Category Archives: adult learning

The Strong Voice

Anne Baring The Dream of the Cosmos: online | Amazon

The Real Challenge of Our Times:
The Need for a New Worldview

Neither do men put new wine into old bottles; else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles and both are preserved. Matt. 9:17

To reclaim the sacred nature of the cosmos – and of planet Earth in particular – is one of the outstanding spiritual challenges of our time. Diarmuid O’Murchu, Quantum Theology

The threat of global warming, the urgent need to free ourselves from dependency on oil and the current financial crisis could be the triple catalyst that offers us the opportunity of bringing about a profound shift in our values, relinquishing an old story and defining a new one. Our lives and well-being depend upon the fertility and resources of the earth, yet in relation to the earth, it would seem that we have been autistic for centuries. Now, instead of treating our planetary home as the endless supplier of all our needs, without consideration for its needs, we could rethink beliefs and attitudes which have influenced our behaviour for millennia.
Because of those beliefs we have come to look upon nature as something separate from ourselves, something we could master, control and manipulate to obtain specific benefits for our species alone because ours, we were taught, has been given dominion over all others and over the earth itself. It has come as a bit of a shock to realise that our lives are intimately bound up with the fragile organism of planetary life and the inter-dependence of all species. If we destroy our habitat, whether inadvertently or deliberately by continuing on our present path, we may risk destroying ourselves. We have developed a formidable intellect, a formidable science, a formidable technology but all rest on the premise of our alienation from and mastery of nature, where nature was treated as object with ourselves as controlling subject.
Yet now, the foundation that seemed so secure is disintegrating: old structures and beliefs are breaking down. It is as if mortal danger is forcing us to take a great leap in our evolution that we might never have made were we not driven to it by the extremity of circumstance. Many people are defining a new kind of relationship with the earth, based not on dominance but on respect, responsibility and conscious service. Because our capacity for destruction, both military and ecological, is so much greater today than it was even fifty years ago, and will be still greater tomorrow, we have only decades in which to change our thinking and respond to the challenge of this evolutionary leap.
There is a second problematic legacy from the past: the image of God shared by the three Abrahamic religions. This has presented God as a transcendent creator, separate and distinct from the created order and from ourselves. Western civilisation, despite its phenomenal achievements, developed on the foundation of this fundamental split between spirit and nature—between creator and creation. Only now are we brought face to face with the disastrous effects of this split.
Once again, as in the early centuries of the Christian era, it seems as if new bottles are needed to hold the wine of a new revelation, a new understanding of reality which could heal this split. But how do we create the vessel which can assimilate the wine of a new vision of reality and a different image of God or Spirit? How do we relinquish the dogmatic beliefs and certainties which have, over the millennia of the patriarchal era, caused indescribable and quite unnecessary suffering and the sacrifice of so many millions of lives?
I cannot answer these questions. But I do know that as the new understanding, the new wine comes into being, we have to hold the balance and the tension between the old and the new without destroying the old or rejecting the new. It must have been like this two thousand years ago when the disciples of Jesus tried to assimilate what he was telling them, something so utterly different from the belief-system and the brutal values which governed the world of their time. Even today, the revolutionary teachings and the different values he taught have barely touched the consciousness that governs the world of our time, however much political and religious leaders proclaim allegiance to them. What would Jesus have thought of WMD, depleted uranium and cluster bombs, and the massacre of helpless civilians in war, let alone the destruction of vast swathes of the earth’s forests to supply crops for biofuels? What would he have thought of the fact that colossal sums of money are spent on the military when 17,000 children die every day from hunger and disease?.
The need for a more conscious relationship with both nature and spirit, bringing them closer together, is intrinsic to the creativity of the life-impulse itself—urging us to go beyond the boundaries of the known, to break through the concepts and beliefs, whether religious, scientific or political, which currently govern our culture and constrict the expansion of our understanding and our compassion.
What is the emerging vision of our time which could offer a template for a new civilization? the remainder of the essay

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Master and Emissary

Iain McGilchrist

The last two paragraphs from Iain McGilchrist’s Introduction [pdf] to his book The Master and the Emissary

There is a story in Nietzsche that goes something like this. There was once a
wise spiritual master, who was the ruler of a small but prosperous domain, and
who was known for his sel?ess devotion to his people. As his people ?ourished
and grew in number, the bounds of this small domain spread; and with it the need
to trust implicitly the emissaries he sent to ensure the safety of its ever more
distant parts. It was not just that it was impossible for him personally to order all
that needed to be dealt with: as he wisely saw, he needed to keep his distance from,
and remain ignorant of, such concerns. And so he nurtured and trained carefully
his emissaries, in order that they could be trusted. Eventually, however, his
cleverest and most ambitious vizier, the one he most trusted to do his work, began
to see himself as the master, and used his position to advance his own wealth and
in?uence. He saw his master’s temperance and forbearance as weakness, not
wisdom, and on his missions on the master’s behalf, adopted his mantle as his
own – the emissary became contemptuous of his master. And so it came about
that the master was usurped, the people were duped, the domain became a
tyranny; and eventually it collapsed in ruins.

The meaning of this story is as old as humanity, and resonates far from the
sphere of political history. I believe, in fact, that it helps us understand something
taking place inside ourselves, inside our very brains, and played out in the cultural
history of the West, particularly over the last 500 years or so. Why I believe so
forms the subject of this book. I hold that, like the Master and his emissary in the
story, though the cerebral hemispheres should co-operate, they have for some
time been in a state of con?ict. The subsequent battles between them are recorded
in the history of philosophy, and played out in the seismic shifts that characterise
the history of Western culture. At present the domain – our civilisation – ?nds
itself in the hands of the vizier, who, however gifted, is effectively an ambitious
regional bureaucrat with his own interests at heart. Meanwhile the Master, the one
whose wisdom gave the people peace and security, is led away in chains. The
Master is betrayed by his emissary.

(SC) My associate Kenneth Warren brought McGilchrist’s work to my attention. One of the first so-called turns a new publicized model goes through is for it to be stripped down and reattached to the folk estimations (or constructs,) which emerge when a representation of domain-specific research is loosed into the public source. Put differently: the representational concepts transform into hypotheses, and then people deploy these possible explanations in new, and untested areas and experiences.

This ad hoc meta-abduction pulls experiences and situations and potential matches and mappings back toward the explanation; and explanation held by human awareness. This entanglement could describe aspects of a social complex. It’s important to comprehend that it is first embodied, next emboldened, then reembodied; and that there is a parallel biosemiotic operation. A sense given by this view is that the transformation of domain-dependent concepts into something else altogether–where the concepts are made to visit new domains–is more complicated than the transforms caused by concepts being metaphoric or analogues.

A practical possibility, then, is that, for example, an ecological space such as a room or building, may be designed with the model in the designer’s mind.

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Teaching Cartoon: On Planning

Oops experiment

We think in order to act, but we also act in order to think. We try things, and those experiments that work converge gradually into viable patterns that become strategies. This is the very essence of startegy making as a learning process. – Henry Mintzberg

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Being Unreasonable About Reasoning

Cultural Evaluations

Schematic Reasoning





Analogical reasoning

Cause-and-effect reasoning

Comparative reasoning

Conditional reasoning

Criteria reasoning

Decompositional reasoning

Exemplar reasoning

Modal logic

Traditional logic

Pros-vs-cons reasoning

Set-based reasoning

Systematic reasoning

Syllogistic reasoning

wxcerpted from:

Reasoning in every day life
Michal Vince
Department of Applied Informatics Comenius University in Bratislava Slovakia
January 24, 2011

Recently, I’ve been thinking about abduction. Also, I’ve been observing, introspecting, and reflecting on how modalities seem to assemble and blend and, to borrow from the Churchlands, join the cascade. Then, I wished to see what else might join a listing of the modes of reasoning. I shall now add to that list.

Conformative Reasoning

Reformative Reasoning

Design Reasoning

Instrumental Reasoning

Metaphoric Reasoning

Reference-point Reasoning

Tautological Reasoning

Heuristical Reasoning

Intuitive (Hunch) Reasoning

Musical Reasoning

Semiotic Reasoning

Schematic Reasoning

Kinesthetic Reasoning

Connotative Reasoning

Classificatory Reasoning

Antimonial Reasoning

Prototype Reasoning

Improvisational Reasoning

Contemplative Reasoning

Ecstatic Reasoning

Transitive Reasoning

Memetic Reasoning

Exemplar-ordinated Reasoning

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Paulo Freire II

…the rationality basic to science and technology disappears under the extraordinary effects of technology itself, and its place is taken by myth-making irrationalism … Technology thus ceases to be perceived by men as one of the greatest expressions of their creative power and becomes instead a species of new divinity to which they create a cult of worship. (Education As the Practice of Freedom, Freire:2000, pp. 62-63)

Paulo Freire and Peace Education – a good primer on Freire (pdf) by Lesley Bartlett, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Department of International & Transcultural Studies Teachers College, Columbia University

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Teaching Cartoons: On Context


Calvin will be surprised when the test comes back.


This replicates a classic form of a lesson on ‘precision.’

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Paolo Freire – Last Interview

Only dialogue, which requires critical thinking, is also capable of generating critical thinking. Without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there can be no true education – Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire

Freire Project

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Complex World

Learning for a complex world

I put together a wall exhibit of various materials prior to facilitating a staff inquiry for a strategic planning project recently, and this graphic purloined via google image search was part of the display.

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Strip Teases

A Valentine from Möbius

squareONE’s ‘fastest’ tool is called Mobius Strip. I build an introductory program around it, and other times I use it for one-to-one exploring.

Mobius Tool

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Thinking About Libraries

Strategic Planning

Learners share the graphic results of Go Fish

I’m thinking about public libraries again. Kenneth Warren has engaged squareONE learning to help design and guide a strategic planning inquiry for Wadsworth Public Library. We began the interactive part of the process with a staff day this week.

It went really well both from my perspective and given the appreciative report of the library’s Director.

sq1 model

POSTER: squareONE’s model plus the Kolb Learning Styles

I created a bunch of materials for the walls. I showed them, but I didn’t tell much about them.


Context Inquiry-Dichotomies-2

These dichotomies reflect the result of our initial inquiry made with the Director. Cut into cards, they constitute an  evocative device for exploring questions, challenges, and routes for further inquiry.

When I think about public libraries, I’m thinking about their deep human system and how it nourishes development and education throughout the human life cycle. Of course, how a given library does so reflects the unique human system of that particular library.

When this project is completed I will have lots more to say!

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Stephen Brookfield & the Incremental Rhythm of Learning

Stephen Brookfield

Teaching in a critically reflective way involves teachers trying to discover, and research, the assumptions that frame how they teach. In researching these assumptions, teachers have four complementary lenses through which they can view their practice; the lens of their own autobiographies as learners, the lens of students’ eyes, the lens of colleagues’ perceptions, and the lens of educational literature. Reviewing practice through these lenses helps surface the assumptions we hold about pedagogic methods, techniques, and approaches and the assumptions we make concerning the conditions that best foster student learning. Reflective teaching involves discovering and researching one’s own assumptions. from: Using the Lenses of Critically Reflective Teaching in the Community College Classroom

goldmine: Articles & Interviews

RESISTANCE TO LEARNING from Helping Adult Learn packet-pdf

Poor Self-Image as Learners
Fear of the Unknown
Part of the Incremental Rhythm of Learning
Disjunction of Learning & Teaching Styles
Racial, Cultural & Gender Differences Between
Teachers & Students
Apparent Irrelevance of the Learning
Level of Required Learning is Inappropriate or
Fear of Looking Foolish in Public
Cultural Suicide
Lack of Clarity in a Teacher’s Instructions
Personal Dislike & Mistrust of a Teacher
Racial, Cultural, Gender Mistrust

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Another Ladybug Moment


Jung did provide some paradigmatic clinical experiences about synchronicity. His most famous example was of a young woman whose analysis was in a bit of impasse based on her resistance to the notion of unconscious process until she had a dream that included a golden scarab (as a piece of jewelry). In discussing the dream, Jung was alerted to a tapping sound at his window, which he opened. He caught a rose chafer, a Scarabaeid beetle, that he gave to the woman, apparently breaking through her resistance. (Joseph Cambray)

In this example, the psychic state is indicated by the patient’s decision to tell Jung her dream of being given a scarab. The parallel external event is the appearance and behaviour of the real scarab. Neither of these events discernibly or plausibly caused the other by any normal means, so their relationship is acausal. Nevertheless, the events parallel each other in such unlikely detail that one cannot escape the impression that they are indeed connected, albeit acausally. Moreover, this acausal connection of events both is symbolically informative (as we shall see) and has a deeply emotive and transforming impact on the patient and in these senses is clearly meaningful. (Jung’s requirement that the parallel events be simultaneous is more problematic. For present purposes, it is sufficient to know that Jung does also allow for paralleling between events that are not simultaneous.1 Thus, the patient’s dream, rather than her decision to tell the dream, preceded the actual appearance of the scarab by several hours. Yet, Jung would certainly have considered the coincidence between the dream and the actual appearance synchronistic even if the patient had not decided to tell the dream at just that moment.) (Roderick Main)

The occurrence of synchronicities is seen as permitting a continuing dialogue with the unconscious and with the larger whole of life while also calling forth an aesthetic and spiritual appreciation of life’s powers of symbolically resonant complex patterning. . . . Although Jung himself did not explicitly describe this later stage in his principal monograph on synchronicity, it is evident from many scattered passages in his writings and from the recollections and memoirs of others that he both lived his life and conducted his clinical practice in a manner that entailed a constant attention to potentially meaningful synchronistic events that would then shape his understanding and actions. Jung saw nature and one’s surrounding environment as a living matrix of potential synchronistic meaning that could illuminate the human sphere. He attended to sudden or unusual movements or appearances of animals, flocks of birds, the wind, storms, the suddenly louder lapping of the lake outside the window of his consulting room, and similar phenomena as possessing possible symbolic relevance for the parallel unfolding of interior psychic realities. . . . Central to Jung’s understanding of such phenomena was his observation that the underlying meaning or formal factor that linked the synchronistic inner and outer events—the formal cause, in Aristotelian terms—was archetypal in nature. (Richard Tarnas)

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Context in Two Shakes




For many, the most significant dimension of affordance theory is its grounding in first principles of Darwinian ecology: an organism and its environs are reciprocally shaped; perceptual features are adaptively molded in response to specific environmental features; both simple and complex organisms exhibit patterns of response to stimuli that are demonstrably innate. [James J.] Gibson’s work is among the first efforts to operationalize these general principles. He argued that the adaptive value of environmental objects and events are directly perceived (Kazdin, 2000). An affordance, Gibson reasoned, is defined by a pairing of an organism (and by extension, its potential or realized behavior) with specific environmental features, embedded in a particular situation or context.

Gibson’s “Affordances”: Evolution of a Pivotal Concept
Harold S. Jenkins
University of Central Oklahoma (pdf)

web site: Journal of Scientific PSychology

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Jerome Bruner on YouTube

Jerome Bruner will be 99 this year. This is his current statement of focus at NYU:

I’m interested in the various institutional forms by which culture is passed on — most particularly in school practices and in legal codes and legal praxis. In both examples, my concern is with how canonical forms create a dialectic with the “possible worlds” of imaginative art forms. My preferred method of work in both instances is the anthropological-interpretive.

(Me too!)

Jerome Bruner’s The Narrative Construction of Reality [pdf] is easily available. It is in the group of essays precocious tenth graders would be directed to read if I were the Headmaster.

Narrative accrual. How do we cobble stories together to make them into a whole of some sort? Sciences achieve their accrual by deriva- tion from general principles, by relating particular findings to central par- adigms, by couching empirical findings in a form that makes them subsumable under altering paradigms, and by countless other procedures for making science, as the saying goes, “cumulative.” This is vastly aided, of course, by procedures for assuring verification, though, as we know, verificationist criteria have limited applicability where human intentional states are concerned, which leaves psychology rather on the fringe.

Narrative accrual is not foundational in the scientist’s sense. Yet narratives do accrue, and, as anthropologists insist, the accruals eventually create something variously called a “culture” or a “history” or, more loosely, a “tradition.” Even our own homely accounts of happenings in our own lives are eventually converted into more or less coherent autobiogra- phies centered around a Self acting more or less purposefully in a social world.*5 Families similarly create a corpus of connected and shared tales and Elinor Ochs’s studies in progress on family dinner-table talk begin to shed light on how this is accomplished.46 Institutions, too, as we know from the innovative work of Eric Hobsbawm, “invent” traditions out of previously ordinary happenings and then endow them with privileged sta- tus,47 And there are principles of jurisprudence, like stare decisis, that guarantee a tradition by assuring that once a “case” has been interpreted in one way, future cases that are “similar” shall be interpreted and decided equivalently. Insofar as the law insists on such accrual of cases as “prece- dents,” and insofar as “cases” are narratives, the legal system imposes an orderly process of narrative accrual.

Bruner at inFed
Bruner summary at SimplyPsychology

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What have we here?


The Blind Men and the Elephant
by John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887)
(Based upon a Hindu Parable)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho! What have we here?
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!


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It’s Cold Outside + Teaching Cartoon

Even yours truly, being a ‘nary a Christian,’ and by reputation being also a mildly notorious Christmas season curmudgeon, can warm up to this video.


“I’m too ME to die.” is typical Snoopy, in Snoopy’s ‘French’ mode. These two cartoons face each other down.

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How Fire Is Made

Alan Alda and The Center for Communicating Science for creating such an educational and creative venue!

Thus I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Gaya, at Gayasisa, together with a thousand bhikkhus. There he addressed the bhikkhus.

“Bhikkhus, all is burning. And what is the all that is burning?

“The eye is burning, forms are burning, eye-consciousness is burning, eye-contact is burning, also whatever is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant that arises with eye-contact for its indispensable condition, that too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, with the fire of hate, with the fire of delusion. I say it is burning with birth, aging and death, with sorrows, with lamentations, with pains, with griefs, with despairs.

“The ear is burning, sounds are burning…

“The nose is burning, odors are burning…

“The tongue is burning, flavors are burning…

“The body is burning, tangibles are burning…

“The mind is burning, ideas are burning, mind-consciousness is burning, mind-contact is burning, also whatever is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant that arises with mind-contact for its indispensable condition, that too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, with the fire of hate, with the fire of delusion. I say it is burning with birth, aging and death, with sorrows, with lamentations, with pains, with griefs, with despairs.

“Bhikkhus, when a noble follower who has heard (the truth) sees thus, he finds estrangement in the eye, finds estrangement in forms, finds estrangement in eye-consciousness, finds estrangement in eye-contact, and whatever is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful- nor-pleasant that arises with eye-contact for its indispensable condition, in that too he finds estrangement.

“He finds estrangement in the ear… in sounds…

“He finds estrangement in the nose… in odors…

“He finds estrangement in the tongue… in flavors…

“He finds estrangement in the body… in tangibles…

“He finds estrangement in the mind, finds estrangement in ideas, finds estrangement in mind-consciousness, finds estrangement in mind-contact, and whatever is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant that arises with mind-contact for its indispensable condition, in that too he finds estrangement.

“When he finds estrangement, passion fades out. With the fading of passion, he is liberated. When liberated, there is knowledge that he is liberated. He understands: ‘Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what can be done is done, of this there is no more beyond.’”

That is what the Blessed One said. The bhikkhus were glad, and they approved his words.

Now during his utterance, the hearts of those thousand bhikkhus were liberated from taints through clinging no more.

Richard Feynman

How Fire Is Made Ahmed el-Bedavi (d. 1276), founder of the Egyptian Bedavi Sufi Order. Retold by Idries Shah. “Tales of the Dervishes“

Once upon a time a man was contemplating the ways in which Nature operates, and he discovered, because of his concentration and application, how fire could be made.

This man was called Nour [Light]. He decided to travel from one community to another, showing people his discovery.

Nour passed the secret to many groups of people. Some took advantage of the knowledge. Others drove him away, thinking that he must be dangerous, before they had had time to understand how valuable this discovery could be to them. Finally, a tribe before which he demonstrated became so panic-stricken that they set about him and killed him, being convinced that he was a demon.

Centuries passed. The first tribe which had learned about fire reserved the secret for their priests, who remained in affluence and power while the people froze.

The second tribe forgot the art and worshipped instead the instruments. The third worshipped a likeness of Nour himself, because it was he who had taught them. The fourth retained the story of the making of fire in their legends: some believed them, some did not. The fifth community really did use fire, and this enabled them to be warmed, to cook their food, and to manufacture all kinds of useful articles.

After many, many years, a wise man and a small band of his disciples were traveling through the lands of those tribes. The disciples were amazed at the variety of rituals which they encountered; and one and all said to their teacher: ‘But all these procedures are in fact related to the making of fire, nothing else. We should reform these people!’

The teacher said: ‘Very well, then. We shall restart our journey. By the end of it, those who survive will know the real problems and how to approach them.

When they reached the first tribe, the band was hospitably received. The priests invited the travelers to attend their religious ceremony, the making of fire. When it was over, and the tribe was in a state of excitement at the event which they had witnessed, the master said: ‘Does anyone wish to speak?’

The first disciple said: ‘In the cause of Truth I feel myself constrained to say something to these people.’

‘If you will do so at your own risk, you may do so,’ said the master.

Now the disciple stepped forward in the presence of the tribal chief and his priests and said: ‘I can perform the miracle which you take to be a special manifestation of deity. If I do so, will you accept that you have been in error for so many years?’

But the priests cried: ‘Seize him!’ and the man was taken away, never to be seen again.

The travelers went to the next territory where the second tribe were worshipping the instruments of fire-making. Again a disciple volunteered to try to bring reason to the community.

With the permission of the master, he said: ‘I beg permission to speak to you as reasonable people. You are worshipping the means whereby something may be done, not even the thing itself. Thus you are suspending the advent of its usefulness. I know the reality that lies at the basis of this ceremony.’

This tribe was composed of more reasonable people. But they said to the disciple: ‘You are welcome as a traveler and stranger in our midst. But, as a stranger, foreign to our history and customs, you cannot understand what we are doing. You make a mistake. Perhaps, even, you are trying to take away or alter our religion. We therefore decline to listen to you.’

The travelers moved on.

When they arrived in the land of the third tribe, they found before every dwelling an idol representing Nour, the original fire-maker. The third disciple addressed the chiefs of the tribe:

‘This idol represents a man, who represents a capacity, which can be used.’

‘This may be so,’ answered the Nour-worshippers, ‘but the penetration of the real secret is only for the few.’

‘It is only for the few who will understand, not for those who refuse to face certain facts,’ said the third disciple.

‘This is rank heresy, and from a man who does not even speak our language correctly, and is not a priest ordained in our faith,’ muttered the priests. And he could make no headway.

The band continued their journey, and arrived in the land of the fourth tribe. Now a fourth disciple stepped forward in the assembly of people.

‘The story of making fire is true, and I know how it may be done,’ he said.

Confusion broke out within the tribe, which split into various factions. Some said: ‘This may be true, and if it is, we want to find out how to make fire.’ When these people were examined by the master and his followers, however, it was found that most of them were anxious to use firemaking for personal advantage, and did not realize that it was something for human progress. So deep had the distorted legends penetrated into the minds of most people that those who thought that they might in fact represent truth were often unbalanced ones, who could not have made fire even if they had been shown how.

There was another faction, who said: ‘Of course the legends are not true. This man is just trying to fool us, to make a place for himself here.’

And a further faction said: ‘We prefer the legends as they are, for they are the very mortar of our cohesion. If we abandon them, and we find that this new interpretation is useless, what will become of our community then?’

And there were other points of view, as well.

So the party traveled on, until they reached the lands of the fifth community, where firemaking was a commonplace, and where other preoccupations faced them.

The master said to his disciples:

“You have to learn how to teach, for man does not want to be taught. First of all, you will have to teach people how to learn. And before that you have to teach them that there is still something to be learned. They imagine that they are ready to learn. But they want to learn what they imagine is to be learned, not what they have first to learn. When you have learned all this, then you can devise the way to teach. Knowledge without special capacity to teach is not the same as knowledge and capacity.”

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Humberto Maturana & Heinz von Foerster: Meta-Science, Reflection

(I will be posting the two additional videos of Humberto and Heinz. Their brief engagements are very dense and rewarding. One of my favorite endeavors is to dive into dialogs. Thankfully these moments betwixt Maturana and von Foerster were captured so it is now possible to point to fine examples on youtube of deep diving dialog and conversational learning.)

Given the objectives of the Reduced Bateson Set, The second protocol of systems awareness, following from the first protocol of Intentional Reflection, is: “de-location and re-location.” This move is concerned with, in actual effect, jiggling–the/available/any–context(s.)

For now, after dealing with the above video, ramble with Heinz von Foerster.

shr: Do you not think that artificial intelligence is similarly implicit in other fields?

heinz von foerster: I do not think so. The founders and proponents of Artificial Intelligence were from the beginning very much motivated and extremely competent to go after highly specialized tasks as, for instance, how to build a robot which could rearrange an arrangement of blocks into another desired arrangement.

The performance of these machines are very impressive indeed, but I see them more as witnesses to the extraordinary natural intelligence of their designers, rather than cases of “artificial intelligence.”

The anthropomorphization of these machine functions I see insofar as dangerous, because one may be tempted to believe that when we say “this machine ‘thinks’” we know now how we think, for we know how the machine “thinks.”

Syntactically, however, the distinction is clear, for when the machines “thinks” they do it between quotes: quote think unquote. Except for the name there is nothing in common between the functions “think” and think!

shr: This is somewhat reminiscent of some classical critiques of artificial intelligence, for example, Hubert Dreyfus’s critique. It seems that you are saying something along Dreyfus’s lines because you are saying that although artificial intelligence is claiming that they are working to solve the problem of intelligence at large, indeed they are working within a very narrow definition of cognition or intelligence, ignoring the larger background and context within which cognition operates. And it seems that your view of cybernetics, or your own work, strives to look at cognition the opposite direction, in its largest possible framework.

hvf: The way you put your question conjures up in my mind the image of the Roman god of the Beginnings, the Guardian of the Universe, the god Janus. He has a head with two faces that look in opposite directions. Now I see one face watching Aristotle’s way of synthesizing imitations of life: “bio-mimesis”; the other face attending to those who follow the Platonic of coming to grips with, as Bateson put it, “mind and Nature, a Necessary Unity.”

My sense is that we need to learn to look both ways, like the god Janus. Interview at SEHR; Stanford

Cybernetics Experiment

Heinz vo Foerster: When I answered “I shall talk about Ethics and Second-Order Cybernetics,” almost all of them looked at me in bewilderment and asked “What is second-order cybernetics?” as if there were no questions about ethics.

I am relieved when people ask me about second-order cybernetics and not about ethics, because it is so much easier to talk about second-order cybernetics than it is to talk about ethics. In fact, it is impossible to talk about ethics. But let me explain that later, and let me now say a few words about cybernetics, and, of course, about cybernetics of cybernetics, or second-order cybernetics.

As you all know, cybernetics arises when effectors, say, a motor, an engine, our muscles, etc. are connected to a sensory organ which, in turn, acts with its signals upon the effectors.

It is this circular organization which sets cybernetic systems apart from others that are not so organized. Here is Norbert Wiener, who re-introduced the term “cybernetics” into scientific discourse. He observed:

The behavior of such systems may be interpreted as directed to the attainment of a goal.

That is, it looks as if these systems pursued a purpose! That sounds very bizarre indeed.

But let me give you other paraphrases of what cybernetics is all about by invoking the spirit of women and men who rightly could be considered the mamas and papas of cybernetic thought and action.

First, here is Margaret Mead, whose name is, I am sure, familiar to all of you. In one of her addresses to the American Society of Cybernetics she said:

As an anthropologist, I have been interested in the effects that the theories of cybernetics have within our society. I am not referring to computers or to the electronic evolution as a whole, or to the end of dependence on script for knowledge, or to the way that dress has succeeded the mimeographing machine as a form of communication among the dissenting young.

Let me repeat that:

I am not referring to the way that dress has succeeded the mimeographing machine as a form of communication among the dissenting young.

[And then she continues:]

I specifically want to consider the significance of the set of cross-disciplinary ideas which we first called ‘feed-back’ and then called ‘teleological mechanisms’ and then called ‘cybernetics’ — a form of cross-disciplinary thought which made it possible for members of many disciplines to communicate with each other easily in a language which all could understand.

And here is the voice of her third husband, the epistemologist, anthropologist, cybernetician, and, as some say, the papa of family therapy, Gregory Bateson:

Cybernetics is a branch of mathematics dealing with problems of control, recursiveness and information.

And here the organizational philosopher and managerial wizard Stafford Beer:

Cybernetics is the science of effective organization.

And, finally, here the poetic reflection of “Mister Cybernetics,” as we fondly call him, the cybernetician’s cybernetician, Gordon Pask:

Cybernetics is the science of defensible metaphors.

It seems that cybernetics is many different things to many different people, but this is because of the richness of its conceptual base. And this is, I believe, very good; otherwise, cybernetics would become a somewhat boring exercise. However, all of those perspectives arise from one central theme, and that is that of circularity.

When, perhaps a half century ago, the fecundity of this concept was seen, it was sheer euphoria to philosophize, epistemologize, and theorize about its consequences, its ramification into various fields, and its unifying power.

While this was going on, something strange evolved among the philosophers, the epistemologists and the theoreticians: they began to see themselves more and more as being themselves included in a larger circularity, maybe within the circularity of their family, or that of their society and culture, or being included in a circularity of even cosmic proportions.

What appears to us today most natural to see and to think, was then not only hard to see, it was even not allowed to think!


Because it would violate the basic principle of scientific discourse which demands the separation of the observer from the observed. It is the principle of objectivity: the properties of the observer shall not enter the description of his observations.

I gave this principle here in its most brutal form, to demonstrate its nonsensicality: if the properties of the observer, namely, to observe and to describe, are eliminated, there is nothing left: no observation, no description.

However, there was a justification for adhering to this principle, and this justification was fear. Fear that paradoxes would arise when the observers were allowed to enter the universe of their observations. And you know the threat of paradoxes: to steal their way into a theory is like having the cloven-hoofed foot of the Devil stuck in the door of orthodoxy.

Clearly, when cyberneticians were thinking of partnership in the circularity of observing and communicating, they were entering the forbidden land:

In the general case of circular closure, A implies B, B implies C, and — O! Horror! — C implies A!

Or in the reflexive case:

A implies B, and — O! Shock! — B implies A!

And now Devil’s cloven-hoofed foot in its purest form, in the form of self-reference:

A implies A.

– Outrage!

l would like to invite you now to come with me into the land where it is not forbidden, but where one is even encouraged to speak about oneself (what else can one do anyway?).

This turn from looking at things out there to looking at looking itself, arose — I think — from significant advances in neurophysiology and neuropsychiatry. (H.v.Foerster, ethics and second order cybernetics; SEHR; Stanford)

The Heinz von Foerster Page – Radical Constructivism (Wikipedia)

Paper: On Constructing Reality (pdf)



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Teaching Cartoons: Instrumentality 1 & 2



Samurai Prayer






















Samurai Prayer


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A Hidden ‘Meta’

Ernst von Glasersfeld

Once knowing is no longer understood as the search for an iconic representation of ontological reality but, instead, as a search for fitting ways of behaving and thinking, the traditional problem disappears. Knowledge can now be seen as something which the organism builds up in the attempt to order the as such amorphous flow of experience by establishing repeatable experiences and relatively reliable relations between them. The possibilities of constructing such an order are determined and perpetually constrained by the preceding steps in the construction. That means that the “real” world manifests itself exclusively there where our constructions break down. But since we can describe and explain these breakdowns only in the very concepts that we have used to build the failing structures, this process can never yield a picture of a world that we could hold responsible for their failure. An Introduction to Radical Constructivism, in: Paul Watzlawick (Hg.): The Invented Reality, 1984, p. 39.

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