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The speeds of thought, complexities of problems

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — instinct, rationality, creativity, complexity and intelligence ]

Guy Claxton, Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

You might think, taking a quick glance at their titles, that these two books would be in substantial agreement with one another about the speeds of thought. But consider these two comments, in one of which the deliberative, logical mind is “slower” than the intuitive and emotional — while in the other, it is the rational mind that is “faster” and the intuitive mind which is “slower”. Brought together, the two quotes are amazing — it would seem that either one or the other must be wrong:


Happily, I don’t believe either one is wrong — I think it’s more a matter of there being three speeds of thought, and the two books in question using different terminologies to emphasize different distinctions between them.

Here’s a more extended version of Guy Claxton’s position:

Roughly speaking, the mind possesses three different processing speeds. The first is faster than thought. Some situations demand an unselfconscious, instantaneous reaction. … Neither a concert pianist nor an Olympic fencer has time to figure out what to do next. There is a kind of ‘intelligence’ that works more rapidly than thinking. This mode of fast, physical intelligence could be called our ‘wits’. (The five senses were originally known as ‘the five wits’.)

Then there is thought itself — the sort of intelligence which does involve figuring matters out, weighing up the pros and cons, constructing arguments and solving problems. A mechanic working out why an engine will not fire, a family arguing over the brochures about where to go for next summer’s holiday, a scientist trying to interpret an intriguing experimental result, a student wrestling with an examination question: all are employing a way of knowing that relies on reason and logic, on deliberate conscious thinking. … Someone who is good at solving these sorts of problems we call ‘bright’ or ‘clever’.

But below this, there is another mental register that proceeds more slowly still. It is often less purposeful and clear-cut, more playful, leisurely or dreamy. In this mode we are ruminating or mulling things over, being contemplative or meditative. We may be pondering a problem, rather than earnestly trying to solve it, or just idly watching the world go by. What is going on in the mind may be quite fragmentary. What we are dunking may not make sense. We may even not be aware of much at all. As the English yokel is reported to have said: ‘sometimes I sits and thinks, but mostly I just sits’. […]

That third mode of thinking is the one Claxton identifies with “wisdom” — which is interesting enough. Just as interesting, though, is his identification of this slowest mode of thought with “wicked problems”:

Recent scientific evidence shows convincingly that the more patient, less deliberate modes of mind are particularly suited to making sense of situations that are intricate, shadowy or ill defined. Deliberate thinking, d-mode, works well when the problem it is facing is easily conceptualised. When we are trying to decide where to spend our holidays, it may well be perfectly obvious what the parameters are: how much we can afford, when we can get away, what kinds of things we enjoy doing, and so on. But when we are not sure what needs to be taken into account, or even which questions to pose — or when the issue is too subtle to be captured by the familiar categories of conscious thought — we need recourse to the tortoise mind.

I haven’t read either book, and I’d hope that Kahneman as well as Claxton actually addresses all three speeds of thought. But my immediate point is that the slowest of the three forms of thought is the one that’s best suited to understanding complex, wicked and emergent problems.

And that’s the one that can’t be hurried — the one where the Medici Effect takes effect — and the one which provides Claxton with one of his finest lines, with which he opens his book, a western koan if ever I saw one:

There is an old Polish saying, ‘Sleep faster; we need the pillows’, which reminds us that there are some activities which just will not be rushed. They take the time that they take.

More on that front shortly, insha’Allah and the creek don’t rise.

Recommended Reading

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Top Billing! Dan Trombly – Syria and Irresponsible Protection 

A brutal fisking of R2P as a self-defeating intellectual sham, well worth your time to read:

….Three very prominent foreign policy scholars: Steven Cook,Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Shadi Hamid, have all penned pieces calling for Western powers to put the option of military intervention onto the table. Although in the past many proponents of Responsibility to Protect, humanitarian intervention, and intervention in Libya (three groups with significant overlap but which were and are by no means identical) insisted that consistency was not necessary for their respective foreign policy visions to be credible or coherent, it seems the utter failure of the Libyan intervention to deter other states from ruthlessly oppressing their own people has caused some reconsideration of this stance.

Slaughter argues:

“If the Arab League, the U.S., the European Union, Turkey, and the UN Secretary General spend a year wringing their hands as the death toll continues to mount, the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine will be exposed as a convenient fiction for power politics or oil politics, feeding precisely the cynicism and conspiracy theories in the Middle East and elsewhere that the U.S. spends its public diplomacy budget and countless diplomatic hours trying to debunk.”

This was probably something advocates should have considered before launching an intervention that the administration insisted was not simply in the cosmopolitan interest of humanity, but the interests of the United States. If the US is launching interventions to debunk conspiracy theories, why should we be so confident a Syrian intervention would dispel them? Let me red team as a conspiratorial geopolitical commentator….

Seydlitz89– A Question of Honor? 

Seydlitz89 explores the work of Clausewitzian scholar  Dr. Andreas Herberg-Rothe entitled “The Concept of Honor in War“:

For Clausewitz, Napoleon was a “real enemy”, one that challenged the very definition of what not only Clausewitz but all Prussia thought themselves to be, but also one that brought their entire independent political existence into question (d).

Thus in Clausewitz’s original concept, wars could be bloody, but they were not questions of physical existence for one political community or the other, although individuals and even states were of course at risk, this being war. With the First World War we start to see a radicalization of this approach as the full weight of a political community using the consolidating/organizing/administrative powers of the state to mobilize its full potential to fight becomes a reality. By October 1917 the political conditions had ripened to usher in a new political concept of existence. 

An “absolute enemy”, the Leninist concept as presented by Carl Schmitt in The Theory of the Partisan I introduced in my last thread would conflate these subjective and “objective” perspectives, actually conflating a, b, c, and d, making the enemy an existential threat to the community as a whole as if it were an individual. The distinctions between individual, political community and state were lost. What makes this a totalitarian concept is that one side essentially has to exterminate the other, the other portrayed as an existential threat, but falling far short of such a reality, or in some cases constituting no actual threat at all…. 

SWJ  (Adam Elkus) – Death From Above: The West and the Rest 

This is part smackdown, part analysis:

….While there are many valid criticisms of the problems involved in using discrete force and avoiding civilian casualties, they are not specific to flying robots. Many center on larger legitimate political, strategic, and legal issues related to the global counterterrorism targeting program. However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that some drone critics have a visceral sense of repulsion over the idea that that men in warehouses in Nevada can kill targets on other side of the globe. In other words, it is not the War on Terror or the war in Afghanistan but the drone itself that triggers their ire. Their critiques center around a visceral sense of disgust at the supposedly disturbing nature of drone warfare, which they portray as the frictionless application of force against helpless victims.

….Military history, however, complicates this picture. The same logic that damns the drone operator or frowns on precision-guided military dominance also curses the more accurate firearms of the mid-19th century. As David Bell argues, the drone critic’s lament is echoed throughout history:

“Under medieval codes of chivalry, the most honorable conflicts were those where the combatants fought as equals, relying on individual strength and skill to prevail, rather than superior weapons or numbers. .. [W]e certainly have evidence of the scorn some late medieval critics reserved for the crossbow—a weapon that supposedly allowed poorly skilled archers to kill honorable knights from safe cover.”

Global Guerrillas – Drone Swarms are Here: 1 Minute to Midnight?


The algorithms that enable drone swarms is advancing EXTREMELY quickly.  In the next couple of years, the number of advances in technology, deployments, use cases, and awareness of drones will be intense.  In 5 years, they will be part of every day life.  You will see them everywhere.

Not just one or two drones.  SWARMS of drones.   Tens.  Hundreds.  Thousands.  Millions (potentially if the cost per unit is small enough)?  

Pundita –Urgent advice for State: Warn Obama to stop pushing the envelope (UPDATED 2X) 

….I told this story not to insult any government but to graphically illustrate that when sufficiently provoked and desperate, even the weakest governments can set the mighty United States back on its heels. Once this gets underway it can snowball into a trend. 

With all such situations it’s perceptions of American actions that count, or to be more precise the perceived pattern of actions. During the past year the perceived pattern is that President Barack Obama is throwing his weight around the world, everywhere he can.

I understand that Obama can cite reasons for each instance in which he’s crashed national borders in pursuit of the bad guys. Yet the perception is that Obama has gotten hold of two very efficient lethal weapons — U.S. Special Forces teams and armed drones — and is deploying them anywhere in the world he sees fit. 

But even President George W. Bush and his most aggressive predecessors in the Cold War managed to meddle in ways that didn’t make it look as if the entire planet was suddenly under surprise attack from the United States. They knew when to back off — and they were operating in a communications era when their every move in a foreign country wasn’t broadcast around the world….

HG’s World – West 2012-The Navy and Marines in the next decade

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the WEST 2012 Conference in San Diego, where the theme was America’s Military at the Crossroads: What’s Out and What’s In for 2012 and Beyond. I was encouraged to attend by the involvement of the event co-sponsor, the United State Naval Institute. The USNI has been in the forefront of offering a platform where those with an interest in the Navy and all the attendant aspects of strategy, history and tactics are given a forum to express and discuss their interests. The attention to the future of the sea services became all the more important in the recent changes being described as the “Strategic Pivot” to face west into the Pacific and prepare to confront what some see as a potential adversary, China, as she builds her own blue water navy. How big is this threat? Are we building the right fleet, or are we building a fleet based on the last major war WWII? What in the light of the current economic times, can we afford to build. And finally, what kind of Sailors and Marines and leaders do we need for the next two decades and beyond? Those are some of the questions that the conference’s many panels attempted to answer. 

Kings of War (Jack McDonald) – Obama, Realist to Little People. 

SWJ Blog (Mike Few) – Rethinking Revolution: Egypt in Transition and  Rethinking Revolution: Iraq 

Bruce Kesler – Haditha Was Exploited To Increase Danger To The US, US Troops, And To Noncombatants

Quesopaper – Rule of Law, Part 2 

Nuclear Diner –Nuclear Terrorism: Will the Business Plan Work?

Foreign Policy (Dan Drezner) –Is American influence really on the wane? 

American DiplomacyInterweaving of Public Diplomacy and U.S. International Broadcasting, A Historical Analysis by Ted Lipien 

Danger Room (David Axe) –U.S.-Backed Militia Fortifies Afghanistan’s ‘Heart of Darkness’

Eide Neurolearning Blog –Pattern Learning and the Brain 


David Armano – Trust Shifts From Institutions To Individuals

Presentation Zen – 10 great books to help you think, create, & communicate better in 2012

To Be or To Do, the blog

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

To Be or To Do, the blog

For the last couple of years I’ve wanted to start a blog, and feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get my feet wet here at Zenpundit, and then a little later at Fear, Honor, and Interest. Last year, I engaged a graphic designer to come up with a logo for “to be or to do” (TBTD) which I use in presentations, and essentially decided to build a site around the logo. The result is about 95% complete. 95% because my wife plans to also begin sharing with clients the TBTD material that I’ve developed—with tweaks where she deems appropriate.

While the purpose of the blog portion of the site is primarily as an outlet to share my interpretations of John Boyd’s work, I’ve already wandered into a compelling navy issue less than a week in. With luck, order will emerge, but I’m making no promises.

In my business, I’ve been using what I call Boyd’s scaffold to help organizations create cultures of excellence. Most Boydian thinkers use his strategies for competition and maneuver; I have focused on his notions of teamwork and cultural harmony. I’ve also taken a synthesis of Boyd as a man and derived five principles that, for me, define the man: honesty, courage, curiosity, conviction, and persistence. Two distinctly non-Boydian attributes, humility and optimism have been added because it seems like the right thing to do based on my life experience. As a matter of fact, optimism almost didn’t make the list, but my late mother-in-law impressed upon me the importance of optimism as a force in life—she did this as one suffering from, and eventually succumbing to breast cancer in 2010. She lived what she said; she was a Doer. Her life example was enough to make me a believer.

The TBTD site is primarily geared towards clients and potential clients, with a blog thrown in. The blog is not intended to be limited to business pursuits, but rather topics of interest that may also be interesting to readers.

As for the future, I’ve linked to many blogs Zenpundit readers either read or own. My introduction to and participation with this unique group has been a pleasure and a privilege beyond words. The book recommendations alone have made a substantial dent in my bottom line, but my library is exponentially better! So keep those title recommendations coming!

With any luck, my postings here will pick up in 2012; I have a series on patterns still under construction and two book reviews still in draft form (the books are old:))

Many thanks to Zen and Charles, and to the readership! I hope to see you here and at the new place just around the corner.

Cordially, JSS







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