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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 2005-06 Forum

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Hobbes shows up a lot
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-09-08 22:23:32
Link to this Comment: 16064

Getting going for 05-06...

I've already found our first reading, in 17th c. political and intellectual history, richly resonant in another contemporary context....

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-09-11 16:59:04
Link to this Comment:

I enjoyed our conversation Friday morning, and was glad we ended our discussion of Zimmer's Soul Made Flesh by exploring ways in which the on-going process of making science's stories might be relevant to making sense of what happened (and didn't) in New Orleans. I'm looking forward to further conversation, next time, about the purpose of politics (to ensure stability? preserve the social order? and/so always in conflict w/ science, as the pursuit of new knowledge? which will always threatens the social order?? can we imagine--and build--a social order that is productive of new knowledge??? because it sees it as productive of a certain social order that...

is productive of new knowledge????)

Along these lines...I poked around the web a bit, looking for something by Richard Rorty that might compliment Power/Knowledge for our next reading. What say you to one of his newer essays, The Decline of Redemptive Truth and the Rise of a Literary Culture?

Speaking of readings...

You can find the George Will essay which I evoked (and which evokes--and praises-- foolish Hobbes) @ Leviathan in Louisiana. My earlier list of other possible texts for us to read included

I'd also now add Paul's newest essay, which has raised a number of questions for me about the inevitability of line-drawing, as part and parcel of all story-making. To take the risk of telling a story is "not to blink," as Galileo and Descartes did, but to draw a (temporary) line, to say, "Right now, I'm standing right here, for these reasons...."

Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-10-28 10:13:41
Link to this Comment: 16680

Many thanks to all for successive Appiah conversations, and particularly for Roland's contribution to the latest one. Yes, there ARE two aspects to the "relativism" problem. One is the question of how one acts in the absence of certainties. That's the one that I always thought being aware of the existence of the unconscious (and valuing it) solved. The OTHER is the problem of "justifying" one's actions, to oneself and other people. That's the one I didn't have clearly in mind .... and it IS important. And so here's a candidate answer: distinguish between "naive schmuckiness" (I act out of feelings because I never thought about it) and "reflective schmuckiness" (I have actively nourished my unconscious, and so can trust it in those situations where the absence of fixed guidelines leaves me uncertain, and recognize that some times it is important to act "to see what happens", ie to learn/develop/evolve, and the unconscious often handles such situations more wisely than does thought (embodied in the I-function/story teller).

For a concrete application with a clear debt to our conversations, see On Beyond Post-Modernism: Discriminating Stories.

reflective schmuckiness
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-10-29 15:49:46
Link to this Comment: 16689

So...I get it that--in the absence of clear guidelines--we might just "act and see what happens." Run the experiment. Cool.

But I'm wondering what "actively nourishing the unconscious" consists of/looks like? Meditation? Play? Laughter?

the case against intuition
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-11-03 09:42:07
Link to this Comment: 16794

Just a reminder to all that Appiah will be speaking in Thomas Great Hall @ BMC this evening on "The Case Against Intuition." Might add an interesting level/dimension to our discussions, above, about actively nourishing the unconscious.

Last Thursday's lecture focused on the many studies in experimental psychology showing us all to be "situationists": we respond to circumstances rather than act out of "character" (for instance, a good smell or a found coin will make us more likely to help another in trouble). So, if most of us act instinctively, not knowing why we do what we do, if most of what we do occurs tacitly, without our awareness--how arrive @ ethical theory and judgments?

In a faculty seminar earlier in the day, I found myself taking the role of profound skeptic, contra Appiah's assertions that (although, in the long run, "we would be better off without religious identities") "Truth does matter"; a "life lived in The Truth is more valuable that one which is not"; "it's better if your 'good life' is not based on a 'big mistake.'"

How to know? How to decide?

continuing and intersecting ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-11-19 08:39:12
Link to this Comment: 17073

With appreciation, some notes I posted in the forum for the csem class I mentioned ... Culture as disabling
  • relates to fit or lack thereof of tacit understandings of different individuals
  • involves a tendency to react to lack of fit as "bad", threatening to one's one tacit understandings
  • involves a tendency to judge others by similarity to self, to judge self by similarity to others
  • ignores the possible positive features of difference (what an autistic person, an ADD person,
  • a schizophrenic person might be better at doing rather than what are less good at doing)

Perhaps one CAN conceive cultures that would not involve "disabling"?

  • teach appreciation for difference rather than similarity?
  • teach ability to notice the positive as much as the negative?
  • teach ability to pass judgements of oneself independently of the judgements of oneself by others, and to pass judgements of others independently of one's judgements of oneself?
Many thanks particularly for conversation that contributed very much to my recognizing the importance of the last point. Its one thing to say that humans seek interactions with others. Its a distinct thing to believe that humans must inevitably judge themselves by the standards of other people and judge others by the standards they use for themselves. THAT I think we can reduce and in so doing reduce a number of existing problems that it would be difficult to reduce in other ways (by legislation and the like). And here I think is an important bridge between the personal and the political.

more about not-fitting
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-11-21 22:53:30
Link to this Comment: 17132

I wanted to add to the description of this matter of fit, above, my own reading in (what I thought we were reading for last week!) Gary Klein's Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions. The argument of the book--which actually might make Judie feel more comfortable w/ the infamous "coin flip" of two years ago--is that experts (captains of firefighting squads, for instance) rely intuitively on the stories they've accumulated, over years of fighting fires, which "consolidate their experiences and make them available" for future decisions. What they count on, in their gut, is the awareness that something in the situation--where the heat is coming from, where the smoke is going--doesn't "fit" w/ the prototypes they have available. They say, repeatedly, that they "don't make decisions," they "just know what to do." They are pattern-makers, who can sense, without "thinking logically" about it, that something's askew.

I think Anthony Appiah needs to read this book.

exuberance--and curiosity
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-12-23 13:35:44
Link to this Comment: 17464

Thanks, guys, for intriguing (as-always) discussion, y'day, re: Jamison's Exuberance. I'm still curious about her juxtaposing the quick response to danger (in the unconscious) with a more sophisticated/complicated response to pleasure (in consciousness), and even more curious about Michael's question of whether/why it might "matter," if the second phenomenon was, evolutionarily, a later development (if depression came before mania, the asymmetry of noting the downside without noticing the up...?)

And--as we started to tease apart/sort out (box up?) the various dimensions that contribute to all of these mood states (that is: inclination to act, variability in response, and responsiveness to environment) I found myself most intrigued/puzzled by this last quality, having to do with one's "sensitivity to the outside." Illustrative application: is someone who is depressed better described as over-sensitive or not-sensitive enough to what's going on around her?

A related question: I also found myself asking, afterwards,
what is to depression as exuberance is to mania.
If it's simple sadness, mightn't that be a straight-on/accurate/responsive
(as well as more-active and more-variable) response to what surrounds us?

the case for contamination
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-01-03 22:12:43
Link to this Comment: 17529

Friends might be interested to know/notice (if they haven't already) that Anthony Appiah wrote the cover article for this weekend's (1/1/06) NYTimes Magazine: The Case For Contamination gestures towards a "new cosmopolitanism" by replacing tribalism (="enforcing diverstiy by trapping people within differences they long to escape") with "taking the proper object of moral concern." I still think this work stops short, still see a 'fixedness' in Appiah's valorization of individual character...

but--if you haven't taken note, this essay does offer a challenging re-visit to the binary (of social stories vs. individual experience) that GIF has most insistently visited, and re-visited, through the years.

Til next week--

decisions ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-01-14 09:43:33
Link to this Comment: 17616

Rich conversation around Gary Klein's Sources of Power; thanks, Judy, for bringing that to the table. A few notes on matters that arose, for me and anyone else who might find them useful.

People's tendency to distinguish between "moral" or decisions and others. Maybe ALL decisions should be treated as opportunities to act, learn, reshape, with some simply having greater likely consequences (for self, others). If so, people might "agonize" less in some cases. Would that be a good thing? Is there a useful role for "agonizing"?

Klein's main point is that people with "expertise" don't in fact "choose", they simply act. Lots of important implications of that, for economic theory, cognitive psychology as well as social work, politics, etc. They do of course "choose" from the perspective of an observer, and certainly pick from an array of alternative behaviors of which they are physically capable, but there is no experience of choice, ie no not only no agonizing but little or not sense of "weighing" alternatives. In short, decisions are made "unconsciously" (in the frog brain), with a confident endorsement from the conscious ("story teller"). Acting in this way can obviously be highly adaptive, and depends on a richly endowed unconscious ("expertise") as well as a good working relation between that and the conscious.

Extension on this involves "running mental sims", ie thinking about possible action and consequences. This is story teller stuff. Is interesting that it can be done either by conceiving multiple possible actions, running sims on each, and comparing, or, more commonly for people with expertise, running one, seeing if it suffices ("satisficing"), moving on to next only if one fails. Interesting also that unconscious plays a major role here too, the sim is run to generate a "gut" response, which is what is actually used to evaluate the sim. All this implies (to me at least) that the unconscious is running in terms of many more variables than the story teller can handle, and in a less black and white analytic style. Its probably parallel processing with lots of simultanous different evaluations.

Third level, "agonizing", if and only if one has run lots of sims, gets more or less comparable "gut" evaluations on several. At which point "coin flip" becomes not only relevant but desirable? Eased by understanding that action is aimed at new future rather than being judgement on past?

VERY intriguing extension from all this to classroom, pedagogical practices. "Expertise" is ability in action rather than "story" or "rules". Teaching "story" or "rules" can be less effective than providing experiences to develop expertise (may even get in the way of the latter). Language expertise is normally acquired without being given either "story" or "rules", whereas much of formal education is based on providing "story"/"rules". Does one need "story"/"rules" first in some cases? Perhaps only in cases where one wants to be sure that particular "story"/"rules" emerge from the educational experience, ie where "exploratory education" actually has a fixed outcome in mind? In which case, the intent is actually not to develop expertise (which may be different in different people and summarized by different "stories"/"rules") but to "indoctrinate", ie to assure similar "stories"/"rules" in different people (military education, some forms of religious education, underlying presumption of all "hierarchical" educational practices, in science and otherwise?). On flip side, perhaps some kinds of experiences/observations are only assimilable (contributing to further expertise) when motivated by particular stories/frameworks?

Can one indoctrinate early and the let people move outward from there? Could one, alternatively, let kids do their own pattern recognition (expertise development) from ground zero? What would the consequences be for necessary (?) interpersonal agreement, cultural norms? Kids do "categorize" from an early age, need "indoctrination" to correct that? Or could it be that kids "fluidly" categorize and only begin to fix/rigidify categories in response to parents/educational pressures ("Why DID you do that?).

Interesting contrast between education as aid for individuals to culturally assimilate and education as encouragement for kids (and others) to acquire increased ability to create/revise their own stories/rules. Connects to my own recent thinking about helping kids/others develop skill of discriminating between observations and interpretations ("stories"), between own observations/stories and social stories ("are males less faithful than females"). Connects as well to ongoing discussion about science as story telling, in religious contexts and beyond.

stories all the way down
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-01-14 18:24:53
Link to this Comment: 17617

I found our conversation thoughtful, too--as evidenced by the new questions it generated for me. Klein (and our discussion of him) was helpful to me in distinguishing among varieties of ways of decision-making. But a couple of things are still not very clear to me:

Moral Expertise?
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-01-15 16:43:40
Link to this Comment: 17627

This will be more of a riff on my perspectives than what may have actually taken place on the discussion, but here it is. First, although I expected this book to help us figure out about the coin flipping- I think that the decisions that Klein talked about were different than the women deciding whether or not to abort wanted pregnancies due to fetal anomalies and other dilemmas we discussed earlier. These to me were moral decisions- with really no way of even looking back and assessing their “success” retroactively (unlike, for example, whether the crew could have known that they were shooting down a passenger airliner – although whether they should have taken the risk might be a moral discussion). We did discuss whether these were in fact different categories of decisions or whether they were on a continuum of clarity (retroactive or otherwise) and I don’t think I can say that we’ve reached any satisfactory clarity on that.

Also, the decisions that Klein discusses clarified for me there are possible differences between decisions, although I don’t know that he classifies them this way. Most “decisions” aren’t really decisions at all in the way that we think of them in the sense of chosing between more than one choice. The majority of “decisions” that he looks at are only one choice, drawn from a repertoire of experiences, evaluated on its own. If it doesn’t hold up, the decision maker goes on to the next “choice” in a serial rather than simultaneous fashion and thus never really confronts choosing between or among options. These are the majority of decisions he studied.

The next type is a choice among options. This can be divided into subgroups. One is when more than one option is weighed and the decision maker has a “gut feeling” that one is better than others. This is what the ESP incident illustrates for me. These usually turn out to be “explainable” by things that the decision makers body or hardwiring is reacted to and the decision maker is unaware of but with investigation can “discover.” So this, too, turns out generally not to be a real choice between equal possibilities

The second subgroup is when we do in fact come up with more than one possible action or decision, and do not have a “gut feeling” even when we run the simulations. For example I can imagine Judie’s women going through this, even when running the simulations of aborting a wanted pregnancy and the horrible loss versus raising a child who will require care and resources and who might suffer in a short and very painful existence. When neither of these look good or better or worse than the other- then perhaps this is when we are in the realm of the coin flip. Although I wonder if the coin flip isn’t just an even more buried-consciousness that we can’t or don’t want to uncover so that our brains work on it and then we just “know”; I’m real skeptical about the coin flip, wonder about the role of rationalization or of refusing to even admit that there might be reasons for prefering one decision to another when the moral implications seem overwhelming, or when societal reasons - Judie's disseration speaks to this- make it so we don't want to take responsibility or admit to the preference we have or to either preference in a true dilemma.

So, as usual, I think we need to carefully differentiate or maybe CONTEXTUALIZE the decisions and that this distinctions and contexts are crucial. For example- in the case of the “ESP”- and we didn’t talk about this – maybe it’s better to go more slowly and think about the decisions and reflect in certain contexts. In terms of looking at questions of prejudice or bias that we are often unaware of, and one of the reasons that we curb discretionary power particularly in the realm of the law and sometimes employment- we just “feel” more comfortable with one person, and a reason perhaps to be wary of or to want to examine or reflect on gut feelings in certain domains- maybe not in firefighting when this process might get in the way but in welfare decisions or hiring practices (okay so is this again getting to the moral vs. expertise- if decisions are around ethics can there be experts??????). This might not be the case in many of the scenarios that Klein looked at when there are genuine emergencies and we don’t have this luxury or when it’s not really warranted for example in when we are trying to decide what to choose from a lunch menu.

Paul raised the idea of thinking about this as a way of learning how to view decisions as learning opportunities- and that this is a good way to approach them. I find this idea very appealing and it reminded me of the pragmatists; we must make decisions, for example the crew deciding whether to shoot down an aircraft must act, for even inaction in the face of the knowledge of the aircraft closing in is an action. But we have then revise decisions on the basis of our experiences and that this is worthwhile and helpful. Not to say that we shouldn’t weigh them carefully and that some decisions warrant the “agonizing” that we have over them, particularly when the are emotional, and I wouldn’t want devalue this or to take it away from us by viewing decisions merely as learning experiences.
As usual, thanks for a conversation that continues even after we meet,

pedagogical applications
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-01-15 17:50:18
Link to this Comment: 17631

VERY intriguing extension from all this to classroom, pedagogical practices--

as shown in two (paired/opposing?) pieces in The Chronicle of Higher Education (1/13/06). The first, on "Taking Anxiety Out of the Equation," reports on conventional ways of teaching mathematics:

"'it's like learning a language--you have to master the alphabet first'....Many will deduct points when a student finds a new way to solve the problem, even if the answer is correct." Cf., then, "Making Medical Education Relevant,"
a call for revision based on the sorts of ideas about learning we were discussing on Friday: "we begin to practice our linguistic skills without mastering either vocabulary or formal grammer. The explosive acquisition of langauge in early childhood precedes a formal, didactic introduction to grammar...Sitting medical students in poorly lit rooms and flashing slide after slide of basic biomedical data at them does not teach them about the process of discovering those data. A far more effective method would be to require that students spend six months to a year in a scientific lab..."

Context and Scaffolding
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2006-01-16 10:19:28
Link to this Comment: 17637

I'm enjoying re-thinking our discussions of Friday. I can't decide whether to start with the part I was so taken by Friday, or respond to some of the ideas raised here. But before I start either, I'd like to share the Dreyfus model of learning (as adapted for social work students):

The Dreyfus Model- Dreyfus & Dreyfus (1986) ______

The Dreyfus Model of learning posits 5 states of functioning/ learning. It is adapted by McCoyd with examples.
1- The Novice- This individual is quite new to the practice. They learn rules for how to perform a relevant skill and then apply them fairly concretely and consistently to goal accomplishment. In basketball, this person knows how to stand correctly at the line and can follow the rules about how to hold the ball correctly and how to throw it aiming correctly at the backboard- but they must think about it. In music, this person knows how to read the notes of the music and understands tempos and clefs and can play basic music somewhat stiltedly. In social work practice, this person understands the importance of open-ended questions and works hard to think about how to put a client at ease. Sometimes thinking of what to say and how to say it can impede this person.

2- The Advanced Beginner- This person has developed a comfort level with the practice that is being learned. They begin to see how similar situations have common elements and can begin to use trial and error to take skills learned in one context into another similar context. In basketball, this person begins to put skills together to be able to play the game. In music, this person can play melodies with some chords/ accompaniment. In social work practice, this person relates with relative ease, asking open ended questions, exploring and paraphrasing and developing rapport with clients rather easily.

3- The Competent Performer- This person has moved to feeling comfortable with all the skills of a practice, but has now encountered enough new and complex situations that the level of discomfort arises again and the need to have a way of organizing and conceptualizing the work becomes important to the individual. In basketball, this person starts to consider the value of coaching and gameplays and has comfort levels in following them. In music, the person can play much more complex pieces of music, but is now interested in how music is developed and how the theories allow one to create one’s own music. In social work, this person is quite adept at drawing out information from clients in ways that are natural and allow genuine human interactions, but starts to feel somewhat overwhelmed by the multitude of information, organizing it into assessments and treatment plans. Nevertheless, they are intimately involved in the process and are able to prioritize, interpret and judge appropriate actions while remaining engaged with the client.

4- The Proficient Performer- beyond analytical rationality- This person makes a qualitative shift in the way they approach the practice. They no longer constantly must evaluate each part of the practice and utilize structures for organizing information. The proficient performer intuitively understands what information is most important and stays fully engaged in the “action” while also knowing-without –thinking what must happen next. The level of experience has reached a level where spontaneous interpretation and intuitive judgments allow one to operate in ways that have worked well in prior experience. In basketball, this is the “natural athlete” who seems to always be at the right spot on the court and can hit the net from a variety of positions on the court, seeming to know what play must occur next. In music, this person plays music with feeling and seems to become one with the instrument. They can create their own music and seem almost unaware of the sheet music once they are playing. In social work practice, this person is able to gather family history, the background on problems and begin to create opportunities for client growth and insight, all while “just having a conversation” and sharing genuine dialogue.

5- The”Expert” or Virtuoso (Flyvberg)- This individual can encounter novel situations and intuitively understand what actions are going to make a positive impact. Decision-making is also, most often, intuitive without overt weighing of alternatives, yet evaluated in holistic, synchronous and almost artistic ways. In basketball, this player is almost dancer-like and makes baskets in nearly every position, while also working well with other players and fully engaging in the game. In music, this is the person who can sit down and begin playing improvised jazz and other music, seemingly allowing the piano to become an extension of their own drive to create music. In social work, this is the person who can actively engage and care for a client in exactly the manner that will create the best fit with the client and help promote the most positive outcomes for the problems of living that the client is experiencing.

OK- so it'll be a long posting:)

On Friday, we were sort of hung up on the notion that decisions (or more accurately- non-decisions; the places where experts just know what to do) are tied to expertise and the knowledge base that expertise provides to the expert. I was arguing (in a wrong way symantically, but I believe the notion is right) that people need to know the rules or frames (thanks Corey) before one can utilize all one's learning and become expert. Anne and Paul seemed to be arguing that experience, sans rules/guidelines/frames, can provide enough information to develop the expertise. I stand by my point, but want to remove the language of "rules" from it.

In the example of religious education (or maybe moral education for that matter), the rule-based indoctrination (most common in fundamentalist type religions of all sorts) is not the only avenue. The sharing of stories (Bible stories; morality tales of Aesop/ Grimm etc) conveys something besides rules- though it does create the frames and guidelines that enable a person to process information and begin to see how it fits in their own understanding, as well as to assess how it allows them to fit in the social world (if that is something they value).

I included the Dreyfus model above because it theorizes (and of course supports my view:)) that people have to have some basic tools before they can move forward and develop expertise. In theistic religions, children who are concrete by nature may need to envision an anthropormorphized God- white bearded old man on a throne in Paul's image- before they can get to a more abstract conceptualization of God as the light inside each human, or as a creative force prevalent throughout the world, or any number of other abstract conceptualizations of a divinity. In the same way, science education requires something more than just experiential learning. Even something as simple as acids and bases can lead one astray experientially- both strong acids and strong bases burn tissue (something I suggest we don't want children to learn experientially- at least with their own tissues). Understanding how to measure ph- and how they can neutralize one another, is something that comes only when someone else (an expert) is showing how the guidelines/ frames (eg.of ph paper testers)- dare we say it- rules- work.

I recently heard of a growing pedagogical stance (that I certainly can't say I'm well informed about) called scaffolding. The concept, as I understand it, is that teachers need to provide students with tools for understanding, and then create frameworks on which the students use experiences to flesh out and "grow" their understandings and expertise. This makes a lot of sense to me. On a very simplistic level- I would hate to send new social work students out into their practicums without any teaching whatsoever about active listening techniques and ethics training about self-determination. We'd have a crew out there trying to give advice to the world, instead of helping people find their own answers. They need to have the chance to learn the tools (open ended questions; paraphrasing and reflection) as well as frames (you are not there to give advice, but to help people figure out their blind spots and to help them consider the ramifications of various beliefs/actions).

One last argument for frames/guidelines/stories coming first- the scientific method asserts that a scientist comes up with a hypothesis (a story) before testing it to see if it can be falsified. This is where we bogged down on Friday- the use of the word "rules" implied that they (the rules/guidelines/frames) were given, static and not able to be questioned. To me, expertise is built when one learns the frames that are accepted in one's chosen field, but refuses to be bound by these frames- is willing in a Kuhnian way to have a paradigm shift. There's the caveat- one can't have a "shift" without starting from a position- I assert that that position is the traditional scaffold of understanding of that particular field/ discipline and that expertise gets developed as one sees multiple cases in varying contexts that allow one to build the store of unconscious information that fleshes out the scaffolds.

This supports Corey's argument above that implies that context is where the rubber meets the road in terms of decision-making (and expertise).

preferences--and principles?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-01-17 08:01:42
Link to this Comment: 17640

Here's another little story, coming from the "other" direction (that is, with "experience" coming before "frames"). A colleague was telling me last week that when his daughter was 4, she developed a dislike for the taste of meat. One day she realized that if she said "I don't eat meat" (rather than "I don't like meat"), adults would respect the request not to serve it to her. I found this a striking story: a move from "preference" to "principle" (that is, from "experience" to "frame"). The adults in this story respected the principle, not the preference: they wanted a story of explanation before they could allow the child to live/eat in accord w/ her preference.

Maybe (to generalize from this anecdote) there's something larger lurking here--a recognition that what comes first is the preference, that the story is the scaffolding, the principle, which we build a top of it (but mistake as existing prior?)

on beyond the myth
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-24 18:20:50
Link to this Comment: 18332

Quite striking to me, this morning, and encouraging, to talk through w/ Dana Becker the concepts underlying and deriving from her book on The Myth of Empowerment.

I heard us trying to

They are thus not only "reproducing" but "producing" (our baby-making image--using the resources @ hand to create something uniquely new--seems increasingly apt to me).

I had to leave as the conversation was turning towards the matter of "rampant scientism" and the "protocols required of professionals" (probably better left to the social workers in the room!), but I heard--throughout the portion of the conversation I was able to participate in--many echoes from a conversation elsewhere this week that also attempted to think through the degree to which a process of open-ended inquiry might contribute to social change.

For the record: my recommendation for next month is Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart--as antidote for all those "attachments" we were dissecting today!

no choices/all choices
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-25 07:45:59
Link to this Comment: 18335

Just for a taste of what a different take on reality--@ what a different level--Buddhist practice might offer from our usual analysis:

"there really is no exit....We think we have some choice to make, some alternative to just hanging out with not solving anything....The choice that we think we have is called ego....[Could we give ourselves] a break and stop being so predictable?....Jean-Paul Satre said that there are two ways to go to the gas chamber, free or not free. This is our choice in every moment."
(from When Things Fall Apart)

individual/social: therapy, law, education, parent
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-02-25 12:51:35
Link to this Comment: 18337

My thanks to Dana and all for another rich/generative conversation. What I particularly took from it/want to think more about is the notion of significant similarities among

In all cases one has an interesting contrast between the "professional" approach, ie the posture that the therapist/lawyer/teacher/parent has specific expertise that the patient/client/student/child is asking for and needs, and the .... "transactional" approach, ie the posture that what is at least as important as specific expertise is the inclination/willingness/ability of the therapist/lawyer/teacher/parent to encourage the development of independent "inquiry" skills in the patient/client/student/child. In the latter case, one is not so much providing a particular professional service as engaging in an interactive process that leads, in all cases, to greater skill development and a resulting increased ability (in both parties) to critically evaluate and develop new approaches oneself.

This last is, for me, the link between individual change and social change, the key to preventing psychotherapy (or law or education or child rearing) from being about individual change while preserving the social status quo. "it is right here that the personal and the social/political intersect .... One cannot conceive of, nor act to bring about, a non-hierarchical culture without being able to refuse hierarchy within oneself ... Conversely, having refused hierarchy within onself, one cannot but become subversive of hierarchy, of all kinds, in the social and political realm. In this sense, the personal and the political are the same thing."

Are there political/social/cultural forces that inhibit our "refusal of hierarchy"? as therapists, lawyers, teachers, parents? Of course, as Dana's powerful book clearly documents in the first case. But there are forces inside ourselves that do so as well, including several that came up in discussion (are we willing to stop trying to protect our children from the possible consequences of their explorations? are we willing to walk into classrooms not certain of what might happen? are we willing to forego some of the power that accrues to ourselves in our own (hard won?) positions in hierarchies? are we willing to accept that our success or failure in a therapeutic interaction has as much to do with the patient as with ourselves?).

It seems to me that there need be in principle no opposition between individual change and social change. There is no reason why individual therapy/legal practice/teaching/parenting can't be as signficant in social change, as much a revolutionary act, as community organizing or politics. In fact, I would argue, as above, that the two are necessarily and intimately interconnected. We cannot have political/social/cultural systems that encourage all people to be their own final critics and creators without people who are able to be, and encourage others to be, their own final critics and creators.

For continuing discussion along these lines in the case of psychotherapy, see The Psychoanalyst and the Neurobiologist and an associated on line forum which everyone is warmly invited to join in on.

Therapy and politics
Name: Roland Sta
Date: 2006-02-27 15:42:21
Link to this Comment: 18368

Of course it's not infrequent that one struggles to make a point but I
really felt that I wasn't able to get across what was on my mind last
Friday. I thought it was a great discussion about a great book but there was
something that I felt was missing. Maybe it has something to do with the
fact that I increasingly feel that the therapeutic relationship, and I am
speaking very generally here to include all types of therapy, counseling
etc., is not an adequate arena to strive for social change. I realize that
Dana does not really address this problem in her book but this, it seems,
was the problem that occupied me for most of the meeting. Let me try to
explain what I mean by 'therapy is not social change'.

I have to begin by mentioning that I believe that 'social change' is often
used as a place holder to argue that the world should be changed 'according
to my/ our view'. I have no problem with that but I think that it is
important to realize that the fact that I/we want to change the world
somehow inherently assumes that there is someone/some people out there that
would like to change the world very much NOT like I/we would. This means
that changing the world really refers to a conflict among some people or
groups of people. This conflict will always (at least) include two
dimensions: 1. the substantive problem (i.e. saving taxes vs. increasing
social services) and 2. a debate about how the conflict should be solved (on
a continuum between fair discourse and violent means). In the best of worlds
a conflict, debate, fight etc. will be contested by parties that all have
adequate resources available. Of course, that's frequently not the case but
in my mind that doesn't change the basic framework described here.

This conflict argument is relevant regarding my initial statement - that a
therapeutic relationship is not an adequate arena for social change -
because the type of conflict that I describe above, and that will eventually
lead to some type of social change, is usually not the objective of a
therapeutic situation. Rather, in a therapeutic situation we usually attempt
to figure out the necessary means for the client to comprehend, overcome,
rationalize etc (depending on the situation) a problem. It is rarely the
case that the therapist or social worker and the client belong to different
camps in a social conflict and then use a therapy session to figure out how
to solve the problem (i.e. the social worker is a pro-lifer and the client
is a pro-choicer and the goal of the therapy is to find a solution to the
abortion problem).

What we usually mean when we invoke 'social change' in a therapeutic
situation is that the therapist and the client attempt to figure out a way
to equip the client with additional resources that will allow the him or her
to navigate their problems increasingly successfully. That, in my mind, is a
perfectly honorable and meaningful thing to do. But, similar to Dana, I
would argue that this is almost always an inherently conservative endeavor
because the focus is on the individual (client) rather than on the
structures that often lead to the client's problem in the first place (i.e.
racism, poverty, patriarchy etc.). Therapeutic work with clients has a
conservative tendency because the client and the therapist need to figure
out how to successfully navigate the existing social conditions rather than
changing them. Again, I think that is perfectly legitimate, it just has not
much to do with actual social change because the 'other party to the
conflict' (the racists, the rich, the patriarchs etc.) are almost always
missing in the therapeutic situation. This is why I argue that therapy is
rarely a truly political endeavor.

I can see that a lot of therapists, social workers etc. want to change the
world 'one therapy session at a time' because ever so often in their
professional lives they encounter the consequences of unfair and oppressive
structural conditions. In addition one might argue that a lot of social
workers (I am less sure about psychologist and even less so about
psychiatrist) choose their profession not to the least because they have a
strong emphatic grasp of other people's suffering. When someone encounters
suffering time and again, it's no wonder if they want to 'change the world'.
But, as argued, I don't think that the therapy session is the way to
actually do this. I do believe that there are other, though limited, means
available to social workers who want to work toward social change while
working with individual or small groups of clients (i.e. if a case worker
supports a client in a conflict with a reluctant service provider). But
that, in my mind doesn't change my overall claim that therapy is rather
apolitical and therefore has a conservative tendency. Politics is when we
engage our political opponents; and that, as argued, that rarely happens in
a therapy or counseling session.

There are two arguments here, 1. the 'therapy is inherently conservative and
non-political' argument that I make above, and 2. that the therapist will
always try to convince the client that his or her views of the problem are
correct (if that were not the case, there would not be a relationship at
all). Most of the time we do not realize that we have the second problem
because the client automatically agrees with the therapists point of view
because either this is why he or she choose the therapist or because they
are in some type of a dependent relationship with the therapist. With regard
to the second problem, I want to argue that we should in fact make
transparent the normative system that guides our practices as therapists so
that the client knows what's going on. I believe that the idea that the
therapist can take a neutral stance toward the client is a myth that we use
to veil the power problem between client and therapist.


the myth of power?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-03-01 17:46:20
Link to this Comment: 18422

How about this reversal as an alternative to what Roland describes? That "power" is the myth we use to veil our capacity to change ourselves, others, and the system in which we all operate--if we are really willing to be open to what arises asymmetrically between-and-among us?

Power or rationality?
Date: 2006-03-03 09:58:21
Link to this Comment: 18443

I think that Anne's comment raises a fundamental problem regarding human behavior. Some folks, like Hobbes or Nietzsche for example, would argue that human behavior is largely driven by self-interest and the willingness to prioritize and pursue these interests despite the fact that other people might have different priorities. Other folks like Rousseau, Kant, or more recently Habermas would argue that human behavior is (or at least should be) driven by rationally and fairly assessing the interests of all involved which is followed by actions that take into account all of these interests.
In my mind, the really difficult question is not whether either of these positions are true (both in empirical or normative terms). The tricky question is whether and why human behavior is driven by self-interest (power) or by empathy toward others (rationality) in a particular situation and context. My point regarding the therapeutic relationship is that empowerment, rationality, or similar discoursive strategies frequently conceal self-interest and power strategies used by both the therapist and the client. This problem is especially important to consider when we reflect the therapist-client relationship in a broader socio-cultural, political, and economic context.

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-03-24 15:25:31
Link to this Comment: 18680

(of the **neon** variety)

(sorry, couldn't resist a little "visualization"....)

Following up on Paul's recommendation, that each of us record here our thoughts arising from each of our conversations, in order to have an archive for mining...

I was sorry to have to slip out early this morning, because we'd just arrived @ a place I'd like to understand better. Juxtaposing Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart with all the work we've done together on pragmatism and emergence and social change...

had just gotten me to the point where I wanted to know what the difference was (and what the implications such difference might have) between "reflecting" and "attending to the reflecting mind." I think I have a pretty clear grasp of the first--per the most current of the many diagrams of squares, rectangles and (more recently) ovals we've seen on the board over the years--as the space of "free will," where one can pause, and find the place of freedom to do other than act out of impulse.

But what is the second (and what is its relation to the first)? An awareness that that space is itself not a "thing," arena of possibility? Or (to get "architectural" for a moment) does the space of "attending to reflecting" sit (in Paul's diagram) "inside" or "outside" "reflecting" (is the I-function, in his terms, a subset of attending to the I-function, or vice versa?)

In either case (& I think this is my real question....) does the space of attention trump/paralyze the space of reflection--or enable more freedom?

Thanks to you all for indulging my current "taste" in Buddhism, as an alternative to "thinking too much..."

Speaking of the latter, however (she said, resistingly)--a while ago, I'd placed Richard Rorty's The Decline of Redemptive Truth and the Rise of a Literary Culture? on the table--it's a newer essay, easily available to us on the web. Also available on-line from Rorty's homepage are several other recent manuscripts:

Any of those look like the cat's meow?

Engaged Buddhism
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-03-25 06:11:12
Link to this Comment: 18682

One other thing...?

I was surprised (okay, okay: provoked) by the repeated insistence, during our conversation yesterday, that "Buddhism wasn't designed to bring about social change; it was designed to bring about inner peace." I don't think it really matters very much what it was designed to do; the question on the table was what use-value it has for us now, particularly for those of us invested in social change. It's also the case that, over the course of time, Buddhism has (of course) developed, and there has arisen among the adherents of some of its branches a quite strong--sometimes desperate?--commitment to social change (think: all those fastings, immolations, self-embowelings that took place during the Vietnam War).

I found on my bookshelves last night Learning True Love: How I Learned & Practiced Social Change in Vietnam, the story of Chan Khong (Cao Ngoc Phuong), a Vietnamese women who had been strongly moved since childhood by the suffering of others, and found herself early on impatient with the notion of "enlightenment as a kind of Ph.D. we could seek endlessly while refusing to help those right in front of us." One of her teachers was Thay Nhat Hanh, who thought that the precepts formulated 2500 years ago for monks and nuns needed to be renewed, and rewrote "14 New Precepts" of Buddhism "fit for our time." They include instructions "not to avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering," to "find ways to be with those who are suffering..."

historicism, pragmatism and scientism
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-05-05 22:29:24
Link to this Comment: 19261

I learned a great deal, this morning, from our conversation arising out of several essays by Richard Rorty. I've been familiar w/--and much admired--his work on "the linguistic turn" (and its concomitant valorization of literature!) for over a decade now, but I saw something new today about its edges and limitations, which I hadn't seen before, and for which I'm grateful.

The "crack" came when Paul observed that Rorty "didn't back his argument with any empirical data" --and I realized that, in tossing out what he calls "science" for (what he mistakenly sees as its misguided) search for certainty, Rorty had discarded the baby w/ the bathwater, tossing out along w/ it what his evil twin calls "all there is: data-gathering." Like William James, Rorty gives an account of becoming disillusioned with the usefulness of formal systems, is convinced that acknowledging the authority of others solved no problems--but seems not, en route to an alternative method of making sense of the world, to have himself collected data.

Our subsequent discussion about "what counts as data" and "how you know you're seeing it" seemed somewhat unfinished to me, but I did want to record--for my own uses as well as for the public archive--my schematic of the territory we did cover:

Ways of Making Sense of the World
analytic philosophy

continental philosophy

(making new stories that
"fit with the old stories")
(making new stories that
"fit with one's internal gyroscope")
(making new stories that
"fit with the non-human world" )

There are refinements--pragmatic "fit" is continually doubting, always skeptical, gets tested in conversation and in action, makes strategic choices in order to prevent paralysis and (perhaps most important for the social workers among us, since this is "where humility slips in") is not "self-consuming"--because it "doesn't elevate to the status of a principle" its "simple awareness of the uncertainty and challenge-ability of all existing stories. It can @ least imagine reaching a point where new observations are consistent with the current story."

Not bad for a morning's work.

Am looking forward to the next one--

What is data and who gets to debate it
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-05-10 14:01:15
Link to this Comment: 19299

What I’ve most been mulling over from Friday’s meeting is the idea of what it is that we are opening up to debate- we were framing it around questions of what is the “data” that we’re looking at. Is “scientific” data different than value-data? Although “scientific” data is also circular- is the stuff that we look at and ask questions about in the hard sciences different from the stuff that we look at and ask questions about when we engage in democratic debate around what kind of policies we should have and what we believe the nature of human beings is (good, so best motivated by nurturing; bad so best motivating by fear of punishment, etc.). Part of the problem we were having at the end was determining whether Rorty was willing to let the “stuff” that he talks about be subject to debate, i.e. doing something more than saying this is what I think because I’ve said so and I’ve shown how all the other approaches to philosophy are incorrect. I don’t think this is the case. Although he doesn’t really develop this (or rather I think we were finding something in the tone or style of his argument that did not quite invite this despite what he said), at the very end of the Decline of Redemptive Truth) he says that what we need to do is to debate this (put it to the test of argument, persuasion, discussion) among a group of people who are open to change (those leisured intellectuals). This seems to be to me very similar to Habermas’ idea of how he views the democratic sphere and the openness to debate just about everything except the rules of the debate that keep it open. As we discussed this seems less to me about espousing any particular idea as fundamental or foundational in and of itself than about deciding that we have to be humble about our ability to recognize a foundational idea even if we saw one and so that is a matter of strategy in order to maximize the ideas put forth now (and forever?). And as we often do, this circles back to our pragmatists who on this have more in common with Habermas as they all seemed concerned to me with figuring out what we actually need to DO as ethical people even as we can never be sure that what we are doing is ethical but rather is our own best estimate of what it is and act provisionally with the intent of revisiting our action and being willing to consider/discuss/revise our notion of whether this is what we should have done (which is really about what we might do next time). So far as philosophy in this way remains tied to the world and contextualized it will always be concerned more with complicated messiness than with achieving a TRUTH of some sort.

Rorty and beyond
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-06-03 10:43:27
Link to this Comment: 19458

Pragmatism, ironism, common-sensicalism,
profound skepticism, getting it less wrong ...
and society/ethics/morality?

Rich conversation yesterday, that will certainly take me back to some of Rorty's earlier writings. Thanks to Judy for bringing along the excerpt from the 1989 Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity and all for generative discussion. Am, myself, particularly intrigued by feeling both very close to Rorty and simultaneously a bit distant from him, as if we've come to a similar place along quite different paths. Yes, there is no outside "authority" to which one can appeal, and so much of philosophy/inquiry/life is "literary", seeing what one can make for the future out of the materials one has at hand in the present. But, the "empirical" grounds for the argument is, in my terms, weak. I'd hate to have to defend the "no outside authority" starting point among a group of philosophers (or any others) solely on the ground that there hasn't YET been a satisfying description of an authoritative position (religious, logical, or otherwise). I'm much more comfortable doing so as a summary of observations on the brain, and on the history of science (as per Getting It Less Wrong: The Brain's Way).

Along perhaps related lines, I'm not sure (that's among the reasons I need to go back to his writings) that Rorty allows himself to draw from "irony" a generalizable ethical/moral position. And, if not, I want to offer one, the idea that a seriously committed respect for others derives directly from an awareness that there is no truth, that the task is always to "problematize" one's own understanding, and that the differences among people (and hence different people themseles) are to be accorded the highest respect for their contributions to that problematizing. Among the things/people one accords that kind of respect to is the "common-sensicalist", ie people who embody problematizing stories even if they themselves are not interested in problematizing.

The common-sensicalist shares a distinterest in problematizing their own perspective with the fundamentalist but differs importanly in having no interest in generalizing or elevating their own unexamined starting points to universal status. The latter characteristic actively opposes "problematizing" by individuals as well as the diversity among individuals on which those inclined to problematizing depends. On this ground, it seems to me that ironists have an ethical/moral obligation to oppose fundamentalism. In so doing, they do not assert a fixed higher authority but only encourage fluidity and ongoing change.

All of this, of course, bears on the legitimacy/use/significance of "I believe ..." statements by ironists. Along which lines, Judy and I had independently been intrigued by the NPR series of this title, and both written essays in response to it. See Judie's here, and mine here. Happy to add additional ones to the series if anyone else is inclined to contribute. See also getting less wrong less wrong for some related thoughts to which all this significantly contributed.

Temple Grandin
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-08-27 10:32:47
Link to this Comment: 20222

Sorry I had to leave early the other day. The book and conversation motivated thoughts about being off and "on the spectrum" and the implications of that for a whole host of wider issues that we've been talking about: "The more I learn, the more I realize more and more that how I think and feel is different" Maybe that's what we need more of to beat both the cultural disability problem and the problem of conflicts between cultures?

Forum Archived
Name: Webmaster
Date: 2006-10-05 12:10:34
Link to this Comment: 20616

This forum has now been archived and is closed to new postings. If you are interested in continuing the conversation, please check out this year's forum at Grad Idea Forum 2006-07.

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