Application VII: Technology

Technological innovation has made progress the hallmark of recent human history. It has been a vital source for improved quality of life. It makes continued improvement in the solving of situational problems a grounded expectation for the future. Innovation is optimistically seen as the lifeblood of an expanding economy through new products and services. Calls for innovation abound.

Who is to hear and how to respond? Is innovation simply a matter of individual, perhaps collective, genius, a product (so to speak) of evolution – and perhaps of combined talents? Does innovation itself profit from innovation? Need it? Can it?

What all are we talking about when we speak of technology? Too readily, but too loosely, we invoke the concept of “tool.” Indeed, any contributor to solving a problem becomes by this usage a tool. However, we have introduced in BFPS three distinctions that need to be made with regard to technology. Making them should help us to provide a foundation for innovation as a behavioral capability, open to and susceptible of further development.

First we want to distinguish between B-structures and S-structures, between what we commonly – but not universally – see as tools and procedures, two contributors to a composed solution’s “all that it takes”. The latter are too often confused conceptually and then both treated as tools. Both are developmental products of need with instrumental value, but the procedure has a unique value that the tool does not. Its behavioral molecule helps solve the behavioral problem (: Pbeh). Its use is not specific to a situational problem.

So now the second distinction we need to consider is the difference between the situational problem and the behavioral problem. We need to introduce two more dimensions to technology: tool procedures and procedural tools, one very familiar and much used, the other much used but not all that knowingly. And it is this last part of the technology picture wherein we can see and potentially develop an innovative basis for innovation – a stronger infrastructure for innovation if you will.

Tool procedures – i.e., tool using procedures (e.g., computer documentation, “directions for use,” “practice, practice, practice”) – are the familiars here. Procedural tools are something else: the foundations, some already invented, some not, for much of how we do things, the steps we make and the steps we take (or not!). While visibly employed on situational problems, they are, even though behavioral bedrock, as much unnoticed in service of the behavioral problem as gravity is on earthly bodies.

It is their situational employment that obscures procedural tools. Take language for instance. It comes across as a tool whose usage incurs many demanding procedural matters: word definition, syntactic “correctness,” “readability,” clarification, nonambiguity (see : Singularity requisite), message meaning (its points: OF, FOR, ABOUT, AT) … just to note some of the more common difficulties that arise.

Attribution and objectification, both embedded in language, are also procedural tools. Communication gives us the capability to objectify anything for the purpose of ascribing characteristics to it. To wit – and ironically – “behavior” and “human behavior.” Those dealing with particulars, as in classification and cross-classification, follow this line of (yes) behavior.

For language, as we shall see for other much-used procedural tools, our attention is drawn away from its invention as a procedural tool toward its situational use as though we faced nothing more than a tool procedure difficulty. (Well, difficulties if we are honest about it.) Proper usage (!!!), some think, will take care of matters! Meanwhile our “living language” weakly voices protest.

Skinner and Chomsky can argue, each with credibility and conviction, but they are talking about tool procedure more than procedural tool. Skinner’s point about a community of usage agreements and Chomsky’s point about there being a logic to syntax both are directed toward language as a tool and its procedures, less so than to a tool for proceeding. (It should be noted however that dynamically understanding depends on agreements just as agreement may depend on understandings.)

The third pertinent distinction from BFPS comes from the balance requisite, which says of function and structure that they work both ways: structure sometimes dictates function (tool procedure) and function sometimes dictates structure (procedural tool). The function => structure portion of this dynamic is especially important because of the distinction between the situational problem and the behavioral problem. Structure in the case of procedural tools follows from general functional needs (Pbeh) and not merely from this or that particular situational need (Psit). Thus in comparing cultures, for example, it does not suffice to look only at their tools, procedures, and tool procedures. Strikingly different though these may be, the crucial difference between developed and underdeveloped cultures may lie in their procedural tools. This same point would also seem to apply to past and future societal cases of “decline and fall.”

(It should also be obvious that, on these grounds, the concept of evolution is totally inadequate as a synonym for development. See .)

Two examples illustrate how important – and neglected – the function x structure distinction is to effective problem solving. First, the market viewed in tool procedure terms: Leave its regulation to the “invisible hand,” it is said. Just understand how the market works (e.g., supply and demand, money, capital investment, distribution, credit, etc.) and a stable equilibrium can be expected. But the market is also a procedural tool, a bartering/trading developmental product. It meets a functional need. But that does not guarantee that it meets this need optimally, that there is no further invention required. (This puts an entirely different perspective on regulation. A modern technologically developed enterprise routinely adjusts structure for functional performance.) Then, too, consider the U.S. Constitution and the polity question of “judicial activism”: Strict interpretation of its articles and amendments see this and other constitutions as posing a problem in tool procedures. Structure determines judicial function. But what of the preamble to the Constitution? It specifies (needed, we assume) functions, as in “toward a more perfect union” and “to promote the general welfare.” If the U.S. Supreme Court is the “court of last resort” then it may well be the agent to call the original (invented) structure into question, then perhaps to provide relief via informed reinterpretation or referral to the legislative branch. Or, of course, we might regularly convene constitutional reviews – which we now do ad hoc by amendment.

The behavioral problem aspect of procedural tools can be seen, as in Merton’s terms, as the latent rather than the manifest function. Thus, when we say that someone is “in the game” (of the marketplace) we do not mean just playing the market for profit. That person has established a way of life. Similarly, constitutions authorize this or that, but they also establish authority as a way of determining behavior. Rituals must be followed, but they are also a way of seeking help. (The point here is not just that procedures are “two sides of the coin.” Rather, the point is that one side of the (procedural tool) coin has two facets. Structure follows both general and particular functional needs as sources.

To optimize development via invention is to respect both sources. Some procedural tools are key in this regard. Language, for one, is a unique procedural tool for humans – more distinctively so than “symbol using” (a tool procedure) –because it is an inventive advance beyond words. It unites cognitive and communicative capabilities (App.III), providing a way forward for behavior before the behavioral entity must commit itself to a more corporate move. A conversation, inter- or intra-personal, can help advance us. (A word alone may reduce communication to codes and their usage. “Encoding and decoding” has been an unfortunately incomplete characterization of communication as process.)

It’s no secret that tools and tool procedures s do not do everything we would like them to do. Criticism of dysfunction flourishes, though not always well aimed (e.g., “Guns don’t kill people, people do.”), criticism sometimes aimed at the most gross (war) and sometimes at the slightest dysfunction. But what is missing is effective analysis, an understanding of behavioral necessity, its requisites and imperatives, which will guide and urge us toward inventive development. Our current behavioral principles (e.g., norms and taboos) are too much particulars of what we should do and what we should not do, and not enough about what we need to do and how we should proceed to do it. (See general x particular in .)

Behavioral necessity is why technology has preceded science on occasion, and it is why “development and research” needs to be brought into dynamic balance with “research and development.” Science, qua knowledge, to be complete must sometimes depend on technology, qua knowing as a process: being able to bring about consequences via invented (behavioral) consequentiality within the step. Synthesis is an achieving of, and then too the test of, knowing.

Composition, manifested as magnificently as it is by creativity and invention, is the functional and structural core of living. We need to make it an effective procedural tool and not just an exercise in tool usage (e.g., English composition). Which is not to disparage the utility of tools and tool procedures, but to emphasize our incompletely realized capability to invent a very consequential portion of our future. To compose is to be adept and it needs to be a center post of education (, ), lest development falter and our futures fail.

Procedural tools have a strategic, even a meta-strategic, role to play in the way we cope behaviorally. Take stories (e.g., myths, histories, narratives, fiction, daydreams) for instance. They give us a way of expressing the structure of behavior– albeit rather crudely on a skeleton of temporal sequence, in terms of relationships typically, relying on words and linguistic syntax for representation of the consequentiality involved. The potential for more complete and accurate representation of the relatings and before-after relations involved by cognition and communication in bringing about the consequentiality) is not fully realized. The infrastructure for composing problem solutions is still underdeveloped.

Take games for another instance. Functionally they are more than a diversion – say, from work.. They are a way of life too, a solution to the behavioral problem. (Fond memories for youthful games may say something about a growing gap between control need and control capability in later life.)

“Systems” is a popular concept, and “systems thinking” as well. But both concepts seem to be talking about need for organization, on the one hand, and about focusing on relationships or employing a particular system criterially on the other hand. That is, procedure, tool and/or tool procedure are being called for. With respect to a procedural tool, system qua need would appear to call for a compositional procedural tool.

Many existing procedural tools can be quite dysfunctional. Consider, for example, the tendency to construe behavior as decision making rather than problem solving, and thus to fashion both economies and polities (e.g., communities, societies) for aggregates of consumers and voters, focusing on available rather than possible alternatives, debating issues instead of discussing problems – with all the dysfunctions of pre-election partisanship and post-election erosion among “losers” of whatever community capability existed. All this is aided by object-oriented hardware menus: the computer as a tool and its procedures.

Decision making as a procedural tool needs to be understood as a problem solver in one important respect, however. It may solve the behavioral problem. If one can perform no better than to choose, then that’s a way to go. But this solution does raise problems (: Ps). and not just of missed inventive opportunity. Making decisions, especially among presented alternatives, may call for information not available or not easily available; it may confront us with no straightforward reduction of the implicit data matrix (e.g., one alternative may excel on one attribute and another may excel on a different attribute); it may call forth an ideology that makes a sham even of decision making.

(Journalistic businesses have indulged in this procedural tool, asserting a responsibility for providing a balanced menu of information for decision making, rather than developing their capability to gather and publish information essential to problem definition and solution. [See : There is also the responsibility to become more capable when one undertakes to serve a functional need, or self or for community.])

The distinction between procedural tools and tool procedures, once seen, makes it much clearer why we have listed as impediments (in ) so many innocent-looking techniques (e.g., those, such as classification, that utilize the object-attribute relationship). As tool procedures, as skills worth learning and adopting, they have undoubted utility. But as ways to most productively address the behavioral problem (witness the BE condition of incomplete instruction), they stand astride the quality of life slope as tangents (S-P) and barriers (Ps). A broad repertoire, a palette of such skills, has much to recommend it – as when seeking vocational employment, but the fact remains that we are woefully underprepared to handle all the problems ahead of us – especially with overpopulation and diminishing resources. And these tangents and barriers are indeed impediments to our becoming better prepared, individually and collectively.

Contrary to what Crowe said about the “Tragedy of the Commons” problem, there is a technical solution to that problem. It will be a procedural tool for composing, for establishing and operating a community capability, a better human operating system We just have not composed that compositional procedural tool yet: a step structure that meets our functional needs, with special attention to our under-developed capability to bring more of the future into the present through enhanced questioning and imagining capabilities – lest we continue ineffectually to neglect the dangers lying ahead of us in such problems as global warming, deficit spending, resource depletion and over-population. (The quality of life is a slippery slope; another “dark ages” is not an impossibility.)

We need a new beginning with a better behavioral foundation (See ), one that unites the capabilities of science and art in the service of humanity. For that we need a stronger infrastructure for compositional change, for the technological innovation that will be required.

We need better human operating systems, procedural tools that complement and enhance tools and their procedures, operating systems for individuals and for communities (, and ), procedural tools that prepare us by solving as much of the behavioral problem as we can before it becomes necessary to solve this or that situational problem. That after every major disaster there are reports of communication failures in the response to distress … that is just the tip of the iceberg to the inadequacy of our operational preparedness.

(c) 2011 R. F. Carter


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