As I look upon layer on layer of snow, I long to run my hands through the warm spring dirt, pulling out weeds and nurturing the plants I want to flourish. One weed I’ve fought with during much of my grown life has been bittersweet. The long woody orange roots seem to go on and on, branching here and there, and if you don’t get all of it, it comes back with a vengeance.
It has been a long day, and again, my time to write is limited. So, I’m writing about some other roots, roots of thoughts. The MOOCs I was participating in have ended, and I’m looking for some new MOOCs to participate in. In the MOOCs about teaching with Moodle, I started exploring Connectivism. So, I thought it would be interesting to see if there are any MOOCs about Connectivism. Instead, I found an article on Connectivist MOOCs
This lead me to Rhizomatic Learning – A Big Forking Course, and I had an interesting connection. I don’t remember how I first stumbled upon Dave Cornier and his work on Rhizomatic Learning, but it has been a topic I’ve been meaning to explore. It looks like all of this may come together in a MOOC towards the end of the month.
Rhizomatic learning is a way of thinking about learning based on ideas described by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in a thousand plateaus.
The connection becomes more complicated. Guattari was an analysand of Lacan. I’ve long been interested in Lacan and from that Deleuze and Guattari. Now, to tie it all together into where groups, education, psychology and a whole bunch of other stuff meet.
I stand over the sink, doing the dishes. The leftovers have been put into containers that will be brought to work for lunch tomorrow. The kitchen is almost clean. Outside, the cold snows blows as the most recent storm abates. The storms, the dishes; it’s all so tedious.
On Facebook, the other day, one of my neighbors asked if anyone knew the story of the two homeless men that often stand at the end of the parkway ramp asking for money. I’ve seen them. I’ve given them money, but I don’t know their stories.
A lively discussion breaks out in the comments. All of the stereotypes come out. They’re probably drug addicts, part of a gang, too lazy to do real work. Some suggest that you shouldn’t give them money, it just enables them and doesn’t fix anything. Others bring more nuance and compassion.
I relate the story of a church retreat I was at last fall where the topic of giving to homeless people came up. One person expressed concern about giving money to people asking on the street. How do we know that they won't just use it for things that are not good for them?
Yet it was pointed out that God gives blessing to all of us, continually, even though we, too often, don't use God's blessings in ways that are good for us. Likewise, we should give to those that ask of us, even when we don't know if they will use it for their benefit each time.
Many people shared ideas about how to help, with organizations like Partnership for Strong Communities, Columbus House, soup kitchens and various church groups.
Yet the discussion turned nasty as people call other people judgmental and condescending. There is a lot of passion around this subject. Perhaps, some of it revolves around the idea of, “there, but for the grace of God, go I”, around the idea that any of us are just one catastrophe away from being homeless ourselves.
I set down another pot to dry and look outside. The dishes, the snow, are all tedious, but how much more tedious would it be to be standing outside in this storm, unsure what you will eat or where you will sleep tomorrow.
Every December, they have a memorial service for homeless men and women that have died over the past year, and a couple of these services have inspired powerful blog posts.
I finish the dishes and sit down to write. On the couch next me the dog sleeps. In the family room, my wife watches some television show, and my daughter is off in her bedroom being a teenager. Our stomachs are full, we are warm and dry, and I even know what I’m having for lunch tomorrow.
It is late. There are a bunch of tasks I need to complete, before I can head off to bed, and the computer is running very slowly. In the news are more reports of schools being closed, but it doesn’t appear as if the weather has gotten bad here yet.
I walked a bit this weekend. It was good to get out and get some exercise. Yet I did not sleep well. My sleep patterns are out of whack. There was the annual meeting at church today which also pushed my schedule out of whack. There was a funeral today that I couldn’t attend, so I acknowledge the passing silently, alone.
I glance again at the progress bar on my computer. 42%. The animals are sleeping at various places around the living room. I glance back at the progress bar, knowing that a watch pot never boils.
The words of Virginia Woolf, in To The Lighthouse come to me.
“Leaving on a Jet Plane” performed by Peter, Paul and Mary is playing on Pandora. It is their selection for what I might like. Bruce Jenner, Brian Williams and a 50 foot sculpture of Darth Vader at the Sapporo Snow Festival are trending on Facebook. Jenner and Williams are also trending on Twitter, along with a bunch of things I’m not following. Also trending on Twitter is #msc2015, the Munich Security Conference.
The technological singularity is the hypothesis that accelerating progress in technologies will cause a runaway effect wherein artificial intelligence will exceed human intellectual capacity and control, thus radically changing civilization in an event called the singularity. Because the capabilities of such an intelligence may be impossible for a human to comprehend, the technological singularity is an occurrence beyond which events may become unpredictable, unfavorable, or even unfathomable.
Have we reached the technological singularity? Are these snapshots of what is now trending in social media glimpses into some artificial intelligence? After all, besides all those algorithms looking for what is trending or of interest to us, Watson is reading what we write online.
Yes, perhaps as Wikipedia says in its definition of the technological singularity, “unfathomable”.
So, let me present a way to think about the technological singularity. It grew out of my interest in the work of Wilfred Bion and Group Relations combined with some work with artificial neural networks back in the nineties.
The internet is a network of networks. If we accept the idea that each one of us is a neural network, then our social networks are networks of neural networks. What keeps this inter-neural-network from having some sort of intelligence?
One of the key things in artificial neural networks is the ability to learn from a process called back propagation. If the predicted results differ from the actual results, the strength of connections between nodes are altered to bring the results closer inline.
Long before the days of Twitter and Facebook, I pondered such a system. How could you get individuals, nodes in this inter-neural-network, to modify the strength of their links? Now, Facebook has addressed this. You can like, comment on, or share posts, strengthening the links. Or, you can unfriend someone. The network is evolving.
How is this inter-neural-network shaping us, changing us? How can we understand it? To what extent can we understand it?
It is evolving. So are my thoughts. More later…
This evening, the Walt Whitman class I have been taking online comes to an end. As a final exercise, we were encouraged to write a poem in the style of Whitman.
Last night, I went to the opening of "A Body in Fukushima" at Wesleyan. It is a powerful show, that I highly recommend. As I thought about the show, and thought about my assignment for the Whitman class, I thought it would be good to writemy thoughts about the show, al a Whitman.
A Body in Fukushima
Who were you that rode your bike to the train station, now abandoned to the radiation?
Who were you that steamed your rice, in a cooker now too hot with a different type of heat?
Who were you that mended the boats, the boats damaged by the tsunami, the boats that can no longer be repaired?
Who were you that danced by the one ton bags of radioactive dirt or photographed the dancer?
And those of you in years past who helped build the nuclear power plants. You saw Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Did you not worry that those promises of prosperity to your impoverish properties would be empty?
It is all part of a giant dance of survival, the deals we make to escape mind numbing subsistence work. But sometimes, the deals go bad.
Now, the cherry trees, that your ancestors nurtured so lovingly, bloom each spring, but the radiation keeps away the visitors, keeps away the former inhabitants. Their flowers, their smells, their beauty hidden behind the warning signs.
And what can we learn from the photographs? And what will those who come many years hence, after the radiation has decayed, what will they learn?