Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Subject/Object Connection, #cck12, #change11

I want to talk more about defining from the middle-out rather than from the out-in, as this change in vantage changes the relationship between the subject (the defining agent) and the object (the defined agent). And by the way, I want to shift to first-person singular case. I've been using the more inclusive second- and third-persons, but I want to speak only for myself for a bit.

In his tidy little book On Complexity (2008), Morin spends a fair amount of time showing how complex thought restructures the relationship between subject and object, leaving the relationship reflective and reflexive. Morin insists, and I believe, that the past three hundred years of Western thought has worked out of a subject/object dualism that encourages the subject to reduce, disjoin, and simplify the object through scientific analysis and overcoding. This is typical of society's method of defining, for instance. Thus, in defining connectivism, the conventional impulse can be to reduce connectivism to a few essential characteristics that distinguish it from other ideas—especially from those ideas closest to it, such as cognitivism and constructivism—and that leave connectivism simple at best, complicated if necessary, but certainly not complex. I'm working here intentionally with Snowden's Cynefin framework, and relying on Dave Cormier's observation that connectivism, rhizomatic learning, and MOOCs all belong to the complex domain in the Cynefin framework. I haven't thought this next idea through, but I'll say it anyway: all good theory belongs in the complex domain, and as soon as a theory is reduced down through the complicated to the simple, it ceases to be theory and becomes dogma. (I really will have to think on this some more, but it sounds pretty good just now, so I'll leave it; otherwise, I might forget it.)

Through a fairly involved argument which I will not repeat here, Morin insists that as open systems both subject and object are constitutive of each other. "The world is interior to our mind, which is inside the world. … In the same way that as in microphysics, the observer disturbs the object, which disturbs the perception, in the same way the notions of object and subject are profoundly disturbed each by the other: each opens a crack in the other" (26). So is reality in the mind (the subject) or out there (the object)? Well, it's in the dynamic interplay between the two. It's in the connection. It isn't a case of either/or, it's a case of and/and.

So as I define connectivism, connectivism defines me. Moreover, my observations about connectivism change it, which changes my observations (my self), which changes connectivism, and so on. There is always, then, an indeterminism and uncertainty which must be allowed for in my definition from the middle.

This definition from the middle does introduce at least one problematic issue: I am in the middle. This can be construed to say that I am the center of connectivism, or indeed, of the entire Universe. Of course, I am in the middle of the Universe. If it is infinitely expansive one way and infinitesimally shrinking the other way, then I must be in the direct middle. How do I keep such a view from degenerating into an oppressive  narcissism?

Well, two correctives come to mind immediately. First, the Universe and I have a quite recursive and reflexive relationship, and it defines me as much as, if not more than, I define it. I am as defined as I am defining. Second, and perhaps more importantly, everyone else is at the direct center of the Universe. Moreover, their lives, activities, and knowledge become part of the Universe that I am in a reflexive relationship with, just as my life, activities, and knowledge are fed back; thus, I must account for their knowledge as an integral part of the Universe I'm trying to know. I may be at the center of the Universe, but the Universe does not revolve about me. I may be at the middle of connectivism, but it does not revolve about me. Rather, my knowledge of connectivism is fed back into the eco-system where it must work out its own salvation among all the other ideas, and those ideas feedback into me to change my ideas, and round and round, in and out, up and down, or in whatever motion I want to envision it.

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