Gain perspective, seek the pattern

March 16, 2007

An interesting quote here from Cognitive Daily.

When a suspect confesses to a crime, it’s often seen as a clear victory for the prosecution. But what if the confession was coerced? Under the emotional strain of an interrogation, it happens more often than you’d think. In response to the problem of coercion, many police departments now videotape interrogations. This should eliminate all potential for abuse, right? Wrong. Teams led by Daniel Lassiter have found that when the camera is focused on the suspect instead of both the suspect and the interrogator, people are more likely to view the confession as voluntary rather than coerced (the video the viewers saw was based on the transcript of an actual false confession). Even when a judge warns jurors of the potential for bias due to camera perspective, the bias still occurs.

Now I read this in between two activities; an academic encounter and work on a case study in understanding motivation in international relationships and the point is relevant to both.

I was having a discussion with one academic about the necessary bias that is introduced when an expert interprets material, as against allowing the people who provided the material to self interpret. In the other I was reviewing some of the first results of using the landscape modelling representation I have previously referenced to see subtle or nuanced behaviour. So instead of saying “The Iranian Government believes X and is motivated by Y”, which is at best a crude generalization, we can now show that there are different types of stabilities and instabilities by looking at the material from multiple perspectives. Moreover we can do it through visualization, without expert intermediation which has the potential to improve decision making. To many leaders in government and industry alike are isolated by reality by their advisors. Don’t get me wrong, advisors and experts are necessary, but decision makers also need to be able to go from seeing the pattern as a whole, to the low level source data in short time-scales without disinter-mediation. It looks like we have made a significant step on the road to that goal.

Most situations are nuanced, and when we gain that understanding there is the possibility to act differently. Assumptions of crude motivation lead inevitably to demonisation. This approach (as I explained previously, see hot link above) is about not looking at the raw data until we have first seen a pattern in the metadata. When people look at raw data, they see it from the context of a specific perspective; when they look at the wider pattern (seeing the interrogator as well as the suspect) then they gain perspective and appreciation of opportunities not previously present. If you look at the Dawkins debate which has attracted comments, then you see the same thing. My argument has been that Dawkins has a narrow perspective on religion, he is stereotyping and then generalizing the stereotypes, which is what we see all to often in international relations. Interestingly everyone has picked up on the religious issue in that blog, no one has commented on Terry Eagleton’s statement on terrorism which was its main thrust. So to make the point afresh, I am going to repeat it here

Genuinely believing that your enemy is irrational, as opposed to pretending to do so for propaganda purposes, will almost certainly ensure that you cannot defeat him. You can only defeat an antagonist whose ways of seeing things you can make sense of. Some of the British People may have believed that the IRA had no goals other than to maim and slaughter, but British Intelligence took a different view. There is nothing irrational, as opposed to morally repulsive, about killing people to achieve your political ends. It is not on the same level as believing that you are Marie Antoinette. If one’s enemy really is metaphysically evil, then the chances of defeating him look rather small. Not even the SAS can stand up to Satan

Perspective and context are everything …..

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