Coherence through shared abstraction – Cognitive Edge

Scaling in a complex system is fractal, or self similar in nature. In effect we decompose to an optimal level of granularity then allow coupling and recouping of the granules to create new patterns all of which have a self-similar relationship to each other. One of the things we are doing with our adaptation of fitness landscapes within SenseMaker® is to allow the same source data to represent itself for different identity structures within an organisation in contextually appropriate ways. Nothing in a complex system is context free, everything is context specific.

Source: Coherence through shared abstraction – Cognitive Edge

 

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Transcript: Alain de Botton — A School of Life for Atheists

Similarly, atheists have amazing moments under the stars as well when atheists look up and see the galaxies and contemplate the sheer nothingness, puniness of humans in the cosmos. It’s just how we choose to interpret it. We don’t leap to a supernatural conclusion. So when I look at the cosmos, I’m not forced to then make the next step, which is to say there must be something out there. But look, there’s so much more in common between believers and nonbelievers than we’re sometimes encouraged to think. At the very last moment under the stars, we may differ about what’s going on, but we can still have a very nice time together for a long, long part of this journey.”

Source: Transcript: Alain de Botton — A School of Life for Atheists

The Great Debate

I was catching up on some news this evening, reading about stem cells here in Missouri, with iTunes on shuffle, as usual. About half way through the article, Dream Theater‘s song The Great Debate (from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence) came on. I had to stop and listen.

If you know the song, you know that it is a discussion about then-President Bush’s decision concerning stem cells back in 2001. Here’s what wikipedia has to say about the song:

The Great Debate” is an innovative song by the progressive metal band Dream Theater dealing with the topic of stem cell research. It opens with various sound bytes of individuals’ beliefs and opinions concerning this contentious topic. Both sides of this debate are represented lyrically, and the band challenges the listener repeatedly with the chorus phrase- “Are you justified in taking life to save life?” and “Do we look to our Unearthly Guide?…or to white coat heroes, searching for a cure?”

What really struck me is how little seems to have changed in the last 7 1/2 years.  Consider these verses from the song:

What if someone said
Promise lies ahead
Hopes are high in certain scientific circles
Life won’t have to end
You could walk again

What if someone said
Problems lie ahead
They’ve uncovered something highly controversial
The right to life is strong
Can’t you see it’s wrong

Or, as they say toward the end of the song, miracle potential vs. the sanctity of life. Much the same as what is being said this week.

The stem cell debate reminds me quite a bit of another great debate:  vaccines and autism.  Though the substance of the two debates is different, they are qualitatively very similar: no matter what evidence or arguments are presented, it is very unlikely that you will ever change the opinion of someone who actually has an opinion.

Stop assuming you know best

I came across the following in Michael Dowd’s Thank God for Evolution:

To have a powerful relationship with your own intuition and instincts – and thus to have a clear channel of communication with the creating, sustaining Life Force of the Universe (whatever you may choose to call It/Him/Her) – one must cultivate humility in this sense: Stop assuming that you know best how things are supposed to go in the world. Rather, try on an attitude of gratitude – not just for what is easy to be grateful for, but also for those challenges and difficulties in life for which you cannot yet detect a silver lining.

Having faith and being in integrity means trusting that each and every one of us is doing the best we can, given what we’ve got to work with at the time. It’s trusting that, from the perspective of the Universe, everything may be “right on schedule.”

Just thought I’d share.

What would it take? (Or, Why the debate will never end)

Before you read the rest of this post, please take a moment (or, if you read as slow as I do, several moments) to read these two posts, by different authors, discussing the study Continuing Increases in Autism Reported to California’s Developmental Services System: Mercury in Retrograde and the accompanying essay Thimerosal Disappears but Autism Remains published in this month’s Archives of General Psychiatry:

So, what do you think? Does the study prove anything? Disprove anything? If you believed before reading these posts that autism is caused primarily by thimerosal (or mercury in general), did reading these posts change your mind, or cause you to doubt that position? Conversely, if you believed before reading these posts that thimerosal / mercury is not a cause of autism, did reading these posts cause you to change your mind, or to question your beliefs?

On the Autism Blog at About.com, Lisa Jo Rudy hits the nail right on the head with this pessimistic (but unfortunately accurate) observation:

Knowing the autism community as I do, I find it hard to believe that these findings will change much of anything. Those who believe firmly that vaccines are NOT to blame for the rise in autism diagnoses will stand on these findings as proof positive of their claims. Meanwhile, those who believe firmly in the toxic nature of vaccines will continue to advocate for an end to required vaccinations – and for compensation for vaccine damage to their children.

In his article on Age of Autism, Mark Blaxill effectively quotes Karl Popper as a guide in his examination and acceptance of criticism to his theory:

He who gives up his theory too easily in the face of apparent refutations will never discover the possibilities inherent in his theory. There is room in science for debate: for attack and therefore also for defense…But do not give up your theories too easily–not, at any rate before you have critically examined your criticism.

But this then begs the question, at what point do you give up your theories. In discussing his conversion from atheism to theism (I believe Christianity, though he never comes out and says it) in his book There is a God, Antony Flew writes:

Now it often seems to people who are not atheists as if there is no conceivable piece of evidence that wold be admitted by apparently scientific-minded dogmatic atheists to be a sufficient reason for conceding “There might be a God after all.” I therefore put to my former fellow-atheists the simple central question: “What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?”

Obviously, this question can go both ways, and can be applied to just about any partisan disagreement, including the one at hand. With that in mind, I’ll rephrase the questions I asked above:

  • If you believe that thimerosal is not a primary cause of autism, what would it take to convince you that it actually is?
  • If you believe that thimerosal is the primary cause of autism, what would it take to convince you that is not?

Note: please don’t respond with something along the lines of “nothing could make me change my mind because it is obvious that my belief is correct.” If that it how you feel, then you don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute to this conversation and I’d prefer it if you didn’t clog up the comments.

Autism and God

Occasionally I have posted on the topic of autism and religion. These have been very general thoughts about how the Church, the religious, and God (whichever may be yours) view autism and autistics.

Ginger Taylor, on the other hand, has written an in-depth discussion of autism from a Christian point of view in a series of posts she calls Autism in God’s Economy. Originally posted last spring during Autism Awareness Month, she has re-posted them for the Christmas season.

Here’s how Ginger describes the series:

Because so much is at stake, the autism discussion and debate grows louder and more fevered, often making it difficult for those involved to really take in various perspectives. Even when we do, they are all still flawed human perspectives. Even the best, brightest, wisest and most experienced of us do not have the whole story.

But God does.

So in “Autism in God’s Economy” over the next six days I will discuss a few things that the Bible tells us about God’s perspective on those with Autism and on the rest of us. This series is predicated on the deity of Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture, which may be controversial ideas to some of my regular visitors. If they are to you, I invite you to read on none the less, and take a look at what God of the Bible says. If you are a professing Christian, then this is an important series for you to read no matter how autism affects you.

The series includes, as Ginger mentions, six parts:

The Least of These – In God’s economy, the weak, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the overlooked, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the sick, the oppressed, the grieving, the bullied, the exhausted, and those at the end of their rope are the ones who get into the VIP section. They are the ones who gain the attention and compassion of the God of the Universe.

Those with Autism – What Matthew 25 means to you whose autism has allowed you to be mistreated is profound. It means that not only does The God of the Universe see what happens to you, He stands behind you at all times taking careful note of all your interactions with others. He records who victimizes you, who ignores you and who works their butt off to get to know you give you what you need.

Parents of Autistic Children – Once you become the parent of a disabled child, you begin to see what that ‘blessing’ really means in concrete terms, because one of the first things that happens to you, in your early grief, is that you become grounded. All of the trivial distractions, the petty rivalries, the BS ego trips, the vain ambitions and the frivolities of life suddenly become very unimportant. The crap in your life starts to fall away and it is replaced by seriousness about things of true value.

Friends and Family – It is their innocence and vulnerability that God stands behinds and uses to judge those who come into their sphere of influence. It is precisely because they are so easy to dismiss and mistreat, that God watches closely to see which of us have extracted ourselves from our own self-centeredness and selfish ambitions to notice someone who is need and to bear their burden with them.

Those in Power over Those with Autism – If you have taken responsibility for any part of the life of someone with autism, or even if that responsibility has been thrust upon you, take this time to measure yourself. Have you lived up to the responsibilities that you have been given to the innocent and vulnerable lives that Jesus has chosen to represent Him for the purposes of His judgment in his absence?

For All of Us Who Have Failed in Our Duty – When those of us with autistic people in our lives take a hard, honest look at ourselves, we realize the question is not have we failed them, it is how often and how big have we failed them.

As fellow autism dad Wade Rankin says in his post about Ginger’s series, “For anyone who has an interest in the spiritual side of this autism thing, or who may have questions about reconciling the notion of a benevolent God with the autism epidemic, it makes for good reading.” Make sure you check out the comments discussion between Ginger and Jonathon for even more on the latter.

Thought for the day – Living your own life

A consistent, recurring theme for parents of autistic children has long been, “You know your child best.” While this is not always easy for parents with a new diagnosis to accept, or understand, those of us who have been doing this for a while recognize what it means.

Listen to the doctors, the teachers, the experts. Read whatever you can find. Try different approaches to helping you and your child. But in the end, do what YOU as the parent believe is best, based on your knowledge of your child. Specific programs – whether it be ABA, chelation, mainstreaming in school, etc – will never be successful if they are blindly implemented without your or your child’s individual needs being used as part of the decision.

A while back I picked up Deng Ming-Dao’s 365 Tao – Daily Meditations. As its name suggests, it has one Taoist meditation per day. I’m not a Taoist (I don’t think), and came upon the book after reading another by Deng, Chronicles of Tao, itself a very interesting story. (To be honest, I’m not really sure if it is fiction or not – it is presented as a true story – but in the end it didn’t really matter; it’s a good book.) I have found that many of the meditations in the book are very useful and, indeed, practical. I’ve marked each of the pages with the appropriate date (there is a chart in the back of the book that does this, but I like having the dates on the page), and have referred to it off and on for many years now.

Yesterday’s entry, Retrospective, resonated with me as I was thinking of those common themes of parenting, especially parenting an autistic child:

You could labor ten years under a master
Trying to discern whether the teachings are true.
But all you might learn is this:
One must live one’s own life.

Too often today we try to live life like others expect us to, this is a nice reminder that our lives are our own, and that they are ours to live. Which brings to mind something I saw on a young man’s t-shirt last weekend at a local Yugi-Oh tournament:

The only way to know who you are is to go somewhere you don’t have to be anyone else.