Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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The Power of the Conscious Mind Vs. The Power of Experience/Memories – Reading

Ah, yes. Another unrelatable, possibly un-philisophical question that provides little to no readings and will box me into a solitary, lonely corner. Rock on. Gotta keep doin’ me.

The questions that kept popping into my head throughout the introduction of Epistemology all sounded like something along the lines of “Can certain knowledge be overlooked/ forgotten if the thinker believes the new knowledge enough?” and “Can “fake” knowledge be used as a sort of placebo to change an outcome?” Motivational-speaker inclined lil’ me finally came up with an ultimate question: Can the power of positive thinking truly affect an outcome? For example: If I KNOW that I’m terrified of rollercoasters and I have experiences under my belt that prove so, but I convince myself, I mean make myself TRULY BELIEVE that I can ride the wooden rollercoaster at the PNE no sweat, will it still be scary? It’s a puzzling topic to me because, on one hand, we’re all so full of beliefs and long-standing strong opinions about this and that, but what if we could just forget all of these fears and negative thoughts that we encompass and replace that pessimistic knowledge with confidence? Looking back at this paragraph, I can see that my question is more of a battle between the power of the mind Vs. the power of experience/memories than anything. (Changing the title of this post now.) That being said, I found a really interesting video in my exploration of the interweb machine.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v-IMSKOtoE

The video sums up a scientific study exploring the power of thought. According to the video, studies have shown that THINKING about doing something gives a person the same reactions and works the same sensory skills of the brain (and therefore provides the same benefits) of actually physically completing the exercise. Two group of individuals practiced the piano for two hours per day for three days, only one group practiced MENTALLY (imagining themselves doing the exercise). The result was that the exact same changes took place in the brain as the group that physically sat at the piano and practiced, and at the end of the three days, both groups had the same accuracy in their piano-playing. This incredible feat of the mind made me wonder, “If the brain has so much power over what our body can physically do/improve at/respond to, and just THINKING about playing piano is almost exactly the same as practicing, would I be able to overcome all of my fears and dislikes by simply picturing myself doing -and ~enjoying~- an activity?” Would my brain react and change from the signals triggered by a positive little motivational movie that I play for myself in my head? The video has given me reason to think that the reformation of thought and reaction is completely possible, but my active learning will be the real test.

 

 

 

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Experience: The Flint of Knowledge

To bring forth my blog post on knowledge I’d first like to quote Plato: A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers“. 

Proposition: The birth of all knowledge has/will only arise from experience.

If birth can be defined as the beginning or coming into existence,
and if knowledge can be defined as true; justified, observed belief,
and if experience can be defined as practical contact with and observation of events.
Then all knowledge comes from experience.

Birth:
Birth is defined as the beginning or coming into existence of something. With this information we can infer that the subject in question has never existed or begun previously, thus it is new. In relation to knowledge (a forever changing and developing force) birth will always be intertwined. When speaking about knowledge one can know that the world was not born with textbooks and “how to” guides in hand; knowledge was built through the discovery and “ah-ha” moments of people all over the world. Through the birth of new ideas along with trial and error, the world has vastly developed and gained millions of textbooks worth of new knowledge. As the world develops new birth will arise (as seen with Apples, Blackberries, Androids and Samsung’s) the world will never stop in the pursuit of knowledge.
Knowledge:
Knowledge can be defined as facts, information, and skills acquired as well as the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. With this we can infer that knowledge originates from experience. To come to this conclusion one must find that before a fact is created or new information arises, one must be witness to such fact. If the fact has already been established one may be passed on such knowledge through an education, a book, a movie or by a friend or family member.
Experience:
Experience can be defined as the contact with or observation of an event or situation as well as the practical contact of such event. With this we can further infer that in order to develop further or create knowledge one must first experience the situation. In order to come to this assumption one must know that before knowledge comes a moment, event or situation this we know as “the experience”. When experiencing something one can witness new or existing knowledge for example if I drop a ball I can witness the use of gravity pulling it down to earth just as Newton did; or I may be the first person in my class to look out the window and discover that it is snowing.
In conclusion in order to create new knowledge one must experience/witness a situation or event.
 

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“Pics or it didn’t happen”

Image via MemeCenter

The mantra of the Instagram era:

Think about the pictures of a horde of tourists assembled in front of the Mona Lisa, their cameras clicking away. It is the most photographed work of art in human history. You can see it in full light, low light, close-up, far away, x-rayed; you can find parodies of parodies of parodies; and yet, seeing it in person and walking away does not suffice. The experience must be captured, the painting itself possessed, a poor facsimile of it acquired so that you can call it your own – a photograph which, in the end, says, I was here. I went to Paris and saw the Mona Lisa. The photo shows that you could afford the trip, that you are cultured, and offers an entrée to your story about the other tourists you had to elbow your way through, the security guard who tried to flirt with you, the incredible pastry you had afterwards, the realisation that the painting really is not much to look at and that you have always preferred Rembrandt. The grainy, slightly askew photo signifies all these things. Most important, it is yours. You took it. It got 12 likes.

This is also the unspoken thought process behind every reblog or retweet, every time you pin something that has already been pinned hundreds of times. You need it for yourself. Placing it on your blog or in your Twitter stream acts as a form of identification – a signal of your aesthetics, a reflection of your background, an avatar of your desires. It must be held, however provisionally and insubstantially, in your hand, and so by reposting it, you claim some kind of possession of it.

 

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On Experience, Perception and Biased Expressions

Proposition: Knowledge is fueled by experience, influenced by perception and expressed in a strictly subjective manner

When creating a theory of what knowledge is I came to understand that it is fueled through experience. Whether that experience is physical (one is creating an understanding that fire is hot by touching it) or mental (one is creating an understanding that fire is hot by reading about it). There are so many different ways in which people can begin to understand and gain knowledge of different topics, just as there are many ways in which they encode that knowledge.

Klob’s theory of the experiential learning cycle outlines that there are four steps in the cycle of learning through experience:  Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation,  Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation.

Concrete Experience involves encountering a new situation or the reinterpretation of an existing experience.

Reflective Observation involves reflecting on the experience being sure there are no inconsistencies on the experience and the understanding of it.

Abstract Conceptualization involves the discovery of new ideas or the abstract understanding that come to mind through reflections.

Active Experimentation involves the learner applying new knowledge to real life in order to see what may result.

learning-kolb

 

In Klob’s theory, all parts of the cycle are necessary for a person to fully gain knowledge. No one category can be effective on its own.

Knowledge can be perceived differently person to person. Many people have different learning styles which affect how they learn and what they gain from their experiences. Klob’s theory also involves the different styles of learning that people may have. Different variables affect a person’s learning style, and how they perceive their experiences.  For example, social environment, educational experiences, or the basic cognitive structure of the individual all play a role in how that person learns.

Klob’s theory involves four different learning styles: Diverging, Assimilating, Converging, and Accommodating.

Diverging (feeling and watching – CE/RO): People who use the learning style of diverging knowledge are often able to look at things from different perspectives. These people are sensitive to their surroundings, themselves and others. These learners prefer to watch rather than do, tending to gather information and using their imagination to solve problems. Diverging learners are best at viewing concrete situations at several different viewpoints and perform better in situations that require idea generation e.g. brainstorming. Diverging learners are generally more social as they prefer to work in groups, to listen with an open mind and to receive personal feedback.

Assimilating (watching and thinking – AC/RO):People who use the learning style of Assimilating knowledge use a logical approach when solving problems or interpreting information. These people value ideas and concepts over information from other people. They require a good clear explanation of a concept rather than a practical opportunity to physically use their knowledge.Assimilating learners excel at understanding a wide range information and organizing that information in clear logical formats. These people are more attracted to logically sound theories than approaches based on practical value. They prefer readings, lectures, exploring analytical models, and having time to think things through when attempting to gain new knowledge and understanding.

Converging (doing and thinking – AC/AE): People who use the learning style of converging knowledge can solve problems and will use their knowledge to find solutions to practical issues.They prefer technical tasks, and are less concerned with people and interpersonal aspects of thinking.These learners are best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories. They can solve problems and make decisions by finding solutions to questions and problems which enables them to specialize in technological tasks.

Accommodating (doing and feeling – CE/AE): People who use the learning style of accommodating knowledge tend to be ‘hands-on’ learners, and rely on their intuition rather than logic. They use other people’s analysis, and prefer to take a practical, experiential approach when solving problems. These learners are often attracted to new challenges and experiences, and to carrying out plans. They act on ‘gut’ instinct rather than logical analysis and are the most prevalent learners in the general population.

A typical representation of Klob’s learning styles looks something like this:

kolb's_learning_styles_businessballs

The east-west axis of the cycle is called the Processing Continuum. This is how we choose to approach a task. The north-south axis is called the Perception Continuum which is our emotional response to our experience.
Many people agree that knowledge is obtained when a person is able to express that knowledge. While I believe that one does not have to express their knowledge to have it I do agree that the best way to prove that one has obtained an understanding of something is to express that understanding. When attempting to express knowledge, it becomes clear that knowledge obtained through experience is often subjective. In an article titled Subjective Knowledge by Rich Stutton he writes of the subjective view point. Explaining that:

“In it, all knowledge and understanding arises out of an individual’s experience, and in that sense is inherently in terms that are private, personal, and subjective. An individual might know, for example, that a certain action tends to be followed by a certain sensation, or that one sensation invariably follows another. But these are its sensations and its actions There is no necessary relationship between them and the sensations and actions of another individual. To hypothesize such a link might be useful, but always secondary to the subjective experience itself.”

He touches on what would conventionally be argued as objective knowledge. Information such as science and math involving definite particles and equations with definite solutions and concrete explainings. He talks about the objective, realist view explaining the belief that knowledge is objective in that

“In this view there is a reality independent of our experience. This would be easy to deny if there were only one agent in the world. In that case it is clear that that agent is merely inventing things to explain its experience. The objective view gains much of its force because it can be shared by different people. In science, this is almost the definition of the subjective/objective distinction: that which is private to one person is subjective whereas that which can be observed by many, and replicated by others, is objective.”

He points out both the flaws and the appeal of these views pointing out that:

“The appeal of the objective view is that it is common across people. Something is objectively true if it predicts the outcome of experiments that you and I both can do and get the same answer. But how is this sensible? How can we get the same answer when you see with your eyes and I with mine? For that matter, how can we do the “same” experiment?”

Stutton concludes that knowledge is subjective; a point that I whole heartily agree with. Knowledge is biased as no one person will experience, perceive and express their knowledge exactly the same way as another. Thus my theory of knowledge is that knowledge is fueled by experience, influenced by perception and expressed in a subjective manner.

 

 

 

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Comment from the Internetz

A comment left on the archive of our Epistemology discussion of Reality, Perception & What can be Known:

I think it looks like the quiet students are the ones deep in thought. I was a quiet one back in school and still am. Very well spoken students! Thoughts were so well said and expressed by. I would have been one of the ones in school who sat and listened for fear of speaking out, sadly. In my mind I thought all sorts of things but how would anyone know if it is not expressed to everyone? I guess I did not have a bold personality.  Little did I realize how trivial my fears were and still are.

This environment and community of open discussion is so very valuable and provoking. Especially that these are young people who are just starting to delve deeper, yet are already so knowledgeable. And discussions like this in a large group do not happen very often with young people.  I love how they bounce ideas off each other so well and how you guide them through the discussion.

It is inspiring to see your enthusiasm and commitment to the students and also your own zeal and enthusiasm throughout. As well as being able to maintain and let the students speak with out interrupting or become too immersed. very cool. This school keeps getting better. The students energy is amazing.

It is amazing you are able to capture this. Really makes one think about … well everything!

 

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Epistemological Ecology – Mr. J

Learning Never Stops

There is a certain pleasure in being allowed to start things off in a class like #Philosophy12; while others may garner the satisfaction that comes from rising to the challenge of the various assignments and syntheses of ideas, as classroom facilitator my critical tasks have thus far revolved around the outset of the unit. Having hopefully created the conditions for individual and collective learning, I focus my energy around supporting the group’s thinking, whether in daily activities, viewing or reading materials, or engaging in class discussions about the direction and intentions of the unit or task at hand.

I get to learn a lot, just in seeing how the various branches of inquiry manage to reveal the topics at hand, and the perspectives that bring them to our classroom.

But I haven’t yet taken the opportunity to engage directly with the tasks myself, and I was taken with an idea for Epistemology: to state and support a personal proposition about the nature of knowledge, learning, and the justifications we use to frame these ideas. Within the context of the opening class structure, the unit presented a natural opportunity to turn the teaching of the course into a personal engagement with the material. If I could demonstrate an example of the type of learning I would like to see, would the allowance of the space and opportunity for participants to engage with their own individual creation of knowledge bring about an authentic expression of social constructivism?

“All knowledge begins with experience.”

The starting point for my own epistemological proposition centers around a view of our reason as an evolving structure of knowing that shifts with the acquisition of new knowledge (gained through experience). I have more or less directly swiped this from Immanuel Kant, but I have seen these ideas reflected in the foundations of the post-modern era, constructivism, as well as a frequent touchstone in the class’ conversations about knowledge and knowing. A certain amount of our work in the unit was bound to retread at least some of the contribution he has brought to the field, I figure.

But I am nevertheless grounded in the idea that the structure against which our experience of the world is interpreted – our ability to reason – evolves with our experiencing of the world; as it does our sense of what can be known changes in kind, eliciting further questions, and creating new un-knowing. Jonathan said it well in his first of two Epistemology posts: “As we accumulate knowledge over time, I also believe that we develop abilities to gain these different types of knowledge too.

The sage former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld summarized part of this arc memorably in February, 2002:

“[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

“…the limitation of all possible speculative cognition to the mere objects of experience, follows as a necessary result.”

There is something of the snake-eating-its-own-tail that then arises in the compulsion to expand our notions of knowing against an ever-expanding experiential plain. “Essentially, we have proven that no piece of knowledge, whether of reason or of reality, is reliable,” Liam writes in his exploration of Descartes’ Evil Genius theory:”

Really, a more unhelpful and useless conclusion has never been reached. True knowledge, it seems, is nowhere to be found – and because of that, we must accept the flawed, unreliable knowledge that we have and make do with it.

The Double Bind

As I began to explore in my initial post and reflections, the contradiction of pursuing a knowledge that evades alongside our mastery over it reminded me of the concept of the Double Bind, introduced to me a few weeks ago by Gardner Campbell at the Open Education conference in Vancouver. According to wikipedia, 

double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, in which one message negates the other. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will be automatically wrong regardless of response.

While the acquisition of knowledge may not be an eitheror scenario as described in the double bind, what I found valuable about Gardner’s characterization of the dilemma was the idea that the double bind can serve as a kind or prison, but also create the conditions for an expansion of awareness (or, cognition) that is the process of meaningful learning I hope some of #philosophy12 is providing for its participants. Again from Wikipedia:

One solution to a double bind is to place the problem in a larger context […] the double bind is contextualized and understood as an impossible no-win scenario so that ways around it can be found.

For my own part, the attempt to characterize and justify my own beliefs about knowledge has been vexing in the manner Bateson predicted as one of the responses to the double bind, wherein objective truth “cannot be reliably known, so all [truth] is treated as trivial or ridiculous.” It is admittedly difficult to engage faithfully in a process that seems fruitless from the outset, and for this I am glad to have waded into this experiment alongside the #Philosophy12 class.

Because it is a confrontation with the double bind that a new paradigm, either for each of us personally or together as a society, and isn’t this what I should be doing as a teacher?

Bateson outlines a Hierarchy of Learning in which Learning III (third in a series of IV) represents an ability to develop a “meta contextual perspective, imagining and shifting contexts of understanding.” Learning III puts the individual into a moment of learning with risk, where “questions become explosive,” Gardner says, as the potential to begin again at the base of the pyramid Jonathan outlines here is something that we are not often keen to explore, but central to the learning process.

And I think that perhaps this is both the source and the solution to the double bind offered in our own rational and experiential development. Learning IV – which would be the change enacted to progress beyond Learning III – Bateson notes, “probably does not occur in any adult living organism on this earth.”

Naturally: once we have solved the initial double bind and reached beyond our present understanding, we are greeted with new incongruities to decipher.

And yet..?

And yet we continue to engage in this process. We continue to yearn for a greater understanding, even while that understanding becomes obscured in the new questions it raises.

“It may be,” Gardner says, “that the evolution of the species represents the emergence of the possibility of Learning IV, as we think together.”

Leaving me again with echos of Kant:

it is plain that the hope of a future life arises from the feeling, which exists in the breast of every man, that the temporal is inadequate to meet and satisfy the demands of his nature.

 

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John Locke

On August 29, 1632, in Wrington, England, the man widely known as the Father of Liberalism was born.  John Locke was an English philosopher and physician who has made a large impact on the United States Declaration of Independence with his contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory.  His work had made a great difference upon the development of epistemology and political philosophy. His writings influenced Voltaire and Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. He was also considered one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers.

Locke was born into an influential family, with his father being a country lawyer and military man who had served as a captain during the English civil war.  And through his father’s ties to the government, Locke was able to receive outstanding education.  He was also a distinct student who earned the honorary title “King’s Scholar”.  To sum up his life, John Locke was a rich and smart individual who had a smooth sailing life until he hit a political speed bump in 1679 and declining health problems thereafter.

Locke’s philosophical interests divide roughly into three parts: political, epistemological, and scientific. On the scientific side, his major influence was by his friend, the Irish scientist Robert Boyle, whom he helped with Locke’s experiments.  Lord Ashley’s contributions to John’s political thoughts and career can not be understated, as he was one of the founders of the Whig party.  Ashley imparted an outlook on rule and government that never left Locke.  However, Locke owes his success in Episemology to a 17th century Latin translation Philosophus Autodidactus (published by Edward Pococke) of the Arabic philosophical novel Hayy ibn Yaqzan by the 12th century Andalusian-Islamic philosopher and novelist Ibn Tufail.  This also led to the creation of one of his most famous works – An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Locke’s theory of the mind is often regarded as the origin of modern conceptions of identity and the self.  His main thesis in one of his major works An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, was to explain that humans are not born with innate ideas but with an “empty” mind, a tabula rasa, “which is shaped by experience; sensations and reflections being the two sources of all our ideas”. [Wikipedia]

John Locke’s theory affects all of us, the very being of our human nature.  How we turn out and what we think is a result of our experiences, sensations, and reflections.  However, as understood by Locke, each individual was free to define the content of his or her character – but his or her basic identity as a member of the human species cannot be so altered. And through his theory, I came to reflect on the role that idea plays in perception, how we become who we are through these three qualities.  I agree on this idea of humans being born with a “blank-slate mind”.  As a result, we are shaped as we gain more knowledge because we are nothing to begin with, so humans will be what our experiences shape us to be.  But even so, we cannot completely alter who we were originally.

 
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