Archive for May, 2010

Lately, and I use the word advisedly, I have been thinking more and more about time. Time in relation to learning (or perhaps learning in relation to time).

In particular, trying to understand the interplay in our lives of a sense of time as an “arrow” (i.e. a sequence of events with a beginning and an end, direction or purpose — the narrative paradigm of much modern science?)  and a sense of time as “cycle”, (i.e. where the arrow of events is subsumed in something that has no beginning and no end).

It’s tempting, almost commonplace, to think that we are always learning and changing, and it is a widespread view that learning, like evolution, is a gradual and lifelong process. This may be true, but I now wonder whether it’s the whole story.

First of all, the understanding of evolution, as a series of imperceptibly tiny steps of development and refinement brought about by natural selection of random genetic variations best suited to the environment, has in recent years  by lack of evidence to back it up, faced criticism on at least two fronts. On the one hand are those who prefer or retain belief in a divine creator, an argument that ulitmately always produces a tautology. On the other, a (scientific) curiosity that dares challenge the dogma of Darwinism and neo-Darwinism. An example of the latter would be ‘Punctuated Equilibrium’, which (roughly speaking) holds that complex living systems will always tend toward maintaining a dynamic equilibrium, or homoeostasis. In other words, they will be ‘in the business’ of staying the same.  There will tend therefore to be long periods where not much happens and not much changes, and where and when things do change they may do so dramatically and in a (relatively) short period of time — punctuating what is otherwise a stable balance. Evidence of life on earth seems to correspond to this model.

Finding and articulatig an epistemology for this research is turning out to be a challenge. The question will not be whether it’s a straight choice between time’s arrow and time’s cycle; either one needs both or one needs neither. But, has our metaphor of management and business relied on one of these two aspects at the expense of the other? If so, at what cost? What happens when one explores one’s own learning with this question in mind? As we re-construct our stories of learning, is what emerges a little bit of both?

Just as it is true that a person’s face is their own, unique to them, and can tell the story from birth to death (warts and all!), it is equally the case that there’s is a face in resemblance to members of the same family who have lived before, written into the appearance of generations gone, and generations to come. So the story of a face is both one with a beginning and an end, and also part of a recurring loop.

I find reference to this seemingly paradoxical phenomenon in my culture. As in, for example, the phrase “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“, or in John Peel’s famous reference to the music of one of his favourite bands, The Fall, “Always different, always the same.”

So next step for me will be to consider in more detail a methodology and a method around which and with which to base my research project: Discourse Analysis.  No doubt this will form the subject of future posts.

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