Mitch Skiles

Owner/Contributor, LuxPerci.com

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Can we look at the past when looking for future solutions to modern problems?

I read a book called "The Black Swan" by Nassim Taleb which proposes the idea that the world is incredibly unpredictable. These "Black Swan" events control integral moments in the history of our species; whether that be a stock market crash or 9/11. In hindsight we may see a trend, but at any given moment the future of a new black swan event is impossible to predict. I am wondering that if this is the case, can we still look into the past to find solutions to problems. I did an analysis of Israel while looking for a solution to the Arab-Israeli Conflict and found an interesting economic trend when compared to cooperation. (If you would like to read my study visit http://luxperci.com/solution-arab-israeli-conflict/ ) Is this a fair assumption?

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    na YAN

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    Aug 21 2012: I think we definitely could look back for the solutions to solve the problems of the future,but the history will not give us the answers directly. We live in a multi-connected world , the past, the present,and the future , you、me and others,we need to analyze base on the facts and our knowledge!
  • Aug 22 2012: As I mentioned in my previous post, I am a big fan of history and its lessons.

    A few months ago I read about a small corporation that used cell phones with GPS and tablet computers to run their business. The business had no central location. The address for tax purposes was the office of its accounting firm. The mail address was a PO Box. When they, rarely, needed a meeting space they rented it for an hour or two. The description of how the business used technology, with both off-the-shelf and custom applications, was unlike anything I had ever encountered.

    It would be easy to dismiss this as just a technological advance. But it goes beyond just the technology. These people were thinking very differently from the way I learned to solve problems. They completely ignored all past concepts about organizing a business and started from scratch. The relationships between the people are not hierarchical. They were completely open to change, the only criteria was to do what works today. Any businesses trying to compete with these people had better be extremely adaptable. It made me wonder how much of the MBA curricula in our universities is still applicable.

    I was designing business systems just ten years ago. I realized that everything I knew about business systems was obsolete. And so are the business systems of many of our big corporations. This is a rate of change that is new in history.

    I read about another group of people that completely rebuild their business every six months. This has nothing to do with technology and has much to do with the changing values of society, as in marketing.

    The rate of change is accelerating. Some people are adapting to this fact, and it seems that part of that adaptation is the willingness to discard the past along with its lessons. I have no doubt that discarding the lessons of the past will involve a cost, but these people seem to be thinking that the benefits outweigh the cost.
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      Aug 22 2012: Hi Barry,
      This sounds GREAT from a business stand point. Do you think the same would apply (discarding the past along with its lessons) when dealing with human relations, violation of human rights, etc.?

      I believe we are intelligent enough to choose what lessons we want to discard or not, and I think/feel we need to find the balance.
      • Aug 22 2012: Colleen, I just don't know.

        I am not sure that these people are taking the right path, long term. The first business I described said that so far most of their meetings were for celebrations, so they are enjoying success so far.

        I am not really trying to make a case here, just trying to explain why I very much fear this accelerating pace of change. We are creating a culture in which adaptability will be extremely highly valued, and traditional concepts of knowledge (lessons learned) may be obsolete. Animals, and especially humans, are not built to function that way. We try something and if it produces good results, we try it again; if it produces bad results we will not try it again. This is the way we are built, and it may not work in an environment where the time scale for this cycle is approaching zero.

        I have read about the hookup culture in our colleges, and I think that is another aspect of this. Young people are free to explore sex without fear of pregnancy, and with condoms, little fear of disease. And explore they do, causing themselves a great deal of confusion and emotional trauma. They desperately need guidance, but our old ideas do not work

        I never would have believed that the USA would condone torture, but it has. I think part of the reason is that our leaders thought the old ideas did not fit the modern world. I think they were wrong, but many of them still believe they made the right choice, justified by their observations that the current world has little similarity to the past.

        Maybe my fears are just a reflection of growing older. But it seems that we are building a culture that is not suitable for humans. If so, some kind of crash is the usual result.
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          Aug 23 2012: Barry,
          I honestly do not think/feel that lessons learned will ever be obsolete. Nobody can erase the information we have, and I believe it will always be relevant. I DO agree that we are moving at a fast paced change, and adaptability is, and will be valuable.

          As evolving humans, the thinking process is expanding all the time, and the exploration of life still requires trial and error. However, I believe our trial and error may be getting more advanced, so it is exactly as you say....we need to adjust and adapt maybe faster than we have in the past?

          Perhaps it is as you say....we are building a culture not suitable....
          However, it is humans who are creating it, so you are saying that we may be destroying ourselves? Crashing? I don't honestly think so, but there are no guarentees in life, and that I am pretty sure of....fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on one's perception:>)
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      Aug 22 2012: This ia exactly the approach that was taken by one of the very successful micro breweries in the USA. They ended up producing more than Coors did and were far more profitable in a declining market. We studied it extensively in my MBA. It appears to be the way of the future.
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    Aug 22 2012: The past is our repository of available knowledge and experience. To ignore it would be lunacy.
    • Aug 23 2012: Hi Edward,

      I actually agree with you. Unfortunately, my logic seems to be telling me that we are approaching a point in history in which lunacy is the effective approach to progress. I comfort myself with the thought that I am probably wrong.
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        Aug 23 2012: Disdain for the past and a giddy delight for all things new is, sadly, not an uncommon behavior in our post-modern world. I join you Barry in doubting that lunacy will ever be the effective approach to progress, although it may become the popular approach.
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    Aug 21 2012: Albert Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." And then there is, of course, Santayana saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Much in the world is unpredictable. Much of it is not. The past illustrates many times over the struggle between the powerful and the masses of humanity. And that, it has been suggested many times over, is the fundamental problem facing humankind.
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    Aug 21 2012: I think past experiences does play a pivotal role in making right decisions which provide solutions to the problems that you face in the present and which there by provides you a vigilant behaviour.Often people say you make wise decisions only when you have made unwise decisions in the past.
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      Aug 21 2012: I agree Chetan, that it's important to evaluate the past, and use the information to improve our present and future. If we do not look at the past, and understand why certain things worked, or why they did not work, we may continue with behaviors that do not benefit the whole of humanity. We learn from the past, as you insightfully say:>)
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        Aug 21 2012: What about the random factors (ie Luck) that caused things to work or not work. Couldn't that time be better spent focusing on making a robust plan to protect from future uncertainty rather than try to force your way through it with plans from the past?
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          Aug 22 2012: Hi Mitch,
          Life is full of "random factors", is it not? I believe the more information we have as individuals, or as a whole, the better choices we can make for ourselves and the good of humankind.

          I think/feel that we create our lives, and it is information that contributes to how we orchestrate our lives....both as individuals and a global community.

          What is luck in your perception? Many people tell me I am "lucky" my life is how it is...content....with opportunity and diverse experiences. OH....and by the way, I had cancer, a near fatal head/brain injury, have degenerative disc dis-ease in the spine, and a few other challenges. Lucky? I don't think so. I think I made lemonade with lemons, and we can do that as a global community.

          I look at the past for the purpose of learning, and I truly believe it is important to look at the past in the global community for the purpose of learning as well. What causes things to work or not work many times, is the decisions that humans make.

          I am not advocating forcing our way through anything with plans from the past. I am suggesting to look carefully at the past, and formulate plans for the present and future that improve conditions in our global community, rather than cause more chaos.

          For example, consider slavery, or abuse and violation of human rights in other forms. I venture to say that the majority of people in our world believe that these conditions should not exist? But they do.

          If we look at the past for information, we find that one important factor which contributes to abuse and violation of rights is isolation. With the communication systems we now have, it is more difficult to isolate people, and that could be a factor toward changing that challenge.

          I say that if we don't know where we've been, we don't know where we are going. I'm not sure if we have any "modern problems". History repeats itself and the problems may manifest in a different form, but based on the same underlying challenges.
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        Aug 22 2012: I really enjoyed reading what you had to say! Thanks so much! Just to further present the other side of this: If we focus on learning from the past to prevent it from repeating itself (this has been the case for a long number of years) than why does it continue to repeat itself? Do you think perhaps people are missing something in their studies? Are we not focusing on the right areas in the past which could ameliorate problems which might manifest themselves in the future. I just find it hard to believe that the past holds the answers when thousands of years of history have been written and analyzed and relatively very little has changed when it comes to the core problems of humanity. Maybe its because modern people are too lazy to actually utilize the lessons learned from the past, or maybe its because the past doesn't hold all the answers and we are too lazy or short-sighted to look elsewhere. Just some thoughts
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          Aug 22 2012: Well thanks Mitch:>)
          You ask the billion dollar question...why does it continue to repeat itself? Do I think we are missing something? Not focusing? Lazy? Fail to utilize lessons? Short-sighted? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.....yes.

          I believe we (humans) are not paying attention. We have been gathering information for many years....when will it be time to act/react? I believe we have begun, and I really think TED is a valuable part of that process....people around the world connecting, sharing ideas with the same or similar focus.

          One of my favorite quotes because I believe it to be true:
          "One of the great difficulties in the new order of thought is that we are likely to indulge in too much theory and too little practice".
          "The Science of Mind" - Ernest Holmes

          We have a lot of the information we need to change our world, and now we need to impliment it don't you think? We are not as isolated any more, and when many people get together, sharing the same vision, it is very powerful:>)
        • Aug 22 2012: Mitch, thanks for a great conversation.

          Sometimes we ignore the past out of Hubris. When the USA was considering war with Iraq someone in the government tried to point out to the bigwigs that historically this was not a good idea. His reply was that we are now smarter than history.

          Such folks are hopeless.
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    Gail .

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    Aug 26 2012: In my opinion, you have skipped the essential part of the story in your web site. "The Versailles Treaty".

    The Versailles Treaty is the single, underlying reason for the rise of Hitler. It placed such severe sanctions on the German people that the German economy was destroyed. Inflation was so severe that it took a wheelbarrow of money to buy a single loaf of bread. Starvation and homeless was so great (in a land with harsh winters) that it was not uncomon to get up in the morning to find another corpse on the doorstep. The best of the farm lands were given to France. Denmark took its share as well. New national borders were artificially created in the middle east - bringing incompatible groups together (Sunis and Shias for example).

    If you take a group of people and do that to them, at some point, you can be assured that a leader will rise and put an end to the horrors. Hitler was Germany's choice. Iran and Iraq had theirs.

    Antisemitism was GREAT throughout Europe. What's the name of the boat that traveled the world asking for asylum for the Jews on it? It was sent back to Germany where the military met the Jews at the docks.

    When the war ended, rather than giving Germany to the Jews, Europe didn't want Jews on their own doorstep, so they were encouraged to go to Palestine.

    England had promised to cede control of "Palestine" to the "Palestinians" if they joined England in its war against the Turks. For the 1400 years or so before that, the Jewish and Arab inhabitants lived mostly in peace with one another. Their religions and values were so much in common that there wasn't much to fight about. England reneged out of a desire to rid themselves of Jews. Sunis and Shias were not at war with selves or Jews.

    Now compare the core problems with the Versailles Treaty ($$$$$$$ - greed & thievery & hate) with what is happening in the Middle East, and it's obvious that we have learned nothing, because we let emotions get in the way of truth.
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    Aug 23 2012: Past is foundation of Future. We can always get solutions from past experiences. Why do we pay more to experienced people?
  • Aug 23 2012: Interesting question. You could certainly look at the past in terms of performance. What worked and what didn't work in relation to our current problem(s) and future solutions. The scientific method comes to mind here. One might also revert back to a previous state of being that is more apt to a transition of a new state of being, if the current state of being was found undesirable and not sustainable. You could also look at the past in terms of values that dominated a society finding solutions of tomorrow within those same value, but with different and updated approaches that one has available in the current society. The keyword here is of course 'evolving', with yesterdays values.
  • Aug 22 2012: Throughout my life I have believed that we must study history and look to the past for its lessons. . For me, this idea is being challenged by a new aspect of modern life, the accelerating rate of change.

    I am not well read in this area, so please understand that I am posing these ideas from the very humble position of a student hoping to find answers.

    It seems to me that modern western civilization might be developing a trap for itself.

    The success of the human species, especially since the invention of the printing press, has largely been due to our ability to pass knowledge to the next generation. We are succeeding so well that the pace of change is accelerating exponentially.

    This pace of change might soon be pushing the limits of human adaptability.

    I fear that when the key to survival depends on rapid adaptability to new situations, then the lessons passed down from the older generations could be fatal. We might be approaching something like a tipping point, when relying on what is still our best source of solutions could prove to be exactly the wrong thing to do. Should we be looking for this point and be prepared to radically change our methods?
  • Aug 21 2012: Yes as so called 'modern problems' are just a repeat of the past. We never seem to learn.
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    Aug 21 2012: Mitch, Yes, with caution. Often we see only cause and effect. There are so many factors that go into success and failure that are often overlooked. Social, environmental, and economic conditions at the time of the event, global events that impacted the success / failure, models in place, political influence, etc ...

    The second major point I would like to present: History is written by the victor and from the political standpoint that was prevelent at the time.

    Caution should be taken as much of History is being revisited and some re-written that disregard documents that are available written at the time of the event. History revisionists present a danger to basing any model on revised history.

    We often use apples to oranges when a apples to apples requirement exists.

    What is in place today that was not available to the historical event. What is the impact. What are the advantages / dis-advantages. Probabilities of success.

    Yep, I include the past in planning for the future but I try to be sure I am using apples to apples and the whole picture of the past model and the current projected model when measuring the probalities of success.

    P.S. I like LuxPerci and the arguments presented there.

    All the best. Bob.
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      Aug 21 2012: I like your perspective. Don't you think that sometimes people wrongly compare apples to apples as well though. I understand what you are referring to above and I totally agree, but there are some instances where the actual connection is made between two seemingly unrelated things. If your are familiar with freakanomics than I assume you are also familiar with their linking of legalized abortion to crime prevention. They seem unrelated, apples to oranges, but it turns out that perhaps there is a connection between the two. If abortion is legal, parents who wouldnt be able to spend time caring and supporting their children in rough neighborhoods wouldnt create the kids that would grow up with nowhere else to go but the streets.


      Also thanks for the compliment on my site! I presented more of my views on this topic in another article if you or anyone else is interested: http://luxperci.com/certainly-uncertain/
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        Aug 21 2012: Absolutely. You may get a red delicious when a granny smith is desired. Freakanomics tells us to not be hasty in disregarding input. I try to recall there is a sublime and a rediculious in all things.

        There is always someone who wants to shove 10 pounds of stuff into the five pound bag.

        When I was in charge I had a simple trick that served me well. I compose a letter / answer etc .... and put in in my left hand drawer. I pulled it out again the next day and if it still met the needs, made sense, etc ... I posted it. I did this because many time new info, poor wording, bad composure, or events that overcome the issue became evident and I wished I had waited. This practice resolved that problem. I was no wiser but looked dumb less often. They were still my errors if they happened but I owned them and made every effort to make a informed decision based on information at hand.

        All the best. Bob.
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          Aug 21 2012: "You may get a red delicious when a granny smith is desired." - I really like this and will probably quote you on it! Thanks, great input
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      Aug 21 2012: I AM in heaven, TWO men who read and liked that part of Freakencomics! OMG!
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        Aug 21 2012: Heaven is where angels belong ..... Bob
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          Aug 21 2012: YOU do my heart so much good.
          Thank you.
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        Aug 22 2012: It was fascinating, especially with most of my family in law enforcement!
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          Aug 22 2012: YIKES! I Was married to a cop for 28 years!
  • Aug 20 2012: To me Taleb was talking about probability, routines, and truly unexpected occurances. Some of the heroes in his books are the mathematician Mendelbrot and the physicist Ed Thorp. Plus, I may be throwing in material from his book fooled by radomness. This is a business prof MBA Wharton and PhD University of Paris. Last time I checked the intermet he teaches at NYU I believe. Remember this guy is like Joseph Conrad lot's of languages and what I've read was in English. Me only poor English. There may be some confusion in reading these outstanding books. It's like reading Keynes or Deming. He is widely quatred by several Nobel Prize winners in Economics- Not because they want to do so it's unavoidable. He is also a character in the book Quants. However, Doesn't The Tipping Point make you uncomfortable enough. Also, in 1841 Charles Mckay wrote a book called Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Maybe we don't want to know. Look at the AMerican Real estate Market. Waybe you are suggesting through this all together in some sort of phenomonology. Not a bad idea. Ed Thorpe and others have made alot of money doing what he feels uncomfortable about. So has he.
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      Aug 20 2012: Just in case anyone wants to follow up on your leads, George, I think the mathematician you want is named Mandelbrot. He is most celebrated for his work related to fractals and chaos theory, both of which involve working out processes (including predicting) in situations often combining something systematic and something random.
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    Aug 20 2012: Here is a recently posted talk by Hannah Fry that demonstrates how even within complexity, models can be used to predict: http://www.ted.com/talks/hannah_fry_is_life_really_that_complex.html
  • Aug 30 2012: I think that political and economical structures should evolve and adapt to contemporary problems.
    The problem is that on modern days the world share a common destiny.
  • Aug 28 2012: Yes, we can look at the past to understand how future problems can be solved.
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    Aug 28 2012: Absolutely. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. The past repeats itself. Look at Rome for example. Over-extended miiltary, government corruption, utilizing illegal immigrants for agricultural work, decreased birth rates due to abortion, contraception and prostitution, obsession with sports and entertainment, redistribution of wealth to gain political votes (i.e. bread and circus events), exporting their culture (i.e. for us McDonalds, Nike, etc.), decrease in morality, inflation. Sound familiar?
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    Gail .

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    Aug 26 2012: In re-reading your offered post ( http://luxperci.com/solution-arab-israeli-conflict/ ), it seems that you are SUGGESTING that we repeat the past to fix the present.

    You suggest taking people who have been turned into enemies and forcing them to share a government, AND you are suggesting a national bank that represents the fundamental breach that causes today's distress. That's what the Versailles Treaty that started this whole mess did. It was all about money and power.
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      Aug 26 2012: Thank you. I did indeed look to the past to formulate a solution to the problem which is why I posed the question (and have been playing devil's advocate) However through doing that research I found many examples and studies of the moderates opinions of each other (which constitutes the majority) and found that in reality the "enemies" you talk about are actually a small minority that consume much of the media's attention. So it isn't necessarily accurate to say that a shared state would be impossible (if the extremists were not in control). I do however agree that money and power played an integral part of creating this mess (as they both play parts in the majority of the world's problems) however money can also be used for good when you take power and greed out of the equation. And there are many instances in the past and present that indicate this. Whether or not it is fair to assume such a generalization however is quite controversial (as seen in this discussion)
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    Aug 24 2012: There is a lot of information in the past; that is why nations and individuals are usually considered foolish when they do not learn from experience.
    Gadgets and technology may change; but human nature will remain the same(just as fishes will always live in water).
    Considering the human factor, there is basically nothing new, and there is a lot to know by looking into the past. When the human aspect is right, then there is no problem.
  • Aug 21 2012: Fritzie Of course, you are right. Of on a tangent but those are such neat books. I was running around reading stuff trying to figure out what happened to the American economy and generation screwed. Really the initial question before the commjents which so intgerested me Yes, I foujnd it tgo myt satisfaction in Ricardo and also Econ101 and History 102. There are slways people who manipulate others for their own ends. the psychologist Robert Cialdini has written at least two (2) books showing how things are sold. Read this and you can use it defensively. So were being robbed and if one paid attention in the eolementary courses and were not impressed with great credentials and welath We might be aable to identify some real crooks. So Mitch is right, and I did lose a nice amount of money in my business to a salesman who did a take-away. But to ruin a whole generation -now that's bad.
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    Aug 21 2012: I guess the bigger question to ask here is "What is the job of the historian?" Are they looking at the past to keep us from repeating it, or are they merely a form of artist trying to piece together and appreciate The Human?
    • Aug 21 2012: I realize that perfect objectivity is not possible, but I would hope that most historians are just trying their best to record what actually happened, and do it in a way that is interesting. It is the job of the problem solvers to use the output from the historians to improve their solutions. It is the job of the artist to use the output of the historians as inspiration.

      I suppose some people could combine these roles, but I sure hope someone is just trying to give us the truth of our past. We need it, for many purposes.
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        Aug 22 2012: We need it, for many purposes

        Seconded.
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        Aug 22 2012: Condoleezza Rice has been quoted saying this: “Today's headlines and history's judgment are rarely the same."

        your thoughts?
        • Aug 22 2012: I just pointed out that historians should write the truth. If you want more of my obvious thoughts, here they are:

          -- Headlines must grab attention to sell.
          -- Journalists are not historians, and should not try to write as historians write.
          -- I do not know the context of her statement, but I strongly suspect that Condoleezza Rice's statement was self serving.
          -- Historians enjoy the perspective of distance (through time), can frame events in the context more extensively, and they enjoy the luxury of doing extensive research. Also, historians do not have a daily deadline.

          Thats about it. Real profound thoughts will cost you.
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          Aug 22 2012: Mitch Darling - you quote a NeoCon to me?
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      Aug 22 2012: When you asked whether we should or should not take into account the past as we approach modern problems, I understood you to mean experience rather than the work of historians.

      Did I misunderstand?
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        Aug 22 2012: Either perspective is appreciated, I meant both, because I think each has its own value
  • Aug 21 2012: I think if we are looking at the past to have a solution in the future problems, i think it's not good because past is always a memories and present is what we are going to focus because looking at the past cannot solve the problem.
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      Aug 21 2012: It is interesting that you point that out. Anyone who studies psychology or neuroscience knows how vulnerable memories are and how easily they become changed from what actually happened.
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        Aug 22 2012: These are my own ballywicks and still I believe that one does not rely on merely their own memory, although it shapes all incoming information but we are astute enough to realize the depth of need and use our smarts to comb through literature and other people's thinking to arrive at novel solutions for pressing problems. This is what EVERY field must be based upon.
  • Aug 20 2012: Politicians have failed. They don't work, they don't solve problems. They create them or make them worse.
    Government has failed. It doesn't work and is only intrusive and becoming Fascist. Money has failed. Ooops. It is going to completely fail and soon, or are most thinking this insanity will just go on and on? What kind of lies do you tell yourself? Voting doesn't work. Who do you vote for? Rather, now, who do they allow you to vote for and for what? Most things are passed without your knowledge or consent.
    How much longer do people have to look "backward" to see this?
    How far back do they have to look before they see a pattern that shows them, "this is no good. It's a lie. It doesn't, oops, it isn't working, still!"

    Yet you wish to discuss how to solve problems by allowing those in power, who stand between people and the solution, to go on not solving them!
    As the next 10 years pass, fewer and fewer humans will have their problems solved at all.
    They will perish because of them, while only a few will benefit and tighten their control so that they don't have to squirm around in the muck that everyone else is in. But, they will continue planning how they are going to solve what is broken, with broken tools, and the same old circular, going-nowhere thinking that is evident in and descriptive of, insane behavior.

    You don't have to look back, You already know what should have been done. You already know what doesn't, didn't and won't work. You already can remember the past well enough to repeat it again, and again and again, and again, and again..........................................
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      Aug 21 2012: So you appear to be suggesting that we all give up and that is NOT viable. If you know what should be done why have YOU not done it? We could all use the help but it seems to me that helping others in not a major priority of those who hold his viewpoint.
      • Aug 21 2012: How does that translate into giving up?
        I never said that. That is your take on first admitting the truth, me thinks.
        The truth is what is and it means and demands taking action, not giving up.
        I believe that is why so many people get angry when the truth is mentioned. They don't want to hear it.
        Hearing it means one has to do something. Actually, it makes it easier to find what to do, or rather what each individual can surmise they can do, as we are all different, in different circumstances and in different places, but all in the same boat.

        And you assume I am not doing anything without even checking first.
        All I said was we continue to repeat what we have proven doesn't work and yet we refuse to let go of what doesn't work in order to keep the mess alive. There is something very wrong there and it is global, collective, mental illness bordering on insanity.
        So, at least trying to say, or get people to truly recognize the insane behavior they practice is an attempt to see if it is possible for the global, collective, mentally ill, to have a real moment of sanity.
        They are insane! What is wrong with trying to do that?

        "it seems to me that helping others in not a major priority of those who hold his viewpoint."
        Just who are these people you are referring to and what viewpoint is that?
        To me, those in power are perfectly unwilling to do anything that will solve human suffering, inequality, poverty, slavery, and stop their investments in war and death and dying.

        So, they have to go. What does it take to accomplish that?
        That needs to come first in my opinion. And trying to wake people up is another thing I do.
        It is very hard working with people who are asleep and only want to be gently awakened. It is going to be their world, not mine. I won't be around.

        Example: To repeat something I've said, that I believe is true rather than what most believe or accept..
        Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.
        You cannot repeat what you cannot remember.
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    Aug 20 2012: I still believe we can look to the past to find ideas for solving problems and for promising components out of which to build solutions . Circumstances tend not to be the same twice, but we can learn about the conditions under which certain types of strategies tend to work to some degree and the situations under which they tend to fail.
    We look to build solutions that seem they would have a decent chance of working, but recognize whether they will work is uncertain. In view of the uncertainty, it is often wise to take into account the reversability of the actions we take or to assemble a strategy that allows for midstream adjustments and mid-course corrections.
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      Aug 20 2012: But don't you think that perhaps in focusing on finding a solution which will be robust to past circumstances you end up "wasting" time that could have been used to develop a new system to actually account for the uncertainty of the future. Let's look at the field of economics and finances for example. We have had hundreds of years of study devoted to understanding human and market behavior. It just doesn't seem right to me that in the year 2009 the United States economy could all but totally collapse. If it truly were possible to study the past to develop strong policies than you would think that after a few hundred years of this (or even thousands) that an event like that just would not occur. Yet, if the focus would have been to understand that the future is understand and then develop policies to decrease liability when taking risk, there wouldnt have been such a great problem with the banking industry and housing market.
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        Aug 20 2012: The reason that I do not think any time is wasted in the traditional sense, is that people who are inclined by nature and interest to solve societal problems are all working in parrallel. We seldom really bring committees together or if we do, they are extraneous to the actual solutions. I think they often come from one independent thinker who, when connected to another who is fascinated by the same thing -makes progress. The job of society to my mind is to uncover and to support these thinkers to help us all.
        Oh, and to the overarchiing question, I think the solutions come from past situations, combined with new ways of conceptualizing the problem but all of the ingredients are like elements, they are already here but they might take a new form as new components from other thinkers take shape.
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          Aug 21 2012: That is, in fact, how I understood your meaning, Debra.

          My reference to the error in attitude toward experiments in the past was not to your statement but rather to the problem as it was posed in the thread. Just because circumstances have throughout history continuously changed and because circumstances are different in different locations does not mean our history in the successful and unsuccessful application of policies and strategies is irrelevant to other times and places. On the contrary, how things have played out in practice provides essential insights into the conditions in the environment to which the effectiveness of the strategy is sensitive.
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        Aug 20 2012: Debra wrote, "I think the solutions come from past situations, combined with new ways of conceptualizing the problem but all of the ingredients are like elements, they are already here but they might take a new form as new components from other thinkers take shape. "

        I think what Debra responded is often valid and i would say the more so if one allows also for throwing in a twist that is newly available.

        The error would only be in assuming an option robust to past circumstances would necessarily be robust in new circumstances. The same issue arises in a short time frame in trying to to transfer a policy approach to a new location.

        Sometimes this consideration is called "external validity." That is, does the policy or policy component likely transfer to the new environment.
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          Aug 21 2012: Not quite, Fritzie, but perhaps I did not express it well. Previous solutions in their circumstances plus accomodation to new circumstance with the input of other thinkers who bring in their components of new thought using the sum total of new advancements should eventually produce new solutions which are well suited for today's dilemmas. The - elements are there - they just need to be synthesised through new thinking.
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      Aug 21 2012: Fritzie, language is often inaccurate and I always welcome the chance to be more clear. Thank you for your consistently clear and concise use of language. I aspire to be better. Thank you too for your kind response.