Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm Gladwell

The Gift of Doubt, Albert O. Hirschman and the power of failure.

In the mid-nineteenth century, work began on a crucial section of the railway line connecting Boston to the Hudson River. The addition would run from Greenfield, Massachusetts, to Troy, New York, and it required tunneling through Hoosac Mountain, a nearly five-mile thick impediment, that blocked passage between the Deerfield Valley and a tributary of the Hudson.

James Hayward, one of New England’s leading railroad engineers, estimated that penetrating the Hoosac would cost, at most, a very manageable $2 million.

The president of Amherst College, an accomplished geologist, said that the mountain was composed of soft rock and that tunneling would be fairly easy once the engineers had breached the surface. “The Hoosac . . . is believed to be the only barrier between Boston and the Pacific,” the project’s promoter, Alvah Crocker, declared.

 published in The New Yorker this June 24, 2013:

Everyone was wrong. Digging through the Hoosac turned out to be a nightmare. The project cost more than ten times the budgeted estimate.

If the people involved had known the true nature of the challenges they faced, they would never have funded the Troy-Greenfield railroad. But, had they not, the factories of northwestern Massachusetts wouldn’t have been able to ship their goods so easily to the expanding West, the cost of freight would have remained stubbornly high, and the State of Massachusetts would have been immeasurably poorer. So is ignorance an impediment to progress or a precondition for it?

The economist Albert O. Hirschman, who died last December, loved paradoxes like this. He was a “planner,” the kind of economist who conceives of grand infrastructure projects and bold schemes. But his eye was drawn to the many ways in which plans did not turn out the way they were supposed to—to unintended consequences and perverse outcomes and the puzzling fact that the shortest line between two points is often a dead end.

Hirschman was a planner who saw virtue in the fact that nothing went as planned. Illustration by Ricardo Martinez.

Hirschman was a planner who saw virtue in the fact that nothing went as planned. Illustration by Ricardo Martinez.

“The Principle of the Hiding Hand,” one of Hirschman’s many memorable essays, drew on an account of the Troy-Greenfield “folly,” and then presented an even more elaborate series of paradoxes. Hirschman had studied the enormous Karnaphuli Paper Mills, in what was then East Pakistan.

The mill was built to exploit the vast bamboo forests of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. But not long after the mill came online, the bamboo unexpectedly flowered and then died, a phenomenon now known to recur every 50 years or so. Dead bamboo was useless for pulping; it fell apart as it was floated down the river.

Because of ignorance and bad planning, a new, multimillion-dollar industrial plant was suddenly without the raw material it needed to function.

But what impressed Hirschman was the response to the crisis.

The mill’s operators quickly found ways to bring in bamboo from villages throughout East Pakistan, building a new supply chain using the country’s many waterways. They started a research program to find faster-growing species of bamboo to replace the dead forests, and planted an experimental tract. They found other kinds of lumber that worked just as well. The result was that the plant was blessed with a far more diversified base of raw materials than had ever been imagined.

If bad planning hadn’t led to the crisis at the Karnaphuli plant, the mill’s operators would never have been forced to be creative. And the plant would not have been nearly as valuable as it became.

“We may be dealing here with a general principle of action,” Hirschman wrote:

Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. We would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming.

Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be.

And from there Hirschman’s analysis took flight. People don’t seek out challenges “They are “apt to take on and plunge into new tasks because of the erroneously presumed absence of a challenge—because the task looks easier and more manageable than it will turn out to be.

This was the Hiding Hand principle—a play on Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. The entrepreneur takes risks but does not see himself as a risk-taker, because he operates under the useful delusion that what he’s attempting is not risky. Then, trapped in mid-mountain, people discover the truth—and, because it is too late to turn back, they’re forced to finish the job.

“We have ended up here with an economic argument strikingly paralleling Christianity’s oft expressed preference for the repentant sinner over the righteous man who never strays from the path,” Hirschman wrote in this essay from 1967. Success grew from failure:

And essentially the same idea, even though formulated, as one might expect, in a vastly different spirit, is found in Nietzsche’s famous maxim, “That which does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” This sentence admirably epitomizes several of the histories of economic development projects in recent decades.

As was nearly always the case with Hirschman’s writing, he made his argument without mathematical formulas or complex models. His subject was economics, but his spirit was literary. He drew on Brecht, Kafka, Freud, Flaubert, La Rochefoucauld, Montesquieu, Montaigne, and Machiavelli, not to mention Homer—he had committed huge sections of the Odyssey to memory.

The pleasure of reading Hirschman comes not only from the originality of his conclusions but also from the delightfully idiosyncratic path he took to them. Consider this, from the same essay (and, remember, this is an economist who’s writing):

“While we are rather willing and even eager and relieved to agree with a historian’s finding that we stumbled into the more shameful events of history, such as war, we are correspondingly unwilling to concede—in fact we find it intolerable to imagine—that our more lofty achievements, such as economic, social or political progress, could have come about by stumbling rather than through careful planning. . . . Language itself conspires toward this sort of asymmetry: we fall into error, but do not usually speak of falling into truth.

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman” (Princeton), by the Princeton historian Jeremy Adelman, is a biography worthy of the man. Adelman brilliantly and beautifully brings Hirschman to life, giving us an unforgettable portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary intellectuals.

Hirschman was born in Berlin in 1915, into a prosperous family of Jewish origin. His father was a surgeon, and the family lived in the embassy district, near the Tiergarten. Hirschman was slender and handsome, in the mold of Albert Camus. He dressed elegantly, danced skillfully, spoke half a dozen languages, and had a special affection for palindromes.

He was absent-minded and distracted. While lecturing, Adelman writes, “He rambled. He mumbled. Mid-sentence, he would pause, his right hand supporting his chin, his eyes drifting upward to fasten on a spot on the ceiling.” He would call his wife upon taking his car somewhere because—as he once said—“I do not know how to put it among two other cars on the sidewalk.” “When you spoke to him,” a friend said, “it was sometimes five or ten seconds before he would show any sign of having heard you.” He was also deeply charming when he put his mind to it.

The great influence on Hirschman’s life was his brother-in-law, the Italian intellectual Eugenio Colorni. Colorni and Hirschman were as close as siblings, and when Colorni was killed by Fascist thugs in Rome, during the Second World War, Hirschman was inconsolable. Adelman writes:

“Colorni believed that doubt was creative because it allowed for alternative ways to see the world, and seeing alternatives could steer people out of intractable circles and self-feeding despondency. Doubt, in fact, could motivate: freedom from ideological constraints opened up political strategies, and accepting the limits of what one could know liberated agents from their dependence on the belief that one had to know everything before acting, that conviction was a precondition for action.

The phrase that Hirschman and Colorni would repeat to each other was that they hoped to “prove Hamlet wrong.” Hamlet shouldn’t have been frozen by his doubts; he should have been freed by them. Hamlet took himself too seriously. He thought he needed to be perfect. Colorni and Hirschman didn’t. Courage, Colorni wrote, required the willingness “to always be on guard against oneself.”

Doubt didn’t mean disengagement.

In the summer of 1936, Hirschman volunteered to fight in Spain on the side of the Loyalists, against General Franco’s German-backed Fascists. He was twenty-one and living in Paris, having just got back from studying at the London School of Economics. He was among the first wave of German and Italian volunteers to take the train to Barcelona. “When I heard that there was even a possibility to do something,” Hirschman said, “I went.”

Hirschman rarely spoke about what happened in Spain. Decades later, Adelman recounts, Albert and his wife, Sarah, went to see a film about the Spanish Civil War. Afterward, Sarah asked Albert, “Was it like that?” His response was a deft non-response: “Yeah, that was a pretty good film.” On this subject, as on a few others, Sarah felt a certain reticence in her husband. Still, as Adelman remarks, “the scars on his neck and leg made it impossible for her to forget.”

Adelman interprets Hirschman’s silence as disenchantment: “The endless debate rehearsed in Berlin and Paris over left-wing tactics was more than a farce, it was a tragedy of epic proportions.

Hirschman saw the Communists move in and, in his mind, the spirit of the cause became contaminated. It broke his heart. But Hirschman would come to recognize that action fueled by doubt allows for failures to be left behind. Spain was a tragedy, but it was also, for him, an experiment, and experiments go awry.

Hirschman liked to say that he had “a propensity to self-subversion.” He even gave one of his books that title. He qualified and questioned and hedged as a matter of habit. He never trusted himself enough to indulge in grand theorizing. He pursued the “petite idée,” the attempt, as he said, “to come to an understanding of reality in portions, admitting that the angle may be subjective.”

Once, when a World Bank director sent him a paper that referred to the “Hirschman Doctrine,” Hirschman replied, “Unfortunately (or, I rather tend to think, fortunately), there is no Hirschman school of economic development and I cannot point to a large pool of disciples where one might fish out someone to work with you along those lines.”

Hirschman spent his career in constant motion.

After doing graduate training in London and Italy, fighting in Spain, and spending the first part of the war in France, he left for the United States, by which point he had begun to lose track of his own movements. “This makes my fourth—or is it fifth?—emigration,” he wrote to his mother. He accepted a fellowship at Berkeley (where he met the woman he would marry, Sarah Chapiro, another émigré), did a tour of duty for the O.S.S. in North Africa and Europe, and, with the war concluded, served a stint at the Federal Reserve Board, where he grew so unhappy that he would return home to his wife and two daughters in Chevy Chase, shut the door to his study, and bury himself in Kafka.

He worked for the Marshall Plan in Washington, providing, Adelman says, “the thinking behind the thinking,” only to be turned down for a transfer to Paris because of a failed national-security review. He was in his mid-thirties. On a whim, he packed up the family and moved to Bogotá, Colombia, where he worked on a project for the World Bank.

He crisscrossed Colombia with, Adelman writes, “pen in hand and paper handy, examining irrigation projects, talking to local bankers about their farm loans, and scribbling calculations about the costs of road building.”

Writing to her parents about the family’s decision to move to Colombia, which was then in the midst of a civil war, Sarah explained, “We both realize that you should think of the future—make plans for the children etc. But I think we both somehow feel that it is impossible to know what is best and that the present is so much more important—because if the present is solid and good it will be a surer basis for a good future than any plans that you can make.”

Most people would not have left a home in Chevy Chase and the security of a job in Washington to go to a Third World country where armed gangsters roamed the streets, because they would feel certain that Colombia was a mistake. Hirschman believed, as a matter of principle, that it was impossible to know whether Colombia would be a mistake.

As it happened, the 4 years the family spent in Bogotá were among its happiest. Hirschman returned to Latin America again and again during his career, and what he learned there provided the raw material for his most brilliant work. His doubt was a gift, not a curse.

Hirschman published his first important book, “The Strategy of Economic Development,” in 1958. He had returned from Colombia by then and was at Yale, and the book was an attempt to make sense of his experience of watching a country try to lift itself out of poverty.

At the time, he was reading deeply in the literature of psychology and psychoanalysis, and he became fascinated with the functional uses of negative emotions: frustration, aggression, and, in particular, anxiety. Obstacles led to frustration, and frustration to anxiety. No one wanted to be anxious. But wasn’t anxiety the most powerful motivator—the emotion capable of driving even the most reluctant party toward some kind of solution?

In the field of developmental economics, this was heretical. When people from organizations like the World Bank descended on Third World countries, they always tried to remove obstacles to development, to reduce economic anxiety and uncertainty. They wanted to build bridges and roads and airports and dams to insure that businesses and entrepreneurs encountered as few impediments as possible to growth. But, as Hirschman thought about case studies like the Karnaphuli Paper Mills and the Troy-Greenfield folly, he became convinced that his profession had it backward. His profession ought to embrace anxiety, and not seek to remove it.

As he wrote in a follow-up essay to “The Strategy of Economic Development”:

“Law and order and the absence of civil strife seem to be obvious preconditions for the gradual and patient accumulation of skills, capital and investors’ confidence that must be the foundation for economic progress. We are now told, however, that the presence of war-like Indians in North America and the permanent conflict between them and the Anglo-Saxon settlers was a great advantage, because it made necessary methodical, well-planned, and gradual advances toward an interior which always remained in close logistic and cultural contact with the established communities to the East.

In Brazil, on the contrary, the back-lands were open and virtually uncontested; the result was that once an excessively vast area had been occupied in an incredibly brief time span the pioneers became isolated and regressed economically and culturally.

The impulse of the developmental economist in those days would have been to remove the “impediments” to growth—to swoop in and have some powerful third party deal with the “war-like Indians.” But that would have turned North America into Brazil, and the pioneers would never have been forced to develop methodical, well-planned advances in logistical contact with the East.

Developing countries required more than capital.

They needed practice in making difficult economic decisions. Economic progress was the product of successful habits—and there is no better teacher, Hirschman felt, than a little adversity.

Hirschman would rather encourage settlers and entrepreneurs at the grass-roots level—and make them learn how to cope with those impediments themselves—than run the risk that aid might infantilize its recipient. He loved to tell the story of how, at a dinner party in a Latin American country, he struggled to track down the telephone number of a fellow-academic: “I asked whether there might be a chance that X would be listed in the telephone directory; this suggestion was shrugged off with the remark that the directory makes a point of listing only people who have either emigrated or died. . . . The economist said that X must be both much in demand and hard to reach, as several people had inquired about how to get in touch with him within the past few days. The subject was dropped as hopeless, and everybody spent a pleasant evening.”

Back in his hotel room, Hirschman looked in the phone book, found his friend’s number, and got him on the line immediately.

A few years after publishing “The Strategy of Economic Development,” Hirschman was invited by the World Bank to conduct a survey of some of its projects. He drew up his own itinerary, which, typically, involved almost an entire circuit of the globe: a power plant in El Salvador, roads in Ecuador, an irrigation project in Peru, pasture improvement in Uruguay, telecommunication in Ethiopia, power transmission in Uganda, an irrigation project in Sudan, railway modernization in Nigeria, the Damodar Valley Corporation in India, the Karnaphuli Paper Mills, an irrigation project in Thailand and another in the south of Italy.

Adelman is struck by the tone of optimism in Hirschman’s notes on his journey. The economist was interested in all the ways in which projects managed to succeed, both in spite of and because of the difficulties:

Instead of asking: what benefits [has] this project yielded, it would almost be more pertinent to ask: how many conflicts has it brought in its wake? How many crises has it occasioned and passed through? And these conflicts and crises should appear both on the benefit and the cost side, or sometimes on one—sometimes on the other, depending on the outcome (which cannot be known with precision for a long time, if ever).

Only Hirschman would circle the globe and be content to conclude that he couldn’t reach a conclusion—for a long time, if ever. He was a planner who really didn’t believe in planning. He wanted to remind other economists that a lot of the problems they tried to fix were either better off not being fixed or weren’t problems to begin with.

Late in life, Hirschman underwent surgery in Germany. When he emerged from anesthesia, he asked his surgeon, “Why are bananas bent?” The doctor shrugged. Hirschman, even then, could not resist a poke at his fellow economic planners: “Because nobody went to the jungle to adjust it and make it straight.”

While fighting for France during the Second World War, Hirschman persuaded his commander to give him false French papers and he became Albert Hermant. After the country fell to the Germans, Hirschman ended up in Marseilles, along with thousands of other refugees. There he learned that an American named Varian Fry was coming to France as part of the Emergency Rescue Committee—an American group that sought to get as many Jewish refugees out of France as possible. Hirschman met Fry at the train station and took him back to the Hotel Splendide. They hit it off instantly.

Fry had access to U.S. visas. But he needed Hirschman’s help in figuring out escape routes into Spain, procuring false passports and identity papers, and smuggling in money to fund the operation. Hirschman was invaluable. He spoke Italian like an Italian and German like a German and French like a Frenchman, and had so many fake documents—including a card attesting to membership in the “Club for People Without Clubs”—that Fry joked he was “like a criminal who has too many alibis.”

Fry nicknamed Hirschman Beamish, on account of his irrepressible charm. Beginning in 1940, the Emergency Rescue Committee helped save thousands of people from the clutches of Fascism, among them Hannah Arendt, André Breton, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and Alma Mahler.

Hirschman was as reluctant to talk about his time in Marseilles as he was to talk about the battles he fought in the Spanish Civil War. As a fellow at Berkeley, in the early forties, he was placed in the International House, and the other graduate students urged him to speak about what had happened to him in Europe. “The newcomer sat there,” Adelman writes, “with his handkerchief twisted in his fingers, nervously waiting for the calls to pass.” Hirschman moved out of the International House as soon as he could. “I couldn’t stand being considered as sort of a wonder of the world or something like that,” he later recalled. “I just wanted to be myself.”

The closest Hirschman ever came to explaining his motives was in his most famous work, “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty,” and even then it was only by implication. Hirschman was interested in contrasting the two strategies that people have for dealing with badly performing organizations and institutions. “Exit” is voting with your feet, expressing your displeasure by taking your business elsewhere. “Voice” is staying put and speaking up, choosing to fight for reform from within. There is no denying where his heart lay.

Early in the book, Hirschman quoted the conservative economist Milton Friedman, who argued that school vouchers should replace the current public-school system. “Parents could express their views about schools directly, by withdrawing their children from one school and sending them to another, to a much greater extent than is now possible,” Friedman wrote. “In general they can now take this step only by changing their place of residence. For the rest, they can express their views only through cumbrous political channels.”

This was, Hirschman wrote, a “near perfect example of the economist’s bias in favor of exit and against voice”:

In the first place, Friedman considers withdrawal or exit as the “direct” way of expressing one’s unfavorable views of an organization. A person less well trained in economics might naively suggest that the direct way of expressing views is to express them! Secondly, the decision to voice one’s views and efforts to make them prevail are contemptuously referred to by Friedman as a resort to “cumbrous political channels.” But what else is the political, and indeed the democratic, process than the digging, the use, and hopefully the slow improvement of these very channels?

Hirschman pointed out the ways in which “exit” failed to send a useful message to underperformers. Weren’t there cases where monopolists were relieved when their critics left? “Those who hold power in the lazy monopoly may actually have an interest in creating some limited opportunities for exit on the part of those whose voice might be uncomfortable,” he wrote. The worst thing that ever happened to incompetent public-school districts was the growth of private schools: they siphoned off the kind of parents who would otherwise have agitated more strongly for reform.

Beneath Hirschman’s elegant sentences, you can hear a deeper argument. Exit is passive. It is silent protest. And silent protest, for him, is too easy. “Proving Hamlet wrong” was about the importance of acting in the face of doubt—but also of acting in the face of fear. Voice was courage. He went to fight Fascism in Spain. It ended in failure. When the Nazis came hunting for the Jews, he tried again. “Expanding the operation meant, increasingly, that Beamish’s work was in the streets, bars, and brothels of Marseilles, expanding the tentacles of the operation,” Adelman writes. “If the operation had a fixer, it was Beamish. It was a role he relished.”

Beamish screened the refugees, weeding out potential informers. He cajoled first the Czech, then the Polish, and, finally, the Lithuanian consuls into providing fake passports. He made deals with Marseilles mobsters and a shadowy Russian émigré to get money into France. He held secret meetings in brothels. Several times, he was nearly caught, but he charmed his way out of trouble.

When the authorities finally caught onto Hirschman, he escaped across the Pyrenees to Spain on foot, equipped with false Lithuanian papers. On the ship to America, he played Ping-Pong and chess, and romanced a young Czech woman. As Adelman’s magnificent biography makes plain, it was hard not to fall for Albert Hirschman. A colleague from his Marseilles days remembered him, years later, as “a handsome fellow with rather soulful eyes . . . taking everything in, his head cocked slightly to one side. One of those German intellectuals, I thought, always trying to figure everything out.” ♦

It is Attitude, not ability: Doing math, physics, chemistry…

The proper attitude is to persist in solving a problem.

It doesn’t matter how difficult or complex is a problem: The more you try solving and figuring out various perspectives to tackling the difficulty, angles, and methods…the closer you are in resolving the problem.

With focus and perseverance, acquired in childhood, you reach this critical instant of eureka “Yah! I get it”

I recall that I never had the patience to sit down and solve math or physics exercises and problems. The easy exercises bored me and the difficult problems didn’t receive much focus and attention and energy to try harder: I would jump to the solution section if available…

Sure I understood the concepts and how to proceed, but what counted is exam time were the limited time, the patience to go on …

If your attitude was lousy during the entire semester, it isn’t going to change and make any difference at exam sessions: You are frantic, out of patience, and your mind wants to fly away and give up quickly on challenging problems…

I recall taking relativity and quantum mechanics courses. There were not books available for solutions of problems.  What I could find were books on the history and philosophy of the materials.  I would thoroughly read all these voluminous books, but the main question remained: “Can you solve the problems in the allotted time at exam sessions?

Maybe if I located solving manuals for exercises and problems I might have barely passed these courses from the first time. With this attitude of mine, I would have never been a mathematician or an efficient physicist…

Now, if you give me a 100-item questionnaire to fill, you can bet that no less than 20 questions would be left blank. And if I am required to fill every single question, the blank spaces would shine with utter cynicism and blunt falsehood

In cultures that pragmatically place the highest emphasis on effort and hard work, people are best in solving math problems...

Pragmatic cultures means to actually do and finish any task handed to you, whether you like the task or not…

And the reward? To be recognized by the community as a hard-working members you can be counted on to pursue difficult tasks and responsibilities…

No one who can rise before dawn, 360 days a year, can fail to make his family rich…” This is an idiom in south China around the Pearl River Delta of rice paddies…

These Far Asian cultures are renown for answering every question in lengthy questionnaire. Kind of if you want to know the details of an individual, all you have to do is to provide him with a questionnaire…

Math proficiency in Far Asian culture is high, in spite of lower IQ scores and other aptitude tests. But again, IQ tests are biased by western culture and idiosyncratic mentality

I recall a few of my cousins who were bright in math and in any course they have taken, even history, geography, literature…They would sit down for hours, strong with a pen, a notebook and a ruler…and solve every exercise and problem at the end of every chapter…and every manual with exercises and problems…

I know they could solve the hardest of math or physics problems, but they built this attitude of resolving every minor and simple exercises, as meticulously and clearly as any other harder problem…

You built-in the attitude and let ability and talent follow you throughout your life, and gathering and reaping success and awards on the way…

The Knowledge Is Power program (KIPP Academy) in the south Bronx believes that sustained learning, even in summer time, is the best responses to increasing students’ proficiency in any topic as the new scholar year starts.

School starts at 7.55 am and ends at 5 pm and extends till 7 pm for students engaged in theater, orchestra…

Every day, students have to attend a 90-minutes math course, 90 minutes of English, 25 minutes in reflective thinking (taking all the time necessary to solving a problem, and not just math…). The motto is smile, sit up, listen, ask questions, nod and track with your eyes…(SSLANT)

Note: Topic was inspired by a chapter in one of Malcolm Gladwell books

“Blood for blood”, “Must get up at 5 am…”, “Must work 360 days per year…” legacies are enduring

The tradition of “Blood for blood” revenge is a very common heritage on all continents, inherited and practiced not long ago, but enduring, and not about to vanish with current civilization trends.

Mankind started and developed as “River specie“ in plains, virgin forests, and on river shores.  This specie lived on fish and fruit trees and whatever vegetable nature offered.

Due to increase in number of the clan members, and the need to split up for cohesion reason, and rivalry among clans for fertile environment, and climatic changes…“River specie“ had to transferred to colder, dryer, and eventually to mountain plateau regions…The new breed of mankind is known as “Mountain specie“.

The “River specie“ who were displaced to desert environment with scarce water resources were called the nomad specie

Mountain specie  fled to borderline lawless regions, separating settled and urban civilizations, and had to live herding goats and sheep.

Mountain specie grew harder bonesheavier legs and buttocks, and swimming was becoming a much harder exercise to undertake for fishing. Eating red meat poisoned the Mountain specie, physically and mentally, and they acquired violent mood swings and insanity was prevalent among them:  They killed their own kind more frequently, and occasionally ate their victims.

The life-span of Mountain specie was significantly (statistically) shorter than the river specie because of the more dangerous activities, more prevalence of aches and pains in the lower back, swelling knees and ankles, heart attacks… They preferred to attack neighboring clans who were more settled and were engaged in agriculture, and they abducted females to serve them in old age (around 30 year-old at best)…

River specie disseminated falsehoods that the mountain specie had great characteristics and physical strength…just to encourage more of vacating the crowded river region. The river specie knew full well that the clans perched on mountain tops were actually a bunch of cowards:  They preferred to have their ass freeze rather than come down and reclaim their right to “eat fish” and fresh food.

Nomad specie and mountain specie share the characteristic of blood for blood legacy, of looting customs and living the day-to-day culture…

In the 18th century, Scotch-Irish from the lowlands of Scotland, the northern counties of England and the Ulster in northern Ireland immigrated to America and converged to the Cumberland Plateau in Kentucky and the southern States with identical environments: High plateau, borderline not delimited “debatable lands”, contested territories without established government or the rule of law…

Before they immigrated to America, these people were scraping out a living on rocky and infertile lands and they herded goats and sheep and lived a lonely and individualistic life-style. The other side of the coin is that these people were clannish by nature and formed tight family bonds and paying loyalty to Blood above all else.

For 3 centuries in the southern States, the highlanders practiced the blood for blood revenge legacy. Two families in a small village, cut out from civilization, would start hating one another and the killing of dozens in the two families would backfire for centuries. Like this mother who gets upset as one of her boys enters the house, moaning and screaming in pain from a fatal wound shot and she snails: “Stop it now. Die like a man as your brother died before you...”. These kinds of crap…

Nomads scraping a living in deserts have acquired the same kind of blood for blood legacy.

Culture developed in plains and river shores depends on the cooperation of others in the community. The culture in the Far East that depend on growing rice is called “Rice paddy” culture legacy.

Growing rice is the hardest and most meticulous agricultural work, and people harvest around four times per year small paddies.  This legacy is: “No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich…” (an idiom in South China around the Pearl River Delta of rice paddies)

Doing well in math or physics or solving problems is not so much of ability as of attitude:  The longer you persist in resolving a problem the better your attitude to understand complex and difficult problems and topics.

The longer you insist on attacking a problem from different angles and perspectives the higher the chance of reaching this critical phase of “Yah! I get it. Eureka…”

If you are the type of people who acquired the patience of not leaving a blank in a 100-question sheet, you are most probably a success story…

Cultures that pragmatically places the highest emphasis on effort and hard work are best in doing math, in spite of their lower IQ scores compared to the biased questions of the western culture. Pragmatic means to actually do and finish any task/job thrown at you since childhood, whether you dislike or like the task…

And the reward? To be recognized by the community as a hard-working member that the community can rely on…

Six decades ago, the two species (River and Mountain) have been merging. How?

1. Water sources are polluted and toxic: Fish, fruit, vegetable, cereal…are all poisoned from herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers,  toxic waste…Mankind is poisoned in the womb…and growing violent by the years and certified insane…

2. Except in the rich and developed States with affordable indoor chlorinated swimming pool and accessible clean beaches to the common people…mankind is churning out mountain specie type at increased rate, and more violent, and heavier in the hips, and suffering from musculoskeletal chronic ailments...What of those people hoarding reserves for the coming calamity of end of time?

3. With the advent of computer and TV… our standing position skeletal is less and less performing…

I can conjecture that within less than another 6 decades, mankind with revert back to the “”four-legged posture:  The hands will not touch the floor directly because extension appliances to the arms will be adorned by “hand-shoes” for restricted short-distance ambulatory exercises around the restricted studios…

Note 1:  Part of the article was inspired from a chapter in “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell

Note 2:

Cultural legacy matters. Cultural Difference exist: No connotation attached, except for safety of third-party…

Between 19760 and 70, the Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstedes worked for the human resources division at IBM Europe headquarters. Geert amassed plenty of data, questioning staff on matters related to:

1. How people solved problems

2. How they worked together

3. What are their attitude toward authority figures

4. How frequently employees felt afraid of expressing disagreement with managers

5. How the less powerful members in institutions and organization accepted and expected the unequal distribution in the hierarchy

6. How much are older people respected and feared

7. Should power holders be entitled to special privileges…

Geert analyzed the mass of data and published “Hofstede’s Dimensions”.  These discriminating attributes are used as paradigms in cross-cultural psychology. Among the dimensions in cultural differences:

1. Individualism/Collectivism scale

How much a culture expect the individual to look after himself? How many choices an individual expects to be enjoying and navigate around them before making a decision?

There are cultures where a person lives a lonely and very individual life style tending to herds in highlands, and yet be stuck with the heritage of family “blood for blood” legacy.  In the next article, I’ll describe the legacy of this nasty heritage, in the last three centuries, in the Cumberland Plateau of Kentucky and the southern States in general.

People in Guatemala scored the lowest in individualistic tendencies, and the US first in rank

2. Uncertainty/Avoidance scale

How well does a culture tolerate ambiguity? For example, does the individual rely on rules and regulation for his decisions and does he sticks to procedures regardless of circumstances?

The culture in Greece, Portugal, Guatemala, Uruguay, and Belgium expect plans and programs to be made for all the citizens and for all to abide by the rules…

Denmark is similar to Belgium in more attributes than any other country, except in this dimension: The Danes have a mind of their own and tolerate ambiguity and choices

3. Power Distance Index (PDI) scale

This dimension is concerned with attitudes toward hierarchy, how a culture values and respect “blindly” authority figures…

In culture of high PDI, it is not likely that subordinates would attempt to assert opinions in critical situations: They more often than not let calamity harvest innocent people instead of speaking up to the higher ranked authority…

Hofstede wrote in the classic “Culture’s Consequences“:

“In particular cultures, power holders are almost ashamed of their statue and they will try hard to underplay their power, like taking the streetcar to the ministerial office, or vacationing with his private motor home at a regular camping site…They try their best not to look or behave powerful…In many other cultures, it is unlikely that power is not displayed in all aspect of every day activities…”

I have this strong impression that the three dimensions are highly correlated: In the sense that you can pick up any one of the scale (without mentioning the other two dimensions) and rearrange the story of article consistent, convincing, and coherent…Telling the story from a dimension perspective might let you gain additional handles on cultural differences

Note: This article was inspired from a chapter in “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell

International commercial air-flights fatal accidents are related to “Cultural Differences”?

Three decades ago, International commercial air-flights of a set of countries exhibited a dangerous trend of high fatal accident ratio compared to another set of countries.

Commercial air-flights of Brazil, South Korea, Morocco, Mexico, and the Philippines experienced each over 17 fatal accidents per 4 million departures, compared to countries such as the USA, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. What were the problems?

Mind you that for a fatal accident to take place, at least more than 3 errors (technical and judgment) must occur in succession, each error in itself not being a potential fatal error. It is the combination of minor errors, minor technical malfunctions, bad weather, tired crew and pilot…that set the stage for a calamity.

In a chapter of “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, it transpires that 3 problems accounted for this increase in accidents:

1. Cultural communication transmission.  In the countries with the least accidents, the culture is “Transmitter Oriented”: The talker has the responsibility of  speaking up clearly and to the point, in critical moments so that the listener gets the message clear and loud. Many cultures are “Receiver oriented“: The subordinate talker has to convey the statements in hints, in indirect ways what he means to says. It is the responsibility of the listener, the boss, to filter out and attend to what the cultured statement is meant to convey.

In “Receiver oriented” culture, If the boss is tired or not focused on what is being said, the critical message is lost and not attended to.

In most accidents, flight crews, first officer and flight engineer spoke in deference statements to the higher in rank (Pilot Captain).  The errors and bad judgment of the captain were corrected in a polite manner (the danger was not stated unequivocally and bluntly), even when it was too late to respond and correct a fatal decision.

A Colombian plane crashed before landing in JFK simply because it ran out of fuel! The engines caught fire: The flight officer was very shy to tell the ATC that they are completely out of fuel and need to land in emergency. For example:

ATC: “…I’m gonna bring you about 15 miles northeast and then you turn back onto the approach. Is that okay with you? And your fuel?…”

First officer Klotz: “I guess so. Thank you very much. And ah, we’re running out of fuel, sir

Captain Caviedes: “Did you advise that we have no fuel?”

Klotz: “I did. The guy in ATC is angry”

All long-distance planes are running out of fuel before landing. After spending over an hour circling because of very bad weather, the flight officer must have said: “We are totally out of fuel. We request immediate landing…”

Airplanes were in perfect flight conditions, aircrew were without physical limitations, and considered above average in flight ability and practice, and still accidents happened…

A South Korea plane crashed because the flight officer and the crew failed to clearly and directly warn the Captain of the dangerous situation and that his intention of visual landing is not appropriate in the unstable weather condition.  The flight engineer said: “Captain, the weather radar has helped us a lot…” He meant: “This is not a night to rely on just your eyes for landing. Look at what the weather radar is telling: There’s trouble ahead…”

Several of these indirect statements of suggestion, hint, query, and preference statements were uttered with difficulty and hesitation in order to save the face for the higher up in ranking. After all, in the receiver oriented culture, the Captain is the sole responsible for landing the plane safety, and the fight crew are there to obey commands…

The work schedule was exhausting, and the captain was extremely tired and his cognitive mind was not attending properly to the statements that required analysis and consideration…Even “obligation statement” such as “I think we need to deviate right now…” was not in the repertoire of receiver oriented cultures…

2. The second cause is probably deficiency in speaking American English as ATC at JFK hear and understand…as the chapter in Blink want us to believe.

Do you know that the language of all international flights is English? All ATC in international airports should master English, as well as the pilots, flight officers, flight engineers, and flight crew…

The implicit cause is that foreign commercial flight-crew are not trained properly to be at the same wave length with communication culture and protocols as expected by ATC…

And why internal flights in vast countries such as Russia, China, India, Brazil…experience the same dangerous trend, even after decades of international safety regulations and rules? The language should not be the major cause, even though the US insist on giving priority to English as the first major step into training and practice…

3. The third main cause is most probably the exhausting schedule that flight-crew work under in order for commercial companies to generate the most profit… The flight-crews have to depart and land to several airports, and chain this process for several days before taking a deserving rest. Most fatal accidents are combinations of very tired crew, bad weather conditions, and crew well to apathetic to attend to minor errors or transmitting minor errors:  Silence in the cockpit is deafening in these situations

I contend that receiver oriented cultures train captains in separate training centers than the flight officers and flight engineer: These crews do not mingle naturally with Captain pilot and their training centers instill the hierarchy obligation privileges and deference…

I bet that international commercial flight improved their record simply because, in order to train flight-crew that they are all responsible for the safety of passengers and not just the captain, they must learn and train and practice in the same centers as the pilots and Captains…


Highest expensive War Game: Executed in Iraq, failed, at a cost of $2 trillion

General Paul Van Ripple (The Rip) is a retired from the Marines Corps. In the spring of 2000, Rip is called in by the Pentagon to head the Red Team of the Millennium Challenge ’02, a War Game in the planning that will cost $250 million by August 2002 as the US Blue Team lost the war game.

The Red Team in the scenario is a “rogue” military commander (not satisfying the interest of the US government policies) and who enjoys considerable power base from strong religious and ethnic loyalties.  The Red Baron is harboring and sponsoring 4 terrorist organizations, he is a virulent anti-US and threatening to engulf the entire Persian/Arabic Gulf region in war.

The US Blue Team is called the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).

Marine Corps, air force, army, and navy units at various military bases in the US stood by to enact the commands of Red and Blue Teams’ brass. For example, if a Blue Team commander orders the firing of a missile at target, or launching a plane…a missile would occasionally be fired live, or one of the 42 separate computer models would simulate the order-action. The simulated firing was so precise that the war room staff couldn’t tell that it wasn’t real…This war game was to last about 15 days when D-Day was announced and the Red Team received the ultimatum to desist from rogue behaviors…

Specialists monitored and recorded every conversation and a computer kept track of every single bullet fired and every tank deployment… The War game was meant to be a full dress rehearsal for actual war against Iraq of Saddam Hussein.

The Pentagon wanted to test a set of new and “radical” ideas about how to go to battle: Conventional war would rarely be fought from now on. Two armies fighting it out in an open battlefield as during Operation Desert Storm of 1991 was not realistic: Conflict is to be diffuse, actions taking place in cities and engaging economic, social, cultural dimensions.

A JFCOM analyst said: “The decisive factor is how you take apart your adversary systems. We are going after war-making capabilities, connected to the economic and cultural systems, to personal relationships, and to understanding the links among all these systems…”

The head commander of the Blue Team was General William F. Kernan who said: “Blue Team has the means and tools to interrupt people’s capabilities, to influence the national will of the enemy, to disrupt all communication systems, and to take out the power grids…”

Blue Team was not to be waging any battle under uncertainties: All data, information, and pieces of intelligence will be available and accessible within seconds before making any decision…The Blue Team enjoys the full benefit of high-powered satellites, sophisticated sensors, super computers…in order to lift any fog before any decision

Blue Team brass was endowed with much greater intellectual, military hardware, and communication systems, and human resources than the Red Team could even dream of.  JFCOM was to apply the Operational Net Assessment (ONA) decision-making software, a tool meant to break the enemy down into series of systems and create a matrix of interrelations among all the systems, and evaluate the critical most vulnerable links in the array of systems (social, political, economical, military, chain of commands…)

Blue Team hoarded a tool called Effects-Based Operations capable of extending a comprehensive, real-time map (Common Relevant Operational Picture) of any combat situation… Blue Team was given a tool for joint interactive planning

In short, Blue Team had an overwhelming advantage in instant information and pieces of intelligence gathered around the US and the World…

The Red Team was to make do with lower quality weapons, communication systems that rogue States dictators possess.

The Rip understood that he will have to forego electronic communication systems and relied on motorcycle carriers to transmit messages and orders…

The Rip strategy is never to overburden his field commanders with irrelevant frequent orders and information…The field commander cognitive power was not to be disrupted in the heat of battle and has to rely on his expert knowledge and split-second decisions acquired from long years of doing this business…

The Rip is in command but out of control during the battle: He gives his general intention and strategy and let the brass do their jobs…

The Rip told his staff: “We will not use the Blue Team terminology. and I don’t want to hear that word “Effects” or ONT…We will use our wisdom, experience, and good judgment…No need to waste time explaining your decision or meeting to discuss on critical decisions…”

The field commanders were to decide and take risks under uncertainties

The Rip dispatched hundreds of small rafts and boats to locate Blue Team war ships.

The Rip opted to preempt the first attack planned by Blue Team and fired thousands of missiles from all directions, sinking 16 ships and assassinating rulers of host US allied States…

Two days after the Red Team demolished the US fleet, the rules of the games were changed:

1. The ships were resurrected from the bottom of the sea: The Red Team missiles could not be that precise…

2. The assassinated head of allied States and their commanders were of no consequence to the war in progress…

3. The Red Team second in command was to receive orders from the Program Director to give the Red Team brass different set of instructions to facilitate the landing of the Blue Team marines. The second round was all scripted to permit Blue Team to win the game. These crazy tactics of the Rip cannot be conceived by any rogue commander and thus should not be considered!

And the Blue Team had won the game, with flying color and under certainty in all its decisions…

Maybe the Millennium Challenge is currently being revisited (against Iran) and the offensive of the Rip taken seriously as strong possibilities.  Make no mistake: Iran and serious national resistance forces (Hezbollah) do read foreign sources and are updated on the latest policies and motivations…

Logically and rationally, the US has no interest in preempting any major war, not with Russia and China against a war on Iran.

However, the main objective of War Games is to instill a mind-fix among the military brass that the game should be tested live, at any cost and regardless of rational reasons.

I bet the military, Corporation America, and the financial multinationals want Mitt Romney to represent the “interest of America”. Why?

The economy is bad and unemployment pretty high.  The natural resolution to the problem is a preemptive war to absorb all the unemployed lower middle-class in the US and get the Federal Bank to infuse vast liquidity in the market…

Note 1: Article inspired from a chapter in “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell

Note 2: The preemptive war on Iraq in 2003 should not have engaged that much technology and sophistication.

1. Iraq was experiencing 10 year of International embargo: Babies were dying by the thousands from lack of powder milk

2. Iraq had dismantled all its chemical facilities and whatever “nuclear” installations the US claimed Saddam had.

3. The army was totally impotent and not armed: The Republican Guard existed to preempt any military takeover.

4. Iraq was crumbling, hungry, scared and dissatisfied with the dictatorship

Claiming to be food-tasting expert: With only three kinds of taste buds?

So far, textbooks tell me that mankind enjoy only three kinds of taste buds: Sweet, Salty and Sour.  I have tasted these attributes in food. They are called basic taste dimension, and I am wondering “are there other taste buds that particular people might have and the rest of us normal people are denied of?” How can 3 kinds of buds generate hundreds of attributes and a dozen of dimensions to evaluating competing food products?

For example, you are handed a questionnaire asking you to evaluate a food product relative to its texture…Am I evaluating food or fabrics? How am I to understand the meaning of texture in a field that is out of my expertise?

Can you believe food-tasting experts evaluate mayonnaise product on a 15-point scale according to these “dimensions”:

1. Appearance: color, chroma, color intensity, shine, lumpiness, and bubbles

2. Texture: adhesiveness to lips, firmness, denseness..Ten attributes just for textures. Are tasting woody and “wine”y acceptable attributes?

3. Flavor (14 attributes): aromatic,eggy, mustardy…

4. Chemical-feeling: burn, pungent, astringent…

How sweet, how caramelized, the citrus character (lemon, lime, grapefruit,orange…)

The computer will churn out results on every attribute and it is up to the kinds of expert to figure out what are essential and critical.  A statistical computer analyst might extend his interpretation of the results according to particular protocols of tasting techniques by naive tasters, or the food-taster expert his judgment by actually tasting the food and figuring out the competing best product and offering recommendations…

Gail Vance Civille and Judy Heylmun of (Sensory Spectrum) based in New Jersey are food-taster experts. Heylmun says: “We did Oreos and we broke them into 90 attributes. It turned out that 11 attributes are probably critical…”

Heylmun went on: “Give me cookies and crackers and I can tell you what factories produce them and how they were reworked…”

Reworked food products are recombined leftover of rejected ingredients from product batches into another product batch (recycling process?)

Food experts are excellent figuring out the “difference” between Coke and Pepsi for example.

The two female food-tasters conduct “difference study” on a scale of 1 to 10, called Degree of Difference (DoD) to compare similar food product.

For example, the is a difference of 4 between Coke and Pepsi, 8 degrees between Lay and wise’s salt and vinegar potato chips..

Coke or Pepsi might change taste after some time of not being consumed: aging, level of carbonation, vanilla turned pruney..

Food experts are excellent in the food triangle testing technique. You pour Coke in two glasses and Pepsi in a third glass.  It is extremely hard for naive tasters to get it right. Why?

You need to be a taster expert so that the sensory memory learn to become resilient to the first impressions. And the best way to become an expert is to know the vocabulary in the tasting industry and understand what each word means and “taste”…

Do you think it is a good judging technique for taking a single sip?  What a single sip can tell you about Coke and Pepsi? That one is sweeter than the other or more sour (citrus?)  What if you were asked to drink two liters of each drink? Or to take home an entire carton to taste in comfort and leisurely?  Do you think that your judgment would be different? How much can you withstand a very sweet drink, a very sour drink in the long run…?

Suppose you have a highly developed tasting skills, but you have no idea how to explain what you are tasting? Is you judgment of any utility?

Food-taste expert have developed a taxonomy of the various dimensions and attributes to evaluate.  And it is this knowledge that permit food-taster experts to differentiate among shades and levels of the basic tastes buds combination.  They have acquired a particular sensory tasting memory to verbally discriminate among varieties of foods…

Actually, many of the attributes accounts for the smell memory, the seeing memory, and the touch memory when tasting food.  I think that the smell contribute more to the taxonomy than even taste in differentiating among food.

For example, suppose your smell is blocked out in the tasting evaluation, do you think that tasting judgment would be the same to you, or the food would taste good?

Actually, evaluation of food should focus more on health and safe consumption.  Cancer, cancer, cancer…cancer taste good.

Note: Article inspired from a chapter in “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell 

Police car chasing is fatal, at any Speed…

The police force is moving away from two-partner police cars into One-officer cars alternative. Why?

With a partner or more in the car, the officers speed thing up and act recklessly:

1. A cop by himself makes approaches that are different of peer pressure alternatives

2. A single cop is no longer prone to “ambush” the target

3. A single cop would refrain to “charge in”. He says: “I’m going to wait for backup to arrive…”

4. A single cop slows thing down and allow more time before going into action, and behave more kindly…

5. A single cop in a police car remembers the golden rule “ Time is on our side. There is no urgency for fast-breaking situations...”

The fundamental new teaching and training methods of police officers is to practice frequently under dangerous conditions so that to avoid the risk of “momentary autism” blackout of mind-reading capability of facial expressions of the target person.

Temporary autistic conditions dissolve the mind-reading power of people’s faces:

1. The heart rate reaches the dangerous level of 175 quickly

2. An absolute breakdown of the cognitive processing ensue: The forebrain shuts down and we are functioning under the mid-brain commands.

3. The mid-brain is what a dog uses in hot hunting pursuit “no time to stop and scratch the flees”

4 . Hearing is totally blocked: You cannot hear the shots you made or those of others around you. Obviously, you are unable to hear an order to stop or to cool it down…

5. You experience a tunnel vision condition: Your entire world is focused on the gun of the “aggressor” and everything is acting in slow motion..

6. Blood is withdrawn from the outer muscle layers and flows toward the core muscle mass: The feeling is of  very hard muscles, a kind of armor that would limit bleeding in the event of injuries…

7. The subsequent state is of feeling clumsy and helpless: cops are unable to pick up the radio in the car or even dialing 911, except if practiced frequently  to acquiring an automatic reflex…

What a speed chase, even at speed less than 50 a mile, produce? Exactly temporary autistic conditions from the high arousal state that the chase generates.  The chase produces a euphoric state, wrapped up in the chase and you lose all perspectives.

It is “after the chase” is over that the nastiest beating and violence occur: These behaviors ignited the worst riots, such as the Rodney Kind riot in LA, the Liberty City riot in Miami (1980) and another riot in Miami in 1986…

The chase (in cars or on foot or…) is basically the hunting instinct. Mankind is worst than the carnivorous animals in these situations: He is not motivated  for eating the prey, but intent on inflicting the most violent and brutal “chastising”, handicapping the prey and harming him for life and killing him occasionally

Note: Article inspired from a chapter in “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell

A one year baby looks you straight in the eyes. Is your gesture toward him of love or made out of fear?

Your face constantly displays your inner emotions. Your face instantly expresses what you feel at every moment. And vice versa: You make a face and you feel what this expression is meant to convey in emotions.

Mankind face is activated by 42 action muscles. Activating two muscles generate 300 expressions, activating 3 muscles produce 4,000 expressions, and the combination of 5 muscles at a time generate 10,000 facial expressions.

Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen spent 7 years to develop a taxonomy for facial expressions. Apparently, about 3,000 expressions were judged to mean anything. These emotions were categorized in the Facial Action Coding System (FAC), which many researchers study to become expert mind-readers (about 500 are certified)

Computer animators use this coding system such as Pixar (Toy Story) and DreamWorks (Shrek).

Strong with so many meaningful expressions, it is possible to study shades and levels for every major emotions such as anger, happiness, stonewalling…

Ekman and Friesen would face one another for hours creating expressions by activating the appropriate action muscles. Many muscles are almost impossible to activate voluntarily, unless an electrode is used.  You need to feel a muscle in action and repeatedly in order to learn to activate it voluntarily, like wiggling your ears…

The researchers gave names to particular expressions such as “Peck’s Bad Boy,” Hand caught in cookie jar”, “Duping delight”, “Love-me Mommy”, “I’m a rascal”, “Cat ate the canary”… 

The Bill Clinton expression of  “hand caught in cookie jar, love me mommy” has these action muscles sequences: tug corners of lips down, raise chin, press lips together, and roll eyes…

The two researchers discovered that the facial expressions they activated generated the corresponding emotions. For example, if they displayed a sad face they felt sad. Actually very few are able to create a sad face sign. There is this genuine sign of a pleasure smile that it cannot be reproduced voluntarily (tightening the muscles that encircle the eyes).  This impossibility can unmasked the false friend according to Guillaume Duchenne (French 19th century neurologist)

The brain has two parts that store pictures. The sophisticated and most developed part (fusiform gyrus) saves and sorts out faces: You can recognize a familiar face forty years later (unless drastic plastic surgery deformed a characteristic feature?).  The other part is called the inferior temporal gyrus, which saves and sorts out pictures of products, and is far less sophisticated compared to the other part

It is thus possible to control the emotions you want to convey with practice, except the initial split-second face that your unconscious display for all to notice, before you step in and distort…

Can projection of emotions be controlled? The flickering emotion (fraction of a second) will be displayed no matter what, and your mind-reading power will catch these split-second expressions.  The experts will have to rewind their videos to discover the flash distorting your facial expression

Autistic people lack the fusiform gyrus brain and thus cannot retrieve but pictures of objects. They never look at you,at your face or care about your gestures: mankind is another object to them and cannot recognize emotions on people’s faces.  They have no mind-reading capabilities, and still they can be functional and rational…

Paraplegic people and deaf acquire a high level proficiency of reading minds by paying attention to facial expressions…

Note 1:  Article was inspired from a chapter in “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell

Note 2: A few examples of action muscles coming into play to expressing emotions.

1. Happiness and joy: raise the cheek, pull up the corners of the lips… A pen clenched between teeth forces a smiling face. Pen between lips prevent a smiling sign.

2. Fear: raise inner brow, raise outer brow, brow lowering, stretch the lips, raise upper lid, part the lips, drop jaw…

3. Disgust: wrinkling the nose

4. Anguish and sadness: raise inner eyebrow, raise cheeks, lower corner of the lips

5. Anger: lower brows, raise upper eyelid, narrow eyelids, press lips together…Anger increases heart rate by12 beats, and hands get hot and it is difficult to disconnect from the system

6. Distress: one of the inner brows is raised

“I can pick up bits of a 3-minute conversation and feel confident which relationship is in serious trouble…”

There is this psychologist who conducted an experiment that lasted 20 years. This experimenter thinks that:

1. Stable relationship of couples is necessary for the equilibrium in a community

2. He spent the best part of his life to discovering a model that would predict relationships in serious difficulties

3. He invited over 3,000 couples to the second floor of a psychology department

4. Each couple was to discuss for 15 minutes any topic that they think is an issue of contention

5. He and his trained assistants videotaped the couple, one camera focused on one individual

6. The couple had the opportunity to watch the video after the session, and invariably were shocked on how they sounded and how they projected in the discussion. (Very few of us had an opportunity to watch our discussions live, not a single one…)

7. He sliced the videotapes into seconds and assigned each emotion and feeling and facial expression into 20 categories of emotions such as Anger, Defensiveness, Whining, Sadness, Contempt, Stonewalling, Neutral…

8. He used a computer to save, sort out the data, and come out with a model for the relationships

9. Based on these data, a huge file, he hoped to assign a weight to each emotion that predicted failure or success of a relationship

10. He invested plenty of time and fund money to train assistants to view and review the videotapes and slice them into seconds and assign the emotions into the categories

After 20 years of labor, the researcher managed to select four key emotions that could predict a failure of a relationship over 7 and 15 years of marriage.

It turned out that three of the emotions were one too many. Only one emotion could definitely point to a failure: One of the member in the couple is showing contempt, a systematic habit of over lording it on the partner.

John Gottman says: “I can pick up bits of a 3-minute conversation and feel confident which relationship is in serious trouble…”

Contempt situations and contempt conditions seep through slices and bits of any conversation.

From the start of the chapter in Blink by Malcolm Gladwell I kept thinking: “Why all this trouble! Anyone should know that contempt is the sure killing emotion in any relationship…”

Gottman has proven that if he watched the conversation of a couple for 15 minutes, his success rate of prediction of a failure in the relationship is about 90% of the time.

Sybil Carriere, an assistant to Gottman, managed to reduce the conversation to just 3 minutes with the same 90% hit rate

The most critical discovery is that the same Signature of emotions emerge at every conversation between the couple: It is not a matter of bad timing, low-energy level or a harassing day or…that a conversation takes the wrong turn every time…

You know “it is contempt” when you hear one or see one. But how to create an operational process that enables a researcher to capture data of emotions “objectively”?

For example, when you hear slices of a conversation that says:

1. “I don’t want to argue about this issue…”

2. One closes his eyes while you are talking

3. One rolls his eyes as you explain

4. One partner refuses to give you credits for your efforts

5. One of the partner keeps cutting you off…

Actually, Gottman learned to define an emotion from facial expressions: He didn’t need to listen to the videotape to identify specific emotions.

I still have problems with this research:

1. Implicitly, what is observed and counted as a hit is a divorce materializing with the couple. Divorce is the tip of the iceberg in the failure of a relationship. Far more relationships are dead in the first month and the couple never even separate. Divorcing is a harsh decision that not many can afford, financially or emotionally.  What if the extended family members refuse you visit them or talk to them if your relationship ends up in a divorce? What if the State social institutions have no facilities to rescue you for a few months after a divorce?…

2. Even in developed countries with many social facilities, divorce in not the norm. Married couples have great difficulties overcoming the inertia of years of living together…

3. If we can define “failure” in many other forms than divorce, it is obvious that success in relationships are very rare. If for every negative emotion we show we are to compensate with 7 positive emotions, I don-t see how any relationship can survive the turmoil of the living…We are asking for a tremendous effort of goodwill from one partner…

We really do not need to elaborate on all the negative emotions we let come across to know that relationships are meant to fail very shortly and in every society.

Note: John Gottman is a psychologist by training who studied mathematics at MIT. He published a 500-page treatise “The Mathematics of Divorce“.. Since 1980, more than 3,000 couples entered the “Love Lab” near the Univ. of Washington campus. The data of the research were analyzed and coded in the system SPAFF (Spedific Affect)




September 2021

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