more reflections on Rashamon

•10 June 2018 • Leave a Comment

For reasons that aren’t necessary to go into here (ooh – indeliberately building an air of mystery), I’ve been thinking about Rashamon phenomena.  And these reflections have been centered on one aspect of these phenomena, namely the distinction between the active and the passive.

Previously, we’ve described Rashamon phenomena as a thing that happens, where different people view a single event or single object in some general sense, and see different things.  But this is a very passive view of the phenomena.  The next question then becomes, how to make active use of these phenomena.

So what do I mean by this.  Knowing that these phenomena exist and knowing that they are somewhat common, perhaps very common, how can we take advantage of these phenomena.

The first way I can see of making use of these phenomena is to help me structure my arguments and my proposals, when I argue points of fact or interpretation or when I put forward a proposal.

Knowing that people will view these arguments and proposals differently than I intend, and knowing that people will view them differently from one another, regardless of how much I try and put myself into other peoples’ shoes, means that I need to be be very careful in how I put those arguments and proposals together and how I shop them around before making formal proposals.

But I think it should be possible to do more.  And this is where I’m exploring.  How can I take what I know about Rashamon and use it in an active way.  What I’ve described just above, while prudent and helpful, is actually also passive in terms of the phenomenon itself.  It’s informing my actions, but it’s not really shaping them.

I find this sort of exploration interesting.  I’m not entirely sure where it will take me but I know that I’ll enjoy the journey.  We’ll see where it takes me.

reflections on Rashamon

•3 June 2018 • 2 Comments

I would like to pick up a theme I started working through some time ago, namely the Rashamon phenomenon.   As I go on in my career, I find myself pondering this phenomenon more and more, because I encounter aspects of it more and more.  And I’m curious as to why.

Perhaps it’s just something fundamental to the nature of being human.  We each come to each experience with the baggage and influence of the lives we’ve led up to the moment of the experience.  And even though we are tied together by our common language, we each experience each moment from our own particular viewpoint.

But it isn’t just the baggage and influence of our past experience.  We each also approach each moment with some amount and some direction of expectation and assumption.  Perhaps we will assume that a conversation will be on one topic, and it isn’t until we’re some minutes into it that we realize the other person is talking about something completely unrelated.

These are tied together in something that martial artists, and Zen practitioners more generally, refer to as the Beginner’s Mind.  How can we approach each moment on its own merits, rather than being bound by the expectations and assumptions we bring along with us.

This is clearly something important to a martial artist, as should we find ourselves in the situation of needing to do something in the face of an attack, even in the relatively confined circumstance of a grading or demonstration, for instance, we can find ourselves in real trouble, on both sides, if we make an assumption that turns out to be unfounded.

It’s interesting to speculation on the extent to which the Rashamon phenomenon is tied up in these difficulties of being human, and to what extent it is the result of deliberate misunderstanding or at least the deliberate act of assuming that it must be the other person that misunderstood.

On a slightly different tack, we can go back to a basic part of the Rashamon phenomenon, viewing the different perspectives on an event as shadows projected in different directions by that event.  And this leads to something equally interesting.

If I take a shape of shadow, I can always find an object that has that shape of shadow.  If I take 2 shapes of shadow, I can always find a single object that has one of those shapes of shadow in one direction and the other in a different direction.

If I take though 3 shapes of shadows, does there always exist a single object which has shadows in each of those 3 shapes in 3 different directions?  And how might we build that object?  Sometimes the answer is yes, as there is a single (rather simple) shape that casts a circular shadow in one direction, a triangular shadow in a second direction and a square shadow in a third direction.




beware, there be spoilers: models of leadership and management 2

•13 May 2018 • Leave a Comment

There are other movies beyond the Descent, explored previously, in which the characters and scriptwriters explore aspects of leadership and management.

Some are obvious, such as the structured and organized yet ultimately anarchic Tyler Darden of Fight Club, or the meticulous John Doe of Seven trying to inspire a revolution. And yes, I’m looking for these models in somewhat unlikely places, movies that don’t have management or leadership as a primary theme.

It would be interesting to explore Dr Strangelove in light of this theme, as there are many characters throughout the movie who demonstrate intriguing aspects of leadership in difficult circumstances. But I think I need to watch the movie again, as I haven’t seen it for a while.

So let’s instead do something a bit different.

Looking back at all the movies I’ve enjoyed, who is the character I would most be willing to follow and why. And here is where it gets a bit interesting, because this ties into my interest in supervillainry.

In the universe of supervillains, there are the Bond supervillains, some working for SPECTRE, some only affiliated, some working on solo projects. Of all the Bond supervillains, my favorite is Dr No, but in terms of sheer management ability, I think that Blofeld is clearly the strongest, particularly in the latter movies, though as always I was a bit sad at the speed with which their enterprise collapsed at the end.

But the Bond supervillains have an inbuilt flaw. They are all written with a fatal flaw, which is that they don’t survive their interaction with Bond.

The next step might be the Mad Scientists, particularly those that don’t think of themselves as particularly mad. Driven they might be, needing to work against the system to save the world from the damage done by the inferior intellects of others.

One of these might be interesting to work for, though it would require engaging with their specific focus. Victor von Frankenstein is perhaps the first of these, though while we see the drive, we don’t the wider charisma that would qualify him to be a true leader.

So I’m still working on this one. I think I need to go back and watch a few of these movies. Always nice to have a different sort of research to do.

models of leadership and management

•6 May 2018 • 1 Comment

I think a lot about how to structure my views about and my practice of how to lead and how to manage.  In part, this is because I find myself in situations where such thinking is necessary.

But I would like to take a slightly different approach.  Rather than the standard style of case study that we often find ourselves working through, I would like to look at movies and see how leaders and managers in movies address the challenges they face.

Alas, for some of the movies I’d like to consider, I’ll need to work from memory.  The first of these is The Descent.  What I think is relevant is not the cave dwelling monsters that chase and kill the spelunkers, leaving the lone survivor to face the awkward ending on her own.

Rather, what I find interesting is the strong character, the member of the caving party (and sorry that I can’t remember her name) who takes on the leadership role and leads her team into disaster.  This of course is not her intention.  She is after adventure and the excitement of exploration, and she makes a decision here, takes an action there, which step by step lead to the gathering disaster.

But I can see why she persists.  The first challenge comes early in the descent into the cave, and they can be cautious and turn back, or they can continue with the plan they had set.  And she decides to continue with the plan.  And it had a good chance of working.

For me, the lesson from The Descent is that I need to temper my ambition with pragmatism and with planning.  My favorite quote about planning comes from Winston Churchill: plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.  The characters in The Descent would have benefited from a bit more planning.

This quote might be one of my most favorite quotes and one that rings often in my head.  So I make plans, and the plans often fall by the wayside as the circumstances change, but yes, it is the planning, the thinking through the plans and possibilities, that matters.  And I’ll keep doing so, as long as I avoid the cave dwelling monsters.

beware, there be spoilers: Mother Night

•22 April 2018 • Leave a Comment

Three down and some number to go, and reading Vonnegut’s Mother Night has led me to ponder, and not for the first time, the nature of coincidence.

One coincidence is that Howard W Campbell, Jr, the character from whose point of view the story is told, is one of those characters who deliberately makes themselves the face of the enemy.  This is something that Vonnegut has done before, though in a slightly different way, as we wrote about in beware, there be spoilers: The Sirens of Titan.

The context is different here, because Howard finds himself being recruited by an American intelligence agent to become the voice of the Nazi regime during the second world war, and he does it spectacularly, remarkably well.  I don’t want to say much more, in case you do want to read Mother Night, which I recommend we all do.

Another coincidence is a smaller and stranger one, and gets to a completely different point, which is the extent to which we pick up ideas from the things we read.  And this part is pure pure speculation.

I don’t know whether Douglas Adams ever wrote about why he chose 42 as the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.  After all, 42 is a quite respectable number.  Not too small and not too large, an integer, the product of 2 and 3 and 7, which has great significance in my field of research for reasons I really don’t want to go into here.

The agent who recruited and ran Campbell during Mother Night at one point towards the end of the book, in their third and final face to face meeting, comments that Campbell was the only one of the 42 agents he recruited that survived the war.

I don’t know whether Adams read Mother Night and I don’t know whether the number 42 stuck itself into some subconscious crevice, to make a later appearance in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but it did get me thinking about what excavations of my own subconscious crevices I undertake when I’m writing.

I suspect it’s a lot.  When I’m casting about for something that feels write, an incident or a fact, or a number, that has the right feel to it for what I’m doing, I wonder how often I’m finding and using something with whose shape I’m familiar.  Something to pay some attention to, the next time I sit down for a bit of writing.


a question I love to ponder

•21 April 2018 • Leave a Comment

I recently read a lovely article in the Atlantic, which has (somewhat slightly) caused me to reconsider my current course in life.  But then, I have a list of things that I would love to do, as I’m sure we all do, beyond the things I’m doing now.

The article speculates on how we might be able to determine whether there was an advanced civilization on Earth millions or tens of millions of years ago.  If memory serves, and I’m not entirely sure that it does, this is an idea that while not the main idea, occurs in The Toolmaker Koan by John McLaughlin in 1988.

But this idea, that we are not the first advanced civilization on Earth, is an idea that I have to admit some fascination with.  We know remarkably little of the history of our planet and of life on our planet.  Our written record goes back only a few thousand years, and the fossil record beyond that is sparse and gets sparser as we go back in time.

After all, every year brings discoveries about our own lineage and that of our cousins that causes us to reconsider our own story on the planet, and by all available evidence, our story is a fairly recent story.

There is a part of me that’s sad that the article concludes that there probably wasn’t an advanced civilization of dinosaurs, for instance, though I remain ever hopeful.  But closer to home, and this is something I’ve speculated a bit about in Giants, Neanderthals and old stories written some long time ago, that I also have hopes that our history and that of our hominid cousins is culturally more complicated than we currently believe.

beware, there be spoilers: Colossus: the Forbin project

•15 April 2018 • Leave a Comment

While I’m still reading Vonnegut, I did take some time to watch the film version of a book I remember reading some long time ago, Colossus by D F Jones.   I have fond memories of the book, and I enjoyed the movie.

I found it particularly interesting, given the state of the world today.  While there is Colossus and Guardian’s collective understanding of the human condition and the cause of human suffering, a topic worthy of discussion in its own right, I’m more intrigued at the moment by the idea of a human-created artificial intelligence run amok.

I don’t know the history of stories about human-created artificial intelligences run amok, though I’m sure someone has written one (and if you know of one, let me know because I’m curious).  But I would think that Colossus would be one of the first.

I’ll admit that I’m not as interested in killer robots run amok, because the robots might not be very mindful of the havoc and chaos they are creating.  And though it clearly has a place in this whole lineage, I’m not including Frankenstein in this discussion.  Though Frankenstein’s creation does to a small extent run amok and is human-created, it is powered by a human brain.

What I find most striking about Colossus is not the artificial intelligence itself, Colossus and Guardian come together, but rather the naivite of their creators.  And this got me thinking.  Through short stories and novellas, books and films, perhaps stage plays and strange variants of commedia dell’arte, we have become accustomed to the idea of human creations going wrong, and we have lost some of the optimism of the characters in those works, if not the authors.

Why oh why would anyone think it a good idea to turn the defence of the nation, and all the weapons needed or designed for that defence, to a machine that can’t be turned off.  Perhaps this is a lesson that we needed to learn, and I suspect that even at the time it was speculative to turn the fate of the world over to technology.

But it is an idea that has some persistence to it – we can’t be relied on to take care of ourselves, so let’s outsource it to an objective machine.  And come the end of the movie, all I could think was, poor Doctor Forbin, lying in the bed that he’d built.

But now I’m curious.  We create ideas, we write about them and explore them through the literature we write and consume.  And to what extent do the stories we then find ourselves telling one another, come to shape our view of the world when those things finally start becoming possible?