Thursday, June 16, 2005

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At 16 June 2005 at 21:41, Anonymous Paul Jacobson said...

The Map, Compass & Sextant

According to David Perkins in his book, Outsmarting IQ (1995), the metaphor of navigating includes all the actions, beliefs and concepts (ABCs) in the realm that we want to explore. We can also include the strengths, processes and expertise of a person in that realm of the navigation metaphor; we need not contest those theories that cover common ground.

Navigators work with a map, compass and sextant:
o The Map of Human Consciousness
o The Compass of a Vocabulary of Thought
o The Sextant of Understanding the Levels of Learning

The Map of Human Consciousness

At the start of lifelong learning, a marvelous sequence unfolds as the Universe introduces itself to a baby. Infancy provides clues as to how we come to exist as conscious individuals.

There are three main features on the Map:
o emotional development
o language acquisition
o learning through play

Emotional Development

Before birth we were living in a timeless golden age of golden light, so it is easy to imagine the birth process as a terrifying event. Immediately after birth, various strange sensations of breathing, gravity, hunger, feeding and digestion stimulate emotional dimensions in a baby.

If the baby were another species of mammal, the child would develop like any mammal would: with a disposition and temperament and the capacity for discourse concerning relationships. The discourse of mammals takes the form of emotional expressions. In humans, it includes what is called “the conversation”.

Rosalind W. Picard (1997) of The Affective Computing Group at MIT declares:
“Recent neurological studies indicate that the role of emotion in human cognition is essential; emotions are not a luxury. Instead, emotions play a critical role in rational decision-making, in perception, in human interaction, and in human intelligence. Yet comparatively little has been discovered about emotions, and there is very little consensus as to why and how emotions occur.”

The leading edge of research into emotions now tests theories by simulating the brain on a computer. James K. Peterson, Mathematics Department at Clemson University of South Carolina has constructed a 3D Avatar that “lives” an autonomous emotional life in a virtual world:

Breadth of Emotion:

His Avatar is capable of having 24 different categories of emotion, such as love, hope, fear, gloating, reproach, joy, gratification, etc.; in each category there are many different qualities and intensity of emotion. For example, the category ANGER includes emotions associated with the words annoyed, displeased, peeved, angry, mad, enraged, furious and so forth. Situations arise in the virtual world (a user says something to it). The avatar’s disposition controls how it construes these situations. The Avatar can have multiple, even conflicting, emotions at the same time.


Each emotion category has some subset of 22 different intensity variables associated with it. Variables such as degree of importance to the avatar, surprise of the action, importance of the principle, temporal proximity, and so forth, affect the intensity of each emotion that the avatar has.

Once an emotion arises, for example, anger, it might be expressed somatically as turning bright red at one end of the spectrum (not intentional), or by invoking a plan to get even at the other end of the spectrum (highly intentional). In between, we might find verbal expression (say something), emotion repression (deny that anything is wrong), and so forth (Peterson, Dzuris & Kurz 2003).
“Note that Avatars have two-part personalities: a disposition which controls how they construe the world, which in turn leads to different emotional responses to situations that arise; and a temperament which controls how they express the emotions that they have'' (Elliott 2003).

James K. Peterson has demonstrated that it is within our grasp to replicate the fundamental Mammalian Discourse of Emotional Relationships enshrined in the DNA.

It is likely that in a few years, emotionally-equipped 3D avatars will be available to engage with people in therapeutic dialogue designed to broaden and balance disposition, temperament and the emotional discourse of relationships.

Language Acquisition

“Human beings must have evolved as biologically loving beings; otherwise language would never have become our manner of living” (Maturana 1991).

If we consider the start of vocabulary acquisition to be at the age of the child’s first word, typically 8-12 months, then we can ask the following question. What cognitive capacities does the child have prior to that point? What does language have to build upon? Some suggest that there is a considerable amount.

George Lakoff and colleagues suggest that the child has reached an adequate level of concept formation prior to the development of language. Few would argue that pre-linguistic children must have some kind of internal representation of the world. Children must have some understanding that the pet dog barks, is furry, and can be played with, even if they don’t know the words ‘dog’, or ‘barks’.

Lakoff argues that children’s sensorimotor experience (Jean Piaget’s term for 0 – 2 year olds) is continually building up these embodied, pre-linguistic concepts; concepts that are very specific and concrete, and that these concepts enable the child to function in their particular limited world.

If we assume that this conceptual machinery is already well established by the time of the first words, the language learning problem becomes much simpler.

The learning of words is thus reduced to the learning of labels for things.

The child uses meaning as a clue to language rather than language as a clue to meaning (MacNamara 1972).

The attributes of those things and the relationships between them are all predetermined (at least at this stage) by the child’s environmental experience. Of course, nouns fit into this viewpoint with greater ease than do verbs; it is harder to point to a verb than a noun. Grammar follows within a year (Lakoff & Johnson 1999).

Social interaction is therefore the catalyst of language acquisition; and concept formation must precede the vocabulary. This will be seen as pivotal in learning to learn.

Additionally, emotions and language combine to form the “conversation” - the ground of our being.

Humberto Maturana writes about the conversation in Ontology of Observing:

“In our culture we live our existing in language as if language were a symbolic system for referring to entities of different kinds that exist independently from what we do, and we treat even ourselves as if we existed outside language as independent entities that use language. Time, matter, energy would be some of those entities.

Such an attitude leads us to act as if we could characterise those entities in terms of their intrinsic independent nature, which I claim cannot be done because as soon as we say anything, what we bring about takes place in a domain of language, as an operation in recursive consensual coordinations of behaviour” (Maturana 1997).

We participate in life indirectly; what we believe to be reality amounts to our lifelong learning.

Learning through Play

We are free in childhood to be experimentally insane, the same way that a nutty professor is on campus. We can have imaginary friends; we can turn a cardboard box into a space shuttle. We use our imagination to try things out.

Play is a significant activity for enriching our lives at all ages. We play musical instruments. We play a game of sport. We even play a hand of cards. If we fall in love, we feel like playing again like children to bond with our partner. When we have children around, we play with them to encourage their exploration and learning. As our understanding expands through a lifetime, play that creates metaphors is a way of learning about how systems work and their properties.

Executive teams in corporations around the world play regularly in self-directed, metaphorical environments to discuss and understand their:
o Corporate Identity
o Landscape of the Enterprise
o Connections & Networks
o Emergent Properties and Contingencies
o Simple Guiding Principles for turbulent times

Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline (1992) recommends that adults engage with computer simulations called Microworlds to rediscover the power of learning through play. Microworlds accelerates learning by compressing time and space; and also provides unmistakable feedback on the consequences of decisions to act (something that is often missing from decisions in real life; and consequently we don’t learn from them).

At the level of systems thinking, the map of consciousness has features about emotions, language and play to inform our strategy for lifelong learning when we come to construct it in context.

The Compass: A Vocabulary of Thought

The compass symbolises the way we find direction. It does not point in the direction we want to go; it always points to “North”. Well, some old sailor thought up a vocabulary for the points of the compass. Now if someone says that the wind is blowing West-South-West, we know precisely what that means.

Words and thoughts live through each other. One interesting realm in which to examine how this happens is that of the special class of words we have for talking about thought - words for talking about the thinking processes that lead to products of thought such as ideas and theories (Vygotsky 1962).

The vocabulary of thinking can be roughly divided into terms that fill three different functions: terms that mark an epistemic stance, terms that describe an intellectual process, and terms that describe an intellectual product.

Epistemic-stance terms indicate a stance or attitude toward a claim to knowledge. Examples include such terms as conclude, believe, confirm, doubt, know, suggest, speculate, suspect, and theorise. Epistemic-stance terms function by characterising the relationship of thought to fact.

Intellectual-process terms characterise the process of thinking and express its flow, structure, and feel. Intellectual-process terms include such words as analyse, contemplate, discern, interpret, investigate, ponder, examine, and recollect, to name but a few. What is distinctive about intellectual-process terms is that they discriminate among ways of thinking. To say that one is pondering something is to characterise one's thinking in quite a different way than to say that one is analysing, reviewing, considering, or investigating something.

As is the case with epistemic-stance terms, the nuances of meaning of intellectual-process terms are subtle.

Intellectual-product terms are nouns that name and mark differences among kinds of ideas - ideas that are typically the outcome of a thinking process or that play a particular role in a thinking process. The word idea is itself a loosely defined intellectual-product term that is frequently used to cover a range of mental outcomes, from solutions to insights to suggestions to intuitions.

But the word idea tends toward the generic; and when specificity is desirable, we have plenty of intellectual-product terms at our disposal that differentiate among kinds of ideas or outcomes - terms such as conclusion, hypothesis, opinion, solution, reason, claim, and theory (Olson 1990).

The connection between metacognition and the language of thinking is straightforward: the language of thinking provides the words and concepts with which thought evaluates and regulates itself (Sternberg 1985).

Thinking and learning involve emotions and attitudes in addition to cognitive skill; and good thinking involves being disposed toward certain sorts of emotions.

Researchers investigating the dispositional side of thinking, have proposed that teaching high-level thinking involves cultivating students' "thinking dispositions" in addition to teaching thinking skills. Thinking dispositions are tendencies toward particular patterns of intellectual behavior, such as to be reflective, to seek reasons, to be intellectually strategic, or to be intellectually adventurous (Perkins 1992).

John Dewey (1933) in How We Think writes about the significance of these habits of mind or intellectual virtues.

When thinking-rich language pervades a learning environment, it provides not only information but also an invitation to embrace and cultivate certain habits of mind. Through education in a specialised language, people become fully awake to their intellectual potential, even as they begin to recognise that this world is also rich in its variety of challenges.

The Sextant: The Paradox of Learning

The sextant symbolizes our position on a planetary map. We can be making progress but also getting into hot water or cold water depending on where we go.

The following model of Learning honours Gregory Bateson who wrote the book “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” (1972) in which he describes that there are levels of learning starting at Zero.

Zero learning is just taking in information about ourselves and the environment. It is the backdrop of a familiar World. In its steady-state, no change is required.

Learning I contains a change in context and requires a response. We accumulate experiences and mark the context in which we respond. In the future in another context, we recognise the “context marker” that we made; and remember the appropriate response. Reflexes and rote learning are behaviours of this level. The by-product of rote learning is a habit.

Learning II is probably what we may refer to as Learning to Learn because we become aware of changes in learning contexts; and “punctuate” the sequence of events in the same way that a sentence is punctuated, to provide us with pattern recognition. At Level II Learning, we begin to understand that the brain is a lean, mean pattern-making machine. At this level we can observe the habits of reflex and rote learning to think about them and change them according to our will to do so. As a by-product of this level of learning, habits of mind are created and give rise to character.

All the adjectives attributed to the character of an individual, such as “humorous, brave, energetic, optimistic etc” are all the results of Learning to Learn. They can be both good and bad attributes; but one thing is certain, they are embedded in our consciousness as self-vindicating and self-perpetuating.

For human beings, we do not experience learning development as an isolated individual in an impersonal event stream; we have complex emotional relationships with others and are influenced by their example. Bateson describes the situation: “language, art, technology and cultural media are structured at every point by tramlines of habit” (Bateson 1972, p. 170).

Learning III is akin to religious conversion, Zen enlightenment or “walking the dark tunnel”. A transition occurs in Zen practice when an individual wrestles with a paradox (called a koan) “like a mosquito trying to bite an iron bar”.

The benefit of achieving moments of enlightenment is “freedom from bondage”, referring to the habits accumulated in Experience and habits of mind accumulated in Learning to Learn. However, breaking free of habits also leads to a redefinition of the Self with profound results.

The uncertainty experienced at Learning III is enough to force most people to retreat back to their “comfort zone”. Yet Learning at this level is available whenever a person feels compelled to change their behaviour, by confronting the paradox of their prior learning and realising its folly.

It is rare to meet anyone who has ventured beyond Learning III; but if you ever did, they would tell you that Learning turns into Integrity. Integrity is when a person is free of the baggage they once carried through life; and discovers their creative and generative abilities. They enroll others in their life’s work to carry it on to succeeding generations.

Other Researchers

Bateson took an anthropologist’s view and other disciplines saw the same system.

David Marr (1982) before his untimely death at age 45, proposed that it is necessary to consider three levels of independent analysis before one can fully understand the functioning of any psychological system:
o Computational level
o Algorithmic level
o Implementation level

This was the central legacy of Marr's career: the understanding of any information processing system is incomplete without insight into the problems it faces, and without a notion of the form that possible solutions to these problems can take.

His example refers to the sense of vision: at Implementation, it is our ability to pick a red dot among lots of green dots; like a berry in the forest. At Level II, when the red dot is among lots of coloured dots, we take a conscious, systematic scan to detect it. At what Marr calls the “Computational level”, he is referring to mobilising uniquely human resources such as hypothetical thinking, scenario planning and memories of experiences to solve the problem.

Max Miller, a sociologist at the University of Hamburg in his paper on Systemic Learning explains that individuals may be more closely connected to the group than we ever imagined:

Systemic learning may not only lead to novel structural knowledge that may change the individual mind of persons; it may also change or even create new rules or norms of discourse that define who may say what, to whom, in what mode, and in what contextual setting. But if discourse and norms of discourse can become a subject matter of learning processes, this opens a totally new dimension of supra-individual learning.

It constitutes a third fundamental type of learning besides cumulative and structural learning, namely self-referential discourse learning. In this case, systemic or discourse learning is related to norms enabling and constraining possible forms of discourse learning. Moreover, this self-reflexive type of learning or ”learning of learning” entails a change of structures that is related to the level of social systems or systems of communication and not to the level of individual minds and systems of knowledge confined to individual minds (Miller 2002).

Probably the most frequently recurring feature in the literature on organisational learning is the distinction between different learning types that is based on Bateson’s (1972) three learning levels and which Argyris & Schön (1978) redefined as single-loop learning, double-loop learning, and deutero-learning.

Deutero-learning means that organisations “reflect on and inquire into previous episodes of organisational learning” (Argyris & Schön 1978) and thus may redefine the learning process itself. It is, to take up the central point of Bateson’s Type III learning, a learning of learning. In organisational deuteron-learning “the members of an organisation may discover and modify the learning system that conditions prevailing patterns of organisational inquiry” (Argyris & Schön 1996).


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