The MOOC is a Modern Marvel for the 1950’s Company Man!

Today’s Company Man has to know certain things in order to please the boss and keep the organization running smoothly. Gee whiz! These MOOC’s sure are nifty. Simply punch the right buttons from the comfort of your home!

The MOOC is the perfect tool for the booming 1950’s economy. It should help the United States launch the next Sputnik or program the world’s first computer that can fit inside your garage (but leave your Chrystler parked on the street!)

And think of how we will expand university enrollment! Heck, with that G.I. Bill and a little elbow grease, you will climb the ladder at IBM or NASA and helping to build today’s technological wizardry: satellites, washing machines, and motorized golfing transporation devices!

I’ll bet you didn’t think getting an education would be as simple as watching a few videos and taking a multiple choice exam! Well, it is!

And did I mention that it’s free! (Don’t worry, it’s not a communist conspiracy! But those Red spies will sure be shaking when they find out how advanced our education system has become. Whiz bang!)

MOOC wants YOU! Help the 1950’s become the greatest decade yet! Man your stations and let the MOOC help you become today’s Company Man!

We Are Homo Mythos

I realize I’m mixing Latin and Greek, but we should change our label from homo sapien to homo mythos.

We are not the man who knows. Neither are we, as some have suggested, homo sapien sapien, the man who knows he knows. This is not us, at least on a fundamental level.

Before knowledge, before wisdom, before self-reflective awareness even, there must be a story. One day the first sentient being emerged and found itself in the middle of the story, a mystery novel.

The only way to make sense of the world is to start telling stories. We story ourselves all day long. “How was your day?” Shall I story you to death?

Each story demands we back up and tell another story in order for the current one to make sense. We discover an infinite regress of stories leading to a time before we were born, before anything was born.

Implicit in the human construct of time is a story, infinite stories perhaps. Infinite stories that insist on telling the same story, the Infinite Story.

We tell stories. We invent stories. We are stories. We are storied.

We are Homo Mythos.


Three Book Recommendations: Woolf, Suzuki, and Kegan/Lahey

In a brief video, I recommend three books over at Evolutionary Landscapes. Check it out.

Notes on Morin’s Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future

I’m half-way through Edgar Morin’s Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future, and if I stop and blog about every fascinating paragraph, I’ll never finish the book. Unless he totally tanks it in the second half and, for argument’s sake, starts writing about moldy cabbage and hopscotch, this will probably rank as the best book on education I’ve read yet. It also fits nicely with my barely-burgeoning project of creating a Humanities of Global Consciousness. See this post at Evolutionary Landscapes.

Here are the seven complex lessons Morin believes should be covered in an education for the future: Detecting error and illusion, Principles of pertinent knowledge, Teaching the Human Condition, Earth identity, Confronting uncertainites, Understanding each other, and Ethics for the human genre.

For now, I will focus on Chapter 4, “Earth Identity,” in which Morin argues that humanity first entered the “plantery era” around the time of Columbus’s voyage in 1492, not an entirely abitrary date from Morin’s perspective:

At the end of the European 15th century, Ming dynasty China and Mongol India were the most important civilizations on the Globe. Islam in Asia and Africa was the most widspread religion on earth. The Ottoman empire can out of Asia, spread across western Europe, annihilated Byzantium, threatned Vienna, became a great power in Europe. The Inca and Aztec empire reigned in the Americas; the splendors, monuments, and flourishing populations of Cuzco and Tenochtitlan outdid Madrid, Lisbon, Paris and London, modest capitals of emerging Western European nations.

And yet, in 1492, these small, young nations set out to conquer the Globe, and their adventures of war and death brought the five continents into communication and opened the planetry era, for better and for worse.

The big picture here is something like a microcosm of the expansion and contraction of the universe. Humanity likely began in one geographical location, spread across the globe and developed disparate and diverse cultures, and is now beginning to come back together and form something like a global culture (though this is certainly a ways off). Morin says this much better:

Human history began with a planetary diaspora across all the continents and in modern times entered the planetary era of communication between fragments of the human diaspora.

I appreciate how Morin does not paint these transformations as ideal or utopian, acknowledging that conflict is inevitable. William Irwin Thompson has made a similar point in “Nine Theses for a Gaia Politique,” suggesting that World War 2 was less an overt conflict between opposing sides, and more of catastrophic transition that ended with more unity between the central players, not less:

The Second World War in Europe and the Pacific expressed chaos and destruction through maximum social organization; indeed, this extraordinary transnational organization expressed the cultural transition from a civilization organized around literate rationality to a planetary noetic ecosystem in which stress, terrorism, and catastrophes were unconsciously sustained to maintain the historically novel levels of world integration.

Obviously millions died in order for this complicated and horrible first dance to occur. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to find four nations in a more secure relationship than the U.S., Japan, Germany, and England. (Russia is a bit of an exception here.) And Thompson would argue that the influx of Japanese Zen into America was a cultural exchange brought on by the war. The idea is that communication between cultures, even in the form of warfare, can still result in a positive move toward global culture and planetary thinking.

Morin’s quote above, concerning “the planetary era of communication between fragments of the human diaspora,” speaks directly to my interest in a Global Humanities. First, I think of Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” his collage-like incorporation of languages, cultures, and religions, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins” he writes in one of the last lines of the poem, and early Modernist attempts to create a cross-cultural poetics (Pound’s Chinese translations). These poets knew, early in the 20th century, that the world was simulataneously shrinking and expanding.

But this is just the beginning attempt of Western poets looking back across the ruins of their colonialism, wondering what was left, alive or dead, in the wake of their ships. Magellan made it all the way around the world, spoils and spices were had, slaves acquired, but, did they wonder, what was going through the minds of those people? Did they love? Who were their gods? What did they think about as they gazed at the stars?

And now that central elements of Western culture seem to be driving us toward the brink of destruction, as we violently crash against the insides of our skulls, is it time to consider the planet’s perspective in all of this? If we are indeed in a planetary era, what are the poems, songs, and stories that represent this era? This might make a worthy reading list for a course on the Humanities of Global Consciousness. Better yet, it might re-orient us at a crucial time in the existence of our race.

Complexity, Creativity, Contemplation, and Maybe Other Words that Begin with “C” for Marketing Purposes, such as, Calligraphy

I’m going to begin writing about a stack of articles I read in the Spring. They have been taking up space in my file cabinet and in the back of my mind. These articles are loosely connected. By Christmas I hope to have them synthesized somewhat. Why Christmas? That’s when my tiny Christmas break might provide a few spare moments to write an essay.

So, for the next several blog posts, I will be writing about the following themes as they pertain to Education: Creativity, Complexity, and Contemplation. I swear, they do not all start with “C” on purpose, unless there is some underlying linguistic voodoo brewing.

First, Alfonso Montouri’s wonderful foreward to Edgar Morin’s Path of Complexity outlines Morin’s career and introduces his key concepts. (I’m currently reading Edgar Morin’s Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future, and should have something to report on that book soon.) For Morin and Montouri, complexity can initially be defined in negative: it is not reductionism, which “isolates phenomena from their environment” with a “disjunctive logic of either/or.” Morin argues for a systems theory approach that sees phenomena as the result of “dynamical systems, also known as chaos theory” or a “self-organizing process.” Morin’s term for this is “self-eco-re-organizing systems.” Montouri explains Morin’s term by arguing that “a system does not merely organize itself, independently of its environment. The environment is the system, which is in the environment.”

This is all a bit abstract, of course, but Montouri uses it as a way to discuss one of his central causes: transdisciplinary studies. That is, if phenomena cannot be studied by isolating particular causes and reducing events to particular fields of study, but instead through a wholistic viewpoint which sees the phenomena arising within a complex ecosystem of biology, history, psychology, and so on, then it makes no sense to divide subjects of study into regimented departments.

The end game is the cultivation of a meta-perspective from which various subjects can be viewed, including the actual subject of the thinker him or her self. This is akin to Kegan and Lehay’s self-transforming mind, described in the book Immunity to Change.

Little of this would have mattered to most humans 100 years ago, but the world has changed. We are living in a more complex, dynamic, unstable world. Less people stay in their village for life or stick with the worldviews of their ancestors. The world is a swirling, chaotic fusion of multiple viewpoints and rapidly changing technological interfaces. We must teach students to be flexible, open, and creative in order to respond to the state of affairs.

The Teaching-Learning Paradox

In an earlier post, I discussed the Educator’s Catch-22, which demonstrates the absurdity of trying to teach intrinsic motivation in environments (i.e. schools) built on extrinsic motivation.

Now, in order to advance your suffering: say hello to the Teaching-Learning Paradox, first coined in a 1968 study by Robert Dubin and Thomas Taveggia who set out to compare a variety of teaching methods. Here is their key finding:

No shred of evidence was found to indicate any basis for preferring one teaching method over another as measured by the performance of students on course examinations. Underlying all theories concerning the efficacy of one teaching method over another is an implicit model of how teaching and learning are linked. However, we really do not know what the linkage is. The need for establishing clear and unequivocal links between a theory of learning and a theory of teaching is a vital one.

If you’re not following Rubin and Taveggia’s academic-ese, they’re really saying there is no way to determine which teachings methods are better than others. Furthermore, they admit there exists no clear connection between teaching and learning. When someone learns, we have no way of knowing what, if anything, the student’s progress had to do with the teacher or the teaching method.

Though this study was authored almost 45 years ago, the riddle has not yet been solved. We seem to agree that learning happens; we’re just not sure how.

This is a bit like developmental psychologists who claim to be clueless as to how developmental leaps occur. Changes can be charted and measured, but their cause is mysterious.

Adding to the confusion is the constant call for individualized instruction to appeal to a variety of learning styles. This is all Howard Gardner’s fault, I believe.

Here’s what we’re left with: everyone learns differently, but we don’t know how. Teachers can all teach differently, but it won’t make a difference because students will still learn, but we don’t know how. Different styles, strokes, folks, and so on.

I’ve as I’ve written elsewhere, learning can happen anywhere, at anytime, for any reason. We just don’t know why or how. Is that so bad?

You can dissect a frog, but not a mystery.

Organisms Organize

It really doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a single-celled protist,

a stream of human consciousness,

a flock of birds,

or Planet Earth,

organisms organize. There is no such thing as an organization. That suggests completion. There is only a continual process, liquid passing through porous membranes, the chaotic flux of thought, the millions of minute maneuvers required for momentary coherence, or the thermostat-like adjustments needed to maintain a habitable atmosphere.

Organisms organize. This is what they do. This is what they are, neither something, nor nothing. The old question (“Why is there something instead of nothing?”) rendered moot.

The stream is constantly changing, but it is a stream, a streaming, if you will. It occupies a temporary location (permanent enough for our slowed-down perception of time, recognizable enough over sustained intervals of time for a name to stick, for qualities to emerge, Big Muddy, etc.)

But make no mistake, that river is no thing. It is organizing, and that organizing is hardly limited to the materials we might list in its possession: water, ripples (really energy), bed, banks, ducks, very small rocks. No, we must also include gravity, atmosphere, weather, the slope of the earth, long-gone glaciers, distant tributaries, and so on.

Not only is there no thing, there are no isolated things. There are no isolated organizational happenings. There is just a happening. An organizing. We are all continuents. We are rearranged. We are rearranging. To the extent that we are anything at all, it is because we are nothing. Thing, nothing. It’s all bad language.

Organisms organize. That is all.

Wreck-it-Ralph: Dharma for the Digital Age

I didn’t think my children (5 and 3 years old) would make it through Cloud Atlas, so we went to Wreck-it-Ralph instead. The film is yet another Hollywood incarnation of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, perhaps the most common plot structure employed by screenwriters, especially after Christopher Vogler introduced his famous memo, “A Practical Guide to the Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

Ralph, our unfulfilled hero, is called to leave his home and journey into strange new worlds (including one video game called “Hero’s Duty,” appropriately), only to return home in the end after a moment of self-realization. It’s a  framework that is recycled so often (The Lion King, The Matrix, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Wizard of Oz) because audiences respond to it. The Hero’s Journey resonates with universal human experience. We all leave home, grow, and change.  It’s not cliche, it’s an archetype. Cliche is the moss that grows on the archetypal tree.

But Wreck-it-Ralph adds something new to the Hero’s Journey. The world of video games provides metaphors that point toward an understanding of DNA (referred to as “programming” in the movie) and to a recognition of the game-like quality of existence, the sport and play of the universe. Ralph is programmed to wreck buildings, not to be a good guy. He’s nine-feet tall with fists the size of rottweilers. He’s built to rage, smash, and throw tantrums. And his video game needs him to do this. It ceases to function when he bails. The good guys of his video game world depend on him for their livelihoods and identities. His destructive behavior completes the universe he inhabits. Here good and bad are not  in Manichean opposition, but are mutually dependent phenomena, closer to something from Taoism or Jung’s model of the Self.

The lesson Ralph learns on his journey is to embrace his role in the phantasm of life. He accomplishes this, in part, by recalling his Bad Guys Anonymous affirmation (from an A.A.-style support group he attends) during a critical juncture in a battle with the enemy. The words of this affirmation no longer sound hollow to Ralph. Instead, he embraces and discovers that his deeper sense of purpose was with him all along:

“I am bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I would rather be than me.”

Wreck-it-Ralph is a kind of combination of Gilgamesh and The Ramayana. The hero, driven by a sense of loss, seeks to obtain the impossible, only to reawaken to his sense of duty, his dharma. (“Duty” is a word Ralph uses directly upon acknowledging he has shirked his responsibilities and reached beyond the limits of his life’s calling.) Also, like Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, Ralph hesitates in the face of his call to duty, unable to submit to the scripted destruction.

But Wreck-it-Ralph preaches a dharma for the digital age. The characters have wiring and programming code instead of souls. “Evil” is merely the result of glitches and viruses, chaotic elements  built into the system. Life is fast-paced, action-packed, bright, hyper and surreal. Everyone travels between games through cables and cords, hidden dimensions existing behind the screens that reflect the faces of eager children, who are in turn feeding their dreams with quarters and projecting their fantasies onto digital bits.

In part, Wreck-it-Ralph will be a success because it bridges the generation gap between those who grew up with Pac-Man (who appears in the movie) and those who play Call of Duty and Angry Birds. This will result in a merchandising jackpot. However, this movie takes an important step in animated features, eschewing fairy tales and princess flicks in favor of cyber metaphors and science fiction.

(Oh….I should add: if your children aren’t into narrative analysis and Eastern religions, this movie has plenty of explosions, car chases, and potty humor to amuse them. My daughter was particularly fond of Sarah Silverman’s smart-mouthed character.)

I Discuss Myths about Emily Dickinson, Explicate Some Poems, and Sing a Little (Poorly)

In the Confessional (Paid time: 1 hour)

Let me confess: I am a liar (we all are). I don’t mean I intentionally misrepresent myself. No, I simply pretend I know who I am. I respond to questions as if I know the answers. I project preferences not my own. I am not my own. I am not.

I have sinned. I’m actually doing it right now. I am in need of absolution-in-motion. You can pee in my stream of consciousness if you want to. Your territorial pissings will be in Ohio by sundown if my calculations are correct.

Listen, I am talking to you: I experienced a poetry relapse again. I contemplated a sonnet in trochees. I longed to reverse the lilt of all lullabies. I wanted to pound the table with a downbeat resounding through the ages, a call to the great, unresolved unconscious of the race. People are silly. They are but effete apes. A populous of parlor tricks. Aliens onto themselves.

I killed a man. He was me. I was not myself. It was a perfect alibi. My former self’s final heartbeat was merely an academic exercise from the perspective of my present day’s executive. There was no one left to take the stand.

Sex came as a surprise. I had imagined business would be conducted. I did not know there was a back room. I was unprepared to don the necessary faces that would force evolution forward. We  tried it backwards and failed. All that time I had spent weaving feathers into vines, the intricate patterns, the droppings I had lain….what was it for? Within seconds I had tossed aside my silly, expensive learning and peered into the black hole of universal unknowing. I liked it. I wept though.

You never understood me. I made sure of that. I spun a silken narrative around my face naturally, as the sun selects each dew drop for extinction in the middle part of the morning.  The whole time you thought you were talking to me. You were. The light makes my vapors visible. I’m just temporary. Illusions are real from a certain perspective. I’m an uncertain perspective.

Hate is a light word. It rhymes with a lot of words. It has a long “a.” The ugliest vowel is a short “u.” It sounds like an Anglo-Saxon scop taking a dump or fucking a clump of ugh ugh ugh.

I’ve had quite enough, which is never enough. “Quite” is the emptiest qualifier I can think of, in the category of “really,” “very,” and “many.” How many depressive episodes is “many?” One. The one is the many? Yes, Vedanta Master, let’s go with that.

Listen, priest, if you confess you’ve had sex, I’ll tell you some more, but I’ve got to imagine this as a mutual confessional or my egalitarian ethos shall be offended.

Ghosts are real, that’s why ghosts are not real. And why is it every time I confess my guts to the world I am greeted with laughter? Worse yet, it’s the flattering kind. I can play the martyr, but not the comedian. It’s hard to get your manifesto straight that way. Just when you think you’ve figured the universe out, some grateful bloke is entertained by your sermon and praising your name to his ignorant friends. I’m glad your diaphragm was invigorated, but I was actually trying to shatter your resolve and ignite a crisis in your stupid, provincial schema. Glad I could play the  clown!

I make more of me every day. There’s another me in the hair in my cereal. Would you like to buy it? Would you like to raise a well-trained army of me’s? Yes and no I suppose. I am fun to think about, but loathsome to grow. I am the lowest high maintenance man I know.

Here’s another thing no one knows about me: I know as much about death as anyone who has ever lived. I will stake everything on this.

One time I launched a thousand ships and one came back with a note reading “Your odds of circumnavigating God are equivalent to your chances of slow dancing with the sun for the last dance as long as it takes the drunks to stumble off into eternity’s glorious bosom.” I thought that was a nice note.

My time is almost up, man, and so I’d like to discuss what I’m here after:

One bronze statuette of a virgin in dialogue with her future self with the parents present and embracing their former virgin selves and Jesus is sort of refereeing the whole thing and maybe Confucius, too.

Two falcons turning in the gyre and sometimes clipping each others wings and sort of negotiating their respective apocalyptic postures and Yeats is there playing a flute.

Three triangles, sort of hoola-hooping around Descartes’ waist, and he’s kind of cursing, “God, God, God” and so focused on keeping those babies rolling that the canon ball he launched lands right on his head. (This is actual Descartes biography stuff. I’m not crazy. Well, I’m not crazy regarding this particular antidote, which seems random but is plucked right out of history, and should make sense since the guy was just a philosopher-for-hire who could do many tricks, mainly keep his ass from being burned at the stake for heresy.)

Four spirals forming a mandala with a still point for a center. I’m gonna need this after all the confessing I’ve been doing because I feel as if I’ve invented a ton of sins. That means, well, by confessing my sins I’ve actually sinned, not on purpose though, but just because the very act of adding language onto language adds more lies. (Again, this is not intentional. Nothing is intentional. It is God’s will. That pretty much excuses every dumb ass thing I do. God did it. Had to. By extension of his omnipresent, omniscient, all-powerful, all-league oneness with all of it, even transcending stupid calls for free will because he knows how everything will turn out and anyway invented free will and so what do you know, conscious pretender?)

Thank you for listening to me, kindred spirit. Thank you for pretending to care. You should know by now I’m not insulting you. It just so happens that my entire worldview is objectively deeply offensive to most people, but only if they don’t think about it much. I am paying you the highest compliment when I say: you are a lying freak. You are lying to me right now, simply by listening to my confession. You lie. God loves you. You lie again. All is forgiven.