Bates vs. Downes

Even a celebrity like Tony Bates, despite a lot of appreciation and sympathy, does not understand Downes’s connectivism, as their current debate shows. I wonder if it was easier to understand if the conceptual level was not eliminated which was formerly discussed as one of three levels of the central connectivist metaphor.

Circles and arrows on multiple levels (neurons, concepts, and society).

I see why it was eliminated as part of scientific and philosophical explanations. But what about using it for illustrations? I see that the notion of ‘concept’ is associated with the whole can of worms of cognitivist doctrines, computationalism, mental phenomena, folk psychology, and ultimately with ontological debates about mental representations. Now in Downes’s response to Bates, he acknowledges the usefulness of folk psychological terms as shorthand for talking about complex concepts. And I think the conceptual level would be just a handy means for illustrating the associations.

I like the term ‘shorthand‘ here because it connotes both the benefit and the pitfalls of thinking in ‘concepts’: We use a concept to wrap and grasp an idea and we use it as a handle to grab and manipulate items, but it also isolates and fixes the complex phenomena into a reduced representation which does not always do justice to them.

I think it is this fixing, isolating, reducing, distorting that makes the focus on concepts so questionable, and it contributes to the big problems of cognitivist doctrines. Maybe one could say that these theories focus too much on just one of the two modes of brain operation that McGilchrist described.

See also previous discussions here and here.

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