Gini Nelson\’s Engaging Conflicts

October 31, 2006

Online Mediation’s “Ghost Of a Chance: Three Ways Mediators Can Celebrate Halloween”

Filed under: Tips, Treats, and Tools — Gini @ 8:00 am

Diane Levin celebrates the holiday with real class, and shares her favorite holiday with us on her blog, Online Guide To Mediation:

Ghost of a chance: three ways mediators can celebrate Halloween

Happy Halloween from Online Guide to MediationDespite the efforts of retail giants to commercialize Halloween, October 31 remains my favorite holiday. What’s not to like about a day that encourages chocolate consumption?

To kick off the festivities, I propose three ways that mediators can get in on the celebration:

1. Consider a daring new practice area.

A business in Indonesia advertises itself as “the last resort for professional ghost removal and mediation services” (emphasis mine). In addition to serving as mediators in your disputes with the damned, they are also available to assist as negotiators on your behalf to rid your home of pesky poltergeists. They seem to rely upon an integrative, interest-based negotiation framework, according to their web site:

…some entities have a demand since they have a ‘territory’ to respect. Sometimes we need to know their intention and demand before we remove them.

Evidently, successful negotiations with the dead, much as with the living, depend upon a thorough exploration of mutual interests. (One can only imagine the discussion about BATNA.)

2. Sign up for a course in intergalactic conflict resolution.

Mediators eager to explore new frontiers may wish to consider one of the courses taught at the Exopolitics Institutefeatured here before on this blog): either Exopolitics 102: Citizen Diplomacy with Extraterrestrials, which includes a module on conflict resolution and mediation for the resolution of interplanetary disputes, or Multidimensional Ambassadors – Peace Building with ETs, Angels and Dolphins. (While there’s time, don’t forget to sign up for the Extraterrestrial Civilizations and World Peace Conference in May 2007.)

3. Do some seasonal reading to get into the holiday spirit.

May I suggest this post of mine from last Halloween: “High spirits: legal issues can arise on sale of haunted houses“, which concludes with discussion of an unsuccessful effort to bring a lawsuit against Satan.

Happy Halloween, everybody.

Thank you, Diane — the same to you!


AlphaPsy’s New Primer: Sex Differences In Cognition

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gini @ 4:43 am

AlphaPsy has just added a new primer on sex differences in cognition. The other primers are listed here.

AlphaPsy’s Primers: Introductions to Evolution, Cognition and Culture

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 4:35 am

AlphaPsy editors, over the past couple of months, have created a series of primers giving us what they describe as “really short introductions to various topics in the fields of evolution, cognition, and culture. It is chiefly aimed at social scientists with no background whatsoever in the domain. Each primer includes a link to the relevant AlphaPsy Bibliography, which is particularly suited for beginners. Again, it is only a very rough guide; it has no scientific ambitions, so don’t judge it too harshly.”

Here’s the list of primers with links:

A Primer on Evolution

A Primer on Cognition

A Primer on Culture

A Primer on Darwinian Psychiatry

A Primer on Religion

A Primer on Coevolutions and Domestications

A Primer on Technology

A Primer on Meta-Evolution

A Primer on Neuroeconomics

A Primer on the Psychology of Politics

A Primer on Cognitive Arts

A Primer on Science and Folk Science

A Primer on Racialist Prejudices

A Primer on Mirror-Neurons

A Primer on Theory of Mind

Here, too, is the link to the guide to their bibliographies.

October 25, 2006

Wiki PodCamp West – San Francisco, Nov. 18-19, 2006

Filed under: Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs, Oh My! — Gini @ 4:32 am

A wiki is an online site several people can access to edit — you can develop projects collaboratively, each contributing as they can or want. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, is the best known wiki.

I’m going to camp next month — podcamp to be more specific — to spend a weekend with podcasters, bloggers and other lovers of the newest social uses of the internet. The PodCamp West – San Francisco site is itself a wiki, and if you go there, you’ll see what one looks like. Maybe you’ll sign up yourself! I’ll be announcing my new wiki November 1, so please come back!

Well, maybe podcamp isn’t specific enough — it’s short for podcasting camp. A podcast is an audio file on the internet that you can listen to from your computer, or download to an ipod to take away and listen later. I’ll also be posting “podcasts” starting November 1. promotepodcampwestsf.JPG

The Mediation vBlog Project

A great new project is now live! Geoff Sharp, a commercial mediator and barrister (lawyer) in New Zealand, hosts short video clips by real mediators, on whatever topics they want to share at his new project. Here’s more (click on the link to go directly to the site):


Welcome to the Mediation vBlog Project!

The idea behind the Mediation vBlog Project is to take advantage of recent video sharing technology to post short video clips of mediators everywhere at work. The more ‘live’ the better. The site provides a platform for mediators from around the globe to share their skills by video. Simple really. Let’s roll!

[This is] the first, the very first, to track our practice and all things mediation by video blog – a kind of mediation genome project by video blog.

My idea is to take advantage of recent video sharing technology to post short video clips of mediators everywhere at work, the more live the better. The growth of video social networking is amazing with 60,000 new videos uploaded every day and over 100 million viewed every day, as more people explore this type of online medium.

Bravo, Geoff!

October 20, 2006

Science Samples: Mind/Body and Gender

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gini @ 4:28 am

Sample offerings in science from around the blogosphere this Friday morning:


Does neuroscience hold the key to our understanding of how dummy medicines have a biological effect?


Men and women are different — but how important are the differences?

More on biology and behavior differences of the sexes




October 18, 2006

See-Through Science: Why Public Engagement Needs To Move Upstream

Filed under: Ethics,Theory To Practice — Gini @ 11:22 am

Politics and science needn’t be like oil and water. How do scientists make their advice credible to a sceptical public? How can social outcomes of scientific and technological developments be improved by, yes, “engaging” the public from a substantive perspective (“citizens are seen as subjects, not objects, of the process. They work actively to shape decisions, rather than having their views canvassed by other actors to inform the decision[s] that are then taken”), not just normative (“dialogue is an important ingredient of a healthy democracy”), or instrumental (“engagement processes are carried out because they serve particular interests”) ones?

James Wilsdon, a researcher on science, technology and sustainable development at Demos (“The Think Tank For Everyday Democracy”), and Rebecca Willis, then Associate Director of Green Alliance (“thinking, talking, acting on the environment”) and Vice-Chair of the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, published a thoughtful piece in the context of comparing public involvement in genetically modified foods, and nanotechnology, on “See Through Science” in January 2005. Here is their .pdf article:


October 16, 2006

Kenneth Cloke’s Locations Of Conflict and Techniques, Part Three


Here’s the final piece of Kenneth Cloke’s locations of conflict and related mediation techniques, taken from his new book, The Crossroads of Conflict: A Journey Into the Heart Of Dispute Resolution. Ken’s personal interview begins in this week’s issue of my newsletter, Engaging Conflicts Today — you can subscribe through the box provided in the sidebar on the right!

The remaining locations of conflict (at 71), and some suggested mediation techniques for each ‘by location” (at 78-85):


5. In our hearts, where attitudes become closed or open, withholding or forthcoming, self-centered or compassionate, revengeful or forgiving (heart techniques assisting people in engaging in heartfelt conversations and reaching reconciliation, such as asking direct, honest questions that encourage integrity and trust). (Note: according to Ken, this is where the greatest deficit in current models of mediation exists).

6. And in our systems, where cultures, contexts, conditions, and environments become adversarial or egalitarian, competitive or collaborative, autocratic or democratic (systems design techniques that attempt to resolve the systemic, contextual, cultural, and environmental sources of conflict in ways that can prevent future conflicts, such as using dialogue, coaching, and mentoring to alter entrenched behavior patterns).

Ken’s book can be purchased directly from his publisher, Janis Publications, here:

October 14, 2006

Kenneth Cloke’s Locations Of Conflict and Techniques, Part Two


This continues the excerpt from Kenneth Cloke’s new book, The Crossroads of Conflict: A Journey Into the Heart Of Dispute Resolution, on locations of conflict, with suggested mediation techniques for each:

3. In our emotions, where anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, shame, and grief emanate and strive for release (emotional techniques using a subtle, sensitive, facilitative, empathetic approach, such as searching for emotional triggers).

4. In our spirits, where intentions, energy, life force, or chi become attached, intolerant, or unforgiving (spiritual techniques assisting people to move beyond resolution to forgiveness and increased mindfulness or awareness, such as asking questions that encourage responsibility for intentions, attitudes and choices).

See Monday’s post for the final two locations. Ken’s book can be purchased directly from his publisher, Janis Publications, here: I’m interviewing him in the next issue of Engaging Conflicts Today — sign up in the sidebar to the right!

October 13, 2006

Kenneth Cloke’s Locations Of Conflict and Techniques, Part One


Kenneth Cloke’s The Crossroads of Conflict: A Journey Into the Heart Of Dispute Resolution, is a book by an experienced mediator about many things, including his conclusions after many years of a rich and varied practice. Ken’s interview begins in the next issue of Engaging Conflicts Today, and he has given permission to excerpt portions of his book here — sign up for the newsletter today through the sidebar on the right!

Here’s part of his list of explanations why we get stuck in conflict, of distinct yet indivisible locations of conflict (at 71), and some suggested mediation techniques for each “by location” (at 78-85):


1. In our physical bodies, where stress is internalized and translated into chemicals that prepare us for aggression or defense (physical techniques that pay attention to body language, physical movement, and sensory awareness, such as using body language to counteract aggressive or defensive postures).

2. In our minds, where distinctions and judgments are formed that bolster our positions and justify aggressive or defensive reactions (mental techniques that resolve conflicts mentally, logically, sequentially, and intellectually, such as contracting and agreeing to work toward solutions).

I’ll be posting the rest over the next few days. Ken’s book can be purchased directly from his publisher, Janis Publications, here:

October 12, 2006

Free Online Conflict Measure For Engaging Conflicts Today Sign-up!

We all live and work in the midst of conflicts — some big, some small; some intimate, some global; some physical, some emotional. Many of us work directly in handling conflict as part of our jobs or professions.

As I have posted earlier (see the post immediately before this one), I’m on a panel today on “marketing mediation excellence” — an online teleconference that will discuss uses of the internet for marketing. The internet is also a great and growing resource and vehicle for professional development (not just marketing development), and even the provisioning of conflict management services. (See my earlier posts about Cyberweek 2006 in the Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs, Oh My! category, or use the search box to find them — for more about online dispute resolution.)

I would love for you to subscribe to my newsletter, Engaging Conflicts Today, and there’s a box in the sidebar you can click on to subscribe. Each issue provides an indepth interview with a leader in law or mediation or in innovative business dealing with conflict issues; and more. Would you please give it a try and let me know how I can make it more interesting and useful for you? I’ve a special gift for everyone who sign up today — I will send you a link for a free, online assessment on how well you handle conflict. If for any reason who can’t sign up online through the sidebar box, please do one of the following: (1) sign up at, or (2) send me an email with “subscribe” in the subject line, and with your email address, your full name and your postal mailing address in the body (email this to

Would you please also pass this opportunity on to friends and colleagues you think might be interested.? Thank you!

October 11, 2006

Keystone Conferees Welcome! Skype and Teleconference Call-In Details.

Filed under: Business,Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs, Oh My! — Gini @ 5:22 am


Here’s more information about calling in to Thursday’s free online teleconference for mediators and lawyers on marketing using the internet. I’m a panelist for it and it’s both a continuation of Cyberweek 2006 (that included participation of Keystone Conference attendees Colin Rule, Rachel Wohl, Cynthia Savage, Barbara Wilson and myself), and a program sponsored by the Colorado bar association’s ADR section and the Colorado mediation association – one of their joint monthly brownbag get-togethers. Please pass the information on to anyone else who might be interested.

The call in number from a land line or cell phone in North America is 1-712-432-4000, and when there, enter the code (conference room) number : 565 0382. For more on the teleconference, please see earlier post here, and for more about Skype see this earlier post.  Online registration will give you more information about use of chat and .pdf “handouts” in advance of the teleconference.  Finally, please also see the next paragraph (which I’ve copied in from the online site, so font is different):

The call in number from telephones in the United Kingdom is 0870 119 2350 and the code (conference room) number is the same as above 565 0382. There are other EU access numbers listed through the online registration site [and shown below]: If you are using Skype the number to call out to the teleconfence connection is:

+99008275650382 [the + preceeding the number is required]

How to connect: The teleconferences will be live over the internet via Skype and via dial up connections from telephone land lines in the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany and some other EU countries. Power point slides and other visuals will be available for down load before and/or viewing on line during the conferences.

The Vapps, Inc. phone bridge that makes this possible will handle up to 500 participants calling in from Skype and land lines. The phone bridge is being provided at no charge. However, participants calling in by telephone will be subject to the long-distance charge that the participant’s long-distance carrier. In the case of many calling cards and long distance plans this is about 5 cents a minute. There is no charge for the Skype service and the software required may be downloaded from:

To test from a telephone the call in numbers are as follows:

In the US and Canada, call 1-712-432-4000

Calling from Europe, call
In Austria: 0820 400 01562
In Belgium: 0703 59 984
In France: 0826 100 266
In Germany 01805 00 7620
In UK: 0870 119 2350

See you there!

“Know thyself: Yes, but how?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gini @ 4:09 am

I’m still catching up … another interesting post, copied here in full, from AlphaPsy, a humanities and human nature blog I read:


Know thyself: Yes, but how?

The importance of self-knowledge has often been emphasized, from the traditional lore to the new age gurus. However, there may be very different ways to know thyself. Two of the most important aspects of self-knowledge are autobiographical memory and self-concept and it has been repeatedly shown that these aspects of self-knowledge display wide cultural variations. A recent paper reviews what we know about the developmental roots of these differences and it illustrates nicely some of the more recent and interesting trends in cross-cultural psychology.

Qi Wang has analyzed the answers given by hundreds of children and adults, Easterners and Westerners to questions like “how would you describe yourself” or “tell me about a time you did something fun”. He reviews his (and other’s) findings in the last volume of Current Directions in Psychological Science.

One of the classic observation is that when asked to describe themselves, Easterners will tend to focus more on interpersonal attributes (“I love my wife”) and Westerners on personal attributes (“I am a funny person”). Wang has shown that such trends are observable from very early on: you can already find them in the transcripts of 3-year-olds. At this age, another trend is already apparent: Westerners are able to access more distant and more detailed very long term memory (in the case of 3-year-old ‘very’ long term may be an overstatement, but the effect is there anyway). Such an interest in the developmental roots of a cross-cultural difference is still too rare, and it is clearly worth mentioning (see this paper for one of the exceptions).

Two other aspects of the studies conducted in this domain are relevant too. First, it can be noted that the cross-cultural differences can be seen as being ‘continuous’ with inter-individual differences inside a culture. For example, Wang has found that among 3-year-old the tendency to focus on personal aspects of the self predicts the amount of detailed event recalled, and this independently of culture. It means that if you want to know if a child will remember a lot of detailed events, it is better to know if she tends to focus on personal aspects of the self than knowing than if she is Chinese or American.

It is important to remember that the cross-cultural differences are often differences of means: it’s not all the Easterners on the one hand and all the Westerners on the other. On nearly every dimension, a lot of Easterners are going to be more ‘Westerner like’ than the average Westerner, and vice et versa.

The other point that is worth emphasizing is that the differences are often more shallow that you might think. What I mean is that the differences usually observed between two populations can often be canceled or even reversed if an appropriate prime is used. I can not resist mentioning one of the most telling studies that has used this paradigm. Miyamoto and his colleagues used pictures of Japanese and American cities to prime participants before a task that measures the importance on contextual information in visual processing (when you look at a picture depicting a salient object, are you also going to look at and remember the context surrounding the object). The usual effect is that Easterners are more sensitive to contextual information than Westerners. However when primed with pictures of Japanese cities, Americans acted more like Japanese and it was the other way around for Japanese. In this case, a difference that was thought to be deep seated had been shown to be easily malleable. Similar effects are observed in the domain of self knowledge. I mentioned above that Easterners are usually able to access less distant long term memory than Westerners. This effect can be easily cancelled: Easterners who first had to complete a task of listing personal attributes were then able to remember memories as distant as those recalled by Westerners.

This kind of research bodes well for a more subtle cross-cultural psychology.

October 10, 2006

Landline and Cell Phone Call In Number for Marketing Mediation Online Teleconference

Filed under: Business,Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs, Oh My! — Gini @ 5:09 am

Here’s the more information about calling in to Thursday’s free online teleconference for mediators and lawyers on marketing using the internet.  I’m a panelist for it and it’s both a continuation of Cyberweek 2006 and a program sponsored by the Colorado bar association’s ADR section and the Colorado mediation association – one of their joint monthly brownbag get-togethers. Please pass the information on to anyone else who might be interested.  The call in number from a land line or cell phone is 1-712-432-4000,
and then, enter the code (conference room) number : 565 0382.  (Get the Skype call in details via the on-site registration.)  For more on the teleconference, please see yesterday’s post here.
See you there!

“Mind Hacks presents our 2006 list of essential websites for mind and brain students.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gini @ 4:22 am

I’m catching up with my reading, between breaks at the Keystone Conference, and am copying in full an excellent recent post from Mind Hacks, a neuroscience and psychology blog I read:

2006 – Essential sites for students:

spiral_bound_notebooks.jpgFollowing on from last year’s successful ‘essential sites’ round up, Mind Hacks presents our 2006 list of essential websites for mind and brain students, just in time for the new academic year.

Whether you’re a future graduate psychologist, a hardened lab-based neuroscientist or are in the midst of studying any of the cognitive sciences, we should have something to help you on your way.

* * *

News and information feeds

One thing that is likely to make you stand out from the crowd is if you can include new research in your work, rather than only including studies that are described in textbooks and handouts.

Keeping an eye on the latest news is also one of the most important things for maintaining your motivation. Study is hard work, and learning the fundamentals can sometimes seem a little uninspiring. Discovering that the fundamentals help you understand the latest discoveries in how we think, feel and behave can be a massive high.

The following sites are just a few of the ones that we get a particular kick out of.

New Scientist special reports on the brain and mental health.
As well as containing guides and information resources, these ‘special reports’ also contain a constantly updated list of all the New Scientist’s new reports relevant to the area.

ABC Radio’s All in the Mind.
ABC Radio is Australia’s national talk radio network, and All in the Mind is their fantastic and fascinating show on everything mind and brain related. It is on every week without fail, you can download the shows as mp3 podcasts or listen online, or you can read the transcripts on the Wednesday after the show has been broadcast. It often tackles some of the most important issues in contemporary cognitive science and shouldn’t be missed.

The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest.
First let me say that Christian, who writes for this site, writes the BPS Research Digest. However, whereas he writes here for free, he gets employed by the BPS to write fortnightly summaries of scientific research to make psychology research as widely accessible as possible. You can even get it delivered straight to your email inbox to save you having to check the website every two weeks.

The Society for Neuroscience.
As well as having a huge amount of information that will give you all the background on brain and nervous system function, it also has news on the latest scientific developments and upcoming meetings and events.

The ScienceBlogs Brain and Behaviour Channel.
ScienceBlogs is a collection of scientist and science writers who write about what they love. The Brain and Behaviour Channel lists any article, post or opinion piece on psychology or neuroscience from a wide range of blogs. Great for opinion, alternative views of mainstream news stories, or careful analysis of scientific research.

Other great blogs which have a good mix of psychology, neuroscience and mental health news and are regularly updated include Developing Intelligence, Brain Ethics, PsyBlog, Neurocritic and PsychCentral. Actually, there are plenty more, so have a look round to find your most useful reads.

Grey Matters is a online TV station – dedicated to neuroscience!
It’s a project of the University of California San Diego, a world centre of neuroscience research, and has a massive video archive of talks and presentations that you can watch online using realplayer.

Other great archives of online psychology and neuroscience video includes Channel N and the NIH Neuroscience archive.

Getting things done

As well as being knowledgable about human nature, academic study involves doing the practical work of conducting experiments, writing reports and analysing data.

These sites should help you with some of these activities that can seem bewildering at first.

Simply Psychology is simply fantastic.
It describes psychological methods in a straightforward way, and there’s no better compliment than that. On top of this, it has sections on some of the key debates in psychology. A great introductory guide.

Other resources include All Psych’s Guide to Research Methods which is more of an online textbook if you need something a little more in-depth, and if you’re a bit more experienced with research and have a query, the Research Companion Message Board is an online watering hole for social science researchers.

Recommending PubMed is like recommending Google for internet users.
It’s the world database of medical and related research. It seems obvious, but it’s an essential resource and one that’s worth learning how to use effectively. There are also services that run a specific search on PubMed every week and email you any new articles that have appeared. I prefer BioMail but you can do this in PubMed itself now.

Google Scholar is an alternative to PubMed.
PubMed can be a bit light on psychology research and a bit intimidating at first. Google Scholar has a very wide range of research indexed and it’s a bit easier to use. The only drawback is that sometimes you can’t find the articles it lists. Still a useful tool though.

Classic papers in psychology and neuroscience.
These are two great sites which have the full-text of some of the most important mind and brain research in history. Enough said.

Final words

The best internet resources are the one’s you have collected yourself because you know they fit your needs, but hopefully this list should give a balance of useful reference material to bookmark, and sites you can check regularly for the latest in news and views.

If you have any sites which you’ve found particularly useful that aren’t included here feel free to add them to the comments below (just remember that you need to paste the web address in as text, as the blogging software disallows direct links to prevent spam).

Apart from that, enjoy! After all, there’s nothing more interesting than people.


October 9, 2006

Free Marketing Mediation Excellence Online Teleconferences As Cyberweek 2006 Continues

Filed under: Business,Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs, Oh My! — Gini @ 12:49 pm

Mediation Excellence Online Teleconferences

Thursday, October 12, 2006 Topic: Marketing for Mediators and Lawyers

Marketing Mediation Excellence will be the theme of a free online teleconference to be presented by a group of mediators and lawyers — Robert Ambrogi, Diane Levin, Gini Nelson, Geoff Sharp and Louise Wildee — at 11 am Pacific, 2 pm Eastern, 7 pm UK/Ireland, and 6 am (the next day in) New Zealand.

The panelists will be referring to a set of power point slides that may be loaded on your computer and viewed during the online teleconference. The panelists will also be using an online text chat to coordinate their presentation as only Gini Nelson and Louise Wildee will be in Denver in the Colorado bar association offices with John DeBruyn, the program organizer, and Peter DeBruyn, the program’s technology coordinator. The other panelists Robert Ambrogi and Diane Levin will be at their computers in the Boston, Massachusetts area and Geoff Sharp will be at his computer in Wellington, New Zealand.

All of the conference participants are invited to sign into the online text chat to follow the text messages between the panelists and to ask questions and make comments during the question and further discussion segment of the program.

This online teleconference is a continuation of a series of Mediation Excellence programs presented during Online Dispute Resolution Cyberweek last month (September, 2006) — about 90 mediators and lawyers participated in the series of online teleconferences from around the world over the internet and via telephone.

The panelists will open with a brief overview of marketing and the internet and then discuss the use of several online publishing tools: web sites, e-newsletters and web journals or web logs aka blogs to market your practice.

The one hour program will consist of a 40 minute presentation by the panel and that will be followed by 20 minutes for questions and further discussion of the topic. You may connect via long distance telephone or voice over the internet using Skype which requires a high speed internet connection. Further information about the program and making the connection is at:

Further information about the program and making the connection is at: and if you have any questions after going there, send an email to John DeBruyn, program organizer. The teleconference is also being presented as part of the ongoing joint luncheon programs jointly sponsored the ADR section of the Colorado bar association and the Colorado Council of Mediators which is Colorado’s professional mediators organization. That explains why the program originates from the state bar association offices and is set for 18:00 GMT which the noon hour in Colorado and the other states (and province of Alberta) in the Rocky Mountain Time Zone. The teleconference will be repeated live, one hour later, at noon Pacific, 3 pm Eastern, 8 pm UK/Ireland, and 7 am (the next day in) New Zealand. That is being done to extend the noon hour eat-in luncheon program to California and the other far western states and the province of British Columbia. Of course, where ever you are located in the world, you may join in this session of the program at what ever time that is in your time zone.

The web logs maintained by the panelists are at:

Robert Ambrogi

Diane Levin

Gini Nelson

Geoff Sharp

Further information about the program and making the connection is at: and if you have any questions after going there, send an email to John DeBruyn, program organizer, at

“When people are confronted with new or alternative explanations for their beliefs that God created life on earth, they might not find the experience very enjoyable.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gini @ 10:53 am

I’m at the Keystone conference, and will take the short cut of copying in full an interesting post from AlphaPsy, a humanities and human nature blog I read:


(Dis)comforting explanations

Explanations are necessary. Without them, hunter-gatherers would have trouble learning sophisticated hunting techniques and we would have trouble learning how to program our VCRs (equally terrible threats). Since natural selection tends to make us like things that are good for us, we would expect that being able to explain something would be agreeable. Alison Gopnik’s aptly titled paper “Explanation as Orgasm” makes this point very well. On the other hand, explanations can be disquieting: some might remember their first confrontations with psychology and neuroscience (“I did that because of my unconscious drives / PFC / short term memory limits?!?”) as being something of a distressing experiment. A very nice set of experiments published last year suggests why not all explanations are comforting.

Two explanations for life. Depending on your convictions and knowledge, either can be more or less comforting or discomforting. One thing is sure though: having a beard is necessary to explain life.

In “Explanation as Orgasm”, Alison Gopnik draws our attention to the links between the cognitive aspects of explanation and its phenomenology. She subsumes the phenomenology under the terms “hmm” and “aha”, the former being the feeling of curiosity that triggers the search for an explanation and the latter being the agreeable feeling that accompanies the finding of an explanation. She claims, rightly I think, that these feelings have been understudied and that they are particularly important in children who are in the process of revising their theories about the world. And this is where I stop agreeing with her since her (and Meltzoff’s) theory about children as little scientists strikes me as not being very plausible. I can’t go into that here, but even if one doesn’t buy Gopnik’s theories, she is still right that paying more attention to the phenomenology of explanation will certainly prove to be useful. By the way, if you adopt a modular view of the mind, there are links to be made between the hedonistic sensations that accompany the findings of explanations and the fact that these explanations might be tapping our modules in exactly the right way (see this post).

That was for the comforting aspects of explanation. Then again, if explanations are tapping our modules in the right way, and since these modules are supposed to be there for sound evolutionary reasons, then this shouldn’t come as a surprise. What is more surprising is why we find some explanations so disquieting. In a paper published last year in Psychological Science Jesse Preston and Nicholas Epley give us some clues as to why this is so.

In their experiments, people had to give either explanations for or applications of a given belief. For example, they might be communicated some information that leads to entertain a new belief (such as “psychological research has demonstrated that we are more attracted to people whose traits are similar to our own”). Participants then had to find either explanations (how can I explain it) for or applications (what can I explain with it) of this new belief. The participants were then asked to rate the value of the belief. Those who had to find explanations attributed less value to the belief than did participants who had to look for applications.

They replicated this finding with other people’s beliefs (experiment 2) and, more importantly, with deeply held beliefs in experiment 3. In this experiment, participants had to give either explanations or applications of the existence of God (only the results of religious participants were analyzed). Again, it was found that participants who had had to give explanations for the existence of God attributed less value to their belief in God than those who had had to give applications of this same belief (and this effect was proportional to the number of applications or explanations given).

In these experiments people didn’t have to report on their feelings, so it’s an extrapolation to say that finding or being confronted with explanations for our deeply held beliefs is discomforting, but I think it is a reasonable one. As the authors conclude, “We also believe these experiments can help account for people’s resistance to explanations for their cherished beliefs.” Darwinism is a case in point. When people are confronted with new or alternative explanations for their beliefs that God created life on earth, they might not find the experience very enjoyable.

Since I’m quite fond of Just So Stories, I can’t help but speculate on why this might be so. After all, you might expect that having explanations for things is good, period. Why is it sometimes disquieting? My guess would be that this is part of a set of defense mechanisms that protects us against communicated information. When we find an explanation discomforting, more often than not this explanation has been communicated. And we have good reasons to be cautious about communicated information. When some communicated information forces us to revise some of our deeply held belief, a feeling of discomfort could be a warning signal: somebody is trying to convince us of something that might not be good for us.

This is wild speculation. Moreover it conflates to effects: the first is that we tend to think that causes are more important than effects (basically what is shown in the study mentioned here, but also in some other work in causal reasoning), and the second that we don’t like having to revise some of our beliefs, even if it is only their importance (for example, a believer who accepts a Darwinian explanation for life might attribute less value to her belief in God).

These topics are very interesting, and the field of “explanations” has received much attention recently. If you want to know more, there was a nice short paper by Tania Lombrozo in Trends in Cognitive Science recently, and a more substantial one by Frank Keil in the 2006 volume of the Annual Review of Psychology.

US Gov’t Uses Mediation To Enforce Disabilities Laws

Filed under: Guest Bloggers — Gini @ 7:29 am

This was submitted by occasional guest blogger Rawle Andrews Jr., Esq., for our consideration:

Thought the following article appearing in today’s Washington Post might be of interest to you.


U.S. Winning Access for the Disabled Through Mediation
Monday, October 9, 2006; Page A15

In nine of every 10 cases involving federal disability laws in the past five years, the Justice Department achieved compliance by government agencies and businesses by using mediation and not imposing penalties.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said that 1,800 complaints out of 2,000 cases involving the Americans With Disabilities Act had been settled through mediation. The department’s civil rights division also settled 151 such cases against state and local governments.

“We have accomplished this through an aggressive program of enforcement and public education,” Gonzales said in Minneapolis on Thursday at the annual conference of the U.S. Business Leadership Network, which promotes employment of people with disabilities.

The cases were pursued under a Bush administration initiative to improve the access that people with disabilities have to theaters, sport venues, hotels and other destinations where large numbers of people gather.

The administration is also taking steps to ensure more cities and counties make their public spaces and services accessible to disabled people. Those efforts include modifying sidewalk curbs for wheelchairs, allowing guide dogs for the blind in shelters and installing telephone systems that assist deaf people in making 911 calls.

In Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, local officials agreed to provide a sign language interpreter for deaf people who are undergoing chemical dependency treatment and other programs. Anne Arundel County in Maryland agreed to improve services for the deaf and the hard of hearing in its two jails.

The report included a few cases in which offenders faced penalties. In one, movie theater chain AMC Entertainment had to pay $100,000 in damages to customers discriminated against because of access problems.

John Wodatch, who runs the disability rights section at the Justice Department, said most employers are eager to fix problems. He estimated that as much as 70 percent of his staff spends time helping businesses and local governments comply with the law. Department lawyers try to reach a negotiated solution first. “We’re not trying to get litigation. We’re trying to get compliance,” he said.

— Associated Press


October 7, 2006

Pictures In Blogs Break Up Too Much Text

Filed under: Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs, Oh My! — Gini @ 4:21 am

To make blogs more interesting, insert stock photos, which can be … well, free! I got this as a member of iStockphoto, which offers low cost and even “Free Image Of the Week” photos. Some other low cost stock photo sites are BigStockPhoto, and Fotolia. (Now I just have to learn how to wrap text to the side of the photo, and below it … .)

October 6, 2006

About Thinking Ethics

Filed under: Ethics — Gini @ 11:00 am

I read the Thinking Ethics blog. Here’s more about it, in case you might want to check it out:

Thinking Ethics was a project launched in Geneva to foster the debate about ethics. A few friends, fed up with only reading about abuses in the media, decided to hold a forward-looking seminar on five subjects: ethics and performance, ethics and knowledge, ethics and consciousness, ethics and disobedience and ethics in real time. If moral has to do with right and wrong, then ethics is its application in society. We believe that people need to talk about the subject to determine the level of ethics they want. The book Thinking Ethics, a result of the seminar, is to start the discussion. This blog is a contribution to the conversation.

They look in many areas, not especially in the conflict field, however. I will be collecting resources for this topic through this category (Ethics) in the blog. For ethics in mediation, another resource is the CRInfo’s  website (Conflict Resolution Information Source).

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