Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Dialogue as a function of perception?

I recently finished a paper where I was thinking about ecological psychology, William James, and Mary Parker Follett. My basic thesis was that a theory of direct perception (ala James Gibson) is a prerequisite for participatory democracy. By extension this would also suggest that dialogue will happen best when we are grounded in this 'theory' of perception.

The logic goes like this. Theory of perception > epistemology > social and theoretical frameworks > language > conversation > dialogue.

If we change our theory of perception we can change the world!

The reason a theory of perception is so important is not only because it allows us to make sense of the world but also because we feedback our experiences to our basic beliefs and thereby ramify or change them. But if our experience of the world precludes any change in the way we experience the world then we will only ramify and elaborate our already solipsistic view (in the case of the theory of indirect perception - that is, a little person in my brain that sorts all the stimulus out and creates elaborate computational models of the world). And even if there is no 'little person' (we are so much more sophisticated these days) we still have huge problems if we continue to believe that we create representations of the world in our minds that correspond to features of the world.

Direct perception has us encountering the world directly - physically, emotionally, and mentally.
So, I am going to be working on this. My question for now is: How is dialogue affected by our beliefs about perception? And, do beliefs and theories of perception affect us unconsciously so as to affect the way we think, reason, and communicate?

I think this is an important area for consideration. If anyone reads this and wants to read the paper about these ideas email me and I will send you the paper.


Friday, August 06, 2004

Navigation & Meaning

I am currently involved with a group from Gonzaga University in a collaboration for our upcoming work at the Follett Conversation in Boise, Idaho. For that conference we are exploring the educational underpinnings of participatory democracy. We are looking at what an educational system designed around the goal of preparing people for participatory democracy would look like.

I believe that the art and practice of dialogue is a necessary component of participatory democracy and that an educational system should focus on that component. In thinking about this I am beginning to realize that the phrase 'teaching dialogue' is perhaps a misnomer. Which makes me wonder can we learn things that cannot be taught? Certainly we can't teach things that cannot be learned?

Anyway, I am beginning to think about how perception and awareness as viewed from an organic psychological perspective informs our habits of mind at a more abstract conceptual level.

For example, how is navigation on an interface related to understanding the content that one is supposed to 'experience'? Obviously navigation is important to "get there" but how important is it in terms of what you "see" when you get there? Are there ways to design an interface such that the way we navigate helps us "see" the content presented from a conceptual perspective?

For example, is a series of linked drop down menus (a drill down approach) better for understanding a 'policy document' or would a set of nested ovals with words in them work better? And/or is a 'tip' from a colleague about the importance of a particular issue the thing that motivates attention and engagement (pre-requisites for dialogue in my view)?

This relates to practicing democracy through dialogue if we see the dialogue as the interface (or maybe I should call it the 'navigable interface') and democracy as the content or purpose of being in the space - the navigable interface space....

So, much as my physical environment affords - say... walking so my navigable interface affords dialogue. And much as my physical environment 'contains' the objects of my desire so the navigable interface space contains the participatory threads and connections that make up a 'democracy'?

So, I think this is what I mean.


Tuesday, August 03, 2004

What time is it?

Asynchronous is a funny word. So is synchronous. They seem so intuitively graspable. However, upon reflection we see a lot of problems crop up. I think the major problem is with the root word synchrony. What is the now?

Harry Heft in his great book on Ecological Psychology (Ecological Psychology in Context: James Gibson, Roger Barker, and the Legacy of William James's Radical empiricism. 2001. Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, New Jersey) explores this concept in detail. He has taught me that what we count as the 'now' or the 'present' is more like a horizon (as in phenomenology) that contains both past and future components. What we see right 'now' for example is not what is happening right 'now' but is the result of an exploratory perceptual synthesis that uses invariant features of the environment (any environment) to orient ourselves to the whole of what we experience.

Which is to say that dialogue removed from immediate face to face contact is an opportunity to stretch perception. And, like any technology that allows us to stretch stuff, it will have its uses. So, to extend the ecological psychology metaphor, if we use invariants in the visual environment to see the whole then we can use the multiple invariant perspectives of asynchronous communication to see a whole as well. Maybe a bigger whole than that which is achieved in a face to face format.

The relationship between perception, perceptual structures of mind, language, and shared meanings is complicated but a fruitful area of inquiry. I believe that we will eventually come to see that how we have evolved to apprehend the environment will also teach us a lot about how we can optimize our relationships - especially our temporally extended relationships.

I will remain invariant to you as long as I keep 'pinging' you and you can see me as feature of your environment. When I fade out and you can't see me, hear me, feel me, then I become an element outside the wholeness of your experience. So, I want to use this medium to work on that issue.

And then there are books. I have always enjoyed the way a book 'speaks'.

This has been a busy and hectic couple of months. Lot's of things change in the summer when you have children!