Is there Justice in Life?

 

peace and justice
                                Photo found here.

Big questions are those that are asked and answered by every person in every generation for as long as humans have been humans.

We do not tend to invent completely novel answers to these questions. Rather we shape our personal answers as we grow. We select and weave together the answers that resonate with our experience and acquired beliefs.

I woke up this morning thinking about this.  These are the answers that resonate with me:

Yes, there is Justice in Life.  

This is difficult or impossible to see for millions who are denied justice by others.   The tragic loss of justice must clearly remind us of how essential justice is for there to be life.

There are Laws of Nature, and if we act in accord with these our lives tend to be better than if we don’t.   Ultimately it is better to do good than to do bad. It is better to help others than to only use them.   It is better to forgive than to hold grudges and take reprisals.   It is better to love than to hate. It is better to avoid disease and the causes of disease; and likewise, to avoid negative habits and their causes. It is better to help those who are down rather than to say “They deserve it,” and walk away. Ultimately, Justice depends on how we treat each other.

Then why do bad things happen to good people?

Nature is complex, and the laws of nature interact with each other in almost infinitely complex ways.   We are not perfectly tuned into these laws and their interactions, and even if we have knowledge, the results are very hard to predict, or to influence with perfect precision.   But as we learn more our results are better, and we can avoid problems and we can help each other avoid problems.   And the more we continue to expand and share our knowledge, the more Justice we have.   Much of the suffering that occurs in the world is in fact due to one group or another grossly ignoring the laws of nature.   For example, only taking and hoarding, rather than sharing; only using rather than giving back and uplifting; only fighting back rather than looking for a new way.

Life is infinitely complex. We will not one day have all the details figured out, along with rational prescriptions for each possible complex chain of cause and effect.

And yet in the face of complexity it is possible to live simply while spontaneously increasing Justice in the world.

Living simply means to love, to forgive, to pay attention, to listen, and, in various expressions, to transcend our petty egos based on ‘me-first’ and ‘my group first’ – to build expanded egos that care for the good of all. These are ancient and true teachings from all cultures.

How to Create a Group Mind

What is required to create a group mind?

Where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts?

Image

Healthy human minds have the ability to resolve disputes without animosity, without making, or defeating enemies.

Our brains and nervous systems are wired to gather as much data as the time and circumstances allow, and to then understand and evaluate a myriad of possibilities, risks, and opportunities, and then to come up with the best solution – that time and circumstances will allow.

This enables the owner of the mind (the person) to take action as quickly as needed, rather than wasting time and energy fighting internal battles for supremacy, inside her mind, or becoming frozen with fear of making a mistake – fear of losing.

A healthy mind welcomes and thrives on diversity of opinions, including contradictory ones.

Such a mind does this routinely and often without our conscious awareness, for example when we are listening to a voice that is difficult to hear, and trying to make sense of what is being said, and what the underlying meanings and implications are; or when we are looking at the sky for clues about the weather.

A healthy mind also consciously welcomes a diversity of data and opinions, for example, when participating in a valued and trusted team, working to find a solution to a complex problem.

A valued and trusted team is like a healthy mind.

In a healthy team, as in a healthy mind, there is no dread of differences, of complexity, of apparent contradictions, or of periods of uncertainty.   There is also a willingness to take action to test ideas before final acceptance or rejection of a possible interpretation or solution.  There is a strong sense of working together, rather than competing.

Yet in a team there can be a healthy sense of competition; which is healthy only so long as the competition does not become more important than working together to solve a common problem.

A healthy, highly-functioning team is an example of a group mind.

So, actually, we already know how to create group minds.  We do it all the time.  We use common purpose and common sense, management techniques, group facilitation methods, scientific procedures, and methods for publishing, distributing, sharing, testing, and comparing data and knowledge.   We now use the Internet, high-speed, intelligent communications technologies, social media, complex, and data-intensive analytics.

A healthy, highly-functioning community, society, nation or world are larger examples of a group mind.

However, such examples are often more aspirations rather than realities, especially as the scale increases.   But they are all possible.  Very possible.

Creating healthy, large-scale group minds is more difficult

The problem is lack of health.  Lack of wholeness.   A dysfunctional society, or group mind, is full of emotion-laden biases, fears, animosity, internal hostilities, greed, bitter or violent competitions (winner-take-all), or is simply deeply fragmented and incapable of making good decisions.  All of these traits are indicators of very unhealthy group minds – so unhealthy as to be called insane, broken.  So broken it doesn’t feel right to call them minds at all.

So to create a group mind it is really necessary to create a healthy group mind.

The path to healthy group minds has this kind of progression:

Listening, empathy, acceptance, mutual respect, mutual understanding, mutual appreciation (love), collaboration (team-work), the ability to make whole-group decisions and take whole-group action even when there is uncertainty, the ability to adapt, grow, and prosper together.

The first step is simply listening.  All the rest of the steps are about harmonizing.

To be able to really listen is a sign of great mental and spiritual health.  To really listen, one has to step back from dearly-held positions (at least temporarily).

This is ultimately a deeply spiritual practice: “Letting go,” “Trusting God” “Trusting Life”, “Transcending the ego.,”  – ultimately caring more about the whole, and each other, rather than about our own little (but important) part.

For many (most) it is not at all easy.  But there are ways that we, together, can make it easier.

Part Two:  Imagine a Conversation that can amplify trust and collaboration, and involve millions…  coming in the near future.

Dreams of Ending Gridlock

On this eve of Federal Government Shutdown, gridlock is on my mind for a moment.  So here’s a thought (that has probably been thunk before).

Currently members of the minority party in the U.S. House of Representatives are under pressure by their parties to vote strictly on party-lines.  Yet this means that the members of the minority party essentially throw away their votes and miss a strategic opportunity to elect a more bi-partisan Speaker.  Voters should insist that their representatives make Congress more bi-partisan by having all members vote for their *best* choice from the majority party.

This seems like a good recipe for choosing a more collaborative Speaker.  House Speakers are way too powerful to be controlled by a single party.   Getting the House to work together should be the Speaker’s job.

And as we sometimes remember, the Speaker is also 2nd in line for becoming President.

Of course, other democratic reforms are extremely important – maybe especially getting rid of legalized corruption by changing election campaign funding laws and practices.

Election campaign funding is, however, complex, and likely to be hard to come up with the right formula that can’t be skirted by new methods.   So it will take take longer to enact.

Reforming the way top Congressional leaders are chosen (including committee chairpeople) is much easier for the public to understand and get behind.   There may even be enough Senators and Representatives who are sick of gridlock and could get behind the idea as well.

Please Sign this Petition asking Democrats and Moderate Republicans to elect a bi-partisan Speaker of the House.

Related content – Washington Post, 10/1/2013:

What if Boehner Decided to be the First-Ever Bi-Partisan Speaker

Is WhyDontYouTryThis.com a Trust-Worthy Website?

I’m trying to check out WhyDontYouTryThis.com.    This site seems to be getting a lot of traction, especially in Facebook postings.   Their articles have almost irresistible “Wow” factor.

So far I can’t find who they are.   (If you have info please let me know.)

Their website provides zero info about who owns, runs, or edits the site.

Their whois listing is completely private, registered by proxy.

Google searches come up empty about ownership.

I have found a few blog posts like this one who aren’t impressed by their accuracy: http://secretspaceman.com/2013/08/the-laws-of-internet-bias/

The author of the post above inspected WDYTT’s story sources and found biased distortions on the part of Whydontyoutrythis editors in reporting those sources.  (I have not verified his conclusion.)

Most of their articles seem anti-big government and big-corporations, anti-GMO, anti-big-pharma, etc.  And yet they also have other articles that claim to have evidence that Global Warming theory and research is biased and wrong and full of lies, for example this article:

Who are the Deniers Now? Record Ice Growth in 2013.”

And these also:

“NASA Report verifies Carbon Dioxide actually Cools Atmosphere”

And Now It’s Global COOLING! Arctic Ice Cap Grows By 60% In A Year

I can’t help wondering if their anti-big-corporation and spiritual miracle articles are baits to get progressive cause supporters to read anti-global warming articles.  But wondering isn’t enough to reach a conclusion.  If you know more about them, please let me know.

Swimming in the Global Conversation

I recently contributed a post with the title above to the Verifeed blog.  Verifeed is a new company and service that is helping make our feeds and conversations more relevant and our sources more credible.

The full post is here:  http://verifeed.com/learning-to-swim-in-the-global-conversation/.

Here is an excerpt specifically about global conversations:

I want to be able to have conversations about things that are important to me, with people I like, and with others I’d like if I knew them better;

And I would like to be able to see the local and global connections between my conversations and the conversations of others who share my interests, but who don’t always share my perspectives.

That is, (getting further out), I would like to see how my thinking and conversations fit with the rest of the conversations in my communities and the world. Are we each getting only a small part of the picture; are we getting more or less fragmented; are we actually learning from each other – and if so, what are we learning. Etc.

Some of this is further in the future, but I think it’s doable.

Follow the Money: “Privatization”

“Privatization” means converting publicly owned and managed resources to privately owned and managed resources.

Resources that have been targeted for privatized include schools, water systems, sewer systems, trash disposal, Social Security and Medicare, parks and recreation, transportation, military operations, and even the legislative process itself, that is, drafting laws that govern our states and local governments (see footnote at bottom).

Privatization is done in the name of efficiency, and there are some cases where it can be useful.

There are also many cases where the major effect of privatization has been to enrich private companies at public (taxpayer) expense.

Why would any democratically elected legislator transfer an important public resource to private companies? 

To answer this question, here is where “follow the money” comes into play.  It’s important to find out: ‘Who is profiting from the privatization?’

Do legislators who vote for a privatization bill get re-election funding (and other perks) from the companies or individuals who profit from the legislation?

Does the privatization create higher value and efficiencies with an important overall benefit for the public?   Or does it create higher costs to the public and/or lower value delivered by those who operate the privatized resource?

Footnote – ALEC’s nationwide agenda to privatize public services and resources:

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) is a private association, that drafts legislation that is then introduced into state legislatures all across the country.  Many of these bills have been enacted into law.

Privatization of public services and resources is a major focus of legislation drafted and promoted by ALEC.  ALEC is funded primarily by corporate sponsors.

It is accurate to say that state legislatures that introduce bills drafted by ALEC are outsourcing a crucial part of the legislative process to the private companies who sponsor ALEC and take a lead in proposing, pitching, and drafting legislation.

More information about ALEC can be found on this post by the Center for Media and Democracy.  A great deal of valuable research has been done to “follow the money” that flows through ALEC and ALEC’s private sector sponsors.

This is the second part in a series about principles for restoring democracy.   The first part can be found here.

Restoring Democratic Government

Obviously a lot of people are working on this.  These ideas are a brief compilation of some of the best solutions.

An overwhelming majority of Americans, conservative, progressive, and moderate, want a well-functioning democratic government.   But we have different definitions for what that means – because we use different terms and listen to different sources, and because we don’t listen well to each other.

This has been a perfect opportunity for special interests and corruption to whittle away at “government for the people and by the people” and to shift our democracy to either government for the special interests and by the special interests, or else to gridlock.

The principles that make corruption work are:  “divide and conquer” (pit citizen against citizen) and “hide the true motives” (pretend to be interested in “reforming” government but in actuality work for one’s own profit and special interests).

To protect and restore real democracy, we the people need to re-unite, and to do that we need to explore and expose the corruption that has drastically weakened democratic government.

There are a few principles that can guide us:

To expose corruption: Verify the facts and Follow the money.

To restore democracy:  Listen to each other and Engage in authentic dialogue.

To regenerate governmentElect candidates who care about all Americans.  This means we must elect people who are not beholden to special interests and mega-contributions from super-wealthy people and corporations.

These are principles that we can all agree on.  Armed with these we can expose corruption, start dialoguing with each other, and restore democracy.

The 2nd post in this series will expand on “Follow the money” using privatization of public resources as an example.

A Long Affair with Three Big Ideas about Collective Consciousness

In thinking recently about what I like to do and think and talk about – for example, using and creating tools that enhance collective intelligence – I realized that my main interests have been pretty much the same for most of my adult life (about forty-five years) – and most of them were originally inspired by three Big Ideas that I came upon almost immediately after graduating from high school.

Of course my very earliest influences, from floating in the womb to end of high school also immensely affected me.  And my wife, and closest friends and family, and innumerable conversations and journeys have shaped me hugely, as well.  But the three Big Ideas gripped me and still grip me in their own special way.

The three big ideas were inspired and conveyed to me by two people and one group.  One of the people, Teilhard de Chardin, died when I was 7 years old and before I ever heard of him; the other, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a living saint whom I read about and then studied under; and the group was the Ecumenical Institute (EI), and it’s secular arm, the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA).

Rob, my older brother and only sibling, introduced Teilhard to me in the summer of 1966 after I graduated from high school.  We had a summer job together in Winfield, Kansas shoveling grain during the wheat harvest.  When not working we would often go to the local library, where he showed me Teilhard’s book, The Phenonmenon of Man.  I have no idea how the little Winfield library happened to have that book (which was first published in English just a few years earlier).  But it did.   The book was densely written for paleontologists, biologists and other scientists, and was not easy to read.  But the ideas had a huge effect on me so I kept reading it here and there for quite a while.

Rob also introduced me to the EI / ICA a couple of years later, during my visits to see him in Chicago where he was interning with them.   And in 1970, after returning from six memorable months in Europe, my closest friends, John and Bev, introduced me to Transcendental Meditation and to Maharishi’s teaching.

So here is a summary of these three great and widely influential ideas that together combine in me to guide what I want most to do and be.  Continue reading ‘A Long Affair with Three Big Ideas about Collective Consciousness’

Represent.Us and the American Anti-Corruption Act


Represent.Us
is a transpartisan non-profit organization working to pass the American Anti-Corruption Act. This Act – if backed by enough of us – has the ability to drastically reduce political corruption and restore fair elections by us, the People, and not the Money.

Represent.Us and the Act are supported by committed Progressives, Conservatives, Tea-Party founders, Occupy founders, etc.   See more about their board of advisers here.

Effects of Gerrymandering on 2012 North Carolina Elections

North Carolina has 13 U.S. House Districts.

In 2010 Republicans used millions of dollars in funding from wealthy individuals and corporations to take control of state legislatures.     Because this was a US Census year, this gave Republican legislators the power to redraw voter district boundaries to be heavily in their favor.  North Carolina was a major target for Republican RedMapping and their  strategy worked extremely well.   (See more info about RedMapping” here and here.)  This strategy explains why Republicans continue to control the U.S. House of Representatives whereas they could not win majorities in elections based on popular vote, such as elections for the President and Senate.

Here are the results of Republican gerrymandering on 2012 Elections for 13 U.S. House Seats in North Carolina:

Total votes for Democratic Candidates:  2,219,165
(50.6% of the popular vote)

Total votes for Republican Candidates:  2,143,118
(48.9% of the popular vote)

Total votes for Libertarian Candidates:         24,044
(0.5% of the popular vote)

=============================================================

Total House Seats won by Democrats:   4 out of 13 (31% of House seats)

Total House Seats won by Republicans:  9 out of 13  (69% of House seats)

If district boundaries were anywhere near fair, Republicans and Democrats would have each won between 45% and 55% of the 13 House Seats.

Gerrymandering by either party is the 2nd worst type of political corruption – 2nd only to unlimited funding by corporations and mega-wealthy individuals.

We the People have the power to end gerrymandering and other types of political corruption.

One simple step is to emphatically and frequently go on record as strongly supporting an end to gerrymandering.

Here is a petition  by a North Carolina citizen that you can support.  Their goal is 5000 signatures.  That goal is way too low!   Please sign and pass on this petition – and consider what else we can do in states all over the U.S.

Petition to End Gerrymandering

Existence, the Self, and Immortality

I recently finished reading David Brin’s latest novel:  Existence.   It is brimming with ideas – overflowing, entertaining, thought-provoking, and imagined in hugely creative and insightful detail.   See http://bit.ly/PfuFFh

It  explores acres of fascinating questions and hypotheses, including the possibility that in the near future (next 30 to 100 years) humans will be able to make copies of themselves.

This raises a question that I’ve been thinking about for a while, and that can only be answered by a thought-experiment.

Question: 

If you make fully-working and conscious copies of yourself, does that mean that you will continue to live through those copies?  – That you won’t die?

Additional Context:

Ray Kurzweil, important prophet of the Singularity, has said very emphatically that he wants to live forever, and that everyone who says that they “accept” death is kidding themselves.

Thought-experiment:

Well, let’s say that before you die you can upload all your DNA and your entire neural connectome, and whatever else would make  the upload into a complete working copy of you.

So then when the organic body you’ve been hanging out in for all these years dies, will the existence of the version of you that is created from all your data mean that you will not have died?

That is, will it be any different from what we now know as dying?

Here are more ruminations that can shed some light:

Let’s say you create 2 copies, or heck, 2000 copies of yourself.

Immediately after these copies are “activated” they will be identical to you – at the time the copy was made.  They will each “wake up” and for them at that moment it will be like having been asleep during the time between making the copy and activating it (waking it up).

But now they will each also start having new experiences, which will be entirely different.  Some of them will get sick, some of them will die, some will have good luck, some will not.

(And don’t forget they’ll all have to share your single set of possessions, relatives and friends and bank accounts as they gradually start differentiating and ‘making their own way in the world.’)

So how is this kind of “waking up” in a new copy of your body any different than waking up each morning (after some time of unconscious sleep) in your current body?

I’m not sure it is any different.

So, what that tells me is that if you die in your sleep it makes no difference to the copy of you that died, because that copy is now dead.   Other copies may continue to live, but that doesn’t change the fact that another copy of you died.

In other words – you who are now living in your mother-born body will not continue to exist – you will die – even if copies of you continue to live.   That is, those copies won’t really be you.  They will each have their own you.

So the tragedy of death isn’t really such a great tragedy to those who have died (as we all have said many times) – it is only an event that affects those who know you and continue to live.  That is, the copies can be some comfort (or maybe continued torment) to those who loved (or feared or disliked) you.

So why is our own personal death such a big deal?   Again, I think this thought-experiment shows that it is not.

People accept death for a number of reasons – most of which have to do with the fact that they identify with something larger than their own ego, mind, body and set of memories.  For example:

  • They believe they will live in heaven with God after they die.
  • They are able to directly experience their own inner Self as pure Consciousness which they experience as unbounded, unchanging, and as the source of all creativity and intelligence.
  • They have had some other but related type of mystical experience.
  • They’re inspired by children and continual new life and they’re willing to let others take their turn.  (They aren’t greedy.)
  • They accept death along with birth, sex, and the pursuit of knowledge and happiness – all as important parts of Life on Earth – and throughout the Universe.
  • They feel their life has been fulfilling and they’re ready to move on to whatever mystery awaits.

(This thought experiment also raises another metaphysical question:  What if your body and living mind is actually — startlingly to some —  associated with a soul that lives after death and is repeatedly reincarnated – or that goes finally to its reward, or elsewhere.

So, given the existence of a soul of some kind, will all the copies of you have to share the same soul?  If so, will the soul get confused when one or multiple copies of you die – e.g., not know when to reincarnate, or cause some mental/psychical instability in all the different copies? 

Or instead, will each new copy of you somehow automatically generate a new soul?  This question is in parenthesis because I know it isn’t so important to people who don’t believe in souls or reincarnation or heaven or hell.  But no one of us can really be sure, until you die, or maybe have a near-death experience.   So it’s definitely an interesting question to pose.  And I definitely don’t have a final answer to it.)

To Increase Social Cooperation Speak to the Best Values of the 99%

I just read an interesting article regarding how to create an Empathic (i.e., Cooperative) Civilization.

How will the 99% Deal with the World’s 70 Million Psychopaths?

A lot of the world’s misery can be traced to people who lack the wiring for empathy. What can we do to contain the damage they cause?

July 26  Joe Brewer

This article suggests (not too surprisingly) that the 1% who control World power structures, mostly for their own benefit, are highly non-emphathic.   That is, the real 1% are not simply the richest 1%, but rather the most powerful non-empaths.  Not all wealthy people are non-empathic.  But our economic system is especially tuned to reward non-empaths in their struggle to the top.   In addition, our legal and regulatory structures favor the creation of extremely powerful corporations who by the predominant definition of “business” and “competition” are at the top of the heap of non-empathic “individuals.”  (Fortunately many corporations are socially responsible.  However, by their nature, corporations are expected to make a profit for shareholders and to obey the law, rather than to create the greatest good for all.)

We knew all of this of course, but the analysis in this article makes the situation clearer.    The author also makes good suggestions on what to do.  But all of his suggestions require the 99% who are empathic to take back control of society (that is, for the ‘meek’ to inherit the Earth).

For me a key question is – how do we break the unholy connection between the powerful non-empaths and the millions of ordinary ‘conservative voters’ who admire  powerful non-empaths and swallow their messages?   The non-empaths are able to put their messages into frames that conservative voters resonate with, even though most of those voters are actually empathic.

Some of best ideas that I’ve seen about how to counter this are in Lakoff’s new book:  The Little Blue Book:  The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic.  Lakoff’s premis is not that progressives must take over the “rulership” of the country from conservatives — who currently worship the private sector and denigrate the public sector.   But rather that progressives must stop using the frames developed by the 1% to gain the admiration and votes of conservative and independent voters.  Progressives must instead use frames that truly resonate with the empathic and democratic nature of all people among the 99%.   Our only way forward is to build true democratic partnership between progressives and conservatives to shape a better society that is good for all, rather than one that mainly benefits the 1%.

Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe?

Are genetically modified foods (GMOs) really safe?

One would hope so, given how prevalent they now are.  Unfortunately, the FDA does not require testing due to the intervention of Michael Taylor, an FDA executive who was previously a Monsanto attorney.   Taylor ignored FDA scientists’ warnings to push through the “no testing needed” policy.   Later he became Monsanto’s Vice President, and he is now back at FDA as the U.S. food safety czar.

These facts, plus many other hair-raising examples of corruption and bad policies are contained in a recent interview of Jeffrey Smith, author of Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods.

The full interview is here:

http://www.redwoodhealthspeak.com/2012/06/05/gambling-with-our-genetic-future-gmos-and-the-world-food-supply/

Two Remedies for Bad Thinking and other Bad Habits

Bad thinking is usually due to bad habits rather than to lack of ability.

This includes bad habits such as acting without thinking; accepting a “fact” or idea without independent verification; and taking in  news, ideas and interpretations only from sources with a  perspective that reinforces your own,  rather than differing from your perspectives or questioning them.

Such bad habits are correctable, and that’s encouraging.  However, if habits are deeply engrained they are hard to change.  Any habit can only weaken and leave if there is a will – motivated by an internal desire.

For deeply engrained habits, even a strong motivation isn’t enough for change.  A deeply engrained habit is no longer a habit, but an internal imperative which must be obeyed and can’t be ignored.  Such habits can become essential parts of individual and group identity.

There is hope, though, from at least two approaches.  Both of these approaches are methods to train the mind and produce clearer, broader thinking.

The first method is:  Regular exposure to other people one can respect, who have different ideas and behaviors, which they express and model well.  Having a motivation and an opportunity for exposure to new and different ideas and behaviors can begin to change even long-held habits of thinking.

The second method is less familiar to most people:  If people take up the regular habit of transcending – experiencing the silent, unbounded source of their own mind and being, then  life-restricting habits can begin to weaken.   There is plenty of evidence over the last several thousand years that this can actually work.  More recently, neurological, physiological, and other sociological evidence supports this approach.

Combine these two remedies – regular transcending and regular exposure to honest people with different perspectives – and even the most intractable bad habits will begin to loosen.

Radical Middle

True, sustainable social transformation will never occur by one side, party, perspective defeating and dominating the others.

Sustainable social transformation will occur when people and groups with different perspectives learn to listen to each other and dialogue.

Dialogue is not about compromise that leads to the mediocre middle.

It is about constructively engaging with the “other” to come up with truly better solutions.  That is not mediocrity.  It is radical and creative.

Arriving at better solutions includes a creative process of agreeing on reasonable solutions, giving those solutions a legitimate chance, and evaluating the effects based on evidence that can be accepted by a majority of both sides.

A solution with a reasonable chance of success that will be supported by a significant majority of the population is always going to be better than a solution bitterly opposed by significant factions.  And a widely accepted solution will always be better than a situation of stalemate where no meaningful solutions can ever be given enough of a chance to succeed.

If we’re all heading for the precipice together, then we need to take action together; and that means that we have to figure out a way to agree very, very soon.

In my case, I believe especially strongly in progressive ideas and solutions.   On the other hand, there are conservative thinkers whom I respect; and I believe that conservative ideas and solutions have value and need to be seriously considered in coming up with any solution.

The Whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

However, I only accept ideas and solutions that I feel have been formulated to help all of us, and not just to benefit 50%, 10%, or 1%.

I am committed to do all I can to rid our society of anti-democratic rhetoric and unrestricted funding of media manipulations and outright lies.   So I look for progressives, conservatives, and any others who are equally committed to that goal.  It is definitely a goal that can be supported by all who love our whole community.

Changing the way elections and media influence are funded is critical.  Yet, even when that happens, we will still need to learn how to constructively think and make decisions together.   Making progress on one front will support progress on the other.

Collective vs. Collected Intelligence

There are two types of intelligence:  Collected and Collective.

There is no such thing as “all by yourself” intelligence.

“Collected intelligence” is when one person or group collects intelligence primarily for its own use and benefit.   It doesn’t require other people’s permission or even awareness that their data is being collected, or how it is being used.

“Collective intelligence” is intelligence collected from or contributed by many people who are aware (or have the ability to be aware) of what is being collected and how it is being used – and where those people have rights and abilities to use the intelligence for their own purposes,subject to agreed on constraints, privacy rights, etc.

Collective intelligence, according to this description, is absolutely required for reducing social fragmentation and for increasing social coherence, innovation, and prosperity for all.  Collective intelligence is also required for producing anything that could be called “collective consciousness.”

Collective intelligence can also be described as “connected intelligence” which might be a good idea, since many people still use the term “collective intelligence” when they really mean “collected intelligence.”

(For more thoughts, see  also 2008 post “When is Collective Intelligence also Collective Consciousness?“)

Connection Strength & Context in Social Networks

This post continues the theme begun in the last post about the nature of networked intelligence, and the role of connection strengths and context.  This one reveals more of the theory that has inspired the “Trusted Sharing” app now being tested by a few friends and colleagues.


Networks are nature’s best embodiments of collective intelligence.

Networks are intelligent and adaptive, which means that they grow in intelligence as they adapt to events to fulfill needs.

The networks that are most important to us are:

  • Networks of living organisms, plants and animals that feed and protect us;
  • Networks of cells that make up our immune systems;
  • Networks of neurons that make up our brains;
  • Personal and social networks that make up our friendship and support networks, and health, transportation, economic, learning, and communication networks.

Our technology is now more than ever creating, using, and maintaining networks.

All networks are basically made of nodes and connections.   The intelligence of the nodes is important, but the real intelligence of networks is in the connections.

There are two super-attributes of connections that are especially important in all types of networks:  Connection Strength and Context.  

In order for a social network application to be most intelligent and useful it has to recognize, ‘understand’ and make use of these two attributes of connections – strength and context.

Current generations of social networks, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and now Google+, are just now, and barely, beginning to recognize and make use of the strength and context of connections.   “Just beginning” means that there is much more valuable evolution that has yet to take place.

All people of course pay close attention to the subtle nuances of their network connections.   But it is definitely a challenge to design a computer-augmented social network application that can more fully ‘understand’ and make use of these nuances, which include the strength and context of connections.

To be successful, social network applications have to miraculously turn complexities and fine distinctions into features that are easy and intuitive to use, useful, and, most of all, that don’t get in the way.

Strength and Context of Connections

Here are some of the distinctions that exist in our ‘real-world’ understanding of social network connections and behaviors.

Context of connection is about what is shared.

Networks form within and around what people share:

  • Friendship, love, family ties (and hostility, aversions, common enemies)
  • Group and organization membership – based on commonalities such as shared interest, perspectives, goals, employer, profession or industry.
  • Exchange-driven contexts – e.g., buyer-seller, client-consultant, teacher-student.

More abstractly what we share are:

–   Interests
–   Values
–    Goals
–    Exchanges and collaborations

Strength:  How strong is the connection?

People easily understand that their connections vary in strength.   We intuitively measure strength in terms of how much the connection is:

–   Close
–   Trusted
–   Valuable
–   High in priority (for response or action)

Reciprocity

There is another important attribute of connections that is important to understand and make use of:  Reciprocity – also known as mutuality.

In social network theory reciprocity is understood in terms of the “direction” of the connections between two nodes:  A connection can extend from A to B, or from B to A, or it can be bi-directional, i.e., reciprocal.

If two people share the same interest (or goal or set of values or group membership) but don’t know each other, then they are each connected by the same context, e.g. interest (or goal or set of values or group membership), but they are not personally connected.

Yet even if not connected personally, they have a mutual connection to the same context; and that mutual connection can be an important incentive for reciprocity:  sharing information and ideas, responding to news & requests, providing help when needed, etc.

It is also possible that even if two people share the same context and don’t know each other personally, one person can “follow” the content that the other person makes available, in a tweet, blog post, article, book, video, etc.

This type of non-reciprocal relationship is Twitter’s sweet spot.  In Twitter if you follow someone’s posts they don’t have to follow you for the system to work.  And yet, following someone is often a way that a reciprocal relationship can start – by following someone back, or even by actually reading and commenting on what the other person posts, or by starting a direct conversation.

Trusted Sharing’s Approach

Trusted Sharing’s first public release will focus on developing a core layer for automatically determining and using both strength and context of connections to sort and filter incoming feeds and to target outgoing messages and feeds.  We already have much of that core functionality completed for use of strength of connections — enough to begin testing and refining with a limited number of test users.  The public release, when complete, will also include simple but useful methods for filtering and tagging content by topic (context).   However, automatically tagging and matching user-generated content by topic isn’t our focus for this first version.   Our preference is to partner with other developers who are already well down the road with automated topic recognition in socially-shared content.

If you would like to be notified when the Trusted Sharing beta is ready, leave a comment here, or contact me at dwork-trsh@spamarrest.com.

Collective Intelligence in Neural Networks and Social Networks

Context for this post:  I’m currently working on a social network application that demonstrates the value of connection strength and context for making networks more useful and intelligent.   Connection strength and context are currently only rudimentarily and mushily implemented in social network apps. This post describes some of the underlying theory for why connection strength and context are key to next generation social network applications.

A recent study of how behavioral decisions are made in the brain makes it clear how important strengths of connections are to the intelligence of networks.

“Scientists at the University of Rochester, Washington University in St. Louis, and Baylor College of Medicine have unraveled how the brain manages to process the complex, rapidly changing, and often conflicting sensory signals to make sense of our world.

“The answer lies in a simple computation performed by single nerve cells: a weighted average. Neurons have to apply the correct weights to each sensory cue, and the authors reveal how this is done.” …

“The study demonstrates that the low-level computations performed by single neurons in the brain, when repeated by millions of neurons performing similar computations, accounts for the brain’s complex ability to know which sensory signals to weight as more important. ‘Thus, the brain essentially can break down a seemingly high-level behavioral task into a set of much simpler operations performed simultaneously by many neurons.’”

(The fact that neurons in the brain make a weighted average of thousands of inputs has long been understood in theory.  This particular study has surfaced much clearer evidence for exactly how the whole process works.)

Obviously individual humans are enormously more complex than individual neurons.

However, the way individual and collective decisions are made – i.e., decisions about what information is reliable and what actions to take – seems very similar in populations of neurons and populations of humans:

Each individual (whether neuron or human) makes a particular decision by making a weighted average of all of the inputs the individual receives that are relevant to the decision.   And likewise, the population makes its own particular decision by making a weighted average (e.g., taking a vote) of the decisions made by all the individuals in the population whose decisions matter.

In the case of individual humans, inputs relevant to particular decisions consist of opinions gathered from all types of media, including the publications and media channels they trust most, and the opinions of their trusted friends and other contacts gathered from direct interaction and social media.

However, individuals obviously don’t give equal weight to all of their sources.  Instead they give stronger or weaker weights to their different sources, including both positive and negative weights.

These weights also vary depending on context – that is, different sources are especially important for forming, reinforcing, or changing opinions, decisions, and behaviors related to politics, health, education, career and work, economic and financial choices, etc.

The implications that are most important are these:

1.  Understanding and using strength and context of connections is extremely important for enhancing the effectiveness of social network applications and other applications that are intended to improve individual and collective decision-making.

2.  If a population (community, nation, etc.) needs to make a critical decision, then it is essential to have all relevant perspectives fairly represented and fairly taken into account.  (Shooting your opponent, or censoring their ideas, or flooding the media with intentional misinformation and ridicule are not fair methods.)

3.  The perspectives and decisions of individuals are in fact extremely necessary to insure that the population as a whole makes the best possible decisions.

4.  Finding ways to reduce social fragmentation is essential for making both individuals and whole populations more intelligent.   Contributors to social fragmentation include:  Filter-bubbles, echo chambers, knee-jerk bias, narrow interests that take precedence over the good of all, and intentional manipulation by a powerful few of lower-level emotional reflexes (“knee-jerk biases”) among the many.  All of these kinds of influences tend to make both individuals and whole populations much less intelligent than they need to be for the whole group to thrive.

Social network applications that fully make use of the connection strength and context can help address each of these issues.  But of course, they also have to be easy to use, relevant, and compelling.

Self-Government at Bay

“All eyes are opened or opening to the rights of man.  The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.” 
Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Mayor of Washington, 1826

In this famous quote Jefferson was speaking in favor of “the blessings and security of self-government.”   Yet he and all founders of this country would readily agree that election campaigns funded 99% by the wealthiest 1% (individuals & corporations, booted and spurred) are now sadly deteriorating the blessings and security of self-government.

True, the people vote.  But “who tells the stories of a culture governs human behavior”
(George Gerbner, media theorist, quoted by Eli Pariser in the Filter Bubble).

What to do?  Consider the ideas and proposals RootStrikers.org and the following quotes by Lawrence Lessig:

—————————————————————————————————-

“…this government is not dependent upon ‘the People alone.’ This government is dependent upon the Funders of campaigns. 1% of America funds almost 99% of the cost of political campaigns in America. Is it therefore any surprise that the government is responsive first to the needs of that 1%, and not to the 99%? …

“This government, we must chant, is corrupt. We can say that clearly and loudly from the Left. They can say that clearly and loudly from the Right. And we then must teach America that this corruption is the core problem — it is the root problem — that we as Americans must be fighting.”  …

“There is no liberal, or libertarian, or conservative who should defend this corruption. The single problem we all should be able to agree about is a political system that has lost its moral foundation: For no American went to war to defend a democracy ‘dependent upon the Funders alone.’”
(Letter to the Occupiers:  The Principal of Non-Contradiction 10/12/2011
)

“We are different in a million ways, we Americans, but we are all equally Americans. And if you’re leading a movement that won’t acknowledge that difference (or more frighteningly, that believes that mere rhetoric is going to erase that difference), then you’re not looking for fundamental reform. You’re looking for a putsch.

“This Nation needs fundamental reform. For that, our constitution requires 75% of states to agree. Thus, if we want real change, we must find those ideas upon which 75% of states can actually agree.”
Something More than Polarization, 10/25/2011

Is Reducing Income Inequality Really “Class Warfare”?

An essay in last Sunday’s Washington Post carried the title “Obama Shouldn’t Be Afraid of  Little Class Warfare” by Sally Kohn.

The piece opened with these points:

“On Monday, defending his plan to raise taxes on the rich to pay for job creation, President Obama said: ‘This is not class warfare, it’s math.’”

“No, Mr. President, this is class warfare — and it’s a war you’d better win. Corporate interests and the rich started it. Right now, they’re winning. Progressives and the middle class must fight back, and the president should be clear whose side he’s on.”

The article went on to make its case with some history and some very interesting data about increasing income inequality in the U.S.  The statement that I found to be most provocative was this:

“After all, according to the CIA, income inequality in the United States is greater than in Yemen.”

The link above took me to the CIA Factbook which publishes an index that measures income equality or inequality among all families in each country.  A country with perfect equality would have a score of 0 and a country with perfect inequality would have a score of 100.   (Note – perfect equality according to this measure does not mean that everyone earns the same amount, but rather that all discrete income levels, from richest to poorest, contain about the same number of families.)

It’s good to be able to see so graphically how the U.S compares to other countries.  The U.S. is indeed much closer in terms of inequality to some of the most unstable countries in the world.

Here are some of the CIA Factbook Entries comparing the U.S. to other countries:

US:     45 (2007)   (40.8 in 1997)

Sweden:  23

Norway: 25

Germany:  27 (with one of the most robust economies in the world)

Spain:  32

Switzerland:  33.7

United Kingdom:  34

India:  36.8

Indonesia:  37

Yemen: 37.7

Israel:  39

China:  41.5

Russia:  42

Rawanda:  46.8

Mexico:  48.2

Zimbabwe 50.1

Zambia:  50.8

Columbia:  58.5

Bolivia:  58.2

Haiti:  59.2

Sierra Leone:  62.9

To illustrate the inequality in the U.S. Kohn’s article also gave these facts among others:

“Between 1979 and 2007, the income gap between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the poorest 40 percent more than tripled. Today, the richest 10 percent of Americans control two-thirds of the nation’s wealth, while, according to recently released census data, average Americans saw their real incomes decline by 2.3 percent in 2010. Though our economy grew in 2009 and 2010, 88 percent of the increase in real national income went to corporate profits, one study found. Only 1 percent went to wages and salaries for working people.”


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