Friday, July 30, 2004

Inspirational Perturbations 

This overview of Vygotsky’s vision of psychological development in a must for those interested by social learning theories. It describes psychological development as being essentially the progressive alteration of primitive (animal) functions by exposure to a social environment. According to Vygotsky, around the age of 7 there is almost nothing left of our animality and we become a pure social construct.

“Development of thinking has a central, key, decisive significance for all the other functions and processes. We cannot express more clearly or tersely the leading role of intellectual development in relation to the whole personality of the adolescent and to all of his mental functions other than to say that acquiring the function of forming concepts is the principal and central link in all the changes that occur in the psychology of the adolescent. All other links in this chain, all other special functions, are intellectualized, reformed, and reconstructed under the influence of these crucial successes that the thinking of the adolescent achieves... Lower or elementary functions, being processes that are more primitive, earlier, simpler, and independent of concepts in genetic, functional, and structural relations, are reconstructed on a new basis when influenced by thinking in concepts and they are included as component parts, as subordinate stages, into new, complex combinations created by thinking on the basis of concepts, and finally under the influence of thinking, foundations of the personality and world view of the adolescent are laid down”
I believe that most of the time we are desperately trying to adapt to our social environment. The problem is that one's social environment is a constantly moving interpretation. This situation produces an urge to adapt. We are then relentlessly chasing a projection of the place we think we should occupy in our own personal social environment. Insecurity is probably the driving motivational force in learning. Learning is then a desperate attempt to go back in the comfort zone.

Is security in fact a barrier to learning? It might explain why I never liked recommendation systems such as Amazon’s. If we are proposed only with things that we like, we might end up staying in that comfort zone where learning is less likely to occur.

Via OLDaily

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Tomorrow's workplace 

Gautam Ghosh’s discussion of the future of organizations raises some fundamental issues about how individuals will adapt to the way current trends in business are shaping tomorrow’s workplace. Using a movie industry analogy, he describes how “superstars would dominate the market and command huge salaries while the others would be essentially struggling to survive. I share his concern. I described the issue in my own terms. I like to call superstars the “valued” and the others the “non-valued”.

The stress created by international competition is extremely hard to handle even for corporations. Can we, as individuals, adapt to being put under the same pressure? Via Harold

Friday, July 23, 2004

Emergence as a Collective Experience  

People are usually comfortable with the idea that emergent learning is about learning through social interaction. However Michael Feldstein’s reflection on Steven Johnson’s book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software puts an interesting and unconventional twist to the concept. Learning emerging from social interaction is collectively learned, i.e. the individual learning is almost insignificant. Colonies of ants exemplify quite well how a summation of “dumb” individual contributions can produce an intelligent behavior.
It really makes sense to me. When we look closely at how we act in our daily lives, we can notice that we are essentially adapting to what our neighbors (people we interact with) are doing. This co-evolution of behaviors is almost unnoticeable at the individual level but is indeed oriented towards finding one’s place in a social environment in order to maximize one’s contribution to that same environment.
Another example is fish banks. It only takes one fish to detect the presence of a predator for the entire bank to change direction in a second. Of course, not every fish is aware of the predator’s presence. Most of them just instinctively follow their neighbors, which is still a collectively coherent and intelligent reaction to a perturbation.

Our Western individualism makes it difficult for us to “give up” the conviction that we learn individually to some abstract collective learning. We certainly don’t know enough about societal learning. Via OLDaily

Monday, July 19, 2004

Censorship or Public Safety?  

During my last trip to Quebec City, a local radio station’s broadcasting license was cancelled by the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission). According to the CRTC, CHOI Radio X: “has been the subject of numerous complaints with respect to the conduct of the hosts and the spoken word content that is aired, including offensive comments, personal attacks and harassment”.
The decision is unprecedented in that it is the first time in Canada’s history that a radio station’s broadcasting license is cancelled because of the nature of comments made by its hosts. All other cancellations were caused by non-respect of language constraints in musical programs. As you can imagine, the story has sparked a passionate debate around censorship and freedom of speech in Canada.
My opinion is that a very effective censorship is to decide to tune in another station when we don’t like what we hear. We can think that if people were all well informed and able to make their own opinions, we would not need a regulation commission such as the CRTC to “protect us from bad influence”.
I have listened CHOI several times during the last years because they are playing music that I like. I have to admit that most of their hosts are either vulgar or stupid, which still doesn’t keep them from making insightful comments from time to time. So my opinion is that if people were able to make their own opinions, CHOI would in fact be creating some diversity. On the other hand, it would disappear if it were being too offensive. However, the reality is that CHOI is Quebec City’s most popular radio station and that a lot of people identify and believe to what is being said by Jeff Filion, André Arthur and the likes. That includes their occasional racist, sexist and offensive comments.

CRTC is indeed a censorship organization, and it is unfortunately still necessary for those who can’t make by themselves an opinion they can call their own.

I’m back!  

Sorry for this long period of inactivity. I had to go to Quebec City as my father was fighting for his life after a heart attack. I also took my vacations and decided to spend time with my wife and kids.

It was weird being out of the loop for such a long time. In the coming days I’ll try to catch up with the news and blog some thoughts I had while resting.

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