Monday, September 29, 2008

Still Alive

So I have not updated my blog in more than a month...that is not very good. 
I think I have the wrong psychological approach to it, as I try to hammer down as many of the deficiencies in any of the thinking pathways that I am exposing.  While I still think that this approach is worthwhile, it's making me write down tens of ideas but not expanding them, as I never have all the time I need to go through them in the detailed way that I would want.
For this post I wanted to talk about a very interesting book(actually there are two novels but I read the collection of 2 of them)
By Olaf Stapledon, the books are the Last and First Men and the second one is The Star Maker.
From the standpoint of literature per se, these are very dry  Sci-Fi books, so if you are somebody that gets bored very fast, I wouldn't recommend these to you. Also sometimes it can be a little bit repetitive and slow in the flow of ideas, so also if you are intolerant to these characteristics, I would say you will be better at reading something else. But if you do that,  you would be missing some of the best conceptual futurology that has been ever written. 
The concept behind this book is the exploration of how would intelligent life evolve over long periods of time. If you are reading attentively you may have realized that I didn't say "human" intelligence. That is right, he actually kills off human civilization, several times, but in the most internally consistent way. Also when I mention that is over long periods of time, we are talking billions to trillions of years, going from "now"(that is in 1930s) to the end of the universe, when the entropy has gone up to the point that there is no differential of energy in between any part of the universe.
The other interesting characteristic is that there is not a specific protagonist, as in a central personage. There is an omniscient narrator that comments about the evolution of this or that culture/civilizations, but not somebody to relate directly. This can be a little bit bothersome, as is difficult to become sentimentally attached to the book.
But man, the imagination of Mr. Stapledon is superior most of the Sci-Fi authors. His descriptions of how a population evolves both culturally and physically, or how they reach different settings in their civilization lifespan is so engaging that you can't remain unmoved. 
Also the analysis that he makes of the evolution of human civilization in "near" future (meaning approximately now) is very, very on the spot. Some parts are actually scary to read, as he pinpoints the factors that guided us to the situations we can see in this day and age, in a fashion that makes me wonder if he was actually possessed by an entity from the future (as this is part of the "explanation" of where the information comes from).
This book made me think about futurology and the possibility of predicting the evolution of our culture/civilization from general principles. We all like to think that we do have free will, but maybe when we gather in a group, there is an emergent property that makes us predictable. If you follow the reasoning of Mr. Stapleton, you can actually see where he wants to go very easily, and also come into grips with our group "predictability" as a possibly testable characteristic. 
It would be interesting to study this, to see there is such an emergent property of human groups that deviate our thought processes to adjust the evolution of the society, maybe without us noticing it...
Interesting and disturbing.
Hopefully if you read this you will be interested in Mr. Stapledon books. They are more than worth the time involved in reading them. Your perception of humanity, of time and of universal evolution will grow exponentially
Well, it's time to think another thought!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Levels of Thinking

The high gas price is due to the war in Iraq, he said. No, no, says another, it is due to the OPEC countries gaming the system. That is false, says a third, it is due to faerie's dust making disappear the oil reserves in the world...
This is only a sample (although slightly ironic) of multiple discussions that we carry with other human being every day. We seem unable to reach an uniform conclusion about multiple topics, and it doesn't make sense, as we are living a similar reality, so we should be able to agree...or shouldn't we?
There are a lot of different explanations on why this happens. Some explanations are sociological, that depend on our separate cultural backgrounds, where we process the same evidence with different mechanisms and priorities. Some linguistic, due to our inability to transmit our concepts in an appropriate fashion to another human, or if we are able to do so, then that human may be unable to input that information into his thought patterns in an appropriate fashion(yes, it is YOUR fault), and therefore he/she is not able to understand their interlocutor. Even emotional factors could affect this understanding, as those who have kids that have done something dumb/illegal/costly for you can attest!
But this is a blog about the thinking process in general. So in which aspect I consider our thinking patterns and processes affect our argumentation and foment the discordance between individuals and their capacity to analyze reality?
One concept that I was playing in my mind earlier with was the concept of levels of thinking. The best way I could define it is the depth of analysis that you have applied to a particular thought pathway. For example, if there is no toilet paper in your toilet, a first level thinking would be ...mmm, the last person that used the toilet finished it and didn't replenish it. If we tried to use a higher level of thought then we would consider other options, like there is no toilet paper at home, your young kids took it as a prank, the toilet paper actually is misplaced and it is behind you, etc. That is to say, you take a multi step approach to a thinking issue.
One of the ways that I thought to expose the problem with first level thinking is to establish its characteristics, and from them obtain the possible consequences from each of them.
First of all, first level thinking is common. It's the most frequent way that we appreciate reality. It may have to do with the way our brain is wired, as we are not able to maintain more than 5 or 6 different concepts at a time without losing track of them. So when we try to process our thoughts, we are unable to use more than 2 or 3 factors in the thought pathway (in a spontaneous form of thinking, as some forms of structured thinking will use other techniques or outside help to overcome this limitation). By itself, this factor makes us to use the first level of thinking with a preference that is structural in nature.
Second, the first level thinking is practical. Yes, it is very nice that you can think of multiple causes of the lack of toilet paper, but at the time of resolution of the problem, looking for another one in your house's reserve batch will solve this problem, most of the time. This characteristic of our main way of thinking could be due to a couple of factors that have to do with evolution. First of all, if exposed to a dangerous situation, you may not have the time to develop second level thinking about an issue (the typical "the tiger is going to eat you, run away, you dummy" example). Also it could be due to resources constraints, as we may have to decide between using our time for obtaining a second level thinking to obtain a better outcome, factor that is not for sure until you actually apply your second level of thinking, as you could be wrong, no matter the level of thinking that you reach, versus just obtaining a mediocre outcome with first level thinking and having more time (and resources!) to go to another problem.
A third characteristic would be linearity. The first level thinking tends to depend in a direct or inverse fashion to a X or Y characteristic. This characteristic is obviously not intrinsic to a first level thinking, as you can have reality based phenomena that are linear, so it wouldn't matter what level of thinking you are using, you are not going to obtain a different result if the nature of the experience you went through . What I meant for linearity as a characteristic is that first level thinking can't deviate from this pattern, by its intrinsic value of non complexity. It has trouble seeing how a reality based phenomena could be non linear, multi factorial or simply correlated but not causal to our "explanation".
The fourth characteristic is that first level thinking is usual. This is not the same as saying that it's common. The commonality has to do with factual happening, while the usual characteristic has to do with the tendency that we have for using it. That is, because it's common and practical, we "like" (even though it has nothing to do with preferences most of the time) to use that mode of thinking and we need to make an extra effort to stray away from it, even voluntarily. Again, this could be due to our internal "wiring", but that is only hypothetical, and not relevant to our discussion. Also another factor to take into account in the "usual"ness of the first level of thinking is that we tend to thread on previous thinking patterns that we have learned from somebody else, or patterns that we have gone through for a similar thought process, kind of recycling your thought pathways. This is obviously seen when you watch/read the news from different sources and you realize that the editorial content is very repetitive. This is going to happen for issues that are very straightforward, obviously, but a lot of complex issues are treated this way too. Interestingly the "best" editorialists usually distinguish themselves by actually going into a deeper level of thought.
The fifth characteristic is inflexibility. Due to its own nature of straightforwardness, thinking of the first level is not able to accept or be modified by other points of view. You are "right", so why should you change your thought process. The problem is not in the correctness, because the goal of refining your thought processes is to reach the truth(or as much as approximate to it we as human can do), but in the lack of adaptability. Some first level thinkers even coat this inflexibility with a cover of "righteousness", saying that if you modify your thought process by taking another pathway you are actually admitting that it was wrong, so by definition your conclusion has to be corrupted by this. This is one of the main "political" arguments that you can see used in our current day and age. If a candidate changes his position with respect to any issue, he or she is a flip-flopper...instead of being a mature adult that may have received better input and decided to change his/her opinion in respect of that issue. This has nothing to do with the political opportunists that change their opinion only due to polling results...that is one of the worst types of parasitism that you can find in a human, sadly.
So we have that the first level of thinking is common, practical, linear, usual, and inflexible. These characteristics do not sound that bad, right? Again, I want to make sure that I communicate clearly. First level thinking is not by definition wrong(or right by that matter). It is the correct level to analyze most of the situations that occur around us. But we should go through the list of characteristics above each time we move through a thought pathway, and realize that if one of those characteristics are limiting the scope of possible conclusions we may achieve, then we should be flexible enough to take those factors into account, and broaden our pathway.
Well, this post is already long enough, so it's time to think another thought.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Teach your child how to think

I've been meaning to comment about a book I read recently, it's an old book by Edward de Bono, called Teach your child how to think. Mr. de Bono is a fairly known "thinking" teacher, with several famous techniques (like the six hat reasoning system). I was able to get this book second-hand, so I gave it a try. As most books by de Bono, it's thin, and can be a quick read.
My value thinking at the end of the read is very ambiguous. I loved the book and I hated the book. I will try to express the pros and cons of the book in a more detailed fashion, that hopefully will be more helpful for any prospective reader. I will start with the cons.
First, you have to realize that the "kids" part of the title is a partial misnomer. It is not directed to the kids, but to the adult member of the family. He obviously gives a small introduction where he talks about how to use the book more effectively depending on the age of the child, and how to go through the examples with your child, but after this he "forgets" the focus on the child part, concentrating only on the tools and mechanisms of thinking, but in a decidedly adult pedagogical style. His examples on how to use the thinking tools are clear (most of the times), but their are not focused on children experience, so you are given the task to adapt this to your child. I don't think the loss of focus in children is detrimental, and he tells you very early that it's NOT for teaching very young children, instead he wants you to use his book when the child is able to construct abstract thinking processes (around 7 or 8 years or older). The advantage is that probably you as an adult will use and benefit from what he is postulating without feeling that the author is condescending to you, a problem that plagues a lot of the books that are directed to/made for children.
Second, this is a book to read with an open mind. If you have a thought process pattern already, you may get "mad" at the way de Bono exposes his ideas, mainly the organization of the book. He, in what I consider is a very interesting approach, starts describing the "tools" that he considers are necessary for developing your thought process, but does not give you any structure on how to apply each tool (although he gives you plenty of exercises to do with each tool), even suggesting that you can use them separately or in combination. If you are an adult, and you have acquired already a thought process pattern, you may find this shocking (i know I did), and a little bit irritating. But I would recommend you to keep on reading, as he will coalesce these tools in certain types of structure where they are more orderly placed, which permits you to get the "bigger" picture of his methodology.
Third, it is an uneven book. de Bono explains multiple thinking tools, but the detail that he offers for each one is very erratic, to the point that in some tools he actually forgets to give an accurate description of them!(the APC tool comes to mind) Most of his thinking tools are straightforward, but there is a lot of overlap between them. I don't consider redundancy a problem in thinking, as it tends to give you a more solid thought process, but his overlapping tools tend to use the same initial information and process them with almost the same approach, so it's repetitive instead of redundant. It gives you the feeling that certain of this tools were developed before he created others that are significantly more powerful, making the original worthless, but he never took them out of the book. This seems to be the case with his six hat thinking process. Obviously his most developed technique (he actually has written a book only about this), you can see that multiple of his smaller tools are simply partial aspects of this megatool. He explains that you may decide to use whichever tool you like the best, but due to the overlap, several of them have no enticing reason to use them, and gives you more mental clutter that obstruct adequate mental organization of the tools.
Fourth, Mr. de Bono has a very particular style of writing. If you have read other of his books, you may already know this, but he is a very forceful "seller" of the de Bono "concept". He will always mention his qualifications for writing a book on this topic, with all the projects that he has created or helped/counseled in. I understand perfectly why he would do this from the commercial standpoint, as he wants to demonstrate a good reputation, and also from the psychological perspective, as we tend to disagree less and accept more what somebody that is successful tells us. But after a while it gets somewhat heavy to read those detailed descriptions as they don't give you any benefit for your thinking process and they don't advance the concepts in the book
Fifth, there are some thinking errors in some parts of the book, that even if they don't detract from the general point, they invalidate some of his conclusions. His chapter of logic and perception is slightly unfair toward logic, as he is applying what he thinks logic "is" to domains of reality where it should not be applied, at least not in the form he is referring to, something that he does again in his chapter about Truth, logic and critical thinking. He also seems to be unaware that logic as a "thinking" discipline has more than one form or mechanism, and that he doesn't take in account some other subtheories of logic, like paraconsistent logic, that is designed to deal with inconsistencies (a fault that he attributes to "logic" as a whole). This is probable the point where I was disenchanted, as he seems to construct a straw man of logic, and afterwards he proceeds to fight against this misconception of logic. He also tends to correlate his success as a propagator of his ideas to the correctness of them, and this is obviously an erroneous thought pathway, that you can see repeated several times in the text.
Sixth, the book it's mostly expositional, he "tells" you which tools there are, how to use them, but he doesn't go very much on the underlying thought process mechanism that explain why you can/should use the tools that he is suggesting. This doesn't really affect my general appreciation of the book, as he is a very practical type of author, and in this case he may not want the explanations to interfere with the flow of the book.

What about the pros?
First, it's a short book. I don't say it in a derogatory fashion. It's short because he focuses on his main point in a very efficient way. Besides his self promotion tangents, he does not drift from the main topic. So it makes for a very dense book of ideas, a very refreshing change from the 1000+ pages that other thinking experts publish.
Second, it's a practical book. He suggest multiple exercises to use each one of his tools, and even if they may be overlapping, he is able to find examples where you can apply each tool separately. I think this is the strongest feature of the book, and where he demonstrates his genius. Multiple thinking books are better at explaining the origins of the thought processes, but fall flat on their faces when trying to make something directly useful to the reader. de Bono makes sure at all times that his readers will learn something, and gives straightforward directions on how to use his examples (or create new ones from his guidelines)
Third, it's a book that maintains its value. Due to the fact that he gives you the tools and not only rambles around (yes, like I tend to do...I'm thinking about how to fix that!), he is eminently re readable. And for a learning to think book, that is one of the main characteristics, as you can't learn it all at once.

You may see this book commentary and say that the book has more bad points than good ones, but in general I would say that the weak points are smaller in breadth and applicable to smaller portions of his general argument, while the good points are sufficient to carry the book to a very good level.
My final thought about the book: Read it...several times. For yourself and for your kids.
And now it's time to think another thought

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Thought blindness

I haven't had as much time as usual to think, due to illness of a family member. Thankfully, that problem seems to have resolved, so I tried to take a thought pathway that I had started a couple of weeks ago but stayed underdeveloped due to the situation previously described.
The baseline where I started this thought pathway is based on the fact that I am partially color blind. The pigments that should absorb the red light wave and send the signal to my brain to interpret it as red color, are defective or in lower than normal amount in my eyes, so this makes me see red objects as brown or green, even though I know from other people descriptions that it's not the case.
So from there I started generalizing this idea to a bigger concept. What if there are people that are simply thought blind? This would not be a reflection of their lack of knowledge of a particular culture or their general grade of intelligence, but simply an effect of an abnormal wiring of their brains when it was formed.
If you look at the medical literature, there are some reports of phenomenon similar to this, the so called "Neglect". This usually happens after a stroke or a traumatic injury to the brain, causing the patient to lose some superior brain functions, and they are not able to notice a certain portion of reality, for example the left side of their bodies, or one of their legs. It is not that they are not able to "see" that part, it is only that the wiring of their brain is affected thus that they simply "ignore" that area. There are also focused defects like in reading (called alexia) or writing (agraphia).
The difference between this phenomena and my "thought blindness" concept is that usually the defects that are noticed are in big areas of functionality, and that they are not congenital, but acquired. I don't see any particular reason why the thought blindness causes should all be congenital, so that is not a problem with our thinking pathway, but the extension of the defect that we are able to detect can be a problem.
Let's think for a moment, what would happen if for example you are not able, by the wiring of your brain, to understand some particular concepts, for example, to be provocative, religion, or even more interesting, the lack of religious feeling. Think about would you explain it to the person that has an structural deficit concerning that concept?
Obviously you may say that brains do not work like that, that there is not a religion center, or a belief center, because our brains are capable to absorb a much bigger amount of concepts that what you would expect from the physical capacity of it. I understand that point and after looking at the medical literature, I am sure that that counterargument has complete validity.
But I can change a little bit my approach, and postulate the hypothesis in a somewhat different fashion that still lets me discuss the same general topic. Let's see...
OK, I concede the point that probably there is not a specific "idea" center that people can "NOT" have, but what if they lack an intrinsic pathway/neuron/whatever you may call it that is necessary (but not sufficient, to avoid the "one place one idea error from before) for you to be able to process that concept? I am sure that a lot of different concepts, due to intrinsic brain plasticity, are able to be processed in multiple ways, but what if some of them (and I am sure that by statistical reasons there must be at least a couple) actually pass through this rate limiting area? An easier way of explaining this would be to say that in the city of my brain, that is comprised of multiple concept-islands linked by bridges, there are no specific "idea" buildings that can be bombarded to make my brain city lacking, but there is the possibility that if I destroy the bridge that helps the people to go from one island to the other, the products that are made in that island are not able to be exchanged with the rest of the islands,even though the rest of the city island is completely able to function . I don't really see a logical reason why this couldn't happen. I understand that the brain has innate redundant systems, but I am also sure that there are points that are immutable. If not, there would be no irreversible damage during strokes, and sadly, in most of them there is.
So if we accept this premise, then we would have a person that is not be able to think a particular concept, while being able to otherwise maintain really complex thought pathways that don't involve this limitation. The interesting thing with this situation is that just as somebody that has post stroke neglect, they CAN'T realize that there is a lack in their thought processes, simply because only with your brain you can realize this, and in this circumstance the brain itself is affected.
Could this be a factor that affects the difficulty that fundamentalists of any kind have in seeing the other "side" point of view? It would be completely unrealistic and reductionist to think that it's the only element of importance here, but it strikes me that it could be one of the important questions to answer, because if this actually happens, then some situations can't actually be discussed with the other "side", simply because they are physically unable to understand your point.
Also knowledge of this could help us to improve our tools for discussion in the cases of lack of conciliation between parties. If we are able to detect that there is some "thought blindness" in play, then with other thinking process' tools we can indicate to the person that there is something lacking, even if they don't perceive it, just as for post-stroke patient you do "imagining" training, where you tell them that even if they don't "have" (in their personal realities) a right side of the body, they should "imagine" that they have it, and behave like this "imaginary" side is real. You can pinpoint to consequences of their neglect that they can notice, like not being able to go through a particular space, to help them imagine that they actually have the "neglected" part. Can we invent thought process' tools for this purpose? I am sure we can, as there are thought pathway verification tools that use extrinsic tools (for example lists of thought process errors that you can check) that exist at the moment.
I estimate that this topic can be applied to multiple other purposes, from educational to business related, but for now I've only reached this portion of the thinking pathway. Probably I will explore in the future some more of the implications, but for now...
It's time to think another thought.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Language and thinking

Last week I had to travel by plane, going from one time zone to another that was 2 hours earlier, and then back home, so I had the curious sensation of time dilation where 3 hours converted themselves into 5 hours. Funny if you think about it, but if you apply relativistic considerations to my flight I can actually be dilating the time slightly more, but the effect would be probable imperceptible to my mind ,but not unmeasurable, so interestingly even if it doesn't exist in my consciousness, it still exists in reality. As always, depending on your basal philosophy you could say that the difference is only made when you actually measure it, or you could say that even the non measured events exist...but I don't really want to go that direction today.
Most of the times that we consider the relativistic events we don't realize that as much as we would like it not to happen, this is actually one of the factors that is keeping us from contacting alien cultures. Yes, that means extraterrestrial cultures, not cultures outside the united states...and I will use this nice segue to go towards the topic of philosophical language differences affecting our capacities to transmit the content of our thought to other peoples.
One interesting difference is that for example in Spanish you would NEVER have any confusion in between an alien (extraterrestrial) and an alien (foreigner). You can always say that there are synonyms that you could use and that would take away the confusion, and that is right, but the fact is that the meaning that can cause the confusion exist in the language can tell us something about the culture behind it.
Is this cultural factor taken for granted when I communicate with somebody else in English? The problem is that if you are a native speaker you may never see this factor coming and it could shape the way you think, even if you are trying to have an adequate mechanism of thinking. Everybody always refers to the fact that if you just use logical phrases you can avoid this, and there are people that have tried to make a language where due to the structure of the language you can't actually tell lies or make illogical statements, but you have to realize that our rate of success with the introduction of made up languages is pretty bad. Esperanto is probably as know today as the language of the Klingon, and I am almost sure that "Klingonian" is probably being taken care of better than Esperanto...whatever that can signify of our priorities as a culture.
Another thought that crossed my mind while I was writing this is that we could use the changes of a language over time to track the changes of thought pathways of the population that uses it. I am sure that this must not be an original ideal (remember, there is nothing new under the sun!). But I am always a little bit more Machiavellian...what if we could use this the other way around. What if we could have a group of peoples that are introducing a change in our language use with the purpose of changing our perception of reality. Again, you could say this is not that original, as in 1984 they had double speak and the restriction of language to force the population to obey and restrict the pattern of new ideas possible. But I think that Gene Wolfe in the Book of the New sun demonstrated brilliantly that even with a small range of expression, only by varying the context of a phrase, you can express many more ideas than what you would expect, something the author of 1984 didn't consider. See the part when they interact with a member of the "enemy" culture that is indoctrinated to only talk with phrases taken from a "sacred" book. The implementation by Wolfe is so astute, that I was floored the first time I saw it in action (read it in action?)
No, what I am going for is the idea of slowly modifying some impressions of the reality only by changing the perception of some words/groups of words. One example would be, if I may be ironic for a moment, the transformation of "alien" and "foreigners " into a dirty word. Only leaving another more difficult word or expression like "non X-country citizens" as the acceptable word usage. You could have a group of people respond to every usage of the word in printed/verbal/electronic media respond to an appearance of these words in a very negative fashion. After a couple of months/years, you could see the transference of the negative connotation to the actual alien people.
This phenomenon may sound familiar to you, as it did to me the first time I thought about it. Yes, it could be a sociological use of the politically correct language. The fact that words like blind, dumb, mute are becoming non-PC could also alter the perception that people have about this minorities. I am not sure if the people that decided to use this reductionist language were doing it with this purpose, but it has a good likelihood of doing this, even if it's not intended. Think about the "N" word, that I can't even put in my blog unless I want to become a target of all the hate mail of half of the country. The fact that we construed that word into a "bad" word carries the underlying effect of demonizing the word, and by verbal/mental correlation, making the people to whom you may apply this word carry a negative connotation that they don't deserve at all.
Now think all the subconscious messages that our words carry. Obviously some of them are due to forces of society that we all construe to (i am happy that calling somebody a Klansman is derogative). Notwithstanding that, the fact is that a lot of those messages are not very nice. What if there is a group of people that actually is voluntarily doing this. I understand that the general forces of society can't be reliably fought, but what about focused groups of people. Should we have a group for preventing the subversion of the meaning of words?
You may think that this is just conspiracy theorizing at its best, but I can see very nice commercial applications of this concept. I am sure that at this time the ad industry is using this concept, although it may still be more in a correlational stage instead of in a change of meaning stage. What I mean with this is that the industry right now wants us to correlate their products with a particular word that denotes or implies a concept. Think Apple products or IBM and its "think" motto. That is an obvious correlation of word to the product. But can they change the meaning of the words not to facilitate the selling of their product but to make our thinking patterns more accessible to buying them? If that is possible, and I think it is, the potential for abuse is huge, as we would NOT be able to combat it with rational thought, because it would be integrated in the modus operandi of our brains and as multiple persons that study reasoning have said, you can't really use the tool to detect the defects of the tool.
After all this digression, then I actually found a point to come back to my argument of being a multiple language user and the fact that this alters my perceptions or my thought patterns. Unless the Machiavellian group modifies multiple language at the same time (that would take serious money/manpower) then somebody that uses more than one language can actually detect this pattern of change and could actually contrarrest these modifications, by noting the slight discord between the intrinsic meaning of a word/concept in different languages.
So yeah, that is another good argument for having us aliens (not the extraterrestrial ones!) here to help...mmm...maybe I have something here...the protector of English language...Pedro Perez and Wi Xiang Fong...
Well, it's time to think another thought

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Let there be Disharmony

So, one post with value thinking for once. Yes, I have a bias against value thinking, because I am bad at it, ja, ja!. But I have to admit that it is the only way to really appreciate art in its multiple manifestations. I am sure that is has to have internal consistency, if not, the appreciation of "master pieces" would be completely random, and there wouldn't be any great masters of any type of art. Also it should be able to withstand the aggression from multiculturality, as there a lot of values that are different through the cultures, but the mechanisms on how to apply them should be the same...or not? I don't really know. I only dabble into value thinking with my raw uneducated appreciation, and see if it stands the trial against other people with more experience. Could Value thinking be only empirically gained? I would say no, because the artist itself has to have some judgement of its work, whichever form it takes, and we have great artists that produced only one marvelous work or artist that have started in an age were they couldn't have acquired such an exquisite level of experience that could explain their level of proficiency.
Another thought that I had was...Could I actually reason about value thinking? By definition value thinking is personal, because it interacts with different opinions that you have formed through your perceptual life, and obviously none of us, even twins have the same perceptual life. But then I realized that I was making a reasoning error, conflating the object of thought with the mechanism of thought. In a more understandable example, you may not understand the mechanics that underlie how a car works, but after observing somebody drive, you can actually make very accurate predictions of what the car is going to do, depending on the driver's actions. So you could use a certain type of meta-thinking to analyse the characteristic of how value thinking works, even if you shouldn't use non value thinking to evaluate the opinion (defined as the value that person X gives to object Y) that somebody forms about something, because it would be misapplying the thought analysis tool, and the result that you would get would be of no value to the type of reasoning you used.
Oh my...Well, I was supposed to use value thinking in this post, not to discuss ABOUT value thinking...You can attribute it to another of my thinking defects, that is thought pathway shift, where I start with one line of reasoning, and I see another branch that I like better and I go towards it, forgetting the first one...and you see, it's happening again
So now to our main topic.
I wanted to talk about this video:

I have to be sincere. I should hate this video. I am not a big fan of electronic music (although i like chiptunes when it's well made), and I am a big proponent of harmony and symmetry.
When you listen to this video, you realize that the music is disharmonious...but it's actually on purpose! The beautiful woman dancing (masako yasumoto) obviously is an asset to the video, but I actually ran the video without looking at it, and I still loved the music. The handling of the elements of disharmony in the music, associating them to repetitive patterns of music or synchronized loops in the video actually enhances the feeling of shift in the usual pattern of musical presentation, but actually makes it more beautiful. Ms. Yasumoto's dancing is phenomenal, even if I am sure that I am underestimating her technical proficiency. Her ability to gracefully execute asymmetric patterns of music surprised me, and I actually enjoyed seeing how she handled the rough parts of music score. The editor of the video had a great understanding of the superposition of harmonic and asymmetric motifs and used the video loops in a great fashion.
I remember a phrase in an old comic book that I read a long, long time ago, where one hero actually disables the all powerful villain's tool with a simple concept. He introduced disharmony in between the parts of the weapon, and in that way he was able to win the unwinnable battle. The phrase is the title for this post, because as soon as I finished seeing the video, I wished for the director, Hiroshi Kizu, to continue introducing more of this beautiful combination of disharmony in the

Ah, that feels good...Value thinking at its best...for me at least, and that's all that matters.
Well, it's time to think another thought

Friday, June 20, 2008

Irrationality always happens

Tonight I went home by train. I usually try to get into a car that is as empty as possible because like that I can sleep or even better, I can read the newspapers that the passengers from the previous train time have left in the car. Yeah, I'm cheap. Or you could say I'm "green"? Or I am a "new economy" practitioner?...Nah, I'm just cheap.
Interestingly, when I was checking for newspapers, I saw a group of papers attached by a clip that was left there, I don't really know if intentionally or not.
It was a financial paper called "Irrationality always happens", by Structural Logic, which is, I found later, an independent research company, that deals in corn equities and similar evaluations.
You could say that it was the divine providence/insert your favorite anthropomorphous supra human law! Obviously a little bit of thinking made me realize that I was in front of a "Friday the 13th" phenomena, where because you are paying more attention to a particular factor, you notice it more than what you would if you weren't paying attention . I will probably talk about this in the future, as it is one of the main errors in reasoning, and the subtler versions of it are pretty sneaky.
But what I wanted to talk is about the train of thought suggested by the title of that article. It was not an article about thinking, but about trading corn and other commodities , and all the related factors, like how to predict how the markets are going to react so certain characteristics of the environment. One of their points was that even though the people react in irrational ways to changes, you could still use this characteristic to predict the market, because the irrationality of it always happened.
I have to admit that as soon as I saw their point I thought that it was a genial idea, so I proceeded to evaluate why I had that reaction...mmm...probably the use of "thought" for my first impression was not the most precise, as it was more a first pass impression...I think there is another topic there for another day. So pardon me the imprecision at this time, and lets continue(and importantly, this is lack of precision is actually relevant to the rest of the thought pathway!)
So is this real? Does Irrationality always happens? If we expand the use of this concept from only economics to other thought domains, I would say that yes, but with some caveats. My main reasoning basis was statistic. If you have a certain thought pathway, that is, a series of connected thought processes that depend on the previous one either serially or in parallel, there is a non zero probability at every time that you will make a mistake. If it's a logical thought pathway, that is a group of thought processes based on only logical statements (logical as in the philosophical/reasoning methodology, not as in "oh yeah, that makes sense"), you have a probability at every step of making a mistake applying the rules of logic, or even more common, of expanding your thought pathway outside the realm of logic to another realm of thought, like subjective value giving. Also you have the non zero probability of going from one sub part of logic to another, that has different rules, without noticing it, either because it's a very subtle detail, or because simply you don't know all the precepts of that sub part of logic analysis.
Even more prone to this is reasoning based on reality based data, that is, using as your input for your reasoning not logical rules, but information that you got from a source. At this time, the sources of errors increases exponentially, going from an error of the source, a communication mistake from the source to you, a misunderstanding in the definition of the terms (my favorite kind of error, and the type that I see the most happening around me). This in addition to the mistakes that you can have only on the basis of your application of logical principles to the analysis of your data.
Another factor that I have to consider in my thought pathways is that a lot of times I have an "intuitive" solution in mind when I start, "intuitive" meaning that I reached a conclusion from the basis of the problem without going through any steps. This sadly introduces biases, because I don't like to be wrong, even though I have learned that this happens quite frequently. This bias can actually affect my thought processes to the point that the thought pathway will be deviated towards my "intuitive" solution even if it's not the right one, because "obviously" I have to be right, so I should reach through elaborate reasoning the same result that my "intuitive" thinking. The fact that this can actually be the adequate thought pathway, it doesn't mean that it should be like that. But it is hard to avoid...hopefully your egos are more rational than mine!
Is this impossible to avoid? I suppose that an imprecise simile that could be applied for this is comparing it to entropy. You can't really decrease the total entropy of a system, but you can, by increasing a sub part of it, decrease significantly the entropy of a particular system. We should be thankful for that, because we wouldn't be here discussing this topic if this feature of reality didn't existed. The same way, I suppose you can decrease the irrationality of a certain group of thought processes, so that a specific thought pathway reaches an adequate ending. This probably explains why short thought pathways tend to be less susceptible to mistakes. Also the use of a "repair" thought process parallel to your main pathway is always good, just like a good editor is good for a writer, because he/she will see errors that the author can't because of their involvement in the process. Obviously, the use of a repair thought process introduces another source of errors, but after testing it multiple times, you can at least evaluate how frequent this "repair" functions costs you in thought precision, similar to the way that DNA, when it replicates has DNA polymerases that review the strand for holes or misalignment of nucleotides, that has a certain rate of error, but low enough that the cell is able to replicate, and controlled enough that if the rate of error is more than acceptable, the cell undergoes apoptosis (cell suicide).
But the errors will always persist, mainly in reality based thinking, because of definition problems. If you think about this post itself, I have discussed a lot of things about irrationality, but I have not even defined the concept (I told you this was my favorite type of error!), so I am sure that if you review my reasoning with a different definition of irrationality you can actually reach different conclusions or just plain disagree with what I just wrote...Even myself, by rereading my reasoning, I realized that my internal definition of irrationality was actually not well defined, and that made me use actually two different concepts for irrationality, not that very far away from each other, but that take some precision from my reasoning...well, another day, another learned concept. Most of my propositions are still conceptually sound anyways, and the internal discussion that this topic raises let me realize that I have to take active measures to limit the irrationality in my thought processes, either by tightening my definitions or by restarting the thought pathway after obtaining the conclusion so I can see if I am not biasing my processes because of preconceptions or just by misapplication of logical concepts.
Well, time to think another thought [and use error checking mechanisms too ;-) ]

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Another point of view

The idea of complexity is significant in the evolution of human beings' thought processes.
But in some occasions this complexity is apparent, only due to our incomplete knowledge of reality.
Beautifully demonstrated in this video is...where do Moebius transformation come from?:
I hope some day when I try to explain something complex I will be able to find another point of view to explain it in such a clear way.
A point to take into account is that sometimes if you change the sphere of thinking (kind of the "dimension") you can find an easy answer to something that has been bothering you. This tends to happen to me when I am putting a string of verbal arguments, and I reach an impasse or an absurd proposition. Depending on the realm of the thought process, I can put it in graphical/geometrical display and I am able to get out of the problem, a lot of times very easily. This is actually very helpful when you are inmersed in verbal circular thinking and you have not realized it...yes, it happens to me a lot, I need more practice!
The question that I therefore ask myself this difference in resolution capacity due to the nature of reality/thought process (if it's not based in reality) or is this difference due to the intrinsic capacities of different modes of thinking?
Reading some arguments about string theory made me think that probably the nature of thought reality is similar to a model whose characteristics you are able to calculate with string theory tools while another one, that is theoretically equivalent to the first one, is impossible to calculate. That phenomenon always astounded me from a down to earth stand point. Let me put it in another way...
For two objects/dimensions/versions of reality/whatever you want to call them, that by definition are equivalent, you have one mathematical/physical tool that tells you that you can obtain the properties of one of this objects very easily, but for the other it's almost impossible! And sometimes only by changing the tool you can obtain the absolute opposite result. Just amazing (This has to do with Calabi-Yau shapes, but for those who are allergic to physics, you don't need to know them to understand the underlying concept).
This could be a nice approximation to my point about the different modes of thinking, but sadly I can only connect these two sets of thought pathways through analogic reasoning, not through any other mode of thinking...and analogies can happen without being actually real associations(yeah, correlation does NOT signify causation. Stupid reality messing up with my beautiful theoretical constructions).
It would make sense anyways that different types/modes of reasoning have different areas of dominion of reality, just like you can't really apply logical thinking to an artistic evaluation and viceversa...or can you? Could this be another example of me not knowing that "extra" dimension that would link several types of reasoning?
Sadly due to the intrinsic characteristic of this thought pathway I can't really obtain a result, because the argument is based on my inability to find this relationship! (argghh, I hate when I do this, because most probably it reflects a mistake in my train of thought, but again, that is why this blog is called Learning to think, not "I know how to think, and let me show you how easy it is!")
Well, is time to think another thought

Monday, June 16, 2008

Out of internet, not able to think?

I am traveling right now, and I am not able to have a consistent Internet connection. If you are an Internet addict like me, I am sure you can realize that this is actually a distressing situation. So many little tidbits of information that I want to verify that I am putting in my PDA to check later, so many events that I want to check on that I can’t. This obviously made me think about the correlation between thinking and information. Obviously that we need certain data to start our reasoning pathways, but do we really need further data along the process? In cases of, for example, scientific reasoning, there is an structural necessity for new data to continue the reasoning process, although the beginning of it could be based (I can tell you by experience!) in false, incomplete or in certain occasions even non-existent data. There was this idealistic view in the past about scientific knowledge, where the investigator, this god-like figure, only observed the phenomena that occurred around him, and after he/she obtained the data, then, and only then,she/he was able to postulate a hypothesis. Obviously time and behavioral/sociological investigation has shown us that this is a fallacy. Popper and Kuhn with their incisive thinking about science and the scientific process also gave us the philosophical bases to sustain this observations.
But what about other types of thought processes, like rhetorical, “day to day” thinking, or even theological/artistically thinking. You could say that Socrates always was asking questions to the public/disciples/poor victims, but I have the clear impression that he knew perfectly where he wanted to go with his line of reasoning and the questioning was only to give him more time to exercise (yep, the peripatetic school of philosophy must have had a very low rate of cardiovascular disease). That is one of the reasons why I agree completely with Bertrand Russell when he mentions that Socrates (or Plato if you think that Socrates was only a figment in Plato’s imagination, this obviously I will leave to other more knowledgeable people to discuss) was a really hypocritical philosopher. I still remember the first time I read Russell’s commentary about Socrates, I was so shocked, but at the same time relieved that somebody with a much bigger intellectual stature than I was having a similar opinion of Socrates. Coming back to my main point, Socrates had a thought pathway already planned from the beginning, and with his talent for conducting a discussion, he guided other people to reach the conclusions he already had (again, this is my opinion on Socrates’ discussion technique, I am sure than there are people that will disagree). This shows a reasoning pattern that looks like it “needs” outside data, but it actually doesn’t.
Artistic reasoning, on the other hand, seems to me that requires constant information feedback due to the nature of the beast. I’ve have not know of somebody that can paint a remarkable piece without reevaluating constantly what they have done and their interaction with their subject until now.
Why should we care about the interaction between information and thinking processes? Well, while I was thinking about it, I realize that it’s an essential factor to decide how to proceed with certain thought pathways compared to others. I could see this mainly by analysis of my reasoning mistakes.
On my own thinking, I’ve realized that due to my poor training for it, I have troubles separating my styles of argumentation, this leading to dumb reasoning mistakes. For example my logical arguments are contaminated by statistical data or life experience data, leading to horrible conclusions, and some of my life experience evaluations are botched by trying to “logicate” them, that is using logic in a realm not appropriate for it.
I’ve also seen/read other peoples’ mistakes (at least I consider them as mistakes) in this same realm. For example, in Dawkins’s book the god delusion, which I’ve read only some parts, you can see this. As a caveat, I have to admit that I am aware that evolutionary theory is a scientific fact, just like gravity, although for the mechanism of it, there still lot to know (intelligent design is NOT an alternative, it is more like a nice tale to tell your children, but it is NOT a scientific theory unless they come up with a way of falsifying the idea of God, which until now I have not read about). I do not want to discuss at this time the topic of Neo-Darwinism/evolutionary theory versus ID, although I am sure that if somebody read this and cares enough about the topic I am going to hear more than I would like. I will probably talk about it in the future, as is very near to my scientific principles)
Returning to my argument about Dawkins’ book, you can see how he proceeds to explain in a very consistent fashion his arguments of a non directional evolutionary process. This he does by using scientific evidence which is completely fine by my reasoning process. He also tries to use sociological /historical arguments to prove the worth (or lack)of the social institutions that maintain religions as a structure for living. Some of them are OK, some of them are kind of weak, but sadly the research there is in its infancy. But then he proceeds to use this data to support some of his value arguments about the importance of the idea of God. And this is where I think that he is not reasoning in an adequate fashion. Value argument are based on your opinions about a certain topic, in this case God. The fact that the church may or may not be harmful for us as a group is a completely different aspect in the realm of thinking than the usefulness or value of God as an idea. I think that he is completely entitled to give the idea of God a certain personal value, but I don’t think that his arguments are the appropriate ones in a thinking-as-a-procedure kind of way to prove the value of it.
Another thing that sounds like a reasoning hole to me is the conflation of the value of God as an idea and the value of the hypothesis of the existence of God in our reality or not. The opinion (I actually wrote fact on the first go, then I realized that I was making the same mistake, you see, it is so easy to make those) that you may or may not appreciate the idea of a god has nothing to do with your argumentation of his/her/its existence.
You shouldn't use the evidence/techniques from a realm of thinking in a different realm, at least not directly, as it leads in some occasions to improper conclusions. I really consider that different types of thinking need different type of information, and even, that they actually may be dependent differently from influx of information, some of them needing continuous feed back and some of them needing only the basal information. I have not found a logical argument against this, neither scientific one, although it’s not my domain of expertise, and this is where YOU come from, dear reader, to debunk/find holes in my reasoning. Oh I am sure there must be some, but hopefully I will be able to improve.
And that is what I think…
Time to think another thought

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Other interests

I also want to use this forum to add different topics of interest that have popped in my interest radar, either books, movies, videos, etc, that I consider interesting, or thought provoking...
Or simply fun and dumb like this video by robyn...there is absolutely no redeeming factor in it, except that it is a fun way to part with 3:06 minutes of your time! http://

Oh yeah...I feel that the link above could separate me from 3/4 of my possible readers, but the fact is that I like a certain degree of silliness in my life, so it will obviously be reflected in my blog, even if it's not voluntary...
Time to think another thought now

Defining the blog

Well, i am sitting here in front of my laptop, after deciding a name for the blog. It was actually interesting to see that even if I had an idea of what I wanted to write in this blog, I didn't realize that putting the concept in one phrase would be so hard.
I tend to be very wordy in my explanations, and worse than that, half of the time I am graphical, that is, I have to draw little pictures about what I am talking about to carry the idea across.
While I don't think this is a bad thing in itself, it makes the process of writing a blog a little bit more difficult.
What I want to do with this blog?
Well, as the title says, I just recently realized (a couple of years ago) that I didn't know how to think. Obviously, the regular day to day stuff, the automatisms of life, are no problem (I am NOT mentally retarded, thank you very much). But I realized that most of the analysis of topics in my life, personal, political, ethical, etc were very superficial, and that if I dug a little bit on them, they actually were full of logical inconsistencies. And I decided that I could try to learn how to think better to avoid this.
I understand that a lot of concepts in life will never be clean cut, because there is actually not a really clear solution. I am fine with that. But most of these concept appear blurry or lack of precision not because of their intrinsic nature, but due to failures in either the flow of my reasoning, the structure of my thinking or other random factors.
Then I realized that one of the best ways of correcting this it to put my ideas, about whatever topic comes through my mind, and post them in a public forum, so if there is a reasoning failure in them, they could be brought to my attention.
I realize that there are hundred of thousands of blogs out there right now, as all of us feel entitled to be important(and that is a great topic for another day!). This entails that the probabilities of me being read by a significant portion of the intelligent Internet sphere is very low. This was a real roadblock for me, until one day I just sat down and wrote down a first draft for my blog, and I realized that I think faster than I type...
You would say at this time "what does that have to do with the topic at hand?" Well, the fact is that by thinking faster than typing, this helps me to have a first step critic. Myself. I was able to see some of my logical inconsistencies and my circular thinking even before I pressed that orange button that says "publish post". Then I realized that even if nobody read the blog, I would be able to get something from it...not that I don't want to be read, but statistically speaking, it is highly likely that my readers would be in the minority or near zero.
And that give me a basal purpose for blogging. And isn't it why we do everything in life that is worth doing? (ah, so typical, finishing a blog with a morally uplifting quote/textbite...I am starting very well...)
I'm going to think another thought