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.