Monthly Archives: July 2016

Objectivism: Ayn Rand’s Novel Philosophy

The Religion and Philosophy of Ayn Rand

Frustrated with her intellectual climate, novelist and lay philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-82) collected ideas from a variety of philosophers and cobbled them into a unique view that she named Objectivism. She expounded on this personal worldview in her novel Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957. Rand defends Aristotle’s ideas that reality exists objectively and authoritatively, that the laws of logic guide our understanding, and that consciousness is the seat of humans’ ability to know. She defends the rationalist ideas that morality is objective and that conscious rationality bestows special moral significance. And she also defends the classical liberal idea that each person is obligated to respect every person’s right to pursue her interests, so long as those pursuits do not interfere with another person’s right to do so. Rand then argues that the only sociopolitical system consistent with these ideas is laissez-faire capitalism, that is, a free market economy.

One controversial implication is what Rand calls “the virtue of selfishness.” Since each person is intrinsically valuable, one’s primary moral obligation is to pursue one’s own interests. This pursuit is limited only by the recognition that others are also valuable, and thus no one has the right to deceive or coerce others. Selfish interests cannot conflict because it cannot be in our interests to have something to which we have no right. Although some goods may result from collective action, such goods never justify the use of force.

Rand’s philosophy continues to spark controversy, especially among those who argue that some “social goods” cannot be achieved by individuals and that unacceptable economic inequalities result from unregulated trade. Though not all capitalists would call themselves Objectivists, many cite Rand as a formative influence, including economist Walter Williams (b. 1936) and politician Ron Paul (b. 1935).

Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957), encompassed her ideas of rationalism, individualism, and capitalism within a dystopian United States.

Posted in Philosophy and Wisdom

Remembering Silicon Valley ‘Coach’ Bill Campbell

Remembering Silicon Valley 'Coach' Bill Campbell Bill Campbell, better known merely as “Coach,” was a renowned mentor of Silicon Valley executives and venture capitalists. He advised and coached some of tech’s biggest names, comprising Google’s Eric Schmidt, Apple’s Steve Jobs, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

The cluster is a geographically proximate group of interrelated companies and associated institutions in a particular field, linked by cohesions and complementarities. The cluster model converges upon the circumstances that support firm competitiveness at the national scale. It is an economic development model that stimulates collaboration among institutions to accelerate the exchange of information and technology. A venture capital firm in structuring a fund aims to limit the obligation of investors to the amount of their investment and circumvent a double charge of taxation (once when returns on investments are realized by the fund and a second time when the investors receive the proceeds of their investment from the fund). The most important customers for these new technologies may be beyond US borders, however, where breaks for a solid education are hard to come by and a Western credential carries a lot of weight. Changes and adaptations have become customs and are embedded in the social norms of the Valley. But it so far cannot escape from its contract manufacturing past. It does not have the profundity of competences and capabilities, nor does it have the scale to take advantage of a more networked-oriented internet-driven economy. Entrepreneurial financing is an important mechanism to engender economic advantages. In particular, the science and technology incubators play a vital role in supporting entrepreneurship and economic growth. To date, few studies have looked meticulously at the strategies and policies that are crucial for creating an empowering environment for high-tech start-ups.

Bill Campbell did not describe himself as a workaholic, although as president of Claris he did acknowledge to working 16-hour days, having nightly business dinners, touring frequently and working weekends. After four years as head of Apple Computer’s sales and marketing effort, Campbell was connected more with hardware than software. Apple and Google shared personal ties, with Apple board members Bill Campbell and Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president, serving as advisers to Google in its formative days.

John Doerr, chair of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, called him “our SuperCoach — colorful confidante and mentor for leaders and whole teams.” Doerr brought Campbell to Google to serve as an informal adviser to founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Campbell was influential in the hiring of Eric Schmidt to be Google’s chief executive in August 2001. Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt recalled in Forbes magazine that Campbell’s supreme gift was knowing how to goad and inspire people.

It’s hard to know what Google would have been like without him. He was present at every decision of consequence. He understood the people. He would normally say very little during my staff meetings and just observe. And then I and other executives would individually make a trek to his Intuit office in Palo Alto for his feedback. He wasn’t a technical wizard, but he understood how to solve human problems and motivate people. He would have been a good coach in any industry.

Bill Campbell viewed himself as Silicon Valley’s confidant. He was very careful to say, “I’m here to help you. I don’t want anything in return. I don’t want any attention.” If he had had a public persona, it would’ve made him less effective. This was very genuine. Some people want power or fame. He wanted love. He wanted to be appreciated. And he was.

The Silicon Valley culture efficaciously captures the prevailing ideological elements of Silicon Valley, mingling celebration of technology with a attraction with what the museum’s brochures refers to as the gizmos and gadgets produced by Valley companies. An obsession with speed: work late, work long, work fast, work smart, borrow and assimilate technical knowledge at the vanguard that is not already possessed, and enter the market place with an sophisticated solution needed by many with astounding features at a low cost point. A sale is incongruous to harvest a high price if the firm is seen as running out of funds and despairing for a savior. For a firm that cannot draw outside financing, an inside round can afford convenient “backstop financing.”

A Silicon Valley Confidant

Campbell was intensely involved in Silicon Valley’s start-up culture as well. Fortune’s Jennifer Reingold wrote that Campbell was careful not to take credit for his work, even while industry leaders spoke of Campbell “as if he’s some kind of profane cosmic mash-up of Oprah, Yoda and Joe Paterno.” Teams thrive to create synergy to respond to pressures of condensed product-planning life cycles, product competitiveness, and Silicon Valley’s parent companies’ influences. Global competition in the high technology industry is also at work here, where-as Campbell mentioned above–speed, quality, cost, and innovation propel strategy and structure.

Campbell coached the Columbia University football team in the 1970s (albeit with a losing record.) He then served as CEO of Intuit in the mid-1990s, then chairman from 1998 until January-2016, when he became chairman emeritus. Campbell was also chairman of the board of trustees at Columbia University from 2005 until 2014. Previously in his career, he had worked at Kodak and Apple, where he worked as a marketing executive. He was an Apple director from 1997 until 2014. His association with Apple dates back to 1983, when he enrolled the company as vice president of marketing. In 1983, Campbell took a chance by taking a job at Apple under John Sculley and Steve Jobs. Campbell left a position at Kodak, which was a $14 billion company at the time, for Apple, which was around $90 million then. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said, “when Bill joined Apple’s board, the company was on the brink of collapse. He not only helped Apple survive, but he’s led us to a level of success that was simply unimaginable back in 1997.”

The anonymities of the trade become no secrecies; but are as it were in the air, and children learn many of them instinctively. In Silicon Valley, good work is rightly cherished; inventions and improvements in machinery, in processes and the general organization of the business have their qualities promptly discussed: if one man starts a new idea, it is taken up by others and combined with suggestions of their own; and thus it becomes the source of further new ideas. According to Campbell, the Silicon Valley’s determination for reliability was the catalyst behind the development of the planar process, and then of the integrated circuit. He confounded things by noting that the high tech industry’s drive to clutch its producers’ profits served to direct both Silicon Valley semiconductor and tube companies to look for saleable markets.

Posted in Business and Strategy Management and Leadership

The Nature versus Nurture Debate

Nature Versus Nurture

The question of whether characteristics are inherited (nature) or fostered (nurture) was first proposed by Francis Galton.

English polymath Francis Galton (1822-1911) was born into a rich and influential family that included naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-82), his cousin. He initially studied mathematics at Cambridge University but became interested in psychology, along with anthropology, geography, statistics, and many other subjects.

In one study, Hereditary Genius (1869), he considered the implications of his cousin’s theories on sociology and psychology. He favored the position that all characteristics, including intelligence, are inherited through natural selection, though he later came to believe that the nurturing environment had an important influence. His work also led him to develop the pseudo-science of eugenics.

Much of the important evidence in the nature versus nurture debate has come from the study of twins, including both nonidentical (fraternal or dizygotic) twins (who, when raised together, possess different natures but share the same nurture), and identical or monzygotic twins (who, when separated at birth or very soon after, experience different nurture but possess the same initial natural inheritance). The results of such studies have highlighted some remarkable instances of natural inheritance, such as the development of Type 2 diabetes in separated identical twins at almost the same time in their mid-life, and have also cataloged the psychological effects of a variety of environmental factors.

Today, the debate initiated by Galton is still very much alive. At one extreme, Nativists such as John Bowlby and Noam Chomsky believe that most or even all psychological characteristics, including those that develop later in life, are governed by the body’s genetic code. On the Empiricist side of the argument, theorists such as Albert Bandura and B. F. Skinner see the human mind at birth as resembling a blank slate, onto which character is engraved by later experiences.

Posted in Philosophy and Wisdom

Confucius on Types of Men

Confucius on Types of Men

Confucius distinguishes four types or levels of man:

  1. The highest embraces the saints, those who possess knowledge from birth. Confucius never saw a saint but he has no douht that they existed in antiquity.
  2. The second level comprises those who must acquire knowledge by learning; they can become “superior men.”
  3. The men of the third level find it hard to learn, but they do not let this discourage them.
  4. Those of the fourth level find it hard and make no effort.

The two middle types are on the way; they progress though they may fail. Confucius writes, “Only the highest wise men and the lowest fools are unchangeable.”

Posted in Philosophy and Wisdom

Samsara: The Cycle of Reincarnation

Samsara refers to the continuous cycle of reincarnation to which all human beings belong.

The concept of samsara was first developed in the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, produced in India between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE. Though samsara is principally associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, the concept features in other religions such as Jainism and Sikhism, and is often referred to in popular culture. Samsara or transmigration as it is called in some schools of Buddhism is found in most Indian philosophical traditions.

Samsara means “to flow together” and refers to the cycle of rebirth in which an individual is reincarnated in a succession of lives based upon the karma (a sort of metaphysical record of a person’s moral worth) received for deeds committed during each life. This rebirth is more of a curse than a blessing, though it does offer the opportunity for spiritual cultivation that can bring about release. In Hinduism, this is closely tied to the varna (caste) system: living according to your dharma (duty) can eradicate karma and earn rebirth in a higher caste that is more capable of attaining moksha, the state in which you realize union with Brahman (ultimate reality) and exit the cycle of rebirth. Even in orthodox Hindu and heterodox Buddhist and Jain philosophical traditions, an ongoing cycle of birth, death and rebirth is considered as a fact of nature.

The sacred and the profane meet head-on in “Samsara,” which traces the fateful decision of a young Buddhist monk to forsake the order for the secular world. Geshe Sonam Rinchen said in Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas (1997,) “Samsaric pleasures are like salt water, the more we indulge, the more we crave.”

It is believed that the law of Samsara, everything is said to be in a cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Buddhism teaches that there is no individual soul and that the existence of individual self or ego is an illusion. What transfers from one existence to another is only a collection of feelings, impressions and that the individual in the present life will not be the same in the next life but be an individual with similar characteristics.

In Buddhism, karma causes a person to be reincarnated as one of six types of beings: humans, gods, demigods, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-bound beings. Only humans can realize nirvana, the state in which ignorance is vanquished and karma is eliminated so that you may exit the cycle of rebirth upon death. The desire to exit samsara is the driving force in many Eastern rel igions. Reincarnation is taken as a base metaphysical assumption throughout Indian religion and it is the primary justification for the varna system that has structured Indian society for millennia.

According to core belief of Buddhism, all living beings are born into one of the six states of existence. Etymologically, the word Samsara in Sanskrit means the cycle of life and death. Tibetan Buddhism calls it a wheel of life in which all beings are trapped. It is believed that all beings trapped within the six realms are subjected to death and rebirth in a recurring cycle of Samsara over incalculable ages until they reach enlightenment.

Posted in Faith and Religion

Buddha is The Embodiment of a Humanity

Buddha is The Embodiment of a Humanity

The remoteness of Buddhism need not make us forget that we are all men, all facing the same questions of human existence. Buddhism addresses questions about the meaning and purpose of life, our ultimate origins and destiny, and our experiences of inner life.

In Buddha and Buddhism, a great solution was found and put into practice. Our task is to acquaint ourselves with it and as far as possible to understand it. The question is: To what extent can we understand what we ourselves are not and what we ourselves do not practice? I believe that such an understanding is possible if we avoid excessive haste and supposedly definitive interpretations. In understanding, we keep alive potentialities that are locked deep within ourselves, and by understanding we learn not to take our own objective historicity for the absolute, exclusive truth. To my mind, everything that is said in the Buddhist texts is addressed to a normal waking consciousness and must therefore be largely accessible to rational thought.

Buddhism, like science, presents itself as a body of systematic knowledge about the natural world. It posits a wide array of testable hypotheses and theories concerning the nature of the mind and its relation to the physical environment. In the earliest teachings of the Buddhist tradition, all that is granted is that consciousness defines an object. To be aware is to be aware of something.

The fact that Buddha’s life was possible and that Buddhist life has been a reality in various parts of Asia down to our own day—this is a great and important fact. It points to the questionable essence of man. A man is not what he just happens to be; he is open. For him there is no one correct solution.

Buddha is the embodiment of a humanity which recognizes no obligations toward the world, but which in the world departs from the world. It does not struggle or resist. Looking upon itself as an existence that has come into being through ignorance, it desires only extinction, but this so radically that it does not even yearn for death, because it has found an abode of eternity beyond life and death.

The serenity of Jesus, with his mystical freedom from the world and nonresistance to evil, seems to present a parallel. But in the West all this remained a beginning, a contributory factor; in Asia it became a whole and hence wholly different.

Posted in Faith and Religion

The Rise and Fall of Theranos

The Rise and Fall of Theranos

Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos Two years ago, the blood-testing startup Theranos was one of the hottest assets in Silicon Valley. Valued at $9 billion, it guaranteed nothing short of a paradigm shift in medicine with its groundbreaking, needle-free test process. CEO Elizabeth Holmes, a 32-year-old Stanford dropout, was effusively profiled in the business press as the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. But now, the company is fighting for its survival, in the midst of claims that its tests are “at best, fundamentally flawed and, at worst, unsafe.” The disturbance began six months ago, when The Wall Street Journal reported that the company’s breakthrough technology, which could reasonably run hundreds of tests with blood from a finger prick, couldn’t really deliver. Not long after, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which regulates lab testing, said that Theranos put patients’ lives at risk with faulty tests at its California lab. The latest blow: The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) lately began independent criminal investigations into whether Theranos deceived investors about its technology.

Nothing is proven yet. It’s very unusual for the SEC to investigate a privately held company like Theranos, but it could begin to happen more often. SEC Chair Mary Jo White wants to give more enquiry to the growing number of so-called unicorn startups, which are valued at more than $1 billion, “because they pose a high risk to investors.” The company’s fate is now in the hands of its charismatic founder—as the company’s leader, chairwoman, and majority stakeholder, Holmes can command what she wants done at her company. It’s a common procedure in Silicon Valley’s startup philosophy, where boards have “little real power.” Many venture capitalists are willing to take the risk, hoping to get in with the next Mark Zuckerberg, but “if trouble brews,” the cult encircling a founder can become a obligation. That’s largely because there is no such thing as investigative journalism in Silicon Valley. Journalism here is largely confused with, and deliberately conflated with, public relations, but they’re not the same thing.

So far, Theranos has never been able to establish its testing technology really works. Rather than publishing research in peer-reviewed journals, or letting its blood-testing machines to be assessed by external experts, the company has continually kept its methods cloaked in secrecy. Theranos has reasoned that it was guarding trade secrets, but testing openness is customary routine in the medical industry. Even drug companies, which function in a exceedingly aggressive segment, issue adequate results of their drug trials to establish that a medicine actually works, whilst even keeping sufficient details secret to make their product proprietary. Blood testing is a $73-billion-a-year commerce set for disruption—as any person who’s had blood drawn can confirm, it’s laborious, uncomfortable, and pricey.

Theranos is under investigation for fraud, which is weird for a private company. Theranos is performing tests on patients without having published peer reviewed research—a cardinal sin in science—and with minimal federal oversight. Theranos should have attracted scrutiny long before it did.

Posted in Business and Strategy Leaders and Innovators