Welcome back everyone,
Do we every really know reality?
Do you remember the video clips of the motocross riders and the bicycle riding where we had a sense of the difference between the spectator view and the lived view? We could stand back and watch the long boarder from a distance, as a spectator. Or we could imagine what the lived experience is. We could try to get closer to the long boarder’s reality.
LISA PETERS – Raw run Alicante 2.0
The following might make the point a bit better. As spectators, we can wonder about the pilot’s reality. But can we really know it?
One of the world’s best aerobatics aircraft pilot Svetlana Kapanina flying the Su-26
In our discussions up to this point, we have considered the importance of the lived experience when we are trying to develop a depth and breadth of understanding. Would it be fair to say that Lisa Peters and Svetlana Kapanina have a depth and breadth of understanding the artifacts they use and control? Probably. Of course you might be quick to point out that the experience is only a part of the understanding. They would also need to know some facts regarding their artifacts — such as those that present themselves in the four causal modality frame. The most extensive breadth and depth of understanding would be a result of having experiences from all three different frames — the causal modalities, the sensory frame, and the context frame. If we take it upon ourselves to be in control of our own education, we will do our best to include all the frames.
If schools are in the business of educating, then good schooling practices incorporate all three frames as well.
You already know about the foundation of time. I want to another important foundations of education and schooling with you in this lesson.
This is the foundation of objectification.
The Foundation of Objectification
What is meant by the foundation of objectification? This is simply another way of say that experiences and our artifacts are objectified — or turned into objects. You might be thinking, but aren’t all our artifacts objects? And that is a good point. However, we don’t always experience things as if they are objects. For example, you wouldn’t pick up a child and prop them up beside a door as a door stop. And you probably don’t treat your pet as if it were an object. And when you are drinking your hot chocolate on a chilly morning, the cup is simply part of your lived experience. You don’t look at your favorite cup as a scientist might when doing a scientific experiment. (Now some of you will notice that as soon as we analyze our artifacts with our frames, we have objectified the artifacts. That’s what analysis does). But this does not stop us from recognizing that we have lived experiences with that which we analyze.
So, you can see that I am getting back to the importance of the lived perspective that I introduced in Week One. We need to include the lived perspective.
The problem we encounter is when we adopt one perspective and forget that there are other perspectives. When we start to give priority to objectified experiences and forget about lived experiences, we have an incomplete narrative.
In many schools, this lived perspective is disregarded. It has been forgotten because of an emphasis on a scientific causal modality (an emphasis on the efficient cause) and an objectification of experience, teachers, and students.
Before we get too far into this, I want to make an important point. The scientific perspective relies on objectification. Science relies on measurement, and measurement relies on objectification. We need to be able to turn things into objects in science. We wouldn’t be able to predict or replicate experiments if we didn’t. So in the case of science — objectification is a good thing.
But is objectification a good thing when we are helping students understand?
Question Set Number Two (Continued)
Question 17: Why is the spectator view important for scientific inquiry?
Let’s explore this objectification now.
Perhaps I should start by saying that when we objectify something, we have, in a sense, taken a step back from it and we look at it in reference to other objects. For example, the lived experience of drinking from a cup is one whereby we might even use the cup without thinking about it. We hold it, we cup in our hands, we raise it to our mouths, tilt the cup, set it down, etc. To objectify the cup we would stand back and observe it from a distance. We would look at it as a spectator. We might note the size (is it big enough to hold the amount of hot chocolate I want to drink?). We might take note of the hardness of the material (will it support my hot chocolate without getting flimsy?).
In schools we often talk as if experiences are somewhat disembodied and that we experience the world from the spectator perspective. We talk of objectified objects that we can see, that we can manipulate, and that we can know. We even talk about students as being objects that we can manipulate. We call it classroom management–the process of ‘dealing with’ or ‘controlling’ things or people–manipulation.
Furthermore, we talk about students having knowledge in their heads. Accumulating information.
The Question Concerning Reality
There is a narrative that suggests that we all see the world the same way. And because we all have access to the same reality, the narratives says we all should do the same thing, that we all can all learn the same thing. This way of thinking comes from a narrative about reality that became prominent at the beginning of the 17th century. The narrative comes out of the Spectator View. I think you probably remember the spectator view from our first lecture where I shared with you the objective and lived-view of the bike and motocross riders.
Where did that spectator view come from anyway?
Let’s talk briefly about this idea of the spectator view. It is necessary for science. It can be problematic in schooling.
So what does all of this mean? It means that much of what we believe about teaching, learning and schooling is based on the idea that we can observe reality as if our observations were independent of us, objectifying our perceptions in such a way that we can then manipulate them, share them, and make predictions about them.
Let’s dig into this idea about where these ideas of objective reality came from and what the implications are for schooling.
Did you ever make a camera obscura as a child?
You make a box with a pinhole in it, and then you can see the reflection of an inverted image of the outside world on a screen that you place on the inside of the box.
People have been making camera obscuras for a long time.
At one time the camera obscura was even a form of entertainment.
Well I think you will find this interesting. Here is John Locke, nineteenth century philosopher.
He spent a lot of time thinking about things. If fact, you can see that he is thinking right there in the picture. He is thinking to himself: “I wonder if I should have had that second bowl of clam chowder?”
In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” John Locke (1836) uses the metaphor of the camera obscura to help explain the idea of understanding. He wrote:
[E]xternal and internal sensations are the only passages, that I can find, of knowledge to the understanding. These alone, as far as I can discover, are the windows by which light is let into this dark room: for, methinks, the understanding is not much unlike a closet wholly shut from light, with only some little opening left, to let in external visible resemblances, or ideas of things without; would the pictures coming into such a dark room but stay there, and lie so orderly as to be found upon occasion, it would very much resemble the understanding of a man, in reference to all objects of sight, and the ideas of them.
Now, camera obscuras were big business, so to speak, back in Locke’s time.
They were used for work and entertainment. But, more interesting than the camera obscura itself is that that the metaphor of the camera obscura framed philosophers’ thinking. What does it mean when we say the camera obscura framed philosophers’ thinking. This means that philosophers started thinking about things, such as ‘knowledge’ and brains acting a bit like the camera obscura. The idea of the spectator was enhanced. The idea of ‘images’ in our minds, our mind containing reflections of reality, etc., etc.. were established.
The idea that the mind and knowledge works a bit like a camera obscura shouldn’t surprise us. Even now people take technologies and liken the human body to them. You have probably heard, “The brain is like a computer.” It isn’t, but that is what many people will say.
Question Set Number Two (Continued)
Question 18: How did the camera obscura contribute to John Locke’s view of knowledge and understanding?
Of course Locke was not the only one who was influenced by the spectator view of understanding.
I think Stephen Mulhall gives a great indication of the spectator view in regards to some of the philosophers who have influenced our thinking:
The question of the human relationship with the external world has been central to Western philosophy since Descartes; and the standard answers to it have shared one vital feature. Descartes dramatizes the issue by depicting himself seated before a fire contemplating a ball of wax; when searching for the experiential roots of causation. Hume imagines himself as a spectator of a billiards game; and Kant’s disagreement with Hume’s analysis leads hims to portray himself watching a ship move downriver. In other words, all three explore the nature of human contact with the world from the viewpoint of a detached observer of that world, rather than as an actor within it. Descartes does talk of moving his ball of wax nearer to the fire, but his practical engagement with it goes no further; Hume does not imagine himself playing billiards; and Kant never thinks to occupy the focus of the epistemological tradition away from this conception of the human being as an unmoving point of view upon the world.
It makes me wonder if Descartes had used the example of flying down a mountain road on a long board, rather than a lump of wax, if he wouldn’t have thought about causation differently.
So, as we might come to think, our philosophers were spectators in the development of their philosophical understandings. The result? “[T]hat exclusive reliance upon the image of the spectator has seriously distorted philosophers’ characterizations of human existence in the world.” Mulhall continues to point out:
of course, no traditional philosopher would deny that human life is lived within a world of physical objects. If, however, these objects are imagined primarily as objects of vision, then that world is imagined primarily as a spectacle — a series of tableaux or a play staged before us; and the world of a play is one from which its audience is essentially excluded — they may look in on the world of the characters, but they do not participate in or inhabit it. Such a picture has deep attractions. A world that one does not inhabit is a world in which one is not essentially implicated and by which one is not essentially constrained; . . . But there are also drawbacks: for the model also makes it seem that the basic human relation with objects is one of mere spatial contiguity, that persons and objects are juxtaposed with one another.
Notice the point that Mulhall makes here. It is very important. He says: no traditional philosopher would deny that human life is lived within a world of physical objects. If, however, these objects are imagined primarily as objects of vision, then that world is imagined primarily as a spectacle. Do you recall in week one when I mentioned the term the hegemony of vision. This means that vision, rather than all the other senses we have, it taken to be the primary source of experiencing the world.
I am trying to make a couple of points here: one, that we have become accustomed to talking and thinking about the world from a spectator perspective (especially in schools); two, we have broken up the world into small self-contained objects, like pictures, that can then be thought to have effects on one another in very narrow ways (simple cause and effect); three, we all see the same reality; and four, we talk as if we can somehow transfer, or input, these representations into our students.
The spectator view, and visual induced objectification are foundational aspects of schooling.
For the rest of this talk I would like to explore number three in some detail, i.e. that we all see the same reality. We talk as if the images that we think we see are the same for everyone. Furthermore, we teach in such a way that we believe that, as a teacher I can point to a particular reality that I can then make you aware of. But what happens if we don’t share the same reality? What would happen to the way we teach if I can’t point to some external reality and expect that you can see the same thing? What would happen to our testing if the teacher can’t even be certain what the student’s reality is?
I would like to share with you a documentary that helps us question reality. It is call, What is Reality? The documentary is 59 minutes long, but my questions will only require that you watch up to 43:00 minutes.
Before you start watching the following documentary let me share with you the questions I would like to you to respond to:
Question Set Number Two (Continued)
Question 19: At 8:04 in the What is Reality? documentary we hear the statement, “For us to see clearly, many different systems need to be operating in concert.” Then, at 10:30 we hear, “Mike’s new eyes were functioning perfectly. And they were sending signals to the brain just like yours or mine do. But he couldn’t see his sons in any meaningful way.” So my question to you is, why couldn’t Mike May see the world around him the way we do if his eyes were working fine?
Question 20: At 18:53 we hear the statement: “When babies reach out to touch what’s in front of them, they’re not just learning what an object feels like. They’re learning how to see. They’re establishing pathways in the brain that’ll be used for the rest of their lives, because vision is a whole body experience. The data coming in from our eyes only means something if we can cross reference it.” What does this mean?
Question 21: At 30:39 we hear the statement: “
This is the thalamus, one of the brain’s major junctions. Most sensory information connects through here on its way to the outer surface of the brain, the cortex. So data collected from the eyes stops here before going to the visual cortex. Now, you’d expect a heavy flow of information from the thalamus to the visual cortex. And there is. But there’s six times as much traffic flowing in the opposite direction. And that dwarfs the amount coming in from the eyes.” What is the significance of the statement that there is six times as much traffic flowing in the opposite direction?” What does the city metaphor have to do with our reality?
Question 22: At 35:51 we are told about the internal model. What is the internal model and what is its purpose?
(Please keep in mind, you will have more questions to add to your Second Response Set. It will not be due until after you have completed Week 5 Part 2 🙂
Dr. Eagleman takes viewers on an extraordinary journey that explores how the brain, locked in silence and darkness without direct access to the world, conjures up the rich and beautiful world we all take for granted. “What is Reality?” begins with the astonishing fact that this technicolor multi-sensory experience we are having is a convincing illusion conjured up for us by our brains. In the outside world there is no color, no sound, and no smell. These are all constructions of the brain. Instead, there is electromagnetic radiation, air compression waves, and aromatic molecules all of which are interpreted by the brain as color, sound and smell. Cutting edge graphics show that data from the outside are rendered into electrochemical signals inside the brain, which map meaningfully onto physical reality. Our experience of reality is an electrochemical rendition of the world outside. Visual illusions are reminders that what’s important to the brain is not being faithful to “reality” but enabling us to perceive just enough so that we can navigate successfully through it. The brain leaves a lot out of its beautiful rendition of the physical world, a fact that Dr. Eagleman reveals using experiments and street demonstrations. Each one of our brains is different, and so is the reality it produces. What is reality? It’s whatever your brain tells you it is. Distributed by PBS Distribution.
Distributed by PBS Distribution.
We each experience a different reality.
To say that each student has a different reality, and a reality different from our own, is easy to say but difficult to fully believe. It is for me anyway. I can start teaching a class and think that every student is hearing the same thing. I have to remind myself, when a student asks a question that they are perceiving something (re-enacting with their nervous system) quite unique.
You can imagine the way that two different students might experience any situation a bit differently — just as to go-kart racers experience the race differently.
I find this interesting because we get a glimpse of different visual perspectives. And, we get a sense of how the two racers (students) are interacting with each other and those around them.
Each perspective has a unique experience.
Trillium BMW @ GP Kartways 2012-01-29 split screen GoPro v2
You can imagine the way that two different students might experience any situation a bit differently — just as to race car drivers experience the race differently.
VSCDA 2019 ELVF Sunday Group 13 Formula Ford Feature Race
I found this example of a split screen race to show three different realities all playing out at the same time. I will say that the top left screen is student one, top right screen is student two, and the bottom half of the screen is the teacher seeing the interactions between two students.
Torslanda Gokartbana med GoPro-splitscreen
This race metaphor helps us consider the different perceptions of reality.
One thing that we notice is that each perspective shows something quite different — a different perspective. While these specific videos are from different races, we can think of each as any and every lived moment. Each moment of the race can be thought of as each moment in a classroom. A reward is given, a look is given, a command is given, a question is given. Each student is re-enacting in their nervous system a unique experience — each nervous system being perturbed by the environment and those around him/her in a unique way.
The camera obscura had many philosophers imagine that a fixed reality that existed outside of our minds was accessible to our minds or able to be perceived by our minds. But from what we know of the brain now, that sort of thinking is problematic and the narrative is incomplete. We don’t simply perceive, or have a mirror image or, that which is out there in the external world, but rather we create our own reality. Recall, “in any one moment, what we experience as seeing relies less on the light streaming into our eyes and more on what’s already inside our heads. . . . We all have this internally generated reality. Incredible as it may sound, this world lives inside your brain. It’s constantly updated by information from our senses. But moment to moment, what we experience isn’t what’s really out there. Instead, it’s a beautifully rendered simulation.”
Developing a depth and breadth of understanding relies on unique perspectives as a foundation of education. Schooling narratives have adopted the spectator view, and the belief that students and teachers have access to the same realities.
Have a great day!