Saturday, July 25, 2015

Chia, Holt, Strategy Without Design. Heidegger, H. Dreyfus on Heidegger, ... Wayfinding, Skillful Coping,...

I have been reading a book by Chia and Holt, Strategy Without Design, The Silent Efficiency of Indirect Action. I was led to it by S. Dreyfus of Berkeley's Industrial Engineering Dept. who works on intuition and expert knowledge, who has written on what he calls System 0 (vs. Kahneman's System 1 and 2 in his Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow), about when people have deep intuitive knowledge of what to do. (There is also a fine article by Kahneman (dubious about expertise) and Klein (studies experts' intuitive capacities) in the American Psychologist where they define better where they agree and disagree, Sept 2009.) In any case, in googling around I found the link below, where Chia/Holt talk about what's wrong with knowledge in business schools. Reading the abstract is enough. 

Chia/Holt are part of a movement that is concerned with process, influenced by Heidegger (through an interpretation by Hubert Dreyfus of Berkeley's Philosophy Dept). Dreyfus's interpretation is I think appropriate, and in maybe 1972 I attended his class on Heidegger (Stanley Fish was also attending) when he was expounding this, well before he had spread the word more widely through publication.

Like all such books, Chia and Holt go too far, but still I find it useful. On the other hand, I have been thinking in these terms for 40+ years, influenced not only by Heidegger, but by Albert Hirschman, Harold Garfinkel, and others. My first book, Advice and Planning (1981), has a 100-page essay on advice, one that I could only write after hearing Dreyfus's lectures (I already had a rough draft that did not work, but during one of D's lectures I realized what I needed and so could now write the essay properly, which I did when I was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1973-74.). The idea was to think of knowledge for policy and the advisor (or expert or professor) as coming from involved experience rather than abstract application of something we know to a situation.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Robert Langlands on his early career

Langlands is a distinguished mathematician, professor at the Institute of Advanced Study. Here is he giving some background on his career, preliminary to discussing some of main mathematical concerns for a video for an Oxford conference. My quotations are selective, to be sure...

That topic became mathematics not out of a strong preference for that subject, but because it pretty much required no preparation, only native ability.

then I went on to Yale, a fortunate choice: the quality was high, although somewhat specialized; I had no obligations as any kind of teaching assistant, so that my time was my own; and, in contrast with, say, Princeton or Harvard, there were no fellow students with superior preparation eager to intimidate me. The few courses or seminars I had were helpful and instructive, so that I had a great deal of time on my own to spend in the library.

None the less, more by good luck than by good management, both were important in my career. The first came to the attention of Edward Nelson, who, then an assistant professor at Princeton, found enough merit in the first that I was offered, sight unseen and with no documentation, a position as instructor at Princeton. I had wanted to stay at Yale, and a number of the faculty would have been content to offer me a similar position, but fortunately the resident probabilist had taken a dislike to me, and he blocked the appointment. So I went to Princeton, where, asked to speak in a small analysis seminar, I spoke on the Eisenstein series paper. Bochner was favorably impressed, largely by the circumstance that I had already been thinking about a topic with no relation to my thesis

he [Bochner] had also encouraged, one could even say forced, me to give a graduate-course on class field theory. I knew nothing about it and was scared stiff, but could not refuse. I learned a great deal. So did a few students. It is impossible to overestimate the debt I owe to Bochner

I had — in the shape of the department chairman, also a probabilist — another stroke of luck. Fancying himself as a Hercules whose task was to cleanse the department of the deadwood accumulated under the influence, in particular, of Bochner, he took it upon himself to drive a number of us out. The story is complicated, but the upshot was that I returned to Yale, where I was very happy, but I could not resist the offer of an appointment to the Institute, an offer that at the time would not, because of a gentleman’s agreement between the two institutions, have been possible if I had remained at the University. This offer I owe, I am certain, principally to Harish-Chandra

So these early years were free of anxiety, but not of discouragement. Mathematics, if one is at all ambitious, is difficult. I was free to give it up, free to ignore any constraining demands, from deans or chairmen, free for example not to apply for grants, to write or publish only what I cared to write or publish and only when I felt it appropriate, willing to continue in modest circumstances in out-of-the-way places, but not willing to abandon the goals I had set for myself, or that, say, Bochner had encouraged me to set.

It was only when completely discouraged by my attempts to find the elusive non-abelian class field theory or the elusive automorphic L-functions that I began to think that the time had come to abandon mathematical research. Largely as a consequence of a chance acquaintance with a Turkish visitor to Princeton, the economist Orhan T¨urkay, unfortunately
recently deceased, that I decided, as a first, mildly adventurous, step to spend a year or more in Turkey with my family.

I had recovered from my discouragement and had a great many mathematical ideas to deal with, so that it was just as well that I and my family were not dealing with too difficult an adaptation. There were difficulties, but they were overcome

Nevertheless, I wanted to express clearly my sentiment that thanks to circumstances of time and place I was never constrained by my profession as a mathematician, never forced to any kind of submission. I could always, without great reserves of moral courage, do as I wanted.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Scholarly Monographs, Journal Articles, and Disseminating Your Work

In general, scholarly monographs are valued as gatekeepers in some disciplines: literature, anthropology, sociology, political science, art history, ... But in most disciplines what counts are articles in the main peer-reviewed journals or contributions to selective conferences (e.g. computer science). Most high prestige departments where the monograph is traditional still demand one. But a rich vein of scholarly articles that are cumulative will often be more than enough. What matters is what the high-ranking scholars in your field think of your work.

There are not enough scholarly books published each year, or articles in the main peer-reviewed journals, to allow most scholars to have the requisite CV. Many universities have more relaxed requirements, with less concern about the prestige of the journal or the publisher. But the top-ranked departments are still quite conventional, as far as I can tell. They want faculty who publish in just those hard-to-publish venues.

But there is another crucial avenue--disseminating your work at meetings, conferences, and through drafts and preprints shared with the high ranking scholars in your field. If your work is strong, their judgments are likely to prevail.

Career Trajectories for Academics: Adjuncts, Teaching Faculty, Professors of Practice, ...

For the most part, I have been concerned with conventional scholarly careers. But nowadays universities are hiring a wider range of faculty.

Adjunct faculty usually teach one or two or three courses, typically are chosen because of their practical and professional experience, and bring that experience to the university (where the ordinary faculty have comparatively little experience). They are rarely expected to have scholarly research careers. (Many adjuncts are hired as temporary teachers of more conventional stuff, and here I have little to say.)

Teaching faculty may well have long term contract appointments, may move up the ranks as teaching faculty, but usually do not achieve tenure. They are often as qualified as regular faculty.They are expected to teach a larger number of courses than the regular tenure-track faculty, but are not expected to have scholarly research careers. On the other hand, if they do publish (perhaps at a slower rate than their tenure-track colleagues, although given the rate of some of those colleagues the teaching faculty might well do much better than the slows), they gain further cachet and that is likely to influence how they are evaluated.

Professors of practice are typically quite senior, with deep and distinguished experience sets, and they bring their career knowledge to the university. They may well be respected for that experience set, but given the status consciousness of regular faculty, they are not likely to be seen as being as prestigious as regular faculty even if their external reputations are sterling (although again, some fraction of the regular faculty has stopped publishing or slowed down substantially quite early in their careers).

In each of these roles, publication and dissemination of your ideas and work will increase your status. Adjuncts have professional experience that might well enable them to criticize and contribute to the conventional scholarly literature. Teaching faculty might well have research programs. Professors of practice may well have articles or a book in which they can convey their wisdom and experience, much as I suggest for adjuncts. All may be invited to help journalists, give public presentations and speeches, and generally become more prominent. They may serve on national or international committees. And in many universities, they might well receive external research grants or participate in grants by others of their colleagues.

What's crucial to keep in mind is that just because someone is regular faculty, tenured, and even a full professor does not mean they are still highly productive scholars. There's lots of room for those on the periphery to prove their worth.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The World Created in Six Days--But they were very long days, with many small steps.,

First, the notion of the “big bang” reflects the premise that the universe began when, all of a sudden, everything came into existence out of nothing, with no explanation of how this happened or where it all came from.  Second, the story of the evolution of life on this planet reflects the initial premise that inorganic material – the primordial soup – spontaneously gave rise to organic entities, with no explanation of how non-living matter can, all on its own, suddenly become alive.  Third, this perspective assumes that consciousness emerged along with increasingly sophisticated nervous systems and brains, with no explanation of how organic matter develops a capacity for cognition and information processing.  These three claims – that the whole universe magically emerged out of nothing, that organic life magically emerged out of inorganic chemicals, and that mind magically emerged out of matter – require no less faith, and are no less fantastical, than the belief that God created the world in six days.
One of my colleagues wrote the above as part of a larger argument. It may be useful to keep in mind:
1. All the big bang cosmology, and the inflationary scenario, depends on how we might model,  in a physical sense, the emergence of something from nothing. The idea is that as the world cooled down from the big bang, there emerged orderliness, much as cooled water becomes crystalline ice. That orderliness is the something that arises
2. There may be speculation about before the big bang, but in general physicists see time as something denominated by events (not by an external clock), and before the big bang there was no time.
3. As for living matter, it is likely that we will find matter that exhibits various levels of what we would call living. In other words, the living-ness was not a single step, but more likely was a series of incremental steps. Non-living matter surely on its own develops in this way, but it is unlikely that there was a single step that divided time into before living and after living.
4. As for organic matter developing cognition and information processing capacity, we find that there are many steps along the way, and different living matter displays various degrees of consciousness etc. Much like #3.
5. Being living matter that is conscious, cognitive, and information processing, is an ongoing process. It has not stopped with current mankind. It's not that we will come to see the current era as being only half living and half-dumb. Rather in millennia new steps will be developed.

Uncertainty, Nuclear Deterrence, and Pirates (T. Delpech)

I have been reading on nuclear deterrence, a RAND report by T. Delpech. I am no expert, at all, in this literature, but I think Delpech is quite good in bringing out all the issues. I will have to get some expert judgments.

In any case, she reminded me that the literature on nuclear deterrence has always paid a good deal of attention to uncertainty, about what your opponent might do. Namely,

...uncertainty may contribute to a deterrent effect (T. Schelling), your not knowing what they will do making you more prudential. Or, in contrast, your knowing just what your opponent will do (H. Kahn), will contribute to deterrence by, again, making you more prudent. If we are in a piracy regime (as described by T. Delpech), our opponents may well gamble more, be less willing to follow conventional norms, and so not only increase uncertainty, but make it much harder to figure out what they might do.   (my paraphrase) 

In the warrior caseon the ground (vs. the suits and the uniforms, usually the subject of deterrence discussion), the idea that one's opponent might be a "pirate" (one who violates all the norms, tends to take changes that are quite speculative or ideologically driven), I wonder how to think about this

Delpech portrays China or North Korea as being piratical, the Chinese especially having a recent tradition from the effort to establish PRC. In effect, they are the wildest least predictable on the block. How do warriors on the ground handle this possibility? 

I have been reading more about the conflict of the Japanese Navy and Army between the two world wars, and how that led to remarkable chancy behavior, with little checks on wildness--a bureaucratic battle with enormous consequences. Also, about Hitler's ambitions being much above his capabilities, the argument being that appeasement in 1938 was the wrong move--rather resisting him then might have had the effect of slowing him down, perhaps permanently. In each case, Japan and Nazi Germany, they were punching above their line, so to speak--yet they could not stop themselves, leading to enormous damage to themselves (and the world, too).

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Orthodox Religions and Natural Science in the Modern Age

I am trained as a physicist. Over the years I have kept up with the scholarly literature in theology and 

in natural science about the relationship of religion and natural science. Natural science provides an 

an account of mechanism, while theology provides an account of purpose and meaning. That Genesis

provides an account of the creation of the world in six days, say, can be shown to be a remarkable 

account of social structure (Edmund Leach). That astroparticle physics can provide an account of the

origin of our universe initiated by the Big Bang, shows a parallel among the elementary particles and

the stages in the Big Bang's cooling down in the first three minutes.  There is a substantial 

theological and philosophical and poetic literature that suggests that God stands outside of time. 

The best modern accounts of biological evolution incorporate how organisms form ecological

niches, and so evolution is surely influenced by those organisms' capacity to self-organize (whether

or not consciously, for pattern formation does not need an organizer). 


The blog passage below compares the faith of literal believers in the Hebrew Bible with the beliefs of

natural scientists. It should be noted that theologians have long argued about how to read the Hebrew

Bible, and a literal reading has never been ascendent--for it is the meaning of the Bible's text proves

crucial, not its proposed mechanisms. And in fact, natural scientists have thought long and hard 

about how something can come out of nothing, how what we call consciousness might arise from 

matter we take as not conscious, and  how nonliving matter might be a source for living matter. For 

example, you have to think hard about what you mean by nothing, and what you mean by something

if you want to make sense of the problem. You need to understand that what we call time

is not a tick-tock clock but the path of physical processes. To ask about what was there before time,

makes little sense until you have a notion of what was there that could mark time before.


If one believes that the Hebrew Bible's account of Genesis is true, surely that is a matter of faith, a

wonderful human capacity. If one believes that the astroparticle physicist's account of the origin of

 the universe is correct, that is a matter that might well be corrected by future discoveries 

in astronomy and particle physics--but for the moment it does account for many of the deepest

questions that have concerned us for millennia. Genesis is true because it gives an account of society, 

the Big Bang would seem to be true since it gives an account of our universe and what we see and 

detect. [By the way, there is lots of argument about the mechanism of that Big Bang, what is called

inflation, but most of us will have to let the physicists & astronomers do their work and find out if it 

holds up (my impression is that it holds up reasonably well, but interesting experimental results

are likely to be found in the next five years). I like to keep faith for religious commitments, while

natural scientific commitments are best described as variously well attested to. To have faith in 

natural science or in the Los Angeles Lakers strikes me as misplaced. 

By the way, the use of magic in the next paragraph is very interesting. Magic is the fact that words we say make the world happen. As far as I can tell, neither the religious realm nor the natural scientific realms are readily subject to magic, unless that magic is canonical.

First, the notion of the “big bang” reflects the premise that the universe began when, all of a sudden, everything came into existence out of nothing, with no explanation of how this happened or where it all came from.  Second, the story of the evolution of life on this planet reflects the initial premise that inorganic material – the primordial soup – spontaneously gave rise to organic entities, with no explanation of how non-living matter can, all on its own, suddenly become alive.  Third, this perspective assumes that consciousness emerged along with increasingly sophisticated nervous systems and brains, with no explanation of how organic matter develops a capacity for cognition and information processing.  These three claims – that the whole universe magically emerged out of nothing, that organic life magically emerged out of inorganic chemicals, and that mind magically emerged out of matter – require no less faith, and are no less fantastical, than the belief that God created the world in six days.  from A Blog by a USC colleague

Saturday, June 6, 2015

An Elevator Speech About Your Work--an Academic Minute. Or, a Haiku About Your Work.

1. Recently, I have been doing some podcasts for Academic Minute, a site where professors talk about their work in 1'40". It forces me to say it all in about 250 words.  Below are three links, one to my work on mathematics in modeling, one on my urban photographic work, and one on my recent work on uncertainty. 

You want to be able to give such a brief account of your research project, and I would encourage you to write it out, limit to about 250-275 words understandable to an academic lay audience, and perhaps even record it to see how it sounds.



2. I've even tried to summarize my recent work on uncertainty as a sort of haiku, albeit with too many of words. Note that such a long-hiaku is not meant to be self-explanatory, but it gives you a good place to start.

Probe, Explode Boundaries, Save, Stay Liquid, Have Uncommitted Resources, so that you have

Downside Resilience and Limited Market-Vulnerability, so that

Uninsurable Hazard and Animal Spirits are affordable for you.

[Probe and Explode Boundaries come from my analogy to particle physics, Liquidity Preference and Animal Spirits are from J. M. Keynes, and P. Davidson in J of Post-Keynesian Eco

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When you expect 1, 1/3 the time you'll get 0...Poisson statistics

If you have a probability p of something happening, and you try 1/p times, then you have an expectation of 1 something to happen. But Poisson statistics tells you that about 1/3 the time you'll get nothing, and about 1/3 the time you'll get that 1, and about 1/3 the time you'll get more than one.

Hence if the lowest expected pregnancy rate in using a male condom is 2% in one year, and people average sexual relations 50 times in that year, 2/3 of the time the couple will find themselves pregnant, but 1/3 the time there won't be a pregnancy.  [NOTE!: The probability of 2% is given for a year, with no information on the number of sexual relations, so my assumption of an average of 50 is notional. I am quite sure that if they have no sexual relations, the likelihood of the couple finding themselves pregnant is 0%, assuming they do not have partners on the side.] The typical use pregnancy rate is 15%, which could mean that if people have sexual relations 7 times in that year, again it will be 2/3 vs. 1/3.

Put differently, you are trying to meet someone on match.com.  Say the success rate is about 1%, in that you meet someone you might consider marrying. If you meet 100 matches, again 2/3 vs. 1/3. That is, about 1/3 the time, no one will be a good match. So when people tell you that you have to keep trying and up your N, keep the failure rate in mind. If you meet 200 matches, then after those 200 meetings 13% of the time you will fail to meet a good match, and 27% you'll meet just one, and 27% you'll meet two...

Friday, May 29, 2015

Coaching That Matters: A Fearsome Fairy Godmother and Her Warbling Broadway Brood

NY Times, 26May2015, p. C5

A teacher at Oklahoma City College trained a large number of Broadway musical performers. She was quite direct, as might a coach, showing each person how to do better by various particular moves and changes. She said, "If they can't take the criticism they came for--then don't come."

We all need encouragement, but even more we need coaching that points to how to become better. Such tough teachers are your blessing.