Saturday, July 20, 2013

Four U.S. military veterans who are survivors of military sexual assaults testified Friday before a House of Representatives Veterans' Affairs subcommittee

» US Survivors of Military Sexual Assaults Seek Better Treatment
19/07/13 22:33 from Voice of America
Four U.S. military veterans who are survivors of military sexual assaults testified Friday before a House of Representatives Veterans' Affairs subcommittee. They asked for better care and treatment for their trauma from the U.S. Veterans Ad...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

FBI and "behavior modification"

For the purposes of our discussion, one of the main questions, and, it seems to me, very important one, from ethical, moral, political and probably many other points of view, is: can a government agency of the free and great country attempt a behavior modification, or behavioral change of its citizen in a nontherapeutic environment and for nontherapeutic purposes, if these practices indeed take place (and they most definitely did occur in the past), regardless of their goals and underlying rationale? Is this not a threat to Liberty that we cherish so much, is this not dangerous in many respects, is this not contrary to the very foundations of our social lives?
I excised this passage from a post on analysability of behavior not because of the self-censorship or any discomfort with this subject; just opposite: because it is so important that it deserves a separate mentioning and a special research, investigation and discussion. However, I do not think that this is a right time for a public discussion of this issue (although, arguably, of course any time is a right time for any public discussions). I think there are a lot of other pressing issues at hand that might deserve a higher priority. Besides that, I do not really know much about it and I do not think that anyone does except, maybe a group of "specialists". I think the best thing to do at this point is for the FBI to conduct their own internal examination of this issue and all its potential implications. Personally, I will continue to study this subject, as reasonably, as my time permits. I do not think there are reasons  at this point not to trust the FBI with moral and ethical judgements in general and with this issue in particular. From my point of view, I would question not only the ethical and moral aspects of it, but also, not less importantly, the overall efficiency of these strategies, their scientific basis and their cost-efficiency. As my questions imply, I suspect that they are inefficient, have very little, if any, scientific basis (behaviorism itself, it seems to me is a rather crude and mechanistic approach to human nature), and are very expensive to conduct. If FBI decides to consult me on this or any other issue, of course, I would be happy to help, but at this point, again, I think they probably would feel more comfortable to deal with it by themselves. Which does not exclude the expectation that their findings (open, honest, in-depth) will be shared with the public and will be discussed with the public. Again, this issue is too important to ignore it or to cover it up.

Michael Novakhov

Links and References

Applied behavior analysis - GS

Applied behavior analysis - W

Crime analysis - W

applied behavior analysis and fbi - GS

behavior modification - GS

Operant conditioning - W

behavior modification and fbi - GS

Does fbi practice behavior modification? - GS


Behavioral Analysis Unit - W

Behavioral Science Unit - W

sociotherapy - GS

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Is human behavior analysable and understandable in principle? - "Would you pluck out the heart of my mystery?"

5:30 - 7:00

Uploaded on Jan 18, 2010 
Act III, scene 2. The players perform "The Murder of Gonzago." Hamlet brags to Horatio that he has exposed Claudius. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come to tell him that his mother is looking for him. Part 2. 

"GUILDENSTERN O, my lord, if my duty be too bold, my love is too
HAMLET I do not well understand that. Will you play upon
this pipe?
GUILDENSTERN My lord, I cannot.
HAMLET I pray you.
GUILDENSTERN Believe me, I cannot.
HAMLET I do beseech you.
GUILDENSTERN I know no touch of it, my lord.
HAMLET 'Tis as easy as lying: govern these ventages with
your fingers and thumb, give it breath with your
mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music.
Look you, these are the stops.
GUILDENSTERN But these cannot I command to any utterance of
harmony; I have not the skill.

HAMLET  Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of
me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know
my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my
mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to
the top of my compass: and there is much music,
excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot
you make it speak. 'Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what
instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you
cannot play upon me."

"I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people."
- Sir Isaac Newton

Is human behavior analysable in principle?

Is human behavior understandable in principle?

Yes, but to a certain degree, and ultimately - not.

The various attempts at understanding it depend on a multitude of factors: from purposes and contexts of these attempts at understanding to various characteristics of subject and object: of what is attempted to be understood and who attempts it. The more complex they are, the more complex is the outcome of these attempts.

What is behavior and what is analysis?

Definitions of "behavior"

From Wikipedia (and similar definitions from other  sources which are more or less the same):

Behavior in general is defined as "the range of actions and mannerisms made by organisms, systems, or artificial entities in conjunction with their environment, which includes the other systems or organisms around as well as the physical environment. It is the response of the system or organism to various stimuli or inputs, whether internal or external, conscious or subconscious, overt or covert, and voluntary or involuntary."

Human behavior is defined as "the range of behaviors exhibited by humans and which are influenced by culture, attitudes, emotions, values, ethics, authority, rapport, hypnosis, persuasion, coercion and/or genetics.
The behavior of people (and other organisms or even mechanisms) falls within a range with some behavior being common, some unusual, some acceptable, and some outside acceptable limits. In sociology, behavior in general is considered as having no meaning, being not directed at other people, and thus is the most basic human action. Behavior in this general sense should not be mistaken with social behavior, which is a more advanced action, as social behavior is behavior specifically directed at other people. The acceptability of behavior is evaluated relative to social norms and regulated by various means of social control.
The behavior of humans is studied by the academic disciplines of psychiatry, psychology, social work, sociology, economics, and anthropology."

From Encyclopædia Britannica:
"the potential and expressed capacity for physical, mental, and social activity during the phases of human life."

Can we accept these definitions as satisfactory? Hardly.

It seems to me that the cardinal feature of definition of behavior should be its overt, expressed character: actions and "mannerisms" which are evident to others (and usually, to some degree, to the subject also) and are directly observable, as opposed to various inner mental activities which are not directly observable, although might be hypothetically postulated based on observations. More precise term should be "overt behavior": by definitions (whatever unsatisfactory they are), it is always overt. When it is "covert", it is not behavior, it is "mental life", or "mental processes".
"It has sometimes been said that 'behave is what organisms do'." (Behaviorism - SEP)
We can rephrase it a bit: human behavior is what humans do. This leaves out of the equation all the rest: determinants, motivations, etc., which should be the subjects of separate considerations and studies. In a way "behavior" is a "black box":
"In science and engineering, a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics without any knowledge of its internal workings. Its implementation is "opaque" (black). Almost anything might be referred to as a black box: a transistor, an algorithm, or the human mind."

From a very superficial and preliminary review of sources, I got the impression that philosophers prefer to use the notion of "human nature" rather than "human behavior", and the notion of "human nature" appears to be much deeper, richer and ontologically oriented. Apparently, they are less interested in how humans behave and more in what they (really) are. This is a very interesting difference in approach to this subject. Probably overt behavior is viewed by philosophers as something that is too fluid, too passing, too secondary in comparison with its underlying primary "nature" and "essence".

Behavior is very changeable (at least and most of the time on a surface, sometimes - deeply, when someone appears to be a different person at various stages in his/her life), its nature and essence remain largely the same.

Now we have to turn to the "analysis of analysis": to what it is and how it impacts the subject of our discussion.

Links and References

Is human behavior analysable in principle? - GS

Is human behavior understandable in principle? - GS

Understanding human behaviour: taking a more complex approach - The Guardian
Large-scale surveys are useful but if we are serious about changing behaviours, we must use every tool to understand human complexity. This is the first in a 5-part series of posts based on Steven Johnson's upcoming book, 'Considered Creative'.

behavior - GS

Behavior - W

human behavior - GS

Human behavior - W

human behaviour - Encyclopædia Britannica

Results for "human behavior" Search - SEP

human behavior definition - GS

Behaviorism - W

Principle of least effort - W

Black box theory - W

Human nature - W

philosophy of human nature - GS

philosophy of behavior - GS

philosophy of human behavior - GS

philosophy of human person - GS

philosophers of human behavior - GS

philosophers on human beings - GS

ontology - GS

Natural law - W

behavior and mind - GS

behavior and soul - GS

behavioral styles - GS

behavior styles sigmund freud - GS

behavior and law - GS

human behavior and law - GS

attachment behaviors - GS

detachment behaviors - GS

analysis - GS

analysability - GS

synthesis - GS

understanding - GS

analysis of human behavior - GS

analysability of human behavior - GS

Intelligence analysis - W

Applied behavior analysis - GS

Applied behavior analysis - W

Crime analysis - W

applied behavior analysis and fbi - GS

behavior modification - GS

Operant conditioning - W

behavior modification and fbi - GS

Does fbi practice behavior modification? - GS


Behavioral Analysis Unit - W

Behavioral Science Unit - W

sociotherapy - GS

self-analysis - GS

Self-assessment - W

Political psychology - W


First Published on 7.13.13     Last Update on 7.14.13

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Comments on Richards Heuer's "Psychology of Intelligence Analysis"

Comments on Richards Heuer's "Psychology of Intelligence Analysis"

Psychology of Intelligence Analysis - Richards J. Heuer, Jr.

"What Heuer examines so clearly and effectively is how the human thought process builds its own models through which we process information. This is not a phenomenon unique to intelligence; as Heuer’s research demonstrates, it is part of the natural functioning of the human cognitive process, and it has been demonstrated across a broad range of fields ranging from medicine to stock market analysis." (p. ix) 

The common element is the need and the ability to "make judgments based on incomplete and ambiguous information..." (p. 2). 

The terms "ability" and "judgement" are in want of further elaboration. 


Chapter 1: Thinking About Thinking

"A central focus of this book is to illuminate the role of the observer in determining what is observed and how it is interpreted." (p. 4)

"Before obtaining a license to practice, psychoanalysts are required to undergo psychoanalysis themselves in order to become more aware of how their own personality interacts with and conditions their observations of others. The practice of psychoanalysis has not been so successful that its procedures should be emulated by the intelligence and foreign policy community. But the analogy highlights an interesting point: Intelligence analysts must understand themselves before they can understand others. Training is needed to (a) increase self-awareness concerning generic problems in how people perceive and make analytical judgments concerning foreign events, and (b) provide guidance and practice in overcoming these problems." (p. 4) 

These are very interesting analogy and point: "self-awareness" and "self-understanding" (of your own background, motivation, personality and reactions set and their impacts and influence on "analytical judgements" as a tool and a factor in improving their "objectivity", quality and "correctness" or veracity and hopefully diminishing the influence of various emotional, cognitive and logical biases. The question remains what are or should be the criteria for evaluating the outcome, "objectivity", quality and "correctness" of these judgements. 

This quote also brings up the issue of general usefulness (or not usefulness) of various psychodynamic theories and practices in the light of their very questionable therapeutic "success"  and a lack of true scientific basis. 

"It is simply assumed, incorrectly, that analysts know how to analyze." (p. 5)
This statement can be applied to any type of "analysts", be them "psychoanalysts" or stock traders. It also, and probably inevitably, brings us to the general issue of what "analysis" really is, to philosophical and epistemological aspects of it. The nature and the unique tool sets of any analytical activity is determined by its pragmatic scope; there are many very different analyses which are defined by practical needs for them. 

"The disadvantage of a mind-set is that it can color and control our perception to the extent that an experienced specialist may be among the last to see what is really happening when events take a new and unexpected turn. When faced with a major paradigm shift, analysts who know the most about a subject have the most to unlearn." (p. 5)

This is also very interesting, important and correct point and observation. It is similar to the cognitive (and also emotional and other) difficulties in reevaluating and changing the initial or established diagnostic impressions in clinical medical practice, when the new data sets are accumulated. The true extent, impact and significance of this general problem probably is not known by us very well and it comes up mostly in medical malpractice situations. 

"Major paradigm shifts" definitely present challenges to their adherents, who are invested into them cognitively, emotionally and professionally. T. Kuhn, describing "paradigm shifts" in science, observed that most of the adherents of old paradigms do not really change their views, they continue to stick with the old paradigms and simply die with them

"If analysts’ understanding of events is greatly influenced by the mind-set or mental model through which they perceive those events, should there not be more research to explore and document the impact of different mental models?" (p. 5-6) 

Most definitely, it should be more research in this area. 

"The reaction of the Intelligence Community to many problems is to collect more information, even though analysts in many cases already have more information than they can digest." 
The so called "principle of parsimony (Occam's razor)" might be applicable in these situations. 

Chapter 2: Perception: Why Can’t We See What Is There To Be Seen?

"Moreover, the circumstances under which intelligence analysis is conducted are precisely the circumstances in which accurate perception tends to be most difficult." (p. 7) 
"Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided through the five senses." (p. 7) 

"We tend to perceive what we expect to perceive." (p. 8)

Perceptions, simple and complex (not just simple sensory - this is what is usually meant by perceptions in psychiatry and psychology, but complex, mental, "informational", so to speak, perceptions; which are completely different phenomena by their nature) are processed in "gestalts": patterns, perceptual mini-concepts, perceptual frameworks, perceptual mini-paradigms, if you will; which include the perceptual mental set and expectations: "...what people in general and analysts in particular perceive, and how readily they perceive it, are strongly influenced by their past experience, education, cultural values, and role requirements, as well as by the stimuli recorded by their receptor organs." (p. 8) 

"Expectations have many diverse sources, including past experience, professional training, and cultural and organizational norms." (p. 9) 

"Perception is also influenced by the context in which it occurs. Different circumstances evoke different sets of expectations." (p. 9) 

The role and purpose of these perceptual gestalts or perceptual mini-paradigms (just like for any paradigm as a conceptual framework in general), besides the inherent phenomenon of "mental economy" (organisation of mental processes in a most efficient way) is to provide us with the complete perceptual picture, to compensate and to fill out for missing perceptual elements and parts (this process is based on perceptual mental set, previous experiences and expectations) , for no perception is absolutely and entirely complete in its process. The role of a paradigm in general as a cognitive device is to compensate the lack of exact, precise, detailed and complete knowledge by adding the unifying, all-encompassing and cementing element of belief  into this complex cognitive system, and belief becomes its affective, emotional component. That is why people hold on to their paradigms or belief systems so tenaciously: they are strongly invested into them affectively, emotionally. In other words, if we do not know something exactly, very often we simply believe that we do, rather than to face the unknown. 

See gestalts theory of perception - GS.

Heuer's definition of a "mind-set": 
"Patterns of expectations tell analysts, subconsciously, what to look for, what is important, and how to interpret what is seen. These patterns form a mind-set that predisposes analysts to think in certain ways. A mind-set is akin to a screen or lens through which one perceives the world."
Heuer's "mind-sets" might be defined more accurately (arguably) as "perceptual mental sets". 

"Actually, mind-sets are neither good nor bad; they are unavoidable." (p. 10)

"Analysts do not achieve objective analysis by avoiding preconceptions; that would be ignorance or self-delusion. Objectivity is achieved by making basic assumptions and reasoning as explicit as possible so that they can be challenged by others and analysts can, themselves, examine their validity." (p. 10)

I think that the more exact way of putting it would be that "making basic assumptions and reasoning as explicit as possible" does not achieve objectivity itself but is simply an attempt at achieving it. Objectivity itself might be an ever elusive goal and, which is more, might be in principle, inherently antithetical to the nature and purposes of intelligence analysis. 

Characteristics of Heuer's "mind-sets: 

They are relatively stable and adhere to initial impressions: "mind-sets tend to be quick to form but resistant to change." (p. 10) 

New data sets tend to be "auxillary", additional to already existing and perceptually established sets: "new information is assimilated to existing images", "... gradual, evolutionary change often goes unnoticed." (p. 11) 

In other words, in order for newly added information to acquire proper significance and value, it might take a "paradigm change or shift" (of various magnitudes and hierarchies), it has to be evaluated properly within a new conceptual framework or by a new evaluator who uses this framework without preexisting misconceptions and biases that come with the old paradigm. 
"A fresh perspective is sometimes useful; past experience can handicap as well as aid analysis." (p. 11) 

The ambiguity of newly added information contributes to its "additional, auxillary" character and probably to some depreciation of its true significance and value because this ambiguity does not allow the new information to fit easily into existing conceptual framework and might require a new one, a new paradigm, a new thinking or a new thinker (which are the same) in order for it to be appreciated fully or more correctly. 

"This tendency to assimilate new data into pre-existing images is greater “the more ambiguous the information, the more confident the actor is of the validity of his image, and the greater his commitment to the established view.” (p. 11-12) 

One might recall an old and trite adage: what we see or able to see depends on our points of view. 

"One of the more difficult mental feats is to take a familiar body of data and reorganize it visually or mentally to perceive it from a different perspective. Yet this is what intelligence analysts are constantly required to do. In order to understand international interactions, analysts must understand the situation as it appears to each of the opposing forces, and constantly shift back and forth from one perspective to the other as they try to fathom how each side interprets an ongoing series of interactions." (p. 13)

The more points of view we have, the fuller and more comprehensive is the picture. 

"Initial exposure to blurred or ambiguous stimuli interferes with accurate perception even after more and better information becomes available" (p. 13): the first impression is the strongest and might skew the evaluation of the newly acquired and better information.

Heuer cites the results of a psychological experiment: "In other words, the greater the initial blur, the clearer the picture had to be before people could recognize it. Second, the longer people were exposed to a blurred picture, the clearer the picture had to be before they could recognize it." (p. 14) 

"The early but incorrect impression tends to persist because the amount of information necessary to invalidate a hypothesis is considerably greater than the amount of information required to make an initial interpretation." (p. 14) 

Refutation of the preformed or preexisting "perceptual hypothesis" might require not only the greater amount of information but also the newer and better ways of processing it, a new "perceptual paradigm", a new perceptual framework. However the qualitative paradigmatic switch will require the adequate, sufficient and convincing quantitative accumulation of the new data.

Implications for Intelligence Analysis

"Comprehending the nature of perception has significant implications for understanding the nature and limitations of intelligence analysis. The circumstances under which accurate perception is most difficult are exactly the circumstances under which intelligence analysis is generally conducted—dealing with highly ambiguous situations on the basis of information that is processed incrementally under pressure for early judgment. This is a recipe for inaccurate perception." (p. 14)

"Intelligence seeks to illuminate the unknown. Almost by definition, intelligence analysis deals with highly ambiguous situations. As previously noted, the greater the ambiguity of the stimuli, the greater the impact of expectations and pre-existing images on the perception of that stimuli. Thus, despite maximum striving for objectivity, the intelligence analyst’s own preconceptions are likely to exert a greater impact on the analytical product than in other fields where an analyst is working with less ambiguous and less discordant information." (p. 14) 

"Once an observer thinks he or she knows what is happening, this perception tends to resist change. New data received incrementally can be fit easily into an analyst’s previous image. This perceptual bias is reinforced by organizational pressures favoring consistent interpretation; once the analyst is committed in writing, both the analyst and the organization have a vested interest in maintaining the original assessment." (p. 16) 

We might call this observation and phenomenon "institutional perceptual bias".

"Given the difficulties inherent in the human processing of complex information", Heuer recommends: 
  • to "clearly delineate ... assumptions and chains of inference and that specify the degree and source of uncertainty involved in the conclusions."
  • to "re-examine key problems from the ground up in order to avoid the pitfalls of the incremental  approach."  
  • to "expose and elaborate alternative points of view." 
  • to "define a set of realistic expectations as a standard against which to judge analytical performance." 
(p. 16)

My conclusions: always doubt, always be ready for change, always consider the alternative ways of looking at things.  


Links and References

Intelligence analysis - W

analytic epistemology - GS

Epistemology (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

international political behavior

history of intelligence 


First Published: 7.10.13      Last Update: 7.13.13