The Watchman’s Rattle

When knowledge becomes impossible to acquire, then it is customary for us to turn decisions over to a higher authority, and like it or not, that is pretty much what most Americans have done…most of us rely on our government to distill the salient issues and act on our behalf, which, as we found out, doesn’t always work.

This is the untenable position complexity causes.  We may want to accept personal responsibility, want to take action, but we are paralyzed by our inability to understand all the facts.  Eventually, this leaves us no other option but to depend on others to tell us what is right as well as what is real.” – Rebecca D. Costa, The Watchman’s Rattle

In The Watchman’s Rattle, Rebecca D. Costa attempts to provide us a framework and a hope for how we may, as her subtitle says, think our way out of extinction.  She suggests that both our learned behaviors and our natural limits as humans combine to create a cognitive threshold that individuals and societies rarely break through.  Our challenge, if we prefer life over extinction, is how to break through the cognitive threshold now because we won’t know it is too late until it is too late.

She argues that four supermemes prevent us from seeing solutions to our most pressing problems.  The four supermemes she cites are:

  1. Irrational Opposition.
  2. Personalization of Blame.
  3. Silo Thinking.
  4. Counterfeit Correlation.

Beyond these, she argues we need to embrace the concept of insight and actively work to improve our ability to achieve insights, something our brains can accomplish, but rarely do.

As she searches for ways to improve the likelihood of insight, she references Dr. Michael Merzenich who, “is quick to point to that the first rule governing problem-solving is that we can only draw from what our brains have inherited, experienced, or learned.”  She continues, “This is the raw material for all of our thoughts, ideas, innovations, and solutions–everything we know and imagine…It doesn’t matter how intelligent or creative we are.  The type and amount of content we load into our brains has a large effect on the solutions we can develop to complex problems.”

In these rapidly changing times, when many organizations seem to be fighting their last battles before extinction, Ms. Costa’s work forces me to recall a C.S. Lewis quote, which read,

The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”

These are not favorable conditions. Yet, we must seek knowledge.

That’s what I’m going to do this week.  What are you going to do to stop the clanging of the watchman’s rattle?


1 thought on “The Watchman’s Rattle”

  1. A Facebook friend posted an article this morning about a “foods that should be banned.” I can’t say I had any basis to disagree with the list, but the arguments were for the most part blatant examples of #1 on your list. They were the equivalent of saying: “Oxygen is used as *rocket fuel* therefore, we should ban its use in respiration!”
    There might be perfectly legitimate reasons to ban that list of chemicals, but those valid arguments were diminished by the flashy, yet nonsensical arguments thrown in for impact.

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