Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hugs with Lions

A South African trainer playing with his lions. I never imagined lions are such playful creatures.

This is courageous and skilled work.

Also, Riana Van Nieuwenhuizen, a sanctuary worker in South Africa shares her home with four cheetahs, five lions and two tigers. The cats are allowed to roam freely throughout the house. Here she is lying in bed with some of them:

Another picture showing these cats in her kitchen:

Please click on the images for bigger complete sharper pictures of the scene. The entire article with more pictures and detail is here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why People Cheat and Steal

Aquatint of a Doctor of Divinity at the Univer...Image via Wikipedia

Professor Dan Ariely grew up in Israel and holds degrees in many discipline including Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology and Business. He currently teaches Behavioral Economics in Duke University while also holding an appointment at MIT media lab where he is the heads the eRationality research group.

He is author of many books. Most recent one is "Predicatably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions". He talks about our behavior that is anything but rational. Some of the topics are:

  • The Truth about Relativity: Why Everything Is Relative-Even When It Shouldn't Be
  • The Cost of Zero Cost: Why We Often Pay Too Much When We Pay Nothing
  • The Cost of Social Norms: Why We Are Happy to Do Things, but Not When We are Paid to Do Them
  • The Influence of Arousal: Why Hot Is Much Hotter Than We Realize
  • The High Price of Ownership:Why We Overvalue What We Have
There are thirteen chapters that describe our decision making habits that are very predictable but does not fit the rational model of decision making. He also highlights the empiricla research that supports all these predicatbly irrational decision making and behavior.

In a way it is good that finally researcher like him is putting real human back into research instead of some idealized human model that assumes that humans are rational decision making machines whose behavior is always directed by looking after the one's best inetest.

He also gave a talk at TED where he explains people's behavior that involves cheating and stealing. How people go about justifying such socially unacceptable behavior.

We are in a transition from modernity to post modernity. Hopefully the transition will use a more accurate model of human decision making and behavior compared to the one we use now.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

We Need Wisdom

A candlelit scene with Reverend Runt and Lady ...Image via Wikipedia

We have too much information and knowledge. It is creating a false sense of security that we know enough to deal with any kind of crisis. The current economic crisis prove that knowledge in itself is not enough to anticipate and avert crisis. As a group we seems to act more or less as a reactive mind. We rarely foresee problems and mostly lurch from one crisis to another.

Sir Arthur C Clarke was a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist. He is well known for his most famous novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, written in collaboration with director Stanley Kubrick, a collaboration which also produced the film of the same name. In one of his interviews he talked about the relationship between information,knowledge,wisdom and foresight. according to him
The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information— in the sense of raw data— is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.
He advised us to move from knowledge to wisdom and develop foresight, that is anticipation of problem before they occur and taking action to avoid them. We saw some of that in the Movie "Minority Report" with Tom Cruise with a different twist.

Recently ,Professor Barry Schwartz also emphasized about the need for developing wisdom in a recent TED talk. He is a psychologist who is also Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and social action at Swarthmore College. He is a published author with a book titled "The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less".

Here is the video of his talk:

The video is fairly convincing but it raises some interesting issues. First is What is Wisdom? and secondly how do we go about developing it? We certainly do not teach it in our curriculum that is loaded with information and the knowledge of past practices. Wisdom certainly is not common sense that is mostly group think.

It probably will be our next quest to develop wisdom to solve our problems created by having too much information and too much use of knowledge that fails to take into consideration the interconnection of things. Knowledge is developed by chunking relevant data about a topic. The knowledge creation process isolates any information that is not relevant. May be wisdom is the interconnection of several chunks of knowledge that exists in isolation in independent disciplines. It is a hard problem how to accomplish this.

This will be our next project if we want to solve our current crisis. The existing approaches are not working.

How do we learn wisdom? Here is a way outlined by Chinese pragmatic philosopher Confucius
By three methods. We may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Institution vs. Collaboration

The entrance to the Gallatin School of Individ...Image via Wikipedia

Clay Shirkey is the author of "Here Comes Everybody". He is also an adjunct professor in New York University’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program.
Clay Shirky's consulting focuses on the rising usefulness of decentralized technologies such as peer-to-peer, wireless networks, social software and open-source development. New technologies are enabling new kinds of cooperative structures to flourish as a way of getting things done in business, science, the arts and elsewhere, as an alternative to centralized and institutional structures, which he sees as self-limiting. In his writings and speeches he has argued that "a group is its own worst enemy." His clients have included Nokia, the Library of Congress and the BBC. Source

In his talk he talks about the Institution and collaboration. More specifically the collaborative activity that is difficult to capture in an institutional setting. It is part of the long tail and it can be encouraged in non-institutional setting.

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