Tuesday, February 24, 2009


In 1943 Arturo Rosenblueth set the basis of cybernetics, proposing that behavior controlled by negative feedback, whether in animal, human or machine, was a determinative, directive principle in nature. Cybernetics focuses on how anything (digital, mechanical or biological) processes information, reacts to information, and changes to better accomplish the first two tasks. It is "the art of ensuring the efficacy of action" according to Louis Couffignal. A premise one might find implied here is that the stimulus behind behavior is the achievment of a goal.

Sound familiar? This has a lot to do with procrastination. In the field of psychology, the importance of monitoring and regulating one's attention to a task prompted George Miller to coin the acronym T.O.T.E.: test-operate-test-exit. In the same breath we could also talk about optimal foraging theory and control theory (a close sister to cybernetics). Each employs a specific example of the classic feedback model. In general terms, feedback is the process in which part of the output of a system is returned to its input in order to regulate its further output. Dare I say it, this is the most important principle for self-regulation in the battle against procrastination. Of course, it cannot address all the fundamental reasons for irrational delay, but it is a very big piece. (Sources: Don't Delay and as usual Wikipedia.)

Postscript 01 March 2009:
In 1973 William Powers built upon ideas like those of Rosenblueth's. He proposed the Perceptual Control Theory model of behavioral organization, which states that living organisms are closed-loop systems that act to keep perceptual variables in pre-specified states, protected from disturbances caused by variations in environmental circumstances. Which makes sense when considering a quote from Claude Bernard (1813-1878): "The constancy of the internal environment is the condition for a free and independent life."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The predator's mind is always fixed on its prey. It's senses are tuned to seek it out. It's body is ready to attack it. "I will not be robbed of the joy of victory. Success will be mine."
Nature, red in tooth and claw -Tennyson

What reaction does this photo elicit from the human observer? It is easier to identify with the seal, but if you were in the mind of the shark what would you be thinking or feeling? Aggression, hatred, fear, joy? None of the above? Source

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

predatory animal

If efficient goal pursuit is similar to hunting, and predatory animals symbolize hunting, which predator might represent this best?

Phyllocrania paradoxa
Able to actively hunt or ambush with lightning fast limbs and sharp vision, while remaining camouflaged in appearance and motion, the praying mantis wins my vote for most successful predator. As PZ noted, evolution does not create perfect predators, but only "good enough". Even so, though mantids primarily catch and eat other invertebrates, they are notorious for a taxonomically diverse diet that may include amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, given the opportunity. Considering we are talking about a lowly insect, whose closest relatives are cockroaches, this is no small feat.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

predatory behavior and the goal of an easy meal

I have visited the subjects of apex predators (in 2005), camouflage, and competition in the past. Here I've edited a selection of material from Wikipedia on the subject of hunting, which I believe can be very instructive when considering efficient goal pursuit:

The act of predation can be broken down into a maximum of four stages: Detection of prey, attack, capture and finally consumption. Optimal foraging theory states that all organisms, including predators, will act in such a way as to maximize their energy intake per unit time. In other words, they behave in such a way as to find, capture and consume food containing the most calories while expending the least amount of time and energy possible in doing so.

Predators may hunt actively for prey, or sit and wait for prey to approach within striking distance. Ambush predators or sit-and-wait predators are carnivorous animals that capture prey by stealth or cunning, not by speed or necessarily by strength. These organisms usually hide motionless and wait for prey to come within striking distance. They are often camouflaged, and may be solitary. Camouflage, a form of crypsis, involves concealment and obscurity; it is not limited to the commonly encountered visual camouflage of color, shape, and pattern, but encompasses other senses as well to deceive the observer into making a false judgment about the camouflaged object. Predators may also use mimicry to lure, traps or tools to catch, and complex weaponry to subdue and kill their prey.

In much of the world, humans are the largest, best-organized, most cunning, and most powerful predators. Nonetheless, broadly speaking, optimal foraging theory should still be capable of describing their behavior as well.

Monday, February 9, 2009

stalking the goal, a hunter's guide

Is the goal like a wary animal, conscious of its stalker, that takes flight when it suspects the approach of a hunter? If I do not pursue the target, what then should I aim for? We should not aim, we should disguise our earnest pursuit in the folly of play, a clever camouflage. Play, turned to deadly accuracy only at the last moment, when success has been assured.

Goal pursuit bears more than a passing resemblance to hunting: a target, the execution of a careful plan, exertion, elation upon success.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

rant and rave

What are we working for? To make life easier, not harder. To make life better, healthier, more fun and safe. To free up as much leisure time as possible for serendipitous discovery or to spend however we want. And when our collective efficiency improves, we can better fund science research and other self-actualization/growth needs. There is no reason for people to work two or three jobs and have few to no vacations (unless that's what they like). That is all backwards! I'm not an economist, but something seems wrong here.

I'll admit it... I like the flute hook in ABBA's song "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A man after midnight)". If I had to pick a ring tone for a cell phone, that would be it. Or it would be a Wong Kar-Wai film song like Baroque (from Chungking Express), Perfidia, or Siboney (both from 2046).

As of the 29th of last month, I am once again a fish owner. I forgot just how amazingly relaxing keeping fish is.

07 Feb 2009 postscript to entry:

While utilitarians, and more broadly, consequentialists might agree, Nietzsche would not, as he expressed an opinion that we owe many of our advances to the effects of suffering, which has urged humankind to become better than we otherwise might be (Beyond Good and Evil p225). This is a train of thought within normative ethics that I have returned to many times, and by now it is becoming quite old. Each time I try to approach it differently and elucidate something new that hadn't been considered before. Viktor Frankl stated a common observation once, that when we stop striving for something at that moment it is most easily obtained.
"...as long as you are pursuing happiness, as the phrase reads, as long as you are aiming at happiness you cannot obtain it. The more you make it a target, the more you miss the aim, and you miss the target." (Interview, South Africa, 1985).
What are we working for? We will understand why we work when we stop working.

08 Feb 2009 post-postscript:

Returning to Nietzsche's apparent objection to the goal of making life easier, it is important to reflect that suffering would not lead to achievement were we not urged by the desire to relieve it and make life easier. Suffering is a relative condition, everything has its own threshold. Within existentialism, even the mere fact of existence and personal freedom leads to angst, a form of suffering. So Nietzsche need not be concerned that life would be free from suffering or too easy some day. That day will probably never come. His point, of course, is that we should not forget its important contribution toward shaping who we are. To make life easier one must not be apathetic about the world nor feel one's own actions are inconsequential.