Contiguity and Outboard Brain

A difference between two teachers is a very stimulating challenge for the learner. Stephen disagrees with George about the contiguity of the neuro networks in our minds with the networks of people/ ideas/ things in the external world:

“We form these patterns of connectivity with neuro networks in our mind, and we call that “thinking”, and we form these patterns of connectivity between people, between ideas, between things in the real world (maybe I should say, in “the external world” […]
I in my various writings have depicted this as two seperate things, with points of relation between them. George, I think, sometimes depicts it as one and the same thing. The expression, for example, “the outboard brain”, suggests continuity between the network that exists out there in the world, and the network that exists in one’s head. I see these as quite a bit more separate. The knowledge that is had by a society through its connections of individuals, ideas, etc., is distinct from, and not contiguous with, the knowledge that is had by a person in their mind.”
(0:12:00)

I have not questioned this contiguity before. Neuro level, conceptual level, personal person-to-person level — all is joined by the common metaphor that is central of connectivism. Although I know that there is no such thing as a “grandmother neuron” where one’s concept of granny resides, the internal, networked, representation of concepts fits so nicely to the external world phenomena represented here, and in turn, the interest of individual internet contacts in certain concepts, links these concepts nicely to the persons, e. g. via blog posts and comments.

If viewing the similarities as sloppily as I did, also the expression of the “outboard brain” makes perfect sense: I have been fascinated previously how well visual applications can extend one’s internal “visuo-spatial sketchpad”. So, the concepts in one’s mind contiguously extend to icons on a computer canvas, and the contiguity is complete.

If, however, one is considering the philosophical aspects of the true difference between the internal concepts and their external, real-world counterparts, all this is much more complex, and it reminds me of the medieval Nominalism dispute in that I have not yet afforded the patience required to deal with such thorough distinctions.

I am sorry about the lost contiguity between neural, conceptual, and personal person-to-person level for another reason. Discussions about connectivism seem to diverge and break into two parts: One focussing on the complexity of the internal/ neural level, and the other one focussing on the personal/ external level (which is often misunderstood and simplified down to the idea that you don’t need to know anything once you know the “pipes” connecting to persons or resources who know. The reception of connectivism in the German scholarly literature, for example, seems to completely restrict to this upper level.)

In these divergent focuses, the intermediate, conceptual level, is mostly neglected. And I think this is a great loss.

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4 Responses to Contiguity and Outboard Brain

  1. Hi Matthias,
    You have got it spot on. I noted Stephen mentioned over here on slide 14: http://www.slideshare.net/Downes/pedagogical-foundations-for-personal-learning
    * Social knowledge is not personal knowledge
    * Personal Knowledge Management = Learning
    * Social Knowledge Management = Research
    I also think Stephen is relating to knowledge as pattern recognition, but that he is now referring to such knowledge as a separate “entity” with knowledge at personal level being learning, while at a social level being research. My question is: “how to distinguish between learning from research?” Can learning and research be integrated in my mind? When I develop PLE and reflect upon the conversation we have with others, then such “social learning” would form part of my personal learning, especially when I form a “mind map” linking the concepts shared through the conversation, and thus make sense of meaning emerged through the discourse over social media/space.

    “Discussions about connectivism seem to diverge and break into two parts: One focussing on the complexity of the internal/ neural level, and the other one focussing on the personal/ external level (which is often misunderstood and simplified down to the idea that you don’t need to know anything once you know the “pipes” connecting to persons or resources who know” I am not that sure that is the case. I think we need to know something even if we know the pipes connecting to persons or resources, only that the emphasis is now on the pipes (connections)as the content (the information or “knowledge” ) that resides on the node could change, in respond to changing environment. This requires critical capacity to re-evaluate the content, the pipe (connection), to act and decide accordingly by making adjustments to decisions, in order to adapt and respond to changes
    Thanks for your stimulating post.
    John

  2. x28 says:

    Thank you, John, for your thoughtful comment, which also shows me that I used the wrong word for the person to person level of connections: It should be “social/ external” because “personal” can be understood as internal.

  3. Thank you Matthias for your clarification. Yes, I think that was why I didn’t understand your intial points too.
    John

  4. Ruth Howard says:

    Hello Matthias I have yet to flesh out my sources critically however it’s great to so succinctly revisit this apparent divergent connection.

    At risk of pushing a favourite wheelbarrow- I totally get that the internal and external are fractal in nature. Great spiritual teachers have realized this and through my own experience of meditation I know that the world mirrors my mind and the Internet is the perfect playground for this experience of mirror mind!

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