As A Political Immune System

 Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating                                              inside him. It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle                                                                                                                          in case the machine breaks down.    Ernest Hemingway 1954.

Every politician should have a built-in automatic fact detector operating inside his/her mind’s eye. (To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway’s famous crap detector quote above.) This would be a network that protects the human mind from personal/political biases.

But how many politicians can be persuaded to develop a fact detector in their mind’s eye, learning the lessons of fact checking? And do we have the capability to teach the human mind fact-checking?

How about a “Baloney Detection Kit”?  In Carl Sagan’s 1996 book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, he offered his “rules for bullshit busting and critical thinking”. This was a set of cognitive tools and techniques that fortify the mind against penetration by falsehoods. As a proponent of critical thinking, he supported skepticism and believed that many of our problems with critical thinking are rooted in our chronic discomfort with ambiguity.

That is what I have been recommending for years: positive uncertainty. (Why didn’t I know about Sagan’s ideas before, and where did those ideas go?)  A built-in automatic fact detector, along with a built-in crap detector and a baloney detector kit might be a helpful step toward learning critical thinking for all of us. But is it possible?

The human mind’s extreme credulity is not critical thinking. But you can’t teach the human mind if it isn’t open to new ideas and new thinking. You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks. A fixed mindset is one of the biggest obstacles to critical thinking. Another obstacle to learning critical thinking is the notorious “confirmation bias”, the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.

Some kind of built-in detector might help all of us avoid the confirmation bias. But the confirmation bias in politicians is probable not influenced by any detector. A fact detector system for a politicians’ mind eye would have to combat the well-known political tribalism, which includes many other popular human biases: the Self-serving bias; Ingroup bias; Bandwagon effect; Herd instinct, etc.

The problem with fact- checking is that it is usually preformed on someone else. Fact-checking on oneself is rare. However, today it seems obvious that political self-fact-checking is urgent. Such a political immune system as an Automatic Fact Detector would change political discourse radically. But we can’t expect political fact checking when we don’t yet have wide-spread personal fact checking, even without a crank handle, in case the machine breaks down.

 A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth can get its shoes on.                Mark Twain


Posted in Democracy in Danger | 1 Comment


From “By The Book” To “A Creative Art”

 Science can assist us in becoming more skillful choosers,                                                             but at its core, choice remains an art.   Sheena Iyengar

The theme of this blog is that decision making has become a creative art and that certainty is the antithesis of creativity. My point is that decision making and certainty are incompatible. I believe deciding with uncertainty is unavoidable.

Creative Decision Making, Using Positive Uncertainty was the title of my 1991 book and the theme of my writing since. Iyengar’s quote above is one of my all-time favorites. It is from her book, The Art of Choosing,2010. Science, indeed, has helped us become more skillful choosers. In 1991, decision making was considered to be scientific, highly rational, “by the book”. By 2010 it was agreed that total rational choosing is unlikely. I believe decision making now and in the future needs to be considered a creative art.

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. Erich Fromm

What are the roles of creativity and uncertainty in decision making? To decide is to have a choice, which means there are at least two possible options to choose from and several possible outcomes with several probabilities. Here is an opportunity for creative deciding. Because  there is uncertainty. If there was only one option, one outcome, and one possibility, there would be no decision and no uncertainty.

My reasons for supporting decision making as a creative art is in the definitions: Creative: involving a lot of imagination and new ideas: resulting from originality,  thought, expression. Art: A skill arising from the exercise of intuitive faculties; the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. Our decisions are the result of all the above. Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert comic strip, explains creativity and art: Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

What all of this says to me, of course, is how important positive uncertainty is today. And how important it will be in the future. I say positive uncertainty because uncertainty is usually considered negative. To be uncertain is considered to be unsure, not knowing, wishy-washy, even dumb. And I consider certainty to be negative because it results in closed-mindedness. Certainty means inevitable; and doesn’t lead to questions or creativity. Creativity comes from an open, inquiring, changing mind. You don’t change your mind if you are certain.

Creative choice today is required because we now know that rational decision making is unusual or impossible. Creativity is like inventiveness, originality, imagination. Creativity is intelligence having fun, Albert Einstein. Choosing is something to enjoy, and life is full of choices, unless you are certain.

The future of decision making will continue to be full of creative choosing with uncertainty. The question is, will it be full of questions?

Inquiry is fatal to certainty, Will Durant.

Posted in Beliefs | Leave a comment


 Reinventing The Reinvented H B

 Am I still the person I spent a lifetime becoming,  and do I still want to be that person? Mary Catherine Bateson

 Over twenty years ago I wrote a series of essays, shared with my family, called “Reinventing H B”. Ten years later I wrote an e-newsletter series, “Composing My Further Life”, about how I want to live the rest of my life. My blog title above is a paraphrase of the title of Mary Catherine Bateson’s 2010 book, Composing A Further Life. Compose means “to make or create by putting together parts or elements.”

I have always been writing about my future. Remember my basic assumption: Your image of the future may be the most important factor in determining what your future will be. Beliefs become behavior. I hope to identify the essential elements in my further life and put them together. This blog is written for me by me, but you may find it interesting for you and your further life — depending on where you are in your present life. Now, at age 93, I am writing about my aging. You would think by now I would know enough about me and satisfied about what I am, that I wouldn’t have to keep reinventing me and composing my future. But here I go again.

Basically I am now asking myself, “How would I act if I were acting my age? Am I still the person I used to be? Do I want to be the same? Can I be? What kind of person do I want to be in my further life?  What kind can I be, or can’t be?

Although I have already answered these questions in my years of reflection, they need to be answered again. But the fact I have answered them tells me (and you) something about me. Most of my adult life I have been involved in self-reflection and in thinking about thinking. I have folders of written evidence and will review them in preparing this latest “life composition.”

I don’t believe that kind of self-reflection is true about most adults “growing up,” but I am not sure. Research studies have shown that older people think with more depth, more reflection, and with more philosophical awareness than the young. That is a big generalization and certainly not true of all older persons. Have you become more reflective as you grow older? If so, my upcoming aging blogs may be of interest.

In Mary Catherine Bateson’s first book, Composing a Life 1989, she proposed “practicing improvisation” as a strategy for composing one’s life. I liked that because it is a paradox and isn’t a contradiction. Her early book was about “life as an improvisatory art, about the ways we combine familiar and unfamiliar components in response to new situations.”

She considered life as a work in progress. In the many years since her first and second Composing books, more change has happened and even change itself has changed. Adopting her improvising metaphor today for creating my next life stage makes sense for me. Improvising my further life will be my future strategy. Stay tuned.

The future isn’t someplace we are going to; it is something we are creating.                   Futurist, John Schaar

Posted in Future Sense | 3 Comments


A Holistic View

Does the seed cause the sprout?

 How did that happen? Why did that happen? We humans want to know cause and effect. In fact, we humans want to believe in single cause and effect. Teachers caused student scores; banks caused the economic crises; labor unions caused the auto industry’s financial problems; “It’s all his fault”; the seed caused the sprout. However, we humans need to acquire a holistic view of cause and effect. This blog is intended to get us to focus on the whole.

A famous hypothetical question may help us see the whole. “Does the seed cause the sprout?” The seed is an important factor in the growth of the sprout, but not the whole story. The sprout needs fertile soil, sun and water to be able to continue growing. The sprout did not grow from a single cause. In our reality there is almost always multiple causes.

Blaming only the seed if the sprout doesn’t grow is like blaming only teachers for low test scores, blaming only the banks as the cause the economic downturn, and blaming only the labor unions as the cause of the auto industry’s financial problems. It takes the whole environment to grow a sprout, a whole village to teach a child, a whole nation, and world to create economy stability. It takes multiple solutions to solve one problem.

Holistic definition: characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole. Holistic is hard for us humans to comprehend. We are told that in our reality everything is interconnected to everything else in an unbroken wholeness. Quantum physics tells us: Each part is the whole. How are we supposed to understand that? We aren’t; that’s why it is called “Chaos Theory.”

Systems scientist Russell Ackoff years ago said there was no word for the complicated interconnectedness of interrelated problems so he coined the term “mess”. This is helpful because no one is expected to understand a mess. You cannot solve a holistic mess with single-minded, single-cause strategies. Ackoff offered an intervention strategy called “mess management”.

Ackoff explains: The behavior of a mess depends more on how the parts interact than on how they act independently of each other. The key to mess management is the way you see the problem —- see it as a holistic system of problems. And solve it with multiple, inclusive, big picture, creative interventions.

Notice: The key to mess management is the way you see the problem. Today our messy, interconnected, unbroken whole problems, like our national or world or political problems (or personal problems), are not independent problems looking for independent solutions. Our solutions depend on how we see, or if we see, all the whole problem.

Solving our complicated political problems of today will require “mess management”. See it as a holistic system of problems. And solve it with multiple, inclusive, big picture, creative interventions. However, the Senate is now, with republicans and democrats, attempting to solve this problem ignoring its holistic, interconnectedness, mess. The way they see the problem will be the problem. I am not sure why I am pointing this out — as if it needs to be pointed it out.

I hope it is not an insult to suggest that today’s political solutions need “mess management”.  However, expecting a holistic view of the problems and the solutions doesn’t seem possible.  This blog is intended to get us to focus on the whole. But it won’t get politicians to see the whole.

You think because you understand one you must understand two because                               one and one makes two. But you must also understand andSufi saying                                             








Posted in Beliefs | 1 Comment


 Why H B Changed His Theory Of Decision Making

“Our heads are round so that our thoughts can change directions.” Francis Picabia

This is an article I wrote 40 years ago, but never posted as a blog, regarding a dramatic personal experience that caused my view about the power of beliefs in decision making. Sharing this with my readers is the purpose of this blog.

This experience occurred while I was writing and speaking about my approach to decision making to many different audiences. This happened during workshops in several CYA facilities in California, (now known as California Division of Juvenile Justice), while presenting an exercise I had done many times.

I was teaching my decision making process to the teachers, counselors and students in the “rehabilitation prisons” for California youth. The exercise was called Four Future Metaphors, found in Teaching The Future, 1976 by Draper Kauffman. It is about one’s beliefs about personal control of the future. (It can be found on Goggle, A Metaphoric Future). One metaphor was a Roller Coaster with the message: “We are locked in our seats and there is nothing we can say or do that will change the course that is laid out for us.” The other metaphors were less restrictive, The Mighty River, The Great Ocean, and the Colossal Dice Game.

In my many previous experiences with adults and students, sometimes one or two people would select the Roller Coaster as their metaphor. In the CYA workshops almost all the students chose it!  And their counselors were not surprised.

This experience was a shock to me and an “eye opener.”  I realized I would be wasting my time (and theirs), teaching them how to take charge of their future by making wise decisions. They didn’t believe they had anycontrol over their future. They didn’t see a need to learn decision making skills. I could understand their belief system when I understood their previous life experiences and projected future life experiences.

These were all boys, minorities, and usually from the LA area, who had committed a serious crime. When they returned home, it was usually to a gang neighborhood, and their father was probably in jail; 90% ended up in federal prison.

This experience caused a paradigm shift in my thinking about teaching decision making. Information and rational strategy were the hallmarks of my decision making approach at this point. Now beliefs would become an important part and eventually a major part. What these inmates in our “youth prisons” needed was a new belief system about their future. I have often said: “Your image of the future may be the most important factor in determining what it will be.” A new future belief system cannot change their fathers  or where they grow up, but can change their mindset about how they see themselves. There are many examples of this actually happening.

Today, the power of beliefs is even more evident. In politics, families, racism, sports, gender, the military, business, energy, climate, success and failure, national and international attitudes, etc. Beliefs become behavior. We are what we believe. I am sure this one experience wasn’t the only cause of my change of view about beliefs. In the 1980’s, the other experiences I was having speaking and writing about decision making, with feedback, influenced me. And my reading also had an effect on me. At the time I was reading The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson, 1980; Transitions by William Bridges, 1980; Thinking About Thinking, Clark McKowen,1986; Positive Illusions, Shelly Taylor, 1989; and The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, 1979.

This, of course, was the time also when the “new physics” was emerging into public view, which brought out increased interest in the “old Eastern philosophies” and the incomprehensible  interconnectedness of reality. My view about beliefs was influenced by all of this. I published my Positive Uncertainty article in the Journal of Counseling Psychology in 1989, which was my going public about my belief of the power of beliefs.

Everything begins with belief. What we believe is the most powerful option of all.  Norman Cousins

Posted in Beliefs | 1 Comment


Definitely Older

  Something’s lost and something’s gained in living every day. Joni Mitchell

In 2012 I wrote my first blog: “I Really Don’t Know Life At All: Confessions From An Older And Wiser Counseling Psychologist”, quoting the lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s, Both Sides Now. In 298 blogs since then I have been writing about how little we all know.  And why and how we need to be positive about uncertainty. By now you know that beliefs are my major theme. And I believe what I believe influences how I age. This blog is about my beliefs about my aging process.

If something is lost and gained in living every day, I believe I need to acknowledge what is lost and determine and concentrate on what is gained. I expect to be positive and uncertain. How I live each day is my choice, but it isn’t certain. I will be able to do less and less in my future, but still able to gain by growing and learning each day.

I have never been at this stage of my aging journey, and don’t know many who have. I believe my physical activity over the past many years has been beneficial, and will continue as long as I can. I believe my blogging has been beneficial to my mind. This I will also continue. Looking for the positive in my living every day, being physically, socially and mentally active, and continue being me, will be my aging strategy.

I am now 93 years old. This means I have a past that is longer than my future. I have always said: “Your image of the future may be the most important factor in determining what it will be”. My image will be positive and uncertain, and wondering about my legacy. Did I leave a future imprint with my life?

Although I may keep writing about my aging, I want to say now that I have already decided what I would like it said about me when I am no longer here. This I learned from Barack Obama’s eulogy of Reverend Pinckney in 2015. “What a good man,” Obama said of Pinckney. “Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized. After all the words and recitations and resumes are read, just to say somebody was a good man.” That is what I would like it said of me; my legacy:  “He was a good man.”

We have the power to choose the beliefs that shape our lives.                                                     Ron Pevny, Center for Conscious Eldering



Posted in Beliefs | 1 Comment


 Two Other I’s Of Intelligence

 Logic will get you from A to Z: imagination will get you everywhere.  Albert Einstein

It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover.                           Henri Poincare

 The term IQ (Intelligent Quotient), is what we have used to define intelligence. Here are some definitions: IQ:the ratio of the mental age (as reported on a standardized test) to the chronological age multiplied by 100.  Intelligence: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skill. Imagination: the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful. Intuition: instinctive knowing (without the use of rational processes). This blog is my opportunity to discuss my beliefs about intelligence testing.

 Notice that the definitions of intelligence don’t include terms like creative, resourceful, empathy, instinctive, self-awareness. Or imagination and intuition. The mental ability of humans includes: To understand and learn well, form judgements; acquire and apply knowledge and skill; to be creative and resourceful; instinctive knowing without the use of rational processes. Mental ability is much more than IQ.

Early in my career I was a school psychologist and individually tested the IQ of gifted students in the Palo Alto Unified School District. I have had a lot of professional experience with intelligence testing. In the two school districts where I was employed (Palo Alto and Bakersfield) I was Director of Testing. Later in my career I worked for the College Board (College Entrance Examination Board) and with the Educational Testing Service (ETS), who developed, published and scored the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). I later became an “anti-intelligence testing advocate”.

 Today we now have much more than IQ. We now have EQ, Emotional Intelligence, that includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. And we have creative intelligence, the ability to go beyond the existing to create novel and interesting ideas. And practical intelligence and analytical intelligence.

Testing all of these kinds of intelligence is difficult, if not impossible. Much of this is subjective. Written or verbal standardized tests don’t seem to me to capture human cognition: conscious and unconscious, concrete or abstract, as well as intuitive (like knowledge of a language) and conceptual (like a model of a language). We don’t yet fully understand human consciousness; maybe we don’t yet fully understand human intelligence.

All human knowledge thus begins with intuitions, proceeds thence to concepts,                   and ends with ideas.   Immanuel Kant


Posted in Beliefs | 1 Comment