Mohini The White Tiger and Learned Helplessness

I’ve been watching a lot of TED talks recently (part of a NY’s resolution), and have been struck by the number that say something along the lines of “school is broken” and “how do we make children like school?”.

There’s a sad story about a tiger called Mohini that Tara Brach tells as follows.

Mohini was a regal white tiger who lived for many years at the Washington D.C. National Zoo. For most of those years her home was in the old lion houseā€”a typical twelve-by-twelve-foot cage with iron bars and a cement floor. Mohini spent her days pacing restlessly back and forth in her cramped quarters. Eventually, biologists and staff worked together to create a natural habitat for her. Covering several acres, it had hills, trees, a pond and a variety of vegetation. With excitement and anticipation they released Mohini into her new and expansive environment. But it was too late. The tiger immediately sought refuge in a corner of the compound, where she lived for the remainder of her life. Mohini paced and paced in that corner until an area twelve by twelve feet was worn bare of grass.

This could be read in different ways, I suppose.

In one, the cage might represent school, and Mohini’s retreat might equate to that adult refrain that students have lost the “ability to think for themselves”, have an overreliance on spoonfeeding, or even have had their creativity killed and the like. In this, like in many of those TED talks, it’s the cage that’s the problem.

In another, though, it is not the cage that is the problem but the adults. The cage might represent what a student thinks they know and like, and the habitat a world of unfamiliar but more rewarding opportunity. The sad part for me is not that Mohini retreated, but that the staff do not appear to have kept on trying to bring Mohini out.

[Picture: Smithsonian Institution]

Excellence article by Raymond Tallis: Neurotrash | New Humanist

such are the limitations of our understanding of the brain, attempting to apply the findings of neuroscience to social policy would be premature, even if this were not wrong in principle. But it is wrong in principle. The fabric of the human world, of the public space that is the arena of our lives, is woven out of explicit shared attention that has been infinitely elaborated in a way that has little to do with what goes on in the darkness of the individual skull, though you require a brain in working order in order to be part of it. If you come across a new discipline with the prefix “neuro” and it is not to do with the nervous system itself, switch on your bullshit detector. If it has society in its sights, reach for your gun. Bring on the neurosceptics.

Source: here

The Starfish Revolution? – Iranian mobs, smart mobs – or just a large group of angry people

Although there is a troika (Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami) that inspires many of “The Green Path of Hope” , there seems to be a lack of top-down leadership. Indeed, Mousavi has been at pains to say that the people are the true leaders, that he is not creating a political movement but a “social network,” and that the strength of the Green Path derives from the spontaneous and creative actions of millions of Iranians.

It sounds a lot like … The Starfish and the Spider, which argues that top-down organizations are less successful than those that give maximum freedom to their people. If you decapitate a spider, it dies, but if you lop off an arm of a starfish, it regenerates. In like manner, despite a massive crackdown from the Iranian regime–thousands of arrests …, scores of executions, mass rape and other forms of torture, show trials and stern intimidation from political and military leaders, judges and clerics, the Green Path moves on …

Source: here

The Cognitive Science of Skills and Learning

most computing applications, which separate data structures (which we could liken to human knowledge) and processes that operate on them (which we could liken to human thinking skills); so long as the data are in a compatible format, the computing processes can operate on any data that are entered. In the human mind, however, knowledge and processing are more often interdependent.

Source: here


Jeremy Faludi over at Worldchanging has a nice primer on biomimicry.

“Most designers, engineers, architects, and other people who build things just don’t know that much about biology and the natural world; and even when they do, there’s often a gap of capability in available materials, manufacturing methods, and economic systems … Even with existing technology, however, an enormous realm of possibilities is feasible, it just requires the right approach.”

Now, I’m a fan of biomimicry (or what little I know of it), and I like the idea of organisation as organism, with its emphasis on the interactions between organism and the environment, and its emphasis on survival. But though metaphors are a great way of seeing things from a different angle, they are also a way of not seeing things. Metaphors help you change goggles, for sure, but you’re still wearing goggles. {Jason has a great post on the same here)

Some of things I don’t see with the biomimicry/organisation as organism metaphor are:

  • that organisations affect their surroundings (possibly more so than organisms?)
  • that individuals in the organisation don’t always gel as smoothly as the parts of an organism. Perhaps they ought to, or perhaps the lack of gel gives the organisation a creative edge. Don’t know.

Personally, I do like the organism goggles, but it’s good to try to take them off once in a while. Anything else the organism metaphor stops us/me/you seeing?

Knowledge Territories

Another of Lilia‘s introductions, this time Janine. She’s got a fascinating theory for de-intellectualising knowledge work.

The knowledge territories metaphor (KTM) I propose refers to the ways that animals leave traces and protect or show-off with their territory. In short, the notion of knowledge territories emphasises the aspect of ‘ownership’ and is used to describe how people let other people know about their knowledge and how people share knowledge … Similar to information foraging theory, the metaphor of knowledge territories assumes that people are selfish, lazy and want maximal output with minimal effort …

Continue reading Knowledge Territories

Blog Jazz

Jazz musicians have a lot to teach us about leadership, teamwork and the like. That, apparently is an oldie but goldie in management thinking. Perhaps they can do the same for blogging?

One Professor Knudsen from Norway makes the point that

“Communication is not just about words, but about moods.”

Companies, he claims, need to create the right moods or atmospheres for their staff, and to understand how to shift tempo when circumstances require. But should we as bloggers be doing that too?
Continue reading Blog Jazz

The Making of Memory: Chapter 4 Notes – PT II

Technology both enriches and constrains memories. It enriches them through tools such as pens, books, and PDAs. And it constrains them through the power of its metaphor.

First Rose explains a little about scientific metaphors. There are three types of scientific metaphor: the poetic, the evocative, and the structural.
Poetic Metaphors provide little more than a useful visual image. An example might be Rutherford’s early twentieth century description of electrons as planets revolving around an atomic sun.
Evocative metaphors provide both an image and a means of transferring a principle from one sphere to another. The Ancient Greeks tried to explain the movement of the sun as if it were being pulled through the sky by fiery horse-drawn chariots. The explanation is bogus, but the principle is transferable.
Structural metaphors provide useful visual images, allow transference from one sphere to another, and enable the description of principles. So Harvey’s description of the heart as a pump was structural because allowed mathematical models to describe its operations.

Then Rose goes on to track the ascendancy of mathematical and physical viewpoints of the world (especially over biology).
Continue reading The Making of Memory: Chapter 4 Notes – PT II

Making of Memory (4)

This book has started getting really interesting – and so it’s quite hard to keep these notes short. Will do my best.

Metaphors of Memory – Overview

– The general themes of the chapter are: collective and individual memories, how technologies have helped/hindered our memories, and how those technologies give us metaphors with which to try to understand memories.
Continue reading Making of Memory (4)