Tensioned interfaces: Unsettling Settler places and spaces in online education?

Over the past year I have given presentations in various forums which highlight my research to date in the Doctor of Education program. These have been building on the title from one of the presentations - below:

Presentation November 2018 for AU Graduate Student Research Series

Presentation November 2018 for AU Graduate Student Research Series

Here is the link to this presentation. This will open in a new window and is within Adobe Connect (you may need to do a quick download to play it). The presentation is approximately 40 minutes long, with questions and discussion taking it to one hour.

I much prefer taking a visual approach to Ppoint presentations and avoiding bullets. As pointed out in a previous post - my research is exploring the interfaces between online distance education and the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Indian Residential Schools in Canada.

This slide below, and the quotes from the TRC, highlight the tensioned interfaces that I’ve observed:

slide 23 image.png

Along with this failure on behalf of education systems within Canada comes the several Calls to Action for non-Indigenous people in Canada to learn.

This is a major undertaking - how many people does this equate to in this country?

This is a major undertaking - how many people does this equate to in this country?

Along with Call #57 are also the following Calls: social workers (Call #1); all medical school students and nurses (Call #24) law students (Call #28); all public service employees including federal, provincial, Territorial, and municipal staff (Call #57); church congregations (Call #59); church clergy (Call #60); students in journalism programs and media schools (Call #86); management and staff of businesses (Call #92); and Calls #62-65 which deal with “Education for Reconciliation” involving curriculum development for K-12 school systems.

Yet, the topics or items recommended (e.g. Aboriginal rights and title, Indigenous law, treaties, etc.) - are often complex, nuanced, highly varied between different Nations or communities. Doing this education in a good way will also require in-depth participation of local communities and knowledge holders.

However, adding to the complexity of this, some varied institutions are pondering mandatory courses for employees and management to take a course, or otherwise on these topics. The reality of this is that learning, and filling gaps left by the status-quo education system (elementary, secondary, and post-secondary) is yet another complex enterprise.

transformation of education systems?

transformation of education systems?

Often when I show this slide in presentations, I share the story of my first face-to-face Orientation session at Athabasca U. for the current program. Arriving into a boardroom with cohort colleagues and faculty, there were small poster sized pictures on the window ledges of at least two walls. This was explained, as a representation of the ‘giants’ in which the shoulders we were to stand on as educators. In the pictures: Piaget, Freud, Dewey, etc. - essentially, all dead white guys.

My family background is fully white settler. However, considering that (1) the majority of our cohort identified as female, and (2) my experiences for many years working in Indigenous communities - it was an offensive start to the program - of which I shared - in the spirit of the fact that education, and specifically doctoral education, is intended for ‘critical engagement’ and critical thinking.

Yet, I am not entirely surprised, as anyone that has taken a Philosophy 101 course or otherwise, may have noticed that 99.9% of the philosophical theorists and theories explored, are also of European descent. The Greeks: Plato, Aristotle, Socrates. Then spreading through to a variety of other Europeans: Hobbes, Hume, Bacon, Descartes, Nietschze, Hiedegger, etc.

These courses are such standard fare, status-quo, largely un-questioned, to the point of representing “common sense”…

These are also being replicated in the growing practice of online distance education.

From what the TRC documented (and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People- RCAP, 1996) before that - the system needs to change. These are the tensioned interfaces…

Ignorant of Ignoring Ignorance? Or, Ignorance of Ignorance?

Ignorance is defined as "the state or fact of being ignorant: lack of knowledge, education, or awareness".  Similarly, to be ignorant means to have a lack of knowledge, or a lack of comprehension.

To ignore means to refuse to acknowledge. Essentially, these all come from a similar root - to 'gno' is to know. And 'in-' means "the opposite of...". Yet, I'm not sure it's a clean distinction that 'ignorance' is the opposite of knowledge or knowing...

Most assessments of 'ignorance' definitions tend to have negative connotations. However, should they?

My intention with this post is to relate this to interpersonal communication - and oft discussed diagrams of "two-way communication" similar to the one I have illustrated below.

A Sender sends a message - e.g. encodes it through their own 'filters' with words, tone, body language, etc.

That message flows through a communication channel full of noise and interference (literal noise and interpersonal noise, power, cultural, etc.) - represented by squiggly orange and yellow lines through the diagram.

A Receiver receives the message - e.g. decodes it through their 'filters' (similar to above). Then delivers a feedback message, with a combination of words, tone, and body language - through a communication channel also full of noise and interference. The initial Sender, becomes a Receiver, and decodes the message through their filters.

Essentially this means that in one simple exchange:

Sender: "hey, how are you Receiver?"

Goes through two filters before received - These include ears, eyes, and feelings.

Receiver: "Good... had A heck of a weekend!"

Which then goes through two more filters- the now Receiver/ was Sender, and the now Sender/was Receiver - (plus the noise and interference) before being received by initial Sender (left side of diagram).

Some sort of mathematical equation could demonstrate for us how quickly this many 'filters' could skew the intentions and meanings of each message... is there not exponential increases in the potential for ignorance in this equation, with each exchange of messages; each utterance?

It might resemble a cargo ship leaving Vancouver destined for Japan, however if it is 1 degree off in it's navigation, the margin of error grows by the minute. The longer the voyage, the more off course the ship becomes, eventually ending out in Australia...

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A few years ago, I opened a post with this diagram (below). A painting I did for a facilitation session for a local organization's board retreat to work through some thorny issues.

based on Sunni Brown " Doodle Revolution "

based on Sunni Brown "Doodle Revolution"

It's based on a diagram by Sunni Brown in her book The Doodle Revolution: The power to think differently (2014). She has a similar diagram in a 2009 blog post:

Some might argue that some of the most dangerous - yet most opportunity-filled situations would circulate around, and within: what we don't know. Or maybe most dangerously - what we don't know we don't know (it's the purplish pie piece above).

Some might also argue that proportions of 'what we don't know we don't know' and 'what we don't know' could ebb and flow in size and proportion more than spring tides on the north coast, or this spring, in much of Canada with numerous flooding rivers and relentless rains.

I recently came across the Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies (2015) at the local university library. There is a 2015 New York Times opinion article mentioning the book: The Case for Teaching Ignorance.  

"People tend to think of not knowing as something to be wiped out or overcome, as if ignorance were simply the absence of knowledge. But answers don’t merely resolve questions; they provoke new ones."

The Op-Ed also suggests "Educators should devote time to the relationship between ignorance and creativity and the strategic manufacturing of uncertainty" and that we should spend as much time on 'theories of knowledge' as we do 'theories of ignorance'.

On the front cover of the Routledge book is this pretend graffiti image:

ignorance studies book.jpeg

In our current western-based societies, institutions and organizations seem obsessed with "evidence-based" decision making or "evidence-informed" - Yet, what is more important: (1) evidence that falsifies a theory; or (2) evidence that confirms a theory?

This opens a vast array of further questions - e.g. what scale of 'falsifying', or, 'confirming' - such as time, place, context, etc.?

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I've recently completed a doctoral level course "Leadership and Project Management in Distance Education" (my fourth in the program) which is intended to explore "general leadership theory, issues in contemporary education leadership, leadership in distance and distributed education and training and special topics on leadership and project management, as they relate to educational technology, innovation and change."

Moving through the course, I found it critical to explore ignorance, along with scales and classifications of ignorance, especially within 'leadership theories', organizational studies, and most especially 'communication'. As there are few 'organizations', and little 'leadership' without communication. [more to come in future posts]

Most recently, upon completing the course I came across the book Mastering Civility: A manifesto for the workplace by Christine Porath (2016), as well as motivation expert Dan Ariely's most recent book Payoff: The Hidden Logic that shapes our motivations. Curiously enough, on Ariely's website, it explains that "Payoff investigates the true nature of motivation, our partial blindness to the way it works, and how we can bridge this gap."

Is not 'blindness' another way of stating 'ignorance'? (Ignorance hiding within a metaphor? - similar to Brown's "monstrously-large blindspots")

Which leads me back around to an area I spend a lot of time reading about and pondering - communication. And, not 'communication' as in the departments that are formed in organizations a la Communications dept - but interpersonal communications between folks in organizations, institutions, and life...

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Every day we interact with a medley of individuals, utilizing either our voice, or our digital voice (e.g. email, text, Fbook posts, etc.). In a large proportion of these interactions we utilize 'interpretation' to try to decipher 'friend or foe'-type interactions (this is highly simplified, but evolutionarly-planted in our lizard brains).

Fortunately - or unfortunately - many of us, myself included, think we have 'knowledge' of what we are seeing, hearing, feeling within these interactions. However, reality is, much of what is going on, we are ignorant of. For example, we have much ignorance about what is, and may be going on in, for, and with the person across from us. What we tend to be experts at - is telling ourselves stories about what we 'think' might be going on. Worse yet, we act based upon those stories.

There are things that we know we don't know, there are things we don't know we don't know, and there are things we simply don't know. All ignorance.

Not necessarily the absence of knowledge, but simply: Ignorance.

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Here is another sketch I did today to represent a simple two-way interpersonal communication exchange.

Sender on left encodes and sends message to Receiver on right - using word choice, inflected with tone and intonation, and animated with body language.

"Hey you, why are you wearing that brown hat?!"

The message flies through the ether wrapped in sender's intentions (both known and unknown - e.g. conscious and sub-conscious). These percolate and bounce through an environment with noise and interference (literal or figurative).

These run head-long into Receivers' filters who uses eyes, ears, and maybe heart (whatever this might mean), plus past experiences, knowledge(s)/ignorance(s), and otherwise - attempting to interpret the meaning of the message, Senders' intentions and meanings. All of this wrapped within both their own intrapersonal (within one) and interpersonal (between two or more) mush.

"What?! you gotta problem with brown hats!?!"

And off the interaction goes...

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How do we ensure that we potentially put our ignorances front and centre in interpersonal interactions? For example, asking questions of clarification, active listening, curiosity?

Or how about our own, within ourselves, intrapersonal shenanigans?

Why not use tools such as the Awareness wheel?:

Or, Simon Fraser University (SFU) prof, Gervase Bushe (2010, 2013) proposes a tool called the "Experience Cube" (below). Bushe suggests in a 2013 article (with O'Malley) that research conducted at SFU:

...consistently indicates that about 4 out of 5 conflicts between people in organizations are due to stories they’ve made up about each other. Clear out the mush, understand each other’s experience, and the conflict goes away.

version from Bushe,  Clear Leadership , 2010.

version from Bushe, Clear Leadership, 2010.

Bushe argues that we all have separate observations, thoughts, feelings, and wants within a scenario. The purpose of the cube is to start with making observations (top R), as if we were a camera or recorder capturing the moment. Then observe our thoughts, and keep moving clockwise through the cube, eventually identifying our 'wants'. Then rinse and repeat as necessary.

This is similar to the Awareness Wheel, which starts with neutral observations, then moves through thoughts, feelings, wants, then actions (e.g. 'Do').

In all of these 'Ignorance' and 'Knowledge' dance a slippery dance - within ourselves, and between ourselves. Yet, we may find things operate a little differently if we stop seeing 'ignorance' as a bad thing. We are far more ignorant then we are knowledgeable - personally and societally.

As the Routledge text on Ignorance Studies implores - to understand knowledge, we have to and must, increase our awareness (personally and collectively) of the importance of ignorance.

I intend to explore this further in future posts...


lost & found & lost in language


This is an image I used in facilitating a Board retreat recently. A relatively new non-profit organization has been going through some changes and turmoil in its early stages - not necessarily a bad thing, some might even say an essential thing.

The red (Pacman looking thing) indicates: "What we don't know (A heck of a lot)"

The purple sliver: "What we don't know we don't know."

The black: "What we know that's inaccurate."

The green: "What we know we don't know. (e.g. thermonuclear physics)

& the white: "What we know we know. (e.g. how to put our pants on)". *

It's a good reminder, and yet not an entirely accurate representation - as the red could in fact be an endless morphing shape-shifting amoebic blob - black-hole-like. Or the purple, "what we don't know we don't know" - how can that even have boundaries put on it?

It's an analogy really... or a metaphor - with arbitrary boundaries put on it (e.g. circle-shaped) to get across an idea - the idea that for many things, we really don't know shit about shit. (pardon the crass expression)

Yet we do, but we don't. But we do, do-be-doo-be-dooo...

But, how do we?

Say for example, the title of a recently picked up book at a university library (below):


How do we 'manage' ocean environments? Seriously? More so, how do we 'manage' ocean environments in a changing climate?

Can we 'manage' earthquakes, volcanoes, and shifting continental plates... tsunamis, storms, and tides...

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As I have commented on previous posts on salmonguy.org the etymology (or roots) of the word 'manage' suggest it comes partially from Latin manus meaning "hands", but also means "strength, power over; armed force". There are also Italian roots through the word maneggiare "to handle," especially "to control a horse."

There are also connections with manual which can mean 'manual labor' as in using one's hands - or manual as in "service book used by a priest," or from Old French manuel "handbook" (also "plow-handle" harkening back to manual labor), from Late Latin manuale "case or cover of a book, handbook," and the noun use of Latin manualis meaning "a concise handbook."

This can be confusing, complex stuff.

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As of late I have come across various books discussing metaphor and analogy. Most recently "I is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World" by James Geary. Another is "Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell our Greatest Ideas" by John Pollack.

Prior to that was "Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking" by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander (fair warning this is a thick book and fascinating exploration, of which I have yet to get entirely through).

Geary in his book suggests that on average we utter about one metaphor for every ten to twenty-five words - or about six metaphors per minute (in spoken language). He uses an illuminating (there's a metaphor) example with weather forecasts, where words such as 'gripped' (e.g. in a heat wave), 'plagued' (e.g. by drought), or phrases like 'hailstones the size of golf balls', etc. There are also endless examples from economics (e.g. 'bull' and 'bear' markets) and other fields. 

He suggests "Metaphorical thinking is the way we make sense of the world, and every individual metaphor is a specific instance of this imagination process at work."

Scientists and inventors compare two things: what they know and what they don't know. The only way to find out about the latter is to investigate the ways it might be like the former. And whenever we explore how one thing is like another, we are in the realm of metaphorical thinking...

However, as he also points out, "the paradox of metaphor is that it tells us so much about a person, place, or thing by telling us what the person, place, or thing is not... A metaphor is both detour and destination, a digression that gets to the point."

Pollack in his book provides a definition of 'analogy', suggesting "in broad terms, an analogy is simply a comparison that asserts a parallel - explicit or implicit - between two distinct things, based on the perception of a shared property or relation." He then suggests, metaphorically, that analogies appear in various disguises - metaphors, similes, political slogans, legal arguments, marketing taglines, mathematical formulas, parables, logos, euphemisms, proverbs, fables, and sports cliches - to name a few.

Hofstadter, in a 2001 essay Analogy as the Core of Cognition, prior to writing his book, poses the (metaphorical) thesis that analogy is "the lifeblood, so to speak, of human thinking."

He feels every concept we have is essentially nothing but a tightly packaged bundle of analogies, and that all we do when we think is move "fluidly from concept to concept — in other words, to leap from one analogy-bundle to another" and "that such concept-to-concept leaps are themselves made via analogical connection, to boot."

Hofstadter focuses on our brains and thinking as 'category makers'. Early in our years,

our set of categories is terribly sparse, and each category itself is hardly well-honed. Categories grow sharper and sharper and ever more flexible and subtle as we age, and of course fantastically more numerous. Many of our categories, though by no means all, are named by words or standard phrases shared with other people ... categories that are named by so-called lexical items. The public labels of such categories — the lexical items themselves come in many grades..."

He uses examples such as simple words like chair, clock, cork, etc. plus compound words such as armchair, corkscrew, cannonball, etc. Plus short phrases such as 'out of order', or 'give me a break', or 'rush-hour traffic'. And, longer phrases such as 'damned if you, damned if you don't', 'not in the foreseeable future', and 'handed to him on a silver platter'.

As Hofstadter suggests, these types of lists can go on forever, and yet few people are aware of their vast mental lexicons (e.g. vocabulary or branch of knowledge). As he adroitly suggests:

To be sure, most adults use their vast mental lexicons with great virtuosity, but they have stunningly little explicit awareness of what they are doing.

And this leads me closer to the point of this little ditty on language.

Hofstadter uses the word 'shadow' to make his point, which is: "a concept is a package of analogies." (and even there, 'package' is metaphorical or analogical).

He suggests the word 'shadow' as a good example of "the complexity and subtlety of structure that lurks behind not just some lexical items, but behind every single one." Things 'out there' (objects, situations, whatever) that are labeled by the same lexical item have something, some core, in common he suggests. "Also, whatever it is that those things 'out there' share is shared with the abstract mental structure that lurks behind the label used for them."

Thus, 'shadow' as a noun, which shares subtle differences with the word 'shade'. Cows don't go seeking shadow, they go seek shade. We also refer to a 'rain shadow' as that place on the leeward side of mountains where rain doesn't fall, yet we don't call the area under a tree barren of snow a 'snow shadow'... 

Or, how about the athlete that emerges from the 'shadow' of their parent, a previously successful athlete. Or, someone recovering from the 'shadow' of cancer. Or, an entire geographic area say Europe, for example, recovering from the 'shadow' of WW II.

Similarly, with the word 'point' that I put in bold earlier. There is the 'point' of the spear. The 'point' of the matter or getting to the 'point', or what's your 'point'? Or, I 'point' to the mountaintop - don't 'point' it's rude. Or, that period you just saw being a 'point' on a page. Or, how about the goal in hockey counting as a 'point', or, the points in the standings. Or, standing on the 'point' and looking out over the ocean.

A similar stampede of subtlety and complexity could begin by shifting 'point' to 'pointless'... the player held pointless in the game, the pointless blog post, the blunt pointless spear, etc.

Hofstadter suggests to "drive the point home [there it is again] that every lexical item that we possess is a mental category, and hence... every lexical item, when used in speech (whether received or transmitted), constitutes one side of an analogy being made in real time in the speaker’s/listener’s mind."

I'm not a big fan of the '/' in that previous sentence, which sits between speaker's and listener's. Communication is always, at its least, a two-way system composed of - again at the least -  a speaker-sender and a receiver-listener, which then becomes a complex system of feedback, interference and environment. The analogy being transmitted can often mean one thing to a sender and another to a receiver, yet Hofstadter's point, speaks to common agreement or understanding in common lexical phrases or words.

Hofstadter again, on 'mental categories':

The triggering of prior mental categories by some kind of input — whether sensory or more abstract — is, I insist, an act of analogy-making. Why is this?
Because whenever a set of incoming stimuli activates one or more mental categories, some amount of slippage must occur (no instance of a category ever being precisely identical to a prior instance). Categories are quintessentially fluid entities; they adapt to a set of incoming stimuli and try to align themselves with it. The process of inexact matching between prior categories and new things being perceived (whether those “things” are physical objects or bite-size events or grand sagas) is analogy-making par excellence. How could anyone deny this?
After all, it is the mental mapping onto each other of two entities — one old and sound asleep in the recesses of long-term memory, the other new and gaily dancing on the mind’s center stage — that in fact differ from each other in a myriad of ways.

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This, bringing things back around in a wide loop, is where I seriously question the dominant mental category of "management" in its current plague. It's new gaily dancing mental map may have may be gyrating to the wrong song - e.g. the map may take us to the wrong destination, a dangerous lurking shadowy shady place, with little illumination.

Hofstadter: "Each person, as life progresses, develops a set of high-level concepts that they tend to favor, and their perception is continually seeking to cast the world in terms of those concepts. The perceptual process is thus far from neutral or random, but rather it seeks, whenever possible, to employ high-level concepts that one is used to, that one believes in, that one is comfortable with, that are one’s pet themes.

If the current perception of a situation leads one into a state of cognitive dissonance, then one goes back and searches for a new way to perceive it. Thus the avoidance of mental discomfort — the avoidance of cognitive dissonance — constitutes a powerful internal force that helps to channel the central loop in what amounts to a strongly goal-driven manner."

He coins these 'perceptual attractors' - "long-term mental loci that are zoomed into when situations are encountered." In current language use and Western culture are terms like 'backlog', 'burnout', 'micromanaging' and others. These have become common in our lexicon.

My point, similar to Hofstadter and which he phrases better:

we are prepared to see, and we see easily, things for which our language and culture hand us ready-made labels. When those labels are lacking, even though the phenomena may be all around us, we may quite easily fail to see them at all. The perceptual attractors that we each possess (some coming from without, some coming from within, some on the scale of mere words, some on a much grander scale) are the filters through which we scan and sort reality, and thereby they determine what we perceive on high and low levels.

"Management" in its many current forms is a scourge of the lower levels.

Funnily enough, doing a web search for definitions of management reveals the following examples and uses:

1. the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.   e.g. "the management of elk herds."

- the responsibility for and control of a company or similar organization.   e.g. "the management of a great metropolitan newspaper."

2. trickery; deceit.   e.g. "if there has been any management in the business, it has been concealed from me."

Maybe the first definition is where we all got muddled up? - we assumed that herds of elk are like people, or like groups (herds?) of people - e.g. an organization?

Yet, is an organization organized?

Similar does management suggest managing? As 'to manage', at least suggest some definitions, means "to be in charge; administer, to run".

Hmmm, does 'managing' elk herds mean to make them run? Or do we administer them? Or, them us?

At its roots, to manage suggests 'to handle' - with hand at the root of that and implicit in the word itself 'hand+le'.  In French, would that become le hand? (la main)?

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Seems that 'management' has become a deeply embedded mental construct and mental category, with potentially dangerous denotation and connotation.

I wonder if it comes from some of our Western agrarian (e.g. farming) roots? Sometimes we can 'manage' potatoes, however sometimes we cannot - as some of my ancestors would suggest in the great Irish potato famines.

Western-based fisheries science, only existing for some little over a hundred years, is deeply laced with words, terms - e.g. mental constructs and categories - straight out of farming: harvest, sustainable yield, pieces (used to refer to actual fish), etc.

Using these terms seems to have given comfort, at least in the minds of some, that we can 'manage' the ocean environment, or salmon populations, or elk herds, or even 'climate' for that fact.

Yet, there is an interesting second definition of 'manage' - a 'lexical item' as Hofstadter suggests - a lexical-complexitor I'd suggest:

2. succeed in surviving or in attaining one's aims, especially against heavy odds; cope.

Thus, when we suggest that we may be "managing" the ocean environment, or salmon, or elk herds, or dodo birds... are we simply just coping? (or them with us?).

Are we simply surviving in attaining one's aim... which is for humans, survival - isn't it? And maybe even against heavy odds?

Are we maybe just "managing in ocean environments in a changing climate"?

Maybe we have meant that all along... that 'to manage' in the midst of global change (environmental, economic, cultural, or otherwise) is, to use an analogy, like parents 'managing' a household of small kids. At times, it feels like mere coping, survival, a foggy hazy environment of day-by-day.

Or, as the image below portrays, the meaning can encompass many domains (another image used in a recent facilitation to represent 'knowledge', especially the power of 'shared knowledge').

What do you think?



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* this circle diagram is based on The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently by Sunni Brown.

can there be a known without a knower...?


Is it an ironic irony that each new 'truth' proclaimed simply forces reinterpretation of all previous 'truths'? Or, that permanence (generally perceived, not actual) is often essential to expose and illuminate flux and change?

As the rather kooky, yet oft-quoted and sometimes admired, German philosopher Nietzsche suggested in the mid 1800s: "All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth."

[doesn't the PR, marketing, and advertising industry know this well...most especially political parties, especially governing ones and their speech writers and spin machines.]

A currently-living philosopher, Eric Kramer based at the University of Oklahoma suggests:

"there is no meaning without interpretation and there is no interpretation without a perspective. Thus, there is no knowledge without a perspective."

Kramer makes this argument in discussing various 'methods' of interpretation, somewhat focused on literary criticism, yet quite relevant for any sort of interpretation. His specific focus is on the dominant methods of interpretation in current society - that of scientific methods and positivism - e.g. being 'objective'... [just the facts, m'am, just the facts.]

The positivist methods essentially suggest that much of everything (society, nature, individuals, etc.) operate according to general laws - of which science and method can reveal. That everything is verifiable by reliable and valid methods. Comte a philosopher from the early 1800s is largely attributed with the philosophy of positivism, suggesting: "Positivism is a way of understanding based on science"; people don't rely on the faith of god but instead of the science behind humanity.

There are multiple criticisms and deconstructions of the positivist methods - yet much of Western society (and more) still operates under the influence of it - sometimes like a driver after ten shots of whiskey.

Returning to Kramer in the present age, he feels:

"There have been modern attempts to create methods of interpretation that can aid in the positivistic dream to methodically prove the existence of only one world, one interpretation that is legitimate, real, and true and to devalue all others as false, even insane. The effort is to render, once and for all, the one correct - meaning valid and reliable - version..."

'Valid and reliable'... the number of times I have heard this marriage of terms at a meeting of fisheries scientists, for example as the latest in computer modeling and statistical equations are rolled out. The only legitimate, real, and true knowledge of fish comes from fisheries science... "well, the model is kicking out..." the scientists/experts suggest.

At one particular meeting in recent years of fisheries scientists and community members, a dreadful PowerPoint presentation ensued explaining intricacies of 'reliability' and 'validity'. Which sadly, also said, without saying it, "hey you community folks... your knowledge is not reliable nor valid."

There are, I'm sure, countless examples of processes (e.g. Environmental Assessments) or meetings where 'experts' are the one and only 'valid' and 'reliable' sources of data and methods. (or perceived perhaps...)

Kramer suggests:

"An irony is that those who invent methods do not do so methodically, but instead experimentally. The origin of geometry was not given geometrically... Science is not a scientific product, but instead an invention of philosophical reflection."

Where does, for example, fisheries science originate from?


Kramer provides an interesting history of positivistic methods, or science and scientific, hierarchical classifications and taxonomies - going back to Linnaeus in the 1700s, and his view that 'knowledge' consisted as a: "sort of disciplined bookkeeping, a standardized mode of classification."

This 'Linnaeun' view is about a worldview or ideology that revolves around a set of classification principles that promote categorization, order, and organization - all based on preestablished judgements (e.g. what the categories and traits consist of). As Kramer suggests,

"to know what a thing is is not just to know its name, but to name it according to its inherent characteristics. Thus, the name is logical, which is to say that it logically follows from the characteristics that constitute the nature of the thing. Herein lays the referential validity presumed in the indicative name and the credibility of the name-sayer as a knower."

From here evolved the authority of 'references' such as the dictionary, the encyclopedia, the museum - the "institutions of recorded fact (things already done), repositories of language, and culture construed as tradition in the antiquarian sense, not as lifeworld."

Knowledge is all about classification and categories. Order becomes equated with reason and knowledge (as well as reliability and validity), and as Kramer suggests, "This style has great influence via appellation [name or title] on those who categorize, name, and describe." (e.g. the experts).


"The institutions that seek firm ground turn out to be only momentary patches maintained through social sanction within a larger field of change. While their conventional authority lasts, such textual institutions enable the privileging of those who conform to them the most."

Sound like the world of post-secondary institutions? Nothing more important than 'referencing' the 'experts' and ensuring that the language, the formats, and the logic follow the classification required. Discipline within the discipline. Shy away from 'innovation' which at its roots means 'bring into the new' - from the Latin root novus, meaning new, and innovare "to renew, restore; to change". 

Or, how about other 'institutions' such as various classifications of 'science' - say 'fisheries science' or 'wildlife biology' or various other 'disciplined disciplines'. The question becomes, where did these originate from? What is the apparent 'shoulders of giants' that each discipline is built upon? - layer upon layer upon layer.

Who 'disciplines' these disciplines...? Is it simply the indoctrinated that keep the disciplines disciplined? The experts, the 'authorities' are the discipliners within each discipline?

One of the problems that may arise is that no matter how many layers of bullshit - it's still bullshit. Or, worse yet, if the upper layers give a sense of 'stability' (or reliability and validity), but yet, are built on an original layer of bullshit - one should probably ask whether bullshit makes good foundations...

A central question still relates to the title of this post and relates to the opening illustration - as we 'learn' more, we learn more about what we don't know... and thus we are into the Donald Rumsfeldian cycle, we don't know what we don't know, and so on...

And thus are there knowns without knowers? And if one 'knows', are they not then bias, and thus not 'objective'? How do they know? What makes them a 'knower'?

Bogus quantification

"... a very rarely discussed property of data: it is toxic in large quantities - even in moderate quantities... The more frequently you look at the data, the more noise you are disproportionally likely to get."

This little tidbit of wisdom comes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the best seller Black Swan: The impact of the highly improbable as well as the more recent Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder. Highly recommended reading, if not multiple times.

Taleb has some gems: "... our track record in figuring out significant events in politics and economics is not close to zero; it is zero."

I was struck today by an article emanating out of BC Business magazine.

B.C. looks to rehaul post-secondary to meet the needs of LNG

The article opens with this suggestion:

On April 29, Premier Christy Clark unveiled the provincial government’s “Skills for Jobs” blueprint: a multi-year funding strategy that aims to re-engineer the province’s education system, putting more students on a path toward secure employment. By 2017-18, the government projects it will have earmarked 25 per cent of the $1.9 billion it contributes annually to post-secondary institution operating budgets for programs that lead to high-demand occupations. Over the next decade, $3 billion will be redirected to such programs, according to Shirley Bond, B.C.’s minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.

A higher-level administrator in post-secondary is quoted:

“The bottom line of the government’s plan is that funding for post-secondary institutions will be based on labour market information and workforce targets, and that institutions will be held accountable to achieving results,” says Eric Davis, provost of the University of the Fraser Valley.

Thus, I ask a simple question - 'achieving' what results? Employment of graduates? Employed for how long? What if it's only contract to contract?

Plus, this question arises: haven't post-secondary institutions been held accountable to this point? And if they don't achieve desired results... then what? Cut funding? Does that not result in some other people losing jobs... is that not a net-zero impact?

And, maybe most importantly, what happens if the 'results' that an institution is being held 'accountable' to achieving' - are wrong? Did the predictions we made five years ago get re-visited? Were we accurate five years ago in our predictions - if not, why? Or more importantly, if so, why?

What data will be used be used to achieve what results?

What data will serve as the 'base' of labor market information? Or, the 'workforce targets'? Are those targets that are set now in 2014, or are they moving targets that get re-jigged every year... every six months... every month? Remember Taleb's suggestion... the more frequently you look at the data, the noisier it gets. (Noise and analyzing data aren't good - it's like trying to compose a symphony while the neighbors mow their lawn and have their roof replaced...)

What happens if the apparent multiple Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) plants "proposed" for northern BC don't get built? Or the "proposed" pipelines to feed them don't get built? Or, the least talked about issue: the energy demands to change natural gas from gas form to liquid form for shipping? What if the capital to build them decides to place itself somewhere else - Australia, Africa, lower 48? Or, not at all?

Not to get too wrapped in knots about 'what if' questions - however, shouldn't a "re-engineering of the province’s education system" be subject to a bit more discussion, and maybe a bit more broader 'objective' then prognostications about 'labor market demand' and hypothetical labour shortages that are yet to arrive? (many folks, including those hallowed economist-types in major banks are questioning some of the 'labor gap' predictions).

A local MLA in my area, Shirley Bond, the current minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training suggests: “We want to make sure that when students and their families sit down to make decisions, they’ll have access to the best information possible.”

What does this mean? What is the "best information"? Do only government minister's have it? Who determines "best" in show, the ribbon winners - and second-best information? (e.g. "if you're not first, you're last" the great quip from Ricky Bobby of Talledaga Nights...).


I suppose, the leading question I have with these types of initiatives - what if we take a slightly longer view... like fifteen years, about the time my kids will be entering the workforce full-time-ish. Let us say best case scenario for current governing regime: a couple of natural gas pipelines get built, maybe a couple of LNG plants, the energy needs are satisfied, tankers are running LNG to Asia... then what?

Then BC has a glut of, what the article points out are predicted to be a shortage of in a few years: "including boilermakers, welders, pipefitters, and certified construction workers." And the BC education system has been "re-engineered" to achieve this... what about the sociologists, psychologists, business analysts, accountants, and (oh my) the philosophers with their pondering of ethics and morals and all that 'silly liberal education' touchy-feely stuff...?

Or what about the criminologists, early childhood educators, geographers, and otherwise...?

Not that I'm against taking a critical look at our education system... however, re-jigging it to fit some sort of economic (aka. political) prediction... that is cause for concern, especially when there is a real danger for bogus quantification.

Reminds me too much of the 'organizational consultant' that comes into an office and recommends "oh... we need to go open concept here... get rid of the cubicles, drop the walls, collaboration, collaboration, collaboration..."  The next day the cubicles start coming down.

Then three years later, the consultant gets called back in and says "oh... we need to get a bit of separation in here, people need a little more autonomy, there needs to be some independence, some separation, that will get production up and profits up..." The next day the cubicles start going back up.

And then, in great Proctor & Gamble wisdom: "rinse and repeat if necessary".

Beware of bogus quantification. And, even more wary of prognostication based on bogus quantification.


random sketch from summer 2014

random sketch from summer 2014


Beginnings can be a complicated and complex thing - or is it things? Or is it - are they - a 'thing'? Are 'beginnings' random or planned?

Writers or others (e.g. historians) may ponder this notion of 'beginning' for entire lifetimes - for example, where does a historian begin a history? (or 'end' it for that fact?)

Where does a story begin? For a person, at birth? or further back? Some might suggest life resembles the knot image used in this site:


Yet 'complicated' and 'complex' are quite different things. Some people often consider these two ideas as closely related, as in 'complex' means an advanced state of complicated. Earlier this summer in some random reading, I came across a good explanation of how separated these concepts are - something to the tune of this: 'a key to a car is simple, a car is complicated, a car in traffic is complex.'

Thus I tend to lean toward 'beginnings' as complex beings - yet just one 'beginning' may simply be complicated. Simply complicated... or, complicatedly simple?

Not to get too far into quoting random scholars... however, Edward Said (pronounced close to Sie-eed), a Palestinian-born literary scholar (among other things) who was based in the US, wrote a rather large book on this idea: Beginnings: Intention and Method. He suggests in his opening chapter:

Every writer knows that the choice of a beginning for what he will write is crucial not only because a work's beginning is, practically speaking, the main entrance to what it offers.

He asks:

Is a beginning the same as an origin? Is the beginning of a given work its real beginning, or is there some other, secret point that more authentically starts the work off?

Said also asks whether an interest in 'beginnings' is just theoretical or does it have practical uses? For him,

The beginning... is the first step in the intentional production of meaning.

Dictionary definitions suggest that 'beginning' as a noun means: "the point in time or space at which something starts." That definition does not satisfy me; yet, there must, for a variety of purposes, still be 'beginnings' - similar to this first post posing as a 'beginning'...

The etymology, or origins, or beginnings of the word 'beginning' are fuzzy. Some histories (Online Etymology Dictionary) suggest relations to an old Germanic word ginnan and word forming element be-. Ginnan, which has varied meanings related to "to open" and be- with a wide range of meanings.

In Old English be- means "on all sides". There are also suggestions of links to second syllable of Greek amphi, Latin ambi originally meaning "about". Ambi- also means "around, round about," and has deeper roots or origins (e.g. beginnings) related to Sanskrit abhitah "on both sides," abhi "toward, to;" and further to Proto-Indo-European roots plural of *ant-bhi "from both sides".

Yet be- can also mean "thoroughly; completely" as in 'behead'.

This leaves some complications in defining the word. Is 'beginning' a 'thorough opening' or is it opening from all sides or, an opening from 'all sides'...? (kind of reminds me of the Eastern koan suggesting we ponder the sound of one hand clapping...).

Said suggests:

...the notion of beginnings itself is practically tied up in a whole complex of relations. Thus between the word beginning and the word origin lies a constantly changing system of meanings, most of them ... making first one then the other word convey greater priority, importance, explanatory power.

He uses an example such as "the beginning of consciousness" as an example of a particular issue of importance and complexity.

I can relate to his struggles with 'beginnings'. Said writes that earlier in his professional and academic life he asked himself questions such as: (1) After what training does one begin to write? (2) With what subject in mind does one begin to write? (3) What is the point of departure for writing - a new direction or one continuing from old ones?

What is it for you?

In his Preface, Said:

Beginning is not only a kind of action; it is also a frame of mind, a kind of work, an attitude, a consciousness... For any writer to begin is to embark upon something connected to a designated point of departure. Even when it is repressed, the beginning is always a first step from which something follows.

Beginning, or starting out, or the point of departure for this website and this particular blog, appears to be this post. Yet, ironically in a twist of chronology, blogs place first posts last and last posts first... Thus, this post probably becomes more a significant 'beginning', or point of departure, to myself the writer, then to you the reader.

Yet, it is not a beginning necessarily - yet, it is. Maybe it's more of a thorough 'opening' from 'all sides' arising from the obscure origins, or beginnings, of the word beginning.

It is a beginning though; a 'beginning' to motivate more writing, more searching, more research, more pondering...