Monday, December 22, 2008

Leveraging Spirit: Ethical Questions for Naturalistic Religion III

Part III

I get the sense that Fox (1994) and other theologically oriented academics try to protect spirit via sacredness. These arguments seem to say awe and mystery are necessary for spirit’s emergence. A collective repudiation of sacrilegious acts are required to maintain a sense of sacredness (Atran, 2002). In a pluralistic society such norms are hard to generate and enforce. Society, increasingly, does not want moral watchdogs. Sacrilege grows from the ashes of good intentions.

The more I investigate change dynamics in education the more I come to value the work by Willis (2004). He argues that organizations naturally oscillate between rigid, bureaucratic, overly rationalized states and unfocussed, grass root controlled chaos. During repeated oscillations collapse is likely. Figure 3 illustrates this idea.

I see a parallel process in community building. People oscillate between desire for community and disillusionment at its formation. I think Briskin (2001) articulates this well in his case study of an infighting women’s organization. Hierarchies are an essential reality and need. However, they are tied to both a history and future of inevitable abuse. In addressing this issue, Naylor & Ostendberg (1996) propose workplaces need slow, committed growth with adaptive feedback. This fits with Deal & Peterson’s (2000) view that things being changed can’t be known superficially. Knowledge must be on a deep enough level to formulate complete explanations of what is really going on. Every action or event has more to it than is apparent on the surface. However, complexity theory suggests most human interactions can never be fully known. All causal variables can’t be prestated and all interactions can’t be anticipated (Kauffman, 2008). As a result shadow systems will always emerge. Sacredness as an emergent class may survive, but the specific content guarded won’t. Guarding spirit in community by fighting for its sacredness may be a noble battle, but I suspect it will be settled on unfavorable terms.

Leveraging Spirit: Ethical Questions for Naturalistic Religion II

Part II

When I look at community building initiatives that may take us in a good direction, but whose promises are usually practically unrealistic in wide implementation, Dufour’s professional learning community (PLC) comes to mind. The last thing the people at the PLC conference I attended wanted to hear was Andy Hargreaves (2008) warnings about the skeletons coming with “silver bullet” PLC implementation. As Briskin states, “we act from the tension of unequal forces,” (pp. 52). Believing there is a shadow side to every good intention rarely overcomes the sacrifices change demands.

Companies are attune to this fact. The theoretical frameworks underlying community building initiatives are increasing in sophistication. Advances in group neuropsychology and evolutionary approaches to religion hone organizational tools. When organizational theorist say “culture, values, symbols, and ideas must be added for they are the springs on which[the definition of] institutions rest,” (Stout, 1998) they seem to be saying the trappings of spirit are necessary components for successful business. Well intentioned initiatives build on this class of knowledge. We have increasingly sophisticated powers to leverage community. However, the sophisticated understandings required to prevent abuse have been thrown out with secular rejections of religion.

I think one can generally see two approaches to guarding the spirit in community:
1) arguments from sacredness,
2) arguments from utility.

Mitroff & Denton (1999 as cited in Groen, 2004) exemplify the argument from utility. “Those who practice spirituality in order to achieve better corporate results undermine both its practice and its ultimate benefits. To reap the positive benefits of spirituality, it must be practiced for its own sake,” (pp. 20). I certainly agree with this statement. Business initiatives that commodify spirit are typically easy to spot. They don’t resonate with the self-sacrifice, commitment displays, and implicitly understood norms necessary for authenticity (Atran, 2002). As a result, they don’t have the moral authority to safeguard abuse (Wilson, 2002; Smith, 2004). Without this, community stagnates. The problem is, not everyone finds spiritual dopplegangers easy to spot. What happens when pseudo-spiritual initiatives are sophisticated enough to skip ready detection?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Leveraging Spirit: Ethical questions for naturalistic religion

To care for the soul within us and outside in the world, we need to recognize that soul is not in our possession, but rather the points of overlap where interior experience and the outer world are joined. – Briskin, 2001, pp. 247

I am not an autonomous person. Like all people, my environment affects me. The stimuli I receive, alters some of the weightings behind my thoughts. In turn this affects the contexts and communities I pick. I subtly change the things I belong to. In turn, this changes me. How does this line of thinking relate to Briskin’s statement “soul is not in our possession” (2001)? I can influence my outer world through self-selection and action. I can perturb my inward experience by the accumulated effects of conscious choice. If I am not an automaton, some chunk of soul is in my possession and control. This has profound implications. If soul is in my possession, can part of it fall into someone else’s hands? If so, what are the ethics of manipulating community spirit arising from soulful interaction?

Present-day psychologists subscribe neither to the idea that the mind is a tabula rasa nor to the idea that the mind is completely genetically determined. Today, the nature-nurture debate is about how genetic and environmental influence interact. (Ploeger, Van der Mass & Raijmakers, 2008, p. 7)

Evolutionary scientists like Atran (2002) and Wilson (2004) convincingly explain many aspects of spirit’s emergence. Atran identifies numerous heuristics behind religious behaviours. Wilson provides strong arguments for the practical utility of this class of behaviour. Wilson argues that even if religious beliefs are false literal descriptions of the world, they are adaptive. “Factual realists detached from practical reality were not among our ancestors,” (Wilson, 2004, p. 228). Belief in and of itself has great power.

This raises ethical questions. What happens to ideas that move us in a good direction, but whose ultimate promises are not realistic.

Note: This is the first part in a series of posts exploring questions around the leveraging of naturally perceived spiritual dynamics.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Food Art

A local art teacher showed me this power point presentation on food art. It was fascinating.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Structure & informal cultural ties

In their article "Institutions and the story of American religion", Stout and Cormode make a number of interesting points.  I'll limit myself to one for now.  They reference DiMaggio's idea that formal organization structure and informal cultural ties produce taken for granted social norms.  The premise of the article itself is that religious communities and movements need to be seen as institutions that combine structure and culture.

Now this doesn't seem like an overly radical idea to anyone with much common sense.  However, it does have some far reaching implications.  One simple idea is the "symbolic universe" in which people exist is constraining (Stout, Cormode, 1998).  This somewhat out of fashion idea suggests the language of representation controls some aspects of thought. Since I don't think this idea goes very far, I think it is better to say the norms which emerge from within a culture are, in part affected by structure in a mildly recursive manner.  The way people represent this interface is probably indicative of which elements produce societally implicit resonances.  I would expect any structural control on actual thought to be pretty minor.  

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fall of academic fads

Just a quick link to an interesting post over at Gene Expression.  The main idea is recent academic world views have fallen out of favor.  

Fourth, the sudden decline of all the big-shot theories you'd study in a literary theory or critical theory class is certainly behind the recent angst of arts and humanities grad students. Without a big theory, you can't pretend you have specialized training and shouldn't be treated as such -- high school English teachers may be fine with that, but if you're in grad school, that's admitting you failed as an academic. You want a good reputation. Isn't it strange, though, that no replacement theories have filled the void? That's because everyone now understands that the whole thing was a big joke, and aren't going to be suckered again anytime soon. Now the generalizing and biological approaches to the humanities and social sciences are dominant
This leaves one wondering what approaches are emerging as useful?  In the social sciences I agree with the post and expect to see a big rise in partially written slate theories (some biologically determined fitness landscapes). I have a feeling this approach will be hard on many extreme relativists.  It requires comfort with ambiguity mingled with a history of hard science. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Magical Thinking

An interesting post over at The frontal cortex on magical thinking.   Clark has a brief commentary up at his blog.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Evangelizing an emergent God of the complex

I just downloaded quite a few podcasts from Point of Inquiry. I must have been lucky, because Michael Dowd was on the first program. The other 3 or 4 I have listened to haven't been nearly as understanding about their flip positions in the religion / science interface. I did, however, think Dowd captured a nice middle ground.

Dowd's views are solidly naturalistic and evidentiary. He uses religious language (night language), from what I can gather, because its tendrils capture the richness and interconnectedness of morally spandreled ideas. His positions are thoroughly atheistic. This sits him well in the science camp. He can use traditional religious language and yet agree with everything an atheist proposes. In this sense he is very captivating. It gives the fundamentalist minded science camp an opportunity to see the efficiency of the language, and in some ways the rallying power of morally embodied groups.

One thing I like about his interview is that he doesn't just give in to non-overlapping magisteria. To me this has always seemed like a cop out. At the very minimum there are significant evolutionary tendencies towards religion, quasi-religions or supernatural religions. These tendencies have real effects and probably aren't well described with non-mythical, hard scientific language. Certainly our language norms could change, but from what I heard Dowd arguing, it is unlikely that mythic, symbolic and sacred language are going anywhere. We can change the words used, but over time, these will develop similar connotations.

The thing that made me perk up was Dowd's position as an evangelizer for Kauffman's position. One of the things I was wondering about was how effective Kauffman's God of creative complex emergence would sell. After all, the growth of new religious movements is based on much more than a good idea. It is interesting to see a camp developing around an emergent God of the complex.

Michael Dowd's free podcasts

The point of inquiry podcast of Michael Dowd

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Dealing with Circularity Issues

A practical way to deal with circularity issues is through iteration.  J. Willis' popular R2D2 instructional design model  gets lots of attention for its rejection of linear solutions.  There are actually a number of standard conventions for diagraming such processes.

As mentioned iteration is often a good way to work through circularities.  In educational technology for instance, hardware, training and management must be tackled in a seemingly simultaneous manner.  In real life, this tends to be impossible.  There are good reasons why any one of the three items should come first.  The reality is if any one item gets too far ahead of the other two, there are problems.  Training, management and hardware don't have to progress at identical rates, but as soon as one gets too far out of sync with the others, people notice limitations.  The answer is to keep cycling from one component to another.  

For some time, management needs to be seen as the solution.  Some time later, hardware, then training, etc.  The difficulty is this shifting tends to burn out people in organizations.  Human resources are generally designed to implement static solutions.  They can handle cycling, but the frequency has to be carefully managed.  The general way to handle this is to put some sensors into the process that light up as soon as people start sensing limitations.  However such feedback loops are easier said than implemented.  In fact, they tend to grow to require what John Ralston Saul calls heroic leadership.

A good philosophical base from which to approach circularity issues is Charles Sanders Peirce.  Clark has a very good philosophy / religious blog  based around his ideas.  As a pragmatist contemporary with Dewey and William James his ideas fit well with education.  Dewey has been popular with the education crowd for a number of decades, but since the rise of post-modernism, I think Peirce's perspectives are much more timely.


Any substantive educational change runs into tremendous roadblocks. Tyack & Cuban’s book Tinkering Toward Utopia is probably the standard text exploring this issue. Michael Fullan’s work is a justifiably popular series of handbooks on this topic. There are a couple of basic perspectives that emerge with substantive educational change. Here’s the range I view myself operating within.

1. Significant educational change doesn’t stick until a generation dies out. Effort doesn’t really change this. It just mimics the larger changes that are all ready occurring. In effect, you are just keeping up with the progression from early to late adopters.

2. Educational change requires systemic change from all levels of the system. You can’t just change one stakeholder’s views, you have to change the views of all stakeholders. With education’s societal role, this is a big task, and in practice it ends up looking a lot like 1. Expense is justified because the average person seems so easy to tip with just the right sort of push.

3. Educational change is significantly affected by the loose coupling (controls) that exist within it. Teachers are basically autonomous agents. They are mainly affected by their own moral imperatives, not by external direction. As a result change rates are largely dictated by the rate at which teachers re-interpret their own priorities.

4. Educational change is similar to religious change. As such it can be viewed through Stark’s somewhat antiquated lens of rational choice theory, or through the lens of Wilson’s evolutionary based group level selection theories. The latter view is largely the same as 3,. but tackles the usually avoided issue of group dynamics.

Essential Tensions

Educational solutions often seem cyclical in nature. Chances are you aren’t imagining things if you think today’s focus on problem based learning looks a lot like the 50’s focus on lab work. A simple way to view this dynamic is in terms of essential tensions.

Essential tension basically means there isn’t a single absolute solution to a problem. Instead there is a dynamical balance that needs to be maintained. A shift to one side of a spectrum needs to be counterbalanced by increased focus on the spandreled roots of what was removed. One of the ideas of essential tension is that freedom lies in the balancing of forces rather than the removal of problems.

Here is a small selection of references I think touch on this idea:
From a religious perspective
-J Bonner Ritchie  on essential tensions between individuals and organizations

From the perspective of organizational evolution
-Willis, R. (2004). A complexity and Darwinian approach to management with failure avoidance as the key tool. In Complexity theory and the management of networks: Proceedings of the workshop on organizational networks as distributed systems of knowledge (P. Andriani & G. Passiante Eds.). Imperial College Press: London. pp. 74-88

From the perspective of knowledge construction
-Impossible knowledge - Haig-Brown, C. (2003). Creating spaces: testimonio, impossible knowledge, and academe. Qualitative Studies in Education, 16(3), 415-433.

-Difficult knowledge  - Pitt, A. & , Britzman, D. (2003). Speculations on qualities of difficult knowledge in teaching and learning: an experiment in psychoanalytic research. Qualitative Studies in Education, 16(6), 755-776.

Cyclical Educational Solutions

Educational initiatives often seem cyclical. Many current initiatives resemble initiatives pushed 30 years ago, and later seen as inadequate. To many, it is ironic that the system has just gotten over those old failures. The problem is, in education, as in religion static solutions aren’t possible.

Educators are generally trying to prepare people for some aspect of life. This is true even of your math teacher. Question them and they will invariably have a reason why learning math is important. Often it has nothing to do with content, but rather about the lessons one learns and enables during the process. A decent portion of any educational initiative involves the maintenance of essential societal tensions. Some universalist versions of religion are similar. Form matters less than inward effects.

Problems occur when proposed balance shifts are envisioned as static solutions. For instance, a generation or two ago, student were expected to personally construct knowledge from a somewhat disjointed set of facts. Students “pieced” together lessons and demonstrated their grasp of the gaps in big summative assignments. Rubrics and details were pretty non-existent. In these tasks the grades were more about whether a student “got it” rather than how well they matched a pre-made set of criteria. Obviously this has problems. It tests whether or not you think the same way as your teacher. The response was movement towards feminist pedagogies: no hidden bars, and heterogeneous scales. Is this a static solution? Certainly not.

Focus on this solution for long enough and implicit culture shifts in this direction. This is not a bad thing. However, any shift comes with its own set of emergent problems. In this case, there are complaints about a loss of personal knowledge construction and criticality. The response is a re-interpretation of old solutions. We see a push toward knowledge construction: this time through social construction rather than individual construction. A good way to look at this process is through the lens of essential tensions.

Bounded Rationality?

I’m still finishing the last few chapters of Kauffman’s reinventing the sacred. In his chapter “Living into Mystery”, Kauffman gives an interesting description of models that deal with overfitted and underfitted expectations. This tied in nicely with one of my all time favorite papers by Willis (2004) that uses the idea of entropy to model the evolution and degradagation cycles of organizations. First let’s take a look at the logic behind Kauffman’s (& Vince Darley’s) model.

The idea is that with a little bit of historical information’s predictive models tend to be fairly simple – say a few Fourier wavelengths. As more historical information accrues, the models get more complex – say a dozen Fourier wavelengths. In this case, increased complexity implies increased precision. Increased precision increases the chances of disconfirming evidence. Models never fully match chaotic reality. This leads to a phase change (my interpretation) where simpler models become more robust.

“This changing pattern of the time series is itself generated by the increasing fragility of ever more precise models. In turn, the models the players build of one another undergo an oscillation between simple, but robust models that yield self consistent behavior for some time – temporary ration expectations that then lead to increasingly complex models, until their increased fragility leads to disconfirmation and a new pattern of behavior of the players, creating the nonstationary behavior.” (Kauffman, 2008, pp. 240)

Willis’ idea is that organizations cycle between scientific management(highly order organizations with low entropy) and chaotic management (weakly ordered organizations with high entropy). Most people would think of these two end points in terms of an overly bureaucratic company that is rigid and inefficient and a grass roots company in touch with its roots, but in need of better structure. Companies cycle between these two states, passing the highly productive complex realm along the way. During de-evolution there is a small, but non-zero chance of complete collapse. Thus companies tend to come and go.

Both these angles illuminate the cycling that is an inherit part of education. I think they also illuminate some people’s entry points into religion. Religion offers robust moral models that can grow in complexity until they require reformation and re-interpretation (de-evolution). The self- introspection religion encourages provides a chance for Willis’ entropy cycling to occur before one extends either side of the cycle too far. I think the difference is that the group adaptive characteristics of religion allows people to enter a stable, faith based, loop of high order and low entropy. Similarly I can envision new atheists in a similar loop on the low order, high entropy side of things. Neither loop really leverages the power that exists on the edge of chaos. In a similar light, people have a hard time stepping far enough away to see the benefits of what Kauffman would consider “bounded rationality” (and by this I don’t mean to imply rationality isn’t useful, only that it has its limits and simpler more robust models can sometimes be better than more precise, complex models).

Kauffman, S. (2008). Reinventing the sacred: A new view of science, reason, and religion, Philadelphia: Basic Books.

Willis, R. (2004). A complexity and Darwinian approach to management with failure avoidance as the key tool. In Complexity theory and the management of networks: Proceedings of the workshop on organizational networks as distributed systems of knowledge (P. Andriani & G. Passiante Eds.). Imperial College Press: London.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Kinder Reader

Not being in a big city, I am not sure how useful this would be for me. However, the Kinder reading device actually seems to have broken most of the hurdles holding back electronic readers.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The need for new balance when living forward

A lot of science deals with explanations.  Predictive power comes as a spin effect from this goal.  As expectations of forward precision increase social scientists are confronted with questions of accuracy.  Minimizing error propagation in practical venues often requires a human touch.  As Kauffman states (2008, pp 149);
Our incapacity to predict Darwinian preadaptations, when their analogues arise in our everyday life, demands of us that we rethink the role of reason itself, for reason cannot be a sufficient guide to live our lives forward, unkowning.
The new scientist recently ran a major article discussing the limitations of conventional reason. It makes a good read for those who may just be getting into some of the standard arguments in this realm.  However, I don't think any of the arguments are as strong as Kauffman's.  They tend to be more about the application of reason more than fundamental limitations.

Kauffman's position in relation to reason , or at least conventional reductionist approaches to knowing, focusses on forward knowledge.  His frequently restated position basically sums up to this:
  1. There is no lowest-level basement language of simple functionalities from which all possible higher future functionalities can be logically derived (pp. 153)
  2. We can not prestate all the variables required for prediction.
  3. Evidence points to emergence as a significant organizing characteristic.  
  4. We live in a critical chaotic universe.
  5. Natural laws can not fully describe this reality.
  6. Reductionist approaches are incomplete.
  7. If we truly can't predict, then "the way a CEO lives his life and guides his company is a combination of rationality, judgment, intuition, understanding, and invention that goes far beyond the purview of normal science, and far beyond the normal purview of rationality and “knowing", (pp. 176).
  8. "We must come to see reason as part of a still mysterious entirety of our lives, when we often radically cannot know what will occur but must act anyway," (pp. 149).
This is a fairly significant proposal.  At what point during investigation do we break the Galilean spell of conventional rationality?  The arguments are really over practicality.  The Dawkins and Dennetts contend that science is the best thing we have.  It has features that resist corruption, enable common semiotics, and filter intuition.  Its application, while containing some self-correcting features, is, however, susceptible to abuse.  So, the debate really centers on maximization.  How do you balance the viral corruptive capacity of our predictive powers with the errors of a rationally modeled universe?  

I think the answer to that injunction is an unstable equilibrium.  One needs to leverage the deity of inspiration and group-dynamics while cycling back to the reliability of science.  However, our evolutionary history lead us to one valley or another.  The cycling point is the power position.  However such locations are unstable and highly susceptible to abuse.  So, is it worthwhile?  Again, I think insights from new religious movements are essential for informed opinion.  The dynamics seem fairly analogous - controlling reality as experienced.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Is it enough?

In "Reinventing the Sacred", Kauffman’s has chosen to take a fairly noble rode in the recent science-religion debates.  He critiques conventional science based positions as falling into a Galilean spell (pun to Dennett's work probably well intended).  Supernaturalistic religion is, for the most part, implicitly critiqued.  However this is done in a respectful manner that acknowledges the motivational and creative powers such beliefs often entail.  On the science side of the debate, I suspect many will ask, do we really need to play in waters where the predictive, explanatory, or communicative power of science is partially or in specific cases fully eschewed?

The creative spark of the intellect can be lit in many ways. The fuzzy tensions of probed spirituality are one match. The deductive and inductive ferreting of novel fact connections is another. I would also suggest the leveraging of fundamental group dynamics is another.  In this debate many “new atheists” tacitly, or in some cases evangelically, project their own motivational dynamics onto others. It is a dogmatic, perhaps na├»ve, leap to assume that since religious magesteria doesn’t emerge as a necessary condition to describe reality it has no place in fruitful understandings.

For some extremists it is a case of contamination. The real world, based on natural laws, is logically constructed. False realities hinder description building. The role of interpretation is subordinate to representation. In opposition to the Greek philosophy that has influenced the West, in this new perspective, the mind is the contaminate to continual understanding not the body. Taken to the extreme, some may say the mind, when uncoupled from reality, hasn’t a hope in hell of replicating the natural world. The probability of one's imaginations duplicating the known and yet to be discovered aspects of the universe are woefully small. Minds bounce through cognitive fitness landscapes that drift off in the wonderland of supernaturalism and comfortable circularities.

Wilson bravely takes the position that religious magisterial produce selectively advantageous group benefits (2004, pp. 228).
“If there is a trade-off between the two forms of realism, such that our beliefs can become more adaptive only by becoming factually less true, then factual realism will be the loser every time. To paraphrase evolutionary psychologists, factual realists detached from practical reality were not among our ancestors.”
Survival doesn’t hinge upon setting a proper foundation for future representation, it hinges upon successful competition.   However, the current science/religion debate isn’t about survival, it is about understanding. Wilson’s argument is one of utility not validity. Kauffman steps into the magisterial overlap by proposing the emergence of a motivational God (spiritualism) steeped in the wonderment of scientific naturalism.  This he argues is a plausible replacement for traditional divinity and overextended scientific reductionism.
“In its place we will find a profound partial lawlessness as we invade the adjacent possible in the nonergodic universe. With it we will find ceaseless creativity in the universe, biosphere and human life. In that creativity we can find one sense of God that we can share. This is, I believe, the core of why we have wanted a supernatural God.”  (Kauffman, 2008, pp. 141)
However, proposing a rational alternative doesn't mean it will be adopted.  For religious like dynamics to resonate, numerous criteria need to be superpositioned.  Usually emerging groups are tweaked according to ultimate predispositions.  Ultimate causes, like selection for reproduction are manifest in proximate urges, like satisfaction from sex.  Similarly, latching onto the power of religious like dynamics requires a stage where proximate causes can be superpositioned.  

Single pronged approaches to religious change have to reposition the tensions balancing the spaces around which group selection resides.  We participate in evolutionary selected groups because certain balances feel right. Changing the balance of belief isn’t a rational exercise. When one element of a group directed belief set drifts out of superposition, sprandreled elements must change their own harmonies to create a new superposition. Another way of saying this is that components need to be reinterpreted to produce the correct feeling for any given set of essential tensions. For example, if I move to the works side of the works vs. grace debate, I had better accentuate, or leave space for the accentuation of, some other underlying aspects of grace. If not, the change is overly radical and will feel phony or contrived. Kauffman’s single pronged approach has to play in a very competitive fitness landscape.

By taking a single pronged approach he is hoping the awe/creativity card will let at least some people reside in the overlap of religion/science.  However, evolved group-level adaptations tend to come with associated free-loader protections.  Proximate predispositions to not cheat probably mean religious change isn't just a rational choice.  It is likely a spandreled chore.  As Wilson suggests, pure rationalism may not be a selectively advantageous trait.  If this is the case, I admire Kauffman's attempt to find one way of reinventing a religious like balance. However, I suspect much more work is required before we are able to leverage, not just deny, our natural tendencies.  Do we stick to the descriptive surety of rationalism/reductionism or do we leverage ourselves into the game of creating new understandings?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Directions

I have all but finished my science & religion readings for the summer.  This involved quite a few journal articles, including Rational Choice literature.  It also included "Darwin's Cathedral", Kauffman's "Reinventing the Sacred", Givens' "A People of Paradox", and another attempt to force myself through the final chapters of Dennett's "Breaking the Spell".  Sometime I will have to add in Boyer's book, however, I have heard it is very similar to Atran's so I will probably hold off on that until I need to cycle back to this theme.

This sets me up for another theme: Relational (social) networks.  This builds on some of the topics in complexity based management I've been studying the last few years.  In particular I am hoping to explore some of the tools that could be used to study quasi-religious group dynamics.  I am limiting things to culturally significant moralistic organizations.  I think one should always be careful not to overextend the application of theory before solid cases have been made.  I think the application of group dynamics from religious perspectives, while valuable, requires quite patience & nuance if it is to break out of its pejorative box.

Network approaches to religion are old hat.  Network approaches to organizational management are currently in vogue, but, like most management memes, certain to fade.  As with education, widespread implementation tend to dull a theory's sharpness.  Late adopters tend to change their practices so as to combine the worst elements of old an new practice.  After all, the pieces that matter most are the ones that take the most time to grow and master.

With that in mind I suspect the relational networks in quasi-religious organizations may have some unique characteristics that relate to change management.  Ideally I would love to find some research on how perturbations affect the relational networks in moralistic and non-moralistic organizations. How would you design instruction concerning organizational protocols that maintain an awareness to the fitness landscape created by natural religious tendencies?

Reinventing the Sacred - Kauffman

I've been going through Stuart Kauffman's book "Reinventing the Sacred: A new view of science, reason and religion".  It is a somewhat technical read, that I think, should form part of a standard base for scientists wishing to study religion (I would also add in Atran's In God's we trust, Wilson's Darwin's Cathedral, some complexity theory readings including Willis 2004 paper, "A complexity and Darwinian approach to management with failure avoidance as the key tool", and Ball's Critical Mass).

One of Kauffman's main intentions is to show how life is best viewed as an emergent property that requires no appeal to supernatural divinity.  In this process some interesting arguments come up:
  1. Some processes have multiple platforms from which they can be explained.  Forward predictive power determines the level from which things are best explained.  Just because you can explain everything back to the level of physics doesn't mean that is the level from which things are always best understood.  This depends on the level where predictions start functioning.  
  2. Life begins to emerge when endergonic cycles are coupled with exergonic cycles. This increase the number of reactions possible. Agency emerges as boundary conditions are naturally selected to favor certain combination of reactions over others.  For instance, a bacteria's path along a glucose gradient emerges as part of the process of maintaining a boundary condition with respect to food.

Friday, August 15, 2008

how self-organization, social capital and tacit knowledge affect an organization's absorptive capacity

Having just finished Darwin's Cathedral, I have returned to Charle's Ehin's book "Hidden Assets". The main idea is how self-organization, social capital and tacit knowledge affect an organization's absorptive capacity.  This is an interesting thesis, but I have to confess, I got quite bogged down in his evolutionary appeals.  Evolutionary psychologists are frequently critiqued for their loose functional appeals to pre-historic cultures.  These are anything but well understood.  In fact, when done poorly, they come across like an Umberto Echo book where backward connections are ridiculed for the conspiracy theories they engender.  Backwards connections do not imply causality.  Usually what happens is an author has a point they want to support.  To do so they look for a plausible selective advantage for the desired trait.  I found Ehin's book full of such tenuous appeals.

Poorly done evolutionary appeals also leave the genie out of the bottle.  In "Hidden Assets", Ehin gives evidence that un-management (his term for full self-organization with tribe sized business groups) is the strongest leverager of human capital.  While I believe this rather dogmatic assertion may apply in specific cases, I think it is a huge over-extension when generalized.  However, Ehin uses a functionalist appeal to evolutionary psychology to bolster his argument.  In doing so he fails to identify why we should accommodate evolutionary tendencies for un-managment but reject evolutionary tendencies towards despotism and hierarchial structures.  I suspect a standard free-loader argument would come into play here.  However, Ehin never used it.  This substantially undermines Ehin's book.  The questionable validity of functional appeals really demeans what should have been a very interesting thesis.

Successful explanations about how self-0rganization, social capital and tacit knowledge affect absorptive capacity would seem to require the following elements:
  1. multi-level selection theory  (see Wilson's "Darwin's Cathedral")
  2. structures limiting free-loader exploitation (see Wilson's "Darwin's Cathedral & Atran's "In God's we trust)
  3. organizational entropy  - a.k.a - the rise and fall of organization structures (see Willis, 2004 in "A complexity and Darwinian approach to management with failure avoidance as the key tool")
  4. group neuropsychology (I think the evolutionary psychology of religion is a fruitful approach to this question, although other branches of science certainly can offer quite a few insights as well)
  5. a pragmatic philosophical base (I think Peirce is probably the best resource here - his physics background resonates well complexity theory and its history)
  6. a tool like relational (social) networks for exploring and testing predictions
However, this certainly isn't an exhaustive list.  What elements need to be brought together for a full answer to Ehin's thesis?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Leveraging natural tendencies

One of the advantages of experimenting with non-traditional assumptions is transformational leverage. In religion there is always a tension between internal reform and schism. Wilson views schism from the lens of the free-loader. Established religions that function as group adaptations enrich participants. Over time those that abuse the system get more benefits than those that sacrifice for it. As a result the pious in religions tend to be the poorest. Eventually the difference between the religion and the pious participants is so great free-loader reform or schism is required. In the book of Mormon, the pride/rich cycle clearly demonstrates the same sequence. In the New Testament the Pharisees and the rise of the Christian cults illustrate the same point.

When group organizations are viewed from an evolutionary lens Wilson indicates “human nature will be seen as something that evolves rather than as something we are stuck with,” (2002, pp. 219). While I agree with this statement, I don’t think it means reason will automatically overpower other selective pressures for cultural (group level) adaptation. Just because we understand something doesn’t mean we can always control it. Addiction is a good example. I also think academically minded folk tend to resist using building blocks tainted with perceived irrationality, let a lone ambiguous supernaturalism. However, this resistance seems to deny the very world we live in.

If religious tendencies are an inherit part of a normally distributed biology, and supernaturalism, anthropomorphic big brothers, etc are adaptive expressions of this tendency, then shouldn’t the most powerful group dynamic theories be leveraging not denying these propensities.

The expression of and benefits gained from religion certainly aren’t uniform or static. I can understand why some academics would prefer a world of brights. However, is this any different than preferring everyone to be heterosexual, non-violent or altruistic to non-kin? Appeals to ethics seem more than offset by practicality. If you entertain biological reprogramming, practically seems to more than offset functionality or dogmatic preference. If we truly are dealing with evolutionary tendencies, then any changes not accompanied by extreme selective pressure and numerous generations will have no practical utility. Since this is undoubtedly the case, the wisest solutions to our religious tendencies may be pragmatic both in nature and theory.

While this approach may allow religion and science to remain as non-overlapping magisteria, I really don't see how the two domains shouldn't blend together for those who wish greater understanding.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Proximate vs. Ultimate Explanations of Religion

One question that must be asked with respect to Wilson's multi-level (group) selection approach to religion is how much of the religious experience do his tools explain?  Before answering this question, it is probably wise to follow Wilson's example and clean up the distinctions between proximate and ultimate causes.

Religions are hard to pin down to a single function - whether this be community, economic (rational) choice, or any other casual explanation.  While religion may be much more than community, "this statement might be true at the proximate level, but not at the ultimate level," (Wilson, 2002, pp. 170).

By proximate level, Wilson means the direct individual reasons motivating a behavior, ie pleasure from s e x, or contentment from love.  The ultimate level is the selective advantage behind these actions, ie babies, more robust environment to raise children.  

By postulating an ultimate cause for religious tendencies, Wilson avoids having to directly explain specific  features of  religious belief.  His theory just needs to show selective advantages for belief.  In this task, scale becomes an important issue.  Wilson advocates using the congregational scale (single church groups) rather than a denominational, or larger, scale.  This choice will likely require some appeals to complexity theory to explain the emergence of larger structures.  Biologists are quite comfortable with this, so it shouldn't be problematic.  Perhaps the extension of scale will provide an opportunity to tie in approaches like Pascal Boyer's (2001) religion as no-longer adaptive, or the Gould like view of religion as a spandrel.

However, I suspect it will be some time before the utility of the metaphysical and supernatural questions religion raised can be openly tackled.  Thus, I don't at all think Wilson's work undermines the value of religion.  Knowing the reason for love doesn't undermine it's value.  Knowing the evolutionary underpinnings of religion should only strengthen how it can be leveraged. Some may reference Christ's spiritual solitude on the cross as evidence that a hands off god is still functional while others may proceed to other conclusions.  Whatever answers resonate, religious tendencies are a fundamental component of our existence.  As such they have implicit effects in everything that is done, especially in terms of group dynamics.

Boyer, P. 2001. Religion Explained. New York: Basic Books

Wilson, D. S. 2002. Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Core beliefs & environmental adaptation

The downfall of many religious organizations is not that they fail to support core teachings,
but rather that they treat all aspects of the organization as core ideology that cannot be changed

Roger Finke (2003, pp. 23)

Balancing the essential tensions in religion is difficult.  The moral answers emerging from a belief structure are a vector.  They contain an individual's history with a problem and the magnitude of force needed for a solution.  Because of the momentum and direction, specific moral solutions don't transfer overly well.  Answers are not silver bullets, but rather spandreled solutions to balance the tensions of complicated histories.  This gives rise to one of the foundational problems of organizations, perhaps best explained by Willis' (2004) thermodynamic treatment of organizational life cycles.

Organizations don't remain static.  One view is to say they are either getting more organized (often bureaucratic), or they are getting back in touch with their roots (shadow systems are gaining control).  The implication is there is never one ideal situation for an organization. Solutions always depend on the organizations trajectory and momentum (think historical factors, current direction, and current rate of change (and rate of rate change)).  To slow down the thermodynamic cycling, organizations need to have a proper responsiveness to their environment.  As Finke (2003, pp. 20) explores, "religious groups sustain organizational vitality by preserving core religious teachings as they introduce innovations for serving members and adapting to their changing environment".

New religious movements, including mormonism, are good case studies for this investigation.  A few recent bloggernacle posts help set the stage:
One question new religious movements face is how their heads can lead change in a prophetic manner without either sacrificing the wrong core elements or responding to the wrong external influences.  While non-religious organizations don't have the extra pressure of supernatural expectations, I would wager they must still maintain a balance between protecting core beliefs and adapting to environmental pressures.  

Given's book "People of Paradox" can be read to show the strength of early mormon unification enabled innovation.  A comparative lack of modern innovation may occur from an environment whose unifying tendencies are more suited to eventual entropic decay than risky chaos management.

In Finke's (2003) explanation, many faltering mainstream denominations have sacrificed their core teachings in lieu of organizational innovation.  In the quasi-religious environment of formal education, are many changes attempting to disrupt core teachings in place of environmentally appropriate innovation?

Finke, R. (2003). Innovative returns to tradition: Using core teachings as the foundation for innovative accommodation, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 43(1), pp. 19-34.

Willis, R. (2004). A complexity and Darwinian approach to management with failure avoidance as the key tool. In Complexity theory and the management of networks: Proceedings of the workshop on onganisational networks as distributed systems of knowledge (P. Andriani & G. Passiante Eds.). Imperial College Press: London. pp. 74-88

Religion as a category of investigation

Can religion be considered a category of analysis in academic investigations?  The non-subjective sciences seem easy to excuse, while the arts seems easy to include.  The middle that interests me are the various branches of social sciences.

Qualitative investigations have a number of different tools at their disposal.  One popular approach is to view knowledge as a multi-faceted crystal (Richardson, 2003).  This encourages an unlimited degree of personal reflection.  In practice, researchers can either try to portray an issue's interesting complexity, they can probe a few different avenues of perspective, or they can boldly explain relevant factors.  Picking relevant categories for analysis is a reflexive process.  It is tied to the meaning the author and readers give to, and can make from, the category of investigation.  However, some categories, more than others, tend to illuminate the trees hidden by the forest.  I think religion is increasingly becoming one of these torches.  

There is no question that religion is a fundamental aspect of human behaviour.  There is also no question religious tendencies can produce their own substantial momentum.  Somewhere between the product and the seed lies individual influence.  During biographical investigations the utility of religion as a category is obviously graduated.   However, the slope, while slippery in places, is usually not avoided.  In organizational investigations, however, religion as a category of investigation is rare to non-existent.  There are some exceptions (Demerath, Hall, Scmitt & Williams, 1998). Quasi-religious and para-religious views emerged investigating religion's soft boundaries.  The company as a quasi-religious unit is an application of this investigation.

For religion to be an appropriate category of analysis in social science investigation, I believe, it should be limited to the level of group dynamics in an environment that has a robust culture, moralistic imperative and has demonstrated change resiliency.  I believe formal education fits this bill quite nicely.

Demerath N., Hall, P, Schmitt, T., Williams, R. (1998).  Sacred Companies: Organizational Aspects of Religion and Religious Aspects of Organization USA: Oxford Press.

Richardson, L. (2003). Writing: A method of inquiry. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.)
Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials (pp. 499-541). USA: Sage.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Group-level adaptations and circularity issues in change management

Why people sing "May the Circle be Unbroken"

“Science works best when it tests among well-framed hypotheses that make different predictions about measurable aspects of the world,” - 
D.S. Wilson (2002, pp. 44)

"Once the reasoning associated with scientific thought loses its status as the only adaptive way to think, other forms of thought associated with religion cease to be objects of scorn and incomprehension and can be studied as potential adaptations in their own right." - D.S. Wilson (2002, pp. 43)

Changing the implicitly held core beliefs of large organizations is difficult.  Change that affects core beliefs in an organization that commonly understood to guardian core societal values is daunting.  In the field of education, Tyack and Cuban (1995) have suggested that only reforms that are fundamentally important, societally supported and culturally long lasting actually affect teacher implementation.  Do religious tendencies inform some of the circularity issues that surround educational change?

Wilson(2002, pp. 45)  has summarized most of the evolutionary approaches to religion as follows:

1 . Religion as an adaption
1.1 Religion as group level adaptation
1.2 Religion as individual level adaptation
1.3 Religion as cultural parasite that often evolves at the expense of human individuals and group

2 Religion as nonadaptive
2.1 Religion as an adaptation to past environments, such as ancestral kin groups, that is maladaptive in modern environments, such as large groups of unrelated individuals
2.2 Religion as a byproduct (spandrel) of genetic or cultural evolution

I suspect a number of circularity issues associated with organizational change can be illuminated from these perspectives.  Viewing religion as a group level adaptation locates change issues in a place of dynamic tension.  Individual interests compete with group interests.  Evolved mechanisms that discouraging free loading and other self-interest strategems may inform why single-pronged, or even many multi-pronged, change approaches fail.  

Fundamental educational change normally requires the death of one generation and the regeneration of another.  The societail milieu in which the rising generation understands its world is different.  Core beliefs can be protected, while other beliefs can be reinterpreted or completely jettisoned (Tyak & Cuban, 1995).  In effect, the rising generation has a different implicit understanding of what behaviours are group-appropriate.

Now one can take the view that appropriate group behaviours are learned, but I would suspect this idea doesn't stand on its own. Rather, I suspect, tacit understandings combine to form implicit conceptions of moral imperatives.  In some cases moral imperative become embodied in an avatar like fashion (religion).  In other cases they remain fuzzy and unembodied.  I suspect thresholds for agent detection systems  (Atran, 2002), and other factors come into play here.

For organizations this means changes touching fundamental nerves may have to compete against deep evolutionary adaptations that prevent the average person from abusing group-level benefits.

Atran, S. (2002). In Gods we trust: The evolutionary landscape of religion. Oxford University Press: New York.

Tyak & Cuban (1995). Tinkering toward utopia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Correlation between cultural complexity and moral gods

I have just been checking some references from Darwin’s Cathedral. A 2001 article by Stark caught my attention. It investigates the type of correlation religion has to moral order. The basic finding is that religion only sustains the moral order if it is based on a belief in morally concerned gods. Stating Stark’s (pp. 621) hypotheses may lessen the apparent tautology.

“H1 In many societies, religion and morality will not be linked.
H2. This linkage will tend to be limited to more complex cultures.
H3. The effects of religiousness on individual morality are contingent on images of gods as conscious, morally-concerned beings; religiousness based on impersonal or unmoral gods will not influence moral choices.
H4. Participation in religious rites and rituals will have little or no independent effect on morality.”

For data Stark referenced Murdock’s Atlas of World Cultures (1981 as cited in Stark, 2001)*. The following table was produced.

According to Stark, all four hypotheses were strongly confirmed. For me, the most interesting hypotheses are H2 and H3.

It would be interesting to see how the third hypothesis could be investigated in quasi-religious organizations. For instance, do similar classes of quasi-religions have a correlation between their cultural complexity and the group’s mean belief in fundamental moral directing codes? (On a further note, is belief in a divine moral being needed or just belief in self-existing moral directing codes?)

For instance, formal education seems to have some very resilient core moral like structures. Education is very resistant to change. On average it takes 20 years for any educational change to be broadly diffused and 50 years to be ubiquitous (Tyack & Cuban, 1994). One possible explanation is that those involved in education protect deep seated core values. These values tend to be informed by the larger societal factors in which educators are raised. Correlating the cultural complexity of organizations to their belief in fundamental moral directing codes would be interesting. (For those who are interested, discourses on the importance of vision in large organizations provides some good background). I would suspect that individuals in culturally complex organizations have greater group morality when they believe in self-existing organization moral codes.

To explain this simply, if you believe that there are some fundamental moral codes in an organization it is likely you will be less tolerant of people who are breaking the organization’s supposed morals. The more you believe the moral codes are real, the less tolerant you will be of deviance from them. Actions that affirm the reality of the moral codes have no significant influence.


*Of course one would be very wise to do a sample of the original coding to test for accuracy. I also wonder whether distinguishing between religions with an implicit moral function instead of just overt moral function would prove significant?

Stark, R. (2001), Gods, rituals, and the moral order, Journal for the Scientific study of Religion 40(1), pp. 610-636.

Tyak & Cuban (1995) Tinkering toward utopia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Religion from the perspective of economics and rational choice theory

After encountering numerous references for Rodney Stark's work, I thought I would just bring up a couple of short thoughts about approaching religion from the perspective of economics and rational choice theory. Wilson (2002, pp. 48) summarizes this approach nicely in his book Darwin's Cathedral;

"Religion is envisioned as an economic exchange between people and imagined supernatural agents for goods that are scarce (eg., rain during a drought) or impossible (e.g., immortal life) to obtain in the real world. Religious belief is therefore rational in the sense of employing cost-benefits reasoning."

One question that arises from this approach is whether exchanges with imagined entities for impossibly given products has practical benefits? While it is possible to discuss the spin off benefits that come from emergent structures, I think the question is much more interesting when narrowed. Are there any benefits directly related to this class of exchange?

To answer this from a religious perspective, I suspect a history of exchange experiences is necessary before nuance and weight emerge. In lieu of this religiously focussed discussion, I think the question continues to get more interesting when focussed to the level of quasi-religious organizations. For example, in terms of the quasi-religious aspects of formalized education, what benefits emerge when educational players enter into exchanges for results that are essentially random or impossible to produce?

The following examples may be parallels.

Religion: A folk religion may involve dancing to end a drought.
  • An indirect effect of this action may be a changed potential for group cohesion.
  • Individuals may be indirectly affected by changing personal commitments.
  • Individuals may be directly affected by the imagined exchange by altered perceptions of religious utility.
Education: A motivational speaker gives some advice at a conference whose effects, when implemented at the level of detail understood, are essentially random.
  • An indirect effect of this action may be a changed potential for group cohesion.
  • Individuals may be indirectly affected by changing personal commitments.
  • Individuals may be directly affected by the exchange by initiating a learning cycle that produces measurable effects.
So, on one level, the question to ask is whether an altered perception of religious utility has results that are as real as a work place learning cycle? They both can spur pragmatic investigation which find practical applications. The former may be subject to greater idealistic fantasy than the latter, but is the controlling variable the degree to which practical results can be knowingly leveraged, or is the controlling variable the degree to which practical results end up being leveraged?

I suspect many people heavily weight actions whose benefits are weakly dependent on deep awareness. You shouldn't have to know sophisticated linguistic discourses to produce benefits from an elementary reading program. However, religious actions may require sophisticated cognitive awareness in order to leverage direct benefits on an individual level. (I don't think you need to really know what is going on to leverage group benefits).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Darwins Cathedral Chapter 1 pt 2

As I finish up chapter 1, Wilson mentions how genetic evolution does not only lead to closed ended processes. He references Plotkin`s (1994, as cited in Wilson 2002) concept of Darwin machines. As I understand it, these are processes which have evolved to certain levels of adaptability. The immune system and anti-body creation is cited as an example. Since Wilson`s book is about an evolutionary approach to religion, here is a quote with some far reaching implications (pp. 31, Wilson 2002),

"When physical and social environments become sufficiently variable, juke-box solutions are inadequate and the only recourse is to evolve Darwin machines."

In mormon circles, most members tend to take the approach that a restored religion will be quite similar to post iterations of the same. Now, I don`t think this implies the structure or appearance of the a church will or even should be the same. Aplogetics certainly do try and cite the similarities between early mromonism and the early Christian church - with some successes and some failures in my estimation. People tend to have an easier time projecting tight correlations between Book of Mormon religions and modern Mormonism. The viability of this approach gets clouded a bit depending the degree to which Joseph Smith`s own understandings affected his translation process.

One can dichotomize the restoration issue into two branches; 1) chruch structures should be congruent over time 2) only fundamental religious elements should be congruent over time. The first option meshes well with a positivist approach to religion. Religion is designed to reveal essential behaviour, rules, or standards. I will ignore this option as I find it rather problematic when taken to logical extremes. The second option forces a hard look at what is immutable over restoration cycles. I think such an approach would also be well informed from a universalist approach to religion. However, I think one needs to look beyond *what essential elements are common in religions" to "what essential elements are common in religions where distincitions between normal and extra-normal influence are overt".

This light takes some leverage from Wilson`s ideas. Religion should look different in different iterations because the conditions to which it responds are different. One can think of religion as a tool that allows the growth of sucessful developmental adaptations. However this doesn`t distinguish between what is momentarily beneficial and what benefits are more time independent. I think practical mormon theology is quite informed by the latter question.

For practical people, I suspect the following personal question emerges, to what extent does the learning associated with religion depend on leveraging what Darwin Machines can spit out?  Is religion about learning absolutes, or is it about knowing how to leverage fundamental routines?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Darwin's Cathedral Part 1

I have just started reading Darwin's Cathedral (Wilson, 2002).  I will pull out a few closely spaced quotes

"The belief that group selection can be categorically rejected belongs on the rubbish heap of history, alongside the earlier belief that groups always function as adaptive units," (pp.17).

"As we have seen, group selection can produce altruistic traits, but it must be exceptionally strong to oppose the strong selective disadvantage of altruism within groups. In contrast, the mechanisms that allow organisms to function as adaptive units do not appear very altruistic," (pp. 18)

"Social control, rather than highly self-sacrificial altruism, appears to solve the fundamental problem of social life at the individual level," (pp.19).

"Social control can be regarded as a form of low-cost altruism that evolves to promote behaviors that would qualify as high-cost altruism if they were performed voluntarily," (pp. 19).

Compared to other books I have read as of late, it is refreshing to read a nuanced author.  I have, unfortunately, grown accustomed to the prescriptions of amateur authors convinced of the validity of their own pet ideas.

The guidelines Wilson portrays on the valid use of multi level selection evolution theory create a strong base for discussion.  It seems like it will be extraordinarily difficult to rigorously discuss religion on these footings.  I think most people will fall into the functionalist thinking that Wilson infers doomed 60's group evolutionists.  As I explore more of this book, it will be interesting to see the extent to which social control informs religious function.

Givens' "People of Paradox" (2007), will be an interesting foil in this exploration.  To what extent do religions truly embrace the Mormon ideal represented by Brigham Young, "in these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular," (pp. 65 as cited in Givens, 2007), or Joseph Smith, "intelligence is the great object of our holy religion," (pp. 65 as cited in Givens, 2007)?  It seems as if religion is really several different characters.  It may involve a search for group benefits, personal growth through shared meaning & experience, the gift of placebo-like (or real) assurance.  One thing that seems correct to me, is that if one doesn't take the road of religious fundamentalism, religion grows in the weightlessness that exists with the tensions between fuzzy anchor points.

Now I may be projecting here, but I don't think practical religion can be separated from learning.  Of course in practice, learning can't be separated from leadership, which in these contexts, can't be separated from training.  Because of the circular nature of the situation, I would suspect one would need to be well informed on pragmatics to make much headway.

Givens, T. (2007).  People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Wilson, D. (2002).  Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and the Nature of Society, Chicago, University of Chicago.

The next iteration

Well, it has been quite a while since I posted anything on this blog. In looking at my stat counter, a few random visitors still appear -surprising

The LDS bloggernacle has changed quite a bit in the last two years. The volume of blogs has grown exponentially. My blog has tapered dramatically. Since I don’t read for content as much as for the opportunity to delve into new ways of thinking, I found I was getting nearly the same benefit letting new ideas gel as I was reading detail.   Content for content's sake has just never been my thing.

Nonetheless, I have found it important to leverage the space that occurs when balancing tensions between new ideas, nuance, and the solidification of thought patterns occur. In this light, I am hoping to take some time to put some more of my thoughts down on paper.

My motivations for writing differ from my older posts. My older posts were mainly self serving attempts of fun.  It was quite liberating not having to make things overly coherent, logical, or especially understandable.  My old posts were more a journal of my own thoughts written to help me along the journey to difficult knowledge (Pitt & Britzman, 2003). This time around, I hope to explore social dynamics of group commitment. In particular, I hope to play with the kernels from which religious or quasi-religious thoughts arise.  

Pitt, A. & , Britzman, D. (2003). Speculations on qualities of difficult knowledge in teaching and learning: an experiment in psychoanalytic research. Qualitative Studies in Education, 16(6), 755-776.