Archive for the ‘Transcendence’ category

Flash: Money buys happiness!

June 3, 2008

Who says? According to a Harvard/UBC study published in Science, so that’s about as authoritative as possible. How so? The title Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness, tells you something about it.

In an HBS interview, co-author Michael Norton explains:

“Intentional activities—practices in which people actively and effortfully choose to engage—may represent a promising route to lasting happiness. Supporting this premise, our work demonstrates that how people choose to spend their money is at least as important as how much money they make.”

The crisp abstract does not read like a new-age nostrum

Although much research has examined the effect of income on happiness, we suggest that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn. Specifically, we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, we found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.

While they did not generalize beyond the economic proposition of personal income > spending on others, the theory certainly extends to giving one’s time and personal commitment to others.  It is so obvious we overlook it on an everyday basis, unless the giving has become part of our lives and being.By then we don’t think of it’s tie to happiness, as it should be. Would this not fall apart out of sheer irony if we did for others to selfishly satisfy a desire for personal happiness? Happiness is an outcome of good works and a life lived in full. As Marcus Aurelius said:

“The happiness and unhappiness of the rational, social animal depends not on what he feels but on what he does; just as his virtue and vice consist not in feeling but in doing.”

It was/is so with my parents, who (literally) tithed to the Episcopal church all their adult lives, and they volunteered full-time in retirement and gave most of the rest of what little they had to their community, to community theater, the United Way. The Christian outlook and central spiritual act involves loving your neighbor, reinforced by just about all the parables. (It turns out they were actually right about most things!)


Joseph Weizenbaum – A humane vision for technology

March 11, 2008

Joe Weizenbaum died at age 85 last week in Berlin, and a few obscure technology news services have published the story. MIT posted its lauds for their alumnus in a press release yesterday, but his passing has not lit up the news wires.  As with many issues in the 21st century, it’s up to the blogs to inform and comment.  A creator of computer languages and artificial intelligence systems and theories, Weizenbaum was probably known for inventing one of the first AI systems (1962), the ELIZA program. ELIZA was an interactive dialogue  process based on Rogerian non-directive psychotherapy (“So you are saying you are angry? Tell me more …”)  While may seem like a crude approach by 2008 standards, this was nearly 50 years ago.  As with many scientific leaders from his generation (who personally experienced WWII and the Great Depression), he grew skeptical of technological accomplishments and became a passionate advocate for humane applications of technology.

In 1988 he was awarded the Norbert Weiner prize for professional and social responsibility by CPSR, the professional society that sponsors the Participatory Design conferences. Terry Winograd presented his remarks with the prize award, with words as timely today as then, compared his moral vision with that of Wiener’s:

Both fought with a passion against the destructive madness of high technology at the service of war. Both wrote highly influential books about the problems of humanity and technology, moving beyond discussion of the machinery to a broad consideration of human actions, values, and ethical responsibilities. Weizenbaum’s Computer Power and Human Reason stands alongside Wiener’s books on science and society as a powerful reminder that wisdom and technical mastery are not the same, and that we confuse them at our peril.

Other humane visionaries known for their advancements of technology have passed away recently, and we are called by the deep humanity in our field  to keep their hope and vision alive in our own public and professional lives. Jm Gray and Jef Raskin come to mind. And the viral popularity of Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture (given a push by Oprah and the Web) has awakened an international audience to the power of a personal vision for taking a stand to create a better world.

Cylons are in the pipeline

September 19, 2007

The push for strong AI must have a spiritual basis, because after trying and failing to achieve “AGI” from Turing to Neural Nets, most researchers learned something about the human beings they were attempting to model. If it could be done, as Battlestar Galactica warns, we would burn many of our bizarre biases and belief systems into their firmware. Cylons are monotheists, after all, just like people in most other organized belief systems.

The Singular Question of Human vs. Machine Has a Spiritual Side
Wall Street Journal (09/19/07) P. B1; Gomes, Lee

There are people who believe there will one day be a point of “singularity” when human intelligence is overtaken by machine intelligence, and they speculate that a new, super-intelligent organism cross-bred from man and machine could be one of the monumental developments this singularity could bring about. cylon-evolution.jpg

Lee Gomes writes that singularity advocates talk at length about the need for Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), which is seen as a key singularity milestone. Yet he says AI researchers have been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to achieve this goal since the 1950s. “There is a schism between the AGI and the AI worlds,” Gomes notes. “The AGI faction thinks AI researchers have sold out, abandoning their early dreams of ‘general’ intelligence to concentrate on more attainable (and more lucrative) projects.” Gomes agrees with this assessment, but while AI researchers insist that the revision of their approach was unavoidable given the naivete of their earlier ambitions, singularists are undaunted in their belief that new approaches will yield AGI breakthroughs.

Gomes entertains the notion “that the discussion of singularity involves a sublimated spiritual yearning for some form of eternal life and an all-powerful being, but one articulated by way of technical, secular discourse,” and he perceives significant intersection between singularists and proponents of “life extension.” He adds that the popularity of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program among singularists reflects a desire for a messianic figure from space, which seems to again indicate that the need for spiritual enlightenment through advanced technology is a running theme among the singularity set.

Full Article

Understanding Meaning as Awareness

May 17, 2007

See the fullpost on the CIMI website: Center for Interactive Management, India

Dr. Batra’s discussions of “From Data to Wisdom”, and “Laszlo’s Pyramid of Meaning”, describe a hierarchy of types of knowing and understanding. Alexander Laszlo’s notion of syntony, a kind of resonant circuit of meaning related to the levels of knowledge, energizes the pyramid in the dynamic interactions of learning and evolution. There are interesting origins to the evolution of a DIKW (Data, Information, Knowledge Wisdom) model, ranging back to Russell Ackoff’s (1989) JASS article, and according to Nikhil Sharma, back to T.S. Eliot’s The Rock, from 1934.The current model enhances this hierarchical construction with the dynamics of learning and meaning.

The DIKW model presents a kind of Maslovian-type hierarchy of knowledge, where the higher levels are constructed as “better” locations that are reached by mastering the lower levels composing the pyramid. Except in Laszlo’s model, the pyramidal shape is rightly downsided-up, to better envision the dynamics of the syntonic (dual-circuit) model. Laszlo shows the bottom levels (data and information) as constituting more objectified representations of human knowledge. The higher levels increase the degrees of freedom exponentially, toward an unlimited horizon of (subjective) possibility, creativity, and transcendence. 

In the development of KM, one of the persistent forces driving the field was the possibility of moving organizational awareness from a data-perspective toward a knowledge-based perspective. A non-trivial difference was imagined, whereby we might enhance productivity, reduce error and the reinvention of wheels, and accelerate innovation by leveraging the various levels of information entities: data, information, and the ever-elusive knowledge. Consider an organizational model of this pyramid based on one of the main drivers of KM, innovation management. Some of the questions that drive interaction at these levels may include:

  • Data: What resources do we have?
  • Information: What do we know about?
  • Knowledge: What do we know how to do with what we know?
  • Comprehension: Where do we have mastery? (Is it worth doing?)
  • Understanding: How well do we understand our context, opportunities and possibilities?
  • Wisdom: Knowing this, what should we do? (What’s the best decision?)
  • Transcendence: What does this mean? (What’s the best contribution we can make?)

We might redefine these levels of meaning as states of consciousness, from Data to Transcendence. Data is not “data” apart from our awareness and perception of it as such. Information is not transformed from data except in cognition – there is no object in the world identified as “information.” Bits, yes – information, no.

And of course, these are the tangible levels of meaning – the intersubjective agreement diffuses even more as we navigate through Knowledge and toward Wisdom. Working knowledge is inherently tacit – all the more so Understanding and Wisdom. While I am not ready to regard these states of awareness as continua, the states have characteristics we might collectively agree upon and recognize, even across cultures. And traversing up the pyramid, we experience different gradations of possibility vs. utility, tacitness vs. concreteness, self-awareness vs. object-awareness, and duration.

Tao of Dialogue

February 9, 2007

Lao Tze imagined a way of serving others and giving up your own ideas:

In caring for others and serving heaven,
There is nothing like using restraint.
Restraint begins with giving up one’s own ideas.
This depends on Virtue gathered in the past.
If there is a good store of Virtue, then nothing is impossible.
If nothing is impossible, then there are no limits.
If a man knows no limits, then he is fit to be a ruler.
The mother principle of ruling holds good for a long time.
This is called having deep roots and a firm foundation,
The Tao of long life and eternal vision.

Working in Dialogue means giving up your role as expert and engaging with all others as if they were the only voices that matter. Dialogic design is our process of designing social systems and complex services in participatory design dialogue.

Dialogue enables people to listen to each other on issues of common concern, going beyond what they personally think is important, to find common roots the deep issues that dynamically influence their situation. Informed with the knowledge of what is really driving their situation, people move forward with enthusiasm and commitment, working together in a designed future co-constructed by dialogue.

We bring Structured Dialogic Design (SDD) to the table to facilitate deep and disciplined dialogue. SDD honors individual autonomy in the group dialogue, respecting each contribution, and allowing their careful clarification. It does this in such a way that every participant engages with equal influence. Hierarchies of power, expertise, and personality are harmonized or flattened. When everyone has submitted their answers to a triggering question and clarified them, the tension goes out of the room as everyone feels that they have been heard. The group has formed in mutual respect and with an agreed upon vocabulary.

The intellectual underpinnings of our approach to Dialogue can be found in the work of the following thinkers:

Socrates Socratic Dialogues

H-G Gadamer Horizons of Understanding

H. Ozbekhan Toward a general theory of Planning

J. Habermas A Dialogue on 9/11

David Bohm
Dialogue – A Proposal

J. Warfield Galleries of Interactive Management

Aleco Christakis A People Science