Tag Archives: experiential learning

All All There

[flashvideo file=http://www.squareone-learning.com/video/FreePlay.flv /]

Dave says to me after the game,

It was all there. What a great game.

I affirm this,


Actually, whatever “it” is, my guess “it” is all there every weekend, in the Free Play softball game. Except, to say this is just to flash the glib idea that the necessary social, affectual, situational, structural, phenomenal elements are always placed, found in their place, in every outing.

No, as much as this is true, what really is the case is that we together build something on the order of a ‘production,’ every week. Like a musical or dramatic production, our production every week is utterly distinct, unique. Some of our softball symphonies are truly evocative and moving, while other times the production is much less so. Hey, from my odd perspective, our games are never lame, and are always interesting.

(What’s lame? My deteriorating skills!)

The relationship between common and necessary global features with the never predictable or necessary local elements is what frames a view of: the complexity-of-enactment elicited by the simplicity-of-genre. (I just cracked myself up.) It’s very creative, when you come down to differentiating the structure from the how-and-happenstance, and, by definition, its integrity within the complex humanity of the players.

Hey, kind o’ like music.

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Two Batesonian Teaching Cartoons

Okay. I mentioned I had this darn insight many years ago: something like a Batesonian metalogue–which are sprinkled throughout his books–seems to be discoverable in the deep structure of particular Sufi teaching stories. This old insight has evolved and this is due mostly to my original apercu not really being the actual case.

I would put it differently now. There is in this kind of story a hidden potential for shifting one’s “base” way of experiencing their being-in-the-world. (This is but one way of putting the experiential ‘trap door’ contained in such stories.) Whereas, Bateson never specified a comprehensive set of applications which could be said–had these been specified–to be implicate in his research and articulation of his understanding. He never, as-it-were, surfaced those kinds of robust edifying activities.

To hold these two different aspects from two different ‘realizations,’ together, nevertheless, reveals similar practical objectives. One simple way to suggest this is to bring in the metaphor of peeling the onion. Certainly this does fine duty with respect to the technology given by the Sufi teaching story. After all, the teaching story is surely a technology for peeling the onion. On the side of Bateson, similarly, but less tried and tested, there is an implicate technology focused on supporting a deep, counter-habitual, and no less subversive ‘environmentally-experiential’ learning.

Now I’m reviewing my archive of teaching cartoons to see which ones elicit these similar aspects.

Stephen Nachmaninovitch’s seminar was terrific. I’m not going to talk too much out of school, except to make a couple of observations. Later, I’ll highlight Stephen’s resources.

He brought Bateson into his mostly experiential presentation in very subtle ways. He insinuated a handful of ideas by softly integrating each into the composition of his program. From my perspective, it seemed he was ‘making ground’ for negative capability. I suppose I’m sensitive to this, so it was striking. Those of course are just my terms.

Among the bright Ph.D. candidates in the room, many seemed to find their way in a situation aiming to be expansive rather than one aimed to feather their (likely) laser-directed professional aspirations!

This leads to my other observation. There is, in the context of the professional academy, a very ripe circumstance for this kind of instigation. There were many moments during the seminar when I was chuckling inside because so many ‘givens’ were coming under a lot of pressure–except this was entirely by deep and indirect implication. This seemed almost tacit, yet obvious too.

And, at the same time, Nachmanovitch was very selective. He interjected Bateson’s sense about the problem with nouns-with reification-with flattening, but didn’t then highlight this applies to ideas as well as people, places, and things. All he said was that this applies to people, places, things, and ideas. It seemed he was seeding a handful of experiences and frames and allied concepts. Briefly, at the end, he wrapped this all up in a mildly didactic closing.

It was masterful for what he didn’t say; for what he left to ‘roam on its own;’ and, for trusting his students to discover what they will. As Bateson would have it: he didn’t close off possibilities.

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Minding the Mind

My favorite (Gregory) Batesonian teaching story, reconfigured and originally via Idries Shah.

A frenchman is teaching another french rudimentary english.

“So, the word for froid crème glacée is ‘cold ice cream.’ ”

“What’s the word for chaude crème glacée?”

“Oh, they have no need for it, so there’s no word for it.”

Although I have an acute memory, I can’t recall which friend of mine did me the favor of bringing the work of Gregory Bateson to my attention. It was a long time ago. (Maybe it was Chris Irion? Pilcher?) I dug into Bateson’s Mind and Nature thirty years ago, when it was published. In another sense, it only matters as a fuzzy starting point. It was definitely in 1996 that I returned to his opus in a re-doubled effort to make some further connections. This was due to meeting my mentor and squareONE partner Judith Buerkel in 1995. During this first meeting it turned out Bateson was our mutual touchstone. Bingo!

It was only then, after a more mature effort to really deal-in, that Bateson’s understanding came to deeply inform my outlook, and to comprise a large facet in my favorite lens. The interesting nexus for this was a weird insight evoked by my trying to make coherent the weaving together of three things, the Sufi teaching story, my new (at the time) fascination with others’ theorizing about experiential learning (this via Mezirow and Kolb,) and, my revisiting Bateson (via his last book, Where Angels Fear. Toward An Epistemology of the Sacred.) About this last visitation, the bookmark stuck a third of the way through the book–when I picked it up again–marked where I had left off nine years earlier.

Judith basically told me to woodshed! Ultimately, we grappled with how to underpin our applications–what was to become the tool kit for squareONE. We spend a lot of time discussing the practical import for our work of our different Batesonian outlooks. We both thought Bateson was an adept designer; (although this is a novel sense about Bateson, who overtly was an anthropologist, psychologist, philosopher, and naturalist.)

Anyway, my insight at the time, excitedly delivered at our weekly meeting at Arabica, was this: it was apparent to me that something like Batesonian metalogues were embedded, even secreted in the structural folds of many Middle Eastern teaching stories. Judith responded: “They’re folded in everything.”

I’ve been revisiting Bateson once again over the last month. This, however, comes long after I added my experience and understanding of his understanding, (well, some of it,) to be, basically, the fundamental facet of my favored lens. By which I mean: some synergy of dynamic ideas-in-interplay make up the essential background frame for my intentional observations. Funny how lens and frame come together!

I use a ‘reduced set’ roughly taken from Bateson. Perhaps it would better to say appropriated from Bateson. I’m not a Batesonian because I’m eclectic, disorganized, not masterly, and, an ol’ hippie. Yet, in another sense, I often turn the world around to experience its different sides using my idiosyncratic (sort of) Batesonian lens.

If I assert that I’m dedicated to being a student of my environment, then in the background of this claim is this lens. You should know this to know where I’m coming from. I’ll have more to say about this soon.

I’ve recently had reason to woodshed some more and revisit the work of Gregory Bateson. I was invited to participate in a seminar at the local grad school. Stephen Nachmanovitch, author of the terrific book Free Play, musician, and student, friend, colleague of Gregory Bateson, is to give a lecture on something to do with experiential learning and play.

Getting back to one of my main people has been fantastic. The Explorations Blog is going to go on a Bateson trip for a spell. Stay tuned. I’ll wrap with a review of resources I’ve discovered out in the shed.

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Hammer Time

Pete the hammer.

New gear, celebrating next year’s 20th anniversary of Free Play softball.

The Free Play Softball League convenes its open system every Sunday at 10am, at Forest Hills Park-Cleveland Heights, on field #8. If you need to loosen up, or take a few batting practice swings, 9:45am is a good time to show up.

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More Matrices

[An archival post carried over from the defunct Transformative Tools blog] If this looks like a version of the medicine wheel, know the medicine wheel expresses the archetectonic fundamental; is the archetypal template for the matrical model and heuristic learning process. This tool was profoundly influenced by the work of Little Bear and Hummux, their investigation following the work of the great process theorist, Arthur S. Young. The matrical form is encountered as descendent of the sacred hoop in Young’s book, The Geometry of Meaning.)Another way to look at it is to think of the simple “four square” matrix, (well known as the Johari Window,) as another kind of depiction. Going farther, these kinds of matrices also formulate compasses and mandalas.The learning principle is straightforward: plotting positions on the form articulates a positions with respect to the arrangement of opposed categories. In turn, each categorical pair expresses a dichotomy or pair of opposites. Any position or relationship between two or more positions encompasses a critical tension betwixt and between these dichotomies. The result is a way of plotting and learning about the tension of opposites. Obviously, this process is explicitly dialectical.

Here’s a simple example:

It could address an inquiry based on the question, If happy or sad, how sensitive is this mood to being changed?

Here’s a richer matrix upon which is set two pairs from Baxter’s Relational Dialectics. It’s more abstract yet it could yield a lot of data in response to a concrete and practical question.

I’ve most often intuited a set of two dichotomies in response to the process I’m engaging with learners. There’s no normative aspect to setting up a given matrix. In effect, they can be conjured as a matter of feeling what the critical tensions in a situation seem to be. Alternately, by drawing two cards from the deck of opposites, (another tool,) the matrix can be randomized. Here’s the result of drawing two cards right now:

Hmmm…good draw. Any matrix given through any procedure is employed against the, hopefully, already critical inquisitive intention of the learner.

As a learner, you can put together, ad hoc, your own 4 square matrix.

Here’s an example of a political self-test using this format.

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Core of Play

For Love of the Game, Rick Reilly, espn.com

Great, feel good story about two softball teams–one superior, one inferior, and both willing to invoke the deeper game. Many years ago I coached for two seasons mens and womens college club volleyball teams, My division III ladies took some serious lumps against two division I opponents in a tournament. We scored something like 18 points in losing four games. Ouch. However, afterward we were invited to participate in a joint practice, a magnanimous gesture offered by the host team’s coach.

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Field Eight – Opening Day

You can make out Matt’s magic bat leaning up against the back-stop to good ol’ field 8.

Opening day of Free Play Softball, April 18th, ‘the first Sunday after tax day!’

Since 1986, I vaguely recall. Have I been playing with the Free Play crew since, hmmm, 2000? If so: ten years and counting.

Alas, it was cold, it was drizzling and worse, and only five blokes showed up. And, I had to pass all the equipment on because I have a work commitment next week.

Still, we batted around a bit and it seems my undercut and uncanny ability to swing away at crappy pitches has survived the winter, intact. This, nevertheless, makes me very happy.

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The 10% Problem

The Pareto Principle, commonly known as the 80-20 rule, first figured into my own thinking several years before someone hipped me to the origins of a conception I was using. In truth, I had developed its bastard child, also a regulation of the vital few, I called–at the time–the 10% problem. The context was artist development in the music industry and the application was as a device to thoughtfully put reverse pressure on a musician’s tendency to spend time convincing naysayers. What I saw was artists spending more time trying to market to naysayers than they spent either pullng fence sitters in, or turning their believers into evangelists. Also, it seemed at the time what promoted this was their sense everybody was supposed to be a fan and that those who weren’t yet fans were thought to be ripe targets. But, the naysayers were hardly low hanging fruit and so I offered the suggestion that they should be ignored.

Several years later a colleague on the only management team I’ve ever been a member of hipped me to The Pareto Rule in the aftermath of my attempt to apply the 10% problem to the company’s marketing philosophy. In this instance, I was advocating more product testing because it seemed to me the company was wasting resources based in the assumption that 90% of the new products would always appeal to 100% of their customers.

Since then I’ve employed variations of the 80-20 (or 90-10) principle to all sorts of situations. My innovation is with respect to transformative learning: roughly, spend a figurative 10% of your time doing wild experiments, and doing so irrespective of so-called conventional wisdom. Here, in a sense, one pays attention to the outlying possibilities.

This has led me to reflect upon how the concept of the vital few may be consequential for perspectives about systems. This follows from a hypothesis about systems, (or about how in effect the world works,) that goes like this, what aspects of the system are hidden when it is presumed seeing the entire system in fact sees only 90%?
(90%, or, whatever is the presumptive portion said perspective views.

This comes back to the genesis of the 10% Problem because often the conventional wisdom, or habitual perspective, holds its conclusions about the system to be the inevitable product of seeing/understanding the system in the purportedly correct, (read into this also: normative, ‘as commonly understood,’) way. Whereas, my supposition holds that any incomplete perspective allows for, at least, inclusion of what’s absent, and, audaciously, allows for novelty–especially novel ways for viewing and analyzing the system at hand.

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Secrets Revealed

I noted recently via a google alert that lectures of Idries Shah, taken from a series of hard-to-obtain cassettes, have been made available on the web site, The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge. Ishk.net is ostensibly the web of home of all things ‘Shah.’

The wikipedia article on I. Shah seems to me fair enough; and, I’ve been tracking his work for 20+ years. Shah, who departed the worldly coil at 72 years-of-age in 1996, was a controversial figure. His effort to promote in the west an accessible and cosmopolitan Sufi-inflected regimen for self-development and spiritual growth was the most notable among the several such original efforts which unfolded in the mid-sixties.

The controversies are many, yet I won’t go into them. This isn’t my purpose today. It’s enough to mention that Shah could be termed a neo-Sufi, whose project unhooked Sufism proper from it’s narrow traditions, and, whose own bona-fides remain murky. Still, during a time when Sufism itself was an exotic arrival on the nascent counter-cultural scene, Shah enjoyed patronage, was an entrepreneur, and, was a prolific writer. Any notoriety he gathered in didn’t prevent him from, for a time, becoming the face of Sufism–the foremost Sufi.

Sometime in the late eighties I worked part-time at a group home for the mentally disadvantaged. My boss, Jim, was surprised I had heard of Shah. Shah was Jim’s main man. He told me he had some tapes he wanted to loan me. He brought them in, a set in a box entitled if memory serves, Wisdom of the Secret. Shah reminded me of Alan Watts: great voice, humorous, compelling.

I must have listened to those eight tapes twenty times. I took to enjoying Shah’s books, especially favoring the many that contained teaching stories, including the series of books with the tales of Nasruddin. To this day, these materials penetrate my own sense of experiential learning. I have learned even the surface of some of the so-called story-based applications may provide surprising reconfigurations away from habit, cognitive error, blind spots, etc..

(Later, I became very interested in Shah’s career and its notorious moment as cultural ripple in a specific historical moment.)

Four of Shah’s lectures may be streamed or downloaded as mp3s. I’m familiar with them already because they first appeared as single cassettes. I recommend all of them. My favorite is Overcoming Assumptions That Inhibit Spiritual Development. From the intro,

So one must learn to be flexible, one must learn to question assumptions, one must learn to put up other assumptions than one’s customary ones to study things…some of the things are, for example, our narrative materials which I have published… Now various points of view on these produce a certain kind of flexibility. Trying too hard doesn’t work, trying to make out what they mean doesn’t work because this material is instrumental not indoctrination.

There’s also an interview in four parts on youtube.

Here’s Part One.

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

A year ago I put together the ten parts of other videos and posted it. I wrote then,

He was a walking library of Sufic esoteric material, yet, he also brought these traditional secrets to proto-new age stages in the sixties. He walked a weird razor’s edge in maintaining that these materials could retain their power even when stripped of their context, as long as the context of the user was precisely calibrated to these bare-of-context materials!

Video 48m Happy Nous Year

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Quest to Learn

[excerpt] she won’t know if the school prepares kids for real-world success until the first class graduates. But Quest has already proved itself in one area: The kids love it. “It’s fun,” says student Nadine Clements. Her least favorite part of school? “Dismissal.”

A New School Teaches Students Through Videogames. A school uses videogame-based lessons to teach a new generation of kids
By Susannah F. Locke; Popsci January 7, 2009


The Quest to Learn school opened last September in Manhattan, welcoming the first class of sixth-graders who will learn almost entirely through videogame-inspired activities, an educational strategy geared to keep kids engaged and prepare them for high-tech careers.

This year’s 72-student class is split into four groups that rotate through five courses during the day: Codeworlds (math/English), Being, Space and Place (social studies/English), The Way Things Work (math/science), Sports for the Mind (game design), and Wellness (health/PE). Instead of slogging through problem sets, students learn collaboratively in group projects that require an understanding of subjects in the New York State curriculum. The school’s model draws on 30 years of research showing that people learn best when they’re in a social context that puts new knowledge to use.

The Quest To Learn School: “Quest to Learn is a school for digital kids. It is a community where students learn to see the world as composed of many different kinds of systems. It is a place to play, invent, grow, and explore.”

I’m going to bet, and do so with confidence, that the uncited research folds in the following, “People learn best when the learning is shaped to be, for the learner, intrinsically rewarding.

For adults, I would put it this way:

adults learn when they’re able to test their experiential knowledge and then to use it

Implicit in this formulation–and perhaps applicable to young learners–is the intrinsic benefit provided by active learning, via which a learner is supported in their putting their own discoveries to concrete tests. This intrinsic benefit is named: fun. The added benefit is that accountability itself becomes an easeful aspect of the ecology of learning. Against which the grim banking theory of education is likely to, at the end of the school day, have students praying for the bell, and, dismissal.

In her book, Magic Trees of the Mind, Dr. Marian Diamond, neuroscientist at the University of California/Berkeley, describes the characteristics of an enriched environment that:

Includes a steady source of positive emotional support

Provides a nutritious diet with enough protein, vitamins, minerals, and calories

Stimulates all the senses (but not necessarily all at once!)

Has an atmosphere free of undue pressure and stress but suffused with a degree of pleasurable intensity

Presents a series of novel challenges that are neither too easy nor too difficult for the child at his or her stage of development

Allows for social interaction for a significant percentage of activities

Promotes the development of a broad range of skills and interests that are mental, physical, aesthetic, social, and emotional

Gives the child an opportunity to choose many of his or her own activities

Gives the child a chance to assess the results of his or her efforts and to modify them

Offers an enjoyable atmosphere that promotes exploration and the fun of learning

Above all, allows the child to be an active participant rather than a passive observer.

A daring hypothesis holds that younger learners are not dramatically constituted to be different than the adult learners each will grow to be. I’m reminded of Malcolm Knowles.

Knowles (1980) came from a humanistic orientation and believed that self-actualization was the prime objective of adult learning, and the mission of educators was to assist adult learners to develop and achieve their full potential as emotional, psychological, and intellectual beings. Knowles made four assumptions about adults as learners: (1) Adults tend to be more self-directed as a result of their maturity, (2) Adults possess personal histories which defines their identities and serve as a resource of experiential learning upon which new learnings can be applied, (3) Motivation in adults is directed to more socially relevant learning, and (4) Adult learners have interest in immediate application for problem-solving. (src)


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The Direction of the Horizon

Whether there is or is not an absolute thought and an absolute evaluation in each practical problem, my own opinions, which remain capable of error no matter how rigorously I examine them, are still my only equipment for judging. It remains just as hard to reach agreement with myself and with others, and for all my belief that it is in principle always attainable, I have no other reason to affirm this principle than my experience of certain concordances, so that in the end whatever solidity there is in my belief in the absolute is nothing but my experience of agreement with myself and others. Recourse to an absolute foundation-when it is not useless-destroys the very thing it is supposed to support. As a matter of fact, if I believe that I can rejoin the absolute principle of all thought and all evaluation on the basis of evidence, then I have the right to withdraw my judgments from the control of others on the condition that I have my consciousness for myself; my judgments take on a sacred character; in particular-in the realm of the practical-I have at my disposal a plan of escape in which my actions become transfigured: the suffering I create turns into happiness, ruse becomes reason, and I piously cause my adversaries to perish.

Thus, when I place the ground of truth or morality outside ongoing experience, either I continue to hold to the probabilities it offers me (merely devalued by the ideal of absolute knowledge), or I disguise these probabilities as absolute certainties-and then I am letting go of the verifiable for the sake of truth, which is to say I drop the p to catch its shadow. I waver between uncertainty and presumptuousness without ever finding the precise point of human resolution. If, on the other hand, I have understood that truth and value can be for us nothing but the result of the verifications or evaluations which we make in contact with the world, before other people and in given situations of knowledge and action, that even these notions lose al meaning outside of human perspectives, then the world recovers its texture, the particular acts of verification and evaluation through which I grasp a dispersed experience resume their decisive importance, and knowledge and action, true and false, good and evil have something unquestionable about them precisely because I do not claim to find in them al>solute evidence. Metaphysical and moral consciousness dies upon contact with the absolute because, beyond the dull world of habitual or dormant consciousness, this consciousness is itself the living connection between myself and me and myself and others. Maurice Merleau-Ponty; Sense & Nonsense (p95)

One of my projects over the next few weeks is to try to wrap up a half year’s worth of wandering and exploration. Ironically, this will allow me to pick up some dangling threads. The main subjects I’ve been kicking around ‘inside’ are right now in an odd flux. After all, these subjects, folk psychology, metaphysical foundationalism, (what I term) supranatural solipsism, and, the social (constructionist) organization of heirophanies*, seem to me mixed up in something together I need to compress, wrap up and send away.

There’s a class of schema I have in mind’s eye, of vertical forms. My regard so depicted–or soon to be–is about verticality.

Noting this, in this post is the move into the, or maybe toward, the horizontal form. I’ve got the model set, but it will need to come at the end. Why? Because nothing I’ve been investigating has converted me away from the primariness of, (if you will,) the creative horizon.

*Breakthroughs into consciousness of the archetype of the Self; versioning here Eliade in terms of Analytic Psychology.

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Teaching Story – The Ancient Hedge

Every day Nasrudin went to beg for alms in the market, and people used to make fun of him by playing the following trick: they would show him two coins, one worth ten times more than the other, and Nasrudin would always choose the smaller coin. The story went round the whole province. Day after day, groups of men and women would show him the two coins, and Nasrudin would always choose the smaller one.

Then one day, a generous man, tired of seeing Nasrudin ridiculed in this fashion, beckoned him over to a corner of the square and said:

‘When they offer you two coins, you should choose the larger one. That way you would earn more money and people wouldn’t consider you an idiot.’

‘That sounds like good advice,’ replied Nasrudin, ‘but if I chose the larger coin, people would stop offering me money, because they like to believe that I am even more stupid than they are. You’ve no idea how much money I’ve earned using this trick’

(. . .Late finance capitalism in a nutshell; although, it might be better to make reference to the pithy definition of trickle-down economics. It’s where what little money the low class has is drained from their pockets by those that already ‘got’.)

As a teaching story, this works through its seven levels of insight. In the main at the surface, the subject is akin to you get what you pay for.

(hat tip to Bonar; original source Idries Shah?)

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Men of Fallen leaves

We’re still playing Free Play softball every Sunday at 10am. Last Sunday the overcast but mild day saw 23 players show up. This was by far the biggest November turnout I’ve observed in the nine years I’ve playing with this group.

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Pagan Men of Fall

The tricker treaters came in waves. I asked a group including two Jedi masters to step back and pose for a group portrait.

By my count the Free Play Softball League has notched 28 games, going back to April. It’s something like a warrior ethic that inspires a turnout in November. We close off a section of the outfield, and play six-on-six. (We played seven-on-seven today–huge turnout!) In a few weeks Dave K. leaves for warmer environs, passes the equipment on, and, the final test is passed when at least 10 show up for a post-Turkey day softball game. It’s happened once in 9 years. I’ll be there.

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Transformative Anthropology III – Gas Stop

I had the good fortune to reacquaint myself this week with a friend from 40 years ago. After explaining my research into the fragile contingencies underlying life changing events, she offered a terrific example, and, additionally brought a new term into my thinking on these matters.

She told me about meeting a future employer at a gas station, on the occasion when both had stopped at the same station, you know, for gas! The thing is: a stranger approaches her, recognizes her because she had taken note of her reputation in some public notice or the like, and strikes up a conversation.

What followed, eventually, was a job offer. And, what followed from taking the job were all sorts of other events that, in concrete respects, stand on the foundation of her changing jobs.

What would have happened had the soon-to-be new employer and employee not stopped in the gas station at the same moment? No one can say, but it’s as if such a speculation is about an alternative universe, rather than the universe in which this life altering and happenstance event took place.

My friend called the event, random. “Random” hadn’t occurred to me as a qualifier. It’s a good term because it strips away something of the various evaluative adjectives which follow from a random event turning out to be positive or negative.

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What the Wind Blows

Reflexive Orders of Awareness – A Schema

Some examples should suffice to unpack the notion of reflexive orders.

First Order awareness is automatic, and not directed. If you ever have driven a car and noted at some point that you ‘were on automatic,’ and then been amazed at this lack of consciousness about being a driver, you’re recalling what it feels like to be on automatic, in, as-it-were, First Order awareness. “I barely remember consciously driving to work today! I was thinking about something else, pre-occupied.”

Second Order awareness adds to this awareness of what you are doing. A good example is learning how to ride a bike, where–at the beginning–the new rider has to consciously turn against the tilt out of balance. This is conscious attention paid to what you are doing. This awareness has a very narrow focus. It’s not optional.

Third Order awareness adds to this additional modes for awareness. In the example of driving, this means what else you might do, be aware of, while driving. I term this choice heuristic to reflect how multiple modes are balanced by knowing their prior dynamic via experience. Acquired rules of thumb facilitate this balancing act. For example, some drivers figure out how to have cell phone conversations while driving, and balance attention to this with attention to driving.

Fourth Order awareness adds to this an ability to choose modes of awareness by virtue of having made a prior coherent differentiation of available modes and their effective differential application. The difference between Third/Fourth Order phases is a matter of degree, yet the hallmark of Fourth Order is this critical differentiation. This would acknowledge, for example, that driving while phoning incurs a probalistic downside.

Fourth Order awareness basically means: being able to match awareness with optimal requirements for effective deployment of awareness. And, do this from a coherent ensemble of choices for being aware. And, be able to explain what one does to both differentiate and select.

Finally, to complete this model, (or schema,) there are mediating and liminal phases between the orders. There is a good example of this. Emotional intelligence, itself a repertoire for meeting the goal requirements of an interpersonal interaction, exists at the beginning of conscious development of one’s own intelligent responsiveness. At the beginning it exists as a choice-heuristic. Later this develops into choice-differentiated; thus moves choice from being the result of a rule of thumb to being the result of very particular, and in some ways formal, differentiation of optimal choice. Such a choice is made from a coherent ensemble, i.e. repertoire.

Yet, this move is sometimes articulated in a fuzzy move between Third and Fourth Order. One feature is common to Fourth order awareness. It instantiates motivation to search out more effective and possibly optimal modes of awareness. In other words, there is a gain to be realized in expanding one’s ensemble of choices. So, one is not satisfied with only the repertoire of “rules of thumb.”

This can be further understood, when stretched between the entire First-to-Fourth range, as making the move from automatic, knee-jerk responses to responses forged from being able to make a conscious selection from a repertoire of possible responses. Given this sense, the move from Third Order to Fourth Order selection procedures reflects a substantial enhancement and individuation of critical consciousness.

Again, differentiation and individuation imply here the ability to explain why one choice is superior to some other choice.

We’ll move next, in a follow-up post, to examples and applications in both negative and positive terms, and we’ll use the current environment of political discourse to do so.

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Transformative Anthropology II.

A handful of questions one can direct to a subject or to their self are easily enabled to drill into the fragile web of contingencies that are structurally necessary to human development.

1. What brought you to live where you currently live?

2. What brought you to work in the field you currently work in?

3. What was the circumstance via which you met your current partner?

4. What brought you to your current central interest, (or avocation, or hobby, or passion?)

There are, of course, many such questions like these four.

In conducting an inquiry along these lines, what I have found is that the narrative offered in response contains propositions about features of a necessary founding circumstance Those propositions tell of required features.

For example, I met my future wife at a party in September of 1993. For this to happen, I had to be in Cleveland and be invited to the party. I had to know the party-givers, and, they had to be in Cleveland too. So did my future wife. There are enough implicit features in these three sentences to make clear the obvious point: my meeting my wife rests on a web of contingencies that encompass many lives, and in turn this rests on many requisites, rests on many prior requirements.

It is striking to me that it would be the normal sense of a person narrating a development such as this one, that those requirements are not strongly “felt” by the narrator. However, in facilitating a subject’s re-collection of these necessary requirements, the process has always evoked an intense insight.

Ha! “I never looked at life that way!”

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Transformative Anthropology I.

I’m going to try here to rope in a few colleagues to respond in public–here–to something I’ve been playing around with off and on for four years. To set this up, here is an edited version of an email I sent to a friend in February.

I have a very important intellectual inquiry to address to you.

Here’s the context. In 2005 I trained ‘street anthropologists’ to conduct informal inquiries about why members of their community had landed in that community. It was framed for me as a Boas-like drill down and the results were given by respondents as simple phenomenological answers. Since the goal was more to learn from the process of inquiry than to generate research for other uses, the debrief was as much about what it was like to experience the act of asking and listening.

However, something became obvious when we debriefed the survey. It was this: almost everybody surveyed ended up living in the community due to a priori features of their personal circumstance prior to their relocating to this community. These features turn out to be extremely fragile. Which is to say: that the features are each contingent on other fragile features.

So: the features are both necessary and also contingent upon other necessary features. What necessarily promoted the decision to relocate fanned out into very fragile webs of necessary “prior” conditions. Had one of those conditions been slightly different, the decision would have been different and the respondant would have ended up locating somewhere else.

I’ll give an example I have used to illustrate this. In 1974 I was working in a record store in my hometown of Cleveland and on a June afternoon a robber stuck the store up, marched me into the backroom, had me lay down, and shot me in the back. I was not badly wounded, but the bullet struck me two inches from my spine. A month later I decided to move (the hell) away from my hometown and took a bus to Vermont. Being shot allowed me to re-rationalize my–at the time–confused sense of where I was going in my life.

In Vermont, over time, I met my wife-to-be, developed my ‘karass’ and met lifelong friends, read through shelves of books while working at desk in the back of a book store, had remarkable encounters, met important influences, had wild once-in-a-lifetime experiences like staying up all night with John Cage (who became very close to my then wife,) and on and on. My intellectual preoccupations became diversified in ways I attribute to the flux of bohemian, new age, post-professional, outsider, academic, circumstances I encountered.

So, the upshot is: in what way was the robber a key mover for setting me on this unplanned vector?

Alternately, if he had not walked into the store on that afternoon, and done so based on his own contingencies, everything goes in a different direction. Literally, nothing that came after would have ever unfolded.

I have amplified this weird conjunction and necessary “generativity” of bullet and 19 year old hippie, by thinking out loud in front of workshop participants,

“Would I–today–wish for this robber not to have come into the store, and into my life?”


Armed with this insight, in a second round of surveys we asked questions aimed to evoke identification of the subject’s own necessary contingencies. The question: What brught you to Lakewood? Later, in my own one-on-one inquiries, it has turned out that all sorts of developmental ‘moves’ rest upon all sorts of fragile happenstance.

Several further insights: it’s apparent that we are not hard wired to view our own identity in these terms at all. I have not once made an inquiry to discover that the fragility of necessary conditions had already occurred as an insight of the subject.

Secondly, I have been asked “So why is this important?” To which I have replied, that understanding the fragility of what were/are necessary conditions, may offer us the opportunity to experience more accurately the reality of that which underpins our development in one direction, but not another. And, there’s lots more that could be said about what is the value of recognizing the ‘fragility of it all.’

As an aside, when Malcolm Gladwell published Outliers, his recent book about the conditions which underpin success, I wondered if he would remark on the fragility factor. He does not, and refers to conditions simply in terms of ‘because ofs’ without ever assessing how fragile they are.

My questions is this:

Where is this fragility previously recognized by those who have reflected upon the structure of necessary conditions underneath human development?

(added note; August 2009)

I’ve stepped around how this could be considered in abstract terms or in “spiritualizing” terms. I’ve searched high and low for any commentary that addresses this in pragmatic and developmental terms. The reason I’ve gone in this direction is because I find the intersection of the objective-structural web of contingency, with, the possible import of these true features being well known by the subject, to be a pragmatic instance.

By pragmatic I mean in someway understandable by the subject, (in contemplating their own developmental contingencies,) as a truth, or verity.

Incidentally, this brings to my mind a pragmatic autopoiesis about the deep nature of human development; and given to this are random constitutive-generative “facts.”

I did find an august philosopher, Nicholas Rescher, who wrote a book, Luck: The Brilliant Randomness Of Everyday Life, that, surprisingly, qualifies everyday randomness brilliantly without qualifying the web of contingency.

Go figure!

Now I’m going to turn the loving screws to some friends a bit and learn more. What say you?

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Sitting at the local coffee shop, waiting for a business partner to arrive so that we could discuss a project, I decided to kill time by opening my laptop to check my email. In my email was a post from a friend and in his email was a link to a youtube video of a Congolese musician.

A few minutes into the video, I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder. A stranger interrupts me to ask about the video I’m watching and listening to on ear buds. This person saw the video playing on my screen from their spot at an adjacent table.
As it turns out the stranger is interested in the african dancers that are part of the video. Inviting the stranger to join me, I share a replay of the video with her.

We strike up a conversation. It ranges over our shared interest in music and the arts. After telling her I have collected a wide variety of music resources over many years, she mentions that she is an artist for whom music and dance is a key source of inspiration. We set up a future engagement to audition media resources and to continue getting to know each other. Perhaps we will become friends.

In fact, a friendship develops and it eventually alters the course of both of our lives. There will come a time when both the once-a-stranger, and myself, having become colleagues and having undertaken together and separately further life changing projects, travels, and learning, realize almost all of what unfolded was contingent upon the pivot provided by the original encounter in the coffee shop.

What would you, the researcher have to know to determine what was necessary to have happened in the lives of both parties to this encounter in the coffee shop prior to its occurrence, so as to guarantee its occurrence?
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[flashvideo filename=http://squareone-learning.com/video/IdriesShah.flv /]

On youtube there is a series of videos, apparently excerpted from a longer documentary, that features the renowned-in-his-time counter-cultural figure, self-proclaimed Sufi, misterioso teacher, charlatan, Idries Shah. I joined the ten parts and present it here; 49 worthwhile minutes beckon. Pay attention!

My string of adjectives is not intended to underplay Shah’s reputation, such as it has been able to be sustained. He was a walking library of Sufic esoteric material, yet, he also brought these traditional secrets to proto-new age stages in the sixties. He walked a weird razor’s edge in maintaining that these materials could retain their power even when stripped of their context, as long as the context of the user was precisely calibrated to these bare-of-context materials!

Speaking of post-modern Sufis, I recommend the volume by Ian Almond, Sufism and Deconstruction. A comparative study of Derrida and Ibn ‘Arabi, (2004:Routledge.) A rigorous mysticism, moved toward the subject drilling deeply beyond it’s (his or her,) self, cannot be about fixing identity.

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