Is Critical Thinking a Meme to Counter Memes? #CritLit2010

It was a great disappointment whilst an honors student at the Australian National University, to bump up against the culture of academia, even in the art school unwilling to absorb and imbibe spiritual values in the name of ‘critical thinking’.

As Marshall McLuhan noted if you swim in it you just don’t notice it, this is the function of culture.

Cultural Cognition is the theory that we shape our opinions to conform to the views of the groups with which we most strongly identify” (David Ropeik, 2010). With the awareness that I inherited the ideology of the sixties counter culture from my mother, I write this self defining literary piece for my peers in the #CritLit2010 course (my personal learning network, itself an academic culture).

“An idea is something you have; an ideology is something that has you.” Morris Berman

For this particular post I am in part inspired by fellow course participant Michael Morgan’s playful etymology and of course Stephen Downes who I have been privileged to study with through the CritLit2010 course these past weeks . I had fun with this piece.

Please note update October-The Flash movie has gone AWOL so you need the link to preview it.

Memetics attempts to account for the viral symbiotic transference of culture via cults, ideologies or marketing. Drawing from a Memetic Lexicon I use the metaphor of memes to respond to the video “Here Be Dragons” by Brian Dunning also producer of the Skeptoid Podcast.

“You should be aware, for instance, that you have just been exposed to the Meta-meme, the meme about memes…” (Glenn Grant)

Dunning  uses critical thinking as a counter-meme to promote a skeptic view of dreams, psi and natural therapies equating them with 9/11 conspiracy theories. It struck me that conspiracy theories might be Dunning’s own ‘meme-allergy’ as evidenced by his illusory correlation between alternative medicines and conspiracy theories, an obscure causal connection revealing an underlying confirmation bias, by cognitive inference?  Isn’t this what David Hume describes as a perception based on habit rather than observation?

On that note New York Times journalist Steven Kinzer wrote All the Shah’s Men, which directly linked the CIA (the US administration) to the destruction of the World Trade Centre. Kinzer reminded readers that in 1953 the CIA overthrew a democratically elected Iranian government with a torture regime. “When you terrorize other people, eventually they are going to terrorize you.” (Rev. Jeremiah Wright, 2008.)

Back to the meme theme-in the name of assisting consumers to discern pseudo scientific claims the video’s presenter, Brian Dunning commences his ‘meme infection strategy’ by deflecting any counter thinking as medievil. This is akin to British scholar John Gray’s description of Enlightenment Utopianism  “whereby true knowledge will defeat ignorance (evil).” Mr Dunning believes it his redemptive responsibility to “inform as many people as possible”.  For skeptics like Dunning this is the “Second Coming, the defeat of ignorance and evil (= sin) by means of reliable knowledge, science and technology in particular.” (Berman 2009)

Mr Dunning employs critical thinking as his memetic ‘hook‘ in a doctrine of secular salvation, ‘baited’ by the ‘co-meme’ of scientific research underpinned by the meme of materialism. I dont doubt that he truly believes he is serving people and I respect his desire to inform. In my mind his adherence to the argument that science opposes energetic medicine is equivalent to a zealous ‘membot‘ where our meme host (Mr Dunning) through deployment of this video seeks out converts as meme ‘replicators’ to tweet, blog, Diigo and Delicious.

The ideology of scientific research itself a meme, holds to a previously held now outdated materialistic and mechanistic world view in imminent fear of having its paradigm overturned. David Bohm observed that the scientific community has reduced Quantum theory to a set of formulae (in principle to calculate anything) as a way to predict and control nature, without understanding its meaning.

Quantum physicists theorise the fundamental nature of matter as subtle, perhaps according to David Bohm even more subtle than current evidence suggests. In quantum mechanics the movements in human consciousness and physics are analogous. Particles jump from one state to another without passing through anything in between, like thoughts jump from one to the other without passing thoughts between. Consciousness studies which are at the frontier and still very open are one of the least fixed areas of science and Rupert Sheldrake asserts we don’t yet have good theories of consciousness. Is it fair to define this still open subtle matter subject matter by a mechanistic model and is that called open investigation and are the big questions being investigated?

Skeptico podcast held between Richard Wiseman and Rupert Sheldrake debates the validity of psi (parapsychology) phenomena. Sheldrake mentions one of the challenges that paranormal researchers find is that research funding that might open up the field is withheld because of uninvestigated foregone conclusions by the scientific community. (At the end of the podcast Sheldrake and other researchers agreed to collaborate with Wiseman, however in the postscript Wiseman had yet to take them up.)

There is no evidence in the video that Dunning has ever considered the possibility that people actually experience subtle psychic or vibrational phenomena, such as telepathy or vibrational healing (examples given were craniosacral therapy and homeopathy). This equates to a type of solipsisism where Dunning is intolerant of another’s conscious experience.  Just because vibrational medicine is out of Dunning’s range does not condemn it to the Dark Ages (I am not alone in asserting that our over reliance on materialism is proof we are living one).

Dunning’s ‘naturally selected’ sampling of interviewees did not include Professors Bruce Lipton, Rupert Sheldrake, Dean Radin and the IONS Institute, The Global Consciousness Project or the late David Bohm.  The law of large numbers I notice was absent from his interviewee sampling, unlike Sheldrake’s testing of 1000 people for telephone telepathy. “By chance, if telepathy played no part, the success rate would be about 1 in 4, or 25%. In fact in a total of more than 850 trials involving 65 participants, the average success rate was 42% (p= 1×10-26) (Sheldrake, 2003)”.  Sheldrake investigates telephone telepathy because quantitative data sets show it is the most likely medium through which people experience psi phenomena while experimental conditions for his telephone research are easily replicated by other labs.

What Brian Dunning himself proves is that his handful of interviewees do not have the linguistic or logical mathematical facility to describe their healing in terms of science, which is unsurprising as a) both medicine and science are renown for  their deliberate “jargon-obfuscation” ( Csikszentmihaly, 1997) and b) Newtonian scientists themselves don’t grasp quantum theory as it applies to life and consciousness.

Dunning’s reference to the New Age completes his ‘meme-complex‘ where critical thinking, secularist and scientific evidence form a chain of immunity, a ‘vaccime’ to vaccinate against any rival memes. (I have my own aversion to New Ageisms overused by unscrupulous publisher marketers).

And what will counter the critical thinking meme?

Revisiting Complexity #CritLit2010

Enlarged view here-

Employee Engagement by Dave Snowden

Dave Snowdon wrote Thoughts on models and Modelling last month and in this post he quotes Gell-Mann “the only valid model of a complex system is the system itself.” I posted a few questions to Dave in regards to how this might apply to Connectivism.


Hi Dave please I’m attempting to understand your Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) model in light of CritLit2010 and connected learning. Is Connectivism an example of what you describe above? Could you call Connectivism a coherent system that models itself?

I dont know what a fuzzy system is please, does that imply that it may or may not have a purpose? (Slide -The Nature of Systems)

Would the agents or nodes in Connectivist courses be self-signifying through their blog narratives and are these blogs, microblogs and bookmarks called attractors?

I recognise that in Connectivist courses as in CAS the course system lightly constrains the agents and that the agents modify in their turn both the system and each other (peer 2 peer learning). Also the idea of operating beyond equilibrium, the decentralised nature of courses and of the Internet itself in my experience assures an on the edge of chaos experience both time management or resource filtering.
Connectivism like complexity facilitates distributed cognition where meaning emerges through interaction, disintermediation etc…

Dave Snowden [TypeKey Profile Page]:

I think connectivism is a technology based perspective on learning, and the various situations it describes will be in the main complex adaptive systems. From what I have seen if considered as a learning theory it can’t escape social constructivism and that way (from my perspective) lies relativism and solipsism (George for certain and Stephen probably) know that is my position.

From what I have seen of the connectivist courses they attempt to create a CAS type environment for learning and I commend them for that. I personally don’t like the edge of chaos phrase, better to talk about far from equilibrium; ordered human systems are perpetually on the edge of chaos so the phrase covers more than CAS.

I define a system as any network which has coherence and it may be fuzzy, that means the boundaries may not be clear and at times it may not be clear if you are in or out of the system itself (think about walking on a plateau in a mist and you will get a sense of what I mean).

Self-signification has a specific meaning in Cognitive Edge and is linked to SenseMaker®. It is a half way house between (i) tagging blogs (your reference) which is chaotic to my mind as you can’t use vocabulary consistently and is also dependent on semantic tools for aggregation and that involves too great a loss of meaning, and (ii) the use of taxonomies which are too ordered. We take an approach half way between (which is proprietary). There is a lot more detail here if you are interested.

Hope that helps  Posted by Dave Snowden [TypeKey Profile Page]July 3, 2010 10:46 PM

Ruth’s notes-I’m still grappling with the language infused in CAS. But I’m finding just reading Dave’s Cognitive Edge Blog is helping me to become more familiar with terminology. It’s a funny experience to be so completely unfamiliar with the language and yet compelled towards more understanding. In my mind it’s a case of revisiting it (CAS) in enough contexts that the connections will form. You’re welcome to help me out in the meantime tho!

Beyond 3r’s 2020 #CritLit2010

Lee Rainier of Pew Internet and American Life Project has recently published findings from surveys on the impact of the Internet on reading and writing amidst other things by 2020. Of particular interest to myself were several slides which indicated an underlying and connective theme of new literacies necessary for active participation in the future Internet. I understand that the context is through the eyes of American respondents and I wonder how eastern respondents might perceive new Internet literacies where language and symbols express cultural perceptions unknown in the west? I notice there’s no mention of fluency in mandarin, the Internet’s most dominant language in the next 5 years.

Future of the Internet – National Geographic – Digital Capital Week

I have extracted copies of several slides below to illustrate the new literacies put forward by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The quotes are from respondents who elaborated on the impact of the Internet on reading, writing and the rendering of knowledge including explaining their choices and you can find the original research here including the report PDF.
Slide 14 above introduces the need for new literacies in the future. The first being retrieval.
Alex Halavais-“Being able to quickly and effectively discover information and solve problems, rather than do it “in your head,” will be the metric we use.”
Slides 24/25 above and below use the words ‘rendering of knowledge’ in conjunction with reading and writing as being significant literacies for Internet use.  This is a new expression for me.
Robert Cannon- “They are mastering language only to reinvent it. They are using it in new forms. Tags. Labels. Acronyms.”
Slide 25 records how 69% experts believe in the Internet as a tool for enhancing our basic literacy, whilst 27% are concerned with loss.
Jeff Jarvis- “Writing may be making videos. Reading may be parsing data or constructing better queries. How we teach the skills of acquiring, analyzing, and sharing information will have to change.”
Slide 26 introduces screen literacy (as opposed to reading from paper).
Andreas Kluth- “We are currently transitioning from reading mainly on paper to reading mainly on screens. As we do so, most of us read MORE, in terms of quantity (word count), but more promiscuously and in shorter intervals and with less dedication. As these habits take root, they corrupt our willingness to commit to long texts, as found in books or essays. We will be less patient and less able to concentrate on long-form texts. This will result in a resurgence of short-form texts and story-telling, in ‘Haiku-culture’ replacing ‘book-culture.’”

This could well be true and only exaggerated by ubiquitous mobile platforms, small screens and ‘on the go’ attention habits of users, for instance there “will be more smartphones than computers in the U.S. by the end of 2010”, yet as I write in mid 2010 smartphones account for less than 20% of the mobile market! According to these Momentfeed statistics “the Mobile Web is growing eight times (8X) faster than the traditional Web.”

Thinking of slides 25 and 26 I find it likely then that the power of story, of creating narrative will be significant, whether as scripts for movies, software, games, cartoons, visual thinking, infographic data aggregation, the book form will transmute into all of these, I love Inanimate Alice by way of example of an multidimensional multimedia story form.

Nathaniel James- “Literacy is a historical construct that will continue, but in the context of new, pervasive norms that are only now emerging.”

Anthony Townsend- “For instance, would it be more intelligent to render our knowledge of politics in Ancient Egypt as a book-length essay or a realistic, interactive role-playing simulation?”

Jim Warren- “Fortunately, much of the net – at least in its current mo’less open-access form – IS the fastest and most bodacious self-correcting information system in existence.”

Something I’ve been pondering since reading Jaron Lanier You are not a Gadget and David Gelernter’s manifesto The Algorithmic Culture and Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or be Programmed could there be another r =(algo)’rithmic?

Chris Messina thinks so -“One question is whether code will become a form of literature unto itself. While it seems the provenance of engineers and developers today, nothing is to say that making it through high school won’t require fluency in HTML or JavaScript rather than French (remember, Google will translate for you in real-time). And if code is one of the most direct means to express an idea, perhaps it will become a unifying, albeit fairly unromantic, language of the ages.”

Stephen Downes does too- “Moreover, it will be apparent by 2020 that a multi-literate society has developed, one that can communicate with ease through a variety of media, including art and photography, animation, video, games and simulations, as well as text and code.”

Along this train of thought Heli Nur has a fascinating post on the hacker ethic and networked learning.

Lee Rainier posits a post literacy era?

Stephen F. Steele- “In 2020 we will have entered post literacy era. With everything “smart” and information constantly available, reading and writing took on new dimensions in their place of human skills. Problem solving and reasoning became more important.” It makes sense that what appears lacking now will become even more important and more universally recognised by 2020.

I deliberately haven’t mentioned visual literacy (I’m a visual artist/designer) as I’ve covered that in other posts referencing Daniel Pink. Alongside visual literacy Clay Shirky emphasises data visualisation.

Steve Mackenzie has posted a visual Taxonomy of Critical Literacies from this Critical Literacies 2010 Connectivist course.

For those interested John Mak has aggregated a series of visual taxonomies, particularly centred around Connectivism.

Dashboard Pragmatics-Feeding a Frenzy #CritLit2010

I have created a Netvibes dashboard of #CritLit2010 feeds here for the MOOC Critical Literacy course run by Stephen Downes and Rita Kop. I highly recommend a privately customised version.
I was unable to create a ‘dashboard wizard’ feed search, so I created a new dashboard under ‘manage dashboards’ and then dragged and dropped my tabs later in order to make it publicly viewable today-it turns out you can just share, copy, paste these, so that you have both a private page view and a public page view of your tabs. Previously I used my public page as a food trend search page because I have an educational food trend blog-and I’ve linked to it in there.

Unfortunately I was unable so far to create a #hashtag search using a ‘dashboard wizard’ which might be easiest? The button wouldn’t enable it to sync? See diagram below. Please try it and show me if it works?
Your account - Netvibes

This post has also enabled me to use Skitch a screen grabbing and presentation type software for the first time. After account setup I began inside my manage dashboard ‘create new’. The ready made tabs I cleared and created 4 clean new tabs by pressing the + sign.

Both the Course Feed and CritLitBlogger feed tabs were created by using the Add content button, see below screen.
#CritLit2010 (686)

To add blog/course feeds, very easy see below screen-‘add content’ button drops down to ‘add feeds’. I mostly just used actual blog urls in the text box but some rss. I’m sorry if I’ve missed a critlit blogger tell me if you want to be added? In the screen view below I only dragged 1 rss feed from each blog. You can see that Benjamin’s feed results were 4 (comments, both atom and rss feeds).
#CritLit2010 (686)

For the social media feeds I added widgets.
#CritLit2010 (686)
I’m wondering if its possible to edit this please John Mak in order to gain access to the Facebook Connectivist group discussion?

For the Web tab I found Web Search widget. You could add blog search?
#CritLit2010 (686)

You are much better off creating your feed page ‘private‘. This one is now my public page but unfortunately ‘Reader View’ is not enabled. Reader view is beautiful, see below! Much easier each tab category accessible from a sidebar with time line ‘Today’, ‘yesterday’ etc. See below screen-it’s a different template.
#CritLit2010 (649)

Please tell me anything you discover about this interface. Of course you can choose your own template design.

I’ve just added a ‘wall’ feature so that people can comment directly on this public site. I’ve since found that I can copy paste these tabs holus bolus into my private page view where I can take advantage of the ‘reader view’. If I could find a way that others could copy paste them too?

Self as Locus of Learning #CritLit2010

Image by Ocean.Flynn Flickr
Image by ocean.flynn Flickr

In his 3 posts here here and here John Mak discusses critical literacies for 21st century learners positing the practice of inquiry whereby searching questions reveal self reflective insights. In John’s case as a member of several communities of practice his inquiry furthers both discourse and feedback-in comments on and links to his blog posts.

John points to quite a few resources a couple of which engage me at this time. The first is  A National Look At Postmodernmism\ Pros And Cons In Educational Leadership (2007) William Allen Kritsonis and Rhonda Townsend.

With the above document in mind I am deliberately trying on a set of ideas constructed from educational theory in response to John’s posts, namely postmodernist theory. By way of direct reference I adopt the language used by educational theorists, continuing as John himself writes, a tradition of inquiry commenced in the East by Confucius and much later in the West by Socrates. In this way I inform my educational practice by cloaking my thinking in the garb of educational culture through language. It is something I have learned as a good student, to reference the other scholars so that I can position my thinking, my art practice and my teaching contextually. This also assists me to critique other’s research and practice.

According to Kritsonis and Townsend culture creates language in order to uphold itself and its own power structures which uphold politics, this in turn influences theory and practice and these in their turn influence language which supports culture.

It concerns me however that education is so self referential and I welcome the ideas of  Postmodernism, Downes and Snowdon who would all suggest that I extend my radius of reflection about learning to the natural and social sciences.

Postmodernist theory would assert there are no absolute truths or right ways lest these theories become tyrannical by their very prescriptiveness prohibiting personal autonomy and choice. Kritsonis and Townsend point out that theory and context are connected and that the process of knowing and the knower and known are one. Our beliefs therefore cannot be separated from our observation because consciousness is a prerequisite for observation. I support this view because it upholds my beliefs about the influence of beliefs. It is helpful then to understand my own influences, which colour my decisions and preference my cognitive bias.

John’s inquiry ultimately asks what it might be like to reverse this process of critical inquiry and drop the ‘baggage’ of our personal perception and bias about learning theories and allow the possibility for multiple truths as theorised by Postmodernism?

Stephen Downes quotes Audre Lorde “The masters tools will never dismantle the masters house.” In my observation educators use the language of education (embedded with inherent socio cultural and political power structures) to design learning therefore colouring the learning outcomes literally by being goal driven and focussed on an agenda that may be arbitrary if not inhibitive to the learner’s own exploration, autonomy and discovery cycle. So too the nature of discourse with other educators predicates a common language embedded with socio cultural political power structures, perhaps the metaphors of music, dance or art might express more honestly than words?

Clay Shirky predicted “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” (Institutions are so dedicated to solving the problem that through their complexity they inadvertently perpetuate it.) It is very likely that learning  is found everywhere and anywhere that humans exist and is not the proprietary nexus of education.

Joseph Campbell’s “Follow your bliss” is as good a learning theory as any I have come across. It has become more visibly embraced on the Internet as informal networks of passionate amateurs, cultivated perhaps more consciously as communities of practice (Wenger, Snyder, 2000), trust networks (Hague, Seely Brown, 2010) and Connectivist courses (Siemens, 2004, Downes, 2005) all engaged in self-directed peer to peer learning.

Kritsonis and Townsend suggest that educational leaders extend beyond theory in order to further both personal choice and invigorate practice, because although at the root of practice, theory exists only temporarily and only within context. I guess in this context if I were to practice something other than a postulated educational theory then I’m not practicing education, but I might yet practice learning?

What I think I’m hearing is John Mak’s desire to engage beyond the bounds of a prescriptive practice? To personalise the tools, community and resources as the questions arise and be the locus of learning whereby he might transmit that tacitly to others just as they may with him? Of course I’m reflecting on how this is true for me personally,  how I hope that I might yet design a personalised and open learning environment for myself, that allows for multiple truths and views, reflecting difference, diversity, complexity and even contradiction.

In response to John’s queries then I think I’m interested in the literacy of being the locus of learning myself. And in this context I need to be aware of how the language, the tools and the discourses shape my beliefs. This leads me to further inquiry…