December 28, 2020
In this last episode of 2020, Bill and I discuss how attention, focus, and distraction are shaping us and being engineered in our media-saturated culture. We can't pay attention to everything, and in this environment, it seems that censorship is becoming a politically acceptable option for tech companies, as the Trump election corruption allegations became forbidden topics on many platforms.
- Co-hosts Paul and Bill agreed that the film—and Broadway play—called “Network” shows foresight in its reflections about human dignity and corporate values in competition on an individual and global scale.
- Pope Damasus changed the dominant language of the (Roman) Catholic Church from Greek to Latin (what would have been called the vernacular language in that time and place).
- John Stuart Mill wrote On Liberty and helped to advance the authentically liberal project of freeing up human creativity and truth-seeking in the marketplace of ideas.
- Many U.S. citizens (and people in general) are reverting to tendencies toward self-centeredness in human communication and civil society—tendencies against which common-good principles of the United States have served as societal guard-rails with remarkable success during much of our history.
- The self-centeredness runs counter, too, to the zeal for connection-making which drives many messages from Pope Francis. By the way, that drive is a factor leading to the long length of the Pope’s encyclical, like his most recent document, Fratelli Tutti.
- Communication (and communities like those in social media) tend toward exclusion of unwanted information, rather than a greater spirit of inclusion.
- The Distracted Mind, recommended by Paul, is an academic book that is timely reading in what Bill calls this media world of “information inflation.” That inflation leads toward a purposeful or kneejerk limitation on attention—one cannot consume everything from today’s firehose of data!—and even what Paul described as weaponization of attentiveness.
- To the degree that a sense of exceptionalism guides us, history may justify some adoption of that in our thinking about the principles and aspirations of the United States. But it can be risky if it shuts off our thinking about, or respect for, the uniqueness and dignity that individuals around the world bring to the idea marketplace. We can’t reduce our thinking to dismissive judgments against them as merely packages of entirely good or bad ideas.
- Pope Francis writes for a present moment that needs a strong sense of right and wrong but also a realistic, holistic, transparent vision of the earthbound state of human thinking around the world. Paul notes that this can lead toward a sense of hopelessness, but both Paul and Bill say the papal messages—and the faith behind them—can offer a hope based on reliance on God’s operation in daily life. The messages include his annual teachings for World Communications Day.
- That’s a better approach than a video-game philosophy favoring destruction—and deconstruction—before a rebuilding in line with modern principles and atomistic priorities, as Paul points out. The better approach allows for fuller embrace of complex, reflective thinking, of “adulting” with a sense of moderation and responsibility to individuals and the common good, to the past as well as the future. Bill points out that the U.S. Constitution is one earthly source of insight from the past There are other such sources, too, Paul notes. GK Chesterton spoke of a population’s respect for the wisdom of its predecessors as a “democracy of the dead.”
November 9, 2020
Your TSSM coverage of the 2020 US election with the unique perspective Bill and Paul provide. Be sure to let us know your ideas for the presidential hopeful cage match reality show that we clearly need to augment or replace the primary election system here in the 21st century... hit us up with your proposed names and formats using the links to the right. As always, God bless America (all of it, not just the US...).
September 14, 2020
A solo episode from Paul. These are the notes I used... the audio is balanced differently.
Insight by Bernard Lonergan and 20/20 hindsight.
What else (besides the coronavirus and similar epidemics) are we not preparing for? Can we? We can't know all the unknowns, and it is somewhere between difficult and impossible to quantify the risks even for the things we can anticipate. Yet quantification is reasonable and laudable because individual lives do matter... the 1,000,001st victim of a tragedy just as much as the first.
Education and the bureaucratic / engineering mentality "we already know everything we need to make a decision" and "let's do something to make it look like we're doing something."
Finance and the herd mentality. Bullwhip chains of overreaction in the face of unknown risks. A reacts semi-rationally to the situation, B overreacts to A's reaction, C overreacts to B, etc. Federal forgiveness, however good in itself, has the side effect of blinding banks to their own internal information channels regarding default rates, etc. Banks are looking around at employment figures and other data, guessing what to do, overreacting, looking at their peers and emulating the most extreme.
There are a lot of really tired people working in logistics right now.
Job seekers giving up due to pessimism and the difficulty in thinking statistically. It's hard for me to go ahead and spend the effort to do something when I know its individual success rate is well under 50%. Now things are worse. All that means is that more repetitions will be needed to achieve success. However, it is easy to fall into the fallacy of "it was hard before but worth trying; now it's harder and therefore not worth trying," making an all-or-nothing qualitative proposition out of something that in its nature is gradational and quantitative.
Hope really is a virtue.
Audio editing by Morgan Burkart.
August 25, 2020
or Paving Paradise and the Parking Lots
Bill and Paul discuss attitudes toward masks, and then consider why the science wasn't more settled on the subject long before Covid-19. We discuss the obsession of modern society with all things novel and consider how this plays out in science, politics, and our individual lives and families.
1. A discussion of masks as defenses against the pandemic led Paul and Bill to ponder how scientific knowledge about the functionality of these masks for the common good is not always viewed as a fundamental, enduring value. In our media, the mask discussion gets wrapped up in political and symbolic and power-struggle considerations. The methodical pursuit of knowledge based on shared values and needs has been partly replaced by a marketplace of ideas that gets bored with what we know. Support for ideas gets hijacked by pursuits of vaguely defined notions of progress which are relativistic and individualistic and not systematically carried out through time.
2. Paul pointed out that he sees in the world of science that there are some surprising gaps in knowledge about certain things that resulted partly from people seeing no particular motivation—or research grant money—to drive knowledge forward. With some important exceptions, knowledge in some fields grows more randomly than through a coordinated sense of purpose. Paul recalled an earlier discussion about “p values” that can fail to give researchers the persistence born of confidence that next stages of knowledge will give us what we need to solve problems in a meaningful way.
3. As Paul put it, a “p value” may tell you the likelihood of your data given your hypothesis, but what we’d really like is to know the likelihood of our hypothesis given our data.
4. Bill pointed out that traditional notions of the university seemed to have a more obvious commitment to nurturing, collecting, and spreading knowledge so that it could become the reliable framework for incrementally building new knowledge that brings us closer to solving problems. But there is a notion in the present-day university—and in the marketplace, as Paul agreed—that progress is gained through disruption—dismissing or dismantling or deconstructing current knowledge because it isn’t as exciting or satisfying as a march toward future knowledge can be. That knowledge is seen as inherently better, Bill said, but our eager disregard of today’s knowledge suggests we will treat tomorrow’s knowledge in the same dismissive way. So we’re moving but not really expecting to get anywhere better as a society.
5. We’re caught up in the search for novelty. We’re looking for the next revolutionary thing that makes old learning moot. Shouldn’t we be trying to build and improve upon the good parts of the status quo. Can we find a golden mean between a love for innovation and a desire for preservation (a conformism?) that values the knowledge already acquired. In some sectors, has innovation been redefined at its very roots? Are we disinterested in the long-term trajectories of our human engagements and projects? Are we only focused on doing what’s new, bigger, and better in the current moment, leaving little interest in yesterday or tomorrow?
6. We’re describing a disposable mindframe. Today’s sense of urgency amid impending crises can make us so focused on new action for its own sake that we are willing to disrupt or tear down much of our current life and the history that brought us here. There seems to be too little argument in favor of recognizing the good things we have achieved and our responsibility to conserve/preserve these things. We have so much social capital built up over time, we feel less responsibility to preserve current sources of stability and sustainability. It seems okay to tear these things down. In periods of human history where survival has been more at stake, where there has been less of a cushion of social capital, the marketplaces of ideas and capital have more doggedly pursued incremental change which values and builds upon what has come before. On a grand scale, we don’t expect to feel a pain of loss, but at the personal and spiritual level, people are feeling the pain of loss, fear for the future, dislocation and disconnection, all the time. Indeed, our overall happiness as a society has eroded.
7. People have come to see the future as so urgently problematic that they’re more willing to quickly and readily dispose of stuff from the past without allowing any grounded time or space for wise transitions. No one is coaching us to press pause.
Audio editing by Morgan Burkart.
August 10, 2020
This is part 2 of our interview with Richard Garrett, author of The Kids Are Smart Enough, So What’s the Problem?
Find an overview of his distinguished career in this story about Dick’s zeal for researching and promoting education reform. (The story was written for Purdue’s College of Engineering by Bill last year.)
Dick’s book traces his growing concerns about problems in public elementary education. Those concerns led to extensive research from a business executive’s perspective, applying systems analysis skills from his background in engineering. Our interview probed not only the findings from that research, but even more current knowledge of education reform efforts which Dick continues to harvest and share. He has created an online gallery of videos for the general public, explicating what he has learned about educational-outcome statistics and various efforts to improve the outcomes. The videos are part of his “Elevate Teachers” website, which champions robust investments to help both teachers and students succeed.