Tinkering with the system won’t help reinvent the purpose of education

In OLDaily this week, Stephen Downes, in a comment on a post by Sasha Thackaberry, makes what to me is an astute point – that the future of education is not the same thing as the future of colleges. This was the trap that the webinar hosted by Bryan Alexander, with invited speaker Cathy Davidson, fell into this week. The event was advertised as ‘reinventing education’, but for me (and I can’t find a recording of the webinar to check my perception and understanding), the discussion was more about how and what changes could be made to the existing education system (in this case the American education system).

Having followed Stephen’s e-learning 3.0 MOOC at the end of last year, I know that he has done a considerable amount of ‘out of the box’ thinking about the future of education, and has recently made at least two, that I know of, presentations about this. See:

This thinking is very much influenced by his knowledge of advancing technologies and how these might be used to ‘reinvent education’ but it is not only influenced by technology. For the e-learning 3.0 MOOC these are the questions that we discussed:I regard myself to be adequately proficient with technology, but I don’t have the skills, as things stand at the moment, to keep up with Stephen.  However, I am always interested in thinking about and discussing how our current education systems could be improved, and what we might need to do to change them. I am also particularly interested in the underlying concepts, systems and ethics, i.e. the philosophical perspective through which we view education. It seems to me essential that this should underpin any discussion around ‘reinventing education’.

Other ‘out of the box’ thinkers

Recently I find myself drawn to the thoughts of three well-known thinkers – two current and one from times past; Iain McGilchrist, Sir Ken Robinson, and Étienne de La Boétie (best friend of Michel de Montaigne).

Iain McGilchrist (in a nutshell) believes that our view of the world is dominated by the left hemisphere of the brain and that to save our civilisation from potential collapse we need more balance between the left and right hemisphere’s views of the world. I know this sounds melodramatic, but you would need to read his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, where he makes a very good case, backed up by loads of evidence, to find support for this claim. Later on this year, on a course offered by Field & Field here in the UK, I will be running a discussion group/workshop where I hope participants will share ideas about the possible implications of Iain’s work for rethinking education.

For those who are not familiar with the book, here is a Table* (click on it to enlarge) which briefly summarises some of the differences in the ways in which, according to McGilchrist, the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere view the world. The right hemisphere’s view of the world is presented in purple font; the left hemisphere’s view of the world in blue font. These statements have been culled from many hours of reading McGilchrist’s books and watching video presentations and interviews.

*I am aware that this Table is (necessarily) an over-simplistic, reductive representation of McGilchrist’s ideas. It cannot possibly reflect the depth of thinking presented in The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. It is simply an introduction to some of McGilchrist’s ideas, which might provoke a fresh perspective on whether and how we need to ‘reinvent’ education.

In relation to McGilchrist’s work, my current questions are: Do we recognise our current education system in any of this? Do we need to change our thinking about education to achieve more balance between the left and right hemisphere perspectives?

Linked to McGilchrist’s ideas (and I will qualify this below, because it would be easy to get the wrong end of the stick), another ‘out of the box thinker, for me, is Sir Ken Robinson. Like many people, I first became aware of Sir Ken Robinson in 2006, when he recorded a TED Talk which has become the most viewed of all time ( 56,007,105 views at this time). The title of this talk was ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ and the thrust of the talk was that in our education system, we educate children out of creativity.

More recently in December of last year the question of whether schools kill creativity was revisited when Sir Ken Robinson was interviewed by Chris Anderson under the title ‘Sir Ken Robinson (still) wants an education revolution’. In this podcast the same question is being discussed more than ten years later and it seems that little progress has been made in ‘reinventing education’, at least in terms of creativity.

Just as McGilchrist is at pains to stress that both hemispheres of the brain do everything, but they do them differently, for example, they are both involved in creativity but differently, so Sir Ken Robinson says that we should not conflate creativity with the arts. The arts are not only important because of creativity; through the arts we can express deep issues of cultural value, the fabric of our relationship with other people, and connections with the world around us. Creativity is a function of intelligence not specific to a particular field and the arts can make a major contribution to this, but the arts are being pushed down in favour of subjects that are dominated by utility and their usefulness for getting a job. We are now locked into a factory-like efficiency model of education, dominated by testing and normative, competitive assessment.

In 2006 Robinson told us that education was a big political issue being driven by economics. He said that most governments had adopted education systems which promote:

  • Conformity (but people are not uniform; diversity is the hallmark of human existence)
  • Compliance (such that standardised testing is a multibillion-dollar business)
  • Competition (pitting teachers, schools and children against each other to rack up credit for limited resources)

I am recently retired, so a bit out of the loop, but from my perspective not a lot has changed between 2006 and 2019, in the sense that education has not been ‘reinvented’ – notably there hasn’t been, at government and policy-making level, a change in philosophy. McGilchrist believes that our current approach, where left hemisphere thinking dominates, has significant negative implications for education;  see The Divided Brain: Implications for Education,  a post that I wrote in 2014 after hearing McGilchrist speak for the first time. Robinson believes that although some schools are pushing back against the dominant culture there is a lot more room for innovation in schools than people believe, that we can break institutional habits, and we can make innovations within the system.

But can we? What would this take? Would students and teachers be willing to risk ‘bucking the system’ to embrace an alternative, non-utilitarian philosophy of education?

I am currently reading Sarah Bakewell’s wonderful book about Michel de Montaigne – How to Live. A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer.  In this she discusses the close relationship/friendship between Montaigne and Étienne de La Boétie and, in relation to this, refers to Boétie’s treatise ‘On Voluntary Servitude’. On p.94 she writes:

‘The subject of ‘Voluntary Servitude’ is the ease with which, throughout history, tyrants have dominated the masses, even though their power would evaporate instantly if those masses withdrew their support. There is no need for a revolution: the people need only stop co-operating ….’

Reading this immediately reminded me of the introduction in 2002 of the Key Stage 2 SATs (compulsory national Standard Assessment Tests) here in the UK – the testing of 11- year olds and the start of league tables pitting school against school. Key Stage 1 SATs (tests for 7-year olds) were introduced before Key Stage 2 SATs, so these teachers of 7-year old children had already been through the process. Therefore, by the time the Key Stage 2 SATs were introduced, schools and teachers had a very good idea of their likely impact, and Key Stage 2 teachers complained bitterly. I remember thinking at the time, if all the Key Stage 2 teachers in the country downed tools and refused to deliver the SATs, then there would have been nothing the government could do, but as Sarah Bakewell points out this type of collaborative, non-violent resistance rarely happens.

The power to change

Perhaps reinventing education will have to happen from the ground up, in individual classrooms/courses and institution by institution, rather than nationally. But how will this happen when the teachers and education leaders that we now have in place are themselves a product of an education system which has not: valued creativity as discussed by Sir Ken Robinson; a right hemisphere perspective on the world, as explained by Iain McGilchrist; or a rethinking of concepts, systems and ethics needed to take a new philosophical approach to education as envisaged by Stephen Downes?

This was the type of question that I had hoped would be discussed in the ‘reinventing education’ webinar that I attended earlier this week. It goes beyond tinkering – it’s more of a paradigm shift, or as McGilchrist says, it requires ‘a change of heart’. This is how McGilchrist sums it up:

… we focus on practical issues and expect practical solutions, but I think nothing less than a change of the way we conceive what a human being is, what the planet earth is, and how we relate to that planet, is going to help us. It’s no good putting in place a few actions that might be a fix for the time being. We need to have a completely radically different view of what we’re doing here.

Learning to be creative on and off the distributed web

Backwaters, Kerala (* see note below)

Although the final week of the E-Learning 3.0 course is almost over, I haven’t yet finished thinking about the penultimate week on Experience.

The guest speaker for this week was Amy Burvall.  I really enjoyed her conversation with Stephen Downes. The recording is below.

Amy is a creativity expert, who tries to ‘make’ something every day. She believes in remix as a culture, transparency of work and multi-media work and has a website and many videos to prove it.  She has published a creativity handbook for teachers, which has recipes for creative thinking and has been designed to be remixable. Teachers are encouraged to take a prompt, work with it and share it with a given hashtag. Interestingly, Amy said that a community was growing around this hashtag, which is what Stephen thought could happen around the #el30 hashtag for this course, when the topic focussed on community.

Stephen sees creativity as pattern recognition and Amy suggested that creativity is being able to see juxtapositions and relationships that others don’t. Both these ideas fit with my experience.

Amy also believes that constraints help creativity and that learners should be encouraged to articulate why they made what they made. I’m not sure about this. Whilst I can see the value of articulating learning processes for the learner, a part of me says that a work of ‘art’ should be able to speak for itself, and doesn’t need to be accompanied by the artist’s explanation, but I think it depends on what the work of art is. A question has just entered my head – Is art that is created online, using technical tools, always conceptual art?  This question feels significant to me, but at the moment I can’t put my finger on why.

For Amy a computer can create art, but she asks where is the backstory that touches her heart and makes the emotional connection. I think this is why she feels that learners should be encouraged to explain their art. She says we are craving experience rather than stuff and agrees with Stephen that the creation of the content is part of the content. I can see that the creation of content is part of the content and that art should touch the heart and make an emotional connection, but I am still not convinced that this needs articulating.

Serendipitously in the same week that I listened to Amy’s conversation with Stephen, I listened to a podcast of a conversation between John Cleese and Iain McGilchrist (the first night podcast), who also talked about creativity, but in different terms.

They started by bemoaning the fact that creativity for comedians is being constrained by political correctness and that they can no longer make fun of people. (John Cleese stressed that this should be in an affectionate, not in a nasty way.) For John Cleese, all humour is about human imperfection, and is needed because we are not good at laughing at ourselves. All humour is critical. You have to be creative to be a comic.

In their conversation they touched on a number of ideas which overlapped with Stephen and Amy’s conversation, as well as coming at it from a different perspective. Some of the points they made were:

  • Creativity is mainly stopping doing things. We have to allow space for new ideas. (I have heard McGilchrist talk about this before – Exploring the Divided Brain. Creativity, Paradox and Negation.)
  • Artists let go and let things happen.
  • Creativity is non-intellectual and unconscious.
  • Moments of insight come out of the blue.
  • You can’t create to a schedule.
  • The moment you have an idea, allow the creative idea time. A new born idea needs time to grow.
  • Creative artists know how to play and take longer to make their minds up. It’s a healthy habit not to give snap answers.
  • There’s wisdom in I’ll just sleep on it.

Amy Burvall also talked about negative capability and living with ambiguity and uncertainty. She said creativity is a way of being, a way of approaching the world. We should live like an artist, dance as though nobody’s watching, and kill that internal editor! I think John Cleese and Iain McGilchrist would agree.

Stephen has provided some great resources for this topic which I am copying here as I still have to catch up on quite a few of them.

I can again particularly recommend his summary Feature Article.

*Note about the photo: Backwaters Kerala. This is my current location for the next three weeks, which also explains why I am a week behind on the course!

Resources

Feature Article E-Learning 3.0, Part 8 – Experience
stephen@downes.ca, Dec 20, 2018.
The challenge for educators and for society in general will be in managing and accepting the transition from emphasizing ‘what people learn’ to ‘how people learn’. Like the creative process itself, what’s important is not what is created – it could be anything from a cake to a cathedral – but rather how it is created. It is the history, process and provenance of the creation that gives it meaning, relevance, and ultimately, truth.

How to Be an Artist
Jerry Saltz, Vulture, 2018/12/12
Good advice that could be applied not only to art but to anything (substitute ‘research scientist’ for ‘artist’ and you get the same useful tips): “How do you get from there to making real art, great art? There’s no special way; everyone has their own path. Yet, over the years, I’ve found myself giving the same bits of advice. Most of them were simply gleaned from looking at art, then looking some more. Others from listening to artists talk about their work and their struggles. (Everyone’s a narcissist.) I’ve even stolen a couple from my wife.”

Twitch
2018/12/12
“We are a global community of millions who come together each day to create their own entertainment: unique, live, unpredictable, never-to-be repeated experiences created by the magical interactions of the many. With chat built into every stream, you don’t just watch on Twitch, you’re a part of the show.”

Fostering Creativity
Amy Burvall, YouTube, 2018/12/12
Amy Burvall offers a series of pink Post-It notes talking about aspects and properties of creativity – running from ‘remix’ to ‘messy’ to ‘constraint’. Web: [Direct Link]

Openness to Experience and Creative Achievement
Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific American, 2018/12/12
Openness to experience– the drive for cognitive exploration of inner and outer experience– is the personality trait most consistently associated with creativity. Web: [Direct Link]

Stephen’s Web: Creativity
Stephen Downes, Stephen’s Web, 2018/12/13
I’ve covered the topic of creativity quite a bit over the years. This is a listing of the posts I’ve written referring to different resources on creativity. There’s a lot to pick and choose from. Web: [Direct Link]

The Sources of Innovation and Creativity
Karlyn Adams, National Center on Education and the Economy, 2018/12/14
The following pages represent a comprehensive summary of current research and theory on the sources of innovation and creativity, both in individuals and organizations.  Based on the recurring concepts in the existing literature, the paper concludes with some recommendations for how education systems can best foster these attributes in students.

#getsmART: Lessons from the Artists
Amy Burvall, YouTube, 2018/12/16
What insights can we gain from studying the lives and creative processes of famous artists? Thinking like an artist means being porous, pushing past, and playing. This talk was given (in a slightly different form ) at TEDxWestVancouverED. Web: [Direct Link]

Crushing It with Creativity- The Virtual Summit EU keynote
Amy Burvall, Slideshare, 2018/12/16 Web: [Direct Link]

Creativity
Amy Burvall, AmusED, 2018/12/16
All of Amy Burvall’s posts on creativity. See also: Amy Burvall’s website. Web: [Direct Link]

E-Learning 3.0 Experience

The task for this penultimate week of the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC on the topic of Experience is:

Here is my submission


This is the musical accompaniment for the verses below. Please sing along.

For the introduction to this week’s topic, see Stephen Downes’ Synopsis.

I posted my initial response to this text in a previous post – Creativity and Experience on the Distributed Web.

See also Kevin Hodgson’s post for one example of how to respond to this task. Stephen wrote: “Here’s a good example of the sort of thing you could create, by Kevin Hodgson (who apparently also studied mind reading as he completed this Task before it was posted).

Creativity and experience on the distributed web

The topic for the penultimate week in the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC is ‘Experience’. We haven’t really started discussing this yet, but Stephen Downes, who is running this course, has posted a Synopsis to get us going. I am copying this below, with some initial thoughts/responses/questions inserted into his text in blue font. Stephen’s text is in italics.

“It is a truism that we learn from experience, and yet creating a role for experience in learning has been one of the most difficult problems in education.

When I think of experience in relation to learning the first thing that comes to mind is ‘field trips’. One my earliest strong memories is of a week-long field trip to Seahouses (Northumberland, UK) for my ‘A’ level Biology course. The week was spent gathering data on the beach and then recording it in a whole variety of ways in the evenings. I have had many such experiences in my ‘learning life’. My understanding of why these experiences are important and different is that they are ‘embodied’ and elicit an emotional response to a given topic. A photo of a Water Boatman on a pond-life chart might help you to recognise it, but won’t have the same impact as actually lifting one from the pond in your net, so that you can study it live under the microscope (in pond water of course!). My experience is that educators have to believe in the value of hands-on experience for it to be included in a curriculum.

But it is also a truism that we don’t always learn from experience. Some learners can make the same mistakes over and over again.

And so much of education continues to rely on indirect methods depending on knowledge transfer – reading, lectures, videos – rather than hands-on practice and knowledge creation.

This is true and I think stems from a belief that it is the ‘content to be covered’ that is important and there is ever more content; therefore time is short. Hands-on experience, for example field trips, take time. Just last week a friend was running a management game for a group of MSc students. The game takes a week to complete. Students are required to work in teams to solve simulated ‘real-world’ problems. In previous years the students have described this game as the most valuable learning experience of their course, but next year the game will be cut from the course. There is no time!

The emergence of the web, YouTube, Web 2.0 and social media was a great step forward, assigning a role for creativity in the learning experience. But experience, ultimately, requires an openness that media platforms were unable to provide.

The importance of creativity has long been recognised and the loss of emphasis on this in the curriculum (here in the UK) has long been a subject of concern. I remember in 1999 how stimulating it was to go to a conference on the newly published report – All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education. Ken Robinson who chaired the publication of this document has been pushing for more creativity in the curriculum ever since. But there is increasing evidence that creativity in the curriculum is being squeezed out. This theme was taken up by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie when she awarded this year’s Turner Prize to Charlotte Prodger. The lack of creativity in the curriculum remains a concern.

Source of image

New technology is beginning to combine the ability of teachers and role models to model and demonstrate successful practice and the need for learners to practice and reflect on their learning in that environment. Content distribution networks and live streaming are transforming real-world events into hands-on learning experiences.

This is a course about the distributed web and so, of course, we are thinking about how the distributed web can promote hands-on learning experience. Hopefully this will not be confined to experiences through our screens, but will also promote experience of the real live world, as opposed to the virtual world.

A good example of this is the live-streaming platform Twitch and especially games like Fortnight, in which players become spectators, and back again, over and over. And using applications like xSplit or Open Broadcaster Software individuals can make their experiences part of the learning experience shared by others.

I have never played computer games, so I don’t know how individuals make their experience part of the learning experience shared by others works in these contexts. What would be the equivalent off the internet?

It is a model in which the creation of the content becomes a part of the content itself.

I interpret this to mean sharing the working processes that lead to content.

We see this with the recent self-shredding art by Banksy or the inside look at how the single-scene time-lapse sequence in Kidding was filmed. Some artists have made working openly part of the act – Deadmau5, for example, showing how electronic music is produced. Being able to see and experience how something is created is a key step on the way to becoming a creator oneself, and becoming a creator, in turn, becomes a key part of the learning experience.

Isn’t this what mathematicians, for example, have always done? Even small children in schools are encouraged to show their ‘workings’ – how they have arrived at a result. And artists frequently do this with their sketchbooks, but the difference is explained by Stephen below. We now have the possibility of creative activities becoming distributed and democratized. This has reminded me of Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir, but I don’t think this is quite what Stephen has in mind. Whilst the choir is distributed it is not democratized, in the sense that each singer cannot edit the final piece, but can only contribute to it. 

The difference between previous iterations of learning technology and that which we are experiencing with E-Learning 3.0 is that these creative activities become distributed and democratized. Just as multiple authors can edit Wikipedia articles or work on code in GitHub, participatory learning media enables learners to interact creatively without management or direction; the outcome is a consensus determined not by voting but by participation. Experience in learning changes the relation between teacher and student from one of persuasion (and even coercion) to one of creativity, co-work, and construction.

I’m wondering what effect this will have on an individual’s creative ability. If we take painters, for example, there are very, very few artists who work collaboratively on a painting. Off the top of my head I can think of the Singh Twins and Gilbert and George. Most painters create their work individually, even if they employ teams of people to produce their ideas. How will the fine arts change if they become a result of consensus. What will happen to ‘genius’?

Workplaces, and especially distributed workplaces, are beginning to create self-organizing consensus-based co-production networks. Early awkward and exploitative platform-based efforts such as Uber and Airbnb are giving way to more sophisticated and equitable network alternatives such as Steam, Koumbit and Medium.

Will consensus lead to a ‘dumbing down’ and loss of creativity, or to a different kind of creativity, or to increased creativity? And to what extent will this creativity be a result of embodied experience? What type of experience will it result from?

These are just some initial thoughts at the start of this topic.

Exploring the Divided Brain – Creativity, paradox and negation

22nd August 2016 am – a 4 day course with Iain McGilchrist. Day 4 (am)

This is the seventh in a series of posts in which I am sharing the notes I took whilst attending a 4 day course- Exploring the Divided Brain- run by Field & Field and featuring Iain McGilchrist.

Here are the links to my previous posts:

Day 1 (am). Introduction to the Divided Brain

Day 1 (pm). The Divided Brain and Embodiment

Day 2 (am). Time, Space and Reality

Day 2 (pm). The One and the Many

Day 3 (am). Where can we go for truth?

Day 3 (pm). Trying to be sane in an insane world

 

Negative capability (Creativity and the role that paradox and negation inevitably play in it)

We discussed the power of ‘No’ on last year’s course and looking back at my notes I can see that I found it difficult to write a coherent post. Looking at this year’s notes I can see that I am going to have the same problem. I am going to try and resolve this problem by saying ‘No’ to a lot of the detail of what Iain said and just stick with the key messages. Hopefully we will be able to refer to his forthcoming books for the detail.

Iain started this session by reminding us of the inhibitory effects of the hemispheres. If one hemisphere is damaged it promotes something in the other. In particular the frontal lobes achieve what they achieve through inhibition (p.91-92, The Master and his Emissary). The brain is a hugely complicated feedback system. ‘It’s not that we have free will, but that we have free won’t’. Saying ‘No’ may be the origin of what comes into being. Saying ‘No’ comes before saying ‘Yes’. Negation is a creative act. Division is part of creation. All is one and all is not one and out of this conjunction comes everything.

As in last year’s course, Iain referenced the Kabbalah to discuss the role of negation and division in creation. In the Kabbalah creation myth there are three phases.

  1. The first creative act is withdrawal, to make a space in which there can be anything, i.e. to attend to the right hemisphere.
  2. The second phase is the shattering of the vessels. Ten vessels of light created in the first phase cannot contain the force of life within them and shatter. This relates to the unpacking, unfolding and fragmenting role of the left hemisphere.
  3. The third phase is repair, when the pieces are gathered and things come into being, which relates to reconstitution by the right hemisphere.

This myth serves to illustrate how something comes from nothing and how ‘no’ thing is not the complete absence of anything; it has a positive force.

The act of creation is to remove what is obscuring the life force, to clear things away, to uncover, to ‘dis’ cover, to find ‘something that was there, but required liberation into being’ (p.230, The Master and his Emissary), just as a sculptor allows a statue to come into being by clearing away the stone.

MichelangeloAwakeningSlave

Source of image. Michelangelo – unfinished sculpture.

Negation is often an opening up. Even the most negative thing in life can have a positive effect. Iain only mentioned his personal experience of depression in passing in this year’s course, but this short video covers his thoughts about the pursuit of happiness and the potential positive effects of negative experience.

Not doing things is important, just as not saying things is important. Speech is silver, but silence is golden. We lose ourselves to find ourselves. The more we know the less we know, but not knowing can be more fruitful than knowing, although not knowing is not the same as ignorance.

We need both precision and vagueness, restriction and openness. Sometimes restriction is freedom. Boundaries are important in life. They should be robust but not completely impermeable, not too close but not too far. Everything in life is better with boundaries. The best things that exist are always on/off. We need both asymmetry and symmetry. We need both hemispheres, but we only see through particular frameworks and we don’t find what we were not expecting to see.

It is very hard to become aware of what you are not aware. We draw on the natural world as a model but we increasingly see the natural world from the left hemisphere’s perspective. All models are wrong, but some are more wrong than others.

Personal reflection

I have been reflecting on what saying ‘No’ means to me. If I lived in the city it could mean saying ‘No’ to the bright lights and moving to the country, but I am fortunate that I live in beautiful South Lakeland (Cumbria, UK) and am surrounded by nature in all its glory. Alternatively even living here it could mean disconnecting from all things technological (and more) as Susan Maushart did when she became concerned at how much of her children’s lives were governed by technological devices. Lots of these sorts of experiments are reported in the press, but very few are life-long changes.

For me saying ‘No’ is much more about clearing a space to allow for emergent learning, whatever that might be.

Recently I attended a course at Lancaster University about the materiality of nothing. I now realise how closely related Iain McGilchrist’s ideas are to the ideas discussed at the Lancaster seminar, but its interesting that conceptual art was used to illustrate the materiality of nothing. (See for example the post I wrote at that time – Letting go of control to create something our of nothing ).

What has been wonderful about this course is how I have been able to make many connections with my research and wider work, connections that are not immediately obvious, but are becoming more apparent as I learn more about Iain McGilchrist’s ideas.

Authors/people referred to during the session

B. Alan Wallace (2004). The Taboo of Subjectivity: Towards a New Science of Consciousness.

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young (2013). The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: How I Left My Learning Disability Behind and Other Stories of Cognitive Transformation.

Jakob Böhme. Notable ideas: The mystical being of the deity as the Ungrund (“unground”) or the ground without a ground.

Lewis Carroll (1872). Through the Looking Glass

John Kay (2010). Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly. Profile Books

Susan Maushart (2010) The Winter of our Disconnect: How one family pulled the plug and lived to tell/text/tweet the tale 

Iain McGilchrist (2010). The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press.

Philip McCosker. Cambridge Theologian

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2013). Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder.

Brad Warner (2013). There is no God and he is always with you. New World Library

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) Tintern Abbey

The Divided Brain and the Power of ‘No’

Monday 23rd March am

This is the penultimate (or that is the plan!) in a series of posts I am making following a four-day course with Iain McGilchrist.  Details of the course, which will run again next year can be found on the Field & Field website.

Here are links to my previous posts:

The Power of No. Iain McGilchrist

Iain will explore creativity and the role that negation inevitably plays in it. (From the course booklet)

In this session Iain discussed the value of saying ‘No’, which I took to mean saying ‘No’ to the dominance of the left hemisphere’s view of the world, and referred us to others who have said this before in a variety of ways. Many ideas were referenced and my notes feel like a list of references that should be followed up, but they all relate to ‘The Power of No’ and the role of negation in creativity. Because what follows feels to me a bit disjointed, I have tried to pull out the key messages (at least the key messages for me) in bold font.

There are two choices – saying ‘no’ and ‘not saying no’, in order to say yes later.

Iain told us that capitalism wants us to be ‘doing’ and saying ‘Yes’. However, there are things being done that should not be done and we should give more thought to not doing things. We need to stop, attend and listen to what emerges. ‘No’ comes prior to ‘Yes’.

(Here, I need to stress again that this course was not about politics or religion, but much of what was discussed could be applied to our understanding of both).

Wisdom from the Greek philosophers onwards is associated with not knowing (e.g. Socrates), which should not be confused with ignorance.

‘Do nothing and there is nothing left undone’ is a pearl of ancient Chinese wisdom inspired by chapter 48 of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) written by Lao Zi (Lao Tsu) (See Shawn Cartwright, Yinong Chong and Ted Nawalinski’s website).

In Lewis Carroll’ s ‘Through the Looking Glass’, we see Alice finding the Red Queen by standing back and walking in the opposite direction:

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 16.16.47Source of image

‘I think I’ll go and meet her,’ said Alice, for, though the flowers were interesting enough, she felt that it would be far grander to have a talk with a real Queen.

‘You can’t possibly do that,’ said the Rose: ‘I should advise you to walk the other way.’

This sounded nonsense to Alice, so she said nothing, but set off at once towards the Red Queen. To her surprise, she lost sight of her in a moment, and found herself walking in at the front-door again.

A little provoked, she drew back, and after looking everywhere for the queen (whom she spied out at last, a long way off), she thought she would try the plan, this time, of walking in the opposite direction.

It succeeded beautifully. She had not been walking a minute before she found herself face to face with the Red Queen, and full in sight of the hill she had been so long aiming at.

Alice achieved her goal by taking an indirect route. Negation is important in not doing the obvious and not taking the direct route. This has also been written about by John Kay in his book Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly. Systems theory thrives on obliqueness and may provide a language with which to explore otherness (See references to Peter Checkland and Donella Meadows). Parsimony and not wanting more and more (which the left hemisphere might drive us to do) may be better than striving to get hold of more things.

The strategy of delaying or taking an indirect approach can be seen throughout history, with the classic example coming from the Roman dictator Fabius Maximus and his avoidance of frontal assaults in favour of a war of attrition. William Ophuls in his books ‘Immoderate Greatness’ and ‘Plato’s Revenge’, also takes up this theme that civilizations thrive better without grandiose schemes. (See also ‘The Blunders of our Governments’ by King & Crewe). There is a strong relationship between quantity and quality; more is not better, as we can see in what tourism is doing to some places on our planet.

We can also see the relationship between negation and creativity in Genesis in the Bible. As mentioned in a previous post, the story tells of a world created by taking things apart.

John Keats was the first person to use the term ‘negative capability’  to describe this capability of tolerating uncertainty, doubt and ambivalence. Familiarity has a deadening effect but negation unleashes things and opens them up. Wordsworth used negatives and comparators in his poetry especially in the poem Tintern Abbey. The principle of ‘negative capability’ – the capacity to be uncertain and think beyond presuppositions – is important for tolerating ambiguity and not closing things down.

According to the Kabbalah the first act of creation is often ‘withdrawal’, followed by ‘shattering’ and then ‘repair’. This website explains this in more detail.

Also as mentioned in previous posts, things become clearer by being cleared away and our brains need to lose neurons to grow, which can be thought of as neuronal pruning. See also the reference to sculpture in my first post in this series. Like sculpture, good literary criticism also reveals, whereas bad literary criticism gets in the way, gets between you and the subject.

The words “Das Nichts nichtet’ have been attributed to Heidegger. Possible meanings are ‘The nothing noths’ or ‘Nothing is something that does nothing’ expressing the need to create space for creativity. See also Brad Warner’s book – ‘There is no God and He is Always With You’. Related to this is Karl Popper’s emphasis on the logic of falsification:

‘The Popperian criteria for truth incorporate the notion that we can never prove something to be true; all we can do is prove that the alternatives are untrue.’ (p.230 The Master and his Emissary).

Sometimes less is more, although they can be very close and every ‘Yes’ brings its ‘No’. Asymmetry stems from symmetry and vice versa.

The session ended with reference to Heraclitus’ belief in the unity of opposites, that everything fits together in a relationship of tension, that oppositional forces enrich… and finally

… a reading from William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey , Iain’s favourite poem by his favourite poet.

 

Authors and Philosophers referred to during this session

Lewis Carroll (1872). Through the Looking Glass

Peter Checkland. Soft Systems Methodology 

Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BCE)

John Kay (2010). Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly. Profile Books

King, A. & Crewe, I. (2013). The Blunders of our Governments. Oneworld Publications

Iain McGilchrist (2010). The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press.

Donella Meadows (1972). The Limits to Growth. Signet. See also http://www.donellameadows.org/archives/a-synopsis-limits-to-growth-the-30-year-update/

Donella Meadows. Dancing with Systems

William Ophuls (2012). Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

William Ophuls (2013). Plato’s Revenge. Politics in the Age of Ecology. MIT Press

Brad Warner (2013). There is no God and he is always with you. New World Library

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) Tintern Abbey

Re-purposing, poetry and plagiarism

Since 2008 I have been aware that re-purposing is a key activity of connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs).  George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier explained what they meant by this in their introduction to Change 11 MOOC,  where they wrote:

We don’t want you simply to repeat what other people have said. We want you to create something of your own.

Remember that you are not starting from scratch. Nobody ever creates something from nothing. That’s why we call this section ‘repurpose’ instead of ‘create’.

In a paper that my colleagues Marion Waite, George Roberts, Elizabeth Lovegrove and I have had published this week, we have pointed out, as others have before us, the tensions between repurposing and plagiarism. It seems to be an intractable problem for Higher Education institutions wanting to go down the ‘MOOC with accreditation’ route.

A discussion in ModPo  this week about Dadaist poetry and with reference to Tristan Tzara’s instructions on how to make a Dadaist poem, is closely related to ideas around open educational resources, repurposing, creativity and plagiarism.

Tzara’s instructions

Take a newspaper. Take some scissors. Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem. Cut out the article. Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag. Shake gently. Next take out each cutting one after the other. Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag. The poem will resemble you. And there you are–an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

Source: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5774

This video illustrates the idea for those who relate better to video than text.

Is a poem written in this way an example of repurposing, or plagiarism, or both?

As chance would have it, just in the past week there has been a ‘storm’ about plagiarism by two Australian poets.

Toby Fitch of the Guardian writes:

But in all the outrage, and the quibbling over how poets should footnote their poems, the very legitimate poetic practice called “collage” is being dragged through the proverbial mud. Other experimental practices have been implicated, too – homage, misquotation, mistranslation, and more.

and

…..  it would be a great shame if, in our rush to lynch a couple of plagiarists and their misguided ideas of “patchwork”, “sampling” and “remixing”, we forget to remember why poetry needs experimentation.

Looking around it seems that plagiarism has been a concern in poetry for a while. See this excellent article by Kenneth Goldsmith in The Chronicle Review back in 2011 –

It’s Not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It’s ‘Repurposing’.

It seems that the boundaries between plagiarism and repurposing, what is creativity and what is not, remain very blurred and a bit of a minefield. Did Tzara plagiarise the newspaper article he cut up? At what point does repurposing end and plagiarism begin?

Interestingly, plagiarism has been made much of in ModPo, although, if I remember correctly, the word was not used in discussion of Tristan Tzara’s instructions on how to make a Dadaist poem.

I wonder  – how many poets license their poetry under Creative Commons?  Of course for this to work, poets would need to publish in the open. Perhaps its ‘openness’ and all that entails that is the problem, rather than plagiarism.

Update 28-01-14

See also this video – Embrace the Remix