Sunday, October 12, 2008

Everything REALLY Old is New Again

Indra's Net: This image was designed by Stress...Image via WikipediaIf we are going to make claims about how people think and learn, I think we also need to show that it is not really a new idea. In other words, you can't just say that people think differently because technology has changed us. The human mind can only think the way that it does. The internet is not going to change millions of years of evolution. What we really have to show is that we have thought this way all along and that currently technology is possible only because of the way that we think. Technology is changing the way that we teach, learn, and communicate but we created the technology because we are hard-wired to do it. Current technology (and scientific research) is only a pale metaphor for the actual processes of the human mind. As westerners though, that is not good enough. We have to make truth statements that reflect the facts. Never mind that those facts will change, and one of the reasons why Connectivism is so important is that the facts are changing so fast. No one person, group, or institution will be able to manage all of it. But this is not a new situation, throughout history people have been attempting to manage information that was beyond the limits of our comprehension while enjoying the advantages of collective intelligence through technology. This technology has included art, oral transmission, writing, printing presses, telegraph, radio, television, and computers. The metaphor of knowledge networks has existed even within the earliest stages of technology.

The Tibetan cosmos mandala, for instance, shows a network of jeweled nodes that is probably an image from the Avatamsaka Sutra:

"Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infintely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring."

This is an oft quoted section of the sutra. What is more interesting to me is the effect of the net. Later in the sutra it says: "Clouds of radient jewels reflected one another...they expounded the vast perspective of the enlightened ones, their subtle tones extending afar, their being no place they did not reach." In other words, there is a synergistic experience in the collective intelligence. We experience the sum of the parts as greater than the whole. This is certainly true in the most recent iteration of knowledge networks and connective knowledge.
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  1. Hi Geoffrey,

    There is some interesting recent work done on how using tools not only changes how brains function but also create novel niches. These tool dependent niches may create selective pressures that favour individuals with better general tool use skills. This might be part of an account of how and why language developed as a human tool.
    I love the imagery that Indria's pearls conjures up. It is interesting how it contrasts with the western Newtonian and Relativistic views of a clockwork universe and yet parallels Leibniz's idea of the Monad and some interpretations of quantum mechanics and chaos theory.

  2. Hi Geoffrey!
    I am glad you posted the link to your blog at tonight's live CCK08 session. I a poetic profound way your thoughts helped to put things into perspective.
    Connectivism is a different way to look at what mankind has been doing since our creation, the way in which we connect or create networks to manage information.
    I cannot deny what Tim points out, the use of tools changes our brains and create niches; our brains and networks react as they did before.
    The project I am involved in departs from the idea that the use of a computer and communication in English language are what reading and writing were years ago. What we are trying to accomplish is to provide a free site to enable or foster both "areas" in Mexico and to extend it to the Spanish speaking community. By reading your blog I am gaining a wider perspective on how to go about that task.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Maru :X