A Search for Wisdom
Occasional Paper #3
July 1988ON THINKING
What thinking is remains to be defined. The following is set forth as a possible definition with some examples of its implications.
Some years ago Ranchi wrote a book on optics to which he gave a subtitle: An Aid to Vision. Obviously, optics does not see. It is man's use of optics which makes optics important.
I consider the computer an aid to my thinking. Clearly, the computer does not think. I think. But we have no clear simple definition of thinking. In recent discussions, I have come up with a satisfying place to begin.
A DEFINITION OF THINKING
Thinking is man's response to gut feelings.
Man among the living species has a unique ability to plan rationally. Other species seem to respond to gut feelings, but none have the same rational ability.
The dog chases the cat. The cat chases the rat. The rat chases the cheese. And so on, one can find many examples of the way other species respond to gut feelings. The responses are a type of operant behavior. At times, man responds to gut feelings with operant behavior, but he is not always limited to that.
How can a computer help man rationally plan ? The computer is composed of large arrays of switches. These switches can be set to store coded information or to organize arrays of switches. This is an over simplification, but the essence is simple enough. Man cannot remember as much as he might and have it available at one time. Through various schemes of organization, information can be arranged for convenient access when required.
One of the most simple schemes for organizing information is the use of look-up tables. With any given gut feeling, an appropriate function is found from a look-up table and the information is quickly available. Such a process might be compared to operant behavior. This is the way reflexes work. The rational ability of man is not used. Experience builds a look-up table of reflexes. After being burnt by a hot stove, a hot stove triggers the reflexes for man to avoid it. This is the process of developing conditioned reflexes.
The unique ability of man to rationally plan can be compared to a programmed algorithm in a computer. The various and, or, nand, nor, and xor gates can be used to build systems of logic. Rational thinking is a matter of employing logic. Rational thinking can also include time delays in the process of logical analysis. These tools unique to man among all other animals can best be studied in the branch of philosophy known as Logic.
Boole was a student of logic. Much of computer architecture is designed around the requirements of Boolian logic. It is through such logical analysis that the algorithms employed in computer programs are developed.
Thus the computer can respond to inputs by operant or rational behavior. A part of that ability is similar to all other animals, but the latter part is unique to man. The storage of information is another use of the computer. The information contained in the inputs is organized in some manner within many arrays of switches. Tags of some sort are made available to access the detailed information.
In order to understand the operant and rational processes of man, the analogs in the computer can be used to simulate them. One of the major tools within the ability to think is the organization and use of language by man. Man's many languages are much further developed than those of other animals.
In reading several books on language, I realize that the structure is built upon some sort of grammar. Campbell's book, The Grammatical Man, Otto Jesperson's book, The Philosophy of Grammar, and a number of other books seem to suggest that there is some sort of genetic template provided man.
Perhaps the templates could be thought of as records in many files of a large data base. Each record is composed of variable length fields containing the actual information and related pointers and tags available to the programs used to manipulate the data base.
Though I have not followed these ideas through, I have a hand waving idea that the mind is composed of large banks of such files each with separate processors maintaining the structure of the particular file. Consciousness is a master processor which can order the search of the many files for particular items. Try to remember a name and the conscious processor cannot find it. Some later time, one of the dedicated processors in a particular file finds the name and issues an interrupt to the consciousness. Even further, sleep allows the processors to update the sorting process before the conscious processor again takes over.
Thus, in this model, the nervous structures of man and the brain provide a template of records, files, processors and interconnections for man to develop. Everyone is unique, but the general patterns are similar. The nature of dyslexia suggest differences among the various processors and their connections from person to person.
Growth and development is a matter of filling up the many files and connecting the individual processors, one with another. All this takes place within the genetic structures with which each individual is uniquely endowed.
This model seems to provide considerable direction for thought. It might be possible to further understand the processes which men have in common. Who knows where this could lead?
The item missing in the computer models suggested above is the gut feeling. We live in a changing world. Individually, we are continually being challenged with external stimuli and internal requirements. One of the major driving forces for people, as well as communities and the world is the search for food. The awareness of hunger is a strong driving force for much of what we do. It is appropriate to call this driving force a gut feeling.
Even man's ability to plan often can be reduced to planning for his next meal and successive meals. To the extent that he can plan far enough ahead to be assured of the continued access to food, he is free to consider other desires. A common model for all such feelings might well be built on the gut feeling of being hungry.
Man's feelings certainly go beyond just food. The common statement, <169>I want<170>, is so frequent that it must be considered as similar to his demands for food. The child wants his toy. The situation becomes more complex when the child wants his toy only when someone else has it. This leads to many other ideas which should be developed.
Life is nothing but a series of conflicts. The individual is often at war with the world around him as well as within him. He has an intestinal upset, or perhaps a headache, or a common cold. We have an elaborate system of immune mechanisms which protects us from the insults from the world around us. This is an allergy season and many of my friends are fighting allergies.
The individual leads a life continually threatened by war. The best we can do is to prepare ourselves to contend with the attacks when they come. We learn that we need regular rest. The brain mechanisms of mental activity need to be refreshed. The organization of the various files needs to be kept current. We need regular nutrition which meets our individual demands. And so on, one can list the continual unexpected demands. To be at peace most of the time, we need to be tolerant of the wars in which we engage. The best we can do is to take the rational planning steps we find effective.
Not only within a given individual, but within close interpersonal relations there are regular challenges to the individual. There are differences in opinion about what we should do: which car should we buy, which house should we buy, which room should be painted and what color and so on go the differences. Perhaps one color appeals to one individual and another to the other. Perhaps one individual is allergic to apples and the other is convinced that an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Between close individuals there must be tolerance of the other. Planning must allow for the individual variations. Often, there is no point in planning for things outside of the immediate relation.
A scheme of tolerance is a basic requirement of all interpersonal relations. The family group is constricted by its requirements. The community is constricted by its requirements, and so on, upward and onward -Gee Wizz.
In any group with a size greater than one, there will always be differences which lead to conflicts. These conflicts will at times result in war. There is nothing unusual about this. After all the barn yard always established its pecking order. From time to time that pecking order needs to be redefined. This pecking order applies only to that one barn yard. There is no reason for neighboring barn yards to become involved. Each yard must be tolerant of the order in the other yard.
The territorial imperative is another example of recurring conflict. As the old die and the young take over, territories change hands. The confines of the territory are continually in a state of instability. Just call those conflicts war and become tolerant of them.
The territories seem go back to the basic gut drive for food. A territory is that area necessary and sufficient to provide food.
Not only do the individuals in a territory change from time to time leading to conflict, but the richness of the territory also changes. No amount of rational planning can affect the climate. Rather, the planning needs to allow for changes in the climate.
The farmer comes to mind. I remember an occasion when a wheat crop was approaching a potential yield of 40 bushels per acre. The next day the farmer was to harvest. That night a hail storm struck and his wheat was beaten into the ground. The farmer was able to salvage less than 10 bushels per acre. So much for that years planning and hard work. That farmer needed to plan for the extremes, both good and bad. If he is going to survive he must be allowed what may be seen as an excess return in the good years that he may survive the bad ones.
Just as the farmer organizes his labors, so in an industrial world the work force organizes its efforts. It is the ability of the individual to plan as the farmer who must plan for years at a time which is important.
One of the best ways to plan is to find a way of storing labor. That way, one can perhaps work a little more than barely necessary for survival and convert that excess production to stored labor. In a system of barter, one can make extra shoes or shirts. One could store food ahead for a year. Then as necessary one could exchange the shoes, shirts and food for other things.
Stored labor, items for barter or tools for work, are a part of capital. It is hard to understand why the word has developed such a bad connotation. Capital is nothing but stored labor. Perhaps it is ugly to use the unique ability of man to plan that he may be prepared for future events.
The problem is not new. Noah planned. Look at the reaction that his planning produced. He was doing stupid things. Who needed a boat there? Conventional wisdom in any scheme of organized planning would not have allowed him to proceed.
Those who use their unique ability to plan and store labor in the form of capital will be discouraged if they know that they will not be able to participate in their own store of labor. Somehow there is something wrong with depriving a person the fruits of his labors. That too will lead to conflict. That will lead to war.
When the majority who have not planned decide that the minority who have will be denied their stored labor, no one will be inclined to store his labor: neither the majority who don't do it anyway or the minority who might have but won't. The result is a smaller pie for all to share.
It is interesting that over the years there has developed a conflict between organized labor and organized capital. Business is the organization of capital. The conflict between business and labor is just a conflict between current labor and stored labor. Current organized labor is concerned with the here and now. It is concerned with its current wage first and foremost. The benefit programs created at the insistence of organized labor lead only to the business of storing labor to provide the designated benefits. The organized labor which fights organized capital is hypocritical. It is opposed to the very thing it espouses.
Major conflicts arise when any organization attempts to dictate what those not in the organization should do. The planning of an organization should be limited to the scope of the organization. It is not the role of organized labor to determine the individual's menu tonight. The planned menu might make the individual sick.
There are many steps in economic exchange. Not many years ago 1 in 4 people was involved in the production of food. Most people were closely related to those who provided their source of food. Today that has changed. Now something like 1 in 50 is involved in the production of food. One individual is able to take advantage of stored labor in the form of tools and equipment, and can produce as much as a dozen men before.
The industrial effort has been built on the availability of stored labor. The manufacturing plants are the result of stored labor. Stored labor is capital being invested for increased productivity. That is business. The larger industries are big business. They are the planners of organized capital. The problem between organized labor and organized capital is the time to gratification. How far ahead is one to plan?
It is an interesting twist that middle managers today are no better off than the laborers. Their planning is measured in a progressively shorter time span. The number of planners who can look ahead and plan for the long run of years is small. We are reduced to organized labor and much of organized capital looking at the short run. Neither is a good use of the unique ability of man to plan.
In economics, there are exchanges at the family level, the community level, the regional level, and on up through a structure to global levels. Conflicts arise when those responsible for global planning determine the individual's evening menu. I said that before but it is a good example.
In planning ahead at the various levels, those plans must be tolerant of differences at lower levels. The answer is in tolerance.
Along with economic planning, comes the question of the role of government planning. Where does one leave off and the other begin? Along with these problems is the determination of personal values which often are considered a part of religion.
At the founding of the United States, a critical question was one of defining the bounds of the government. Large industries had not developed. The problems of rule by monarchs and the role of religion were clear to them.
Their goal was to provide a system of government which would separate the state from religion. They attempted to constrain government to only those things expressly stated and specifically relegated other matters to the regions defined by the individual states. With the advent of the industrial revolution, there has developed a conflict between current labor and stored labor - organized labor and organized business. It has become a power play on a large scale.
As our forefathers limited the scope and divided the powers of government among the forces they contended with at the time, they probably would have worked out a system to keep the labor-business conflict out of the control of the government had they seen that as a problem.
The role of government was not to become the biggest business of them all. Yet that is exactly what has happened. What is it now? Something like one person in four or five or six is in the employ of the biggest business of them all.
The government has undertaken a role of big business. It is schizophrenic. The total support for the government is derived from its control of stored labor. Those who have stored labor with their vested interests attempt to influence the government's policies. On the other side, through the principal of <169>one man one vote<170> in a democratic society, we have turned the government over to the majority who have little in the way of stored labor and easily swayed by the propaganda of the media.
In the process, government has tried to assume the role of establishing a system of values for our people. In past times these systems of values were in the providence of the religions. Our forefathers attempted to separate the state from religion. Again, our government has become schizophrenic. We attempt to define values which are religious values. The government assumes the right to determine the individual's right to abortions. There are many other examples of values determined by government restricting rights which were earlier a part of religion.
Before the formation of this country, most countries had a close relation between the rulers and religion. The values of the religions were used to assure the continuance of the rulers. It was this conflict among religions and government which our forefathers tried to avoid. We are creeping back into the same old recurring problems of history.
If the role of government is not one of big business and of determining the religious personal values, even if those values are not part of a conventional religion, why have a government at all?
A ROLE FOR GOVERNMENT
If we exclude values and economic planning from government, what is left? It is for government to provide some sort of reference for the communication of ideas. This might be thought of as something of a language.
For example, a government might establish a scheme of weights and measures so that we would have something in common to talk about. Such an activity would simplify barter. In the butcher shop, a pound of meat would be defined as being the same weight regardless of which shop. A determination of the purity of metals and a proper designation might be appropriate. It might even be appropriate to mint coins of specific metallic content. Though the minting could equally well be done outside of the government.
The government might provide a system of arbitration in lesser conflicts. It might do well to provide a system of personal security. From personal security one could derive the need for a national defense. Such defense would be directed to the security within the jurisdiction of the country.
Public education might be considered as a proper role of government. An educated population is thought to be a necessity for a democracy to function. Without throwing out the idea, I wonder if maybe Webster was not right. Perhaps the role of general literacy and education is to provide control of the masses through propaganda in the form of writing. Few people can read their ballots and understand what they say. Most ballots have an additional interpretation of the words at the issue.
Literacy does have an important role in the development of the culture. Literacy is required to study the tools of logic and to develop ideas upon which the culture can build. Literacy is an adjunct to the development of rational planning. To what extent is such rational planning used by people in this country today?
Perhaps some general education is appropriate in the country. I wonder if public education through college and beyond is a proper responsibility of the national government.
For the purposes of propaganda, literacy is no longer as important as it once was. With the advent of radio and then of television, the masses can be plied with all sorts of material. The candidates can access the masses with the power of the orators of years gone by, before literacy was common.
The role of government might well be restricted. Divide big businesses and conquer the pieces by arbitration. Recognize that there is going to be conflict not resolvable by arbitration. Keep the pieces small and the size of the conflicts will be small. Learn to tolerate conflicts. It is hard to imagine any plan which will not lead to conflict. The goal should be to contain it.
A good example of a successful organization is given in a small regional professional group. It was formed 30 years ago. The government consisted of 6 directors who elected the appropriate officers among them. They met once a year to decide upon the location of four local meetings for the year. One or two directors assumed responsibility for a local meeting, thus dividing the effort. Two new directors were elected each year by those attending an annual meeting. Other than that, the members had no voice in the organization. Today, the democratic nature of the organization is illustrated by the continued slow stable growth of attendance at their meetings. The activities of the organization are limited.
Perhaps the secret of such a successful undertaking is in defining the goals of the organization and keeping within those goals. Give people the responsibility for a job and don't clutter them with meet and confer activities.
A COMPUTER ANALOGY
I have touched on many ideas. To return to the question of thinking, how can a computer be an aid? The process of analysis of the steps and use computer architectures to simulate steps seems most appropriate.
One of the requirements of thinking is to organize the thoughts. What better way is there than writing things out, but by long hand, the job is tedious. The active mind can think much more rapidly than one can write. Typing provided an advance for those who learned the technique. With the modern computer word processor, one can just let it stream out as fast as he can type. Of course, that stream of conscious writing will have to be edited, but it is an important step in organizing one's thoughts.
For the immediate future, typing skills cannot be replaced. Perhaps one day we will have voice input and typing will be no longer necessary. With the ease of typing into the computer one can output ideas as they are processed by the conscious computer. As such they amount to a series of almost random records. Once the records are captured they can be organized into conventional written style.
An interesting question in the use of computers is the advent of the mouse to use as a pointer. There are those who love a mouse and reject the keyboard entries as much as possible. Those who can type often find that the mouse just gets into their way. Each can be very proficient with his techniques.
A more fundamental question arises. Is the mouse as a pointer to icons an advance or a regression? Sign language worked before the spoken and written language. Is the mouse and icons a reversion to this older skill? Is it a step forward for those who can't type? Or is it a more efficient approach to interfacing with a computer? It will be interesting to see how these approaches resolve.
I am reminded of the new road signs. It seems that a cartoon of a man walking and a hand up is taking the place of the words WALK and STOP. Many of the other road signs resort to icons rather than words. Perhaps it is a matter of uncertainty rather than a matter of regression to sign language. What then is the genetic grammar of such a sign language?
In any case the ideas of linguistics and grammar are important. These can be related to the templates of records and files, man is genetically endowed with. After all, the use of language is somehow closely related to the process of thinking. The use of the computer to record these ideas has its parallels.
In other ways, the organization, storage and access of information in the computer can be considered as parallel to the way man's mind works. Perhaps programs as data base management systems, spread sheets, and graphic capabilities as provided in common computer programs will stimulate considering them as simulations of processes in man.
If nothing else, the computer often provides more rapid access to information than simple recall from memory. Using some of the output formats, the information can be organized into more useful forms at a much more rapid rate than man can do it by hand.
In the process of communication, desk top publishing is replacing the older typesetting and page layout specialists. Those specialists are on the way out as are the buggy whip makers. A part of the communication skill of writing now goes all the way through to the mechanical for final reproduction. They are readily available to the average person. This too will lead to conflict.
As the world seems to change more and more rapidly, fewer professions last more than a few years. If organized labor is limited to a single narrow skill or very few skills, the threat of the changing culture will lead to conflict with those changes. With the perishable nature of many forms of stored labor, business will tend to constrain the ever changing culture to conserve it's current store of labor.
The religious values also are subject to change. Somehow the theologians need to organize religious values to make change more acceptable. This is not that one should change for the sake of change. Our stores of labor are changing. Our cultural requirements are changing. We need to be tolerant of change and must learn to incorporate change in rational planning.
There are many types of labor today which were not even dreamed of 10 years ago, much less a lifetime ago. As we look forward for our children, we must prepare them to adapt to change. We must prepare them with the basic skills which have not changed in the last couple of thousand years such as geometry. Though the current languages have changed, much of the genetic structure of grammar has not changed over this time.
Appropriate stores of labor, good tools and expertise in their use, are perhaps the best investment any individual can make. Perhaps one will not use all the tools he has and knows how to use, but there is no way to predict which will be important. Other forms of stored labor are best identified by their closeness to the individual.
Money is one form of stored labor. It is a commodity convenient for barter. It is also a commodity easily abused by governments. This has been true throughout history. Simply, money is a perishable form of stored labor. It lacks the intrinsic value of specific tools.
Money is abused in another way by governments. It can be created out of thin air. With no intrinsic value, it is depreciated as more is created. The borrowing of money by the government is mortgaging our future and as the debt climbs it is mortgaging our children's future.
Not many years ago we strove to give our children a better place to live than we found. By the mortgaging of their future, I fear that we are building the foundations for conflict. With the tendency to central planning, conflicts will tend to involve groups controlled by central planners. The larger the scope of that central planning,, the larger is the scope of that conflict. We have had two <169>world wars<170> though not all the world was involved. With the present growth of central planning I can predict that future conflicts will lead to involving more of the world in a future war.
The wisdom I find from using the computer as an aid to thinking is to divide the planning into as small a unit as possible. Learn to be tolerant of the barnyard pecking order and territorial imperatives among the smallest possible units. Make as many computers as possible available to as many people as possible just as we have made spectacles available. With computer as a tool, more people will learn to think better.
So, thinking is developing tools with saved labor to satisfy gut feelings.Glen B. Haydon, M.D.
Route 2, Box 429
La Honda, CA 94020HINDSIGHT is decicated to examining the past in a search for wisdom coping present. After all, hindsight is always 20/20. Extrapolations into the future are left to the reader.