Fitzroy, an inner suburb of Melbourne, Australia, has the best graffiti in the world. Other cities have scrawl, sometimes they even have tags, some of which can get close to be art. But nothing gets close to the graffiti in Melbourne, especially around streets like Brunswick and Smith. Not of all of it is done with spray cans either. Paper and paste go a long way on some of the walls.
Other towns may be festooned with murals but none come close to the art graffiti of Fitzroy.
The area is becoming increasingly famous - tourists can be seen jaywalking all over the place to get a better photograph of a brick wall, while others travel in small posses - graffiti tours.
When I say we heard wombats, it wasn't a wombat growl or bark or anything like that - it was the sound of them rubbing their backsides against the cladding of the house, and the stump of nearby dead tree. The rough wood, in both instances, had smooth patches where wombats over countless nights had rubbed their rumps. It almost seems that by definition, a wombat has an itchy rump.
But the intriguing thing about wombats, we discovered, is that they like to defecate on plinths, and will go to considerable lengths to do so. The plinth can be anything - a low lying branch, a stump, a rock. Sometimes the plinth is in such a position - such as halfway up a creek bank on a low hanging branch - that the only way the wombat could have reached it is climb backwards up the bank. Some of the scats showed considerable balancing skill - one effort consisted of three scats mounded pyramid like an a twig who diameter was much smaller than the scats. It was a considerable balancing achievement.
Why do wombats do this? By the amount of droppings they leave on the ground outside their burrows, it's a sure bet that it some sort of territory marker ('this is my burrow, not yours'). By also leaving scats around in high places, they may also be using their own pong as a signal on how to get back home (wombats are nocturnal and by reputation have lousy eyesight) or as a signal to warn the competition away. Wombat droppings (faeces and urine) are very obvious and unlike that of any other animal - the scats are often cube shaped.
The Matrix got many otherwise not-so-philosophical minds ruminating on the nature of reality. But the scenario depicted in the movie is ridiculous: human brains being kept in tanks by intelligent machines just to produce power.
There is, however, a related scenario that is more plausible and a serious line of reasoning that leads from the possibility of this scenario to a striking conclusion about the world we live in. I call this the simulation argument. Perhaps its most startling lesson is that there is a significant probability that you are living in computer simulation. I mean this literally: if the simulation hypothesis is true, you exist in a virtual reality simulated in a computer built by some advanced civilisation. Your brain, too, is merely a part of that simulation. What grounds could we have for taking this hypothesis seriously? Before getting to the gist of the simulation argument, let us consider some of its preliminaries. One of these is the assumption of "substrate independence". This is the idea that conscious minds could in principle be implemented not only on carbon-based biological neurons (such as those inside your head) but also on some other computational substrate such as silicon-based processors.
Of course, the computers we have today are not powerful enough to run the computational processes that take place in your brain. Even if they were, we wouldn't know how to program them to do it. But ultimately, what allows you to have conscious experiences is not the fact that your brain is made of squishy, biological matter but rather that it implements a certain computational architecture. This assumption is quite widely (although not universally) accepted among cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind. For the purposes of this article, we shall take it for granted.
Given substrate independence, it is in principle possible to implement a human mind on a sufficiently fast computer. Doing so would require very powerful hardware that we do not yet have. It would also require advanced programming abilities, or sophisticated ways of making a very detailed scan of a human brain that could then be uploaded to the computer. Although we will not be able to do this in the near future, the difficulty appears to be merely technical. There is no known physical law or material constraint that would prevent a sufficiently technologically advanced civilisation from implementing human minds in computers.
Our second preliminary is that we can estimate, at least roughly, how much computing power it would take to implement a human mind along with a virtual reality that would seem completely realistic for it to interact with. Furthermore, we can establish lower bounds on how powerful the computers of an advanced civilisation could be. Technological futurists have already produced designs for physically possible computers that could be built using advanced molecular manufacturing technology. The upshot of such an analysis is that a technologically mature civilisation that has developed at least those technologies that we already know are physically possible, would be able to build computers powerful enough to run an astronomical number of human-like minds, even if only a tiny fraction of their resources was used for that purpose.
If you are such a simulated mind, there might be no direct observational way for you to tell; the virtual reality that you would be living in would look and feel perfectly real. But all that this shows, so far, is that you could never be completely sure that you are not living in a simulation. This result is only moderately interesting. You could still regard the simulation hypothesis as too improbable to be taken seriously.
Now we get to the core of the simulation argument. This does not purport to demonstrate that you are in a simulation. Instead, it shows that we should accept as true at least one of the following three propositions:
(1) The chances that a species at our current level of development can avoid going extinct before becoming technologically mature is negligibly small
(2) Almost no technologically mature civilisations are interested in running computer simulations of minds like ours
(3) You are almost certainly in a simulation.
Each of these three propositions may be prima facie implausible; yet, if the simulation argument is correct, at least one is true (it does not tell us which).
While the full simulation argument employs some probability theory and formalism, the gist of it can be understood in intuitive terms. Suppose that proposition (1) is false. Then a significant fraction of all species at our level of development eventually becomes technologically mature. Suppose, further, that (2) is false, too. Then some significant fraction of these species that have become technologically mature will use some portion of their computational resources to run computer simulations of minds like ours. But, as we saw earlier, the number of simulated minds that any such technologically mature civilisation could run is astronomically huge.
Therefore, if both (1) and (2) are false, there will be an astronomically huge number of simulated minds like ours. If we work out the numbers, we find that there would be vastly many more such simulated minds than there would be non-simulated minds running on organic brains. In other words, almost all minds like yours, having the kinds of experiences that you have, would be simulated rather than biological. Therefore, by a very weak principle of indifference, you would have to think that you are probably one of these simulated minds rather than one of the exceptional ones that are running on biological neurons.
So if you think that (1) and (2) are both false, you should accept (3). It is not coherent to reject all three propositions. In reality, we do not have much specific information to tell us which of the three propositions might be true. In this situation, it might be reasonable to distribute our credence roughly evenly between the three possibilities, giving each of them a substantial probability.
Let us consider the options in a little more detail. Possibility (1) is relatively straightforward. For example, maybe there is some highly dangerous technology that every sufficiently advanced civilization develops, and which then destroys them. Let us hope that this is not the case.
Possibility (2) requires that there is a strong convergence among all sufficiently advanced civilisations: almost none of them is interested in running computer simulations of minds like ours, and almost none of them contains any relatively wealthy individuals who are interested in doing that and are free to act on their desires. One can imagine various reasons that may lead some civilisations to forgo running simulations, but for (2) to obtain, virtually all civilisations would have to do that. If this were true, it would constitute an interesting constraint on the future evolution of advanced intelligent life.
The third possibility is the philosophically most intriguing. If (3) is correct, you are almost certainly now living in computer simulation that was created by some advanced civilisation. What kind of empirical implications would this have? How should it change the way you live your life?
Your first reaction might think that if (3) is true, then all bets are off, and that one would go crazy if one seriously thought that one was living in a simulation.
To reason thus would be an error. Even if we were in a simulation, the best way to predict what would happen next in our simulation is still the ordinary methods - extrapolation of past trends, scientific modelling, common sense and so on. To a first approximation, if you thought you were in a simulation, you should get on with your life in much the same way as if you were convinced that you are living a non-simulated life at the bottom level of reality.
The simulation hypothesis, however, may have some subtle effects on rational everyday behaviour. To the extent that you think that you understand the motives of the simulators, you can use that understanding to predict what will happen in the simulated world they created. If you think that there is a chance that the simulator of this world happens to be, say, a true-to-faith descendant of some contemporary Christian fundamentalist, you might conjecture that he or she has set up the simulation in such a way that the simulated beings will be rewarded or punished according to Christian moral criteria. An afterlife would, of course, be a real possibility for a simulated creature (who could either be continued in a different simulation after her death or even be "uploaded" into the simulator's universe and perhaps be provided with an artificial body there). Your fate in that afterlife could be made to depend on how you behaved in your present simulated incarnation. Other possible reasons for running simulations include the artistic, scientific or recreational. In the absence of grounds for expecting one kind of simulation rather than another, however, we have to fall back on the ordinary empirical methods for getting about in the world.
If we are in a simulation, is it possible that we could know that for certain? If the simulators don't want us to find out, we probably never will. But if they choose to reveal themselves, they could certainly do so. Maybe a window informing you of the fact would pop up in front of you, or maybe they would "upload" you into their world. Another event that would let us conclude with a very high degree of confidence that we are in a simulation is if we ever reach the point where we are about to switch on our own simulations. If we start running simulations, that would be very strong evidence against (1) and (2). That would leave us with only (3).
By Nick Bostrom
Employers love personality tests. But what do they really reveal?
Quiet by nature, Nininger was tall and slender, with wavy blond hair. As Franklin M. Reck recounts in "Beyond the Call of Duty," Nininger had graduated near the top of his class at West Point, where he chaired the lecture-and entertainment committee. He had spent many hours with a mend, discussing everything from history to the theory of relativity. He loved the theatre. In the evenings, he could often be found sitting by the fireplace in the living room of his commanding officer, sipping tea and listening to Tchaikovsky. As a boy, he once saw his father kill a hawk and had been repulsed. When he went into active service, he wrote a friend to say that he had no feelings of hate, and did not think he could ever kill anyone out of hatred. He had none of the swagger of the natural warrior. He worked hard and had a strong sense of duty.
In the second week of January, the Japanese attacked, slipping hundreds of snipers through the American lines, climbing into trees, turning the battlefield into what Reck calls a "gigantic possum hunt." On the morning of January 12th, Nininger went to his commanding officer. He wanted, he said, to be assigned to another company, one that was in the thick of the action, so' he could go hunting for Japanese snipers.
He took several grenades and ammunition belts, slung a Garand rifle over his shoulder, and grabbed a submachine gun. Starting at the point where the fighting was heaviest-near the position of the battalion's K Company-he crawled through the jungle and shot a Japanese soldier out of a tree. He shot and killed snipers. He threw grenades into enemy positions. He was wounded in the leg, but he kept going, clearing out Japanese positions for the other members of K Company, behind him. He soon ran out of grenades and switched to his rifle, and then, when he ran out of ammunition, used only his bayonet. He was wounded a second time, but when a medic crawled toward him to help bring him back behind the lines Nininger waved him off. He saw a Japanese bunker up ahead. As he leaped out of a shell hole, he was spun around by a bullet to the shoulder, but he kept charging at the bunker, where a Japanese officer and two enlisted men were dug in. He dispatched one soldier with a double thrust of his bayonet, clubbed down the other, and bayonetted the officer. Then, with outstretched arms, he collapsed face down. For his heroism, Nininger was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the first American soldier so decorated in the Second World War.
Suppose that you were a senior Army officer in the early days of the Second World War and were trying to put together a crack team of fearless and ferocious fighters. Sandy Nininger, it now appears, had exactly the right kind of personality for that assignment, but is there any way you could have known this beforehand? It clearly wouldn't have helped to ask Nininger if he was fearless and ferocious, because he didn't know that he was fearless and ferocious. Nor would it have worked to talk to people who spent time with him. His friend would have told you only that Nininger was quiet and thoughtful and loved the theatre, and his commanding officer would have talked about the evenings of tea and Tchaikovsky. With the exception, perhaps, of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a love of music, theatre, and long afternoons in ttont of a teapot is not a known predictor of great valor. What you need is some kind of sophisticated psychological instrument, capable of getting to the heart of his personality.
Over the course of the past century, psychology has been consumed with the search for this kind of magical instrument. Hermann Rorschach proposed that great meaning lay in the way that people described inkblots. The creators of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory believed in the revelatory power of true-false items such as "I have never had any black, tarry-looking bowel movements" or "If the money were right, I would like to work for a circus or a carnival." Today, Annie Murphy Paul tells us in her fascinating new book, :'Cult of Personality," that there are twenty-five hundred kinds of personality tests. Testing. is' a four-hundred million-dollar-a-year industry. A hefty percentage of American corporations use personality tests as part of the hiring and promotion process. The tests figure in custody battles and in sentencing and parole decisions. "Yet despite their prevalence-and the importance of the matters they are called upon to decide personality tests have received surprisingly little scrutiny," Paul writes. We can call in the psychologists. We can give Sandy Nininger a battery of tests. But will any of it help?
One of the most popular personality tests in the world is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (M.B.T.I.), a psychological-assessment system based on Carl Jung's notion that people make " sense of the world through a series of psychological frames. Some people are extroverts, some are introverts. Some _ process information through logical _ thought. Some are directed by their feelings. Some make sense of the world through intuitive leaps. Others collect data through their senses. To these three categories-(I)ntroversionl (E )xtroversion, i(N)tuitionl (S)ensing, (T)hinking/(F)eeling -the Myers-Briggs test adds a fourth: (J)udging/(P)erceiving. Judgers "like to live in a planned, orderly way, seeking to regulate and manage their lives," according to an M.B.T.I. guide, whereas Perceivers "like to live in a flexible, spontaneous way, seeking to experience and understand life, rather than control it." The M.B.T.I. asks the test-taker to answer a series of "forced choice" questions, where one choice identifies you as belonging to one of these paired traits. The basic test takes twenty minutes, and at the end you are presented with a precise, multidimensional summary of your personality your type might be INTJ or ESFP, or some other combination. Two and a half million Americans a year take the Myers- Briggs. Eighty-nine companies out of the Fortune 100 make use of it, for things like hiring or training sessions to help employees "understand" themselves or their colleagues. Annie Murphy Paul says that at the eminent consulting firm McKinsey, "'associates' often know their colleagues' four-letter M.B.T.I. types by heart," the way they might know their own weight or (this being McKinsey) their S.A.T. scores.
It is tempting to think, then, that we could figure out the Myers-Briggs type that corresponds best to commando work, and then test to see whether Sandy Nininger fits the profile. Unfortunately, the notion of personality type is not nearly as straightforward as it appears. For example, the Myers-Briggs poses a series of items grouped around the issue of whether you -the test-taker are someone who likes to plan your day or evening beforehand or someone who prefers to be spontaneous. The idea is obviously to determine whether you belong to the Judger or Perceiver camp, but the basic question here is surprisingly hard to answer. I think I'm someone who likes to be spontaneous. On the other hand, I have embarked on too many spontaneous evenings that ended up with my friends and me standing on the sidewalk, looking at each other and wondering what to do next. So I guess I'm a spontaneous person who recognizes that life usually goes more smoothly if I plan first, or, rather, I'm a person who prefers to be spontaneous only if there's someone around me who isn't. Does that make me spontaneous or not? I'm not sure. I suppose it means that I'm somewhere in the middle.
This is the first problem with the Myers-Briggs. It assumes that we are either one thing or another-Intuitive or Sensing, Introverted or Extroverted. But personality doesn't fit into neat binary categories: we fall somewhere along a continuum.
Here's another question:
Would you rather work under a boss (or a teacher) who is good-natured but often inconsistent, or sharp-tongued but always logical?
On the Myers-Briggs, this is one of a series of questions intended to establish whether you are a Thinker or a Feeler. But I'm not sure I know how to answer this one, either. I once had a good-natured boss whose inconsistency bothered me, because he exerted a great deal of day-to-day control over my work. Then I had a boss who was quite consistent and very sharp-tongued-but at that point I was in a job where day-today dealings with my boss were minimal, so his sharp tongue didn't matter that much. So what do I want in a boss? As far as I can tell, the only plausible answer is: It depends. The Myers-Briggs assumes that who we are is consistent from one situation to another. But surely what we want in a boss, and how we behave toward our boss, is affected by what kind of job we have.
This is the gist of the now famous critique that the psychologist Walter Mischel has made of personality testing. One of Mischel's studies involved watching children interact with one another at a summer camp. Aggressiveness was among the traits that he was interested in, so he watched the children in five different situations: how they behaved when approached by a peer, when teased by a peer, when praised by an adult, when punished by an adult, and when warned by an adult. He found that how aggressively a child responded in one of those situations wasn't a good predictor of how that same child responded in another situation. Just because a boy was aggressive in the face of being teased by another boy didn't mean that he would be aggressive in the face of being warned by an adult. On the other hand, if a child responded aggressively to being teased by a peer one day, it was a pretty good indicator that he'd respond aggressively to being teased by a peer the next day. We have a personality in the sense that we have a consistent pattern of behavior. But that pattern is complex and that personality is contingent: it represents an interaction between our internal disposition and tendencies and the situations that we find ourselves in.
It's not surprising, then, that the Myers-Briggs has a large problem with consistency: according to some studies, more than half of those who take the test a second time end up with a different score than when they took it the first time. Since personality is continuous, not dichotomous, clearly some people who are borderline Introverts or Feelers one week slide over to Extroversion or Thinking the next week. And since personality is contingent, not stable, how we answer is affected by which circumstances are foremost in our minds when we take the test. If I happen to remember my first boss, then I come out as a Thinker. If my mind is on my second boss, I come out as a Feeler. When I took the Myers-Briggs, I scored as an INT]. But, if odds are that I'm going to be something else if I take the test again, what good is it?
Once, for fun, a friend and I devised our own personality test. Like the M.B.T.I., it has four dimensions. The first is Canine/Feline. In romantic relationships, are you the pursuer, who runs happily to the door, tail wagging? Or are you the pursued? The second is More/Different. Is it your intellectual style to gather and master as much information as you can or to make imaginative use of a discrete amount of information? The third is Insider/Outsider. Do you get along with your parents or do you define yourself outside your relationship with your mother and father? And, finally, there is Nibbler/Gobbler. Do you work steadily, in small increments, or do everything at once, in a big gulp? I'm quite pleased with the personality inventory we devised. It directly touches on four aspects of life and temperament romance, cognition, family, and work style-that are only hinted at by Myers-Briggs. And it can be completed in under a minute, nineteen minutes faster than Myers-Briggs, an advantage not to be dismissed in today's fast-paced business environment. Of course, the four traits it measures are utterly arbitrary, based on what my friend and 1 came up with over the course of a phone call. But then again surely all universal dichotomous typing systems are arbitrary.
Where did the Myers-Briggs come from, after all? As Paul tells us, it began with a housewife from Washington, D.C., named Katharine Briggs, at the turn of the last century. Briggs had a daughter, Isabel, an only child for whom (as one relative put it) she did "everything but breathe. When Isabel was still in her teens, Katharine wrote a book length manuscript about her daughter's remarkable childhood, calling her a "genius" and "a little Shakespeare." When Isabel went off to Swarthmore College, in 1915, the two exchanged letters nearly every day. Then, one day, Isabel brought home her college boyfriend and announced that they were to be married. His name was Clarence (Chief) Myers. He was tall and handsome and studying to be a lawyer, and he could not have been more different from the Briggs women. Katharine and Isabel were bold and imaginative and intuitive. Myers was practical and logical and detailoriented. Katharine could not understand her future son-in-law. "When the blissful young couple returned to Swarthmore," Paul writes, "Katharine retreated to her study, intent on 'figuring out Chief"
She began to read widely in psychology and philosophy. Then, in 1923, she came across the first English translation of Carl Jung's "Psychological Types." "This is it!" Katharine told her daughter. Paul recounts, "In a dramatic display of conviction she burned all her own research and adopted Jung's book as her 'Bible,' as she gushed in a letter to the man himself. His system explained it all: Lyman [Katharine's husband], Katharine, Isabel, and Chief were introverts; the two men were thinkers, while the women were feelers; and of course the Briggses were intuitives, while Chief was a senser." Encouraged by her mother, Isabel-who was living in Swarthmore and writing mystery novels-devised a paper-and-pencil test to help people identifY which of the Jungian categories they belonged to, and then spent the rest of her life tirelessly and brilliandy promoting her creation.
The problem, as Paul points out, is that Myers and her mother did not actually understand Jung at all. Jung didn't believe that types were easily identifiable, and he didn't believe that people could be permanently slotted into one category or another. "Every individual is an exception to the rule," he wrote; to "stick labels on people at first sight," in his view, was "nothing but a childish parlor game." Why is a parlor game based on my desire to entertain my friends any less valid than a parlor game based on Katharine Briggs's obsession with her son-in-law?
The problems with the Myers-Briggs suggest that we need a test that is responsive to the complexity and variability of the human personality. And that is why, not long ago, I found myself in the office of a psychologist from New Jersey named Lon Gieser. He is among the country's leading experts on what is called the Thematic Apperception Test (TA.T), an assessment tool developed in the nineteen-thirties by Henry Murray, one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century.
I sat in a chair facing Gieser, as if I were his patient. He had in his hand two dozen or so pictures--mostly black and-white drawings-on legal-sized cards, all of which had been chosen by Murray years before. "These pictures present a series of scenes," Gieser said to me. "What I want you to do with each scene is tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end." He handed me the first card. It was of a young boy looking at a violin. I had imagined, as Gieser was describing the test to me, that it would be hard to come up with stories to match the pictures. As I quickly discovered, though, the exercise was relatively effortless: the stories just tumbled out.
"This is a young boy," I began.
His parents want him to take up the violin, and they've been encouraging him. I think he is uncertain whether he wants to be a violin player, and maybe even resents the imposition of having to play this instrument, which doesn't seem to have any appeal for him. He's not excited or thrilled about this. He'd rather be somewhere else. He's just sitting there looking at it, and dreading having to fulfill this parental obligation.
I continued in that vein for a few more minutes. Gieser gave me another card, this one of a muscular man clinging to a rope and looking off into the distance. "He's climbing up, not climbing down," I said, and went on:
It's out in public. It's some kind of big square, in Europe, and there is some kind of spectacle going on. It's the seventeenth or eighteenth century. The King is coming by in a carriage, and this man is shimmying up, so he can see over everyone else and get a better view of the King. I don't get the sense that he's any kind of highborn person. I think he aspires to be more than he is. And he's kind of getting a glimpse of the King as a way of giving himself a sense of what he could be, or what his own future could be like.
We went on like this for the better part of an hour, as I responded to twelve cards-each of people in various kinds of ambiguous situations. One picture showed a woman slumped on the ground, with some small object next to her; another showed an attractive couple in a kind of angry embrace, apparently having an argument. (I said that the fight they were having was staged, that each was simply playing a role.) As I talked, Gieser took notes. Later, he called me and gave me his impressions. "What came out was the way you deal with emotion," he said. "Even when you recognized the emotion, you distanced yourself from it. The underlying motive is this desire to avoid conflict. The other thing is that when there are opportunities to go to someone else and work stuff out, your character is always going off alone. There is a real avoidance of emotion and dealing with other people, and everyone goes to their own corners and works things out on their own."
How could Gieser make such a confident reading of my personality after listening to me for such a short time? I was baiRed by this, at first, because I felt that I had told a series of random and idiosyncratic stories. When I listened to the tape I had made of the session, though, I saw what Gieser had picked up on: my stories were exceedingly repetitive in just the way that he had identified. The final card that Gieser gave me was blank, and he asked me to imagine my own picture and tell a story about it. For some reason, what came to mind was Andrew Wyeth's famous painting "Christina's World," of a woman alone in a field, her hair being blown by the wind. She was from the city, I said, and had come home to see her family in the country: "I think she is taking a walk. She is pondering some piece of important news. She has gone off from the rest of the people to think about it." Only later did I realize that in the actual painting the woman is not strolling through the field. She is crawling, desperately, on her hands and knees. How obvious could my aversion to strong emotion be?
The TA.T has a number of cards that are used to assess achievement that is, how interested someone is in getting ahead and succeeding in life. One is the card of the man on the rope; another is the boy looking at his violin. Gieser, in listening to my stories, concluded that I was very low in achievement:
Some people say this kid is dreaming about being a great violinist, and he's going to make it. With you, it wasn't what he wanted to do at all. His parents were making him do it. With the rope climbing, some people do this Tarzan thing. They climb the pole and get to the top and feel this great achievement. You have him going up the rope-and why is he feeling the pleasure? Because he's seeing the King. He's still a nobody in the public square, looking at the King.
Now, this is a little strange. I consider myself quite ambitious. On a questionnaire, if you asked me to rank how important getting ahead and being successful was to me, I'd check the "very important" box. But Gieser is suggesting that the TA.T allowed him to glimpse another dimension of my personality.
This idea-that our personality can hold contradictory elements-is at the heart of "Strangers to Ourselves," by the social psychologist Timothy D. Wilson. He is one of the discipline's most prominent researchers, and his book is what popular psychology ought to be (and rarely is): thoughtful, beautifully written, and full of unexpected insights. Wilson's interest is in what he calls the "adaptive unconscious" (not to be confused with the Freudian unconscious). The adaptive unconscious, in Wilson's description, is a big computer in our brain which sits below the surface and evaluates, filters, and looks for patterns in the mountain of data that come in through our senses. That system, Wilson argues, has a personality: it has a set of patterns and responses and tendencies that are laid down by our genes and our early-childhood experiences. These patterns are stable and hard to change, and we are only dimly aware of them. On top of that, in his schema we have another personality: it's the conscious identity that we create for ourselves with the choices we make, the stories we tell about ourselves, and the formal reasons we come up with to explain our motives and feelings. Yet this "constructed self" has no particular connection with the personality of our adaptive unconscious. In fact, they could easily be at odds. Wilson writes:
The adaptive unconscious is more likely to influence people's uncontrolled, implicit responses, whereas the constructed self is more likely to influence people's deliberative, explicit responses. For example, the quick, spontaneous decision of whether to argue with a co-worker is likely to be under the control of one's non-conscious needs for power and affiliation. A more thoughtful decision about whether to invite a co-worker over for dinner is more likely to be under the control of one's conscious, self-attributed motives.
"When Gieser said that he thought I was low in achievement, then, he presumably saw in my stories an unconscious ambivalence toward success. The T.AT., he believes, allowed him to go beyond the way I viewed myself and arrive at a reading with greater depth and nuance.
Even if he's right, though, does this help us pick commandos? I'm not so sure. Clearly, underneath Sandy Nininger's peaceful facade there was another Nininger capable of great bravery and ferocity, and a T.AT. of Nininger might have given us a glimpse of that part of who he was. But let's not forget that he volunteered for the front lines: he made a conscious decision to put himself in the heat of the action. What we really need is an understanding of how those two sides of his personality interact in critical situations. When is Sandy Nininger's commitment to peacefulness more, or less, important than some unconscious ferocity?
The other problem with the T.AT., of course, is that it's a subjective instrument. You could say that my story about the man climbing the rope is evidence that I'm low in achievement or you could say that it shows a strong desire for social mobility. The climber wants to look down-not up-at the King in order to get a sense "of what he could be." You could say that my interpretation that the couple's fighting was staged was evidence of my aversion to strong emotion. Or you could say that it was evidence of my delight in deception and roleplaying. This isn't to question Gieser's skill or experience as a diagnostician. The T.AT. is supposed to do no more than identify themes and problem areas, and I'm sure Gieser would be happy to put me on the couch for a year to explore those themes and see which of his initial hypotheses had any validity. But the reason employers want a magical instrument for measuring personality is that they don't have a year to work through the ambiguities. They need an answer now.
A larger limitation of both Myers Briggs and the T.AT. is that they are indirect. Tests of this kind require us first to identify a personality trait that corresponds to the behaviour we're interested in, and then to figure out how to measure that trait-but by then we're two steps removed from what we're after. And each of those steps represents an opportunity for error and distortion. Shouldn't we try, instead, to test directly for the behaviour we're interested in? This is the idea that lies behind what's known as the Assessment Center, and the leading practitioner of this approach is a company called Development Dimensions International, or D.D.I. Companies trying to evaluate job applicants send them to D.D.I.'s headquarters, outside Pittsburgh, where they spend the day roleplaying as business executives. When I contacted D.D.I., I was told that I was going to be Terry Turner, the head of the robotics division of a company called Global Solutions.
I arrived early in the morning, and was led to an office. On the desk was a computer, a phone, and a tape recorder. In the corner of the room was a video camera, and on my desk was an agenda for the day. I had a long telephone conversation with a business partner from France. There were labour difficulties at an overseas plant. A new product-a robot for the home-had run into a series of technical glitches. I answered e-mails. I prepared and recorded a talk for a product-launch meeting. I gave a live interview to a local television reporter. In the afternoon, I met with another senior Global Solutions manager, and presented a strategic plan for the future of the robotics division. It was a long, demanding day at the office, and when I left, a team of D.D.I. specialists combed through copies of my e-mails, the audiotapes of my phone calls and my speech, and the videotapes of my interviews, and analyzed me across four dimensions: interpersonal skills, leadership skills, business-management skills, and personal attributes. A few weeks later, I was given my report. Some of it was positive: I was a quick learner. I had good ideas. I expressed myself well, and-I was relieved to hear-wrote clearly. But, as the assessment of my performance made plain, I was something less than top management material:
Although you did a remarkable job addressing matters, you tended to handle issues from a fairly lofty perch, pitching good ideas somewhat unilaterally while lobbing supporting rationale down to the team below. . . . Had you brought your team closer to decisions by vesting them with greater accountability, responsibility and decision-making authority, they would have undoubtedly felt more engaged, satisfied and valued. . . .
In a somewhat similar vein, but on a slightly more interpersonal level, while you seemed to recognize the value of collaboration and building positive working relationships with people, you tended to take a purely businesslike approach to forging partnerships. You spoke of win/win solutions from a business perspective and your rationale for partnering and collaboration seemed to be based solely on business logic. Additionally, at times you did not respond to some of the softer, subtler cues that spoke to people's real frustrations, more personal feelings, or true point of view.
Ouch! Of course, when the D.D.I. analysts said that I did not respond to "some of the softer, subtler cues that spoke to people's real frustrations, more personal feelings, or true point of view," they didn't mean that I was an insensitive person. They meant that I was insensitive in the role of manager. The TA.T and M.B.TI. aimed to make global assessments of the different aspects of my personality. My day as Terry Turner was meant to find out only what I'm like when I'm the head of the robotics division of Global Solutions. That's an important difference. It respects the role of situation and contingency in personality. It sidesteps the difficulty of integrating my unconscious self with my constructed self by looking at the way that my various selves interact in the real world. Most important, it offers the hope that with experience and attention I can construct a more appropriate executive "self" The Assessment Center is probably the best method that employers have for evaluating personality.
But could an Assessment Center help us identify the Sandy Niningers of the world? The center makes a behavioral prediction, and, as solid and specific as that prediction is, people are least predictable at those critical moments when prediction would be most valuable. The answer to the question of whether my Terry Turner would be a good executive is, once again: It depends. It depends on what kind of company Global Solutions is, and on what kind of respect my coworkers have for me, and on how quickly I manage to correct my shortcomings, and on all kinds of other things that cannot be anticipated. The quality of being a good manager is, in the end, as irreducible as the quality of being a good friend. We think that a friend has to be loyal and nice and interesting-and that's certainly a good start. But people whom we don't find loyal, nice, or interesting have friends, too, because loyalty, niceness, and interestingness are emergent traits. They arise out of the interaction of two people, and all we really mean when we say that someone is interesting or nice is that they are interesting or nice to us.
All these difficulties do not mean that we should give up on the task of trying to understand and categorize one another. We could certainly send Sandy Nininger to an Assessment Center, and find out whether, in a make-believe battle, he plays the role of commando with verve and discipline. We could talk to his friends and discover his love of music and theatre. We could find out how he responded to the picture of the man on a rope. We could sit him down and have him do the Myers-Briggs and dutifully note that he is an Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking Judger, and, for good measure, take an extra minute to run him through my own favorite personality inventory and type him as a Canine, Different, Insider Gobbler. We will know all kinds of things about him then. His personnel file will be as thick as a phone book, and we can consult our findings whenever we make decisions about his future. We just have to acknowledge that his file will tell us little about the thing we're most interested in. For that, we have to join him in the jungles of Bataan.
BY MALCOLM GLADWELL
THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 20, 2004
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that randomness is a part of the Universe. After all, physicists tell us that empty space is a swirling chaos of virtual particles. And randomness comes into play in quantum theory—when a particle such as an electron is observed, its properties are randomly selected from a set of alternatives predicted by the equations.
But Cahill and Klinger believe that this hints at a much deeper randomness. "Far from being merely associated with quantum measurements, this randomness is at the very heart of reality," says Cahill. If they are right, they have created the most fundamental of all physical theories, and its implications are staggering. "Randomness generates everything," says Cahill. "It even creates the sensation of the `present', which is so conspicuously absent from today's physics."
Their evidence comes from a surprising quarter—pure mathematics. In 1930, the Austrian-born logician Kurt Gödel stunned the mathematical world with the publication of his incompleteness theorem. It applied to formal systems—sets of assumptions and the statements that can be deduced from those assumptions by the rules of logic. For example, the Greeks developed their geometry using a few axioms, such as the idea that there is only one straight line through any pair of points. It seemed that a clever enough mathematician could prove any theorem true or false by reasoning from axioms.
But Gödel proved that, for most sets of axioms, there are true theorems that cannot be deduced. In other words, most mathematical truths can never be proved.
This bombshell could easily have sent shock waves far beyond mathematics. Physics, after all, is couched in the language of maths, so Gödel's theorem might seem to imply that it is impossible to write down a complete mathematical description of the Universe from which all physical truths can be deduced. Physicists have largely ignored Gödel's result, however. "The main reason was that the result was so abstract it did not appear to connect directly with physics," says Cahill.
But then, in the 1980s, Gregory Chaitin of IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, extended Gödel's work, and made a suggestive analogy. He called Gödel's unprovable truths random truths. What does that mean? Mathematicians define a random number as one that is incompressible. In other words, it cannot be generated by an algorithm—a set of instructions or rules such as a computer program—that is shorter than the number. Chaitin defined random truths as ones that cannot be derived from the axioms of a given formal system. A random truth has no explanation, it just is.
Chaitin showed that a vast ocean of such truths surrounds the island of provable theorems. Any one of them might be stumbled on by accident—an equation might be accidentally discovered to have some property that cannot be derived from the axioms—but none of them can be proved. The chilling conclusion, wrote Chaitin in New Scientist, is that randomness is at the very heart of pure mathematics (24 March 1990, p 44).
To prove his theorem, Gödel had concocted a statement that asserted that it was not itself provable. So Gödel's and Chaitin's results apply to any formal system that is powerful enough to make statements about itself.
"This is where physics comes in," says Cahill. "The Universe is rich enough to be self-referencing—for instance, I'm aware of myself." This suggests that most of the everyday truths of physical reality, like most mathematical truths, have no explanation. According to Cahill and Klinger, that must be because reality is based on randomness. They believe randomness is more fundamental than physical objects.
At the core of conventional physics is the idea that there are "objects"—things that are real, even if they don't interact with other things. Before writing down equations to describe how electrons, magnetic fields, space and so on work, physicists start by assuming that such things exist. It would be far more satisfying to do away with this layer of assumption.
This was recognised in the 17th century by the German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz. Leibniz believed that reality was built from things he called monads, which owed their existence solely to their relations with each other. This picture languished in the backwaters of science because it was hugely difficult to turn into a recipe for calculating things, unlike Newton's mechanics.
But Cahill and Klinger have found a way to do it. Like Leibniz's monads, their "pseudo-objects" have no intrinsic existence—they are defined only by how strongly they connect with each other, and ultimately they disappear from the model. They are mere scaffolding.
The recipe is simple: take some pseudo-objects, add a little randomness and let the whole mix evolve inside a computer. With pseudo-objects numbered 1, 2, 3, and so on, you can define some numbers to represent the strength of the connection between each pair of pseudo-objects: B12 is the strength of the connection between 1 and 2; B13 the connection between 1 and 3; and so on. They form a two-dimensional grid of numbers—a matrix.
The physicists start by filling their matrix with numbers that are very close to zero. Then they run it repeatedly through a matrix equation which adds random noise and a second, non-linear term involving the inverse of the original matrix. The randomness means that most truths or predictions of this model have no cause—the physical version of Chaitin's mathematical result. This matrix equation is largely the child of educated guesswork, but there are good precedents for that. In 1932, for example, Paul Dirac guessed at a matrix equation for how electrons behave, and ended up predicting the existence of antimatter.
When the matrix goes through the wringer again and again, most of the elements remain close to zero, but some numbers suddenly become large. "Structures start forming," says Cahill. This is no coincidence, as they chose the second term in the equation because they knew it would lead to something like this. After all, there is structure in the Universe that has to be explained.
The structures can be seen by marking dots on a piece of paper to represent the pseudo-objects 1, 2, 3, and so on. It doesn't matter how they are arranged. If B23 is large, draw a line between 2 and 3; if B19 is large, draw one between 1 and 9. What results are "trees" of strong connections, and a lot of much weaker links. And as you keep running the equation, smaller trees start to connect to others. The network grows.
The trees branch randomly, but Cahill and Klinger have found that they have a remarkable property. If you take one pseudo-object and count its nearest neighbours in the tree, second nearest neighbours, and so on, the numbers go up in proportion to the square of the number of steps away (see Diagram). This is exactly what you would get for points arranged uniformly throughout three-dimensional space. So something like our space assembles itself out of complete randomness. "It's downright creepy," says Cahill. Cahill and Klinger call the trees "gebits", because they act like bits of geometry.
They haven't proved that this tangle of connections is like 3D space in every respect, but as they look closer at their model, other similarities with our Universe appear. The connections between pseudo-objects decay, but they are created faster than they decay. Eventually, the number of gebits increases exponentially. So space, in Cahill and Klinger's model, expands and accelerates—just as it does in our Universe, according to observations of the recession of distant supernovae. In other words, Cahill and Klinger think their model might explain the mysterious cosmic repulsion that is speeding up the Universe's expansion.
And this expanding space isn't empty. Topological defects turn up in the forest of connections—pairs of gebits that are far apart by most routes, but have other shorter links. They are like snags in the fabric of space. Cahill and Klinger believe that these defects are the stuff we are made of, as described by the wave functions of quantum theory, because they have a special property shared by quantum entities: nonlocality. In quantum theory, the properties of two particles can be correlated, or "entangled", even when they are so far apart that no signal can pass between them. "This ghostly long-range connectivity is apparently outside of space," says Cahill. But in Cahill and Klinger's model of reality, there are some connections that act like wormholes to connect far-flung topological defects.
Even the mysterious phenomenon of quantum measurement can be seen in the model. In observing a quantum system any detector ought to become entangled with the system in a joint quantum state. We would see weird quantum superpositions like Schrödinger's alive-and-dead cat. But we don't.
How does the quantum state "collapse" to a simple classical one? In Cahill and Klinger's model, the nonlocal entanglements disappear after many iterations of the matrix equation. That is, ordinary 3D space reasserts itself after some time, and the ghostly connection between measuring device and system is severed.
This model could also explain our individual experience of a present moment. According to Einstein's theory of relativity, all of space-time is laid out like a four-dimensional map, with no special "present" picked out for us to feel. "Einstein thought an explanation of the present was beyond theoretical physics," says Cahill. But in the gebit picture, the future is not predetermined. You never know what it will bring, because it is dependent on randomness. "The present is therefore real and distinct from an imagined future and a recorded past," says Cahill.
But why can't we detect this random dance of the pseudo-objects? "Somehow, in the process of generating reality, the pseudo-objects must become hidden from view," says Cahill. To simulate this, the two physicists exploited a phenomenon called self-organised criticality.
Self-organised criticality occurs in a wide range of systems such as growing sand piles. Quite spontaneously, these systems reach a critical state. If you drop sand grains one by one onto a sand pile, for instance, they build up and up into a cone until avalanches start to happen. The slope of the side of the cone settles down to a critical value, at which it undergoes small avalanches and big avalanches and all avalanches at all scales in between. This behaviour is independent of the size and shape of the sand grains, and in general it is impossible to deduce anything about the building blocks of a self-organised critical system from its behaviour. In other words, the scale and timing of avalanches doesn't depend on the size or shape of the sand grains.
"This is exactly what we need," says Cahill. "If our system self-organises to a state of criticality, we can construct reality from pseudo-objects and simultaneously hide them from view." The dimensionality of space doesn't depend on the properties of the pseudo-objects and their connections. All we can measure is what emerges, and even though gebits are continually being created and destroyed, what emerges is smooth 3D space. Creating reality in this way is like pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, throwing away the bootstraps and still managing to stay suspended in mid-air.
This overcomes a problem with the conventional picture of reality. Even if we discover the laws of physics, we are still left with the question: where do they come from? And where do the laws that explain where they come from come from? Unless there is a level of laws that explain themselves, or turn out to be the only mathematically consistent set—as Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin believes—we are left with an infinite regression. "But it ceases to be a problem if self-organised criticality hides the lowest layer of reality," says Cahill. "The start-up pseudo-objects can be viewed as nothing more than a bundle of weakly linked pseudo-objects, and so on ad infinitum. But no experiment will be able to probe this structure, so we have covered our tracks completely."
Other physicists are impressed by Cahill and Klinger's claims. "I have never heard of anyone working on such a fundamental level as this," says Roy Frieden of the University of Arizona in Tucson. "I agree with the basic premise that `everything' is ultimately random, but am still sceptical of the details." He would like to see more emerge from the model before committing himself. "It would be much more convincing if Cahill and Klinger could show something physical—that is, some physical law—emerging from this," says Frieden. "For example, if this is to be a model of space, I would expect something like Einstein's field equation for local space curvatures emerging. Now that would be something."
"It sounds rather far-out," says John Baez of the University of California at Riverside. "I would be amazed—though pleased—if they could actually do what you say they claim to."
"I've seen several physics papers like this that try to get space-time or even the laws of physics to emerge from random structures at a lower level," says Chaitin. "They're interesting efforts, and show how deeply ingrained the statistical point of view is in physics, but they are difficult, path-breaking and highly tentative efforts far removed from the mainstream of contemporary physics."
What next? Cahill and Klinger hope to find that everything—matter and the laws of physics—emerges spontaneously from the interlinking of gebits. Then we would know for sure that reality is based on randomness. It's a remarkable ambition, but they have already come a long way. They have created a picture of reality without objects and shown that it can emerge solely out of the connections of pseudo-objects. They have shown that space can arise out of randomness. And, what's more, a kind of space that allows both ordinary geometry and the non-locality of quantum phenomena—two aspects of reality which, until now, have appeared incompatible.
Perhaps what is most impressive, though, is that Cahill and Klinger are the first to create a picture of reality that takes into account the fundamental limitations of logic discovered by Gödel and Chaitin. In the words of Cahill: "It is the logic of the limitations of logic that is ultimately responsible for generating this new physics, which appears to be predicting something very much like our reality."
From issue 2227 of New Scientist magazine, 26 February 2000, page 24
The criteria is usually tied to strategic objectives which are tied to a strategic plan which is usually reviewed every five years. Called Key Performance Indicators, these objectives also usually have some sort of measurement - say "Achieves budget targets +- 5 per cent". At the PMR meeting the manager and the managed discuss whether the target has been achieve. A mark is awarded for each achieved target, and a percentage calculated. So an employee could achieve 100 per cent all set targets but their financial one. If the financial one is worth five per cent of their overall mark, then their overall mark becomes 95 per cent.
The process also allows managers and employers to tell each other what they think of their respective work performances. A manager, might for example, express concern over an employees recent lack of punctuality and propose as a KPO - Key Performance Objective - that punctuality be part of the overall performance assessment for the next period.
As complex as this is, it usually doesn't stop there. Both manager and employee are expected to sign the resulting document, which is then passed to the personnel department - these days often called Human Resources - where the relative performances of each employee are indexed against each other and collated. Through this, so the theory goes, employees who are exceptional or unexceptional can be identified, as well as managers who are or are not managing well. These documents often form the basis on which performance pay is allocated, or by which sackings or promotions are justified.
It is remarkable that of the 50 or so performance management reviews I have have endured over those 20 years, not one has achieved its aims of fairly reviewing manager or employee performance, the basis on which that performance is measured, or the measurement itself.
I should state here that these are not the words of someone bitter at not having his talents recognised. I have always done extremely well at those meetings. I ensure I get a 100 per cent ranking when the PMR has a monetary or promotional reward. Indeed, as a manager, I've had to inflict the same process on staff literally hundreds of times. The experience has left me with the firm conviction that for management or strategic purposes, these exercises are a complete waste of time.
There are many reasons for this point of view. The most compelling is that the success of the whole process being predicated upon the manager and employee being scientifically detached and rational in their approach. This is simply not human behaviour. People don't like criticisms levelled against them, no matter in what context, and people usually strive to do well. Moreover, many of the goals against which one is measured may be, scientifically speaking, impossible to measure. A goal of "Must demonstrate being a capable team player" has no measure except for the purely subjective. In other words, the entire exercise is merely an exchange of points of view wrapped up in a pseudo-detached framework.
Actually, it's not even an exchange of views. Any employee who uses such an occasion to criticise their boss's performance, or the performance of company management in general, can be pretty much guaranteed to at best earn the undying hatred of their internal communications department (who have worked so hard trying to make employees believe management and the company have purpose and direction they start to believe their own guff) or at worst a first place position on top of the list of who's to go at the next downsizing.
A second reason why the whole process is a complete nonsense is that it assumes companies and managers have such a coherent and well defined purpose and direction, and that the business world is so immutable, that major tasks can be set out 12 months in advance. Say your are an employee and you manager gives you KPOs of managing five important projects for the coming year. Fair enough. But say that during the year you are charged with managing an additional 12 projects. OK, nothing untoward in that. But when it comes to your PMR, you are either judged purely on the five original projects, which is unfair, because you did 17 of them, or you are judged on the 17 projects, which is unfair, because you and your manager signed an agreement saying you would be judged only on five. Of course, theoretically speaking, such unfairness could lead to a result in your favour. More likely though, is it will lead to a result in your bosses favour. In the above scenario, your manager can mark you as a failure (you didn't handle the 17 projects at all well) or a success (you handled the five projects well, and the other 12 don't count) or any shade of gray in-between, purely on whim.
But most damning of all, is the assumption in this process that the process is needed in the first place. It assumes that managers and employees are so bad at communicating that a manager cannot even describe an employees tasks for the next time period without resorting to a formulaic process. It assumes that the process can lead to behavioural and performance changes for the better (without any valid reasons for making the claim) and it assumes that the process somehow enhances the ability of managers to manage their employees, even to the point of making incompetent managers and employees competent. If only educators knew of this marvellous process.
Most people recognise the above. Surveys of this process often reveal that employees think their annual performance reviews are a waste of time, saying their boss isn't honest and doesn't take notice of what is discussed.
For example, research into British workers found a quarter of respondents thought managers simply regarded the reviews as a "tick-box" exercise, while one in five accused their bosses of not even thinking about the appraisal until they were in the room.
Almost half (44 per cent) did not think their boss was honest during the process, 29 per cent thought they were pointless, and a fifth felt they had had an unfair appraisal, according to a YouGov poll of 3000 workers.
Only a fifth believed their manager would always act on what came up during the review and 20 per cent said their boss never bothered to follow up any concerns raised.
Yet despite the generally dim view of the process, companies perpetuate it year after year. Why? Is it simply because people are afraid to speak up? Most companies tend to give the message to staff that they encourage free and lively debate on such issues, so long as no-one puts forward free and lively debate. I have seen people labelled as "black hatters" (You would have to, like many companies, completely misinterpret a thesis from Edward de Bono to fully appreciate the dire significance of the term) just because they dared question managerial style or direction. The reason is more likely the complete intellectual slothfulness of most Australian 'Human Resource' managers. Their heads filled with the drivel that makes up the HR arsenal of most companies these days, they have neither the intellectual capacity of the initiative to ask themselves does this policy actually benefit anyone in the company.
Australia, from an historic perspective has always been a country that reveres rules and regulations. It's almost as if the convict past has inculcated the entire population with an institutional mentality.
A reworking of London's Crystal Palace, the plan for the Garden Palace was similar to that of a large cathedral, having a long hall with lower aisle on either side, like a nave, and a transept of similar form, each terminating in towers and meeting beneath a central dome. The dome was 100 feet (30.4 metres) in diameter and 210 feet (65.5 metres) in height. The building was over 244 metres long and had a floor space of over 112,000 metres with 4.5 million feet of timber, 2.5 million bricks and 243 tons of galvanised corrugated iron. The building was similar in many respects to the later Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne. Sydney's first hydraulic lift was contained in the north tower. The Garden Palace was sited at what is today the southwestern end of the Royal Botanic Garden (although at the time it was built it occupied land that was outside the Garden and in The Domain). It was constructed primarily from timber, which ensured its complete destruction when engulfed by fire in the early morning of September 22, 1882.
The Garden Palace at that time was used by a number of Government Departments and many significant records were destroyed in the fire, notably records of squatting occupation in New South Wales.
The only extant remains of the Garden Palace are its carved Sydney sandstone gateposts and wrought iron gates, located on the Macquarie Street entrance to the Royal Botanical Garden. A 1940s-era sunken garden and fountain featuring a statue of Cupid marks the former location of the Palace's dome. Few artefacts from the International Exhibition survived the fire, one of which is a carved graphite statue of an elephant, from Ceylon, now in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum. An 1878 Bechstein concert grand piano, that had won the musical instrument first prize at the Exhibition, but had luckily been removed from the Garden Palace prior to the fire, is also held by the Powerhouse.
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