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Common Sense, Grammar, and Original Intent

April 8, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More
Common Sense, Grammar, and Original Intent

According to recent polls, a growing number of Americans believe that the Second Amendment was put in the Bill of Rights in order to guarantee that our government will not impose any kind of tyranny upon us. That an armed populace is a bulwark against government oppression. [More . . . ]

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The importance of grooming in human animals and the other primates.

March 10, 2013 | By | Reply More
The importance of grooming in human animals and the other primates.

Here are a few photos I took at the St. Louis Zoo over the past few weeks. All of these involve physical grooming by primates, three of them featuring two orangutans and one of them involving a larger group of chimpanzees. This is one of the ways these animals know who is their friend or foe.

Orang Grooming

Orang grooming II

Orang Grooming III

chimpanzees grooming

We human animals groom for this same purpose, but we generally engage in verbal grooming: gossip. Using words rather than physical grooming we can connect with many more fellow humans at one time than any of those animals limited to physical grooming. I make this claim based on the work of Robin Dunbar.

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Considering Cults and the Need for Meaning

February 27, 2013 | By | 10 Replies More
Considering Cults and the Need for Meaning

Recently, I finished reading Lawrence Wright’s new book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollwood, & the Prison of Belief, about Scientology. It’s a lucid history and examination of the movement. [More . . . ]

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Huxley v Orwell: Two routes to dystopia

February 7, 2013 | By | Reply More

Excellent illustrated comparison of the concerns of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.

Orwell huxley

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Free Internet for all

February 4, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

Shall we vote for our phone companies’ profit margins or for Internet access for all, resulting in true growth? The answer should be obvious to anyone who is not a phone company. The Washington Post reports:

The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month. The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission has rattled the $178 billion wireless industry, which has launched a fierce lobbying effort to persuade policymakers to reconsider the idea, analysts say. That has been countered by an equally intense campaign from Google, Microsoft and other tech giants who say a free-for-all WiFi service would spark an explosion of innovations and devices that would benefit most Americans, especially the poor. . . . . “We want our policy to be more end-user-centric and not carrier-centric. That’s where there is a difference in opinion” with carriers and their partners, said a senior FCC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is still being considered by the five-member panel.

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Scouts and Honor and Fair

February 1, 2013 | By | 2 Replies More
Scouts and Honor and Fair

My relationship with the Boy Scouts of America was not the most pleasant.  I was an oddity, to be sure.  I think I was at one time the only—only—second class scout to be a patrol leader. Second class.  For those who may not have been through the quasi-military organization, the way it was structured in […]

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Insanity and Rights

December 16, 2012 | By | 4 Replies More
Insanity and Rights

Doubtless whatever I say, someone will find fault, take offense, withdraw into positions, place guard dogs at the gates and lookouts in the towers. We are a people enamored of the idea of violence.  We like the idea that when it gets down to the proverbial nitty gritty we can and will kick ass and take names.  Americans are tough, not to be messed with, ready to exact justice by knuckles or 9.mm. . . .

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Conflicted Catholics

December 11, 2012 | By | Reply More

I know many thinking Catholics, and 98% of these people what I would term “conflicted Catholics.” When I’m together with more than one of them, they often spontaneously express their frustration, embarrassment and even rage regarding the Church. What drives this frustration? Many things, including more than a few of these questions raises by Adam Lee at Alternet in “50 Reasons to Boycott the Catholic Church.”

Despite these immense intractable problems with the Roman Catholic Church, most Catholics I know continue to associate themselves with the church. They are not willing to give up their religious community, in spite of these hurdles. This willingness to stick with the church is hard to understand for an outsider like me. I would think that 1/10 of this misconduct would have me running from any organization.

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Smart Groups aren’t merely groups of smart people

November 25, 2012 | By | Reply More

At Edge.org, Thomas W. Malone explains that in order to have a smart group of people you need more than a bunch of smart individuals.

We thought that there might be such a factor, but that it would really just be essentially the intelligence of the individual people in the group. What we found was that the average and the maximum intelligence of the individual group members was correlated, but only moderately correlated, with the collective intelligence of the group as a whole.

If it’s not just putting a bunch of smart people in a group that makes the group smart, what is it? . . . . [T]hree factors . . . were significantly correlated with the collective intelligence of the group.

The first was the average social perceptiveness of the group members. We measured social perceptiveness in this case using a test developed essentially to measure autism. It’s called the “Reading the Mind and the Eyes Test”. It works by letting people look at pictures of other people’s eyes and try to guess what emotions those people are feeling. People who are good at that work well in groups. When you have a group with a bunch of people like that, the group as a whole is more intelligent.

The second factor we found was the evenness of conversational turn taking. In other words, groups where one person dominated the conversation were, on average, less intelligent than groups where the speaking was more evenly distributed among the different group members.

Finally, and most surprisingly to us, we found that the collective intelligence of the group was significantly correlated with the percentage of women in the group. More women were correlated with a more intelligent group. Interestingly, this last result is not just a diversity result. It’s not just saying that you need groups with some men and some women. It looks like that it’s a more or less linear trend. That is, more women are better all the way up to all women. It is also important to realize that this gender effect is largely statistically mediated by the social perceptiveness effect. In other words, it was known before we did our work that women on average scored higher on this measure of social perceptiveness than men.

. . . The most intelligent person is not the one who’s best at doing any specific task, but it’s the one who’s best at picking up new things quickly. That’s essentially the definition we used for defining intelligence at the level of groups as well. We said that a group is intelligent if it’s able to perform well on a wide range of different tasks. It was actually performance that we were looking at.

When I read Malone’s comment about the importance of social perceptiveness, I thought about many of the unproductive groups of which I’ve been a part. Quite often there are a couple people who dominate the talking, people who lack this perceptiveness. The result is that a lot of the quieter folks, many of them with heads full of ideas, never get a chance to talk.

Why is Malone focused on group intelligence?

[W]e want to understand how the world works, and in particular, how the world of groups of people and computers work together. How human societies and human networks work. Second, we want to help businesses, governments and other kinds of organizations know how to work better themselves. How can we create more intelligent organizations, more intelligent businesses, more intelligent governments, more intelligent societies? . . . [W]e are trying to understand how our whole world and society is evolving in a way that I think is making us more collectively intelligent.

Now I suspect that I’m about to over-extend Malone’s findings, but I do suspect that the national conversations we have are subject to these principles too. Two things that we sorely lack when “discussing” national issues as a nation are social perceptiveness and turn taking. What we actually have are a few loud-mouthed players, enabled by big money. They run roughshod over most of us, and they use their wealth to hog the national media. When this happens, it doesn’t matter that there are lots of smart people in this country, because they aren’t getting an opportunity to function as part of a group. As Amy Goodman often says, national conversations should occur at the equivalent of a big table, with all of us having a seat at the table. Throw in the relative lack of women’s voices in that conversation, and we are far from that ideal, for the reasons pointed out by Malone.

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