Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Arationality is an evolving term.  It evolves specifically in reaction to rationality.  Arationality is as much a part of the 500-year process of welcoming science into our consciousness as anything else.  In this sense, arationality was how people thought before the early modern era began around 1500 - admittedly not always to the greatest effect.  


Albert Einstein called the intuitive or metaphoric mind a sacred gift.  He added that the rational mind was a faithful servant.  It is paradoxical that in the context of modern life we have begun to worship the servant and defile the divine.
          Bob Samples, Metaphorical Mind

The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do; they use their intuition instead; and the intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world… Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion.  That’s had a big impact on my work.

Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic, it is learned and it is the great achievement of Western civilization.  In the villages of India, they never learned it.  They learned something else, which is in some ways just as valuable but in other ways is not.  That’s the power of intuition and experiential wisdom.

          Steve Jobs

The term rational means 'agreeable to reason', which means, among other things, 'the mental powers concerned with forming conclusions, judgements, and inference." (Emphasis added.)  As the antithesis of rationality, arationality is precisely not concerned with forming conclusions - such as on the basis of a premise and the application of syllogistic logic or the observation of a physical object and the application of positivism.  

IMO arationality is the process of generating insights from the sub-conscious, intuition, instincts, or a community at large.  When applied with the proper intention, arationality is (accurate, reliable and valuable) visioning, intuition, instinctual decision-making, and creative thinking.*  

Here is an illustrative story demonstrating how experts try to rationalize processes that fundamentally resist rationalization.  I originally attribute 'arationality' to Professor Gene Rochlin at the Energy and Resource Group at the UC Berkeley.  He used the term in a seminar - ERG 251: Political Economy and Social Theories of Risk (aka PESTR).  According to a story he told, he once was consulting experts at a well-known, high level governmental agency.  (I do not perfectly recall which one.)  These experts wanted to develop accident prediction methods.  This idea is subtle.  

Although you can certainly create statistical models that estimate accident distributions, deterministic models that define unsafe conditions, or management models that reduce overall systemic risk, you can not predict an accident.  Accidents are in their nature and definition unexpected.

These experts wanted to rationalize the arational.  They almost wanted to control fate and to perfectly determine outcomes.  Some people in the social theory of science field call this process model reification - that is to turn an intellectual model into a king of sorts or to give the abstract more concreteness than appropriate.  The story illustrates the vast over-investment in scientific thinking in a situation where the practitioner probably needs to 'step back' and 'look at the big picture'.  With more time, I would apply this idea to question of foreign policy blowback.

Arationality and Decision-Making

Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them.

The points of this three-parter is, ultimately, to help widen the definition of valid and legitimate knowledge.  To re-iterate what I have said elsewhere, our "decision methodologies have somehow not developed in step with our scientific and political innovations".  Clearly the existing notions of valid and legitimate knowledge have left us exposed to world historic risks such as climate change, nuclear power meltdowns, nuclear war, critical ecosystem damage, and biological diversity losses - not to mention geo-political questions not addressed here (i.e. foreign policy blowback).

The front page of the option3 website speaks to various tensions in public policy such as between progressive neo-Keynesian economics and conservative neo-classical economics.  The same tension sits between science / linear thought and arationality.  I begin to address that in why a third option?.  Rationality and science in themselves are neither destructive or constructive.  They are simply tools.  But people have abused science and rationality.  Our prejudices have impacted our readings.  We need to bring these frameworks - progressive and conservative economics, rational and arational decision-making, and others - into better balance.**

* I would also add that arationality includes empath-ing.  But very few people in the policy realm will know or want to know what that means.

** I decided to footnote the following  informal math metaphor.  If we project rationality onto a Cartesian coordinate system, arationality is orthogonal to the axis of rationality.  In other words, say you put rationality (and irrationality) on the x-axis, you would naturally put arationality on the y-axis.  But we face an immediate question: if the negative 'values' of rationality are irrationality, then what are the negative 'values' of arationality?  Here is my current answer: dis-creativity.  If arationality has a dark side, I currently see it as dis-creativity.  In this simple coordinate system metaphor, you have fours quadrants: 
  • rational-arational, 
  • rational-dis-creative, 
  • irrational-arational, and
  • irrational-dis-creative.
Many policy-makers today make choices in the rational-dis-creative quadrant.  They make choices that exhibit some short-term rationality but also exhibit dis-creativity.  I may develop this metaphor further.  An image will convey the idea better.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Arrationality: Expertise

Informally speaking, an expert is someone with significant training or certification from the academy, a law school, the military, or other societal organization of long standing intellectual significance.  I am going to complicate that definition below.

'Extended Peer Communities'

Because applied science and professional consultancy are inadequate, something extra must be added onto their practice which bridges the gap between scientific experts and a concerned public...  For the quality assessment of the scientific materials in such circumstances [of post-normal science] cannot be left to the experts themselves; in the face of such uncertainties, they too are amateurs.  Hence there must be an extended peer community.

        Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1992 (emphasis added)

Funtowicz and Ravetz discussed the rationale of extended peer communities in 1991.  "[T]he need for enriched input is not merely the result of the external political pressures...  When problems do not have neat solutions, when the phenomena themselves are ambiguous, when all mathematical techniques are open to methodological criticism, then the debates on quality are not enhanced by the exclusion of all but the academic or official experts.  

"Knowledge of local conditions may not merely shape the policy problems, it can also determine which data is strong and relevant.  Such knowledge cannot be the exclusive property of experts whose training and employment inclines them to abstract, generalized conceptions.  Those whose live and livelihood depend on the solution of the problems will have a keen awareness of how general principles are realized in their 'backyards'.  It may be argued that they lack theoretical knowledge and are biased by self-interest; but it can equally well be argued that the experts lack practical knowledge and have their own forms of bias".  (Paragraph break added.)

Enter the non-expert...

The Non-Expert

The nature of policy debates involving science have been transformed by the success of non-expert stakeholders in contributing to the assessment of quality.  Previously, only subject specialty peers could assess quality in connection with refereeing or peer-review.  But when science became used in policy, it was discovered that laypersons (e.g. judges, journalists, scientists from another field, or just citizens) could master enough of the methodology to become effective participants in the dialogue.
        Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1994 (emphasis added)

Non-expert testimony, as understood in a post-normal science, has many potential sources including but not limited to consensus building, public vetting of ideas, consulting with elders or indigenous knowledge keepers, and community testimony gathering from common people with a vested interest and relevant experience and proximity to a policy issue.

I push envelope a bit further.  

Alternative Experts and Layperson Testimony

It is time to speak your truth...
Do not look outside yourself for a leader.

        T. Benyacya, Hopi leader (in part) re Hiroshima and Nagasaki

First, indigenous and traditional knowledge keepers are experts - plain and simple.  To their credit, they are not intellectuals.  But they are experts.  To think otherwise is to remain slavishly committed the scientific sense of the world.  I like science.*  I love economics.  But I know other forms of knowledge exhibit valuable truths that the Western world desperately needs.  We could call them alternative experts, arational experts, or what have you.  People can and will abuse the mantle of knowledge keeper.  But decision-makers, with a proper intention, in the field of public policy who seek true and applicable non-scientific wisdom will find it.  It exists.

Second, layperson or common people are not just non-experts in a pejorative sense.  They are essential and critical to good decision-making in the local setting.  That idea is near the heart of democracy.  Personally I like the terms non-expert and non-expert testimony, as they cut through a lot of unnecessary orthodox discourse.  But the terms have a pejorative feeling.  Hopefully, the innate nature of modern republican democracy will further mature and people will have a stronger voice in public policy; and thus we would not need to resort to such peculiar terms.  The term non-expert itself reflects a kind over-scientization of things.

Now we make the big speculative and intellectual leap...

* I want to re-iterate that I am not here to bash orthodox experts.  I very much value the expertise of my dentist, my friends who are attorneys and scientists, my acupuncturist, the people at the Genius Bar at the Apple store, etc.  Society would come to a halt without technical experts and all types of experts.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Arationality: Post-Normal Science

This three-part blog constitutes a foundational essay for o3.  Other foundational essays link from the about page of the website.

option3 strongly advocates the use of mainstream research, linear thought, science, statistics, and rationality.  But option3 also understands rationality has its limitations.  Arationality and non-expert testimony, discussed herein, originate from the philosophy of science and social theories of risk.  

Arationality does not register in the domain of rationality and irrationality.  It is a separate matter altogether.  In a math metaphor, arationality and rational are orthogonal.  The precautionary principle is partially where this idea began.  If you want to jump directly to arationality, see part 3.

Precautionary Principle...

[is] the precept that an action should not be taken if the consequences are uncertain and potentially dangerous[.]

Science has failed our world,
Science has failed our Mother Earth.
        System of a Down, Science #10

During high school and college I read about nonproliferation and climate change.  I saw them as world historic questions - distinguishing this era and our increasingly global culture.  Since them, it has become more clear that our decision-methods - on a fundamental level - have begun to fail us.

The precautionary principle is in its nature imprecise.  But it reflects an acknowledgement among educated people that science itself possessed a degree of dangerous and perhaps even unmanageable risk, which is a significant question for researchers, policy-makers, and scientific decision-makers.  Some practitioners have yet to see this dilemma.

Science has given many of us the impression that we are in control when we are not.  Indeed, science - linear thought, rationality, or whatever you want to call it - has failed us in a few well-delineated situations.  Enter post-normal science...

Post-Normal Science*

We knew the world would not be the same.  Few people laughed, few people cried, most people were silent.  I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita.  Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
        Oppenheimer, re the Trinity Test

[T]he myth of unlimited accuracy in quantitative sciences has many uses...  With the proliferation of 'models' of all sorts in natural and social science, we must recognize a new sort of pseudo-science...where the uncertainties in the inputs must be suppressed, lest the outputs become indeterminate.  Hence the crisis in statistics is only one manifestation of a general problem of quantitative information, where incompetence and malevolence interact to produce meaningless numbers, deceiving the experts themselves along with the public.
        Funtowicz and Ravetz1990

In 1991, Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz published a paper titled A New Scientific Methodology for Global Environmental Issues.  
They argued that in scientific decision-making and risk evaluation, scientists and policy-makers had failed to understand the impact of indeterminacy and extreme uncertainty; decision-making and modeling was particularly problematic when "facts are uncertain, value in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent".  Elsewhere, they referred to neglected aspects of scientific problem-solving that involve "uncertainty, value loading, and a plurality of legitimate perspectives".**  

Funtowicz and Ravetz proposed the term and concept 'post-normal' science this realm of problematic decision-making and modeling

Many policy dilemmas - especially involving the environment - demonstrate how powerful is the 
post-normal science paradigm.  Climate change is a high-consequence risk we face today.  (Truthfully, climate change is transitioning from risk to realization.  I digress.)  Nuclear power is a high-consequence, low-certainty risk we face today.  In other words, climate change has the potential to impact all our lives enormously.  Nuclear power is more subtle; a meltdown has a huge impact on its surrounding land and people but the event itself exhibits high uncertainty and possibly even indeterminacy.***  High-consequence, low-certainty risk is a classic post-normal science scenario.

Funtowicz and Ravetz proposed at least one response to post-normal science situations: the 'extended peer community'...

* If you want to know more about 'normal' science you can read the Funtowicz and Ravetz's work or see the wiki about post-normal science.

** One component the post-normal science thinking that I do not address here is the manipulation of quantitative findings.  This subject is big and deserves notation.

*** Additionally, c
onsider gun rights.  In the US, gun violence has an enormous impact on people but the values and social science related to this issue exhibit much variability and uncertainty.  Also, consider financial policy is a grand sense.  We have largely acquiesced to massive risk in our financial system.  The savings and loan crisis, the dot-com bubble, and Great Recession all constitute problems of high-consequence, medium-to-high-certainty risk.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

why a third option? [1.0] / motivations

These pieces originally sat on  Both written in 2012; quotes and revisions added today.

This first piece provides background on the policy motivations of option3.  These citations are dated - some replaced.  The second piece addresses the original motivation behind option3.  Please visit the mission on 

why a third option?

There's an alternative.  There's always a third way, and it's not a combination of the other two ways.  It's a different way.
          David Carradine

It’s not so much that we need a third option as we need to entertain many new options.  Today Westerners, and to a lesser extent all people, are distinguished by world historic characteristics - foremost including our possession of the atomic bomb, our capacity for global warfare, unprecedented biological diversity losses, and a level of social complexity / instability never before seen.  Despite innovations in philosophy, chemistry, physics, engineering, and medicine, we still face the timeless systemic challenges of depression, scarcity, and violence.

The industrial, philosophical, and medical revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries gave us an opportunity to alter our relationship to these scourges.  And yet, despite profound improvement for some, the prospect of economic and environmental failure for all has perhaps never been greater.  Our decision methodologies have somehow not developed in step with our scientific and political innovations.

Today, 1/6 of humanity has no access to safe freshwater; “imminent extinction” threatens 12% of all birds, 23% of mammals, 1/3 of amphibians, 1/4 of conifer trees, and more than 1/2 of all palm trees; according to ecologist Dr. Anne Larigauderie, “the rate of extinction is now between 100 and 1,000 times higher than the background rate”; 4/5 people on Earth live in a country where income inequality is rising; and every four seconds a child dies of “poverty, hunger, easily preventable diseases and illnesses, and other related causes”; and last, 1.2 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade each year.

These figures coincide with shifts in life on Earth since the industrial era began – not likely with randomness or non-anthropomorphic fluctuations.  This situation suggests we are in a world historic time and calls into question our purpose and livelihood.  (I present these figures knowing full well that many measures of productivity, justice, and human well being have improved over the last 200 years, which creates a contradiction that deserves attention.)



The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.

option3 has a primary and a secondary motivation.   One, despite authentic and well-intentioned leaders and advocates, the modern American political system and policy environment exhibits profound deceitfulness, close-mindedness, and corruption. 

Many on each side of the Left-Right paradigm exhibit an unwillingness or incapacity to acknowledge the legitimacy and intelligence of the other side.  The default objectives among many political actors is not policy but power, stature, and money.  option3 looks beyond the divisions in hopes to elevate awareness and stimulate dialogue regarding meaningful American policy questions.

Two, mistreatment and neglect of fellow humans and other sentient beings have perhaps always been a part of life.  But today, despite rising levels of wealth and technical knowhow, we have an unnecessary amount of this mistreatment and neglect.  option3 acknowledges this mistreatment and neglect as a significant question and aim to rise above it.

Monday, July 6, 2015

420 Legalization: Drawing The Line

This blog has been the hardest to write of all the o3 blogs.  I have been hesitant to finish it.  Pot legalization presents many moral dilemmas.  The story of Shona Banda has prompted me to complete this three-parter.  

I stand by my original view from part 1 and 2.  American pot demand generates social forces that endanger, displace, and kill too many Mexican people.  When I saw the story of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, this issue became very clear.  420 legalization pulls money and power out of the black market and might even provide some jobs and some relief to common people in the US and MX.

Counter Arguments Fall Flat

No one is immune from addiction; it afflicts people of all ages, races, classes, and professions.
        Patrick Kennedy

I don't smoke pot and haven't for over a decade.  Nor am I here to present myself in puritanical or even devout terms.  I don't judge people who smoke.  And I definitely support medical 420.  But I have concerns about 
habitual, recreational use of substances; and I agree with Kennedy above and on many other points.

Americans abuse pot.  Addiction, in a sense, is among the greatest challenges facing humanity; consider oil and climate change or heavy foods and heart disease.  Pot addiction, like any addiction, is about masking deep-seated pain and dysfunction.  (Graham Hancock has an incredible TED talk that addresses his own pot smoking.)  Some experimentation perhaps makes sense.  But addiction is addiction; and self-medication is addiction.

Habitual, recreational use of pot and booze (!) can introduce serious spiritual and emotional negativity into the life of the user and those around him or her.  That claim almost goes beyond the domain of option3 as a policy blog.  Almost.  I doubt I can defend this claim with ordinary scientific literature.  Here is one information source that fascinates me: the Spiritual Science Research Foundation (SSRF).  Here is a page they did on the spiritual effects of alcohol.  And another on the spiritual causes of addiction.  Any other sources I have are even more unusual.*

Continuing...any and all pot use among people under ~21 (or even 30 ) seems problematic - particularly in terms of cognitive development.  I say even 30 because the mind keeps developing in your 20's.  Caveat: some medical marijuana for children seems to make sense under severe circumstances; consider the story Jason David and his son Jayden.  The story of Jacqueline Patterson, a young adult, also moved me last year.  Both stories are powerful.  

As always, balance is the issue; more caveats abound.**  Still, the cons outweigh the pros regarding habitual, recreational use of substances.  Substance abuse is a red flag; and laws that liberalize such practices are indeed a slippery slope.  But none of those arguments outweigh the arguments I developed in part 1 and 2 (and summarized in the intro above).

Where do I draw the line?

Ni una muerta mas.

        Susana Chavez, poet and activist

What is a personal issue? And what is a collective burden?  Full legalization may create more problems than it solves.  Liberalizing drug policies may invite future (spiritual) drama, which can accumulate and become social / societal ill - especially for the poor and people of color.  420 legalization is an acquiescence of sorts.  But, as I argued earlier, I draw the line at the violence that Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, Rubi Marisol Frayre, and 
Susana Chavez suffered.  It is simply too much.  We have to bring addiction out of the shadows and deal with it in our communities even if the road is hard.***

The scientific arguments against pot are real.  But in a booze legal world, I can hardly apply such a perverse priorities.  (That certainly does not mean I ultimately advocate for booze criminalization either.)  Pot legalization in Colorado and pot 
decriminalization in Portugal clearly do not contaminate the legalization perspective.

The Life of Shona Banda

I spent years raising my children from a couch, not being able to move much...  I wasn’t able to be a proper mother when I was sick.  And now I’m a fantastic mother.
        Banda, on medical 420

Medical marijuana and addiction are very different issues.  But the stories of Jayden David, Jacqueline Patterson, and Shona Banda motivated me to complete this three-parter.

Reading about Shona Bonda made me want to address the subject as soon as possible.  Her story is pitiful.  It is the story of a poor person finding a non-violent, non-establishment, and common sense solution to a harrowing health problem while an over-zealous and antiquated state gets in the way despite many far more pressing issues that involve real physical violence and poverty.  As I have said and felt many times, we have created a country with perverse values.  We need to build schools, invest in the culture, invest in our children, and invest in our minds, values, and health.  To invest in health and (attempting) to prohibit disease are very, very different things.  The latter is foolish. 

I hope Banda stays free and with her children in her home, soon.  I support medical marijuana.  I support 420 legalization in a booze legal world.


I am not advocating you change your lifestyle; I am simply sharing some info that might otherwise go unseen.  Besides I suspect many people understand this claim intuitively - especially as they mature.

** Here is another caveat: I am not arguing drugs do not have a role in spirituality either; consider peyote, ayahuasca, traditional / entheogenic marijuana practices, tobacco, etc.  

And yet another caveat: I often read of the nutritional and medicinal benefits of both 420 and alcohol.  Many example abound.  For example, I have read that Ray Kurzweil - the futurist who wants to live until he upload his consciousness to a computer and then live forever - drinks red wine daily specifically for its health benefits. 

*** One thing that concerns me is how grassroots organizations and activists in MX feel about 420 legalization.  I choose not to investigate this question at this time.  Some coverage from Vice, Time, The Daily Caller, and the Washington Post all suggest my primary thesis holds water.  See also footnote *** in part 2 regarding legalization in Mexico City.