Learning

Interrogative Imperative Institute

Learning

I'm a big fan of learning, but I'm not all that excited about education and schooling. This might sound strange coming from someone who, both literally and figuratively, worked his way through an honors undergraduate program at Harvard University as well as a doctorate via the University of Toronto (two of the premier educational institutions of higher learning in the world), but it is precisely because of my experiences with educational institutions (both higher and lower) that my orientation has formed in the way it has ... direct experience plus the realization that almost of the processes of learning in life that I consider to be of importance had little to do with schooling, of whatever kind, and everything to do with studies and explorations done independently of schools and formal educational settings. Education is about obtaining pieces of paper which, hopefully, can be leveraged into some sort of work career or economic advantage, whereas learning is about the realms of being that lie beyond either degrees or jobs, or which can be found in the interstitial, existential spaces between degrees and jobs.

Schooling/Education, Part of the Problem?

Many people (parents, students, teachers, politicians) are dissatisfied, to varying degrees, with what is taking place in schools on every level. Over the years, many individuals have advanced proposed solutions for dealing with such dissatisfactions, but, unfortunately, the theories underlying the solutions being alluded to are totally unproven but, nevertheless, have been imposed on students, parents, teachers and communities, like so many guinea pigs in the laboratories of the clueless. Education and schooling have become (and have been so for a very long time) the place where proxy turf wars are fought for control of the bodies, minds, and souls of students in accordance with various theories of economics, science, politics, society, religion, and human beings, and, in the process, running roughshod over the right of every human being to live as an individual whose essential sovereignty is respected and protected.

The videos and commentaries on this page are offered as opportunities for visitors to engage, or hone, their capacity for critical reflection. I do not nececessarily agree with all the views that will be presented here, and, from time to time, and place to, place, I may interject a comment or two or three as so much 'food for thought' ... that is, as counterpoints which should not necessarily be accepted just because I have said them but, rather, as ideas about which one might ponder and reflect."

Approximately every two to three weeks, I will introduce new material for consideration. Sometimes, if the spirit moves me, the interval might be less than the foregoing time frame ... and, then again, the interval might be slightly longer.



May 8, 2013

... One can either watch the video at the bottom of the page first, and, then, return to my comments on the video, or one can read my comments, and, then, watch the video, or, of course, one can do neither and just move on. I hope you choose to do one of the first two options. Despite my critique of certain aspects of the following video presentation, I really think that Dr. Gopnik is engaged in some very interesting research.



The following video features the work of Alison Gopnik who has done some very interesting research in conjunction with learning and development -- research which makes her an important part of the trend in psychological sciences over the last 10-15 years which has altered the way in which many people think about some of what goes on in the mind of young children (say, 1-4 years of age). In many ways, infants and young children are very likely to be much more sophisticated explorers of their universe than many people give them credit for ... in some ways, they are better, more open explorers than adults are and, in fact, adults might be socialized out of realizing some of their inherent potential for learning and development via the very process of schooling which many people assume is how human beings maximize their capacities for learning about the world.

Several points seem worth mentioning in conjuntion with Dr. Gopnik's presentation. To begin with, she seeks to place her work in an evolutionary context which, in and of itself, is unremarkable since many researchers in psychology do the same sort of thing these days.

However, the idea of evolution is often used as a sort of a convenient, but very vague, background rhetorical prop to supposedly help her audience make sense of how things have come to be th way they are. Supposedly -- or, so the story goes -- we got to this point through evolution, and, yet, no one -- including Dr. Gopnik -- ever provides a detailed account of how such capacities actually came into being. Everything is alluded or run through the presumptive lenses of interpolation and extrapolation and, in the process, becomes rather mythological in stature.

I do not say the foregoing as someone who seeks to advance either a Creationist postion or some sort 'intelligent design' notion. Instead, I say what I do as a hardnosed empirical skeptic who, like Cuba Gooding in the movie: 'Jerry Maguire' is saying: "Show me the money."

If one cannot produce the blow by blow empirical account of how things came to be the way they are, then one is not talking about science, but, rather, one is dabbling in philosophy while seeking to leverage the halo-like effect of the term: "science'. Evolutionary theory may guide much of modern thinking in a variety of areas, but much of that theory is rooted in speculative philosophy and unprovable assumptions, not real science, even as it seeks to clothe itself in scientific jargon in order to give the impression of being scientific without having to meet the standards of actual substantive decency.

I have done the research, and, in fact, I have written a book about the subject -- namely, 'Evolution and the Origin of Life.' or Final Jeopardy -- Volume 1. I refer people to the foregoing books if they wish to learn more about my position on this issue.

Many people, of course, respond to the foregoing by saying words to the effect: 'Well, of course, everyone admits there are many lacunae in evolutiionary research, but it is the best available scientific theory to account for a wide array of phenomena. Indeed, if one rejects evolutionary theory, then what do you propose to replace it."

The foregoing is like a prosecutor saying: "Well there is very little actual, concrete evidence indicating that the person we have in custody is responsible for the crime with which he is being charged (although there is considerable circumstantial evidence and, as well, there are many expert witnesses who are willing to testify, according to their biases, that the right individual is in custody), but, gee, since there is no other viable suspect, why don't we just go along with the idea that the guy we have in custody is guilty ... after all, do you have anyone who would serve as a better suspect?" I don't have to offer up an alternative theory which explains things, I only have to understand that the available evidence does not support or justify detaining such an individual simply because he is the only person our state of ignornance and limited imagination can conjure up to account for the crime.

Unlike my evolutionist friends, I am not afraid to say that I do not know what the truth of the matter is. I only know that when one looks carefully at many theories concerning the origins of life, or even the appearance of novel, functional capabilities, existing evolutiionary accounts leave one deeply dissatisfied. There is almost no intellectual rigor (despite the presence of scientific sounding jargon) present in such arguments, and I see no reason why I, or anyone, should adopt a theory which is so steeped in a cloud of unknowing and claim that it is good science ... because this is just not the case. Moreover, I find that those evolutionists who insist on calling evolution a scientific theory which is capable of accounting for the origins of: life, intelligence, reason, consciousness, curiosity, creativity, memory, and understanding tend to undermine their own credibility ... and the fact that thousands of their colleages join in and support such fanciful nonsense does not suddenly make ignorance knoweledge.

Talking with many evoultionists is like interacting with a bunch of K-street, Washington lobbyists who yammer away trying to induce people to support their grandiose, but rather empirically shaky and self-serving ideas. Being convinced of the truth of something is not necessarily the same thing as being correct concerning that to which one is so passionately attached.

And, if one should express some sort of resistance to the marketing campaign of the evolutionists (as I am doing now), then look out, for the provervbial stuff is likely to hit the fan. Labels and epithets often soon follow -- such as, 'one is anti-science', or one is a 'luddite', or 'one is standing in the way of intellectual progress', or 'one is hopelessly irrational', when all one is doing is pointing out (concretely and not theoretically) that there is a wealth of empirical and conceptual problems with the theory of evolution across an array of issues -- starting with the 'origin of life' matter, and extending into such topics as: the origins of consciousness, reason, logic, memory, creativity, morality, and so on.

The foregoing topic is related to two other issues which emerge in Dr. Gopnik's presentation ... a presentation which, in many other respects, I like very much. First, at certain points, Dr. Gopnik refers to neurochemistry, neurotransmitters, and so on, as if this all fully explains what is going on in the brain or how the brain and mind are connected, when, in point of fact, as is the case in relation to evolutionary theory, no one has shown in a rigorously empirical manner how either neurochemistry or neurotransmitters cause: consciousness, thinking, reasoning, logic, memory, creativity, understanding, and so on. Neurochemistry has been correlated with mental functioning, but correlation is not causation, and until the precise causal steps are nailed down, then reducing mind to brain constites a bit of myth-making, not science.

Finally, in her presentation, Dr. Gopnick refers to the work of Thomas Bayes, an eighteenth-century mathematician, who invented a form of statistical thinking which is capable of generating improved descriptions of a system based on a computational technique which incorporates new data into one's calculations that are able to improve upon some initial proabalistic model with which one began in relation to the system or situation being considered by an individual. Dr. Gopnick suggests that young children are capable of running Bayesian-like computations in order to work out which hypothesis concerning an aspect of reality is more likely to be true based on their experiential interaction with such an aspect of reality ... something which even adults would have difficulty in working out -- at least this would be the case if adults were required to use and apply Bayes' theorem.

However, I would respectfully suggest that although on the surface there may be certain parallels between Bayesian probability methods and the manner in which children try to work their way through various possible solutions to a problem, it does not follow that children are engaged in some sort of Bayesian computation. Yes, there is a process of reasoning and logical analysis taking place in the mind of the child, but this does not necessarily mean that Bayesian mathematical methods are being employed ... although one is entitled to say that there is, at the very least, an analogical relationship betweeen what children are capable of doing and Bayesian statistical techniques. In fact, one might speculate that Bayes original idea was a specific, concrete, creative application of the sort of mental capacity to which Dr. Gopnik refers in her presentation rather than being identical with such a capacity. In other words, it is our capacity to learn from experience and, in the process, update our understanding of something which served as the inspiration for Thomas Bayes theorem and which, conceivably, based on intuition or introspective reflection concerning what was taking place in his mind when he went from one idea to a better version of that idea, he worked out a formal model that gave expression, in a limnited fashion, to the former, more general capacity for thinking, logic, and the ability to learn from experience by incorprating what we learn into our understanding of what we previously considered to be a possible answer to a given problem.




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