July 24, 2010

I’ve made numerous attempts over the years to watch The Hunt for Red October through without dozing off. The reason for my problem here is that I always seem to try and watch it at the end of a long trip suffering from jet lag. Fortunately I fall asleep for different parts and I have read the plot so I am gradually filling in the gaps. In order to keep awake I tried the tactic of keeping the computer online and checking old RSS feeds in parallel to watching the film. This worked in part and only gap left is the bit with the cook and the torpedo tubes.

Either way as part of that I came across two posts from one of my favorite anthropology blogs (one that generally takes a naturalising approach). The first related to the oracular Octopus and the second to a BMA conference declaration that Homeopathy is witchcraft.

Now both of these relate to one of the issues with pseudo-sciences like NLP and Spiral-Dynamics (the Beck version, I am more open on Cowan). They rely on self-reported success rather than any objective assessment. Therein lies a problem, if it works is it legitimate? The research base for both is identical to that for the mercy seat in the evangelical tradition. The probability of the Octopus getting it right was around 1 in 256 but is that accurate? You could see the impact on the Dutch Coach in the interview before the final. It was as if he had been hexed, a clear case of sympathetic magic in play. Homeopathy is reported to work by its numerous adherents and there are numerous cases of miracles in medical treatments before we even get to Lourdes.   

Now I think what we have here is associations rather than causal links. The mind both individually and collectively has capabilities we don’t fully understand, so we have to respect the fact it can be activated by more or less anything if it activates the right belief system. If it works respect it, but don’t believe it is a key principle here. Its one that has underpinned the development of Cognitive Edge methods over the years. If you find something that has worked great, ten find out how it works and you can scale it. WIthout the How you are still in the realm of superstition

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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