C-17. The 5% solution

A composition, as product, is a very distinctive, even peculiar, manifestation of consequentiality (II). No mere combination that. And as the developed process (V) by which and from which that product emerges, composition is even more peculiar as a manifestation of consequentiality. No simple, unarranged collision that. And in both cases, special, because they are uniquely revealing about the Nature of Things (III).

These are not special cases of consequentiality that deviate from a general case of causal uniformity (aka “underlying order”). Rather, the deterministic notion of simple causation is the case that departs from the Nature of Things, from the persisting quality of consequentiality, which in conjunction with partial order and discontinuity entails and enables compositional processes and products. (See III: Behavioral necessity.)

Consequentiality and the Nature of Things are more evident in the process of composition, before the fact, than they are after the fact in the product of composition and/or in our crude reconstructions of behavior (e.g., means-ends, stimulus-response, cause-effect). After the fact, as products, and as particulars, they may be treated along with other collision outcomes — to whatever degree of universality (one form of generality: IV) may obtain, and/or attributed to a common (e.g., creator) source.

The neglect and abuse of process consequentiality (C-16) is critical if and when we undertake that science is about knowing. About all kinds of knowing and about all there is to be known. We have to be careful that we do not unnecessarily limit our knowing all that we can about the Nature of Things, as completely and accurately as we can. If multiple facets of consequentiality abound in compositional processes (they do! – see II, C-11 & C-16), then our knowing must be fully in attendance.

Which brings us to the opposing of chance to order, and the statistical tools developed and assembled (as disciplinary methods) that make any finding of non-chance a contribution to knowledge – and presumptively to our knowledge of the order of things. Such is the “5% solution.” We have beaten chance. But what of our knowledge of the Nature of Things, which in addition to whatever order is to be found must include an understanding of how to compose solutions to our many yet-unsolved problems – including the preservation and further development of the human race?

In the context of the Nature of Things and a full understanding of compositional process, beating chance has limited contributions to make. It’s more about removing doubt than ignorance. It dubiously contrasts order with chance instead of order with partial order. Chance may make order look better, but partial order is more comprehensive (it subsumes order) and accurate than order. Beating chance is more to the point of answering questions about location and identification than it is about function, about composing solutions to problems.

Beating chance with regard to the relationship between units of behavior (however conceived conceptually and measured operationally) has limited functional utility. There are actuarial benefits, in that our decisions may profit from a comparison of available solutions, relative to the location and identification of particular behavioral entities or aggregates of entities, perhaps conferring a competitive advantage. Instead of assuming that our beating chance s steadily adds to our knowledge of the order of things, which itself would have a limited contribution to make to the “all that it takes” of compositional efforts (II), we might better adapt beating chance methods to emulate the screening strategies of physics, chemistry and biology, They look for associations between this and that which might – just might – have material implications for discovery and/or application – given further analysis.

The 5% solution (i.e., beating chance), is about solving the observer’s behavioral problem (I:Pbeh) as much, if not more, than about solving any human situational problem(s) via the involvement of correlated behavioral variables. Formulaic obeisance to disciplinary procedures and tools opens the door to vocational acceptance and advance – and it is defensible. But that defensibility may depend on the research function having been limited to asking a question about behaviors that have not been conceptualized in the light of applicable problems (XII) – the behavioral problem of the observed not the observer. Such research produces a limited kind of knowledge. Then it has to compete with other knowledge processes and products (IX) which, understandably given our continuing behavioral problem and plenty of situational problems, are typically more concerned with a 100% solution to a problem than a 5% answer to a question.

(Applicants for a better public understanding of science might take note here. The presence of other knowledge processes and products is an important part of that public understanding. Increased scientific literacy might be beside the point. What does science not know?)

Moreover, the 5% solution breeds problems (O, I, IV), for both the researcher and for the possibility of improved situational problem solving. For all the talk of statistical power, weakness is rampant. The concepts for which variables are operational definitions are weak. Correlations as merely an associational measure of behavioral relatings and relationships are weak. The research questions, which address human behaviors after the fact, are weak. The answers, more to the point of prediction than explanation, are weak. Ad hoc plausible explanations of results are weak. And sequestered behind all this is the virtually untested working hypothesis of an underlying order to things.

More will be said on these points in subsequent comments. But consider this last point, which bears on the rationale behind the 5% solution. An underlying order of things is why we in behavioral research believe the concepts should add up, constituting an eventual total mapping, a clearer picture, of conditions relevant to human behavior. It is also why we believe that theories should be built, inductively. from concepts, as concepts are from observed particulars. The correlations too are expected to add up, supporting this underlying order, endowing statistical significance with further significance as a contribution to a fuller understanding of human behavior. So too do we assume license to speak of behavioral consequentiality in simple cause-effect terms – instead of the more pertinent distinction between effect as verb and effect as noun. And so too do we invest heavily in studying past behaviors, in the belief that such knowledge will guide us in the future, drastically over emphasizing predictability in a world of possibility and failing to interpret past behaviors with the understanding that, in their time, they were before-the-fact problems.

But have we not in some ways been testing this working hypothesis of an underlying order of things and found it wanting? What was expected to add up, whether concept or correlation, has piled up instead. Has not experience as our (best but toughest) teacher turned out to be an inadequate instructor? (See C-18.) And perhaps we might take another look at the discard pile of unpublished, statistically insignificant “effects” results: In sum do they tell us something that individually they did not? Is what they are telling us something like this: The 5% solution rejects propositions that do not meet its statistical requirements; non-significant results do not get published; but some propositions are quite plausible as behavioral efforts: for example, expected message effects, lest “media power” as concept and content analysis as method lack credibility, lest the act of communication itself lose relevance?

As in the case of off-diagonal cell entries (C-7), which vitiate a correlation and add doubt, we may have discarded promising lines of behavior – even potential pathfinders – that may just need further understanding and development of behavioral molecules for and/or by both sender and receiver. To make perfect with regard to steps may well be analogous to purifying with regard to bodies … when it comes to analyzing and composing effective behaviors. (Students – but not just students – whose expected results do not materialize often lament however, all too tellingly, that the message should have been stronger, invoking “whatever it takes” rather than “all that it takes.”)

Research on messaging effectiveness need not be limited to suggestive (e.g., “attitude”) or indicative (e.g., overt moves) behavioral measures of an audience. Book editors, after all, earn their living helping authors. “Make and measure” can apply to the prospective sender’s behavior as well as to the result of the sender-receiver relationship. Removing doubt may require an adequate audience sample in the latter case, but the sender qua composer can profit before then if the measures utilized are as appropriate before the fact as they are after the fact. For example, a non sequitur should evoke the same behavior in either case (as an elicited criterion – i.e., a non-singularity. See VIII).

Signaled stopping, as a research technique, can thus work for observing the behavior of one actor or a group of actors, and before the fact as well as after the fact of message conveyance. Consider, for example, Heffner’s use of signalled stopping (Journalism Monographs, No.30 ) to assess the amount of work reporters put into their stories and the amount of work readers then had to put into comprehending those stories. How many stops did each make? The less work the reporters did, the more the readers did.

(Signalled stopping and cognigraphics are two research techniques which can be applied to both the composition of a message and to its comprehension, to assess and enhance effectiveness — not the least by minimizing misunderstanding and lack of understanding. Cognigraphics emphasizes the contributions that cognitive processes and products make – and have yet to make, pending innovation, to language. See App. VII.)

Authors, as artists, experiment with composition. Why not authors as experimental researchers? Would not, for instance, experimental journalism be as much to the point as experimental community (C-10) – or any other innovative advance requiring composition?

“Underlying order” as a hypothesis appears to represent more of a defensive, self-limiting posture than the Holy Grail of science it is sometimes seen to point toward. The emphasis on doubt suggests the defensiveness, the orientation toward 5% rather than 100% the limitation. Science is by the latter understandably thereby detached, sometimes embarrassingly and frustratingly so, from problem solving. (There is a long history here, all the way back to when tribal leaders delegated a part, but only a part, of their responsibility to someone as designated seer, lacking as they did the capability to see the way forward in all matters – and thus lacking authority beyond strength of arms, so to speak. Natural authority, the given order of things, was to be consulted. And, as necessary, responsibility could be further ceded to circumstances and agents with which communication [e.g., prayer, sacrifice] might be established. )

What matters most now, however, is how we are to proceed if, as scientists, we give as much attention to knowing the future — in the sense and ways that this is possible (i.e., development and research, not just research and development)– as we have the past. We need to counter the habit noted by Kierkegaard of walking forward while looking backward, to bring the future into the present as effectively as we have the past. Paradoxically, the best view forward comes from looking far back, past the particulars of human experience, which are relatively recent, and what they offer as predictions, all the way back to the earliest of collisions, to the Nature of Things and the functional demands that collisions then made and still make on behavioral entities (C-12; C-20).

It might help here to rethink the distinction between “long term memory” and “short term memory.” What if we were to see the former as our way of looking back, to bring the past into the present, and the latter as our way of looking forward, to bring the future into the present – what we see dimly as “progress” in the extraordinary rate of increase in human achievement in recent millennia (See App. III)? Were we to do so, should we not wonder then if we have invested far more, especially in technology, in developing the former than in the latter? (See App. VII.) Would we see “imagination” differently, both for its role in composition and in its manifestation in children, who have far more future than past to look to? (Imagination’s invocation as a dubious image seems a biased and limiting case.) Wouldn’t this be a candidate to account for the “here today, gone today” aspect of short term memory? And for that capability’s sometimes drastic erosion in the aged – while long term memories still bestir, sometimes bedevil?

(c) 2011 R. F. Carter