The Dynamics of Social Wishes…

From the Korea Institute for Science and Technology at a Japan-US-Korea co-sponsored workshop on convergent technologies, an interesting idea has been put forward by Professor Tanaka from Japan that there is a dichotomy between scientists who observe (and test hypotheses) and those who design (and create new artifacts). Both types work together to answer the “social wishes” of society.

But how do we determine those social wishes? And crucially, aren’t those social wishes disperate across different societies?

Of course they are. Although there certainly commonalities: we all, I think, want a sustainable biosphere that can support life on the planet. We all want that brain-created thing we call “happiness” (although that means such different things to different individuals).

My plenary is coming up in about an hour. I will be focusing on how dynamics the social wishes of society actually are–two decades ago, the personal computer was a central social wish for those of us involved in data analysis. The emphasis then was autonomy and general purpose computation.

These days, a smart phone and the Net represent quite a different social wish–one that emphasizes mobility, connectivity, and knowledge dissemination. Interestingly, our smart phones are far “smarter” than those early PC’s–but we take the computation for granted and we don’t particularly care about either autonomy….but that connectivity, that’s really critical.

Human loss: the mind’s view

As the very sad news comes in from Japan, it’s worthwhile to consider how humans cope with loss. The manifestation of grief eventually arrives to each of our subjective personal experiences. This month two very close professional colleagues lost their spouses to cancer. Once the ceremonies and family reunions are over, the human mind (and brain) is all to often left alone in a sea of grief-inducing neurochemicals.

When mass tragedy hits, as it has in Japan, entire societies can enter this state; it’s as if the grief brain-state is cooperative (to use the biochemical metaphor) across individuals.

The human and societal grief-induced behavior pattern can be catastrophic. But often it is not. Individual humans are remarkably resilient and so are strong societies, such as the Japanese. Over time, the brain stabilizes, families and nations can come together, and life goes on.

We hope as much for our friends who have recently suffered loss and to our colleagues in Japan.