The Most Important TV Show in America

Remember Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize Wish?  Well tonight is the prime time season premiere of his Food Revolution show on ABC.  The Huffington Post called Undercover Boss the most subversive show in America, and I can’t disagree.  But in terms of importance to the future of America (and by extension every country which imports American TV and culture), Food Revolution I can’t imagine a more important show.

It’s not just the lives of individuals who eat crap (which is most of the country, frankly, even though they have no idea how toxic what they are eating is).  It’s the happiness and achievement potential of today’s youth.  It’s the emperor with no clothes at the center of the healthcare debate.  And it’s a lynchpin for economic recovery and sustainability.

Watch the premiere, and spread the word……

Help Wanted: Social Capital Uncontractors

Are you struggling to pay for your food/home/whatever, or do you know someone who is?

If you can convince someone you are a superstar, there’s a way out.  But if you are having trouble making that case, then maybe you’d consider becoming a Social Capital Uncontractor.  What’s that, you ask?  I’m not sure, I’m making this up as I write, you can help…

Here’s my life.  I have a large and growing number of projects that I am working on, and an even larger (and more accelerating) number of projects I’d like to begin.  The critical bottlneck for me is not money but time.  It’s getting so bad that I don’t have time to even think about the management of these projects, let alone manage them.  Plus I hate managing projects and it’s definitely not my biggest strength.  I’m much better advising and asking questions that make you think differently.

On the other hand I have many friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. who are underemployed, by …

The Innovation Summit

My new favorite worldchanger is the Spirit of Innovation Awards.  In short, high school students from around the country solve real-world problems and compete for awards and opportunities (like access to venture capital and mentorship).  Here’s an example:

I am working with founder Nancy Conrad on creating a self-sustaining, growing funding mechanism to expand the mission.  Might be an endowment, might be for-profit investment fund, might be an incubator, might be some combination.  We need to talk to people who are veterans of funding innovation (VC, hedge fund and angel investor types), who are as passionate about the mission as we are, to figure it all out.

What the mission doesn’t say, but what I believe, is that this will change the educational landscape permanently and profoundly.  There a a million “ideas” for how to fix the broken system.  The only way change actually will happen is through setting up subversive alternatives that the discontent (that’s you and me) can switch over to …

Troubling Statistics

In his eloquent article, Breaking the Galilean Spell (worth reading in its entirety), Stuart Kauffman has given me the words to finally be able to articulate the uneasiness I feel about statistical reasoning in an increasingly interconnected world:

…[Can] we make probability statements about the evolution of the biosphere? No. Consider flipping a coin 10,000 times. It will come up heads about 5,000 times with a binomial distribution. But, critically, note that we knew beforehand all the possible outcomes, all heads, all tails, all 2 to the 10,000 possibilities. Thus we knew what statisticians call “the sample space” of the process, so could construct a probability measure.

Can we construct a probability measure for the evolution of the biosphere into its Adjacent Possible? No. We do not know the sample space!

I won’t belabor the point except to say that I view the increasing irrelevance and danger of statistical reasoning as the essential argument of The Black Swan, the fundamental reason why the …

The Adjacent Possible

Stuart Kauffman has a concept called the Adjacent Possible which I find incredibly useful in understanding the world.  Simply put, if you think of the space of possibilities from the present moment forward and just concentrate on those that are achievable today — adjacent to the present moment — that’s the Adjacent Possible.

What’s interesting about possibility-space is that tomorrow’s Adjacent Possible depends on the actions and choices we make today; it’s not symmetric and it’s nonlinear.  Certain actions generate more future possibilities than others.  In my experience, those actions tend to be the cooperative ones, ones that produce network effects: financial, social and otherwise.

Due to our evolutionary heritage, having come from a resource-constrained world, we may be predisposed to see the more competitive actions which tend to shrink the Adjacent Possible.  Whether or not this is a bias or an actual state of affairs, much of our thinking is based on scarcity, so we are drawn to actions that become self-limiting.

Here’s …

Overcoming Bias

The title of this post is ironic.  What is science/truth/knowledge if not picking one story over another, in other words, the creation of bias?  Hopefully the bias we create is useful and allows us to predict and create a future that is better (in some agreed upon sense) than the past.

To get to “better” we have to be able to change our minds when we get stuck on locally maximal peaks.  That’s why I love this post on the Rationally Speaking blog called How to Want to Change Your Mind.  The techniques are simple, but profound, and harder to put into practice than they seem.  Here they are in summary:

  • Divorce your belief from your self
  • Think of disagreements as collaborative, not adversarial
  • Visualize being wrong
  • Take the long view
  • Congratulate yourself on being objective, not on being right
  • If you can’t overcome your competitive instinct, re-direct it

To these, I will add some of my own:

  • Truly Listen – I am

Science 2.0

I liken cognition to a hill-climbing search on the landscape of theories/models/maps that explain/predict reality.  It’s easy to get stuck on peaks of local maximality.  Injecting randomness creates a sort of Boltzmann machine of the mind and increases my chances of finding higher peaks.

But I have to be prepared to be more confused — and question more assumptions than I intended to — because chances are my new random placement on the landscape is initially lower than the local maximum I was on prior.  This part is scary.  People around me don’t understand what I’m saying initially because I necessarily need new words, new language, to describe the new landscape.

And rather than start totally afresh with a new lexicon, I notice it’s more productive (personally and in communication) to overload old terms and let them slowly blend into their new meanings.  We all resist the strain, especially those who did not sign up for the jump through hyperspace.  They use the …

$100,000 Reward: Y Prize

Inspired by the X Prize, Y Combinator’s “Startup Ideas We’d Like to Fund” and Kickstarter, I am offering a $100K prize in three parts:

$10K for Crowdsourced X Prizes Platform

  • Allows anyone to offer a cash prize for achieving a goal they want achieved
  • Allows anyone to pledge additional dollars to someone else’s already-offered prize
  • Uses crowdsourcing to vet which goals are worthy of public prize offer and which get top billing
  • Uses crowdsourcing to determine if/when a prize gets awarded
  • Has been used to award at least five prizes of one thousand dollars or more
  • Does not have any pending lawsuits alleging that the platform violates U.S. federal or state laws
  • Has an opinion letter from a U.S. law firm that the system does not violate U.S. federal or state laws

Note that this is different from Kickstarter in that (a) it’s the donors who set the goal not the recipient; (b) Kickstarter does not use crowdsourcing in its vetting …

Why Falsifiability is Insufficient for Scientific Reasoning

In my post about The Process it turns out that I stepped on a pedagogical minefield when using describing the Anthropic Principle (AP).  Two preeminent physicists had a very public argument a while ago in which one called the AP unscientific because it’s unfalsifiable.  I will return to that in a moment since it’s the crux of what’s wrong with Science right now, but I need to get the terminology issue out of the way first.

Lee Smolin claims that AP is bad and favors a Cosmological Natural Selection view instead (on grounds of falsifiability).  I believe this is a false dichotomy and that they are really one and the same.  Here’s why:

  1. Normally natural selection requires some form of “replication” or it’s not actually natural selection.   But replication is not needed if you start with an infinity of heterogeneous universes.  In other words replication is simulated via the anthropic lens over the life-supporting subset of all possible universes.
  2. Replication is a red herring anyway

The Process

Imagine a multiverse, infinitely infinite.  There’s just infinity.  Or if you prefer, nothing.   There’s no space, no time, no matter, no energy.  There’s no structure whatsoever, and nothing “in” any of the universes that make up the multiverse.  it’s not even clear whether these individual universes are separate from one another or the same.  But since our minds seem finite and we have to start somewhere, let’s imagine them as separate: an infinite collection of universes with nothing in them, no dimension, and no relationship between them.

Now lets assume there is some process for picking out universes from the multiverse.  Since there’s no time in the multiverse, the process has no beginning and no end.  It’s like a computer program, but it’s infinitely complex.  Let’s call it The Process.

If The Process is infinitely complex and has no beginning and no end, what can we know about it?  We know that it picks some universes but not others, which effectively creates an “in …

The Technium

Here are the slides from his talk. My favorites are 3, 4, 8, 10, 15, 19, 21, 23, 26, 28, 29, 35, 37, 38, 53, 66, 68.

TED Prize Wish: Teach Every Child About Food

Four Ways to Fix a Broken Legal System (TED 2010)

This was one of my favorites of the year.…

Decision Education: A Call to Arms

“Extensive research has shown that people tend to lead either from their head or their heart. Unless we make a conscious choice to achieve the appropriate balance, we tend to do what comes naturally and solve the problem from within our comfort zone” (from the Decision Education Foundation)

Those of us on the analytical side of the spectrum often completely discount feelings in making decisions. But it’s worth noting that the Decision Education Foundation (DEF) was founded by Stanford professors who pioneered the science of decision analysis and whose work spawned an entire consulting industry that helps companies make billion dollar decisions. DEF is adamant about the importance of using both head and heart:

Using your heart means taking into account what you really care about, which often includes the effect on other people and retaining their respect and trust. It means listening to your emotions and intuition. If you have taken your heart into account in the appropriate way, a decision feels right.

Whom Should I Interview?

I was just interviewed by International Mentoring Network and as a thank you for my time they asked if there was anyone I would like to interview.  Anyone in their network, I asked ?  No, anyone in the world.  Whoever it is, they will try to make it happen.  Now that’s an interesting question!

Okay, so who do you think I should interview?…

Synthesis of Complexity Theory

As careful readers of this blog will note, I’ve been obsessed with Alex Ryan’s visualization of the way new levels of organization come into being (e.g. atoms –> molecules –> cells, etc).  In an attempt to complement and extend his model, here’s a visualization of how I think of the various concepts coming together:

Evolution Emergence Synthesis

First off, I know that this may not make sense to most people.  The relationships implied by proximity, color, dimension, etc are not totally accurate.  The problem is, I’ve reached the limit of my personal ability to create a good visualization.  So I’m throwing this out there half-baked hoping that the crowd (that’s you) will help bring this together in a more coherent way.

I’m especially interested in hearing from people who have great design skills.  If you don’t, then at the least you can ask probing questions to suss out the sources of confusion, which will then feed into the redesign process.

A more detailed explication of these concepts can …

Approaching a Cure for Cancer

James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA’s double-helix structure recently called for a back to basics approach in dealing with cancer.  In previous post threads I’ve discussed cancer’s complexity and in particular the confounding and scary implications of somatic evolution, which underscores some of the reasons we are not winning the “war on cancer.”  Here I will discuss some cutting edge approaches to treating and preventing cancer and how they might pan out in light of the complexities of the disease.  The categories below are not mutually exclusive, and the examples cited are nowhere near exhaustive, but this should give you some food for thought.  If you have ideas, questions or know of approaches that should be highlighted, please comment.

Target & Kill Approaches

Biris and Zharov are making some exciting progress in using nanotubes to tag and then track cancer cells inside the body as they move around.  They propose to kill the cancer cells by heating up the nanotubes using lasers, while others are

“Social Entrepreneurship has Complexity Written All Over It”

That’s the title and conclusion of this paper by Jeffrery Goldstein et al which was presented at  this talk at the Skoll Foundation International Social Innovation Conference 2009.  Here’s a slide from that talk that I like:

complexity-sciences

If you like the theme of “Social Entrepreneurship, Systems Thinking and Complexity” — and I know that you do because that’s what this blog talks about a lot of the time — then you may want to attend (or even submit a paper/talk abstract to) the eponymously named conference at Adelphi University in New York (April 30 – May 2, 2010).  Hope to see you there!

hat tip: Jerri Chou: @jchou

Non-Dualism

How do we know what we know?

If you grew up like me you were brought up in a culture based on a dualist metaphysics, one that asserts that there is an objective reality outside of ourselves (whatever “we” are) and that we know about it indirectly through our senses and conscious reasoning.  This is the basis of the Western traditions of science, liberal arts and symbolic systems (such as mathematics and human language).  Essentially anything that can be studied is part of this metaphysics.  Gödel showed us that this metaphysics will never lead to complete knowing, though everyone agrees we can continually refine our knowledge and thereby at least asymptotically approach enlightenment.

Descartes proved to us that each of us individually do indeed exist, and he tried to argue further that the universe as we perceive it — however imperfectly — does indeed exist too.  But before you drink too deeply from the Cartesian well, keep in mind that his argument for an external

Convergence

As readers of my blog posts know, I talk a lot about evolutionary systems, the formal structure of cooperation, the role of both in emergence of new levels of complexity, and I sometimes use cellular automata to make points about all these things and the reification of useful models (here’s a summary of how they all relate).  I’ve also touched on this “thing” going on with the system of life on Earth that is related to technological singularity but really is the emergence or (or convergence) of an entirely new form of intelligence/life/collective consciousness/cultural agency, above the level of human existence.

From The Chaos Point. Reproduced with permission from the author.

In a convergence of a different sort, many of these threads which all come together and interrelate in my own mind, came together in various conversations and talks within the last 15 hours.  And while it’s impossible to explain this all in details, it’s really exciting to find other people who are on …

Welcome, Kim Scheinberg!

Kim is one of my best friends and the single most self-aware friend I have.  In terms of hearing a rational argument and seeing solid evidence, nobody updates their beliefs and practices to coincide quicker than Kim.  And when the evidence shifts to suggest a deeper, more nuanced truth, so does Kim, without ego, and without disdain for those who are not as willing to remake their mind and personal identity with as much facility.  These qualities (amongst others) makes Kim someone I greatly admire and strive to emulate, and someone with whom I always look forward to talking and learning from.  I know you will too.…

Religion

In learning the history of various religions, it becomes clear that all religions are created to redress human suffering in whatever forms are ubiquitous during the founding. They are spread at a rate directly proportional to the suffering and directly proportional to the simplicity of the message.

Given this formulation, what does it portend for the religions of Science, Democracy and Capitalism respectively?…

How Many Calories for a Dollar?

Michael Pollan, as always, making perfect sense:

Now watch Will Allen on urban farming…

Cultural Relativity

When a person walks into a village and blows it up along with themselves we call it terrorism. But when a person drops bombs from a $100M fighter jet and blows up a village it’s somehow not terrorism. Why is that?

This is an observation Laura made tonight that stopped me in my tracks. I don’t know why it did, I’m sure I’ve heard it before.

Another thought that went through my mind was the question of what causes terrorism? The only single-word answer that I can think of which is not oversimplified is… imperialism. I’m sure I’d heard that somewhere before too.

If you ever go to India, I highly recommend loading the movie Ghandi onto your iPhone to watch along the way. The power of his *ideas* is as unfathomable as the ideas are ancient and simple: non-violence; humility; service. Where have we heard these before? The better question is, what ancient belief system does not espouse them?

Some would say imperialism is…

Egyptian Mummies Yield Ancient Secrets of Good Journalism

This is based on an LA Times article here

What strikes me most is how athlerosclerotic the science itself is.  Or perhaps it’s just the reportage?

The opening line of the article is “CT scans of Egyptian mummies… show evidence of… hardening of the arteries, which is normally thought of as a disease caused by modern lifestyles….”  One of the researching cardiologist draws this conclusion: “Perhaps atherosclerosis is part of being human.”

The LA Times reporter covering the story (Thomas Maugh) rightly points out at the end, “The high-status Egyptians ate a diet high in meat from cattle, ducks and geese, all fatty.”  Which of course entirely negates the hypothesis of heart disease being part of the natural human condition.

It’s clear why the researchers — both cardiologists — would want ancient evidence to support the notion that heart disease is normal.  But the fact is that the preponderance of evidence around the world in epidemiology as well as cardiology indicates that …