The beauty of endless distractions in discussion forums

Diversity and distraction is what I am experiencing in Howard Rheingold’s Towards a Cooperation of Literacy course. One participant described it as ‘the beauty of endless distractions’.  I think there are 31 participants in this course – its difficult to be sure, since there is no participant list and maybe some are just observing – but those who are there are very active.

In all there are 16 forums in this first week, with 5 of these devoted to the subject matter of the literacy of cooperation and containing 183 posts. Some of the remaining 11 forums also contain posts related to the subject matter; in all there are 349 posts in these eleven forums (probably going up as I write) and we are not yet at the end of the first week.

I have tried to capture some of the ideas from two of the forums to illustrate how wide ranging the discussion is. Discussion is so intense and fast moving that inevitably I will have missed some. I do not have the time nor space here to explain the ideas, but they can all easily be followed up on the web. Nor do I have time to attribute them to individual participants – rather I will say that their range and diversity exemplify cooperative and co-learning in this course.

Forum 1: Philosophize about cooperation — looking at the big picture while examining the details

The following ideas have been mentioned and/or discussed:

  • Dancing as an example of human synergy and cooperation, with particular reference to Chicago Step and Swing
  • Morphic Resonance and the work of Rupert Shelldrake in relation to flocking birds. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH-groCeKbE (I had to copy and paste the URL into my browser to view the video.
  • Ambiverts as written about by Daniel Pink in his book ‘Drive’. Ambiverts are both extrovert and introvert. The question raised was ‘Do ambiverts best understand their partner’s thinking?’
  • The role of rewards in cooperative activity
  • Risk and failure in collaboration
  • ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ – Daniel Kahneman’s book
  • ‘Why plans fail: Cognitive bias, decision making and your business’. Jim Benson’s book

So in this forum there has been limited discussion about cooperation in biology. Most of the discussion has been about the conditions which enable us as humans to cooperate, what motivates us and how and why we might decide to cooperate.

Forum 2: Cooperative arrangements in ecosystems

There has been extensive discussion in this forum covering wide ranging topics with, again, a tendency to move away from biological cooperation (as in plants and animals) to human cooperation – but as one participant pointed out, we are a product of biology too (not her exact words).

Biological cooperative arrangements

Gaia Hypothesis – if the evolution of life and its environment affect each otherr, is it in our self-interest to cooperate?

Self-interest and collective action – how do we make choices? Stickleback fish exhibit Prisoner’s Dilemma strategies.

Plants know their relatives and like them, but is this in their best interest?

Identity and membership in communities was related to mustard shoots recognizing their genetic partners.

Mapping biological concepts onto human consciousness

  • One participant cautioned ‘Don’t press the metaphor of biological evolution too hard’. Consider the

– noosphere (which emerges through, and is constituted by, the interaction of human minds – net-based consciousness)

– Global Consciousness Project

The same participant thinks ‘there is more going on than science and pragmatism can uncover’.

  • Tielhard de Chardin described evolution as a 3-fold process
  1. diversification
  2. individuation
  3. communion when the diversified and individuated entities begin to cooperate

His thinking was thought to be both pantheistic and teleological.

  • Ervin Laszlo has written in his book ‘Quantum Shift in the Global Brain’ about the brain as a quantum computer, connecting to the mind of God.
  • The Institute of HeartMath researches thinking with the heart and heart intelligence; and a participant quoted Pascal ‘The heart has its reasons which reasons knows nothing of… We know the truth, not only by the reason, but by the heart.’
  • Links between the body and environmental cues have been discussed in relation to Dr Shepard Siegel’s work on performance, emotion and environment
  • David Bohm’s ‘Thought as a System’ was mentioned as was Henry Markram’s work on a unified model of the brain.
  • ‘Evolution’s Arrow: the direction of evolution and the future of humanity’ by John Stewart was another book mentioned and of course  Richard Dawkins’ – ‘The Selfish Gene’

But one participant writes:

‘There are not individuals, just interacting systems at all different levels. And we call some sorts of interaction cooperation and other sorts competition.’

The discussion then moved on to the question of…

Where is technology leading us?

Here are some of the ideas that were thrown into the pot:

  • Self–replicating machines
  • Autopoietic and allopoietic systems
  • Conway’s ‘Game of Life’
  • Eric Drexler’s ‘Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology’
  • George Dyson’s – ‘Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe’
  • Game theory’
  • Cybernetics, information theory, network theory and chaos theory are all thought to be important in attempting to understand cooperation.
  • ‘Evolutionary Ecology of Technology’ (an article)

Finally a question from a participant: ‘What are we talking about – semantic cartography?’

Despite the discussion being all over the place the patterns of interest are emerging.

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