There are No Things. There are patterns.

As we can see from his website, Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and his Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World,  is working on a number of further books, but the one that he talked to us about on the Field & Field course that I recently attended in the Cotswolds, was the one which bears the title: ‘There are No Things’, a book on epistemology and metaphysics.

Iain told us that this follow up book to The Master and his Emissary will focus on how everything is changing, flowing, connected and never fixed. He told us that if we could slow things down enough we would be able to see the mountain behind his house flowing.

Source of image:

Iain’s new book will make the case for no static and separate things, but instead relationships and patterns. For me, this brings to mind Stephen Downes’ work on the theory of connectivism and an early article that he wrote on his blog in 2009, where he wrote:

[Knowledge] is not an object (or objective), it is not discrete, it is not a causal agent. It is emergent, which means that it exists only by virtue of a process of recognition [pattern recognition], as a matter of subjective interpretation. 

  • Knowledge is not an object, but a series of flows; it is a process, not a product.
  • It is produced not in the minds of people but in the interactions between people.
  • The idea of acquiring knowledge as a series of truths, is obsolete

Even earlier than this in 2007  Stephen was writing about connectivism as follows:

At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.

It shares with some other theories a core proposition, that knowledge is not acquired, as though it were a thing (

The first time I heard Iain speak he told us that his follow up book to The Master and his Emissary would be a book entitled: The Porcupine is a Monkey.  The intention was to write ‘a popular Master and his Emissary’, a book that would discuss how science and education have become increasingly left-brained, but this book has been abandoned. He felt it would be repeating much of the work he has already done.

So Iain has moved away from an explicit focus on education, although clearly his work has implications for education, but Stephen has addressed how connectivism might influence pedagogy. He has written that connectivism:

… implies a pedagogy that (a) seeks to describe ‘successful’ networks (as identified by their properties, which I have characterized as diversity, autonomy, openness, and connectivity) and (b) seeks to describe the practices that lead to such networks, both in the individual and in society (which I have characterized as modeling and demonstration (on the part of a teacher) and practice and reflection (on the part of a learner)). 

But both authors, as philosophers, are interested in the relationship between knowledge and ‘truth’.

Iain told us that the first part of his new book will attempt to answer the question of what we mean by ‘truth’. In the Master and his Emissary he writes

‘Truth is a process.’ (McGilchrist, p.154).

‘No single truth does not mean no truth.’ (McGilchrist, p.150).

‘The statement that ‘there is no such thing as truth’ is itself a truth statement, and implies that it is truer than its opposite, the statement that ‘truth exists’. If we had no concept of truth, we could not state anything at all, and it would even be pointless to act. There would be no purpose, for example, in seeking the advice of doctors, since there would be no point in having their opinion, and no basis for their view that one treatment was better than another. None of us actually lives as though there were no truth. Our problem is more with the notion of a single, unchanging truth.’ (McGilchrist, p.150)

Stephen, in one of the quotes above, doesn’t write about a single truth so I am not sure what he thinks about this or whether or not he and Iain would agree about what we mean by truth. But it does seem to me that they agree on some epistemological positions, principally that ‘One must never [] lose sight of the interconnected nature of things’ (McGilchrist, p.154). The importance of patterns, relations and processes seem to be recognised by both.

The work of both authors work has implications for education, epistemology, and understanding our world and our existence.

16-03-2018 Update: Stephen Downes’ responds (Thank you).

I’ve said in the past that knowledge is recognition, and if I were pressed to describe what I think truth is, I would say that it is a strong feeling of recognition. This I think is consistent with what the early empiricists (like David Hume) would say. Formally, truth is an attitude toward a proposition: we say that a propositoon is ‘true’ or ‘not true’ and then try to explain that through an interpretation (such as Tarski’s theory of truth, or model theory, or some such thing). That makes truth easier to work with, but only because it abstracts the messier reality. Having said all this, I think this puts me in accord with Iain McGilchrist, cited by Jenny Mackness in this article, when he says things like ‘No single truth does not mean no truth.’ 

16-03-2018 Update

See also notes from last years course – Where we can go for Truth –

34 thoughts on “There are No Things. There are patterns.

  1. Nick March 21, 2018 / 3:25 pm

    I take it you’re familiar with James Ladyman?
    I haven’t watch all that discussion, at about 16:16 he says something about ‘circularity’, and I think that’s correct, that is the nature of the beast. Re Tallis’s questions about assuming an external perspective/observer I was half expecting Bishop Berkeley’ God to come up.

    And then I think of Jewish misdrash, at least according to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who points out that the creation myth in Genesis is incredibly brief – this is God as Elokim, (the god of Aristotle, supposedly, and essentially impersonal, the prime mover) however Genesis is overwhelmingly concerned with the God of Abraham, Hashem, as person… of family relations, sibling rivalries, good and bad faith; God is not neutral, he is fundamentally good.

    Philosophers generally obsess about the cosmos according to Elokim where the question of truth (was the world literally created, or formed, in seven 24hr days?) is important but the reason Jordan Peterson is making such an impact, is because the patterns/maps of meaning have been so severely neglected… people have been too much in thrall of Hollywood.

  2. jennymackness March 21, 2018 / 6:34 pm

    Thank you Nick for your comment. I am new to all things philosophical, i.e. in the formal sense, so no, I am not familiar with James Ladyman, but I will look forward to watching that video and to following up on all the references you make.

    I have to say though that my interest lies in Iain McGilchrist’s work and Stephen Downes. I know more about their work than I do about Jordan Peterson, who I have only come across recently because I was introduced to his recent book by my son, and then was intrigued to see him in conversation with Iain McGilchrist.

    I’m not sure if you have read McGilchrist’s book, The Master and his Emissary, but if not, then I can really recommend it. I am looking forward to his next book coming out, which was the reason for making this post.

  3. Nick March 28, 2018 / 7:32 pm

    You’re welcome, Jenny,

    I’m afraid, I spend probably too much time surfing the web, going from one thing to the next, absorbing all this information, that when I do pause to comment I don’t really take as much care as I should, hence why I just wrapped up my comment by rather abruptly throwing in references to Jordan and Hollywood.

    Regarding philosophy? meh, if you’ve read Master and Emissary, I’d say you’ve pretty much covered it, and some. I first got M>e (as I tend to refer to it) when it came out in 2009, by the end of 2012 my hard back copy was full of pencil notes and falling to pieces (I’ve still got it). Since then I’ve filled my kindle version with highlights and notes, so yes, I’ve certainly read it.

  4. Gary Goldberg August 28, 2018 / 9:17 pm

    Fascinating post, Jenny. I would recommend consideration be given to the late thought of the French phenomenologist, Maurice Merleau-Ponty which developed through influence on his phenomenological thinking of the process-relational thought of Alfred North Whitehead. As I understand it, M-P will have a significant influence on I-McG’s approach in ‘There are No Things’. It is all about the ‘precedence of process’ and the ‘reality of time’. The ‘reality of time’ is a huge issue which is the focus of a book co-authored by Lee Smolin and Roberto Unger called ‘The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time’ which calls for the development of a new ‘temporal naturalism’ (as opposed to the conventional ‘timeless’ naturalism that has been dominant since the dualistic philosophy of Descartes became the primary philosophical foundation for the ‘scientific revolution’ along with the block universe formulation of the Newtonian paradigm in which consciousness and subjectivity are effectively eliminated from scientific consideration in the context of a nominalistic worldview). M-P was powerfully influenced by process-relational thought primarily by way of Whitehead, but the key progenitor of this general approach (besides Heraclitus) in modernity was (and continues to be) Charles Sanders Peirce whose triadic semiotics and scientific evolutionary process metaphysics, in the context of his architectonic philosophical system and related worldview of ‘semiotic realism’ that unfolds on a real temporal continuum (as opposed to the ‘nominalistic idealism’ that effectively rips up the continuum–see M-P quotation from the book ‘Signs’: ‘Speech is a way of tearing out a meaning from an undivided whole.’) provide a whole new way of appreciating the centrality of consciousness and conscious experience based on a foundation of phenomenology or, as Peirce called it, ‘phaneroscopy’–the recognition that all must begin with experience. And that from this perspective the precedence of process over substance becomes quite clear. It is a recovery of ‘Goethean science’ that recognizes the centrality of consciousness. And it all relates to the full recognition of the reality of time as the fundamental element of subjective being, and the full recognition of conscious agency as the ‘director’ of the process of self-actualization–the process in being through which potentiality becomes actuality through an unfolding on the temporal continuum–not as some type of random process in which efficient causation is the only transformative force, but as an intentional process of conscious goal-direction through which final causation becomes manifest.
    So much to be considered here! Really looking forward to the publication of I-McG’s book, ‘There are No Things’, to put this all clearly into the context of the divided vertebrate cerebrum.

  5. Gary Goldberg August 28, 2018 / 9:55 pm

    References to consider checking out are two books that cover the ‘late thought’ of M M-P including:
    1. The Visible and the Invisible
    2. Signs

    There are a couple of very good books on Peirce and his metaphysics, but I am not going to go into detail on that right here.

    There is a very nice relatively recent paper by Nathan Houser called ‘Semiotics and Philosophy’ that can be found here: Cognitio, São Paulo, v. 17, n. 2, p. 313-336, jul./dez. 2016

    And the wonderful book by Paul Forster called “Peirce and the Threat of Nominalism”. Frpm Cambridge University Press.

    And a new book by Robert Lane called ‘Peirce on Realism and Idealism’ also from Cambridge University Press looks very good. I have not had a chance to get my hands on it yet…on my list!

    And then there is this statement from the late great Leonard Cohen’s ‘Book of Mercy’, in the 14th entry: ‘Blessed be the covenant of love between the hidden and the revealed.’

    This one short sentence summarizes a great deal, actually. Including the concept of ‘mediation’ or what Peirce called ‘Thirdness’ which, in his evolutionary metaphysics, is reflected in ‘agapastic’ evolution–Peirce called it ‘evolutionary love’–that which keeps the world from flying apart and dissolving into oblivion. Cohen just calls it love in the form of a ‘covenant.’ Then there is the formless potentiality of the pure randomness of Firstness which he called ‘tychastic’ evolution, but which serves as the ‘engine’ of creativity and novelty and can be understood from the perspective of energetics as the ‘hidden’ potentiality under the surface–the ‘invisible’, the ‘No’, the ‘unending’ Ain-Sof, the ‘not-yet-actualized’. Then there is the brute-force unmediated binary interactionism of Secondness which Peirce referred to as ‘anancastic’ evolution, hard cold reality as revealed, which is the binary straight-jacket into which nominalism reduces the world through disrupting the temporal continuum–‘tearing the fabric of existence’ to sunder subject from object, foreground from background, entity from context.

  6. Gary Goldberg August 28, 2018 / 10:07 pm

    And, finally, with regard to pedagogy, check out anything on the emerging field of ‘edusemiotics’ which is the application of the science of semiotics to educational theory. Being developed by people like Winfried Noth, Inna Semetsky and Andrew Stables, and Cary Campbell, among many others. It is very much in line with what you are quoting Stephen Downes in his statements about the ‘new pedagogy’ that recognizes the precedence of process and pattern.
    Basically semiosis, the action of signs, involves the recognition of the centrality and reality of the suprasubjective relations between sign, object and interpretant that are ubiquitous and guide the process through which meaning is extracted from experience. Just because a relation cannot be seen does not mean that it does not exist!

  7. jennymackness August 30, 2018 / 10:20 am

    And a fascinating response, Gary. So much to be considered, indeed. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thinking.

    Your comments are very helpful and very timely. I am currently, from personal interest, reading McGilchrist’s book again, this time with the specific purpose of looking for how what he has to say might have implications for education. Of course, pretty much all of it has implications for education, although Iain doesn’t discuss this explicitly in his book. The word ‘education’ does not appear in the index. I am trying, for myself, to understand and make this explicit, which, on reflection is probably a very left-brained thing to do. As Iain writes on p.179 of The Master and his Emissary, “… explicitness ties us down to what we already know, however much we may carry on ‘unfolding’ it.” 🙂

    I am hoping that I will be able to attend the Field & Field course again next year, and hear more about the progress Iain is making on his new book ‘There are no Things’. (I can recommend this 4-day course if you are interested in McGilchrist’s work). It may then be possible to learn more about the extent to which his thinking is influenced by Merleau-Ponty. You will know, of course, that Merleau-Ponty is referenced a number of times in The Master and his Emissary, particularly in relation to perception and art, and my current delving into his book again, reveals many, many references to the precedence of process that you mention. This obviously has implications for education, if understood in the way in which it is presented by McGilchrist. I have yet to explore the detail of what McGilchrist has already said about Merleau-Ponty, but this is on my ‘to do’ list! To date I have been following the threads of what Iain says about Heraclitus, Hegel and Heidegger (his favourite philosophers), which has been fascinating. All three make a significant contribution to an understanding of the thinking behind ‘the precedence of process’ and to thinking about education.

    When I attended Iain’s course in 2016, he talked about ‘the reality of time’. I wrote about my understanding of what he said about time, space and reality in this post . He also talked about time and space when I attended the course this year, reading a section from the draft of his new book. This time I again found it a difficult session to follow, maybe because it seemed that he was sharing his ongoing thinking with us and therefore his ideas were still being developed. Or maybe because he was reading from (as opposed to talking about) what appeared to be a quite dense text. Or maybe because the ideas presented were new to me. It certainly did seem that these ideas would be central to his new book.

    Thank you for the reference to Charles Sanders Peirce who I am not familiar with, and does not seem to be referenced in The Master and his Emissary, unless I have missed him; I have, though, noted reference to Merleau-Ponty’s book ‘Signs’ and have already recognised that I need to delve into semiotics having also noted that on p.110 McGilchrist writes:

    ” So thinking is prior to language. What language contributes is to firm up certain particular ways of seeing the world and give fixity to them. This has its good side, and its bad. It aids consistency of reference over time and space. But it can also exert a restrictive force on what and how we think. It represents a more fixed version of the world: It shapes rather than grounds, our thinking.” I am thinking about what the implications of this might be for education.

    Finally, thank you for all the very helpful and interesting further references posted in your second and third comments. They should keep me busy for a while and it will probably be a steep learning curve to understand them!

  8. ggoldbergmd August 30, 2018 / 2:58 pm

    Thank you so much for your WordPress blog and putting this all out there! I have tremendous respect for McGilchrist and his project because it links up critical existential issues to our shared neurobiology, which is a critical recognition, both for our understanding of ourselves and of the essential issue of relationship. The fact is that we must learn to ‘co-exist’ before we can exist. That is the take-away message from my favorite continential phenomenologist, Emmanuel Levinas. The issue is that we are each responsible for each Other. That is a very hard pill to swallow, but a necessary one. Levinas took Heideggerian understanding of temporality and extended it into relationality and beyond the ‘egoistic’ perspective of self-focus and self-preservation. What is more disruptive? The prospect of our own demise or that of a loved Other? That is a central question. If this is of interest, Jenny, then I would strongly recommend a book by Eric Severson called ‘Levinas’s Philosophy of Time. Gift, Responsibility, Diachrony, Hope’. It is a breath-taking perspective and an incredible book, I think. And Peirce totally gets this, too, in his evolutionary process metaphysics. It seems like a trite statement, but it is ‘love’ that binds this world together. And it is greed that takes it apart. Peirce framed it as the ‘Gospel of Greed’ versus the ‘Gospel of Love.’

    And McGilchrist, in spite of not quoting Peirce directly, is a Peirce admirer–at least that is what he has admitted to me. Peirce recognized the centrality of relationality and the precedence of process in his formulation (actually, according to the late John Deely, this was a ‘recovery’ of the recognition of the centrality of ‘the action of signs’ due to John Poinsot, AKA John of St Thomas).

    With regard, to the impact of semiotics on education, a good starting point is a paper by Inna Semetsky and the late John Deely that is an introduction to both semiotics and its application in educational theory. Here is a link to that paper:

    I think that Inna would likely be willing to share it with you if you were to reach out to her, Jenny
    The other person I have been corresponding with about edusemiotics is Cary Campbell who is a music teacher, jazz guitarist and faculty member at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC in western Canada.

    There are a number of people to check into in the UK, the leading edge of which is Andrew Stables… Professor of Education and Philosophy at University of Roehampton in Bath.
    And there is also the incredible work on all of this including the ‘Handbook of Semiotics’ by German linguist, Winfried Nöth.

    So there is a growing cadre of educators and linguists who are helping to develop the field of edusemiotics into a way into a new era of educational pragmatics and phronesis. What I like to refer to as ‘practical wisdom’! How to do it right! So to speak.

    And I really cannot resist the temptation, please forgive me, to bring into this the work of linguistic art by the artisan of lyric (as well as song!), the late Leonard Cohen…

    ‘Blessed be the covenant of love between what is hidden and what is revealed…Blessed is the covenant of love, the covenant of mercy, useless light behind the terror, deathless song in the house of night.’
    from the Book of Mercy, Entry (‘psalm’) #14


  9. ggoldbergmd August 30, 2018 / 3:11 pm

    And with regard to quantum physics, there are two critically important new (or re-emerging) ways of looking at quantum mechanics…

    The first is the work of Lee Smolin and Roberto Unger that I have mentioned on ‘Temporal Naturalism’, a naturalism based on the recognition of the reality of time and the singularity of the universe in which we share our existence. Very important with deep implications! Smolin is clearly also a ‘Peircean’ in his worldview in terms of the recognition of the evolution of natural law as well as the ‘Principle of Precedence’ which corresponds roughly to Peirce’s ‘Law of Mind’.

    The second is the quantum mechanics perspective of Louis de Broglie and David Bohm, the de Broglie-Bohm formulation of the quantum mechanics with the idea of ‘pilot waves’ that guide the trajectories of individual particles. It seems to me that this formulation is also very consistent with Peircean evolutionary process metaphysics! And takes some of the mysteriousness of the Copenhagen formulation for the quantum mechanics (due mostly to Neils Bohr) out of the picture without undermining the issue of wave-particle duality–which is not a true duality in the de Broglie-Bohm formulation. That is, it is not an ‘either-or’ duality where context dictates either that we are dealing with a particle or we are dealing with a wave, but a ‘BOTH-AND’ duality of a particle in continuous interaction with a pilot wave, which is also a very Peircean concept that depends upon the idea of a true ‘non-digitizable’ temporal continuum as opposed to a nominalistic foundation (in which, as M-P maintains, language ‘tears meaning out’ of the continuum) for the quantum mechanics–which brings us back to McGilchrist’s divided brain formulation, doesn’t it!

  10. ggoldbergmd August 30, 2018 / 3:47 pm

    Hi, Jenny…

    Check out this incredible cool little youtube video on how quantum mechanics may actually work in the context of de Broglie-Bohmian mechanics….

    Bohm was a student of Albert Einstein whose metaphysics was never quite settled with the Copenhagen interpretation as reflected in some interesting interactions between Einstein and Neils Bohr ,,,,

    Again, the issue is ‘BOTH-AND’ complementarity between determinism and randomness which are in a state of balanced interaction…


  11. ggoldbergmd August 31, 2018 / 2:12 am

    And a quick word about ‘truth’ in a Peircean metaphysical worldview. The fact is that the ‘truth’ is literally ‘out there’ for us to discover in the context of semiotic realism. And it is independent of any individual’s self-referenced conception of it. Truth can only be approached asymptotically through the efforts of a ‘community of inquirers’ working toward it through consensus agreement. It is approached through intersubjectivity, through the consensus understanding of this community of inquirers who come together to share their observations and to look for consistencies across observers. Since the truth is independent of any individual observer, who has their own unique ‘take’ on it, then it must be assessed through an intersubjective consensus. How does this work? Well, as an illustration, I like to look at the process through which the disease that we called AIDS was turned from a uniformly deadly condition into a retroviral infection that can be managed as a chronic disease using antiviral agents. No one can possibly doubt that this has been a triumph of modern biomedical science. But how exactly did this transformation of understanding occur? I would maintain that it occurred through the combined efforts of an international community of scientists who met at least annually to exchange their observations and hypotheses regarding the pathological process involved in acquired immunodeficiency. Yes there were individual breakthrough insights, but there was no single individual who could have taken this from a state of complete ignorance to a state of significant understanding, on their own. This achievement occurred through the combined coordinated efforts of a massive global community of inquirers who had the common goal of understanding and defeating this disease threat. That is what Peirce called the ‘process of inquiry’ and his primary concern was that ‘no obstacle should be placed on the road of inquiry.’ Nothing. Absolutely critical to understand that nothing is off-limits in terms of being a potential object for investigation, and also that the principle of ‘fallibilism’ rules the day in any process of inquiry. In other words, the assumption is that any hypothesis is assumed to be potentially incorrect with the goal being to show that every attempt to prove it incorrect is thwarted. The more difficult it becomes to show that the assumption is wrong, the more likely it is to possibly be true–with the proviso that it could be proven wrong at any point. Consensus about the truth of the hypothesis grows in this manner. Very much along the lines of the philosophy of scientific process put forward by Karl Popper–who was preceded in this understanding by Charles Sanders Peirce. Descartes was wrong in promoting the assumption that every individual has direct access to the truth through his or her own personal logical capacity to sense and assess. This is the nominalistic dream–if I can name it, I can understand it. In Levinasian terms, I can totalize through logical inference. Wrong! It is actually a false dream. An egoistic overstep! We are finite fallible creatures who engage with each other, who engage in sociality, in exchange, for a reason–well at least one reason–to seek the truth together, to determine the nature of what it is that is ‘out there’, as a conjoint coordinated community of inquirers with one overarching guiding directive: to seek truth together.

    As Helen Keller said so adeptly: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

    OK. So that is a Peircean take on how we approach an understanding of the truth that characterizes the real world ‘out there’ in the context of semiotic realism.


  12. jennymackness September 1, 2018 / 2:32 pm

    Thank you again Gary for sharing so many references with me. I have been following up and have managed to find everything you have mentioned including the paper by Semetsky and Deely. My Amazon wish list is growing!

    I am very conscious of McGilchrist’s paragraph on p.166 where he writes: ‘We cannot know something without it being known to us – we cannot see what it would be like if it were not we that were knowing it.’ McGilchrist explains what he means by this, by saying ‘Thus everything we apprehend is the way it is because we see it in that way rather than another way’. But I also think it means that we have to have a certain level of readiness to learn new things. I know that it will take me a while to be ‘ready’ for some of the ideas you have mentioned and the references you have shared. For example, currently I know nothing about edusemiotics and I’m wondering what other areas of understanding I will need to begin to understand and know something about it. As you suggest, I will start with Semetsky and Deely’s paper.

    You have also written: ‘The issue is that we are each responsible for each Other. That is a very hard pill to swallow, but a necessary one.’ And ‘What is more disruptive? The prospect of our own demise or that of a loved Other? That is a central question.’ And ‘… it is ‘love’ that binds this world together’. My immediate thinking is that I could not say whether responsibility for each Other is a hard pill to swallow or which is more disruptive, our own demise or that of a loved Other, until I was certain that I knew what responsibility and love mean and I’m not certain that I ever will. It has always puzzled me that so many people I know and meet seem so certain that they know what love is. But I will get hold of Eric Severson’s book and see where that takes me. And Leonard Cohen clearly means a lot to you, so I will also have a look at his Book of Mercy.

    Thank you.

  13. jennymackness September 1, 2018 / 2:42 pm

    And thank you Gary for your comments about and references to temporal naturalism, Peirce’s Law of Mind and to pilot waves, all of which are new to me, but despite this I have thought quite a bit in the past year or so about the implications of having a ‘both-and’ mindset as opposed to an ‘either-or’ mindset. This thinking has related to a paper published earlier this year in which Mariana Funes and I explored how language online is subject to a dialectical tension that both includes and excludes. In the paper we wrote (p.133)

    Gibbs, Rozaidi and Eisenberg (2013, 105) discuss the value of dialectical tension in communication. They argue that communicative tensions operate in a way that “requires simultaneously attending to both competing poles” (our italics). This is seen by Gibbs et al. (2013, 106) as different from simple contradiction; “dialectical tensions have been found to be productive in enabling the accomplishment of multiple goals since they enable organizational members to creatively attend to both poles of the opposition by transforming or transcending it and embracing both alternatives as ‘both-and’ options (Putnam & Boys 2006)”. Finding a new narrative that holds this ambiguity and dialectical tension may offer a different perspective for open online education that takes participants beyond polarisation. Our Inventory suggests that internet users are individually and collectively responsible for both inclusion into and exclusion from the network, not through intention but through their participation and use of the language validated by the ideology they wish to make actual.

    Mariana Funes & Jenny Mackness (2018) When inclusion excludes: a counter narrative of open online education, Learning, Media and Technology, 43:2, 119-138, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2018.1444638 (see also – )

    And you are right. The YouTube video is ‘cool’ 🙂

  14. jennymackness September 1, 2018 / 2:46 pm

    Finally, thank you, Gary, for your thoughts about ‘truth’. As it happens, I have been, as part of my personal project on exploring the implications of McGilchrist’s work for education, looking at what he has to say about ‘truth’. I haven’t yet explored Peirce’s work, but from what you write, it seems that McGilchrist’s approach to truth differs from Peirce’s approach, although if we look carefully I think there are some similarities.

    Earlier this year I heard McGilchrist say that there are two truths about everything; one according to the left hemisphere and the other according to the right hemisphere. He discusses this in his book, The Master and his Emissary, in a section on context and the nature of truth (p.141). For the left hemisphere there is objective truth. It is concerned with certainty. For the right hemisphere truth is only ever provisional. But McGilchrist writes (p.150), … things are not what we care to make them. There is something that exists apart from our own minds.

    On the course I attended this year Iain said, ‘Truth is indivisible. We cannot arrive at it through the intellect’. For Merleau-Ponty, truth is arrived at through engagement with the world; For Heidegger truth is embodied, comes from within and is related to ‘unconcealing’ (p.149). Iain further quotes Lakoff and Johnson as writing ‘truth is mediated by embodied understanding and imagination. That does not mean that truth is purely subjective or that there is no stable truth. Rather our common embodiment allows for common, stable truths.’

    Iain writes that truth is come at by a process, a coming into being of something. In this sense what you describe about the work on finding a cure for AIDs seems similar. Where what you say seems to differ (unless I have misunderstood) is when Iain writes that truth is an act, a journey, not a thing. It has degrees. It is found by removing things, rather than putting things together. Truth is process, not object.

    So whilst it would be hard to argue with Helen Keller’s ‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much’, and that ‘we are finite fallible creatures who engage with each other, who engage in sociality, in exchange, for a reason …. to seek truth together’, does this necessarily mean that a) truth can only be arrived at collectively or that b) it is possible to ever ‘know’ truth? If ‘science cannot provide us with dependable ultimate truths’ and ‘for truth uncertainty is essential’ (, can we ever ‘know’ truth or are we confined to the journey and to seeking it?

  15. ggoldbergmd September 1, 2018 / 9:04 pm

    WOW, Jenny! So much to ponder here. I want to let you know that I have received and read all of this and I need a little time to work through my responses. So know that you have registered some critically important considerations, and am deeply touched and engaged, and that I will be back with my responses tonight, in about 5-6 hours from now.

  16. ggoldbergmd September 2, 2018 / 9:06 pm

    JM> And thank you Gary for your comments about and references to temporal naturalism, Peirce’s Law of Mind and to pilot waves, all of which are new to me, but despite this I have thought quite a bit in the past year or so about the implications of having a ‘both-and’ mindset as opposed to an ‘either-or’ mindset. This thinking has related to a paper published earlier this year in which Mariana Funes and I explored how language online is subject to a dialectical tension that both includes and excludes. In the paper we wrote (p.133)

    GG> I need to look up that paper and read it, Jenny. My argument is that language is a very powerful double-edged sword, indeed. It gives us the capacity to communicate and to reflect, but in doing so, it creates its own separate reality. That take on reality has shaped Western culture since the 17th century. The designation of certain perceptions as ‘things’ that are separated out from their context allows us to build complex objects and constructs by building them out of component parts. But the consequences of separating out subject from object as ‘things’ tends to de-emphasize dynamic process and over-emphasize static things.

    See also:

    JM> Gibbs, Rozaidi and Eisenberg (2013, 105) discuss the value of dialectical tension in communication. They argue that communicative tensions operate in a way that “requires simultaneously attending to both competing poles” (our italics). This is seen by Gibbs et al. (2013, 106) as different from simple contradiction; “dialectical tensions have been found to be productive in enabling the accomplishment of multiple goals since they enable organizational members to creatively attend to both poles of the opposition by transforming or transcending it and embracing both alternatives as ‘both-and’ options (Putnam & Boys 2006)”. Finding a new narrative that holds this ambiguity and dialectical tension may offer a different perspective for open online education that takes participants beyond polarisation. Our Inventory suggests that internet users are individually and collectively responsible for both inclusion into and exclusion from the network, not through intention but through their participation and use of the language validated by the ideology they wish to make actual.

    Mariana Funes & Jenny Mackness (2018) When inclusion excludes: a counter narrative of open online education, Learning, Media and Technology, 43:2, 119-138, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2018.1444638 (see also – )

    GG> See also work by JA Scott Kelso on the issue of ‘complementarity’ as a dynamically balanced interaction along a dialetical spectrum between polarities that guides the event trajectory.

    JM> And you are right. The YouTube video is ‘cool’ 🙂

    GG> I think that there is a fascinating revival of ‘de Broglie Bohmian’ mechanics happening currently which maintains the dynamics of a complementary nature without the probablistic formulation of the Copenhagen school. What is very interesting is that there is a probabilistic element but it is in the base medium, the silicon oil in the case of the droplets in the video which is being vibrated by a loudspeaker. What if this is a chaotic baseline ‘buzz’ that corresponds to Peirce’s ‘tychastic’ evolution, the baseline ‘noise’ bubbling up into the universe? I am not sure what the general thinking about this is nowadays, or if there is empirical evidence from experiments to support this formulation as opposed to the Copenhagen formulation. The key is that this all takes place on a true temporal continuum.

  17. jennymackness September 3, 2018 / 8:46 am

    Goodness me Gary – what an extensive personal library you have at your fingertips 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing it with me. It’s interesting that Piet Hut’s article in Edge doesn’t mention McGilchrist. I wonder how many people there are around the world, working on these ideas independently without knowing each other.

    I love this sentence – “the verbs are verbing all by themselves without a need to introduce nouns.” It has reminded me that years ago when I was teaching science to trainee primary school teachers, we used to try and impress on the students that the word ‘force’ should be thought of as a verb (an action) rather than a noun. They found this counter-intuitive and needless to say, thinking of it as a noun led to many misconceptions.

    I will also follow up on JA Scott Kelso’s work. Thank you again.

  18. ggoldbergmd September 3, 2018 / 8:17 pm

    There are two individuals who recognize the essential nature of the dynamics of process and how voluntary movement is one way that we connect to the temporal continuum–music is another. The first one is Scott Kelso who has spent his career studying the nonlinear dynamics of brain and motor performance (his concepts were also incorporated into the study of development in the context of dynamical systems theory by the late Esther Thelen)–and has focused on the concept of ‘meta-stability’ as a transient stabilization of recognizable pattern in the context of dynamical flow.

    The second person who I deeply revere is Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, who is really deeply insightful and passionate as well as prolific regarding the phenomenological and affective underpinnings of expressive movement and kinesthesis and tactile sensibility, having been a dancer/choreographer before becoming a phenomenological philosopher… There is no Wikipedia entry on Maxine (which is a massive oversight IMHO), but here is a podcast of an interview that I think you would enjoy, Jenny…

    And, really, if you look carefully at all of this, you will see a hint of Peirce’s architectonic philosophical system and his relational ‘semeiotic’ as the science of the ‘action of signs’ (ie. ‘semiosis) peeking through and illuminating this way of understanding our being in the world. Which, by the way, is VERY different from a purely determinant algorithmic linear process.

  19. ggoldbergmd September 3, 2018 / 11:12 pm

    Also, I wanted to point out that there is actually a full-length documentary available about Iain McGilchrist and his work. I don’t think that I have seen reference to it here on the blog and it is fairly recent, so I can understand if it has not yet been brought forward. It has been produced by a documentary production company based in Toronto, Canada and is called ‘The Divided Brain.’
    More information can be found at the following film website:

    I have only seen the trailer for the full documentary at this point, so I am not able to vouch for it as someone who has seen the whole thing and it is possible that it may not be up to snuff. However, from viewing the trailer, I think it may well hit on the key points and provide a more accessible approach to Iain’s thought and work in a vital and interesting way.

    Regarding ‘edusemiotics’ as an emerging disease here is a quick little introductory video…

    I think that the application of Peircean triadic semiotics to the educational enterprise may be exactly what is needed to correct the problems of our current educational system.

  20. ggoldbergmd September 4, 2018 / 3:28 am

    With regard to ‘The Divided Brain’ documentary, there is both a Facebook and a Twitter account related to it. Review of the Facebook account indicates that the documentary has not yet been released. Here is what was recently said on Facebook on May 16:

    “Once arrangements are finalized with broadcasters and other outlets, we can announce a release date here on this page. We’re eager to launch “The Divided Brain” and we are grateful to everyone who’s following along patiently.”

    So the documentary has not yet been released for public viewing, but that should be happening soon, one would hope.

    Here is the address for the Facebook account:

    The link is also on the website for the flim. Hopefully, the film will receive a large viewing audience which will bring the ideas to a larger audience.

    One might consider linking the insights of understanding how our common neurobiology shapes our experience of the world, each other and ourselves to the emergence of what philosopher Jean Gebser (and also Ken Wilber in following Gebser, along with several others) called ‘Integral Consciousness’… see…

    … and many other sites on the Web that deal with the emergence of ‘integral consciousness’…

  21. jennymackness September 4, 2018 / 1:19 pm

    Gary – I have listened to Maxine Sheets-Johnstone’s podcast and as you predicted I really enjoyed it. Of course, as you will know, Iain McGilchrist has a section in his book (p.118) bearing the title ‘Language Rooted in the Body’ in which he emphasises the bodily origin of thought and language, and language as an extension of life rather than an abstraction from it. If I have remembered correctly he discusses the importance of the body in constituting reality, and the role of the body in communication without language (body language), but he discusses the role of music (more than movement) in relation to the origins of language, although he also writes (p.119)

    ‘I mentioned earlier that there were those who believed that language arose, not from music, but from gesture. There is, however, no necessary conflict between such beliefs, Music is deeply gestural in nature: dance and the body are everywhere implied in it’.

    Interestingly, when I attended Field & Field’s 4-day course earlier this year – – both music and movement (Tai Chi) workshops were offered.

    Thank you for introducing me to Maxine Sheets-Johnstone. I have yet to delve into semiotics.

    And re the long-awaited documentary – , yes, I have been following its progress, since 2016. I know they have had some difficulty finding the funding to complete this project, but hopefully it will be out soon. Iain did mention it on the Field & Field course this year, and John Cleese who features in the documentary ( will apparently be attending the Field & Field 4-day course in June next year. Iain also showed us clips from the Tawai documentary ( in which he appears. I was a bit disappointed by this video (as a whole), but maybe I need to watch it more than once.

    I aim to get back to following up on some more of your links, when I return from holiday. Thank you again, Gary.

  22. ggoldbergmd September 4, 2018 / 2:20 pm

    Have a great holiday, Jenny. So much to consider here… the issue of embodiment and its function as source which is key to the work of many including Merleau-Ponty and others. The social impulse to communicate one to another and how that develops intersubjectivity and Intertemporality.
    Let me know when you are back from holiday, Jenny, so we can strike this up again! Best, Gary

  23. ggoldbergmd October 11, 2018 / 12:45 pm

    Just would like to share a possible ‘wild idea’ for general consideration…

    Just wondering if there might be interest in getting together to discuss these ideas at ‘How the Light Gets In’ gathering at Hay in May.

    Or, even better, putting together a proposal for a session at the festival with Iain McGilchrist, if he would have an interest… it might be a really interesting place to begin to promote the new book if it has come out by next May…

  24. jennymackness October 12, 2018 / 8:09 am

    That is a wild idea Gary! I notice from Iain’s website that he seems to attend the Hay Festival fairly regularly, so maybe he is already booked to go, although it doesn’t feature on his itinerary shared on his events page.

    I wouldn’t be able to go to the Hay Festival, but I have already booked to go again to the 4 -day course in the Cotswolds – June 8 – 11th – .

    Where are you based? Would this be of interest to you? I can recommend the course. You get twice daily talks from Iain, with plenty of opportunity to talk to him in between his sessions, to talk to others and to attend workshops/discussion groups. It is a very friendly, easy going four days, in a beautiful environment. I am hoping we will hear more about Iain’s new book and latest work.

  25. ggoldbergmd October 12, 2018 / 12:41 pm

    I am based in Richmond, Virginia where I am a clinical adjunct professor in the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Virginia Commonwealth University and a staff physician at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center. Yes, I would be interested in looking into making the trip for the June course in the Cotswolds. Thank you for the information about that.
    It sounds like a wonderful opportunity to really learn with Dr. McGilchrist in a fairly intensive manner. I will investigate the arrangements that I would need to complete in order to do that.

    Thank you!

  26. jennymackness October 25, 2018 / 10:49 am

    Gary – hope you can make it to the McGilchrist course. Please let me know if I can help in any way. Jenny

  27. Gordon Ferguson May 1, 2019 / 9:16 am

    Bringing together ‘Blessed be the covenant of love between the hidden and the revealed.’ and McGilchrist’s comment and picture of his home, ‘if we could slow things down enough we would be able to see the mountain behind his house flowing.’, you might like this love poem, ‘Shores’ from the great Gaelic poet, Sorley Maclean: (click at the bottom for English Translation)
    If we were in Talisker on the shore
    where the great white mouth
    opens between two hard jaws,
    Rubha nan Clach and the Bioda Ruadh,
    I would stand beside the sea
    renewing love in my spirit
    while the ocean was filling
    Talisker bay forever:
    I would stand there on the bareness of the shore
    until Prishal bowed his stallion head.
    (Iain McGilchrist lives in Talisker Bay on the Isle of Skye and the mountain at the behind his house is ‘Prishal’)

  28. jennymackness May 1, 2019 / 11:10 am

    That is lovely Gordon. Thank you for taking the time to share it with me. I’m wondering if you also live in Talisker and whether you are a friend of Iain McGilchrist.

  29. Gordon Ferguson May 1, 2019 / 11:50 pm

    No, I don’t know Iain McGilchrist, but I am a big fan of his work and found your post doing some research on the theme of ‘There are No Things’ for a book group I am in. Through the 1990s we went on family holidays to Skye and found out about Sorley Maclean, who live don Skye and died in 1996, and visited Talisker Bay – an extraordinarily beautiful place. Later I found out that McGilchrist lived there. We have been to all of the places mentioned in the poem except Uist (somewhat hard to get to) – there are dinosaur footprints at Mol Stenscholl Staffin, also on Skye.
    I am also studying Emmanuel Levinas, one of whose major works is ‘Otherwise than Being’, on the same theme, and also the philosopher John Macmurray (, who said ‘All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action and all meaningful action is for the sake of friendship’.

  30. jennymackness May 2, 2019 / 7:53 am

    Gordon – perhaps you will have seen the references to Levinas mentioned by Gary Goldberg in the comments above. He has also made comments referring to Levinas in these two posts

    And, just in case you haven’t seen it, Iain is speaking at a 4-day course in the Cotswolds in June – I believe there are still some places left.

    Thanks for the link to John Macmurray’s work. This is a lovely statement ‘All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action and all meaningful action is for the sake of friendship’, but I think I would feel more comfortable with it if he has said …. ‘All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action and all meaningful action is for the sake of love’, although perhaps friendship is an easier concept to grasp than love.

  31. gordonferguson May 3, 2019 / 2:16 pm

    Friendship is the embodiment of love, as is action the embodiment of knowledge. Macmurray has a very tight definition of friendship:
    ‘Friends are necessarily interested primarily in one another, not in what each can achieve through the assistance of the other…. Friendship is essentially a relation between equals… any two human beings, whatever their individual differences, can recognize and treat one another as equal, and so be friends… It is entirely, and throughout its whole duration, dependent upon the free activity of the persons concerned… it provides for a complete self-expression and self-revelation which is mutual and unconstrained…. Equality and freedom are constitutive principles of friendship, but they are also ideals to be achieved in friendship. It is the mutual intention to treat one another as equals and to be free in relationship that makes us friends… Friendship, in this sense, is only the full realization, the ripe fruit of human fellowship, and it is, perhaps, even rarer than we are apt to think.’ (Conditions Of Freedom 1949; Humanity Books 1993, from pp 50-61) Perhaps not so easy to grasp after all?
    On Levinas’s responsibility for the other – my own emerging understanding (I don’t pretend for a moment to have even slightly grasped what he is on about) profoundly effects me – Macmurray has a similar approach, albeit not so thoroughly worked out as it is in Levinas:
    “the other is the centre of value. [The self] has no value in himself, but only for the Other; consequently he cares for himself only for the sake of the other.”(Person In Relation, 1961; Faber and Faber 1995, p 158)
    “a universal community of persons in which each cares for all the others and no one for himself’.”(ibid. p 159)
    I say of myself ‘I am the sum of my relationships – and nothing else’.
    Macmurray and Levinas are both deeply religious/spiritual. As I see it, they each address the profound problem of humanity as exposed in the twentieth century: Macmurray, as I see it, asks the question: “What is about so-called European Christianity that we were able to tear ourselves apart in the First World War?” – Macmurray was seriously injured fighting in that war, and even received the Military Medal for his endeavours, and spent his entire life afterwards working out how to stop it happening again. Levinas, also from personal experience, asks an even deeper question: “What is it about so-called Western civilisation that the Holocaust happened in it?” Levinas lost his entire family in Lithuania and his wife and child had to go into hiding in Vichy France. Reading the preface of his book, ‘Otherwise than Being’ is deeply moving: “To the memory of those who were closest among the six million assassinated by the National Socialists, and of the millions on millions of all confessions and nations, victims of the same hatred of the other man, the same anti-semitism.’ – followed by, in Hebrew, the names of those of his family who were lost.
    Looked at your profile – Macmurray was deeply interested in education and started to assemble a book in the 1950s, but sadly it was never published – more from here:

  32. jennymackness May 5, 2019 / 11:23 am

    Thank you Gordon. What a lot to think about. I know virtually nothing about Levinas or Macmurray, so do not feel very confident in responding to you. But when I read what you have written I find myself thinking slightly differently.

    When I said that I prefer to think of the statement ‘all meaningful action is for the sake of love’ rather than ‘for the sake of friendship’, I did so because I was thinking beyond interpersonal interactions, for example, meaningful action in relation to our planet as opposed to in relation to another person.

    And similarly when you write ‘I am the sum of my relationships – and nothing else’, I find myself thinking ‘I am the sum of my experiences – and nothing else’. Does this change the meaning of what you are saying, or simply express the same thing in a different way?

    Thank you for pointing to Macmurray’s work on education. I will try and chase that up when I get a moment. There never seems to be enough time, particularly since I have a tendency to procrastinate and waste time!

  33. gordonferguson May 7, 2019 / 11:38 pm

    ‘Macmurray says (quoted above) ‘mutual intention … makes us friends’, but I find this too limiting if only applied to other persons – for myself, I intend the deepest possible personal relationship with everyone and everything that I encounter, including (as you put it) the planet itself. Mutuality in the fullest sense may only be possible with another person, but I have found that, with the right intention, far more mutuality is possible than we often expect or realise: the world is personal, and we can – and must – be friends with it – only differently. This potential is beautifully expressed by Martin Buber from ‘I-Thou’: I have had quite a deep relationship with a couple of trees.
    ‘Let no attempt be made to sap the strength from the meaning of the relation: relation is mutual.’ says Buber – our experiences are relational – ‘There are no Things – Only Patterns’ – and Relationships. It has been a joy sharing with you.

  34. jennymackness May 8, 2019 / 12:25 pm

    Another lovely comment Gordon. I can completely relate to your deep relationship with a couple of trees. I live in a rural area and can immediately think of three trees in the country lanes around here, which I never tire of seeing year after year, from season to season.

    Thank you for the link to Maria Popova’s site. I do subscribe to her site, but I seem to have missed this lovely post.

    I too have enjoyed our exchange. Thank you.

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