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Paul Grobstein's blog

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Conversation as ...

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Cultures of ability

"Culture as Disability," a 1995 essay by Ray McDermott and Hervé Varenne has been on my mind for more than a decade.  In it, McDermott and Varenne argue compellingly (for me at least) that human cultures have interrelated bright and dark sides.  By promulgating stories about what individuals in a given culture should aspire to, cultures provide individuals with a sense of motivation and achievement,  The same stories, however, also "disable" other individuals, by setting standards of achievement which they, for one reason or another, can't adequately satisfy.

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Making sense of the world: the need to entertain the inconceivable

An interesting example of the constraints placed on inquiry by stories that make some things difficult to conceive came up in Neurobiology and Behavior last week, during a discussion of the ability of the nervous system to generate outputs by itself rather than simply in response to external stimuli.

"Perhaps I've just had the idea that 'cause equals effect' engrained in my mind for so long that it's just difficult to sway me, but I still feel that there must be some input to trigger reactions in our body" 

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Subjectivities and objectivities in classrooms and beyond

Interesting conversation last week in the Neurobiology and Behavior course about .... class conversation (see A loopy classroom?), one that intersected in interesting ways with, among other things, a conversation in the Neural and Behavioral Sciences senior seminar (Some relevant thoughts from last week), and one on evolving systems (Bridging for commonality of expansion).

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On beyond an algorithmic universe

Very rich conversations this week with Stuart Kauffman, a theoretical biologist, Alan Baker, a philosopher, and Scott Gilbert, a developmental biologist, first over dinner and then during a panel discussion with additional input from Mark Kuperberg, an economist, and Billie Grassie, founder of the Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science.  Delighted if any of them wanted to weigh in with their own thoughts in the on-line forum below (along with anyone else interested in the

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On beyond a critical stance

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.  I will meet you there ... Jelaluddin Rumi

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Evolution of science education as story telling and story revising

For years, I've been exploring ways of being a "less wrong" teacher.  And that means, among other things, noticing new problems that come along with creating new ways of being.

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Alternative perspectives on randomness and its significance

Interesting lunch conversation with Mike Sears over winter break, following up on issues that have arisen in the evolving system open discussions.

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the brain, old and young, and education, college and otherwise

Two interesting recent articles on education that get even more interesting when read in relation to one another and in broader contexts ....

How to train the aging brain, NYTimes Education Life, 29 Dec 2009

"Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education ... Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different."

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Sense of personal identity: whence cometh? and where goeth?

Interesting conversation last night with a Haverford undergraduate seminar group on "Fashioning the Self" that helped me think more about the bipartite brain and its relation to internal experiences, particularly the internal experience of "self identity." 

The challenge offered me was the possibility of seeing "all of our our conscious experience as physically grounded and therefore causally determined" and some issues with that - "If our experiences and therefore our identities are tied to our bodies, what happens to our "souls"?  How do we explain interpersonal difference?  Is faith a creation to assuage the fear of a reducible individuality?"

And the responses I went in with were basically

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