Nothing Seems Real
Bruno Maçaes | The Magic Of Conversation | Elsewhere | Shorttermism
Quote of the Moment
Our traditional way of relating to the world has increasingly collapsed. Nothing seems real, and doubts persist about what to think or say in the face of this new situation.
| Bruno Maçaes, The Roleplaying Coup
The Magic Of Conversation
I long argued that decision-making can benefit from a rethinking of the techniques and philosophy of group interaction. In particular, by relying more on consent than consensus, as I wrote in Who Gets to Decide? Decision-Making for Organizations:
Consent is an approach to group decision-making that starts where consensus does, a group comes together to wrestle with a decision-to-be-made, but with a different finish line. Instead of seeking full agreement on a hammered-out solution, or falling back to a democratic majority opinion, the driver for the decision seeks to get all involved to consent to a worked-out solution. Consent is not consensus. Members can make objections to a proposed solution, but not because they don’t like it. They have to state the objection, and the Driver can amend the solution to respond to the objection, so at some point all objections are resolved.
As Ted Rau describes it:
"Consent is defined as ‘no objection’. Not having an objection is slightly different from agreeing. We refer to that extra space as the range of tolerance. We don’t have to find the overlap of our preferences in order to make a decision. Instead, we seek the overlap of our ranges of tolerances which gives us much more to work with."
However, even when not working toward full consensus, it is common for people to have difficulties developing a shared understanding of the factors driving the issues under discussion, and even earlier, when actually seeking consensus.
New research suggests that there is a way forward:
“Much of our lives seem to be in this sort of Rashomon situation — people see things in different ways and have different accounts of what’s happening,” Beau Sievers, a social neuroscientist at Dartmouth College, said.
A few years ago, Dr. Sievers devised a study to improve understanding of how exactly a group of people achieves a consensus and how their individual brains change after such discussions. The results, recently published online but not yet peer-reviewed, showed that a robust conversation that results in consensus synchronizes the talkers’ brains — not only when thinking about the topic that was explicitly discussed, but related situations that were not.
The experiment involved watching short movie clips, and discussing what went on in the scenes.
There is a natural metronome in the cadence of conversation that tends to get people’s minds in sync:
“Conversation is our greatest tool to align minds,” said Thalia Wheatley, a social neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who advises Dr. Sievers. “We don’t think in a vacuum, but with other people.”
But this conversational convergence can be undone, easily:
The study also revealed at least one factor that makes it harder to reach accord: a group member whose strident opinions drown out everyone else.
The experiment also underscored a dynamic familiar to anyone who has been steamrollered in a work meeting: An individual’s behavior can drastically influence a group decision. Some of the volunteers tried to persuade their groupmates of a cinematic interpretation with bluster, by barking orders and talking over their peers. But others — particularly those who were central players in the students’ real-life social networks — acted as mediators, reading the room and trying to find common ground.
The groups with blowhards were less neurally aligned than were those with mediators, the study found. Perhaps more surprising, the mediators drove consensus not by pushing their own interpretations, but by encouraging others to take the stage and then adjusting their own beliefs — and brain patterns — to match the group.
“Being willing to change your own mind, then, seems key to getting everyone on the same page,” Dr. Wheatley said.
Once again, an argument for strong opinions, weakly held as a foundation for living a principled life, and getting people to pull together.
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[Wonkish]: Refining A New Taskidian for Obsidian — On Workings, I detail how I manage my projects — ‘work processing’ — using the Obsidian platform. Very wonkish.
How I Take Notes When Doing Research — Following a suggestion by Clive Thompson.
I mentioned a post in the previous section — Who Gets to Decide? Decision-Making for Organizations — which is one of three in a series I wrote for Reworked. The other two are Throw Out Your Decision-Making Process and With Decision-Making, You Have to Go Slow to Go Fast.
Ross Dawson interviewed me for his Thriving On Overload series (after the book of the same name). Here’s an excerpt:
Ross: How do you pull out what is relevant? Something which you do need to capture or to do something with, how do you identify what it is? What do you do with that to pull that into your framework of thinking?
Stowe: I think I operate on the Feynman notion that you have a list of 12 questions or so that are important to you so you’re always on the lookout for information that adds to, clarifies, or debunks things you’ve already been thinking about. I definitely have that. I’ve got this list of topics and when they reoccur, I’m very interested, I capture, read, and try to assimilate it. I was doing this before we got on the call. I was reading about this characterization of the two sides of the world, virtuals versus physicals, and people who are grounded in those worlds.
This aligns with other discussions that are important to me about how does the world work, and how are politics and economics changing. I copied two things that I was reading this morning, put them in my Obsidian vault, and highlighted the things I thought were critical. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, I’ll go back and write something, and pluck that quote from Christopher Lasch and that other thing from N.S. Lyons and it’ll find its way into something that I synthesize and try to help me make sense of the world, then I’ll share it somewhere.
It’s worth a look.
As Ferris Bueller once said,
Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself.
(or, slightly updated, ‘they should believe in theirself’).
Ferris was echoing Joycelyn Elders’ stance, in the definition of ism below.
1: a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory
2: an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief — We all have got to come to grips with our isms— Joycelyn Elders
1a: act : practice : process criticism — plagiarism
b: manner of action or behavior characteristic of a (specified) person or thing — animalism
c: prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a (specified) attribute — racism, sexism
2a: state : condition : property — barbarianism
b: abnormal state or condition resulting from excess of a (specified) thing — alcoholism — or marked by resemblance to (such) a person or thing — giantism
3a: doctrine : theory : religion — Buddhism
b: adherence to a system or a class of principles — stoicism
4: characteristic or peculiar feature or trait — colloquialism
However, we obviously need to use isms to discuss important issues, even though they tend to stick to those that use them, like gum on your shoe.
I’ve read a great deal lately about the supposed need for longtermism as a means to deal with the polycrisis we are confronted by, as with William MacKaskill’s What We Owe The Future:
I was mulling over the principles of longtermism, and wondering if it was applicable to changes we need to make in the world of work.
Let’s start with a description, lifted from The Case for Longtermism that MacAskill wrote for the New York Times recently:
These are some of the questions that motivate longtermism: the idea that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time.