Here are some sayings that seem to come and go...depending on preoccupations, events, observation and experience.
Warning – some of this material may be politically-incorrect, or at least its supposed to be.
Reader discretion is advised.
Dichotomies are almost invariably wrong when applied to complex (i.e. most real) systems or situations. [Howell ca mid-90's?] They have two main purposes:
pedagagy - as ways to stimulate students to think about a new subject area; and
propaganda - to sell a point of view, for verbal argumentation
dichotomies I really dislike include "Nature vs Nurture" (false & misleading) – need at least to add ontogony or the discussion has no value, even pedagocial.
"We are about to witness an implosion in the gap between reality and perception with respect to perceptions of American economic, political, and military might." [Howell04]
Anachronistically, it seems to me that the world's perception of the USA still tends to be that of the USA after WWII, when other major nations were in ruins and the US was on a great growth curve. That perception is not quite true, perhaps it would be better to say that the USA has consistently been able to fundamentally change itself to adapt to new challenges, and to provide a safe haven for investments and people. Still, a strong change in relative importance seems likely, along with a rude awakening for many.
"The climate has been changing for about 4 billion years, it is changing right now, and it will continue to change for billions of years into the future." [Howell04]
Sure there is climate change. But that happens naturally anyways – and we're still waiting for convincing eveidence/ analysis that there is much of an effect, or that there will be much of an effect, of anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 on the Earth's climate. (Or at least I am, and I haven't seen compelling data/analysis yet). There is a place for investigation of climate changes in geologic and modern times, but not for jumping off cliffs in panic, nor for spending stupid amounts of wealth in ways which may not do any good at all, and which could very well could make climate change even worse.
"Our political system is usually described as a democracy. However, it is critically dependent first and foremost on anti-democratic institutions and processes, without which democracy has little menaing (as can be seen in many regions of the world)." [Howell03]
Fareed Zakariah's book "The Future of Freedom" strangely parallels so much of my own thinking (or at least the first two or three chapters).
"...The purest form of art, beauty and sheer fun, is mathematics...[Howell03]"
I have two types of vacation – most importantly for my kids and I to visit my family all over Western Canada, then to attend the International Joint Conference on Neural Networks (IJCNN) annual conferences. I also try am very interested in genetics, but can only afford to attend the local annual conference (given a host of other spending priorities). So remember, the next time that you are planning a vacation:
"...Perceptions typically lag reality by about 15 years (close to a generation)..."
First based first on how Canadians seem to "discover" US problems that we laughed at in the past, and yet were totally unprepared for or took the wrong pre-emptive measures (later much more broadly applied) [Howell]:
attitudes with respect to development of Japan, Korea, China, and whether their scientists are creative, or just copy-cats
serial killers (John Clifford Olsen, Paul Bernardo)
...your turn to give examples
Society and organisations must be robust with respect to many things, but three simple basic requirements are often taken for granted or glossed over for politically-correct reasons (in increasing order of importance) [Howell04]:
cheating theory – like theft, fraud, cutting corners. Normally this is really well taken care of, because people are so sensitive to, and critical of, it. But if cheats aren't nailed to the wall, they dominate... Moreover, if political correctness or unthinking mantras dominate societal/ organizational processes, then at some point no philosophy or concept can survive, and the cheats are the only ones that can make things work . Ultimately they become the heros (best exemplified by excessive taxation rates, Robin Hood effect).
parasitic behaviour – is far more costly than cheating. The problem is that it "flies under the radar screen" of human compassion, politically-correct action, motherhood and apple pie. (Moreover it is closely related another of my 25 cent theories – that of the socially negative effects of over-insurance, which promote the behaviours they seek to protect against. These negative effects are totally underappreciated by our society. theft, health, etc... maybe some other year I'll write about that).
stupidity - by far the most costly of the three, and much more difficult to "fix". Unfortunately, the corollary is that we're all stupid – nobody can be well-informed and expert across all of the issues that we face. Furthermore, its clear that the best of our theories, experience and skills aren't very effective for many complex systems. In spite of this, it's amazing how well our systems actually work! (fault tolerance to the extreme! - and this leads into behaviour-based programming and ultimately Mindcode – see below)
"...Most people are believers, there are very few critical thinkers.
Most scientists are like most people. (..they are, after all, people...)" [Howell~03 or 04]:
This saying is based on watching how scientists & others behave/ react over my career, but especially with apple pie/ motherhood issues like the environment
This might sound harsh, but really isn't intended as such, and doesn't seem so radical when you think of the historical context. Actually, substitute any group in place of "scientist", but although many if not most people suspect this anyways, there is still perhaps too much credence given to "popular scientists".
A quick, very superficial review of the treatment of scientists (before & after science became established, right up to the present), gives the impression that many scientists have difficulty switching to new belief systems that run counter to politically correct or established lines of thought (this being a general rule rather than the exception). In earlier times: Nicolas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Alfred Wallace Russell & Charles Darwin, etc. Modern politically correct thinking can be clearly seen with: environment issues and especially climate change, some of the anti-pharmaceutical movements, and genomics (& stem cells) are posing big shifts in thinking, and nanoscale processes may do the same. Many parts of social sciences seem especially prone to this problem. Where are ideas are powerful and revolutionary enough (and have precendence to break the ground) acceptance seems to be quicker (Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Albert Einstein), but that doesn't mean that an after-effect is entirely avoided, or that other "isms" don't spring up in their wake. (This theme needs a lot more work/ validation – its a bit shaky at present).
"...Sometime in the not-so-distant future, someone may be giving you a presentation on the same topic [aging]. It is quite possible that he could finish it by saying 'You know, we may be the last generation to die.' [approximate quote of - I forget his name]"
My favourite saying from the BioNorth conference was given ~2000, when a scientist from San Diego (who used to be at McMasterU in Hamilton) gave a presentation on aging related diseases. Progress in understanding aging, he said, has been extremely rapid in the last five years, surprising the experts in the field. Anyways, he concluded his talk by saying:
"Our advice to you is to start your research immediately, to run as fast as you possibly can, and never look back. In a few short months you will hear the starter's pistol fire in the distance behind you, unleashing the greatest intellectual landrush of all time."
Robert Hecht-Nieslon IJCNN2002 in Hawaii, speaking of his "Computational Model of the Thalamo-Cortex" (the way that he put it irritated some others who think that THEY know how the brain works, or who realise just how daunting the task of understanding the brain really is):
"Given that computer code is used to program computers, then Mindcode is used to ...[Howell pre-1999]"
This is my own pet project, which I'll never have time to pursue, Mindcode. The idea is to look carefully at data, procedures, operating systems, and unknown higher-level abstractions coded in the "junk" DNA). The implications are that much more of what you think may be "assisted" by pre-existing structures than you currently think is the case...
"...Bulls can win, bears can win, but pigs always lose..."
Stock-market saying. With investments, I must be a real pig....
"Why did the Canadian try to cross the street?
...to get to the middle of the road."
Sometimes its as if we strive for mediocrity.
"Major shifts in psychological, social, economic behaviorial, organisational, and political behaviour are primarily driven by affordability [Howell: ca 1992-5 after breakup of my marriage]
OK, so this is a little bit of an exaggeration...and more explanation at a later time – kind of looks like an economist's view of the world)
divorce (starting point for this 25 cent theory)
doesn't seem to work with extreme sports - people in the fpast may have been much more risk-loving
inability of people now to understand basis of decisions in our own society only 50 years ago, let alone other cultures or other geographies/ eras
"General theory of over-insurance - We don't seem to recognize or appreciate the negative psychological, socialogical, societal effects of over-insurance, which tends to promote hose behaviors/ actions that we are trying to protect ourselves from." [Howell ca~1980]
Maybe more detail in another year's letter...started when I was thinking of crime (was consistently robbed in Arvida and Montreal, and for the first couple of years in Ottawa, so that was the starting point of that thought). Also, Murray & Hernstein's much-maligned "Bell curve" illustrated this.
"There must be a role and purpose for poverty" [Howell 2003]
(oh boy, that's a hot one, tongue-in-cheek!
The onion-layer effect for Artificial and Computational Intelligence – [Howell ~2000-2003]
The progress of our knowledge is like a worm eating its way out of the center of an onion, one compete layer at a time. When we break through to the next layer we initially think thats it, robots will serve us dinner in be tomorrow. We quickly learn, though, that we've merely gone to the next layer – more complex, challenging and difficult than any before, and we realize that the endpoint is much further away than we thought.
"Do a favour to a man one day, and you are humanitarian. Keep it up for too long and the recipient will begin to see you as his oppressor..." [Howell ca 2005]
Mentality of Entitlement [Howell 2005]
one manifestation (others some other year): – such as: you are doing it for manipulative purposes, you aren't doing anywhere near enough, etc, etc (I'll finish this some day)
"Conspiracy theory is the hidden disease that is often rampant in organisations.... [Howell ~2004]
conspiracy theory, jealosy, and a lack of "reflectivity in behavior /open honesty" – very common basis to many people problems in organisations