Just a bit of notes from the discussion yesterday + thoughts on Farsighted while waiting on the recording
I found Steven Johnson’s Farsighted to be a useful book directly related to our topic(s) of choice.@madrush mentioned Johnson’s story of Collect Pond in NYC, a bucolic location for centuries until commercialism (tanneries dumping chemicals and dead animals into the pond) required human decision-making skills to solve the issues of stagnant waters: should it be converted to a public park? High-end housing? Pierre Charles L’Enfant was hired and came up with a proposal that was turned down because of lack of support from investors….so they leveled nearby Bunker Hill and covered Collect Pond and developed high-class housing on top of it…only to have its merdo-issues arise a few decades later with sinking, stinking homes….ultimately leading to Five Points in the mid-1800’s, a slum Dickens wrote about, and later (present day) a collection of not-so-bucolic government buildings. Though we look with hindsight now…a good idea gone bad because of poor planning…can we proceed with farsightedness as we make large decisions now? L’Enfant later developed Washington DC and many Manhattan Parks….Collect Pond could have been one of these.
Johnson specifically hones in on a lack of farsighted. The developers proposing the leveling of Bunker Hill likely did not consult geologists, land surveyors, other scientific experts. Nor did they have the foresight into the future growth of Manhattan. No one mapped out an influence diagram, a full-spectrum tool we have in present-day decision making. Compare this case to Meadow Lake in Queens which underwent recent renewal by developing bioswale which collects highway runoff before entering the lake, and by filtering out algae-supporting phosphates from the drinking water which was causing algae blooms.
Johnson lists eight factors that make farsightedness a challenge.
involve multiple variables,
require full-spectrum analysis,
force us to predict the future,
involve varied levels of uncertainty,
involve conflicting objectives,
harbor undiscovered options,
are prone to failures of system 1 (or gut-feeling, shortcut-like) thinking;
are vulnerable to failures of collective intelligence (groupthink, etc.)
Mapping of the complex situations is necessary. Some of us are great mapmakers, explorers of the territory, guides. Restoring Meadow Lake required full-spectrum mapping…a very complicated mapping, but not an impossible one.
To create a map of the future or of the unknown, though, we need a core collection of prediction skills. Johnson reminds us that we are the only animal that demonstrates decision-making based on future prospects on the scale of months or years. We naturally predict…but how do we predict with precision, with the knowledge that our predictions have a wide-ranging effect on our world, especially as the decisions scale up beyond the individual levels and into community decisions, government decision, global level decisions?
For the long view, we need full spectrum source analysis. On the human level those of us with an openness to experience (a Big Five trait) have a better chance at being successful forecasters. But this does not mean that we can be ultimate prediction, though some percentage better than those without the trait. SF writers tend to be open and often provide us with new ideas…though hundreds of predictions never arrive.
When making the hard choices, we use the spectrum at hand to run simulations that utilize scenarios. Medical, meteorological, other natural science tend to have the upper-hand on prediction. Imagine the farsightedness required to get to the moon. As various sciences of mind and sociology become more explicit (bio- or eco- semiotics, anyone?!), can we learn to utilize these sciences to boost out predictions of futures?
Gaming, scenario planning; accepting and rehearsing for uncertainty; premortems (acting as if x has already happened —> see results); forecasting; literary explorations: all provide the territory for virtual scenarios. How do we decide? We perpetually search for guides as we go along for the ride, weighing values and risks; reviewing scenarios; mulling over and taking the long view.
We need to learn how to make long term decisions, emergent decisions. And it is about time we start learning how to make these decisions. Johnson’s book is useful as a gentle mapping and how to proceed. But he guides us back to ourselves…how do we make these hard decisions into an artful science? Simulations make us better at predicting, and successful predictions make us better decision-makers. How, then, can we simulate the personal or collective choices that matter most in our lives?
What do we want to have happen?
What wants to happen?
What needs to happen?
Or Tolstoy’s query:
What science can there be in a matter in which, as in every practical matter, nothing can be determined and everything depends on innumerable conditions, the significance of which becomes manifest at a particular moment , and no one can tell when that moment will come?
- are we in an era that requires full species participation? Are the climate predictions accurate enough for us to reconsider the direction of the entire movement of the human species upon the earth? Is this era more of the same and to attempt prediction or speculation is to play a game (of some sort)?
- Where (or when, Or why) does outsight begin (at what point is it a necessity)?
- Who or what else observes from outsight?
- Does the crow cracking the nut demonstrate learning, foresight? Do we need full-species education?