Monday, August 15, 2005

QOTD: re-arranging

"Most people think that they are thinking when they are merely re-arranging their prejudices."---attributed variously to Oliver Wendell Holmes and William James

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Meeting a series of RL challenges...

...Blogging will be light to nonexistent for another few days. Thanks for stopping by.



To all who have offered or inquired: thanks for the kind words of support. I'm back in the saddle again. Working on one or two longer than previous posts, trying to get them right.


Saturday, August 06, 2005

Adjectives are Bad, Adjectives are Blue

Adjectives are bad / Adjectives are blue...
Adjectives are mad / And so are you

If you are trying to reason about facts, it can be hard to wade through a highly charged "modifier forest" of debate. I have a simple discipline I am cultivating in myself (mentioned in a comment on that I'd like to share with you.

Edward de Bono points out that it's easy to use adjectives to poison- or sugar-coat just about anything (my terms, not his). This generalizes to all modifiers, of course.

If you want to describe the chair pictured here in a complimentary fashion, you can call it "iconic" or gush about how it is "tensegrity-embodying" (though it actually isn't); if you want to make it sound like it's going to be torture to sit in or get out of, you can call it "angular" or "unforgiving".

For most sighted speakers of English, adjectives such as "blue" (referring to color) are pretty safe... we take them as objective or falsifiable. "Blue" in the sense of "sad" is more variable from person to person, and in the slightly archaic sense of "naughty", it's all in the eye of the beholder -- or so said the US Supreme Court.

Adjectives can go from bad to worse, so to speak. If, instead of "blue", someone said, "That chair is bad", I'd be stuck with at least a partial puzzle (unless I agreed with that evaluation) -- What makes it bad? Is it broken? Is it possessed by a demon? Or what? And so it goes.

The flip side of this is the bald, ostensibly unmodified declaration, of the forms
  • (entity) is (quality-loaded-nominalization)
  • (entities) are (quality-loaded-nominalization)
  • (entities) (verb)
There are no adjectives, right? What these are really is masked generalizations with implicit modifiers (as is this sentence itself--please try to find a counterexample!)

Just in case you were wondering, two sample utterances of that kind might be

"Republicans are thugs", "Democrats are idiotarians".

What is being indicated implicitly is hard to decipher. Usually, in passionate rhetoric, what I suspect is being intended when someone says one of those things is something like:
  • (entity) is FOREVER|ALWAYS (quality-loaded-nominalization)
  • ALL|EVERY (entities) are ALWAYS (quality-loaded-nominalization)
  • ALL (entities) (verb)
I have to continually remind myself to plug those in before proceeding with the editing steps.
  1. I remap the sentences by removing as many highly-charged adjectives as I can, and then substituting as follows:
And then I try to see if the utterance is consistent with what I think I know about the world, and base my communications on that as much as I can (assuming communication is what I wish to achieve).

If this sounds like part of the "Metamodel" of Grinder and Bandler, it's with good reason. It's also akin to something called the "Yes, And..." principle, from improvisational theater. As someone wrote,
By saying yes, and you are forced to accept what the other person said and move on
The downside of doing this too much is that you can sound insincere, or unsympathetic, or like a hyperlogical twit ("Damn you and your Vulcan logic, Spock!"). Those are bad things -- if they're not the intention of your communication :). If you want to alienate, or infuriate, go for it. But do it consciously, please.

The upside of doing this with some sincerity and grace is that you can sometimes defuse a situation and keep a conversation going.

It all depends on the Quality both parties bring to the conversation.



Friday, August 05, 2005

de Bono on Critical Thinking

In my first post featuring Edward de Bono, I warned you that he sometimes likes to provoke. Here's a really good one:

de Bono says: "Critical thinking is cheap thinking."

Give that one a good mull.

If you're like me, you might quickly notice that it's the kind of thing a cult leader, or a fuzzy thinker, would say; and you might be right.

You might also notice that it's the kind of thing someone might say to defend an action, or a line of thinking, that you've just criticised -- by trying to deflect you with a kind of metacriticism. You might even think it's a cop-out.

Accepting for the moment that de Bono's utterance is not any of those, what else could be going on here? What kinds of things might he be talking about?

In the spirit of the previous entry, let me remind you that de Bono is using a kind of shorthand here, and being descriptive. Look at the work of most "criticism" (in the vernacular sense) you see and hear in the world, and see if you can successfully apply this thing de Bono says.

I'll post a followup pretty soon. Contest winners are prohibited from spoiling this by blurting out the answer -- until a calendar week has passed. OK, Mr Bach? :)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

My Wimpy Pseudo Blogroll

When I learn how to do this right, I will; for now, this is a placeholder and shout-out to underappreciated or new blogs I think worthy. I will continue to revise this, so don't be permalinking here, ya dig? --Norty


AWESOME thinkers:

My first contest winner, James Bach, has a blog that has two components. One is about software testing, ostensibly. But the dude is saying stuff with much broader applicability. I am sure I'll be mining his writings and trying to clone parts of his brain so I can keep his faculties close at hand. He is one of the best thinkers-out-loud I have ever come across.

Cute chicks who think:

Fräulein Agatha Clay another college student, this time in an alternate history (sorry, fellas!). On perilous academic separation in an alternate-past gaslamp / steampunk romance set in a post-catastrophe Ost-zum-Mitteleuropa, she faces adversity most gumptiously (that's gumption + scrumptious). Rated PG 13 for swashbuckling, mild cursing and occasional flashes of Victorian unmentionables.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

QOTD: like archers

"If there is some end of the things we do...will not knowledge of it, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what we should? If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is."---Aristotle
Cf.: Covey's Second Habit: Begin With the End in Mind. (link to follow)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Man Down

As I write, it is only a few minutes from exactly one week ago that Officer Dan Niemi of the San Leandro Police responded to a Monday night noise-and-loitering complaint and was gunned down. I can't write much about this case at this time. But I want to share some thoughts with you.

I do not say this lightly---I have at least part of an idea of what a gunshot wound can feel like and do---we've lost one of the few people in this world I would have taken a bullet for. He had gumption in spades. He just might have known more about gumptionology than I'll ever learn. He had areté, Quality, and he wasn't a big jerk about it---that's the wonderful bonus you get when you meet someone with boatloads of the real thing (see below for more on areté, or go here).

Lee Harris, in his thoughtful book Civilization and its Enemies, says that one strength of our system is "team cosmopolitanism"--we don't care where you're from, or whether your family is royalty or ragpickers; the question is, are you on the team or not? "No one here is interested in avenging the honor of third cousins twice removed," he writes. Effectively, the answers to who can you trust?, and on what basis?---are both provided a la carte, not based on clan, tribe or sib. It's not customary for human beings, on a paleo timescale. It is recent, and rare, and it makes the culture something special and worth defending.

I am reliably informed that at least one of the assailant's family was instrumental in securing his prompt capture. I want to tell this person: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for proving you're on our team. Stay strong; you too are loved--and deeply respected--for this act.

Perhaps some day I'll be able to.

Richard Hooker wrote: "The most articulated value in Greek culture is areté. Translated as 'virtue,' the word actually means something closer to 'being the best you can be,' or 'reaching your highest human potential'....In the Homeric poems, areté is frequently associated with bravery, but more often, with effectiveness. The man or woman of areté is a person of the highest effectiveness; they use all their faculties: strength, bravery, wit, and deceptiveness, to achieve real results. In the Homeric world, then, areté involves all of the abilities and potentialities available to humans. We can, through the frequent use of this term in Homer's poems, make some tentative conclusions about the early Greek world view. The concept implies a human-centered universe in which human actions are of paramount importance; the world is a place of conflict and difficulty, and human value and meaning is measured against individual effectiveness in the world."
In the later culture of Aristotle, areté is also explicitly linked with all human knowledge.

Yep. That'd be Dan. God bless you, Dan.
I hope I can live up to your example.
I wish we'd talked more. I miss you terribly.
Dan's family, I grieve with thee.


There's a sentiment from some love songs (so called -- really out-of-love songs): "you can't hurt me any more". Well, let me put the people who are Not On My Team, in this country or elsewhere, on notice. This is not braggadocio, take my word, I'm really not given to it:

You probably can hurt me some more. But you can never, ever, hurt me less; and you've already hurt me enough to reassure me of where I stand. As time goes by, more people I know and care about will die, and some might die at your hands. I'm still betting on my team. I'm betting, and I'm "all in". Better check the odds. You might even be brave, and not just some punk bouncing on amphetamine nerves and Hennessy.

But we will see who turns out to be effective in the world.

META: Two Typography Issues

  1. I am told that the Greek word " arete' ", which I have used frequently, might not render well in all browsers. I am researching this.
  2. I am experimenting with the medium. In order to catch hurried readers' eyes, or when I am passionate or playful, I throw "too much" emphasis and bolding in. Yes, this clutters up the page. There is a solution for this, based on another thing proposed by my friend Don de la Mancha, but Blogger and the Web aren't able to support it yet. And I haven't figured out how/if Blogger can do footnotes, or I'd use them to streamline things. Stretchtext, where art thou?
I beg your indulgence. I pray thee: construe my meaning; wrest not my method.

Thanks for reading. (This post has been back-dated.)