random access apologetic part 6

Bloged in RAM, cognition, culture by rod Monday November 14, 2005

I think I’ll stop rambling on about all this now. But first I have to consider a question.
What if everyone who was anybody was sporting a mullet, and this particular ‘do lasted a good long time, and by-and-by, little-by-little, more and more people began to cut the back of their hair to match the more respectable length of the “business in front” aspect of their ‘dos? What if all the mullet people thought that some serious illness had befallen all those whose hair on the back of their heads was breaking off? Eventually, the number of those who had gotten haircuts would be so great as to cause panic over the epidemic. Studies would be undertaken. Study the atmosphere, ground water, etc. We have to get to the bottom of this.
What if linear thinking brought us to a place where we were asking questions that could no longer be answered linearly. What if some weirdo thinker began to answer those questions, but the answers were so hard to understand, for most, they just had to be accepted, rather than understood.
What if these folks who accepted and memorized taught younger folks whose thought process would be formed by the very information they were being taught? What if the information that had been begrudgingly superimposed on the sequential thought paradigms of a generation, actually caused the younger students to understand things and perceive and process based on that same information. The thought processes that would be hard to grasp by one group, would be the very foundation of the thought process of a new generation.
What if this new generation began to think, observe, process, perceive and express themselves based on this new way of thinking?

Their boredom with sequential activity might label them as “easily distracted”. Their ability to accept things they can’t explain might label them as “disinterested”. Their lack of a need to explain things to accept them, might label them as “slackers.” Their disinterest in one-sided dissemination of information and a desire to ask questions might label them as “disrespectful”. Their refusal to understand the spiritual via the scientific method might label them as unspiritual.
The older generation might observe that this distracted, unfocussed, behavior was caused by some abnormality. It would be observed that an alarmingly increasing number of young people are exhibiting this behavior and no doubt, anxiety over its cause would ensue. Blame would be cast on any number of contributing factors, such as video games, which might not be recognized as an expression of these characteristics rather than a cause. Eventually, without an answer or cure, we’d treat these symptoms with chemicals, and eventually everyone would be using these chemicals to be treated for thinking in the way that interaction and understanding of their environment requires.
What if we all understood that a world with new information requires new methods of processing that information? What if we understood that the information itself is forming new processes in the young minds that store it? What if we capitalized on it in our teaching of the same information rather than trying to correct it and fit round pegs into linear holes?

random access apologetic part 4

Bloged in RAM, cognition, culture by rod Sunday November 13, 2005

In the real world, everything seems to be becoming more random access. Music reflects it as texture becomes more important than harmony or form, ambience becomes as important as melody, melodic phrases and textual phrases are different lengths, yet superimposed. The “vertical” aspect of music, (or “moment-in-time”) which may be textural, or layers, rather than harmonic interest, is quickly replacing linear direction and functional harmony. Even in pop music, key is sometimes obscured by remote tonal shifts between verse and chorus, and chords are used interchangeably between parallel major and minor keys.
In movies, it is becoming common for the first scene to represent the present time, rather than the beginning of a story that will bring us to the present. Sometimes the ending is told before the story is presented, but can’t be understood without context of the past. Sometimes every scene is a what-if scenario based on the previous scene, and they don’t have to be sequential. Folks who complain about this usually say something like “it was too hard to follow,” but miss the point in that the point may not have been to follow it. Not all stories are best told front to back, and if it is thought necessary to re-order events to make sense of them, many lessons may be lost.
Jesus didn’t tell his story front to back. We argue all day about which events described in the revelation are still to take place or had already happened when they were written. The salvation story is not being told front to back.
In Music Theory I, one of the first things that I talk about is the fact that there is info that we’ll need to go over that won’t make complete sense until they have the next bit as well. It doesn’t matter which thing we discuss first, the other is needed to make better sense of it. Forgive me, but this is true of most everything in life. There is nothing quite as exciting as the epiphany of instantly seeing how so many mysterious things come together to make sense.
Even when speaking linearly, we recognize that we often can’t make sense of something until it is understood in light of later events or circumstances. We say, “hindsight is 20/20.” In music, we use pivot chords to change keys, so that when they are heard, they are interpreted using the context of the current key, but once the ear moves to the new key, the chord is remembered not as having been in the old key, but in how it relates to the new key. We call this re-interpretation. A chord can relate completely differently to the chords immediately on either temporal side of it.
When studying music on a details level, students often wonder how a work can be considered to be in a particular key when, in fact, it visits many keys along the way. But on a higher, broader level, we note that each of the visited keys serve as harmonic movement that help to define the real key of the piece. This is beyond sequential understanding because linearly, the keys seem only to relate to the ones that came just before or just after them.
I often refer to Jesus’ teaching methods to illustrate the putting into place of bits of information to access randomly, but also as an apologetic for artistic expression of the gospel and the courage not always to tell the whole story at once. I’ve mentioned to students that I think it is possible that Jesus rarely if ever spoke straight-up in literal language to his disciples. I think of when he asked Peter who he thought Jesus was. Jesus said that flesh and blood had not revealed that to him, even though Jesus had been, in flesh and blood, teaching him all along. I also think of Jesus’ conversation with the twelve on the night before his death in which he refers to his having been speaking figuratively. The disciples respond to his comments by saying that he is no longer talking in figures of speech. I believe that the whole of Jesus’ teaching never painted a complete picture necessary for understanding, until he was finished. When all the pieces were in place, the lights came on for those who would believe. The salvation story and the kingdom of God could not be understood sequentially, he never presented a step by step process of living in the kingdom, receiving the Holy Spirit, or anything. He told them that the Spirit of truth would come and lead them to all truth. He put the elements in place that would come together to form understanding.

random access apologetic part 1

Bloged in RAM, cognition, culture by rod Saturday November 12, 2005

I have developed a theory about how this plays in the classroom these days. Outside the classroom, more and more, I see students thinking, processing and operating this way. But inside the classroom, they get aggravated and frustrated when information is presented in any kind of nonlinear fashion. How can this be? Why would someone want to learn in a way that is contrary to how they think?
A few observations come to mind.
Third, the vast majority of folks on the other side of the classroom desk, present things linearly. Therefore, if the student wants to do well, he must learn to gather information in the manner that it is presented, even if it is not natural for him.
First, I am becoming less convinced that students are in the classroom to learn, and more convinced that they are there to do well. “Do well”, and “learn” are no longer always the same thing in education. If the teacher thought they were, he would make the content and concepts more important than the procedures by which it is acquired, and would do his best to present material in a language that translates to learning for the student. But more and more, students’ grades reflect how well they followed procedures than how much they learned or mastered the content or skill. If the student thought they were, he would never ask how can I bring my grade up, because he would realize that his grade reflects what he has learned, and so would know that in order to bring up his grade, he would have to learn the content and use it more completely.
Second, I think that the gap between what is done in the classroom and what is needed in the real world is widening. So the disconnect between how one thinks and learns in the world and how he must think and learn in the classroom appears to be of no consequence. The student doesn’t mind to process classroom information in a different way than he normally thinks, if he doesn’t believe the information is useful outside the classroom. Teachers affirm this belief by continuing to offer content in a way that is different from how the student will operate later.
Teachers tend to present disconnected, out-of-context bits of information for memorization, but often assess the students by testing with questions that require the student to process the information according to a real-life scenario. Often the student has no ability to do this, because it wasn’t presented as something that is “used”, but only as something that is “known”. So the student has no idea how that information is to be used or applied to the very scenario within which they will be operating.
Somehow, we’ve got it into our heads that the info should be streamlined data, extracted and free from distraction so that the student can more easily learn the data. In my classroom, though less than in the past, it may be sometimes felt that the “extraneous” rabbit trails are distractions from the course content, and make it more difficult to “learn”. But I believe it is the context for the course content, and that the content cannot be “learned” if extracted from it. Memorized, maybe, but not learned.

random access apologetic part 5

Bloged in RAM, cognition, culture by rod Friday November 11, 2005

Since I think this way, of course I believe that web-based, or random access thinking allows for a greater number of possible explanations and freedom to explore and contemplate. It allows me to differentiate symptoms from their underlying causes, and to avoid generalizations that misunderstand cause and effect. It allows for the assimilation of bits of information that haven’t been collected in sequence. It allows for the acceptance and storage of information that doesn’t yet seem to fit into what I already know. It allows me to get terribly confused and follow trails that are of no benefit, or are dangerous, but it allows me to undo them and start again – to re-order. It allows for mystery and belief of the unexplainable.
I’ve never been sorry my mind works this way, only sorry that it is very difficult sometimes for linear, logical, if-this-then-that, thinkers to follow. I call those people powerpoint thinkers. They have a slide on the screen, and the only possible direction to travel from there is forward or back, one slide at a time. One thing leads to another. And it bores me to tears. In my brain, anything leads to anywhere, and if you check out for a minute, you’ll have no idea which turn I took.
In the classroom, I often quickly fill up the white board, and continue. When I need to write something down, I look for a space between other scribbles in which to jot down a word, symbol, phrase, illustration, etc. Half-way through class I glance at the board and wonder if the students are making any sense of what is written. I’ve used this as an illustration of attempting to understand or even experience temporal art at once. Mozart is said to have been able to do this. He is thought to have experienced an entire piece of music at once – as if it were visual art. Once he’d heard a piece, it didn’t have to play linearly in his head for him to recall the entire thing.
When I’ve talked about this with my students, I explain that I’ve presented information temporally, and have written on the board as I went. Finally, everything we’ve talked about is contained on the board, but not necessarily linearly. If the student has been there all along, he can access the information on the board randomly, and doesn’t have to revisit the conversation sequentially. I believe that this causes us to process the information in a different way than it was originally presented and immediately inhibits the danger of storing it without processing it. Mozart could surely understand form better because he could experience the development of thematic ideas at the same time as he was experiencing the exposition. The “fit” of information is more easily recognizable if one allows himself to jump non-sequentially to any bit of other information.
Powerpoint, and powerpoint thinking, not only impede this out-of-sequence processing, but make it virtually impossible.
Some things simply can’t be understood sequentially.

random access apologetic part 2

Bloged in RAM, cognition, culture by rod Thursday November 10, 2005

Zyklus is an example of what has been called Mobile music because it is a musical version of the visual idea of a mobile, in that it is perceived differently depending on the vantage point of the observer. Once begun, the path and order of the tangents would be different depending on the starting point and thoughts.
For a decade, I’ve described this trait of mine as random access thinking. The term occurred to me as opposed to linear thinking and was related to recording with computers versus magnetic tape (linear). I was intrigued by the idea of pointers that gave direction for the processing of data that need not be stored sequentially. Data stored linearly could be read in any order, and data stored in random places on a disc, could be constructed and perceived linearly as it was read. This allows for non-destructive editing in which an alternative could be created and stored without the loss of the original. A new pointer simply tells the processor to read the alternative instead of the original. One can always decide later to choose the first version. Undo.
Recently, I read some quotes from Chris Seay, who describes this as web-based thinking, likening it to webpages, each of which contain any number of hyperlinks that one can click and find himself on an entirely different trail.
Early this summer, I took it upon myself to gather all my blog posts and to put them into folders, labeled according to topic categories. I ended up with way too many categories, and for the next few weeks, I was constantly, moving files between different folders. Finally, I realized that I was actually placing copies of the same post in several different folders. This is what happens when a random access guy tries to behave linearly. I forgave myself when I realized that there is now some Apple software that decided to try the same thing. I noticed that the new iLife bundle on Macs is geared to organize so that even the most unorganized will be able to find things. For example, iTunes will search your hard drive and make copies of every mp3, and place the copies in special sublevel folders according various identifying information. But, you don’t actually have to allow it to do this if you choose. Itunes can actually just point to all your mp3s and leave them where they already are on your drive and access them directly from there. Of course, this saves disk space. Of course, this is how my brain works. Thoughts are stored at random places on my disk and therefore, seem less likely to get attached to a particular in sequential format and thus not be accessible from any other context. Any context is accessible from any context in my brain. If it gets paired with something with which it doesn’t fit, it is easily removed. For example, purpose and procedure – but that’s another blog.

random access apologetic part 3

Bloged in RAM, cognition, culture by rod Wednesday November 9, 2005


…for Brush Boy and Big Talbottoms

UPDATE: The word tangential has been added to this post.

If I were ever to write a paper book, it would have to be a pop-up book in which by pressing on a particular word or phrase, you could cause a different section of the book to pop up and follow a tangential line of thinking sparked by the phrase. How does one make forks in the road in a linear, left-to-right, paper copy? I have to recall that Garrison Keillor nearly did this with so many bogus footnotes in a work of fiction that it was almost impossible to follow the story line – but that’s because the reader, having read the footnote, was still expected to return to the path and linearly follow the story. What if the book could be constructed so that the reader didn’t have to read the book in any particular order, and that, not just out-of-order chapters or sections, but phrases that connect directly to ideas and thoughts in other sections?
In Webernese terms, all combinatorial. For example, I would write a chapter about Anton Webern’s tone rows and link it to that text. The reader would decide whether to ignore the fact that he didn’t know what I was talking about, or to hit the link and go off on a tangent listening to me ramble on about dodecaphonic composition.
There is, in fact, a musical work for percussion called Zyklus, by Karlheinz Stockhausen (b. 1928), (who appears in the crowd on the cover of “Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, which was quoted by Bono in the middle of another song on Saturday night at the concert in Dallas) that I’d like to model in book form. The work has no beginning or end. The score is bound in a ring-binder but there is no front or back to the score. The player simply starts wherever the booklet falls open. If this idea were coupled with the pop-up book idea to simulate hyperlinks rather than footnotes, then the reader would have a simulated idea of how my mind works.

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