Faulty Thinking

I have found (2011!) another source of faulty thinking items  at http://youarenotsosmart.com/

And now to notice how long it has been since I last posted here (October 2011) and when I intended, but did not do any work on summarising! (May 2009).

Summarising is so tough.

My recent resolve to work weekly on a haiku poem requires me to do some of that summary overview thinking … so we will see if discipline in that area proves to be productive for 2013.

Metaphor, some personal history

When I was a senior school student of English Literature (circa 1961/2), one insight stood out for me – irony, in Shelley’s Ozymandias.

As far as I can remember, that was the first time my perception of learning, in Eng Lit, went beyond ‘learning the facts’.

Yes, I had learnt that ‘metaphor’ is a form of speech, and is when one thing is claimed to be another, as in ‘The moon was a ghostly galleon …’; compared with simile which used ‘as’ or ‘like’ to preface the claim.

I have met up again with ‘metaphor’, and now much later.  Jack Mezirow speaks of metaphor being an indicator of the kind of reflective work/thinking that conveys the potential to move a person’s meaning perspective (what he calls ‘transformative’), or provides evidence of such a shift (p.219).

I have been used to the idea of ‘analogy’ and that kind of thinking being helpful for creative theorising since reading of Kekule’s snake, and the benzene ring (probably Asimov, probably about 1960).

Now I am understanding metaphor, and that kind of thinking, to be related to abduction, as distinct from deduction and induction.

The process of comparison, so vital to ‘research’ and working with ‘findings’, to manage lots of data, is part of this older understanding of how an educated person can use language, and so and more ‘creatively’.

In my thesis (1999-2005) I worked some more with Gregory Bateson’s idea of the meta- … meta-cognition, meta-communication, the second-level process of thinking about thinking, communicating about communication etc.

So what is the meta-4? (as per punning) … to help us think and to communicate our thinking …

How important is it? It seems to me that irony, paradox, truth hidden in the meaning of words, is something that will be with me all my life.  Whether  I can make something more of this understanding is another matter; let alone considering how I make something more of this …

Metaphor and meta-process – what’s a meta-4?

Before I grow much older, I want to try and capture where my thinking is at.

I am engaging with Werner Ulrich’s JRP article from 2006, again, and from the present turn in my hermeneutical spiral.

And Stephen Downes’ inputs about PLEs is paying off here too.

As I read Werner’s comments about the ‘discursive turn’, I am noting

it tends to divert the attention of researchers away from the need to develop new skills of critical argumentation beyond those of quantitative analysis and, at the same time, to revise their notion of professional competence accordingly[dla1] .

[dla1]Connects with my experience of ‘analysis’ eg from Dunn’s policy analysis experience – analysis is not the only way to address the complex; creative synthesis, eg via metaphor, is another (and if my understanding, of all language being metaphoric, holds water, then language is /has always been our next most primary tool for /of inquiry, ie before counting, which involves ‘naming’ quantities!); so I am agreeing with Ulrich on the discursive critique approach, amongst consenting and informed and competent peers, but also going another step to a meta- metaphor – the metaphor of metaphor.

I have also made abductive connections with the reference to Don Quixote and tilting at windmills.

Another point of connection is with

Popper’s empiricist framework of science theory [dla1] apparently did not allow him to consider–and take seriously–sources of critique other than those of experimental science.

[dla1]This is where I understand myself to be still at, as a first default …

I need to remember: no grand theories; and Model II and Model I can be held by the one person, and perhaps held in tension like most living paradoxes.

Is the next grand theory that of paradox?

And earlier still, I noted, and here is the Downes process coming into play,:

Popper agreed with Neurath that there is no such thing as a direct access to empirical phenomena that would not be mediated through theoretical expectations and interpretations[DLA1] .

[DLA1]Any word in language is a theoretical expectation and interpretation .. the map is not the territory.

Hence critique of ‘naming’.

Where did I read about that recently?  About a teacher of observation and students and fish .. and making them keep on observing … Not in the apologetics item.

Perhaps one of the Google Reader ones … no apparently

Perhaps one of Giorgio’s links … drawn a blank there too???

In bed I thought that perhaps checking my internet behaviour might point to a recent web page where this might be.  Today 21/2 I cannot check that because the desktop is ‘down’.  The during the night dreaming was involving staff at UoW FoE, both Sue’s, and confusion about my role there.  Now with the desktop down, and other responsibilities of documentation having first priority, the working on that dreaming idea has escaped me.

Found it this morning 21/2 by being patient with Anecdote from Reader. The reference is http://www.anecdote.com.au/archives/2010/02/keeping_richnes.html.

Brainstorming, Chunking, Clustering and Clouds

One of the tools of creative problem solving, useful in group work, including in dispute resolution, involves brainstorming – gathering, unevaluated, ideas associated with the presenting problem, from a group of people.  One of the processes of such braintorming is the stimulation of associated words and ideas gathered into such words.  Brainstorming is a bit like de Bono’s green hat work, with a dash of yellow hat work.

One of Lewin‘s key suggestions for analysis of non-trivial amounts of ethnographic description required for the kind of qualitative research that is involved in observing and understanding social situations, is something akin to  ‘chunking‘: bringing together, under a single term, a constellation of factors, eg ‘gatekeeper’ for the kinds of activities a member of a community/group undertakes to manage the flow of information into and out from the community/group. It involves the development of a metaphor.(‘Topological’ mapping is another of Lewin’s suggestions.) (See Argyris, 1993 Knowledge for Action, p.8-10)

As I was considering the task of deciding categories, for a non-native English speaker, as part of the process of handling a lot of data, I noted

To what extent might recognising commonalities of categories be related to language comprehension?  To what extent is what I am doing related to my propensity for convergence by abstraction – going, I think, to a ‘broader’ level of inclusivity?   Others’ clouds and clusters work with words.

Now I find that ‘clustering’ is a technical term, with the propensity for use with computers, reminding me that when I was using NUD.IST for my data analysis, I was amused to find this qualitative analysis tool reporting results in a numeric form, as if recurrence was most significant.

In reading someone else’s writing for understanding, for meaning-making there are two sets of understandings and associations of words in play: the reader’s set, and the writer’s set.  No wonder miscommunication happens.

In thesis work, when clarity of communication is so vital, no wonder time and precious words are spent on working with some key definitions.

When I take offense/challenge

In one of my challenges of another’s drafting was in a methodology chapter, when they were describing the process of thematic analysis, and said

The tentative themes were then categorized according to the research questions to reduce redundancy. This categorizing technique helped to make salient the points that the interviewees wanted to emphasize. One of the refining techniques in the process of interview analysis was comparing two interviews only to show similarities and differences between two teacher participants so that common themes and contrasts could be clearly identified.

I reacted badly to ‘This categorizing technique helped to make salient the points …’

My first reaction was ‘what does ‘salient’ mean?’ – I don’t know, without checking, what it means, how come this non-native English language speaker is using it?

Then I remembered: when I was working with my thesis drafting, and working intensively with the literature, I found my writing ‘mimicking’ the vocabulary of the writers I was reading.  At the time, I shared, with a peer, my complaint with myself over this process, with: “whose thesis/ thinking is this anyway?”

One of my key perceptions of what science teaching (to school certificate learners, undertaking compulsory studies) involved, was that one aspect of the task is to teach vocabulary (eg carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, fibre: what they are; why and how they are different; and, then, what is the value of knowing this – how does it apply to an understanding of good nutrition?).

Similarly, I am seeing thesis studies being about (a) self-directed learning; and (b) functional literacy.

Research, for a learner, is going into the unknown.  In the first instance it is an unknown to them, but may well be known by the ‘field’.  Consequently, one of the roles of the literature review is to take this novice into the field, and to find out what the field already knows about the phenomenon being explored.  Then, if the learner still has an unresolved question, the next step is to design the investigation and take themselves into that new territory, to explore it, and to come back and tell the story (write the report).

The thesis is then the evidence of managing that self-directed study, and developing the functional literacy involved in reporting findings back to the field.  Part of the functional literacy task is to learn the privileged vocabulary of the field.  Part of the functional literacy task is to learn how to be able to use that vocabulary, accurately and effectively, and to construct a report, for the field (peer review), demonstrating the achievement of certain standards of (a) data collection, (b) data analysis, (c) argument development and maintenance while retaining an appropriately open and ‘critical’ stance of one’s own work as well as the work of others.

My second reaction to ‘make salient’ was with the combination, and the ‘implicit’, for me, in the term ‘make’.  I was reading this as a forcing process and by (me as) the analyst.

So, was the combination ‘make salient’ an expression of the non-native English language writer, or was it how a writer in the field of methodology had expressed it, which this learner, like me, was finding infiltrating their own native expressions as they worked at becoming an initiate of the field?

And my reaction to ‘make salient’?… Was it my tendency to try and disown bias?  Was it me trying to give the impression of ‘objectivity’ when, in data analysis, particularly,  it is the person of the researcher who is doing the ‘making sense’ of what is there, is doing the choosing of the category tag, etc?

So now, how  do I understand the objectivity/subjectivity divide?

In research there is no capacity to separate the researcher (subject) from the research (object).  Claims that this happens/ can happen are only claims.

And, further, when I am brought up against this issue, in drafting that is dealing with Engestrom’s Activity System Model (ex Leont’ev, ex Vygotsky), [and something which is new to me], how do I now understand how the ASM is seeing subject-object and via a mediating tool like language?

Language and creativity

Now to explain, in part, the other post.

In amongst my list of curiosities about learning is what and how we learn before we have what becomes our native language.

For me, it is logical that we do learn before we have recognisable and expressible language skills, and because we do learn that skill: the ability to communicate in our native language.

Gardner, in his preface to Frames of Mind (1983), comments:

‘Constraints research has revealed that, by the end of early childhood, youngsters have developed powerful and already entrenched theories about their immediate world: the world of physical objects and forces; the world of living entities; the world of human beings, including their minds.  Surprisingly, and in contradiction to the claims of the great developmentalist Jean Piaget (Mussen and Kessen 1983), these naive ‘conceptions’ and ‘theories’ prove difficult to alter, despite years of schooling.  And so it often happens that the ‘mind of the five-year-old’ ends up unaffected by the experiences of school. … At first blush, this diagnosis would appear to sound a death knell for formal education.  It is hard enough to teach to one intelligence; what if there are seven?  It is hard enough to teache even when anything can be taught; what to do if there are distinct limits and strong constraints on human cognition and learning? (p.xxii-xxiii)

So we learn our native language.

And, now, I am engaged in helping people work in a language which is not their native language, with writing for thesis purposes.

In the end, a thesis is an argument substantiating a claim.  The writing involves a protocol of exposing the substance of the claim: the grounds, the warrants, the backing, the qualifications and the rebuttals (as Toulmin puts it).

As I understand it, one of the protocols of western/occidental argument construction [that moves beyond ‘information’ (‘conveying the facts’) to a synthesis (that, in my case, prefers some sort of explanatory theory)] involves defining categories, and includes constructing the bounds of new categories and categories of conceptualisations, and sometimes by what is called nominalisation – making nouns out of verbs, or abstractions, or higher levels of generalisation.

That is to say, as far as I can express it, how we think, in the so-called 21st century world, has a high degree of reliance on ‘literacy’ – how we manage and extend our learning of language.

But what if this process of thinking, which privileges the ‘big picture’, is unbalanced, and to the extent that it is unbalanced, is faulty?

Do people who learn in another culture, with another kind of language, who may, by that culture and language, privilege ‘attention to detail’, and have other ways of managing detail and synthesising from it, both think differently and have other ways of problem solving, and ways which might help us deal with the complexity of the change wrought in our environment from the hegemony that has permitted virtually unrestrained exploitation of natural resources?

If so, does training them to think and express themselves, in compliance to the western/occidental mode, risk destroying that alternative?

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences ( 2nd ed.). London: HarperCollins.

Toulmin, S., Rieke, R., & Janik, A. (1984). An Introduction to Reasoning ( 2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan.

Quote of the week, the month, the year …?

Yes, he is touting his most recent fiction publication. Here is the bit from his essay in the Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum 25-26 July, 2009.

Here’s a bit of unashamedly subjective truth: when I undertake social analysis, I constantly wrestle with doubts about the authenticity of what I am doing.  Not the validity of the statistics, nor the accuracy of my reporting of what people say; that’s easy to get right.  But the account of what’s really going on; whether it means anything much; how it might illuminate our understanding of human experience.  And if research can’t do that, what’s the point of it?  Survey piled upon survey doesn’t get us any closer to the truth if people have simply been mouthing plausible-sounding tosh in response to misguided inquiries that look for rational responses to questions better left unasked.  .. – Hugh Mackay (Reputable Australian social researcher and commentator.)

This goes well with his item, earlier, about the poetic, and qualitative and quantitative research. (Mackay, H. (1999). Words that are lovely, dark, and deep. Sydney Morning Herald, Spectrum(4 September 1999), 22s.)
It also links in with what I noticed when reading Lombard and Ditton, and about their introductory remarks to the effect that the artists, dramatists, and designers of current forms of ‘presence’ in intermediary media, make design decisions ‘by trial and error, lore, and “seat of the pants” exploration’.  My response was to take exception to what I read as this dismissal, since the very low tech form of paper and ink and literary authorship has been able to generate a sense of presence of fictional characters, and virtual but realistic places, milieus, and consistent interactions, for generations.

Lombard, M. and T. Ditton (1997). “At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence.” Journal of Computer Mediated Communication 3(2).


Yet another one from of Cognitive Edge, and a connection to another blog I am following (yes, now that I have time and cognitive space to catch up with the latter part of this week, I can make connections)

It demonstrates that empathy follows from interaction. They were not really talking about these examples per se, but about military matters. However the anecdotal material shone through. Some of it had been reported up, but was reduced by mediation and summarisation. It was the voice of the person that made the story powerful. My response to this (and I hope to do something here) was that these very anecdotes need to be gathered and distributed. ….

However the focus of many in the group was on the more convention, what is the objective, what is measured, how do we achieve it. A focus on training the individuals rather than increasing human interaction and allowing learning to emerge. In effect to let the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things speak to power.

[my emphases .. given my interest in story-and-mind /Gregory Bateson, and practice knowledge]

Anecdote is running a story week next week .. it will be interesting to watch

Faulty thinking collection

at Cognitive Edge has identified a useful set of cognition hazards

  • contrast effect
  • sunk-cost effect
  • out-group homogeneity
  • Actor-observer contrasts
  • self-confirmation
  • confirmity
  • overconfident

These connect with Ross Gittins’ recent expose (Sydney Morning Herald 07/04/2007),

  • representative bias
  • availability bias
  • hindsight bias
  • confirmation bias
  • self-serving bias

and with my earlier, thesis-based collection

Now to see if I can summarise, synthesise and consolidate ….

Kipling’s six servants

One of the reflective structures I offer to folk proposing to work with their reflections is Kipling’s Six Servants …


I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

[Follows ‘The Elephant’s Child’ in Just-So Stories]

Today, following some work mentoring a post graduate student, I started to form a matrix of the six servants ..

and to look at the combinations: who-when; when-who; what-why; why-what; …

and the META items who-who; what-what, why-why

and think about ontology, epistemology, methodology, teleology, axiology, validity tests, objectivity/subjectivity; replicability, generalisability, universality/particularity, context, time and place, purpose and reason – a fascinating exercise.

When I have played some more, and found out how to present a table here I will report back