Education In A Time Between Worlds

Is the title of a new book (2019) by Zak Stein, subtitled: Essays on the Future of Schools, Technology and Society. You can see the table of contents here. I provide this book to satisfy Mark’s latest email on branching out to topics that provide positive visions and/or means for healthy societal change. It would be a good book for us to read and discuss.

It’s not available in the Abq. public library, so perhaps someone with university inter-library loan capability could obtain a copy and share it? It is of course for sale at Amazon in the link but outside my budget. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“Our world is currently undergoing major transformations, from climate change and politics to agriculture and economics. The world we have known is disappearing and a new world is being born. The subjects taught in schools and universities today are becoming irrelevant at faster and faster rates. Not only are we facing complex challenges of unprecedented size and scope, we’re also facing a learning and capacity deficit that threatens the future of civilization.

“Education in a Time Between Worlds seeks to reframe this historical moment as an opportunity to create a global society of educational abundance. Educational systems must be transformed beyond recognition if humanity is to survive the planetary crises currently underway. Human development and learning must be understood as the Earth’s most valuable resources, with human potential serving as the open frontier into which energy and hope can begin to flow.

“The expansive essays within this book cover a diverse array of topics, including social justice, the neuroscience of learning, deschooling, educational technology, standardized testing, the future of spirituality, basic income guarantees, and integral meta-theory. As an invitation to re-vision the future of schools, technology, and society, Education in a Time Between Worlds replaces apathy and despair with agency, transformation, and hope.”

The psychology of rituals

Subtitle: An integrative review and process-based framework, by Hobson et al. (2018), Personality and Social Psychology Review 22(3). The abstract:

“Traditionally, ritual has been studied from broad sociocultural perspectives, with little consideration of the psychological processes at play. Recently, however, psychologists have begun turning their attention to the study of ritual, uncovering the causal mechanisms driving this universal aspect of human behavior. With growing interest in the psychology of ritual, this article provides an organizing framework to understand recent empirical work from social psychology, cognitive science, anthropology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience. Our framework focuses on three primary regulatory functions of rituals: regulation of (a) emotions, (b) performance goal states, and (c) social connection. We examine the possible mechanisms underlying each function by considering the bottom-up processes that emerge from the physical features of rituals and top-down processes that emerge from the psychological meaning of rituals. Our framework, by appreciating the value of psychological theory, generates novel predictions and enriches our understanding of ritual and human behavior more broadly.”

Partisan Innumeracy

In his memoir, China in Ten Words, writer Yu Hua recalled an event following the end of the cultural revolution. Literature had been banned for many years but the memory of its joys had lingered in much of the population. Hua’s formative years had been during the intellectually desiccated period. Emerging from a time when being seen with any book other than officially sanctioned volumes of or about Chairman Mao could have grave consequences, he and many others craved stories featuring relatable human characters and situations.

Eventually China loosened its intellectual restrictions and the word that bookstores would be opening spread like a prairie fire. Hua tells of a local bookstore that announced it would distribute coupons for two books each to the first few customers to come to the shop’s opening. Hua rose before dawn and was dismayed to find several hundred people already in line, many of whom had been in line all night.

To occupy themselves those waiting speculated on how many coupons the shop owner would hand out. The speculations fell into three general groups. Those who’d gotten in line the day prior were sure their proaction would be rewarded with coupons. Those who arrived later and comprised the middle of the line agreed among themselves there would be more coupons for such obviously high-quality people who’d been wise enough to arrive before the deadbeats behind them. Those like Hua, farther back in the line, reached a consensus there would be enough coupons for them. After all, all of them were clearly quality people for having the foresight and diligence to arrive so early. Hilariously, each person’s assessment derived not from any objective assessment, such as estimating the number of books visible through the shop window, but rather on an emotional assessment of how deserving they were for making the effort to be in the line and, tellingly, how undeserving those farther back in the line were, considering they were comparative slackers. When the shop door opened and the actual number of coupons—50—was announced, persons one through 50 smugly congratulated themselves while the remainders moaned and cursed. Person 51 felt auspiciously unlucky and the number ’51’ became shorthand for unlucky throughout the town.

It’s entertaining to poke fun at the sort of irrational innumeracy the Chinese villagers displayed but it’s a universal flaw in human thinking. Our estimates and judgments of others’ estimates and judgments skew sharply in keeping with our sense of identity. Logically, our sense of who we are, which involves ongoing comparisons of ourselves with others, is a psychological matter that has no bearing on quantifiable facts about the world.

Take the results of a recent Ipsos/Axios survey in which American’s belief in whether the reported number of COVID-19 deaths was accurate, under-reported, or excessive. Beliefs closely aligned with political perspectives (which are primarily sociological and psychological, not fact oriented). This does not mean objective facts cannot align with a group’s position on a matter. It means such alignment often has less to do with a group’s objectivity or rationality than with how convenient the facts are to a group’s claims about what is real or important.

As for a more facts-based approach to assessing COVID-19 related death counts, the article linked in the preceding paragraph provides objective reasons for why an undercounting scenario is likely:

  • Insufficient testing obscures many COVID-19 deaths.
  • Several states’ death rates are significantly higher than statistics for other causes would suggest, and are still increasing.

What’s important to most people, however, is not recognizing accurate facts or more valid reasoning but feeling they are true to their in-groups’ values and self-definition.

Darwinian domain-generality

Subtitle: The role of evolutionary psychology in the modularity debate. MA thesis (2017) by Michael Lundie, Georgia State University. The abstract:

“Evolutionary Psychology (EP) tends to be associated with a Massively Modular (MM) cognitive architecture. I argue that EP favors a non-MM cognitive architecture. The main point of dispute is whether central cognition, such as abstract reasoning, exhibits domain-general properties. Partisans of EP argue that domain-specific modules govern central cognition, for it is unclear how the cognitive mind could have evolved domain-generality. In response, I defend a distinction between exogenous and endogenous selection pressures, according to which exogenous pressures tend to select for domain-specificity, whereas the latter, endogenous pressures, select in favor of domain-generality. I draw on models from brain network theory to motivate this distinction, and also to establish that a domain-general, non-MM cognitive architecture is the more parsimonious adaptive solution to endogenous pressures.”

The geometry of space

Following up on this cogsci article, this new article in Nautilus supports the previous work about how spatial motor schemas extend into abstract conceptual mapping. Excerpts:

“We, unlike our computers, represent information in geometrical space.[…] The brain represents concepts in the same way that it represents space and your location, by using the same neural circuitry for the brain’s ‘inner GPS.’ […] The hippocampus’ place and grid cells, in other words, map not only physical space but conceptual space. It appears that our representation of objects and concepts is very tightly linked with our representation of space.”

“One of the ways these cognitive spaces can benefit our behavior is when we encounter something we have never seen before. Based on the features of the new object we can position it in our cognitive space. We can then use our old knowledge to infer how to behave in this novel situation. […] Cognitive spaces are a domain-general format for human thinking, an overarching framework.”

General and specific-domain contributions to creativity

From this article in Europe’s Journal of Psychology (2016).

“The general objective of this study was to reexamine two views of creativity, one positing that there is a general creative capacity or talent and the other that creativity is domain-specific.  […] Multiple regressions uncovered particular relationships consistent with the view that creativity has both general and domain-specific contributions. Limitations, such as the focus on one domain, and future directions are discussed.”

Also see comments.

COVID-19 (Average) vs Other Causes of Death (Actual) in the U.S. – Animated Data Graph

Source: Covid vs. US Daily Average Cause of Death, Robert Martin on 8 Apr 2020

For those still saying influenza is a much bigger killer than COVID-19 (SARS-COV-2), the numbers don’t support that argument, especially considering there are many deaths that strongly appear to be due to COVID-19 that are not reported as such because the deceased are not tested. The animation conveys the speed with which an exponentially increasing infection rate overtakes other, relatively linear rates of expansion.

What is Lost During Online Meetings?

Norm Friesen, Professor of Educational Technology at Boise State University reports on his research into the differences in how we experience web-based versus face-to-face (F2F) meetings. The main finding are

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Looking askance
  • Feeling watched
  • Squelching / talking over others

Each of these factors results from limitations imposed by communications technologies. We manage to work with or around them but they can contribute to a sense of web-based meetings being somehow not-quite-right or not as comfortable as F2F interactions.

Friesen sees no way current technologies can fully remediate virtual meetings’ “lack the ‘mutual enfolding’ of the senses that, as Merleau-Ponty knew, comes with meeting in the flesh.”

How the Black Death Radically Changed the Course of History

link.medium.com/YRFzoB3Xr5

This article is relevant to our recent discussions and Zak Stein’s (see Edward’s recent post) suggestion that great destabilizing events open gaps in which new structures can supplant older, disintegrating systems–with the inherent risks and opportunities.

Albuquerque Brain, Mind, and Artificial Intelligence Discussion Group