Yolo County Department of Child Support Services

August 12th, 2014   •   2 comments   

Non-positional Thinking and The Uncertainty Contingency

Presentation Notes:

Non-positional Thinking and The Uncertainty Contingency

Yolo County Department of Child Support Services
Presented by Ariane David, PhD

Today you’ll see that you don’t really know what you think you know …at the same time you’ll learn how to “see” what you’ve never been able to see before Non-Positional Thinking: Thinking Beyond the Obvious

We’ll look at:
• How we think vs. how we think we think
• The tyrant brain and what it means in real life
• So now what?

Non-positional Thinking: Thinking Beyond the Obvious

The Science of the Brain: A Quick Tour

Max Wertheimer’s Stroboscope: The whole is more than the sum of the parts.

Sir Frederick Bartlett – Making Memory, Meaning, & Schemas The War of the Ghosts – Sydney “Asian” mask * Schemas

Bartlett (cont) – Making Memory, Meaning, & Schemas

Sir Frederick Bartlett – Making Memory, Meaning, & Schemas The War of the Ghosts – Sydney “Asian” mask Schemas

Elizabeth Loftus – Eyewitness Testimony What we store in memory is affected not only by pre- existing knowledge but also by post-event information including • Language • Other information What we remember might never have happened.

Antonio Damasio: The Neurobiology of Thinking Perception
Millions of bits of information assail our senses every minute; we can perceive only a tiny number of sensory impressions.

We focus only on what is immediately relevant and what arouses us emotionally. Perception is shaped by past experiences including memories and beliefs. As a result, our actions are based on what we believe is so, not on what actually is so.

Antonio Damasio: The Neurobiology of Thinking Emotions
Emotions are body reactions to what’s happening Every sensory impression is paired with an emotion (called an emotional tag) at the moment of perception

The pair become memory The purpose of emotional tags is rapid response

Antonio Damasio: The Neurobiology of Thinking
Emotions The role of emotions in decision-making The myth of rational decision-making Suppressed vs. no emotions

Antonio Damasio: The Neurobiology of Thinking
Memory Memory is not a video; memories are NOT stored complete anywhere in the brain.

What we think of as memory is the result the simultaneous firing of neurons, “a trick of timing”. Neurons carry no content, only the pattern code by which neurons will fire, and when. Think the image on your TV.

…thus What we remember is a subjective and creative fabrication What we remember changes every time we recall it. We can never be certain about what we remember. Confidence in our memories has nothing to do with accuracy: memories can be completely fabricated and seem absolutely real.
…as a result You can never be certain that what you remember actually happened the way you remember it; in fact, you can be certain that it didn’t! Thus Uncertainty is the first contingency of non-positional thinking.

Organizing Patterns: a model of the thinking brain Organizing patterns are a kind of template that allow us to organize everything we know. We start building organizing patterns at birth. Our first/master organizing patterns are the strongest, and most persistent and resilient. All future organizing patterns are formed within master organizing patterns. The totality of all our organizing patterns creates our constructed universe – our entire reality.

Organizing Patterns: reinforce themselves No impartial evidence needed. What we perceive is taken as proof that our position/beliefs are right. Position/beliefs dictate what we see, what we see reinforces the position/beliefs.

Organizing Patterns Reinforce Themselves

Examples of Simple Organizing Patterns

View from Apollo 17

Here’s the details for the October Hill Country Wine & Supper Club Dinner: Date: Thursday, October 4, 2012 Time: 6:30 p.m. Where: River City Grille, Marble Falls, TX Cost: $40 per person, which includes a three-course meal, three glasses of wine, and recipe booklet. Tax and gratuity not included. Featured Winery: Stone House Vineyard October Hill Country Wine & Supper Club Menu Warm Artichoke & Crap Dip with Toasted Baguettes Filet of Sole Fish En Papillote with Au Gratin Potatoes Raspberry & Chocolate Cream Cheese Stuffed Cupcakes

Why is it important to know this? We each live in a universe of our own construction. Its organizing patterns and logic are perfect for physical survival, but absent the beasts they can be a real barrier to clear thinking. Uncertainty is the first contingency of non-positional thinking.

Organizing Patterns > Positional Thinking The Tyrant Brain Tyranny of Knowledge* Tyranny of Emotions* Tyranny of Logic *

Tyranny of Knowledge
Choosing existing knowledge simply because it’s the knowledge we have. Assuming that the knowledge we have is better than knowledge we don’t have (yet) or the knowledge of others. Doing what worked in the past only because it worked in the past, without examining how appropriate that strategy is in light new information, including assuming the future will be like the past.

Tyranny of Knowledge:
General’s Dilemma Fulfilled Expectations Success Double Bind

Tyranny of Emotions Every organizing pattern is permanently grounded in emotions (as well as sensory experience). Thus, every one of our responses is also grounded in emotion. Emotions affect logic, but cannot be dealt with logically.

Tyranny of Emotion:
We take cognitive shortcuts in our reasoning to help us make sense quickly, but fail to verify the accuracy. Shortcut errors Stereotyping Biases These had important survival value on the savannah!
Allport & Postman 1942

Tyranny of Logic

What is logic? What determines if something is logical? Can logic be wrong?

Tyranny of Logic
Logic is nothing more than the rules you’ve made up for navigating within your constructed universe! These rules are based on how easily and powerfully one thought gets connected to another: thoughts that connect easily are seen to be logical.

There are as many different systems of logic as there are beings on the earth. Logic is subjective like taste. Nothing is ever “illogical”; things are just “differently-logical”

Why does this matter in non-positional thinking?

Tyranny of Logic:
Zero-sum illusion
Baboon trap Lost
Key dilemma

What is logic? What determines if something is logical? Can logic be wrong?

Logic is nothing more than the rules you’ve made up for navigating within your constructed universe! These rules are based on how easily and powerfully one thought gets connected to another: thoughts that connect easily are seen to be logical.

There are as many different systems of logic as there are beings on the earth. (The jury’s out on extra-terrestrials) Logic is subjective like taste. Nothing is ever “illogical”; things are just “differently-logical” Why does this matter in non-positional thinking?

Zero Sum Illusion
Believing that there is a limited amount of “solution”, including “either/or”, “middle-of-the-road”, and “fixed position” thinking. Think politics!
Baboon Trap Thinking for the short term, not how current actions lead to future outcomes. Seeing only parts, but not how they’re related or how they form a whole. Attachment to unworkable situations. Ex. Our LIVES!

Lost Key Dilemma
Looking for information/solutions/answers somewhere only because that’s where the information is easy to access. Ex. case load, education, quarterly reports, Deming, Vioxx. Not everything that can be counted counts; not everything that counts can be counted. (Variously attributed to Albert Einstein, W. Edwards Deming and a half dozen others)

The opportunity lies in a new way of thinking, one that is based on how we actually think rather than how we believe we think. It is called Non-Positional Thinking

What Non-positional Thinking Is:
It is based in the knowledge that human thought is fallible, that we cannot trust what we think we know (uncertainty). Non-positional thinking is a way of being. It rises above the “position” to view other positions equally. We never arrive at being a non-positional thinker; we can only strive to think non-positionally. Non-positional thinking requires commitment and perseverance.

What Non-positional Thinking Is Not:
Non-positional thinking is not a short-cut to effective reasoning. A linear process, recipe, or check list for how to think (we cannot think non-positionally until we grasp the fallibility of our thought). A tool-kit of techniques and methodologies. A destination or a position in the middle.

Non-Positional thinking is Based on Four Contingencies
Contingencies of Non-Positional Thinking and Intellectual Virtues Uncertainty > intellectual humility Curiosity > intellectual openness Discernment > wisdom Commitment > courage

Uncertainty Contingency:
Humility Uncertainty means realizing that our knowledge about the world is massively unreliable, that it is our personal constructed universe. Our constructed universe is not the world, just a good-enough representation of it that allows us to survive(ish). Certainty that our constructed universe is the world leads to almost all of the world’s problems. Humility is the realization that we and all humans, and our knowledge, beliefs, and assumptions are fallible. Uncertainty doesn’t mean being paralyzed by doubt, but rather being aware of the fallibility of our knowledge..

Uncertainty Contingency:
Skills What is it that I am not seeing the seeing of which would change everything?
The Ability To: Being able to accept hold in our minds the notion that human beings, and our knowledge and beliefs are fallible, and… that we base our point of view on assumptions that may or may not be accurate. Keep ALL conclusions, no matter how excellent they are now, open to future scrutiny.
Doubt constructively, with the intention of learning. Realize that our beliefs cannot tell us anything about the world.

The uncertainty contingency makes us realize that we can’t be certain what color the ball actually is no matter how obvious it seems. The curiosity contingency makes us want to find out.

Curiosity Contingency:
Openness Curiosity means that (in the light of our uncertainty) we are eager and determined to discover what we don’t know, the knowing of which could change everything. That we are eager to see the merit in the other points of view. It leads to the impartial gathering of relevant information.

Curiosity Contingency:
Skills Enthusiastically and impartially seek and collect the relevant information. Maintain an open-minded outlook with respect to our own beliefs and to the assertions of others. Honestly ask and answer, “Do I really want to know what lies outside my point of view?” The Ability To: What is it that I am not seeing the seeing of which would change everything?

Discernment Contingency:
Wisdom Attempting to see things truly as opposed to looking for confirming evidence; desire to weigh evidence impartially. Recognizing and questioning our own assumptions and biases and seeking to go beyond them. Judging the merits of our own point of view by the same standards we use to judge others’ points of view.

Discernment Contingency:
Skills Attempt to see things as they truly are. Be truthful (at least to ourselves). Weigh information fairly, i.e., judging the merits of our own beliefs with the same rigor and by the same standards by which we judge the merits of others. Recognize when information is factual, tangible, provable, anecdotal, or opinion, including assessing the credibility of the sources (including ourselves) and what they have to gain or lose. Identify and question assumptions and the assumptions of those we tend to believe. Heartily seek an impartial solution. The Ability To:

Commitment Contingency:
Courage Commitment is the overarching principle. It means being determined to move beyond our own point of view, assumptions, judgments, and conclusions (organizing patterns) even in the face of our own fear. It means having the courage to acknowledge and act on those discoveries, including being willing to change our dearly held position. It means tolerance for differing, even opposing, points of view.

Commitment Contingency:
Skills Accept new evidence even if it conflicts with previous beliefs. Be courageous enough to acknowledge it. Discard hypotheses that have proved inadequate. Adapt oneself to the facts of this world. Persevere even in the face of our own discomfort. Operate in a demonstrably fair and tolerant way. The Ability To: What is it that I am not seeing the seeing of which would change everything?

Strategic Doubting and Believing
Strategic Doubting and Believing We need strategic doubting for those things we’re certain of, things that we think need no questioning. We need strategic believing for those things that we tend to dismiss or that repel us. Neither comes easy to human beings. Both are necessary to non-positional thinking What is it that I am not seeing the seeing of which would change everything?

Strategic Doubting: Doubt About What is Most Believable to Us The intention is to open-mindedly scrutinize appealing assertions or beliefs. The purpose is not to reject them but to better understand them. It involves conscious and willful skepticism for our own dearly held beliefs and other assertions we find particularly attractive. In non-positional doubting we are testing for validity. Strategic doubting comes from the realization that we can’t be certain of what we know.

Strategic Believing: Believing What is Most Doubtful The intention is to act “as if” we believed an unattractive proposition in order to see the merits of the argument before we attempt to debunk it. The purpose is not to accept the proposition, but to try to see all the things about it that we hadn’t seen before, including hidden merits, in order to to understand it. It is not just about listening to different views, or being respectful of them, but being able to restate them impartially.

Strategic Doubting and Believing Breakout Exercise

Problem Solving and Decision Making

How To Get Rid of the Bridge Bat Problem
Bridge-Bats Bind: Classic Problem Solving Methodology What is the issue or problem? What information do I have? What information do you need to solve it? What is the plan/methodology for solving the problem? What are possible solutions? What are pros and cons of each solution? What is your solution? Bat Breakout and Discussion

Break, 10 minutes

Non-Positional Problem Solving A View of the Problem From Higher Up

Non-Positional Problem Solving Is based on the notions that Beneath every apparent problem lies the actual far more complex and hard to see problem. Solving only the apparent problem usually leads to worse problems. The actual problem involves people and how they think about the problem. Discovering what the actual problem is is the most important part of finding the solution! There is no problem that doesn’t have a solution if we are willing to change the way we think about it. Constantin David

Classical Problem Solving Methodology (doesn’t work for a complex problem; never has!) Identify the issue or problem. Gather information about the problem. Identify possible solutions/decisions. Determine the pros and cons of each solution. Choose a solution. Do it. Review the outcomes.

First ask What is my/the goal? – Is the goal to get rid of the issue or to validate my position?( Ex. To get rid of the “problem” or get rid of the bats? To serve the customer or to serve the needs of managers?) What is my position? – Am I willing to find out that I’m wrong? Do I really want to know or do I have my mind made up? – What will I lose if I am wrong? (note: we ALWAYS have something to lose.) – Is there anything that could persuade me I’m wrong? If the answer is YES, and you are actually in uncertainty, then… A Different Approach: Finding the Actual Issue is the most important part

Next Find out what is the problem or issue actually is – Are we looking at the same problem? What do I believe the problem to be? What do they believe it to be? (Feelings often masquerade as facts.) –

What am I taking as a given (assumptions)? What if those things were not so? (Non-positional doubting of our own position) – What are the facts? (observables, behaviors, results?) – What human dynamics are involved? Non-positional Problem Solving: Finding the Actual Issue

Next Find out what is the problem or issue actually is – Look for what you haven’t seen before. “What is it I’m not seeing about this problem that is keeping this problem in place?” If you’ve heard it all before, you’re not listening. – Have I honestly sought information that disconfirms my beliefs? – What language is being used? Does it mean the same thing to both of us? Neutral or positional? How is it biasing our understanding of the problem? Non-positional Problem Solving: Finding the Actual Issue

The Next Part is Easy What could be alternative explanations for the facts (observables, not assumptions or judgments)? What information or evidence is there? What disconfirming evidence (strategic doubting) is there for my position and confirming evidence (strategic believing) for theirs?

Non-positional Problem Solving
Non-Positional Solutions The easy part (cont.) What are possible solutions for the actual problem? Which one best fulfills the real goal? What is the reasoning process I used in order to reach this conclusion? What effects will this decision have on the larger system now and in the long run?

Solving the Bridge Bat Problem
Additional Bat Information This information was readily available to anyone at the time of crisis: 500,000 bats eat 10,000 pounds of bugs every day Bats are no more prone to rabies than squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons or other wild animals No cases of rabid bats were reported in the area While there were several cases of bat bites, most not breaking the skin All bite cases involved people trying to handle or interfere with bats, or of bats that got trapped

Bridge-bats – what is the real problem? Breakout

Austin Bats Create an Industry

Creating a Learning Organization

Two Kinds of Learning Adaptive learning – Based in fear – Uses blame to succeed – Purpose is survival – Defensive Generative learning – Based in curiosity and openness – Uses accountability to succeed – Purpose is growth and self-expression – Creative
Non-Learning Organization: Positional Problem Solving BLAME Problem Fear Blame / Fault DefensivenessDenial Distorted Information Ineffective Action / No Learning Fear /Blame No learning can take place in the space of blame.

Learning Organization: Non-Positional Problem Solving Problem Quality information and communication CollaborationEffective action Organizational learning Openness / Curiosity Accountability Mistakes are the price we pay for learning.

Workplace Issue Breakout

You say WHAT? Stuck in Organizing Patterns “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” – HM Warner, Warner Bros, 1927 “I think there is a world market for about five computers“ – Thomas Watson, CEO, IBM 1958 …and the winner “Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote.” – Grover Cleveland, US President 1905
Non-Positional Thinking: Thinking That Transforms Everything A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. – William James It is much easier to believe than to think. – James Harvey Robinson

The Uncertainty Proposition “Question everything at least once in your life…” (not “something” but “everything”!) “Doubt is the organ of wisdom.” Rene Descartes
Parting Thought… It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

Shrink-Wrapped in Our Own Thinking: Thinking That Transforms Questions/Comments/Feedback Ariane David, PhD The Veritas Group Additional Information ADavid@TheVeritasGroup.com www.theveritasgroup.com Non-Positional Thinking and The Uncertainty Contingency


  1. Michaela says:

    I read a lot of interesting content here.


  2. Sam Alavi says:

    Dr. David,

    Thank you so much for the MPA class on Organizational Communication. I truly enjoyed your class and my classmates whom I talked to had similar experience. Today, I was reading about memory and uncertainty on your website and again feel enlightened and relieved to set aside certain conceptions and think differently. In many ways it is liberating and powerful.

    Now, I have added your website on my list of “favorites” on my computer, as I know I will need to go back and read a lot more and reflect on those bright ideas.

    Once again, my gratitude for your generous gift of knowledge. I wish to see you at your seminars and any additional class that you have at CSUN.


    Sam Alavi

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