Picture a college student appealing for a higher grade in his professor's office. The student admits to a mixed performance during the semester, but he still doesn't understand why the professor gave him such a low grade.
"Can't my worst grades just be dropped, including those zeros on the missed quizzes?" the student asks. "That way, my final grade would represent my best work in the class."
"But," the professor counters, "think of the students who worked hard all semester to read, take notes, and study, and who sacrificed time from other important activities to earn good grades. Don't we need to take them into account and be fair to everyone?"
The student may agree that he doesn't want to be unfair, but he remains convinced that he deserves a higher grade. Depending on the student's persistence and command of available arguments, this chipping away at the instructor's resistance could go on for some time. And now the professor is thinking, Goodness, this really is the student's most committed performance all term.
Many who teach experience versions of this conversation regularly and attempt to reason with wheedling students using arguments that rely on a principle of basic fairness. But asking students to respect others' perspectives can be the wrong approach if they don't understand how to empathize in the first place.
Imaginatively taking on another person's thoughts and identifying with their emotions are two habits at the core of empathy. In fact, empathy is not a fixed trait like having brown eyes or long fingers. Empathy is instead a delicate cocktail blending assorted elements of inborn aptitude, social conditioning, personal history, and practice and motivation.
The ability to empathize is like a muscle capable of growth, atrophy, disability, and even regeneration (think Scrooge). People have different innate capacities for building certain muscles, just as we have different incentives for being empathetic and experiences in honing our skills to empathize. For some people, empathy comes easily and naturally; for others, concerted effort is required to stretch our imaginations beyond ourselves.
The troubling conclusion of a recent study by a team of social psychologists (including one of us, Sara Konrath) is that American college students have been scoring lower and lower on a standardized empathy test over the past three decades. In fact, a research paper published in May in Personality and Social Psychology Review shows that since 1980 scores have dropped 34 percent on "perspective taking" (the ability to imagine others' points of view) and 48 percent on "empathic concern" (the tendency to feel and respond to others' emotions). The standardized empathy questionnaire included questions like, "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me," or "I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective."
The apparent decline of empathy among college students has led to open season for speculation about possible causes. The study's findings also amount to a perfect Rorschach test for those who consider empathy a virtue worth cultivating. Those who lean left politically might reflexively focus on a rising tide of libertarian individualism, market fundamentalism, and the celebration of the "virtue of selfishness" by Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and their think-tank popularizers. Those who lean right might blame other forms of individualism, including feminism, social liberalism, and rights-based social movements since the 1960s. But a general concern over the empathy deficit seems to be one thing that people from both political parties share, although they may remain worlds apart when considering the problem's causes and how to fix it.
Educators less keen to blame politics for the decrease in student empathy might look to changes in the college-going population's relationship to work, family, and higher education. For example, many students plan to attend graduate or professional school, making their college years more of an extended adolescence than an emergence into early adulthood, and pushing forward the traditional markers of that transition—getting married and having children—by several years. Cultural trends also play a role. The popularization of reality TV shows and the narcissistic exhibitionists who star in them; the focus of primary education on the problem of low self-esteem rather than low empathy; and the relative decline of face-to-face interaction and emotional communication due to increased online socializing may all contribute to the decline of empathy among college students.
The good news: A person's ability to empathize can improve. We know that people can be trained to become more empathetic through a variety of programs and methods, including some for college students and their professors. Studies have shown that empathy can increase when students are trained to improve their interpersonal skills or ability to recognize others' emotions. It can also improve after role-playing exercises involving another person's feelings or situation, after observing the misfortunes of others, and after exposure to highly empathetic role models.
Educators concerned about declining empathy should think about how to include some of these techniques in their classrooms. Besides the obvious social benefits, research also links empathy in students with better academic outcomes. Just as empathetic doctors and therapists have patients with better outcomes, empathetic instructors get better results from their students, even on objective measures such as multiple-choice tests.
Those who are most critical of the recent study's findings may be college students, who take them as an older generation's predictable complaints about "kids these days." It's true that such studies deal with averages distilled from very large numbers. Luckily, there are many highly empathetic young people who undertake projects like volunteering for altruistic reasons rather than for résumé-padding.
Instructors who wish to impart lessons about the nature of fairness, and its emotional and cognitive roots, must not forget that students are also taking mental notes as we, too, use or set aside our empathy muscles in our relationships with students. After all, it's hardest to empathize with those who don't reciprocate.
If empathy is truly on the decline among college students, then professors who care may be seen as both potential suckers, ripe for manipulation, or as potential sources of emotional connection—sometimes by the very same student. Students should be warned: Empathy doesn't make a person an easy target. When used with skill, empathy can guide us to balance the needs of ourselves, our students, and our larger social contexts with judicious care.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
David J. Hellerstein is the author of Heal Your Brain: How the New Neuropsychiatry Can Help You Go from Better to Well and he has a newish blog at Psychology Today appropriately called Heal Your Brain: Exploring the New Neuropsychiatry.
He has posted a series of introductory articles that explain the basic ideas in his neuropsychiatry model. Some of them are very familiar from other researchers, such as Dan Siegel or Daniel Amen, but some are a little different.
It appears that for each of the six points listed above he has created a separate blog post to introduce the topic. Here are five of the six main points - there should be one more forthcoming on resilience.How neuroscience advances can improve depression treatment...6 key principles
Do you remember Dr. Lewis Thomas, the renowned physician-writer?
Back in the 1970s, Dr. Thomas wrote an elegant book of essays, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, in which he poetically linked the latest advances in biology to the care of patients, to hospitals, to social issues, and even to the state of the biosphere. Lewis Thomas was always an inspiration to me as a young physician and writer, and he has often come to mind over the past decade-a time of incredible advances in neuroscience.
I am a psychiatrist, and I work in the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City. At Columbia, I teach and do research and run various programs. But I am also a clinical psychiatrist, with an active practice in psychopharmacology and psychotherapy, and a few evenings a week I go to my office on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to see patients-primarily with mood and anxiety disorders.
In recent years I have become what you could call a 'New Neuropsychiatry watcher.' I go to conferences at Columbia and elsewhere, I speak with research colleagues, I run studies that test medications and the effects of therapy, and I work with other doctors doing brain scans of patients with various disorders-especially with chronic depression and anxiety disorders.
More than anything else, I have become fascinated by the torrent of discoveries in neuroscience, from brain imaging studies to genetics to 'animal models' of psychiatric illnesses, as well as innovative treatments such as the implantation of electrodes deep in the brain to treat severe depression, and trials of new medications and types of therapy like 'behavioral activation' therapy.
The world of research is fascinating, and the past decade has brought incredible advances-the beginnings of a true understanding of how the brain functions in health and disease. Every week, I shuttle back and forth between the rarefied world of neuropsychiatry research and the daily realities of work as a psychiatrist who treats people with depression or anxiety disorders-dealing with insurance companies, prescription renewals and the like.
Living this double life, I began to wonder: is it possible to bridge the chasm between cutting-edge science and the busy clinic? Given how complicated the brain is, and how fragmentary our knowledge is at this point, is it possible to come up with basic principles grounded in neuroscience that can help to guide treatment of these disorders? And are there principles that people with depression and anxiety disorders-or their families and loved ones-can use to obtain better results?
I started writing my recent book, Heal Your Brain, over a decade ago, but it was only the past four or five years that I was able to really refine my argument. At a certain point it seemed that every week there was a new advance linking the latest research in the neuroscience laboratory with what we psychiatrists see in our offices.
Eventually, I came up with six key concepts for the New Neuropsychiatry. Each of these is supported by research findings, and each has relevance to people whose lives have been affected by depression and anxiety disorders. Specifically, each principle can help us-doctors as well as patients and their families-to better manage these disorders, and I believe they can help researchers to work more effectively to bridge the chasm between the laboratory and the doctor's office.
6 Key Concepts for the New Neuropsychiatry
As I describe in Heal Your Brain, and as I will discuss in future postings, these concepts include the following:
1) neuroplasticity, the ongoing remodeling of brain structure and function throughout life, which can be affected by biological agents, behavior, exercise, and thought patterns;
2) the damaging impact of clinical depression and anxiety disorders on brain structure and function;
3) the importance of achieving "remission" of disorders, and its potential effects on limiting or even reversing brain injury occurring as a result of psychiatric disorders;
4) the importance of behaviors such as learning, psychotherapy, and exercise as well as somatic treatments (medications, etc.) on changing brain structure, connectivity and function, and on alleviating disorders;
5) the impact of physical health on the brain and the course of psychiatric disorders; and
The purpose of this blog is to explore the ways in which what I call the New Neuropsychiatry can improve the treatment of people with psychiatric disorders. But it is also to explore the ways in which patients' experience can inform research, and help us researchers to do better studies in order to improve treatment. One thing I have realized as a 'New Neuropsychiatry watcher' is that this communication is a two-way street. Insights from the research lab and the doctor's office-not to mention from the experiences of people with depression and anxiety disorders-can help bridge the chasm between research and practice, and lead to true advances in care.
Neuroplasticity and Depression
In the past decade it has become clear how the brain constantly remodels itself through adult life...both causing and possibly allowing recovery from disorders Read MoreDepression and Anxiety Disorders Damage Your Brain, Especially When Untreated
Study after study shows that clinical depression and anxiety disorders--not to mention severe conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and drug abuse--cause measurable changes in key areas of the brain. Read MoreThe Crucial Importance of Treating Depression to 'Remission'
It is important not only to get a patient's depression to 'respond' to treatment (symptoms about half-way better) but to get the person so much better that their symptoms are basically no different from a person without depression. Read MoreMedications, Therapy, Exercise in Treating Depression...All Remodel the Brain
Don't Forget the Brain! Physical Health is Key to Treating Depression
Treatments for depression, including medicines and psychotherapy, remodel the brain. It is becoming increasingly possible to undo the damage associated with major depression and anxiety disorders...and to achieve recovery. Read More
Recent research proves that physical health has a profound effect on the brain, and in turn the health of the brain has a profound impact on the course of psychiatric disorders. Brain health is thus now an essential component of the care of depression and anxiety disorders--and physical health is essential in maintaining a healthy brain! Read More
It's a useful introduction to the topic - and if you want to buy your own personal assessment, there are links to do so. There is also a link to a SQ Glossary. There is also a handful of articles available at the site.
"SQ" or Spiritual Intelligence is defined by CPI as "the ability to behave with Wisdom and Compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the circumstances."
Spiritual Intelligence is an innate human intelligence – but like any intelligence it must be developed. This means that we can describe it and measure it by looking at the skills or competencies that comprise Spiritual Intelligence. Cindy Wigglesworth, founder of CPI, has created the first ever competency-based Spiritual Intelligence assessment instrument – a comprehensive, faith-neutral, expertly developed and tested model. CPI’s Spiritual Intelligent assessment will help you:
- Test your current level of Spiritual Intelligence or “SQ”
- Learn the 21 skills of Spiritual Intelligence
- Discover the next steps to develop your Spiritual Intelligence
After you complete the Spiritual Intelligence assessment, you will receive your report via email as a PDF file of about 20 pages in length (the assessment takes about 30 minutes). The report will give you detailed feedback on your current level of skill development on all 21 skills of spiritual intelligence, and will suggest "next steps to consider" to help you develop your SQ skills (all voluntary of course!).
To take CPI’s fun and expertly developed SQ Assessment and to get your 20 page report, click here now. (After purchasing you will receive an email within 24 hours with instructions).
NOTE: If you have already purchased an SQ Assessment and have your password please click here to complete your Assessment.
A Simple Model of Multiple Intelligences:
CPI uses more than one model of multiple intelligences, but this one is a good one to start with since it is the simplest. It begins with Physical Intelligence or “PQ” – which is our earliest focus (think learning to crawl!), then IQ or logical and verbal intelligences – which is the focus of our educational system, and then Emotional Intelligence or EQ. If you are not familiar with Emotional Intelligence we highly recommend any book by Daniel Goleman – but especially Working with Emotional Intelligence. EQ has been found to be more predictive of success in the business world than IQ. IQ appears to act as a “gateway to entry”…if you don’t have a minimum IQ you can’t enter the field…so you need a minimum IQ to become a lawyer or a nurse, for example. But once you are in – what distinguishes star performers is their EQ. Goleman, Boyatzis, and The Hay Group have developed an instrument that measures Emotional Competencies (the skills of EQ). CPI offers this measurement instrument.
Spiritual and Emotional Intelligences
CPI believes that EQ and SQ are related but different intelligences. We believe that you need “at least a little EQ” to authentically begin a spiritual journey. Specifically, a little self-awareness and empathy is needed to start! But once you begin your spiritual practices, SQ can be very reinforcing of EQ growth, and EQ growth can then nourish SQ growth…so they are positively reinforcing each other. Visually it would look like this:
Measuring SQ or Spiritual Intelligence
We believe that Spiritual Intelligence skills can be broken into 4 Quadrants:
- Higher Self / Ego self Awareness
- Universal Awareness (awareness of interconnectness, etc)
- Higher Self / Ego self Mastery
- Spiritual Presence / Social Mastery
Each quadrant has approximately 5 skills in it. Each skill has 4 or 5 levels of “skills attainment.” For example:
Sample skill from Quadrant 1: Higher Self/Ego self Awareness
|Spritual Awareness Skill: Awareness of Ego self and Spirit Self / Higher Self|
|Levels of proficiency in this skill:|
|1||I can communicate an understanding of the psychological impact of family, roles and culture on Ego self (sometimes called Personality self)|
|2||I demonstrate an ability to observe my own Ego in operation and comment on what seems to trigger my own “Ego eruptions”|
|3||I demonstrate an awareness of and ability to periodically "listen to" Spirit or Higher Self as a separate voice from Ego self *|
|4||I can hear the voice of Spirit or Higher Self clearly and understand the "multiple voices" that Ego self can have. I give authority to the voice of my Higher Self in important decisions. *|
|5||My Spirit or Higher Self voice is clear and consistent. Authority is consistently given to Spirit Self. My Ego self is present and is in sustained joyful service to Higher Self.*|
*Note that the inner voices I refer to here are not in any way pathological or signs of psychosis. These are the “voices” of our own nature which debate with us, criticize us, and tell us why we shouldn’t do things. One author refers to this committee of critics as his internal “board of directors.” The “voice” of our Spirit Self is, in contrast, typically a quiet voice – easily ignored in the loud noise of ego voices. Yet it is this quiet Spirit voice which is the voice of our hope, our conscience, our source of ethical courage, and our guidance system when we need to know “What should I do?”
To take Cindy Wigglesworth’s fun and expertly developed Spiritual Intelligence Assessment and to get your 20 page report, click here now. (After purchasing you will receive an email within 24 hours with instructions)
Friday, August 12, 2011
Trying to do a life of Muhammad is about like trying to do a life of Jesus or the Buddha, it's nearly impossible to separate myth from fact. This 3-part documentary for British television - created by the BBC - tries to respect Islamic customs and also seek the cultural and historical context that shaped Muhammad and his teachings.
The Telegraph UK reviewed the documentary favorably.
In a ground-breaking first for British television, this three-part series presented by Rageh Omaar charts the life of Muhammad, a man who – for the billion and half Muslims across the globe – is the messenger and final prophet of God.
The Seeker. In a journey that is both literal and historical, and beginning in Muhammad’s birthplace of Mecca, Omaar investigates the Arabia Muhammad was born into – a world of tribal loyalties and polytheistic religion. Drawing on the expertise and comment of some of the world’s leading academics and commentators on Islam, the programme examines Muhammad’s first marriage to Khadijah and how he received the first of the revelations that had such a profound effect both on his life, and on the lives of those closest to him.
Holy Wars.Omaar assesses and shines a light on key events in Muhammad’s life including the Night Journey to Jerusalem, his life threatening departure from Mecca, through to the establishment of the Constitution of Medina and the eight year war with the Meccan tribes.
Holy Peace. Omaar analyses and investigates key events during the later part of his life, including the introduction of a moral code known as Sharia and the concept of Jihad. The programme also explores Muhammad’s use of marriage to build alliances, and looks at the key messages included in his final sermon.
In line with Islamic tradition the programme does not depict any images of the face of Muhammad, or feature any dramatic re-constructions of Muhammad’s life.
Watch the full documentary now (playlist – 3 hours)
Working with Anger
by Thubten Chodron
Is Anger Beneficial?
We generally consider something beneficial if it promotes happiness. But when we ask ourselves, "Am I happy when I'm angry?" the answer is undoubtedly no. We may feel a surge of physical energy due to physiological reasons, but emotionally we feel miserable. Thus, from our own experience, we can see that anger does not promote happiness.
In addition, we don't communicate well when we're angry. We may speak loudly as if the other person were hard of hearing or repeat what we say as if he had a bad memory, but this is not communication. Good communication involves expressing ourselves in a way that the other person understands. It is not simply dumping our feelings on the other. Good communication also includes expressing our feelings and thoughts with words, gestures, and examples that make sense to the other person. Under the sway of anger, however, we neither express ourselves as calmly nor think as clearly as usual.
Under the influence of anger, we also say and do things that we later regret. Years of trust built with great effort can be quickly damaged by a few moments of uncontrolled anger.... If we could tame our anger, such painful consequences could be avoided.(p.23)
--from Working with Anger by Thubten Chodron, published by Snow Lion Publications
Working with Anger • Now at 5O% off
(Good until August 19th)
Nice article from Todd Kashdan on the scientist John Lilly - offering four insights into creativity. Dr. Lilly (who died in 2001) is best known to me as one of the few true polymaths of whom I had ever heard:
I followed his lead many years in combining psychedelics with sensory deprivation/isolation tanks. I had also read some of his work on dolphin communication. Now I need to read the book Kashdan references here.
Lilly was a physician and psychoanalyst. He made contributions in the topics of biophysics, neurophysiology, electronics, computer science, and neuroanatomy. He invented and promoted the use of an isolation tank as a means of sensory deprivation. He also attempted interspecies communication between humans and dolphins. His work helped the creation of the United States Marine Mammal Protection Act.
His eclectic career began as a conventional scientist doing research for universities and government. However, he gradually began researching unconventional topics. He published several books and had two Hollywood movies based partly on his work.
Todd Kashdan - Professor of psychology, George Mason University
August 9, 2011
Since the embarrassment is long gone, let me tell you something about myself ...
As an adult, I never read a book for pleasure until the summer before my senior year of college. Resting shirtless on the roof of my house, I starting reading "The Scientist" by John Lilly... and kept on reading -- hours passed, unbeknownst to me, and melting asphalt and tar fused to my torso.
When you're 18 years old, on the cusp of autonomy, it's an interesting experience to have a roommate enter the shower to wash your naked backside. Soap failed, washcloths failed, hair brushes failed, and thus poor Marc Turner resorted to using a grill brush/scraper until there were few signs of flesh between my neck and tailbone. I don't remember the pain. I do remember the end of my sex life for the next few weeks. Even more memorable, I couldn't stop thinking about John Lilly who accidentally set the course for my life.
As a maverick researcher, John Lilly was a pioneer in electronics, biophysics, neurophysiology, psychology and computer theory. He was also, arguably, the world's leading authority on the effects of absolute isolation on the human mind and how communication can take place between humans and dolphins. Based on his own laboratory work, cross-fertilized readings in western science and eastern religion and personal explorations into altered states of consciousness via sensory deprivation tanks, psychotropic drugs and eastern contemplative practices (think yoga, meditation and Qigong), Lilly devoted himself to mapping a small slice of the limitless boundaries of consciousness.
His mantra? All experiments must be initially conducted on oneself to avoid harming others. Sounds easy, unless like him, you regularly ingested LSD, ketamine and unusual concoctions in sensory deprivation tanks and flotation devices in the ocean -- in the absence of anyone monitoring his physical safety. The risks and losses to his professional career (i.e., federal funding, reputation) and personal life (i.e., divorce, psychiatric hospitalization) are well-documented. To Lilly, the search for meaning and knowledge outweighed the costs. Both intrepid and reckless, Lilly is the embodiment of curiosity and purpose in life.
What can we learn from his life:
1. The quickest route to creativity is the blending of ideas from multiple topics and disciplines (what I refer to as "the intellectual smoothie"). Want to know the origin of sports bras, solar panels and computerized insulin pumps? NASA space expeditions have been a treasure chest for entrepreneurs.
2. Forget your ego, spend time with people that are bigger, smarter, fastest and wiser than you. In an alternate universe, where Jack Kerouac had trouble making friends, he ends up being the comic store guy in the Simpsons. Sharing ideas openly inspires creativity and territoriality hinders creativity. Think Mozilla Firefox versus Microsoft Windows.
3. Seek out opportunities to make errors. There's this idea that scientists create experiments to test out epiphanies that blindsided them during midnight walks through the woods; their ideas work out, they get published and influence the world. Sounds too good to be true, and it is. Most experiments "fail," and most hunches end up being "wrong." I placed these words in quotes because people that want to be creative slowly comb through the residue to find unexpected, complex bits and pieces. With a new storyline, and a few replications, science is on the track to making a tiny bit of the unknown known. Instead of trying to win points for guessing what the future brings, be ready to handle the uncertainty, ambivalence, complexity and conflict that will arise. And if it doesn't arise, search harder because uncertainty is fertile territory for creativity.
4. Music, sex, dancing and nature are just a few of the perfectly socially appropriate avenues to alter consciousness, and in turn, change your mindset. Small rearrangements of ideas, on the fringes of conscious awareness, can do wonders for creativity.
Lilly has always been part of my wise counsel. Learn from the great ones, absorbing tidbits of wisdom a la carte.
Dr. Todd B. Kashdan is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at George Mason University. He is the author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, "Designing Positive Psychology." For more about his public speaking and research go to www.toddkashdan.com or the Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena
Follow Todd Kashdan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/toddkashdan
Thursday, August 11, 2011
A History of InterconnectednessWritten by Jaime Leal-Anaya
Interconnectedness between human beings is most clearly seen today in the form of modern communications technologies: the internet, social networks, the newest cell phones with the greatest global reception. We are all inevitably connected to each other in this modern age. But is this an outward sign of something much more fundamental in us? Is our contemporary wired technology an extension of a primordial aspect of our innate human nature? A selection of key events in our history where people struggled and fought to gain greater integration and interconnectedness helps us recognize that this is more than a social phenomenon; this is a defining quality of our humanity.
Looking at some historical events that had a direct effect either strengthening or weakening the bonds that unite people across the globe is one of the easiest ways to recognize how intricately connected we actually are as a species.
The fragile web that unites us together fell clearly victim and under attack in western religious history during the Crusades and so-called Holy Wars. The Gesta Francorum chronicles — “The Deeds of the Franks” — of the Siege of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, describe that the slaughter of Muslims and Jews was so great the crusaders waded in blood up to their ankles. And the chronicle of Ibn al-Qalanisi relates how the crusaders burned to the ground the synagogue where Jews were taking refuge, over their heads, while they were singing praises to Christ the Lord outside the building. Our connection got lost here due to apparently pious and innocent yet brutally divisive religious beliefs that failed to recognize our intrinsic unity in the midst of diversity.
The Crusades turned the ugliest under the banner of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, where the exploration of science fell into darkness and was burned alive. Here we need only remember Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei as examples. Scientific explorers were not the only ones who suffered. The sanctity, beauty, and right to life of countless unremembered women were particularly tortured and brutally torn to pieces during the Inquisition and the witch hunts it inspired and instigated. Many times throughout history to the present day, religions and conflicts of belief between people have served to divide and destroy our interconnection as human beings rather than build and strengthen it, as one would assume, and the world oftentimes awaits for their leadership and example. The original Holy Wars against the infidel have never stopped. They simply have changed names and direction, and now their effects can be felt closer to home with the explosive conflicts in the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Our history of division, conflict, and war painfully show us the fragile nature of our human bonds, and that when we lose sight of these basic ties the consequences are devastating, debilitating, and tragic for everyone in the long run.Religions and conflicts of belief between people have served to divide and destroy our interconnection as human beings rather than build and strengthen it.
The proponents of the American Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution began to catch a glimpse of the essential values that define us as equal members of a greater whole, and were willing to live and die to defend these ideals. They provided a clear lens to view our interconnectedness in their declarations and ideas of equality, liberty, fraternity — and sisterhood — the right to life, and the pursuit of happiness. These ideals are still an effective foundation for many groups fighting for these inalienable rights today. Our predecessors fought to establish that we are all a unity of equal and free individuals by nature — by the mere fact we are human beings — and not through a divine ordinance or membership to a club, religion, or a specific ethnicity. In a way they redefined those traditionally divine gifts and made them innately human. Implicitly, woman and man were now seen as divine by nature of being human! Those were the heroes who saw the values that make us one people and laid the first stones on this road, yet the fight still rages on.
The Siege of Antioch during the First Crusade, miniature by Jean Colombe. (c. 1490), Thomas Jefferson, Godfrey of Bouillon, a French knight, leader of the First Crusade and founder of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Galileo Galilei, Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King, Jr
Liberty and equality has not reached to include all races and genders, and minority groups continue to be marginalized because they are considered different from the rest. We only have to remember the civil rights movement and the work of such giants as Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks, a man and a woman with a vision. Even though the Bill of Rights had already laid the groundwork that defined human beings as equal parts of a greater whole, it took the victory call of freedom fighters many years later to reminds us we are not different but one in our core. Even all the way up to our modern times, the plight of women of all races, African Americans, the Native American tribes, immigrants of many cultures, and same-sex couples makes us realize that the fundamental interconnectedness with each other has had a challenging history. At the same time, it reveals to us the importance to remember, defend, and continue such a march until it reaches all corners of the land and the minds and hearts of people everywhere.Our predecessors fought to establish that we are all a unity of equal and free individuals by nature — by the mere fact we are human beings.
The apparent inability to recognize and align with the interconnected web between all living things has also affected the balance of nature and our planet. Historically, there has been much debate for and against climate change from scientific groups, political interests, and religious faiths. Maybe one of the most significant developments in this heated debate that illustrates the core attitude toward climate change in many people was the emergence of Green Christianity. This movement came into contrast with the more traditional Christian views and, significantly at the time, President G. W. Bush’s Christian support groups. Christianity’s approach to the issue of humanity’s impact on the welfare of nature seems to stem from a very basic interpretation of the Bible, specifically the first verses of the book of Genesis. The traditional interpretation views humanity in terms of ownership over the earth and its fruits, which has often led them to support the exploitation of natural resources without much concern for environmental impact.
The recent emergence of Green Christianity, in contrast, changed its views from “ownership” to “stewardship” of the earth. This change of perspective — though still wanting greater integration of the human within nature itself — is very significant for it recognizes climate change as a reality that must be addressed and includes a significant call to action to preserve and protect the earth. The notable scholar and theologian, Sallie McFague, a highly respected speaker at Harvard School of Divinity, illustrates this new trend and call to action in her book, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming.
The effects of human activity on the balance of Mother Nature are clearly evident when we look at global issues such as the food crisis and diminishing clean water supply. The problem is becoming more and more critical for sustaining life in many places, including our own. This event of history now being written in our very lifetimes shows us we are not isolated from each other and nature but are rather intimately dependent on each other for survival. It is undeniable — we are certainly part of nature’s living web. Our western disconnect from each other and nature has manifested at another level, beyond war, discrimination, and abuse. It has manifested today through environmental crises that threaten our sustainability, forcing us to reconcile that old lurking disconnect.Chief Seattle: “All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it.”
In all of these important events from our history we have reviewed, including the one about climate change still in the makings, we can clearly see the underlying thread that connects us all, its importance, fragility, and real tangibility when we look at them in retrospect.
Interconnectedness is a key ingredient of being human. The traditional wisdom and teachings of the ancients have always been on the right track: As Chief Seattle reportedly said in his famous speech, adapted by Ted Perry, “All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
Broadening the scope of our view to incorporate the concept of interconnectedness as part of our human identity and nature does bring about a long-awaited look at ourselves that allows a new perspective and outlook for our world. Nature is in continuous flux and evolution and so are we, as we can see through our history. A new landscape and call to action begins to take form before us when we explore the intricate part we all inevitably play in the world and with each other in the Spirit of Chief Seattle’s famous words.
Much through our history, finding the nodes in this invisible yet real web is what made us human at a deeper more meaningful level, one worth remembering. Becoming aware of its reality and significance may well be an important key that safeguards our survival as a species on this fragile planet and what makes possible the birth of our future generation.
Very cool essay - philosophy and neuroscience have been examining the implications of embodied mind, but I have seen little work, until now, about how embodied (embedded) mind might have shaped human evolution.
Turner addresses an interesting issue in cognitive science - something that Antonio Damasio has taken some flack for proposing - in that if humans have embodied cognition, embodied mind, so do other mammals, maybe all mammals. And maybe other species as well.
The question for some is how this impacts the notion of human exceptionalism? For others, the question is how this might change the ways we relate with all of the other species on the planet?
Turner, Mark. (June 23, 2011). The Embodied Mind and the Origins of Human Culture. Cognition and Culture: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, pp. 13-27, Ana Margarida Abrantes, Peter Hanenberg, eds., Frankfurt & Berlin, 2011. Available at SSRN.
Download and read the whole article as a PDF.
Mark TurnerCase Western Reserve University - Department of Cognitive Science
COGNITION AND CULTURE: AN INTERDISCIPLINARY DIALOGUE, pp. 13-27, Ana Margarida Abrantes, Peter Hanenberg, eds., Frankfurt & Berlin, 2011
The notion of the transcendent disembodied mind has almost disappeared from contemporary cognitive science. But research on the embodied mind faces a central problem: presumably, all mammals have embodied minds, but only cognitively modern human beings have robust culture. An embodied mind is evidently insufficient: A community of embodied minds need not have robust culture. In fact, almost no communities of embodied minds have anything approaching robust culture. How then do we explain the origins and development of culture? Pointing to embodied minds does not point us to an answer. Nor can we look to other species for clues to the origin and nature of culture, given that there are no good animal models for human culture. This article explores an example of rapid cultural innovation during the last many decades, one that is now powerfully influential world-wide. It proposes an explanation for the origin of human culture.
Forty years ago, before the term “cognitive science” came into existence, there was a view broadly held—in logic, philosophy, artificial intelligence, neurobiology—that reason, inference, and some kinds of understanding are transcendent, independent of any incidental platform: computer, brain, whatever. According to this formalist view, thought must be computational, and computation can be described formally, and therefore, the core of human thought must in principle be independent of the physical device that performs the labor. On this view, logical operations as such are independent of hardware.
Today, this previously-attractive notion of the transcendent disembodied mind has almost disappeared from cognitive science. Since brains are built to drive bodies, it is not a surprise that the nature of the body informs the nature of thought. Consider a body evolved for locomotion in an environment that includes a gravity vector. Such a scenario provides a severe constraint, an embodiment constraint, running across insects, fish, mammals.
In retrospect, it is astonishing how far the scientific Zeitgeist has swung. A new generation arrives, and enthusiasm sets off in a different direction.
The Central Problem
If minds are embodied, we face a central problem, the one I want to discuss today.Presumably, mammals all have embodied minds.All mammals have basic mammalian bodies and basic mammalian brains. Presumably, all mammals, to the extent that they have minds at all, have embodied minds, with mental operations for driving their mammalian bodies.
But evidently, an embodied mind is only the beginning:All mammals have embodied minds, but only cognitively modernAn embodied mind is evidently insufficient: A community of embodied minds need not have robust culture. In fact, almost no communities of embodied minds have anything approaching robust culture. How then do we explain the origins and development of culture? Pointing to embodied minds does not point us to an answer.
human beings have robust culture.
The Human Mind is Not Built To See Into The Human Mind
There is a second problem in attempting to account for the existence of culture. Commonsense notions—easy hypotheses, widely found in café philosophy, ready to hand, hypotheses readily available to aspiring cognitive scientists—have proved again and again to be comprehensively wrong. The hardest task in cognitive science is to see past everyday ideas to a well-digested, well-cogitated hypothesis. Hypotheses in cognitive science are a dime a dozen if one takes them from the surrounding culture, including the surrounding academic culture, but intelligent hypotheses have proved to be few and far between. The challenge in cognitive science is to have a good idea, to form a hypothesis worthy of being checked against available data. Checking a misconceived hypothesis against so-called data is what we used to call GIGO, or “garbage in, garbage out,” for a variety of reasons, most prominently that data are themselves not conception neutral. If one categorizes data according to unrefined notions—e.g., here is syllogistic reasoning, here is social reasoning, and they are opposed—then correlations across events in the data merely echo the facile conceptions used to organize them. One can do a lot of statistical analysis on such so-called data sets, and show various levels of significance, without actually doing any science. Successful cognitive scientists have needed instead to train themselves to do mental backflips: they are trying to use human powers of mind to explain human powers of mind, and this has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult job. It’s not just that our minds are not designed to look into themselves with accuracy. It’s that our minds are designed not to look into themselves. Almost all the heavy lifting in human thought and action appears to be done in the backstage of the mind, in ways that feeble consciousness is powerless to see, much less conduct. What we see in consciousness is not thought but the smallest tip of the iceberg—usually a simple, compressed product of thought, something to keep us going.
The human brain has perhaps 10 to 100 billion (1011) neurons. The average number of synaptic connections per neuron is perhaps ten thousand (104). The total number of connections in the brain is therefore maybe ten trillion to a quadrillion (1014-1015). 1015 connections are about ten thousand times as many stars as astronomers think might be in the entire Milky Way galaxy (1011). Ten thousand Milky Ways, inside your head. All those connections, inside your head, in a system weighing about 1.4 kilograms, working, working, working. The timing and phases of firing in neuronal groups, the suites of neuronal development in the brain, the electrochemical effect of neurotransmitters on receptors, the scope and mechanisms of neurobiological plasticity—all going on, in ways we cannot even begin to see directly. The only time we are likely even to sense that our mental system is so complicated is when something goes wrong—as when someone’s language degrades because of stroke, or our field of vision starts to swim because of food poisoning.
Let’s take some examples.
A Conversation with Gary Klein [7.2.11]
If we eliminate system one, system two isn't going to get the job done because you can't live by system two. There are people who try, there are people who have had various kinds of brain lesions that create disconnects between their emotions and their decision-making process. Damasio has written about them. It can take them 30 minutes to figure out what restaurant they want to go to. Their performance on intelligence tests isn't impaired, but their performance in living their lives is greatly impaired; they can't function well, and their lives go downhill.
So we know that trying to do everything purely rationally, just following Bayesian statistics or anything like that isn't going to work. We need both system one and system two, and so my question is what are the effective ways of blending the two? What are the effective ways that allow people to develop expertise, and to use expertise while still being able to monitor their ideas, and monitor their actions?
Too often it's treated as a real dichotomy, and too many organizations that I study try to encourage people to just follow procedures, just follow the steps, and to be afraid to make any mistakes. The result is that they stamp out insights in their organization. They stamp out development of expertise in their organization, and they actually reduce the effectiveness and the performance of the organizations. So how do you blend those is an issue.
A project that I'm working on now is about what to do with children who are in dangerous situations in home environments where a Child Protective Service worker has to judge what's the potential for abuse. Do you leave the child in with the parents who do damage to the child, or do you remove the child for its own protection, which creates its own set of problems.
A complicating factor here is that a lot of the Child Protective Service workers are not all that well paid, very few of them are well paid, there is a lot of turnover, they don't develop expertise, so there is a temptation to turn it all over to checklists, and to say, "Here are the factors, these are the things to go through, these are the objective criteria." Some of the criteria are useful and need to be taken into account, but there must also be an aspect of empathy, of a caseworker looking at the situation and saying, "This doesn't feel right to me. There is an edge to the way the parents are interacting with the child, there is a feeling of hostility I'm picking up, there is a feeling of menace in the way the parents are acting, and the way the child is acting", and I don't think we want to lose that. I'm afraid that the temptation to try to procedurize and checklist everything can get in the way of those kinds of insights, and those kinds of social concerns that seem so important.
I started moving in this direction when I began working as a research psychologist for the Air Force, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I worked for an organization called the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory starting in 1974. I had been in academia, and I enjoyed that, but this was an opportunity to do something different. It was a wonderful time to be at Wright-Patterson and in my office because the Arab oil embargo had hit in 1973, and the price of fuel went sky high, and jet fuel went sky high, and all of a sudden these pilots who were used to doing all their training by just flying, because they loved to fly, that's what really got them so excited, now they were going to have to develop skills and be trained in simulators. My unit was studying simulation training. Up to that point pilots really didn't care much about what the unit did because they just wanted to fly. Now it mattered because they were going to spend a lot of time in simulators building their skills, and so this meant a lot to them.
For me, it was a chance to confront some basic issues about the nature of expertise because we were trying to develop expertise in the pilots in an artificial setting, which is not as good as being able to fly. But in some ways it's better because you can practice certain maneuvers, you can confront them with certain malfunctions that you can't do in the air. It opened up the question, what is the nature of expertise, how does it develop, how can we use these kinds of devices to develop the pilots more effectively?
We did that for a couple of years, and as I was doing that, a part of the expertise that intrigued me was how people make tough judgments, and how they make decisions? I wanted to get involved in that, I wanted to study that. There wasn't any place for doing it in my branch, so I left and started my own company in 1978 to examine those sorts of issues, and struggled for a while to try to see where I was going to go with this to get funding.
Then in 1984, a notice came out from the Army Research Institute asking for proposals about how people make life and death decisions under extreme time pressure and uncertainty. We said, "That sounds like the sort of thing that we wanted to get involved with." We knew that the standard way you do that kind of research is you pick a laboratory task, a well-studied, well-understood task, you vary the time pressure, you vary the uncertainty, and you see the effect. But we didn't want to do that because according to all the literature we had seen, it should be impossible to make good judgments and good decisions in less than a half hour. Yet we know people can do it and we didn't know how.
Rather than perform standard research and manipulate variables, we said, "Let's talk to the experts." We found some experts; we found firefighters. We decided we would study firefighters because that's what they do for a living, that's how they've trained themselves, that's how they develop themselves, and because we figured when they weren't fighting fires, they would have time to talk to folks like us. There was another advantage that we didn't know at the time, which is that firefighters are a wonderful community to work with. They're very friendly, they're very open to being helpful. We went in, and said, "The Army wants to do a better job of preparing people to make tough decisions. You guys are the experts, are you willing to share what you've learned?" And they said, "We'd love to help." They were marvelously cooperative.
That's the way we began the research. We got funded, and then we had to go out and see what the firefighters were doing. We started out in a wrong direction. At first, we thought we would just ride along with them. But they don't have enough interesting two-alarm, three-alarm fires, and we were going to waste all of our energy and all of our funds sitting around in fire stations, so we said, "Let's not do that, let's interview them about the tough cases that they've had."
I remember the first firefighter I interviewed, this was just a practice interview, and I said,"We're here to study how you make decisions, tough decisions."
He looked at me, and there was a certain look of not exactly contempt, but sort of condescension, I would say at least, and he said,"I've been a firefighter for 16 years now. I've been a captain, commander for 12 years, and all that time I can't think of a single decision I ever made."
"I don't remember ever making a decision."
"How can that be? How do you know what to do?"
"It's just procedures, you just follow the procedures."
My heart sank, because we had just gotten the funding to do this study, and this guy is telling me they never make decisions. So right off the bat we were in big trouble. Before I finished with him, before I walked out, I asked him, "Can I see the procedure manuals?"
Because I figured maybe there's something in the procedure manuals that I could use to give me an idea of where to go next. He looked at me again with the same feeling of sort of condescension, (obviously I didn't know that much about their work) and he said,
"It's not written down. You just know."
"Ah, okay, that's interesting."
Something was going on here. It feels like procedures to them, but it's not really procedures, and it's not that they're following the steps of any guide, or any set of checklists. We conducted a few dozen interviews to what people were doing, and we collected some marvelous stories, and some really very moving stories from them about how they made life and death decisions. What we found was that they weren't making decisions in the classical sense that they generated a set of options, and they looked at the strengths and the weaknesses of each option, and then they compared each option to all the others on a standard set of dimensions. I mean, that's classical management-type decision-making, get your options, A, B, and C, get your evaluation dimensions, rate each option on each dimension, see which comes out ahead. They weren't doing that.
When I asked him, "How do you make decisions?" That's what he assumed I was asking about, and they never did it, and that's why he gave me that response. Others gave me that response, and pretty quickly we stopped even asking them about how they made "decisions". Instead, we would ask them about "tough cases", cases where they had struggled, cases where they maybe would have done things differently, cases where they might have made mistakes earlier in their careers. We were asking it that way to get away from the term "decision-making", because that was just leading us in the wrong direction.
I'll give you a few examples. One example, a firefighter insisted he never made any decisions and so I didn't even push it any further.
I said, "Tell me about the last run you went on."
And he said, "It was about a week ago."
"Tell me what happened."
I figured maybe we could learn something from it. He said "it was a single-family house, and we pull up, and I see there is some smoke coming out from the back".
"Right away", he says, "I figure it's probably a kitchen fire. That's a typical thing that goes on here. And I know how to handle kitchen fires."
He starts to walk around the house, but he's pretty sure he knows what's going on, so he sends one of his crew in with an inch and three quarter line. He says to the men, "Go into the house, go in the back, and get ready, and when you reach the fire, just knock the fire down." That's what they did, and they put the fire out.
He said, "You see, there was no decisions, it was all just standard."
I said, "You know, I've always been told if a house is on fire, you go out of the house. And you just told me you sent your crew into the house. Why did you do that? Why didn't you just go around the back, break a window, and use your hoses from the back and hit the fire that way? That way none of your crew is inside a burning house. That seems to be the way I'd do it."
He looked at me with a little bit of condescension (I get a lot of condescension in this line of work) and he said, "Hm, yeah, maybe some volunteer fire companies might do it that way, but it's a bad idea. Let me tell you why. If you do it that way, what are you doing? You're pushing the fire back into the house, and now you're spreading it further into the house, and we don't want to do that. That's why we want to go into the house, get to the fire, and then drive it out. We want to hit it with water, and all the momentum, all the direction is pushing the fire out of the house, and not into the house. Now, there are times when we can't do that kind of an interior attack, like if there is another house right next to it that we could set on fire, then we would do it externally. But in this case, there weren't any complicating factors."
I said, "Thank you, thank you."
A simple situation. But, in fact, he had encountered a decision. Do you do an interior attack, or an exterior attack? There was a decision point. He didn't experience it as a decision point because for him it was obvious what to do. That's what 20 years of experience buys you. You build up all these patterns, you quickly size up situations, and you know what to do, and that's why it doesn't feel like you're making any conscious decisions because he's not setting up a matrix. But that doesn't mean that he's not making real decisions because the decision I would have made, he thought was a bad choice in this particular situation.
That became part of our model -- the question of how people with experience build up a repertoire of patterns so that they can immediately identify, classify, and categorize situations, and have a rapid impulse about what to do. Not just what to do, but they're framing the situation, and their frame is telling them what are the important cues. That's why they're always looking, or usually looking, in the right place. They know what to ignore, and what they have to watch carefully.
It's telling them what to expect, and so that's why performance of experts is smoother than the performance of novices, because they're not just doing the current job, they know what to expect next, so they're getting ready for that. It's telling them what are the relevant goals so that they can choose accordingly.
Sometimes you want to put a fire out, and sometimes the fire has spread too much and you want to make sure it doesn't advance to other buildings near by, or sometimes you need to do search and rescue. They've got to pick an appropriate goal. It's not just put the fire out each time.
It's also telling them what to expect, and by the way, when they think about what to expect, that gives them another advantage, because if their expectancy is violated, that's an indication, "Maybe I sized it up wrong. Maybe my situation awareness is wrong, maybe the way I've made sense of it is leading me in a wrong direction, I framed it in the wrong way, and I've got to rethink it."
We saw many examples where they would be surprised because their expectancy would be violated, and that would stop them in their tracks. That's the importance of a frame; it gives you expectancies so that you can be surprised. The frame is also telling them what's the reasonable course of action.
But that's only part of the decision-making story, because that gives you your initial intuitive impulse about what to do. How do you evaluate that course of action?
When I started the research, I always assumed that the way you evaluate a course of action is you compare it to other courses of action, like in the standard model, to see which one is better. But, these firefighters were making decisions in just a few seconds, not enough time to evaluate by comparing to other options. Besides, they were telling us that they didn't ever compare it to other options. So what was going on there?
We looked at some of the cases, and we got an indication of what was happening.
I'll give you an example. A harness rescue example is one that I learned a lot from:
A firefighter gets called out, there's an emergency. It seems that a woman has decided to kill herself. She went to an overpass over a highway, way high over the highway, and she jumped off to try to kill herself, but she missed. Instead of falling to her death, which was her plan, she just fell a little bit, and she landed on the struts that were holding up one of the highway signs, and she reflexively grabbed onto the strut. The firefighters were called in, and the emergency rescue squad was called in to try to save her. They pull up, and they see her there, and now the fire commander has to figure out "How am I going to do this rescue?"
In the meantime, another piece of equipment, a hook and ladder truck had been called in, and they radioed to him,
"How do you want us to help you?"
He didn't want to think about them, he just wanted to get them out of his hair, so he said,
"Go drive down to the highway below, block the highway. In case the woman falls, we don't want her falling on top of a car, killing a motorist, you just block them."
Now he's got to figure out how to make the rescue. The standard way firefighters make a rescue is a Kingsley harness, you snap it onto the shoulders, you snap it onto the thighs, and you lift the person up to safety. You've seen it on TV, this is how they make rescues, and get people out of dangerous situations. They lower the Kingsley harness, the person snaps it on, and they lift them up to safety. It wasn't going to work here because this woman was also either on drugs, or alcohol, or both. She was semi-unconscious.
I forgot to tell you one other part of this story: as soon as he got there, the commander told his crew,
"Nobody go out there, because it's too risky, it's too dangerous."
Two of his crew members immediately ignored him. They climbed out to try to protect her. One was sort of holding her legs, one was holding her arms. The commanders was glad that they were doing that because it was keeping her secure, and if anything happened to them, everybody had heard him tell people not to do it. So he was sort of covered either way. Now he's got two firefighters with her, and he thought,
"Can we have them lift her up to a sitting position and then snap on the Kingsley harness?" But they're also balancing on those struts. There's not going to be any easy way for them to lift her up without making it really risky for all of them. So he rejects that option, that's not going to work.
Then he says, "You know, maybe we can attach the Kingsley harness from behind." She was face down.
So he thinks , "We can try that."
But then he imagines what would happen as the lifted her, and he imagines the way her back would sag, and it was a painful vision, a painful image, and he thought
"Too much of a chance we're going to do damage to her back, that's a bad option."
He rules that out. He thinks of another few options, and when he imagines each of them, they're not going to work, so he rejects all of them.
Then he has a bright idea, he has a clever idea. What about a ladder belt? A ladder belt is what firefighters wear. Ever see on TV a firefighter on a second or third floor, and they've got a hose, or they're helping people onto a ladder? The ladder is up two or three stories high. They're at the top.
You think, "What if these guys fall?"
But what happens is they have a ladder belt that they've cinched up around their waist, and when they get to the top, there's a snap, and they snap it to the top wrung, so they're well-secured.
The commander thinks, "We can just get a ladder belt. We can just lift her an inch, slide the ladder belt underneath her, buckle it from behind. We have a rope, we'll tie a rope to it, and we lift her up, and we can lift her to safety that way."
And he imagines it, he does what we call "a mental simulation."He sort of works it through in his head to see if there will be any problems, and he can't think of any. So that's the way he makes a decision to do the rescue.
They lower the ladder belt; the firefighters slide it underneath her and tighten it up. In the meantime, the hook and ladder truck below is getting bored because they're just standing there, they're not doing anything. So they put somebody in the ladder, and they're raising it to do the rescue, and they're saying, "We're getting there, we're going to be able to rescue her."
So there's a race because he wants to get her rescued before they get there.
They cinch up the ladder belt, they tighten the buckle, and they start to lift, and that's when he realizes what was wrong with his mental simulation. Because a ladder belt is built to fit over a sturdy firefighter on the outside of their coat, which is a protective coat, and she was a slender woman. She was wearing a very skimpy sweater, and the firefighters tightened it to the last hole as tight as they could make it, and it wasn't tight enough. As they were lifting up, and I'll never forget his phrase, he said, "She slithered through like a slippery strand of spaghetti." She's sliding through. But the ladder people from below were right there, and as she's sliding through, they're rushing over and maneuvering the ladder that they were raising, and they catch her as she's sliding through, they make the rescue, and the woman is saved. So it worked, but not the way he expected.
What did we learn from that episode, that incident?
We learned about how he did the evaluation. He looked at several options, but he never compared them to see which was the best one compared to the others. He wanted the first one that would work, and he did this mental simulation. He did this imaging process for each one. That was the way he could evaluate one option at a time, not by comparing it to others, but by seeing if it would work in this particular context. Even though this didn't have the outcome he expected, that turned out to be another part of the decision-making strategy that the firefighters were using.
It's really a two-part strategy. The first part is the pattern matching to get the situation framed about what to do. Then the second part is this mental simulation to be able to evaluate and monitor an option to make sure that it will do a good job, and to use your experience. They would use their experience to do the mental simulation. In this case, the firefighter, his experience didn't go far enough, and so his mental simulation didn't work as well as he would have liked. Generally, though, it's a very powerful technique.
What I've described about their strategy is about how they use their intuition, because they're not making formal decisions, they're not making analytical decisions by comparing options. These are intuitive decisions, and by intuition here, I'm talking about the way they are able to use their experience. This isn't just "top of my head, this feels good" type of decisions. These are intuitions that are based on 10, 15, 20 years or more of experience that has allowed them to build a repertoire of patterns that allows them to quickly frame situations, size situations up, and know what to do. But they're not just using intuition, they're balancing the intuition with the mental simulating part, which is how they're doing the analysis. So their decision-making, we call it recognition primed decisions. The decisions are primed by their ability to recognize situations, and balanced by the monitoring of the mental simulation.
The concept of intuition gives a lot of people pause because intuition feels magical, it feels like Luke Skywalker getting in touch with The Force, and we're not talking about that, about people somehow drawing on pyramid power, or something occult, or ESP. Although I've had a couple people I've interviewed tell me they made decisions because of ESP, because they couldn't articulate the basis of the decisions.
Intuition is about expertise and tacit knowledge. I'll contrast tacit knowledge with explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is knowledge of factual material. I can tell people facts, I can tell them over the phone, and they'll know things. I can say I was born in the Bronx, and now you know where I was born. That's an example of explicit knowledge, it's factual information.
But there are other forms of knowledge. There's knowledge about routines. Routines you can think of as a set of steps. But there's also tacit knowledge, and expertise about when to start each step, and when it's finished, when you're done and ready to start the next one, and whether the steps are working or not. So even for routines, some expertise is needed.
There are other aspects of tacit knowledge that are about intuition, like our ability to make perceptual discriminations, so as we get experience, we can see things that we couldn't see before.
For example, if you ever watch the Olympics and you watch a diving competition, the diver goes off the high board, and the TV commentators are there and the person didn't do a belly flop, dove in, looks clean, and they're saying, "Look at the splash. The splash was bigger than it should have been, the judges are sure to catch that", and what happened was the diver's ankles came apart just as she was entering the water. Then they show it in instant replay, and sure enough, that's what happened. But the commentator saw it as it happened. To a viewer like me, that's invisible. I just saw the dive. But they know where to look, and they know the probable trouble spots, or they know the difficult aspects. That's part of the patterns that they've built up -- to know how to direct their attention so they can see the anomalies. They see it as it's happening, not in replay. You can't tell somebody over the phone what to look for. You can say it after the fact, but they see it while it's going on. That ability to make fine discriminations is a part of tacit knowledge, and a part of intuitive knowing.
Another part is pattern recognition. If you go to a friend's house, and the friend for some reason has an album out, and there's a picture from when they were in the fourth grade, you can look at the picture, and you look at all the faces, and you say, "That's you, isn't it?" And most of the time you get it right. Now, the face doesn't look like the face of your friend right now, but we see the facial resemblance, we see the relationship of the eyes, and the eyebrows, and the nose, and all of that. We just have a pattern recognition that we're able to apply. That's another aspect of tacit knowledge
A third aspect, if we have a lot of experience and we see things, we can sense typicality, that means we can see anomalies, and that means that we have a sense something is not right here, something doesn't feel right. And then we start to look for the specifics about what it is that's gone wrong, and that's another aspect of tacit knowledge that we depend on to alert us to possible danger.
Another aspect of tacit knowledge is our mental models of how things work. Mental models are just the stories, the frames that we have to explain causal relationships: if this happens, that will happen, and that will happen, and we build these kinds of internal representations, these mental models about how things work.
A lot of people in New York have much more sophisticated mental models about the way the financial system works than they did back in 2006. After the meltdown in 2007 and 2008, there's a much better sense of where Wall Street comes in, how it helps, how it interferes, how perverse incentives come into play. People are much more sophisticated about the interplay of those kinds of forces. They've learned about the forces, and how they connect to each other. They can't tell you, they can't draw an easy diagram, but there's a level of sophistication that many people have that they didn't have before, and that's another aspect of tacit knowledge.
Judgments based on intuition seem mysterious because intuition doesn't involve explicit knowledge. It doesn't involve declarative knowledge about facts. Therefore, we can't explicitly trace the origins of our intuitive judgments. They come from other parts of our knowing. They come from our tacit knowledge and so they feel magical. Intuitions sometimes feel like we have ESP, but it isn't magical, it's really a consequence of the experience we've built up.
Moving forward from the work on decision-making, a lot of our decision depends on sense-making, how we size situations up. As I've been studying sense-making, I've become interested in how people realize that there is a new way to size things up, how they form insights, and where insights come from. I've been looking at incidents where people generated insights in an attempt to try to see what was going on. I realize that, again, this is certainly an aspect of tacit knowledge because an insight many times will spring forward with no warning. There's no expectation, and all of a sudden you say, "Now I know what to do." So where does that sense come from, and what can get in its way? Those are the sorts of things that I've been investigating. I've been looking at different forms of these insights to get a better idea of whether it's always the same sort of process, or are there several related processes.
I'm finding it's the latter. There are several different routes for people to develop insights. A lot of the laboratory research on insights follows one of those routes: putting people in a position where they're trying to solve a puzzle and they reach an impasse, and they're stuck, and then the key for that route is to escape the fixation, to reach the insight by realizing that they're making an inappropriate assumption. So it's really looking for the assumption that isn't working for me here, trying to find what is, what is the assumption that's fixating me so that I can get beyond it. But that's only one of the routes that we're discovering. We're finding that there are a few other routes that are also important.
As we're looking at these examples and incidents of insight, we're noticing that several of the examples involve people helping others to gain insight, and that caught my attention. How can you help other people to gain an insight? One of the ways that allows people to do that is to help them to become aware of inconsistencies in their thinking.
Let me give you an example: It's one of my favorite examples.
A friend of mine, Doug Harrington, Senior, a number of years ago was a Navy pilot. He was a good Navy pilot, and being able to fly a jet plane is a tough job, but he not only could fly, I mean, the Navy pilots, they not only fly, but they have to be able to take off and land on an aircraft carrier, so they have to land on a ship, and the ship is bobbing up and down, and moving around, and the waves are buffeting it. It's not like a rowboat, but there's still some movement there, and you've got to land on this moving platform. Doug could do that, he was great at it. He was an instructor, and he flew F-4s. As an instructor he would teach younger pilots to land F-4s on aircraft carriers, and to fly.
Then came a point in his career when it was time for him to move to a more sophisticated, more advanced airplane, an A-6. So he learned how to fly an A-6. No problem, because he's a very skilled pilot. Now came the day when he had to do his aircraft carrier landings with his A-6. And he comes around, he's lined up to do his first landing, he's all set, and because these are so difficult, he doesn't just do the landing by himself. There is a landing signal officer on the aircraft carrier who is watching him, vectoring all the pilots, telling them what to do, and if the LSOs don't like what they see, they wave the pilot off. And so Doug is listening to the landing signal officer, he's coming in to make his landing, and the landing signal officer is telling him
"Come right, come right".
But Doug is perfectly lined up. So he does what any good Navy pilot would do under those circumstances. He ignores the landing signal officer because he knows that he's got himself lined up. And the LSO, the landing signal officer keeps saying, "Come right", and Doug doesn't really do it, and then the landing signal officer waves him off, which is weird, because he was perfectly lined up.
So now he has to go around for another try. And again, he's perfectly lined up, and the LSO is saying, "Come right", and this time he figures, "I better do it", so he comes right a little bit more, a little bit, and a little bit, not enough, he gets waved off again. Now he has to come around another go-around and he figures, "I'm going to run out of fuel before he runs out of patience, so I better listen to him."
He tries to follow what the instructions are, and he manages to get the landing done, but he was supposed to do six landings that day, another four landings that night. He messes up all the six landings. He makes them, but they're not good landings, and at the end of the day he's told, "Doug, you just didn't do a very good job today. You're not going to do nighttime landings, that's too risky. You have to repeat your daytime landings tomorrow, and then we'll let you do the nighttime landings. But if you don't do a good enough job tomorrow, that's it. That's the end of your flying career in the Navy." Doug goes into shock because everything was working well when he woke up that morning, and now his flying career may be over, and he doesn't know what happened.
His friends on the ship are there for him, and they come over to him, they're there, and they're telling him really useful things like, "Doug, you've really got to bear down tomorrow." Or, "Doug, this is important." In other words, useless advice, and they're just making him more anxious, they're driving him crazy.
At night he's ready to go to sleep, he's hoping it would be a bad dream, he'll wake up and somehow everything will work tomorrow, but he is just dazed. There's a knock on the door of his cabin and he says, "Go away", because he doesn't want to talk to anybody. It's the landing signal officer who was atypically trying to help Doug. Not that they wouldn't be helpful, but it's not their job. Their job is to just help them land, he's not supposed to be a trainer, but he's also very troubled.
So he knocks on the door, and Doug finally lets him in, and says,
"I don't want you to tell me anything. People have been telling me things, it's not useful."
And the landing signal officer says,
"I'm not here to tell you anything Doug, I just want to talk to you, I just want to ask you something."
"Okay, what do you want to know?"
"I know you're a great pilot. Obviously you had trouble today. Tell me what you're trying to do."
"I'm doing what I always do, I line up the nose of the plane on a center line of the landing strip there, and I've got it perfectly lined up, and you keep telling me "Come right, come right"."
"So you're flying an A-6. What did you fly before that?"
"An F-4, that's what I've been flying for years."
"In an F-4 it was either you or you sitting behind a student. In an A-6, you're side by side, so it's not exactly the same."
"It's a foot and a half, it's not a big difference, it wouldn't make that much of a difference. Maybe two feet. It's not going to make a difference."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I mean, I just line up the nose of the plane over the center line of the runway."
So the LSO says, "Let's try something"
And if you have a chance, I'd like you to try it as I'm doing this interview, if you don't mind.
He said, "Extend your arm straight out, put your thumb up. That's the nose of your airplane. Close one eye and align your thumb with a vertical line, some place in the room. You've got your nose of the airplane lined up at the center line. Now, move your head a foot and a half over", like Doug was moved over, because now he's flying an A-6. "And pull your thumb back over to that center line.
And you see what happens. It changes the whole alignment of the airplane because you're not on the center line, and it's only a foot and a half, but there's a parallax effect here that Doug wasn't thinking about. And Doug does this little demonstration, and as soon as he does it, he says,
"Ah. I'm an idiot. Obviously that's the problem."
The next day he did his six landings during the day, and he had no trouble with them, and the four landings at night, and he went on with his career.
I love that story because the LSO helped Doug achieve an insight. He tried to explain things to Doug, but that wasn't getting Doug anywhere, so he created an environment, he created an experience that allowed Doug to see the inconsistency in his beliefs, and once Doug saw the inconsistency, his mental model changed. I think helping people to arrive at insights isn't a question of pushing the insights on the people, or trying to explain it in words as much as helping people to gain the experience so they can see the inconsistency for themselves, then all of a sudden the mental model will shift naturally and easily, and to me that's a gift that good teachers have, to be able to help the people who they're trying to support. They're trying to enlighten their students or colleagues to gain those insights.