Evolutionary Epistemology: A Mouthful Term that Euphemizes a Wholesale Education Shift

In the last post we looked at Professor Cabrera’s DSRP template. I laid out its connections to current curriculum practices that get euphemized as ‘rigor’ or ‘high-quality instructional materials’, but left out a curious quote about targeting the human conceptual system via learning standards so that DSRP “provides a mechanism for the memetic behavior that must exist in order for evolutionary epistemology to be a viable proposal. For these reasons, DSRP should be considered a more robust alternative to logic where complex cognitive systems are concerned.” I am rather fond of logic myself, but apparently that’s no way to get a theory of how things might be different in the future into practice. Recognizing that the mouthful term obscures the reality that seeks to change prevailing culture by systematically prescribing new values and beliefs via poorly understood ‘standards’ in K-12 and higher ed, I looked up the term.

It turned up this 2018 Abstract https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29199093 from the same US government agency funding Science of Virtues and the BRAIN Initiative to create a Research Programme for Distributed Biological Intelligence. No wonder logic needs to be jettisoned. Suddenly the reading, math, and science wars and the focus on ‘close reading’  and ‘conceptual frameworks’ click into the appropriate context when we read:

The concept of ‘information’ acquires a new meaning because information processing is at the heart of biological intelligence. All biological systems, from bacteria to Gaia, are intelligent, open thermodynamic systems that exchange information, matter and energy with the environment. (v) The organism-environment interaction is cybernetic. As much as the organism changes due to the influence of the environment, the organism’s responses to induced changes affect the environment and subsequent organism-environment interactions. Based on the above principles a new research agenda can be formulated to explore different forms of biological intelligence.

I bolded those references to changes because they too get euphemized as student learning, even though the desired changes are not really about passing on a body of knowledge as in the historic conception of education. EE, as I am going to abbreviate it, “aims at understanding the complex relations between biological evolution, especially the biological evolution of human cognition, and the cultural evolution of scientific knowledge.” Because federal laws, mandated learning standards, accreditation criteria, and curricular materials and online activities are all aiming to change the nature of that cognition and then prescribe it for the masses, this is not a matter of speculation. Let me read a passage from a Norbert Wiener biography called Dark Hero of the Information Age that should make what is being stealthily targeted and why more clear:

As he made clear from the outset, the universal processes and principles of cybernetics–information, communication, feedback, ‘circular causality’ or reciprocal influence, and ‘teleology’ or purposeful, goal-directed action–apply equally to technology, biology, and all the complex systems of society. The biological and social dimensions of cybernetics were widely overlooked in Wiener’s day and in the decades since his death, as technology loomed ever larger. Yet those neglected aspects of Wiener’s science hold some of the most powerful insights cybernetics has to offer, and they are as important as any technical tool for understanding the complex forces that shape and influence all our lives.

The conceptual tools of cybernetics can help people think in more effective and productive ways, to create, innovate, and perhaps even begin to envision at the levels to which Wiener raised his most talented disciples to ‘see over the fence,‘ as he did, and down the road to the end result of any effort. Cybernetics, its sister sciences of information theory and systems theory, and their descendants in the new sciences of complexity and human communication offer scientists and nonscientists alike new ways to think systematically and strategically, to solve problems, paint scenarios, and identify potential trouble spots before disaster strikes…[It is] the next step on the learning curve of the global society.

Wiener and his colleagues could ‘see over the fence’ because they had huge stores of factual knowledge that allowed their brilliant minds to make connections that could then be proved in experiments. Prescribing the methods of seeing over the fence to evaluate the future for all without any ‘vast stores of knowledge,’ or even much in the pantry beyond the prescribed conceptual frameworks, means there is no safety catch between what is factual and what is a politically useful fiction. Now before I get to the curriculum I mentioned from Developing Minds in the Digital Age, I want to mention one more book, from 2015, called The Cybernetics Moment or Why We Call Our Age the Information Age that was funded by the National Science Foundation. That matters because that Developing Minds comes from the NSF Science of Learning Centers, as have so many of the curricula involved with the reading, math, and science wars (covered in my book Credentialed to Destroy).

The book’s author, Ronald R. Kline, who is a Professor of History and Ethics of Engineering at Cornell, where Derek Cabrera and his DSRP work is also based, has the Cybernetics Moment as ending in the 1970s despite its promise. I maintain that is not true since it migrated to education ‘reforms’. It thoroughly saturates the actual Common Core implementation and now what is known as competency-based education, correctly construed (which so few do these days). See if this sounds familiar from the discussion above.The NSF/OECD conception of a “Science of Learning for 21st Century Education…encompasses complex changes in the learner from his/her dynamic engagement with an equally ever-changing environment.”

Now I promised last time we could recognize the DiaMat/cybernetic intentions in the OECD/NSF DJEM–Designed Joint Engagement with Media. Since I initially read that report I also learned that some of the cited researchers are involved with the now 20-year old Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition that is a joint project of Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. That matters because Carnegie Mellon gets NSF funding to create a great deal of immersive online learning curricula. U-Pittsburgh was involved with the New Standards Project, which is the forebear of the Common Core from back in the 90s. Both are in a position then to implement DJEM as:

purposefully created, shared experiences where individuals interact with one another while simultaneously attending to a media. DJEM can take many forms, including viewing a video, playing a game on a mobile device or reading a digital book together. DJEM grows out of the idea that joint attention or the coordinated focus of all interacting individuals on the same phenomena, is a necessary condition for joint engagement and is fundamental to human learning from an early age.

Now, if you have a goal of fundamental transformation in social, economic, and political systems, which the OECD and its affiliates in the UN make no bones about as in Leave No One Behind by 2030 and Equity for All, the Number One prerequisite is to get people to “common forms of sensemaking”. Precisely, what DJEM is designed to do so that:

Both the speaker and the listener play an important role in establishing, monitoring and sustaining joint attention during interactions, drawing both on non-verbal communication (e.g.-pointing, moving to share visual perspective, etc) and on meta-communicative verbal comments. The use of such strategies helps create a ‘between-person state of engagement‘ that draws on both the cognitive and the social dimensions of communication and helps partners develop a shared conceptual structure in which they collaborate and learn as they engage in media together…These shared conversations-joint social engagements–serve as sites for knowledge construction and meaning making.

So the purpose of these  prescribed learning experiences is not to learn math, science, history, or to become a better reader. It is to instill a common internalized conceptual structure about some real-life phenomena in each of the interacting students. And the NSF is simultaneously financing books saying the Cybernetic Moment is over, while funding online curricula and activities that use cyberneticist Gordon Pask’s conversation theory. No, they didn’t cite him in their Science of Learning push, but they did describe and use his Conversation Theory. We do get to recognize by function, not assigned labels, since I am still driven by logic and a vast storehouse of facts instead of an assigned conceptual framework. Anyway, the Center for Curriculum Reform’s recent book on Artificial Intelligence in Education happened to mention that the desired AI platforms to be used with students were based on Pask’s theories.

Cybernetics is not dead as all these links show. The new Science of Learning wants us to accept that “Expertise lies not so much in the number of facts an individual can state but in the way in which that knowledge is organized and the ability to apply it flexibly and appropriately in new situations.” My book and this blog exist because I have a highly organized understanding of where education is going, how it intends to get there, what the likely impacts are, and how the theories of cybernetics matter to all these efforts. It does not represent an Approved Conceptual Framework though, which sometimes makes me a persona non grata to discussions. Imagine instead that your child is in this Sid the Science Kid animated programme for preschool children from the Jim Henson Company that “explores everyday phenomena and provides models of science practices and science talks…to deepen and reenforce target concepts.” Tell me this doesn’t sound to you like Code the Kid at the Level of the Mind and Start Early to create Binding Habits of Mind.

To test the feasibility and promise of the DJEM theory, we developed and refined a curriculum supplement…[that] comprised an eight-week experience on change and transformation, foundational concepts across science content areas. Modules were two weeks long and included two to three days of instruction each week that integrated video episodes, classroom discussions, teacher guided book readings, and hands-on investigations. The curriculum supplements four modules targeted types of change that children likely observed in their daily lives: decay, growth, reversible change, and irreversible change.

Learning as creating common conceptual frameworks tied into emotion and the visual to guide perception and the interpretation of experiences in predictable ways at the level of a preschoolers mind. That is a vastly different realm to be standardizing than measuring weight or distance. Cybernetics requires common goals and learning standards are a means of dictating goals without that shift being readily apparent to the typical parent or student. It is up to those of us with Unapproved Conceptual Frameworks to grasp where these learning standards really seek to go. This is not a discussion on the metric system vs miles. There the chosen standard has no impact on the distance being described. Here, the purpose of the learning standard is to reimagine the mind and then turn it from the open system it can be to the closed system that will behave predictably. Which will change the environment, which will impact the mind and personality, which will then change the now altered Environment. Etc. Etc. Etc.

We need to wake up to how many of our young people are to be in this EE Research Programme. Anyone think it is coincidental preschoolers are being instructed on transformation and change? Me neither.

16 thoughts on “Evolutionary Epistemology: A Mouthful Term that Euphemizes a Wholesale Education Shift

  1. Yup.
    Utterly pavlovian at root.
    But there is an easy way to establish reason as a habit at root- i.e. such that the person’s character is defined by it. That makes him essentially incorruptible because
    it confers immunity to something that , once infected, can not be cured: STUPID.
    it simply needs to be administered before exposure to the psychological pathogens.
    I see it worked on you. Was it Mom? Dad? Both?
    There is a perfect time and a perfect means, also.
    You may be interested in the -=Crown of Creation=- project, about which Beth will be writing anent.

    • I have no idea where it came from with me, except like Weiner I was an Elephant’s Child–full of ‘satiable curiosity’ as the Rudyard Kipling tale put it. My mom says it was a wonder she didn’t strangle me before the age of 5 from all the questions I asked. My grandfather who travelled all over the world sent back postcards from everywhere they went on tell Robin this or that. The date indicates they were writing to a 3 year old.

      You cannot know an analogy is inapt without great stores of knowledge. A world which has quietly set goals for education to make behavior predictable and the mind malleable is not a place where I believe any of us will enjoy growing old in. I was also determined to teach myself to read at an early age. I guess I have never accepted the prescribed lenses. Now, those prescribed lenses are to be all that is available for most children. How sad that is.

  2. Not for long- but it has to be done at home BEFORE the child can even read.
    Like when your grandpa set you up for a win- acknowledging the nature of a conscious entity is to ask ‘what is it?’ and enjoy the pleasure that is hardwired into it when it has a ‘eureka moment’ and figures out ‘WHAT’
    That’s the natural state of a healthy mind.
    Once you see the fnords, you can never unsee them.

  3. You know by definition that an analogy is wrong and incomplete because it is not a definition.
    That’s the reason words are cognitive tools. Can not perform logic without them.
    And the definition of a word is ‘a symbol with a definition’.
    And the definition of definition is ‘the set of distinguishing cjharacterstics that separate it from all other entities’.
    Analogies are never that.

    • One of the drivers of 3rd order cybernetics, targeting the conceptual system and the neural basis of cognition and turning it into a science, is to push something called Abductive Thinking. I tracked this down after a reference in a footnote to a paper being pushed back in March. http://www.jonkolko.com/writingAbductiveThinking.php

      Abduction is supposedly the ‘logic of what might be.’ It is supposedly about the best explanation and is a “logical way of considering inference or ‘best guess’ leaps. Abduction is what is being examined in the push for ‘higher order thinking’ skills to open-ended or poorly structured, ‘wicked’ problems. People need to appreciate why these ‘new ways of thinking’ are being pushed. It is not, in fact, a better way to learn or the requisite type of flexible ed for the Age of AI. Those are just excuses to prevent too many Axemaker Minds from making it through.

      • Plain violation of the 3rd law of logic.
        Simple as that.

        Subjunctive mood is specifically for discussing that which is not.
        It’s just rebranded platonist mysticism.
        It’s where all the mystics lurk.
        For a proposition to evaluate to TRUE, it must be provable and proven. That which can not be proven can not be true.
        To assert something as TRUE and simutaneously assert that it can not be evaluated is a violation of the second law of logic, falsification. A self contradicton is a lie, That’s all.
        And violating the second law violates the first, the law of identity = a thing is itself.
        You see? All you need to know are the 3 laws of logic and you can reason flawlessly. Any 3 yr old child of 2 can do it.

  4. Analogies are semiotics. They rely on imagery. That is not definition and one can not perform logic with pictures.
    Images can elicit a response as a stimulus but they are the equivalent of a grunt without a definition and can be credited with no more meaning than that.
    Animals have evolved special adaptations for the purpose of conveying wordless meaning. The cock’s comb, the peacock’s tail, the cobra’s hood, the hackles – all sorts of physical attributes to convey all kinds of meaning.
    They are not language. They can not be used for evaluating a propostion.
    ‘It resembles’ is not a reasonable proposition for it also is not susceptible to proof.

  5. product development has been formally taught for a very long time

    brainstorming is taught to be a part of it.
    you collect any crazy notion and save it for evaluation afterwards. no critical analysis whatsoever is allowed
    it is not a way of thinking at all. it’s groping. generating ideas is hard.for the clueless.
    editing them is much easier brainstorming is gathering ‘stimuli’ that may provoke some realistic ideas unavailable to a noob. touchstones…. totems…
    the brainstorming process is a cheap substitute for experience.

    i have midwifed innumerable concepts from imaginary to realize them.
    that’s what inventors do.
    it is far more efficacious to ask the pertinent questions that apply – to abstract the values to achieve and the virtues by which they can be obtained – the principles of operation FIRST.. a product is not a 2d image or a 3d model- it’s a 4d procession of cause & effect. with enough experience you comprehend everything this way.

    it’s not a box of raisins – it’s the fields of sticks and wires with vines on them and drip irrigation hoses and saccharimetry and people with baskets picking and collecting and spreading grapes to dry and shoveling and loading and sorting, cleaning, packaging. there is no ‘grape’ – all that must happen for a product to be delivered is necessarily part of it.. if you have to go pareidoliac in the subjunctive netherworld for your info, you aren’t doing it quite right.

    industry is not about making ‘a product’ – the task is to produce the means of creating and delivering many many many. even as employment in the manufacturing sector declines, the productivity increases far faster. (this will prevent the health care system from collapsing as it is socialized, btw – automation rules!)
    but the wizards of product development don’t ever get to cheat. if they do, they fail because nature does not negotiate. she just kills you.

    the neoplatonist post normal hunchbrains use a particular sleight of mind;
    they attribute properties to members of the null set.
    by definition, the null set has no members and therefore no properties.
    something is or is not. there is no 3rd alternative.
    plumbing unicornland for guidance is plain mysticism – but if you lack experience, fantasy is all you have.

    it isn’t something to glorify- it’s a confession of inadequacy.

    • Getting back to the actual topic of the post, this passage from Dark Hero goes to a discussion you and I have had offline over the years as to when Skinner, whether he quite understood it or not, and behaviorism became displaced as where learning theory intended to go. It grew out of the research on the brain from the inventors of some of the first computers as “Leading neurophysiologists and psychologists brought new evidence that ‘the brain functions more analogically than digitally’–findings that upheld his [Weiner] continuous approach to communication in animals and machines.”

      The new cognitive science was born in 1956, at a symposium at MIT, where psychologists, brain scientists, and computer theorists formed a new alliance to cross-fertilize their fast-growing fields. Soon after, Harvard psychologist George Miller, who had made intriguing discoveries about the physical limits of human information-processing capacities, joined forces with neurophysiologist Karl Pribaum and psychologist-mathematician Eugene Galanter in a groundbreaking book, Plans and the Structure of Behavior, that built on Wiener’s 1943 manifesto with Rosenblueth and Bigelow. The three theorists took a new ‘cybernetic approach’ to behavior in terms of actions, feedback loops, and readjustments of action in the light of feedback’ as the leading chronicler of the new field described it. From this starting point, cognitive science progressed rapidly, using the new communication concepts and emerging tools of computer analysis and modeling to shape a more sophisticated scientific understanding of the mind’s subjective processes.

      NSF was funding that cognitive science research and the Georgia Initiative in Math and Science grants for a statewide redirection in the 1990s that was so controversial that was then followed up by another huge grant in 2003 of more than $30 million to push Integrated Math in Georgia were actually piloting the cybernetic vision of the mind. It was never about teaching algebra and geometry together instead of as separate subjects as the most frequent sales pitch had it. It’s why the offered explanations never fit required classroom practice. It was about manipulating the mind’s subjective processes and how it perceives everyday experiences in the real world. It’s not an accident that the most famous constructivist math text for elementary school was called Everyday Math.

  6. Interesting that the multi-million dollar-store-on-the-shelf counseling curriculum was introduced just prior to that. That curriculum was so extreme that the counselors objected to its influence on the structure of schooling as a whole and the demand for an extremely large and expensive increase in personnel. The concept of “school climate” (which had originally been identified as “psychological climate” in the original grant papers) was inserted into the discussion at the same time. Oddly enough, that all followed shortly on the effort to activate the Federal Handbook Series of digital record keeping. Very interesting having to see the movement toward cybernetics in reverse.

    • Thanks for adding that. Once you understand the tenets, everything tat has so horrified so many makes sense in terms of the actual aspirations. As something I am reading today put it from a conference in 1968 in Austria put it, after WW2 when it became clear their was the scientific knowledge to blow up the world so to speak and the ability for communication to expand beyond people together or interacting with a book to worldwide, suddenly there was a need to control what scientists could do and what could be communicated. think fundamentally we see that now in the odd definitions of Fake News as about sources, not veracity, and the links of Media Literacy to Thinking like a Historian.

      Must use approved categories to think and communicate. Except for this blog, at least for now. Better stay off twitter, huh?

  7. Our school system quietly implemented critical literacy via Language Arts two years ago. Parents are unaware. Would that fit in with your theory? Teachers were instructed, “The aim of critical literacy is social change and transformation.”

    And One-to-One computing capability:
    “FCPSOn is a transformation of learning for students and educators. At its core, it provides students with equitable access to meaningful learning experiences and technology to support their learning.”

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