The role of persuasion

11 slides to change a mind

Fascinating insight tonight about the process of persuasion upon one man. A man of whom I am less and less persuaded by, but who is necessarily persuasive in ways few can claim to be. But this story is how Boris was turned around to the reality of climate-change.

This is not my story to tell. Here’s the full background in Judge for yourself how compelling a case was made in just 11 slides.

When it comes to being persuaded, the most important factor for those most intellectually astute is to offer them the most robust argument from both perspectives, to enable them to independently evaluate if a different conclusion is to be drawn. Moderate fear may work, but no more. When it comes to influence both propaganda and advertising demonstrate the factors of “who says what to whom, and with what effect” – in essence the key factors in play. At least according to Hovland-Yale’s model (1953).

That assumes external factors have been the most persuasive. Innate motivation is alternatively considered in a number of theories. Elaboration Likelihood Model suggests an individual may either take in the detailed assessment centrally, or peripherally in less detail and more focus on the credibility of those conveying the message. Balance Theory would attribute attitude change to association – sources, trustworthiness, expertise. Social Judgement Theory examines the psychology distance of one attitude to another. Cognitive Dissonance theory could explain both increasing resistance or relief at hearing a better perspective – dependent upon wider beliefs or concerns – and only if a choice was to be freely made rather than compelled.

All potentially valid factors and explanations we can perhaps have in mind in experiencing the powers of influence we each witness, make, or receive, each and every day.

11 slides must be particularly compelling if they alone have turned a mind so far from one perspective to another, on such an emotive issue, and in such a short time.

I’m going to be the optimist and conclude the case is indeed that powerfully made. Others may conclude a more cynical factor was in play.

Environmental projects

How healthy is the planet? Let’s count the bison and beaver and see

A rule of thumb measure we can all be asking our governments to show progress towards. As we ask what planetary initiatives are really being attended to in our name.

Carly Vynne and co-authors have just published an open source research paper this week. It outlines work undertaken in mapping the world’s remaining intact large mammal landscapes (see also Osprey Insights projects here).

So what? You may ask

I see this as a potential measure we can all seek visibility of. Assessing both behaviours and trust in local, national, and international plans. A rule of thumb (heuristic) measure easy to see.

This Ecography published paper focuses on “intact large mammal assemblages“. Putting up a case for the health of an ecosystem being most easily assessed as a conservation success story by the presence of these specifically identified mammals. Relevant because:

Large mammal species are particularly sensitive to human activities through habitat alteration and direction exploitation.

Vynne et al (2022)

The worrying statistic offered is that only 15% of relevant terrestrial earth surface currently contains an intact large mammal assemblage. These tending to be areas of connected preserved status where “protected area networks” are actively retained. The largest examples being in Brazilian Amazon, southern Africa, Australia and the Himalayas. But every piece of land is measured in the 15%. The additional observation offered is evidence of concentric circle effect as one moves out from these large mammal assemblage areas – with an increasing lack of biodiversity as one moves out from these centres.

I am reminded of the 2021 Netflix movie presented by David Attenborough “Breaking Boundaries”. These are system of system level metrics. Ones that we can all see and understand. David Attenborough is presenting the long-term research of Professor Johan Rockström at research institutes in Sweden and Germany. Specifically the nine Planetary Boundaries model. It is presented these 9 key metrics of our planetary health. Of these nine, loss of biosphere integrity, is given the highest rating of uncertainty. Amounting to the highest immediate risk to the stability of our planetary home. The threshold we have past much more severe than that even of climate change.

With this most concerning of the 9 thresholds in mind, this latest paper is therefore presenting another simplification of measurement of our biggest immediate threat. We can all ask the same question. Can we preserve and restore enough habitat to retain our biodiversity? Measured by the presence of a few key mammals.

Here are the named mammals. Most of which we would not want to visit our gardens, but then neither do they necessarily want us visiting theirs. And therein sits the challenge we have to embrace.

…European bison Bison bonasus, Eurasian beaver Castor fiber, reindeer Rangifer tarandus, wolf Canis lupus and lynx Lynx lynx [35 ecoregions]….

wild horse Equus ferus and wolf in the Himalayan ecoregions [10 ecoregions could be improved by 89%].

In Africa, reintroductions of hippopotamus Hippotamus amphibius, cheetah Acinonyx jubatus, common tsessebe Damaliscus lunatus, African wild dog Lycaon pictus and lion Panthera leo [50 ecoregions by 108%]

North American brown bear Ursus arctos, American bison Bison bison, wolverine Gulo gulo and American black bear Ursus americanus … [22 ecoregions, 17% of the continent, 117% increase in area with intact mammal assemblages) after]

Vynne et al (2022)

In the UK we are already beginning these debates. The beaver has been introduced in experimental settings (rewilding Britain). This trial has immediately produced positive results. But also immediately exposed the very real implications to human displacements and limitations it ultimately starts to impose.

Project implications

These are the real issues of today. We have governments and international institutions promoting more environmentally sustainable ways to be. We have CoP26 campaigns and pledges associated with carbon and materials use. These are pressing issues to which we can review targets and cynically sneer from a psychologically safe distance. But perhaps we should instead be asking how every project our governments and corporations embark upon, impacts wider ecological goals.

But that is still abstract. To most people those are just numbers to manipulate, or impacts felt at remote institutional levels we can just bemoan. At this level of abstraction, we can carry on and blame them when it fails. When however the concern is more tangible, it becomes our concern if we want it to be. And we really should.

We each instigate projects. We can therefore each claim ownership and control. Simply by asking better questions of ourselves in every project we each undertake. Everyday projects of improvement to our houses, our families, and ourselves. How do these changes we intend, ultimately require unsustainable change to these bigger habitat level systems? The systems of systems sitting at the other end? Suddenly, we are all able to make a better choice. By asking more of the impacts of our more simple choice. What we wear. What we replace. What we upgrade. And what we eat.

The main drivers of change are the demand for food, water, and natural resources, causing severe biodiversity loss and leading to changes in ecosystem services. These drivers are either steady, showing no evidence of declining over time, or are increasing in intensity. The current high rates of ecosystem damage and extinction can be slowed by efforts to protect the integrity of living systems (the biosphere), enhancing habitat, and improving connectivity between ecosystems while maintaining the high agricultural productivity that humanity needs.

Addressing biodiversity, Stockholm Resilience Centre

What habitat is changed to enable each choice we make? That’s a question we all know we should ask. With this simple explanation of intact large mammal assemblages, we perhaps already know the answers. We just do not want to know.

The complete paper by Carly Vynne of Osprey Insights et al can be found here. Dated 27th January 2022.

Earth history, our future

We have choice, we have self-control

A blog addressing self-control. The piece of the environmental puzzle we each own. A contribution to the whole, if we so choose.

As CoP26 gets moving past the administrative tasks of state, I find myself wondering on what it is we all do that makes changes for the common good so hard to follow through.

The piece I think we all lose sight of, is self-control. Behavioural control in its most personal form. There is contemporary debate as to what consciousness is, and whether it is even a thing at all. Whether free will or biology, given the magnitude of the dilemma we all now face together, I am minded to think that the answer to that matters little. This is our moment to make action our goal. That starts at home. With a little reorientation of our self-control

Success requires clarity of purpose and self-control

For every self-made success these two factors seem to me present. There is clarity of purpose. And intent on keeping to this task, and thereby enacting self-control. When people talk in admirable terms of ambition, effectiveness, or being on the ball. When addressing ourselves as being present. In the moment. As one person, as a team, or collaborators in a project. We purposefully take to action and all distraction is kept under control.

v | b | t

The achievement accomplished is appraised based upon what was before, compared to what is now. Or what is now possible, that was not possible before. This achievement required a visibility, a clear directed change by the actor(s). It then took behaviours directed towards this goal. A determination to overcome unforeseen event. And a personal and/or shared trust that this could be seen through.

Managing behaviour is what we do

What makes consciousness interesting here is what is going on within. We are permanently being distracted. Distraction is at the heart of what our competing systems within us do. They present us with choice, or bring to our awareness wider issues, opportunity, or threat, to give option to reprioritise some more.

The privilege of the human condition is the extent to which we have put ourselves at the fulcrum of this distraction. We can act upon distraction with additional strategic inference. We can move our inference to higher levels of perspective. We can move our enquiry to lower levels of insight but higher levels of detail. We can seek more detail or bigger picture or put time to both. We can communicate this enquiry or we can do this from within. We can place ourselves in externally different, better, more challenging, less certain, or more exciting, places to be distracted over and over again.


That is what I take choice to mean today. These days of global need. We have basic needs as individuals. Our brain and body collude to make us ever aware of that fact. Our social instincts enable that need to be embraced as family concern. Tribal influence. National pride. And now, if we choose, global unity to inform a global act.


What this also reflects is the fundamentals of our biology. Fundamentals of our chemistry before life was even a thing. There is finite resource and more demand than supply. Nature and chaos find their own delicate equilibrium. We are gifted with the means to make something of that equilibrium. By our action we do some nudging of our own.

Competing towards collaborative ends

But now we compete not for ourselves. Instead we compete for the future versions of us. As our biology today reflects from all before. Whatever happens at CoP26, that all begins right here. In each home. With our manner of self-control. Making choice toward future generations we will not know. Or taking more for ourselves, eating more seeds than we sow.

We are each a project | within this project. This is our project of correction. Of planned redirection. To find the ultimate equilibrium. The platform that can sustain us all. This place on earth remains our ultimate system. We can choose it. Or it can consume us all.


Supplemental note: Earth History as observed in terms of behaviour

Intended change by us as humans vs the behaviours of chemistry or biology – a reflection on which is which. The latter requires none of the choice decisions we can make, but for all our talking is this road we passively take.

Archean Era to now

~3.5 Billion years of earth history. A few basics of what behaviours came before.

Settled chemistry

Any dynamic system can be said to behave. Predictably, or not. Well, or not. Living, or not. Nor is there anything in life that holds a privileged place in playing a part in change. In geology you can study what happens when the same chemistry plays out in different arenas with different agents of change. Deep within the Earth’s crust, in magma chambers, minerals and crystals can emerge differently from the chemical grabs that are made for the same finite resource. Time, heat, and gravity playing roles in what ingredients sit where. The conditions of what is left, dictating what is next. Some ingredients becoming heavy, others relatively light. Gravity settling occurring through relative viscosity. More pressure from above, or more heat from below can change the rates and settled nature within. There is only temporary stability and rates of change. Add more pressure or more heat, some of the solid masses return to liquid form, and what chemistry had been claimed becomes free to be reclaimed by new crystallising processes once again.

Change is inevitable

There was therefore behaviour before there was life. Chemical reaction and physical change well studied in timespans we humans have geologically categorised. At global scale this reflected atmospheric conditions where greenhouse effects were a positive influence. A young sun with heat held within a primitive atmosphere enabling temperatures that support liquid water to prevail. Pillow lava flows from 3.5 billion years ago evidence of this early water. Spewing into this water, were volcanic vents depositing chemical mixtures with energy and ingredients for life all mixing and settling within. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) settling amidst amino acids and other key components that would eventually make biological cells (cf. Science Direct).

Acting not settling

We are not rocks. Bacteria and archaea made the early headway there. How we define the precise moment that there was life is still not completely clear. At its most basic level however, the sentiment of passive chemical action makes way for biologically active intent. Perhaps. Settling into the chemical glue still brings about reactions, but the objective action may have some process its form is additionally enabling it to do.

Passive to active as regulated behaviour

An autopoiesis is what is now termed to describe these, and all subsequent, emerging first choices made. A regulation of the first defended boundary. A containment within the first cell. An inner influence to the outside chemical glue. Early life. Mobility in water. Gathering, collecting, interacting. Then finding new heat from the sun. Converting wider bandwidths of energy in the form of light.

Therein presenting a growing need for biologically active regulations.

Definition of autopoiesis

…the property of a living system (such as a bacterial cell or a multicellular organism) that allows it to maintain and renew itself by regulating its composition and conserving its boundaries… the mechanisms of self-production are the key to understand both the diversity and the uniqueness of the living.— Francisco J. Varela, in Self-Organizing Systems: An Interdisciplinary Approach, 1981

…the ancient common ancestor which evolved autopoiesis and thus became the first living cell.— Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, What is Life?, 2000


Still several billion years ago, amidst the trillions of chance events, an archaea and a bacteria were conjoined – rather than the one consumed – a Union. A first inkling into the power upgrade available if cooperation can resume. A repeatable fact that ballooned. This is mitochondrial symbiosis, that is still evidencing that chance happening today. Adding advantage of symbiosis, to the advancement and specialisms of two cells not dividing but instead remaining together and acting as one, and diversity of chance exponentially grows.

This is more than just selfish genes. This is life and 2 billion years of it as competing in rates of growth, not rates of evolution to hunt or avoid being the prey.

The predator age is much more recent. The Cambrian period. It begins in earnest 550 million years ago. With such predation the fashion of the age, competition steps up another gear.

Here is where a split of opinion in contemporary science exists. Whether the nature of us all is as savage as some would hold. Or whether a collaborative realism exists borne of that bacterial age. As explained by biochemist Dr. Nick Lane.

This discrepancy is partly responsible for the schism that has opened between Margulis and neo-darwinists like Dawkins. Dawkins’ ideas about selfish genes are equivocal when applied to bacteria (which he does not try to do). For Margulis, however, the whole tapestry of evolution is woven by the collaborations of bacteria, which form not just colonies but the very fabric of individual bodies and minds, responsible even for our consciousness, via the threadlike networks of microtubules in the brain. Indeed, Margulis pictures the entire biosphere as the construct of collaborating bacteria – Gaia, the concept that she pioneered with James Lovelock

Dr. Nick Lane pp10

Not that Dawkins deems the selfish gene to be opposing others.

My first book, The Selfish Gene, could equally have been called The Cooperative Gene without a word of the book itself needing to be changed… Selfishness and cooperation are two sides of a Darwinian coin. Each gene promotes its own selfish welfare, by cooperating with other genes in the sexually stirred gene pool which is the gene’s environment, to build shared bodies

Richard Dawkins “The ancestors tale” cited by Lane pp11-12

From a behavioural perspective, the underlying point is the active role now played. The finite resources now in chemical soups that may be ingested, breathed, absorbed, or converted within, becoming increasingly complexed, and biology finding new ways to play. The passive competition of process of chemical reactions now a regulated phenomena. All now biological actions as determined by a need.

Complex enough to choose

It is only very recently – once the rarity of a brain cortex became sufficiently engorged that chemistry, biology, and the increasing complexity of organisation of process – that the divisions and specialisms of more and complex multi-cellular organisms became a means of influence with an awareness of their all. The mammalian brain, surrounding an emotionally reactive middle, but still influenced by the compulsions of a reptilian spinal column and stem. It is with this growing complexity that the external world, offering a momentary window of stability, that symbology and learning had a chance to stay.

Even now we debate what is real. Not only of this account of a history, but also of what is real by the perceptions of own minds. What the brain translates – from messages as smells, recoding from light-sensitive retinas, vibrations of sound, and an array of felt messaging from our boundary edges coated in skin – are the best guessed of a collective system of cells in the brain (only 10% of which are neurons) is a translation of sensed experience. From this space inside a skull shaped prison, a dark and silent space between our ears and behind our eyes, our brain perceives what is real. Who are we to be so bold as to think what each brain holds true? We can but presume and suppose. Only we.

Even our close cousins see through different eyes. Pay different attention to smell. And as for other possible consciousness such as our octopus cousins – of shared simple worm like grandparents from 350 million years ago – they skulk alone. One per 5 million or so offspring making it to their version of adulthood. Their wits tested in the extreme with plenty of interest in decision-making. Neuronal connections but in a very different home.

Each system of systems we each represents by the boundary layer of our skin, is in competition within. As it is with all complexity of life. Our distractions of our systems are just more complete in their means to make all feel as one.

How do we all win and compete?

Against this shared history of everything, this is the challenge of our time. Our whole chemical-biological-history has been about taking what our own internal systems need. Reward of survival via our selfishness, our greed. Social instinct a more recent win bonus for the biology that is able to collaborate and become more and with greater speed. That is the lesson I think we now all need to take heed.

Socially mobile, individually doomed

That it is our social skills that make us more adaptive to environments than all other living beings we oppose. Our shared ability to abstractly take constraints and limitations, add new perspective, introduce outside chemistry with our mathematics and our physics, our metallurgy, and technology, and become more. Yes, we compete. Neanderthals once vouched for how good we are at that. But we compete best together.

Now we need to compete as nothing has ever competed before. We compete beyond our inner need, and greed. Define better our tasks and our goals. Seek solutions to global problems we all now own.

Whether free will or not our biology gives us choice. What we now choose is with intent. We actively direct our next actions. We find new motivations for shared self-control. Or like rocks, we all passively sink. Let’s not leave it to nature to decide.

Are we the CoP out?

Conference of Parties #26

A blog linking infinite discussion and lines. Iterations of recurring themes that can get bigger or smaller, but will they always look the same?

Mandelbrot Sets

Netflix managed to have 55 minutes of my time tonight. Rare indeed these days. “The colours of infinity,” a 1995 film hosted by Arthur C Clarke. Explaining the discovery of a particular fractal geometry that surrounds us. Needing the computations of machines to help us observe what we have always blindly seen.

26 years of the same

It is a fantastic documentary from last century. Reflecting upon what is perhaps ever nearing us in this century, or the next. The mathematics that shows us how in nature there need be no straight lines. Not even necessarily any beginnings or ends. But that at whatever level we look, the patterns and basic formulas that can go to infinities all the same.

Filmed 26 years ago. By coincidence COP26, Conference of the Parties #26, is the same age. Perhaps also a coincidence that fractal symmetry seems the agenda mainstay of this event. The Kyoto Protocol was COP3, December 1997 but not ratified until 2005. Is it to be the “Glasgow Protocol” that our grandchildren’s children look upon with global pride – will this be the start of the change? I have dug out the two agendas and placed them side by side below. Fractal symmetry perhaps, but I am just not sure if we travel to infinitely bigger or infinitely smaller upon this path.

Projects | within Projects

Projects | Within Projects sits here as little more than an idea. But what it does reflect is one person’s attempt to redefine problems we all share. On scales that we can all compare. We are in the same project. We are each a project. And each moment another aggregation of projects our planet actor must wear.

To my mind and my perspective on management, this is just a question of scale. There is fractal symmetry in nature. We follow it everywhere. From the truncations of the tiniest capillaries in our brains and the neural networks that make us think we have a say. To the near infinite networks of galaxies beyond the milky-way. There is a pattern within the chaos, or a chaos within the pattern. Either way, we sit as a pin point in our abstract notions of time and space. One species on one world. Perhaps uniquely, perhaps too discretely, we are different. Different because we have some semblance of intent in what we change. In our momentary time frame, we get to direct, to learn, to grow. Choose to play. Choose to give our chance away. In the heat of this day we now choose to help, or we choose to fade away.

v | b | t

A project of change of behaviour. That is what our leaders speak of next week. Compared to the talk a generation before – what has changed in this rhetoric of change? But perhaps that is not just their question to answer. Perhaps it is not their visibility, and behaviour, or trust we need to ponder.

I am cynical. I am a hypocrite. But I am silent no more. The merry-go-round is easy to step off of when all privilege has fallen ones way. I am not gluing myself to a road. Or finding politics, or charitable ends to compensate for my guilt. My squandered inheritance is time. I am not alone. So the time I have left is aimed at asking better questions. Finding the better questions others in our history have asked. And hoping I get lucky in leaving a few better questions for others to help direct their future-generational task.

If we, the human project, are truly made to intend change. Perhaps it is this visibility we awaken. This goal to the future versions of ourselves we turn our behaviour toward. And from this, our present day, we present ourselves better. Turn ourselves to the service of this future. Rebuild this trust owed as future ancestors. Otherwise – what is this all really for?

Here is the CoP26 2021 agenda, alongside that of 1997. Regardless of its outcomes, maybe it is the personal agendas of us all, that are better answers to nature’s call.

COP3 Kyoto 1997

  • The Climate Change Convention seeks to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human-induced] interference with the climate system”. There are three requirements: (1) this “ultimate objective” should be achieved early enough to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change; (2) food production should not be threatened; and (3) efforts to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and climate change should be consistent with sustainable economic development.
  • There is no agreed definition of what is meant by “dangerous”. Individuals and cultures differ in their understanding of what is safe and what is dangerous. In addition, some people and countries are more vulnerable to the expected consequences of climate change than are others. While science can provide a useful basis for decision-making, determining how much climate change is “safe” or how much risk is “acceptable” is essentially a political judgment. The judgment of the international community is expressed through the Conference of the Parties to the Convention.
  • The faster the climate changes, the greater the danger is likely to be. While human beings are extremely flexible and can cope with many different climates and conditions, human institutions and natural ecosystems tend to adapt more slowly. This is why the Convention specifically highlights the need to protect food production and ecosystems.
  • Certain ecological thresholds may be important indicators of the risks of rapid climate change. Such thresholds could be used to set policies for limiting the risk of irreversible damage. For example, paleoclimatic records of forest growth suggest that trees have migrated in the past by as much as four to 200 km in 100 years. But with scientists predicting that a global warming of 1–3.5oC over the next 100 years would shift climate zones poleward by 150–550 km, many tree populations may fail to adapt fast enough. Thus even if policymakers cannot agree on what constitutes a dangerous climate change for people, they may be able to identify dangerous thresholds for ecosystems that are vital to human well-being.
  • Food production may suffer in some regions. Changes in crop yields are expected to vary greatly by region and locality. Therefore, while global agricultural production may be maintained at or near the present level, the food security of some countries may worsen as a result of climate change. To the people affected this may well seem to be “dangerous”.
  • The overall implications of climate change for sustainable development are not well understood. While the net effect is expected to be negative, global warming is likely to have both positive and negative impacts on human societies, national economies, and natural ecosystems. A warmer climate could extend growing seasons in one region while increasing the risk of droughts in another. Similarly, new energy taxes and other policy responses may hurt some countries while energy-efficiency innovations may help others by reducing production costs and opening up new markets.
  • The Convention sets out a number of principles that should guide action to achieve the objective. They include equity between countries; concern for both present and future generations; the specific needs and special circumstances of developing countries; and the importance of cost-effectiveness, sustainable development, and a supportive and open international economic system. In addition, the precautionary principle states that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, the lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing action.
  • The Convention requires policymakers to decide on concrete actions. The Parties to the Convention must come to some consensus on the changes that could be considered dangerous. They must choose the level at which they want to stabilize atmospheric concentrations, a schedule for limiting greenhouse gas emissions over time, and appropriate technologies and policies for meeting this schedule.
  • Fortunately, a wealth of knowledge and information is available to decision-makers. The scientific, technical, and socio-economic literature describes possible future scenarios and the likely consequences of various stabilization levels and emissions trends. It explores Ano regrets and other cost-effective measures for cutting emissions and enhancing “sinks”. The literature also describes options for adapting to climate change impacts and indicates promising avenues of scientific and technological research. By choosing amongst these policies and measures, and by carefully weighing costs and benefits, uncertainties and risks, and the various principles that should guide action, the international community can move towards achieving the Convention’s objective.

COP26 Glasgow 2021

The supplementary provisional agenda for COP 26, proposed after consultation with
the President of COP 25, is as follows:

  1. Opening of the session.
  2. Organizational matters:
    (a) Election of the President of the Conference of the Parties at its twenty-sixth session;
    (b) Adoption of the rules of procedure;
    (c) Adoption of the agenda;
    (d) Election of officers other than the President;
    (e) Admission of organizations as observers; (f) Organization of work, including for the sessions of the subsidiary bodies; (g) Dates and venues of future sessions; (h) Adoption of the report on credentials.
  1. Reports of the subsidiary bodies:
    (a) Report of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice;
    (b) Report of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation.
  2. Reporting from and review of Parties included in Annex I to the Convention.
  3. Reporting from Parties not included in Annex I to the Convention.
  4. Report of the Adaptation Committee (for 2019, 2020 and 2021).
  5. Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with
    Climate Change Impacts.2
  6. Matters relating to finance:
    (a) Long-term climate finance;
    (b) Matters relating to the Standing Committee on Finance:
    (i) Report of the Standing Committee on Finance – Convention
    (ii) First report on the determination of the needs of developing
    country Parties related to implementing the Convention and the
    Paris Agreement;
    (iii) Fourth (2020) Biennial Assessment and Overview of Climate
    Finance Flows;
    (iv) Review of the functions of the Standing Committee on Finance;
    (c) Report of the Green Climate Fund to the Conference of the Parties and
    guidance to the Green Climate Fund (for 2020 and 2021);
    (d) Report of the Global Environment Facility to the Conference of the
    Parties and guidance to the Global Environment Facility (for 2020 and
    (e) Seventh review of the Financial Mechanism;
    (f) Compilation and synthesis of, and summary report on the in-session
    workshop on, biennial communications of information related to
    Article 9, paragraph 5, of the Paris Agreement.
  7. Development and transfer of technologies:
    (a) Joint annual report of the Technology Executive Committee and the
    Climate Technology Centre and Network (for 2020 and 2021);
    (b) Linkages between the Technology Mechanism and the Financial
    Mechanism of the Convention;
    (c) Review of the constitution of the Advisory Board of the Climate
    Technology Centre and Network;
    (d) Second review of the Climate Technology Centre and Network.
  8. Capacity-building under the Convention.
  9. Matters relating to the least developed countries.
  10. Report of the forum on the impact of the implementation of response measures.
  1. Gender and climate change.
  2. Consideration of proposals by Parties for amendments to the Convention under
    Article 15:
    (a) Proposal from the Russian Federation to amend Article 4, paragraph
    2(f), of the Convention;
    (b) Proposal from Papua New Guinea and Mexico to amend Articles 7 and
    18 of the Convention;
    (c) Proposal from Turkey to delete the name of Turkey from the list in
    Annex I to the Convention.
  3. Second review of the adequacy of Article 4, paragraph 2(a–b), of the
  4. Equitable, fair, ambitious and urgent real emission reductions now consistent
    with a trajectory to reduce the temperature below 1.5 °C.
  5. All matters of adaptation.
  6. Achieving equitable geographic representation in the composition of
    constituted bodies under the Convention.
  7. Administrative, financial and institutional matters:
    (a) Audit report and financial statements for 2019 and 2020;
    (b) Budget performance for the bienniums 2018–2019 and 2020–2021;
    (c) Programme budget for the biennium 2022–2023;
    (d) Decision-making in the UNFCCC process.
  8. High-level segment:
    (a) Statements by Parties;
    (b) Statements by observer organizations.
  9. Other matters.
  10. Conclusion of the session:
    (a) Adoption of the draft report of the Conference of the Parties on its
    twenty-sixth session;
    (b) Closure of the session.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Living without free will

Biology, behaviourism, control

v | b | t

This is a completely different argument of how behaviour can be addressed. It sits in conflict to the ordering of cause and effect I have reflected upon elsewhere. Visibility of this difference an important part of future assessment needs. As an address of behaviour however, it has the same central premise of control at its core.

Whether we trust in free will, society, the individual or the collective, we will have more trust in each other if we share visibility and control regimes of our behaviour that are intended to protect us all.

I have visited two purveyors of alternative perspective on this over the last few days. One I will now be visiting regularly. The other, not so much. Here are my working notes on both. I conclude with some additional observations, which set up additional research intentions and connect these ideas to wider sentiments I have introduced in other blogs.


Professor Robert M Sapolsky

Professor of Biology, Neurology & Neurosurgery at Stanford University. In reporting upon Robert Sapolsky’s award for Distinguished Scientific contribution, American Psychologist wrote:

For connecting behavior with the neurobiology of stress through pioneering studies on baboons in Kenya and rats in the laboratory, which has opened the way for understanding how the cumulative burden of stress over the life course can accelerate brain aging and predispose an organism to systemic disease. Robert M. Sapolsky’s work has also revealed the synergy among glucocorticoid hormones, excitatory amino acids in the brain, and glucose availability in causing neuronal damage after stroke and seizures. A remarkably lucid and entertaining writer and speaker, in his essays and lectures Sapolsky reminds us of human foibles and illuminates how the social environment and individual personality influence physiology and brain function

America Psychologist November 2013, pp613

This same piece concludes with an outline of his commitment to communicating about neuroscience and its social implications to the lay public (ibid pp615). A quick check on YouTube will confirm his following is significant and his viewership consistently over 500,000 views.

A compelling argument towards the complexity of behaviour is presented in “The biology of humans at our best and worst“. The example scenario used in several lectures, TEDtalks, and podcast interviews is that of a male firing a weapon at a perpetrator who was possibly wielding a firearm but which turns out to be a ‘phone. He asks why did that behaviour occur? And presents the following multi-modal reasoning of contributing factors. The point being all of these modal perspective offer biologically relatable cause in time frames that become evolutionarily long.

1. one second before : what went on in his brain. Amydala activity indicates negative response or action potential is emergent.

2. minutes before : what environmental stimuli influenced his brain. Factors such as smell are considered influencing upon action.

3. hours before : what hormone sensitised him to those stimuli? Testosterone levels can increase the challenge defence response.

4. weeks before : what experiences (e.g. sustained stress) had reshaped his brain to determine how the more immediate forces would be received? Trauma will encourage the physical expansion of the amygdala months prior.

5. from adolescence : how did life experiences (pre-25 year old) impact the immature frontal cortex and shape the adult he became? Numerous external factors contribute to relative maturity and development of the frontal cortex (which is what determines our socialisation abilities)

6. from fetal life and childhood : how did early life experiences cause lifelong change in brain function and influence dormant gene expression? Prenatal stress hormone level have a determining factor from mother to fetal development.

7. from moment of conception : what genes were coded to determine hormone and neurotransmitter response? What variant MAO-alpha gene was inherited.

8. decades to millennia before : how did cultural and social environment come to define life norms, and by what ecological factors did this become the case? Is the cultural norm one of honour and revenge?

9. Millenia : Through gene selections and wider specie development, how did these behaviours evolve? Highly sexually dimorphic behaviours.

Robert Sapolsky “the biology of humans at our best and worst

At best therefore, Sapolsky argues the causation of behaviour is complex. Across these multi-facetted and time relative perspectives it is this collective of contributions that become the causal factors.

No free will

In a 2020 interview he again refers to these layers of influence toward a behavioural response. They all become one factor. We can be changed by circumstance. We cannot change ourselves. There is no free will. There is no first neurone firing that begins an action, there is always preceding event.

But that does not deny the potential for change

In a very recent interview on the Huberman Lab podcast, 30th August 2021, Sapolsky talks at length about stress, dispels some myths about hormone interactions, and then addresses free will. We can know to know, he says deep into the interview (01:21:08). Change is possible of our mechanical systems, and finding means to build on this framework change, so responses are different. We remain our biology but striving to be better by knowing more means to mechanical change and it’s possibility. Learning that learning changes the brain, that in itself is the knowledge of knowledge becomes the tool of change. Just as protocols or pills are.

No free will, but still reason to seek exposures to externalities that effective change. What I conclude from this is that even if it is only the manner of natural environment that regulates such response – this is still reason enough to be focused upon the betterment of controls.

Before I evaluate this further, I digested one other book this week in search of how behaviour can be measured or controlled. The idea of contingency as cause, sits in this same agentless view of our interactions with the world.

Professor Stephen L Ledoux

“What causes human behavior – stars, self, or contingency” 2018

This recent book is an uncompromising argument as to why behaviourism, or more correctly behaviorology, should be preferred to psychology. The premise being that star sign and psychological addressing of behaviour by any form of agency of self are both little more than mysticism.

By example:-

mysticism – as in untestable or unmeasurable – behaviour – directing agents

Stephen L Ledoux “what causes human behaviour – stars, selves, or contingency?” 2018 pp xvii

In seeking the most contemporary examples of behaviouristic method, this book offers some assistance in this regard and helps contextualise behaviourism more broadly.

Historical context of behaviourism :-

John Watson 1913 denying any private experience is real. BF Skinner from 1930s to 1980s and bringing along “radical” behaviourism and his 1963 paper – celebrating 50 years of behaviourism. To which Professor Ledoux sought fit to compliment with a 100 year version in 2013. It is Skinner inspired Operant Behaviorism (i.e. stimulus evoked response) which is the basis of method presented at some leisure in this book.

There is also some comment on preceding “inadequate” behaviourism dealt with from pp15. Noting early behaviourist denying private (meaning inner) experience completely. To which it is argued Skinner solved in 1963 by arguing we need not preside over the skin as an interface to the evaluative process. Page 16 has physiology claimed as an ally of behaviourism. Emotions nothing more than chemical changes in the body to which in turn result in a feeling in response. Psychology by comparison is not afforded any such ally, I was a little disappointed therefore that the significant interface it now shares with neuroscience was not offered, even passing observation. My own MSc course is closely aligned with both.

The key notes I have taken from this book, I summarise below. There is reason to return to it, and these notes will prompt any such return.

  • pp30 and pp50 Parsimony – the simplest explanation is generally the most likely true
  • Pp37 in essence the argument is simply A to B to C. Antecedent to behaviour to consequence.
  • Pp38 antecedents as IV and most often one of multiple stimuli of which one or several may have contingent cause as the antecedent(s)
  • Pp39 behaviour is termed response in specific circumstances
  • Pp40 consequence being the varied operant effect becoming chapter addresses of the later book.
  • Pp41 C can also be reinforcing stimuli (SR)
  • Pp43 1987 TAEB The experimental analysis of behaviour
  • Pp63 what is NOT behaviour. Growth or decay; traits;
  • Pp76 bodily functions as stimuli; Pp77 emotional arousal as physiological stimuli
  • Pp85 controls as part of the environment. Behaviour control environment
  • Pp85 law of cumulative complexity
  • Pp86 responses are put in to classes (response class) where the regulatory of a response class may be measured her time e.g. dishwashing x times in 7 days.
  • Pp87. Behaviour classes are : motor behaviour (movements)
  • Pp88 emotional behaviour as glands stimuli for example
  • Pp89 functional classification – respondent behaviour (Pavlov); operant behaviour (Skinner)
  • Pp92 natural law controls ALL behaviour
  • Pp120 diagram of multiple contingent for reflexive; Pp121 non-reflexive; Pp123 generalisation – in conditioning; pp124 stimulus generalising; Pp126 evocation – evocation training – SR feeds energy back to nervous system and evokes us to respond differently
  • Pp129 function altering stimuli; Pp133 covert neural behaviour cf Fraley 2008; Pp141 positive or negative same as reinforcing or punishing postcedents; Pp151 types of reinforcer; Pp153 extinction of respondent when no longer able to elicits response; Pp169 shaping; Pp179 chaining; Pp191 fading procedure; Pp199 schedules of reinforcement; Pp217 assertive controls and 8 coercion traps; Pp273 overt and covert; Pp279 passivity

I now want to briefly reflect upon a confrontational tone of argument in this book. One hard to reconcile as coming from the academic class.

These next notes are prepared to support discussion within my MSc tutorials. We are mid-debate regarding the place of disciplinary dialogue and range of arguments that must be understood if the various arms of psychology, social psychology, cognitive psychology, biology, neuroscience, and wider behavioural sciences are to be understood. The sustained attack by this author is thereby captured below for representation with my fellow students. Here are some quotes reflecting the uncompromising dismissive attitude directed at psychology.

we consider Skinner’s radical behaviorism, the philosophy that extends naturalism to inform the natural science of behavior that today we call behaviorology, after its separation from the non-natural, fundamentally mystical discipline that defines itself as studying “behavior and the mind”, (pp7)

the relation between behaviorology and psychology approximates the relation between biology and creationism (pp9)

but if natural scientists instead compromise by allowing claims that behavior in general … results from the spontaneous, willful act of some putative inner agent, then they lose the whole subject matter of human behavior – a subject matter whose application is likely vital for human survival – to purveyors of non-science (pp10)

with these processes, or sub parts, like id, ego, motive, choice, or trait, we cannot trace the behaviorological, physiological, chemical, or physical links of a natural functional history chain; we can only trace the causal chain back to the supposed spontaneous wilful act of the self agent. This breaks the chain of events in the natural functional history and so further excludes psychological analysis from natural science (pp11)

no capricious inner agent makes responses occur (pp17)

with much scientific activity involving methods, anyone using scientific procedures, even mystical people, can objectively collect data on any real phenomenon (pp19)

the general result of this development [1987 split of behaviorolgy as a separate discipline] is a foundation natural science related to all other natural sciences, not at the discredited level of body-directing self-agents, but at the level of a body’s physics based interactions with the external and internal environments (pp19)

some disciplines studying behaviour fall for overly complex accounts (e.g. minds, psyche, selves, souls, or many other types of putative behavior-initiating self-agents), (pp32)

[of agentialism] as a result psychology began as a non-natural discipline, and remains so today, (pp43)

it [psychology] even defined itself as “the study of behavior and the mind”, as it stuck to its secular (i.e., non-theological) version of mysticism. (pp43)

…”the demon-haunted world” Carl Sagan (1995) referred to science as “a candle in the dark”. We must turn that candle into a floodlight exposing the whole variety of unhelpful accounts for behavior while illuminating the helpful accounts for natural behavior science, and thereby support the tole of this science in helping solve local and global problems.. (pp50)

as science expanded, the fictional accounts for most phenomena have retreated. Today, fictional accounts generally still thrive only with respect to human nature and human behavior (pp51)

many scientific and other authors would welcome linguistic changes that allow them to write without automatically implying inner agents (pp52)

Stephen L Ledoux “what causes human behaviour – stars, selves, or contingency?” 2018

The most telling lesson in behaviour I take from this book is to retain a level of respect and dignity in academic writing, and at least have the good grace to keep current with arguments opposed to ones own. My reading of the likes of Robert Sapolsky suggest this more constructive dialogue approach to advancing subject matter still sits alive and well.


Additional observations to build upon in due course

Two quite separate sets of thought are racing since Robert Sapolsky reframed the more biological-neuroscientist perspective on human decision-making.

Firstly that we have little if anything to do with the immediate decision-making process beyond having ownership of the biology we contain;

Second, that what do have is ability, and perhaps therein a responsibility, to be putting ourselves into the path of passing circumstance that offers better versions of those parts in us that effect wider event.

By Robert Sapolsky’s own admissions it is hard to reconcile with the second part. The second part being how we live without free will. How are we to remain morally governed or even inclined if we have no directive part in the play? How can we remain accountable for our actions and inactions. Why bother to give thought to anything at all? That is, however, to assume there is also pre-destiny. And of that I remain unconvinced. Nor is it, in my opinion, where Sapolsky’s account is directed.

How is this related to projects | within projects?

Modelling of complexity

Robert Sapolsky is presenting the challenges of addressing numerous levels of systems. Biological systems with huge complexity. Therein the realities of influence that relate to distance. The more layers one must pass through, the less influence we can expect to have. In the Limbic System he argues (lecture 14 of his 2010-2011 Human Behavioural Biology series), that this is measured in the number of synapse a message must cross through. In the world of construction projects I equate this to the commercial contracts across a supply chain. The more layers there are, the less influence the employer has over the lowest sitting links. The solution in both cases is creating extra pathways to override, intercept, or simply have visibility of interventions from elsewhere.

Sapolsky also reflects upon prior history as effecting current action potential. This is much the same as the history of our supply routes, cultural ties, beliefs, laws, customs, and propensity to revisit old wars. Much the same as within one organisation it is only in understanding the history of takeovers, mergers, successful relationships with clients and suppliers, shared relationships or long-standing feuds, that one can begin to better understand why the infrastructure of that business works in suboptimal or counter-intuitive ways. Furthermore, just as evolution is quick to punish outdated modes of being, so too does economics and cash-flow quickly reward those frameworks of processes finding work arounds to past solutions that are now in the way.

v | Behaviour | t

Firstly, returning to the challenge to free will. For purposes of my projects research free will or not seems less of a concern than to acknowledge behaviour is still a subject of potential control. It matters only that we know there is potential for change. This is Robert Sapolsky’s key point in arguing there is still reason to seek better ways.

Second, the point at which Robert Sapolsky seems less sure of how we then set ourselves up to live. My work around is taking the position that the resulting actions are not predetermined even if we are not directly acting with agency or otherwise. We can get to know the appropriateness of the controls. Influence the manner of the control. As Sapolsky says repeatedly, “we can know to know”. I would add that we can know why to know. We can seek to know what better control is and why, and let the process of converting action potentials within neurones worry about themselves. Our project controls at all levels need to account for such unpredictability regardless how the actions come to pass.

Modal confusion

There is also modal confusion addressed here. Robert Sapolsky makes a fabulous case for the multi-layered influences of our behaviour. That all of these factors can have impact, and that to look upon one mode alone is to miss the complexity that unfolds.

By example of this modal flexing, Robert Sapolsky talks of the amplification of actions where elevated testosterone plays a part. That it is society that rewards action and therein the challenge defence that testosterone helps reinforce. But this is not aggression. It is society that rewards the selfish, assertive, dominating types. Testosterone is defending challenge to status. But it is society determining what factors status is derived. Sapolsky’s observations are that it is therefore at a societal level we can hope to have some control. If we reward more kindness with more status, challenges to status will have testosterone fuelled kindness as the follow on. These become nudges toward a direction of travel. My question here is simply do we collectively think our direction of travel could be better, and if so what control of our meta-systems better reflects that goal?

My point here is that this is precisely the observation of our interactions themselves. That our own conflicting intentions become nuanced by our interactions with others, and [the illusion of] ourselves. But that in all cases there is potential for change. Not needing to be born of free will, but nor relevant if not. Change, born out of influence of the control environments we create. The modal level of risk we are addressing becomes critical to this assessment.

Accountability and responsibility

Victims one and all?

Next is the issue of whether free will is the only means by which we can give justification to holding an individual accountable, or least responsible for their actions. Robert Sapolsky argues that our justice systems are a leading edge of reform need. Not arguing that we let danger to society loose upon the streets, more that we have a little more empathy to the reason they the criminal actors are so broken at all. Controversial, emotive, and itself a position to polarise the lay persons he is reaching toward. A worthwhile debate but for my part, I sit opposed.

Responsibility without blame

Whether we become radical behaviourists like Skinner, hold out for the idealism of mind over matter, or allow a dualism of mind and body in any order of influence or prioritised proof of anything at all, there is a level of amalgamations of systems of interaction that we identify with as a whole.

Here again I see projects and organisational thinking troubled by the same modal confusion. I have previously written about how accountability can be retained whilst responsibility shifts between layers of engagement. I think this same principle can be applied in downward layers of attention without necessitating a reductionism towards subatomic physics. Not that Robert Sapolsky would disagree with that, at least as a pro or con towards free will. He argues that the necessary “bubbling up” from quantum mechanics to synaptic levels of biology are not feasible; they offer nothing positive toward a less random decision ability if free will is argued for; or offer a uniform influence across the trillions of synaptic messages that would therein have to all conform.

My point is that regardless of whether we think an individual wills an action or not, society functions at this higher level of control. We are all individuals by that metric. Regardless of whether that is an amalgamation of systems. Or whether consciousness or self determined agency are illusory. Both still reflect a contained system and with it one scale of control. Accordingly, we legally and in personal judgements hold these levels of a whole as stand alone. We are each that collection of systems, that illusion of self. And the human version of collaboration which our frontal cortex helps us navigate better than other animal systems, becomes the beginnings of wider human derived societal controls.

We can address accountability and responsibility in these same terms. The key point is to be clear in the modal level of engagement we are working from. It is these social laws that we deem consent to be age related. Or what constitutes acceptable exchange of chattel. Or what organisational complexity and what hierarchical order we attach and seek reward. This is the what. The containment of a social system we should know to know.

Concluding remarks

Free will or otherwise, we are all responsible for the societal, organisational, or moral controls past down to us. We are personally responsible to ensure we agree they are right, or make peace with how we reconcile that they are wrong. We also each retain responsibility for what we have been handed down, and accountability for what we pass on further therein. This is the burden of management of others. And the stewardship and duty in leadership that most attempt to evade.

I am therefore encouraged by the congruent conclusions all theory and science across these disciplines seems to land upon – at least from what I have found so far. To my mind (or the illusion therein), this still becomes a question of behaviour, and the manner of control.

This remains immensely complex, but perhaps able yet to be bettered by the nature of control.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Earth as both project actor and frame

Project Actors

All projects include at least one actor, being the project initiator.  This as a human intervention, or a failure to do so.

A second actor is also always present. Passive or at least not consulted. This second actor is our environment. It is both a project actor, and the framework in which all of our projects reside. At least until we find the means to be independent of physical constraints, or the environment responds in ways in which we cannot manage or survive.

This is an extract from my page offering a definition of a project, as “time bound intended change“. This definition is presented as a way to compare projects from a wider sphere of thinking. This includes a necessary demand on any project initiator to have all project actors included within their core framework of control. Each actor’s wellbeing (meaning to have expectation to be better, not worse off at project end) each equally held in importance to any other. An extension of this concept is the well-being of the environment.

Given the urgency of the hour, this seems a timely moment to be trying to find project models that have our environment necessarily central to all decisions and control frameworks we demand.

If the whole human project is to be defined by these same parameters, it is the planet that becomes our framework housing our project – at least for now…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: