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Inadequate? • Posted: Jun 24, 2009 22:17:40Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

To take the measure of things, that is to compare available resources to the size and difficulty of a problem faced, is not an exercise peculiar to humans. There was a study published this week that took a look at the hunting behavior of Great Whites and found them to be very calculating in their strategies for stalking lone young seals, lurking well below and out of sight until there was little chance an inexperienced seal would be able to swim to safety before being consumed in one huge swift gulp. Such lurking behavior has also been observed in other species, for instance large cats and birds of prey. I, personally, have watched hawks hover like helicopters 20 feet or so above a rodent hole for minutes at a time before finally diving to make a catch. My guess is any species that hunts for a living engages in similar calculations. I would also guess many species that wind up as prey do the same, balancing fear with hunger when deciding to chance death for a nibble of something tasty.

The brain seems the ideal organ to manage the calculation of adequacy. It has direct access to the state of all internal physical systems relating to health of the body and stores of energy. To that information it adds huge catalogues regarding the state of the external environment, both current and previous. Memory of past success and near failure provide the basis for judgement in relating the two types of information. Bad luck and poor judgment result in extinction. Poor judgement does not often proliferate. But humans, it seems, have learned to make vast exceptions to the usual rule nature follows. We give second chances. And not just a few of them. We institutionalize huge sections of our economy for the expressed purpose of supporting second chances. Optimistically, we view adequacy as learnable. But is it?

Many things are learnable. The brain is extremely adaptable along many lines within certain developmental windows. The problem comes when what is learned does not match what the current environment requires for survival. The sustainable skills needing to be learned are: how to learn, how to take the measure of things, and how to formulate and execute a plan that succeeds. Second chance programs and institutions that do not successfully teach such skills achieve nothing beyond artificial life support. Inadequacy will always be inadequate.

Given the seething dynamics of the world we inherit, a plan for continuous continuing education for all levels of society would seem to be in order. That we now see schools, colleges, publishing, and a vibrant press floundering is sad. Everything a thinking person would want in an intellectually supportive and stimulating environment is currently being replaced by two dimensional and wholly inadequate jingles, rhymes, and mantras. Epithets that may have worked in the past will never be adequate to the dynamics of the future. Only active and wise taking the measure of things will.

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008