There exists an essential dysfunction between those subject matter experts who execute the detail and craft of a discipline, or its heuristics, and those who are responsible for the direction and ethics of the organization, or its gestalt. Such dysfunction can serve to be the source of flawed decision-making based upon poorly crafted analytics and scientific study.
Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was born far too late inside the history of mankind’s philosophical maturation. The degree of Babelean confusion and disarray which plagued philosophy from the First Persian or Achaemenid Empire, all the way through classical Greek philosophy and up until today, would have been greatly reduced had we already venerated Wittgenstein’s specific disciplines regarding logical calculus (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) and the nature of language (Philosophical Investigations). For example, Wittgenstein’s Seven Basic Propositions, as outlined in his 1921 work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, can be transliterated into modern English and used as a sound basis for one’s own ongoing and applied philosophical work.1
The list below constitutes my interpretation and expression of Wittgenstein’s Seven Basic Propositions – to my perception had he written Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus after, rather than before he penned Philosophical Investigations. These are re-expressed in critical path language based upon (my grasp) of current philosophical terminology (this continues as a life’s work in progress).
Wittgenstein’s Seven Basic Propositions (The Ethical Skeptic)
- Our reasonable Universe (0x) comprises everything which involves principle
- A principle (1) is a fact-object along with its elemental relationships
- A notion is a perceivable arrangement (schema) of principles (2 – fact-objects and relationships)
- A thought is a logical schema (3′) perceived in the mind regarding principles (2 – fact-objects and relationships)
- A proposition is a truth derived from fundamental thoughts (4′ – ideas which are sound in and of themselves)
- The stack of substantiation (truth function) of a candidate proposition can be seen as the result of one or more applications of logical schema (4) to propositions (5) – which is collectively called the logical calculus
- Therefore, that candidate proposition (5) which bears no logical calculus (6) must be treated with ontological silence (epoché)
From Basic Proposition Seven is derived the Pyrrhonist principle called epoché (a neutral suspension of the passionately inquisitive mind). If my neighbor shows me video supporting the notion that a poltergeist is haunting her home and family, since such an idea bears no standing under Basic Proposition Six, as a skeptic I cannot make any claim regarding that matter. I might choose to go next door and observe for myself (skepticism), however to doubt or believe such a notion would violate Wittgenstein’s edict to ‘only describe, don’t explain’. Once I begin thinking my neighbor is lying or nuts, describing myself as a skeptic, certifying that such things do not exist, or that the world is full of haunted objects and homes, I am now undertaking Wittgenstein’s path of ‘explaining‘. I have departed from the mandate of Basic Proposition Seven, to treat the matter in ontological silence.
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.~Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
The Describe-Explain Gap: From Heuristic to Gestalt
As a young department head in Naval Intelligence and while attending my graduate school’s ethics curriculum in Washington D.C. I was able to observe Wittgenstein’s ‘describe-explain‘ contrast (although I did not comprehend it as such at the time) as it manifested inside a principle of information security called ‘compartmentalization’. Various subject matter experts such as those in collection, special intelligence communications, assimilation, human, electronic, signals, operations, etc. were all grouped into functional silos called compartments inside Black intelligence and operations. These compartments were given special names to identify and comprise a controlled set of functions, security clearance levels, and special accesses. In this manner very few of the individuals involved inside any particular silo could be found adept in grasping the broader view of any particular intelligence situation. They were script-following subject matter experts (SME’s), focused upon oak trees (the heuristic or Wittgenstein’s describing), who were not allowed to examine other species of tree at all, much less the entire forest (the gestalt or Wittgenstein’s explaining).
Don’t complain, don’t explain. Rather, describe and execute.~Anonymous chief executive, now retired, who was my strategy client at a well known big-box retail/catalog chain
However, managing intelligence matters in this fashion presented a number of challenges, none the least of which was the struggle on the part of any particular compartment to describe what was occurring inside their subject domain, to higher-ups who had grown up inside different compartments. A gap of ignorance was automatically imbued between those SME’s who remained in their silo’s, and those SME’s who had transitioned into a higher role – a role which now (often for the first time in a person’s career) demanded an incumbent comprehension of the forest itself. A field intelligence professional might observe specific logistic movements which, once processed as data by an analytics division specializing in relational vehicle movements, failed to communicate their gravitas to a theater or operations head who formerly only really understood satellite imagery and perceived that his boss did not like logistics-based intelligence data anyway.
Despite the wisdom of Wittgenstein’s proposition, the stark reality is that eventually someone must be tasked with the career risk of explaining cause and effect behind a series of propositions, such that human decisions can take place. Such boldness on the part of personal Gestalt was precisely how Osama Bin Laden was located and killed. At some level in a human organization, the unscripted and almost always asymmetric nature (see The Roger Principle) of the gestalt must eventually be broached, lest an organization face risk of a Blockbuster Video scale of disaster (see Example A below).
The heuristic can only describe, while the gestalt is asked to explain.
To my experience, bringing gestalt-minded outsiders into the executive level only served to compound this challenge, in that an outsider was often even less able to comprehend what SME’s were relating, and brought with them all sorts of disruptive political baggage to boot (Some argue that 9/11 happened precisely because the Clinton administration conducted a politically-motivated purge and replacement of US Intelligence heads in the decade preceding 9/11.2 Such an event would stand exemplary as to the disastrous net effect of a broadscale and outsider-induced G-H Gap). Outsiders were a visceral catalyst, who were almost certain to engender a level of mistrust between the heuristic and gestalt components of an organization. A fundamental but unspoken disconnect (G-H Gap) between those subject matter experts who execute the detail and craft of the discipline, its heuristics, and those who direct the purpose and accountability of the discipline as a part of a larger mission, or its gestalt.
The Gestalt-Heuristic (G-H) Gap
In assembling the graphic above, I was reminded that it took me a full 18 years to develop the key value chain principles which I used to advise several large governments on their trade practices. I had to teach major Enterprise Resource Planning software developers (Oracle, SAP, JDA) how key order cycle and speed to margin (not ‘market’) principles worked. I had to sit through endless meetings where database and IT technicians thought that they knew everything about business and strategy, and held their employer hostage by knowing just a little bit of SQL code and data architecture of the company systems. I had to fight my own alma mater and explain to them that they were teaching sourcing efficiency at the cost of margin efficacy, and why this version of popular heuristic wisdom was doing more harm than good to the US economy. I swam upstream against the clueless torrent of periodical and journal articles spouting familiar but false wisdom pervasive inside my own industry.
The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widely spread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.~Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals
This took at least a decade of marketing and presentation, before the largest companies in America began to grasp why and how China was exploiting US trade practices. Eventually I began to encounter senior executives at new clients who presented my own ideas and client successes back to me, as if they were groundbreaking new paradigms which they recommended I learn about. That was when I began to perceive some success in my endeavors. The Chinese government (Ministry of Trade) even agreed with me on several analyses we ‘jointly’ conducted under the U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). During this extended period however, my analytical and heuristic skills began to grow outdated and rusty at the same time. I had slowly transitioned the Gap from being a member of the Heuristic class and into the Gestalt.
The Gestalt-Heuristic Gap (G-H Gap)
A fundamental but unspoken disconnect (G-H Gap) between those subject matter experts who execute the detail and craft of the discipline, its heuristics, and those who direct the purpose and accountability of the discipline as a part of a larger mission, or its gestalt. The Gap in competence wherein those who develop the analytics/heuristics/programs don’t fully grasp the question being asked (and may answer a different, political, or rhetorical one instead – under fear of negative career impact), and those who are responsible to explain and be accountable for the results, don’t really understand how those results were derived. The gap between the academic, administrator, technician, and recent college graduate versus the executive, department head, or senior associate who’s heuristic skills are rusty and/or outdated.
He’s forgotten more stuff than you will ever even know.~A retired and beloved senior partner
Such exemplifies the risky and esoteric nature of the G-H Gap challenge. The Ten Commandments of Fake Science, Commandment 4, summarizes the key weakness entailed inside the G-H Gap, particularly as it relates to STEM organizations and scientific endeavors.3
4. Compartmentalize. Address your data analysts and interns as ‘data scientists’ and your scientists who do not understand data analysis at all, as the ‘study leads’. Ensure that those who do not understand the critical nature of the question being asked (the data scientists) are the only ones who can feed study results to people who exclusively do not grasp how to derive those results in the first place (the study leads). Establish a lexicon of buzzwords which allow those who do not fully understand what is going on (pretty much everyone), to survive in the organization. This is laundering information by means of the dichotomy of compartmented intelligence, and it is critical to everyone being deceived. There should not exist at its end, a single party who understands everything which transpired inside the study. This way your study architecture cannot be betrayed by insiders.The Ten Commandments of Fake Science, The Ethical Skeptic
The organizational, personal, social, and psychological elements which serve to create the gap between those who explain (Gestalt) and those who describe (Heuristic) often can involve the following:
- Resentment on the part of the Heuristic for being passed over for promotion
- Resentment on the part of the Heuristic because they know that the Gestalt does not fundamentally understand their craft
- Mistrust of the Gestalt because they serve goals which the Heuristic might not also value
- Resentment on the part of the Heuristic because they were once familiar with the Gestalt and now are treated as a separate class
- Fear of the Gestalt or their influence/level in the organization or impact upon the Heuristic’s career
- Fear of relationships which peers may hold with the Gestalt
- Fear of making a misstep before the Gestalt
- Fear that specific shortfalls in knowledge might surface before the Gestalt
- Concealment of methods, practices, programming, applications, resources or history employed by the Gestalt, as a means of power or job security
- Fear that one’s eroding skills set might be observed by peers or by the Gestalt
- Desire for revenge or solely monetary reward
- Fear that their lack of competence on an array of subjects will surface, and do so at the worst time
- Tension with colleagues who viewed themselves as competitive with the Gestalt but were passed over for promotion
- Mistrust of those who might not be fully onboard with the goals of the organization
- Fear that their true lack of grasp of the nuances of a particular sub-discipline or technical skill will be exploited
- Angst over the accountability to make decisions or competently communicate the basis for them
- Fear over making a mistake or bad decision
- The desire to cover one’s ass or make hedged or plausibly-deniable decisions
- Lack of clarity in vision or organizational charter
- Circumspection regarding the ethical nature of the organization’s charter, goals and overall impact upon society
- Desire to punish or control others, or for solely monetary reward
- Burden to meet financial, progress, or quality objectives
These are the challenges which the Chief Executive Officer must address in managing the schism between their own Heuristic and Gestalt classes inside their organizations. I will close now by examining four noteworthy disasters which resulted from an organization’s or government’s inability to address this very poignant challenge.
Historical Examples of G-H Gap Induced Disasters
A – The 2000’s Blockbuster Video Cautionary Tale
The G-H Gap: An unethical Gestalt, a focus upon a disruption of transaction (late fee penalties), rather than the quality delivery of a product or service as a form of agreement, signaled that Blockbuster Video has lost it soul. Its goodwill was dead long before its company saw that its Heuristic tricks could not save it.
Impact: Collapse of a 9000 store, $3.25 billion big-box retail chain
In 2000, Reed Hastings, the founder of a fledgling company called Netflix, flew to Dallas to propose a partnership to Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and his team. The idea was that Netflix would run Blockbuster’s brand online and Antioco’s firm would promote Netflix in its stores. Hastings got laughed out of the room.
Yet Blockbuster’s model had a weakness that wasn’t clear at the time. It earned an enormous amount of money by charging its customers late fees, which had become an important part of Blockbuster’s revenue model. The ugly truth—and the company’s achilles (sic) heel—was that the company’s profits were highly dependent on penalizing its patrons.4Forbes – A Look Back At Why Blockbuster Really Failed And Why It Didn’t Have To
B – The 1998 Mars Climate Orbiter
The G-H Gap: Fear and compartmentalization obscured management oversight and ability to observe a conflict as simple as some measures being conducted in feet while others used meters.
Impact: $125 million loss/Loss in discovery
The Mars Climate Orbiter was a satellite meant to collect data on Mars for two Earth years (about one Martian year) and act as a relay station for data from the Mars Polar Lander. Launched in December 1998, the Orbiter was set to arrive at the Red Planet later the next year. But on September 23, 1999, NASA announced the orbiter was lost. An investigation revealed the loss was due to confusion in mathematical units: While one team working on the spacecraft had used standard U.S. measurements, like feet, the other team had used the metric system. “The problem here was not the error, it was the failure of NASA’s systems engineering, and the checks and balances in our processes, to detect the error. That’s why we lost the spacecraft,” Dr. Edward Weiler, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Science said in a statement at the time.5The Week – 6 tiny scientific mistakes that created huge disasters
C – The 1970 Ford Pinto
The G-H Gap: Fear and overemphasis of cost reductions as the basis of middle and upper management bonuses and promotions created a circumstance where an $11 part was left out in order to reduce weight and cost over all other objectives.
Impact: 900 Deaths/117 Lawsuits/$100 billion in penalty and goodwill
In 1968, Lee Iacocca, then president of Ford, decided to fight back against Japanese automakers in the small-car market. He demanded a car that weighed no more than 2,000 pounds and cost less than $2,000. The result was the Pinto, which went into production in 1970. The Pinto’s fuel tank, positioned between the rear axle and bumper, exhibited serious flaws during low-speed testing. Ford ignored suggestions to move the fuel tank or reinforce it, figuring the additional cost of $11 per vehicle would exceed potential damage payouts. But when Ford’s decision became public, the company was hit with multi-million dollar lawsuits, and its public image suffered for decades afterward.6ListVerse – Top 10 Failures of Modern Science
D – The 2021 Covid-19 Vaccine ‘88% Efficacy in Preventing’ Delta Variant Spread
The G-H Gap: Panic, preservation of obscenely accelerating pharma equity values, an overemphasis on the need for perceptions of guaranteed vaccine success, lack of public health official’s ability to understand technical nature of case-control heuristics and cohort studies – all combined to create unjustified confidence in relaxed NPI protections and endangered the population once again under Covid-19 spread. This false perception was predicated on studies which were misinterpreted to suggest that the Covid vaccine would prevent infection spread in the population – especially regarding the more communicable Delta variant. This turned out to be a false claim inferred from early and weak linear inductive study,7 8 This false interpretation of immunity was pushed by a clueless media, leveraging the equivocal term ‘efficacy’, and served to produce a disastrous result once the Delta variant was introduced into the US inside an atmosphere of false confidence relaxation of NPI’s. The vaccinated not only contracted the Delta variant of Covid just as easily as the unvaccinated, but ironically became super-spreaders of the virus themselves.
Impact: 80,000+ Deaths/Loss of human rights/$9 billion in research/Loss of trust in science
The intense rush of the vaccine to the market and enormous pressure to make the various Covid-19 vaccines a ‘success’ pushed scientists to quickly issue 90+% ex ante efficacy studies in support of vaccine rollout and even more importantly, eventual mandatory enforcement. This purported efficacy in preventing spread however did not prove out in later deductive study, as a mere two months after 50-90+% vaccine compliance was achieved in many nations, enthusiasm on the part of citizens waned. Anecdotes of failed vaccine batches, breakthrough cases, or even injury and death raged through alternative news outlets and social media. Vaccine efficacy (RRR) was subsequently estimated to be from 15% to 40% in the vaccinated population, and was observed to be dropping fast.9 In the end, the vaccine actually served to increase the spread of Covid in the general population through this initial, linear inductive, false confidence and relaxation of prevention measures.Metrics: Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel’s Director of Public Health Services
Exhibit 1 below shows a differential analysis between all counties in the United States, and indicates little to no relationship between differing vaccine adoption rates by county relating to any kind of change in spread of Covid-19 cases for each county, 5 weeks after vaccine uptake. The actual Relative Risk Reduction (RRR) shown on this chart equates to 8% when all is said and done. Even this 8% RRR can be attributed to panic effect, wherein hard-hit counties were more motivated to get the vaccine, but also showed larger drops as a mere artifact of their high caseload at seasonal peak.
Moreover, while this disaster in efficacy was blamed on the Delta variant (B.1.617.2), the same ex ante studies which had projected vaccine efficacy at 90+% had also shown an equivalent performance against the Alpha and Delta variants of Covid-19, at 88% effectiveness.10 Exhibit 2 below, shows the subsequent unprecedented-in-speed-and-scale, but seasonal case rise in Florida. This turned out to provide disastrous falsification for these G-H Gap plagued studies. In a state with a 49.1% vaccination rate, this visceral rise in cases constituted a white crow moment. One which was widely ignored by the media.
Blaming this on the Delta variant was taken by the public as a form of ad hoc rescue, excuse-making on the part of public health officials. Trust declined in both them and in proclamations pushed from major news media outlets.
In addition, it was determined that vaccinated individuals could transmit Covid-19 just as readily as did unvaccinated individuals – detecting “similarly high SARS-CoV-2 viral loads in vaccinated and unvaccinated people.” ~CDC Statement 30 Jul 2021.11 “What they (Covid-19 vaccines) can׳t do anymore is prevent transmission.” ~CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, 6 Aug 2021.12 13Quoted material: CDC Statement 30 Jul 2021 and 6 Aug 2021 CNN discussion between Wolf Blitzer and CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky
The vaccine therefore was no longer a vaccine ‘anymore’ (sic), because under United States law it could not prevent the infection of the individual who received it. The lone remaining argument was that it could lessen the symptoms of the disease, but not prevent it.
26 United States Code § 4132(a)(2)
“The term ‘vaccine’ means any substance designed to be administered to a human being for the prevention of 1 or more diseases.”
However, there was no ‘anymore’ about it. The science had been corrupted by means of the G-H Gap from the very beginning. These stark changes in ‘settled’ scientific claims both torpedoed support for mandatory vaccination inside the public mind and engendered therein a deep cynicism that government and public health officials were speaking with the right epidemiologists when they formulated their vaccine strategy at its inception. Trust in public health was essentially violated and consequently underwent even further erosion.
These failed ex ante and errant estimates necessitated the development of a series of booster shots based upon the exact same intervention approach which had failed in the first two shots (two shots for most vaccines). In addition, the transmission/viral load potential negated the supposed benefit of the vaccine in terms of rate of transmission, and as well rendered their mandatory enforcement upon citizens, a serious violation of human rights.Quoted material: CDC Statement 30 Jul 2021 and 6 Aug 2021 CNN discussion between Wolf Blitzer and CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky
In essence, we lacked in each of the disastrous case examples above, the presence of that character which necessarily carried the Gestalt. The agent who’s purpose is to explain the why and how of what our Heuristics must ethically accomplish – yet perceives as well the what where when and who of its execution. The G-H Gap left the ship rudderless in each cautionary tale, and careened victim, business and society hard aground in the process.
The Ethical Skeptic, “The Gestalt-Heuristic (G-H) Gap and Its Impact Upon Understanding”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 7 Aug 2021; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=52186
- Biletzki, Anat and Anat Matar, “Ludwig Wittgenstein”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2020/entries/wittgenstein/>
- The Ethical Skeptic, “The Lyin’tific Method: The Ten Commandments of Fake Science” The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 3 Sep 2018; Web, https://wp.me/p17q0e-8f1
- Greg Satell; Forbes: A Look Back At Why Blockbuster Really Failed And Why It Didn’t Have To; 5 Sep 2014; https://www.forbes.com/sites/gregsatell/2014/09/05/a-look-back-at-why-blockbuster-really-failed-and-why-it-didnt-have-to/?sh=673e61e81d64
- The Week : 6 tiny scientific mistakes that created huge disasters : The Mars Climate Orbiter is Lost; 8 Jan 2015; https://theweek.com/articles/442447/6-tiny-scientific-mistakes-that-created-huge-disasters
- Chris Blank, ListVerse: Top 10 Failures of Modern Science : Ford Pinto Fuel Tanks; 26 Jul 2012; https://listverse.com/2012/07/26/top-10-failures-of-modern-science/
- Bernal, Andrews, et. al; Effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the B.1.617.2 variant; 24 May 2021; https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.05.22.21257658v1.full.pdf
- S.V. Subramanian, A. Kumar ; Increases in COVID-19 are unrelated to levels of vaccination across 68 countries and 2947 counties in the United States; European Journal of Epidemiology; 30 Sep 2021; https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10654-021-00808-7
- Haaretz : Israel’s Public Health Chief Says Evidence Points to Waning COVID Vaccine Immunity; 1 Aug 2021; https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/coronavirus-delta-variant-is-50-percent-more-infectious-israeli-top-official-says-1.10068650
- Bernal, Andrews, et. al; Effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the B.1.617.2 variant; 24 May 2021; https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.05.22.21257658v1.full.pdf
- CDC Newsroom : Statement from CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH on Today’s MMWR; 30 Jul 2021; https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s0730-mmwr-covid-19.html
- CNN Live 6:08 pm, 6 Aug 2021, Wolf Blitzer and CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky
- Riemersma, Grogan, et al., Shedding of Infectious SARS-CoV-2 Despite Vaccination when the Delta Variant is Prevalent – Wisconsin, July 2021; https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.07.31.21261387v3