Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A new humility

I have been rereading some papers on connectivism today, since this forms the theoretical framework for my dissertation.

In George Siemens's 2004 paper, there is a reference to an article in ScienceWeek during the same year, which quotes Nigel Calder as defining chaos as “a cryptic form of order”. Siemens says "chaos states that the meaning exists – the learner's challenge is to recognize the patterns which appear to be hidden."

There a few other references sprinkled here and there that imply the same thing. That perhaps chaos is not chaotic. Perhaps it contains an order that we do not yet have the capacity to detect.

One of my frustrations is our collective tendency to assume that we've got things figured. Let's get real here. The universe, as far as we know, is infinite. Perhaps it isn't really, perhaps nothing is really infinite, perhaps some things are just so big or vast that our minds can't conceive of their size, so we just opt for infinite. The milky way is just a small part of the universe. Our solar system is just one teeny tiny part of the milky way. Our planet is just one of (we think) eight revolving around an average (we think) sized star. As a race, we have managed to make a minuscule hop off the planet as far as the moon and back again. How on earth can any one of us, or even all of us collectively, possibly have things sussed on any significant scale?

Perhaps, if they think at all, ants consider our lives to be chaotic. Perhaps it's all just a matter of scale. Perhaps it's time we recognised that some things, many things (most things?), may just be beyond our means to understand. Perhaps there are patterns in the chaos, and we just can't see them, because we are too restricted.

Perhaps it is because I'm a deist that I have no problem recognising my own limitations beside a mind which does have the capacity to understand all the things we consider infinite.

But it does look as if there may be others out there prepared to say, this is probably not chaotic, it is quite possibly a pattern we do not (yet) have the capacity to understand.

After all, just look at fractals. Was there ever anything less chaotic looking, once you move to the right perspective?


Image by Cuddlepigs34 on PhotoBucket


Garry Platt said...

I am intrigued by one particular statement here. I can perhaps understand how being a deist might help or support an individual to accept and recognise their own ‘limitations’ especially when contrasting those abilities with that of a supernatural entity who created everything and knows everything.

Belief in a supreme being in many cases however appears to lead to the absence of self awareness in some cases. We have for instance the head of the Catholic Church on earth who apparently believes and is believed to be infallible.

Perhaps I am assuming too much here but I don’t recognise that a deist belief system might lead more directly to a state of self awareness, where as an existentialist might have a more circuitous route to navigate. Is there any real evidence for this?

Interesting posting!

Karyn Romeis said...

@Garry I'm not Catholic and have no qualms about seeing the pope as a human being, no more or less flawed than the rest of us.

There is a guy called Louis Giglio who has delivered sermons that more or less capture my sense of perspective on this subject. One in particular can be seen in two parts here and here. These are well worth watching, by the way, even if you have no personal faith, just for an insight into the proportions it explores.

I don't know about empirical evidence. I only that, as my own awareness of the vastness and intricacy of (what I call) Creation grows, so my awe of the Creator deepens. All this emphasises just how very small we are, which - to my mind - makes our self-importance ludicrous.

Even without a belief in a Creator, just a recognition of the sheer size of everything in relation to us, and how little of it we've explored, must surely tell us how unlikely it is that we've got anything of great import properly 'sussed'. But it does take a measure of self-awareness, I grant you. Certainly among those of my own friends who share my faith, this is pretty much the norm.

Garry Platt said...

Whilst melting in the heat and reading Christopher Potter’s book ‘You Are Here’ I came across this interesting observation today which while not relating directly to your observations at least runs parallel to them for a short way before veering wildly away.

‘We do not like to think about the universe because we fear the immensity that is everything. The universe reduces us to a nub, making it difficult to escape the idea that size matters. After all who can deny the universe when there is so much of it? “Spiritual aspirations threaten to be swallowed up by this senseless bulk into a sort of nightmare of meaninglessness,” wrote the Anglo-German scholar Edward Conze (1904 – 1979) “The enormous quantity of matter that we perceive around us, compared with the trembling little flicker of spiritual insight that we perceive within us, seems to tell strongly in favour of a materialistic outlook on life.” We know that we must lose if we are to contest the universe.’

Karyn Romeis said...

@Garry How utterly at odds with my own perception! Interesting!