The journal Nature, issue of
Feb. 3, 2011 has published an interesting and provocative paper with the above title, see please: http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110202/full/470018a.html?WT.ec_id=NATURE-20110203 and also:
Here is the list of the main challenges – the same (weak) taxonomy is used as in the original paper:
1. How can we induce people to look after their health?
2. How do societies create effective and resilient institutions, such as governments?
3. How can humanity increase its collective wisdom?
4. How do we reduce the ‘skill gap’ between black and white people in
5. How can we aggregate information possessed by individuals to make the best decisions?
6. How can we understand the human capacity to create and articulate knowledge?
7. Why do so many female workers still earn less than male workers?
8. How and why does the ‘social’ become ‘biological’?
9. How can we be robust against ‘black swans’ — rare events that have extreme consequences?
10. Why do social processes, in particular civil violence, either persist over time or suddenly change?
“Nature” was kind and has published my short comment in which I have told that based on my personal experience with different political and social regimes – dictators and democracies and on my studies in sociology; I have concluded that these problems are insoluble. Insoluble- it is not easy to accept but this is the truth- more or less.
If the discovery or definition of the so called “wicked problems” (http://www.uctc.net/mwebber/Rittel+Webber+Dilemmas+General_Theory_of_Planning.pdf) was the most important event in the high art of solving real (not mathematical) problems during the former century, the next necessary step is to accept openly the existence of insoluble problems.
In my work dedicated to problem solving, an insoluble
problem is one that can be solved only if its premises are radically changed. In practice, that means to solve not the old problem but a new one, derived from the old.
Now short considerations why the separate challenges lead to insoluble problems.
How can we induce people to look after their health?
The problem starts with defining what’s “look after their health”? And what is the meaning of a healthy life? What should be sacrificed for being healthy? A life of high intensity, deep dedication , with many changes and long hours of work is actually healthy, but theoretically it is not. What is better- a very long life or a shorter one but with great achievements, efforts, failures and resurrections?
Who lives longer – the sloth or the monkey? (Just a metaphor, don’t consider this a question.)
My most successful discourse ever was a short toast I delivered
at the dinner gala of a CMEA meeting of the specialists in plastics-
, 1978. Volgograd , cognac vodka, good food and a lot of caviar. Champagne
“Dear friends, you all know the if we will eat less, drink very moderately and abstain from too much sex,we will live more than if we eat as much we like, we drink too much and make a lot of love. That’s true, and our Romanian scientists have determined that statistically, the mean difference in duration of life is exactly 3 weeks! May I ask you, my friends, is it an intelligent choice to sacrifice all the pleasant things of the life, for those unhappy three weeks? My personal answer is NO, let’s drink!”
Everybody’s life is unique, some people can be convinced to sacrifice deepness and breadth and beauty for length, many people will accept to move joy and harmony and happiness in the next eternal life promised to them as a second life.
Because this part of the Nature paper was centered on the problem of food and obesity I think there are two elements that contribute to the extreme wickedness of this problem. The science of nutrition changes much too fast and the truth of yesterday is the heresy of tomorrow. And despite an immense propaganda, I am convinced that a vegetarian or vegan food style cannot deliver enough energy for an active life- from birth to death.
We became smart humans (big brained anyway) when we started to cook, especially energy-intensive fried meat.
How do societies create effective and resilient institutions, such as governments?First a remark really resilient governments- see the best examples the North Korean familycracy, the Iranian theocracy or the 25 years rule of our Ceausescu- all were very oppressive. I am searching for some positive counter examples as the Althingi of Iceland but if I am thinking about the role of that country in the Crisis – I cannot insist. Resilient is not a quality per se.
Second- the organized relationships between individuals and collectives – from clans and tribes to nations and even supranational organizations as the Europen Union, are always far from ideality and meritocracy, even the best democracies cannot avoid inequality and privileges that defy justice and human rights.
Third – an ever repeating tragedy destroys almost any organization, institution and company. The mechanism is this:
“A problem arises and a purpose, aim to solve that problem is established. An institution or a committee, working group, team is created to cope with the problem. It starts well however soon the people from that organization have a shock of collective amnesia and “forget” the aim of the organization. The institution conceived as a means, becomes its own aim. Means eat aims! The members of the institution start neglecting the general interest and focus strongly on the very interest of their group. Greedy, ugly, selfish and corrupt bureaucracies develop and do a lot of social harm.
Can humanity increase its collective wisdom?
If we climb on the DIKW scale we go in the same time from overabundance to scarcity- and we still are not in the top, Arthur C Clarke- one of the most wisest human who ever lived, considers that prediction is the highest level of wisdom, the most difficult to attain. I will not discuss here the definition of wisdom, but I emphasize that it refers more to what not to do than to what to do.
Collective wisdom is a very popular concept, actually more populist than popular. It is considered as an opposite of individual wisdom kind of counterweight to the arrogance of intellectuals and experts..
Actually a lot of people have many different opinions, some of them new, some of them valuable and these succeed to dominate over the trivial many uniform ideas- first of all because they are surprising and creative. See please
http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/01/diversity_powers_innovation.html/print.html and think about the
DIVERSITY PREDICTION THEOREM:
Collective Error = Individual Error – Prediction Diversity.
Reducing errors (sometimes when the crowd is very diversified) is not exactly wisdom. Homogeneous crowds are far from being wise.but can be very aggresive and powerful, practicising lynch or genocide- real or intellectual. Do not invest in wisdom of crowds, the wool of unicorns is much better.
How do we reduce the ‘skill gap’ between black and white people in
As other people have pointed out, this question is not well formulated. The gaps are usually in opportunities, in possibilities to learn and to prosper. And everywhere people are defending more vigorously their privileges than their (or even more- others) rights. Inequality, inequities are socially and historically indestructible. And when a revolution succeeds to separate some people from their privileges, new privileges for other classes and people are created and the rights are usually ignored or get lost.
It is extremely difficult to fight against inequality.
How can we aggregate information possessed by individuals to make the best decisions?
We can and we must try but the problem is IF diversified information can be “aggregated” and the best will win? Actually this is a leadership problem and leadership has its limitations. Good for companies, corporations but not for entire countries.
How can we understand the human capacity to create and articulate knowledge?
Only by systematic scientific research. The great trouble is that the knowledge regarding human nature and social problems is not applied in practice and pleasant lies have more success than truth, hatred is more powerful than love, counter-education is more effective that education. Knowledge is for experts while bad or even killer memes are dominating whole populations. I repeat: based on my life long experience in all kinds of societies (fascist, communist, democratic, monarchy, republics) and thorough study of the literature regarding societies i.e. the relationships between individuals and collectives at all levels, it is obvious that all societies all act as oppressive memecracies, more or less. Knowledge is created but not well distributed.
Why do so many female workers still earn less than male workers?
The easiest problem of all. Easy to understand but difficult to solve. As soon as all paternalist religions will disappear and masculinized cultures will change, this form of inequality will disappear. In times of Crisis not only the muses, but the feminist movements too are very silent.
How and why does the ‘social’ become ‘biological’? I would ask this as: why the culture is stronger than heredity? If a certain religion is dominant in a country, all newcomers will adopt that unique religion, not due to some genes but forced by the hard elements of the local culture- dominant and sometime killer memes. This is a tragic issue and it demonstrates that there cannot be harmony between the individual and the collective- there is a broad area of combinations between anti-individual societies and anti-social individuals.
This leads us to an other unanswerable question- as we have learned in “Stop Koalemos” the world is destroyed by a deadly association of Violence, Greed and Stupidity. If we want symbolize this by a flag- what will be the three colors of this flag? Violence is red as blood, but greed and stupidity? My guess is green respectively grey but perhaps somebody knows it better. Please let me know.
How can we be robust against ‘black swans’ — rare events that have extreme consequences?
I have read N.N. Taleb’s book with increasing admiration. Actually it is not about swans- relatively peaceful birds- it is about some very aggressive prey birds. For risk analysis we have to use people with a very good imagination vaccinated against the Cassandra Syndrome.
Why do social processes, in particular civil violence, either persist over time or suddenly change? The problem is perhaps to stop violence before it starts. I think that combining complexity theory, memes, “Stop Koalemos” and my septoe that says “The Good and Evil are Siamese twins” – all local cases can be understood. For the global, abstract problem it will be more difficult, perhaps even impossible.