31 December 2008

Attitude Science- Peter Whybrow

The following video gives a short overview of a neuroscientists perspective on some of the fundamental attitudes that the United States has developed and are causing us to lose sleep and get fat.

01 December 2008

YouTube Storytime: The Gatekeeper

My telling of The Gatekeeper:

Storytelling on Youtube: Santa's New List

Here's my telling of one of my own stories:

I'm YouTubing

I have finally succumbed to the temptation of Youtube. To kick it off I decided to tell one of my favorite stories:

Here's the text of the story (with a hat tip to Living Life Fully):

One day it occurred to a certain emperor that if he only knew the answers to three questions, he would never stray in any matter.

What is the best time to do each thing?
Who are the most important people to work with?
What is the most important thing to do at all times?

The emperor issued a decree throughout his kingdom announcing that whoever could answer the questions would receive a great reward. Many who read the decree made their way to the palace at once, each person with a different answer.

In reply to the first question, one person advised that the emperor make up a thorough time schedule, consecrating every hour, day, month, and year for certain tasks and then follow the schedule to the letter. Only then could he hope to do every task at the right time.

Another person replied that it was impossible to plan in advance and that the emperor should put all vain amusements aside and remain attentive to everything in order to know what to do at what time.

Someone else insisted that, by himself, the emperor could never hope to have all the foresight and competence necessary to decide when to do each and every task and what he really needed was to set up a Council of the Wise and then to act according to their advice.

Someone else said that certain matters required immediate decision and could not wait for consultation, but if he wanted to know in advance what was going to happen he should consult magicians and soothsayers.

The responses to the second question also lacked accord.

One person said that the emperor needed to place all his trust in administrators, another urged reliance on priests and monks, while others recommended physicians. Still others put their faith in warriors.

The third question drew a similar variety of answers.

Some said science was the most important pursuit. Others insisted on religion. Yet others claimed the most important thing was military skill.

The emperor was not pleased with any of the answers, and no reward was given.

After several nights of reflection, the emperor resolved to visit a hermit who lived up on the mountain and was said to be an enlightened man. The emperor wished to find the hermit to ask him the three questions, though he knew the hermit never left the mountains and was known to receive only the poor, refusing to have anything to do with persons of wealth or power. So the emperor disguised himself as a simple peasant and ordered his attendants to wait for him at the foot of the mountain while he climbed the slope alone to seek the hermit.

Reaching the holy man's dwelling place, the emperor found the hermit digging a garden in front of his hut. When the hermit saw the stranger, he nodded his head in greeting and continued to dig. The labor was obviously hard on him. He was an old man, and each time he thrust his spade into the ground to turn the earth, he heaved heavily.

The emperor approached him and said, "I have come here to ask your help with three questions: When is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do at all times?"

The hermit listened attentively but only patted the emperor on the shoulder and continued digging. The emperor said, "You must be tired. Here, let me give you a hand with that." The hermit thanked him, handed the emperor the spade, and then sat down on the ground to rest.

After he had dug two rows, the emperor stopped and turned to the hermit and repeated his three questions. The hermit still did not answer, but instead stood up and pointed to the spade and said, "Why don't you rest now? I can take over again." But the emperor continued to dig. One hour passed, then two. Finally the sun began to set behind the mountain. The emperor put down the spade and said to the hermit, "I came here to ask if you could answer my three questions. But if you can't give me any answer, please let me know so that I can get on my way home."

The hermit lifted his head and asked the emperor, "Do you hear someone running over there?" The emperor turned his head. They both saw a man with a long white beard emerge from the woods. He ran wildly, pressing his hands against a bloody wound in his stomach. The man ran toward the emperor before falling unconscious to the ground, where he lay groaning. Opening the man's clothing, the emperor and hermit saw that the man had received a deep gash. The emperor cleaned the wound thoroughly and then used his own shirt to bandage it, but the blood completely soaked it within minutes. He rinsed the shirt out and bandaged the wound a second time and continued to do so until the flow of blood had stopped.

At last the wounded man regained consciousness and asked for a drink of water. The emperor ran down to the stream and brought back a jug of fresh water. Meanwhile, the sun had disappeared and the night air had begun to turn cold. The hermit gave the emperor a hand in carrying the man into the hut where they laid him down on the hermit's bed. The man closed his eyes and lay quietly. The emperor was worn out from a long day of climbing the mountain and digging the garden. Leaning against the doorway, he fell asleep. When he rose, the sun had already risen over the mountain. For a moment he forgot where he was and what he had come here for. He looked over to the bed and saw the wounded man also looking around himself in confusion. When he saw the emperor, he stared at him intently and then said in a faint whisper, "Please forgive me."

"But what have you done that I should forgive you?" the emperor asked.

"You do not know me, your majesty, but I know you. I was your sworn enemy, and I had vowed to take vengeance on you, for during the last war you killed my brother and seized my property. When I learned that you were coming alone to the mountain to meet the hermit, I resolved to surprise you on your way back and kill you. But after waiting a long time there was still no sign of you, and so I left my ambush in order to seek you out. But instead of finding you, I came across your attendants, who recognized me, giving me this wound. Luckily, I escaped and ran here. If I hadn't met you I would surely be dead by now. I had intended to kill you, but instead you saved my life! I am ashamed and grateful beyond words. If I live, I vow to be your servant for the rest of my life, and I will bid my children and grandchildren to do the same. Please grant me your forgiveness."

The emperor was overjoyed to see that he was so easily reconciled with a former enemy. He not only forgave the man but promised to return all the man's property and to send his own physician and servants to wait on the man until he was completely healed. After ordering his attendants to take the man home, the emperor returned to see the hermit. Before returning to the palace the emperor wanted to repeat his three questions one last time. He found the hermit sowing seeds in the earth they had dug the day before.

The hermit stood up and looked at the emperor. "But your questions have already been answered."

"How's that?" the emperor asked, puzzled.

"Yesterday, if you had not taken pity on my age and given me a hand with digging these beds, you would have been attacked by that man on your way home . Then you would have deeply regretted not staying with me. Therefore the most important time was the time you were digging in the beds, the most important person was myself and the most important pursuit was to help me. Later, when the wounded man ran up here, the most important time was the time you spent dressing his wound, for if you had not cared for him he would have died and you would have lost the chance to be reconciled with him. Likewise, he was the most important person, and the most important pursuit was taking care of his wound.

"Remember that there is only one important time and that is now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person you are with, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future? The most important pursuit is making the person standing at your side happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life."

18 November 2008

Wrestling with Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

In this month's UUWorld I read Barbara Merritt's article about her process of coming to understand the song. Since I went through a struggle with it myself I thought I would share:

I was baffled by this song for a long time, to the point that I became so frustrated that I refused to listen to it for many months. Then I saw the movie Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man. In that movie he talks about his zen practice and how it informed his life and perspective. This is crucial to the understanding of this song.

The thing that got me was the opening:

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

That line, "...you don't really care for music, do you?" was the one that stuck in my craw. Whose talking to whom? David, Cohen, me, God, a generic everyman? Given my default protestant christian cultural perspective I couldn't make sense of it. But when I got the fact that zen was involved it became immediately clear.

This is a conversation within himself trying to grapple with God. This song does not make sense to me if the personal God of typical christian belief is being addressed. But it does make very clear sense as a celebration (and sometimes lament) of our embodiment.

God, in the sense of a true transcendence, does not have human qualities. By definition a truly transcendent God is beyond human qualities, therefore to assign a human quality such as 'caring' makes no sense. Thus the whole piece is about the fact that we are embodied and the incredible contradictions that arise from that fact. The 'Lord' he's referring to is the very king doing the composing. It is in the nature of being an embodied being that WE are pleased with music, not that transcendence that we call God.

The song is an extended meditation on the consequences of embodiment and how we react to it, wrestle with it, and in some moments surrender fully to it. The beauty of it is the struggle with being at the mercy of our bodies, but also finding a transcendent grace in that imprisonment.

Here's some performances on YouTube:
Jeff Buckley
K.D. Lang
Rufus Wainwright

12 November 2008

Abandoning A False Assumption

"Individual free choice, an idea that permeates common sense and [educational] theory, assumes that actions reflect the stable preferences of individual actors. Individuals are responsible for their actions (that is, their preference-driven choices), and [schools] can therefore be designed on that assumption.

"But if that assumption is wrong... then [schools] built upon it may not be advancing the ends they purport to serve."

The bracketed words in this quote are my substiutions, but I believe that both the original claim and the claim I have transformed it into are both true. (here's the source of the orginal quote at the Situationist Blog)

The challenge that schools face given the falsification of the assumption of individual free choice is, first, how to think about education given the substantial role of group dynamics and the constrained choices made available to individuals under different contextual circumstances.

The assumption that I believe is at the heart of the traditional academic classroom version of schools is that learning is deliberate, effortful and aviodable. That assumption is completely sensible given the assumed centrality of academic skills to the educational enterprise. Given that schooling took as it's central task the conveyence of knowledge, skills and information from teachers to student based on the collegiate model of subject areas that reflected the reductionist scientific worldview that was emerging about the same time that compulsory government schooling was also.

The focus of educational interventions in the cases of children who are failing in academic classrooms focus on the individual free choices of the students themselves or those who are expeced to be in control of them, teahcers and parents. There may be lip service given to the child's family situation, but if anything is even considered it will usually focus on the individual free choice of the parents to excersize more control over their child while effectively ignoring important situational factors. There is no attention given to the influences of the situation in which the child is embedded in the classroom, except maybe an exploration of how the individual free choices of the teacher interacts with the individual free choices of the student. And if a teacher and/or parent dares to explore situational explanations for the relational dynamics between teachers and students, then they are summarily dismissed (implicitly, if not explicitly) for excusing bad behavior and attempting to avoid their responsibility.

The alternative assumption, which I believe is well supported by the findings of cognitive and psychological research, is that learning-in-general is automatic, unconscious and impossible to avoid while learning-to-read is deliberate, effortful and avoidable (along with all the other academic skills). The difference between learning-in-general and learning-each-academic-skill creates exactly opposite descriptions of how they occur. Thus, when schools organize themselves as if all learning is exactly the opposite of the way it actually occurs, we get a system of inherent contradictions and problems.

But the problems are not with the components of the system, it is the relationships between the components. It would be like complaining about not being able to drive to work when the car is still in Detroit, the gas is still at the refinery, and you are sitting around in your pajamas at home. The components of the system are in good enough shape to get the job done, if only they can be put into a proper relationship. While there are areas where some of the components might be in poor shape, on the whole the school system in the United States of America are adequate. The students are bright, the teachers care, the buildings are standing firm, and they have access to an abundance of materials. They have just been put into dysfunctional relationships in which the teachers are given tyrannical control and expected to use that power to enforce "educational" academic activities and produce certain marks of instructional bookkeeping to the exclusion of the interests and passions of their students.

What we need to expect of them are relationships informed by the 3R's of respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness. We need to ensure that when academic instruction occurs everyone in the class has made a choice to participate. And for those who are not ready to meet high behavioral and academic standards are provided with an equally educational option that still holds them to the highest social and moral standards in whatever activities they choose.

Sharing a Vision For the USA

You can read what I submitted to President-Elect Barack Obama's request for our visions:

Here on my web site page about education policy.

04 November 2008

Reason for Election Optimism

Here's a brief article about a study that finally did the obvious:

Track whether politicians actually keep campaign promises. Turns out they usually do.


31 October 2008

26 October 2008

Self-Control Articles

Here are links to two articles on self-control. One is in response to the other and I found the comment of the parent of a FAS child to be particularly interesting:

Marshmallow Temptations at Boston.com

Self-Control and the Prefrontal Cortex at Frontal Cortex

This kind of research is very pertinent to understanding attitude. In order to understand how to apply the ideas about attitude that I present on my web sites we have to understand how much control over our own and other people's mind states we actually have.

That's why I find the mother's comments so interesting. She has a child who has organic difficulties that she is learning to manage through altering the context of demands made on her child. When the context of demands provides a small cognitive load according to her daughter's moment-to-moment thresholds then she is able to function reasonably well. When the cognitive load exceeds those thresholds, then she does not function as well. This girl's mother is realizing that the best gauge of success is the consistency of the pattern of consciousness she recognizes as functional.

How long will it take before we realize that the same is true of all children? We need to manage educational situations in order to produce a variety of cognitive loads that result in ever more consistent access to optimal states of mind (or at least functional states in the case of children like this girl).

25 October 2008

23 October 2008

Brain Science on the Cutting Edge

Short preview of a new possibility in biofeedback with Christopher DeCharms.

Brilliant Brain Science

This post is now on my web site:
Vilayanur Ramachandran's TED Talk

But here's an another talk he gave about the neural basis of culture and the role of empathy:

Intro to Flow

He makes a great comment about "ecstasy" and how what we observe of the great cultures of the past are their ecstasies, the special places they created to invoke order and altered states of mind.

Blurb: Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks, "What makes a life worth living?" Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of "flow."

17 October 2008

Breaking Expectations is Fun

I am fond of illusions and the implications of our illusions for how we think about human nature. The title "Your brain is badly wired -- enjoy it!" was particularly enticing for me. In the Ted Talk below has some good examples of illusions:

URL: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/al_seckel_says_our_brains_are_mis_wired.html

10 October 2008

God as Cognitive Metaphor

The following post started off as an e-mail then begged to become a blog post, so I relented and here it is:

Greetings Professor Haidt,

I have read several articles about your approach to Moral Psychology and really appreciate your broadening the scope of my understanding. I am also a fan of George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, and Owen Flanagan in the area of understanding morality.

I found your article for the Edge by way of Michael Shermer's response on Skeptic.org. In that piece you reserve judgment on the existence of God with a parenthetical expression of doubt.

I would like to propose an atheist friendly way of honestly professing a belief in God. What I mean by "atheist friendly" is that this profession of belief does not require any supernatural explanations nor literalist interpretations of texts. It is, in fact, based on empirically testable assertions about God. ( I realize I am popping into your reality without any relational context, so I understand if you don't have time or the inclination to read through this, but I hope I have tantalized you to read further, nonetheless.)

There are two key steps in this argument. First, understanding the relationship between man's symbols and the reality in which man exists. Then coming to an appropriate understanding of how the concept of God is used in human cognition.

We humans live in a complex reality. We are the descendants of 3-4 billions years of evolutionary history. In the course of that history, life evolved into many varied forms, including forms such as us, who are far more complex than our ancient ancestors. In the course of our increasing complexity we made several major transitions that have consequences for how we view the world. The important transitions for my purpose right now are first our becoming individuals with a drive for self preservation, second our becoming social animals with a sense of the Other, and third becoming human animals with the ability to create abstract concepts that can be applied independent of the concrete experiential content from which they were originally derived.

These three events must have occurred in that order, although for my point it is only crucial that the third event occurred after the previous two. Thus our sense of self and Other preceded our ability to manipulate symbols. The point being that we had both a mind and a functional theory of mind before we had the ability to apply symbolic thought to minds.

According to Lakoff and Johnson in their book Philosophy in the Flesh (chapter 12) the concept of mind has a literal core with a number of metaphoric extensions. The literal core of the concept is so utterly skeletal that any useful thinking and reasoning about mind requires the use of metaphoric conceptions and some of those metaphoric extensions are mutually exclusive from each other in their logical implications. The literal core of the concept of mind is that which "thinks, perceives, believes, reasons, imagines and wills."

Now consider the situation of the timing of our emergence as a symbol manipulating species. We start off with minds and theories of the minds of others that enable us to better attain well-being for ourselves and our kin. This includes all the moral sensibilities that you have brought to our attention. So we are living in clans or tribes of bands, then our species reaches some threshold of complexity and viola we start doing the symbol manipulation bit. In particular we are now driven to use those symbols to understand the past and predict the future. We suddenly have a new tool that requires us to balance the requirements of the present moment with amazing abilities to reconstruct the past and project into the future.

So the key ingredients, so far, are self-aware social minds and an ability to symbolize. So one of the things we have to suddenly deal with, that we have never even conceived of before, is the parts of reality that we do not know about nor have any understanding of. Specifically, in the mode of manipulating symbols that are abstracted from concrete literal content a man can cognitively arrive at a sense of what's coming logically, but not have the ability to put meaningful content back into the concepts that enabled him to see that possible future. He's got a hunch, but can't explain it. In nature red in tooth and claw the prize of survival is most likely to go to the man who has good hunches and has built up a loyal and committed following (perhaps via moral concepts) who trusts his hunches as much as he does, without waiting for explanations.

This leader is glad to survive but also wants to offer his people more than just his hunches. If he can come up with good stories to explain his hunches then he strengthens his peoples bonds of trust in him and can mange their own insecurities and doubts during hard times by recalling the stories he has told them about why his hunches keep turning out for the good.

Now the leader has a problem. He has direct experience of many things and he knows many things. But in a complex reality like the one we humans have always lived in, there are always things that we do not know. As a storyteller he has to make the story work, so in order to account for the things he does not know about he considers the most familiar experiences he has. He considers how he makes things, how he has seen his people live their lives by providing for each other, and how something beyond them all seems to play a significant part in the whole process, too. He cannot explain it, but he knows that something beyond all the people and the animals and everything must be thinking, perceiving, believing, reasoning, imagining and willing in their favor, at least sometimes. So he decides that their is a mind beyond all minds that must be responsible for everything in exactly the same way that I am responsible for my own actions.

In another clan in someplace far away from that leader is another leader facing the same problem of how to tell a good story to explain the world and how things work out but she sees that the things in the world are al utterly different than her. She decides that everything must have a unique kind of mind that is not like hers at all, although when someone relates to them very intimately they can sometimes learn to have qualities like them. So she solves the same problem in a slightly different way.

In yet another clan in a place far from both of the other two there is someone else with the same problem of dealing with the gap in their knowledge and understanding. He observes that the world of our direct waking senses has certain qualities, but under some particular circumstances he gains access to insights that seems to be entirely different from the everyday waking world. He resolves his storytelling challenge by referring to that mysterious realm that seems to be hidden under normal circumstances. There is a mind at work but it is mysteriously removed from the normal world and exists in a different hidden or parallel world.

Finally, there is one more leader with the same challenge. Only he seems to come along much later in the history of humankind, after the development of Western reductionist scientific traditions. This leader resolves the challenge of the gap in his knowledge by making two assertions. First, everything is potentially knowable, even if not known right now, therefore the Mystery is just a mystery until we solve it. Thus, projecting human qualities or positing a hidden realm to deal with the mystery is just foolishness. Second, there simply is no other mind (and even our own mind is probably an illusion to begin with.) Or even if there is another mind it has no human qualities and does not act in any observable way in our universe, so it's just foolish to posit the existence of something that is beyond proof of it's own existence.

So how I understand the human situation: we are social storytellers. We live in a reality that is beyond our understanding, yet we are built to try to understand it, so, we have turned our symbol manipulation tool to the task of understanding, even when we don't understand. The symbols are our creation, they are our best attempts at recounting the past and projecting into the future. I have taken the position that all our concepts are entirely derived from some literal core experiences although some concepts are stripped of their literal, concrete experiential content to become abstractions. One of the abstractions we need in order to have a complete understanding of our world must include a concept of that which is unknown or unknowable. That is what I propose is the skeletal core of the concept of God.

The atheist/humanist position is that the qualities of the unknown and unknowable are best dealt with as temporary inconveniences that should not be assigned any human qualities nor given any special status as if they represent a hidden spiritual realm.

But, of course, like the concept of mind, the core of the concept of God is so paltry and inadequate to the cognitive tasks required of the concept that we have to include metaphorical extensions of the concept in order to enable people to do real cognitive work. The different choices of metaphor as I have described them here fall into four categories from choosing whether or not the unknown and unknowable forces that affect our lives either have human qualities or occur in our everyday world. When we choose to think about the unknown and unknowable forces that affect our lives in terms of human qualities that occur in our everyday lives, then we are using a Theistic metaphoric conception. When we choose to think about those forces in terms of non-human qualities that occur in our everyday lives we are using a Naturalistic metaphoric conception. When we choose to think about those forces in terms of human qualities that occur outside our everyday lives we are using a Mystical metaphoric conception. Finally, when we think about those forces as non-human and outside of our everyday lives, then we are using a Humanistic metaphoric conception. The truth is that we have to deal with the unknown and unknowable and in order to do that effectively we have to choose what qualities to assign. The category is inherently abstract (like time, see Philosophy in the Flesh chapter 10) and no matter what we do we have to choose to assign some qualities in order to even think about it. I would argue that there are basic cognitive functions that are perfectly well served by every one of the four different choices that are now commonly made. The Atheist/Humanist position is just one of four valid sets of characteristics that can be assigned in the process of dealing with that particular category of experience.

The significance of the timing of our development of symbol manipulation behaviors (and literacy, more specifically) is significant because humans had to create explanations out of ambiguous experiential data. We did that in spades and when literacy developed the only references we had to work with were oral traditions that could only interpret the experience of a few generations of people. Thus, what got written down is a sense of our coming into existence within a small number of generations of the development of writing. In our recent history we have suddenly developed a method of examining the evidence of the past in ways that transcend the written accounts that we have inherited from our ancestors. The explanations of our origins and how the world works used concepts of God as an unconscious placeholder for the unknown and unknowable powers in the world that affect our lives. The diversity of stories is attributable to the basic variety of characteristics that can be assigned to those powers and to the variety of local conditions in which those stories arose.

So I hope that I have made my case in, as promised, an atheist friendly way that can be empirically validated and does not require any supernatural beliefs. Of course, I have pre-supposed an atheist who is using, as you describe in your article, a scientific perspective rather than an everyday moralistic perspective.

I believe in God. I also believe that in order to deal effectively with the core meaning of God, as the unknown and unknowable aspects of the world that affect our lives, that the atheist view is equally valid and valuable. In fact, I believe in all four views of God and mix and match them at will (though most often completely unconsciously according to the situation in which that concept arises. And I also suspect that everyone does the same, though taking a position to the exclusion of others is better for selling books and getting attention.) Further, I believe that God is an indisputable fact of human existence and that the extreme Objectivist position, that all things are knowable and that the existence of some unknowns is only a temporary situation, is false. The reality in which we exist is far too complex to ever fully comprehend and our symbol systems, even scientific symbol systems, will forever be inadequate to achieve total understanding because they are entirely derived from our limited human experiences.

Thank you for your time, I welcome your thoughts and reactions.

05 October 2008

Evil is Real

Here is a TED talk by Philip Zimbardo that really provides a strong model for how to approach the problem of evil. He's a remarkable authority on the subject because in this video he talks about his own complicity in creating a situation that drove young men to commit evil acts.

The model takes off from the "bad apple" metaphor and adds two more layers. The first basic layer is the idea that some people are, by disposition evil. Authorities, like the Bush administration in the case of the Abu Gharib abuse case, always trot out the "bad apple" excuse. They are not responsible because they did their best to not have bad apples, but what can you do?

Zimbardo says that we also have to look at the possibility of having "bad barrels." The situation that occurred at Abu Gharib, or in the Stanford Prison Experiment that he ran, is a set-up for bringing out the evil tendencies of otherwise good, upstanding people to participate in terrible acts against the well-being of others. In the Stanford Prison Experiment he was careful to get perfectly normal college students and randomly assigned them to the roles of guards and inmates. The only factor that can account for the evil the "guards" inflicted on the "inmates" is the situational factors created by Zimbardo the experimenter.

That leads to the third level of possible explanations, what if there are "bad barrel makers." The Stanford Prison Experiment was ended after five or six days, but the institutional, political, economic and other forces that created Abu Gharib are still in place. The fact is that the government policies that allow water boarding are directly responsible for acts of evil. Those policies are forcing good young soldiers of the United States Military to commit acts of evil. There are some very bad barrel designs in our government policies.

This is the essence of what I claim is wrong with schools. Perfectly good people are being put into situations that are systematically anti-educational. Teachers and students are subjected to policies that systematically re-create situations in which the worst aspects of their humanity are brought out. Good people in bad situations can commit acts that they would never dream of doing under normal conditions.

In this recent essay I discuss how we can honor the State's interest in learning without creating bad situations. The essay takes off from the fact that some parents who took the responsibility for educating their own children into their own hands lead to criminal charges. I think the good people who were acting on behalf of the State were put into the kind of situation in which they had their worst characteristics drawn out. They acted with cruelty that caused harm to every family involved.

We can do better.

20 September 2008

Moral Psychology

Here's another excellent TED Talk. Jonathan Haidt discusses the basis of moral thinking from birth to becoming a liberal or conservative.


13 September 2008

05 September 2008

The Illusion of Understanding

Here's a TED talk by Jonathan Drori that exposes what I refer to as the illusion of understanding. It should be the central challenge of higher education to expose this illusion, but alas that is not yet the case.

25 July 2008

A Lesson From The Ebu People of Nigeria

This is a simple and powerful message for the Mending of the Sacred Hoop from Chris Abani from Nigeria.

Authentic Happiness

Here is a Ted presentation (embedded below) that gives a quick overview of the three aspects of a truly happy life that we should be educating our kids to find: the engagement aspect, characterized by an abundance of flow experiences; the meaningful aspect, characterized by serving something greater than ourselves; and the pleasure seeking aspect, characterized by experiencing pleasing emotions.

Here is the Authentic Happiness web site where you can assess your happiness, and your potential to increase it, in scientifically validated ways.

07 July 2008

Sharif Abdullah Links Page

Commonway Institute Site

Sharif's Blog

Common Society Site

Video Link:
Greenfest Lecture

Text Articles:

Defining "Success" in Turbulent Times

Video Interview Series:
Part 1:

Part 2:


Part 4:

Part 5:

Quantum Shift Video Series

Embedded (The numbering of parts/episodes was wrong, Part 2 overlaps both 1 & 3 by six minutes, thus is totally unnecessary and after 6 minutes into part 3 you should skip to part 4 or else watch all of part 3 then skip the first 5:50 of part 4):
Part 1 (~12 min):

Part 3 (~12 min, ~6 min overlap with part 4):

Part 4 (~12 min, ~6 min overlap with part 3):

Greenfest Lecture:
Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

03 June 2008

What Makes A Good School? Picking Good Students!

This post has been converted to a page on my site:

What Makes A Good School? Picking Good Students!
A college president finally admits that good schools do not produce good students, they benefit from the desirable qualities of students who were already good.

29 May 2008

1st Centro pic

Sent using AT&T Xpress Mail

Bizarre, I only meant to send the last one and it sent everything in the phone.

19 May 2008

The Natural Step Sustainability Model

The Best Resources I have found, so far:

The Natural Step Canada (naturalstep.ca) through the Whistler It's Our Nature campaign of 2002 has one of the best explanations of the natural step framework I have ever found. Excellent production value as well as a clear presentations in both animated and text formats. Here are links to each part of the animated visual presentation.
Part 1: The Funnel
Part 2: The System Conditions
Part 3: A-B-C-D Thinking
Part 4: Basic Science
Part 5: Material Flows

Oregon Natural Step Network (ORTNS.org)has the best supporting materials regarding applications of the framework in different areas: Government, Green Building, Hospitality, Manufacturing, and Services.

This article is interesting because it ties together the Natural Step framework and ISO 14000 which might be thought to be a competing framework but is better considered as an additional set of implementation standards for the Natural Step framework. Or vice versa the Natural Step might equally be thought of as a conceptual framework to support the implementation standards set by ISO 140000.

18 May 2008

Preventing Dog Bites

Since I am currently delivering pizzas for a living I have on occasion encountered unfriendly dogs. This morning I was walking down the street to Aldrich's Market when I passed by a dog and it barked and scratched me on the leg (no blood). Good thing his owner had him on a leash because it could have become a much worse. I think it must have been too much eye contact, but I'm not sure.

So naturally I googled to find an answer. I started with horses oddly enough because I had a roommate some years back who applied some ideas from a horse whisperer guy on using predatory hand signals to training his dog. I thought if there was something about the posturing and signaling of predators then I might figure out what I did wrong. Natural horsemanship is really cool but none of the videos I found talked about how to use predator signals.

So I then went into dog stuff. Here's the best video I found on the subject of preventing dog bites:


16 May 2008

In Plain English

Here's a resource for easy and quick explanations of a lot of cool stuff:


Here's a short video that explains wikis very clearly:



14 May 2008

Illusion Collection

Thanks the The Situationist for this one:

Click on the "add/remove edges" button to see it differently. The effect is explained in the original post.

The illusion archive from the Best Visual Illusion Of The Year contest.

Ny Skole Video

Peggy Hughes black and white film portrait of the Bagsværd Ny Lilleskole in Copenhagen, Denmark, "We Have To Call It School." 45 min.(34:27 on Google) Filmed in 1972–74. Produced by Holt Associates, Cambridge, Mass. [This information about the film was found independently of the film itself.]



13 May 2008

John Taylor Gatto Links

John Taylor Gatto (JTG) is an outspoken critic of schooling.

His perspective tends to be liberitarian, meaning he puts a generally negative spin on the government having authority over people's lives.

The resources collected here are not in any particular order within the particular media type sections:


John Taylor Gatto.com
Winter 1999 Yes! Magazine: Universal Education


Edflix Interview (poor video quality)

JTG: Schooling is not Education - Part 1
JTG: Schooling is not Education - Part 2
JTG: Schooling is not Education - Part 3
JTG: Schooling is not Education - Part 4
JTG: Schooling is not Education - Part 5

Classrooms of the Heart, 1991

John Taylor Gatto in Brantford, Ontario, Canada on March 31, 2007:
JTG in Brantford Part 1
JTG in Brantford Part 2
JTG in Brantford Part 3
JTG in Brantford Part 4
JTG in Brantford Part 5
JTG in Brantford Part 6

Lennart Mogren Interview, 2003:

JTG: Al Gore flunked out of college

JT GATTO: Social Darwinism & The C.F.R.

Audio via Video:

from Infowars.com hosted by Alex Jones (conspiracy friendly radio)
History of the Purposeful Degradation of Schools in the U.S (52 mins)
John Taylor Gatto - On education

JTG on Education 1/5
JTG on Education 2/5
JTG on Education 3/5
JTG on Education 4/5
JTG on Education 5/5

3rd JTG on Education 1/5
3rd JTG on Education 2/5
3rd JTG on Education 3/5
3rd JTG on Education 4/5
3rd JTG on Education 5/5

Outside The Box #138 hosted by Alex Ansary (58 min)

With Hamsa Yusuf Hanson (Introduction in Arabic-sounding language):

10 May 2008

Global Battery

Here's a nice little video to help understand the situation we face with fossil fuels:



Proof of Growing Inequality In America

Here's a excerpt from the freakonomics blog with guest Frans de Waal taking questions from commenters:

Q: Is yours the lab that did the grape vs. cucumber study? The monkeys got either a grape or a cucumber for doing a task …

A: Yes, together with Sarah Brosnan, we did a study in which capuchin monkeys received either a grape or a piece of cucumber for a simple task.

If both monkeys got the same reward, there never was a problem. Grapes are by far preferred (as real primates, like us, they go for sugar content), but even if both received cucumber, they’d perform the task many times in a row.

However, if they received different rewards, the one who got the short end of the stick would begin to waver in its responses, and very soon start a rebellion by either refusing to perform the task or refusing to eat the cucumber.

This is an “irrational” response in the sense that if profit-maximizing is what life (and economics) is about, one should always take what one can get. Monkeys will always accept and eat a piece of cucumber whenever we give it to them, but apparently not when their partner is getting a better deal. In humans, this reaction is known as “inequity aversion.”

I actually don’t think the response is irrational at all, but related to the fact that in a cooperative system, one needs to watch what kind of investment one makes and what one gets in return. If your partners always ends up getting a greater share, this means that you’re being taken advantage of. So, the rational thing to do is withhold cooperation until the reward division improves.

This holds an important message for American society which is becoming less fair by the day.

The Gini-index (which measures income inequality) keeps rising and is now more in line with that of third-world countries than of other industrialized nations. If monkeys already have trouble accepting income inequality, you can imagine what it does to us. It creates great tensions within a society, and we know that tensions affect psychological and physical well-being. Some attribute the dismal health statistics of Americans (now #42 in the world’s longevity ranking) to the social frictions of an unfair society (see Richard Wilkinson, 2005: The Impact of Inequality).

05 May 2008

Diane Ravitch on Youtube

I follow the Bridging Differences Blog and since I previously posted a video of Deborah Meier speaking I decided to search for one featuring Diane Ravitch. Here was the only one I found:

Link: Diane Ravitch


I also found another good video featuring Deb Meier:

Link: Deb Meier


20 April 2008

What’s A Cop’s Job? On The Arrest of the Jefferson Memorial Dancer

Consider what you would do if you were entrusted with the responsibility to ensure that our nation’s most venerated monuments are respected and honored by those who visit. It’s midnight at the Jefferson Memorial on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday and a motley pack of wild-eyed people show up and start dancing (nothing fancy just individuals be-bopping in each other’s vicinity) with headphones on while some of them are recording this on cameras and phones. The signage clearly states that visitors are to be quiet and respectful of others. What would you do?

The park police immediately decided that this was disrespectful and/or disorderly conduct and several quickly moved in to eject the dancers from the monument. The dancers were shocked by this and asked for explanations, but the park police were reluctant to offer any information and mostly repeated their demand that the dancers leave. When confronted by the fact that the dancers were quiet, according to posted rules, the park officers accused the dancers of being disorderly. One dancer asked for clarification and was arrested and detained for five hours. According to the web site FreeTheJefferson1.com she was charged with “interfering with an agency function” (whatever that means).

What is the proper role of the police? How should this have been handled?

First, the moral problem. The police acted in a manner that appears arbitrary and capricious which undermines their moral authority. The moral foundation of empowering police officers with extraordinary powers is our fundamental human desire for a peaceful and orderly existence. But when they are the source of disorder by arbitrarily disrupting the lawful behavior of citizens, then they are abusing their powers.

We recognize that due to the inherent diversity of human thoughts, manners, and cultures, we cannot avoid conflict and that some form of professional assistance in times of conflict can help prevent escalation of a situation into violence and hatred. The fundamental moral job of authorities of all kinds is to prevent violence from becoming a normal way of living. Empowering police to wield the tools of violence and entrusting them with lethal forms of protection are our way of reacting to the tools of violence that we routinely expect to disrupt our day-to-day lives. If we didn’t expect bad people to carry lethal weapons then there would be no sense in giving the cops lethal weapons. We expect them to respond to threats appropriately with the ultimate goal of keeping the peace. We expect them to act within the confines of a code of professional conduct that would help them overcome the average human bias that normally clouds individual judgment in emotionally charged situations.

The videos of the dancing incident at the Jefferson Memorial seem to indicate that the police reacted in a highly unprofessional manner. They interpreted the actions of a group of people to be a threat of some kind and then acted swiftly and without any meaningful communication about why they were taking the actions they took.

These are the park police failures.
1. They judged the activity of dancing to be a threat to the sanctity of the monument
2. They created a conflict by ordering the dancers to leave without explanation
3. They escalated the conflict by using foul language, engaging with people by physical contact and openly displaying anger.

With the job of keeping the peace, our police are entrusted with an extraordinary responsibility for acting in a manner that ultimately leads to the lessening of conflicts, not the creation of conflicts. Given the videos that I have seen and the account of the organizer, it appears that the police abused their authority, violated the public trust, and may have abrogated the rights of the arrested dancer, if not the rights of all the people who were peacefully gathered to celebrate Tomas Jefferson’s birthday with a late night show of physical exuberance.

Consider this three part series of articles entitled “The Situational Sources Of Evil” by Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University. He revisits Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments on obedience and shows a number of ways that authority can be abused. The question on the flip side is how to create professional codes of conduct for authorities (i.e. uniformed and armed law enforcement officers) in such a way that abuses like this can be prevented.

The fundamental practical problem is that they made a ridiculous judgment of the situation and then simply played out the “Authority” cards they dealt themselves. The exercise of authority needs some way to reign in the tendencies of the officers to act merely according to their role as an “Officer’ without tempering that role with some other more human roles such as “Human Being” or “Exuberant Celebrator of Jefferson’s Birthday.” Engaging a different perspective on a situation like this is where leadership is crucial.

What expectations does the park service have of it’s security forces? Are they supposed to be mindless drones enforcing precise literal rules of behavior or are they supposed to be thinking feeling people with compassion for humanity and good judgment about when and how to confront people who exercise bad judgment about what is appropriate in a national park?

From my years of experience being an adult authority wielding power over kids of all ages I assert that how a situation is handled by the authorities can be a good predictor of the response that can be expected. If authority is simply exerted without explanation or any other effort to make a human connection with the subjects who are being told what to do, then you can expect resistance from a minority of the group. If you make even a nominal connection, it can be as simple as a greeting, then you can expect a lot more compliance. Of course, if ideology is a factor, then it can be different, but there did not appear to be any ideological displays amongst the dancers.

A better handling of the situation would have involved a friendly greeting to the whole group, asking if there is an organizer, having an officer talk with the organizer as the other officers engaged with the other people to investigate the activity and the intent of it, and then either have the organizer ask everyone to leave or issuing a brief statement that due to a security concern everyone should please stop dancing and leave the monument.

The circumstances of this event are an embarrassment to law enforcement; they undermine the trust that we, the people, have in our police; and they should serve as a good opportunity for the park service to get clear about the level of professional conduct they expect of their officers. This is an object lesson in law enforcement professionalism and how unforgiving the public is for unprofessional conduct in the digital age.

I just hope the park service and any other agencies involved can take a lesson from this incident. In the meantime they should do the right thing by dismissing the charges and apologizing.

Here are links to a variety of videos of the incident and some news coverage:
Short Version

Organizers reaction

ImprovEverywhere’s reaction (where I first Found out about it)

3 part video by the organizer:
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

News Coverage

18 April 2008

Naïve Realism

Thanks to the Situationist for this:
Naïve realism is the conviction that one sees the world as it is and that when people don’t see it in a similar way, it is they that do not see the world for what it is. Ross characterized naïve realism as “a dangerous but unavoidable conviction about perception and reality”. The danger of naïve realism is that while humans are good in recognizing that other people and their opinions have been shaped and influenced by their life experiences and particular dogmas, we are far less adept at recognizing the influence our own experiences and dogmas have on ourselves and opinions. We fail to recognize the bias in ourselves that we are so good in picking out in others.
from Lee Ross's Lecture on Barriers to Conflict Resolution
By Elizabeth Hipple

17 April 2008

Thoreau on the Impact of Thoughts

Thanks to Renee McGraw for posting this quote to the Core Parenting Group:

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

-Henry David Thoreau

An Official Source (I could not locate any reference to where Thoreau actually wrote it, so the text and the attribution are presumed to be accurate.)

31 March 2008

Talking about the Hidden Curriculum

Here is a 13 minute talk given by Deborah Meier at an educational conference in Chicago. She talks very briefly about what John Gatto has referred to as the hidden curriculum of public schooling.
Deborah Meier


Instant Animation Fun

This is a fun little site where you can draw a sloping line and watch as a little sledder rides the hill you created. Be careful how you draw the line, he can wipe out:
Line Rider

24 March 2008

We Own The Air, Let's Protect It

Here's a quote from a new Rockridge Institute Report on climate change policy:

A key idea advanced by Cap and Dividend [one of two proposals considered in this report] is that keeping our air clean is good for the economy. The costs of environmental harm already exist. They have just been excluded from the accounting. Polluting companies have been free-riders and are not paying the full cost of doing business. Now those costs are being borne by people the world over. Global warming is a market failure – because a vital cost has been left out!
Comparing Climate Proposals: A Case Study in Cognitive Policy

In contrast to:

Lieberman-Warner [the other proposal] expresses the idea of private wealth, where wealth is (1) money accumulated by corporations and their investors; (2) "created" through resource extraction and labor; and (3) owned by whomever controls it. People are thought of as actors who seek to maximize their profit. It follows that the financial implications of a policy are considered primarily with respect to industry – where assets are controlled. It is industry that is seen as creating wealth through the process of production. Wealth created by industry will "trickle down" to the people. There is no need to protect the common wealth – shared resources of general benefit to society – because there is no concept for common wealth in the proposal. The central consideration is protecting the profits of corporations—especially those who make those profits via polluting.
Comparing Climate Proposals: A Case Study in Cognitive Policy

I recommend reading this report.

21 March 2008

Creating Value

Here's an interesting post about making sure you create value instead of waste from the perspective of a school IT guy:
Eliminating Loser Loops

20 March 2008

Free Universal Education Not Compulsory Schooling

Continuing my participation in the Bridging Differences Blog I posted the following comment to clarify my sense of what is at stake when we consider the idea of compulsory schooling:

Thanks for your provocative thoughts on this blog. Obviously you hit a hot button for me and I hope that my contribution to the discussion is more than a mere rant. I want to clarify my perspective since my previous post might not have been clear. Since then I realized that there is a distinction between education and schooling in my mind that may make my reactions different from those who haven’t thought about it the same way.

An educated citizenry is a compelling interest of a democratic society. The failure to empower citizens via education will lead to the demise of meaningful feedback to correct abuses of the power to govern and thus threatens to destroy the democratic functions of the state. So, the compelling state interest is in education, not in schooling, per se.

I recognize our society’s interest in enabling citizens to become educated, but I do not support the state’s current use of power to compel attendance in schools that have a history of failing to educate their students. The government loses it’s moral authority to compel attendance in public schools when those schools fail to educate students, despite the fact that they have retained their political authority to do so.

I believe that some opposition to compulsory schooling, like John Taylor Gatto’s, is based on the idea that if our society provides an adequate free universal educational system then our citizen’s are smart enough to take full advantage of it without the state’s insulting them with compulsory attendance laws. But even if they are not, the free and universal aspects of the educational system are the important parts, not the presence or absence of compulsion.

An education system worthy of the world’s most powerful democracy is more than just a bunch of classrooms for kids. A worthy education system includes public libraries, private schools, the internet, and any other places and ways that people learn. Therefore I imagine systemic reforms along the following lines would be more appropriate for restoring the moral authority of our government to inspire (or compel, if necessary) education:

Reorganize public schools from middle school/junior high on up into free community colleges for all ages. Reorganize elementary schools to allow children to learn how to be citizens in a democracy, not peons in a hierarchy. Ensure that elementary schools provide a combination of academically focused classroom experiences and socially focused community learning experiences where the children and their parents have a significant voice in determining what’s the best combination for each child. Give older students the option to attend local community college classes, too, at their own discretion. Make sure that every student has more than one option for free education for as long as they are under 18 years old.

If compulsion is to be a component of the system then compel all citizens, no matter their age, to remain in the education system until they have attained basic mastery of core literacies in written language, mathematics, music, drawing, science, religion and critical thinking. Have them create a portfolio of work in each core literacy, in addition to having passed one of several tests in each core literacy to document their eligibility to leave the education system.

The only age-segregation that I would preserve is the distinction between Elementary School (which is for anyone who is not of full legal driving age) and the community college system (which is for anyone of any age who chooses to attend and meets the pre-requisites for the particular classes they choose.)

The point is to ensure that all citizens become educated. That interest does not evaporate upon a citizen reaching 18 years of age. Our society needs to provide a diversity of educational options in order to achieve that goal and the state should be fully subsidizing children’s learning and the basic education of adults who cannot afford it.

I agree that there is a moral burden to invoking the state’s power to compel citizen’s to behave in certain ways. The current public school system has lost it’s moral authority even though it has retained it’s political authority. My reaction to the previous post was based on this idea. It is the height of incompetence and arrogance to assert political authority in the absence of moral authority.

The current presidential administration, regardless of your opinion of them, has demonstrated a consistent inability to distinguish between moral and political authority. I think John Thompson’s comment is saying something similar to this. NCLB, for instance, has been based primarily on the exertion of their political authority without regard for how it will affect their moral authority. As a result they have steadily eroded away their moral authority. The opposition holds little or no respect for them and they are finding that even their allies are a lot more cautious (the ones who haven’t jumped ship already) than when they had some moral authority left. The same could be said of their policies in Iraq, as well.

The policy debate in education needs to be about educating our citizenry, not just forcing children to attend school. How do we, as a society, enable our government to regain the moral authority to get the job done? I suspect that thinking strictly in terms of schools for children is not going to address the real challenges of education today.