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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Grad Idea 2004/2005 Forum

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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a new year
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-09-04 12:16:58
Link to this Comment: 10766

Yeah, yeah, don't get worried. Nothing's lost. Last year's forum has been archived, is accessible here.

Rich conversation yesterday (as always). Thanks to all and particularly to Corey for the introduction to Fraser. Who I DO like, for lots of reasons (her relation to Foucalt among them). But who I also think is a reminder about the hazards of "waffling around in cultural space". A hazard I was a little surprised to find myself calling attention to (since its a space I like, tend to waffle around in myself). So I liked where we get to at the end, the idea that there are a series of different but interconnected spaces with appropriately different languages in each AND a need to develop languages/story tellers that communicate among the spaces. More particularly, in this case, there IS value in the "academic" but it is equally important that the academic be translateable. With the objective not simply of making the stories accessible but, even more importantly, of assuring that those who speak other languages are able to affect the story. To put it differently, for people interested in social change the explicit aim ought to be to enhance peoples' abilities to tell stories in ways that can impact on other communities.

Very interested too in the possible parallels between catastrophic (and other kinds of) change in evolution and in culture, the necessity to disrupt stabilizing webs of connectedness to get new things. Presume that will show up in one way or another in Roland's summary of our conversation, and that we can look at it more in future conversations.

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-09-04 20:00:28
Link to this Comment: 10777

I was pretty puzzled during the first half of yesterday's (as-always-rich-if-sometimes- provoking) discussion--really was not understanding the claim that any "population which doesn't work in words" has a particular problem in trying to make sense of what's happening, by using conventional cultural stories and words that "don't fit their experience"...

I think because it's so clear to me that words are for all of us, loquacious or not, academic or not, reductions of what is; like maps, they always give partial accounts of the whole. They are always inadequate--and thereby generative: productive of further words, further conversation, further change.

After an hour or so I finally realized that the real complaint being lodged against Nancy Fraser's "Genealogy of 'Dependency': Tracing a Keyword of the U.S. Welfare State," was that it spent so much time re-constructing the etymology of "dependency" (and asked us to spend so much time following that trace) without ever arriving @ what we might do to not be bound by such a history in the future. It was claimed that "the point was not simply to understand the story, but to change it"; the problem was that Fraser didn't do what she "should" have done....

And here (I think?) is the rub: what happens when any of us asserts what others should do....Corey made a (to me) very useful distinction between work that is "descriptive" (simply giving an account of "what has been and what is") and that which is "normative" (describing what should be). In these terms, we were ourselves being "normative" in faulting Frazer for being merely "descriptive," for failing to construct, on top of her historical etymological study of "dependence," a proposal for how to move closer to a more equitable state than the one we now inhabit, which so stigmatizes (certain kinds of) dependencies, and rewards others. But that "should...."

Dunno. We can certainly say (as some of us loudly did) that we do not find others' work useful to our our own purposes. I suppose we can even say (as Paul does above) that "for people interested in social change the explicit aim ought to be to enhance peoples' abilities to tell stories in ways that can impact on other communities." I suppose we can even say (as some of us also did) that others' work is not useful to their own proclaimed purposes (as Fraser's work may not be to her own stated end). But that it is required to be, that it "should...."?

Dunno. I just read Roland's contribution to the Descartes forum (where he introduces a fine new phrase, "ordering problems," to describe aspects of thinking that attempt to establish a meaningful ordering of problems). Also finding himself "not liking" the slightly teleological sound of

I am, and I think, therefore I can change who I am,

Roland goes on to gnaw away at the difference between "my truth and the truth," between what I know for certain--and cannot act against--and what I claim as true for all ("natural rights...just another way of saying 'God'"??)

Seems to me "should" is the (normative? even teleological?) bridge we build (often inappropriately) between "my" and "all"....

education, change, assessment
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-09-11 12:50:50
Link to this Comment: 10821

Rich "explorations" conversation this week. Thanks to all for for sundry thoughts I'm having for which everybody gets credit but no one but me is to blame.

I liked very much the willingness to consider thinking of the business of education as promoting change, and think potentially very useful some of the thoughts that were made possible by that platform as a take off point. In particular, I like the notion of measuring the success of education in terms of the degree of change in participants and then the making of that more concrete by relating it to the "view from everywhere".

Not to skip too quickly over the hard parts, it IS significant to clear the decks a bit and agree that what goes on in a classroom should be thought of in terms of the distance between where people start and where they end up (as opposed to thinking of it in terms of mastery of some material or some other desired end state independent of individual starting points). And it is further significant to think of a classroom in terms of enhancing the capacity of people to change rather than in terms of "content" (cf This Isn't Just My Problem, Friend).

What's new, for me, is starting to come to grips with the next questions. I'd been inclined to say that one encourages/looks for change of any kind in any direction, and am still so inclined in general but there are two problems there, One is conceptual (there probably are at least some directions of change I'd be less happy with than others), and the other is practical (it is simply not possible to conceive of all of an infinite array of possible directions of change and so one may well miss something). Its for these reasons that I like a lot the "view from everywhere" idea applied in the educational context. It feels right to me that it is not just change but the capacity for further change that one wants to achieve in classrooms and that a not bad measure of this capacity is the number of different perspectives one can usefully bring to bear on the status quo. Will enjoy thinking more along these lines, seeing what new directions in opens up for me.

Thanks again to all involved. Looking forward to future conversations.

unconscious/conscious / practice/theory
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-10-05 17:03:13
Link to this Comment: 11025

Thanks all for rich conversation that helped me think more about some things. A note or two, for myself and anyone else interested ...

Think the issue of whether "thinking" is necessary for "theory" was well put, is significant. And liked very much where things seemed to come out. The "theory/practive loop" can/does occur quite effectively unconsciously. T(capital t)heory, ie conscious, verbal, reflective processes may advance the theory/practice cycle but they may also retard it.

T(capital) is most often produced not by practitioners (those who engage in the theory/practice cycle unconsciously, unreflectively) but by "Theorists" (story tellers) who make use of (translate/reflect on) the theory/practice cycle products of practitioners. It is possible for practitioners to do the reflecting themselves (teacher/classroom research) but many are not inclined to do this/need encouragement? modelling to do it?

Looking forward to more conversation. As always.

gratefully group-thinking
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-11-02 18:37:07
Link to this Comment: 11327

This just went into the Writing Descartes forum. I copy it here because here's where it came from, and where my gratitude lies.

The Study Group of the Graduate Idea Forum had, this morning, a rollicking time with a selection of dialogues from Writing Descartes. We spent most of our time trying to figure out how to get from individual stories to collective ones, and we didn't (to my satisfaction, anyhow) actually make it across that great divide. But in the attempt to do so a number of (to me) useful fireworks/illuminations went off, and I want to record them here, for further building-on by others (either individually here or collectively when we gather again in a month).

What I remember, first, are these moments of clarity-in-language:

So far, so good. Then the wrangling about where social stories come from began. We agreed (I think) that the best group stories allow for flourishing of the widest range of individual ones, and that, analogously, the best individual stories, in the present, allow for the widest range of future ones (this is the same concept/same figure, drawn first spatially, then temporally). We also seemed to agree that But then we split: I'm talking about some of this later week, in a presentation about Where Stories Come From; this is a version of an earlier talk on Re-reading the Fairy Tale (of Science). The relevant figure here is one that elaborates stages of story telling, as a never-ending movement in which observations are shaped into stories which are abstracted (generalized) into myths which are interpreted (given alternative readings) as theories which are collectively agreed upon as "facts"--aka "acts," or consensus stories which we use to prod a renewed search for observations, which....(and round and round it goes....)

And the going 'round about is great fun. For which many thanks--


causing havoc
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-12-01 08:41:35
Link to this Comment: 11824

A wonderful discussion yesterday of Arthur Miller's Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time, and the Beauty That Causes Havoc. The highlights, for me, were these questions:

calling the social scientists...?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-01-12 22:39:44
Link to this Comment: 12032

here's what was happening to me while you all explored notions of creativity...

and here's the syllabus i'd like a hand with: the query being how/if it can be made attractive/accessible/interesting to social scientists, whose interest in changing the world is located at a different "level" (is that what's going on?) than the course is??

change/newness etc
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-01-13 14:12:35
Link to this Comment: 12035

Remarkably rich conversation last Tuesday, even by our standards I think. A few notes on what struck me, for myself and anyone else who can use them ...

The notion that emerged that there is a distinction to be made between interested in "change" and being interested in "newness" is, I think, an important one. There are people who are most comfortable with things as they are ("conservatives" in the old sense of the term), and people who would prefer things to be different than they are for particular reasons and try to change them to be "better" (activists, revolutionaries). And then there are ... people like Picasso and Einstein. Their primary motivation, I suggested, is not to make things "better" but to make them "new", ie different from what has ever been.

A "newness" drive is consistent with observations on young children and, if I'm remembering correctly, with data on newness as a reinforcer in at least some other animals. It may also be related to Freud's "eros", or "pleasure principal", in contrast to "thanatos", which is readable as a drive for stability. The tension between the two is that "new" is by definition somewhat unpredictable in its effect and so to one degree or another "risky". One might, in fact, suggest that there are two orthogonal scales involved here, stability/newness being one and pleasure/displeasure being the other.

Arguably, P and E had very high interest in newness (so high that the world around them couldn't satisfy them and they had to create "new" things themselves) and, perhaps, less displeasure aversion than many people? Maybe we need as well a "sociability" parameter, also orthogonal? With some combination of them helping to define which people "fit", ie can more stablely share ivy?

Thanks, all for interest, present and future, in the bipartite brain notion and its potential relevance for psychotherapy. I do think the "third thing" issue ("preconsciouis"?) is an important one but will continue for the moment (with your help hopefully) to explore the intuition that the third thing is not a separate entity but rather a pattern of interactions between unconscious and conscious processing that has itself an influential structure affected (like both "boxes") by both the genome and experience. My hunch is that somewhere in that arrangement will be found a basis for "conflict", "repression", "projection" and some of the other phenomena so apparent in therapeutic practice (if less obvious in neuroscience). And, hopefully, for the important (I still say) role of the coin flip in decision-making.

We're back to coin-flips!!
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2005-01-29 12:46:48
Link to this Comment: 12306

Oh, Paul, Paul, Paul. And I had such high hopes for you after our reading of the Picasso& Einstein book about how some sub-conscious process (yes, I'm open to the idea of process rather than storage place- for that material anyway) happens to allow these spurts of creativity. I thought the analysis was pretty clear that this process required input from many different types of storage (exposure to multiple disciplinary perspectives- at multiple levels of consciousness) but also a time of "stewing on the back burners"- my culinary phrase- that is required for all of it to come out right. This is WAY beyond the "bipartite brain" or "coin-flips". Not to be totally prejudicial, but what is it about male brains that prefers to boil complex things down into two options?

Just because I spent more time there today- I want to direct anyone who's interested back to the Descartes postings ( ) the very bottom after reading the sermon The Life of Faith is not a Life without Doubt that Paul posted. Again, where would a bi-partite brain put spiritual understandings? Sure some happen on very cognitive conscious levels, but surely there's something that happens on a nearly visceral level that is not unconscious, yet not conscious either. So Paul, can we yet agree that there MUST be a third option?

Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-01-30 10:16:32
Link to this Comment: 12319

IF there are only two options (which I doubt (see Does Biology Have Anything to Contribute to Thinking About Sex and Gender), THEN I plead guilty to having a male one. But the case in point raises some interesting questions about a story that attributes a preference for binaries to males, no?

Am more than happy to acknowledge the significance of "stewing on the back burners". I do a lot of that myself, frequently trying the patience of others (and sometimes me as well). But I don't see that as a problem for the bipartite brain idea. The back burners are out of sight, not only of others but of oneself, and so are a part of the "unconscious". Its because they are out of sight that one is sometimes surprised to find a useful product apparently having come from nowhere (and without any clear indication of the processes that produced it). Its the arrival of the product in consciousness that is that set of feelings (see more at The Bipartite Brain).

One could have a bipartite brain without coin flips, so that's a different set of issues in my mind/brain. What the coin flip is good for is to give one the capacity to transcend one's current state, to do things that don't follow necessarily from one's genes/experiences. The issue here is more related to the question of whether everything has meaning already (due to an external purposive agent, or god) or whether one creates meaning as one goes along. Its something used in both parts of the bipartite brain, and usefuly as well when one gets "stuck".

I'd guess that "spiritual understandings" may, in different people, have a different balance of contributions from the two parts of a bipartite brain, so no, not yet convinced there needs to be a third thing. Other than the interaction of the two parts. But am very much in a minority (historically and otherwise) on this one, so remain (as serious profound skeptic) willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Back to Binaries?
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2005-01-30 18:21:39
Link to this Comment: 12341

Not to monopolize the conversation- but Paul, you've set up a false (in my thinking/mind/brain) dichotomy again. The idea that there is a meaning "out there" (spiritual or otherwise created) vs. a meaning created "in here" (in our own minds) once again seems simplistic to me. To me, we understand the meaning out there (cognitively, conciously), interpret what that meaning is to us personally and (third) decide what we believe that means for the bigger world (already at more than binary status), and then let the stewing begin (a fourth process; a sixth sense?).

Yet, because I am one of these intuitive knowers (Binchy et al), it takes the discussion with you to figure out how to provide "evidence" of the third option (I defintely agree with your theory that we learn and "are" only in connection with other brains!)- I find it out when it comes out (of my mouth or fingers)- I can't produce anything other than an intuitive knowledge prior to that. But even that stands as potential evidence of a third option. Isn't intuition somewhat conscious- yet also somewhat less-than conscious? More than 2? My curiosity seems something more than conscious or unconscious as well. Waiting breathlessly for varied replies:)

agitation (of neurons? of morals?)
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-02-01 22:57:08
Link to this Comment: 12425

So, Judie, I've been listening to your thinking aloud, trying to understand what you are saying--and what drives your saying it. I'm wondering if this analogy (drawn from some experiences I'm having right now) will contribute to any sort of understanding....

Sharon Burgmayer (of the Chemistry Dept. here) and I (from English) are piloting a brand-new interdisciplinary course on Beauty. We are in the midst, just now, of reading work by (the! great! pragmatist! educator!) John Dewey and his colleague Albert Barnes, visiting the Barnes Foundation, and trying to figure out what the intersection is between what we feel (that sense of "vibration" we get when we recognize beauty) and what we know (instruction in shape and form and color, in relationships among these with a single painting, and among collections of them). We were talking today about "primal experiences"--the excitation of sensory neurons in the unconscious--and then consciously engaging in "second order work"--trying to "make sense" of that "movement." As Barnes says, "direct impact...on the senses is very important....behind preferences we cannot go....Reason...can never prove anything good which does not some experience valued for its own it an instinctive prompting finds fulfillment...."

The question I posed @ the end of class, and will continue to ask in future sessions, is whether we can take some object that we do NOT respond to instinctively (=do not find beautiful), and learn enough about it that we can find it beautiful, can have a "mystical" experience of engagement with it? Can we learn not just to see it another way, to appreciate what it does mechanically, but also to experience it differently, or--even before the awareness that is "experience"--to have a different unconscious reaction, have a new set of neurons get agitated? At this point, some of our students, who say they can't be trusted to enjoy art on their own, are anxious for more instruction; others insist that experience cannot be engineered and formulated to reach a desired end result.

Still with me? What I'm thinking is that what we are learning about the experience of beauty--an initial "excitation" (what you call "visceral") that we then "feel" and "reflect on" ("consciously")--might work analogously for what you're calling spiritual experience: we have it, we recognize it, we can even learn to alter it...?

But there is still no way to say that such experience is either "right" or "wrong," "real" or not: it just is. And I've got a hunch that that is actually the mine you're working--wanting to be able to judge what is correct, to know that a certain choice (a certain experience? a certain "agitation"?) is the right one?

another "varied reply"
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-02-02 20:16:52
Link to this Comment: 12445

Judy -

Still think you're at least as guilty of throwing binaries around as I am, but more than happy to share/sharpen stories, intuitive or otherwise, in interaction. There's an update on the bipartite brain that's perhaps relevant. Gist of it is that the "intuitive" is a function of the unconscious, can play out in behavior without becoming conscious, appears in the conscious as a "feeling/conclusion" without any "justification", and can be either accepted or challenged there ... either within one brain or by transmittal to another. Upshot is the intuition is either acted on without consciousness or becomes conscious without clear explanation in which case conscious can decide to try and make sense of/criticize/subject to criticism (by itself or by others) or not. So, let's keep at it. What makes you think there is a "third thing"? Other than, potentially, the negotiation between unconscious and conscious about the appropriateness of the actions implied by the intuition?

associative thinking
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-02-02 22:09:27
Link to this Comment: 12451

With the beginning of a new semester, I've been thinking alot lately about the ways in which the web facilitates the expanding thinking of my students...and the ways in which they resist that challenge (they want to be "right"; they don't want to risk being "wrong"--especially not in public!). In many ways I see the web functioning like a (collective!?) unconscious, w/ multiple associations (=links), with multiple directions in which to move, in part precisely because it lacks the linear organizational strategies of conventional academic work (of consciousness?). A piece by Steve Johnson called "Tool for Thought," in a recent NYTBook Review (January 30, 2005), explored some of the possibilities that this sort of "fuzzy" "associative" linking may open up:

Changing the way we think...was the cardinal objective of many early computer visionaries....2005 may be the year when tools for thought become a reality...thanks to the release of nearly a dozen new programs that...share two remarkable properties: the ability to interpret the meaning of text documents, and the ability to filter through thousands of documents....riffing, or brainstorming, or exploring...there are many happy accidents and unexpected discoveries. Indeed, the fuzziness of the results is part of what makes the software so powerful....Modern indexing software learns association between individual words, by tracking the frequency with which words appear near each other. This can create almost lyrical connections between ideas....these tools...are not as helpful to narratives or linear arguments; they are associative tools ultimately. They don't do cause-and-effect as well as they do "x reminds me of y"....they're ideally suited for books organized around ideas rather than single narrative threads...freewheeling through ideas that you yourself have collated...seems uncannily like freewheeling through the corridors of your own memory. It feels like thinking.

Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2005-02-03 09:43:37
Link to this Comment: 12467

I've been stewing on Anne's two questions- 1- am I trying (like her students) to find a "right" position? and 2- can we modify our responses to beauty (and I"m assuming more globally, to changing our emotions about things/ people/ art)?

To the first, I have to say that I really don't believe that there is typically a "Right" answer. In fact, I am increasingly annoyed with folks who assert there IS a "Right" way. Yet, that said, I do believe there is a right way for any particular person. For instance, I don't believe that any particular religion is "Right." Yet I do believe, that for me, some form of Christianity is right because it fits, it meets my socialization experiences thus far, it is congruent with the person I am (though only to the extent that it doesn't assert that it's right for all people). Given that example, it means that there are multiple stories that are "right" for the people who hold them. I guess what I struggle with is something that Corey and I have discussed- it's not a totally open field either. Just because there are multiple "rights" for varied individuals doesn't make them equally "right" via some grander judgment scheme. Again, an example. A person may believe utterly that they feel a sense of "this is right for me" when they hold beliefs- or even act on them- that are hurful to other people. So to me, there is some sort of external boundary that creates a limit to the extent of these stories of rightness. Does that make sense?

It may be this third area that Paul and I are struggling with- it seems that sense of "Right" has more conscious material in it (experiences, values, cultural inputs that are in awareness), yet it's going on at a less than conscious level (but not unconsious, because it is accessible when one pays attention). A recent phrase I came across in Yalom says "most patients have had an unusual constellation of severe life stresses and are periodically flooded by frightening material that has leaked from the unconscious" (1995,6). Somehow this notion of "leaking" doesn't fit with the third aspect just being a communication process between the conscious and unconsious.

On to the second question so I can get back to my lecture notes for today:) There is a concept developed by Arlie Hochschild that I used extensively in my dissertation and about which I have begun to draft a paper. The concept is "emotion management" She applies it to occupations like flight attendents and bond collectors and their need to make themselves (in the first case) be friendly even to those they don't like (which she claims can be done just by acting, but emotion management requires that the attendent actually come to believe she cares- more like method acting I"m told). In some ways, I see certain forms of therapy working this way- assisting people to find the right "right" for them (to use the phrases from above) but further, to really feel that it's right for them, not just to cognitively endorse it. This is not to say it necessarily applies to art appreciation. Yet, I've certainly had the experience of not being all that taken by an entity, but learning new nuances of it and in turn being quite drawn to it. I'll be curious what kinds of responses you continue to get. Another example before I sign off- we saw a play called "Whores" at Interact theater over the weekend. It's sort of about the nuns killed in Chile and about a dictator's mind set. Much of it has sexual provocativeness of the women who are both erotic figures in the dictator's mind, as well as the nuns- using the same actresses. I wanted to like it because I like the playwrite generally, I agree with his notion that you often have to use sex to get American's attention, and there were monologues in it that captured me- yet I didn't really like it, despite liking many of the other productions which also tend to be "weird". Maybe this is just run of the mill ambivalence, but it somehow seems to me to have the flavor of Anne's question- can we try to push ourselves into truly liking or disliking something after we've already formed an opinion- and where does thinking there's some right/correct opinion fit into that process?

Continuing to enjoy this meeting of the virtual minds...

Pulling Anne into the conversation by way of previ
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2005-02-05 09:16:04
Link to this Comment: 12526

So, since I have not yet developed the technological saavy of creating links the way others have, I"m relying on the old copy and paste method of bringing Anne's previous comments in here. Her comments below seem to amplify the whole multiple perspectives/ multiple meanings discussion we're having now. In talking with her (in person- truly great!), I realized how much my "story" that there is "always a third option" has made me unable to even consider the notion that sometimes there might be just two (binaries- I'm entertaining the idea, PAul). Yet, I think my mind is framed by this notion of "polytheism"- recognizing that we have multiple gods- knowledge, interaction,"love", for some- money- that have nothing to do with the religious gods we most frequently speak of as gods. And these, in turn, frame our multiple stories.

caring for the soul: not shrinking
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 03/20/2004 10:25
Link to this Comment: 8910

I left our session yesterday full up (as always) and spilling over (as always) with what was not said. One additional dimension I wanted/was trying to get on the table (hm: couldn't seem to get a word in edgewise...) was the religious. I want to say here again, in religious language, what Gilligan says psychologically and Paul-Roland-Tom say politically. I lift my language from another book I'm reading/reveling in right now, Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul:

care of the soul means not taking sides when there is a conflict at a deep level.... Polytheism...means that psychologically we have many different claims made on us....It is not possible, nor is it desirable, to get all of these impulses together under a single focus...polytheism suggests living within multiplicity....In a polytheistic morality we allow ourselves to experience the tensions that arise from different moral claims....when you find tolerance in yourself for the competing demands of the soul, life becomes more complicated, but also more interesting. An example might be the contradictory needs of solitude and social life....Sometimes they seem to war against each other...,

the most rewarding quality of polytheism is the intimacy it can make possible with one's own heart. When we try to keep life in order with a monotheistic attitude--do the right thing, keep up the traditions, and be sure that life makes sense--our moralism against ourselves can keep certain parts of our nature at a distance and little known....An attitude of polytheism permits a degree of acceptance of human nature and of one's own nature that is otherwise blocked by single-mindedness...We do not care for the soul by shrinking it down to reasonable size...

So, I'm adding another option to that (ridiculous) *natural* rank-ordering of possibilities available to us. In order of preferable options, we now have

* polytheism (see above)
* double consciousness (a wish for 2 contrary impulses--what we want and what IS--to be in alignment, and an awareness that they are not)
* murder (killing those whom we think are preventing the realization of our multiple desires)
* suicide (killing oneself because one cannot realize them)
* dissociation (denying them, or one, or some, of them altogether).

Thanks, Anne, for joining us with your wisdom from the previous virtual world:)

No promises
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-02-06 11:18:14
Link to this Comment: 12548

Not that I don't like being quoted...

but in the interests of efficiency/avoiding redundancy, here's a quick crib (cribbed from another quick crib). To make a link to another message in this forum, you need to grab-and-use its message-id number. For example:

As <a href="#12526">Judie said</a> in her posting ...

...will come out later looking like this:

As Judie said in her posting ...

As Paul observes in the original instructions, "will come out later" is an interesting --I'd say maybe even paradigmatic--event. Rather than displaying directly what it gets from another computer, your web browser is "interpreting" what it receives and "translating" it into language we all can read....

...which brings us directly back to your much larger and harder questions, all about the "interpretations" we make of the multiplicity of inputs we are getting from the world, and the degrees to which they are both "accurate" in describing the world-as-it-is (?) and "useful" in helping us decide what to do (for what it's worth, even the very specific language of one computer's instructions isn't always reliably followed by other computers...and of course there's plenty of slippage when we talk to/try to interpret one another. But)

I'm trying to talk here about what I call the (very productive) slippage/what you call leakage that happens within an individual, when she is trying to shape/order/make sense of what's happening in her world. What really struck me, in the passage you re-quoted from Thomas More, was the juxtaposition of "polytheism" with "single-mindedness," and how inexact THAT binary was in making sense of your own absolute refusal of "twoness," of binaries. If I hear you correctly (always doubtful), you're wanting a spectrum of possibilities (which the off/on, right/wrong, up/down button doesn't allow for). The trouble w/ binaries is that they only allow for two clearly demarcated choices, when there is always a range, always some space--and multiple choices--between them. (How useful to you is the notion that laying out a binary, as a thought experiment, actually enables us to see the range of possibilities between the poles?)

This notion of getting stuck in one "single-minded" place calls up for me two earlier conversations on this topic. First, an intense discussion we had in last year's version of The Story of Evolution/The Evolution of Stories, when I evoked a question from Ahab's Wife which troubled many of the students: "What are promises but holding the future hostage to the past?" Second, one of the early conversations in the Writing Descartes forum, when I challenged an "explicit promise of safety" as a "false consolation": there's lots of fun, huge possibilities, in the freedom to "actually to MAKE something new...but the safety is a long way off (maybe, just maybe, one will make something that will be of--unanticipated--future use)."

What I'm getting at here is the impossibility of predicting, of knowing, ahead of time, what will happen--what will be possible--in the future. It is in the "leaking" between those two modules of the bipartite brain that the range of possibility--the imagining of what has not yet been--the production of counterfactuals--occurs; those possibilities are never single, never binary, always multiple. And/BUT there are no promises of how they will work out...

Mulling, stewing, simmering
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2005-02-09 17:22:23
Link to this Comment: 12716

Thanks for the crib note on doing the connection- however, in going back to get an ID number, I managed to lose all the posted commments I had worked on earlier. I guess I just need to keep practicing.

Anyway, I'd written that I find Anne's question about Ahab's wife's promise particularly provocative. It got me thinking about ways of knowing.

For instance, a promise does seem to influence the future ("hold it hostage" may be stronger than I"m ready to go at this point- still sifting). Given a promise- I'll be there tomorrow; Yes, I'll marry you; No, I won't ever do that again- one sets up an expectation. It may function in much the way an hypothesis functions in deductive research. Although the notion of hypothesis testing is based on falsifying the hypothesis, we've acknowledged that most approach research with the hope that their hypothesis will NOT be falsified. In fact research has shown that hypotheses seem to actually create the circumstances whereby they are "found" to be accurate. So, given that, might a promise/ hypothesis work to influence the future in directions that one sets as goals?

I love the quote called the Thomas Theorum- "Anything believed to be real is real in its consequences" So, does a promise/ hypothesis/ goal truly hold one hostage, or does it mitigate toward modification/ legalistic interpretation or outright rebellion? Does a promise/ hypothesis work to blind one to other possibilities and therefore create itself as self-fulfilling? Or might it work to provide a pathway along which one can survey the scenery (seemingly a good idea for research)? Or might it (3rd!) help one "believe it to be real" in ways that make it become real- and is this truly different (more "chosen") than the blindness of the first question?

I hope this creates the same angst for others that it does for me- not just because "misery loves company", but because I hate to make a mountain of a molehill.

Today's Irony
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2005-02-18 12:33:25
Link to this Comment: 12996

As usual, our meeting was stimulating and personally fulfilling in the way Paul talked about- getting challenged and seeing new things and getting a charge from that.

Would love to write more, but have to run- but I needed to comment on an irony. Roland's example of the dualism I rejected was running through my mind on the way home. He said that we have one of two responses to the starving child- we can be the aid worker who feeds him/her or the profound skeptic who thinks about why there is starvation / inequality. I, as usual, was arguing that there is a third option which Anne and Corey started to fill in. But here's the irony: Roland's example sort of recapitulates the argument for phroenetic research- only he's not recognizing it as an option. What is the skeptic but the episteme/philosopher?; what is the aid worker but a techne person? So the third option becomes one of phronesis or praxis (not to imply that they are totally interchangable terms, but useful for this purpose). The person who feeds while constantly thinking about the sources of starvation, the ramifications of feeding and how it contributes to saving that one child but maybe contributes to a worsening of the overall problem, who continues to be skeptical- even of her/his own behavior- this is the third option person- the person living a phroenetic (not to say frantic) life. Anyway, I love our time together and our ability to challenge one another. Thank you.

"a promise is holding the future hostage to the pa
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-02-18 12:54:39
Link to this Comment: 12997

Thanks to Corey and Roland for writing and sharing the essay that generated this morning's conversation, so lively we could hardly hear one another speak. The very-related reading I was trying to get in edgewise was an on-line conversation Sandy Schram and I (joined later by Paul) had last summer on "Science IS Story." Dismissing Sandy's use of what I called "scientism," as a straw man against which he was positioning "phronetic" (unfortunate word) social science, I traced there an alternative understanding of science that was entirely compatible w/ the sort of engaged social work you guys are pursuing.

But this morning I revised that idea: one of the ideas which interested me most, amid the many thoughts zinging around, was the notion that social scientists may actually constitute a particular subset of scientists: those who are willing to be upfront about their political investments, their willingness--and the social need--to say, "Here I will stop questioning, and act. Here we need to stop theorizing, and intervene in what is."

Which brings me to my second new understanding of the day (so far!): the impossibility of insisting on the "purity" of "profound skepticism." It seemed very clear to me by the end of our conversation that "unending skepticism" can not be given some "ideal" location outside of the system being interrogated, but is simply (and I really do mean simply) located inside it, as are all other subjective/political positions. To insist on endless questioning as the profound motivation generating all scientific inquiry is to insist on a radical/revolutionary point of view that valorizes change and newness. It is not in any way value-free. It privileges (to harken back to some of Judie's earlier questions) what might be new in the future over what might have been valuable in the past, and refuses to confine the former to the latter.

Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-02-18 17:29:20
Link to this Comment: 13008

"refuses to confine the former to the latter" ... yep, as in "a strong conviction that what is not yet known is in some sense more significant than what is" (Revisiting Science in Culture: Science as Story Telling and Story Revising, Journal of Research Practice, in press 2005; copies being made available to all interesting parties).

"who continues to be skeptical- even of her/his own behavior- this is the third option person" ... not SURE about the option number or even numbers of options but that option is the one I outlined in response to a related challenge from my own flesh and blood: "The key here is that depriving EVERYTHING of the status of FINAL "authority" gives one permission/room to (not actually paradoxically) make use of everything one has at any given time".

Rich conversation, lots more to work through, particularly on the issue of the distinctive role that science/social science can/should play, on the lack? of significant difference between the two, and on the need for both to be willing to get dirty and to be skeptical of self as well as other.

University of Toronto fraud
Name: Michael Py
Date: 2005-03-28 10:23:37
Link to this Comment: 14077

Well, it's time to introduce some culture into science.

Please, see my web site - "University of Toronto fraud"

This site gives over 50 documents exposing unprecedented fraud going on in Canadian academia.


My PhD research of five years was stolen by my supervisor who, a few months before this, fraudulently changed my status to "lapsed student" and so removed me from the University. She published, in American journals, three papers claiming credit for my discoveries, then, said that my discoveries belong to "community" and she simply "salvaged" them. She characterized me as "a man of proven scholarly attainments" and "a very creative scientist", but her envy and hatred has put an end to my career. The documents show her pathological dishonesty.

The University has admitted that she "repeated" my experiments and "replicated or extended" my results, that she did not acknowledge this fact, and that my research was, in fact, based on theoretical paper published by me before I came to this university. Yet, these investigations ended with the conclusion that she did not steal my research. Five other professors and University of Toronto President participated in the fraud and obstruction of justice.

The fraud was followed by the largest cover-up in history. Over one hundred of organizations, govt. offices, law firms, etc. were corrupted and made to cooperate with the perpetrators of the fraud. The Government repeatedly refused to give me the constitutionally guaranteed equal protection of the Law and any help whatsoever.

This story is prohibited for publication in Canada's media for political reasons, and the fraud is continuing. Such journals as Science, Nature, Chronicle of Higher Education would not publish a single word of this affair, amazingly, having lost all interest in the integrity of scientific research. I have no means of getting back the authorship of my research. No job has been available to me for 18 years. My protest that continued for nine months at the University campus was ended through harassment by the University police.


Michael Pyshnov.

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-04-02 12:55:29
Link to this Comment: 14209

I found it quite useful, during our discussion yesterday morning, to be given an alternative way to think about the origins of internal conflict: not between "individual needs" and "social needs" (as in Freud's "id" vs. "superego"), but rather between the "unconscious" and its "storyteller," with the movement between them being from the multiplicitous to the singular, from the "cacaphonous" to the "coherent," from (do I have this right?) the context-independent to the context-dependent.

Thanks. But/and...

I had suggested, @ the end of our discussion, that the celebration in Bellah's Habits of the Heart of our essentially "social nature"--and and its concomitant valorization of the need for us all to engage in a "social contract" for the "common good"--existed in direct opposition to the counter-claim which had arisen that, as individuals, we are "fundamentally isolated from one another," with "no direct access to one another's stories."

It occured to me afterwards that we could think of isolated individualism and communal commitment not as opposites (always: this dialectic!) but in reciprocal interplay: it is BECAUSE we are isolated w/in our selves that we MUST use the material world (our eyes, our tongues, our hands...) to mediate between us. (And maybe it is BECAUSE we are social creatures that we MUST be able to withdraw periodically into our selves, to shape and order what it is we have to communicate about our experiences?)

Next series of questions arising (from a conversation w/ my analyst immediately following, a later brown bag discussion on the "constraints" on storytelling, and an even-later but much-related discussion with a student who feels "not heard":)

Thanks, all, as always. Rich stuff.

Name: Corey
Date: 2005-04-03 18:48:12
Link to this Comment: 14250

I actually think that Bellah's comments were more weighted toward the social because they found that as a society the United States (at that time, and I dare say they would say the same now) are too weighted in the other direction- not necessarily because they think it has primacy. Or maybe that was my reading and the way I prefer to think about the relationship between self and community.

If we accept their premise that both are important, then we can go on to the questions that Anne raised in her post. In trying to set boundaries there is a useful idea (that of course doesn't solve the problem but helps clarify it) from a Charles Taylor piece I think called the Dialectical Self that talks about what that means. If we lose our "self" in trying to connect with others and something of a meld happens - either into the other or into some social group - then that is not really a dialectic between two selves or self and society.

In a true exchange/conversation or whatever, the parts co-exist while grappling and interacting with each other but remain selves. These "selves" can change and develop through the interaction but they do not necessarily lose their self-hood. But this is not always a neat or friendly process, and the issue of power that we talked about plays a role, too, in the extent that their are truly two (or more) parties who can take a part and retain whatever part of them-selves and also to have an opportunity to influence the other. so none of the boundary questions can be answered easily, or out of context, and often they are contested.

i mean, aren't these some of the things we fight about in our personal and political lives around what we should be able to tell people to do or not do? and around questions of access to the political sphere and the opportunity to be heard?

Nostalgia, different stories and meaning
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2005-04-05 15:32:52
Link to this Comment: 14328

I am so intrigued as I try to grasp this interchange of the storytellers' idea and braid it with the discussion about nostalgia and constraints on storytelling, while adding in a third layer of varied meanings at different times to different people (Corey's dialectical relationships and Beullah's society/self).

I too find the notion that all our stories are distorted by virtue of running through our "discordant hoards" on the way through the unconscious to the story teller/conscious to ring true. What doesn't work as well for me is this notion of developing one coherent story. For instance, it's easier when considering 2 different people to start. Clearly the Habits of the Heart book DID NOT make Anne nostalgic for small community life- in fact made her feel stifled. Meanwhile, Corey and I seem to react from the perspective (I think bourne of reading Habermas' Facts and Norms) that having the small community in which to dialectically play out self "vs." society and find mutual influences might be nice- in a nostalgic sort of way.

The place it gets hairy is where the two different stories are right within the self. Say I'm a person living in poverty who grew up within a typical Judeo-Christian tradition- inundated with 10 Commandments. So my one story is that it is always wrong to steal- a sin no less. Yet, my children are hungry and I am able to feed them if I steal- so I do. Now my storyteller is in trouble- aiming for coherence I can reject the "traces" of past history of inculcation of 10 commandment thinking (if I want to be freed from constraints of 20th century morality and can avoid feeling any guilt about that), or I can rationalize and say the greater good requires feeding one's children (easily rationalized, but not necessarily without guilt), or I can decide that I am a virtuous person, can't steal and will hope that my children survive anyway. I believe the storyteller will work to make it a cohesive story, but I also believe there are levels of success at this. The person may decide they really want to be the first person, and then spend the next several months finding that the story didn't work for them, that they DO feel guilt. So, neurobiologists, how so we explain the multiple stories developed for one storyteller- even at the same time, within the self?

Further, as many of Anne's questions imply, new information comes in through the unconscious and changes the story- it evolves to have new meaning- meaning that can only be interpreted within the context of new information (self and societal)[which raise another question: At what point do one's personal relationships- family/ friends etc. turn into societal influences- once again the construct of self/society with only 2 levels doesn't work for me:)]. Will be looking forward to other's thoughts- to inform/challenge/mollify my storyteller.

The Medusa stare
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-04-10 12:38:52
Link to this Comment: 14407

At what point do one's personal relationships...turn into societal influences?

There's one pretty rich answer to Judie's query in next week's New York Review of Books (4/28/05). The review there of Kwame Anthony Appiah's new book on The Ethics of Identity insistently refuses the binary we were (as always re-) constructing together a week ago. It begins by calling "overdone" the conventional contrast (surely this is one Bellah et. al. presented) between "rootless cosmopolitan" and the rootedness of traditional societies:

Appiah offers a defense of 'rooted cosmopolianism'...a decent respect for what we have inherited is consistent with a wish to do something novel with it....we acquire an individual identity by acquiring a social identity...that is not a straitjacket....we acquire both our individuality and our sense of who we are by learning how to fill the social roles available to us...What we are faced with is a tension between a respect for the variousness of different ways of life and a wish to help individuals to emancipate themselves from any one of them if they so choose...

Appiah repudiates any suggestion that we should attach all our loyalties to some particular culture...Appiah fears what he calls the Medusa stare of an exaggerated respect for culture...benign campaigns to secure respect...can end by trying to impose one canonical identity on individuals...Rooted cosmopoltians are citizens of the world who employ the resources of the particular cultures to which they are attached in order to construct their own individual lives.

How different, that "Medusa stare," from Judie's description, above, of how new information comes in... and changes the story--. That's what the fixedness of nostalgia inhibits, what the freedom of time-and space-traveling enables.

thanks for fellow-traveling
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-04-12 09:05:00
Link to this Comment: 14503

new information comes inform/challenge/mollify my storyteller.

So, while we fiddle 'round w/ various possible meeting times...
I've made very good use, already, of The Geography of Thought.
Thanks, friends, as always, for feeding and fellow-traveling.

the end of storytelling?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-05-01 11:25:21
Link to this Comment: 15005

I was sorry to have to slip out, Friday morning, just as our discussion of The Geography of Thought was getting hot(ter). Am recording here, now, the chart I'd put on the board, in hopes of inviting further chewing, both inside and out (you'll see that I reversed what were originally the left and right-hand lists, because the former seems to come "first," both structurally and epistemologically). I'd like to hear more of the notion that this chart "leaves the realm of 'what is'" altogether, more of what it means to say that "the story is in the 'therefore,'" and more of what is entailed when one says that a "model is 'bought' by a storyteller.

My own big question, however, is

This is indeed my largest, hardest question of the week: if stories are incommensurable, why bother telling them to one another?

Kate Shiner, a student in the course on The Story of Evolution and The Evolution of Stories, also discovered recently that everything relevant she'd been thinking about lately fit into a dichotomous chart, and then--having drawn up the chart, asked whether there are cultures and people who find some other way to make sense of their experience than by using these types of rigid dichotomies.

"universal" (?) bipartite

"relativism" "fundamentalism"
verbs ("reactive," "relational") nouns ("inert," "categorical"/categorizing)
"natural" "normative"
"modelbuilder" "storyteller"
"modelbuilding" "storytelling"
"unconscious"" conscious"
"female""male "
"eastern" "western"
"emotional" "analytic"
"acceptance of contradictions""curiosity about contradictions"
"cooperation" "competition"
"relevance" "rigor"
"middle way" "two ways"
accept the two resist, then insist on resolving the two


on refusing to be bored
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-05-24 19:29:15
Link to this Comment: 15235

There's a record elsewhere of some the contributions that our most recent shared text, Benjamin Barber's Jihad Vs. McWorld, might make to on-going discussions of Fundamentalism and Relativism. What I wanted to be sure also got recorded here, though, out of the good conversation which arose this morning among our "gender-shaped star-of-David," was not only the observation that

There's something that tickles me about this idea, not only because I'm easily bored, but also because it seems to me a fine response to Barber's description (one w/ which I also strongly resonate) that humans are "by nature insatiable," that our "needs" will always outgrow our ability to meet them. To re-phrase "insatiability" as "curiosity," or "the desire not to be bored," is to turn a term of insufficiency into one that just might be sufficient for...

changing things. It turns a consumerist term into a scientific? humanistic? heterogenizing? one (as Barber says in conclusion, "humankind depends for its liberty on variety and difference. We are governed best when we live in several spheres...none wholly dominated by another").

Statements or Questions
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2005-05-26 11:58:41
Link to this Comment: 15245

Yes (that's a loud resonating yes to Anne's comments). But I also have some caveats on the boredom/ curiosity issues.

I actually tend not to get bored much because when I am, I tend to try to be as fully in the moment as I can and to try to find whatever interesting thing I can to entertain me. For instance, this morning I was listening to the guy trying to sell me additional services to the plot/crypt/burial site that we have- definitely bored- but thankfully there was a bug crawling on a picture of a map in his office and I got to think about the space he was covering in real life as compared to the space on the map and- well, you see my drift- none of us HAS to be bored- there can always be something to entertain, but- And here's the big BUT- one has to have at least a modicum of curiosity.

I agree with Paul's point yesterday that children, barring organic deficits, seem born to explore and be curious. I've also seen many adults, however, who seem to have lost their curiosity- who view it as work to think , rather than as a playground (thanks Anne for that link) for the mind. So do we blame regurgitate-the-information type learning structures for this dynamic?

It seems to me that there may also be something about states vs. processes that play a role here. Boredom gets viewed as a state of being. In many ways, though a noun, curiosity seems less a state than a process- a continuing interest in seeing new things, or even old (boring?) things in new ways. It reminds me of the hang up we hit during our discussions yesterday about "first principles"- sort of a state- a kind of "this is" vs. a continual attempt to question, to explore, to make look different- more a process than a state, more a "what changes to what?".

It seems to me this may have bearing with the fundamentalism/ relativism discussion too. Fundementalism seems sure that it knows "what IS"; relativism seems to be more a process of "what is this in relation to other (changing and changable) entities?". It strikes me that Anne often takes us to entymological roots (is that the right word, or is that the bug word??). Anyway, it seems that Fundamentalism (and boredom) involve statements. Curiosity and relativism involve questions. While this may be sentence structure rather than word analysis, I think it may tell us something about the processes involved in each.

Just food for thought.

bugged by nouns
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-05-26 17:50:03
Link to this Comment: 15246

Anne often takes us to entymological roots (is that the right word, or is that the bug word??)

Grinning: it's close to the bug word (entomology).

And you really shouldn't encourage me (since I'm fully aware that etymologies are searches for first principles/origins/fundaments/rational links where there are none).

Nonetheless (still having fun):

Relativism and pragmatism,
like fundamentalism and boredom, are clearly 'ismdoms--
words whose forms indicate stasis.
But curiosity, as a word form, is no better. The suffix
-ty denotes quality or condition;
-ity turns comparatives into abstractions
(majority, minority, superiority, inferiority, interiority...)

I propose we try paying attention to/using only verbs for a while.
Only process words, continuing words.
Let's go verbing.

Freud and pathological culture
Name: Alice Lesnick
Date: 2005-06-14 12:25:11
Link to this Comment: 15341

Hello all,

I hope I am writing to the right place -- Paul, would you mind telling me if not? I'm hoping to follow up on this morning's interesting discussion of Civilization and its Discontents. Thank you!

I want to pursue the analogy between the development of organisms and cultures. Organs or parts of ecosystems can't oppress one another as individuals or groups, but people can and do. So where might/does Freud and where might/do we make space for oppression in his scheme? He says early in the text that socially induced suffering is the worst kind of suffering for us, but does not account for political sources and maintenance of such suffering. Given the relative ease with which people create and maintain oppressive forms of social organization (and education), what can we hope for as we try to imagine and bring forth less oppressive, or anti-oppressive forms? And as we do this hoping, does the analogy with the organic world break down?


places ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-06-14 17:45:38
Link to this Comment: 15342

Yep, you're in the right place. And with very interesting issue/question. Maybe a slight modification of the starting place would help? "Organs or parts of ecosystems can't experience oppressingone another as individuals and groups, but people can and do". And, on the flip side, "organs or parts of ecosystems can't experience being oppressed byone another as individuals and groups, but ...".

The point here is that what makes humans different isn't that they impact negatively (or positively) on each other (as individuals or groups); that's true of all biological interactions. What's different is the "experiencing/judging/imagining that it might be other than it is". In these terms, one isn't "oppressive" or "oppressed" unless/until one has a story of oneself and others (including perhaps "society" or "civilization" or "culture" in which the state one is in is contrast to other possible states.

I need to think a bit more about this (and want to, thanks) but what this opens up (I think) is the complexity that an individual is oppressed (or oppressive) only to the extent that there is a conflict between unconscious and story-teller in that person or some other person. And that would in turn mean that to understand (and alleviate) "oppressive forms of social organization (and education)" one needs to think about not only the relation between the individual and their surroundings but also the ways in which surroundings do (or do not) set up conflicts within individuals. Maybe? Might be a particular instance of general thought that am (thanks all) that serious politcal/social/economic theory needs solid underpinnings in theory of individual.

Name: Alice Lesnick
Date: 2005-06-14 23:15:06
Link to this Comment: 15345

I'm glad I'm in the right place.
I wonder about the distinction between oppressing and impacting negatively. I'm using oppression to mean cruel or unjust use of power or authority, often organized (and sustained) historically, structurally, and discursively in the lives of individuals and groups. Given this definition, I'm wondering whether organs or parts of ecosystems can be said to oppress. They can hurt, ruin, or limit one another, but not through history, structures, or discourse. As Thomas Szasz wrote in The Myth of Mental Illness, "You call a rock a rock and nothing happens to it. You call a man a schizophrenic and something happens to him." Maybe this is just another way of saying what you said, Paul, that it's a matter of consciousness and of having language and narrative for the consciousness of oppression, but I want to point to the role of culture -- and education -- in naturalizing oppressive -- not only negative (in the sense of limiting, inconvenient, dismissive, or the like)-- narratives. I want to keep thinking about this, too.
May I also ask the group whether it might still be possible to go back to the Thursday we had thought of meeting at 4 rather than the Friday? I checked the home calendar and saw a conflict there.


a new year, a new forum
Name: Ann Dixon,
Date: 2005-08-26 10:19:34
Link to this Comment: 15927

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