Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

4.20.2017

The Mind Is Built for Collaboration


To repeat the beginning of my previous post, The Self Is a Society:
Interconnection and interdependence are unavoidable, independence an illusion. Cooperation is self-interest.

Those ideas are foundational to all of my thoughts about morality and ethics, politics and justice. At the heart of the "credo" paper I wrote at the culmination of my Master of Divinity degree was the idea of a relational theology, that we know God and the divine through our relationships--to self, others, and creation. I've said on numerous occasions that one of the big problems I see in U.S. society is the cult of individualism.
I repeat myself mostly because what follows belongs in that post, is a continuation of the ideas it contains, I simply came upon it after that was finished (to be fair, it was published 3 days after I published mine). It speaks pretty clearly for itself.
Cognitive science shows that humans are smarter as a group than they are on their own

As individuals, the amount we know about the world is miniscule. . . .

Even within our domains of expertise, ignorance is a fact of life. . . .

So how is society able to accomplish so much if each of us knows so little? The answer is that we divide up cognitive labor. We each have our narrow area of expertise, and we each make a small contribution. By combining our knowledge, we can tackle complex problems. . . .

This ability to jointly pursue complex goals is central to what makes us human. An influential evolutionary theory contends that our large brains developed to cope with the increasing size and complexity of our social groups. As our social groups grew, we developed the mental machinery to share knowledge, which in turn allowed us to respond to our environment in more complex and adaptive ways. Research in comparative psychology supports this story. One of the key skills that sets people apart from other primates is the ability to share intentions with others and jointly pursue goals.

The mind is built for collaboration, yet we lionize individual achievement. We imagine our heroes toiling in isolation, mastering all necessary skills, and solving critical problems before moving on to their next world-altering pursuit. This is a myth. Great accomplishments demand the ability to share knowledge and work together to solve problems. . . .

Our conception of intelligence should place more emphasis on how much an individual improves a group’s ability to solve complex problems. . . .

The myth that we can do it all alone—that we can master the world solo in all its detail and complexity—may be comforting, but it is not only wrong: It is also counterproductive. Rather than hiding from our individual ignorance, we should accept it and celebrate our collective wisdom.
Since that is largely an addendum to a previous post, I'll add a couple more thoughts related to the ideas of collective consciousness and learning from each other.
Medieval Medical Books Could Hold the Recipe for New Antibiotics

I am part of the Ancientbiotics team, a group of medievalists, microbiologists, medicinal chemists, parasitologists, pharmacists and data scientists from multiple universities and countries. We believe that answers to the antibiotic crisis could be found in medical history. With the aid of modern technologies, we hope to unravel how premodern physicians treated infection and whether their cures really worked.

To that end, we are compiling a database of medieval medical recipes. By revealing patterns in medieval medical practice, our database could inform future laboratory research into the materials used to treat infection in the past. . . .

During our eyesalve study, chemist Tu Youyou was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of a new therapy for malaria after searching over 2,000 recipes from ancient Chinese literature on herbal medicine. Is another “silver bullet” for microbial infection hidden within medieval European medical literature? . . .

With our database, we aim to find combinations of ingredients that occur repeatedly and are specifically used to treat infectious diseases. To achieve this, we are employing some common tools of data science, such as network analysis, a mathematical method to examine the relationships between entries. Our team will then examine how these patterns may help us to use medieval texts as inspiration for lab tests of candidate “ancientbiotic” recipes. . . . 
And (I'm in more of a consuming and digesting mood today than creating):
Earth Day And The March For Science

 . . . It's like we're giving up the Industrial Revolution to China or some other country. The people who own this [green] technology will end up owning the world just like in the Industrial Revolution. And whether anyone likes it or not, the world is heading in that [renewables] direction. So it makes no sense from a business perspective. For solar and wind the market numbers are stunning. So why aren't we owning it?

Earth Day is about that, too.

India, Oman, Italy, Morocco and all these other countries that are moving in the direction of [renewable energy systems] are interested in promoting environmental, climate and technology education. Why are they doing this? Because they want investments. They see all of it in terms of jobs for the future.

So whether you're talking about health or jobs or landscape values, mining coal and burning oil is just so 1800s. It's like refusing to give up the horse and buggy for the car. If you want to create the next generation of Carnegies, Rockefellers and Edisons you have to go this way — or you are going to lose. . . . 
And, finally:
How (And When) To Think Like A Philosopher

As an undergraduate, I majored in philosophy — a purportedly useless major, except that it teaches you how to think, write and speak.

The skills I was learning from working through papers and arguments extended well beyond the coursework itself, yielding habitual patterns of reasoning that made me a more discerning scientist, a more careful writer and a better thinker all around. Within and beyond philosophy, I was learning to spot poor arguments, uncover hidden assumptions, tease out subtle implications and recognize false dichotomies. . . .

In a new article published in Aeon, philosopher Alan Hájek presents a "philosophy tool kit," sharing some common philosophical moves that apply both within and beyond academic philosophy. . . .

If these thinking tools are so useful, why do we need special training to acquire them? Why aren't they built into our cognitive machinery, or acquired through our years of experience evaluating claims and arguments in everyday life? . . .

Here's a second (and more speculative) hypothesis for why many habits of philosophical thinking might not come naturally. The hypothesis is that some tools for critical evaluation run counter to another valuable set of tools: our tools for effective social engagement. These tools help us make sense of what someone is saying by encouraging us to interpret underspecified claims in the most positive light; they help us coordinate conversation by establishing common ground. . . .

If this is right, then some forms of critical evaluation and philosophical thinking are hard because they force us to suspend other habits of mind; habits that serve us well when our goal is to engage or persuade or befriend, but less well when our goal is to arrive at a precise characterization of what's true, or of what follows from what. The trick, then, is not only to acquire Hájek's philosophy tool kit, but to know when to use it.
It doesn't take more than a rudimentary bit of reflection and introspection for me to conclude I instinctively err on the side of too much philosophical thinking and not enough social, and probably explains why I'm so often described as things like devil's advocate, contrarian, and pedantic. Hmm. Interesting.


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