Archive for November, 2012

Just a few shots of the effects of the recent heavy rains at Henley.


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“I Don’t Think That Today’s Generation Could Survive It” – RTÉ Archives.

Major-General Emmet Dalton speaks with Cathal O’Shannon in the 1978 RTE documentary “Emmet Dalton remembers”. This portion of the film is focused on the First World War, and Emmet’s part in it.  Later in this segment, Emmet goes on to describe the scene of the death of Tom Kettle, the Irish poet and Emmet’s friend, in battle.  Only a few years later, Emmet would be part of more history as Michael Collins lay dying in his arms at Béal na Bláth.

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Here’s a challenge. Isn’t “sustainable growth”, one of those ideas that gets bandied about by economic specialists as well as by mission statement writers, an oxymoron? In a finite world where ever-increasing growth consumes ever-decreasing non-renewable resources how can growth be a sustainable concept? It makes no sense on a global scale, and little sense (other than in the very short and greedy term) at the level of the firm. And yet the government would have Higher Education adopt this sort of thinking in its own thinking.

I do wonder what definition of sustainable, for example, the UK government has in mind when it comes out with policies that are meant to influence what goes on in Higher Education. One example comes via the Dept for Business and Innovation & Skills (see, here for an example connected with Higher Education, but there are others). I’m guessing that they mean sustainable simply as a qualifier for “growth”.  This must seem logical to the legislators, but it also means that their policy is – logically – doomed. Or am I missing something?

Perhaps the problem lies with our way of thinking.

When people are figuring things out in a learning space, it has become generally accepted over the last 100 years that there are three methods that may be used, whether the learners know it or not, to reach explanation. The three methods are induction, deduction and abduction (retroduction).

Learning without knowledge of the form of inference that is being presupposed (and one must assume that this may be very commonly the case, even among humans) is probably only possible with either induction and abduction. But even if the learners are made aware of the logic of their thinking mechanisms, is there any guarantee that it would change the outcome?

It’s an interesting side question as to whether we can learn something without being aware that we are learning it but without much doubt I’d say that when we are aware that we are learning, it is in the deductive form of thinking where we spend most of our time. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Deductive thinking has been at the heart of the scientific method for two hundred years, and has served as a useful short-cut in the natural sciences to a system of the ‘eternal verities’ or laws of physics, mathematics etc. and it is therefore deduction that we now consider to be the higher form of sense-making. A deduction is a logical prediction or inference, based on the necessary truth of a general covering rule, about a specific case in point.   It relies, usually, for its utility on there being enough general agreement about the covering rule for us to take its premises for granted (otherwise it would be a rather tedious process of inductive trial and error every time to establish each time the general rule – which, in any case, we could never do since induction proves nothing about future cases).

Deduction rules the roost, and has been adopted just as rigorously (unless you subscribe to an extreme form of inductive method, such as Grounded Theory) in Social Science. But…. deduction begins to come apart as a useful way of explaining things  if either the grounds for the covering rule or the case in question have not been established in accordance with reality. The logic of deduction will operate and compute in either case –  we’re just no better off than we were before. In fact, we may be much worse off since it may hurt…

The other day I was in a medium-size Tesco, located near a ring-road of a medium-size English city. I know that the company has invested a lot in its image as an environmentally concerned business, eager to cut its impact in terms of how it carries out its ever-increasing) business activities. Their web site has several clearly worded statements about this sort of thing and I must leave aside for a moment whether the drive for perpetual growth is must eventually end up destroy the environment since, for all I know, they may well be genuine in this desire to be able to compete in the “green business” space. That green space has a whole set of rules of its own, and none of the players in that space are either completely independent or completely aware of what those rules are.

However, what struck me walking around the store, was the emphasis Tesco had placed in just about all their choices on offers for consumer products that either encouraged waste (i.e. buying more than you would need because, well, you’d be stupid not to at those prices) or targeted foodstuffs that represented comparatively poor nutrition  choices, the effects of which our health service will eventually end up paying for years down the line. It seems to me that the logic of “All tactics that encourage profit-making and growth are positive and ethical”, followed by “All other things being equal, consumers will tend to buy more foodstuffs that are convenient to consume, high in sugar, or high in salt.

Well, I’m not sure how I got from one topic to another in this posting, but sometimes it’s healthy to rant. Somewhere in here is a suspicion of whatever logic it is we are using to justify the unquestioning approach to size in business. If you can find it.

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It’s been a long while since I last posted to the blog. Part inertia, part actually off doing some serious first-draft writing for the PhD and part being busy delivering quite a few workshops in the UK and elsewhere over the last couple of months. 

Being on the road has been literal, but also (as are so many things) metaphorical. When I was at that age (“that” age was, for me, the period 17 – 23) where travel was the route out of where I was, the effort of getting and staying on the road was no effort at all. It was all new, all part of the experience, and in some cases it was the experience – and when you got there, you were still in the middle of travel.  You may not have liked everything, or not dreamt of being home again, but the thrill of being somewhere else (the trouble it took you to get there) was always more heady.

Now, and perhaps because I spent so many years living away from the UK, travel abroad seems so much more routine, and the routes that get you from A to B are only there to be endured and forgotten as quickly as possible. Especially if it is an airport. My recent trip to South Africa was probably a good illustration of this – how blase I have become (nice car to the airport, Terminal 5 – quiet, airy – the Lounge at BA, tiny bit of shopping, an up-grade to business (and some sleep!), limited interest in the on-board gadgets – picked up at the other end…. and so on. The destination remains a joy and full of joy and surprises, so at least that part of travel remains, but the getting there? Routine.

When modern travel routine get interrupted,  as it did on my return from South Africa last week, we tend to get indignant, don’t we? I think this is a mistake. Note the frustration (and note it in those around us), acknowledge it, for sure, but then detach yourself from it and you can really start to notice what’s going on. It’s very liberating.

Like, for instance, the guy (clearly a frequent business class traveller) who was behind me in the re-ticketing queue at Jo’burg airport after BA had cancelled the flight we were all (literally) on, and who felt the need to engineer his way in front of me in the queue. I don’t think his attitude will contribute to a longer or more satisfying life.


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