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Archive for November, 2006

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

ON THINKING: “THE PUMP NEEDS TO BE PRIMED”

A great post by the Drs. Eide at their Neurolearning Blog, entitled “Priming the Pump – Optimizing Science Learning Through Analogy

Analogies and metaphors are powerful tools for crystalling moments of insight and stimulating horizontal thinking. Why this is the case exactly science is only beginning to understand, as in the MRI study cited by the Eides but I’d posit that successful analogies work toward maximizing the brain’s natural structural-cognitive modularity (in other words, if understood, analogies are efficient connectors of brain regions and maximizers of utility).

The Eides explained:

When researchers studed how top molecular biology labs conducted their research, they found that causal reasoning re: unexpected findings was driving much of the reasoning and analogical reasoning was used for hypothesis and explanations. When the process of analogical reasoning was studied, there appeared to be a two-part process – first, there had to be multiple potential areas for overlap, second there had to be a decision to integrate or select the best fit between the two.

The presentation goes onto compare museum exhibit learning experiences, and makes a persuasive case for successful exhibits having multiple conceptual binding points – like “things to notice”, “vocabulary necessary to discuss it”, “pictures that relate it to real world phenomena”, “questions that lead them to notice salient aspects of the exhibit.”

Analogical reasoning can appear as early as the kindergarten or early elementary school years, but Dunbar’s work reminded us that in order to be successful, the pump needs to be primed. Everyone comes with different experiences, familiarity, and observational skills – if we want students to really learn analogical reasoning and not simply memorize the right answers, then education and experience “in steps” might be in order first.

This would not apply merely to students but to any situation where learning or problem-solving is a required skill-set. One link in the post at the Eide Neurolearning Blog related to negotiation in applying analogies and using strategies in a fluid manner. Analogies could also aid collaborative groups in moving past conceptual stumbling blocks and re-energize their creativity.

Prime your pump !

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Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

THE DANGER OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY MEN

Smithsonian Magazine is always an excellent read. It doesn’t get much play in the blogosphere because the contents are usually as eclectic as the Smithsonian itself and are not as partisan as the usual online suspects that bloggers love to quote or fisk. But it came in the mail today and the article ” Presence of Mind: Man of the Century” on the 100th anniversary of The Education of Henry Adams immediately caught my eye.


Henry Adams 1838 -1918

Many readers of this blog have already read this classic work (or, if in college or grad school, it is probably on the bookpile) which is notable for its depth of introspectively minded, societal and historical commentary by a man who today would be called a” public intellectual” though Adams no doubt would have eschewed such a term. Henry Adams had a discerning eye in part, as the author Peter Hellman relates, because like his brother and fellow historian Brooks Adams, Henry Adams was a man out of his time:

“And even as the information age sweeps the world, Adams’ book remains a compelling self-portrait of a man trying to keep his feet as the ground shifts around him.

Henry Brooks Adams’ great-grandfather, John Adams, was the second president of the United States; his grandfather, John Quincy Adams, was the sixth; his father, Charles Francis Adams, was a congressman and U.S. minister to Great Britain during the Civil War. Education, which Adams wrote in the third person, begins its chronological march with the author’s privileged birth on Mount Vernon Street in Boston on February 16, 1838. But it also notes his feeling that his lineage conferred no head start “in the races of the coming century.”
But as the 20th century approached, Adams worried that, by inclination and education, he was better equipped to be a mid-19th-century man. Among his concerns were the 1905 Russo-Japanese War over Manchuria, rioting against the czar in St. Petersburg and whether Germany would align itself with Russia or Western Europe.

Wondrous, but still worrisome, were such new sources of energy as radio waves and radium (though his narrative goes through 1905, he does not mention Einstein’s publication that year of the theory of relativity). He was not religious, but technology made him devout. He pondered the “great hall of dynamos” at the Paris exhibition of 1900, where he felt the mighty machinery “as a moral force, much as the early Christians felt the Cross.”

The earth itself, he writes, “seemed less impressive, in its old-fashioned, deliberate, annual or daily revolution, than this huge wheel, revolving within arms-length at some vertiginous speed and barely murmuring—scarcely humming an audible warning to stand a hair’s breadth further for respect of power—while it would not wake the baby lying against its frame. Before the end, one began to pray to it; inherited instinct taught the natural expression of man before silent and infinite force.”

Adams had the self-awareness to sense his alienation with the major trends of his age, a quality that is lacking in most people who are disconnected from the flow of events. Adams, unlike his famous forbears, never sought high office though he was in the circle of those who did, including Henry Cabot Lodge, Alfred T. Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt, early partisans of of America as a world power. Unlike Adams, they were ahead of the curve on the approaching spirit of the times that would later be called ” the American Century“.

If only some our politicians, statesmen and foreign policy elite had some of Adams’ self-reflective humility today. Reading Foreign Affairs is often a depressing sojurn into the expositions of men who are anachronisms before their time, left behind by globalization and war in the prime of their careers and yet are unwilling to recognize that their comfortable old ideas provide few solutions to new problems. Dr. Barnett wrote the other day about the limitations of Scowcroft-think realism which was fitted to handle the delicate balance of nuclear terror in a bipolar Cold War but not messy 4GW insurgencies:

“The real problem with Rice is that she came from the Brent Scowcroft school of realism and national security advising. After Iran-Contra, the Brent Scowcroft school of national security advising came into vogue: the national security adviser and the NSC staff became super-apolitical. Instead of being the government-wide advocator of national security policy and an active player in its own right, the NSC and its boss became foreign policy super-clerk to the president, the main job being protecting POTUS’s ass from any blame.

This is essentially the Scowcroft model, and it reflected his realist take on things: no advocacy and no idealism from the NSC. It doesn’t lead, it merely coordinates.

That became the preferred mode post-Iran-Contra, and it survived the Bush 41 administration nicely, segueing into the emasculated NSC of the Clinton years, when the NEC (national economic council) was actually more powerful because Rubin at Treasury topped any of the unmemorables at Defense.

When Rice came in with George, the NSC embraced the Scowcroft “we’re-just-here-on-background” model. The staff I interacted with were all the same. I called them the “Joe Fridays.” They’d come, they’d take notes, and that was it. They had no ideology to speak of. They were responsible for nothing. They just coordinated.

We won in Iraq–the war, that is.

What we continue to lose in Iraq in the peace. That loss occurs primarily because we’re under-allied and under-coordinated interagency-wise. You place that blame on State and NSC. Rice ran NSC through the disastrous “lost year” following the invasion’s successful conclusion (when Saddam’s regime fell). Rice has been in charge of State for the last two years, during which our under-allied approach has proven quite isolating for us and quite invigorating for the insurgency and now sectarian warriors. “

The foreign policy elite that includes Rice, Scowcroft, Kissinger, Albright, Christopher, Holbrooke, Berger ad infinitum are upstanding, patriotic, deeply serious, often intelligent but at times, seem no more ready to tackle the realities of the 21st century than did Henry Adams at the close of the 19th. Not enough attention is being paid to fundamental shifts in military and economic power devolving downward from the hands of the state. Hamstrung by their own mistakes in Iraq, the Bush administration has regressed toward paralysis. The Democrats offer no alternatives except the non-solution of unilateral withdrawal. The refusal to make any strategic choices that might allow the U.S. to regain the initiative has set in, rejected in favor of papering over problems and muddling through, the default stance of the foreign policy elite since the Vietnam War.

We are being ruled by twentieth century men.

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Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

THE “BYZANTINE” EMPIRE STRIKES BACK !

Actually, it is just a calm, explanatory, rebuttal…but I liked the title. :o )

Steve DeAngelis responds in part of a post on Web 2.0 to criticism levelled by John Robb that ResilienceNet was a ” Byzantine” solution. The key excerpt from Steve’s post:

“Since the Esquire article about me appeared and the Institute for Advanced Technologies in Global Resilience (IATGR) was introduced to the world, there have been a number of posts made about whether the kinds of solutions we hope to work on will actually work. John Robb, for example, believes that things like ResilienceNet are Byzantine because they seek a centralized solution to a myriad of problems. Robb writes:

‘I contend that within exceedingly complex environments, the only true way to approach resilience is through decentralized processes. If you don’t approach the problem from this perspective (a philosophy of system design), the complexity overwhelms you and you fall into a cycle of rapidly diminishing returns.’

Robb is correct that our approach is to connect valuable information from varied sources and automatically analyze it using Oak Ridge super computers, providing the results of that analysis to those who with a need to know. He fails to recognize, however, that the system is taking advantage of decentralized processes to generate value added rather than trying to create a super system that stands on its own. Others are concerned that those super computers offer a single point of failure for such a system. Ultimately, I see the system using the power of grid computing to overcome this vulnerability. In much the same way, Web 2.0 is using mash-ups, our approach to security will present information in a much more meaningful and timely manner to those who must respond to prevent, mitigate, or recover from adverse events. In other words, what looks like centralized system is much more likely to be decentralized and distributed in ways that even Robb would agree were resilient. The entire conversation is worth following on Robb’s blog. Another blog worth reading on the subject is Shawn Beilfuss’ post on The Age of Resilience. “

I agree with Steve that the quality of discussion in Robb’s thread was exceptional. An interesting aspect was that all of the participants could be classified as proponents of engineering resilience into systems by technical design and political policy but clashed over what would constitute the ideal premise (or ” philosophy”) for building resilience.

I am currently multitasking; more thoughts later in an update.

UPDATE:

“scalefree” posted the following in the thread at John’s site:

“The way you build in strong & resilient structures is by taking the math of resilience into account. The math of resilience is the math of networks, which says (very very simplified) that when you want to make a system strong & resilient, you distribute, decentralize & make redundant its structures. If you want to do it properly you use some specific algorithms to figure out how it should be decentralized, but that’s the basic idea. “

True enough. Mapping out a network or analyzing an existing one is a mathematical process and the structure of the network establishes functional parameters. On the other hand, how many dimensions are there to the concept of resilience in play here ?

How a network may be used by external actors is not always a variable that may be anticipated. The internet is a case in point. The cultural evolution of message texting as related in Rheingold’s Smartmobs is another. The mathematical arguments hold true within the network itself but not always extrinsic to it. I’m not sure the two – user and network – can be cleanly separated or controlled by algorithmic logic.

I’m open to thoughts here from the math-science whiz crowd….

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Monday, November 27th, 2006

“WHY THE U.S. LOSES SMALL WARS”

HNN has a great review of the history of Small Wars thought by Larry Kahaner, author of AK-47:The Weapon that Changed The Face of War. An excerpt that will sound a familiar refrain to many readers:

“The other, and much bigger obstacle to winning small wars, brings a moral dilemma. According to Callwell, to win small wars, mere victory isn’t enough, the enemy must be thoroughly and utterly destroyed to the last man, woman, and child – which means enormous civilian casualties. For citizens of most modern democracies, this is an unacceptable stance. The level of violence and barbarism it would take to beat an insurgent force — torture, wholesale executions, leveling of towns — is a place where most democracies refuse to go. This keeps victory out of reach.

….If Callwell got military scholars to think more clearly about small wars, a group of Marine Corps officers in the 1930s took it to the next level with production of the Small Wars Manual based on US experiences in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. While building on Callwell’s work, this landmark book published in 1940, points to what some say is one of the most important aspects of winning small wars – understanding the role of indigenous religion, ideology and tribal relationships. The manual not only talks about the military aspects of winning small wars – and yes, they can be brutal – but of more importance is a deep understanding of a society’s language, culture, religion, history, economic structures and mores. The manual is a hot seller from a much-clicked website, The Small Wars Center of Excellence, run by the Marine Corps, which advocates the use of simpler weapons and more complex soldiers in small wars – the opposite of current conventional wisdom. This is not the only take-away message from the manual, but it is a vital one.”

Read the whole thing here.

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Sunday, November 26th, 2006

RECOMMENDED READING

Quiet day so far in the blogosphere…

Howard Rheingold at Cooperation Commons - “Wikinomics — Forthcoming book by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett – “Will Democrats build bridges or walls?

Critt Jarvis -” The Resilience Conversation: How big is this BOGGSAT?

Nick Carr -” Is Web 2.0 the wrong path?

Dr. Richard Florida -”War for talent” ( Hat tip to Eddie)

That’s it !

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