Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Geese

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Mar 16, 2007

This is a short clip from a comment that I didn't finish, [partially because I don't have the time, and partially because I would like to engage this topic from a different direction.

There's a lot going on here and I probably can't cover all of my disagreements in one post.

At the core, I think, is that you continue to assign agency to groups. You represent groups as doing things that (in my opinion) groups are not capable of doing. You are (again in my view) confusing between sentences that can be used descriptively and sentences that can assign agency.

For example: suppose we see a flock of geese come in for a landing on the lake. We would typically say, "the flock of geese landed on the lake." This is an accurate statement, because it describes what happened. But when we look at the same example, we might also be tempted to say, "the flock of geese decided to land on the lake." Now we have committed an error.

A flock of geese isn't the sort of thing that can 'decide'. The capacity to decide depends on having a mind, and a flock of geese does not have a mind. A flock of geese consists only of geese, and while it may be true that individual geese have minds, it does not follow that the flock has a mind. What in fact happened is that each individual goose decided to land. We observed this and interpreted it as the flock deciding to land.

In the same way: you say "
I also feel that there is 'group knowledge' that is outside of the individual." And "there are at least two levels of "knowledge" in any group, the one that the group as a whole has constructed and the one the individual has constructed." Here again, you are moving from a description to an assignment of agency. When we say, "there is group knowledge", that is like saying, "the geese are landing". But when we say "the group constructs knowledge" that is like saying "the geese decided".

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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