Saturday, August 22, 2015

How to reconcile networks with hierarchies

Post-Capitalism by Paul Mason review – a worthy successor to Marx? Saturday 15 August 2015 David Runciman

The unifying idea with which Mason attempts to tie together his various schemes is “networks v hierarchies”. He rightly thinks that earlier theories of class struggle and revolutionary politics are too narrow to encompass the range of political possibilities now available (especially as he thinks that the move towards gender equality is the fundamental social shift of the modern age). But “networks v hierarchies” is too broad as a slogan to explain anything.
Mason never tells us how or why networks can be expected to overcome hierarchies. After all, hierarchies still have the advantage that they are hierarchical, which means they are much easier to control. Mason himself is not averse to embracing some aspects of hierarchical politics when the occasion demands. His own solution to the challenge of climate change is to push for action that is “centralised, strategic and fast … it will require more state ownership than anybody expects or wants”. Adaptable states will have to make use of networks – including “smart grids” for regulating energy supply – but it is impossible to believe that these states will themselves be nothing more than networks. The central challenge of contemporary politics is to discover new ways to reconcile networks with hierarchies through the institutions of representative democracy. You won’t find the answers in this book.

However, a short review can barely do justice to the range of sources Mason enlists in his search for a solution. We get Shakespeare as well as Marx, Rudolf Hilferding along with Richard Hoggart. On top of everything else, he overlays his account with Kondratiev’s long-wave theory, which says that capitalism goes through generational cycles of stagnation and innovation. Mason believes the current wave is different from the ones that have gone before, because we are now essentially stuck. New technology has given capitalists the ability to adapt without innovating, by providing them with the tools to seek out new forms of value. At the same time, it has given the rest of us the ability to innovate without adapting, by allowing us to explore new lifestyles without having to think about the political implications.
Something has got to give. Mason builds a wholly plausible case that the present situation is unsustainable. But what will give, and how, is not something he can tell us.

As a slice of futurology this book is no better than its many, equally speculative rivals. But as a spark to the imagination, with frequent x-ray flashes of insight into the way we live now, it is hard to beat. In that sense, Mason is a worthy successor to Marx. David Runciman’s books include The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present, published by Princeton.

C. James Townsend
Suddenly I saw the entire steam of economic ideas, Marxist and classical liberal, unite into one stream leading to the same Omega Point, the event horizon of a coming economic singularity where all prices drop down an asymptote toward zero as technology advances exponentially.  It was this that really inspired me to write the book. I had to share that vision, that there is a way forward using “valid” economics to reach, for lack of a better word, utopia.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Clarity hinges on accuracy in the use of terminology

50 psychological/psychiatric terms to avoid: inaccurate, misleading, misused, ambiguous, confused terms
The goal of this article is to promote clear thinking and clear writing among students and teachers of psychological science by curbing terminological misinformation and confusion. By being more judicious in their use of terminology, psychologists and psychiatrists can foster clearer thinking in their students and the field at large regarding mental phenomena.
“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.”
(Confucius, The Analects)
Scientific thinking necessitates clarity, including clarity in writing (Pinker, 2014). In turn, clarity hinges on accuracy in the use of specialized terminology. Clarity is especially critical in such disciplines as psychology and psychiatry, where most phenomena, such as emotions, personality traits, and mental disorders, are “open concepts.” Open concepts are characterized by fuzzy boundaries, an indefinitely extendable indicator list, and an unclear inner essence (Pap, 1958Meehl, 1986).
Many writers, including students, may take the inherent murkiness of many psychological and psychiatric constructs as an implicit license for looseness in language. After all, if the core concepts within a field are themselves ambiguous, the reasoning goes, precision in language may not be essential. In fact, the opposite is true; the inherent openness of many psychological concepts renders it all the more imperative that we insist on rigor in our writing and thinking to avoid misunderstandings (Guze, 1970). Researchers, teachers, and students in psychology and allied fields should therefore be as explicit as possible about what are they are saying and are not saying, as terms in these disciplines readily lend themselves to confusion and misinterpretation.
For at least two reasons, issues of terminology bear crucial implications for the education of forthcoming generations of students in psychology, psychiatry, and related domains. 
  • First, many instructors may inadvertently disseminate misinformation or foster unclear thinking by using specialized terms in inaccurate, vague, or idiosyncratic ways. Six decades ago, two prominent psychiatrists bemoaned the tendency of writers to use “jargon to blur implausible concepts and to convey the impression that something real is being disclosed” (Cleckley and Thigpen, 1955, p. 335). We hope that our article offers a friendly, albeit greatly belated, corrective in this regard. 
  • Second, if students are allowed, or worse, encouraged, to be imprecise in their language concerning psychological concepts, their thinking about these concepts is likely to follow suit. An insistence on clarity in language forces students to think more deeply and carefully about psychological phenomena, and serves as a potent antidote against intellectual laziness, which can substitute for the meticulous analysis of concepts. The accurate use of terminology is therefore a prerequisite to clear thinking within psychology and related disciplines.

Psychology has long struggled with problems of terminology (Stanovich, 2012). For example, numerous scholars have warned of the jingle and jangle fallacies, the former being the error of referring to different constructs by the same name and the latter the error of referring to the same construct by different names (Kelley, 1927Block, 1995Markon, 2009). As an example of the jingle fallacy, many authors use the term “anxiety” to refer interchangeably to trait anxiety and trait fear. Nevertheless, research consistently shows that fear and anxiety are etiologically separable dispositions and that measures of these constructs are only modestly correlated (Sylvers et al., 2011). As an example of the jangle fallacy, dozens of studies in the 1960s focused on the correlates of the ostensibly distinct personality dimension of repression-sensitization (e.g., Byrne, 1964). Nevertheless, research eventually demonstrated that this dimension was essentially identical to trait anxiety (Watson and Clark, 1984). In the field of social psychology, Hagger (2014) similarly referred to the “deja variable” problem, the ahistorical tendency of researchers to concoct new labels for phenomena that have long been described using other terminology (e.g., the use of 15 different terms to describe the false consensus effect; see Miller and Pedersen, 1999).
In this article, we present a provisional list of 50 commonly used terms in psychology, psychiatry, and allied fields that should be avoided, or at most used sparingly and with explicit caveats. For each term, we 
  • (a) explain why it is problematic, 
  • (b) delineate one or more examples of its misuse, and 
  • (c) when pertinent, offer recommendations for preferable terms. 
These terms span numerous topical areas within psychology and psychiatry, including neuroscience, genetics, statistics, and clinical, social, cognitive, and forensic psychology. Still, in proposing these 50 terms, we make no pretense at comprehensiveness. We are certain that many readers will have candidates for their own “least favorite” psychological and psychiatric terms, and we encourage them to contact us with their nominees. In addition, we do not include commonly confused terms (e.g., “asocial” with “antisocial,” “external validity” with “ecological validity,” “negative reinforcement” with “punishment,” “mass murderer” with ‘serial killer’), as we intend to present a list of these term pairs in a forthcoming publication. We also do not address problematic terms that are restricted primarily to popular (“pop”) psychology, such as “codependency,” “dysfunctional,” “toxic,” “inner child,” and “boundaries,” as our principal focus is on questionable terminology in the academic literature. Nevertheless, we touch on a handful of pop psychology terms (e.g., closure, splitting) that have migrated into at least some academic domains.
Our “eyeball cluster analysis” of these 50 terms has led us to group them into five overarching and partly overlapping categories for expository purposes: inaccurate or misleading terms, frequently misused terms, ambiguous terms, oxymorons, and pleonasms. Terms in all five categories, we contend, have frequently sown the seeds of confusion in psychology, psychiatry, and related fields, and in so doing have potentially impeded (a) their scientific progress and (b) clear thinking among students.
  • First, some psychological terms are inaccurate or misleading. For example, the term “hard-wired” as applied to human traits implies that genes rigidly prescribe complex psychological behaviors (e.g., physical aggression) and traits (e.g., extraversion), which is almost never the case. 
  • Second, some psychological terms are not incorrect per se, but are frequently misused. For example, although “splitting” carries a specific meaning as a defensive reaction in psychodynamic theory, it is commonly misused to refer to the propensity of people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and related conditions to pit staff members against each other. 
  • Third, some psychological terms are ambiguous, because they can mean several things. For example, the term “medical model” can refer to any one (or more) of at least seven conceptual models of mental illness and its treatment. 
  • Fourth, some psychological terms are oxymorons. An oxymoron is a term, such as open secret, precise estimate, or final draft, which consists of two conjoined terms that are contradictory. For example, the term “stepwise hierarchical regression” is an oxymoron because stepwise and hierarchical multiple regression are incompatible statistical procedures. 
  • Fifth, some psychological terms are pleonasms. A pleonasm is a term, such as PIN number, Xerox copy, or advance warning, which consists of two or more conjoined terms that are redundant. For example, the term “latent construct” is a pleonasm because all psychological constructs are hypothetical and therefore unobservable.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

William James, Schrödinger, and James Watson

Business Insider - Richard Feloni | Aug 13, 2015
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's 2015 New Year's resolution was to read an important book every two weeks and discuss it with the Facebook community. Zuckerberg's book club, A Year of Books, has focused on big ideas that influence society and business. For his 16th pick, he's gone with "The Varieties Of Religious Experience" by William James (1842-1919).

During his tenure at Harvard, James became the most famous American philosopher and psychologist of his time, and is still "considered by many to be the most insightful and stimulating of American philosophers," according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. From 1901-1902, James gave a series of lectures at the University of Edinburgh on why humans adhere to religion, and these were collected as "The Varieties of Religious Experience."
His writings explore the religious consciousness and the mechanics of how people use religion as a source of meaning, compelling them to move onward through life with energy and purpose.
Zuckerberg explains his latest book-club pick on his personal Facebook page: When I read Sapiens, I found the chapter on the evolution of the role of religion in human life most interesting and something I wanted to go deeper on. William James was a philosopher in the 1800s who shaped much of modern psychology.
Zuckerberg added that he's currently on vacation with his wife Priscilla and that James' lectures on religion seemed like "some light vacation reading!" Considering the heaviness of nearly all of his other book-club picks, it's hard to tell if he's being sarcastic. A Year of Books so far:
"The Muqaddimah" by Ibn Khaldun
"The Player of Games" by Iain M. Banks
"Energy: A Beginner's Guide" by Vaclav Smil

On Schrödinger's birthday, how his talk "What is Life?" captivated DNA researcher James Watson -
Schrödinger’s What Is Life was delivered in 1944 and was later published in book form. Watson read it two years later as a third-year student and was captivated. “I realised it was very important and it was the book that turned me towards biology.” [