Blog Archives

Cambridge Analytica – Another Threat to Democracy

On Wikipedia 21st March 2018: “Today in the United States we have somewhere close to four or five thousand data points on every individual […] So we model the personality of every adult across the United States, some 230 million

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Posted in Uncategorized

What’s your position?

Positioning theory illuminates our understanding of rights, duties, expectations and vulnerabilities. It addresses the dynamics of power and control and is a potent tool for understanding the self, the individual in the context of others, relationships, and social institutions. It

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Posted in Belief, Constructivism, Explanation, Influence, Knowledge, Mind, Narrative, Philosophy, Politics, Power, Story, Systems theory, Values Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

UK Industrial Strategy, November 2017

The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) has just published its response to the new UK Industrial Strategy and both BIT and I are pretty positive about it. Let me tell you why and then, let me tell you what’s still wrong

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Posted in Accountability, Economic theory, Economics, Inequality, Politics, Science, Strategy, Systems theory, Value, Values, Well-Being, Wellbeing

Human Operating System 4 – Ways of Knowing

How do we know what we know? This article considers: (1) the ways we come to believe what we think we know (2) the many issues with the validation of our beliefs (3) the implications for building artificial intelligence and

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Posted in Belief, Knowledge, Mind, Philosophy, Values Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Story of Your Life

14th July 2017 – Independence Day! Why you should change your Facebook settings When I ask if anybody ‘would like an ice-cream?’, do I really mean it, or is it just that I want an ice-cream myself? They say I’m

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Posted in Constructivism, Crime, Explanation, Knowledge, Mind, Narrative, Philosophy, Story, Systems theory

It Doesn’t End With Grenfell – Accountability and Power

6th July 2017 Have them sleep under the bridge (Press the red ‘play’ button to hear the audio – 7:45 minutes) Transcript of the Audio The Grenfell Tower disaster, that took place in London on 14 June 2017, is symptomatic

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Posted in Accountability, Inequality, Influence, Politics, Power, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , ,

Thought for the Day – 3rd April 2017

Just one of many breakthrough discoveries

3rd April 2017 The Coincidence of Living at this Time (Press the red ‘play’ button to hear the audio – 3:20 minutes) Transcript of the Audio On April 3rd 1973 Martin Cooper of Motorola made the first handheld mobile phone

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Posted in Inequality, Science, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

True Value

In January 2017, Oxfam released a report claiming that 8 people between them now own half of the world’s wealth (last year it was 62). If this is true, then how did the other 7.5 billion people let this happen?

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Posted in Control, Economic theory, Economics, Inequality, Influence, Power, Value, Values, Well-Being, Wellbeing

Can we Trust Blockchain in an Era of ‘Post Truth’?

Post Truth and Trust The term ‘post truth’ implies that there was once a time when the ‘truth’ was apparent or easy to establish. We can question whether such a time ever existed, and indeed the ‘truth’, even in science,

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Posted in Control, Politics, Power Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Human Operating System 3 – Executive Function

Executive Function in the Individual and the Organisation Successful organisations like Google and Facebook allow their employees an opportunity to experiment and pursue their own projects. Many public sector organisations also allow their employees opportunity for personal development. Why does

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Posted in Control, Mind, Uncategorized, Well-Being, Wellbeing Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About This Blog

This series of blog postings takes a multi-disciplinary approach to social policy, bringing together ideas from psychology, economics, neuroscience, philosophy and related subjects to inform policy makers and other professionals about how we might think in new ways about the individual and society . There are some easy ways to read it:

• Very Easy – Just read the blog titles: Most blog title are propositions that the blog content attempts to justify. Just reading the names of the blogs in order from first to last will provide an overview of the approach.

• Quite Easy - Just read the text in bold. This brings out the main points in each posting.

• Easy - Just watch the videos. This is easy but can take a while. The running time of each video can be seen in the caption above it. Hover over the video to see the controls – play and pause, large screen, and navigate around.

• Harder – Read the whole blog. Useful if you are really interested, want to learn, or want to comment, disagree with the content, have another angle or whatever. The blog is not being publicised yet but please feel free to comment and I will try to respond if and when I can.

The blog attempts not to be a set of platitudes about what you should do to be happy. In fact, I would like to distance myself from the ‘wellbeing marketplace’ and all those websites/blogs that try and either sell you something or proffer advice. This is something quite different. It takes as its premise that there is a relationship between wellbeing, needs and control in both the individual and society. If needs are not being met and you have no control to alter the situation, then wellbeing will suffer.

While this may seem obvious, there is something to be gained by understanding the implications of this simple idea. We are quite used to thinking about wellbeing in terms of specifics like money, health, relationships, work and so on, but less familiar with dealing with the more generic and abstract concepts of need and control.

Taking a more abstract approach helps filter out much of the distraction and noise of our usual perceptions. It focuses on the central issues and their applicability across many specifics that affect how we think and feel.

The blog often questions our current models of the way we think about the human condition and society. It looks at the things we all know and talk about – decisions and choices, relationships and loss, jobs and taxes, wealth and health but in a way in which they are not usually described. It tries to develop a new account, that draws on a broadly based understanding of what we now know from science, culture and common sense.

If you are looking for simple answers you will not find them here. This is not because the answers are complex. It is because the answers are not necessarily what you expect.

If you are looking to explore in some depth the nature of wellbeing and how it is influenced by what you can control, and what others can control that may affect you, then read on. Playing through some of these ideas into the specifics of policy, at the level of society and the individual, will take time but I hope you will see the virtue of working from first principles.

When walking through any landscape different people will see different things. A geologist might see an ice-age come and go, forming undulations in its wake. A politician might see territorial boundaries. Somebody else may see a hill they have to climb together with the weight of their back-pack.

Taking a perspective of wellbeing and control is different from how we normally look at the world. It's a deeper look at why and how things happen as they do and the consequences on wellbeing. It questions the relationship between intention and outcome.

We normally see and act through the well-worn habits of our thoughts and behaviours as they have evolved to deal with things as they are now. We mainly chose the easy options that require the least resource. As a survival strategy this generally works well, but it also entrenches patterns of thought, behaviour and emotion that sometimes, for the benefit of our wellbeing, need to be changed. When considering change, people often say ‘well, I wouldn’t start from here’. And that’s the position I take. I am not starting from the ways things are or have evolved, but from the place they might have been had we known what we know now and had designed them.

The blogs argue that, in an era of specialisation, we have forgotten the big picture – we act specifically and locally within the silos of our specialised education and experience. We check process rather than outcomes. We often fail to integrate our knowledge and apply it to the design of our social and work systems (as well as our own thoughts and behaviours).

To understand society we first need to understand the individual and to this end, a psychological account of how we feel, think and behave based on notions of wellbeing and control is proposed. And not in an abstract airy-fairy kind of way, but as a more or less precise theory that forms the basis of a predictive and testable computational model. The theory is essentially about how, both as individuals and society we manage multiple (and often conflicting) intentions in real time within limited resources. I call this model 'the human operating system'. This is like a computer operating system except that it is motivated by emotions, modulated by reason and is expressed in the language of mind and its qualities of agency and intentionality.

Just as in the mathematics of fractal geometry, complex structures can emerge from simple rules. The explanation given of the interplay between emotions, physical bodily states, thoughts and behaviours shows how much of the complexity in the individual can be accounted for by a set of relatively simple rules. This can be modelled using a system of symbolic representation and manipulation involving intentions and priorities operating in a complicated and changing environment.

The language and models that we use to understand the individual can also be applied to organisations and other structures in society. Through an understanding of what makes for wellbeing in the individual we can also understand what makes for better wellbeing in society generally. The focus, therefore, is on understanding the individual and then using that understanding to inform how we might think about other structures in society and how all these structures relate to each other from the point of view of wellbeing, shifting patterns of control and the implications for social policy.