iteracy LO30184

Date: 05/16/03

Replying to LO30173 --

Dear Vana wrote,

>But they don't LEARN. Nor do they learn how to learn. They don't love
>learning. They don't feel a passion for discovery and inquiry. It saddens
>and sickens me to think about it. Because today's students are tomorrow's
>workers. This is not good news.

Ahem! ;-) today's students are tomorrows 'citizens' but one day older.
(I was educated to be a 'worker' - it didn't work - I have spent my whole
life as an adult searching for people who would treat with me as a more
'whole' person. A concept I owe a more conscious understanding of today
thanks to a gentleman from South Africa ;-)

In 1970 I left school without a single academic qualification and I think,
among the low points of working in factories, shops and transport depots
was the night of my 20th birthday when I was placed in an underground
concrete bunker underneath a steel pressing workshop and told to just sit
there until one of the 'workers' at ground level needed 'replacing' ...I
recall getting up, walking to the supervisor and quitting that first
night. I came home thoroughly disheartened with myself at the darkest
hour, into a room house full of Oxford students sleeping the sleep of the
blissful. I never envied them their many privileges, many of which they
had blind-spots to and many were friends, but I envied anyone who had bits
of paper that brought them promise and regard of fellows.When as an adult
I got a degree the hall was locked, so my result was given me by the
caretaker (peter Beamish if you read this, smile;-) who told me the
numbers as he read them. No ceremony, no gown, I got the paper certificate
in the post and it has never seen the light of day since it was awarded.
Nor have I ever had occasion to use it to gain work or a pay rise in the
land of workers.)

My dear friend Vana, my dear friends collectively LO, -- " Prejudices,
strong prejudices, are visions about the way things are. They are
divinations of the order of the whole of things, and hence the road to
knowledge of that whole is by way or erroneous opinions about it. Error is
indeed our enemy, but it alone points to truth and therefore deserves our
respectful treatment. The mind that has no prejudice at the outset is
empty. -- Only Socrates knew, after a lifetime of unceasing labour, that
he was ignorant. Now every high school student knows that. How did it
become so easy? What accounts for our amazing progress? -- We have so
simplified the soul that it is no longer difficult to explain? To an eye
of dogmatic sketpicism, nature herself, in all her lush profusion of
perceptions, might appear to be a prejudice. In her place we put a grey
network of critical concepts, which were invented to interpret nature's
phenomena but which strangled them and therewith destroyed their raison
d'etre. Perhaps it is our task to resuscitate those phenomena so that we
may again have a world in which we can put our questions and be able to
philosophize.--" The Closing of the American Mind. Allan Bloom,
Introduction: Our Virtue, pp. 43

I have a custom, one I taught myself ;-) one day when I was quite alone in
a mid size city called Oxford. It boiled down to this, in the right frame
of mind I can place my finger upon the pointed pin, in the proverbial
haystack -- here is that pin for any American ;-) listening - and I do
mean listening ;-) right now.

"Man has always had to come to terms with God, love and death. They made
it perfectly impossible to be at home on earth. But America has come to
terms with them in new ways. God was slowly executed here; it took two
hundred years, but local theologians tell us He is now dead. His place has
been taken by the scared. Love was put to death by psychologists. Its
place has been taken by sex and meaningful relationships. That has taken
only about seventy five years. It should not be a surprise that a new
science, thanatology, or death with dignity is on the way to putting death
to death. Coming to terms with the terror of death, Socrates' long and
arduous education, learning how to die, will no longer be necessary. For
death is not what it used to be." Ibid, pp. 231

What a chaos of perceptions!
I'm just looking forwards to exploring unfamiliar paths blindly, and seeing
what blind eyes can see.
Which brings me to the golden path and the cornfield full of deer that I
mentioned earlier.
Night before last, I came home late from work, was tired, fretting about
debts, about raising deposits , about my landlord being a ***** about my old
car, about my job etc etc etc. I had loads of letters to write, so I did so,
and went and posted them. On the way to the post box, I passed the end of a
path that goes off across the fields to East Hendred, the Icknield Way. It
was all muddy and puddled, and the trees arched right over, and at the far
end (it is a straight path) perfectly in line as if I was standing by the
heel stone at Stone Henge, the sun was setting. The light was shining on the
puddles and turning the whole mud path from dirt into gold - wonderfully,
dazzlingly alchemistic. I ran home, to lock my door, grabbed pen, paper and
bible, and for once remembered my glasses, and ran back. The effect was still
there and I set off along the path, reminded of a thought I wrote down a year
or more ago, that the way of God is as light shining on a miry pathway. In my
mind, everything I was worried about, all the hassles, seemed like the dirt
and mud that I was wading through, that as I took each step along the path,
was turned to gold by the light I was walking towards. (De)light is a very
big thing.
Eventually, I came to the open field, which was full of corn, sidled off the
path, down the bank and sat amongst the poppies and thistles at the edge of
the corn, hidden from the people passing by on the path above and behind me,
sat down to watch the sunset, to pray and to write. After several minutes of
just sitting, I looked round, and startled to see, rising above the corn,
twenty yards or so away, the head of a young stag. He knew I was there, but
was completely unperturbed. I sat completely motionless, and then, slowly,
the deer began to wander out of the woods and into the field. For a good
half-hour, they wandered around me, and I could hear more moving in the woods
behind, but didn't dare move to look. And then, after a while of eating the
corn and watching the evening, once the sun finally sank, they wandered back
in the woods. And, able to move again, I started writing furiously (broke the
nib of a brand new pen, I did)
The thought occurred, how could I worry? How dare I worry? I followed the
path and all this blessing was at the end! The deer were so peaceful, so
still, so beautiful, content, at peace, at one fulfilled and satisfied with
such simplicity and grace (graciousness rather than gracefulness, though
either would do). All I could ever want was just laid out for me at the end
of the path - that was the light I was walking towards. And in the face of
all that, how could I have any concern? I thought of all the things that had
delayed and then caused my walk - how long had these things all been being
planned and maneuvered, so that I arrived at the precise moment, so that the
deer did? Since I set out? since I got home? all day? since the beginning of
time? since eternity? And if everything is planned out that carefully and
precisely for what is in some ways such an insignificant and unimportant
moment, how can I worry about the big stuff? And Andrew - just what a
blessing, what a promise to find at the end of the path! "I will lead the
blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them".
Andrew, I wish I had a gift, of taking something like that and purifying and
refining and distilling it into a single image, a single moment, a single
thought. My mind always makes things bigger and messier and endlessly
tangled, others make it more precious and perfect and purer - a whole rainbow
in a single drop of rain perfectly balanced on a blade of grass. Then I would
be happy a woman. Mind you, as it is, I'm not doing too badly on the
happiness stakes. Go do your own alchemy. Love M"

How the blind see.

. In September 1797 Tom Wedgwood, the young heir to the potteries--, paid a
week-long visit to the Wordsworths and Coleridge in the Quantock Hills. He
had been corresponding with Godwin and came to propose a project to
"anticipate a century or two upon the large-paced progress of human
improvement" (Such momentous advances were made possible, he felt, by a new
science of the mind, in effect various refinements of the Lockean model. The
key proposition was that all conceptual structures derive from perceptual
input; the mind at birth is like a "white paper, void of all characters", and
concepts are constructed through a process of association. It was obvious to
the young Wedgwood that this model identified a dramatic obstacle to
intellectual development: the complex sensory fluxes of the real world were
surely not the optimal input. As Wedgwood put it: "What a chaos of
perceptions! If one were ignorant of the resulting produce, idiocy would
certainly suggest itself as the only possible one."
Given that we are not "ignorant of the resulting produce," the fact that
children are reliably able to make sense of the world might reasonably be
counted against the model. What struck the business-minded Wedgwood, however,
was the other possibility: that a careful management of perceptual input
would dramatically improve the efficiency and yield of the system.
Children--and one obviously could not start too early--should be raised in
laboratory conditions so that the infant's sensory development would not be
overloaded by random and meaningless data. A nursery with "plain grey walls"
would keep the signal-to-noise ratio high, and "one or two vivid objects for
sight & touch" would provide the necessary stimulus. The budding prodigy must
be spared all contact with the outside world. "The gradual explication of
Nature would be attended with great difficulty," Wedgwood admits in his
letter to Godwin, and should be delayed as long as possible; clearly, "the
child must never go out of doors".
One may wonder why Wordsworth, of all people, was thought of as the right
person to run this factory for geniuses, but Wedgwood had no doubt he had
"only to be convinced that this is the most promising mode of benefitting
society to engage him to come forward with alacrity". And why would he not?
Within the associationist framework, which Wordsworth largely subscribed to
at the time and certainly had no articulated alternative to, Wedgwood's
arguments are compelling. If the infant's conceptual structures are to be
built up from scratch on the basis of perceptual input, this imposes an
extremely delicate task on the part of its educators: to reduce the
overwhelming disorder of natural stimuli to a level of complexity manageable
by the conscious problem-solving abilities of a new-born child. A radical
simplification of the child's environment presents itself as an urgent
necessity. The apparent inevitability of this conclusion must have struck
Wordsworth with the full force of its senseless absurdity.
By pursuing the associationist, blank-slate model of the mind to its reductio
ad absurdum, Wedgwood in effect laid bare its Achilles' heel: the so-called
frame problem, or the apparent computational impossibility of locating the
small and scattered fragments of the needle of relevant features in the
infinite haystack of reality. First explicitly addressed by the Artificial
Intelligence community in the 1960s (McCarthy and Hayes), it represents one
of the most persistent and most illuminating obstacles to the development of
information-processing models of cognition (Dennett 131). Since drooling
infants, who appear to have severely limited intellectual abilities,
routinely succeed in learning to handle objects, identify individuals,
navigate through cluttered rooms, and speak any language they are exposed to,
it seemed to the early AI researchers a fair initial assumption that these
tasks are computationally relatively straightforward. However, the problems
of programming even rudimentary skills such as moving blocks around proved
surprisingly intractable; in practice, the designers of artificial systems
had to resort either to extremely specialized devices which functioned only
in a highly constrained domain, or to an elaborate "innate" interpretive
This conventionally unappreciated fit between the growing child and its
natural environment became a major theme in Wordsworth's poetry and practice.
In their education of little Basil Montagu, who was living with them at
Alfoxden, he and Dorothy showed an implicit trust in "those first-born
affinities which fit / Our new existence to existing things" 9 to guide the
child. Skeptical of "this age of systems," they encouraged him to roam freely
out of doors, letting him scour the environment for relevant features with an
"insatiable curiosity. William's own aspirations for genius found no
resonance in Wedgwood's scheme; given his childhood, he might consider
himself lucky to have avoided idiocy. On a personal level as a poet, as an
educator, and as a human being intensely involved in his imaginative
relationship with nature, he finds the project profoundly and inspiringly
misguided. "There are who tell us that in recent times," he writes in his

We have been great discoverers, that by dint ...
    Of nice experience we have lately given
    To education principles as fixed
    And plain as those of a mechanic trade
Something tells him the education of children is not an appropriate target
domain for the mechanistic projection, and he begins to embark on a project
of his own: an ontogeny of the imaginative faculty, formulated in terms of
the growth of the mind in response to natural objects. SNIP"

(I will post the rest if there is the heart for it from LO)

A week or so ago I desired to bring back to life some thoughts inspired by
At's, Kicking Things Abounding...and I have for the last seven years been
much taken with the idea's central to 'creative collapses' ;-)

I sent last year the image of a strange man - appearing to be both green
and yet afire - the product of a few playful moments upon the clean slate
of Locke (knot)...and following Prigogine's reply and my instinct and
downloading some 'stuff' I read this from Prigogine. " The problem of time
in physics and chemistry is closely related to the formulation of the
second law of thermodynamics. Therefore another possible title of this
lecture could have been, " the macroscopic and microscopic aspects of the
second law of thermodyamics". (Nobel Lecture, 8th December 1977)

I have a question. Is 'work' a large thing or a small thing?
I have another. Is 'love' a large thing or a small thing?




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