produced, say, when a skilled musician is “jamming”, an inventor is tinkering or a painter or scientist is experimenting in the “flow“.  The following are also not an exhaustive list:

    Creative Problem Solving (CPS)

    Developed by Alex Osborn and Sidney Parnes, CPS seeks to harness Divergent and Convergent thinking in a holistic, multi-step, learning process. In essence, the students are sequentially alternating between Generating ideas and Focusing on refining, evaluating, applying them until the “problem” is solved. This is one of the older models of instilling creative thinking and has been widely used, particularly for well-defined or technical problems.

    Edward DeBono Lateral Thinking Exercises

    DeBono developed a system of forced choice and association exercises that are well suited to promoting critical and creative thinking at the same time as students address a concept or activity. Lateral Thinking exercises lend themselves naturally to being made into graphic organizers or as leading questions in class or group discussion. Some examples:

    PMI – “Plus, Minus, Interesting”                             OPV – “Other People’s Views    

    ADI – “Agreement, Disagreement, Irrelevant”  APC – “Alternatives, Possibilities, Choices”

    EBS – “Examine Both Sides”                                      CAF – “Consider All Factors”

    HVLV – “High Value, Low Value”                             AGO – “Aims, Goals, Objectives”

    TEC – “Target, Explore, Conclude”                          PISCO – “Purpose, Input, Solutions, Choice”

    Related to Lateral Thinking, but not the same, is Horizontal Thinking. While the former are concrete exercises, horizontal thinking is using a familiar area of knowledge to look for analogies and patterns in less or unfamiliar fields. Both Lateral and Horizontal thinking differ from the traditional model of analytical-reductionist Vertical Thinking associated with critical thinking done within a subject matter field. Vertical thinking and Lateral/Horizontal thinking complement one another




    Variations on “Brainstorming

    We all have used brainstorming. There are some ways to make brainstorming more productive.

    Ideational Pools – Ask a series of open-ended questions to a group that creates a much richer, single “pool” of ideas than simple brainstorming

    Uses, Instances, Similarities – this is usually about a physical object and the purpose is to generate as many alternatives as possible – i.e. “How many different uses can you think of for a piece of rope?”. It is both divergent and lateral thinking as an activity.

    Synectics – Extends brainstorming by taking the results and developing metaphors, similes, metonymy/synedoche that describe/explain them

    Group Roles (or stages)

    1. Generator: Comes up with ideas
    2. Conceptualizer: Organizes, categorizes, renames ideas
    3. Optimizer: Refines ideas with a view to action – the “How”
    4. Implementor Takes action


    Morphological Synthesis

    Morphological synthesis works through decomposition and forced association, There are several variations but it works best with well-defined problems. Examples.

    1. Define the problem or identify a thing. List all of the attributes.
    2. Combine and re-configure attributes in new ways


    1. Divide problem into parts
    2. Develop a solution for each part
    3. Combine solutions


    Critical Question Mapping

    A system of fast learning, developed by friend of ZP Dr. Terry Barnhart, discovers the “what” of a situation by having everyone brainstorm all of the critical questions that must be answered to find a solution. No declarative statements may be made, only questions asked. After the group has exhausted the potential questions, the questions can be organized into clusters, a learning strategy, divided for research, etc.


    Scenario Exercises

    The use of imaginative but realistic premises for a thought experiment and discussion. Popular in the fields of futurism, alternative history and physics, they allow the students to explore reasons behind making decisions, constructing hypothetical, framing problems or as an allegorical experience before exploring the real situation or problem. Scenarios come in different forms and draw on both critical and creative thinking:

    Counterfactual: Ex- “What if the South won the Civil War?”

    Futurist: Ex- Imagine a world entering a new ice age – how would Illinois ecosystems be impacted by the climate change?”

    Physical: Ex- “Schrodinger’s Cat”

    Paradoxical: Ex – “Could a man travel through time and kill his own grandfather? Could you drown in the fountain of eternal life?”



    Juxtaposing opposing or incompatible authoritative views to encourage synthesis or reflective choice. This is a favorite technique of Charles Cameron in his Hipbone method of analysis that he employs regularly here at ZP.



    Moral Reasoning

    Like Scenarios, moral reasoning and ethical dilemmas push people to think both creatively and critically. Example:

    “A madman who has threatened to explode several bombs in crowded areas has been apprehended. Unfortunately, he has already planted the bombs and they are scheduled to go off in a short time. It is possible that hundreds of people may die. The authorities cannot make him divulge the location of the bombs by conventional methods. He refuses to say anything and requests a lawyer to protect his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. In exasperation, some high level official suggests torture. This would be illegal, of course, but the official thinks that it is nevertheless the right thing to do in this desperate situation. Do you agree?”

    Many ethical dilemmas and student solutions can be analyzed according to Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development but the value for creative thinking is in creating the conditions of a forced choice requiring a resolution.



    What techniques do you use for creativity?


    Pinker, Blake and Moebius

    Thursday, January 29th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — looks like I’ll have an “Author’s blog” up soon to accompany a book I’m working on, and it’ll be called “Seeing Double” — which is what this post is about ]

    Steven Pinker, I’m sorry to say, appears to be one of those

    One can imagine a world in which oracles, soothsayers, prophets, popes, visionaries, imams, or gurus have been vouchsafed with the truth which only they possess and which the rest of us would be foolish, indeed, criminal, to question. History tells us that this is not the world we live in. Selfproclaimed truthers have repeatedly been shown to be mistaken — often comically so — by history, science, and common sense.

    The characters I’m interested in here are the visionaries — and my point is that truth as fact is not the only truth there is.


    Can “history, science and common sense” really detract from the “truth” of this image by Blake?


    or this, by Moebius?

    Moebius Floating City


    Pinker is interesting — that single para of his just gave me a chance to rant — so let me return you to his whole piece.

    I have other disagreements with him, no doubt, but he’s a mind to be engaged with.

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