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Archive for January, 2007

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

PRESENT AT THE CREATION: E.O. WILSON IN SEED

The father of sociobiology and prophet of consilience, E.O. Wilson is featured in SEED.

The Synthesizer

“…. In the late 1950s, Wilson discovered pheromones as the basis of chemical communication in ants. He identified 624 ant species in one genus and named 337 of them (19 percent of all ant species in the Western hemisphere). He established evolutionary biology as an esteemed pursuit in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a time when the discovery of the double helix and the molecular revolution it unleashed were eclipsing more traditional scientific disciplines. His work with Robert MacArthur on island biogeography is a seminal text in ecology. He’s been recognized internationally for contributions to science and the humanities and has received numerous awards including the National Medal of Science and Japan’s International Prize for Biology. He’s won two Pulitzers. And if Rachel Carson is the mother of the modern-day environmental movement, Edward O. Wilson is quite arguably its father. Indeed, those who know him call this work his mission. “

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

THE COMING ANARCHY OF DOWN UNDER

Welcoming Pacific Empire to the blogroll.

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

MODELS OF CREATIVITY


Steve DeAngelis of the Enterprise Resilience Management Blog had a post on creative thinking on Monday that should resonate with anyone with an engineering or entrepreneurial background where practical “problem solving” was a driver for finding new ideas:

A New Approach to Innovation

“….A creative thinker, however, is limited if he or she has little or no expertise. Expertise is, in a word, knowledge — technical, procedural, and intellectual. When creative, knowledgeable thinkers are presented with challenges, innovation is generally the outcome. This is particularly true if the creative thinkers are motivated. Not all motivation is created equal. An inner passion to solve problems generally leads to the most creative solutions.

….To be truly innovative, an idea must be manifested then taken to market where it changes how things are done. The prize approach is one of those vaunted “win-win” situations.”

Read the whole post here.

Nothing wrong with the approach to creative thinking that Steve outlined in his post. It is possibly, given the deomographic research on thinking styles, “hands-on” tinkering may be the dominant form of creative thinking – “ tweaking” already existing ideas or items to discover new uses.

However I do not think it is the only, or even the most productive form of creative thinking available. “Tweaking/tinkering or stochastic innovation by collective incremental advances is a gradualist process best exemplified by say, Thomas Edison or George Washinton Carver in the lab. There is also the route of Nikola Tesla, Leonardo DaVinci or Albert Einstein where breakthroughs arrive after a moment of insight sets a thinker working down an untrodden path.

Insight-based creativity, while more rarely taken to a successful, concrete and productive conclusion ( Steve was correct to highlight motivation or “task persistence” as an aspect of creativity. Productivity is quantifiable) can potentially shift fields by orders of magnitude or even result in revolutionary paradigm shifts. Insight, on a neuronal level is very likely a product of horizontal thinking triggering certain activity in the brain that is recognizable on MRI studies ( at least it seems to correlate).
Horizontal thinking is a skill which can be practiced and for which the environmental conditions can be deliberately organized ( Vertical thinking experts, novelty, diverse stimuli, conceptual depth, time for ” free play” thought exercises and exchange of ideas).

Neither method of creative thinking should be relied upon alone. Nor should creative thinkers abandon critical analysis any more than your right hand should abandon the left. We simply need to become comfortable using all of the cognitive tools in our arsenal.

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

RECOMMENDED READING

I’m a tad late on this today due to a busy weekend but better late than never. In fact, I am forced to do this one ” speedy quick”:

Bruce Kesler - “Rules of Engagement for Conscience and Sense“. Top billing. Regardless of the prospects for the ” surge” (insert healthy realism about the parameters of the possible here) I am totally opposed to attempting to micromanage battlefield tactics from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That’s simply a bad precedent for future conflicts and I’m not comfortable with some military manuver becoming the equivalent of “partial birth abortion” at the hands of folks not currently being shot at. There are more responsible ways to signal displeasure with Bush administration policy, if that is the Senators’ intentions.

Stephen DeAngelis – ” Wikileaks and Secrecy

Dave Schuler – “The Fog of War

Michael Tanji -(Global) Guerrillas in our Midst?

Thomas P.M. Barnett – “When America threatens war with Iran

David Kilcullen -“Two Schools of Classical Counterinsurgency

MountainRunner – “Petraeus on Goldwater-Nichols & Private Security Contractors

Purpleslog – “Criticism of 5GW found in TDAXP Comments

Whew ! I’m outta here….that’s it!

Saturday, January 27th, 2007

STATE FAILURE 2.0

(Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz)

One of the sharpest points of contention between Thoms P.M. Barnett and John Robb is over the feasibility of Tom’s System Administration concept. This issue has been the topic of numerous posts and the occasional rhetorical jab between the two strategic theorists. This pattern repeats itself, in my view, for a number of reasons. First, even friendly professional rivalry causes a natural bumping of heads; secondly, Robb looks at a system and thinks how it can be made to fall apart while Barnett looks at the same system and imagines how the pieces can be reintegrated. Third, no one really has all the answers yet on why some states fail relatively easily while others prove resilient in the face of horrific stress.

Robb contends that Global Guerillas can potentially keep a state in permanent failure, despite the best efforts of System Administration intervention to the contrary. A new level of systemic collapse, call it State Failure 2.0, where failure constitutes a self-sustaining dynamic. Broadly defined, you would chalk up ” wins” for Robb’s point of view in Somalia, Iraq and the Congo. In Dr. Barnett’s column you would find Germany, Japan, Cambodia, East Timor and Sierra Leone in evidence for the efficacy of Sys Admin work. Lebanon and Afghanistan perhaps could be described as a nation-building draw at this point in time.

Why permanent failure in some cases but not others ? This is something that long puzzled me. Then today, I read an intriguing pair of posts at Paul Hartzog’s blog - ” Ernesto Laclau and the Persistence of Panarchy” and ” Complexity and Collapse“. An excerpt from the first post:

Ernesto Laclau was here @ UMich and gave a delightful talk that gave me some key insights into the long-term stability of panarchy.

…However, with the new heterogeneity of global social movements, Laclau makes the point that as the state-system declines, there is no possibility of the emergence of a new state-like form because the diverse multitude possesses no single criterion of difference around which a new state could crystallize.

Thus, there is no possibility of a state which could satisfy the heterogenous values of the diverse multitude. What is significant here is that according to this logic, once panarchy arrives, it can never coalesce into some new stable unified entity.

In other words, panarchy is autopoietic as is. As new criteria of difference emerge and vanish, the complex un-whole that is panarchy will never rigidify into something that can be opposed, i.e. it will never become a new hegemony. “

While I think Paul is incorrect on the ultimate conclusion – that panarchy is a steady-state system for society – I think he has accurately described why a state may remain ” stuck” in failure for a considerable period of time as we reckon it. Moreover, it was a familiar scenario to me, being reminiscient of the permanent failure experienced by the global economy during the Great Depression. Yet some states pulled themselves out of the Depression, locally and temporarily, with extreme state intervention while the system itself did not recover until after WWII with the opposite policy – steady liberalization of international trade and de-regulation of markets that became globalization.

The lesson from that economic analogy might be that reviving completely failed states might first require a ” clearing of the board” of local opposition – defeated Germany and Japan, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and East Timor were completely devastated countries that had to begin societal reconstruction at only slightly better than ground zero. Somalia, Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, and Lebanon all contain robust subnational networks that create high levels of friction that work against System Administration. At times, international aid simply helps sustain the dysfunctional actors in their resistance.

System Administration as a cure for helping connect Gap states might be akin to government fiscal and monetary policy intervention in the economy; it may work best with the easiest and worst-off cases where there is either a functional and legitimate local government to act as a partner or where there is no government to get in the way and the warring factions are exhausted.

The dangerous middle ground of partially failed states is the real sticking point.


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