Category Archives: Must watch or read

Fail fast or succeed slowly?

Here is my lastest contribution to Entreprise Romande in their special summer edition “Le Temps, éternel insaisissable”.

If you are not a subscriber, here is a copy.

Fail fast or succeed slowly?
Hervé Lebret, head of startup unit, EPFL

Slow food, slow thinking, slow growth. After decades of hyperactive and probably destructive frenziness, humankind seems to want a pause. Yet for years I have been complaining that I do not see the Swiss and European startups growing fast enough and, natural corollary, I do not see failing fast enough these “living dead” as they are called in Silicon Valley, these startups that have or would have no future. So was I wrong too?

The debate between the supporters of Schumpeter’s creative destruction, “disruption” and those of a more sustainable incremental progress is as old as the word innovation itself. When I fell into the pot of startups during my American journeys, I quickly wondered why Europe had not experienced such spectacular success such as the GAFAs (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon). Whether it is desirable or not, the question is valid: is this difference not related to another less known phenomenon, namely that our startups never die or at least not fast enough?

Recently, the Swiss Startup Radar [1] gave the point of view of an Israeli: “In Switzerland, I observe a strong focus on the survival rate. Startups are encouraged if they have collateral, such as patents, and take a cautious course. As a result, eight out of 10 startups from ETH Zurich are still active five years after their foundation. In Israel, on the other hand, more attention is paid to the economic impact. What matters when assessing a project is the prospect of growth and the creation of new jobs.” The survival rate of companies after 5 years in Switzerland as in the USA is 50%. It is 90% for technology startups from Swiss academic institutions. It can be argued that researchers from these prestigious institutions are better trained and better able to withstand entrepreneurial storms. So why in Silicon Valley where researchers are probably no less well trained, the survival rate is only 75% after five years. And especially less than 50% after 10 years while we are still 80% in Switzerland? In fact, the multiplicity of support, mainly public, probably contributes to artificial survival and slow growth.

I fear that the debate will remain open and lively after this chronicle and only convince the already convinced. Impact and growth cannot only happen through cautiousness and moderation; they are also the result of risk taking and specialized financing which undoubtedly increase the failure rate: “Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart” declared Bill Davidow, a famous American venture capitalist, the expectations are extraordinary and fatality is terrible. The investment horizon for venture capital is very short. Success must be visible in less than five to ten years and the success must be dazzling for these investors. It is a world that does not make any prisoner and failures are up to the ambitions, and worse, very fast (the famous “fail fast”). To have more impact, to create more capital value and also more jobs, it also requires investments of this kind. There is no question of the survival of startups of a few dozen employees, but the impact of a Google that in just twenty years will have created nearly 100,000 jobs, perhaps more than all European startups combined. We can criticize this industry for being very impatient and I understand that some entrepreneurs and political or economic decision makers are the first critics. I remain convinced that this is part of the price to pay for this larger impact.

[1] https://www.startupticker.ch/en/swiss-startup-radar

Bill Campbell, the Trillion Dollar Coach

I had so often heard of this hidden secret of Silicon Valley that when I read about a book written about him, I had to buy and read it immediately. Which I did. And what about the authors: first and foremost, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google…

I had mentioned Campbell 3 times here:

– first in 2014, in Horowitz’ The Hard Thing About Hard Things: there is no recipe but courage. This is there I had Campbell picture just between Steve Jobs abd Andy grove.
jobs-campbell-grove

– then in 2015, in Google in the (Null)Plex – Part 3: a culture. This piece is also mentioned in the new book: Google decide management was not needed any more and neither Schmidt, nor Campbell liked it. here is how it was solved: “The newly arrived Schmidt and the company’s unofficial executive coach, Bill Campbell, weren’t happy with the idea, either. Campbell would go back and forth with Page on the issue. “People don’t want to be managed,” Page would insist, and Campbell would say, “Yes, they do want to be managed.” One night Campbell stopped the verbal Ping-Pong and said, “Okay, let’s start calling people in and ask them.” It was about 8 P.M., and there were still plenty of engineers in the offices, pecking away at God knows what. One by one, Campbell and Page summoned them in, and one by one Page asked them, “Do you want to be managed?” As Campbell would later recall, “Everyone said yeah.” Page wanted to know why. They told him they wanted somebody to learn from. When they disagreed with colleagues and discussions reached an impasse, they needed someone who could break the ties.”

– finally last year, in Business Lessons by Kleiner Perkins (Part II): Bill Campbell by John Doerr.

Not bad references! I am not finished with the Coach. I have never been a fan of coaching and I am probably wrong. Let me just begin. “I’ve come to believe that coaching might be even more essential than mentoring to our careers and our teams. Whereas mentors dole out words of wisdom, coaches roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. They don’t just believe in our potential; they get in the arena to help us realize our potential. They hold up a mirror so we can see our blind spots and they hold us accountable for working through our sore spots. They take responsibility for making us better without taking credit for our accomplishments. And I can’t think of a better role model for a coach than Bill Campbell”. [Page xiv]

On the next page, Schmidt explains he may have missed on important point in his previous book (How Google Works) where he emphasied the imporatnce of brillinat individuals, the smart creatives. And this may be the higher importance of teams, as decrived in Google’s Project Aritotle. I just give a link form eth New York Times about this: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. New research reveals surprising truths about why some work groups thrive and others falter.

The first two chapters are devoted to the life of this extraordinary character. A tireless worker, who started as an American football college coach to become the CEO of high-tech companies such as Claris or Intuit before becoming the Silicon Valley star coach. All told on the occasion of his funerals in 2016. If you do not want to wait for my next blog and not buy the book you may want to read the slidehare from the authors, but first you should read his manifesto, it’s the people.

People are the foundation of any company’s success. The primary job of each manager is to help people be more effective in their job and to grow and develop. We have great people who want to do well, are capable of doing great things, and come to work fired up to do them. Great people flourish in an environment that liberates and amplifies that energy. Managers create this environment through support, respect, and trust.

Support means giving people the tools, information, training, and coaching they need to succeed. It means continuous effort to develop people’s skills. Great managers help people excel and grow.

Respect means understanding people’s unique career goals and being sensitive to their life choices. It means helping people achieve these career goals in a way that’s consistent with the needs of the company.

Trust means freeing people to do their jobs and to make decisions. It means knowing people want to do well and believing that they will.

Crafts vs industry, the meaning of work according to Arthur Lochmann

Following my recent posts about the meaning and values of work through Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, here are a few lines translated from the magnificent book by Arthur Lochmann La Vie Solide. I say magnificient because the writing is beautiful, precise, aerial.

Here are pages 99-102

Certainly, all intellectual knowledge, even the most abstract, involves a make, is realized in an action: the knowledge of a theorem of mathematics includes knowing how to apply it. But know-how is distinguished from intellectual knowledge in that the latter can just be available, actionable when needed, and stored in the meantime on external technical supports. The movement of outsourcing knowledge, initiated by writing, – this is the whole topic of Plato’s Phaedrus; writing, at the same time as it preserves knowledge, is also what exempts us from retaining it and making it truly our own – is today exacerbated by the development of new technologies and the permanent accessibility of knowledge offered by these. The relation to knowledge is modified. Knowledge becomes peripheral, whereas what one makes one’s own, what one interiorizes is the capacity to find it again and, above all, to process it. Probably this relationship to knowledge will experience deeper transformations in the coming years with the development of artificial intelligence, which allows to outsource not only the storage of knowledge, but also part of its analytical processing.

Know-how, on the other hand, is characterized by being internalized, incorporated. It involves an intuitive dimension that allows us to recognize the salient features of a situation and to identify the rules of action. You do not consult a video on Youtube to know how to pass a beam of five meters in length in a stairwell, you must have acquired an intuition of space. It alone will allow us to orient the beam to best use the diagonals of space, it alone will have anchored in us the continuous perception of both ends of the beam. However, it is not magic or innate ability. On the contrary, this intuition is an intellectual conquest. Intuition is developed with work. And in this elaboration, which is called experience, the repetition of operations plays a decisive role in making it possible to establish cumulative links between the experienced situations and the chosen solutions. Experience thus consists of a process of appropriation of life.

Several critics of modernity have diagnosed, even found, a gradual destruction of experience. First, because the lifespan of skills, and therefore the experience of their practice, tends to be reduced. In certain areas of activity that are particularly geared to change – as in the case of consulting, the function of which is to change institutions – experience is even ruled out in favor of innovative talent. More deeply, some thinkers of modernity consider that the very possibility of experience is called into question by the acceleration of social and professional rhythms. The appropriation of the “shocks” of everyday life and their transformation into experience requires stable narrative models to establish links between the past and the future. Like the analysis by Hartmut Rosa, when waiting horizons are constantly changing and “spaces of experience are constantly rebuilding” [1], we can only witness a gradual loss of experience.

In the craft trades, however, the techniques evolve slowly, and the skills retain a long life span. Experience therefore remains absolutely crucial. With time and situations, we acquire a whole repertoire of methods and tips that enrich, clarify and complicate material thinking. It is estimated that it takes about ten thousand hours of practice [2] to learn a trade in medicine, music or crafts. In terms of structure, it is indeed the time it takes to acquire an overview of the various situations that may arise and to master all the details. This duration also corresponds to the seven or so years of training (apprenticeship and then the tour de France) which are traditionally necessary to be granted companion by a companionship guild.

[1] Hartmut Rosa, Accélération, Paris, La Découverte, 2010, p.179
[2] In the venture capital world, one says that it reqiures five years and ten million to be come a good investor. Another illustration that experience matters there too and that VC is more about skills and crafts than about an industry of knowledge.

Then pages 153-155:

This knowledge, because it has been developed over time by and for the community, is similar to what we now call common goods, that is to say goods that are intended to be universal and that privatization can destroy or diminish – and which therefore require specific care. In contrast to the “professional secrecy” claimed by certain corporations to grant their knowledge only to those who would have been worth it, in contrast also to the idea of patenting techniques and methods, the will of transmission of knowledge that I have encountered on most sites is in my view of the same logic: know-how is an intangible treasure that belongs to all of society. Each worker is the temporary custodian. As such, her or his responsibility is to make it alive by transmitting it. “Any received word that you have not transmitted is a stolen word,” say the companions.

It is in such a conception of know-how as common goods that the attitude of computer developers working according to the principles of free software and open source is placed. The Linux operating system or Mozilla Firefox web browser is developed and constantly improved by a community of developers who produce their own software. They work first for themselves, making the tools they need, but also for the common good. This is the pattern followed by most free software: first developed to meet the specific need and not yet satisfied by a private community, they are then made public and made available to all, so that everyone can use them and, eventually, adapt them to their own use. Better still, the principle of collective intelligence on which this work is organized consists in considering that the best software will be obtained thanks to the collaboration of the greatest number.

Developers, artisans of modern times, are therefore in the lineage of the dêmiourgos – a term that refers to the artisans, from the ancient Greek ergon, work, and dêmios, public – while renewing its registration in the community. The community here is instituted by the sole decision to take care of a common good. It is not located geographically: it is that of the users of the whole world, in other words the universal common good. It is no more historically located: the process of transmission from generation to generation of old know-how is the process of real-time sharing.

This example, far from being trivial, is a sign of the vitality and modernity of craftsmanship as a way of working, of organization and more generally as a culture and ethical model concerned with the common good through the sharing of knowledge – this while standing out from traditional communities and social structures.

The Meaning and Value of Work according to Matthew Crawford

I began to read Eloge du Carburateur – Essai sur le sens et la valeur du travail (translated from the American essay Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work) by Matthew B. Crawford. I wrote a first post about why I began that book here.

Here is an interesting critique of artificial intelligence and the meaning of work (read on page 205 of the French edition & found on Google books)

“In John Searle’s famous critique of artificial intelligence, he asks us to imagine a man locked in a room, with only a slit connecting him to the outside world [1]. Through the door come pieces of paper with Chinese writing on them. The man does not know Chinese. Unbeknownst to him, the writing takes the form of questions. He is equipped with a set of instructions in English, for matching other Chinese symbols to the ones he is given. He passes these back through the slit, and they are taken to be answers to the questions. Searle’s point is that to perform the task, the man needn’t know any Chinese, and neither does a computer that does the same task as he. Some enthusiasts of artificial intelligence, insist that the system knows Chinese – somehow there is thinking without a thinker. But a less mystical position would leave it as a saying that it is the human programmer, who wrote up the instructions for matching Chinese answers to Chinses questions, who knows Chinese.

“The mechanic relying con computerized diagnostics finds himself in a position similar to that of the man in the Chinese room. The crucial stipulation in the thought experiment is that one could indeed have a set of rules that is fully adequate for matching answers to questions without any reference to the meaning of the words being trafficked in . Whether this is in fact possible is a deep question in linguistics and philosophy of midn, and there is no noncontroversial answer to it. Yet the thoughtless way in which work is often conceived seems to presume the stipulation is correct. We view human beings as inferior versions of computers.”

[1] John R. Searle, “Minds, Brains and Programs”, Behavioral and Brain Science, 3, n.3, September 1980.

I had noticed in my French post other interesting points:

“We are used to thinking of intellectual virtue and moral virtue as two very different things, but in my opinion this distinction is erroneous. The mutual involvement of ethics and knowledge is well understood by Robert Pirsig in what remains to my mind one of the most successful (and funniest) passages of his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance [More on wikipedia here]. (…) To be a good mechanic, it is necessary to know how to engage personally: I am a mechanic. On the other hand being a good mechanic means having a keen awareness of the fact that your task has nothing to do with the idiosyncrasies of your personality, that it has something universal. (…) The identification of this truth requires a certain disposition of the individual, a certain capacity of attention accompanied by a feeling of responsibility towards the motorcycle.” [Pages 113-115]

“Virtue is the effort to cross the veil of egocentric consciousness and to find the world as it really is. This effort is never completely successful because our own concerns constantly interfere with it. But getting out of oneself is the task of the artist, and also that of the mechanic.” [Page 117]

“So what advice should be given to young people? If you feel a natural inclination for university research, if you urgently need to read the hardest books and think you can spend four years doing it, then sign up for college. In fact, approach your university studies in a spirit of craftsmanship, immersing yourself in the world of humanities or natural sciences. But if it’s not the case, if the prospect of spending four more years sitting in a classroom gives you headaches, I have good news for you: nothing forces you to simulate the slightest interest in the student life for the simple purpose of making a decent living as an output. And if you still want to go to college, learn to do something during the holidays. You’ll have a better chance of feeling better about yourself, and possibly getting better paid, if you’re pursuing a freelance craftsman career than locked up in an open-space office (a “modular workstation” as they say elegantly ), to manipulate fragments of information or to play low quality “creatives”. Certainly, to follow this advice, perhaps it is necessary to possess a little rebellious personality, because this assumes to reject the path traced for a professional future conceived as obligatory and inevitable.” [Page 65]

“One of the principles of contemporary management is to abandon the management of details to the base and accumulate recognition of merit at the top. For leaders, the rule is to avoid making real decisions that may end up hurting their career but knowing how to cook a posteriori stories that allow them to interpret the least positive result in their favor.” [Page 61]

Augmented humans, diminished humankind – From Alzheimer’s to transhumanism, science serving a mercantile and hegemonic ideology

Following a recent post about critics of technosciences and a much older one about the failed promises of science, here is a very short post about a (very good) book written in French and not (yet) translated in English: Homme augmenté, humanité diminuéeD’Alzheimer au transhumanisme, la science au service d’une idéologie hégémonique mercantile (Augmented humans, diminished humankind – From Alzheimer’s to transhumanism, science serving a mercantile and hegemonic ideology.)

The author begins with his personal story, how his mother suffered and died from this terrible Alzheimer’s disease. Then he began to inquire about it and his doubts began to grow. We do not have to agree with everything author Philippe Baqué says, but we cannot avoid having the same doubts about where and how science and innovation drive us all. I hope these three short extracts will create the same reaction I felt:

[Page 71] Jean Maisondieu, a psychiatrist and author of Crépuscule de la Raison, la maladie d’Alzheimer en question (Sunset of reason, Alzheimer’s disease in question), often claims that Alzheimer’s disease does not exist, but the Alzheimer’s patients do exist for sure.

[Page 74] I reached the conlusion that patients are demented mostly because they were dying of fear, at the idea of death. The brains of Alzheimer’s patients might be altered, but these patients are mostly sick of fear.

[Page 260] I feel the need to ask the question again: what is transhumanism? An economic and political lobby? A technoreligion? A new eugenic ideology? The biggest science fraud of the 21st century?

Worth thinking about it… Is aging a disease? Is death a disease?

Cynthia Fleury : To be Brave is sometimes to Endure, sometimes to Break up

I have already mentioned Cynthia Fleury on this blog, for example some of her books on Transhumanism is Science Fiction. I just read an interview of her on Telerama, Cynthia Fleury : “Etre courageux, c’est parfois endurer, parfois rompre”. It is so great, I just decided to translate it my way…

MesLivres-Cynthia-Fleury

Translated from Juliette Cerf. First published on Telerama on 30/08/2015, updated on 01/02/2018.

A philosopher and a psychoanalyst, she insists on how important it is for anyone to build her or his own destiny. It is a condition to protect democracy.

When she was a young doctoral student in philosophy, Cynthia Fleury dreamed of living on a back seat, to devote herself to research and writing, far from the hubbub of the city … Life decided differently and the young woman learnt with time how to live on stage. To be all round. She is now in her early 40s, used to debates and much appreciated by the media for her sharp speech and clear vision. Cynthia Fleury combines many activities: a researcher in political philosophy and a psychoanalyst, she teaches at the American University of Paris. She is a member of the advisory board of the National Ethics Committee, she is also part of Nicolas Hulot Foundation’s think tank for nature and humankind and she is contributor to the Paris medical and psychological emergency unit (Samu). From these different positions of observation, the philosopher watches the drifts and dysfunctions specific to the individual and democracy, at a time when, because of the crisis, everyone withdraws into oneself. How to cure this? How to bring back into the heart of the collective? It is these questions that she addresses in her new essay, Les irremplaçables (The Irreplaceable), which follows her reflection begun in The Pathologies of Democracy and The End of Courage.

Why this title, The Irreplaceable, which sends the reader towards a literary fiction horizon?

Literature is much more poweful than philosophy since it does not produce a doctrinaire, frozen discourse. With a title of a novel, I wanted to evoke the story of the self, the creative power of each. An irreplaceable being is indeed someone committing to a process of individuation, in other words in the construction of her or his own destiny. The book is published in the Blanche collection by Gallimard, which outside of fiction, has always been known for a tradition of philosophical existentialism, with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, etc. It meant to invest the theme of irreplaceability in an existential and open way, while philosophical theorizing gives a sense of closure. What was at stake was to enter in a dynamic commitment and to create a responsibility for each of us: how does this individual destiny feed a more collective destiny? This is the essential question.

You enroll in the field of political philosophy; democracy is at the center of your thinking.

Yes, and the irreplaceable, at first, were for me the democrats. If I precisely talk about commitment, it’s because I do not live in the illusion of democratic durability. At a time when fundamentalisms, fascisms and populisms proliferate, how can we protect democracy? How do we make sure that individuals are concerned about preserving the rule of law? I realized that any individual who has not worked to develop a fair individuation will not care about preserving democracy. Self-care and concern for the city are intimately linked.

How?

Individuation and democracy work, I think, like a Möbius strip, as the two faces of the same reality. Of course, the rule of law produces the conditions the emergence of an individual, but it does not last if not revitalized, reinvented, reformed by free subjects. If the rule of law remains only a formal reality, it creates huge disappointments that threaten it. It is therefore necessary that it incarnates, and this body of the rule of law is that of the different individuals it gathers. But in recent years, neoliberalism has distorted the rule of law and disintigrated the subjects. The rule of law signs its death sentence: only a well-individuated subject cares about its preservation, and not the alienated subject we meet today.

“The construction of the rule of law is the adventure of this gap between principles and practice.”

You thus evoke the “entropic” drift of contemporary democracies. What is this about?

In thermodynamics, entropy measures the state of disorder of a system: it grows when it evolves towards an increased disorder. However, for thirty years, western democracies experience dynamics of disguise, delirious and unprecedented merchandising, which makes of us interchangeable, replaceable entities, servicing the “growth” idol. Everyone can experience it, whether in the world of finance, consumption, or ecology, through all these phenomena of capture, extreme rationalization, obscene profitability that do not question either their presuppositions nor their expectations. But the expression of democratic entropy is something else, it refers to the internal disorder of democracy, its dysfunctions that are of its very nature. This, Tocqueville has analyzed it perfectly when he defined democracy this way: good principles, theoretically correct and ethically acceptable, which produce perverse effects. The construction of the rule of law is the adventure of this gap between principles and practice.

Could you give an example?

According to Tocqueville, principles change into passions; thus, the passion of the principle of individuation is individualism. The individualistic subject is passionate about himself, self-centered, withdrawn, intoxicated by the intoxication of the self, while the individuated subject sets up a look at the outside world, unfolds and ensures a base, a foundation, which allows her or him to enter into a relationship with what is surrounding. The adventure of irreplaceability, the path to individuation, thus looks like, in many features, that of depersonalization. It’s not about becoming a personality, to put the ego on stage. On the contrary, the challenge is relational: it is a matter of decentering oneself to bind oneself to others, to the world, to meaning.

How to access this individuation?

To give time for oneself is not easily guaranteed. It is a never-ending requirement. To know oneself and to access the quality of being that one owes to the world, the subject must go through three dynamics of knowledge and behavior, which are as many fire tests: imagination, pain and humor. With the first one, the imaginatio vera, the subject produces a true imagination, which is an “agent”, which creates reality. This faculty of soul and heart, at the border of the sensible world and the intellectual world, has an unheard-of power of creation. In this respect, the imaginary, literary space is really the configuration space of reality; it is in no way avoiding reality, as we sometimes think. The imaginary, literary space allows us to verbalize and understand what reality is. The second faculty, pretium doloris, the price of pain, teaches us that the act of thought has a price and that access to the truth can be a painful experience. The trial of Socrates is the very symbol: knowing and knowing oneself mean being at risk.

What about humor?

The vis comica, the comic force, operates an effect of decentering, of distancing which makes the reflexive consciousness arise. The power of humor allows us to grasp the absurdity of reality, as well as our own inadequacy and shortage. While one discovers the absolute inanity, vanity, stupidity of the subject, one manages nevertheless to do something about it. This is essential for the process of individuation, which is primarily a consciousness of shortage, while individualism, infatuated by its pseudo-omnipotence, has totally forgotten that it was short. Individuation is a test of reality, an access to the truth. It is a saying that is obligatory and does not force, and thus renders the subject faithful to herself or himself, irreplaceable. It is a given word, an effort that the individual deploys to bind oneself to the discourse one states.

The brave, at the center of your essay The End of Courage, was already an irreplaceable subject for you?

Yes, irreducible to others, since the brave does not delegate to others the task of doing what is to be done. In The End of Courage, the reconquest of a democratic virtue, I show how ethics of courage are a way to fight against democratic entropy. This virtue, which brings together ethics and politics, is at the same time a tool for protecting the subject and for regulating societies. In the deep intimacy that the brave subject has with his conscience, there is the quality of a public commitment, for others. One can be alone, even against others, when one makes a courageous act, but this gesture always preserves a quality of connection with the community. In everyday life, to be brave is sometimes to endure, sometimes to break up; it may be leaving a job when you are entangled in a perverse situation. On a more historical level, the spectrum goes from political leaders like Nelson Mandela to whistleblowers today.

“There is no democratic project without an educational project”

Individuation, courage: your research intersects with the individual and the collective, psychoanalysis and political philosophy. How did you become a psychoanalyst?

I first started a psychoanalysis at a rather young age, around the age of 17. I did not think about becoming an analyst at all! Then my work as a teacher-researcher in political philosophy focused on the issue of dysfunctions, especially when I wrote Pretium doloris and The Pathologies of Democracy. Reflecting on the suffering at work and on the actions that sometimes accompany it, I have had to collaborate with occupational physicians and clinicians. I wanted to probe more directly the word of the individual. That’s how I became a psychoanalyst. I started my clinical activity in 2007 and have been receiving patients on a regular basis since 2009. I soon realized that the sessions were dedicated to a discourse about reality, society: work, globalization, terrorism, religions, etc. It was necessary to dig to find a discourse about parents, family.

What role does this activity play in your daily life?

I consult every late afternoons as well as weekends. It’s a decisive part of my work today, and it will come even deeper into my writing in the future. I have the feeling that the research I do in the morning or the teaching in the afternoon, in the evening, I hear it formulated in another way, more clinical, as if philosophy suddenly was endowed of a piece of land, while it usually does not. The democratic entropy we were speaking of, I measure its effects every day as a psychoanalyst: individuals feel discouraged, crushed by the rule of law that would be supposed to protect them. To become aware of it is already to extract oneself from it.

Is being a well-publicized philosopher influencing your work as a psychoanalyst?

This necessarily interferes, with very different results depending on the patients. With those who already know you, a phenomenon of transfer precedes you. But the transfer, the emotional projections that the analysed makes on the analyst, is almost magical … Even if this situation requires readjustments, it can be very efficient because it suddenly gives a kind of speed to the analysis, since all the work was done elsewhere. Conversely, there are those who do not know you outside the confessional field of the session and then rediscover you in a field of social and, there, the reactions are diverse. As we are living in an era in need of recognition, it seems to me rather to help; there is also a phenomenon of transfer – my psychoanalyst being recognized, I feel myself caught up in this sphere of recognition. There are misunderstandings, misapprehensions, but it does not really matter, they are always entry points into the analysis. This is very true for young patients under the age of 18, with whom it is always complicated because, if some come by themselves, others do it because their parents want it.

The end of The irreplaceable is devoted to education. Why ?

There is no democratic project without an educational project, both at family level and the social level. As intimate as it is, linked to the irreplaceable love that unites parents and children, education remains the major public enterprise. In this respect, the time of transmission is a very special time, a stretching time. The teachers are well aware of this: you only have two hours, you feel that it is ridiculous, but, in fact, you switch to another space-time which is a symbolic space. There is a click, the beginning of something; attention, empowerment, emancipation, critical awareness. It is in this space that the first fruits of individuation arise. But do not be deceived: it requires work, discipline. Discipline is not submission that transforms us into a sheep, into a link, into a follower: it is a skill, a technical gesture, a way of being, which makes us freer.

Cynthia Fleury in a few dates
1974: Birth in Paris.
2000: PhD in philosophy on the “metaphysics of the imagination”.
2005: Publishes Les Pathologies de la démocratie – the Pathologies of Democracy.
2010: Researcher at the National Museum of Natural History. Publishes La Fin du courage – The End of Courage.
2013: Member of Comité consultatif national d’éthique – Advisory board of the National Ethics Committee.
Wikipedia page (in French).

To read:
Les Irremplaçables, Gallimard, 218 p. €16,90.
La Fin du courage, Le Livre de poche, 192 p. €6,60.

Gandhi and Technology, according to Bertrand Jarrige

A second post about the excellent Technocritiques – Du refus des machines à la contestation des technosciences after that one: Techno-critics according to François Jarrige. Jarrige surprises me by giving Gandhi‘s views on technology. Fascinating. I (in Fact Goodle translate was a great supporting tool…) translated his full account that you could read in French on pages 192-195.

No one better illustrates the ambivalence of the relationship to technology in the colonial world than Gandhi. If indeed he uses a simple traditional spindle to weave his clothes, he travels by train and uses a watch. The figure of Gandhi deserves attention because criticism of the machine occupies a central place in his speech and action. But if his successors and followers have venerated him for his contribution to India’s political independence, they have rarely taken seriously his criticism of the technical surge and his proposal to restore the local indigenous economy. For Gandhi (1869-1958), the “machine civilization” and the big industry created a daily and invisible slavery that impoverished entire sections of the population despite the myth of global abundance. While some reduce Gandhian thought to a set of frustrated and simplistic principles, others see it as a rich “moral economy”, distinct from both the liberal tradition and Marxism [1].

Born in 1869 in the state of Gujarat, while British rule over India grew and the railway network expanded, Gandhi went to England to study law in 1888, like hundreds of young upper caste Indians. After 1893, he went to South Africa, where he thrived as a lawyer and woke up to politics in contact with racial discrimination. He gradually developed a method of non-violent civil disobedience that will make his celebrity and organize the struggle of the Indian community. On his return to India, after 1915, he organized the protest against the taxes considered too high, and more generally against the discriminations and the colonial laws. During the inter-war period, as a leader of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi led a campaign to help the poor, to liberate Indian women, to encourage fraternity among communities of different religions or ethnicities, for an end of untouchability and discrimination of castes, and for the economic self-sufficiency of the nation, but especially for Swaraj – the independence of India with respect to any foreign domination.

In 1909, Gandhi wrote one of his rare theoretical texts in the form of a Socratic dialogue with a young Indian revolutionary. This text, Hind Swaraj, written in Gujarati before being translated into English, aims first at detaching Indian youth from the most violent fringes of the nationalist movement [2]. The book was banned until 1919. According to Gandhi, these young revolutionaries are indeed the victims of a blind veneration of technical progress and brutal force imported from the Western world. He is therefore gradually extending his political criticism of the industrial and technological civilization itself. Gandhian thought is based on a sharp criticism of Western modernity in all its forms. On the political front, he criticizes the State and defends the ideal of a non-violent democratic society, made up of federated villages and based on the call for voluntary simplicity. He denounces the notions of development and civilization, and the technical surge that founds them, as sources of inequality and of multiple perverse effects. According to Gandhi, “the machine allows a small minority to live on the exploitation of the masses […] indeed the force that moves this minority is not humanity or the love of the like, but envy and greed “. Political autonomy is therefore futile if it is not accompanied by a profound questioning of modern industrial civilization. “It would be foolish,” says Gandhi, “to say that an Indian Rockefeller would be better than an American Rockefeller,” and “we do not have to look forward to the growth of the manufacturing industry.” Gandhi defends the development of self-sufficient local crafts within the framework of village autonomy and a limitation of needs.

Gandhi belongs neither to the Indian neotraditionalist currents that consider the ancient Hindu civilization as intrinsically superior, nor to the camp of the modernizing nationalists seeking to copy the Western world to turn its weapons against the colonial order. He intends to define a third original way. Gandhian thought feeds on multiple sources. In a way, it belongs to the anti-modernist current that developed in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. He read William Morris and John Ruskin, and was marked by the anarchistic Christianity of Tolstoy [3]. His vision of the world feeds on the intellectual atmosphere of the end of the Victorian era and the ethical and aesthetic critique of the technical and industrial surge that was then developing. Gandhi is neither hostile to science nor anti-rationalist, as it is sometimes written. He first criticizes the way in which scientific discoveries and the use of reason are applied and put at the service of the powerful and exploitation. He criticizes the blind faith of the Western wolrd in material progress and the desire for power embodied in technical surge. He also wants to save England from its own demons. According to him, “mechanization has impoverished India”; it turns factory workers into “slaves”. It is not by “reproducing Manchester in India” that Indians will emancipate themselves from British rule. One of the particularly powerful technical bases of British rule is precisely the development of the railroad: “Without the railroads, the British could not have such a stranglehold on India. “Supposedly to liberate the Indian people, the rail is actually used primarily by the power as an effective tool of mesh and domination.” The railways have also increased the frequency of famines because, given the ease of transportation, people sell their grain and it is sent to the most expensive market” instead of being self-consumed or sold on the closest market. Gandhi tries to link his criticism of big industry and European technologies to his project of political emancipation. It shows that progress leads to a worsening of living conditions, that “civilization” permanently creates new needs that are impossible to satisfy, that it digs inequalities and immerses part of humanity in slavery. For him, this type of civilization is hopeless. The mechanization and globalization of trade is a disaster for India, the mills of Manchester having destroyed the craft industry and the world of Indian weavers: “The machinist civilization will not stop making victims. Its effects are deadly: people let themselves be attracted to it and burn themselves like butterflies in the flame of a candle. It breaks all ties with religion and in fact only derives tiny benefits from the world. [The machinist] Civilization flatters us to better drink our blood. When the effects of this civilization are fully known, we will realize that religious (traditional) superstition is harmless in comparison to that which nimbuses modern civilization.

Gandhian criticism of machinery intrigues much in the inter-war period. It is reflected in his economic program based on the defense of village industries as in its project to “de-mechanize the textile industry”, which appears immediately unrealistic and unrealizable. Moreover, Gandhi’s positions went from total opposition to European machines to a more nuanced criticism: in October 1924, to the question of a journalist, “Are you against all machines?” He replies: “How could I be … [I am] against indiscriminate craze for machines, and not machines as such”. He also rises against those who accuse him of wanting to “destroy all machines”: “My goal is not to destroy the machine but to impose limits on it”, that is to say to control its uses so that it does not affect the natural environments or the situation of the poorest. He ultimately develops a philosophy of limits and control of technological gigantism.

But this discourse provoked a lot of misunderstanding and was gradually erased as a reliquat of obscurantist tradition. The Socialists and with them Nehru himself in his autobiography published in 1936, lament that Gandhi “blessed the relics of the old order”. His analysis of industrial technology was soon marginalized to the independence of the country by the forced modernization project. But Gandhi’s figure also exerted considerable fascination far beyond the Indian peasantry. In the inter-war period, his criticism became a source of inspiration for social movements and thinkers from very different horizons, even as criticism of the “machine civilization” was growing in Europe.

[1] Kazuya Ishi, The socio-economic thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi as an origin of alternative development, Review of Social Economy, vol. LIX, 2001, p. 198 ; Majid Rahnema and Jean Robert, La Puissance des pauvres, Actes Sud, Arles, 2008.
[2] Hind Swaraj, translated in English as Indian Home Rule, and later in French with title Leur Civilisation et notre délivrance, Denoël, Paris, 1957.
[3] Ramin Jahanbegloo, Gandhi. Aux sources de la non-violence, Thoreau, Ruskin, Tolstoï, Editions du Felin, Paris, 1998.

Techno-critics according to François Jarrige

I write from time to time and perhaps even more often about this other fact of innovation and entrepreneurship (which remains my passion, positively), a face that is darker, more negative, a vision that is more critical of the impact of innovation on society. I read these days, in French, Technocritiques – Du refus des machines à la contestation des technosciences (Technocritics – From the refusal of the machines to the challenge of the technosciences) by François Jarrige. It is a rich, harsh, demanding but exceptional book for all those interested in the subject.

Even if extremely critical at first sight, the book shows that the positive and negative aspects of progress have always developed in parallel. My closest reading of this work was probably that of Bernard Stiegler, In Disruption – How Not to Go Crazy? without forgetting the works of Libero Zuppiroli, such as The utopias of the 21st century. Thanks to him for mentioning this remarkable book.

Here is a full translation of a long and exciting passage on pages 87-88. It looks like it describes our world, it does describe an older one.

“If we were to characterize our time by a single epithet, we would not call it a heroic, religious, philosophical, or moral age; but the mechanical age, for that is what distinguishes it from all the others.” [1] Carlyle embodies the romantic denunciation of “mammonism” (that is, the religious worship of the god Silver), whose mechanical surge of his time is one of the manifestations. Why always strive, thanks to mechanics, to sell “at a lower price than all other nations until the end of the world”, why not “sell for equal price”, he asks? [2] He invites “ingenious men” to find a way to distribute products more equitably rather than always looking for ways to achieve them at the lowest cost: “A world of simple patented digesters will soon have nothing to eat: such a world will be extinguished and by the law of nature it must be extinguished.”

At the same time, Michelet, the great French romantic historian, discovered the gigantism of machinery during a trip to England in 1834. He also describes the ambivalence of the effects of machines. Impressed by the “beings of steel” who enslave “the being of blood and flesh”, he is nevertheless convinced that one will continue to prefer to the “uniform fabrications of the machines the various products which bear the imprint of the human personality”. If the machine is undeniably a “powerful agent of democratic progress” by “putting a host of useful objects within the reach of the poorest”, it also has its terrible setback: it creates a “miserable little people of men-machines that live half [and] that engender only for death “. [3]

The anxiety about machinery diminished in the Victorian era, with the expansion of the prosperity of the imperial period, the decline of workers’ violence, the rise of the political economy. However, it continues to arouse the fears of some moralists, such as John Stuart Mill, a complex radical thinker, a liberal fascinated by socialism and a feminist justifying imperialism. In his Principles of Political Economy (1848), Mill proposes an inventory of the political economy of his time. He distances himself from economists who are overly optimistic about technical change, expresses reluctance about the beneficial effects of the division of labor and considers that the state must compensate for the detrimental effects of mechanization. But his criticism goes beyond these classic questions because John Stuart Mill proposes a theory of the “stationary state” that breaks with classical economics. He describes this “stationary state of capital and wealth” as “preferable to our present situation”, marked by the struggle of all against all. He sees it as a world shaped by “prudence” and “frugality,” in which society is composed of “a large and well-paid body of workers” and “few enormous fortunes”; this “stationary” world, where everyone would have enough to live, would leave room for solitude and contemplation “of the beauties and grandeur of nature”. In this world, the “industrial arts” would obviously not stop, but “instead of having no other goal than the acquisition of wealth, the improvements would reach their goal, which is the diminution of work. [4]

To be followed, maybe …

Sources:

[1] Thomas Carlyle, “Signs of the Times,” Edinburgh Review vol. 49, 1829, p. 439-459
“Were we required to characterise this age of ours by any single epithet, we should be tempted to call it, not an Heroical, Devotional, Philosophical, or Moral Age, but, above all others, the Mechanical Age. It is the Age of Machinery, in every outward and inward sense of that word; the age which, with its whole undivided might, forwards, teaches and practises the great art of adapting means to ends.”
http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/carlyle/signs1.html

[2] Thomas Carlyle, “Past and Present” (1843), Cathédrales d’autrefois et usines d’aujourd’hui. Passé et présent, fr. transl. of Camille Bos, Editions of the Revue Blanche, Paris, 1920, p.289
I admire a Nation which fancies it will die if it do not undersell all other Nations, to the end of the world. Brothers, we will cease to undersell them; we will be content to equal-sell them; to be happy selling equally with them! I do not see the use of underselling them. A world of mere Patent-Digesters will soon have nothing to digest: such world ends, and by Law of Nature must end, in ‘over-population;’
P. 229-31, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/26159/26159-h/26159-h.htm

[3] Jules Michelet, “Le peuple”. Flammarion. Paris, 1974 [1846]

[4] John Stuart Mill, “Principles of Political Economy,” fr. transl. Léon Roquet, Paris 1894 [1848] Pages 138-142.

Why society cannot be put into equations by Pablo Jensen

My former colleague Boris advised me to read French book Pourquoi la société ne se laisse pas mettre en équations (Why society cannot be put into equations) and I must thank him for the advice 🙂

Author Pablo Jensen – his personal and wikipedia page will tell you more – is a physicist and his book tries to explain why equations in social sciences (even in physics by the way) may be tricky. Truth is a complicated topic. But whereas there is (some) truth in natural sciences which can always be revisited, the concept of truth in social sciences is even more difficult, just because the human behavior is full of feedback loops so that what is true today, not to say yesterday might be taken intro account to modify the future… If you read French, it is really interesting, if not, let’s hope for a translation soon.

As a really nice illustration of truth in physics, Jensen mentions how Galileo struggled with the mechanics of falling bodies [pages 42-5].


Source: Galileo’s notes on motion, Folio 116, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence; Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, Florence; Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

Galileo never published his data as he did not understand why they looked wrong. The answer is a sliding ball does not have the same speed has a rolling one. Rotation absorbs a fraction of the energy (apparently √(5/7) or 0.84) which was close to Galileo’s apparent mistake.

Then Jensen reminds us of how difficult weather forecast and climate modification are (chapter 4). So when he jumps to social sciences, he is quite convincing about the reason why mathematical modeling may be a very challenging task. On a study about analyzing tweets to predict success, he writes the following: Le résultat de leur étude est clair: même si l’on connaît toutes les caractéristiques des messages et des utilisateurs, le succès reste largement imprévisible. Techniquement, seule 20% de la variabilité du succès des différents messages est expliquée par ce modèle, portant très complexe, et d’ailleurs incompréhensible, comme cela arrive souvent pour les méthodes utilisant l’apprentissage automatique. Il est intéressant de noter qu’on peut doubler le niveau de prédiction en ajoutant une seule variable supplémentaire. Il s’agit du succès passé de l’utilisateur. de son nombre moyen de retweets jusque-là. […] La vie sociale est intrinsèquement imprédictible, de par les fortes interactions entre les personnes. […] La masse des données permet d’opérationnaliser des vieux dictions comme “qui se ressemble s’assemble”, “dis-moi ce que tu lis, je te dirai qui tu es” et surtout “je suis qui je suis”. (The result of their study is clear: even if one knows all the characteristics of the messages and the users, the success remains largely unpredictable.Technically, only 20% of the variability of the success of the different messages is explained by this model, even if it is very complex, and in fact incomprehensible, as it happens often for the methods using machine learning. It is interesting to note that the prediction level can be doubled by adding a single additional variable. This is the past success of the userm through its average number of retweets so far. […] Social life is inherently unpredictable, because of the strong interactions between people. […] The mass of data makes it possible to operationalize old sayings such as “birds of a feather flock together”, “tell me what you read, I will tell you who you are” and especially “I am who I am” [Chapter 12, Predict thanks to big data? [Chapter 12, Predict thanks to big data? Pages 150-3].

An even more striking example of the incomprehensible nature of machine learning is about image recognition: the best way to predict the presence of curtains in a room was to identify a foot in a bed. Just because most bedrooms had both [Pages 154-5]. Jensen also criticizes the ranking of universities and researchers (pages 246-53), a topic I had addressed in the past in La Crise et le Modèle Américain. In chapter 20, “are we social atoms?”, he adds that for human beings [Page 263]: “for now, we do not know internal characteristics which are both pertinent and stable” without which analyzing human beings as a group becomes problematic.

Already in Chapter 13, Jensen explains that there are four essential factors that make the simulations of society qualitatively more difficult than those of matter: the heterogeneity of humans; the lack of stability of anything; the many relationships to consider, both temporally and spatially; the reflexivity of humans, who react to the patterns of their activity. […] No single factor produces anything on its own […] In the social sciences, a dense network of causal conditions is needed to produce a result. […] There is no guarantee that the consequence of [one factor] will be the same in other situations than it will be combined with other causal factors. The only possible answer is “it depends”. [Pages 162-4]

To discuss the greater or lesser stability that can be expected from these internal characteristics, we must go back to their origin. For the physicists, the answer is clear: the origin of the forces between atoms is to be sought in the interactions between these really stable particles that are the nuclei and the electrons. […] The origin of human actions is at the heart of sociology. Its first intuition was to seek the determinants of practices not in the inner minds of people studied by psychology, nor in a universal human nature, but in social influences. [Page 264] The social world is more like a swirling fluid than neat combinations of bricks. […] Of course this image is too simple, because it neglects the memory, the strong viscosity of the social. But it shows the limits of the static vision of the economy or of social physics, which start from individuals already made, ready to function, to generate social life by association, under the impulse of their independent natures. [Page 270] Social life does not therefore consist of a series of discrete interactions as the formula or the simulations suppose. Rather, it must be conceived of as the result of the unfolding of relationships. The distinction between interaction and relationship is crucial, because the latter involves a series of interactions followed between people who know each other and keep the memory of past exchanges. In a relationship, each interaction is based on past interactions and will in turn influence those that will come. A relationship is not a simple sequence of one-off interactions, but a process of continuous creation, of the relationship and therefore of the people involved. [Page 271]

Jensen does not say society cannot be analyzed, qualitatively or quantitatively. He gives a subtle analysis of the complexity of society and social behaviors which we should always remember before accepting as facts often too simplistic analyses from big data…

Goomics (Part III) – About Patents

My final post about Goomics deals with Manu Cornet’s views on Patents. They are not that different from mine: I copied his view below (I hope he does not mind this limited copyright infringement) whereas you can read my slideshare contribution. You may also try to guess what invention Cornet’s is referring to and what is the Australian patent I use in my class. It was granted and then revoked, shoudl you be interested to know about it…