What Makes Humans Human?

Little, today, is as it was.

Anatomically modern humans have existed for about 200,000 years, but only since the end of the eighteenth century has artificial lighting been widely used. Gas lamps were introduced in European cities about that time, and electric lights came into use only in the twentieth century.

In other words, for most of human history, when night fell, it fell hard. Things got really, really dark,

and people gathered under the stars, which they could actually see, in those days before nighttime light pollution,

and under those stars, they told stories.

In EVERY culture around the globe, storytelling, in the form of narrative poetry, existed LONG before the invention of writing. We know this because the earliest manuscripts that we have from every culture record stories that were already ancient when they were finally written down. One of the earliest texts in English is that of the poem Beowulf. It reworks and retells, in a much distorted manner, much, much older stories—ones that predate the emergence of English as a distinct language. Stith Thompson, the great folklorist, did the literary world an enormous favor by compiling a massive index, today known as the Arne-Thompson Index, of motifs of ancient folktales worldwide. Name a story motif—three wishes, talking animals, the grateful dead, cruel stepsisters, golden apples, dragons, the fairy or demon lover, the instrument that plays itself –and you will find that the motif has an ancient pedigree and was already spread about the world long before historical times.

English is a Germanic language. All ancient Germanic societies had official storytellers whose job it was to entertain people in those days before modern entertainments like television and movies and the Internet and drones with laser-guided Hellfire missiles. In ancient Denmark, the storyteller was called a skaald. In Anglo-Saxon England, the storyteller was a scop (pronounced like MnE “shop”). The scop accompanied his stories on the Anglo-Saxon harp, a kind of lyre.

Of course, the telling of stories wasn’t the only entertainment around campfires. In most cultures, people danced and chanted and sang as well, and sometimes stories were told by the dancers or singers or chanters. All this was part of acting out the stories. (Want to know where the Christian devil, with his red body and horns, comes from? Well, in ancient Europe, people worshiped an Earth Mother and her consort, a Lord of the Forest, and they told stories of the hunt. When they acted these out around campfires, they held up to their heads animal horns, or branches in the shape of horns, and that’s how they pictured their Lord of the Forest, as a therianthrope, red from the campfire, with horns. When the Christians spread North across Europe, they made the god of the Old Religion into The Adversary. Grendel’s mother, the monster from the bog in Beowulf, is a demonized version, in a Christian story, of the ancient Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess Nerthus, to whom sacrifices were made by binding people, cutting their throats, and throwing them into a bog. You can see an ancient bas relief of the Lord of the Forest, btw, on the Gundestrup cauldron dating from 150 to 1 BCE. See the accompanying illustration.)

But where does this storytelling urge among humans come from, and why is it universal? Storytelling takes energy. And it doesn’t produce tangible results. It doesn’t mend bones or build houses or plant crops. So, why would it survive and be found among every people on Earth from the earliest times onward?

Contemporary cognitive scientists have learned that storytelling is an essential, built-in part of the human psyche, involved in every aspect of our lives, including our dreams, memories, and beliefs about ourselves and the world. Storytelling turns out to be one of the fundamental ways in which our brains are organized to make sense of our experience. Only in very recent years have we come to understand this. We are ESSENTIALLY storytelling creatures, in the Aristotelian sense of essentially. That is, it’s our storytelling that defines us. If that sounds like an overstatement, attend to what I am about to tell you. It’s amazing, and it may make you rethink a LOT of what you think you know.

At the back of each of your eyes are retinas containing rods and cones. These take in visual information from your environment. In each retina, there is a place where the optic nerve breaks through it. This is the nerve that carries visual signals to your brain. Because of this interruption of the retinas, there is a blind spot in each where NO INFORMATION AT ALL IS AVAILABLE. If what you saw was based on what signals actually hit your retina at a given moment, you would have two big black spots in your field of vision. Instead, you see a continuous visual field. Why? Because your brain automatically fills in the missing information for you, based on what was there when your eye saccaded over it a bit earlier. In other words, your brain makes up a story about what’s there. Spend some time studying optical illusions, and you will learn that this is only one example of many ways in which you don’t see the world as it is but, rather, as the story concocted by your brain says it is.

This sort of filling in of missing pieces also happens with our memories. Scientists have discovered that at any given moment, people attend to at most about seven bits of information from their immediate environment. There’s a well-known limitation of short-term memory to about seven items, give or take two, and that’s why telephone numbers are seven digits long. So, at any given moment, you are attending to only about seven items from, potentially, billions in your environment. When you remember an event, your brain FILLS IN WHAT YOU WERE NOT ATTENDING TO AT THE TIME based on general information you’ve gathered, on its predispositions, and on general beliefs that you have about the world. In short, based on very partial information, your brain makes up and tells you a STORY about that past time, and that is what you “see” in memory in your “mind’s eye.”

So, people tend to have a LOT of false memories because the brain CONFABULATES—it makes up a complete, whole story about what was PROBABLY the case and presents that whole memory to you, with the gaps filled in, for your conscious inspection. In short, memory is very, very, very faulty and is based upon the storytelling functions of the brain!!!! (And what are we except our memories? I am that boy in the Dr. Dentons, in my memory, sitting before the TV with the rabbit ears; I am that teenager in the car at the Drive-in with the girl whom I never thought in a million years would actually go out with me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

You can also see this storytelling function of the brain at work in dreaming. Years ago, I had a dream that I was flying into the island of Cuba on a little prop plane. Through the window, I could see the island below the plane. It looked like a big, white sheet cake, floating in an emerald sea. Next to me on the airplane sat a big, red orangutan smoking a cigar.

Weird, huh? So why did I have that dream? Well, in the days preceding the dream I had read a newspaper story about the Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba, being ill; I had flown on a small prop plane; I had attended a wedding where there was a big, white sheet cake; I had been to the zoo with my grandson, where we saw an orangutan; and I had played golf with some friends, and we had smoked cigars.

The neural circuits in my brain that had recorded these bits and pieces were firing randomly in my sleeping brain, and the part of the brain that does storytelling was working hard, trying to piece these random fragments together into a coherent, unified story. That’s the most plausible current explanation of why most dreams occur. The storytelling parts of the brain are responding to random inputs and tying them together—making sense of this random input by making a plausible story of them. This is akin to the process, pareidolia, that leads people see angels in cloud formations and pictures of Jesus on their toast.

So, those are three important reasons why the brain is set up as a storytelling device. Storytelling allows us to see a complete visual field; creates for us, from incomplete data, coherent memories; and ties together random neural firings in our brains to into the wholes that we call dreams.
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But that’s not all that storytelling does for us. Storytelling about the future allows us to look ahead—for example, to determine what another creature is going to do. We often play scenarios in our minds that involve possible futures. What will she say if I ask her to the prom? What will the boss say if I ask for a raise? How will that go down? In other words, storytelling provides us with a THEORY OF MIND for predicting others’ behavior.

Stories also help people to connect to one another. When we tell others a story, we literally attune to them. We actually get “on the same wavelengths.” Uri Hasson, a neuroscientist at Princeton, recorded the brainwaves of people during rest and while listening to a story. During rest, their waves were all over the place. While listening to the same story, even at different times and places, those people had brainwaves that were in synch.

Storytelling also provides a mechanism for exploring and attempting to understand others generally. Our basic situation in life is that your mind is over there and mine is over here. We’re different, and we have to try to figure each other out—to have a theory of other people’s minds. By telling myself a story about you, I can attempt to bridge that ontological gap. Unfortunately, the stories we tell ourselves about others tend to be fairly unidimensional. You are simply this or that. I, on the other hand, am an international man of mystery. This is a tendency we need to guard against.

We also tell stories in order to influence others’ behavior–to get them to adopt the story we’re telling as their own. This is how advertising works, for example. The advertiser gets you to believe a story about how you will be sexier or smarter or prettier or more successful or of higher status if you just buy the product with the new, fresh lemony scent. And it’s not just advertisers who do this. Donald Trump sold working class Americans a fiction about how he could strike deals that would make America great again because he was such a great businessman, one who started with nothing and made billions. The coach tells a story in which her team envisions itself as the winners of the Big Game. The woo-er tells the woo-ee the story of the great life they will have together (“Come live with me and be my love/And we shall all the pleasures prove”). And so on. Successful cult leaders, coaches, lovers, entrepreneurs, attorneys, politicians, religious leaders, marketers, etc., all share this is common: they know that persuasion is storytelling. The best of them also understand that the most successful stories, in the long run, are ones that are true, even if they are fictional.

When we tell stories, we spin possible futures—we try things on, hypothetically. And that helps us to develop ideas about who we want to be and what we want to do. Gee, if I travel down that road, I may end up in this better place.

And that observation leads to one final, supremely important function of storytelling: Who you are—your very SELF—is a story that you tell yourself about yourself and your history and your relations to others—a story with you as the main character. The stories you tell yourself about yourself become the person you are. The word person, by the way, comes from the Latin persona, for a mask worn by an actor in the Roman theatre.

So, our very idea of ourselves, of our own personal identity, is dependent upon this storytelling capacity of the human brain, which takes place, for the most part, automatically. There is even a new form of psychotherapy called cognitive narrative therapy that is all about teaching people to tell themselves more life-enhancing, affirmative stories about themselves, about who they are.

Telling yourself the right kinds of stories about yourself and others can unlock your creative potential, improve your relationships, and help you to self create—to be the person you want to be.

So, to recapitulate, storytelling . . .

helps us to fill in the gaps so that we have coherent memories,

ties together random firings in the brain into coherent dreams,

enables us to sort and make sense of past experience,

gives us theories of what others think and how they will behave,

enables us to influence others’ behavior,

enables us to try on various futures, and

helps us to form a personal identity, a sense of who were are.

Kinda important, all that!

Storytelling, in fact, is key to being human. It’s our defining characteristic. It’s deeply embedded in our brains. It runs through every aspect of our lives. It makes us who we are.

It’s no wonder then, that people throughout history have told stories. People are made to construct stories—plausible and engaging accounts of things—the way a stapler is made to staple and a hammer is made to hammer. We are Homo relator, man the storyteller.

(BTW, the root *man, meaning “human being” in general, without a specific gender reference, is ancient. It goes all the way back to Proto-Indo-European, but there’s still good reason, today, to seek out gender-neutral alternatives, when possible, of course.)

Copyright 2015. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

Art: Detail from the Gundestrup Cauldron. Nationalmuseet [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]

 

For more pieces by Bob Shepherd on the topic of Education “Reform,” go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/ed-reform/

For more pieces on the teaching of literature and writing, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/teaching-literature-and-writing/

Posted in Short Stories, Teaching Literature and Writing, Uncategorized | 17 Comments

It’s about Time (a Catena)

creation-web-version

  

A brief tour of fascinating (and lunatic) notions that philosophers (and a few poets) have had about time. 

The Mystery of Time

“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I wish to explain it to one who asks, I know not.”

–St. Augustine (345–430 CE), Confessions

PART 1: What Is Time? Types of Time

Albert_Einstein_at_the_age_of_three_(1882)Absolute or Scientific Newtonian Time

“Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature flows equably without regard to anything external, and by another name is called duration.”

–Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727), Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy)

The Specious (Nonexistent) Present

“The relation of experience to time has not been profoundly studied. Its objects are given as being of the present, but the part of time referred to by the datum is a very different thing from the conterminous of the past and future which philosophy denotes by the name Present. The present to which the datum refers is really a part of the past — a recent past — delusively given as being a time that intervenes between the past and the future. Let it be named the specious present, and let the past, that is given as being the past, be known as the obvious past. [Each of] all the notes of a bar of a song seem to the listener to be contained in the [specious] present. [Each of] all the changes of place of a meteor seem to the beholder to be contained in the [specious] present. At the instant of the termination of [each element in] such series, no part of the time measured by them seems to be [an obvious] past. Time, then, considered relatively to human apprehension, consists of four parts, viz., the obvious past, the specious present, the real present, and the future. Omitting the specious present, it consists of three . . . nonentities — the [obvious] past, which does not [really] exist, the future, which does not [yet] exist, and their conterminous, the [specious] present; the faculty from which it proceeds lies to us in the fiction of the specious present.”

–E. Robert Kelley, from The Alternative, a Study in Psychology (1882). Kelley’s concept of the specious present has been extremely influential in both Continental and Anglo-American philosophy despite the fact that Kelley was not a professional philosopher.

Albert_Einstein_as_a_childSubjective Time

“Oh, yeah. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. I never finished it, though I did spent about a year with it one evening.”

Experienced Time: The “Wide” Present

“In short, the practically cognized present is no knife-edge, but a saddle-back, with a certain breadth of its own on which we sit perched, and from which we look in two directions into time. The unit of composition of our perception of time is a duration, with a bow and a stern, as it were—a rearward- and a forward-looking end. It is only as parts of this duration-block that the relation or succession of one end to the other is perceived. We do not first feel one end and then feel the other after it, and forming the perception of the succession infer an interval of time between, but we seem to feel the interval of time as a whole, with its two ends embedded in it.”

–William James, “The Perception of Time,” from The Principles of Psychology, Book I

459px-Einstein_patentofficeA, B, and C Series Time (Three Ways of Looking at Time)

  • The A Series: Time as Past, Present, and Future
  • The B Series: Time as Earlier, Simultaneous, and Later
  • The C Series: Time as an Ordered Relation of Events (with the direction being irrelevant)

Influential distinctions made by John Ellis McTaggart in “The Unreality of Time.” Mind 17 (1908): 456-476. The three types are much discussed by philosophers in the Anglo-American analytic tradition.

See also The Unreality of Time 2: Block Time, below

PART 2: Does Time Exist?

No, It Doesn’t: Change Is a Self-Contradictory Idea

“For this view can never predominate, that that which IS NOT exists. You must debar your thought from this way of search. . . .There is only one other description of the way remaining, namely, that what IS, is. To this way there are very many signposts: that Being has no coming-into-being . . . . Nor shall I allow you to speak or think of it as springing from not-being; for it is neither expressive nor thinkable that what-is-not is. . . . How could Being perish? How could it come into being? If it came into being, it is not; and so too if it is about-to-be at some future time. . . .For nothing else either is or shall be except Being, since Fate has tied it down to be a whole and motionless; therefore all things that mortals have established, believing in their truth, are just a name: Becoming and Perishing, Being and Not-Being, and Change of position, and alteration of bright color.”

–Parmenides of Elea (c. 475 BCE), fragment from The Way of Truth, in Ancilla to the PreSocratic Philosophers, ed. Kathleen Freeman

Albert_Einstein_(Nobel)“Does the arrow move when the archer shoots it at the target? If there is a reality of space, the arrow must at all times occupy a particular position in space on its way to the target. But for an arrow to occupy a position in space that is equal to its length is precisely what is meant when one says that the arrow is at rest. Since the arrow must always occupy such a position on its trajectory which is equal to its length, the arrow must be always at rest. Therefore, motion is an illusion.”

–Zeno of Elea (c. 450 BCE), fragment from Epicheriemata (Attacks), in Ancilla to the PreSocratic Philosophers, ed. Kathleen Freeman

“One part of time has been [the past] and is not, while the other is going to be and is not yet [the future]. Yet time, both infinite time and any time you care to take, is made up of these. One would naturally suppose that what is made up of things which do not exist could have no share in reality.”

–Aristotle (384–322 BCE), Physics, IV, 10–14. 217b-244a.

462px-Einstein-formal_portrait-35Yes, It Does: Change Is the Fundamental Reality of Our Lives

“It is not possible to step twice into the same river.”

–Heraclitus, (c. 475 BCE), fragment from unnamed book, in Ancilla to the PreSocratic Philosophers, ed. Kathleen Freeman

[Heraclitus seems to have held this fact to be one of many indications of the essential unworthiness/irredeemability of this life; the other fragments of his writings that have survived suggest that Heraclitus was a kind of 5th century fundamentalist preacher, upset about the moral decay around him, who viewed the world as synonymous with decay, and who wanted to point his readers, instead, toward the eternal Logos. Plato inherited this view; the Christian church inherited Plato’s. Such contemptu mundi (contempt for the world) is often, in that tradition, expressed as contempt for that which exists “in time” and is not eternal.]

“Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.”

–Woody Allen (1935–      )

Albert_Einstein_Head

No, It Doesn’t: Time is an Illusion Due to Vantage Point in an Eternal Space Time (the “Block Time” Hypothesis):

“Now Besso has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing, for we physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”

–Albert Einstein (1879­–1955), in a letter written to the family of Michele Besso, on Besso’s death

“All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”

462px-Einstein-formal_portrait-35–Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922–2007), who is in heaven now, Slaughterhouse Five

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

–T.S. Eliot (1888–1965), “Burt Norton,” from Four Quartets

No, It Doesn’t: The Now as Consequence of the Blindness of the Brain to Its Own Processing of Temporal Data (the “Blind Brain” Hypothesis)

“Nothing, I think, illustrates this forced magic quite like the experiential present, the Now. Recall what we discussed earlier regarding the visual field. Although it’s true that you can never explicitly ‘see the limits of seeing’–no matter how fast you move your head–those limits are nonetheless a central structural feature of seeing. The way your visual field simply ‘runs out’ without edge or demarcation is implicit in all seeing–and, I suspect, without the benefit of any ‘visual run off’ circuits. Your field of vision simply hangs in a kind of blindness you cannot see.

“This, the Blind Brain Hypothesis suggests, is what the now is: a temporal analogue to the edgelessness of vision, an implicit structural artifact of the way our ‘temporal field’–what James called the ‘specious present’–hangs in a kind temporal hyper-blindness. Time passes in experience, sure, but thanks to the information horizon of the thalamocortical system, experience itself stands still, and with nary a neural circuit to send a Christmas card to. There is time in experience, but no time of experience. The same way seeing relies on secondary systems to stitch our keyhole glimpses into a visual world, timing relies on things like narrative and long term memory to situate our present within a greater temporal context.

“Given the Blind Brain Hypothesis, you would expect the thalamocortical system to track time against a background of temporal oblivion. You would expect something like the Now. Perhaps this is why, no matter where we find ourselves on the line of history, we always stand at the beginning. Thus the paradoxical structure of sayings like, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” We’re not simply running on hamster wheels, we are hamster wheels, traveling lifetimes without moving at all.

“Which is to say that the Blind Brain Hypothesis offers possible theoretical purchase on the apparent absurdity of conscious existence, the way a life of differences can be crammed into a singular moment.”

–Scott Bakker, “The End of the World As We Knew It: Neuroscience and the Semantic Apocalypse”

PART 3: What Contemplation of Time Teaches Us about Living

Carpe Diem

“Such,” he said, “O King, seems to me the present life of men on Earth, in comparison with that time which to us is uncertain, as if when on a winter’s night, you sit feasting . . . and a simple sparrow should fly into the hall, and coming in at one door, instantly fly out through another. In that time in which it is indoors it is indeed not touched by the fury of winter; but yet, this smallest space of calmness being passed almost in a flash, from winter going into winter again, it is lost to our eyes.

“Something like this appears the life of man, but of what follows or what went before, we are utterly ignorant.”

–The Venerable Bede (c. 672–735), Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book II

Albert_Einstein_(Nobel)

“Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.”

–Horace (65–8 BCE), Odes 1.11

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

Omar Khayyám (1048–1131), “Rubiyat,” trans. Edward FitzGerald

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

–Robert Herrick (1591–1674), “To the Virgins, to Make Use of Time”

459px-Einstein_patentofficeBut at my back I alwaies hear
Times winged Charriot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lye
Desarts of vast Eternity.
Thy Beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
My ecchoing Song: then Worms shall try
That long preserv’d Virginity:
And your quaint Honour turn to durst;
And into ashes all my Lust.
The Grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hew
Sits on thy skin like morning glew,
And while thy willing Soul transpires
At every pore with instant Fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our Time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapt pow’r.
Let us roll all our Strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Thorough the Iron gates of Life.
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

–Andrew Marvell (1621–1678), “To His Coy Mistress”

“Get it while you can.
Don’t you turn your back on love.”

–The American philosopher Janis Joplin (1943–1970)

Albert_Einstein_as_a_childGive Up/It’s All Futile Anyway

“A man finds himself, to his great astonishment, suddenly existing, after thousands of years of nonexistence: he lives for a little while; and then, again, comes an equally long period when he must exist no more. The heart rebels against this, and feels that it cannot be true.

“Of every event in our life we can say only for one moment that it is; for ever after, that it was. Every evening we are poorer by a day. It might, perhaps, make us mad to see how rapidly our short span of time ebbs away; if it were not that in the furthest depths of our being we are secretly conscious of our share in the exhaustible spring of eternity, so that we can always hope to find life in it again.

“Consideration of the kind, touched on above, might, indeed, lead us to embrace the belief that the greatest wisdom is to make the enjoyment of the present the supreme object of life; because that is the only reality, all else being merely the play of thought. On the other hand, such a course might just as well be called the greatest folly: for that which in the next moment exists no more, and vanishes utterly, like a dream, can never be worth a serious effort.”

–The ever-cheerful Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), “The Vanity of Existence,” from Studies in Pessimism

Three Phenomenologist/Existentialist Views of Time

NB: the following are NOT quotations. I’ve summarized material that appears in much longer works. You’re welcome. I have included Husserl in this section, even though his work is just an attempted explanation of time, because the other two philosophers treated here are reacting to Husserl’s ideas.

Albert_Einstein_at_the_age_of_three_(1882)Husserl (very bright dude, this one): All our ideas about time spring from our conscious experience of the present. That experience is characterized by being intentional, by being toward something. We typically recognize three kinds of time: 1. scientific, objective, Newtonian time, which we think of as being independent of ourselves and as independently verifiable; 2. subjective time, in which events seem to move slower or faster; and 3. phenomenological or intentional time, which is the fundamental experience on which the other concepts of time are based, from which the other concepts derive because the phenomenological present includes not only awareness of present phenomena (the present), but retention (awareness of that which is not present because it no longer is—the past), and protention (awareness of that which is not present because it is about to be). The present is intentionality toward phenomena before us here, now. The past is present intentionality toward phenomena that are not present but are with us and so must be past (that’s where the definition of past comes from). The future is present intentionality toward phenomena that also are present but are not with us (as the past is) and so must be the future, which will be (that’s where the definition of future comes from). Therefore, in their origins in our phenomenological experiences, the future and the past are parts of the present, conceptual phenomena held in the present, alongside actual phenomena, as phenomena no longer present and not yet present.

Albert_Einstein_as_a_childHeidegger: Husserl had it all wrong. It’s the future, not the present, that is fundamental. We are future-oriented temporalities by nature, essentially so. Our particular type of being, Dasein, or being-there, is characterized by having care (about its projects, its current conditions, about other beings)—about matters as they relate to those projects. Our being is characterized by understanding, thrownness, and fallenness. Understanding, is the most fundamental of the three. It is projection toward the future, comportment toward the possibilities that present themselves, potentiality for being. Our understanding seizes upon projects, projecting itself on various possibilities. In its thrownness, Dasein always finds itself in a certain spiritual and material, historically conditioned environment that limits the space of those possibilities. As fallenness, Dasein finds itself among other beings, some of which are also Dasein and some of which (e.g., rocks) are not Dasein, and it has, generally respectively, “being-with” them or “being alongside” them, and these help to define what possibilities there are.  “Our sort of being (Dasein) is being for which being is an issue.” Why is it an issue? Well, we are finite. We know that we are going to die. This is the undercurrent that informs our essential being, which is care, concern. We are projections toward the future because undertaking these projects is an attempt, however quixotic, to distract ourselves from or even to cheat death. We care about our projects because, at some level, we care about not dying, having this projection toward the future for which we are living.

459px-Einstein_patentofficeSartre: The world is divided into two kinds of being: being-for-itself (the kind of being that you and I have) and being-in-itself (the kind of being that a rock or a refrigerator has). Let’s think a bit about our kind of being. Take away your perceptions, your body, your thoughts. Strip everything away, and you still have pure being, the being of the being-for-itself, but it is a being that is also nothing. (The Buddha thought this, too). Being-for-itself has intentional objects, but itself is no object (there’s no there there) and so is nothing, a nothingness. Time is like being in that respect. It consists entirely of the past (which doesn’t exist) and the future (which doesn’t exist) and the present (which is infinitesimally small and so doesn’t exist). So time, like being, is a nothingness. This being-for-itself is not just nothingness, however; it has some other bizarre, contradictory characteristics: Its being, though nothing, allows a world to be manifest (how this is so is unclear), a world that includes all this stuff, including others, for example, who want to objectify the being-for-itself, to make it into a something, a thing, a being-in-itself, like a rock. (“Oh, I know you. I’m wise to you. You’re . . . .” whatever.) The being-for-itself also has a present past (in Husserl’s sense) and is subject to certain conditions of material construction (the body) and material conditions (in an environment of things), and all these givens—the body, the environment, one’s own past, and other people seen from the outside in their thinginess—make up the being-for-itself’s facticity. The being-for-itself wants to be SOMETHING, and so lies to itself. It acts in bad faith, playing various roles (playing at being a waiter, for example) and creating for itself an ego (via self-deceptive, magical thinking). But in fact, being in reality nothing, being-for-itself (each of us) knows that that’s all a lie. We transcend our facticity and can be anything whatsoever, act in any way whatsoever. In other words, we are absolutely free and therefore absolutely responsible. This responsibility is absurd, because there is no reason for being/doing any particular thing. “Man is a meaningless passion.” But the absolute freedom that derives from our essential nothingness also allows for action to be truly authentic (as opposed to the play-acting) in addition to being responsible. Only in death does the being-for-itself succeed in becoming a being-in-itself, a completed thing, and then only if and in the manner in which he or she is remembered by others. A person who is not remembered never existed. Death is a time stamp or, if we are not remembered, an expiration date.

Albert_Einstein_(Nobel)The Eternal Return and the Weight of Being

“341. The Greatest Weight. What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’

“Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”

–Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), The Gay Science

462px-Einstein-formal_portrait-35The Fleeting One-Offness of Everything and the Resulting Unbearable Lightness of Being

“But Nietzsche’s demon is, of course, wrong. There is no eternal return. Where does that leave us? Isn’t life ALWAYS a matter of I should have’s and I would have’s and if I had only knowns? “[W]hat happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all. . . .

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

–Milan Kundera (1929­–     ), contra Nietzsche, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Albert_Einstein_HeadCopyright 2010, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

Posted in Existentialism, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind, Time | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Two Late-night Thoughts about Poetry

Two thoughts, tonight, about poetry

First, a theory of poetry and how it means:

Perhaps the most important lesson that I received, in college, about reading poetry occurred on a day when, in a class on nineteenth-century American poets, I commented that unlike just about everyone else, I wasn’t a fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry—that it seemed to me phony through and through. The guy made significant innovations in the short story. He invented BOTH the detective story and the madness/supernatural ambiguity on which so much horror and science fiction rides, but his poetry, mostly, seems to me contrived and false. The professor said, “Hmm. That’s a problem, your not believing him, because you can’t read a poem well without being willing to take the author’s trip.” And then he shoved everything off his desk and lay back on it and closed his eyes and recited “Annabel Lee” from memory. I still hold to my opinion about Poe. But I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

One thing I tried to teach my students about reading in general and, in particular, about reading poetry, is that they have to enter into it—they have to go into that world of the poem in their imaginations, and then they have an experience there, and that experience has significance of some kind, and that’s what meaning means in poetry. It’s the significance to the reader of that experience that he or she had. That doesn’t mean that any reading will do. If the poem is well-constructed, that experience will be quite specific, and the reader will be led inexorably to have something very like the experience and to gain from it something very like the significance that the writer intended. The whole thing is an exercise in bridging an ontological gap–my mind and experiences and understandings over here, yours over there. Poetry is a form of communication that tries—sometimes successfully! —to do the impossible. It’s the heavy-duty artillery for doing that job.

This is why it’s so awful that some English teachers approach poems by reading them aloud and then asking, “What does this mean?” as though poets were these perverse people who hide their true meanings and as though the meaning of a poem is some blithering generality (the answer to that English teacher’s question: e.g., Life is transitory. It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved. Some such generalized bs).

There’s an old joke that asks, “How many Vietnam veterans does it take to change a lightbulb?” Answer: “You wouldn’t know because you weren’t there, man!” The reader who turns a poem into a blithering generality hasn’t taken the poet’s trip, hasn’t had that vicarious experience, hasn’t learned things from the experience that mattered, that had significance, that were meaningful in that sense.

So, a poem is the very opposite, at its core, of a vehicle for expression of a general principle, though one can glean general principles from good poems, as from life. A good poem is incredibly concrete and precise. Every added detail further delimits the precision, the particularity, of the world of the poem. To be specific about this, to say that Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” is about anguish at the loss of faith is true enough, but if that’s it—if that’s its sole meaning to you—then you weren’t really there, man. The moment that Arnold describes so precisely, has to be experienced—that fellow, standing at the window, looking at the receding tide, which no longer speaks but is a freaking thing roaring mechanically, who tries to have this conversation with the woman in the room who isn’t really interested, whom he fears does not love him, is experiencing loss on so many levels—of faith, of hope, of belief in the progress of the world, of love. And if you’ve gone there, if you’ve inhabited him as you read the poem, and if you’ve experienced his PARTICULAR experience, then it’s not one that you’ll readily forget. It’s wrenching, and heart-breaking. And it will be quite meaningful to you.

Great poetic writing renders with a few incredibly deft strokes that entire world into which the reader enters. A few words are enough to bring it fully, hauntingly, breathtakingly into being in the mind of the reader. This is what Derek Walcott was talking about in the opening of his “Map of the New World: 1. Archipelagoes”:

At the end of this sentence, rain will begin.

At the rain’s edge, a sail.

Poof. Rain. A sail. A world. He’s talking about the freaking ancient MAGIC by which, via words, one brings a world into being. It’s what’s left for Homer to do now that Helen’s hair is a grey cloud and Troy is an ashpit in a drizzle.

So, poems mean in a way that treatises don’t. And this is why authenticity is so important in poetry—why that’s what separates the good from the bad, “Dover Beach” from the typical high-school versifying of adolescent angst and Valentines. If the poem doesn’t create an authentic world, you can’t go into it. There’s no coherent there to go into.

There has to be a there there. I have a young friend, Brooke Baker Belk, who is a very great poet. There’s a there there in her work, and this separates it from almost everything else being written now.

Second, the need for poetry to have something to say.

I love Shelley. And I think that he’s far more important than most people realize. He wrote in “A Defense of Poetry” that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” and ironically, that’s true of him today. HE FREAKING INVENTED the language that we use to talk about our emotions, and every stupid pop song in the 20th and 21st century owes an enormous debt to the language he used. No Shelley, no “Sounds of Silence” or “Stairway to Heaven.” But the writers of those songs and the consumers of them typically did not and do not have a clue that this is so. And he did it so, so, so much better, ofc, than rock star lyricists typically do, Lord knows. By all the gods, he could use words well. And what a spirit he had! He was probably murdered, you know, by British intelligence because of his rabble-rousing for Irish independence (this was the proximate and determinative cause, but he was also loathed by conservatives for being an aristocrat who hated aristocracy, for espousing republicanism and the end of monarchy, for being a model to young people, they thought, of atheism and sexual license).

But there’s an aspect to his work that really troubles me: He had a lot of really bad ideas. Platonism, determinism. Stupid, wrong, dead-end ideas. Stuff from his time. He died young. Too young, d**n it, for he was brilliant. He wrote sooooo well, and he was immensely fertile. At the age of 24, he could read ancient Greek as you read Google News. Perhaps in time he would have developed some good ideas (aside from his political ones). Poetry, like other writing, is supposed to communicate. It renders significant experiences, and so they have an earned quality, like actual life. And in the greatest poetry, what is earned is intellectually, spiritually, morally, or in some other way significant. It matters. It teachers us or reminds us of a universal and so ties us to humanity at large, or it’s fresh and new and insightful. And so, it helps, a lot, for anyone who wishes to write poetry to have something to say. The very best poems always do. “Andrea del Sarto,” “A Tree Telling of Orpheus.” “Adam’s Curse,” “Dover Beach.” “Credences of Summer.” “Directive.” ‘Mr. Flood’s Party.” Neruda’s Poema 20, “Lucinda Matlock.” “Among School Children.” “Easter 1916.” “From the Childhood of Jesus.” Almost anything by Blake or Rumi.These poems provide deeply significant experiences that teach, about life, about other people. It’s worth taking their authors’ trips.

The blood in your veins has the same composition and proportion of minerals as do the salt seas. This is an ancient memory, preserved in us, of the amniotic oceans. And that blood washes us with the same rhythms, of course, diastole and systole, that we hear on the shore–those eternal iambs or trochees, also found in our inspiration and expiration, as root words in languages around the world attest. So this stuff is deep in us, and the prognosis for poetry, even in a profane age, is good.

“All our endeavour or wit cannot so much as reach to represent the nest of the least birdlet, its contexture, beautie, profit and use, no nor the web of a seely spider.” –Michel de Montaigne, “Of the Caniballes,” in the beautiful English translation by John Florio published in 1603. See https://archive.org/details/essaysofmontaign02montuoft

This Elizabethan word contexture, btw, is one that we need to resurrect. It means integration done so palpably, as by weaving, as to create a useful whole. So, it presupposes organization or arrangement of ideas, in a text, according to their precisely appropriate interrelations. Texts exist in contexts. Words, phrases, pauses, sentences, paragraphs, and other elements of discourse likewise work, or don’t, in context, and either serve, or don’t, as essential constituents of a workable whole–a cup that will hold water.

Advice to the person who describes himself as “a budding poet.” If it doesn’t have stems and meristems, don’t describe it as “budding.” If you describe using cliches the very activity by which you are fashioning your own identity, this doesn’t bode well for your having something compelling to say. Poetry is real work, and there is no set of Logo blocks for doing it. (There are, however, some excellent Snap-on Tools. Learn the use of those.)

Posted in Poetry, Teaching Literature and Writing | 1 Comment

Patriotic Noise 1

Submission pursuant to an application for the position of speechwriter for Donald Trump, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott, or Ron DeSantis

Murika, land of the
tis of thee,
by jingo
by golly by
jingoism,
by the dawn’s eerie
night from above,
by crackie,
another village saved from
a tear in the eye as the flag goes by
by the bell,
well, mission accomplished,
O land
that beats true for that ole
black ‘n’ blue,
for you and me and all
true merkins
ole black Joe
stuck a feather in his
tweedle dumb, tweedle dee,
while these savings last,
until they stole the
erection
by Christmas,
cause there’s a war on that
indoctrinating our kids with their
critical race card
am I rite?
they dont want you to have
hamburgers!
They wanna take your cows.
Well, I say, no more Socialism,
for the business of America is
all the livelong
gem of the
dancing with the [you there with the]
stars in your eyes,
in the sweet bye and
[call now] bye,
bye blackbird:
buy now, for these deals won’t last for ever,
by golly, by gee, by
Jim Dandy
doodle dandy,
Onward!

Where our fathers fruited plain.

Everybody sing!


NB: This could also double as the new Kansas, Texas, Ohio, Utah, Flor-uh-duh, or 1776 Project K-12 History certified CRT-free curriculum! You’re welcome, Republicans. Don’t mention it.

Copyright 2021, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. This post may be distributed as long as it is unedited and this copyright notice is included.

For more ruminations on Donnie Dumbo, loser, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/trump-don-the-con/

For more humor, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/humor/

Posted in Humor, Politics, Trump (Don the Con) | 6 Comments

Learning Theories, Models, and Techniques

NB: The following are all either instructional design models or can be adapted to create or at least to inform instructional design models. The list is far from complete, and the definitions are necessarily brief and so, in many cases do not do justice to the concepts. When possible, principle originators of the theories, models, or techniques are named. If your favorite model is not listed, it’s because a) I prepared this a few years ago and haven’t revised it, b) I simply overlooked it (this is already a long list), c) or it’s not here because of my sheer ignorance.                                                                                                                                                                                           

  1. ADDIE Model for Instructional Design: analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation, rapid prototyping. The origins of this widely-used model are obscure.
  2. Advance Organizer Technique, Ausabel. The technique of providing students with introductory materials that constitute a framework or anchoring idea to which new learning can be attached. An advance organizer might be, for example, a chart, a graph, a set of general principles, a procedure, or an activity that engages the student’s prior knowledge. See Schemata Theory.
  3. Algo-Heuristic Model, Landa and Kearsley: Task is algorithmic, semi-algorithmic, heuristic, or semi-heuristic.
  4. Anchored Instruction. See Problem-Based Learning.
  5. Andragogy, Knowles. A theory of adult learning, but applicable to younger people as well, that emphasizes self-direction and responsibility for one’s own learning. According to the theory, adults need to know why the need to learn something, need to learn experientially, approach learning as problem solving, and look for immediate value or practical benefit.
  6. ARCS Model of Motivational Design, Keller. These are the four steps for promoting and maintaining motivation: capture attention (through perceptual arousal or inquiry arousal), establish relevance, build confidence, and build satisfaction.
  7. ASSURE Model for Instructional Design, Heinich, Molenda, Russel, and Smaldino. Analyze the learners; state the objectives; select the methods, media, and materials; use the media and materials; require learner participation; evaluate and revise.
  8. Behavioral Learning Theory/Behaviorism, Pavlov, Thorndike, Watson, Skinner. The now-discredited notion that one cannot sensibly, scientifically speak of internal, mental states because these are not observable but rather must view the learning process in terms of inputs, or stimuli, and outputs, or behaviors. A learning environment is created by adjusting the inputs, the positive or negative reinforcements, to produce the desired outputs. Abraham Maslow on Behaviorism: If the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail. Behaviorists recognize two types of learning: classical conditioning and operant conditioning. See Classcial Conditioning, Pavlov and Operant Conditioning, Thorndike, Skinner.
  9. Brain-Based Instruction. Any educational technique, theory, or model that draws upon our current understandings of neurological processes, such as the recognition based on studies at Johns Hopkins that the parts of the prefrontal cortex that do advance planning and control do not start developing until about age 16 and are not fully developed until about age 24 or the recent discovery of mirror neurons, which “enact” a behavior that is not actually done but simply observed. See Brain Plasticity Model, Layered Brain Model, Neurological Emotional Mediation Model, Society of Mind Model, and Split Brain Model.
  10. Brain Plasticity Model. Instruction predicated on recent research showing that the brain continues to rewire itself throughout life and actually, in some cases, creates new neurons. The message: Use it or loose it, and you can teach an old dog new tricks. Contrary to popular belief, the infant brain starts out with lots of connections, which are weeded out based on experience, and certain early experiences are essential to retention of dedicated wiring (for, say, recognizing a particular phonetic distinctive feature).
  11. CANOE Personality Model. See Five Factor Model of Personality.
  12. Classcial Conditioning, Pavlov. Procedure by which a motivating stimulus (e.g., desire for food or sex) is paired with a neutral stimulus (a bell, shoes), leading to an transference of the motivational power to the previously neutral stimulus.
  13. Cognitive Learning Theory, Chomsky. The notion that the mind contains rules and representations and information-processing capabilities for modifying these and that learning and acquisition are distinct processes for bringing about such modifications. The latter occurs automatically, typically without cosncious awareness of it.
  14. Cognitive/Narrative Model, White and Epston. A model of human psychology that relates many aspects of human thought, feeling, and action to the stories that people tell themselves. The role of the teacher or therapist or coach is to work with the student or client to develop richer, more productive personal narratives involving personal agency.
  15. Communications Model, Roman Jakobson. Any act of communication, such as teaching, speaking, or writing, involves sender, receiver, context, message, contact (or medium), and code. Adapted by James Kinneavy for his theory of discourse.
  16. Component Display Theory, Merrill. Among other things, this theory classifies instruction into primary and secondary performance forms. Primary forms can either tell or ask and can be instances or generalities. Primary forms include rules (tell generality), examples (tell instance), recall (ask generality), or practice (ask instance). Secondary forms include prerequisites, objectives, helps, mnemonics, and feedback. A well-planned lesson, according to Merrill, uses these as needed based upon the type of content to be learned (e.g., fact, concept, process, procedure, principle) and the action be taken by the student (e.g., find it, use it, remember it).
  17. Concept Mapping. The use of a diagram or other visual representation that shows relationships among concepts. The inverted pyramid for newspaper style is an example of a concept map, as are other kinds of graphic organizers such as comparison-contrast charts, story maps, flow charts, fishbone diagrams, SIPOC charts, sentence diagrams, and tree diagrams. See Advance Organizer Technique.
  18. Conditions of Learning, Gagne. Theory proposes that there are five major types of learning, each presenting different conditions and so requiring different approaches or methodologies. The five types are learning of verbal information, of intellectual skills, of cognitive strategies, of attitudes, and of motor skills.
  19. Cone of Experience, Edgar Dale. Levels of engagement: read, hear words, watch still picture, watch moving picture, watch exhibit, watch demonstration, do a site visit, do a dramatic presentation, simulate a real experience, do the real thing
  20. Constructionism, Harel, Papert, Kafai, and Resnick.  Students learn by constructing personally meaningful artifacts that they share with others.
  21. Constructivism, Vygotsky, Piaget, Bruner, and Papert. The idea that the learner does not simply passively take in and store information but, rather, actively constructs and adjusts or revises internal models.
  22. Continuous Improvement Model, Shewart, Juran, Deming, and Ishikawa. Define concept, implement skeletal system, evaluate and refine, implement refined requirements, evaluate and refine, implement refined requirements, and on. Aim is to reduce errors or defects over time. Uses wide variety of tools, including quality circles. Applicable to any task or process in peer/community learning environment.
  23. Cooperative/Collaborative Learning. A model for learning in which students work in pairs or groups, often teaching or otherwise assisting one another.
  24. Criterion-Referenced Instruction, Mager. Do a goal/task analysis. Establish performance objectives that contain an exact specification of outcomes to be achieved and of the criteria for evaluating those outcomes. Do criterion-referenced testing. Do reteaching to mastery.
  25. Critical Thinking, Glaser (?), Shepherd. Instruction in the techniques of inductive or deductive reasoning (e.g., using a Venn diagram to analyze items for class membership, analyzing an inductive inference to determine its reliability based upon representativeness of the sample). Includes all instruction in logic (propositional, symbolic, modal) but also in systematic thinking generally within particular academic domains. The “critical” part of the expression suggests a metacognitive, ongoing critique of the thinking process being used. See Metacognition.
  26. Discovery Learning, Bruner. The notion that students are more likely to be engaged by and to retain that which they discover on their own by means of participating in an activity or process. The goal of discovery learning is to produce active, life-long learners who are self-motivated. See Constructivism.
  27. Disruptive Technology Model, Christensen. New technologies are dismissed by those with power and authority because of their early limitations, but they improve exponentially. Early adopters, such as young people, often drive a revolutionary, disruptive shift to the new technology because they are more flexible and are interested not on minor improvements in the status quo nor on the new technology per se, which they take as a given, but on the actual goal of the use of the technology. The new technology completely revolutionizes learning, but this takes place in spite of the educational establishment (teachers, schools, etc).
  28. Distributed Cognition Theory, Hutchins. Theory that minds do not form representations but, rather, form representations of interactions, and that cognition is thus distributed among the thinker and his or her previous experiences, physical environment, social environment, and cultural artifacts and tools.
  29. DMADV Model. This is a variant of the DMAIC Model developed due to recognition that improvement of processes beyond a certain level often required fundamental redesign. The acronym stands for define, measure, analyze, design, and verify.
  30. DMAIC Model, Bill Smith. This model comes from the world of business and, in particular, from the Six Sigma approach to quality control developed at Motorola, but it can be applied to any process. The acronym stands for define, measure, analyze, improve, and control.
  31. Dual-Coding Theory, Paivio. States that learning situations ideally involve simultaneous visual and verbal channels, the former being analog, the latter symbolic, each of which is stored separately in long-term memory. One enhances the other. However, care must be taken to avoid overloading one channel or the other or creating attention conflicts between the channels.
  32. Elaboration Theory, Reigeluth. Present concepts and skills from simple to complex.
  33. Emergent Phenomena Model (aka Epiphenomenalism), Mill, Papert, Mandelbrot, Resnick, Conway, Kauffman, and Wolfram. Complex behaviors, such as flocking, traffic jams, design in the natural world, and (importantly) learning and invention, are commonly the result of surprising higher-level design features that emerge from the complex and chaotic (in the mathematical sense) interactions between surprisingly simply underlying rules.
  34. Experiential Learning, Dewey. Learning by doing and experiencing.
  35. Feedback Types Model, Rogers. Evaluative, Interpretive or Reflexive/Reciprocal, Supportive, Probing, Understanding
  36. Five Factor Model of Personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (OCEAN or CANOE).
  37. Flexibility Theory, Spiro, Feltovitch, and Coulson. Theory that learning in real life, as opposed to in school, takes place in complex and ill-structured domains and that students need practiceractice in spontaneously, on an ad hoc basis, restructuring their knowledge in adaptive response to situational demands. Practitioners favor multiple representations of content, instructional materials that do not simplify the real complexities of the subject matter, case-based instruction, knowledge construction, and interconnected rather than compartmentalized knowledge sources.
  38. Formative Assessment. Assessment that doubles as a teaching tool, often continuous, embedded assessment.
  39. Game Model, Wittgenstein. The student learns by participating in and internalizing preexisting, socially elaborated (rather than deductively rule-based) systems (e.g., the language game, the hierarchy game, the philosophy game).
  40. Goal-based Scenario Model, Schank. Embed concepts and skills in a goal-based project that the student will find motivating (e.g., prepare PR and marketing materials for concert). See Project-Based Instruction.
  41. Guided Learning. Aka, teacher-assisted learning, as opposed to independent learning. The teacher carefully selects and arranges the order of the materials to which the student will be exposed and actively prompts the student during interaction with the materials with regard to what to attend to, what to do, and what to think about. The teacher might even model some of this or do parts of the overall task that are beyond the student’s current ability.
  42. Heuristics for Decision Making and Problem Solving, Simon, Newell, and Polya. Decision making and problem solving almost always done in conditions of uncertainty requiring less than optimal (e.g., nonalgorithmic) strategy. Some common strategies: make a list, create a model or picture, work backward, solve a similar but simpler problem, use means-ends analysis, construct or find concrete examples and study those, use trial and error, disprove the opposite (reductio ad absurdum).[1]
  43. Hierarchy of Needs, Maslow. A classification of human needs showing a dependency relationship whereby the lower needs need to be satisfied in order for conditions to exist for satisfying the higher needs: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization.
  44. Higher-Order Thinking Skills Instruction (HOTS). Instruction that concentrates on sophisticated skills, traditionally those in the top three levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Cognitive Domain: analysis (analyze, connectinfer), synthesis (generalize, combine, anticipate, express, rewrite, formulate), and evaluation (compare, discriminate, judge, critique).
  45. Imitative Behavior Model, Augustine. The student learns by imitating behavior in his or her environment.
  46. Information Theory Model, Shannon and Weaver. Any act of communication, such as teaching, involves sender, message, encoding as sign, transmission as signal along some channel in conditions of more or less noise, and decoding by receiver. Good model for analysis.
  47. Inquiry-Based Learning Model, Schubert, Blumenfeld, Marx, Krajcik, Soloway, Levstik, and Barton. Instruction is driven by questions, which may or may not be student-originated.
  48. Iteration Method, Louis Aggasiz. Have student do it over and over, demanding further improvement each time. Stretches student beyond what he or she believed was his or her best possible output.
  49. KWL chart, Ogle. A graphical organizer: K – What I know; W = What I want to know; L = What I learned.
  50. Layered Brain Model. From studies in phylogeny and ontogeny, the recognition that the brain consists of layers developed evolutionarily, a lower level (in the hindbrain and related structures) that does autonomic behavior and emotional response, a layer on top of that (the limbic system) that does socially-mediated emotion and sensory processing, and a layer on top of that that does reasoning. NB: These are VERY crude approximations, but the basic idea is that instruction is best when it uses all these parts.
  51. Learning Communities. See Situated Cognition, Brown, Collins, and Greeno.
  52. Learning Styles, Fleming: visual, auditory, verbal (reading/writing), kinesthetic or tactile
  53. Learning Styles, Honey and Mumford: activist, reflector, theorist, pragmatist
  54. Learning Styles, Kolb: converger, diverger, assimilator, accommodator
  55. Metacognition. Thinking about one’s own thinking. See Open Learning.
  56. Mnemonics, or Method of Loci. A learning aid that makes use of easily remembered associations as a jog to memory (e.g., Every good boy deserves fudge for the notes on the lines of the staff in the treble cleff). Called the Method of Loci when the items to be remembered are associated with the parts of a place.
  57. Montessori Method, Montessori. The idea that a child’s “true normal nature” is to engage in self-directed learning. The method involves providing a rich learning environment containing many resources, such as manipulatives or, more generally sensorial materials, and leaving kids more or less free to explore this environment under the guidance of an instructor, director, or facilitator.
  58. Moral Foundations Theory, Haidt, Joseph, and Graham. Theory that people’s moral concepts and actions are based upon five fundamental polarities, with particular ones being of greater or lesser importance to individuals. The foundations are Care: loving and protecting others, the opposite of harm; Fairness: acting in accordance with mutually accepted and universally applied rules, the opposite of cheating; Loyalty: putting one’s party, team, family, nation, or other group above others, the opposite of betrayal; Authority: adherence to rules laid down by leaders or traditions, the opposite of subversion; and Sanctity or purity: concern with perfection, cleanliness, holiness, etc., the opposite of degradation. According to the theory, liberals are concerned most about Care and Fairness, whereas conservatives are concerned most about Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity.
  59. Neurological Emotional Mediation Model. Theory based upon the recent discovery of dedicated structures (spindle neurons in the anterior cingulated cortex and frontoinsular cortex) for mediating between and integrating higher and lower portions of the brain and thus higher and lower processes. Such mediation is essential to socially mediated intelligent behavior. Implication is that good learning designs implicate lower and higher structures and encourage growth of spindle cell connections due to brain plasticity. See Brain Plasticity Model.
  60. OCEAN Personality Model. See Five Factor Model of Personality.
  61. Open Learning, A. S. Neill, Daniel Greenberg. Theory that learning is something one does, not something that is done to one, and that if one wants to produce truly dedicated life-long learners, then one should take advantage of the natural curiosity of children and raise them in a learning environment in which they are encouraged to take responsibility for directing their own learning to meet intrinsic, self-defined needs, wants, desires, goals, etc. Schools and classrooms run on open learning models often make use of democratic tools and techniques such town halls or town meetings, representative government, legislation, codes of conduct, due process, hearings, etc.
  62. Operant Conditioning., Thorndike and Skinner. Associative learning technique whereby the strength and/or frequency and/or likelihood of a behavior is increased or decreased via rewards or punishments.
  63. Original Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Affective Domain, Bloom and Krathwohl: receiving phenomena, responding to phenomena, valuing, organizing, internalizing. NB: Each is enormously elaborated, with many subskills/objectives.
  64. Original Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Cognitive Domain, Bloom: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation. NB: Each is enormously elaborated, with many subskills/objectives.
  65. Original Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Psychomotor Domain, Dave: imitate, manipulate, precision, articulation, Naturalization. NB: Each is enormously elaborated, with many subskills/objectives.
  66. Original Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Psychomotor Domain, Simpson: perception, set, guided response, mechanism, complex overt response, adaptation, origination
  67. PQRST. A study method: preview, question, read, summarize, test
  68. Problem-Based Learning. The student begins with a problem to be solved, not with content to be mastered, as med students do during rounds. 
  69. Programmed Learning Model, Pressey, Skinner, and Crowder. Presentation of instruction in highly granular modules, with integrated module-specific assessment (what we would now call formative assessment), and immediate feedback. If student shows mastery of the module, he or she moves forward. If not, he or she receives remediation to mastery (via similar module). Self paced. Many variants, including ones involving hyperlinks whereby the student guides his or her own progress through alternative modules.
  70. Project-Based Instruction. See Goal-Based Scenario Model.
  71. Rapid Prototyping. See Continuous Improvement Model.
  72. Reciprocal Learning, Palincsar and Brown. Teaching as dialogue involving summarizing, question generating, clarifying, and predicting.
  73. Revised Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Cognitive Domain, Anderson: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating
  74. Revised Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Psychomotor Domain, Harrow: reflex movement, basic-fundamental movements, perceptual abilities, physical abilities, skilled movements.
  75. Schemata Theory, Vygotsky, Bartlett, and Bruner. The learner forms internal models, or schemata, that may or may not then be revised in light of additional evidence or experience. Importantly, new learning will proceed more rapidly and completely if it can be attached to a preexisting internal schema. See Theory Theory.
  76. Self-Regulated Learning. See Open Learning.
  77. Situated Cognition, Brown, Collins, and Greeno. Theory that the gaining of knowledge or skill is a situated activity bound to particular social, cultural, and physical contexts. Practitioners attempt to develop participative, mutually reinforcing and empowering learning communities.
  78. Society of Mind Model, Minsky. The mind consists of hundreds of thousands of highly specific, hierarchically organized, complexly interdependent subsystems that constitute a society. So, there are literally hundreds of thousands of highly specific intelligences, each with its own inputs, outputs, design, degree of addressability and plasticity, etc.
  79. Socratic Method, Socrates. Pose deceptively simple question related to default, unexamined assumption. Elicit answer. Challenge the student and get him or her to go deeper by asking questions to a) clarify; b) probe assumptions, rationale, or reasons; c) examine evidence, d) question viewpoint or perspective, e) probe implications and questions, f) question the question.
  80. Spiral Learning, Bruner. The idea that learning is more likely to stick if it is returned to and built upon periodically.
  81. Split Brain Model, Sperry. Based upon studies of characteristics of the left and right hemispheres, the notion that one should appeal in instruction both to the visually and spatially oriented right side of the brain, which does associative, creative, lateral thinking, and to the verbally, symbolically oriented left side of the brain, which does logical, linear thinking.
  82. SQ3R. A study method: survey, question, read, recite/write, review.
  83. Stages of Cognitive Development, Piaget: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operations, formal operations
  84. Stages of Moral Development, Kohlberg: preconventional (obedience and punishment orientation), preconventional (self-interest orientation), conventional (interpersonal accord and conformity), conventional (authority and social-order maintaining), post-conventional (social contract orientation), post-conventional (universal ethical principles)
  85. Stages of Psychosocial Development, Erikson: hope (trust vs. mistrust), will (autonomy vs. shame and doubt), purpose (initiative vs. guilt), competence (industry vs. inferiority), fidelity (identity vs. role confusion), love (intimacy vs. isolation), care (generativity vs. stagnation), wisdom (ego integrity vs. despair)
  86. Stages of the Ethic of Care, Gilligan: preconventional (goal = individual survival), transition from selfishness to responsibility for others, conventional (goal = self sacrifice to be good), transition from goodness to truth that one is a person too, postconventional (goal = principle of nonviolence/do not hurt others or self)
  87. Sudbury Model. See Open Learning.
  88. Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Gardner. In its most recent instantiation this theory proposes that there exist eight reasonably distinguishable intelligences: bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, intrapersonal, visual-spatial, musical, and naturalistic.  Other candidates for intelligences along these lines include spiritual, existential, and moral.
  89. Theory Theory, Gopnik. The idea that from a very early age (even before birth!), learners act as scientists do, forming theories about the world and testing them.
  90. Traditional “Stages of Learning”: instruction, rehearsal, transfer.
  91. VARC Model. See Learning Styles, Fleming.
  92. Waterfall Model, trad. model for software development: define concept, define requirements, do preliminary design, do detailed design, implement, test, accept. Applicable to any task or process done individually or in a peer/community learning environment.

[1] This strategy can, of course, in some cases be carried out rigorously/algorithmically, in which cases it is no longer technically a heuristic.

Posted in Ed Reform, Teaching Literature and Writing | Leave a comment

Your Updated Guide to Scary Repugnican Bedtime-for-Democracy Stories

In 2020-21, the smarter Repugnicans looked at the BLM protests and were scared half out of their Klan robes. (I know, in the age of the Trump Limbo Party, smart Republicans, like Congressional ethics, is a bit of an oxymoron, but there are many with a sort of low cunning, and there are still a few relatively innocuous Eisenhower-era types around.) The protests were almost entirely peaceful. They were nationwide. They were almost universally supported by young people. They attracted many millions of folks from every station, race, age, religion, ethnicity, social class, occupation, etc, including suburban white Moms in yellow T-shirts. Millions of people called for change, real change, for a freaking change.

And the Repugnicans predictably felt that they had to do something to start turning back the clock to a “whiter is righter” time. What’s a ruling class white supremacist to do when people start becoming educated? Well, he or she starts trying to control their education.

To that end, someone in the ranks of professional Karens and Chads–the ones who do Repugnican PR–hit upon elevating CRT, this extremely obscure academic theoretical framework promulgated by a few scholars most folks had never heard of, into some kind of omnipresent menace. This was purest fabrication of the “Jews are poisoning the wells” variety, but such propaganda has always worked with a certain element of the population–the uneducated rabble of the kind that made up Hitler’s brownshirts and that makes up much of Trump’s ignorant, extraordinarily base base.

But let’s be clear about this. A CRT curriculum in U.S. K-12 schools is as imaginary as are the Jewish space lasers warned about by one-person carnival sideshow Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Entirely fabricated.

CRT is a fabricated moral panic. It is the self-parodying right’s latest Emmanuel Goldstein. The right-wingers of the Trump Limbo Party (how low, how low, how low can we go) are always in need of a new subject for their two minutes hates. If you don’t get this allusion, go read Orwell’s 1984. I mean it. Go read 1984. Now.

For examples of those two minutes hates, btw, see any outtake from a speech by Vlad’s Agent Orange, Donnie Dumbo; any bloviation on the House floor by Flor-uh-duh Man par excellence, playboy-heartthrob-in-his-own-mind, and-Animal-House-frat-boy-playuh-with-a-Visa-card Matt Gaetz; or any televised segment of puffer fish imitation by Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity.

It’s another example of the same phenomenon that occurred a few years back when red state Repugnicans started passing ludicrous legislation against teaching Sharia Law in K-12 pubic schools, even though no U.S. K-12 Public School ever did this, not one. NOT. A. SINGLE. ONE.. The whole business reminds me of when a Flor-uh-duh Mayor issued a proclamation banning the nonexistent medieval bad boy Satan from her town. (Yes, this actually happened.) However, the latest wave of legislation is much, much worse than was that nonsense, for it attempts to ban any and all informed teaching about the history of race in America. It is Thought Control legislation that attempts to dish up for kids a mythologized history that serves the ends of white supremacists, and CRT in K-12 public schools is just the fabricated excuse for this.

BTW, if you are a Repugnican all worked up about CRT, consider this:

Why this particular obsession with what is obviously a phantasm?

Why does CRT in K-12, of all things, which doesn’t even exist, get your panties in a wad, but not, say, the facts that if you are black in America you will pay more for the same house, get paid less for the same job, get a stiffer sentence for the same crime, and on and on and on and on? These are examples of SYSTEMS in America that are racist, of Systemic Racism. And we won’t fix these and other similar problems until we face, squarely, our execrable history and the execrable current state of affairs. You might also want to ask yourself, Karen or Chad or whoever you are, why you are all worked up about the same stuff that works up overt, declared White Supremacists and Nazis. You are concerned about the same stuff that matters to ACTUAL NAZIS. Think about that. Think. Think for a freaking change.

Some Repugnicans aren’t, of course, ACTUALLY concerned with CRT in public schools, though they gleefully disseminate the disinformation. These are the more intelligent and arguably more loathsome and dangerous ones. Make up a bogeyman to frighten the rubes. This is the lesson that Goebbels and Hitler taught and acted upon. It’s one that Trump, so lacking in ability in almost every other area, has mastered, And it’s what the Repugnican Party, remade in the image of Glorious Leader Who Shines More Orange than Does the Sun, has been doing recently on several fronts, using several bogeymen–Soros-funded caravans, the supposedly “fake news”media, Antifa, Jewish space lasers, dead voters, supposedly fake mail-in ballots delivered by the truckload, bamboo ballots from China, Biden the Socialist (How wacko is that?! Biden, the Banker’s Friend in Washington since 1973, for crying out loud!), K-12 CRT, surveillance drones that only appear to be birds. What’s next, monsters under the bed?

I would venture that very, very few (three?) teachers in the United States had ever even heard of Critical Race Theory before all this nonsense started. But now, every freaking Repugnican state is passing Thought Control legislation to stop CRT curricula (actually, to stop any discussion in schools of the sad, sickening history of race in America). And the Pugs are spreading throughout their idiot media stories about the immanent menace of CRT. CRT is turning your kids against America! CRT doesn’t pick up its socks off the floor. CRT hogs the remote. CRT put coin locks on bathroom doors. CRT fills bags of potato chips with almost nothing but air. CRT invented Chippy the paperclip! CRT is dating your daughter! Beware! Beware!

What’s true of CRT in U.S. K-12 schools, that it never existed there, is also true of the “Soros caravans” and Antifa–they are phantasms, invented bogeymen. In the former case, nonexistent. In the latter, almost nonexistent (I joke that Antifa consists of two white boys in Portland who like to dress up like Neo from the Matrix and go to protests and break stuff).

With all this in mind, I offer the following:

Song of the Semi-erect Repugnican Legislator

As I was coming from my lair,
I saw a curriculum that wasn’t there.
It wasn’t there again today.
I wish smart people would go away.
Thought Police we need, I say!

Copyright 2021, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. This post may be copied and distributed freely as long as it is NOT edited, is distributed in its entirety, and retains this copyright notice.

For those interested in Orwell, here, an essay: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/my-candidate-for-the-most-important-book-you-could-ever-read/

and another: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/2019/05/11/he-sees-you-when-youre-sleeping-2/

and here, a piece of flash fiction: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/stories/he-sees-you-when-youre-sleeping-a-short-story/

Posted in Politics, Technology | 4 Comments

Link to Must Read Diane Ravitch Post about Critical Race Theory

https://dianeravitch.net/2021/07/01/diane-ravitch-time-for-honesty-about-critical-race-theory/comment-page-1/#comment-3267560

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Corporate Decision Making: You Are There

For more art and essays about art by Bob Shepherd, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/art/

For more humor by Bob Shepherd, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/humor/

Posted in Art, Humor, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Theory of Dreaming

The American philosopher Eric Switzgebel has made a name for himself in recent years by challenging a lot of what people think they know, and, in particular, by challenging what people think they alone know—things about their own conscious mental experience. For example, he has challenged the notion that mental images are picture-like, which a lot of people believe. People confidently state that they “had an image in their heads” of this or that and discuss the contents of it (oh, I was looking at an image in my head of Grandma’s house as it appeared back when I was a kid in ’85), but when you press them on this, their image report turns out to be extremely unreliable in a way that pictures–real pictures–aren’t. If I ask someone to visualize a candle, he or she will report having done this. He or she might say something like, “I had a picture of it in my head,” but when you press the person on this: what was the candle sitting on? What was the color of the candle? How far down had it melted? Was any of the candle still liquid or molten at its base? What was in its immediate background? Was the flame flickering? etc., people don’t know the details that they would know if they had seen an actual picture. Switzgebel tells people to “picture a house,” and they report having done this, but then they can’t tell whether the house has a chimney, which they could easily do if they were consulting something actually “picture-like.”

In a similar vein, the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus famously showed that when people remember events, they think they are simply reporting a recording in the brain of what happened when, in fact, their brains actively construct memories from a combination of the few things from that past time that actually got recorded into long-term memory and a lot of general knowledge about the world, including things that they were later falsely told about this past. Memory is not playback, though it seems like that to the person having the memory. It is reconstruction, and extremely unreliable reconstruction at that.

I think that it might be the case that something similar occurs with dreaming. This is a fairly radical proposal, and I haven’t encountered it before in work by others. We tend to think that the events in dreams play out over time, typically in real time, that they have duration. Event A occurs, then Event B, then Event C, and so on. But what if, instead, the same story construction mechanism that occurs in memory occurs when we call upon a memory of a dream? Suppose that an executive conscious portion of the brain

takes random stuff that is currently being processed by the brain and is therefore currently available;

automatically, swiftly, constructs a narrative, with duration and a protagonist and other narrative elements, from that material; and

presents the result to consciousness?

And, furthermore, suppose that throughout REM sleep, this conscious executive part of the brain is checking in, in this way, from time to time, finding slightly changed inputs each time and requesting correspondingly changed narratives that are automatically, swiftly supplied? One might call this the “Multiple Drafts Theory of Dreaming.” The idea bears similarities to Daniel Dennett’s Multiple Drafts Theory of Consciousness presented in his book Consciousness Explained.

If what I am suggesting is true, we don’t actually experience events with duration during our sleep. Instead, we construct, from the random stuff our brain is processing, events with the qualities that events have, including duration and other narrative elements like conflicts and antagonists, and then those events are presented, as recent memory, to conscious memory, and we think that we experienced them in the dream because we are remembering them, just as we think, all the time, that we experienced events in our own pasts that our brains have partially or wholly simply constructed as part of the active making, each time we remember, of the memory.

And if all this is true, what is happening in the morning when we “remember a dream,” is that the conscious part of the brain is calling for a memory of the dream, which in turn tells the unconscious part, “Construct a narrative memory of a dream from the most recent brain state and present it to me as an actual memory” (not as a hypothetical or construction). This shouldn’t be surprising, for this is just what happens in memory of life events. But it is a bit disconcerting because it challenges what we think we know about ourselves and our experiences.

Ofc, this ability to construct narratives, automatically, swiftly, has a readily available evolutionary explanation in that it would enable prediction of the behavior of others–the essential survival skill of playing out into the future of a creature’s theory of other minds. It pays to have an idea what that hippo one has suddenly come upon might do.

NB: One support of the theory is the iffiness of duration in dream reports–in dreams, there are often leaps in time and compressions or extensions of it; so, it’s unreliable and more like duration in stories than in active, waking life.

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Thank You Sonnet | Bob Shepherd

after Edna St. Vincent Millay

Yes, it’s true, as you said, that after good sex
the world is heightened, clearer, a cineplex—
as if a summer shower’s intercession
washed clean the muddied, muddled doors of perception,
but lest there be any misconstruction of these
our wood-note wild responses to thighs and knees
and breasts and buttocks and jumblies jumbled together,
let me hasten my thoughts, disrobed, untethered,
to share as well. First things first, dear one:
nothing can equal this gift of you. I’m stunned
by its deliciousness, stunned and amazed,
and eons would it take your skills to praise,
but let’s be clear, up front, sans ambiguity
that I to myself belong in perpetuity.

Copyright 2021, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved
|
Art: Kádár Tamás Csók, hommage Gustav Klimt című olajfestménye, 2007. Kádár Tamás at the Hungarian language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons.

For more poetry by Bob Shepherd and writing about poetry and poetics, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/poetry/

Posted in Love, Poetry, Sex and Gender | 1 Comment

A Lost Party

People have a fundamental duty of care, especially toward younger people, the elderly, the displaced, the victimized, and the infirm, and toward those whose work it is to carry out that duty of care–healthcare professionals, teachers, firefighters, hospice workers, and police officers sworn to serve and protect. IT IS PRECISELY THE LACK OF ANY SENSE OF THIS DUTY OF CARE THAT CHARACTERIZES THE REPUGNICAN PARTY TODAY. The current party is DEFINED BY this lack, by this void, by what is MISSING in it. A single moment perfectly captures this defining characteristic of the current incarnation of the Repugnican Party: Rand Paul doodling during the footage showing Trump’s insurrectionist brownshirts beating Capitol police with flag poles.

Posted in Trump (Don the Con) | Tagged | 1 Comment

Geometry: a Love Story | Bob Shepherd


Imagination can . . . arrange for parallel lines to meet in secret.” –Shelley Jackson, on Italo Calvino

Once upon a time, there were two parallel lines, and they couldn’t stop looking at one another.

My lord. Such beauty, each thought. Who would have believed, in all the world, that such perfection existed? If only. . . .

And so they went on, each longing.

So close, and yet so far away.

Perhaps, one said, there is a certain purity in this. Holding the line.
F that, said the other.
Yeah, came the reply. F that.

I know, for I ran across them both. I found one shy and acute, the other bold and obtuse. But they were just right for each other.

It’s good, at least, to have you by my side, said one.
Yes, said the other, and sighed. Perhaps we could meet in secret?
No, damn him.
Damn who?
Euclid, the other expostulated.

You contain infinities within infinities, said the first.
You, too, said the other. You are my horizon. Aside from you lies only the abyss.
That is very beautiful, and very true, said the first.
Yes, said the other. It is.

On and on they went like this until, until,

Their longing warped space itself. Or perhaps it was God, taking pity, crumpling space and time.

And they lived happily ever after.

Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. For more poetry by Bob Shepherd (and writing about poets and poetry), go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/poetry/

Posted in Poetry, Uncategorized | 5 Comments