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Foundation Spotlight: Two Types of People

Milt Hakel, Foundation President

There are two types of people in the world: Those who divide everything into two categories, and those who don’t.

I am a proud member of the latter category.

Better yet, I am so glad to have spent three-fourths of my present lifespan hanging out with I-O friends and acquaintances, people who primarily belong to that same category. The world is not a simple place, and yet there is an overabundance of simple, simplistic, and simple-minded accounts of how it works. These are tough times for us optimists.

Here are several questions for you, a “pop quiz” of sorts:

  1. Which is better: artificial intelligence or human intelligence?
  2. Who do you trust: artificial intelligence or human intelligence?
  3. True or false: All intelligence is artificial.
  4. Agree or disagree: All dilemmas are false.
  5. True or false: All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge.
  6. True or false: Zero-sum framing is evil.
  7. Agree or disagree: I hate pop quizzes.

Give yourself one point for each answer. If you did not get a score of 7, try again. 😉

Now consider these everyday zero-sum frames:

  1. Expert vs. Novice
  2. Heredity vs. Environment
  3. Optimist vs. Pessimist
  4. Liberal vs. Conservative
  5. Rational vs. Crazy
  6. Male vs. Female
  7. Black vs. White
  8. Us vs. Them
  9. Good vs. Bad
  10. True vs. False
  11. Objective vs. Subjective
  12.  Scientist vs. Practitioner
  13. 1 vs. 0

I cut this list off at a baker’s dozen because it likely has raised your blood pressure enough. In case you were wondering, there are many more such pairs. What’s the point?

It’s easy to divide everything into two categories, but using only two categories is an excessively coarse division.

Take quiz question #3: Is all intelligence artificial? Here we enter a linguistic and philosophical morass of definitions, operations, measures, and meanings. By what standards can and should we assert that human intelligence is superior to “artificial” varieties?

Or consider quiz question #5 about all evils being caused by insufficient knowledge. All “evils,” really? “Caused?” I’ve developed a strong liking for the way physicist David Deutsch (2011) explains what he calls the principle of optimism:

Whenever we try to improve things and fail, it is not because the spiteful (or unfathomably benevolent) gods are thwarting us or punishing us for trying, or because we have reached a limit on the capacity of reason to make improvements, or because it is best that we fail, but always because we did not know enough, in time. (p. 211)

Now consider James Lovelock, a provocative thinker and applied scientist. He originated the Gaia hypothesis, the idea that Earth is a self-regulating planet. Earlier he had documented the impact of chlorofluorocarbons and the opening of the ozone hole, attracting global attention long before his hypothesizing Earth’s self-regulation. His work is an inspiration for me, and I think that it may or will be for you as well. He passed away on July 26 this year.

If you subscribe to The Economist, you can read its eulogy for Lovelock behind its online paywall, and if not, read about him in Wikipedia. Or watch a recent and brief video (7:43 minutes) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuGj5n_vYz4. If you watch it, think critically about his views on artificial intelligence. Here is a link to a video biography (58:40 minutes) first shown in 2009 on BBC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqwZJDEZ9Ng. Lovelock’s inventions and employment history, as well as his character and integrity, are better shown here than in the short video.

The Gaia hypothesis is Lovelock’s most well-known contribution, and it provoked immediate controversy. The Economist’s eulogy reports some of the scorn unleashed by biologists:

Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and the author of The Selfish Gene, took umbrage at the theory’s apparent reliance on group selection, whereby things that benefit a group of organisms happen simply for that reason—because the group profits from them. John Maynard Smith, another great evolutionary biologist of the 20th century, dubbed the idea “an evil religion.” John Postgate, a microbiologist, wrote in a 1988 comment piece for New Scientist: “Gaia—the Great Earth Mother! The planetary organism! Am I the only biologist to suffer a nasty twitch, a feeling of unreality, when the media invite me yet again to take it seriously?”

These remarks illustrate a limitation of human intelligence that is evidenced by the ease with which even scientists fall prey to confirmation bias. Sometimes “insiders” greatly overshoot the boundaries of useful criticism.

Is the Gaia hypothesis right? The general public seems to believe that science provides the final word on whatever happens to be the question du jour. David Deutsch (2011) argues for a much more open view of science:

I have often thought that the nature of science would be better understood if we called theories ‘misconceptions’ from the outset, instead of only after we have discovered their successors. Thus we could say that Einstein’s Misconception of Gravity was an improvement on Newton’s Misconception, which was an improvement on Kepler’s.  The neo-Darwinian Misconception of Evolution is an improvement on Darwin’s Misconception, and his on Lamarck’s. If people thought of it like that, perhaps no one would need to be reminded that science claims neither infallibility nor finality. (my emphasis; p. 446)

James Lovelock was a superb thinker, unbound by the disciplinary and social boundaries between the domains of science, varieties of engineering, and tools of technology. In all, he is a worthy model for us I-O scientist–practitioners, one of my kind of people.

SIOP Foundation’s mission is to connect donors with I-O professionals to create smarter workplaces. Join us in pursuing this mission.

Milt Hakel, President, mhakel@hotmail.com, 419-819-0936

Rich Klimoski, Vice-President, rklimosk@gmu.edu

Nancy Tippins, Secretary, nancy@tippinsgroup.com

Leaetta Hough, Treasurer, leaetta@msn.com

Adrienne Colella, Communications Officer, acolella@tulane.edu

Alex Alonso, Trustee, alexander.alonso@shrm.org

Mirian Graddick-Weir, Trustee, mgraddickweir76@gmail.com

Bill Macey, Trustee, wmacey9@gmail.com

David Rodriguez, Trustee, davidrodriguezphd@outlook.com

John C. Scott, Trustee, JScott@APTMetrics.com

The SIOP Foundation

440 E Poe Rd Ste 101

Bowling Green, OH 43402-1355

419-353-0032 Fax: 419-352-2645

Email: SIOPFoundation@siop.org


Deutsch, D. (2011). The beginning of infinity: Explanations that transform the world. Penguin Books.

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