Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sports Medicine for Brain, Soul and Effective Management

 What is an effective grand strategy when the variable you really want to maximize (or the target you want to achieve) is hard to measure, and even harder to predict?

In many investment boards, every discussion of every possible project or activity comes down to the question: “What would the impact be on the bottom line?” Except in family matters, I  have always been the same way, essentially no-nonsense and strategic, except that I care about two ultimate bottom lines which I will never forget:
(1) What is the probability that there will be no living human bodies left anywhere in the universe in a relatively short time, such as 10,000 years from now or less?
(2) What is the impact on the growth and strength of that “half” of us which is not limited to the mundane human body, the part we often refer to as “soul”?  
(People ask: are you a real expert on this? Well, by some definitions of “expert,” no one is an expert on anything but the tiniest minutia; people who criticize big picture thinking should at least read the introduction of Toynbee’s great book on civilization on trial, and what it says about misguided ways of thinking blinding us to questions we need to address. No one on earth knows all aspects of these questions, but I certainly have unique backgrounds in some key parts of these two pictures and, above all, have revisited the questions again and again for many years.)  

In essence, goal (1) expresses the most enduring part of the basic feelings we inherit from our genes, from our human DNA, from the “beast” half of us, which I for one am simply not ready to renounce (especially in the presence of a woman like my wife). Goal (2) expresses the part we get from the noosphere, from being half “angel,” half part of something much larger.
When I talk very crudely about “God supporting the human potential movement as such above all organized religious organizations,” I am referring to the priority of goal (2) both to our noosphere and to its supporters, including what Yeshua referred to as “Our father in heaven.” Organized religions sometimes assist goal (2), and sometimes are as bad as folks like Ayn Rand and the darkest oligarchs as threats to goal (2) and to the very survival of our local noosphere. (Survival? Yes, survival of all the souls of earth. Even among whales, not all babies live to adulthood, and there are diseases and parasites which threaten the very lives of their hosts.) In truth, my “frivolous” suggestion of using hot dogs and beer, or porto and pork pate, as a form of “extreme vetting” for immigrants was grounded in fundamental issues of sanity, related to the distinction between which manifestations of religion actually support the soul and which try to lock it up in prison and damage it (just as tying up the feet of women destroyed those feet at times in ancient China).  

But... how can we address goal (2) itself more effectively, exactly what “God would really support”? The founding principles of the US were a big step forward on that, back in the day when the US began, when folks like George Washington and his Scottish Rite Freemasons, and like the Free Quakers, and even like my own wild sea-going Irish ancestors (half the family) worked hard to build a new situation to liberate them all. Back when the US Constitution was understood as giving rights to “people” defined as human beings, it too was closer to “what God will support” for the general population than any of the religious codes of law ever before in the world – though corrupting influences from money in politics and money in religion have caused a lot of erosion since then, and also caused a lot of the disorder we see all over the world today, not just the US.

One big step forward would be to follow up more effectively on something we (of Adelphi Friends Meeting at the time) did in starting Friends Community School:  set up a school really focused on the bottom line of developing and strengthening body and brain and soul of all students. Not easy to do or to define, but doing the wrong things because they are easy has already been tried elsewhere. Much more could be done. By the way, the curriculum on conflict resolution has been great not only for what it teaches, but for the effectiveness of the whole rest of the curriculum!
(I have heard this not only from the school but from friends at the forefront of education research.)  

But what about adults?

In fact, there is a major new current in management science, in serious futuristic economics and in policy circles asking ever more urgently: “What can we do to better support the workforce of the future? And how can we foster real innovation and creativity in a new kind of economy?” I have had a chance to observe extremely serious new professional studies from the International Labor Organization and from the Millennium Project (MP, or themp), collecting hundreds of research reports, which lead to very scary questions about the world 20 years from now. In the last main study of the MP, even the most conservative scenario/viewpoint predicts a 70% drop in “jobs.” Automation is no longer just a possibility for the future. It is not a joke that Trump’s nominee for secretary of labor says “We will bring your jobs back from China, and give them to robots.” (Not his exact words, but clearly what he has been saying.)  There is another discussion group centered in key industry stakeholders... and everyone is deeply worried and puzzled. This is not a case where we can forget it and watch it just go away.

One theory is “everyone should be an entrepreneur.” Folks who struggle to figure out... even basic things... are supposed to maintain a whole new life like that?

Whether people become entrepreneurs or not, clearly we need much stronger efforts to advance the potential of human adults, as well as children, on a much more urgent basis than before... whether to prepare them for money-based contract labor or more natural human network connections (which used to be a bigger part of US life before certain folks started turning the screws!!)... but HOW?

One of the four groups I talk to about this, grounded in management consulting practices, has been excited by a new management/creativity course growing in popularity in Silicon Valley. That kind of course really does have a role to play here, and looks a lot more real than the grossly silly stuff Lamar Smith has been quietly encouraging NSF to do (rather similar to Bo XiLai’s old use of patriotic songs to stimulate morale, not so good for independent creativity) instead of what it used to fund under more serious folks like Joe Bordogna. Part of the new management consulting practices focus on helping clients develop better “maps” of their environment, crucial to falling into inertia and low creativity, which is all too common lately in large enterprises.

In the discussion, I noted:

1. There are no simple silver bullets here. Developing real management competence is a lot like learning the complex things Piaget talks about, a matter of a whole lot of things. In addition to the kinds of courses they discussed, rooted in deeper experience and psychology than the Bo Xilai/Lamar Smith nonsense, other resources need to be integrated in. One of my favorites would be the study by Valliant on Harvard graduates, bringing out what kind of psychological factors go with life success versus failure in their lifetimes. (Of course, this is not a study of the needs of village drunks or vagabonds.) Another would be what I learned from running NSF panels for almost 30 years, about how to arrange really deep dialogue, engaging both leading experts and relative novices, and really moving all of us forwards – especially important to getting closer to reality in a wide variety of economic areas which the amateurs on the Hill screw up with great regularity. (My analogy to Piaget is doubly good – insofar as it points to the need to always keep improving in such a complex terrain without simple silver bullets.)

2. But even so, there are a few universals. (Piaget, by comparison, mentions how there is a deeper level of studying learning, which he calls “accommodation and assimilation,” which elicits more universal principles. My paper a month ago in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience is a watershed on exactly that subject, reviewing many other new results.) Among these are:

 --  THE MIRROR. The wonderful course we discussed includes people looking at themselves in the moods they get into, especially as they try to handle frustration. Looking at ourselves in the mirror is a truly universal basic principle we need to learn how to exercise again and again, at many levels. There is a relation of course to “mirror neurons,” an important fundamental discovery of modern systems neuroscience. Even monkeys have them. Even  mice can learn from their mistakes, from their own experience... but a monkey naturally will look at another monkey doing the wrong thing and suffering, and can learn not to commit that mistake . Even though monkeys already have mirror neurons, we as humans have an ability to learn to be self-conscious about using this very basic faculty. It is analogous to an athlete learning the basic set of muscles he or she has to work with, important even as he or she work on a much more complex set of exercises.
(And yes, the best forms of sports medicine help provide that kind of capability, important to strengthening of the body, even in K-12 schools!)  

-- MAPPING the possibilities. Some humans in management are so haphazard and fuzzy that they could even learn by considering the example of the reptile (lizard, dinosaur, turtle). (Is this like Shao Lin King Fu, for the mind? For brain and soul both? “Hey, cricket, look really deep at that raptor.”) The reptile has one three-level cortex which it uses to map out the space of the environment it lives in, and other to organize time into chunks – as in plans, decisions, etc. (Does anyone suspect a relation to something they read in AI? The citations in my new paper point to more advanced versions of exactly that math and AI.) It is like voting fro Reagan over Carter: “See how Decisive our new leader can be.” Yes, decisiveness is an important skill... but not by itself the highest skill. Higher than the dinosaur is the great elevated consciousness and intelligence of the Mouse. In the mouse, those two three-level cortices merge (in most but not all of their area), to support a new level of intelligence which proceeds by mapping THE SPACE OF POSSIBILITIES. In a way, a kind of 4D map.
Exploring possibilities is the foundation of the much higher level of creativity of the mouse over the reptile.
By consciously using and advancing that natural capability of the mouse brain, we can enhance our own natural creativity far beyond those singsong people living only “in the now.” (It’s great to be ABLE to live in the now... to focus consciousness on the present moment.. and then focus it elsewhere... and thereby learn to consciously and strategically control the whole focus of the whole brain and soul.)  

By the way, what special hardwired advantage do humans possess, even above all primates, if any?
(My old book, “The Roots of Backpropagation”, has a chapter on that!) In addition to mirror neurons, we have a natural ability to  share experience we did not see directly. That can come via symbolic channels like words... or, in my view, via channels like assumption dreams, which the psychiatrist Eisenbud is said to have written about long before my 2012 paper in Neural Networks.

In essence, better use of “the mirror” is one of the foundations of sanity or zhengqi, discussed in

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