by Stephen Downes
Aug 17, 2015
Synesthesia: From Cross-Modal to Modality-Free Learning and Knowledge
Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau, Jenny Mackness,
Really interesting paper looking at the phenomenon of synesthesia as it relates to concept formation, using as its basis two case studies where children create complex ideas out of simple experiences without benefit of verbal or textual guidance. Synesthesia is the name given to a cross-over of one sensory input into another - sounds are perceived as shapes, for example, or words are perceived as colours. Concept-formation, or abstraction, viewed from this perspective, might be seen as the creation of learned synesthesia - I would read this as an association between modalities (like this, in a sense), but the authors don't. Matthias Melcher, reviewing this paper, asks what the nature of a concept is in this picture; "s the metaphor that bridges two domains (or often two senses), really withdrawn, removed, abstracted from the two domains, is it no longer grounded in any of them?" In any case - from my perspective - it seems clear that concept-formation is the result of a perceptual process, rather than a cognitive process.
Controlling the Social Construct
I agree with Leigh Blackall that constructivism should be criticized, but I don't agree with his argument. "I'm wondering if individuals and their societies really do freely construct their knowledge and understanding, or is it more likely constructed for them," he writes. Well, what then? That still leaves constructivism the theory intact, but with unpalatable consequences. It reminds me, indeed, of George Lakoff's theory of framing. But you can't argue against a theory simply because you don't like the consequences. Fortunately, constructivism is wrong for different reasons; we don't construct knowledge by creating models of reality, and so media and education have less of an influence than feared in this post.
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