Solving apparently intractable problems

A flip answer to the "Are you alright?"  common greeting in the UK, is to say "No. I'm half left!"  More seriously, the implications of the non-flippant "I'm alright" reply needs investigating because of the hegemony of the right. What precisely does it mean to be all right? And what light might this throw on our ability to resolve intractable problems. Intractable problems are defined operationally as problems that persist or grow worse in spite of our best efforts to resolve them.

When neither trying to do the right thing nor using common-sense resolves current problems we clearly need to take a side step from the presenting problem and ask what exactly "right" and "common sense" themselves mean.

The meta-problem tackled on this website is that of establishing whether the two existential states - having common-sense and being right- are co-factors in inducing and maintaining intractable problems. What are the implications and consequences when what we see doesn't match what we hear or feel and all our rights are not in harmony. The paradigm case is when we unwittingly use the non wright-hand:

  • to write / draw,
  • as the 'manipulating' hand and not the 'holding hand',


Are you doing it right?
Do you know your human lefts?
Are you in your right mind?
Right hand or left hand
It's the same brain
Tools rather than labels?
Use your common sense
A change-oriented mental frame
Problems with problems
The meta-question
A radical approach to radicalisation

Doing it right

We live in a world under various Declarations on Human Rights. Yet how many of us know all our human rights and are aware of the significance of the difference between being right and doing something right? At the heart of this meta-problem is the fact there is more than one sense to the sound "right":

  • right------ opposite to left - ego-centric label: social facet
  • wright--- signifying craftsmanship:eg. arkwright ...playwright, and Mr Wright: physical facet
  • rite------- eg greeting each other with a right handshake: emotional facet
  • write---- 'thinking' with a pen and paper: intellectual facet

The way we cope with this cluster can be labelled handling the hegemony of the 'right'

For those born with the 'right' bio-logic there is an identity with their biological hardware (eg. having an adept right hand) and the psychological software expressed in our culture's 'human rights' language. Those born left handed are in a fundamentally different body-mind state. Although they are in harmony with themselves when they tackle tasks the left way, they cannot culturally be said to be tackling tasks the right way. It was (and in many cases still is) important in almost all cultures, to be seen to be acting right, that bio-logic left handers have been prompted, induced or coerced to be right and use their right hand.

The key discovery of this former consultancy was that those experiencing intractable problems, of almost any nature, are not alright in the sense that not all their rights are in harmony with each other.

To be clear, the key issue is not whether one's bio-logic is right or left (handed). The issue is whether one's wright hand is in harmony with one's writing hand. The reason should be obvious: in literate societies we are defined, in large measure, by how well we read and write. In short, writing is a complex mind-body task.

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Do you know your human lefts?

To illustrate just how deeply our thinking is 'right-framed', shaping our thinking and actions, what is your reaction to the question: "Do you know your human lefts?" Most people's first reaction is to laugh at the apparent absurdity of the 'left-frame'. But it raises the following issues:

  • should left handers tackle all tasks and problems the right way?
  • if left handers tackle tasks / problems the left way, are they wrong?
  • what if our handedness (biologic) is not the hand we think we are (psychologic)?
  • what does it mean to be right or left handed and how do we know which we are?
  • how do we interpret "the right way": with the right hand /side of body, or the correct way?

All these are put into perspective by a Primary School Headteacher, who declared "I would rather be dead than left handed." You can bet she didn't have a positive policy for left-handers.

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Are you in your right mind?

When someone asks whether you're in your right mind, you generally don't think of yourself as having a left and a right mind. Yet it's not uncommon to hear someone comment that they're in two minds whether to .... or ....! Nor do we regard ourselves as having two brains. Yet there is a sense in which we do indeed have two, but we call them cerebral hemispheres. These two parts communicate with each other by a bridge (called the 'corpus callosum').

There is a cross-over between cerebral hemisphere and hand. It is the right hemisphere that controls and is controlled by the left hand and the left cerebral hemisphere that controls and is controlled by the right hand. It is, therefore, the left hander who is in their right mind when writing ('wrighting' and 'riting'). Complicating the issue of identifying handedness is the high status given to the 'right'.

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Right hand or left hand? They don't even know what a hand is!

We often claim that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing when we find one department says one thing and another department saying something else or when someone seems to hold two contradictory views.

Interestingly reference to the left and right hand occurs in Matthews 6:3

But when you do merciful deeds,
don't let your left hand know what your right hand does

Of more questionable interest is wikipedia's further comment: Since the owner of the hands must know what both are doing, Jesus' statement here is thus generally considered a humorous hyperbole.

While it is clear that brains must know what hands are doing and how they are doing what they're doing, this is not the same as the owner knowing what their hands are doing or how. This is reflected in the various labels used to describe how our two hands relate to each other: strong / weak; cackhanded, clumsy, inept / adept; dexterous / sinister; good / bad; dominant / non-dominant. The labels we give to the two different sides of the ego-centric self, 'left' and 'right', are socially constructed. Clearly the labels we use reveal our mind-sets: some of which help while others hinder us in resolving problems.

Here we use three labels - writing hand, adept hand, and preferred hand and three body-brain states - handedness- latent handedness, converted handedness and handedness.

  • The writing hand is self-evidently defined as the hand used for writing.
  • The adept hand is better able to read the mind's eye image and record it on paper with seemingly effortless ease .
  • The preferred hand is, as the name implies, the one we choose to regard as our 'right' hand

  • Latent handedness is where we unknowingly or unwittingly write with the non-adept
  • Converted handedness is where we know that we're not using the hand we used to use as our dominant hand.
  • Handedness is a short hand for a core body-mind, organisation and orientation, state.

No lengthy professional training period or apprenticeship is required to demonstrate expertise in identifying latent / converted handedness. What is required, however, is something more difficult: a radical change in the frames and the tools we use. In practice this means focusing on how the brain-hand organizes and orients itself and itself in relation to the world. In pre-school aged children this can be determined by noting, for example, which leg leads and which follows when climbing, then later, descending stairs; which is the pole-holding hand when twirling round a (vertical) pole and which hand is being used when agitation or frustration is expressed.

Attending to the hand-brain link instead of arguing over which is the right label for a presenting problem seems at best a distraction from the presenting problem and at worst an irrelevance. Yet to ignore the mis-match between the writing and the adept hand is to ignore the cost incurred over the short, medium and long term.

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It's the same brain

We're assuming:

  • all brains are like every other brain, eg.two cerebreal hemispheres
  • some brains are more like other brains in some respect, eg. right or left oriented and organised
  • every brain is unique, representing the different lives we live.

When we make the distinction between being good with either brains or hands but not both we're denying the fact that our hands and brains are linked as one. It should come as no surprise then to discover that a hand's inability to handle a hand task, normally capable of being handled, is matched by its owner's inability to handle some of the conceptual and practical problems the world throws at it. And, in this literate world, the greatest conceptual-practical problem the world throws at us is literacy

What happens then when we're, literally or metaphorically, not all right and when what we see, hear and feel are out of kilter with each other? In other words if one of the physical, intellectual, emotional or social facets is out of kilter, the others will be too. The result will be a variety of conditions or intractable problems, ranging from offending, recidivism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, stuttering, depression, radicalisation to a host of other problems. All because it's the same brain that has to handle its own body as has to handle what others and the world throws at it.

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Tools rather than labels?

Given the choice between having the tools to resolve a problem or getting the right label, which would you prefer? Many focus on getting the right diagnostic' label on the assumption that the proper course of action can be taken. This is the wrong way round, it's our tool use which determines the diagnostic label. 

The result is that many problems remain unresolved because we're not explicit about the tools we're using, the chief of which is how we frame them. Nor do we question whether the right tool is the correct tool. This leads many to obsess instead over which diagnostic label best describes their condition. The reason is simple: the 'right' label confers particular social benefits and legal entitlements. The net effect is, however, a regressive problem shift. The more productive approach is to acknowledge that diagnostic labels are merely short hand descriptions and that progress is made by focusing instead on the tools we're using.

The over-arching tool is the hegemony of the /right/ which needs to be handled in a reflective, recursive and refractive manner. Other literal and metaphorical tools include:

4-sided pyramid represents a faceted model of the individual, where the physical (wright), emotional (rite), social (right) and intellectual (write) aspects of individuals are not regarded and treated as separate entities which may or may not interact with each other for better or worse. The pyramid represents an integral entity which is either in harmony with itself and the world or it is not.

Ice-berg represents the fact that the problems we 'see', are often, the tip of greater and deeper problems which, through accident (ignorance) or design (vested interest), we fail to acknowledge.

Jig-saw puzzle represents the fact that all parties to an interaction hold some of the pieces of the puzzling worlds in which we live. One task, then, is to lay out the pieces face up. Another is to allow the bigger picture to emerge through a progressive 'fitting-together' strategy.

Cusp catastrophe graph represents the fact that when 'insight' occurs it occurs suddenly (catastrophically) by breaking through previously (and often unintentionally) created barriers. The cusp-catastrophe is only one of seven catastrophe surfaces dealt with by Rene Thom.

World-views : mind sets : explanatory schemas ; mental frameworks differences in world-view (mental set, explanatory schemas, mental framework) explains why experts working in the same field often disagree with each other. World-views determine what facts we seek, how we seek them; and what we accept as evidence and what we neither seek nor accept. The best general account of world-views in Pepper's World-Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence. Mary Douglas uses much the same analysis in her book How Institutions Think.

Pen and paper is used here as a key tool for thinking with

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Use your common-sense!

When trying to do the right thing fails we're exhorted to use our common-sense. Yet, if common-sense were sufficient to help us resolve our problems we must ask, "Why does it so often fail us?". Is it because we're not using our common-sense or any common-sense, not using it properly or common-sense is not what we think it is. The latter is generally the case. Here common-sense is defined as did Descartes and the Ancient Greeks. For them common-sense exists when the messages from the different sense organs to the brain are held in common. In other words, common-sense operates when what we see agrees with what we hear and feel.

This not commonly used definition prompts two questions: "What are the consequences of not seeing, what we're hearing or feeling?" a related question: "Why can't others see what we see, hear what we hear and feel what we feel?" We fail to see what others see, hear what they hear and feel what they feel and disagree on a particular course of action or interpretation of a particular event, or state of affairs, because we haven't interacted to 'strongly' with each other.

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A change-oriented mental frame

If you're seeking to effect change, (rather than merely label it) then we should see whether you agree on the following:

  1. infants don't do what they do by following instructions.
  2. infants 'do' by acting and interacting with and on other objects / agents.
  3. others have their own ways of acting and interacting.
  4. an insatiable curiosity, mimicry and repetition are an infant's 'doing' tools.
  5. brains are malleable throughout the life-span, capable of making new and breaking old connections.
  6. 'learning' is a dummy word for doing, enduring and enjoying (or avoiding).
  7. when confronted with unfamiliar tasks children and adults often feel confused.
  8. confusion is an emotional and mental state, with social and physical consequences.
  9. confusion is either worked through or avoided in a dogmatic, reasonable or utterly sceptical cognitive manner.
  10. our cognitive manner is revealed by what we're prepared to accept as evidence with respect to a particular issue.
  11. asking whether nature or nurture is responsible for how we tackle tasks is a non-pedagogic question which reflects vested interests.
  12. not all 'facts' constitute evidence for or against an issue
  13. and finally, no one can please everyone all the time. We're lucky if we can please some of the people some of the time!

Well, which facts do we agree on?

If you're OK with opening cans of worms, read on!

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The meta-question

In order to eliminate mis-matching handedness as a co-factor in any apparent intractable problem we need to ask:

What constitutes necessary or sufficient evidence
that a mis-match between the writing and the adept hand
is NOT a co-factor causing or sustaining the presenting problem?

This is seldom asked because we assume everyone tries to do the right thing, the right way. Indeed, why would brains deliberately try to make life more difficult for their owners by doing things the wrong way?

Failure to ask this meta-question results in a series of unresolvable problems-within problems.

Problems within problems

Few problems occur in isolation or have clear-cut boundaries. Indeed most problems are embedded within other problems. This leads to meta-problems such as how do we know whether they are well defined: where does one problem finish and another start. Indeed, how do we know whether this particular problem is tractable or not?

Such uncertainty leads some to say "I've tried everything and nothing works" - the implication being that "nothing else will work". Those with this mental attitude can be labelled pessimistologists. Optimistologists on the other hand will try another way, and yet another way until they achieve success. (To see the effectiveness of this approach read brief details about some of the cases)

A related meta-problem is that while some problems appear to be primarily practical to write legibly at speed, others appear to be primarily conceptual eg how to spell correctly. But this distinction is a futile one since all problems have these two aspects.

Down a blind alley, up the garden path or?

Few would have been led down so many blind alleys or up so many garden paths were it not for the hegemony of the right! It has prevented us from seeing what is in plain sight - like the air we breathe or the sea the fish swim in, we're bathed in it.

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A radical approach to radicalisation

There are many accounts of what transforms or metamorphizes seemingly ordinary human beings into 'radical' or 'fundamentalist' slaughterers of the rest of humankind. For example, George Lakoff in Don't think of an elephant says: "There are at least three kinds of causes of radical Islamic terrorism:

  • World-view: the religious rationale
  • Social and cultural conditions: cultures of despair
  • Means: the enabling conditions"

There are two paradigm shifting problems with such explanations.

  • Although it might seem commonsensical to focus on the presenting problem, how can we determine whether there are common co-factors or not among different forms of 'deviancy' if we focus on only one?
  • But more critically, why don't all those exposed to the same set of conditions, as outlined by Lakoff, become radicalised?

It is the latter question that prompts us to adopt a progressive problem-shifting approach. At the very least it prompts us to probe the individual more closely. When we do so, by determining whether they are in harmony, at least with themselves, with respect to the hegemony of the right, we discover they're not!

If the person of interest is in the public eye we rely on evidence from the media. And because journalists are focused on talking heads -not looking to see whether the body is in harmony with itself (and the world)- they show us only head shots. It takes dedication to search the internet for images involving hands as well as head and more critically, images of them writing. More often than not it's serendipity that provides the evidence whether there's a match or not between their adept and writing hand.

For some the term radicalized is a substitute for brainwashed. For others there's a fundamental difference: radicalization is assumed to be a process undertaken willingly by the radicalized while brain washing refers to a process taken against the will of the to be brain-washed individual. However, the similarities might be greater than we first think. Many write with their non-adept hand as result of being unwittingly induced to so because of the hegemony of the right.

Whenever we're confronted with an intractable problem, common-sense tells us that we must be using the wrong tools. But why do so many individuals, institutions and organizations, persist in using ineffective tools when the evidence reveals that they've not achieved their purpose? The position is worse: why don't they not acknowledge the role of the mis-match between the writing and the wright hand when informed of the condition. One reason is because of what Marvin Minsky called 'investor bias': a reluctance to abandon well-entrenched rituals because of the amount of time, effort and money that has been invested in establishing them. Another factor is their failure to work within a Popperian falsification paradigm!

Failure to consider the need to eliminate a potential mismatch between the writing and the adept hand, as a co-factor in any presenting problem, particularly when conducting evaluations for psychological, educational, medico-legal or legal purposes, results in heavy financial penalties and emotional burdens: particularly for the education and the penal systems. Ignoring this possibility results in ineffectual Personalised Education Plans, Professional Development Programmes, inadequate Reasonable Adjustments in the Work Place or Fitness-to-Work treatments. The greatest cost-savings are in respect of depression, dyslexia and recidivism. and radicalisation.

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