Friday 14 August 2020

An Online Space for Operating Thought

The most exciting thing that has happened since the lockdown is the reorganisation of intellectual engagement among scholars from all kinds of disciplines. When everyone, of all ages, was stuck at home in front of their computers, all over the world, it became easy to say "let's meet up in zoom and talk about all those things which we never got to discuss properly in the 20 minute slots in conferences". There are a number of groups now operating, and they need to be catalogued. I would mention John Williamson's QuiCycle for discussion around  physics (, and the "Important Things Group" featuring the encounter between physics and biology, courtesy of John Torday and Peter Rowlands, and many others. Now I have been organising the Alternative Natural Philosophy Association (ANPA) conference online along similar lines - one presentation per day, lots of space for discussion:

We have reached the end of the first week of ANPA, and I have found it richly rewarding. We have had profound presentations by Peter Rowlands, Mike Horner, Louis Kauffman and Dino Buzzetti. More importantly, all these presentations have been revolving around a single idea which relates back to Peter Rowland's seminal contribution to quantum mechanics, and Lou Kauffman's beautiful topology which draws on cybernetics and Spencer-Brown's Laws of Form. More impressive still is the fact that, as Dino Buzzetti and Mike Horner reminded us, these current ideas are closely related to the original ideas that caused ANPA to be formed 41 years ago,  alongside Margaret Masterman's Cambridge Language Research Unit. A key figure was Gordon Pask, who not only contributed to the theory but also made a machine (this helps explain how Pask's thought extended from education to consciousness and physics). 

I was wondering what Pask would have made of our zoom conference. Perhaps he would have suggested richer shared spaces for activity other than the conference chat. But at the same time, I don't think anyone who has built on Pask's work in educational technology has really considered the situation of eminent thinkers really coming together through technology, thinking together through that technology, and thinking together about a common set of ideas. 

I'll say something about Dino Buzzetti's presentation in a future post, but this point about thinking together was most evident in Lou Kauffman's presentation. It was beautiful partly because of its theatre. David Bohm always argued that "theory" was a kind of "theatre" - the words have the same etymological root. There is a process that occurs in the interplay between pictures, words, logic and structure whereby the interference between those parameters mixes with the interferences of everyone else's constructions of those parameters, to reproduce these structures in other minds. Bohm called this process "dialogue" and says that its purpose is to "operate thought". Thought, he said, is a bit like a machine, and we have to learn how to use it, which we can only do by coming together like this. 

Lou used beautiful hand-drawn equations and diagrams to illustrate his point that the point was nothing. And perhaps its nothing which is the result of all those interference patterns. Or it's nothing that permeates the patterning of those interference patterns. Either way, it seems if we want to see "wholes", we should look for "holes".


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