Tuesday, 23 August 2011

New webpage: Low-carbon leaders -Beyond carbon, is live and show the way for collaborative work

The page for Low-carbon leaders: Beyond carbon that focus on 21st Century Clusters with transformative solutions is now live. I just wanted to say that I’m really happy with the graphic solution, the "curtain", that allows users to look at the main part of the predecessor (the cases with small entrepreneurs and their transformative solutions).

Low-carbon leaders: Beyond carbon is a totally new project, but instead of just leaving the old work and move on, the "curtain" helps to provide a background and context to the new work. This is particular interesting as there where multiple stakeholders involved developing the cases. For the future I could envision that different groups that collaborate to use similar solutions like the one used on the page when they build on earlier joint work.

It might never happen, but if this graphic solution helps collaborative efforts in any way I’m very happy.

With regards to the actual project things are moving forward at a good phase and I look forward to an intensive fall with transformative clusters.

The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris

Anger undermines a very important message about enlightenment
I can really recommend this book, The Moral Landscape – How Science can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris, but you might want to skip the first three chapter or so (I was close to stop reading myself).

These first chapters are not well written as they both misunderstand a lot of philosophy (like “Humes law” that you can’t derive an ought from an it) and have a tone that is mainly oscillating between bitterness and anger.

It is really sad that Sam have not spent more time reading philosophy, not the postmodern, but the classics. I’m not sure why he ignores a field where thinkers have reflected over the challenges he’s done for thousands of years. Staring from zero is fine, but it gives the book a bit of a teenage character.

Why he does not read philosophy is explained in a footnote that sounds like something you hear not even from a teenager but 12 year old (can do it myself...) ;)
“I did no arrive at my position on the relationship between human values and the rest of human knowledge by reading the work of moral philosophers; I came to it by considering the logical implications of our making continued progress in the science of mind. Second, I am convinced that every appearance of terms like “metaethics,” “deontology,” “noncognitivism,” “antirealism,” “emotivism, ” etc., directly increase the amount of boredom in the universe.”
The fact that the book has a teenage character is also something very positive. It is an energy and frustration that is refreshing in a time when most people don’t seem to think about how thin the culture of enlightenment and science is. Still it is about science so some more reflection would not hurt. Maybe he thinks that the tone is what is needed in the US/global media climate?

Still it would have been nice if he did not simplify things quite as much, e.g. to compare “water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen” with “cruelty is wrong” and say “To really believe either proposition is also to believe that you have accepted it for legitimate reasons”. It is easy to understand his frustration, but this kind of oversimplification does not help.

A chemical formula with well defined concepts (that even these could be challenged is we could go down a level and make the definition of hydrogen and oxygen more complicated and also when it is actually water and when it is something else) compared with a link between concepts like "well-being" and "cruelty" is not very helpful.

Further he writes that “concern for well-being is the only intelligible basis for morality and values”. This is another example of the kind of statement that does not mean anything. I think it partly depend on a belief that things can be simplified and isolated. Further down on the same page (if pages make sense in the age of e-readers when you can chose the size of the text) he writes “would it be better to spend our next billion dollars eradicating racism or malaria?... Such questions may seem impossible to get a of this moment, but they may not stay this way forever”. That you can’t isolate one from the other, and that the way to calculate things in this way will also influence “well-being” is nothing Sam seems to think about. If he did, he might have a slightly different approach.

These weak points are frustrating as I think it will result in people ignoring his important message about people trying to bridge things that can not be bridged.

I think his discussion about Francis Collins, the former head of the human genome project, was refreshing to read. I need to read Collins book as I can’t believe that he is as irrational as Sam portrays him.

Maybe most interesting is probably when he discusses how friends that agree that science should guide society not religion, but that are afraid that criticism of religion will make people chose religion and not science. So it is better to tell lies to the public in order to ensure a future for science. The fact that people call him a fundamentalist and that he is dangerous is scary to me. I don’t think Sam is a very pleasant person and there are positions in society where I think he would do a bad job, but from what I have read I can trust him to listen to an argument and not dismiss anything I say without having using facts that are true to the best of his knowledge.

Spending much of my time in international where religion doesn’t play a very important role I see an even more disturbing feature that I hope he can discuss in his next book. The fact that there is a growing lack of respect for science among many professionals.

Right now for example I’m involved in a process with a group of consultants that are as bad as the most fundamentalists when it comes to respect for science. They seem to do that because they have adopted a short-term and narrow time perspective where things are very simplified and intellectual honesty is not important. In this case they have a client, they think they know what the client wants and they present a result based on these assumptions.

The scary is that these people don’t care about the consequences of their action, nor have any respect/knowledge about science. It is a weird economic approach without knowledge about economics.

These kinds of people show a few slides where some acceptable theories/approaches on and then jump to value based and sloppy conclusions. These conclusions are then meant to guide actions among multibillion companies that affect what products and services that are available as well as the values in society as they sit on very large PR budgets.

How these people can be encouraged to think about the ethical implications of their actions and understand the long-term consequences of undermining science is a challenges I hope Sam will address. When it comes to killing the planet and ignoring the poor these people are the once I think are the biggest problem. To be honest, compared with these "sloppy" people I think a lot of religious people have a lot to contribute to. This is especially true when it comes to actual action. Lab scientists like Sam are great, but when we look around the world there are people, such as another Sam (Sam Childers) that actually go out and try to make the world a better place instead of sitting on panels and writing articles…

Still, with all the weak parts in the book it is well worth a read. I can also recommend his web-page where you can be inspired by his (angry) quest for enlightenment. http://www.samharris.org/

The book had two other areas that I think are worth mentioning, one because I think it is fundamentally wrong, the other because I think it is one of the most important questions.

The first is under the very interesting heading of "which self should we satisfy?", but instead of an understanding of how complex humans are and the different preference conflict that emerge all the time, Sam presents a simplistic form of the already flawed idea of Utilitarianism. Not only does Sam want to add the experiences, he wants to categorize the reflected experiences as flawed. He gives the example of a trip to Rome and say that if a person during this trip at every point did not feel good a "remembering self" claims to have had a wonderful time the "remembering self"is simply wrong. The attempt to divide a person in this way is first of all a very strange thing to do, but two things should be included in any approach like this:

1. No one has "simplistic feelings". When I'm in Rome I might have an aching back that make me suffer at the same time as I enjoy a very interesting conversation with a friend, while I realize that I'm in a restaurant that serve meet that paying for the bill will help them continue to promote this business, at the same time I got a great idea for a future project, I also realize that the conversation is part of a pattern where I look for distraction rather than deeper understanding, etc, etc...

2. We constantly change, the transcendence of the ego, as Sartre called it, is what defines us as humans. We might not agree with everything Sartre wrote about the ego, but the fact that we constantly can change is something that anyone that say they believe in enlightenment should consider (and if not explain how they approach humans). So when we look back we might see things different compared with how I experienced them at the time. Much of what people do when they try to improve things include things that might not be pleasant when it is done, but reflecting on it brings pleasant memories. Education and physical training are probably the two most obvious examples.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Dark Side of Creativity by David H. Cropley, Arthur J. Cropley, James C. Kaufman and Mark A. Runco

This is almost a must read for anyone engaged in the sustainable innovation discussion. The material is a bit uneven and a few of the contributions should have been left out (low academic level and nothing really relevant to contribute), but overall it covers many interesting aspects of creativity.

The discussions about the consequences of creativity should have included more about large scale problems outside the military (Climate Change, endocrine disruptors, economic policy’s resulting in poverty are just a few that would have been interesting to discuss). But the one major area that I would like to have seen included is current marketing/PR and the consequences on creativity in society. The fact that many are wasting their creativity selling things that are bad (for ourselves, other people, other living beings and the planet) is

Still the book is filled with short chapters that cover interesting fields, such as:

1. What happens when successful creativity that delivers something good becomes a cage that makes it difficult to continue to be creative?
2. How can the educational system talk so much about creativity and do so much to kill it?
3. How close is creativity to madness?

There are also very interesting gems about the development of the nuclear industry (and the end of it) where the unwillingness to take sound decisions is explained from a perspective where companies become overconfident at the same time as they are under market pressure resulting in a situation where “new technologies were being developed without objective assessments”. James Jasper, who wrote the chapter that included the nuclear power discussion made me interested in his idea about “players or prizes?”

Liane Gabora and Nancy Holmes short chapter “Dangeling from a Tassel on Fabric of Socially Constructed Reality” is as poetic as it sounds. It makes me happy to see such a chapter included as this kind of texts are not often found outside the more “arty” fields.

I would have seen a longer version of Arthur Cropley’s chapter “Creativity in the Classroom” where he developed more concrete ideas, and did this in relation to a situation where students will be connected and have access to ideas/input that no generation before have.

In the chapter “The Dark Side of Creativity and How to Combat it” Robert Sternberg discuss what I think is the most important aspect, wisdom. It does not really say anything new, but the things we already know are sometimes the most important.

I’m not sure why, but I think the chapter “Neurosis: The dark side of emotional creativity” by James Averill and Elma Nunley is my favourite. The way they use Dostoevsky, William James and Otto Rank to discuss creativity reminded me of Marsel Burman’s “All that is solid melts into air” and in all its lack of focus also brought back “Ideology” from Otto Rank that I have not been thinking about in a very long time.

It is a joy to read books where the authors actually have spend time to think about the issue they write about. I hope that I can stay away from the “airplane literature” that is written by journalists as entertainment and with more focus on short nuggets that people can quote over the dinner table than any actual knowledge. I wonder if the “airport literature” are spread due to the fact that other journalists (with similar lack of deep knowledge) like them as these books are the kind of books they potentially could write (good in style but without much depth in knowledge). Are they the books equivalent of Fox-News/The daily show, entertaining at best and oversimplifying mainly? Hopefully the future will have more of these books where people with knowledge explore issues in depth.