Posts Tagged ‘induction’

Here’s a challenge. Isn’t “sustainable growth”, one of those ideas that gets bandied about by economic specialists as well as by mission statement writers, an oxymoron? In a finite world where ever-increasing growth consumes ever-decreasing non-renewable resources how can growth be a sustainable concept? It makes no sense on a global scale, and little sense (other than in the very short and greedy term) at the level of the firm. And yet the government would have Higher Education adopt this sort of thinking in its own thinking.

I do wonder what definition of sustainable, for example, the UK government has in mind when it comes out with policies that are meant to influence what goes on in Higher Education. One example comes via the Dept for Business and Innovation & Skills (see, here for an example connected with Higher Education, but there are others). I’m guessing that they mean sustainable simply as a qualifier for “growth”.  This must seem logical to the legislators, but it also means that their policy is – logically – doomed. Or am I missing something?

Perhaps the problem lies with our way of thinking.

When people are figuring things out in a learning space, it has become generally accepted over the last 100 years that there are three methods that may be used, whether the learners know it or not, to reach explanation. The three methods are induction, deduction and abduction (retroduction).

Learning without knowledge of the form of inference that is being presupposed (and one must assume that this may be very commonly the case, even among humans) is probably only possible with either induction and abduction. But even if the learners are made aware of the logic of their thinking mechanisms, is there any guarantee that it would change the outcome?

It’s an interesting side question as to whether we can learn something without being aware that we are learning it but without much doubt I’d say that when we are aware that we are learning, it is in the deductive form of thinking where we spend most of our time. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Deductive thinking has been at the heart of the scientific method for two hundred years, and has served as a useful short-cut in the natural sciences to a system of the ‘eternal verities’ or laws of physics, mathematics etc. and it is therefore deduction that we now consider to be the higher form of sense-making. A deduction is a logical prediction or inference, based on the necessary truth of a general covering rule, about a specific case in point.   It relies, usually, for its utility on there being enough general agreement about the covering rule for us to take its premises for granted (otherwise it would be a rather tedious process of inductive trial and error every time to establish each time the general rule – which, in any case, we could never do since induction proves nothing about future cases).

Deduction rules the roost, and has been adopted just as rigorously (unless you subscribe to an extreme form of inductive method, such as Grounded Theory) in Social Science. But…. deduction begins to come apart as a useful way of explaining things  if either the grounds for the covering rule or the case in question have not been established in accordance with reality. The logic of deduction will operate and compute in either case –  we’re just no better off than we were before. In fact, we may be much worse off since it may hurt…

The other day I was in a medium-size Tesco, located near a ring-road of a medium-size English city. I know that the company has invested a lot in its image as an environmentally concerned business, eager to cut its impact in terms of how it carries out its ever-increasing) business activities. Their web site has several clearly worded statements about this sort of thing and I must leave aside for a moment whether the drive for perpetual growth is must eventually end up destroy the environment since, for all I know, they may well be genuine in this desire to be able to compete in the “green business” space. That green space has a whole set of rules of its own, and none of the players in that space are either completely independent or completely aware of what those rules are.

However, what struck me walking around the store, was the emphasis Tesco had placed in just about all their choices on offers for consumer products that either encouraged waste (i.e. buying more than you would need because, well, you’d be stupid not to at those prices) or targeted foodstuffs that represented comparatively poor nutrition  choices, the effects of which our health service will eventually end up paying for years down the line. It seems to me that the logic of “All tactics that encourage profit-making and growth are positive and ethical”, followed by “All other things being equal, consumers will tend to buy more foodstuffs that are convenient to consume, high in sugar, or high in salt.

Well, I’m not sure how I got from one topic to another in this posting, but sometimes it’s healthy to rant. Somewhere in here is a suspicion of whatever logic it is we are using to justify the unquestioning approach to size in business. If you can find it.


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