Steven Johnson’s ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’

Summary and Reaction to Chapter 3 (The Slow Hunch) of Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’

The main argument in the chapter is that great innovations are due to accumulative processes rather than spontaneous ‘eureka’ moments.  Almost in any major technological or scientific innovation of modern times, the break-through was made possible by the robust base built by accrued prior knowledge.

A key idea put forward by Steven Johnson is that of ‘convergence’.  This is the process of the gradual accumulation of information, concepts and their interrelationships that are precursors to the occurrence of ‘insight’. Although the decision to synthesize and analyze them is that of an individual, the fundamental facts and concepts can be fetched from a disparate range of sources. To this extent, though great innovations are not one-off events of brilliance, they are the result of ‘collective intelligence’. Collective . . . Read More

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Connections between human trafficking and environmental destruction

The connection between human trafficking and environmental destruction is not obvious at the outset. But a closer scrutiny of human trafficking reveals how it does lead to the degradation of the environment.  When we study the life and works of luminary figures from past to present, they all acknowledge the centrality of human liberty for cultural progress.  Since the upkeep of our environment is a reflection of our cultural values, the link between human freedom and environmental conditions is established.

Saint Vincent de Paul’s words of divine wisdom offer guidance as to how we should consider human freedoms. In the theological context of his counsel, de Paul equated human freedom as the liberation from worldly attachments and desires. He said, “Naturally, everyone loves his freedom, but we must beware of this as of a broad road that leads to perdition.”  (De Paul) Since the moral preoccupations during his lifetime were about sin, salvation and redemption, his . . . Read More

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‘Social Death’ and ‘Possessive Individual’ according to Grace Hong

Grace Hong’s essay titled ‘The Possessive Individual and Social Death: The Complex Bind of National Subjectivity’ offers numerous insights into historical social constructs.  Focusing on the evolution of American history since the time of the Declaration of Independence, the author charts a cogent description of how the socio-polity resisted progressive changes.  The book is focused on women of color feminism and the culture of immigrant labor. But prior to arriving at their specific discourse, a broader framework of understanding is laid out. Hereby, two important terms are introduced by the author.

Possessive individual traces its origins to the framing of the constitution, whereby, only the propertied white males of the new country were accorded citizenship.  Not only were blacks (who were slaves at the time) were excluded, but so were women and a large section of white male population. The privileged minority of propertied white men enjoyed laws that . . . Read More

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Malcolm Gladwell’s ideas and philosophy in The Tipping Point, as they apply to Occupy Wall Street Movement

Malcolm Gladwell has attempted to create a unique style of scholarship that navigates between science and popular culture.  As a result he has earned the wrath from both quarters.  For example, scientists accuse him for being simplistic or lacking in rigor. On the other side, commentators from mainstream media accuse him of bringing esoteric scientific concepts to popular discourse. Yet, his book The Tipping Point has sold more than a 3 million copies.  His other titles such as Blink (2005), Outliers (2008), David and Goliath (2013), etc, continue to fascinate and provoke in equal measure. Despite the controversies surrounding some of Gladwell’s inferences, his ideas and philosophies have become assimilated into popular discourse. It is an interesting exercise to study how the most important social movement of recent times – Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS) – measures up in relation to the author’s theories. This essay endeavors to perform the same.

The Occupy . . . Read More

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The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement: Consensus and Divergence Among Scholars

Two Categories of Biomedical Enhancement (BME)

Even within the field of human biomedical enhancement (which is as yet at a theoretical stage) there are two categories.  The first are common or corrective enhancements which aim to set right a deficiency (acquired congenitally or through life events) in a human individual.  The second are radical or strategic enhancements which are aimed to give a competitive advantage to the individual undergoing the procedure.  Both Allen Buchanan and Nicholas Agar reject radical enhancements.  Whereas Agar’s thesis is somewhat accommodative of benign and remedial forms of enhancement, Buchanan’s is more pessimistic.[i] Hence the subject lends itself to numerous dimensions of ethical inquiry[ii].  As is often the case with major debates within science, the community of scientists are divided into two camps.  The two camps are not necessarily antagonistic and in sharp opposition to each other’s . . . Read More

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The Soundness of Selective Biomedical Enhancements

Enhancements are Integral to the Evolutionary Process

Buchanan raises a few valid points in support of selective enhancements. He argues that enhancement is an integral feature of human existence[i].  For example, there are over-the-counter memory enhancement pills that many use. Nobody blinks an eye, let alone bring ethical considerations, in this case. Likewise, one could even argue that basic education (literacy and numeracy) in itself endows an individual a marked advantage over someone who cannot read or count.[ii] This advantage is so profound that it has a bearing on critical parameters like life expectancy or quality of life.  Such ‘enhancements’ are no different from those that are likely to be accomplished through the modern scientific methods of genetic engineering[iii]. Moreover, as Buchanan cogently states, even the natural process of evolution through natural selection is one of continuous enhancements. These enhancements, though, . . . Read More

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The Essence of Humanity and the Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement

Effects of BME on the Conventional Idea of Humanity, Human Relations, Intimacy and Reproductive Methods

In Agar’s well researched book he articulates an important reason why radical enhancements should be forbidden.  He argues that the very idea of humanity is intrinsically linked to certain species-specific values and perspectives.  These are contained in our culture, art, relationships and understanding of morality. For example a hallmark of good theatre is the apt combination of logos, pathos and ethos.  The radical enhancement project aims to reduce or eliminate human capacity or necessity for all the three qualities. A human being’s range of expression in these areas is likely to be reduced after radical enhancement.  Moreover, it is imperfections in human behavior and thought that give merit to the near-perfect accomplishments of high art and high culture[i]. By attempting to make humans ‘perfect’ something essential to humanity – . . . Read More

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Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement: Risks and Dangers of BME

Ethical Issues Surrounding Sex Selection During or Prior to Conception

Whenever technological progress throws up great new possibilities there are also attendant ethical dilemmas relating to such possibilities. Such is the case with genetic engineering in general and human biomedical enhancement in particular.  Allan Buchanan is well aware of some immediate pitfalls for society if BME is allowed unregulated[i].  One of the issues he raises is that of sex selection during pregnancy.  In many parts of the world, especially in the developing world, there is a cultural and traditional bias toward male babies.  From a sociological perspective a balance of equal population of male and female individuals is essential for the survival of the species.[ii]  An unfettered BME system would totally skewer the sociological balance and may inadvertently set the species on a self-destructive spiral.  Currently, at least as far as advanced industrial nations . . . Read More

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Deming’s 14 Points: Continuous Improvement, Prevention of Defects and the SDSA and PDSA cycles

Deming’s 14 Points for Leadership in the Western World is a well rounded guide for achieving excellence in management. The 14 points or guidelines are applicable to any domain or industry.  One of the key insights offered by Deming is how a high level of quality (or even a zero-defect production record) does not pre-empt the scope for improvement.  The very first point talks about creating a “constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service”.  This indicates how improvement is an ongoing engagement that is detached from prevailing production quality.  Deming makes clear that ‘defect detection’ and ‘defect prevention’ are preludes to the continuous improvement process.  An optimal defect detection system would not operate on the misplaced assumption that increasing the quantity of tests (mass inspection) would automatically “decrease the variability of the quality characteristics of products and services.”  Likewise, a robust defect prevention . . . Read More

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What is meant by the moment of truth in service design

Moments of truths are those brief periods of communication between the customer and a service provider where either a positive or negative response is generated.  For example, in a retail store all points of contact between the customer and service personnel are considered moments of truth.  These include check-in, enquiries about products, bill settlement, check-out, etc.  Hence, understanding the concept of moment of truth is essential for good customer service.

One of the ways in which customer goodwill can be generated is by anticipating points of interaction and developing protocols for the service team to follow. By paying attention to service design a business can convert accumulative moments of truth into brand loyalty.  In the service industry the customer experience is usually not based on tangible factors.  Instead they are constituted by first impressions, feeling of trust and confidence toward the service provider, etc.  In other words, the customer . . . Read More

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