Tuesday, 16 September 2008

CCK08 - what is knowledge, where is the ethics and can it keep humanity together?

This week is the second week of the massive online course CCK08. This week is focusing on ‘What is knowledge’. I must say that the articles I absorbed today really intrigued me and gave me a better understanding (or at least the thought of better understanding).

I will copy parts of both articles, just to enable you to follow my own thoughts a bit if you have not read the articles (yet). Another reason is that if in the future the links to the articles get severed, I will still be able to reconstruct (part) of my thoughts with this copied information. But I if you are interested in the philosophy of knowledge the articles are a delightful read.

My thoughts will be on

  • Connective knowledge has gotten humanity to where it is today
  • In an increasingly specialized world connective knowledge can keep humanity together
  • Freely gathered and promoted connective knowledge risks extreme theories reaching a bigger public

In the article ‘introduction to connective knowledge’ Stephen Downes leads the readers towards three conclusions to give a framework for future discussions on what knowledge is:

There are three types of knowledge:

  • Of the senses (empirical)
  • Of quantity (rationalist)
  • Of connections (connective)

Connective knowledge is both:

  • Knowledge OF networks in the world
  • Knowledge obtained BY networks

Active participation in the network:

  • As a node in the network, by participating in society
  • As a whole network, by perceiving with the brain (the neural network)

Reflective participation in the network

  • By observing society as a whole
  • By reflecting on our mental states and processes

My thoughts invoked by reading this article

First of all this evolution of many brains making knowledge seems very natural to me as the same thing happens in nature already (most quoted species: ants), so I am happy to read a simple framework to get to this point.

Connective knowledge has gotten humanity to where it is today

After reading this (accessible) article I did get visions of connective knowledge building throughout human history. In a way history has always used connective knowledge and has build upon it as soon as enough people were curious enough to take it into consideration and replicating it. It is only because Darwin’s knowledge got out, got discussed, was first accepted by a few and got picked up by a growing number of scientists, that Darwin’s theory on the Origin of Species began to be seen as common ground. So in a way, because of several networks and their dynamics knowledge was picked up, tested through discussions and taken in as ‘solid knowledge’.

But not all knowledge gets appreciated from the beginning and sometimes very valuable knowledge gets overlooked thus stopping further evolution of that knowledge. (example: only a couple of years ago a lost (thought lost) manuscript of Archimedes (the so called Method) was found in Paris. The manuscript was overwritten by religious texts, just because at the time those religious texts seemed more important than Archimedes’s. After deciphering parts of the manuscript scientists found that Archimedes put down essential modern mathematical proves that are now at the basis of big inventions. Because Archimedes’s knowledge was ‘lost’ and history was focusing on different types of knowledge, mathematical (and scientific) knowledge was (temporarily stopped)).

So although I think connective knowledge gathering seems to have been around forever, it does not persé solve the problem of knowledge being lost or not being valued to the potential it has.

If you are interested in the Archimedes documentary regarding this manuscript (but beware there are almost no links to the actual text that Archimedes wrote down in his Method, look here)

In an increasingly specialized world connective knowledge can keep humanity together
As connectivity looks at society as a whole as well as connections between information, it can be holistic. In this capacity it can add to interdisciplinary understanding and find mutual evolutions or parallel discussions. This holistic and connected knowledge ability does speak to my imagination, because it could bring all the specialist domains together again (and I believe that building bridges between disciplines always results in new ideas). But could this result in the need for new professions? Not specialists in the classical sense, but specialists in superficial knowledge gathering. People that only know the basics, but of different disciplines and these people could than be knowledge bridge builders. I would like that type of profession

Now for the second article by Dave Cormier that can be downloaded for free (you need to register for the journal, but registering is also for free) and talks about the rhizomatic knowledge.

Cormier concludes “The rhizomatic viewpoint (…) suggests that a distributed negotiation of knowledge can allow a community of people to legitimize the work they are doing among themselves and for each member of the group, the rhizomatic model dispenses with the need for external validation of knowledge, either by an expert or by a constructed curriculum. Knowledge can again be judged by the old standards of "I can" and "I recognize." If a given bit of information is recognized as useful to the community or proves itself able to do something, it can be counted as knowledge. The community, then, has the power to create knowledge within a given context and leave that knowledge as a new node connected to the rest of the network.

Indeed, the members themselves will connect the node to the larger network. Most people are members of several communities—acting as core members in some, carrying more weight and engaging more extensively in the discussion, while offering more casual contributions in others, reaping knowledge from more involved members (Cormier 2007). This is the new reality. Knowledge seekers in cutting-edge fields are increasingly finding that ongoing appraisal of new developments is most effectively achieved through the participatory and negotiated experience of rhizomatic community engagement. Through involvement in multiple communities where new information is being assimilated and tested, educators can begin to apprehend the moving target that is knowledge in the modern learning environment.”

Note: This article was originally published in Innovate (http://www.innovateonline.info/) as: Cormier, D. 2008. Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum. Innovate 4 (5). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=550 (accessed September 16, 2008). The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher, The Fischler School of Education and Human Services at Nova Southeastern University.

The thoughts that came to my mind
Freely gathered and promoted connective knowledge risks extreme theories reaching a bigger public

I like the rhizomatic viewpoint a lot because I have been gathering knowledge in this way on an informal basis, but I have one big questionmark. What if this leads to big parts of the population indulging in extreme theories without ever having to be accounted for these extreme theories? (do not get me wrong, I am for complete freedom of speech, because I believe in discussing with words to come to a better understanding… but).

In the rhizoom viewpoint the conclusion indicates that “if a given bit of information is recognized as useful to the community or proves itself able to do something, it can be counted as knowledge”, that is okay but what about the ethical part of knowledge? If collaboration leads to stronger knowledge, and knowledge exists, than who is to stop knowledge that badly affects people?

I just wonder how to you insert ethics in this rhizomatic viewpoint?

(Look here for my other posts related to CCK08).

‘Cartoon by Nick D Kim, nearingzero.net. Used by permission.'