Monday, April 11, 2016

Not just your vowels, take your syntax along

The social sciences from which human resources development, social work and organization development draw a lot, relies on inter-linkages between the emotional, social self and the abstract conceptualizing, reasoning self in human beings, Language aids the construction, communication and comprehension of themes in such work. It is one thing to communicate for social transactions to influence actions in others. Quite another indeed to influence performative actions in colleagues. And indeed even more distinct to uncover such tendencies in light of their precedents and contexts for action.

With the denouement of reading, writing and communication of even perfunctory text in operational and procedural realms, crises in meaning and understanding are a corollary. Influence itself may not be conveyed by virtue of linguistic ability alone, but by the small cognizable chunks of immediate attentional value.

E.g. A data collection activity is a slice of evidence in this respect. If a big data platform provides with transaction details in one data stream, another may have biographic details of those who transact; while yet another may have contextual detail like place, time and date of transaction. If one does not have analytic prowess to crunch such data, computers and their software utilities may assist. However, to specify classes in demographics, and to derive relational patterns between specific demographic variables like income class and size of spends, embodied reflection of complex order is called for. The language to represent such an ask of the algorithm writer, is distinct from the language that persuades a buyer to choose suggested categories on a recommendation engine.



One reason why India will find it difficult to scale on design principles, will be because, in trying to leapfrog economic walls, we bypassed the rigor of language. Even among so called English medium educated engineers and scientists, the compromises made on language are not a laughing matter.
When I recommended an inexpensive route to auditory exposure to complement reading skills, the TED.com portal came handy. In acknowledgement, the ever compliant student wrote back that she would participate in TED conferences.Now, even I could not dream of that!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Biases in going along to get along

Of late, I have been reflecting on work issues that have to do with people from different parts of the world in their acts of relating to each other. As is to be expected in human affairs, some of these relations work better than others. But as is experienced of such trans-national, trans-cultural affairs, humans struggle to make connect of amiable kind without developing commonality of interests.
I turned to some base fundamental research on perception to understand the issue. Specifically, I was drawn to a research titled The Neural Substrates of In-Group Bias : A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Investigation, (2008) Jay J. Van Bavel, Dominic J. Packer, and William A. Cunningham, The Ohio State University.  

Let me quote their abstract before presenting my propositions, thereof. “Classic minimal-group studies found that people arbitrarily assigned to a novel group quickly display a range of perceptual, affective, and behavioral in-group biases. We randomly assigned participants to a mixed-race team and used functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify brain regions involved in processing novel in-group and out-group members independently of pre-existing attitudes, stereotypes, or familiarity. Whereas previous research on intergroup perception found amygdala activity—typically interpreted as negativity—in response to stigmatized social groups, we found greater activity in the amygdala, fusiform gyri, orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and dorsal striatum when participants viewed novel in-group faces than when they viewed novel out-group faces. Moreover, activity in orbitofrontal cortex mediated the in-group bias in self-reported liking for the faces. These in-group biases in neural activity were not moderated by race or by whether participants explicitly attended to team membership or race, a finding suggesting that they may occur automatically. This study helps clarify the role of neural substrates involved in perceptual and affective in-group biases.”



The news from this research is that in-group biases happen involuntarily or automatically, and that in-group members are processed in greater depth than outgroup members. In-group biases in perception is therefore highly motivated. Contexts of economic, psychological and evolutionary significance were salient triggers for such motivation. Why I lean a bit on this body of work is because of neural correlates to perception in evidence.
Participants with a stronger preference for in-group members exhibited stronger OFC activity in response to in-group relative to outgroup members.”  “…this is the first fMRI study to identify the neural mediators of self-reported intergroup biases, and it demonstrates an important link between the pervasive preference for novel in-group members and brain regions that process reward and subjective value. In-group biases in neural activity did not require explicit attention to team membership. Although the tasks differed in difficulty (judging by the faster reaction times and higher accuracy in the implicit task), neural in-group biases did not differ across tasks. This finding suggests that these biases are relatively automatic.”

Hence, there is considerable implication in the way we participate, inter-relate or coordinate activities in a group. This is pertinent to learning and development because, of two basic processes. Firstly, we tend to categorize perceptions. Secondly, learning results in encoded memory.

While the Table below is a long-shot from automaticity of perception, I lay it out here in relation to language in developmental work in groups and organizations.

Value Precept
Socialized Attitude
Philosophy of Practice
Justice
Fairness
Social Contract
Truth
Honesty
Scientism
Transparency
Openness
Liberalism
Humanism
Caring
Service
Morality
Self-Regulation
Common Greater Good
Safety
Experimentation
Epistemology from Virtue

While the above table is an oversimplified first shot at propositional reasoning in group dynamic anchors, it also aims at provoking newer linkages between reality and abstraction.

Here again, I have two explorations. Firstly, that Terminal Values (a la Rokeach) are possibly the domain of automatic perception. Shareable attitudes in society get socialized through overt behaviors that are observed (even from facial cues) and thereafter role modeled. Treatment of experiences finds reflected meta-states of higher-order learning. These relate to superior use of the pre-frontal cortex, that tap into perceptual bases as also pertinent memory chained through categories of perceptual triggers. This chain of mentifacts become strings of belief systems as coherent distinct philosophies.

Secondly, social psychology has been processed rather superficially in professional education. Application of behavioural sciences may miss the link between competing values riddled with in-group attentional biases on the one hand, and fearful amygdala responses of threat or novelty, when known comforts – even if material or economic – numb our choices. So, virtues are impoverished further when philosophic thought is discouraged in the shorter-order comfort of predictability.

Alright, I am warned of your own attention span while reading what is here. What’s your reflection anyway?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Coping with Infantile Theocracy

The morphing of categories are a stealth technique in manipulation. So when the state assumes theocratic hegemony in the guise of moral conscience, it shifts from morality to religiosity in categories of perception and meaning. It uses linguistic schema to mask emergent motive.



Exceptions may prevail, but when speaking of generalities, morality is an inter-subjectively experienced truth; religion is a subjugation of experience to privileged interpreters of the experience of truth.

Inter-subjectivity requires unrestrained use of curiosity. In religion, unbridled curiosity is suffocatingly suicidal. Morality can survive only through mutual respect.


Religion seldom self-corrects. The texts of scripture are their own loudspeakers. They speak with none, but sermon at all.




Spirituality transcends religion, when it demonstrates emancipatory relief through human capacity of self-correction. It eschews divisions perpetuated by religion.

In reality then, the tensions in civic experience will require to be lived out fully before healing can grace us.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Senses Engulfed


I wrote thus as a mark of sorrow when Rohit Vemula’s death gathered news columns.

“Some felt sympathetically robbed of their own. Others felt purged of refuse to come into their own.
He took his own to the unknown.
And each living side finds their moment of lifeless renown.
In such illusion, postures that leave us disunited, all at once alone

What was remarkably different about the note Rohit is said to have left behind, was ‘never mind’; as in the words of Leonard Cohen. “I had to leave, My life behind, I dug some graves, You’ll never find.”

Further still, the swoop of opinion vultures upon his mother, outdid the depths from which his decision to take his own life stunned many a soul.  To quote Cohen further, he may have written a nearer truth than many an analyst may provide, no matter what facts are on hand.  

The story’s told
With facts and lies
I had a name
But never mind

Never mind
Never mind
The war was lost
The treaty signed

There’s truth that lives
And truth that dies
I don’t know which
So never mind...”

The speed with which media reports is a known tendency. What is lesser reflected is the effect it has on our attention span. We are deflected from one event to another, with a cumulative feeling of external reality. No more than an elemental sigh or a passing eulogy for social approval hardens the essence in us. Then as the lights fade out of the incident, the case is lost from our empathetic radars. 

The antenna swivels towards the next flare, the next dare or scare, if you will. In this fearful world of insecurity conditioning, almost every place on earth would be in a state of perpetual vigil, with more controls over human freedoms, and less love and affect for fellow humans.

In mindless adulation of ideologies, people die at the altar of ideologues. In uncritical examination of our apathy, we live dead to the world’s issues, with voices hushed in an unrealistic hope of succor. Even titular heads of non-governmental organisations, community leaders and neighbors strike uncalibrated harmony with demagogues of their choosing, as if their time has arrived in dominion over others. Unwilling to tune in to their own inner voice, they pretend reality in an untenable myth of peace.

While the symptoms of unproductive desire are on homicide trails and the like, our uncritical thinking leads us astray from reality in many another spheres. Public good is lost to private gain in the economy, in the guise of free markets and liberal political values. Citizens numbed in consumerist appetites never have enough, for their wants exceed their needs. They surrender their truer wealth in the bargain. Lakes disappear for high-rise buildings in some places, while forests disappear for other dreams in other places. The sea entertains more plastic as it ejects its whales and dolphins with increasing regularity to the shores. 

While clarity of thinking helps name and frame problems affecting us as a species; it is not arrived at in logically facile ways. Indeed, the heart must move in acceptance of the issues at hand. And that is a space only inner knowing can see. For as Cohen has entrapped in poetic brilliance, the nature of the human dimension of our times, there is a palpable loss of reason in form, substance and spirit.
“Our law of peace
Which understands
A husband leads
A wife commands

And all of this
Expressions of
The Sweet Indifference
Some call Love

The High Indifference
Some call Fate
But we had Names
More intimate

Names so deep and
Names so true
They’re blood to me
They’re dust to you

There is no need
That this survive
There’s truth that lives
And truth that dies



And while abject surrender is a release from the burdens of insanity, it paradoxically enables connection. In abject retreat however, silence is but an illusion of escape at the altar of the power of fears.  This paradoxically fuels disconnection. And we don’t see it because the next event to engulf your senses is only a few moments from this line, in alternate diminishing space, of directionless gory.  

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Questions of questions?

On a recent morning walk with a neighbour, I was recalling a great evening I was at. Time is a Blind Guide is an uncommon name for a music group. It suits the jazz genre, alright, and that is not where the greatness arises from. Thomas Stronen whose facilitation enabled the fusion with Prakash Sontakke, the vocalist and string artist and Adarsh Shenoy the tabla artist, created a near timelessness in cosmic tones – as if to spur the question “So where does great music come from?”
In questions of art, laws of resonance may be a useful guide, but the clue to their labelled identity lay in the art of writing. Canadian author Anne Michael’s first line in her book Fugitive Pieces is the name of this group. 

What questions get answered when such art consummates? To me the fascination left me at a high point of the year gone by.

In the year 2015, we also completed our transition into a new house, where the stated aspiration of the first inhabitants is to be the ‘greatest’ community ever. That was not a high-point, despite being happy about the abode and the surroundings we now have. I recalled for my morning walk companion a lesson from my master coach. It was a question a science journalist asked Einstein for a series on questions that engaged scientists of that age. “What’s the most important question a scientist may ask?” While that got Einstein working his mind, I often recall a sense of wonder in his process of inference. It took the physicist about half an hour to return from his inner rooms to the scientist with the answer “Young man, the most important question a scientist may ask is this – Is the Universe a safe place for humans to live in?”

In much needed hindsight, I realized, that the questions one asks of social relations, do not mirror the patterns of questions we may relate to in pure sciences. The questions we have of human relations are also nuanced, in that questions of law seldom satiate dilemmas of human regards. On the day marked as the birth anniversary of Jesus, laws of biology are to be suppressed to explain birth of the towering figure. When through the trials of life, Jesus was asked to explain the laws of love in legal terms. One now understands that a plane higher than the one in which the questions arise resolve the questions beneath it. Jesus asked of those who followed him to love God with all one’s soul, mind and heart. As of matters on earth, he said “Love thy neighbours as thyself”. 

Psychologically, or spiritually, it is impossible to love others, if one hates oneself. Logically, or legalistically though, we may bind that expectation within governmental constitution. ‘Greatest’ community ever? Sounds like we got our questions confused, or our answers contrived for questions we are not clear on, I thought to myself.

Perhaps, our expectations for social laws to follow patterns of pure science in deterministic ways muddle our reality. It is a case in which our awareness is still-born, or resisted with. This is perhaps why Edward De Bono came up with his po questions that offers at least a third alternative to the dominant frames of reference in our thinking and argumentation. In my earliest reading of his work in a book called Future Positive, the dilemma he posed as example of fallacious thinking resonates even today. It was that of a child asking his father a challenging question as does Calvin of his father in the famous Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. “If God can do everything, can he make a stone so heavy that He himself cannot lift it?”

The distance between who we think we are and what we essentially are. Our inner worlds are unique to each of us, and irrespective of how we may understand commonality of our external worlds a question for me is this:


If we came without material possessions over which people may contest in their biological lifetimes, what will it take us to dispossess impostors of well-being before we explore our inner worlds more completely? Nuclear war, biological terrorism or Climate change?

What are the questions on your mind?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Season of overoptimism

The winter air toughens as the vesper bells chime,
The bugle stirs a hornet’s ruse in disguise,
The minaret forecloses corpses in the clime
A subcontinent yelping as if justice is about to rise.
The sinners and the losers united in defeat,
Chose not this season of retreat,
But the rants and the chants of militant gangs chill,
The hope of any tiger on any hill.
A mute spectator bends head under her scarf as she quivers,
Of no winter as this she recalls,
In digital finesse, her masters promise the union of rivers
Alas, only tears upon her sullen cheeks would fall.
The masculine will of a fantasy unborn,
Meets dismay despite the force of his horn;
Critics still give the mood its many names,
Arrogance, contempt, overbearing a fleeting fame.
The winter air condenses a scent with harnesses
To count a flock that must fear the game,
Neither the scholar, artiste or author buttresses
The spark that the potent air will enflame.
The summer must melt the overoptimism
That this season was quick to mature
The thoughtless addiction sits in the chasm
That many suns and moons have endured.
The priest and the guru of peaceful sojourn
Detour to a place of no return
Where love harbors refugees from religious strictures
That no race, no tongue nor blood or gender can yet picture.






Monday, October 26, 2015

Cellphone corollaries - Evolution through formless circumstances in India

On an early morning sky, an elderly adult of 65 was pacing his available place on a cool morning near his ancestral home. He was holidaying among known relatives, taking a break from the Big Apple where his permanent residence is. Looking toward the two steady lights of the sky between clouds of rain and mist, he exclaimed that the two stars had been his companion of the mornings he was on tour. When I mentioned the redness of a planet that looked silvery through the atmosphere, he was all ears. Recognising that they were the planets Venus and Mars or Jupiter, he seemed dwarfed in time and space to acknowledge the need for a telescopic confirmation. In about the early 1980s, when he migrated, it was not an easy decision to meet with an alien culture, where his daughter now teaches math for a living, and his son is on the brink of a doctoral publication in neuroscience. Saged through experiences, he had the discernment to appreciate that it was a tad late to buy his first smartphone, as he expanded his source of information and was more knowledgeable on matters since his first purchase.


It was in 1989 or so, that I had read in a French publication – (le nouvel observatuer or the L’Express Internationale – I do not remember which) of a caption that featured India’s crossroads in time. It was a colour picture of a bovine on an Indian road. “une vache sacrée a la rue” tried to capture India’s contradictions at a time, when the liberalisation of the automobile sector was on the anvil. Today, two and a half decades later, the smartphone indeed has ruled and the automobile has displaced the bullock cart in most places. Why go far? The home care-taker of the resort I was at in Allepey, whose business is younger than the liberalisation of the Indian economy, says that none row their boats with effort now along the Manimala or the Pamba rivers, leave alone the Vembanad lake. All prefer the Japanese motor-powered boat. His attendant adds quickly, none know hunger here anymore.

This week, the Newsweek’s issue carries the burden of the Indian zeitgeist in similar language as the French press. “The French” our attendant proffered, “prefer blander food preparations, even if it is meat; than the British and the American tourists”. The experience of being on the ground was shining forth in just a decade and a half of such flourishing house-boat and holiday home business in Kerala. The holiday-home owner was more forthright in his assessment though. He wondered why the fuss when even the lower castes with whom local politicians were playing coy; would return to sanity after their tempting differentiation in identity. He was certain that they would be side-lined by the higher castes in communal politics. At the crossroads at which India is today, caste is still a potent killer within India, than cow slaughter is. Social psychology still knows no better wisdom of in-group and out-group phenomena, in that the French observed of India in 1989, as clearly and as early as did the Newsweek did of India’s social contradictions in 2015.

Evolutionary biology, history and even philosophy are enriched in interdisciplinary contributions than are religion and politics of everyday living in the age of the hand-held mobile smartphone. Learning at a societal scale is not only mediated through technology and access to information, it is also restricted by inept social learning; like, falling on naked eyes to ‘know’ the planet from the star; when more contemporary lens are available. Bias and overlearning part, activity – and almost any variety - is considered a strategy for life. So popularity is weighed against social media rankings, and political achievements through material manifestations – even at the cost of the earth and the air on its surface. Activity inhibition is considered as sloth, and not as a possibility for inner reflection and contemplative meaningfulness. So hours are lost as minutes are kept; and the fear of not doing anything has the whirr of the modern boat scare away fish and tear away livelihoods impacted by nature’s plunderers. Seldom has the radical nature of groups been so incendiary in grabbing our attention. 


In populous India, the smartphone presents both opportunity and challenge. Rabble-rousers speeden the reach of their dogma faster than the citizens’ capacity to develop their innate intelligence and express themselves in independent critique based on emerging truths that science methodically uncovers for us. Else, may the farce be with you, and the mercy of a timeless zone rescue us from ourselves. Until then, am hoping to embrace the effervescence of formless circumstances!