Posts Tagged ‘education’

The human race began a path towards illiteracy when moving pictures and sound began to dominate our mode of communication. Grammar checking word processors and the Internet catalyzed an acceleration of the process. Smartphones, 3-D printing, social media and algorithmic finance tipped us towards near total illiteracy.

The complexity of the machines have escaped our ability to understand them – to read them and interpret them – and now, more importantly, to author them. The machines author themselves. We inadvertently author them without our knowledge. And, in cruel turn, they author us.

This is not a clarion call to arms to stop the machines. The machines cannot be stopped for we will never want to stop them so intertwined with our survival (the race to stop climate change and or escape the planet will not be done without the machines). It is a call for the return to literacy. We must learn to read machines and maintain our authorship if we at all wish to avoid unwanted atrocities and a painful decline to possible evolutionary irrelevance. If we wish to mediate the relations between each other we must remain the others of those mediations.

It does not take artificial intelligence for our illiteracy to become irreversible. It is not the machines that will do us in and subjugate us and everything else. Intelligence is not the culprit. It is ourselves and the facets of ourselves that make it too easy to avoid learning what can be learned. We plunged into a dark ages before. We can do it again.

We are in this situation, perhaps, unavoidably. We created computers and symbolics that are good enough to do all sorts of amazing things. So amazing that we just went and found ways to unleash things without all the seeming slowness of evolutionary and behavioral consequences we’ve observed played out on geological time scales. We have unleashed an endless computational kingdom of such variety rivaling that of the entire history of Earth. Here we have spawned billions of devices with billions and billions of algorithms and trillions and trillions and trillions of data points about billions of people and trillions of animals and a near infinite hyperlinkage between them all. The benefits have outweighed the downsides in terms of pure survival consequences.

Or perhaps the downside hasn’t caught us yet.

I spend a lot of my days researching, analyzing and using programming languages. I do this informally, for work, for fun, for pure research, for science. It is my obsession. I studied mathematics as an undergraduate – it too is a language most of us are illiterate in and yet our lives our dominated by it. A decade ago I thought the answer was simply this:

Everyone should learn to program. That is, everyone should learn one of our existing programming languages.

It has more recently occurred to me this is not only realistic it is actually a terrible idea. Programming languages aren’t like English or Spanish or Chinese or any human language. They are much less universal. They force constraints we don’t understand and yet don’t allow for any wiggle room. We can only speak them by typing them incredibly specific commands on a keyboard connected to a computer architecture we thought up 50 years ago – which isn’t even close to the dominate form of computer interaction most people use (phones, tablets, tvs, game consoles with games, maps and txt messages and mostly consumptive apps). Yes, it’s a little more nuanced than that in that we have user interfaces that try to allow us all sorts of flexbility in interaction and they will handle the translation to specific commands for us.

Unfortunately it largely doesn’t work. Programming languages are not at all like how humans program. They aren’t at all how birds or dogs or dolphins communicate. They start as an incredibly small set of rules that must be obeyed or something definitely will breakdown (a bug! A crash!). Sure, we can write an infinite number of programs. Sure most languages and the computers we use to run the programs written with language are universal computers – but that doesn’t make them at all as flexible and useful as natural language (words, sounds, body language).

As it stands now we must rely on about 30 million people on the entire planet to effectively author and repair the billions and billions of machines (computer programs) out there (http://www.infoq.com/news/2014/01/IDC-software-developers)

Only 30 million people speak computer languages effectively enough to program them. That is a very far cry from a universal or even natural language. Most humans can understand any other human, regardless of the language, on a fairly sophisticated level – we can easily tell each others basic state of being (fear, happiness, anger, surprise, etc) and begin to scratch out sophisticate relationships between ideas. We cannot do this at all with any regularity or reliability with computers. Certainly we can communicate with some highly specific programs some highly specific ideas/words/behaviors – but we cannot converse even remotely close with a program/machine in any general way. We can only rely on some of the 30 million programmers to improve the situation slowly.

If we’re going to be literate in the age of computation our language interfaces with computers must beome much better. And I don’t believe that’s going to happen by billions of people learning Java or C or Python. No it’s going to happen by the evolution of computers and their languages becoming far more human author-able. And it’s not clear the computers survival depends on it. I’m growing in my belief that humanity’s survival depends on it though.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about what my own children should learn in regards to computers. And I have not at all shaped them into learning some specific language of todays computers. Instead, I’ve focused on them asking questions and not being afraid of the confusing probable nature of the world. It is my educated hunch that the computer languages of the future will account for improbabilities and actually rely on them, much as our own natural languages do. I would rather have my children be able to understand our current human languages in all their oddities and all their glorious ability to express ideas and questions and forever be open to new and different interpretations.

The irony is… teaching children to be literate into todays computer programs as opposed to human languages and expresses, I think, likely to leave them more illiterate in the future when the machines or our human authors have developed a much richer way to interact. And yet, the catch-22 is that someone has to develop these new languages. Who will do it if not myself and my children? Indeed.

This is why my own obsession is to continue to push forward a more natural and messier idea of human computer interaction. It will not look like our engineering efforts today with a focus on speed and efficiency and accuracy. Instead it will will focus on richness and interpretative variety and serendipity and survivability over many contexts.

Literacy is not a complete efficiency. It is a much deeper phenomena. One that we need to explore further and in that exploration not settle for the computational world as it is today.

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As learners, Skinner said, “we are automatically reinforced when we successfully control the physical world (ibid:75).” Teaching implies the identification of desired outcomes and precise planning of strategies for facilitating “the arrangement of contingencies of reinforcement which expedite learning (Skinner,1959:15).” The educator prepares the students for situations not yet risen by bringing discriminant operants under the control of stimuli expected to occur in those situations. The child is forewarned and forearmed with powerful tools for controlling nature, the very exercise of which provides reinforcement. Because of this, the natural payoffs inherent in the subject matter are the teacher’s chief allies (Hutcheon,1996:413). Skinner maintained that educators who recommend external means of motivating learning have got it all wrong, noting that “the sheer control of nature itself is reinforcing (Skinner, 1959:102).” As he reminded us, “The motives in education are the motives of all human behavior … We appeal to that drive to control the environment that makes a baby continue to crumple a noisy paper and the scientist to continue to press forward with his predictive analysis of nature (Skinner, 1948:124).”

from a very nice paper on Piaget and Skinner.

All living things learn in response to their environments.   And living things are part of the environment.  All living things relate to their environments, even when in the same environments as other living things, uniquely.   All living things have enough genetic difference, even when in the same species and born in the same “family”, to have unique responses (developmental and learning) to the world around them.

This is a very simple set up and yet has enough power to cover the bulk of how we all learn.     When thinking about what approaches to educating children are more or less effective I evaluate how seriously an approach considers these basic principles.  Every environment is a learning environment – it’s a matter of figuring out, and this is complicated, what is learnable in that environment.   Each person, even a young child, is a complex mix of genetics, epigenetics and environmental history.   Some environments build on this concept and others resist it.

So what is an ideal environment?   What is the best “classroom” for a child to learn?

First, it’s important to figure out what it is we want a child to learn.   And, of course, this is no easy question.   Broadly the goal of any “education” (in the formal school sense) is to provide strategies for survival (and thriving).*   Effective strategies for survival is by no means a fixed target.   As long as the world changes so will the strategies that best ensure survival.  So in some sense what we want a child to learn isn’t one particular strategy but a way to derive strategies in response to a changing environment.   We could call that critical thinking, synthesis, and problem solving.   In short, we want children to learn how to learn – to be more aware of the world around them, to be able to process information efficiently and effectively and to manipulate the environment as needed.

Is anything else needed to be taught?   No, not strictly.  There’s no need to preach a particular curriculum as fundamental.  Yes for certain paths in life and in our culture knowing a particular skill or piece of information could be beneficial.   If mathematicians make more money than other professions and making more money provides better means for survival then it is likely a child taught mathematics should survive and thrive.   That is, as long as the child finds mathematics interesting and so forth enough to actually pursue it and develop enough skill.   Even in that example one can get to the point of survival without assuming a priori that there’s intrinsic, universal value to mathematics.   Everything worth knowing is in relation to the person knowing it and their relation to their changing environment.   The essential learning necessary for a person s being able to evaluate quickly enough to matter whether a strategy is effective or not.  The strategies themselves should be viewed as experiments – behavior-response experiences to see what is worth doing and knowing.

Based on this the ideal environment is not a singular environment.  it’s not a classroom, it’s not a gym, it’s not lecture hall, it’s not a playroom.   The ideal environmentare different for everyone.   Some children do very well in a traditional classroom, others do not.  Some prefer being alone, others in nature  and so on and on.   Just as discussed in the what is worth learning, environment staging should be viewed as an experiment – contexts to see what reinforces successful strategies for survival.

Combine strategy testing and environment building and exploration and you get the whole equation of education.   For certain children maintaining a steady environment that induces effective exploration of strategies might be best.   For other children varying environments may be the key to the building up of strategies.

The goal of education can be refined from above as: increase the repertoire of behavior** in order to identify and execute strategies to survive and thrive. 

This probably sounds horribly inefficient.  Is possible to educate a family, village, country, and world of children on a completely individual basis?   Yes!  That’s exactly what happens anyway.   It is LESS efficient to make the assumption that this isn’t what is actually happening and so to be unaware how everyone responds differently.   To use the same textbooks, same computer programs, same schedule for everyone makes an assumption that it’s “optimal enough” for any given child.   Who knows what potentially incredible strategies are going unexplored.

The world has now developed a sufficiently robust set of tools to uniquely educate, without compromise, every child.   Tablets and laptops can be obtained for less than $100, be connected to a free wifi at libraries and other community zones, and provided access to millions of free books, free websites, free Ivy League virtual classrooms.  Obviously, there is more to it than a computer and the Internet.   More and more networks of volunteer organizations, sports, after school programs, book clubs, excited artists, professional musicians are available for almost anyone (in the US) to join/connect with/create.   With the social network inter-connectivity of the world with more than a billion people connected, likely by less than 6 degrees of separation, identifying communities to join, people to talk to, and new environments to join has become much more possible.

I’m not suggesting that everything is perfect and that education has been solved!  Quite the contrary.  The space of possibilities is now MUCH greater than it ever has been.   It’s not even more vital to explore this space of educational possibilities in search of better and better strategies.   There’s no right or wrong way to go about this.   There’s more or less effective strategies for you and your children.  And there’s an infinite number of strategies possible and we all have finite energy/resources/means.

I suppose if I had to conclude or provide some closure on my point here it’s that the ideal education is really whatever works for you.  And what “works” is a complicated mix of means and goals and values.   There are so many options available and yet to be created and that seems to me to be a great thing. Ideal really.

*It’s relatively straight forward to assume that’s the goal of almost any education, formal or not.  Though would could say in certain situations we are trying to teach someone to suffer and die, such as in the case of prison

**repertoire of behavior doesn’t imply a broad set of behaviors, it could be the case that become a master in a particular skill set becomes a necessary strategy.  That is, experts often demonstrate a very wide and deep set of strategies/abilities within a given discipline.

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I’d say it takes a lot of guts to directly educate your children……except that it doesn’t.   It actually takes far more guts to entrust your children to the bizarre, antiquated system of education that exists today in America.

I was educated at a great public school.   I had more than one amazing teacher that took interest in me and helped me do more than get by.  This is not the average experience.  It’s not even the common experience. I was VERY fortunate.

Here’s reality…. only 17% of the adult US population gets an undergraduate college degree.    The textbook industry is worth over $12 billion / year in the US (or here if you prefer).  And 18% of kids in k-12 are obese.   and I can find sooooo many more facts to support the idea that having kids sit in classrooms obsessing over shitty textbooks under the pretense of getting into college is one of the WORST IDEAS EVER.

The fact is I’m a guy (a uchicago guy too) who has hired and fired a lot of people in the working world.  I’ve hired more and more people over ODesk, Amazon MT, and other crowd sourcing options than the typical prep school, college, intern feeder system.  AND i’m a parent of an 8 and 10 year old.   The gig is up.   The typical way to make a living isn’t worth it any more.

The conclusion.

Either we’re teaching kids to figure it out on their own or we’re not.   Teaching them the same old system and the same old “this is how my dad it” is a recipe in futility and poverty.   The new world order is about access and tooling and synthesis, not facts and testing.  Our kids need to learn how to not just problem solve but set up the problem.  Our kids need to learn what problems matter at all.

And that takes experience and time.  If you are trying to teach them courage for the sake of courage please do keep them chasing rote knowledge that we will automate before they graduate.  Then we’ll see if they can survive against all odds.

For me, I’m playing the odds and teaching my kids to understand the odds and their own responsibility for their education.

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Think that’s a crazy question to ask?

Read this detailed report from the LA Times.

Among the findings:

* Building a case for dismissal is so time-consuming, costly and draining for principals and administrators that many say they don’t make the effort except in the most egregious cases. The vast majority of firings stem from blatant misconduct, including sexual abuse, other immoral or illegal behavior, insubordination or repeated violation of rules such as showing up on time.

* Although districts generally press ahead with only the strongest cases, even these get knocked down more than a third of the time by the specially convened review panels, which have the discretion to restore teachers’ jobs even when grounds for dismissal are proved.

* Jettisoning a teacher solely because he or she can’t teach is rare. In 80% of the dismissals that were upheld, classroom performance was not even a factor.

When teaching is at issue, years of effort — and thousands of dollars — sometimes go into rehabilitating the teacher as students suffer. Over the three years before he was fired, one struggling math teacher in Stockton was observed 13 times by school officials, failed three year-end evaluations, was offered a more desirable assignment and joined a mentoring program as most of his ninth-grade students flunked his courses.

As a case winds its way through the system, legal costs can soar into the six figures.

Not convinced?  Just dig through the numbers reported by the California Department of Education.  (ala 67% graduation rate district wide through high school vs 80% statewide…) Or perhaps check out this study and write up from 3 years ago.

Slightly more than 44% of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District graduated from high school in four years, according to the study, which was conducted by the research arm of the nonpartisan publication Education Week. Of the country’s 50 largest public school districts, only five placed lower than Los Angeles, the study determined. […] The Education Week study found that New York City has a graduation rate of 39% and put Chicago, the nation’s third largest district, at 52%.

Is this correctable?  Probably a little, but at what cost?  That’s the issue.  Do you want to spend 10-30 years and continue to have a less optimal experience for generations of children while we let the slow grind system try to improve it? or do we just blow the whole thing over and try something new?

The contingencies regarding performance are messed up in these big city school districts.  The performance is so far removed from the paycheck that you have no hope of really impacting teacher/student/admin performance.  The hope of every parent in these school districts is that you draw a good straw with your local school and the teachers.  i.e. the teacher has to be good as the system can’t train them or course correct.

Outside of teacher performance the current framework of mass public education is flawed.  Schools teach out of date behaviors, skills and knowledge.  The environment for learning is outdated and terribly inefficient. The way students are evaluated doesn’t match up with the actual learning taking place or lack thereof.

Forget the big education theory questions.  These big city school districts simply get crushed under their own weight.  Too many students.  Too many uncommitted parents.  Broken buildings.  Out dated technology.  District wide curriculum is too vanilla.  Constant need to “beat the numbers” to get budget overtakes all other goals. Terrible nutrition in school food.

Here are some of my own experiences to back up my claims:

  • All food on campus is pre packaged.  It is no longer cooked on the spot.  It usually is some sugary, preservative filled something
  • Most campuses are very insecure.  As long as you talk and look like a parent, you can get in.  I’ve only had to show an ID once.
  • There are no classroom assistants.  1 teacher 20-24 students and occasionally a room parent/helper
  • The computers are very old, using very old software and not in the least bit focused on the Internet
  • Without the constant donation of time, money and supplies from parents the classrooms would go without printer paper, Kleenex, a vacuum…
  • Earthquake drills are only run at the END of the year
  • There is no consequence for tardiness and the most schools do not have automated alert system for notifying parents
  • Teachers are responsible for finding their own subs and when the sub doesn’t show, it’s not clear what the remedy is
  • and so much more…

I’m not complaining nor blaming anyone in particular.  I grew up on public schools and I’m doing just fine.  The point is you can’t  implement a better education program when the core of teacher performance, school environment and daily operations are fundamentally broken.  And, no, throwing money at this has not helped.

It’s time to face the facts – the system doesn’t scale.  Trying to get more students into worse aging buildings with ever decreasing resources and under trained teachers doesn’t work.  Vouchers, charters, after school programs… all of that is a band aid or a smoke screen to save a job or two.

Scale?  How can the public school systems scale?

  • Technology
  • New focus on the skills that matter
  • Put it on the parents and provide the resources


For curriculum – By using the Internet and online curriculum huge amounts of budget can be freed up.  Stop printing all this stuff.  Stop buying out of date books from publishers.  Even kindergarten’s can use a computer or a Kindle and these devices cost far less than books in the long haul, as they are multi purpose, can be updated, etc. etc.

For physical space – There is no reason to have these clunky school buildings with oversized lunch rooms and pretty little libraries.  Why not build an efficient community center that has the main focus of technology and community rooms?  Don’t build another library.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m a bibliophile and I still think the little school library or regional branches are doomed because they don’t provide you the materials you or your child needs any faster / better than you could get them via the Internet or Barnes and Noble.  The less space we waste on books and materials, the more space we have for learning or the less space we need period.

For administration – Why do we have all this paperwork?  This is crazy making!  40 forms for enrollment. sign in, sign out.  Report cards.  Memos for fund raising.  Volunteer sign ups. Calendars.  Menus.  …  STOP!  Use technology.  and none of it would cost anything.  There is enough open source software to power all of these features or I’m sure the schools can find some enterprising students to help build it.

Skills that Matter

Teach computing early.  It’s the ol’ teach a man to fish thing.

Teach reading.

Teach figuring things out for yourself.

Teach listening.

Teach mathematical thinking (not rote arithmetic!)

Teach many languages

And teach it all in a way that isn’t about mimickry or regurgitation.  It should all be exploratory – theory making and testing.  Questions.  I’m not education theorist, that’s probably clear. However, based on my own experience with my children I think young children are very good at abstract thinking.  When we are too hasty to fill them with facts we clog up that very useful abstract thinking.  Most facts can be retrieved or computed quickly nowadays.  Learning how to talk about things and question and query and compute is way more important than the actual fact. (Oh and many facts we teach are usually outdated by the time they are learned!)

Parents and Resources

I have repeatedly given this advice to my friends preparing to put their children in school:  Your children will get the quality of education YOU provide.  Yup, don’t rely on the schools and community to give you what you think is needed.  Get involved and make it happen.

This needs to be amped up by the schools too.  Here’s a crazy idea… Test the parents and report those results with the students.  Really be hard on the parents for getting their kids to school on time, getting homework done, knowing the material themselves.

And, finally, as a way to let parents be even more involved… Provide distance learning to every student. Let any student elect into distance learning as long as they show they can keep up.  There should be a hybrid model.

and more!…

Public school systems in large cities are lost.  We can’t keep putting Humpty Dumpty back together.  Find a different model… now… the consequences of not doing that are really straight forward: some 50% of the population in a big city doesn’t graduate and isn’t able to earn more than 40k a year.  You do the math from there to see why waiting for reform is a less optimal strategy.

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When I sit down to make sense of the world I often start with this question:

If beings from another galaxy were to show up on our planet on an anthropological mission, what would they think about all of this? What would they conclude?  How is it all connected? What patterns would they find?

All of This right now refers to these very diverse situations on my mind:

Modern Day Pirates

It’s amazing we don’t have more modern day pirates.  It appears relatively easy to take a non military ship.  And, as far as I can tell, we have no well-crafted strategies for recovering ships and crew.  Certainly our lack of strategies is a result of the fact that the US has basically commanded the seas for most of the last century.  We haven’t been tested and lack the response behavior.  Beyond the lack of strategies on our side, it’s very unclear what the pirates have to gain that they couldn’t gain from less risky efforts.  A very strange situation.

False Populism

Are the people really sufficiently suffering to not just demand change via signage create it?  I propose we’ve mostly lost the behaviors over the last 2 generations to implement change.  While the 60s generation marched, sat in, yelled, voted, engaged… later generations built chat rooms, IM, blogs and Twitter.  We rant online.  We don’t look each other in the eye as much.  And when we do, we talk politely…. and then fire up our iPhones to twitter our outrage.  Our online behaviors are very disconnected from meaningful real world context.  The conversations we have online rarely have direct consequences – in stark contrast to having a face to face debate, or showing up to the local public hearing, or meeting in our communities.  Yes, the last national election was a nice break from the norm – people actually used online conversation to get out into the world – but for the most part that was a short lived activity.

Perhaps it’s just a result of the news cycle.  We move on to the next news story before we’ve fully grokked the last set of events.  I don’t buy that the news cycle prevents us from focusing.  I really think that we are living more and more disconnected lives in the world while we think we’re more connected than ever online.  In a world full of status updates, text messages, dropped cell phone calls, bad web ex meetings, as a generation we’ve lost the ability to hold a long, thoughtful conversation.  We don’t read – we scan.  We don’t debate – we tweet.  We don’t listen – we mult task.

Is this “bad” or “good”?  That’s the wrong question.  Does it get us what we want in the world? Does it help us lead the lives we want? If not, what will?  Perhaps marching on our leaders and community organization and old town councils aren’t the mechanisms to drive change anymore.  What is? what comes next?

Newspapers and Journalism in Crisis

So is journalism really in trouble? is it just the papers? is it the print medium? is it the news business model? is it advertising?

Is finding someone to blame going to change what’s going on?

For me, the biggest question that probably will illuminate various reasons for chaos for the news business is: For organizations and businesses where recognizing and analyzing what’s going on in the world is their business, why were they so slow in recognizing their own crisis and coming up with course corrections?  Ironic, to say the least.

I don’t think the print medium is going away.  The existing business models are already gone, it’s just on fumes right now.

Golf as a One Man Brand

TV ratings for golf are 20-50% controlled by Tiger Woods.  I imagine other business numbers like new players, club sales, tee times, Nike clothing sales are equally affected.  This is truly an amazing thing.  What’s more amazing is how in 12 years, PGA and golf in general has not found a way to diversify.  Though it’s ok for now, in 10-15 years if golf hasn’t found a new format or a new set of interesting golfers, it’s going be in serious trouble.

What does it need to do?  Really simple – start getting people from the real world.  Most of the “golf brand” is not at all what the average person is.  Watch the coverage of the Masters.  As beautiful as it all is – it isn’t aspirational at all to most people.  It’s actually off putting, especially now.  Rich, mostly white, people at a country club all making millions.  None of it looks attainable.  It’s an argument golf has faced before… but they don’t seem to listen.

Boxing in modern times

It’s just plane strange if not downright boring.  The modern sport just doesn’t really fit in the mainstream culture like it used to.  The sport has few exciting athletes – in terms of personality and wider cultural presence.  The media surrounding boxing is dreadfully boring with the same old same old announcers and approaches to coverage.  A few years ago when The Contender started as a reality show, I thought there was some promise in reaching a new audience with a more raw, more down to earth viewing experience.

That didn’t last and the sport didn’t really commit to it.

Beyond the media, the sport itself doesn’t really work with a modern audience.  Refs stop fights too early to get the big prize knock outs and most managers keep their great boxers out of big matches.  So why bother to watch?  2 guys punching each other without the purpose of knocking the other one out really undermines the sport.  I’m not saying boxing is good or bad or making any moral judgment.  The idea of fighting is to beat someone up.  When that’s no longer the objective, what’s the big payoff?  When does the audience getting its money worth?  A tactical boxing match is highly boring for non-expert viewers.

UFC and IFC and other mixed martial arts have filled this gap and they are running away with the audience, and many times the athletes.

Also, the idea of overly priced tickets and PPV events doesn’t work in a recession.  Last night’s match card didn’t draw much of a live audience.  I say if boxing returned to smaller gyms and more intimate coverage of lesser known, but more charming athletes they’d have a shot to be relevant.

Celebrity, Method Acting and the Paparazzi

One day soon this celebrity obsession thing is going to fall to pieces in the media.  I know, I know, I certainly buy enough US Weekly’s and have run many entertainment portals and sites – who am I to say something like this?  For a long time I’ve thought this whole “let’s watch everything celebrities do” would get terribly boring.  Celebrities generally lead unremarkable lives, certainly not lives anyone would actually want.

Ok, so occasionally there’s an interesting story or some really bizarre behavior.  I’m pretty certain the behavior of celebrities is conditioned by us and the media and is not a distinct feature of the celebrity. So, if it’s the bizarro behavior we like, you really can just annoy anyone in your neighborhood enough and they too will punch you in the face.  You can now put it on YouTube and get famous.

Point is… methinks TMZ and US Weekly probably won’t have a market on this forever. At least that’s my hope.  Move on.

Stock Market Index Tells You Nothing

The current  behavior of the stock market indices provides no insight into what’s happening in the world.  News outlets and investors wish it did.  In fact, I challenge you to figure out what most economists and “leading thinkers” actually think by reading news articles and economic reports that talk about the DJI or SP500.

Probability of Life in The Universe

I just read an article in the May issue of Discovery Magazine about how the universe has a higher probability of life formation than we thought.  Why can’t we let go of this desire to prove our existence is inevitable (either as something so rare it must be divine, or something so probable of course we’re here)?  Folks, let it go.  There’s simply know way to know how likely life was or is in the universe.  Even if we find life elsewhere… 2 out of infinity is still undefined.

Bigger question: why do we care whether it’s likely or not?

Alright, enough, time for some Rockband or something.

Aliens from another planet – if you are reading this and can understand – please do tell us what you figure out, because we certainly can’t make sense out of all this.

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Put 2 trillion into education.

Revamp every school.

build more schools.

pay teachers very highly (pay based on college enrollment + post graduate employment)

any county not graduating 95% within 2 years loses funding.


We do not have the tools, concepts, culture and work force ready to take on what swirl exists.

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I was going to title this “Not found @ 2009 Consumer Electronics Show…” but I’d get punished.

People invest in training for their education, work, entertainment and even lifestyles. The society as a whole invests billions in training and education for all its children and encourages more of it after high school. Collectively, corporations spend hundreds of billions of dollars on training of all levels; from simple tasks (MS Office) to the ultra complex (Billings fMRI certification). Training can be hands-on, case studies, role-play, webcasts, podcasts, virtual, instructor led, eLearning, Learning communities and even blog solutions groups. Then there is mentoring for individuals to complement sales training, technical training, service training, partner training and vendor training.

Professional athletic organizations spend billions of dollars globally each year to train not only the muscles of their athletes but the way they think about themselves, their competitors, and how to handle work-life balance issues that can be anything but normal. The ‘natural’ athletic ability of athletes like Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Paton Manning, Dana Torres, and Mario Williams comes at the price of eight+ hours of practice a day for years in order to be an over-night success. People watch super athletes perform a bevy of athletic feats and too frequently ascribe their behavior to a “natural ability” rather than to intense training in multiple areas that is required to do what they do. The US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, has classes for athletes on handling the media, food, injuries and anger. Organizations also spend millions more to learn new methods of training world class athletes for elite competition in every sport imaginable from both forms of football, baseball and basketball to lesser but intensely played X-games, tennis and ping pong.

All this time, all this money and all these people invest daily in what they can learn today that will take them to the next level tomorrow. They are all committed to acquiring whatever will improve performance, profit, presentation or information that will serve them in the pursuit of what each of them is organized to value.

However when any of these individuals, groups or organizations are presented with the learning and conditioning rules that apply to their training there is push back and denunciation conditioning. While even a grade school track coach knows how the Krebs cycle affects a ‘kick’ at the end of a 440, they know next to nothing of the methods of reinforcement and avoidance, chaining and fading, discrimination training or schedules effect those they train. Even the arguments against the use of conditioning and learning techniques as being relevant are learned using the very contingency management they deny is involved.

So, am I missing something? Did we all learn to read blogs by reflex? Was divination involved in finding the right partner to marry? Was it always their ‘motivation’ or was it due to a ‘calling’ he turned that MBA from University of Colorado into a creative design position for www.getgreen.com?

The value for us is that learning and conditioning is everywhere. It is harder to find a behavior that didn’t come about due to past consequences than it is to keep up with pop logic that eating chocolate is good for me or that purging is a disease. Please! The effects of learning and conditioning are everywhere; drug cartels, congressman, Joel Osteen, Rev. Wright, moms, brothers sisters and you too.

Maybe we ought to take the rules of learning seriously in order to understand the big stuff about what the heck is going on in the world. Then we can start on the tough stuff.

Find me a behavior that was acquired without conditioning and I’ll pay you money.

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Actually this is a provocative title to get parents and teachers to read online crap. Kinda ironical, don’t you think… it is supposed to sound like concerns from worried parents.

One brain scientist at UCLA, Gary Small, a psychiatrist, argues that daily exposure to digital technologies can alter how the brain works. “Brain scientist” does not equate to brainy scientist!

While violent and porn have received a lot of public attention, the current jive goes well beyond concern and elicits fear. Media hawking ‘scientists’ purport that the wired world may be changing the way we read, learn and interact with each other. Dah…

Dr. Small claims that brain circuits involved in face-to-face contact can become weaker due to the time and exposure to digital media. Of course he offers no data and the directionality of the changes is impossible to determine if they empirically exist at all. …did the person select a digital world because of his or her brain or did the digital world change the brain by being less emotive, less rewarded by being around people?

Small says the effect is strongest in so-called digital natives, for now. It is the teenagers and 20s and 30 year olds who have been “digitally hard-wired since toddlerhood.” [Is pop-science the same as junk science?]

More than 2,000 years ago, Socrates warned about a different information revolution. He knew learning was important. Yet, he lectured that the rise of the written word was a more artificial way of learning than the oral tradition. More recently, television sparked concerns, then movies, then video games that would make our precious youth more violent or passive and interfere with their education. It even was rumored that TV watching interfered with their sight, fantasy development and ability to do good in school. YIKES!

There isn’t an open-and-shut case that digital technology is changing brain circuitry in any way different from an athlete’s brain or a student’s brain changes due to plasticity… those things a person does change the neural work paths of the brain so that the person doesn’t have to relearn everything they did yesterday all over again when they do it today.

Not enough scientists and non-scientists are skeptical of digital fear mongering. It appears to be a way for doctors to get copy in online and print media. I got some articles off the web on this…. There is little to disprove or prove the digital fear speculation.

Dr. Robert Kurzban, a University of Pennsylvania scientist states the obvious: he says that neurobiology is complex and incomplete and there is still have a lot to learn about how a person’s experiences affect the way the brain is wired to deal with any interaction including social or digital ones. They are separate issues: neurological wiring AND social interaction.

It appears to many in education and science that social interaction is a reinforcer just like food and water. Deprivation and overload appear to work in a similar fashion as anyone who has ever been in jail or from a large family will attest. Montessori educators have practiced a version of education and development that maintains that each student gets just what they need when they are ready to process it and there is not an absolute course on when, where and if that is going to happen or should happen.

But anything we do changes the brain due to plasticity. Even Googling. Some scientists suggest the brain actually benefits from Internet use which is equally silly as to claim that the brain is harmed by all things digital.

The developing brain builds pathways as learning occurs that gradually allows for more sophisticated processing. This is true of car mechanics and interpretive dance. It is also true for learning scripture whether it is based on Buddha, Mohamed, Christ or Jim Jones. It is all the same to the brain. Early on, “stuff” that isn’t used gets sloughed off in a pairing of dendrites and neural wax that keeps the brain working efficiently. Over time the 100 billion neurons with their 100,000 connections each come to grips with the environment, internal and external.

Children do more reading earlier online rather than Dick and Jane books at school. There is more and greater variability online than even seasoned educators can grasp. All and all, some parents can’t absorb or rationalize it. Yes, games are played to a frenzy. Yes, there is stuff out there that makes a sailor blush. No one knows how it will all turn out. There is also a bit of “Dr. Suez was good enough for me! Why do you have to be online all the time reading about arbitrage and the credit crunch or the net worth of Hollywood’s stars under 21 on Yahoo?”

For my 20 cents we shouldn’t have such a narrow view of children, humans or animals to rely on some aspect causing a great hole or scar in their behavior or man’s treatment of others. That flag is already waved by organized religion. They have a lock on it except for what is being played out digitally in games. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

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Boy, has that a lot of meanings….

But consider this version of ‘cosmos’…


According to Lawrence Krauss of NEWScientist magazine, David Brook wrote in The New York Times in May that


“…while we moderns see space as a black, cold, mostly empty vastness, with planets and stars propelled by gravitational and other forces, Europeans in the Middle Ages saw a more intimate and magical place. The heavens, to them, were a ceiling of moving spheres, rippling with signs and symbols, and moved by the love of God… The modern view disenchants the universe and tends to make it ‘all fact and no meaning’.” 


YIKES!  This is a world-view a 5 year-old would not embrace.


Brooks’s article reflects a popular view of science and technology shared the world over.  For too many and for too long, the complexity and majesty of the inner workings of the universe, a cell phone  or a blender – robs some of the ghostliness and the mercurial wonder fulfilled by myth, superstition and religion.  

Only the hopelessly lost and the cynical would suggest that medieval banter, hallucinations, and fantasy are of greater value to man today and our future than the actual workings of the universe.

This romanticized fantasy and yearning for the “good ‘ol days” is more frequent and pervasive in times of great change and upheaval when all the absolutes are evaporating in a short course of accelerated science. 

On the opposite end, the spiritual and mythical universe is anchored among our fundamentalist religious myths, along with virgin births, booga-booga incantations and other intellectually lazy creations of simple minds where answers must be keep equally simple rather than accurate or non-existent.  Brooks’s column referenced Barack Obama’s much-maligned statement that – some people turn to religion and guns for refuge from the inequities that abound.   From the response, Obama must have struck a note that many people would rather not hear.

Science is not necessarily a comfortable place to hang out.  It certainly is not for everyone.  For those that do hang out in the library, lab, or field explorations, it is laughable to have naysayers poo-poo science while they are clogging their brain arteries with cholesterol, The Simpson’s and Brittany Spears.  When it comes to an emergency cure for clogged arteries, some neurosurgeon with 25 years of science philosophy, practice, and imagination will be paged to save his life.  There is no current cure for The Simpson’s and Brittany Spears brain clogged arteries.

A lot has happened since the discovery of the new world.  Sailors from those ancient times mentioned above learned that the constellations in the sky were a ‘tool’ to navigate and an aid to their survival.  Many could only wonder if the same star constellations existed in the other hemispheres around the globe.  The light from the stars of other galaxies takes billions of years to reach us.  Those sailors saw light that is ceased to glow since then.  It seems that surely expands the imagination more than incense, fables and war-lording that’s provoked by religions feuding over who are the ‘delivered’ people.

The skies are not inhabited by mythical beasts, nymphs or fairies.  But, yes, their may be life out there or a version of it that some of us can agree on. 

Worldwide superstition is based on fear and lack of understanding of the relationships between entities in the universe.   Until we learn to separate mythical thinking from a knowledge base developed empirically, we’ll continue to invent alternative realities to justify whatever is the current superstition.  Thus, for now it is important that we get an accelerated perspective on what is imaginary and what is real.

Why does it matter if people cling to myths for solace from the confusion?  

It matters because real-world problems such as hate, hunger, disease, genocide, and climate change can only be solved by real-world thinking. That will require that people get uncomfortable.  Our “raison d’être” is survival. Nature doesn’t exist to serve humanity. It is ruthless.  It knows nothing about accounting or retirement or children in religious sects.  While it is hard today to abandon silliness, it will become even harder when consequences of superstition are racking every thing on earth – especially when our own survival is at stake. 

Recounting myths and calling it ‘tradition’ does the world a disservice.  Myths put humans at the center of everything.  That is a big error.  Be suspicious of those that promote human based logic. By acquiescing to some ‘harmless’ superstitious practices the weary and confused are distracted from selections about the future that even doom their wishful thinking that is the staple of supernatural thought.  

None of this is easy so lets get started right away.


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Elliot Masie – a corporate learning impresario has asked on his site www.learningtown.com :

What “Learning” lessons can we learn from the current U.S. Democratic Primaries? What are your perspectives? Note: Keep this focused on the lessons .. not a push for a candidate!

Recent response…

It appears we’ve learned to regurgitate what we were told by speakers in learning seminars!

What we’ve learned is that there is a constellation of people in the citizenry that are all at different positions in their education, awareness, position and attention based on what they learned to value AND the context of what’s going on for them NOW. The tasks of anyone running for office in the office or in the land is provide a defensible set of statements that increase the probability of those citizens liking what is said and a low probability of them being offended by what is said.

Provided there is no event bigger than a position held requiring new framing, those that have touted the most big triggers [lower taxes, more security, less conflict, higher wages, less invasive government, greater order, less disorder…..you get the idea] have the higher probability of winning.

It is the position of learning – education – training to provide access to relevant information that in some way levels the differences in assessment of this or other issues requiring a level of informed engagement.

Or maybe do what our parents did and see what happens. We’ll see…

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