Thursday, March 29, 2012

Brain structures and cognitive processes that facilitate creativity and intelligence differ: research with public policy implications

Below is a note I shared with some colleagues in Singapore and a few others.

Here is the Complete title (abbreviated above). Brain structures and cognitive processes that facilitate creativity and intelligence differ: neuropsychological research with possible implications for Singapore

As some of you would know, one of my knowledge sources about unfamiliar fields of inquiry and practices is podcasts of the US National Public Radio weekly interview program “On Being.” This morning’s listening described the research of Neurosurgeon and Neuropsychologist Rex Jung on the cognitive processes of creativity and the brain structures involved

Consistent with mainstream academic literature on the subject, Jung defines the products of creativity as “ideas/artifacts that are “novel and useful within a social context.” The technical term for the neuropsychological structure/process that supports creativity is transient hypofrontality.

What I thought was consequential in Dr. Jung’s description of his research was a finding that the neuropsychological structures/processes that support intelligence differ from those that support creativity. Highly intelligent individuals may not be particularly creative. The intelligence of very creative individuals may not be outstanding. The rare quality of genius, incidentally, is defined as “the union of creativity and intelligence in a single individual.” According to Dr. Jung, genius has not yet been the focus of significant neuropsychological research.

As you know, I view Singapore as the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to facing public policy challenges engendered by global-sale interdependence and the potential for manifestations (to use global modeling terminology) of “overshoot” and “collapse” My own system dynamics modeling research on Singapore’s long-term development and future viability is motivated by questions devolving from this view.

Singapore’s education system is unsurpassed in selecting and empowering intelligent students. When they have completed what may be finest formal education in the world, the best of these students are selected and elevated to high places. Whether creativity, too, is sufficiently privileged in these processes is a topic of discussion.

The research of Dr. Jung and his colleagues point to the fact that such discussions should continue.

Here is the link to the podcast that caught my attention:

Here are links to two professional papers, among many in the neuropsychological literature, that present scientific findings relating to the issues I have raised above.

Monday, March 12, 2012

74th birthday mantra

This came to me when I was meditating the other morning.

Deng Xiaoping was born in 1904

He became paramount leader in December 1978

He led China through October 1992

His leadership transformed the country

What I have done is preparation for what I will do

My most productive years lie ahead


Saturday, March 10, 2012

An illuminating discovery: Ludwig Wittgenstein’s first academic studies were in mechanical and then aeronautical engineering.

The following is a note I shared earlier today with friends, colleagues and two mentors. A number have been concerned as I have, with broader philosophhical and epistemological implications of the paradigm that systems engineering and system dynamics modeling embody. As friends (and former Ph.D. students) know, Wittgenstein has been my favorite philosopher ever since I first encountered his work. My note follows:

Dear Friends, Colleagues and Mentors,

I was looking into the biography of the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, this morning, and came across the following interesting fact, of which I had been unaware. Wittgenstein began his formal studies in mechanical engineering and received a diploma in the field. He then turned to aeronautical engineering. As those interested in his life know, Wittgenstein’s reading of Bertrand Russell’s Foundations of Mathematics redirected his interests toward pure mathematics. However he must have, initially, viewed Russell’s work through the lens of his early training, which would have included early incarnations of the mathematics of feedback control. A brief excerpt from his Wikipedia biography follows.

He began his studies in mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Berlin, on 23 October 1906, lodging with the family of a professor there, Dr Jolles. He attended for three semesters, and was awarded a diploma on 5 May 1908, after developing an interest in aeronautics.[58] He arrived at the Victoria University of Manchester in the spring of 1908 to do his doctorate, full of plans for aeronautical projects, including designing and flying his own plane. He conducted research into the behavior of kites in the upper atmosphere, experimenting at a meteorological observation site near Glossop.[59] He also worked on the design of a propeller with small jet engines on the end of its blades, something he patented in 1911 and which earned him a research studentship from the university in the autumn of 1908.[60]

(As a personal aside, we prepared the computer programs for presenting Mankind at the Turning Point: The Second Report to the Club of Rome in the computing centre of the Berlin Technische Hochschule. As we worked late into the night, we were not aware that, perhaps, Wittgenstein’s ghost was empowering us.)

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This was a note I shared with my "Modeling of Dynamic Systems" class at Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy the other day. The course's subject matter is the methodology and applications of System Dynamics Modeling developed by Professor Jay W Forrester at MIT, beginning in the 1950s. The best known application is the book, The Limits to Growth, The 40th aniversary of this landmark book, authored by the late Donella Meadows and others, is being celebrated this year.

Dear Class Members,

As you know, I shared an excerpt from Tuesday night’s lecture notes with systems engineering and system dynamics friends, evoking most interesting responses. As I was reflecting on this, the thought that titles this message came to me. It is based on my studies of Urban Dynamics and a classic which I have not assigned, but which, like Urban Dynamics, had life-changing implications for me: Herbert Simon’s Administrative Behavior. This latter work, which may be the best book on decision-making ever written, grew from field studies of municipal budgeting in Illinois. Forrester’s Urban Dynamics grew from conversations with mayors as you know. His Market Growth model grew from conversations with business executives.

I checked out references to Simon on the web because I wanted to get the exact publication date of Administrative Behaviour - 1947 - which grew from Professor Simon’s dissertation research. Even though I know Simon’s work well, and both reading his work and my very few personal interactions with him were life-changing for me, I was amazed by the compilation of achievements that Wikipedia provided. Since we have spoken frequently about Professor Forrester, but only rarely about Professor Simon, I wanted to share the compilation with you. JR.

Simon was among the founding fathers of several of today's important scientific domains, including artificial intelligence, information processing, decision-making, problem-solving, attention economics, organization theory, complex systems, and computer simulation of scientific discovery. He coined the terms bounded rationality and satisficing, and was the first to analyze the architecture of complexity and to propose a preferential attachment mechanism to explain power law distributions.[citation needed]

He also received many top-level honors later in life. These include: the ACM's Turing Award for making "basic contributions to artificial intelligence, the psychology of human cognition, and list processing" (1975); the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics "for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations" (1978); the National Medal of Science (1986); and the APA's Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology (1993).

As a testament to his interdisciplinary approach, Simon was affiliated with such varied Carnegie Mellon departments as the School of Computer Science, Tepper School of Business, Departments of Philosophy, Social and Decision Sciences, and Psychology.

Could there be a member of our class who willl make similar contributions to those of Professor Simon or Professor Forrester in their lives?

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To what does humankind aspire? What might the very purpose of life be?

(The source and background of the passage from which this is excerpted is given at the end. Why the text continues to appear in all caps, despite my best efforts, I have no idea)

To what does humankind aspire most deeply and what might the very purpose of life be? Buddhism’s answer is that what we all seek in life is happiness. but this is not just an agreeable sensation.

What is happiness? It is the fulfillment of living in a way that wholly matches the deepest nature of our being. It is knowing that we have been able to spend our life actualizing the potential we have in all of us. It is to have understood the true and ultimate nature of the mind.

What distinguishes the experience of a happy life from an unhappy one? For someone who knows how to give meaning to life, every instant is like an arrow flying to its target. Not to know how to give meaning to life leads to discouragement and a sense of futility that may even lead to the ultimate failure, suicide.

Happiness necessarily implies wisdom. It provides the capacity to put right the principal cause of what we perceive as unhappiness. That is, persistent dissatisfaction dominating the mind; a consequence of the inability to overcome the mental poisons of hatred, jealousy, attachment, greed, and pride. These poisones arise from an ego centered vision of the world and a powerful attachment to the idea of a "self" that is inage and powerful, withinn us

The other essential component of happiness is summed up in three words: altruism, love and compassion. We cannot fully experience happiness for ourselves, when around us others are suffering all the time. Thus, our own happiness is intimately linked to the happiness of others.

What Buddhism offers that is of greatest value is a ‘contemplative science.' It is a science of mind that deals with the most basic mechanisms of happiness and suffering. Why is this needed? It is because the mind is critical in determining how we live our lives and how we see “our” world. It is behind every experience in life. Changes in the mind can “turn our world completely upside down.” They can completely change how we perceive people and things. All great spiritual traditions are, fundamentally, intended to help us become better human beings, [which requires training the mind].

Why can science cannot help us much to attain that goal? The purpose of science is to elucidate the nature of tangible phenomena and in the light of those discoveries, to harness phenomena for our use, It can provide us with warmth if we feel cold. It can cure us if we feel ill. From the viewpoint of its own purposes, the goal of science would be to have every human being live for hundreds of years in perfect health But science does not address the goal of inner meaning.

What is the role Buddhism can play? It seems to offer the means to instill in all of us a degree of inner peace. Its fundamental truths can be used in such a way that the potential for perfection we all have within us can be actualized. (As we pursue our practice, we must check over the months and years to keep in touch with our commitment to attaining it and to ensure that we are moving forward toward it.) Our goals should be to free ourselves from hatred, grasping, pride, jealousy and, above all, to free ourselves from the ego-centeredness and ignorance that causes them.

The discipline that achieves these goals should be viewed as true wisdom. Experience is the path. In the quest for wisdom, dialogue (as in the dialogue between Mathueu Ricard and his father, Jean Francois Revel) can be enlightening. But no dialogue, however enlightening it might be, can ever be a substitute for the silence of personal experience, so indispensable for an understanding of how things really are.

Experience is the path and, as The Buddha once said, “It is up to you to follow it.” … so that one day, the messenger might become the message.

The above is from the concluding epilogue by Matthieu Ricard, one of the two co-authors of a remarkable book, The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life (1998). “The Father” is Jean-Francois Revel (1924-2006), a leading French philosopher and author, among many other books, of Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution has Begunand The Flight from Truth: the Reign of Deceit in the Age of Information. “The Son” is the author of the passage outlined below, who became a Buddhist Monk after receiving his Ph.D. in molecular biology at the Pasteur Institute. Ricard is the French translator for the Dalai Lama and has been a leader in the Mind and Life Conferences, a dialogue on the relationship between contemporary psychology (especially neuroscience) and Buddhist contemplative practices. He was the first Buddhist monk to collaborate with the University of Wisconsin’s Richard Davidson on the emerging fields of contemplative neuroscience and neuroplasticity. Those fields use state-of-the-art brain scanning techniques to study how the structure (and consequently, the functioning) of the brain are altered by practices, especially those that are intensely pursued. These include meditation but also, chess playing, musicianship, computer programming, and craftspersonship (such as sculpture or pottery making), and athletic practices such as tennis, badminton, quarterbacking an NFL team, world class football (soccer) and competitive endurance racing (50 and 100 mile marathons) on horseback.

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