At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
I am swamped and I am reading how others are swamped. I am tempted to call this cognitive dissonance, but I don’t think that concept catches or carries the embodiment that is #rhizo14. Instead, I have been trying to process just like Agent J in MIB:
This morning I remembered. I had been in this neighborhood before. How could I have forgotten? What I remembered was an astonishing blog post by one of my favorite web iconoclasts, Venkatesh Rao. I have been dogging his blog, ribbonfarm, for many years. I have been slowing reading and re-reading his book Tempo for almost as long. What I remembered was his take on James C. Scott’s concept of ‘legibility’. Scott argues that the state in order to carry forth its institutional imperatives (taxation, for example) takes complexity either in nature or in society and reduces it to counable and manageable chunks. The picture below speaks volumes more than I could.
Rao uses an example from Stephen Johnson to elaborate on the concept:
In Mind Wide Open, Steven Johnson’s entertaining story of his experiences subjecting himself to all sorts of medical scanning technologies, he describes his experience with getting an fMRI scan. Johnson tells the researcher that perhaps they should start by examining his brain’s baseline reaction to meaningless stimuli. He naively suggests a white-noise pattern as the right starter image. The researcher patiently informs him that subjects’ brains tend to go crazy when a white noise (high Shannon entropy) pattern is presented. The brain goes nuts trying to find order in the chaos. Instead, the researcher says, they usually start with something like a black-and-white checkerboard pattern.
Rhizomatic learning invokes the illegible, the complex, and the organic. It is not so much uncomfortable so much as it irreconcileable. Rao sums up, “it is easier to comprehend the whole by walking among the trees, absorbing the gestalt, and becoming a holographic/fractal part of the forest, than by hovering above it.” It isn’t that we can’t see the forest for the trees. It is that we can’t become the forest when we make the trees legible. In this sense many of the current attempts to make learning legible are doomed to complete or nearly complete failure. The messified feelings we get from rhizomatic learning arise not from the process but rather from an attempt to demystify and order/control/guide the process . We say to ourselves (or at least I have said to myself), “How can I use this in my classroom, my professional life, my life?”
We likely can’t in the normal, transactional sense. Rhizomatic learning is a sample of one. And then another. Our attempts to generalize beyond that might be doomed to the same failure that curriculum planners often come to when they textbook-ify a discipline. That is not just an uncomfortable feeling for some. That is terrifying for some. For me it isn’t about letting go, for me it is about letting come. I must let the forest come, let the gestalt arise, let the zeitgeist form. [Insert any words here because mine fail.] As always, I could be wrong.
Last night at our first unhangout Dave Cormier admitted that he hadn’t much cottoned to Diigo as a digital tool. I think Jaap must’ve been surprised too because he responded in our Rhizo14 Diigo Group, a screenshot taken with Diigo below.
I have rarely been able to get people to play with me on Diigo. For example, in line with our topic this week of cheating I suggested to Jaap above that we find a post or article to share (via Diigo) and highlight and annotate it as our Diigo Group Rhizome14. After we had done the group annotation we would extract them (one click with Diigo) and then write up an individual post where we would not attribute each others notes. All for one and one for all. When we had completed our individual posts we could then debrief and describe how it felt to ‘steal and cheat’. (My guess is that it would feel pretty satisfying.) Then we could mark up our work with color highlights to indicate who ‘owned’ what and see how that felt.
I live in constant fear that Diigo will go under. It is a multi-tool of the mind. The more I use it, the more I find uses for it. Classic sign of a good tool. So…
I suggest we take a close look at Dave’s 2008 article on rhizomatics here and annotate it. Then we can share our notes in common, write a post/poem/digital object/video/podcast in response, and then reflect separately (posts with twitter hashtag) and together (google hangout on air). I am happy to provide resources and help to prime the pump here.
In the spirit of play, any givers, any takers?